The blows that he had taken, the punches and kicks he'd received, the insults he'd endured. The anger, the frustration he felt. Not just for the shrimp, but for that cocky flyer too. The things that he had in mind for them were nowhere near what he felt they truly deserved. He didn't know, nor did he care which of them was made to pay first, but he would be sure they got it.
He shifted his leg a little, wishing he could just punch something, only to have it tugged back by Test Tube. The doctor only glanced up, muttered something under his breath and went back to making his repairs. Edge gave pretty much the same response. Since they had taken a while to fit to him and that Chrysalis needed to see him, they decided it wasn't worth the time to remove them, so they kept them on for repairs.
This meant that Edge had to stay still while Tube did his work. Something that, in his current mood, he wasn't really inclined to do.
Test Tube had set up a small workshop in the bowls of Canterlot. There were a few pieces of equipment already set up and some blackboards covered with equations and notes Edge could hardly begin to decipher. Not that he cared what they meant anyway. Just so long as the doctor could fix his new weapons
"Minor burnouts, easily replaced components," he muttered to himself. "Not bad for a first field test... wonder if I could increase lethality for energy output, might be a risk to the user... would be interesting to see the results..."
"What was that?" Edge asked loudly.
"Hm? Oh, nothing you need concern yourself with," he replied. "So, you say it was a lightning bolt that caused this?"
"Pretty much," he shrugged. "I got zapped, these things started smoking, useless."
"Well, I didn't design them for excessive electrical overload," he countered. "They must have taken in most of the energy from the bolt. Less went into you, but it damaged them a lot more than if it just coursed through your body. Repairs would have been a lot simpler, if that were the case."
"Sorry about that," he remarked, rolling his eyes.
"Can't be helped... not this time anyway." Apparently, Tube was a stranger to sarcasm. "Aside from that, my weapons seemed to have performed efficiently. Something I might not be inclined to add concerning their tester," he added in a low voice.
Edge growled. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Hm? Oh, yes," he said, like he just remembered he was there. "Well, unless the reports I've been hearing are... misinterpreted, the campaign in Ponyville was a failure."
"The fight was lost, but the war's just getting started." He gritted his teeth. "I swear, those freaks are gonna pay!"
Test Tube just frowned. "While your determination is admirable, I admit I have some reservations concerning your... temperament?"
He turned slowly. "Is that so?"
"I'm afraid so," he shrugged. "I have long thought that, along with morality, emotions have a tendency to... hold us back... or push us too far. Would you say that's an accurate assessment?"
"Never mind, doesn't really matter what you think anyway," he cut off. "I can already see some frustration starting to take hold. Feelings of inadequacy, perhaps? A need to prove yourself?"
"I don't need to prove myself to you!" he roared.
"Who said that I was involved?" Those cold eyes appeared to be dissecting him. "Either way, I'm certain that some error on your part resulted in the battle becoming a failed experiment."
Edge could feel his temper rising. "Really?
"Hm, no question," he said, almost absently, walking away. "An error in judgement maybe, use of the wrong tactics, any number of variables. Maybe it was something else. Perhaps your personal vendetta on Dusk has narrowed your mind. Or perhaps that's not enough to drive you. Is there still something holding you back, I wonder?"
"Oh, I'll show you holding back!" He strode towards him, one thought on his mind.
The doctor didn't appear to hear him and carried on. "Yes, some small connection to home, ones I long since severed. What is it? Friends, family? Of course, I can only speculate until I have more conclusive data on-"
"Conclude this!" He pressed his leg against his throat and pinned him against the wall. "How about this?! This look like I'm holding back to you?!"
"Ack... evidently not..." He tried to push him off, but Edge was too strong.
"You feeling so sure now?!" he went on. "You still think that Ponyville was anything to do with me?!"
"Perhaps... a re-evaluation... is in order? I'm sure... it was a... statistical anomaly," he choked through his hold.
"You're damn right it is!" he cried. "And I'm gonna make sure that it doesn't happen again!"
"Excellent..." He hacked from lack of air. "Now... may I have use... of my respiratory system?"
Edge let him go. "Gotta pick your words more carefully, doc. They could get you into trouble."
"Indeed..." he wheezed, taking in deep breaths. "Though may I say, commander... that your actions could leave you in the same predicament?"
"Then I'm just gonna make sure that I won't be," he retorted.
The corners of the doctor's mouth raised a little. "I look forward to seeing that in practice."
Before Edge could respond to that, the door opened and one of the guards stepped inside. He glanced back and forth between Edge and Tube.
"Is there a problem here?" he asked. "I heard a commotion."
"No... I think we're fine now," Edge replied slowly, exchanging a look with Tube.
The bug nodded sharply. "Have you completed your repairs?"
"Yes, yes, they should be functioning perfectly now," he replied. "Provided that they are treated more carefully, they should stay that way."
"Good, now come," he ordered. "Queen Chrysalis doesn't like to be kept waiting."
