by Zealous Shift

Well That De-Escalated Quickly

In what could have been described as half throwing myself and half sprinting, I was on the move again and bolting down the nearest hallway. It had taken me two or three minutes to get the door slightly open, it’d take ten seconds for an army to bust its way inside. If I could distance myself far away enough from the door, I could possibly escape through a broken wall section undetected. There was still the risk that patrols would be guarding the exterior, but I’d rather run through them than into the main force.

Sunlight shone in through the cracks in the walls, thankfully giving me a proper line of sight down the hallway. While I didn’t exactly have time to take the tour of the building, I did have a good memory when it came to travelling. As long as I had a general idea of what the place looked like, I could double back without issue. The fact that the hallway looked nearly identical all the way down was a bit nerve-wracking, but as long as I remembered which doors I went through and which I didn’t, I’d be fine.

I started off in the throne room and took the first right I found. About six doors down I took a left, then a right after another three. I had no earthly idea where I was going, but I was hoping that the confusion strategy would work to my benefit. If I had no idea where I was heading, how could anyone else? I had passed five, no, six doors down my current hallway, which meant that I was running pretty fast for a guy that never exercised back home. Though running for my life was a good incentive to keep that speed up. In my haste, I had hardly noticed the odd looking stone in the middle of the hallway. As I stepped on it, the rock sunk into the ground and caused me to trip on it.

“Oh crap!”

To worsen the situation, the floor opened up in front of me to reveal a convenient staircase for me to fall down. The image of my neck snapping in half pleasantly greeted my mind as I cringed waiting for impact. The impact was as good as you’d expect, quite painful and in a hurry. My bones cracked as I rolled down the stone staircase, but I didn’t hear or feel anything snapping. I thought that I had dislocated my shoulder for a moment as I landed, only to realize that I had awkwardly fallen on top of it. The armour was jutting into my skin, but my arm was only bruised. It would’ve been a lot worse were it not for the steel protecting me.

“I love you costume…” I breathed as I tried to get a good look of my surroundings. From the small strands of light that managed to bounce into the tunnel I could see several other staircases leading back up. Perhaps it was used as an emergence tunnel for evacuations? Why they’d have the button that unlocks such a tunnel be placed right next to the rest of the cobblestone, I had no idea. The castle seemed to be made more by griefers in Minecraft than actual architects.

My staff lay on the ground forlornly and my cloak had a few new tears in it. I felt bad that my costume had taken such a beating, seeing as how it had possibly saved me from several broken bones. Granted the costume may also have been why I was being hunted down by guards, but I didn’t want to focus on the negatives. Besides, having a naked first contact wouldn’t have gone well for humanity.

Odd crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, giving a strange blue glow. It would make sense to have some kind of lighting system, but how such a system had the power to last one thousand years… I couldn’t fathom how much power these gems could contain. Magic was the obvious answer, but that only made me think. Could magic store so much energy inside one of those crystals that they’d last or long, or did they have the ability to recharge? Were the crystals magic made material? Were they millennial batteries that were on their last legs? It was ingenious really, the crystalline lights, but the fact that half of them were dimming and the other flickering reminded me that I should hurry and find a way out of the castle.

As I picked up my staff, the distinctive sound of sliding stone graced my ears. I turned around and to my horror, saw the floor, now ceiling, closing in and sealing me beneath ground. As quickly as it had opened in front of me, it had again closed. In a vain escape attempt, I tried bashing my way through the stone with my staff. After about fifteen seconds of this process did I finally realize how futile the attempt actually was. The chandeliers still offered some light, so I could possibly still find a way out.

I approached the first ascending staircase to the left and slowly crept up the steps. Even with a stone floor between me and the rest of the guards, I didn’t want to make too much noise. The top of the stairs left only an empty room. I could see another hallway though a window of all things, but nothing else. If I took a minute or five to catch my breath, I could use my staff to break through the window and continue running. A loud sigh escaped my lips as I sat down on the cold rock to rest. To my horror, a patrol of about a dozen guards walked right passed the window.

Not a single of the ponies turned around to look at me. Could they have really been so blind? There was a giant window big enough to fit a cow in through and they couldn’t see me or the glowing blue lights? Two regulars, who appeared to be carrying rations and what might have been a box of tent building supplies, paused in front of the window. They looked directly at me, their giant eyes devouring my soul.

“These paintings are pretty creepy,” murmured the first one to the second. A painting? They thought I was some kind of painting? How insanely thick did they have to be to assume that I was a painting? I wasn’t even looking back and I could still see the flickering of blue off the walls.

