• Published 6th Aug 2011
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One Last Quest - Vanner

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Keeping Their Word

Chapter 4: Keeping Their Word
Ponies don’t break promises.

Medley struggled to keep the armored unicorn aloft. This crevice was only about six feet wide, and descending the near vertical shaft would have been tough enough without the additional weight. The jutting rocks didn’t help much, as Pokey kept knocking rubble from the sides. He had said something about making it smoother for the basket; Medley was too busy trying not to drop him to pay attention.

Medley gingerly touched down at the bottom and dropped Pokey. Getting up was going to be much more difficult, but she felt worse for the four up top. Pokey was pretty darned heavy. She worried about what would happen to her if the whole plan collapsed. Medley pushed such thoughts from her mind; she knew would rise to the occasion.

Pokey glanced around the crevice to find a tunnel at the end. The Diamond Dogs were either unable or unwilling to close off this shaft, and the half-hearted efforts to block the tunnel crumbled easily. Wooden supports lined the stone walls, though the conditions of the beams were deplorable at best. They sagged low and barely supported the weight of rock above them. Pokey crept for the nearest tunnel. Medley fluttered behind, unsure if her untrained hooves would make noise on the stone floors. She peered over the unicorn’s shoulder as he looked down the narrow tunnels. She listened carefully, unable to hear much beyond her own breathing.

From far down the tunnel, she thought she heard the whimpering of children. She tapped Pokey’s shoulder and pointed. He nodded and started in that direction. Medley fluttered above him, ready to move at a moment’s notice. The tunnel spanned an agonizing distance as they crept through. They came to the entrance of a low cavern where a dozen cage doors sat rusting on their hinges. The otherwise solid iron doors had bars in the top where the Diamond Dogs could torment their captives. Supporting the walls were more of the rotting timbers, crawling with crimson moss. Medley glanced around; she pointed out the sleeping guard.

A dog slept on a chair, kicked back with a horned helmet pulled over his eyes. The squat brute’s mangy grey coat crept with vermin, and his claws were covered in both dirt and rust. From his belt hung a corroded brass key. Pokey motioned with his hooves for Medley to fly over and get it. She shook her head. Pokey again gestured to the dog, and made a punching motion. Medley again refused when she heard whimpering coming from the furthest cage.

“I just wanna go home!” cried a filly’s voice. The guard snapped awake. Medley and Pokey ducked back into the tunnel and prayed they hadn’t been spotted. They heard the dragging of knuckles and the rattle of keys approaching the far cell.

“I’m tryin’ to sleep, yah brat!” boomed the dog. There was the rusty squeal of a hinge. “I’ll teach yah to talk back!” The sound of a slap and a filly’s cry echoed through the hall.

The Diamond Dog turned around just soon enough to catch a face full of pegasus hooves at maximum velocity. The same blow that staggered a manticore knocked the dog’s teeth loose. He collapsed onto the floor in a twitching heap. Medley stood above the dog, teeth clenched in rage. She looked to her side, to see a cage full of fillies and colts cowering in the corner. Medley found her control again, and smiled at the children.

“It’s okay, sweeties,” she said in her most motherly tones. “He won’t hurt you anymore. We’re going to get you out of here.”

“Who’s we?” asked a colt.

“Us,” said Pokey. The children gasped in amazement at the armored unicorn. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.” Medley rounded up the children from the first pen and directed them back down the hallway.

“Be very quiet children, don’t make a sound,” she warned. “You don’t want those nasty dogs to know you’re leaving do you?” The fillies and colts quietly cantered down the stone halls to the awaiting basket. The pegasus picked up the ponies and deposited them in the crude elevator. She warned each of them to keep as quiet as possible. With the last filly loaded, Medley grabbed the rope in her teeth. She tugged on the rope three times, and then twice again. The basket slid silently up the sides of the shaft.

A second group of fillies and colts trotted into the room. They were all shushing each other, and trying to be as quiet as children can be. They looked up the shaft, a few whimpered. Medley directed them in a quiet game of “hooves on top” to keep their minds off the escape. The basket emptied, and an agonizing minute later, returned to the bottom. She lifted the children into the basket, then returned to the pens. A group of crimson piglets awaited her. They were cowing in their cell.