"Yeah, whatever. And don't hang around my shoulder like that," he added, when the bug tried to move alongside him. "I know where I'm going."
The changeling stopped following him, but he didn't look back to see if he'd halted in the middle of the room or taken his post back outside. He was in bad enough of a temper as it was, now it was about to be made worse with him being yelled at for what he did wrong, while he just had to stand there and take it. Looks like there were some things he couldn't get away from.
He snarled, firing a random shot at a suit of armour to vent his rage in the hall, causing it to crumble. Damn Tube, just who did that creep think he was? He wouldn't even have been able to make it this far without the things Edge had been willing to do for him. Who was he to tell him he wasn't giving this his all? He always gave it his all!
But then he remembered that moment. Back in the town, when he'd paused at the sound of the Pegasus mare begging him to stop. Tube's words saying that there was something holding him back echoed in his head all the more loudly. Was he really going soft? Would it happen again? Had he even been doing the right thing all of this time?
He pushed those thoughts aside when he shoved open the doors to the throne room. He kept up his stride, a few changelings on guard around the room watching his progress. Chrysalis was talking to another changeling knelt in front of her. Holding back an urge to yell at him, Edge hung back and waited until they were done.
He noted that Parlix wasn't at the queen's side, like he usually was. Probably in some library somewhere, the bug seemed like the type who'd enjoy that type of thing.
"I tried my best, my queen," the changeling before her was saying. "I almost had him, but there were... complications. He fought back, they found me out. I expect punishment, though the shame I feel for disappointing you is enough."
"Don't fret yourself, Venom," she soothed. "I'm sure you performed admirably and I can tell you've been feeding well. Would you be willing to agree?"
"Indeed, highness," he replied. "His love for her is strong indeed."
"I knew it would be," she chuckled. "And would you say that learned a lot with Dusk? What kind of pony he's like?"
He looked a little confused. "I would say so, highness. May I be so bold to ask why?"
She smirked. "You may. I have a new assignment for you, if you are willing to make up for your mistake."
"I would want nothing more, highness," he said eagerly.
She smiled wider and beckoned him closer, her voice dropping to a level that Edge couldn't hear. He tried to move in closer, but he still couldn't make out much and she was already finished by the time he was closer. Venom now had a look of malevolent cunning that matched hers.
"Do you think you could do that?" she asked, though it looked like she knew the answer.
"Willingly and readily, my queen," he affirmed.
"I admire your loyalty and conviction. Now, you go and get yourself ready, make sure you're in character."
"As you would have of me, so it shall be done," he said reverently, bowing low and quickly setting off.
"Yes, loyalty is an excellent attribute to have in one's subjects." She turned her head slowly to face him. "I wonder if I might be able to say the same for you, my dear Hard Edge."
"Your highness," he began, bowing, "I can explain what happened-"
"What is there to explain?" she cut off. "Your attack on Ponyville failed, my changelings were harmed and you were defeated. Unless you think there's something else to add?"
"I... I guess not," he growled.
She chuckled in her throat. "No need to worry yourself, my little pony. This is only a minor setback, one that can be easily made up for, if you're willing to."
"Just tell me what I gotta do," he said, taking this chance while he could.
"I'm happy to hear it." She leaned forward. "Now, to launch a successful retaliation, I would say that we need two fronts of attack. One from here and the other from our other area of interest, should a slight issue we're having with the latter be resolved."
"Issue? What issue?"
"That's where you come in," she continued. "In order to make up for your setback, I'm sending you to provide a little assistance for Commander Sting."
He frowned. "Sting?"
"Yes, I do hope you haven't forgotten him so soon," she joked. "He might not be too happy about it, but I'm sure he'll be grateful for some assistance in his own campaign."
His insides went cold. "B-but isn't that in...?" He found himself unable to finish the sentence.
"Yes, it is," she said. "Apparently, the Pegasi of Cloudsdale are putting up more of a fight than we thought. As somepony with firsthoof knowledge, I'd say you are perfectly suited to lend him a little help. Unless you don't think you're up to it?"
"No!" he yelled, a little too quickly. "I swear, I can handle it!"
"Good." She leaned back in the throne. "Select a few of my soldiers to go with you and leave as soon as you can. I know you won't disappoint me this time, Hard Edge. Prove to me that I'm not wrong."
"I will," he murmured, bowing and departing quickly.
He tried to keep his confident stride, focus on what was in front of him rather than what Tube had said before and the Pegasus's cries. They echoed in his mind much more loudly than before and with Chrysalis added to the mix, he just couldn't drown it out.
He had to prove himself... but it suddenly didn't seem as easy anymore.
"Where are you taking me?" Twilight asked her changeling guards. "I haven't done anything wrong, why are you moving me?"
"Quiet, pony!" hissed one of them. "You'll see, now shut up!"
"Well, you don't have to push me so much!" she snapped. "Don't you have any kind of convention on the treatment of prisoners?"
"You're lucky that you were taken prisoner," the other growled. "Believe me, what you're getting is luxury compared to what we do."
