Many of us lived layered lives, secrets built upon secrets. However, some of us never thought about what kind of impact it would have when those secrets were revealed. Sometimes it is devastating, at others, it would be no more than a breeze in a park....
Layers upon Layers
Four Years Ago
“Where the hay is he?” Complained Rainbow Dash, “Isn’t he supposed to be seated somewhere close to us?”
To elaborate on her point, the cyan Pegasus made a show of looking around her.
“Well… Um… I’m not really sure…” Replied Fluttershy, looking around nervously, her attitude a stark contrast to that of her companion.
The two were seated in Cloudsdale’s Racetrack, which was currently modified to mimic the sky on a stormy weather. Indeed, the obstacle course within the stadium had been cleared to make room for dozens of clouds of all kinds; in fact, one could spot quite a few thunderclouds among the rest of the grey ones.
The stadium was packed full of Pegasus, even in the skies above one could see airships, zeppelins and all kinds of aerial contraptions hovering about, filled to the brim with Unicorns and Earth ponies that had came specifically to the event.
Dogfights, a competition composed of various aerial teams having mock battles in the sky. It was as much a military practice as it was an entertainment, and was very popular. However, why so many flocked to this competition today was for another reason entirely.
The Wonderbolts, Equestria’s finest Aerial team, was a participant in this event.
However, the two female Pegasus could not fathom where the one who sent them the tickets was, especially when some of the lucky ones here who were rumored to obtained by queuing up three days beforehoof.
“Caught sight of your coltfriend yet?”
“Not ye- Chrome’s not my Coltfriend!” Yelped Fluttershy.
“Anyway-“ Started Rainbow.
“You gals know Chrome?” Interrupted another voice.
Turning around, Rainbow Dash came face to face with a dark blue Pegasus, who looked as curious as she was.
“Yeah, who’re you?”
“Oh, right, name’s Rain Wake, I’m a classmate of Chromes in the Flight Protégé Institution. This here’s Cloudaxe, nice to meet ya!” She replied, indicating he companion, a solid looking white Pegasus.
“Classmates,” Shrugged Rainbow, “and here I thought he got himself into some shady business, nice to meet you too though.”
“Nice to meet you,” whispered Fluttershy, though nopony else heard it.
“Shady business?” Rain Wake raised an Eyebrow, “what kind of books have you been readin’?”
“Never read a single one in my life!” Declared Rainbow proudly, “never will!”
“Ooookay…” Replied Rain Wake, “Anyways, you two know who Chrome is?”
“Lemme guess, he sent the two of ya tickets to this show too?”
“How did you know?”
“He did it for me and this bloke over here,” Rain Wake indicated her companion. “Probably even sent quite a few to the our other friends.” Rainbow noticed the empty seats next to them as she said that.
“How did he do that?” Wondered Rainbow aloud.
“Oh, ya ain’t hearin’ anythin’ yet,” Winked the blue Pegasus, “I heard he even managed to get a couple of VIP seats for his mum and Instructor Rearsweep.”
“He WHAT?” Exclaimed Rainbow aloud, “Now HOW did HE get THOSE?”
“Ten bits that he’s working for one of the sponsors of this competition,” piped in Cloudaxe, “good connections always helps you get these kinds of things. Anypony up for it?”
“On,” Replied Rain Wake, “I’ll say that he’s one of the participants though.”
“Well,” Interrupted another voice, “I’d much rather wait and find out than guess what he’s working as.”
“Tallsign!” Exclaimed three voices, and another whisper.
The grey Pegasus wore a crooked grin on his face, as always. Smiling at the group, he continued, “Well, personally, I’m just here to see the show, really grateful that Chrome could fish out some tickets for us.”
“Ya ain’t curious how he got them?”
“Well, I’d be upset if they were received illegally, but otherwise, no.”
“No fun as always, I see.”
“What do you think?”
Getting bored of the banter before her, Rainbow Dash turned towards the wide stadium. From her view, she could see the stadium keepers rushing back and forth as they pushed clouds into the random places over the area of the playing field.
“Can’t they just hurry up with the show,” Rainbow Dash was impatient, “the suspense is killing me!”
