THE MOON AT THE TIME OF THE GRAND GALLOPING GALA:
Princess Luna was never one for parties. Even before her banishment, and even before her ponies seemed to avoid her so in favor of her sister, Princess Luna was not one to join in on festivities and seemed destined to only watch them from afar. Now, this did not mean that she was against making merriment and jollity, but rather, her attitude spoke of her experience at parties as a whole.
For, as a Princess of the throne of Equestria, she found that the only parties she had ever attended were the same to the point where they seemed to blend into each other. IE: they were wealthy affairs of equine society’s upper echelon and as such, the atmosphere was always very formal, filled with snoots she couldn’t believe counted themselves among the nobility, and had the hideous tendency of being so dreadfully dull, even to even an old school mare like herself.
Not a statement anypony who had the tendency to fall back into the ancient Royal Canterlot voice would jest about.
She counted herself lucky, in a manner of speaking, that she wasn’t around these past thousand odd years like her sister and wondered, with no small amount of admiration, how she could put up with such gatherings for so long. Now that she had a semi-firm grasp on what fun was, Luna imagined her sister being quite pleased with the scene that the bearers had created during last year’s gala beneath whatever mask of stoicism she knew she had worn that night. Luna herself knew she would be feeling the same in such a happy little accident.
Who knew? From the telescope Luna was gazing at the party through one of the castle’s larger windows, it seemed to be bustling with far more activity than she had expected given the nature of the gathering. Perhaps the bearers had caused another scene or, better yet, perhaps the atmosphere had lost a bit of its formality. Maybe she would take a break from her evening duties and actually take her sister up on the offer of partaking in the festivities.
Or rather, she might have if all of a sudden, she had not felt an unknown energy source suddenly appear behind her and find her telescope knocked to the ground by a gust of air with a boom, knowing full well that both were impossible on the grey desolation of the Lunar landscape.
“What on Equis?” she thought to herself. She had seen portals before, most often when she and her sister had to storm the very gates of Tarturus to fight the various malevolent entities located therein. But, rarely had they been ones that WEREN’T a fiery and demonic reddish-orange or orange-red.
The one before her now was actually a bright white and comprised of a half dozen or so rings that grew larger and larger as they radiated like a conical tube. All things considered, as evidenced by the lack of a conflagration engulfing everything within the immediate radius and/or winds chilling enough to freeze even the mightiest of warriors down to the marrow, it was rather tame in comparison to the majority of portals she had seen.
Still, she took no chances. If this was a demonic incursion, she had to be ready, as they took great joy in exploiting those not prepared for their attacks. She lowered her horn and began casting a rather hefty concussive blast.
What she wasn’t prepared for though, would be for the portal to deposit a being that wouldn’t send children screaming. One that lay motionless on the ground on its side and was faced away from her instead. A being of a type she had never expected to see other than Celestia and Cadence.
A being that, as the portal dissipated back into the aether, she recalled once holding onto a hope deep inside her soul that she would be able to encounter someday in eternity. Now though, because of what had happened, what had ALMOST happened, all due to a being of a very similar profile, she looked upon the one in front of her now with a more potent mix of loathing, distrust…and fear.
A being clad from neck to hoof in a full body jump-suit, crimson red, that accentuated its muscular physique as well as a sterling metal harness wrapped around the center mass of its body in a ‘V’ shape. Though she found it a bit odd that the collar of the suit was a dark blue that matched the color of the briefs it wore over the suit, as well as the fact that it was wearing briefs over it in the first place of all things, she admitted that she wasn’t one to talk when it came to Equestria’s latest fashion do’s and don’ts. Neither was her sister, if the embarrassing photos of her during her fro days that Luna kept under her mattress were any sort of proof.
She walked up to it and found that it was also wearing a helmet that covered the upper half of its face, above the nose. Attached on either side, a fin shaped piece of metal, not unlike that of a dolphin’s dorsal one, jutted outwards a few inches away and a few inches above the helmet proper. Gold trimmed metal looped around the portion of the helmet protecting the cheeks, temples, and the brow. Above this trimming, just below the forehead, was a crest: a black sun surrounded by orange flames.
Luna may not have been a fashionista like a certain Unicorn bearer of the elements of harmony, but even she had to admit: this being’s helmet was absolutely groovy, as her sister told her the kids said nowadays. Later, she might ponder where she could find the material strong enough to make something lasting like it for her. However, her gaze looked above the crest to a spot on the forehead proper. There, jutting out to a pointed tip that looked as though it could gore out a hole through solid steel, was a horn, white, like she noticed the being’s fur was beneath its helmet. It was at this point, that she also noticed that the pair of rather sizable wings, jutting out from its back, was white as well.
This closer inspection of it reinforced the conclusion she had already come to in her mind. The horn. The wings. The build much larger and more muscular than a regular pony’s. There was no way of denying it now, no matter how much she wanted to.
This being was of her own ilk. An Alicorn.
Were it to have arrived before that…that…bloodthirsty tyrant, she wouldn’t have even cared that its portal had knocked down her telescope.
Or that it wore briefs.
She would have believed that, finally, after centuries of loneliness and isolation, she, her sister, and her niece had found more of their kind still alive. She would have believed that questions she had held for eons would finally be put to their long overdue rest. She would have believed that a sense of belonging and closure that not even the most favored of their subjects could provide would wash over her like an April shower. Why, it would have been so much that she wouldn’t have been able to help herself from closing her eyes, clopping her frontward hooves together in childish glee, and squealing excitedly (or as much as she could considering that in space, nopony can here you squeal. Or scream, but this wouldn’t have been that kind of occurrence).