"Look, I just want to-"
"I'm going to tell you only once more to be quiet," repeated the first one. "If you do not, we shall ask our queen if we're allowed to have a little feeding. Maybe that would keep you quiet."
"Besides," sneered the second, "we wouldn't want to ruin the surprise for you. We know you'll like it once we get there."
At this, Twilight complied. They seemed to be a lot more on edge and were treating her more roughly than before. She didn't know if something else had happened or if it was something she did, so it was probably best not to aggravate them further. In their eyes, she probably didn't extend much further other than being food and with a whole city of ponies, they had plenty of that.
They had come for her a few minutes ago, almost kicking open the door to her cell. They'd shoved her up off the floor and practically dragging her out, saying only that Chrysalis had ordered them to transfer her to a different cell. Somewhere, they said, she might be a little happier with. She didn't like the tone in which he said it and instinctively tried to resist. She wasn't the only one.
She rarely saw her brother angry, but the state he was in when they tried to take her made her think he'd be able to bend the bars to escape and still have enough strength to knock her captors out. But even he had doubled over when one of them had punched him through the bars and threatened more, if Twilight didn't accompany them. Not wanting to see her brother hurt, she conceded, though he hadn't kept quiet.
Even now, she was dreading what they were going to do to her. They were still in the dungeon and her magic was still being suppressed, so she couldn't get away. Had they decided that she was no longer useful as a prisoner and start feeding on her? But then why would they threaten her with that if they were going to do it anyway? Maybe it was to scare her, so she wouldn't resist until they had her where they wanted her.
Her mind must be going through a dozen possibilities, but she couldn't begin to narrow down any of them. All that she could do was wait. If it was something bad, maybe she could have a chance to escape. Her magic might be suppressed, but she could still throw a punch, get them off-guard. All she'd need to do is get outside and her magic would start to come back, hopefully before she got caught again.
For now, she decided just to let them take her. See what would happen before she decided to do anything.
They soon stopped outside another cell. She could make out somepony else inside, but it was too dark to see clearly. Whoever it was raised their head at the noise and looked in her direction, starting to get up. She remembered what the changeling said, that she would happier when she got here. A horrible thought suddenly entered her head and she hoped that she was wrong.
"Here are then," one of them said, opening the door. "See, we're not all that bad. I think you'll find this a lot better than your previous cell."
The other shoved her inside. "Hope you have fun with your new cellmate."
They laughed as they swaggered off, Twilight noting the hooves that came to steady her when she stumbled in. Her heart both plummeted and soared at the same time. There was only one pony she knew who would treat her with such care. Her eyes were starting to adjust, but she knew who it was even before she saw his face.
Her voice was barely a whisper. "Dusk...?"
She could just make out his warm smile. "Who else would it be, Miss Sparkle?"
"Oh, Dusk!" She threw her hooves around him, almost knocking him off balance. "I was starting to think I'd never see you again."
"I was the same," he confessed, holding her close. "I just wish we were reuniting under different circumstances."
"What's happened?" she asked him urgently. "I thought you and the others all escaped back to Ponyville. Did the changelings come after you like we thought they would?"
He nodded. "Yes, they did. It goes without saying, but I wish this was one of the times we weren't right."
"I can imagine." She paused, dreading asking the next question that she could almost guess the answer of. "What happened then? Is everypony else okay?"
"For the most part. We took volunteers to hold back the changelings, the others evacuated to Hoofdale. We did the best we could but..." He hung his head. "There were too many of them, Twilight. We tried, but even I have to say... we barely stood a chance."
She could actually feel her hopes plummet the moment he spoke those words. Ponyville, the town that had stood up against countless attacks, that she had called her home for the past two years, had fallen to the changelings just as her former home had.
Even though she could figure out the answer, she asked regardless. "What about the others? Did they manage to escape?"
"I'm afraid not," he said regretfully. "Everypony who stayed to fight has been captured, our friends included. They're probably going to use them for food."
"Yes. I'm sorry..."
"Well... maybe they'll find some way to escape."
"We can only hope for that much."
"But what about you? Why did they bring you back here?"
He sighed. "I suppose that, since they had you prisoner, this is supposed to be some sort of twisted game they're playing. Once you saw me and I told you all of this, maybe they thought you'd start to lose hope."
"Well, they definitely made their mistake there." She snuggled up closer, resting her head on his shoulder. "Now that I'm back with you, I'm just going to keep my faith."
"Definitely a big mistake on their part," he agreed, kissing her forehead. "I'm happy to hear you say that, Miss Sparkle."
"I'm happy you're here to hear it," she returned. "You think it's going to be okay?"
"Twilight, my love," he whispered, raising her head so she gazed into his shining, emerald green eyes, "I can promise you that it will be."
Yes, she thought, already losing herself in those emerald depths and starting to forget all the fears that were plaguing her mind, just focusing everything on him. They were together again. Everything was going to be just fine...