Spitfire, Captain of the Wonderbolts Squadron Code Epsilon, marched before her subordinates. Dressed in a tight light blue flying suit with the emblem of her organization’s upon it, the yellow Pegasus was geared up and ready to go out onto the field, except that she needed to give a speech to her fliers, both for morale and tradition’s sake.
“Listen up, soldiers!” At her barked command, the squad of eight snapped to attention, “as much as we liked to be protecting Equestria as its number one flight force at the moment, we had been drafted to join in this mock battle event by the name of Dogfights. Though it may seem useless, I had enough experience from this false battlefield to tell you that it would be every bit like the aerial combats that we would be fighting outside of peace.”
“Dogfights was birthed with two purposes, the first was for entertainment, and to raise funds for Equestria’s military, the second, was to remind us of the war between the Pegasus tribes in ages past. However, the fact remains that the Wonderbolts were meant to be the best among all of Equestria’s Aerial Battalions. Hence, this naturally meant that we had to be at the top of everything, including mock battles like this! So give our opponents no quarter! You hear me?”
“Yes ma’am!” The Squadron hollered back, with the exception of one.
“Yes? What have you got to ask, Soarin?
A slim light blue Pegasus, Soarin was one of the best fliers in the group, and Spitfire had learned to count upon his judgment when he gave it.
“Who’s our opponents, ma’am?”
“The Shiftgliders,” replied Spitfire, smiling at Soarin’s reaction as she said it, “Though Soarin probably knows who they are, I doubt that the rest of you do, so I’ll give an explanation.”
“The Shiftgliders are one of the lesser known flight groups in Equestria, because they hardly reveal anything. In fact, they did not participate in many events such as this in their entire history. However, even though they are top notch in discipline, they never fight fair. Anything that could give them the advantage, anything that could give them an edge, they’ll take it, so long as they fall within the required rules. They’ll play by the rules alright, but you could be sure to see them use those rules against us as well. That’s their specialty.”
“So how do we deal against them, ma’am?” Asked a young orange Pegasus, Rapidfire.
“Remember our secret team?”
Another rule of Dogfights, each side was allowed up to three Pegasus to form a secret team. This team could be deployed at anytime, and their identities were kept a secret until the point they were deployed onto the playing field. However, they were not allowed to enter the field with their teammates, hence becoming the wild cards in the game, unable to adhere to any known strategy or instructions until they entered the field, apart from the ones given to them beforehoof.
“You mean they are to…?”
“So it’s up to those three to help us play dirty, huh?” Muttered Soarin, “do you think that they are up to it?”
“Well, the one from Flight Protégé Institution possess great potential, “Replied Spitfire, “if he could unleash it, we’ll be able to have a great boost on our side.”
“And so long he does so, this game’s as good as won…”
The siren blared and sixteen figures shot out from the entrances into the stadium, like blue lightning bolts, the Wonderbolts made their traditional fly by over the arena, leaving smoking trails in their wake. In contrast to their opponents, the Shiftgliders hovered above the area of the event, giving the impressions of bloodstains against the blue sky in their dark red suits.
The crowd gave all a mixture of cheers and jeers for both teams, but the overall effect was one of epic proportions. Above the clamor, the voice of the local commentator, who had been reassigned due to having almost choked a colleague to death, could be heard. Glitterdraw, who did not regret any of her actions or her reassignment, flew like a maniac across the stadium, at a speed that could rival the Wonderbolts zeal.
“WELCOME EVERYPONY! TO THE FIFTY-THIRD SEASON OF DOGFIGHTS!” She screamed, whipping the crowds into a frenzy with her voice, “TODAY, WE BRING YOU ONE OF THE MOST FAVORED MATCHUPS IN THIS SEASON! ON ONE SIDE, WE HAVE THE CROWD’S FAVORITE, THE ESTEEMED WONDERBOLTS! GIVE THEM A BIG ROAR!”
Mad with excitement, the crowd howled in response to her words. However, Glitterdraw was far from done.
“BUT DON’T BE SO SURE YET OF YOUR FAVORITE TEAM’S VICTORY! FOR WHILE YOUR OPPONENTS ARE NOT HEARD, THEY STILL LISTEN AND LEARN! EVERYPONY! LET’S HEAR SOME CHEERS FOR THE SHIFTGLIDERS!”
