• Published 26th May 2013
  • 1,427 Views, 162 Comments

No Heroes Part II - The Journey Home - PaulAsaran



Fine Crime and Princess Luna have chosen their team. Now there's just the minor problem of bringing them together. Every team needs a base of operations, and what place better than Ponyville?

  • ...
4
 162
 1,427

Lightning Crashes Part II

“Fine Crime!”

Lightning landed on the hill overlooking the mansion, searched frantically. “Fine Crime! Where are you!?”

She ran all over that hilltop in search of the unicorn, tears running down her eyes. She was already exhausted from a night with no sleep; the sun would be coming up within the hour. But she wouldn’t stop, she couldn’t! “Fine, answer me!”

“Would you keep it down?” She jerked about to see him just appearing out of black smoke, face annoyed. “Ponies aren’t supposed to know I’m here.”

She ran to him, shook him by the shoulders violently. “Where is he? Tell me you know where he is!”

He knocked her hooves away roughly. “Calm down! Where who is?”

“Gulfstream!” she shouted furiously. “My cousin! He’s gone, of all the foals in town, Gulfstream’s gone!”

“Your cousin?” he asked thoughtfully, rubbing his chin with his hoof, “now why would they take him?”

She caught his shoulders again. “They? Who’s they!?”

“It was a rhetorical question, Lightning.”

She let out an enraged shouted and hit him so hard he fell on his back. “Damn you, show some emotion! This is my cousin we’re talking about!”

He sat up, rubbing blood from his lips. “I’m sorry, you’re right. I didn’t mean to sound unsympathetic.”

She turned away and fell to her knees, sobbing. “My little colt… they took my little cousin colt… He just got his cutie mark! And he could fly… sweet Celestia that colt could fly… Why did they have to take him!?”

She wept and wept, damning herself for not coming home sooner, for not having figured everything out before now. She wasn’t good for anything, and now her cousin was paying the price for her uselessness. She wanted to die she was so miserable.

“You know,” Fine Crime offered quietly, “maybe he wasn’t taken. Maybe he just got lost, or…”

“Don’t patronize me!”

She felt his hoof brush her mane. It didn’t seem like something he would do, not at all… but it felt good. “…alright… how about this? The foals have disappeared, true. But there haven’t been any bodies. That means there’s a chance they’re still alive somewhere.”

She let that thought seep in for a few minutes. “Do you… do you really think there’s a chance?”

“There’s no evidence to say otherwise.”

She barked a weak laugh over her tears. “You’re really bad at this comforting thing, aren’t you?”

She glanced up and saw him smile sadly. “I’ve not had a lot of comfort in my life.”

Of all the things he might have told her, that she could believe. She finally looked up at him, rubbing tears from her eyes. “You… really don’t know anything?”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Lightning.”

She stood on shaking legs, took a few long breaths. “Sorry… that’s all I’ve been for some time now. I have to save him, Fine. That little colt’s more important to me than life itself.”

Fine Crime nodded firmly. “Then we’ll just have to get started.”

“Started?”

He turned and gestured to the mansion. “Yes, started. We’ve still got some time before dawn, and I know enough about the mansion. We can go right now, if you want.”

“I do,” she agreed, finally recovered from her breakdown. “And if I find out that Big Reach is behind this I swear to Celestia I’ll kill him with my own hooves.”


Lightning Dust hated being a wingpony, which was what she felt like during their search of the mansion. Even so, she had to acknowledge one thing: Fine Crime knew what he was doing. It was almost scary; through his guidance the two of them had scoured the mansion for clues without so much as drawing a second glance from the slowly-waking serving mares. Sometimes it seemed he would forget she was with him, disappearing entirely in a shadow and making her almost frantic with fear that he’d left her behind, only to pop up again from seemingly nowhere to help her along.

But they were coming up with nothing. She was getting frustrated; if Big Reach knew something he was doing an incredible job at hiding it. She was even more annoyed by Fine Crime, who kept pausing to take notes in a notebook. He did it in every room, every hallway, and he expected her to be patient about it. She didn’t understand how he could be so calm! Who knew what was happening to her little Gulfstream while he was wasting their time scribbling in that damn book?

“This is starting to feel like a waste of time,” she grumbled in his ear. “I thought we’d have found something by now.”

“If it were that easy,” Fine replied while putting away his notebook, “my ponies would have taken care of Big Reach ages ago. Come on, there’s still his office.”

She sighed impatiently but followed, knowing they were almost done with this pointless task. The sun had come up, and they had to move a lot more carefully around the servants who, by now, were fully awake and going about their business.

They were going through a hallway when Fine paused abruptly, ears twitching. He grabbed her and gestured for silence before moving into a room and closing the door.

“What’s the matter?” she asked seriously as he walked to a wall, eyeing it scrutinously.

