• Published 3rd May 2013
  • 13,017 Views, 946 Comments

The Dusk Guard Saga: Rise - Viking ZX

Steel Song is a lot of things. Earth pony. Uncle. Professional bodyguard. Retired. So when he receives a mysterious package from Princess Luna, he's understandably apprehensive. Things are never as they seem in Equestria...

  • ...

Training - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

“Have a seat,” the captain said, gesturing with a hoof as he rounded his desk. Nova sat down, doing his best to hide his confusion at the abrupt summons. Captain Song sat down behind the large desk. “I’ll be with you in a moment,” he said, sliding one of the desk drawers open. “Just let me find something first.”

Nova nodded but didn’t say anything. He waited for a moment as the captain flipped through the desk drawer, sorting something that Nova couldn’t see, but when it became apparent that it was going to take more than a few seconds he turned his attention back to the rest of the office. He’d never actually been in it before, which wasn’t that surprising as the captain had only been able to use it for just over a week.

Still, as he looked around at the office, he couldn’t help but be surprised by it. It was almost—he searched for the right term—utilitarian. Which, given the stallion's demeanor, he supposed that it shouldn’t be that surprising, but the office was flat-out bare. There was a clock over the door where the captain would be able to see it at a glance, a few empty shelves on the walls, two chairs in front of the desk—one of which Nova was currently occupying—and the desk itself. The two walls that met with the sides of the barracks were bare, bereft of adornment, and there wasn’t even a picture on the desk. Although there was quite a large amount of what looked like paperwork spread evenly across it. Given how large the desk was and how recently it had come to be in use, Nova mused, it was just another reason to make sure he never had one.

“Ah, here we go,” Captain Song said, pulling a thick folder out of the drawer and tossing it on the desk, papers crinkling and sliding out of the way as the folder came down on them. “Take a look at this.” He gave the folder a slight nudge with his hoof. Nova leaned over the desk, his eyes on the Captain as he pulled the folder back towards himself. It didn’t look like much, just a plain, simple tan folder with a file number printed on the tab. Captain Song continued to look at him expectantly, so he slid the edge of his hoof under the folder and flipped it open.

A composite drawing of his own face stared back at him. He looked a little younger, but then the picture itself looked a little old. It was him maybe five, six years earlier if the manecut on his head was any clue. It also wasn’t entirely what he’d looked like back then, but then again it was a composite sketch.

He slid the sketch aside and took a quick glance at the rest of the folder. It was pretty standard fare. A psych workup full of theories and predictions. A brief mention of his history, including a few pictures of him as a young colt when he’d still been at the orphanage. Some theories on his personality and interests. And then page after page of Guard reports, arranged chronologically from most recent to earliest, covering his various escapades over the years.

“Pretty interesting reading material there,” Captain Song said, and Nova gritted his teeth as he shut the folder. What was he trying to do? Remind him of his past? Goad him? He could feel a spark of anger lighting inside his chest as he looked up, waiting for his next words. For a taunt, for a threat, anything.

“And,” the Captain said, sweeping the folder back across his desk and into the open drawer. It slammed shut with a loud clang as he looked Nova right in the eyes. “I’m pretty sure it’s mostly bunk.”

The spark in Nova’s chest went out as swiftly as if it had been submerged in water. “Wait, what?” he asked, confused.

“I said it’s bunk,” Captain Song said, sitting back. “Horseapples. Ponyfeathers. Buffalo balloons, if you’re from the Southeast. My point is, I don’t believe most of it.”

“Most of it?” Nova asked, still waiting for the other horseshoe to drop.

Captain Song nodded at him and then cracked a slight smile. “Well, those pictures of you at the orphanage are a pretty compelling case that you actually did spend your early years there.” Nova felt his coat bristle at the mention of the orphanage. The last thing he wanted to talk about was the orphanage. “But,” the captain said with a shake of his head, “that’s not what I wanted to talk about.”