“No one’s going to hurt you,” she reassured them. “I’ve got friends waiting up top. Come on now kids, Medley won’t let anyone near you.” The piglets followed the winged creature, unsure as to what to make of her. She seemed nice enough, and she wasn’t one of those dog creatures. Even as she plucked them up and into the basket, they found comfort in her kind voice and gentle manners. Medley tugged on the rope again, and crept back through cavern.

Pokey was struggling with the lock on the last of the cages. The key was bent in his teeth rather than turning. It snapped in half, and crumbled to pieces. Pokey cursed under his breath.

“What’s wrong?” whispered Medley.

“The lock’s rusted shut,” he whispered back. “I can cut through it, but it’s going to be loud.” Medley looked back down the stone tunnel, then to Pokey. The coast was clear for now.

“Do it,” she said. “We can make it out of here even if it does attract guards.” Pokey nodded and his horn glowed a deep black.

“Hold it!” hissed a voice from inside. Pokey’s horn went dark. Medley peered over his head into the cage. Inside was a mixed group of colts and fillies. Some were zebras, others mules and donkeys. Medley came face to face with a larger filly wearing a dark hooded cloak. “Who sent you?” she demanded.

“We sent ourselves,” said Medley. “We got the rest of the children out, but your lock is jammed.”

“We don’t have time for this,” said Pokey. The donkey cocked her head at the sound of Pokey’s voice.

“Pokey?” asked the donkey. “Is that really be you?”

“Jenny?” Pokey stuck his muzzle though the bars. “Luna above, it is you! What are you doing here?”

“It’s War Jenny now.” said the donkey. “I’ll explain later. Can you get us out of here?”

“Stand back,” he said. “This is going to be noisy.” His horn flared with dark light.

Pokey slashed through the lock and the hinges in a single arcing path. The iron door shrieked in protest. It fell off the hinges and crashed to the ground with the sound a church bell being dropped down a flight of stairs. The children poured from the cage as the hallway beyond filled with alerted yips and barks.

“Come on kids!” said Medley as she herded them toward the escape. “We’ve got a basket waiting for you! Hurry up, please! Follow me!” Pokey and Jenny backed down the hallway behind the children. The chattering barks from the opposite hallway were getting louder.

“We’ve been made,” warned Pokey. “Get those children out of here!”

Pokey slashed at the supporting timbers to cut them off near the ground. War Jenny reared back and kicked one out of place. The Support beam collapse, and brought the wall of the cavern crumbling into the hall. The unicorn and donkey galloped through the tunnel to the small opening. Medley stared up the shaft; the rising basket had already found itself at the top. Medley looked uncertainly at the two. The basket would only be able to support the weight of one of them.

“I think the basket will carry you, Jenny, was it?” she said. “Will you be okay down here for a minute Pokey?”

“Why are you taking me first?” asked Jenny. “Take him, I can make it out.”

“Take her,” shot back Pokey. “I’ll be fine; it’ll only take a second.” Shouting at the top of the crevice interrupted the conversation. The sounds of a fight filtered down the shaft.

“Get them out of here!” they heard Redheart yell. “Cheerilee, run!” The basket plummeted to the bottom; and smashed into splinters on the rocks below. Debris began to pour down the hole. It lodged in the crevice, and tumbled atop the ponies underneath. They made for the tunnel exit instead.

“They’re cutting off our exits,” said Pokey. The yipping and barking from the collapsed tunnel became louder, as did the scratching at the rock. “And that cave in isn’t going to last. Jenny, did you see another way out?”

“Follow me,” she said, and galloped down the tunnel. Medley flew close behind. Pokey slashed out more of the support timbers to bring smaller cave-ins. Hopefully it buy the trio time. They galloped through the upward sloping tunnel, as they followed War Jenny. The air down here was hot, moist, and filled with dust of collapsing tunnels. The castrophony of a full alert rattled the walls and echoed through the halls. Jenny whipped around a corner, and skidded to a stop. Pokey and Medley almost ran her over.

Ahead, the trio saw another row of cells. These were larger, with barred doors instead of the iron slabs they had seen earlier. Dozens of eyes watched them round the corner; pony, zebra, donkey, mule, and Hamite alike stared at the armored unicorn, the cloaked donkey, and the fluttering pegasus.

“War Jenny!” yelled one of the mules. “Please, save our children!”

“Pokey and the pegasus already have,” she said. She approached a cell.