Fine didn’t answer at first, slowly pacing about the wall. He stopped and gestured for her to approach. “Big Reach’s office is here,” he told her, gesturing to the wall. “He’s talking to somepony.”

She blinked, observed the wall dumbly. “How do you know?”

He shushed her, tapped his forehead lightly. “Keep quiet. Clear your head and focus on listening.”

She stared at him for a moment. Was he serious? He was starting to remind her a little of Mountain Mantra. But she kept her mouth closed and tried to do as he suggested.

A few seconds passed before she realized that, indeed, she could just barely hear the sound of voices beyond the wall. She was amazed; how had he noticed it so easily? She turned and saw his horn glowing dimly, his eyes focused on the wall. “What are you doing?”

He glanced at her, closed his eyes…

“…too much, too soon.” Lightning’s eyes went wide as she suddenly began to hear the conversation as if she were standing in the office herself. “Some ponies are starting to ask around.”

“There was no way to avoid it,” a strange voice announced sharply. “You know we have to get rid of witnesses.”

“The entire town was out searching the woods last night.” That was Big Reach, no doubt. “I thought you were supposed to be keeping a low profile.”

“The faster we take care of the orphanage, the more secure our position will be.”

“Taking care of it quickly is what’s raising suspicions! The whole plan won’t even bear fruit for another ten years or so. Your haste is jeopardizing everything.”

“Moving slowly is why the first foal found us out in the first place! The children must be silenced, Reach.”

“Why are you so worried? They’re just a bunch of fillies and colts. Nopony’s going to believe what they say. It’ll all get chalked down to over imagination, a bad bedtime story or something like that.”

“We can’t take that risk. What about that ‘hero,’ Lightning Dust?”

“Hero? She’s nothing. Dumber than a bag of bricks. She’s not a problem.”

“She’d best not be, Reach.”

“I looked into her. Trust me, she’s a nopony.”

“Then she can be dealt with?”

“Not a soul in Equestria would miss her.”

Lightning had heard enough; she reared back and started for the door.

“Where are you going?” Fine hissed, blocking her path. “We need to…”

“No.” She shook her head. “We have the culprits, Fine. Let’s get them!”

“Are you crazy? This isn’t how you solve the problem.”

“It works for me,” she snapped, “now let’s get in there.” She shoved past him.

“I won’t risk getting caught because of you,” he hissed, but she ignored him and flew to the office door.

“Big Reach!” She smashed through the door with little effort and hovered over the stallion’s desk, furious. “I’ve got you, you bastard! Where’s my…”

A sharp pain ran through her. She cried out and fell to the floor, and before she could stand she felt somepony stand on her wings, pinning her down.

“Hey, hey!” Big Reach called, “that’s no way to treat the Hero of Foal Mountains! Mandragora, let the mare up.”

The weight was lifted from her, and Lightning jerked herself up to glare at the stallion venomously. She cast a look around the room, but was amazed to find that, aside from his two guardian mares, he was alone. “Where is she!?”

Big Reach, sitting leisurely in the chair behind his desk, raised a questioning eyebrow. “Where is who?”

“Don’t play dumb with me! You were talking about the orphanage and the kidnappings with somepony, I heard it!”

The graying stallion smiled smartly and ignored the accusation. “Tell me, Lightning, how’s you get all the way to my office without so much as sounding an alarm? I’m impressed… assuming you didn’t have any help?”

She blinked, glanced behind her. Fine Crime was nowhere to be seen. The bastard had abandoned her! “I did it on my own,” she snarled, turning back to the stallion.

“Of course you did,” he countered smugly. “Scarlet, do a sweep of the building please, weed out whoever helped her.” The unicorn mare left without a word.

“Where’s my cousin?” Lightning snarled aggressively.

“How should I know?” he asked as if bored.

“Who were you talking to?” she demanded, slamming both front hooves on his desk. “Tell me everything, or I swear to Celestia…”

“What?” he stood, smirking. “What are you going to do, Wonderbolt? Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot: you got kicked out of the academy.” She shrank back in alarm. “Oh yes, I know lots about you now that I’ve taken an interest, Lightning Dust. You got booted out of the academy ages ago, but you didn’t bother to come home. Why, I wonder? Because you were too afraid to fess up to your failure?”

“W…what does…” Lightning shook her head angrily. “What does that have to do with anything!?”

He leaned forward leeringly. “It tells me that you’re a coward. It tells me that you don’t have what it takes to come after somepony like me. You’re toying with a dark and dangerous world, hero. I live in the filth and muck and shit that gets hidden under the charming paint of a sunny Equestria. And you think just because you flunked out of Wonderbolt Academy you’ve had it rough? Play in my game and I’ll show you just how low a pegasus can really go.”

“I don’t care who you are,” Lightning shouted, jumping into the air, “I want my cousin back! You think I’m scared of you? I might not be a Wonderbolt, but I can still take you on any day of the week! Now tell me what I want to know before I kick your…”

Something cracked hard against her head, and she fell to floor with a thud. Mandragora was on her once more, this time pinning her face down with a powerful hoof. She squirmed and struggled, but couldn’t move. “Damn you, get off!”

