Chapter 31: Loss And Power
"Stalks, get down!"
Sparks reached up and pulled the stallion down by the shoulder behind the fallen column of marble they were using for cover. Not a moment too soon as the space where the stallion's head had been was suddenly filled with whistling of bullets carving through the air and the impact of metal on stone as some hit the top of the marble, shattering it and sending shards scattering everywhere.
"Pay attention, I don't need you getting your head blown off." Sparks chastised.
"Sorry sir, it won't happen again." Stalks apologized.
"I hope not, because if it does, it might be the last time you let it."
Sparks sighed and took a quick peek over their cover before ducking back down again. The Renegades still hadn't moved from their position at the end of the corridor. This was good, because he didn't have to worry about them running up on his position yet, but bad because they still stood between him and the staircase to the vault.
The situation wasn't good. Upon reappearing in one of the passageways, they were pleased to find that they were not far from the vault itself. It only took them a few minutes to get where they were now. Of course, everything went south when they rounded the corner and ran smack dab into a patrol, the one they were currently fighting. Three of the Royal Guard had immediately been hit in defense of the princesses, sustaining serious, but fortunately non life threatening wounds.
Sparks had ordered the princesses to retreat back around the corner until he and his small team could deal with the attackers. Unfortunately, it seems they were now pinned down, a very dire situation indeed as it was only a matter of time before the sound of the skirmish attracted more unwanted guests. They had to do something drastic and fast, he and Star were almost out of ammunition. He got an idea.
"Star, cover me!" Sparks yelled.
As soon as the unicorn popped up and started spraying the area with fire, Sparks sprinted back to the corner and ducked around, dodging a stray bullet or two as he did. The princesses were still there, safe for the moment. The three injured guards were lying on the ground by the wall, two unicorns and a pegasus, Celestia was currently laboring over the wounds of one, her horn glowing with a gentle golden light. Luna was standing a short ways off, looking troubled as she contemplated some unknown thought.
Respectfully, Sparks approached the princesses, "Your Majesties, a moment please?"
Celestia stopped what she was doing and spoke softly to another nearby unicorn; a lieutenant, the acting commander of their guards and the last able bodied spell caster in their retinue. She stood up and the lieutenant moved in to take over, administering aid as best he could. From where she was standing, Luna trotted to her sister's side.
"Yes Commander, what would you like to talk about?" Celestia asked kindly, given the circumstances.
"Ma'am, I'm sorry to report we're a bit stuck. Our current fire power can't cut it at this rate. I was wondering if we could borrow your remaining spell casters, maybe break the line wit a powerful magical attack." Sparks suggested.
Celestia glanced back at her wounded warriors. One of the unicorns was recovering well, but the other would need some time to heal. The lieutenant was the only other one capable. She turned back to the Commander with a heavy face, "I'm sorry, but they are far too injured to attempt such a thing. Perhaps Lieutenant Shine might be able to help, but—"
"We can do it." Luna cut in.
"No Tia, we can do it." Luna said with determination. "Commander, if we can disrupt them, can you eradicate those barring our path?"
"Of course, Your Highness. We'll only need a few seconds."
"No, Luna—" Celestia protested, but was interrupted again.
"Tia, we must. The need is dire and our powers are great!"
Celestia's features softened as she faced her sibling, "Luna, ageless we may be, but our bodies are still vulnerable to the maladies of the flesh. I lost you once, I would not lose you again."
Luna stood firm, "Our country is in danger, sister. I'll not stand back, safe from danger, when I can help. I'm going."
For a fleeting moment, Celestia appeared downcast. But then her features resolved and she took on a hardened look. "So be it. So you go and so shall I. Commander, ready your soldiers for the attack and be swift."
"Yes ma'am." Sparks replied.
He didn't like the idea of the princesses putting themselves in danger either, but if they were confident in their abilities, then he was as well. Without a moment to lose, he galloped back around the corner and slid in behind the pillar. Stalks and Star were still there, Star was on his last few magazines.
"All right, listen up!" Sparks barked, "We're gonna get a little support here. As soon as I say go, we rush their position down the hall and take'em out, understand?"
"Yes sir!" The two recruits replied in unison.
From around the corner, Luna stepped out, walking calmly down the passageway. The Renegades at the other end turned to fire upon her. Sparks and Star returned fire immediately, but it was unnecessary. The rounds that would have otherwise struck the Princess of the Night instead were deflected by a shimmering barrier of golden light, glancing off and striking walls and shattering windows.