As things stood though, the less than frosty reception she was met with when she had done so with the other Alicorn to suddenly appear out of the blue, lingered in her mind.
She charged a concussive blast with her horn once more, only this time, it was more powerful by several orders of magnitude.
It was then that the Alicorn flipped over on its side and the negative presumptions Luna felt towards it went spiraling down like a crescendo that would have been cacophonous had she been inside an atmosphere.
He, for his muzzle said to her all it needed in order to confirm his gender, had some rather severe looking injuries on his stomach as well as the side that was now visible to her.
Prince Blueblood was not what one would call…enjoying himself. Any fancifully dressed passerby that was properly educated could (and did) tell just by a casual look shot in his direction. Of course, they’d be even more correct in assuming that he seemed a rather glum chum considering the festivities underway, those of the biggest bash in the entire nation. For, as long as they could remember, those that knew him, knew of him, or have ever seen him at the Grand Galloping Gala have always recalled it as a time where he was his most jubilant, jocular, and (to many), most insufferable.
Indeed, many of the party’s participants speculated that this unusual behavior for the Prince was a sign, a harbinger that tonight’s proceedings would end with the lot of them running out of the main ballroom of the Castle screaming their heads off and panicking away much like last year’s. Some even entertained the idea that it was because of the events of the last gala that Blueblood was so uncharacteristically quiet and aloof.
To an extent, this was not a falsehood, for it was indeed the last gala that was at least partially to blame for his demeanor tonight.
He could still picture it vividly, especially the loathsome pretentious bumpkin of a mare from that Podunk named Ponyville who had spurned him so viciously and without provocation and her little gaggle of cohorts.
Oh the witch-hunt of a wild goose chase he had tried to spearhead in the aftermath of that night! Oh how he dreamt of seeing that Rarity and her friends locked away in the deepest, darkest, and dankest of all the cells beneath Castle Canterlot (or, during nights when he was feeling particularly vengeful, within the gates of Tartarus), the key thrown away into the mouth of a Dragon rudely roused from its slumber! Oh the great gash gouged into his regal pride when his Aunties decided to break the head off of the spear! How they denied those six scoundrels their due date with justice, with his vengeance, on account of them being ‘the element bearers’, and ‘having not done anything wrong’, and being ‘under our protection you self-serving little snot, so quit asking!’
“Bah!” Blueblood yelled within the confines of his cranium. Taking a big swill of the juice inside of the glass he idly held, the crimson that had overtaken his long face died down, his immaculately kept coat of white glowing back into the forefront of all of the sets of eyes upon him. Eyes that were now positively convinced that it was indeed the last gala that was getting to him tonight.
However, while they were correct in some regard, it was not thoughts of this alone that had overtaken his mental faculties. In fact, if anything, the last gala was, in truth, not at the forefront of his mind. In fact, it was merely a cover, a convenient excuse for him to ward off highborn socialites other than himself that might have otherwise decided to muster up the courage to trot towards his person and engage him in a conversation he wanted no part of tonight.
For it was this night that a sense of nervous unease had descended upon him not pertaining to the gala of the year past. It was this night that he began to truly trot the path that would lead him to his heart’s deepest of desires. It was this night that he would spit in the face of his goddess Aunties, and thusly, the entirety of Equestria just as they had him. It was this night that somepony would declare himself an enemy of the state and hopefully nopony, even Celestia or Luna, would be the wiser that said enemy was he.
Tugging on the collar of his dress shirt, several beads of sweat cascaded down from his brow all the way to his muzzle like miniature cataracts. He took another gulp of his juice. During any other occasion, the absurdly expensive nectar imported from parts far flung might have tasted as though it was worth it, but at the moment, it tasted only of melancholious mediocrity.
Still, it managed to cool and calm him down. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes in the corner of the ballroom he had sequestered himself in, and trotted towards the archway leading into the bestiary, which was thankfully guarded by a baker’s dozen worth of Pegasus guards this time around. He ignored the murmurings and silent stares the other party folk showered him in and looked to his left, stopping for a bit.
There, past a different archway, he could see his Auntie, Celestia, at the top of a row of marble steps, greeting all of the numerous newcomers to the festivities at hoof.
How collected she looked. How royal. How ditzy. How completely and utterly oblivious she was to the fact that the very kindness she had shown him would be repaid, with interest.
Blueblood craned his head back to his front and continued walking, making sure to shove out his fore-leg to the side to push a great rival and occasional acquaintance of his muzzle first into a punch bowl. He didn’t bother to stop or look back at the cries of surprise and outrage coming from behind him. He also didn’t bother with responding when Fancy Pants pulled himself away from the bowl and said, “Blueblood ol’ chap! What the devil’s gotten into you!?”
He just trotted towards the bestiary, a look on his face that made even the guards uneasy as they let him pass, though their exceptional training prevented them from displaying it as most would. With suspicion, Blueblood looked over his shoulders pack towards the arch leading into the party proper once he was deep enough amidst the exotic fauna and flora kept here and, convinced he was out of earshot and the sight of anypony, pressed a fore-leg to his ear.
“Are you in position?” the voice of Prince Blueblood sounded into the ear of someone elsewhere inside Castle Canterlot.
“Yes. I’m right outside Celestia’s bedroom as we speak,” said someone replied, a clawed talon pressed against his ear.
“Good. Now, would you kindly hurry it up and steal what I hired you to? Though my sun-raising Auntie is still busy up here, I can’t account for the black sheep and can’t promise that you won’t have to deal with her and fall back to Plan B if she rears her ugly flank.”
“Ah, come on rich boy. Can’t you let an old geezer relive the memories of a place he hasn’t been to in decades a little longer?” the someone snarked.