Another loud cheer rose up, though it was not as impressive as the one before, much credit was still given to the lesser known.
“ANYWAY, AS MOST PONIES HERE ARE SURE TO KNOW, THE EVENT TODAY IS FLYING DODGEBALL! FOR THOSE STILL UNFAMILIAR WITH IT, IT IS JUST DODGEBALL, IN THE SKY! ONCE YOU’RE HIT, YOU’RE OUT!”
“OF COURSE, GETTING HIT BY ANY TYPE OF BALL WHILE YOU’RE IN THE SKY IS BOUND TO HURT! THAT’S WHY FOR THIS EVENT, WE ARE USING A SPECIAL TYPE OF EQUIPMENT. CREW! FIRE!”
In response to her command, a small projectile was launched into the air through one of the chutes that had been placed at the walls of the stadium. Deftly catching the projectile, Glitterdraw displayed the sphere for all to see.
“THIS HERE IS A COLOR BOMB! THANKS TO THE MAGIC, IT ONLY EXPLODES ON CONTACT WITH A PARTICULAR MATERIAL; IN THIS CASE, IT WOULD BE OUR FLIERS’ SUITS! ONCE COLORED, YOU’RE OUT! SIMPLE AS THAT!”
“HOWEVER, IT AIN’T EASY TO GET THESE COLORED BALLS, BECAUSE THOSE CANNONS WILL BE AIMING AT THE CLOSEST FLIERS! SO EITHER CATCH THAT SOMETHING FLYING TO YOU, DODGE IT OR GET OUTTA THE GAME!”
Tossing the sphere back to the cannon attendants, Glitterdraw shot up into the air in a dizzying spiral.
“NOW THAT THAT’S CLEARED UP! LET’S GET THE SHOW ON THE ROAD! ON THE COUNT OF THREE!”
The crowd went wild as they joined in the countdown.
All the fliers from both teams took carefully planned positions around the stadium.
Muscles tensed as the quickening wing beats started make the air vibrate.
Chaos encompassed the area as Spitfire weaved in and out of various obstacles in her way. Diving fliers, floating clouds and launched colored bombs, none touched the Wonderbolt captain as she flew among the sky.
The adrenaline bringing her senses to a new level, Spitfire could barely register her two teammates keeping up with her. However, as much as she wanted to give in to the forces now assailing her senses, Spitfire fought for control.
After all, she was the Wonderbolts captain, their leader. If she falls, their formation falls and defeat would be eminent.
“Soarin!” Ducking a cloud, Spitfire called for her teammate through the earphone issued to her, “status report on the region two of the stadium?”
“Two hostiles on my six, no casualties on either side as of yet.”
“Good, how about yours, Fleetfoot?” Spitfire hailed her other teammate.
“This is Rapidfire! Fleetfoot’s down! There are five of them against the two of us in region three right now! We need backup!”
‘Five?’ Thought Spitfire, ‘added to the two Soarin got, that means there would only be one left, who could it be?’
She got her answer soon enough as she had to dodge a colored ball flung her way. Looking up at her attacker, she could see a single Shiftglider hovering among the clouds.
They all look the same under that entire getup, a quality the Shiftgliders prize. However, Spitfire recognized her attacker, for if there was anything they could not hide, it was their flying style.
When one became a flier, and had known somepony else for quite some time, it would be easy to tell their way of flying apart from the rest.
“Rip Dash.” Acknowledged Spitfire, “Captain ‘Silent’ Rip Dash, never thought I’d see you here.”
Her adversary did not respond. Spitfire was used to it. They had cooperated on joint operations and practice sessions before, and the few times she had heard Rip Dash spoke, it would when he was offering reports or lectures. Apart from that, she had never heard the Captain of the Shiftgliders A.A.T. (Ambush Assault Team) speak. Definitely worthy of the term ‘silent’.
It would explain the well-planned surprises. It was common sense to split your team as evenly as possible so as to avoid being outnumbered and cover as many areas as possible. Not to mention, nopony would ever expect a single Pegasus to take on three others almost equally skilled in flying.
A clever plan, and one that cost the Wonderbolts a member, however, Spitfire wasn’t Captain for nothing.
“Blaze! Fire Streak! Go aid Rapidfire! I’d take care of Rippy here!”