War Jenny pulled a hair pin from her cloak. With the pin in her teeth, she began picking the lock on the cell full of mules. Medley watched in fascination as the donkey turned her head, twisted, and opened the lock. The cell door swung open.

“Some of us are hurt,” said a mule. “But those who are not will fight with you, War Jenny.” The cages murmured in agreement. The sound of tumbling rocks boomed from the tunnel below. Medley looked down it in panic.

“Those rock slides aren’t holding!” she warned. “You’re not going to have time to pick all these locks!” Pokey stretched his neck and again, his horn again flared with black light.

After ten seconds of screaming metal, the cages clattered open and three dozen creatures in various states of health were free. The Hamites were furious, as were the zebras. They started off down the tunnel. Medley flew in front to stop them in their tracks.

“We’ve got to move as a herd,” she said. “Support the injured, leave no pony behind.”

“They’ve already started sealing the exits,” said one of the zebras. “We’ve got to go now.” Medley looked back at the gathered herd to see that only a few were injured. The herd would move faster without them, but they would assuredly die. She shook her head.

“No pony left behind,” she said. “That’s a promise.” The zebra looked to Jenny; she nodded solemnly.

“These ponies saved our children,” she said. “War Jenny will not let this pegasus break her promise.” The ponies helped the weak and injured onto the backs of the larger Hamites. When they were ready, Medley gave the signal. The herd charged through the tunnels towards the surface.

Every ten meters or so, another hole would close from above, raining rocks and dirt on the herd as they galloped through the tunnels. The hill filled with the thunder of a hundred hooves from all walks of life. A few foolish Diamond Dogs jumped in the path, only to be smashed to the side, and trampled underneath. They came at last to the main exit where a half a dozen Diamond Dogs were pushing a massive boulder in front of the door.

“Capture Team! On those curs!" ordered War Jenny. "For Luna!" A half a dozen of the equines broke off from the herd and galloped at the Diamond Dogs. With the precision of a drill team, they threw the Diamond Dogs from the ridge into a ravine. The boulder rolled down the incline. It crashed into the ravine atop the vanquished mutts. The rest of the herd galloped for the exit, their thundering hooves rattling debris from the ceiling of the massive chamber. Pokey slowed his pace to make sure the weakest got ahead of him; Medley took to the air to check the rear of the herd. The last of the injured Hamites made it to the door, followed by Jenny.

“That’s everyone,” said Medley. “Let’s get out of...”

A boulder blindsided the pegasus. The boulder crushed her against the cave wall, and with a sickening crunch, she fell still. Pokey ran to her side. He ducked under the second rock as Jenny dove out of the cave entrance. The boulder shattered against the exit, and rumbled the wall of the cave. The wall crumbled around the boulder’s impact and sealed the cavern.

War Jenny rolled out of the way of the collapse. The rock slide had blocked the path as sure as the boulder would have. The rest of the herd that could fight had taken the battle to the Diamond Dogs on the surface. Equines and Hamites were kicking, biting, and trampling their way towards Redheart and the two scouts. The two scouts and white pony made their way to the rest of the herd, battered but otherwise safe. War Jenny put a hoof to her lips and whistled. A dozen equines turned to face her.

“Back in!” she ordered. “Clear these rocks! We will not leave them behind!” At her command, the equines descended on the rocks like a pack of wolves. Rubble began to fly as if their hooves were steam drills. The Hamites joined in the effort. The equines and the pigs started tripping over each other, and tempers flared.

“Enough of that!” yelled Redheart as she limped towards the entrance. A massive gash graced her shoulder, making the walk difficult. “Mothers, go into the forest. You’ll find a red Pony named Cheerilee. She’ll direct you to your children. Hamites, clear away the rubble that the equines knock down. Anyone with medical training, stop digging and come with me.”

“You heard the pony, Kin of Luna,” said War Jenny. “Get to it.” The mob broke, and began following Redheart’s instructions. War Jenny trotted towards Redheart. The white pony had sat down in an effort to keep her front leg off the ground. War Jenny grabbed a piece of her cloak and began to tear it off.

“What are you doing?” asked Redheart.

“Binding that nasty gash on your shoulder,” replied War Jenny. Redheart waved her off.