“Not if the old geezer wants to live long enough to get paid.”
“Was…was that a threat from you Princess?”
“No. A possibility that’s becoming increasingly more likely the more you stand around and flap your gums talking to me you git!”
“Whoa now! Settle down Princess! Don’t have yourself a hernia! I’ll get on it, pronto.”
“Good. And if you EVER have the gall to call me Princess again, then what I said was a threat indeed.”
The someone just said, “HA! That’s a good one!” before dropping down in between the two Pegasi standing watch over the door leading into their Sovereign’s quarters, grabbing both of their armored heads, and slamming them together with enough force to knock them out cold.
“Did I utter something even remotely humorous just now?” Blueblood inquired.
“Yeah. You kind of did. I mean: seriously rich boy! If you put a hit out on me, you better make sure whatever amateurs you send bring their own body-bags at the rate I’d cut them down,” the someone said as he pushed open the door and dragged the unconscious bodies of the guards inside. “Who in Tartarus would you send anyways? My nephew? I mean, the kid’s got a good aim, don’t get me wrong, but I’d chew him up and spit him out like a cheap piece of bubblegum if he ever went up against me. Plus, he’s family. Sure he may be a hideous abomination against both our species and nature in general, but he wouldn’t come after me for all the bits in the Equestrian treasury.”
Making his way to a closest, the someone let go of his grasp on the guards, opened it, and stuffed them inside, pushing against the door until he finally heard the click that signified that the bolt had finally slid into place and that the door would not open to let its equine contents come spilling out.
That done, he began snooping around the rather spacious study in search of what it was he was hired to steal.
“And if you’re thinking about my other nephew, I think it’s only fair to warn you that he’s so…out there…that he’s liable to take you down just as much as he is me,” he said, tossing tome after cumbersome tome over the back of his head before growing frustrated and just knocking down the entire book case he was in front of. “Just ask my brother in-law during the last Hearts Warming family get together. Boy was that a train wreck you couldn’t look away from, let me tell ya.”
It was then that the someone noticed what seemed suspiciously like an unnaturally square shaped crack on the wall behind the bookcase, and pressed his talons against it. A golden glow came from the crack, illuminating the room briefly before fading away, a disembodied voice saying, “Unrecognized DNA detected.”
The someone raised a brow at this in interest. It would appear that Blueblood and the team he played for weren’t the only ponies around with access to some fancy doo-dads that worked without any magic required. Just as well. It meant that he would finally get to use one that the Prince had supplied him with on this job. A circular one that he placed against the wall with an advanced timer display on it.
It was then that Blueblood decided to speak up through the piece in his ear again. “Who said that I’d need to send anyone against you to kill you?”
At this, the someone furrowed both his eyebrows and stopped what he was doing. “Now, just what the heck is that supposed to mea—”
Before he could finish that sentence however, the door into the room was kicked open by a mighty buck and the lights in the room sprang to life. The bucker was a butter yellow Pegasus with a soft pink mane that hung on her left cheek, clad in silver armor. She was tall for a mare, and muscular too, dwarfing the two Unicorn guards flanking her in their typical golden attire.
She took a good long look at the intruder before her. He wore armor of his own (that is, of the lightweight fabric variety) that was mostly obsidian with orange gloves, orange boots, and two shiny metal shoulder guards. He wore a helmet that covered his entire face, save for his avian yet catlike eyes, that was black on one side and orange on the other. Slung across his back, she noticed a rather foreign looking blade, sheathed, as well as something that’s absence surprised her fellow guards, but not her.
“You know, when I woke up this morning, I can’t say that I was expecting to find a wingless Griffon in a ninja get-up snooping about Princess Celestia’s room,” she said, before cracking her fetlocks. “Now that you’re here though, I’ve got to wonder if tonight is really my birthday instead of the Grand Galloping Gala.”
Where lesser folk would have broken down on their knees and pleaded with the pretty yet frightening Pegasus not to get beaten up by her or the guards with her, the someone stood his ground and turned his entire body to face them, a smile forming beneath his helmet. “Barricade! Fancy meeting you here!” he beamed.
“Deathstroke the Terminator. How lovely it is to see you too,” she deadpanned.
“So, how’s the husband? I take it he’s had many wonderful years with you and that daughter you always kept going on about?”
“They’re both fine, thanks for asking. A bit too quick to hide behind the nearest pony when they get scared, but you knew that already,” she said, eyes narrowing dangerously upon him. “Now, I take it you’re surprised to find me here just as much as I am to find you?”
“Not at all butterscotch,” he insulted, nonchalantly. “I know perfectly well that after that newbie Captain ran off to run the Crystal Empire with his brushing goddess of a bride that you were called upon to take back your old job title. In fact, one of the little birdies I got even told me that Mr. Newbie couldn’t handle Sombra and had to rely on his untrained sister and her friends, your little bundle of joy included, to take him down. I would have put the dark lord in the ground by myself in half time.”
The two unicorn guards started to move towards them but abruptly held their horses when Barricade stopped them with her fore-legs and shook her head from side to side to say, ‘No’. She looked back at Deathstroke and asked, “Like you would have done whatever it is you’re here for in half the time for your current employers?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Then tell me: who would be vengeful enough, who would be crazy enough, who would be upright courageous or downright STUPID enough to hire you for a gig involving the room of one of the Royal Pony Sisters in MY palace Deathstroke!?” she demanded, all but yelling.
“Nah ah ah Barricade. That’d be telling, and the folk that hired me spent quite the pretty bit to make sure I shut my beak about who, specifically, they were,” he said, wagging a talon like one might do to a child. “Suffice it to say however, if you want a general impression of who my employers are, just trot on over to the central court room at about dawnish, and you, and everypony else in Equestria, will know.”
