• Published 16th Sep 2014
  • 6,704 Views, 12,059 Comments

Yaerfaerda - Imploding Colon

Rainbow Dash and the Noble Jury continue to fly east.

  • ...

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Noble Hope for a Troubled Land

Morning sunlight swam over swaths of emerald fir trees in undulating golden bands. Perched on a lone tree branch overlooking a tiny valley nestled between two steep mountains, a sparrow sang cheerfully into the crisp air. Stretching its wings in the early dawn, the bird lifted up from the branch and flittered lazily downwind. Its feathery body drifted left and right as it gently descended into the fertile landscape below. A gust of wind lifted it slightly, and it relished in the sensation with a melodic series of chirps.

Three seconds later, the sparrow exploded in two from a well-aimed silver bullet piercing its torso. Clumps of blood and feathers fell loosely to the earth, littering the rooftops of a multi-tiered village built on uneven clefts of earth. The remnants of a head and beak landed lifelessly on the gravel-laden edge of a dirt road. A tiny, four-toed foot with leathery green skin reached over and nudged the bloody bird meat. The foot belonged to a tiny bipedal imp with long leafy ears. He spat at the dead bird parts and smiled with pointed yellow teeth before twirling a smoking pistol and holstering it in a leather strap hanging off his scarred torso. Bringing two filthy fingers to his mouth, the goblin whistled shrilly and waved wildly.

As he walked away, dozens upon dozens of similarly decrepit imps appeared in the distance, armed with elongated tasers that they used to poke, prod, and torment a solid train of miserable giraffes, their hooves bound in chained fetters. The tall quadrupeds were being forced to march down a path from the tallest point in their village to the arid plain below. All around them, goblins whooped and hollered, tossing burning debris into windows and setting fire to the village from the inside out. Storefronts burst into flames while apartments collapsed into burning embers. Plumes of smoke rose in steady columns, all the while mothers and calves screamed as the sadistic imps chased them down, electrocuting them with the tasers and throwing rusted bindings onto their hooves. As the bloody hour limped on, more and more giraffes were rounded up, shoved into the increasingly bustling cluster of prisoners at the bottom of the narrow valley.

Bruised and bleeding, several of the villagers looked up at the tallest hill. A shadow swathed over the giraffes' forlorn faces, a shadow that belonged to the wrought-iron turret of a silver-embossed tank. The menacing vehicle billowed steam from every crevice. Several goblins perched on the top of it, munching into the spoils pilfered from the villagers' storehouse as they laughed and spat at the prisoners below. Several imps caught a glimpse of the giraffes looking up and made "throat-slitting" gestures with their four-fingered hands.

One giraffe in particular frowned up at the tank, hissing in indignance. However, he took one too many moments to stand in place, and a goblin below him gave him his due punishment. Bzzzzt! "Gaaaugh!" He stumbled forward, instantly losing his balance. Several goblins whooped and laughed as the electrocuted prisoner rolled down hill, tripping half-a-dozen other yelping villagers in the progress. "Ooomf!" He finally slammed to a stop, his two stubby antlers brushing into the dirt.

"Papa!" a tiny calf yelped from where he was being shoved along with his mother several steps above. "Papa—are you hurt?!"

"Shut up, ya freak!" A goblin butted the child's chin with his staff and aimed the electrical end at his gasping mother. "I'm needing a new bedspread! So don't tempt me!"

Below, the father strained to get up. Cl-Clank! The mane down his back billowed from a giant metal claw landing just inches from his muzzle. The giraffe gasped, trembled, his eyes wandering up... up... up a metal leg attached to a metal chassis.

A large iron walker leered above the collapsed prisoner. The thing stood taller than two giraffes positioned on top of one another, and it had two mechanical arms rigged with every crude weapon of savagery imaginable. It rotated its right limb into a blood-stained drill while the domed compartment rolled open with a hiss. Inside, a gray-haired goblin sat amidst a mess of knobs, levers, and controls. Puffing on a ragged cigar, he exhaled, glaring down at the fallen giraffe. "You want that I should turn this one's skull to oatmeal, boss?"

"No. Get him back on his hooves," said a voice from the distance. "We've had our fun. Time to set these stupid peasants straight."

