A State of Darkness

by Wing

A State of History - Installment 13 - Sad but True

Even in the face of Trigger’s strength, the fragmented tempest refused to yield. It frantically attacked the instant the unicorn removed his hoof from its marred muzzle – flinging clumps of rotting flesh to the abyss. Its decay was symbolic of the entity it was – the dying dream of a damaged foal that hadn’t the faculties needed to complete it.

“What were ya meant to be?” Trigger wondered as he hurled another jab into the chest of the brute. Ember-like flickers strolled across the stallion’s amber irides as he glared at the mystical creature. A burning sensation sunk through the fibers of his coat while the lower part of his foreleg sat buried inside the squealing atrocity. “Were ya supposed to be a hero?” he asked with a blatant, staccato ice firmly fixed upon the leading edge of his verse.

It sliced through the rigid shriek with a bitterness that jammed an unexpected silence down the terror’s throat. Behind the horrid shrouds cast by mangled imaginations, every single one of the unsavory apparitions carried a purpose. The realization of this fact came far too late for Trigger to act upon it in his youth. Back then, the unfinished were beaten down without a second thought. They had been overwhelming aggressors upon the stability of his host’s mind, and an entire psychological campaign had been waged across the wasteland of a trampled subconscious until a single creed had emerged. The single currency…

Nonetheless, every phantom possessed its own history, whether or not it had been shredded beyond repair. As a foal, Trigger had feared what these razing specters could do in the confines of a shattered psyche, but he had grown. He was no longer a child that lived in the domain of day or night; he had come to recognize the smearing shades of greyscale that accented twilight’s dance. “Even shadows can dream, mongrel. Stop wasting our time and tell me why ya came into this world.”

Tears of the inked ocean beneath their hooves rose to splatter upon the wounds of the sobbing demon. Flashing glimpses of fulfilled wholeness sparkled in the fleeting residue of those supernatural currents, and Trigger swore that he had uncovered a rumbling chaconne laced within the guttural wails that bombarded his ears. That rasping bassline crawled through the desolate dreamshell and hammered away until a regurgitated name finally surfaced from the catacombs of ignorance. “Proud… Proud… Proud…”

Surly tones swelled with each statement of the captain’s name, and Trigger was forced to retract his hoof from the beast when its caustic anger manifested into a tangible form. A crackling sizzle rang from every unnatural orifice on its body as its false lifeblood transformed into something that retained a corrosive attribute. The stallion scowled as he tossed the cutting froth from his tender appendage. “Yeah, I get that he’s a fucking dick, but I need more than that, ya dumb piece of shit.”

The murmur surrendered to a brassy fanfare that burst forth from the vile bounds of the unfinished’s bulk. A cupric stench – not unlike that of a lingering bit coin – invaded Trigger’s nose after bands of an ejected, nefarious brew defiled the ink of his domain with poison. The garish streams swirled around his frame as he evaded, and subsequent hisses serenaded the colt with sounds akin to brushes running atop spread hi-hat cymbals.

Anger rapidly ascended along the heavy beat as it devoured the shaky sanity of the deteriorating menace. Emotion had always plagued the incubi, and Trigger could sense that the weight of Proud Valiance had shattered this one’s momentary instance of stability. Jets of that toxic mix relentlessly assailed his position with unaimed volleys that drove the guardian of reverie to pivot and rush forward with a burst of speed.

“I told ya! We don’t have time for this crap!” he called with undertones of frustration trespassing upon his melody. The searing sprays devolved into snarling mists that bounced off a thaumic barrier that had formed in front of the stallion’s foreleg, and quickly, the shield expanded into sweeping crescents that enveloped the writhing animus. In the blink of an eye, the growling fantasy found itself surrounded by the very real margins of Trigger’s impressive barrier.

Measures of their composition fluttered by the present as diminishing volumes of the murky poison pooled at the bottom of the creature’s makeshift prison. Eventually, he fell silent – having nothing left to hurl against the cocoon of Trigger’s magic. Once again, serenity managed to clutch an adagio movement and guide the unfinished towards a productive end. “Save… the… foals,” it groaned repeatedly as its decrepit hooves began to be consumed by its own dark sorcery.

Trigger nodded in understanding as the aura around his horn shifted to a brighter hue. Within the shell, the dangerous concoction was replaced with an argent blaze that settled like snow upon the floor of the vessel. “I’ll do my best,” he responded upon rendering another affirmative nod. His spell gradually snaked up the messenger, bathing it an angelic, Celestian light that began to heal the incomplete soul. “And I’m sorry,” he continued in a subdued tone, “for not figuring this out sooner.”

“Save… the foals. Save Midnight Star... from Proud. Hurting them… Stealing us… Go… to San Palomino…” the ghastly tenor drifted through the barricade. For a brief wrinkle in time, the captured beast transformed into a retrained, whole and complete pony before swiftly dissipating into oblivion.

