The relentless stampede of grueling scenarios pounded my brain over and over. My muzzle clenched as I stomped down the hall, and my jaw ached more with every passing nightmare that drove my tranquility further off its mental cliff. The cadence was backbreaking. Fibers of my very essence were being tangled with a construct that begged to ponder the daunting what-ifs. What if more than just the lab had been lost? What if others had been hurt? What if she had been home?
The searing heat of blood pulsing through my body might have been an illusion, but the aftereffects were quite real. Whatever doubts, whatever misgivings, whatever disenfranchised hopes I held in the recesses of my internal cathedral for these enemies, they were hunted down and purged. Enemies, the word itself carried an almost foreign flair. I had seen my fair share of obstacles, and I had been in more combat than most Equestrians could dream; however, I could not recall a single instance in which I had stricken someone to that most-chastised column.
Then again, never before had any opposition connected the dots. As horrifying as the hypothetical questions were, they were at least subjugated to the bounds of conjecture. My house being destroyed, unfortunately, no longer abided by the rules of fiction. In the background, Amora continued to paint the portrait of reality regarding the Las Pegasus assault and response. Several unicorns had been apprehended while attempting to flee the scene, and some rookies had been injured during the exchange of castfire.
“Ashen Mystic was not among the members taken into custody.” The single sentence overcame the sweltering noise that composed my inaudible deliberations. There was no mistaking EHVM’s involvement. They were behind the attack, which meant that I had left something behind during Ground Cover’s rescue operation that revealed a link.
“Bullshit…” My outburst surprised the medic straight into a stupor that halted the ongoing relay. Her lips curled into a sheepish grin as though she had decided to wear the embarrassment on my behalf. We had spent enough years together to know when something slipped out unintended, and this one was definitely such a case. “I didn’t leave anything behind,” I explained, hoping the additional bit would bring the mare up to speed.
“A bit Triggeresque, wouldn’t you admit?” she teased as her awkward expression transformed into something spirited. “But I guess that explains what you’ve been thinking about this whole time. You followed your usual protocol though, correct?”
I nodded. “The only objects I brought with me were my uniform, the A0, and a case of Celestia rounds.” Echoes of that shot still rang in my memories, but the accompanying burdens that I had felt were long gone. To me, there was always a line in the sand when it came to conflict – one that separated a pony’s presence on the field from cherished treasures. Sure, the divide could be trampled easily enough, and throughout history, a few depraved souls demanded such actions. To me, however, that delicacy of equinity made it worth protecting; I just never imagined that I would live to see it recklessly abandoned.
“You said you only used one round. Did you leave the case behind? Maybe…” Amora stopped when I groaned at her overly maternal tone. “I guess you’re right. The cleanup crew would have spotted something like that. Although, you have no right to gripe with me, Professor,” she quipped. “I saw your bedroom when you were a foal, so I know all about your little messes.”
I froze in my tracks and tilted my head with a quick snap. By impulse, her barb had put me on the defensive, yet there was something there that ticked a gear forward and pinched an anxious nerve. The cogs spun as awkward sensations of euphoria and vertigo swept over my limbs. Ideas rapidly tumbled into place – having squeezed into crevices that I had carelessly overlooked.
“Change of plans! I made a mess!” I turned towards the nearest exit as a noticeable wave of confusion washed over Amora’s mien. “They went back to the site after we pulled out. Its values might be jacked up, but we still need to remember that the EHVM likely has some gifted unicorns in the ranks. Ashen Mystic herself possesses an accredited archaeological talent, so what if she saw a spill made with a princess’s magic?
“I need to find Trigs and get suited up; and you need to get back in that meeting to convince Celestia to cancel whatever engagements she has. I still don’t understand how they made the jump to my lab, but it’s too much to be just a coincidence.”
The alabaster mare heaved a heavy sigh once I had concluded. “I’ll do what I can, but remember that I’m your doctor, not a secretary. I don’t particularly have that much sway with the royals, and frankly I think they can take care of themselves. It’s your duty to protect the common pony, and it’s my duty to look after you. So let me just say that you’re doing that dumbass thing again.
“You were boiling a few minutes ago – ready to march whatever order you damn well pleased down the throat of anypony. Every time you’ve bottled up your feelings with a quest, it has never ended well. It’s different this go around, Wing. They came after you, not some other pony you have to save. They came after you and hit your home, so don’t go running off on us to do something incompetent.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Amsy,” I replied in a tone that carried a hint of Trigger’s natural grit. “I’m not bottling up anything for the sakes of these ponies. There is no excuse for what they’ve done. Attacking a civilian target is crossing the line – one that I do not take lightly. Others were hurt, and they were hurt at my expense. I’m not running off to do incompetent shit; I’m running off to deal with every single one of them.”
Ashen roamed the streets of Canterlot with far less apprehension than she had during the venture into the city. Hearing Erzsevine’s plan brought her a great deal of relief, and those feelings intensified with every evaded guard they passed. Kinetic’s powers were working wonders, even against a foe that was clearly at the ready. Whatever these ponies were seeing, it was not a group that aroused or warranted suspicion.
The group of six took an indirect route towards the arena as an additional layer of protection. Like a snake, they would meander to the target until the perfect opportunity arose to coil and strike. They also had to wait for Tepesch to begin his exercise, and Mystic could only imagine what glorious webs of terror he would weave to ensnare the vermin of society.
He was a bulky steed with strength that often surprised those brutish soil laborers, and his violet-touched cores kindled a sense of fear that ran shivers up Ashen’s spine even while merely reminiscing. Once, she had observed exactly what he was capable of doing, and the piercing wail that fled that creature’s dying form was only equaled by the crunching snap of bone. Courage, intelligence, and strength loitered about his demeanor in a manner that she could only describe as humbling – as though she were personally blessed with an immortal manifestation of her oppositions’ nightmares.