At her command, her two teammates dashed off towards Rapidfire’s team assigned area. However, out of the corner of her eye, she could see a blood red streak zipping towards them.
Or was zipping towards them. Throwing her weight forward, Spitfire flew on a collision course towards Rip Dash, who pulled back from the attack to avoid being knocked off course.
“Uh-uh, Rip.” Spitfire smiled as she stared into the eyes behind those green goggles, “I’m your opponent, as always.”
It was a fierce competition, one that Glitterdraw had not seen for a long time. Wonderbolts and Shiftgliders, both teams of expert fliers. Dozens of moves were executed by expert fliers in a matter of seconds as they both strove for their own victory.
It had only been thirty minutes into the event, and already, Glitterdraw was out of breath, both from the excitement and the shouting she had to dish out.
Well, it really helps when there were no time outs and no useless colleagues that would interrupt her commentary.
Speaking of which, she should get back into right now. Taking a deep breath, Glitterdraw readied herself.
“I suppose that Chrome’s one of the secret teams?” Commented Rain Wake.
“I think so too,” Replied Tallsign, “but I’d bet that he’s going to be part of those Shiftgliders, with him being rejected from the Wonderbolts and all.”
“What?” Interrupted Rainbow Dash, “he was rejected by-“
“EVERYPONY!” Screamed the commentator suddenly, “IT APPEARS THAT THE WONDERBOLTS HAD CALLED IN THEIR RESERVES! HOW WOULD THE SHIFTGLIDERS RESPOND TO THIS?”
Rubbing her ears at the volume of the scream, Rainbow Dash turned her gaze skywards, in time to notice three Wonderbolts plunging down onto the stadium from a height, which made them looked as though they were ants in the sky.
At an incredible speed, the three Pegasus converged on various members of the opposing team, who shot out in different directions to avoid the unexpected assault.
However, one in particular caught Rainbow’s attention. In a smooth arc, that Wonderbolt swooped in upon one of the Shiftgliders and knocked her into the path of a colored projectile. Unable to prevent the momentum, the Shiftglider could do nothing as she was struck and colored in a sticky blue liquid.
“LOOKS LIKE THE ODDS HAD STACKED AGAINST THE SHIFTGLIDERS! HOWEVER, THE WONDERBOLTS HAD BETTER NOT LET UP!” Screamed the commentator, “WE HAVEN’T SEEN THE SHIFTGLIDERS’ SECRET TROOPS YET!”
However, Tallsign and Rain Wake paid no attention to the hysterical yelling of the commentator, for they were too focused upon one of the Wonderbolts.
“Is that?” Asked Rain Wake.
“Yes,” Agreed Tallsign, reading her mind, “That’s him.”
Soarin was glad that backup came when it was needed. The Shiftgliders’ unorthodox strategy had crippled his teams’ plans. Fleetfoot and Blaze were knocked out early into the match. Furthermore, the region they were responsible for was completely dominated by the Shiftgliders who outnumbered there.
There was also the factor that Spitfire was keeping the enemy team’s captain, Rip Dash, occupied. Soarin had to hoof it to her, for Rip Dash was by no doubt one of those geniuses. Every bit a leader, and a good flier at that. The fact that Spitfire’s keeping him occupied was a feat by itself already.
Snapping back to reality, Soarin, surveyed the field.
Within all the chaos, he could see that the tables had turned with their reserves coming in. Everywhere, he could see outnumbered Shiftgliders struggling to stay in the game as the Wonderbolts forced them into positions that furthered their disadvantageous position.
‘This area’s as good as secured.’ Smiled Soarin, ‘but their reserves haven’t arrived yet, and that’s what worries me.’
Quickly mapping out multiple scenarios in his mind, Soarin decided on what would definitely be the worst one that could happen.
“Reserve one! Reserve two!” Soarin barked into his microphone, “go help out the Captain, we don’t want her outta the game!”
Hearing their acknowledgement over the earpiece, Soarin allowed himself to smile. He could very nearly see the sight of victory ahead him.
“Stay still!” Spitfire snarled as she made another unsuccessful dive at her adversary, who hovered just out of range before ducking behind a cloud.
It was infuriating, that every time they face off, Rip Dash would utilize a different fighting style. It was part of his mantra as part of the A.A.T., such that the unexpected would always occur. However, Spitfire hated this new type of fighting style the most, she decided.