A few struggling seconds later and Big Reach was leaning down next to her, his face ominous. “You’re playing with fire, Lightning. Even if you were to take me down, it wouldn’t matter. I’m not kidnapping your foal friends, and I don’t know where they’re being taken. I do know the why… but I won’t be sharing. Killing me wouldn’t solve anything; the foals would still be disappearing. And you? You’d be hunted down for murdering a public servant. Won’t be much of a hero then, will you?”

“I don’t believe you!” She renewed her struggling, but Mandragora held her down easily. “Why should I believe anything that comes out of your filthy mouth?”

He stood and walked back behind his desk. “Because I’m going to let you go.”

“What?” A moment later and Mandragora was off her back, letting her stand. “Why would you do that?”

His horn glowed for a moment, and the tall window behind him opened. “Do you really think anypony would believe you over me?” he asked patiently. “Especially when word gets out about how you lied to everypony about being a Wonderbolt? Even with a lie as innocent as that, your word versus the word of the Saint of Foal Mountains? Good luck.”

She walked around the desk to the window, aware of Mandragora following closely. “Tell me who you were talking to.”

“No.”

She shook with rage. “Do you know how easily I could kill you right now? Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t.”

He sighed in a bored manner. “Lightning Dust, ponies with far more experience and blood on their hooves than you have been trying to kill me for some thirty years now. What makes you think you would stand a chance?”

She jumped up, raised her hoof to strike…

And an instant later she was hurtling through the skies, sent sprawling out the window by a well-timed kick from Mandragora.

She found her horizon, adjusted her wings, righted herself. She turned back to see Big Reach already sitting at his desk, the window closing. Mandragora was watching her with a solemn, dangerous expression.

She wanted to crash through that window and beat the life out of the stallion. She wanted to teach that that damn long-legged mare a lesson. But for once in her life she held back – she knew deep down that there was really no point in trying. Big Reach was a monster… but somehow she knew he’d been telling the truth. Taking him out wouldn’t stop the disappearances.

And she was no use to anypony if she was on the run from the authorities for killing the Saint of Foal Mountains.

So she did the only thing she could: she let out a furious scream and flew away through the darkening skies.


The cemetery. Her parents graves. Lightning sat still, listening to the sound of distant thunder, trying to calm her mind. Even here, it wasn’t easy. Big Reach’s lecture. Fine Crime abandoning her. The breakdown on the hill. Losing Gulfstream…

She leaned back to stare up at the sky. There was a time when the world showed so much promise. Now she was just a screw up. She couldn’t even protect her cousin. Her darling little colt. She wanted so badly to see him again. She’d have given anything, even her wings, if it would mean watching him fly one more time.

She was exhausted. She’d not slept in well over twenty-four hours, and she’d been very active throughout. She had nothing else to do; all her leads had been used up and she was right back where she’d begun. There was nothing left. So she just fell to her belly, tears falling down her cheeks, and drifted into slumber, dreaming of her precious cousin flying circles around her in a pristine, moist sky…

She was awakened by the crack of thunder nearby. Struggling to her hooves, she glanced around to realize she was still in the cemetery. How long had she been out? She rubbed her eyes to clear them, tried to find the sun. It was impossible; storm clouds covered the entire sky, lightning streaking brightly across her vision. A hard wind made the trees sway wildly and whipped her mane about her face.

Foal Mountains was in wild country. There was no pegasus weather team here, for the weather was its own living entity… or so it seemed at times. Lightning had once dreamed of taming these skies. Now she knew better. Even so, she couldn’t help but bask in the delightful energy of a wild stormy sky.

And then, when the wind lulled and the lightning quieted for a few seconds, she heard it: crying. She was not alone in the cemetery.

Lightning pulled herself out of her reverie and looked around, wondering who else had come down here. She didn’t see anypony, and the sobbing had been lost with the rising wind. Still, she thought she knew where it had come from, so she trotted her way through the graves.

It was Keen Arrow. The little filly was curled into a tight ball atop a dirt grave, head tucked under her mane with only her horn barely poking out. Lightning saw her felt her heart crack a little; the grave was too big for one pony. Her parents, perhaps. Too poor to even afford a tombstone…

Lightning approached slowly, dropped to her stomach in the grass and listened for a few tender seconds. “Hey, kid…” she whispered unhappily.

Keen’s head rose sharply, she took a fearful step back… but then she recognized Lightning. The poor filly’s face and mane were covered in dirt and grass and leaves. For a moment she stared at Lightning, but then she lowered her face and just kept crying.

The pegasus looked up at the roiling sky. “Listen, Keen… I know you miss them. I know it hurts. But you can’t stay out here, it’s about to get dangerous.” She gestured with a hoof. “Come on, I’ll bring you back to the orphanage.”

