It had been a couple of hours since the Eclipse had left Canterlot and most of her crew had long ago retired for the night. Everyone that is, except the lone bat pony who stood watch at the bow of the ship. Looking out to the horizon, Vex couldn't help but think about all the times he had wished for a mission of this caliber, but now that he was here, all he could feel was a sense of dread and foreboding as if the wind itself was resonating with danger. Turning from the bow and shaking off the chill of the early morning air, Vex decided it would be best for him to get some shut eye before they reached the badlands.
Vex’s cabin was a pretty plain affair as far as airships go, the wall panelling was of a dark oak variety that was polished to a bright sheen, a small desk and a folding cot both of which were built into the wall. On the desk sat some of his most valued possessions; the first set was a light tan duster and black stetson hat, the last to reminders of his old life. The second set however, were sings of his new life; two dark cobalt blue revolvers sat crossed on his desk, their polished black grips glinted menacingly in the lantern light of the cabin.
Taking one last look around, Vex slid in to his cot and let sleep whisk him away.
Rivet liked being at the helm, it made his feel in control. However, he didn’t like being at the helm whenever a low flying bank of clouds rolled in. Today was the latter.
“Blasted glorified cotton swabs...” Rivet cursed to himself as he tried to find a break in the mass of clouds.
Making his way out of the command deck, Rivet was hit with an acrid odor and his heart rose in his chest when he realized that it wasn’t clouds they had flown into but smoke. The kind of smoke one smells when a house burns to the ground. Making his way back into the command deck, Rivet looked for the silver cord that rang the alarm bell. Upon spotting it, he gave it a firm tug and covered his ears as a shrill whistle filled the ship.
Vex heard it first in his dream; a whistle that was out of place and that was growing louder by the second. Finally reaching the edge of sleep, Vex opened his eyes and took the time to wake up. Vex could hear the sounds of the ponies and griffons scrambling around above deck and he could also hear the sound of cannons being loaded which sent alarm bells off in his head.
Getting up and grabbing his duster and revolvers, Vex rushed up to the maine deck to a scene of organized chaos. Looking to his left, he saw Nova helping some of the younger ponies load their muskets while Arcanian was pulling boxes of ammo out from the powder storage. Looking right, Vex spotted Stitches preparing his medical kit or at least making sure all of the sharp things were sharp.
Hearing the sound of hooves, Vex tuned to see Nova standing behind him with a rifle in her hooves.
“Here boss, I saved one of the Sharps rifles for you seeing as you dislike the muzzle loaders so much.”
Taking the rifle from Nova, Vex began to examine it, the stock and base were made from the same dark wood while the rest was a dull iron color. Giving it an approving nod, Vex slung the rifle over his shoulder and turned to address Nova.
“So what has everypony on high alert, Nova?”
Cocking her head to her side, Nova answered. “You don't smell the smoke in the air?”
Now that she mentioned it, Vex realized that he had smelt it the moment he had stepped on deck. He had smelt it but he’d pushed it to the back of his mind as nothing.
“What do you think is causing it?” Vex asked
Lifting her hoof up and pointing to a small camp of some kind, Nova answered again. “That.”
Focusing on the camp, Vex could see little flickers of light, almost like candles but Vex knew better; those were flames and by the looks of it, the fire had been started not too long ago.
What they saw when they finally reached the camp made some of the younger watch ponies wretch up their breakfast. The camp was in ruins; the tents were shredded and burnt, the ground was scorched and marked with drying blood and all around the smell of death hung in the air.
“Keep your eyes open for any clues or survivors.” Vex ordered.
Slowly making his way farther into the camp, Vex came across the body of a young Buffalo, his throat had been slit and he had been left to bleed out. Wondering why he had been killed, Vex took a closer look and found that this Buffalo had been rather scrawny and maybe even sick.
‘So you take those that can work and are healthy and leave the rest to die.’ Vex thought to himself.
“Sir, you might want to come and see this!” One of the watch ponies shouted to Vex.
Trotting over and joining the group, Vex caught sight of what they were looking at. Tied to a post was a white mare; her face was bruised and swollen while her chest and legs were cut and bleeding. Believing she was dead, Vex turned to the group of ponies and shooed them to other tasks. Vex was about to leave as well when a raspy voice caught his attention.
“Please... dont leave me.”
Vex looked back to see the mare looking straight into his eyes, silently pleading for him to stay with her. Cutting her free from the post, Vex held her while she shivered from fear and exhaustion.
“Dont worry you’re safe now.” Vex assured her. “Stitches! I need you down here now!”
Vex let her cry into his chest as his field medic made his way towards them.