Trigger stood in the blurred haze of his dreamshell and reflected. All the information he had sought had been obtained. There was no longer a need to stay sealed within the strolling tides of the ink-like sea that gently caressed his legs. The monster the 49th had diligently pursued was not the monster at all. Every observation converted the presumed terror into a beacon that had been undoubtedly thrust upon the domain of the awakened to find help wherever it could be found.

The unicorn proceeded with the deconstruction of the emptied sphere and set about retrieving his Coltston from the shallow depths. It came as no surprise when the hide felt soaked to the touch, but the stallion released a burdened sigh nonetheless. The sea’s scent prodded certain memories that Trigger had no desire to remember – and the stench would certainly take weeks to get out. Oh well, he thought, plopping the apparel atop his crown after his horn vanished beneath its cloak.

He would have to look the part upon returning to the daycare. After all, there was a role that needed to be played. To Proud and the underlings, he was nothing more than an obedient grunt, a simple earth pony, and a soldier of the line. Fortunately, it was a disguise that he would happily wear – for now.

Proud Valiance stared in disbelief after the dreamshell violently erupted. Members of his unit had been thrown into the building’s walls during the mysterious casing’s rapid expansion and disintegration. However, it was not that event that pushed the captain to the brink of absolute astonishment. The figure of a single, dark-coated stallion – outlined by the freed swirls of Luna’s light – stood at the center of the developing scene.

“Well that was pretty damn interesting,” Trigger quipped upon shooting a glance at the shell-shocked officer. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen something that crazy in all my days as a guard. I don’t know what fancy shit you’re working on, Captain, but at least I know that a swift ‘n clean buck to the face still brings the desired response.”

“You killed it!?” Wire Wise squeaked uncharacteristically while scouring the landscape for any sign of the enemy. The normally composed analyst staggered forward until he could discern the finer details of Trigger’s condition. While the newbie seemed a little scuffed up, particularly around the hooves, and while his umber hat and vest were a bit worse for the wear, the steed appeared completely unfazed by the confrontation with the dreadful nightmare.

“I killed them, Corporal.” The unabashed lie leapt from his tongue. “And of course I would. Why the buck would I want those things galloping around my town?”

The answer drew a chuckle from Proud’s lungs, and he flamboyantly threw his hoof in Trigger’s direction. “Did ya hear that boys? He killed both of them! It looks like we get to go home early.” His golden cores flashed as boastful reflections dotted his consciousness. So he kills with indifference and took care of two of my disobedience problems. Maybe I can use this one after all. We can clean up the lab, get things in order, and then I can finally go back to those damn bigwigs in Canterlot with useful findings – findings that will certainly bring me a really nice promotion.

“Normally we don’t outsource our responsibilities,” Valiance continued. “Dealing with our less-than-pleasant side-effects typically requires the presence of noteworthy unicorns, which is the reason for the unusual population of my squad. However, since you managed to save your city from – not just one – but two serious threats, I’ll humble myself and admit that we could use a pony like you to assist us at our laboratory. We wouldn’t need you for long – just a day tops to help tie up some loose ends. So what say you, earth pony? Are you available for a brief jaunt to San Palomino?”

Considering I had a filly pressed between my wings, I had made good time to San Palomino. She had wrapped her forelegs around my neck and buried her muzzle into my mane – likely in search of some shelter from the bitter desert night. As we had both expected, the town itself looked pretty barren from the skies – with only the light of a few homes scribing a constellation upon the earth.

With a bit of tension applied to some strands of my hair, the child pulled my attention towards the base that invaded the dusty wasteland. I pitched my wings to start our descent and continued to eye the complex. Roughly the size of a small community college, the site definitely carried an air of activity. If I had described the lights of the town as a constellation, the 49th’s station might as well have been a galactic core.

The grounds were well illuminated, and most of the buildings – with a lone exception – kept windows as a scarce design element. Breaking in would be a challenge, and an escape by land – with eight foals in tow – was out of the question. On the other hoof, my young companion was levelling the playing field by feeding me as much intelligence as she could. Proud had placed the entire laboratory on lockdown, which certainly made the jailbreak seem like an even more insurmountable task; however, the chaos had also left the facility severely short-staffed, which meant that a direct assault was back in the deck.

“The dorms are at the ends of the ‘V’,” the filly stated while thrusting her foreleg out in front of my muzzle to gesture. “The ponies are split up into two groups of four – with a group assigned to each end.” She slid her hoof down towards the point of the facility and continued, “The one with the glass is Proud’s command center. He doesn’t trust non-unicorns very much, so he probably left the pegasi trio behind to stand watch.”