But the filly’s eyes went wide and she shook her head so hard her mane swung around wildly. “N-n-no! I don’t w-want to g-go b-b-back there…!”

Lightning was taken aback by that reaction. “Why not?” She had a thought and took on a dark expression. “The foals there aren’t picking on you, are they?”

Keen bowed her head miserably, her entire body shaking. “It’s s-s-scary there…”

Scary? “What do you mean?”

The little unicorn looked up at her with terrified eyes, and suddenly ran up and hugged the pegasus tightly around the neck. “D-don’t make me g-g-go back, p-please! There a-are m-m-monsters…”

Lightning would have laughed if she weren’t so surprised at the hug. So instead she held the filly close and spoke with a kind tone. “Keen, there aren’t any monsters at the orphanage. I lived there most of my life, I should know.”

“Y-yes there are!” The tiny pony looked up at her and shook her. Or tried to; she was far too small to move somepony like Lightning Dust. “I s-s-saw them t-t-take M-Mountain away!”

It took Lightning several seconds to process that last sentence. “Mountain Mantra? What do you mean?”

“They h-hurt him…” Keen whispered, burying her head in Lightning’s chest again. “H-he fought b-b-back and t-they hurt him! T-they dragged h-him away and… and…”

Sweet Celestia… had this little filly seen the culprits in action? And who could possibly take down a stallion as powerful as Mountain!? Why would they even want to? Weren’t they just targeting foals? Possibilities were streaming through Lightning’s head almost too fast for her to process. She stared at the white-maned filly for several seconds. The little thing was timid beyond belief… but her fear was very real. Perhaps she’d simply had a nightmare.

But then she remembered what Big Reach had said when she and Fine had been spying: nopony would ever believe a foal.

“Keen,” she whispered, nuzzling the filly’s head gently, “did you see where they took Mountain?”

The filly didn’t look up, but Lightning could feel the nod against her chest.

“Can you take me there?”

The filly shook her head, tightening her grip against Lightning. The pegasus frowned, considered her options. Finally she reached down and pushed the filly away so she could look her in the eyes. “Keen, this is important. Please, if you know where Mountain is, you need to tell me. I might be able to help him.”

The unicorn rubbed her moist eyes and shook her head miserably. “I don’t want to… I’m scared…”

“I know, Keen,” she whispered, patting her gently on the head. “But if you show me where Mountain is, I might be able to help. And then he can help us stop the monsters from taking any more foals like Plum Drop and Hiccup. Please, Keen, you have to try.”

“But… b-but… what if the m-monsters are still there?”

Lightning stood tall in the swaying grass and gave the filly the most confident, comforting expression she could muster. “Then I’ll protect you.”

“…pr… promise…?”

“I promise.”


They flew through the thundering skies, Lightning holding keen protectively in her front hooves. The tiny unicorn was so small she could lay on a single arm. How old was she? She seemed to have the mentality of a eight or nine year old, but her diminutive form suggested she was only four or so. Lightning didn’t bother to ask; she was too busy trying to fly as carefully as possible through the storm clouds. It was one thing to go through them on her own, but another entirely to do it with a foal to watch over.

“…t-t-there…” the filly whispered in her ear, gesturing at the ground below.

Lightning flew low to a valley about a mile away from the town. There was an old, abandoned building crumbling by an overgrown dirt road. “I know this place,” she noted as she set Keen on her back. “It’s the old Stormskater place. They moved out when I was still a foal, though.” She walked up to the building curiously; it looked so ragged it was a wonder the thing was still standing.

“You followed them all the way out here?” Lightning asked, impressed. “You’re braver than you let on.”

Keen ducked self-consciously. “I j-just w-w-wanted to know M-Mountain would be o-okay…”

“So what did they do with him?” the pegasus asked, looking around the grounds inquisitively.

“I-in… in t-there…” The filly pointed to a small, half-fallen shack near the edge of the house. Lightning approached, Keen burying her head in the mares’ mane fearfully.

It was a well house. Lightning stood just inside the dilapidated door and saw the old stone well that had to have belonged to the family long ago. Clearly it hadn’t been used to get water in a long time. There was no sign of Mountain… no sign of anything, really. There wasn’t enough room to stash a body.

Then she realized that the well was unimpeded. None of the debris covered its wide mouth; there was plenty of room to fit a pony in, even one as big as Mountain.

Lightning hesitated. If she went in, what might she find? Mountains’ body? A bunch of bodies? Nothing at all? But she shook herself and ground her teeth; if Keen said there was something here, it need to be checked. She wasn’t going to let her fears get the better of her, not after all this time!

She set the filly on the ground next to the well and patted her gently on the head. “Keen, I want you to wait here for me, okay? I need to go inside.”