When she was close enough, Luna's eyes took on a sinister glow and her horn began to glow a dark midnight blue. With a yell of effort, she reeled back and dipped her head, loosing a powerful beam of swirling darkness from her horn. It impacted the ground around the Renegades' feet, erupting into a shadowy night that engulfed them all and obscured them from sight.
Seconds after the attack hit, dreadful wailing began broadcasting from beyond the veil of night. Sparks saw his opportunity and took it. "Now! Go go go!" The three of them vaulted over their cover and made a mad dash for the billowing cloud of darkness. They plunged inside and were greeted by a strange sight.
Every one of the attackers, Lotkin and pony alike, were writhing on the ground; some kneeling, others laying, all clutching their heads in pain. The spell did not affect Sparks and his recruits, however, and they moved about the group, ending their misery with a quick thrust of the blade or a bullet to the head.
As they finished up, Luna trotted up to the scene, surveying the carnage. Sparks looked up, puzzled by the uncharacteristic display of malice. "That was some show there." He commented.
"They do not call me The Princess of the Night for nothing, Commander." She quietly rebuked.
"So they don't." Sparks muttered with the fresh memory of the pain she had just inflicted on their foes still at the forefront of his mind. "Remember not to piss her off." He said to himself.
Sparks shouted the all clear and the darkness dissipated almost as fast as it had appeared. The Renegades were now all dead, there was no time to lose. The princesses' contingent rushed forward with Sparks and his stallions, the injured being carried on the backs of the able. They moved to the stairs as fast as they could and began the decent to the bottom where the vault entrance waited.
As soon as they reached the large oaken doors, Celestia unlocked them with a quick spell and the guards began to push the heavy doors open. There was a shout from the top of the stairs, followed by the twang of bullets ricocheting off the walls nearby, reinforcements had arrived. Sparks returned fire on them, dropping two, but also expending the rest of his mag, he only had one left, seven rounds.
The door was now wide enough for them to pass through and Sparks ushered them in, all the while keeping an eye on the advancing hostiles. Bullets thunked into the thick wood doors and skittered off the cold stone floor. They moved inside as fast as they could, but now the attackers at the top of the stairs had begun to descend to the vault entrance.
The guards threw themselves against the other side of the doors, trying to close them as fast as they possibly could. It was too slow. By the time the gap between the doors had even closed halfway, the enemies were almost at the gates. Sparks rallied his recruits for a stand. "This is it, they do not take a single step across this threshold!" He ordered. Together, he and them moved to the entry way and prepared to fight.
They waited, ready to fight, itching to charge into the fray. Sparks prepared to give the order, but then something else happened. A stallion galloped past him and out the doors at a furious clip. As he exited he shouted back, "I got this, you guys make sure those doors close!"
"Lieutenant Shine, come back here!" Celestia shouted from further in the vault, but her order went unheeded.
The young lieutenant charged his magic and sent bursts of energy smashing into the chests of the attackers and knocking them back, leaving some smoldering on the ancient stone steps. Sparks looked on in disbelief at the unicorns actions for the briefest moment before he snapped back into reality. He knew what he had to do next and it was something he knew he would come to regret later in life, but it was an unfortunate necessity.
Still, the Commander did what he could to help as he ran to one of the doors, emptying the rest of his magazine and taking down two more of the warriors in the process. As he reached one of the massive barriers, he shouted to his recruits to man the other and with their strength combining that of the guards, began to finally swing the doors shut.
"No, what are you doing!?" Celestia stepped forward, "You have to help him, stop closing the doors!"
"Ma'am, please stay back!" Sparks shouted back over the gunfire and whine of bullets.
Outside the vault, more soldiers of the Renegade army had appeared and were making an assault on the vault. Lieutenant Shine fought back as much as he could with his attacks, but fighting with magic was strenuous and his strength was flagging. The soldiers were closing in, the bullets striking closer to his body. Finally, after loosing yet another attack on a brace of Lotkin, freezing them in place, a round found its mark.
Celestia watched on in horror as Lieutenant Shine reeled back as if stuck by a sledgehammer, a gaping hole appearing in the armor of his shoulder. Next, a vicious burst perforated his side, weakening him and sending him down to his knees. For the briefest moment, his head turned back, looking back through the shrinking gap of the doors and he smiled, his horn charging with intensely white radiant light.
Then he was gone. The doors finally closed with a thick rumbling boom that reverberated through out the space. "Lieutenant Shine!" Celestia cried as Sparks and his recruits helped the guards heft a heavy iron bar into a cradle that spanned the doors, locking them shut from the inside. Angrily, she trotted up to the Commander, "Why, why did you do that, we could have helped him, brought him back inside!"