“It’s not?” Nova offered, still not quite sure where this conversation was supposed to be going. Don’t drop your guard just yet, Nova, he reminded himself. He’s still your warden.

“No, it’s not,” Captain Song said. “I wanted to talk about something else, so I’m calling in my favor.”

“In what way?” Nova asked. He could feel his heart rate increasing, the hairs on his coat standing on edge. This had all the signs of a lead-up, but to what he couldn’t tell.

“I want you to tell the truth,” the Captain said, leaning forward. The look on his face wasn’t accusatory, but soft, almost curious. “I was on the other side of the field today when you engaged those two with the flag. I saw you let go of your magic. And—” he leaned back again, one hoof up, “—I also know that you’ve been holding back your magic when you’re training or being tested.”

Nova’s face must have shown his surprise, because the captain grinned at him. “Dawn figured it out first, in case you were wondering. She modified one of those light tests for your horn a few days ago, turned up the resistance, and you still got the same score. So,” he said, looking directly at him. “I’m not unhappy with you, because there must be a reason for it. And you aren’t going to be punished. I just want to know why.”

Nova sighed as his mind jumped back. “You understand, sir,” he said, figuring a little appeasement couldn’t hurt. “That I really don’t want to talk about it. I don’t ...” he paused, trying to find an easy way to put it. “I don’t even like thinking about it,” he said as he looked up at him. “I really don’t.”

“I understand,” came the response. “But I’m afraid that I really must ask.”

Nova stared at the Captain for a minute, trying to summon his usual grin, but the will just wasn’t there. The clock ticked in the corner ominously, each click of the gears sounding painfully loud in the silenced room. The room had to be enchanted, Nova realized, in order for it to be this quiet.

“Alright,” he said at last, his words breaking the tension. “No sense in hiding it. I am holding back.” He gave the Captain a shrug. “The last time I went all out on a test, I scored a five-plus. I guess if the scale went high enough I’d probably be a six.” He ignored the stunned look that the captain was giving him.

“But to answer your original question, the reason I’ve been holding back ... Well, the reason I pretty much gave up magic entirely...” He looked back at the cutie mark on his flank with it’s interlinked crescents. Every muscle in his body tensed.

“I nearly killed somepony,” he said, his body sagging as the words left him. “It was how I got my cutie mark.”

There was silence in the room for a moment. Nova looked up to see the captain looking at him with sympathy in his eyes. “That’s why you don’t like to talk about your cutie mark,” he said, and Nova gave him a slow nod. "When was this?”

“Just over four years ago,” Nova said, his mind flashing back. “The last job I ever did, or at least, until recently, if you could call that a job.” He gave a hollow laugh.

“The night you lead those Night Guard platoons all across Canterlot?”

He nodded again, meeting the captain’s gaze for a moment and then hanging his head once more. “I was just having fun, you know?” he said with a shrug. “I stole something from the palace, let the Guard spot me for fun, led them on a chase. Just for kicks.” The words felt like barbed ropes as he pulled them from his insides. “I was being foalish, taunting the Guard, mocking them.” He shook his head. “I’d already pushed them enough over the previous few months, and I didn’t think that it was going to be any different that night, but it was.”

Nova straightened up, looking his captain right in the eyes. As painful as it was, he couldn’t hide from it. I won’t hide my face, he thought, taking a breath as he prepared himself.

“I ended up in an abandoned office building in the southwest end of Canterlot,” he said, looking Captain Song in the eyes. “The building was condemned to be torn down, so the plan was to lead the Guard on a bit of a chase and then lose them in the condemned areas. But,” he said, remorse welling up inside his chest, “I’d underestimated how much I’d angered some of them, and they followed me in there, blasting everything in sight. The building was already unstable ...” he let his words trail off, swallowed, and shut his eyes.

“So it started coming down,” he said, the memory standing out stark and clear in his mind. “The whole place. I don’t know if it was just ready to come down, or if one of their spells set it off, but ...” He shook his head.