The tiny unicorn was afraid, but nodded after a moment’s indecision. “O-okay… be careful… please…”

Lightning smiled, nuzzled the filly’s cheek tenderly. “Don’t worry, I will. Be right back!”

She jumped and dove down into the well, wings stretched to carefully adjust her speed. It only took a few seconds to reach bottom; she landed on four hooves on dry dirt. So the well had run dry…

She was in total darkness. She glanced up to see a small circle of light above. It was a long ways down. She stood still and closed her eyes, giving herself a moment to let her vision adjust.

Breathing. She could hear somepony’s ragged breathing… to her right. She opened her eyes, found that she could see a little better. And what was more… she’d found a tunnel. A long, black cave beneath the well. Where in Equestria did it lead?

She turned to the sound of the breathing and felt her heart jump into her throat: it was Mountain Mantra. He was sitting against the well’s stone wall, head hung low and blood dripping slowly from a number of horrible looking wounds. She hurried to him, raised his head worriedly. “Mountain? Mountain! Talk to me, old fart…”

The stallion coughed, groaned. One eye fluttered open slowly, the other too swollen. “Whu… L… Lightning…? Is that… is that you…?”

“Yeah, it’s me,” she whispered. She never imagined seeing the old bastard like this would hurt her so much, but it did, and she found herself hugging him. “Stick with me, Mountain… I’ll get you out of here…”

“No…” he coughed, and blood dripped from his lips. “…no, Lightning. It’s too late…”

“Don’t say that!” She shook him, jerked away at the agonized sound he made from her touch. “…Mountain… what’s going on? Talk to me, please… Who did this to you…?”

He tried to raise a hoof, cried out and dropped it. “There’s… not much time…” he whispered painfully. “Y-you… you have… to get back… to the or…orphanage…”

"I won't," she whispered, "I can't just leave you here."

He chuckled feebly. “Y-you mean… you mean for once… once I’m telling you… to go… and you’re going… going to hold… back…?”

She barely registered the tears on her cheeks. “I can’t just leave you down here!”

“I’m dead… Lightning. I’m… I’m dead. You have to… to stop… Peace…”

“Peace.” Lightning helped him keep his head up. “Peace is in trouble? Come on Mountain, stay with me.”

The stallion shook his head slowly, looked her in the eyes. “N-no… no Lightning… it was… it was her. It was… Peace… all along… She’s doing it…”

His words were like a kick in the gut. “Mountain… you don’t mean that…”

He sniffed, coughed some more blood, then slowly turned his head and nodded towards the cave. She glanced into the darkness, gave him an inquisitive look. “See what… what she’s done…”

Lightning could sense his seriousness, even when hidden behind all that pain. She stepped back fearfully, not wanting to leave him… but even now she couldn’t ignore doing as he asked. Fearfully, heart hammering, she stepped into the tunnel… and tripped.

She coughed at the dust that covered her face, turned to see what she’d tripped on… and froze.

He was tiny, his purple coat shriveled and worn from having been down there too long. One of his wings was snapped backwards, his head was turned away from her. But she knew without checking: it was Plum Drop.

“No…”

She turned away and was rewarded with the sight of two more bodies… a little filly unicorn she recognized from town… and Hiccup, the little brown Earth pony who had always been so clumsy.

Sweet Celestia no…

Her mind told her not to, but she did it anyway: she searched the rest of the tunnel.

She found him lying on his back atop some rocks, a horrible gash in his throat. His face was calm… so wonderfully calm.

She let out a scream of agony and fell atop Gulfstream, weeping as she’d never wept before. She held his limp body close, petted his dirty mane. Her colt, her precious little colt!

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. He was supposed to have grown up to be an even better flyer than her. He was supposed to have become a Wonderbolt! She clutched him, rocked back and forth and begged to Celestia, to Luna, to anypony that might be listening to make this not be true. Her precious, precious little colt…

She set his body down slowly, folded his hooves and wings. She just kept crying, crying and wishing she could be put out of her misery…

But no… no this wasn’t over.

Tears still streaming down her cheeks she turned and ran back to the well. “Mountain! Mountain, you have to…”

She paused as she entered the well, studied the big stallion. She trembled and wept a little more, realizing that he was already gone.

Her misery began to subside, slowly being replaced by an overwhelming fury. Everything she loved was being destroyed. Her friends, her future, the only father figure she’d ever had… and now her beloved cousin. It was too much: she let out a long screech that released all the pent up rage that had been building in her and zoomed out of the well, smashing right through the roof of the shack. She didn’t even feel it.

She landed hard on the ground, trembling and huffing with fury.

“…L…L…Lightning…?”

She jerked about to find Keen, who jumped back and cowered in the drizzling rain at her anger. “Come on,” the pegasus snapped, whisking the fearful filly off the ground and blurring her way through the wet sky, “we’ve got a monster to kill!”


“No!” Keen struggled in Lightning’s arms. “I.. I don’t w-want to go t-there!”