Deathstroke took a glance at the device he had placed on the wall out of the periphery of his vision so as not to alert the ponies glaring daggers at him that something was up. It read: 00:30. “I however must take my leave with what I came here to take, and can unfortunately no longer parlay with you, Captain Barricade,” he said, slowly backing up as the three guards slowly made their way towards him.
“Oh yeah? How’d you figure that’s going to happen?” Barricade queried.
Deathstroke felt his back pressed up against a stain glass window and a small portion of cobblestone behind him. With his periphery vision, he once again looked at the device and found the display to read: 00:15. He also took note that the three ponies were making their way past it…
With an almost supernatural swiftness, Deathstroke drew out a device that the three ponies in the room found to be a bit odd. They stopped. The two Unicorns didn’t know what to make of it, but to barricade, it was like one of the miniature claw-held crossbows that she knew the hired sword before her was fond of using, but…off.
It was made completely out of metal, (colored to fit with his scheme, of course) was tube shaped, and had a tri-pronged metal hook sticking out of the end of the cylinder that she presumed held whatever miniature mechanism would propel said hook.
Though the golden armored guards were stumped, they took little chances and began charging up their horns, their most serious of game faces on. Their commander, on the other hoof, merely sighed and shook her head as though in disappointment. “Deathstroke, do you really think that what-cha-ma-call-it you have there in your claw would hurt me even if I didn’t have a pair of Unicorns by my side?” she smirked.
Deathstroke glanced towards the timer on the device one last time, this time, clearly doing so. Beneath his helmet, his face mirrored Barricade’s as he turned his head back towards her. Pointing his what-cha-ma-call-it at the device, he said, dryly, “Nope. But that do-dad on the wall there sure will.”
At that statement, Barricade’s face took on a look of confusion. Turning her head towards where Deathstroke was pointing at, it was then bleached of all color as the gravity of what she was looking upon struck her like a war hammer swung by a Minotaur (of which she had sparred with many in her day).
Out of shear combat instinct, she jumped up over the guard on her left, aided by her wings, and raised her golden shield to cover herself, him, and the other one.
Deathstroke shattered the entirety of the glass behind him with one elbow.
Barricade managed to yell out, “Take cov—“
The device on the wall detonated, slamming the guards hard against the fireplace across from it and showering them in masonry. Whistling a familiar and merry little tune, Deathstroke walked over to the now revealed, if slightly smoking, chest once hidden behind the bookcase, and grabbed a hold of it. Turning around, he heard coughing and looked down towards the pile of once proud defenders of Castle Canterlot to find Barricade, her fur slightly singed and mind still conscious, unlike her subordinates, groaning beneath the weight of her shield which must have felt crushing indeed after what she just went through.
He shook his head from side to side, tsking all the while. “Barricade, Barricade, Barricade. Always having to be the guardian.”
He raised the chest over his head and with a single motion, promptly used it to let her join her underlings in the realm of the unwaking.
With a flash of deep purple, Luna and the unexpected visitor appeared on the surface of Equestria. Now inside an ancient hold known only to a select few beyond the Royal Pony Sisters themselves, the younger of the two’s horn glowed as she wrapped the stranger in her telekinetic grip and levitated him off the seriously-in-need-of-a-decent-mason, stone floor. She tried to remember an old spell she had been taught by Celestia many moons ago, back when she was still a filly. Before they had grown into the titans of power that were beloved by their subjects and allies and feared by those who would oppose them. Before the two of them decided to carve out a kingdom for themselves out of the chaos and strife that had engulfed their world. Before her subjects…
No. She stopped herself from thinking along that path again. She had done enough of that in the long months since the element bearers had freed her from her worse half and especially after her...relapse...brought forth from that accursed rainbow maned Alicorn. If ever there was an easy and unproductive rut to fall into, that was it.
This stallion, neigh, this stallion of her own race, which had been thought to have dwindled down to a mere spec above extinction for millennia now, was here and in need of her assistance.
Then, it hit her. Like a flight of adult dragons, it hit her, much like it did back on the moon when she first saw him.
The scale of the destruction. The collective voices of teeming millions crying out in terror. The trauma, both physical and not so, wreaked the last time she tried to help a previously unknown member of her own race.
…What was she thinking? Did she even want to heal this stallion and dare risk that he would turn on her and prove another threat of equal or greater caliber than the last one? Why was it that, without thinking, she had whisked him and herself away to the planet’s surface? Wouldn’t the barren moonscape have been more apt to being gouged with craters that were miles wide and miles deep on the very likely outcome, Luna thought, that she would end up getting bitten by a snake that could take whatever bites she managed to dish back?
It was then that her ears perked up at something. Something that spoke to her of agony, helplessness…and pity.
A moan, if such a phantasmal, guttural wail could be catalogued as such, that bounced across the atrium they were in, the only indication that the long dead corridors were no longer entirely bereft of equine life. It was the faintest whisper of an echo, but ears as highly attuned as hers picked up on it as clearly as the bugle played to rouse resting royal guardponies back into their shifts.
Despite herself, she cringed at his obvious pain. Suffering was not something she liked to see in others, especially not in ones who weren’t yet proven to be hostile with the intent of dethroning her and her sister. Especially when she could do something to alleviate their afflictions.
But, then again, she held fast to the same stance previously, and look where that—
“UHHHH!” she yelled out, loud enough to weaken the cracked rock of the walls around her, the floor below her, and the roof above her further as well as give even the most ferocious of nocturnal beasts prowling amongst the trees outside cause to be weary and tread carefully. She brought her fore-hooves up to her head and massaged her temples, eyes shut tighter than a vacuum seal.