“I did the first thing I could think of,” Nova said. “I went all out with that beam spell of mine, trying for something—anything, really—to keep the building from collapsing.” He could almost feel that same cool tingling feeling he’d felt then, the massive surge of power that had swept through him.

“The next thing I know there’s this massive flash of blue light, crashing right through the building,” he said, sighing and opening his eyes again. The captain was still watching him, but the look on his face wasn’t the look he’d expected. It wasn’t harsh, just … thoughtful.

“I made a pillar of ice ten feet across that completely encased the main support beam,” Nova said, his voice flat. “And the Guard next to it. And that,” Nova said, leaning back, “was when I got this.” He tapped his flanks. He felt … deflated. That was the best word for it, he realized. As if something had just let the air out of him, all the bluster and confidence gone. He looked up at Captain Song and for a moment there was silence as the two looked at each other.

“What happened then?” the Captain asked, his voice quiet.

“I booked it out of there,” Nova said. “There were still a couple of his buddies around, so I knew I couldn’t stick around.”

“Did he survive?”

Nova nodded and blinked, feeling a faint wetness in his eyes. He blinked it back. The words were coming easier now, but he wasn’t about to let it show. “I checked up on it. He nearly died, but not quite. He ended up in intensive care at the Canterlot General for a few weeks, massive freeze-burns. Almost lost his wings and one of his hooves. He’s still a Guard, far as I know.” He gave another shrug.

“That was the last job I did. I quit using my magic, for anything big anyway. I didn’t want to risk it anymore. I left Canterlot, disappeared.” He paused, the odd jobs he’d worked springing to mind, the moving from place to place.

“Didn’t anyone look for you?” Nova turned his attention back to the Captain as he spoke. “Old associates maybe?”

Nova shook his head. “I always worked alone. And by my own volition. I had a pony or two try to ‘hire’ me once, but it didn’t go so well for them, and word got around. So when I disappeared ...” He shrugged. “No one took notice but the Guard.” He blinked a few times, but the wetness was gone. No tears. Good.

“And then the thefts started on the trains.” Captain Song said. It was a statement, not a question. He’d already figured that out.

Nova nodded just to confirm it, unsurprised. “Yeah. I still kept up with things, had a few contacts who fed info to my old drop boxes at my request. When the train robberies started up I got wind of it, and it didn’t take me long to realize that most ponies would put two and two together and come up with my name. So I let myself get caught before anypony decided to pin the thefts on me. No sense in getting picked up for both. Of course,” he said, thinking back on the few weeks he’d spent in the jail cell at Appleloosa, “I was pretty tempted to bust myself out after about a week.”

“But you never did.”

“Oh I was tempted!” Nova said, feeling his mood lift. “I even broke out of the cell a few nights and rearranged the office,” A small chuckle bubbled out of his lips at the memory. “That ornery sheriff was mad at his deputy for days after that. Thought he’d been digging through his desk.”

“But back to that night,” Captain Song said, gesturing with one hoof.

Nova felt his grin vanish almost involuntarily. “I almost killed a pony with my magic,” he said. “Someone nearly died because of something I did with my magic, and I got a cutie mark because of it. That’s why I hold back. I haven’t used my magic for more than menial stuff in a long time.”

For a second the captain opened his mouth as if he was going to say something to him, but then he shut it almost as quickly. The sat there for a moment, Nova’s ears occasionally twitching as the clock ticked. Then there was a squeak, wood scraping against wood as Captain Song shoved his chair back and walked around the table. There was a sudden weight on Nova’s shoulder as the captain put his hoof on it.