“Too bad, we’re going in!”

Lightning didn’t even bother to use the door; she crashed right through the office window.

“What in Equestra!?” Peace Spring sprang back in surprise as the pegasus rolled across the floor and jumped to her hooves, glaring daggers at the headmaster. She set the terrified filly aside roughly before beginning.

“Why are you doing this, Matron!?” she screamed, going into an aggressive stance.

Peace glanced at the window in alarm, then back at Lightning. “What is all this about?”

“Shut up!” Lightning rose into the air. “I found the well! I talked to Mountain!”

The unicorn’s eyes went wide. “You… you did?”

“Yes!” She got in the headmaster’s face. “He told me this was all your fault. His dying words! You better start explaining right now before I rip you to fucking pieces!”

For a moment Peace only stared as if dumbstruck… but then her expression turned dour. A flash of green light and Lightning found herself sprawled on the floor, a small black mark smoking on her chest. Damn, did that hurt!

“Oh Lightning,” the headmaster answered slowly, “I told you not to get involved.”

The pegasus jumped to her hooves. “You mean it’s true!?”

“Oh it’s true,” Peace acknowledged with a sly smile. “Everything was going so perfect, too. Until that little colt Hiccup stumbled in on me.”

She stared, eyes wide in horror. “You… you killed them…”

“Of course I did,” Peace whispered, her voice gaining a strange husky quality. “They saw things they weren’t meant to, and they resisted.”

Lightning took up another aggressive stance. “Resisted what?”

Peace closed her eyes slowly… and when they opened again they were bright green with vertically-slit pupils. Like a cat’s. “Infestation.”

Keen let out a terrified squeak and clutched one of Lightning’s hind legs. “I-it’s the m-m-monster!”

The pegasus could only stare in horror as the headmaster reared back, laughing. Her pale coat began to wither and darken, her horn extended and bent in strange angles.

A changeling.

“I really must thank you,” the thing announced, standing atop the headmaster’s desk with a grin. “Gathering the souls of these foals was slow going until you came along.”

Lightning stood her ground, ready to attack. “What do you mean?”

“You mean you didn’t know? We feed on love, puny pony. And there’s nothing little foals love more than a local hero.”

The foals. Oh Celestia, the foals! Lightning turned to the door, fear gripping her, but before she could take off the door opened and she let out a horrified shout.

Changlings. Tiny, grinning, green-eyed changelings.

Her foals… all her foals…

“You monster!” She leapt at the creature on the desk; it dodged and she smacked right into the wall.

“Stupid Lightning Dust,” the Peace changeling hissed as Lightning landed hard on the floor, “always rushing into things. You never learned.”

“Shut up!” She turned on the creature with fury. “I’m going to kill you for this, Matron!”

A dozen tiny changelings jumped in her way, standing at the ready to stop her attack. The sight of them made her pause in terror. Her foals… all her friends…

“Can you?” Changeling Peace asked smugly. “Can you kill your precious children? That’s what you’ll have to do, Lightning.”

Lightning took a horrified step back as the black creatures approached, their hideous laughter filling her ears. “Why… why here?” she screamed. “Why these foals!?”

Changeling Peace sneered. “It was the perfect plan, endorsed by the Queen herself! Take the children, make them our own, spread them throughout Equestria! No pony would dare suspect the foals, oh no. Imagine the beautiful deception: a childlike changeling in every town and city across Equestria, ready to feed upon and infest the unsuspecting ponies who cared for them. And where better to begin than a sleepy little town like Foal Mountains, where nothing important ever happened?” Another wicked, triumphant laugh. “In a decade’s time we’d have changelings infesting their way into every walk of Equestrian life. The nation would be torn apart from within, and nopony would even know it!”

“No! I won’t let you use these children!”

“Too late for that,” Changeling Peace hissed in amusement. She waved a black hoof at the tiny changelings that had filled the room. “Look at them, Lightning. Every orphan in the place, all your friends, now belong to Queen Chrysalis!”

And she looked and she saw, and her heart broke. She had played a role in this, however unintended. The wicked things leered and laughed and taunted, and she felt her legs wobbling. By all that was holy… what had she done?

“That’s right, Lightning. Let the despair take you. Know that you helped create the first of the new Changling horde with these foals, who loved you so much it killed them!”

No… no no no…

“Lightning!”

The tiny voice cried out in terror. It caught her attention, snapped her out of her horror even as the changelings pounced.

It was Keen. She could see her amongst all the black grinning monsters, behind all those wicked green eyes, trembling in a corner of the room as more of the tiny things surrounded her.

Keen.

She had to protect Keen. There was still one foal left untouched.

And Lightning would be damned if they got their dirty hooves on her!

She let out a furious scream and flung open her wings in a wide arch, sending the tiny changelings sprawling. A green beam of energy shot through the air from Changeling Peace’s horn, but Lightning dodged and dove, snatching up a squealing Keen in her arms.