Conflicted. That’s what she was. She needed time. Time to give her mind some rest after this revelation so that she could decide on what course of action she was going to take.
Time. Yes. That was what she needed.
After all, the stallion in front of her wasn’t dead…yet. She could still hear his heartbeat and breathing just dandy.
With a sigh, she collapsed on her haunches and tried to let her turbulent mind relax. She tried thinking of rainbows on roses and whiskers on kittens. She tried thinking about them until her mind’s eye was filled with them, stuffed with them, saturated by them. It was then that a thought creeped by into her head, as insidious as all doubt. The remembrance that: no. These WEREN’T among her favorite things and why she had though up of them was a mystery to her.
So, naturally, her minds eye wandered to the next big thing in its field of vision, that of a lone stallion of her own race lying as an unconscious heap on the—
—She faced hoof, hard enough to send another echo booming through the halls.
Realizing that her mind would not be at ease for the moment, she opened her eyes to find the stallion still where he was, still as immobile and in agony as he was. Still…resting…sleeping…slumbering…
It was then that another thought creeped into her mind, only this time, it politely knocked on the door and announced it presence instead of barging its way in with a battering ram.
“Hello Loony!” she yelled out loud, a hoof slamming into her long face yet again.
She was the Alicorn of the moon! Of the night! Of dreams! She was a master of the mind! A psychic even more skilled than her sister and some (including herself) would say that she even rivaled the Queen of the Changelings in this regard!
Why, if she wanted to, she could just place her fore-hooves around his temples and see into his mind to tell what kind of threat he posed, if any!
In fact, before she knew it, she was kneeling down before his head and doing just that, eyes glowing faintly with the violet aura of her magic as she tried probing his brain’s depths for a glimpse of just who, and what he was.
It was at about six seconds into her attempts, that her mental projection came across a psionic barrier. A powerful one. One so much larger and so much more difficult to get through than ANY she had ever seen. One that created a backlash that PHYSICALLY sent her flying across the room and into a wall with the force necessarily to knock it down.
Recovering quickly from what, to her, was as survivable as a foal’s giggling, Luna brought her hooves to her head and began trying to scrub away the mental static that the barrier had imparted upon her.
Nope. It appeared that she would not be able to tell whether this stallion be friend or foe this night and, if she didn’t want to risk any more of what she was not certain were his considerable mental defenses, probably not any night afterwards.
So, once again, her mind’s eye was filled with some of her favorite things, only this this time, they TRULY were some of her favorite things. One of them was…resting…just for a…little bit…
She tried to stand again, but realized to her dismay that she simply couldn't stay on her hooves. The aftereffects of the psychic backlash had caught her unawares, and she knew it was already too late to warn anypony about the stranger. She tried nevertheless, crawling to an exit, and she'd almost reached it when she passed out.
Having had his fill of the bestiary (as well as a rather annoying old mule that his aunties had apparently hired to take care of the wretched place), Prince Blueblood trotted back into the ballroom after delivering his vague threat to the sword he had hired.
Well…vague for Deathstroke, at least.
Blueblood, of course, knew perfectly well what he meant and, as he made his way back to his preferred spot for the evening, even indulged himself with a smug smile. He pictured exactly what would happen should the wingless griffon prove himself to be more of a liability than an asset in…every…excruciating detail. He even indulged himself in reacquainting Fancy Pants with the very same punch bowl, grinning blissfully at his ensuing shouts of indignation this time.
Yes. It seemed that, this night, things would go off swimmingly for the Prince and would more than make up for the tragic trespass that occurred at this very spot twelve months prior. Arriving at his corner, he turned around and allowed a sense of relief to flood his senses with a breath. Snatching a glass rather rudely from a passing waiter, he ignored the mildly irate look cast his way and, with a sip, allowed the sweet concoction to flood his throat. On this occasion, he actually managed to enjoy the sheer expense of the drink in hoof and continued with another sip and then another until, eventually, he found himself having downed half a dozen such glasses, snatching away more from the exact same passing waiter each time and placing empty ones on the tray he carried of course.
At this rate, Blueblood was starting to get into such a festive mood that he might actually indulge in a favored past time of his and break some naïve mare’s heart tonight! Maybe more, if his good fortune continued to provide!
With eyes that were predatory, cold, and calculating while at once also managing to radiate an air of civility, warmth, and friendliness, he scanned the throngs of ponies milling about in his vision. Be they loaded, waitresses, Wonderbolts, or etc, he searched for the perfect mark. He thought he had found such a plaything in the form of a Mint Green unicorn playing a harp or whatever it was she had amongst the musicians hired to perform tonight, when the earpiece in his ear crackled so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that Blueblood spilled his drink mid-guzzle all over his clothes for the evening and nearly choked on what portion of it was in his mouth.
Swallowing down hard and unpleasantly, he heard Deathstroke say, “Hey Rich Boy! Change of plans!”
Wiping off some of the orange liquid that was now dripping from his lips and chin, the Prince did his best to ignore the quiet murmurings and giggles as he whispered in a hushed, yet harsh tone, “What do you mean by change of plans!?”
“Well, assuming you got your head out of the surface of that swimming pool o’bits you got in your backward to come up with those contingencies you wouldn’t shut-up about during our last meeting before the job, Plan B is officially a go.”
“What!?” Blueblood barely managed to whisper out. “Why!?”
“Well, technically speaking, the captain of the guard walked in on me as I was picking up package ‘game breaker.’ She’s on the ground lying in a metaphorical pool of her own failure, of course, but I’m pretty sure I heard a lot of hoofsteps after I detonated the charge. A LOT. Our favorite sun raising deity wouldn’t happen to still be down there greeting guests, would she?”