“Yeah, how many pictures of the moon did they hang up around here?” replied the second. Wait, the moon? The realization that dawned on me nearly brought me to laughter. It wasn’t an evacuation tunnel, it was a secret passage. Magic, for once, had saved me. It was a one way mirror, they saw a painting and I saw the people behind it. The amount of paranoia needed to install such a surveillance system was lost on me, but I couldn’t help but crack up slightly at the relief. I nearly had a heart attack over nothing.

“How about we just keep on moving?” a unicorn asked shakily as she slowly walked past the two. Based on the lack of armor and the thermometer mark on her, I had to guess she was some kind of field medic. Despite her pale blue fur, she was wearing a green cloak around her neck with a pink heart sewn onto it. I reasoned that the pink heart was the equine equivalent to the red cross as the symbol for doctors and physicians.

The two regulars mumbled agreements as they let the unicorn go first. She looked scared out of her mind, which actually gave me a twinge of guilt. The castle was already insane enough, crumbling and built by the most outrageous architects the nation had at the time, the fact that a ‘demon’ was wandering around must have frightened her to no end. I pressed my face up against the glass to try and get a look at how far down they were. If a patrol just passed, then it’d be a while before another one came down this direction. If I waited it out for a couple minutes, I could break through and no one would be the wiser. I saw the two regulars bring up the rear as they turned to the right, assumedly going around a corner that I couldn’t see.

“Dead end and no secret entrance, turn back,” called one of the guards. All the better from my point of view. If the hallway was a dead end, no one would come back looking for me there. They’d be gone for a while and by the time they had the brains to come back and look there, I’d be gone. Hope was my hubris yet again, as my plan was dashed from my mind when one of the patrol members stepped on another trigger stone. The group froze up just as they came back into my view.

“Trap!” cried what I assumed to be the squad captain. Five pegasai, all wearing golden armour, spread their wings out trying to cover as much of the rest of the group as possible. With all the group now in view, I could see that only half of them were proper guards. Five pegasai in uniform, four regulars each carrying supplies that they’d no doubt use to set up camp and the unicorn medic. If every patrol was like that, then only half of the army that came looking for me would actually be equipped for fighting. The other fifty percent would probably scatter at the sight of me. Not to mention the fact that the guards would be more preoccupied with keeping the others safe than attacking me. Chaos was a beautiful thing, I had realized.

My smugness was ripped away as I found the wall spinning around, taking me with it. In a few seconds, I was stuck on the other side with about ten absolutely terrified ponies. The only other female, a regular, fainted on the spot and the unicorn broke into tears. The pegasai clutched spears with their hooves, an action that only befuddled me as to how, while the rest of the regulars bolstered the front line, albeit shakily.

“Remedy, the whistle!” one of the guards hissed. The unicorn’s horn lit up in a violet glow and a whistle in the same hue floated out of one of her bags. The few seconds that she took to panic and clear her throat gave me enough time to realize what she was going to do. The voice of CABAL from the Command and Conquer series announced, “Enemy reinforcements have arrived,” in my mind. She’d summon the whole army in a matter of seconds.

“Not a sound!” I declared loudly, my staff pointed directly at her. The crystal turned a violent shade of crimson and sparks began to discharge around the focal point. I had no idea of what it was doing, or if it would do anything, but it seemed intimidating enough to make the guards flinch and the unicorn to drop the whistle.

“Give it to me.” I commanded in the darkest voice I could give. The whistle was practically thrown at me with the speed that the unicorn tossed it over. One of the guards looked like he was going to punch her, but immediately backed off as I pointed my staff in his general direction. Thankfully the ponies were a lot more scared of me than I was of them, because I wasn’t sure if the staff actually had any power to hold off ten of them at once. Well eight, counting the crying and unconscious one. I slipped the whistle into the inner pocket of my cloak and took a small step back, still keeping the staff raised.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” I instructed as I took another step back, “I am going to leave here and you will report back to your commander to say that you need a replacement whistle. Your excuse will be that one of the traps caused the unicorn to drop and lose hers. You will not report that you have seen me, or that you’ve even heard of me. Is that clear?” The majority of the group nodded nervously as I had successfully begun my retreat. I was about twenty feet away from where I had gotten dumped out and was getting ready to sprint down the nearest hallway. Again.

“The demon!” screeched a voice from behind me. I quickly turned, my staff still pointed at its original targets. Behind me was another group of guards, no doubt having heart me yell before. I cringed as their unicorn blew a whistle as loudly as his lungs could let him. The newcomers were already advancing on me while I could hear the thunderous sound of reinforcements on the way.