“Don’t let them escape!”

“I’ve got you, Keen,” the pegasus declared, flying up just in time to avoid the lunge of a few changeling foals. She turned and saw Peace rearing back angrily, face filled with hate… and felt a fury like she’d never felt before.

Another green beam, a deft dodge, and Lightning had Keen on her back. A second later she’d spun a swift circle and caught the changeling from behind, lifting her up and flying right out the broken window with her.

Rain stung her face as she zoomed over the town. The changeling screeched and fired a shot straight up, burning Lightning in the chin painfully. The pegasus let out a shout and reeled from the intense pain, lost her balance and toppled. Keen screeched in terror, but Lightning recovered just in time to catch the filly in her hooves and roll, landing hard in the grass on her back.

The changeling hit the ground with a thud, bounced, came to rest on her stomach.

When the three stood up they were in the middle of town, surrounded by staring ponies.

“A changeling!”

“Call the cops!”

“Somepony get McGruff!”

“Grab it, don’t let it get away!”

“Oh shit…” Changeling Peace scrambled in the wet grass, trying to flee even as she worked to regain her disguise. She hardly got four steps before a flung rock cracked her on the head, hard. An instant later the ponies were on her, beating and pounding away. She was screaming, a terrible wailing grind that didn't last very long.

Lightning let out a roar that made many of them turn to her. “The orphanage, get to the orphanage! The orphans, they’re all changelings!”

They didn’t have to be told twice; within minutes a mob was storming the building.

It was a veritable battle. Lightning watched from atop a nearby roof, Keen trembling on her shoulders, as the citizens assaulted the place. The changelings within, some half-returned to their disguise, tried to escape, but were soon surrounded. They struggled, fought ferociously for their size. More than a few of the locals were seriously hurt. In the end the changelings were sealed within, and the building set on fire.

And Lightning just watched. Watched, and wept at the knowledge that all her little friends were dead. Dead because of her.


The cemetery again. Lightning was sitting before her parents’ tombstone for the third time, trying to take everything in. All she could feel was an emptiness within, like her heart had been torn out. All her friends… everything she’d ever cared for… gone. She was done crying… but there was no escaping the sheer misery that was now her life.

But there was one shining light left.

“What are we going to do now?” Keen asked, sitting before her in the gentle rain.

Lightning looked down at the tiny filly. This one was safe. This one, at the very least, she could do right by. “I don’t know yet.”

The filly bowed her head, her eyes disappearing behind her white mane. “I… I was so scared… There were so m-many of them…”

“They’re gone now,” Lightning whispered, a sharp pang in her heart at the true consequences of those words. “The monsters can’t get you anymore, Keen.”

The little unicorn rubbed water from her mane in a futile effort. “Are… are you sure? W-what if… what if there’s more of t-them…?”

The mare dropped to her belly and pulled the filly into a tight hug. “Then I’ll protect you. I promise, Keen, I’ll never let any monsters harm you. Ever.”

For a sweet, tender moment they held one another. This time Lightning was certain she would keep her promise.

“You should stop making promises.”

Lightning let out an agonized scream as something stabbed deep into her side. Before she even knew what was happening she was knocked aside, rolling in the grass in agony. She trembled, fought to stand, fell to the ground once more. Then she looked up… and saw Blue McGruff.

“Wh…what are you doing!?” she cried, seeing the knife in his mouth. And then she saw his eyes. “Oh no… Blue, not you too…”

He spat the weapon to the ground angrily. “I told you to stay out of it, but noooo, you had to go and charge right in! And now because of you everything has fallen apart!” He reared back and let out a furious shout. “Do you know how much work we put into that operation!? Peace wanted to turn you, but not me: I’m going to kill you. Nice and slow.”

She tried to stand, to face her new enemy, but couldn’t work through the pain. She tried to open her wings and nearly blacked out from the agony. “You… you were my father’s friend!” she cried, crawling away from him as he approached. “He died saving your life!”

“No, Lightning,” the changeling sneered, “your father died saving Blue’s life. I killed Blue years ago!”

“Keen,” she screamed at the trembling filly, “Keen run, get help!”

“Oh no,” the changeling whispered, turning to glare at Keen. His harsh look had the proper effect; the tiny unicorn dropped to the ground, head under her hooves, and wept in terror. He turned back to Lightning triumphantly. “This little one is going to be used to start over again. A new foal changeling, a new orphanage. You stopped us here, Lightning, but there are plenty of other places we can go to start up again!”

“No…” the mare struggled desperately to get up, but her muscles wouldn’t work. He’d cut her somewhere important. “…please, leave her alone!”

He leapt, landed on top of her, his blue, green-eyed face sneering down at her. “You saved me one foal. Thank you. You’ve provided the seed for the second chance.”