Like a slippery eel, Rip Dash had done nothing but escape and escape in this showdown. Apart from the occasional attack, there was no sign that Rip Dash wanted to take her out of the game. It was as though he wanted to keep her from the scene of the main battle.
Not that she cares, from the regular updates that Soarin had given her, she knows that the Wonderbolts were winning and that backup against Rip Dash was arriving soon. She need only hold out till then.
And with Rip’s downfall, victory would be as good as theirs.
Detecting a movement to her right, Spitfire lashed out at the cloud in that direction, bursting it into bits. Through the broken fragments of the cloud, she could see the silhouette of Rip Dash back away quickly like a cornered rat.
Except… that Rip Dash does not feel like a cornered rat. What had made Spitfire puzzled was the fact that it feels as though Rip Dash was planning something.
“Captain!” Shouted a voice into her earpiece, “we’re here!”
“Good job, recruit!” Acknowledged Spitfire, “we’re at area one-four-one in region one. Circle around and we’ll trap him in a pincer attack!”
Smiling grimly, Spitfire hovered around, maintaining her distance from the Pegasus in the blood red suit.
“Looks like time’s up for you, Rip,” taunted Spitfire, buying time for her subordinates to move into position. “It looks like your plan wasn’t good enough.”
As she spoke, she could hear the faint sound of the commentator announcing the arrival of the Shiftgliders’ reserve.
“Looks like your secret weapon just arrived, except that it won’t do you any good now. Not unless you got another genius on your team, because you are going down!”
At her word, she dashed forward at Rip Dash, and just within her field of vision, she could see two other blue lightning bolts streak out of their hiding place towards their target.
Multi Layered Thunder, that was the name of the formation. It was designed for usage when a group faces a single opponent. Members would launch themselves at where they think their opponent would move next, and it was performed at such a great speed such that it would be impossible to predict which areas were covered. Spitfire had never seen a single Pegasus to avoid the formation before.
Rip Dash tried to avoid it though, attempting to escape, his momentary panic left him wide open for a second, a fatal mistake. Knocked out of the sky by the formation, Spitfire plucked a projectile that was flung in their direction by a cannon and threw it at the falling figure of Rip Dash, knocking him out of the game.
Or that was what that was believed to have happen.
Before her astonished eyes, Rip Dash hovered in the sky, without any reaction. It was as though he had resigned himself to fate. However, what happened next was incredible. As though he was an otherworldly being, Rip Dash gently rolled out of the way of the first recruits’ path, only to stop MID roll to twist himself out of the other recruits’ path.
Right into the course of Spitfire.
Putting aside all doubts, Spitfire pushed herself forward, streaking like a fireball towards her target. However, she did not count on what happened next.
Rip Dash, who she had never seen grin before, let out a small smile. She could not see it completely, as the blood red flight suit of the Shiftgliders masked the entirety of their face as well. However, she could see the small outline of his mouth, and whatever that means it most definitely did not bode well.
That was when she fell into a trap.
It happened so slowly, yet so fast.
Spitfire raced towards her adversary, who calmly, as though picking a fruit from the tree, plucked a projectile from the thin air that was flung at them from the cannon beneath them. Unable to change her course, Spitfire could only watch as Rip Dash flung the projectile in front of him, right into the face of the oncoming Spitfire.
For the first time in her life, the Captain of the Wonderbolts had her speed used against her.
The sticky blue paint spread across her face, Spitfire instinctively slowed down, and flew off her intended course.
‘How? Rip Dash’s a speed type! Not a balance type! How could he have that type of control?’
What Rip Dash said next answered her thoughts almost immediately.
In a voice that does not belonged to him.
“Hello, Dark Jet.”
Hearing one of her reserves’ name called out, Spitfire tried to pay close attention to the conversation as she struggled to keep her balance. She managed to hear her subordinate’s reply, at least.
Chrome Windcutter loves it when a plan comes together. Aside from the fact that his cover was blown and that he was outnumbered two to one. At least he should be proud of the fact that he knocked the Captain of the Wonderbolts out of the game, even though it was by surprise.