“This is just getting worse and worse, isn’t it?” I muttered under my breath. I was screwed. Completely and utterly screwed in every possible sense. Ten of pony wusses? Sure. Twenty? Possibly with divine intervention. One hundred? Not a chance in Hell. There was nothing I could do unless… unless…

“God, please forgive me for what I’m about to do…” I sighed as I turned back and leapt towards the first patrol. My size, weight and just general presence barreled me right through them like a bowling ball. Most of them scattered immediately, but I wasn’t so concerned about them. A quick shove knocked the captain back, which left me and my target. I picked up the unicorn, Remedy as the guard called her, and pressed the crimson tip of my staff to her throat.

The hall became eerily quiet as everyone took in just what I was doing. The two groups formed one wall blocking my only exit as they all shared increasingly worried looks between themselves. I could feel her throat scrape against the crystal as she swallowed, which only made me grind my teeth in frustration. She struggled breathing, trying not to hyperventilate and to not get cut by the gem. I moved my staff back ever so slightly, enough to let her breath without hurting her but still close enough to let the rest of them know I could impale her at a moment’s notice.

“Please,” she gasped loudly, making me break my eye contact with the rest of the group momentarily, “I have a filly in Canterlot! Please don’t kill me, I just want to go back to my daughter! Please!” My teeth gnashed together harder as I convinced myself not to let her go. Her tears were streaming down the side of her face and onto both the staff and the gauntlet I was holding her with. Any sign other sign of sympathy and they’d realize that I didn’t have the guts to kill her. While keeping her hostage would only reaffirm my cruelty in the eyes of the royal family, I didn’t want to take chances. Trying to be friendly, as Discord had said, would only be a part of Celestia’s mass Byzantine conspiracy that surrounded me.

“I want free passage out of the castle,” I announced darkly, “You are not to follow me, or give a report to the royal family. I will release her when I feel I have gained enough distance from you. If you attack, she will die. If you follow, she will die. If you consider betraying me, she will die.”

“How do we know you won’t kill her anyways?” challenged the opposite group’s unicorn. He had a point, and the sound of approaching hooves didn’t help my case at all. While most of them looked ready to fold, the captains still looked ready to fight. I just had to apply a bit more pressure and they’d cave. If the herd is what made them strong, then it should be what makes them weak as well.

“It is the only possibility that she has a chance of surviving.” I responded coldly. The look of concern was all that I needed to know that the captains were going to let me go. The first of the reinforcements were starting to arrive, but by the looks on their faces they didn’t look like they were going to oppose me any more than the rest.

“Let it pass!” hollered the second captain down the hall. The wall of bodies broke apart, giving me a clear route all the way to the presumed exit. The sound of hooves stopped and I began walking towards my eventually freedom. With every step I took the unicorn began to squirm more and more. I was beginning to lose my grip when I had finally had enough. I was going to die if she escaped, so I did the only thing that I could do to make sure she’d stop moving. In a swift movement, I cut into her right cheek then applied pressure back on her throat. The slow trickle of blood down her face was enough to pale some of the guards as we walked by. The worst she’d get was an infection, but I doubt she’d get that far as a doctor herself.

“Please!” she continued to yell, “I don’t want to die! Save me! Please!” The guards shuffled in place, but did nothing more. My small act of violence was more than enough to dissuade any action. It felt wrong, even more than it normally would have. Ponies were more like children, even in the army. Their wide eyes of horror and fear bore into my soul ever quicker. They saw me as a monster, which under circumstances did make sense. My hostage continued to call for assistance weakly, but no longer struggled in my grasp.

Aside from the unicorn’s crying and bawling, the way out was dead silent. I could see her cry harder as her tears began to fall into the open cut. My heart felt broken inside, but my resolve was still strong. She’d have a small cut and nightmares for a week, a small price to pay for me keeping my life. In my position, I’m sure she’d have done the same. As I began to see sight of the throne room, I noticed the lack of guards. They were sparsely occupying the majority of the hallway, only maybe sixty at the most. The paranoia of where the others could have gone was picking at me.

Upon entered the throne room itself, I immediately looked up to see the answer that I was expecting. About twenty pegasai, all carrying spears, were hovering near the ceiling. The look of shock that hit their faces was hilarious. I actually chuckled slightly from their predictability, which only garnered a more fearful reaction from them. Their big trap was for naught, and I still held the hostage safely within my steel grasp. It wasn’t even that hard to figure out really, their tactics were as poor as their stomach for fighting. Dejectedly they flew down to the floor, looks of sorrow and pain adorning their faces.

The unicorn, Remedy, took the failed trap as well as one would expect. Her calls for help ceased and she fell limp in my arms. It was pathetic really, I wanted to comfort her more than anything else. I purposefully walked out the main doors, heading towards the rising sun. I would flee from the castle and find a better place to hide. After releasing her, I’d double back and head in the opposite direction. Perhaps, in given time, I would be able to make peace with them all. At that moment however, I wanted nothing more than to be done with them. Peace could come later however, I had to prepare for war.