Telekinetic was her impervious shield; Wire Wise was her all-seeing lens; Tepesch was her sharpened spear; and Erzsevine was her unquenchable desire. A truly stunning lass Ashen had met in her youth, Erzse enchanted as the ponification of lust itself. She danced along the fringe of sin and dabbled as a graceful unicorn should. Those worthy of her dignity received it – whereas others experienced suffering worthy of her moniker. The pending race provided the perfect opportunity to see how much her faith had evolved.
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” A young, unicorn colt shattered the mare’s concentration with a sharp shout as he flailed a folded newspaper with a touch of magic. “Lab in Las Pegasus destroyed! Criminals captured!”
Ashen flipped a bit to the scrawny-looking pony and plucked the paper from his charmed grasp. The young one appeared completely improper for a member of her species. His colorless hat carried neither spark of life nor class; and his blue fur had degenerated into a ghastly, tattered condition. The spectacle paraded her reasoning in the open for all to engage. No able unicorn needed to exist in an Equestria where they were demoted to such infantile tasks.
“Soon enough, my child,” she cooed to the perplexed colt before they parted ways. Ashen eyed one of Canterlot’s many clock towers and made note of the hour. The structure, with its sapphire blue face set within shimmering white stone, was a genuinely serene guardian of this moment in history. Deciding that there was enough time, the mare unfurled the levitating parchment and began reading the headline article.
“Our friend wasn’t in last night,” Ashen informed Telekinetic, “but our message will most definitely be received. In fact, the absence of a professor on a school night comes across as out of character to me. Perhaps Wire Wise has once again shown us his genius with regards to data management.” She peered upwards as if speaking to a higher power and added a whispered prayer for her captured minions. “Your sacrifices will not be for nothing.”
When I reached the hotel room, I found Mozy resting comfortably upon my bed as Trigger chambered the specific assortment of specialty rounds he preferred. The stallion had favored an eccentric variety since I released the second generation casings, and there was really no point in persuading him to try something else.
Being a character of dream, he resonated well with the Luna-type shells and used them as a dominant front for his starting volleys. A pair of Little Squirts was carried out of respect for the dagger-loving mare, and of course, there was an added hint of Amora-type and Wing-type rounds to the mix. Beyond that, only his own ammunition made it into the brown backup bands that adorned his forelegs.
The fact that he could effectively wield the full spread of those wavelengths spoke volumes about Trigger’s inherent gifts. Simply firing a round was not enough to utilize these weapons. One had to fashion a bond with the magical extract sealed within each bullet. Without that connection, the reliability of the revolvers tanked, and the probability of catastrophic damage dramatically increased. It was another reason why I did not trust my contraptions to anypony else but Trigs.
“I like the W’s,” he commented, referring to a single golden casing now under his scrutiny. “Ya spent two shits and a Sunday trying to get it to work, but ya pulled it off in the end.” He snickered, alluding to the agonizing task of mining a sample of my own pegasus augury. “By the way, the dumb bucks down at the station blew their assignments. A rank illusion spell was all over one of those Vanhoover cars, and it wasn’t your typical crap job either.
“The city is crawling with unwanted guests, and they have actual talent to boot.” He loaded the last round into Kix and gave the cylinder a gentle spin before throwing a glance in my direction. “But first, I want to know what kind of rant your rampage brought upon us all.”
“The script needed editing as usual, but I’m here for a reason,” I retorted as my own gaze fell upon my uniform. Trigger – having determined that he need not prod further – responded to my words with an affirming grunt and returned to his preparations as I made my way to the liberty blue ensemble. I draped the fabric over my foreleg and peered at the jagged streaks of black that ran along the underside of the body. There was something about this costume that felt empowering – as though the constricting fibers imbued a sense of valiance into my soul.
I slid my hind hooves into their respective slots, fed my tail through a small slit, and hoisted the suit over my flank. With a gentle tug, the material settled along my thighs and unrolled upon my back, which yielded the perfect windows for my forelegs to move into position. My fur compressed as I guided the zipper towards my neck, and with each inch the tab progressed, the surge of valor grew ever stronger.
The hood stretched over my head and muzzle to complete the transformation. In its wake, a reflection stood that seemed unrecognizable. Chocolate irides – partially illuminated with an amber fire – gazed across the argent glass into my heart. I puffed my chest with a gulp of air, for my subconscious yearned for a reminder that this image indeed belonged to us. It did. I had chosen the path of war – for the defense of my family, my home, and the values upon which they blossomed.
The midnight stallion’s instincts had unveiled our battleground. My residence had been needlessly assaulted by bigots, whose audacities reached beyond the ethics and discourse of combat, and now my capital sat drenched in the stank of nefarious dreadmongers. While it had once terrified me, the mission passed down from above garnered an indelible edge that would neither be broken nor altered. We would eradicate Einhorn Vormacht.
As if on cue, sirens annihilated the fragile calm that hovered over the crowns of the unaware. Scrolls, containing direct royal decrees, emerged before our very eyes through spiraling portals of nocturnal flames. I swung back to face Mozy and Trigger. The former had rolled from the bed and stood at attention, wondering what exactly Trigger or I would say. The stallion did not budge from his post. His sights had once again thrown that errant attention past the panes and across Canterlot towards our showground.
“Belay that order,” he answered the unspoken question after pitching the scroll to the floor. “The others can handle one stallion attacking a fucking farmers’ market, and besides, that isn’t where we need to be. That same pitiful aura is creeping in from the stadium. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t a race start seven minutes ago?”