Sparks exhaled heavily from his recent exertions, head dipped low. He could still see that young officer, that guard, as he stood his ground at the coming advance, even as his path to salvation was sealed behind him by his own comrades. He was angry. Angry at the loss and his actions that had led to it.
In ill temper, Sparks wheeled around and faced the princess, "I know!" He said a little more gruffly than he intended. "Yes, we could have brought him inside, could have kept the doors open longer, but at the risk of your safety." Hearing himself and his bitter tone towards his matriarch, he softened his voice, face falling flat in a depression. "He did what he had to do to ensure that didn't happen. He did what any of us are willing to do. Please, don't let that go to waste, Your Highness." He finished with respect.
From nearby, Luna came to her sister's side at seeing her reaction, "Come Tia, the Commander means you no ill will. There is still much to do and like he said, we must not let the time afforded us by Lieutenant Shine go to waste."
Celestia closed her eyes and with a deep breath drew herself up. "You're right, Luna. Come with me, Commander," she said with a hint of hardness to her voice, "the object we have fought and paid dearly for is this way."
Celestia started off deeper into the vault, Luna close by her side. Sparks left his two recruits by the door to keep watch and tend to the wounded with one of the other guards. The rest followed the princesses as they proceeded down the vaulted corridor, lighting torches suspended along the pillars all the way they went.
Sparks caught up with them quickly, stealing glances at the hidden treasures squirreled away in the alcoves that dotted the passage way. There were dusty boxes and piles of old armor. These soon gave way to the more clandestine items, recovered from various locations through out the land.
He saw the bulky machinery typical of human work, rusted and beaten. Tattered bulky clothing, since begun rotting. Then came the more dangerous items; weapons. Weapons found long buried in the wilds and forests; pulled from hard rock, shifting sand or soft loam. Most were conventional, like the rifles they now used, but one caused him pause.
It was a sinister piece of machinery, one he found himself drawn to on every visit. A large boxy body with a long, heavy barrel attached to one end, a pair of vertical hard wood handles on the other. It was obviously a weapon of heavy caliber, it seemed to emanate an aura of death. Sparks wondered at it for the usual moment and then moved on with his task at hoof.
The princesses Celestia and Luna led him back to a secretive corner, one that only housed a scant few containers of useless items and metal scrap. It was an area he seldom paid any attention to, so he was surprised when he followed the two sisters into a well concealed corridor that he wouldn't ever had know was there had they not shown him to it.
It wasn't a long passageway by far and soon terminated at a rather plain and otherwise unremarkable wall of brick and mortar. This also proved to be illusion, however, as Celestia bowed and thrust the tip of her horn into what Sparks at first thought to be solid stone brick. He was about to shout warning when his voice caught in his throat at the sight of her magical appendage passing effortlessly into the face of flat stone.
There was a pulse. A pulse of light from the horn of the princess and a pulse of energy that seemed to rebound about the passage. The wall wavered, becoming as insubstantial as a wisp of smoke, swirling and fading into nothingness. In its place now stood a small set of doors, just wide enough and tall enough for the two princess to pass through. Seemingly of their own accord, the doors swung inward on silent hinges.
There, in the center of the small chamber revealed by the doors was a plain wooden box set on the top of a small pedestal. The box was half a foot in width and at least twice as long. With care, Celestia prodded the box open, flipping back the lid with a hoof. A soft, bubbling glow, born of all the colors of the rainbow spilled out, but with subdued light.
Slowly, Sparks approached the pedestal and peered into the box, laying eyes upon that which they had fought for. Almost imperceptibly, his expression changed to one of quiet surprise. "That's it? That's the special weapon you spoke about?" He asked with some incredulity.
"Yes." Celestia replied softly. "With it, there might be hope of turning back the darkness that now stalks our lands."
Sparks was still somewhat puzzled. "What did you do to it, where did you even find this?"
"If you search hard enough, there's nothing that can't be found. It was a personal project of mine and only few, aside from myself and Luna of course, have any knowledge of it. It is a weapon, yes, but one imbued with the sacred power of the Elements. It repels evil and cannot harm any innocent being. And still, we must have the wielder." Celestia explained to him.
"And what, we're gonna use this to take out Blueblood?"
Celestia sighed at the mention of her rogue nephew and turned away for a moment, but the resumed, "No, this blade is for a far more worrisome power, one that has flitted between worlds for time immemorial and has since set its sights on ours. With the one to wield this blade, one whom's reappearance I think you'll find most pleasing, we can right the wrongs turned on this land."