The Prince, grimacing halfway, decided to go for another stroll tonight. “I’ll check.” With a quickened trot, Blueblood made his way back towards the heavily guarded entrance to the bestiary. Ignoring the shouts and curses of Fancy Pants and his wife Fleutter’Loise (or Bubbly McDitz, as he personally liked to call her), he made his way to the spot beyond the main entrance where he had seen his most esteemed Auntie going through her Gala routine. He found, much to his dismay and irritation, that a couple of Pegasi guards were conversing with her with concern, the Princess’s face taking the same expression as she turned back to her newly arrived guests, offered what he supposed was a sincere apology, and bowed politely before blinking out in the white-gold Aura of a teleportation spell.
His face contorted into a full-fledged grimace now. “No. She isn’t. I’m assuming you were smart enough to get out of her room by now?”
Walking past the guards and back into the cool night sir, the Prince heard, “Bingo there. The problems is that, since I don’t have wings, progress getting down via these super-gadgety-suction cups you let me borrow is a little slow, and my guess is that it won’t take long for whoever’s up there to figure out that the charge didn’t cause that window to break. So, anytime you’re ready, you might want to make Plan B happen, preferably A.S.A.P. I’m about to make my grand entrance by the way.”
Despite this unfortunate (though not entirely unforeseen) turn of events, Blueblood couldn’t help but smile at those last few of Deathstroke’s words and the imagery they conjured up.
As he allowed himself to become lost in the thickets of rare and exotic foliage, mindful of where the caretaker was at, he reached into a pocket in his coat.
Celestia liked the Grand Galloping Gala to be livelier? Well, by Jove and her, she would have a livelier Gala.
Hanging onto his grapple gun, Deathstroke had rappelled down the face of the castle right above the main stain glass window overlooking the Gala area.
With a mighty heave, his legs pushed himself away and downwards. Like the end of a living Guillotine, he swung back towards the castle. He aimed the chest he held forward and crashed through the window, landing onto the stone floor, a hail of expensive craftsponyship following not far behind and bathing the immediate area in its fluorescence.
All equine eyes were upon him and for several moments after, all was still and silent. A thought could be thought, and all in the ballroom would know what it was.
Deathstroke, seeing that the six Pegasus guards by the bestiary had shaken off their surprise and were sprinting towards him, spears pointed in his general direction, scanned his immediate area. Thinking fast, he grabbed the waiter who he had happened to land close to and pointed his single-claw held crossbow into his neck, using him as an equine shield.
With that, the gasps and shrill shrieks finally came from the crowd, in both the mare and stallion varieties.
“Nah ah ah. If you boys don’t want the memories of tonight’s Gala these wealthy peons’ll have for nights to come be filled with the sight of this fine gentleman’s freshly rotting corpse, then I suggest you start backing up. And, while you’re at it, drop those big pointy sticks and kick ‘em over here,” Deathstroke said as he started backing up towards the balcony under the window, feet crushing the glass beneath him.
The six guards took this to mean to slow to a trot. Deathstroke wasn’t satisfied, so he pressed the arrow against the waiter’s neck, drawing blood and a mild yelp from him, as well as more gasps and shrilly, girly shrieks from all genders of the highborn bumpkins before him. Some of them even started to faint, much to his notice and infinite amusement.
The guards, on the other hoof, got the message finally and stopped a few feet away from the shattered glass.
“See? Was that so hard?” Deathstroke mocked. “Now, would you kindly toss over those nasty looking spears over here? And by toss, I don’t mean throw like you normally would. If any of you gets cocky enough to try and hit me, this guy, who’s about to tell me his name—”
Deathstroke pressed the tip of the arrow deeper into the pony’s neck, eliciting another yelp and forcing him to yell out, “Kirby Krackle!”
“—Kirby Krackle, is taking the express train to the morgue. Understand?”
Begrudgingly, the guards nodded, grabbed their spears in their teeth so that they were horizontal to the ground, and tossed them towards Deathstroke, right at his feet.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” said Deathstroke. The hired sword looked down upon Kirby Krackle and said, “So my fellow old timer, where you from?”
“Manehatten,” came the waiter’s response.
“You ever been to the Gala before as a guest instead of a glorified slave to these pompous, blowhard fatcats?”
“With my salary? What do you think pal?” he said in a surprisingly calm voice.
“Really? Awww…that’s a shame. Tell me: you ever find yourself getting into scraps in Manehatten?”
Deathstroke looked back towards the guards, who, despite being disarmed, had their heads down like they were about to charge, eyes filled with fury and just waiting, searching for him to slip up.
“A few when I was younger. Yeah.”
Deathstroke looked back down and asked, “You ever been thrown over the edge of a building before?”
Kirby blinked and his eyebrow knitted together in confusion. “Well, that’s oddly speci—”
The rest of that sentence was screamed out as Deathstroke took that opportunity to toss his meat shield over the edge of the balcony behind him like a rag-doll. The guards’ response, though surprised, was immediate, as three of them flew full speed after the hapless, helpless, and flightless earth pony. The remaining three charged full speed ahead towards Deathstroke…and were almost immediately sent flying back onto the ground from a single swing of the chest he held.
Knowing they were knocked out, Deathstroke then took this opportunity to high tail it towards the bestiary. He would have made it too, if he didn’t slam into something tall and white that had appeared through a golden glow and bounce backwards, onto the ground.
Recovering quickly, he aimed his one-handed cross-bow at the meddler and looked up. An Alicorn. A familiar one. As regal and immaculate as he had ever seen her portrayed in art he had seen dating back for millennia. Her face looked down upon him with a look that could have killed if she it wanted to. She snorted. He thought he caught a glimpse of fire and smoke coming from her nostrils. Celestia.