I aimed my trajectory for the tower and rolled my frame to get a better look. Sneaking around with youngsters and their variety of temperaments did not bode well with regards to stealth, but incapacitating a threesome of ponies who probably felt pretty terrible about being left behind hardly seemed like a feat when the element of surprise was on my side. “That captain must not expect any visitors if he put three sentries on watch that he doesn’t even trust.”

“The townsfolk don’t really care. The unit looks heroic to them because it gives orphans a home, but what goes on inside is far from the second chance that’s promised.”

She released a soft squeak and gripped onto me tightly when I increased my rate of descent. There was not much more that needed to be said between us for me to adopt a plan of action. “I want you to teleport onto the rooftop and wait for my signal. If it never comes, I screwed it all up and we’ll have to wait for Trigs.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” she questioned as I closed the distance between myself and the top level of the guard post. I shook my head and moved my forelegs to brace for impact. There were other options, but none of them attained the likelihood of success that a surprise bum-rush against a few unprepared pegasi achieved.

Three guards sprung to attention the instant the sound of shattering glass yanked their unsuspecting ears. Fragments of the subsequent shower fell upon unstationed desks and peppered the bright linoleum floor while the pegasi scrambled to make sense of my intrusion. Only one of the lot – a cyan stallion with a dark red mane – had the wherewithal to counterattack immediately.

There were no words, heroic lines, or witty retorts shared between us. There were no stereotypical hallmarks of a Wild West climax. Instead, I was staring straight into the hellfire gaze of a startled guard as he hopped over tables to apprehend me. I sidestepped his first punch – a flight-backed hook – and hurled a forehoof into his exposed gut.

It was a rookie mistake, one that painted a clear picture of my adversaries. The blue blur had collapsed in a heap behind me and had just initiated the process of regaining his footing while his two comrades remained frozen in something that – based upon their dazed expressions – had to have been a pair of ravishing internal debates. No matter the source, the bequeathed image rendered the conclusion that none of the ponies in my presence had actually seen any combat.

I lifted my hind leg and jabbed the colt’s muzzle with a straight-shock buck that sent his unconscious frame tumbling. The sight plucked at the others’ strings, dragging them from their astray reveries back to the metallic rifts I was scrawling upon their histories. Their stares sharpened as they watched their brother fall, and their muscles contracted before adrenaline-fueled wing strokes pushed the pair ever closer.

Hatred contorted their brows into sinister masks that sought out the shelter I had stolen. Their forehooves had already shifted into positions worthy of unloading damaging blows upon my body, and with each measure of our song that fell victim to the decaying reverb, it became more apparent that I had exhausted the benefits of awe.

Preparatory breaths slipped in and out of my lungs as the yellow and tan pegasus ponies approached. I swept my legs outward, allowing the air to catch my wings when I dropped towards the floor, and spun my underside to the sky. Both had failed to change course to correct for my evasion, and I promptly caught a straggling sallow limb in my grasp.

My wings kicked out in opposite directions, pressing the roll maneuver to continue with the added momentum bequeathed by the charging guard. I torqued him from his intended path and released my hold at just the right moment to send the stallion careening into one of the work desks. The element of surprise had undoubtedly faded, but the laws of physics most certainly had not.

With his two cohorts down for the count, the tan flier made a beeline for the desecrated windowpane. Desperation had driven the steed to speeds that I had not anticipated when planning my hasty entrance, and I exhaled an audible groan the second my awareness jerked with the pangs of understanding. Proud Valiance might not have trusted pegasi, but he could always leave those behind who were good at running away … to him … in the event of an emergency.

The retreating sentry was almost outside by the time I had reset my bearings to begin the chase. I was convinced that my effort, stamina, and endurance would be spent while preventing this pony from making contact with his commanding officer – at least until an aura-incased rock pelted the side of his head. Like a ragdoll, he crashed to the floor in a bouncing mess that came to a halt just short of one of the intact sheets of glass.

“Sorry Shivery,” the bandaged filly addressed the fallen pegasus from atop one of the tables. “We like you all, but we just can’t let you get in the way tonight.”

I peered at the unicorn through blinking eyes and could not stifle the chuckle that dripped from my lips. Her mien of defiance, determination, and loyalty glimmered from her midnight coat – casting tides of familiarity upon the shores of my mind’s eye. From those recesses, I remembered one of Trigger’s youthful combat lectures – one in which he just so happened to preach the effective use of rocks – and drew the obvious comparison.

“Nice aim, Kid,” I spoke after straightening my posture. “I probably could have thought that out a bit more, but the end result is pretty much where I thought we’d be.” I began searching the nooks and crannies of the chamber – searching for anything that would be useful given our peculiar situation. “First thing’s first, though. I need to get those gentlecolts secured before we get to your friends. Can’t have them flying off and grabbing the others, now can we?”