“Please…. No…”

“Now,” he whispered venomously, “if you can hold your screams long enough, try and say…”

His head snapped back, and something thin and black abruptly jutted out of his neck, dripping green blood. Fine Crime’s face peered from over his shoulder, dark and ominous. “Take it from a master,” the stallion snarled, “next time you want to kill somepony, don’t talk. Just do.”

The blade jerked out sideways, cutting through flesh with green spray flying through the air. The changeling squirmed and choked for a moment, then was sent soaring away to smack hard against a nearby tombstone. It didn’t move again.

Fine stood over her, face serious, and offered her a hoof. She accepted… and jerked him to the ground and rolled on top of him.

“YOU! Why didn’t you stop it!? Why didn’t you do something!? I should kill you!” Her fury subsided into sobs, and she slowly fell against his chest. “Why didn’t you? My colt, my precious little colt…”

He sat up and held her close. “I’m sorry, Lightning. I am so sorry…”

Keen came up to them slowly, nudged Lightning’s hoof tenderly. The mare grabbed her up in a tight hug and just kept crying.

At last she was in control enough to at least whisper. “You… you really didn’t know…?”

Fine sighed. It was a deep, miserable sound. “No pony is infallible, Lightning. No, we had no idea. Changelings… if only we’d known sooner. I am so very, very sorry.”

She sniffed wretchedly. “I’ve lost everything, Fine. My family, my friends, my precious Gulfstream. What am I supposed to do now?”

“Well, perhaps not everything,” he offered, nudging her and gesturing with his head to Keen.

She smiled feebly at the filly, who was still nuzzling into her chest comfortingly. “Yes… maybe I did do at least one thing right.”

Abruptly she shook herself and pulled away from him. She tried to sit up on her own and fell with a pained shout, blushing wildly. “Ahem… er… yes… well… umm…”

Keen, who had been knocked onto her back by the sudden movement, sat up and shook her head. “What’s wrong, Lightning?”

“Nothing,” the pegasus muttered. She rolled to her stomach, face still red. “Umm… thanks, Fine. You know… for saving me.”

“No problem,” he answered, smiling a little as Keen went to the mare and curled up beside her. “So… what’s next for you?”

Lightning considered the question solemnly for a few seconds, glanced at the filly at her side. She smiled. “I… want to be with this little one. I want to make sure this all at least served some purpose.”

He watched them for a moment seriously. “Why not come to Ponyville with me?”

She eyed him in annoyance. “Ponyville? Seriously, Fine, you’re still after that?”

He nodded. “You want to raise this filly, don’t you?”

She blushed. “… I didn’t say… raise…”

“But that’s what you implied,” he noted.

Keen raised her head, looked up at Lightning with big eyes. She saw those eyes and her heart melted. “I guess… I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try,” she admitted with a weak smile. Keen said nothing, only snuggled up closer to her happily.

“Then come to Ponyville,” he offered again. “Can you think of a nicer place to raise a foal? Unless, of course, you intend to do it here…”

“No.” Lightning turned her head away from him sadly, “not Foal Mountains. I never want to see this place again.” She considered what he’d said, thought on it long and hard. “I… guess I can try. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to work with you on… whatever it is your planning.”

He smiled. “Of course not.”

Just at that moment a puff of white smoke appeared next to Fine’s head. It was a small scroll, which his magic caught almost immediately. Lightning, surprised by the interruption, watched as he opened it and read. “What’s that?”

“Nothing,” he muttered solemnly, “just orders regarding our mutual friend, Big Reach.”

“Orders?” she asked as he smiled wickedly, “What kind of orders?”

He rolled up the scroll and let it drop to the grass. “Now that we know he’s in league with the changelings, we’ll be going in hard on every little activity he’s been involved in. This is a threat that my superiors consider far too big for legal concerns. It’s about damn time.”

She tilted her head curiously and grabbed the scroll from the grass. She unrolled it carefully, but was disappointed: it only had two words on it.

Operation: Approved.

Author's Note:

I confess I was crying when I wrote the scene in the well.

ANYWAY...

So now the big Lightning Dust material is finally complete. Let's see, who out there was expecting changelings? I always felt that the concept behind changelings was truly horrific, and that the show didn't do the concept justice (although it is a kid's show, so I can forgive them that). I wanted to show how truly horrible the changeling idea could be. And while we're on it, I've seen a number of fics that suggest 'good' changelings exist. Simple fact: I don't believe in good changelings. Period. And you won't find one in my stories, ever.

Now that this story has gotten about as bad as it can get in the emotion factor, I'm supposed to go and write something cheery and happy to finish this Series. And I will.

But first...

I'm going to write a Add-On chapter. Remember when I mentioned that 'secret villain' way back when? Well guess what: the changelings weren't it. This was going to be the Episode that had it, but ultimately it was going to make the Episode longer than I wanted and - facing facts - it didn't really fit in with this Episode's material. But no worries, it's coming up next. Won't be a long interruption, promise.