Celestia was standing in front of him, and she was angry. This Alicorn, the very goddess that has undisputed mastery over the sun, was ANGRY with HIM. Ponies the world over would have fallen over and died of a heart attack then and there and probably die. Even those with military training. Heck, even your average Griffon, no, DRAGON would have done just that.
Deathstroke, however, still pointed his weapon at her. Beneath his mask, his face was as impassive as ever. “Hello Celestia.”
“Greetings,” she said, face unchanged.
“Now, contrary to what you must be thinking right now, I’m not stupid.”
“Really, now? How, pray tell, is that?”
“Hrmmm…I’ve familiarized myself with all popular forms of humor in Equestria and all neighboring territories, yet, I don’t think I said anything funny just now.”
“Oh nothing, nothing. I just find it a little chuckle worthy that a god said pray tell.” Celestia huffed, more visible smoke coming out of her nostrils this time. “Anyways, to answer your question, I was in one of those towns you, your sister, your niece, and that Conquering Alicorn you had to take down fought in a while back. Stalliongrad. I saw the massive tidal wave Luna stopped that would have wiped it off the map. I heard how every blow you and your family dealt or took was like distant thunder. I felt the shifting of tectonic plates when the Conqueror lifted up the entire continent I was on and threw it at you. I know that there A MILLION, heck, A MILLION AND TWO ways for you to stop me right now if I fire this thing. There are probably even MORE ways for you to stop me BEFORE I fire it. Like I said: I’m not stupid.”
“So, I take it your going to drop that weapon and come quietly?” she asked. Her eyes darted towards the three Pegasi guards that Deathstroke was so close to getting away from, who had now recovered from his attack, spears pressed firmly into his back. They were soon joined by the three that went after Kirby.
Turning his head back towards Celestia, Deathstroke said, “I’ll be more than happy to oblige you on that first thing.” He dropped his crossobow. Before it reached the halfway point to the ground though, he sent a unique thought message to his armor, one that told it to emit a…special field of energy in front of him. An invisible one. One that took Celestia by surprise and made her cry out, falling to the ground like a redwood and convulsing in pain.
Smiling beneath his mask, Deathstroke mused to himself that the Alicorn, if she had hands like a Minotaur, could probably count the amount of times she had felt such excruciation before on one hand. He did this while taking advantage of the fact that the guards were now focused on the well being of their sovereign, snatching a spear from the grip of one, twisting around, and knocking them all aside with the flat-end of it. Dropping the spear, he said, “I’d love to stay and chat, your Majesty, but you don’t look so well. You should probably go and see a doctor.”
Hopping over Celestia and into the bestiary, he thought that he should thank good old Rich Boy for giving his suit that ‘Agony Matrix’ toy. He thought that the best way to show his gratitude would be to stop calling him Princess from now. Maybe. He’d have to flip a coin on it.
Ahead of him, a sound, like really close thunder, boomed. Then, a portal appeared. Bright white and comprised of a half dozen or so consecutive rings that grew larger and larger as they radiated outward from a single minute point in the space-time continuum, like a conical tube. A boom-tube, if what Princess Blueblood told him was true.
Behind him, he saw half of the Pegasus guard now coming right at him. He also noticed the other three kneeling towards Celestia, whose eyes had begun to close. They were completely shut when he jumped into the tube, looking back and waving mockingly at the flying guards, who were too slow to stop his get-away.
With a start, Luna awoke. In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea, if the fact that she found herself clutching her head afterwards was any sort of proof. “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.”
Sucking it up like a goddess and gritting her teeth, her ears perked up. Coughing.
Her eyes darted to and fell upon the stranger. He was coughing. He was also now fully awake.
With preternatural speed, she was at his side and levitated him until they were face to face. Her expression hardened. His looked rather delirious.
“Good. Now that you’re awake, would you mind telling me just who, and what you are, please?”
His breathing was ragged. “Who…who are you?”
“You answer me first and, if I feel gracious enough, I might decide to give you a reply.”
“Are…are you the goddess of this world? Are you Celestia?”
Luna’s eyes went wide and narrowed. With a thought, she sent him careening through a pillar of stone and pressed him against the wall behind it. She was upon him again. She pressed her nuzzle closely to his. If her attack had fazed his hide at all, he showed no signs of it doing so. She asked, “What do you know about my sister? Answer me!”
“Aside from the fact that she defends this world, very little, in truth. What I am certain of is that my name is Orion and that the fate of this planet is fraught with peril.”
“No. From the enemies of me and my kin.”
Luna appraised him for several long moments, the only thing moving on her face being her flaring nostrils. “Though your voice sounds truthful, you’ll forgive me if my experience of the ‘truth’ being honeyed with deceit will not permit me to take what you’ve said at face value, Orion.”
“That is wise. I would think less of you if you did not demand any evidence to support my words.”
Her brow furrowed. “What, pray tell, do you think of me now?”
Either Orion didn’t hear her or he outright ignored her. Instead of answering that question, he asked, “Would you mind?”
Hesitantly, Luna backed away. His muzzle now free, Orion pointed it to a spot on the shoulder of his right fore-leg. There, a silver-greyish rectangle of technology, with lines of circuitry running along it, was firmly held in a compartment built into his harness. Firmly held, that is, until he pushed it out and it fell to the ground. He gestured towards it with his head.
Luna wrapped a fore-hood around the little thing, which was beeping, bopping, and booping, and brought it up to her face, shooting a look down at it. “What is this thing?”
“Her name is motherbox,” said Orion, “and she’ll tell you all that you must know in order to believe me. All you need do is ask and receive.”