“Nova,” he said, looking down at him. “When I first joined the academy, I had an experience similar to yours. I’ve always been a strong pony, and when the time came for my first sparring match against another student, I got carried away. I was so eager to impress my instructor that I put too much of myself into the match. I broke another student's back leg.” He sighed, shaking his dark green muzzle from side to side. “I still feel guilty about it from time to time, even though that student forgave me. They healed him up in time and he went on to serve a long career in the Guard. He’s retired now, lives out in Hollow Tale. But at the time, it ate me up inside.” His hoof left Nova’s shoulder, but he didn’t break eye contact.

“I almost quit after that. Here I’d wanted to protect ponies,” he said, tapping his cutie mark, “and yet all I’d done is hurt one. I didn’t control my own strength, and I paid for it, along with somepony else who by all rights shouldn’t have. I just had to come to grips with it.”

Nova let out a sigh. “I know, I just haven’t been able to shake the fear ever since.” There was another long pause, longer than any so far.

“Well,” the captain said at last, “thank you for being honest with me.”

Nova shook his head, ears pressed low against his skull. “I never was one to hide the the truth.”

“Well,” came the response. “That’s something I can be thankful for. But Nova, we do need a magic user on this team.”

“I know,” he said, taking a deep breath and looking up at the captain. “I know. I’ll figure it out. Accidents happen. I don’t think I’d feel quite so bad about it if it wasn’t for—” he gestured at his cutie mark. “You know?”

“I do,” Captain Song said with a nod. “It’s one thing to make a mistake, but to be branded for it...” He paused. “Couldn’t your cutie mark stand for something else?”

“You don’t think—!” Nova stopped speaking. “Sorry, sir, you … You’re not the first to say that. All I know is that it’s connected to my skill with using the sun and the moon to power my magic, but I didn’t get it for doing that.”

“Well,” Captain Song said. “Here’s what I want you to do. Just your best. Take some time to practice with your magic. We can get you your own room if needs be, or even take you outside of Canterlot. But we need a dedicated magic user, so I’m asking you to just do what you can.”

Nova nodded. “I’ll see what I can do, but could I ask you something?” There was a muted nod. “Don’t tell anyone else about this.”

The Captain gave him a nod. “I won’t tell anyone else that I don’t have to.”

Nova shrugged at his superior's words. “I guess that’s good enough, you’re the captain.”

“Even as myself,” he said. “Without the whole captain aspect, if I can help out somehow, just let me know.”

“I will,” Nova said, nodding. His eyes darted to the clock. “Anything else, sir?”

“No,” Captain Song said, stepping back. He turned to walk back around his desk, but then stopped, one hoof hanging in the air. “Hang a second. Maybe,” he said, a sly smile creeping across his face. “You said you still have contacts?”

Nova nodded. “Before you ask, I won’t sell them out.”

“No, no, no,” the captain said, shaking his head. “Not what I had in mind at all. Tomorrow while everyone's getting fitted, I want you to go tell Hunter that you have contacts with the local underground. I think he might need your help with a project he’s working on.” His smile grew larger. “Projects we can spend bits on.”

Nova felt a smile creep across his face. “Now that, they might want to hear.”

“Glad to hear it, Nova,” Captain Song said, hoof coming up in a salute. Nova snapped his own up in response. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Dismissed!”

* * *

Steel yawned as he made his way up the front walk to his sister's home, fighting the urge to stretch his neck. The sun hadn’t quite set yet, but he’d had a long day. Between training and the match with the Royal Guard, he was ready to call it a night. Not that Jammer and Sparkle would let him do that, but he was alright with that. That and his sister had been scheduled to get back earlier that day, and it was always nice to talk to her again.

As he raised his hoof to knock, his mind flew back to the conversation he’d had with Nova. It was no wonder the kid wasn’t using his magic if that was the last big thing he’d done with it. His conflicting emotions on the issue probably didn’t help either. Didn’t emotions affect magic? He made a mental note to ask his sister.

His hoof came down on the door with three rapid strokes. He could hear faint voices inside, voices that went quiet as his knocking echoed through the front hall. Good. Somepony was home. That probably meant that his sister was back.