He should savor this moment too, Chrome decided. He could almost see the surprised eyes through his former classmate’s goggles. He could not fault Dark Jet for feeling so, however. After all, they had come here seeking the enemy team’s captain, only to find out it was their old classmate.
“So,” began Chrome, “how’s life in the Wonderbolts?”
“Wha…” Dark Jet stuttered, “What are you doing in the Shiftgliders?”
“Hello?” Sighed Chrome, slowly distancing himself from the two Wonderbolts, “I was rejected, remember? From attending the Wonderbolts Academy? Because of unfortunate circumstances? You telling me you don’t remember?”
“Oh. Yeah. I forgot.”
“Well,” Smiled Chrome as his wing muscles tensed, “I’ll chat later, once this game’s over!”
Finishing his statement, Chrome shot out into the clouds, leaving Dark Jet and his unknown companion in surprised confusion. Shooting dizzily between the clouds, Chrome only stopped when he was sure that they do not know which one he was hiding within.
“Chrome!” Dark Jet called. Admitting that Dark Jet was quick on the uptake, he poked his head slightly out to get a better view on the two Wonderbolts.
“Chrome!” Taunted Dark Jet, while his companion hovered silently about. “Stop hiding! Are you telling me you don’t fight fair?”
‘Like I’ll fall for that, Dark Jet,’ frowned Chrome, ‘and for the record, I play fair, I don’t fight fair.’
It was common sense to use anything to further your advantage in a fight anyway.
‘And I happen to know that boredom’s your worst nightmare. I can wait until the game’s over anyway. Because you can’t find me, as long as I don’t want you to.’
‘They don’t call me ‘The Elusive’ in the Shiftgliders for nothing anyway.’
The match ended with an unexpected outcome. It had appeared as though the Wonderbolts were winning, but the Shiftgliders managed to pull an unexpected tactic upon them. By disguising one of their members as their captain, the Shiftgliders managed to take out Spitfire of the Wonderbolts purely through surprise. With the loss of their captain to coordinate, the rest of the Wonderbolts became easy pickings for the REAL Captain Rip Dash, who was actually among the Shiftgliders reserves. The Wonderbolts fought bravely, but against such numbers and tactics, not to mention underhoof tactics, they lost, leaving the crowd stunned at the turn of events.
Especially one particular female Pegasus.
Well, not so much stunned than seething. And she was really angry…
Her idols lost, and not through fair play, Rainbow Dash would have accepted it that way, but through what was most definitely foul play! Not to mention that the authorities did nothing about it! Some friendly event!
Walking along the white cloudmass corridors of the stadium, she made her way towards the Shiftgliders R&R room, intent on giving them a piece of her mind. Especially one particular colt, WHO HAD TO BETRAY HER BY JOINING THE ENEMY!!!!!!!
(Insert you favorite rage photo here please.)
‘Where is it? Right turn? Or left? AHA!’
Making a turn that would most definitely bring her into view of the R&R room, Rainbow stood stock-still for a moment both reversing her motions immediately.
‘What is she doing here? And what is she doing talking to HIM?’
The pony in question was none other than Spitfire, Captain of the Wonderbolts, and she was speaking to none other than Rainbow’s foalhood friend, Chrome Windcutter.
“To be honest, after seeing your skills today, I’d really wonder why the admiral rejected your application a year ago. The fact that you could masquerade as Rip Dash just now was… pretty amazing…” Spitfire was saying.
“We can’t help it ma’am,” Chrome replied, “but I always go for the next best thing if I can’t get what I want.”
“I see, do you want to try again? I can put a good word in for you too…”
“Thanks, but no thanks, Cap’n” replied Chrome, almost regretfully, “but the admiral promised me a personal invitation, I’m holding her to that.”
‘That idiot!’ Thought Rainbow, screaming hysterically in her mind, ‘did he just REJECT an invite from the captain HERSELF?’
“I see,” Continued Spitfire, “I’ll look forward to your induction at that time then…”
However, Rainbow was too preoccupied cursing Chrome’s reply to pay any more attention to Chrome’s next whispered words. Which she would have caught if she listened intently.
Dropping his volume immensely, Chrome whispered to the Captain of the Wonderbolts.
“The Silent says, deploy your Wonderbolts to Zeppelins two, four and six, executing Operation: Cleanup in two hours time.”
To be continued!