Luna’s face scrunched up at Orion. Looking back at this motherbox, she said, “Very well then little contraption. Will you now indeed show me that Orion jests not?”
Though, to an outside observer, motherbox’s response was just nonsensical noise, Luna could have sworn she heard her say, “Yes.”
Luna’s world disappeared right before her eyes for a little while, and was replaced by a new one. Two new ones.
“Uhhh…” said Celestia, still in that undefined place between consciousness and unconsciousness.
“She’s coming to!” said the familiar voice of Sundrop, her most trusted maid.
“Well what are you still standing there for Missy!? Give her some air!” said the familiar voice of Barricade.
“Air? She doesn’t even need to breathe you ruffian!”
“No, but if YOU want to breathe, then you better do what this RUFFIAN says, or so help me, I’ll—”
“—Hello Captain.” Celestia was awake now. “What seems to be the problem you’ve run into with my maid?”
Barricade immediately snapped to attention along with the four other guards, all Unicorns, in the room, while Sundrop bowed. The Captain and the maid both said, “Forgive us Princess.” Celestia rolled her eyes as the two looked at each other with scowls.
“I just thought that you’d want some space after waking up, is all,” Barricade said, eyes narrowing upon Sundrop.
“And I just thought that you’d need reassurance that all is well by the sight of a friendly face is all,” Sundrop said, eyes narrowing right back at Barricade.
“Is all well?” Celestia asked the Captain.
Barricade shook her head. “If by well, you mean your attacker escaped via some portal that NONE of these fancy, schmancy unicorns here—” She gestured towards the unicorns. They were clad in the dull green and grey of the court Mages. “—have never seen before or can classify, then yes. Everything’s all rightio and A-Okay in my book.”
“How dare you use sarcasm towards the Princess like that!” said Sundrop, pointing a hoof.
“Simmer down Sundrop. It’s quite all right.”
“Ah, but that’s the thing, isn’t it Princess?” said Barricade arching an eyebrow. “Is everything all right?”
Celestia’s face was like stone. “What do you mean, Captain?”
“Well, the last thing I saw before I woke up an hour ago was the underside of a case that Deathstroke was here to steal. One that about ten dozen other ponies saw when he crashed the gala a little while later.” Barricade removed her helmet. On her forehead, jutting out from her butter yellow fur, was a bruise the size of three bits put together. It was black and blue, and was even letting out a little red from the helmet being pressed against it. Celestia’s face was still like stone. “One that, before last night, I didn’t even know existed.”
Celestia’s eyes widened. “Pardon me Captain, but did you say, last night?”
“—Tell me, what time is it?”
“About five minutes till six, your highness,” said Sundrop, checking her wristwatch.
“Uhhh! It’s almost dawn!” Celestia threw the covers of her bed aside and proceeded to trot out of the room and down the hallway, ignoring the look on the Captain’s face.
Barricade was soon fluttering next to her. “Princess, where in the hay are you going?”
“To day court. It’s almost six in the morning.”
“Do? That means you can just brush anypony off in the middle of a conversation with a good question? I thought you had better manners than that Tia.”
“The contents of that chest are unimportant…Butterscotch. If they held any sort of significance, you and my sister would be the first to know of its existence.”
“So Loony’s just as much in the dark about that thing as I am. That’s…ironic.” She huffed. “Still, it seemed important enough for somepony, dog, griffon, minotaur or whatever to get a hired sword like Deathstroke to get in and out of the most heavily defended joint in this country. Not to mention making me a little uglier.”
Celestia stopped just short of the door leading into the throne room. She looked down and away from Barricade for a while before turning to face her again. Her eyebrow was as knitted together as they could be on a pony. Her nostrils were as flared up. Her mouth lied in the region between smile and frown.
“My heart is filled with nothing but sorrow for what happened to you and those under your command that day, Barricade. If I could, I would have gladly taken their place...and yours. I feel equally as sullen about what happened last night. However, I WILL NOT and CANNOT be swayed by your guilt trip. Because, right now, my little ponies need to know that I’m OK. That despite last night’s events, Esquestria is OK. That those responsible will be found and that all of my subjects can continue on with their daily lives without panicking.” She paused. This was not because she was out of breath. “So, as I’ve said and will CONTINUE to say on the matter, there is nothing important. In. That. Chest.”
For a few moments, Barricade’s look remained locked against Celestia’s. Silence reigned until she said, “I’ll put in a septuple shift to find Deathstroke and personally pull him out of whatever spider-hole he crawled into.”
They remained locked on each other, until, Celestia’s face softened. “I know old friend. I know you won’t let me down.”
The Princess and the Captain shook hooves. With that, Barricade flew down the hallway and Celestia entered the throne room. After the cadre of royal guards in the room saluted and she was seated, she said, “Let in the first subject of the day,” with a smile.
They opened the door, a few meters in front of her. From the twilight of the early morning (and the flashing bulbs of the ponyrazzi), a unicorn stepped in. One whose presence made her beam.
“Donut Joe!” she said. “How lovely it is to see you this fine morning!”
Joe stopped a few paces from the throne, took off his hat, and bowed. “The same to you’s, Princess Celestia.”
“How can I serve you today?”
That was when it began. First, with a scent of phosphorous. Then, with a spark. And finally, as the sun rose in the window behind Celestia, was part of the wall above the doors behind Joe lit ablaze. All was silent in the room, save for the shouts of the guards calling for water, and Celestia reading the fiery letters right in front of her.
Letters that read:
INTER-GANG WAS HERE.
She let her head down and sighed. “Well, at least Barricade has another name to look into…”
END CHAPTER 1.