There was a click and the door swung open. “Sapphire!” Steel said, throwing his hooves around his sister. “You’re back!” When she didn’t say anything, or even return the hug, he stepped back in confusion. “Was the trip … pretty...” His words died on his tongue. His sister was giving him an icy cold glare so cold it probably would have given Nova’s ice magic a run for its money. “Sis?” he asked.

“Well look who it is,” Sapphire said, her voice absolutely deadpan. “Steel, coming to visit.”

“Uh, Sapphire? Everything alright?” Steel asked, backing up a step. He’d only seen his sister this way once before, after a colt she’d been dating had dumped her for another mare.

She’d dunked that colt in paste and confetti and then hung him from the school flagpole.

“Is everything alright?” Sapphire asked, her cold glare beginning a shift towards hot rage. “All right? All right?!” She stepped forward and Steel unconsciously backed up. “No, everything is not all right!” she said, her eyes narrowing further with each word. “And just to think a few weeks ago you were sitting with me, out back on the wall, telling me you were feeling empty! Well you know what Steel? That’s! Your own! Fault!” she said, stomping at the walk with her front hooves as she uttered each word.

“Sapphire—I ...” Steel stammered, trying to make sense of his sister's behavior. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh you don’t, do you?” she said, stamping her hoof again. “Well then you deserve this all the more!” Her hoof came up and she slapped him across the cheek, hard enough that spots danced in front of his eyes.

“Ow!” He stepped back, rubbing his cheek with one hoof. “What was that for?”

She slapped him again, this time on the other cheek. “All she ever heard about you was good things! She was so intimidated that she almost didn’t talk to you the first time you met! And what did you do? You become a total jerk!” She stepped back, breathing heavily. “I can’t believe you, Steel. Fifty years, and you go and pull a stunt like that.” She leaned in close, eyes narrowed. “Well until you apologize, you can bet your plot you aren’t going to be welcome in my house.”

“I—I still don’t know what …” He ran his thoughts over the last few days, trying to find some explanation for his sister’s outburst and latching onto the first possibility he found. “Are you mad that I told your kids about the Blademaster?” He could see their faces peering around the door now, Jammer and Sparkle both. Both of them looked shocked at the display their normally calm mother was putting on.

“You think this is about that?” his sister asked, her face darkening. Her horn lit up as her saddlebags shot out of the door, lifted in a purple glow. “You have to be—the dumbest brother—ever!” she said, pausing periodically to smack his head with her saddlebags.

“Look!” Steel said, covering his head with his hooves. “Just tell me what I did!”

“You know what you did!” his sister yelled, giving him one last thump with her saddlebags. “And if you don’t, you’re even worse than I thought!” She shook her head, giving him an indignant glare that would have been enough to repel an entire griffon combat squad.

“I just can’t believe of all ponies, you would be so heartless!” Sapphire said, eyes narrowing. “Now leave.” She pointed a hoof down the street. “You can come back when you stop being such an enormous plothead!” She spun on her hooves, stomped up the steps and walked inside, slamming the door behind her.

Steel sat on the walk in shock, feeling like his whole world had just been turned on its head. And, even worse, feeling more empty inside then he ever had.

Author's Note:

Well, how's that for answering one question and raising a few others? :pinkiesmile: There's definitely a little drama going on with this team! And I would love to talk about it, but I'm deathly worried I might give something away by mistake, so all I'll say here is that we've definitely hit the half-way point. So all you readers, congrats! You've read four-hundred odd pages about the Dusk Guard! Tartarus! You're already into epic-length novel territory (and just FYI yes, that's an actual size name, epic length)! I'm glad so many of you have stuck with and enjoyed the story so far, and as if picks up new readers I hope to see it continue to hold it's 1 in 6 ratings, which is ridiculously high for Fimfic which makes me very :pinkiehappy: !

I look forward to seeing everyone's reaction as this crazy epic moves on towards it's conclusion! Anyone figure out the who or what yet?