“I’m fine for right now,” she said. “Plus I’ve got real medical supplies. Worry about the others.” She turned to face the approaching mule and unicorn. “You have medical training?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” said the green unicorn with the stethoscope cutie mark. “We’ll round up the injured and bring them back to the forest. You need to come with us though.”

“I’m fine,” repeated Redheart.

“Yeah, yeah,” said the mule. He hoisted the white pony onto his shoulders. “I’m fine, I’m fine, and then you drop dead. I’m a nurse too honey, I know how you feel.” They carried her off towards the forest as War Jenny made her way to the cave entrance.

“How’s that excavation coming?” demanded War Jenny. “I want them out here, and I want them out here now!” The cave rattled again with what sounded like a dragon’s roar.

Pokey turned to face whatever was throwing the boulders. Standing in the tunnel was a Diamond Dog nearly twice the size of a bear. Pokey’s eyes widened in terror; this creature looked more like a dragon than a dog. Its hair was half gone, replaced by scars and swaths of carmine moss. His roar rattled the cave; the tunnel behind him collapsed in a spray of rock and dust. Pokey looked for any exit, only to find himself trapped in the cavern with this nightmare creature. Medley lay behind him; her breathing was labored and sporadic. She could barely open her eyes to see the creature.

“Help…” she begged in a distant whisper. “Please Pokey… don’t let me die down here…” Her head sank to the stone floor, and her eyes closed. Pokey turned away from the downed pegasus to face the creature. He stomped a hoof.

The armored unicorn charged the massive beast. The creature roared back and slashed wildly at Pokey. The scything claws of the Diamond Dog caught in his armor to throw him across the room. He slammed into a wall; the scales of his armor bent against the rocks. Pokey shook off the blow and bounded back to his feet. The creature returned the charge and smashed into Pokey at full force. Pokey managed a good swipe across the creature’s legs before the impact sent him reeling.

The creature, now frenzied by the sight of his own blood, howled and pounced at the unicorn. Pokey dodged to the left, and kicked. He landed a solid shot to the ribs of the beast. He felt a satisfying snap in the dog's chest. He spun in place, as he traced the flank of the beast with his horn. The razor edge opened a deep wound that spilled crimson onto the cavern floor. The Diamond Dog responded with a kick of his own that sent Pokey spinning across the ground. He rolled out, and bounded to his feet.

Pokey panted underneath his barding; his wounds and age were creeping up on him. This wasn’t how he planned it at all. The Diamond Dog wasn’t even fazed by the deep cuts; he just kept right on coming. Pokey dropped below another claw, and bolted underneath the creature. His horn drug along the beast’s torso to open a gaping wound. Pokey stabbed upward, striking deep into the belly of the beast. The Diamond Dog scrambled backward, and bellowed in agony. The beast kicked wildly to escape the unicorn’s razor horn. He connected with a paw that sent Pokey to the ground in a heap.

Pokey’s head swam. There were suddenly two of the Dogs, then one again. Pokey shook off the double vision, and again rose to his feet. The Dog was cowering now. He growled like the wounded animal he was. Pokey pressed the advantage, and charged the beast. The beast roared in pain and swiped a terrified claw. The blow send Pokey sailing. He smashed face first into a boulder; his helm bent under the impact.

His muzzle shattered under the dented helmet. His nose ran with blood that traced a vermilion trail in the stone. Pokey pushed himself to his feet; he was barely able to keep moving. The dog pounced again, and slammed Pokey into the cave wall.

The claws tore at his armor. They cracked through the plates, and stabbed deep into his flank. Pokey slashed desperately. He took half a paw from the creature. The dog shrieked in pain and tossed Pokey to the ground. Pokey staggered back to his hooves. His yellow eyes rolled in his head before they came to rest on Medley lying silent beneath the rubble.

She had risked her life to save the children of ponies and Hamites she didn’t even know, and this was how it ended for her? To be a meal for some inbred beast? Something in Pokey's mind snapped. He found strength in boundless anger. His wounds suddenly didn't matter. He stood, unmoving as the creature closed in for the kill. His horn flared with a massive black light.

“I promised her not a paw,” he growled. “NOT A GODDESS DAMNED PAW. PONIES DON’T BREAK PROMISES.” With his horn forward and a bellow of righteous fury, Pokey charged the beast for a final time. The diamond Dog returned the charge. The cavern shook with an ear splitting roar.

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