"Heh..." The pilot smirked and yanked at the walker's controls. "Amen to that."

The giraffe gasped as he was hoisted violently onto his feet with a large metal claw. He was shoved into the manacled crowd, where his wife and son rushed over to nuzzle his quivering figure. As he peered across the lowest level of the valley, he saw three more walkers marching loudly through the clusters of bound villagers with obnoxious metal clanking. They trained heavy calibre machine guns on crowd, leaving deep claw-marks in the once-fertile soil.

Loud echoes rang through the valley as more and more buildings burst into flames. A dull hush fell through the crowd, punctuated by the occasionally weeping mother or child. As the ashes of devastation fell onto every creature's head, a particularly tall goblin stepped forward, his dirty-torso clad in a leather jacket bejeweled with equine molars of varying species. He whistled to a bunch of lackeys who rushed over, sliding one of several large crates into place. Clearing his throat, the goblin stepped up onto the wooden container so that he was almost at eye-level with the helpless giraffes.

"Esteemed and most civil giraffes of Zeezrom!" the impish leader shouted, his green pointed ears twitching in the smoldery air. "I am Jex of the Southern Cartel! And your silver belongs to the Green Bandits!" With grinning yellow fangs, he pointed up at the upper tiers of the burning village. "Your storehouses belong to the Green Bandits!" He pointed at several plumes of smoke rising in the distance. "Your crops belong to the Green Bandits!" His red eyes narrowed menacingly. "And if you're foolish enough to try galloping away from my brothers on your godawfully goofy legs..." He pointed up at the tank looming above the entire village. "Your charred leather husks will belong to the Green Bandits! Courtesy of Big Bertha up there! Just one single mortar blast, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand—" Jex formed a "gun" with both hands and squinted down the "sight," aiming at the shivering families. "Powwwww!" He smirked. "And my buddies and I get to dine on giraffe chili tonight!"

Several weeping voices lifted into the burning air. Families huddled in frightened clusters, clutching each other as long as they could afford to.

"Do you get the picture?!" Jax folded his grubby hands behind his back and snarled, "Zeezrom is no more! And you know why?! Because Val Roa has abandoned you!" He chuckled, red eyes flaring. "That's right! Val Roa! The once-mighty kingdom that once gave you so much has turned its back on everything it's ever promised! It's withdrawn into itself like the nation of selfish cowards it is, ignoring all of its puppet allies to the west and south! And when this happened, did you turn to the Southern Cartel to protect you?! Did you come to the Southern Cartel with all of your bartering and trading needs?!" He gritted his teeth, suddenly howling, "Well you should have!" The goblin leader gave the crate he was standing on a savage kick. "What?! Are we not good enough?! Strong enough?! Powerful enough?! Did you not see the holes we punched through the forests with our bombs and incendiary weaponry?! We could have protected you! We could have shared silver, goods, and songs! But nooooo... you had to make this hard on yourselves, oh putrid peasants of Zeezrom! And just like every other village who's defied us, it's time that we set an example!" That uttered, Jex turned and whistled loudly behind him.

Six goblins were already hoisting a large iron box over. Sweating and grunting, they dropped the black container down beside Jex's crate with an immense thud.

Jex turned, grinning crookedly at the giraffes. He pointed down at the box. "You know what this is?!" He hopped down, squatting atop the box in question. "This... is your reward for being a bunch of thankless, selfish ingrates!" He yanked at a lever, and a flat black metal slid over—Schlunk!—revealing an instrument panel with numerous moving parts and keyholes. "My fellow Bandits and I have packed this with enough explosions to carve your mountain a new butthole! Now, we could have used this thing with your most dedicated miners to help us all access more silver from the quarry, but that's not going to happen now, isn't it? No... thanks to your obstinance, we've got no choice but to turn your village of Zeezrom into the Southern Cartel's most favorite geographical feature." He slapped a switch on the thing and stood up straight. "A crater." He grinned. "And I just set it to thirty minutes."

A woeful moan rang across the huddled villagers. A few giraffes tried running away, only to be violently shocked by the armed goblins surrounding them. Families were shoved to the ground and spat on as the imps cheered their boss on.

"That's right! Yeah!" Jex hopped down from the black bomb and paced before the manacled giraffes. "Death! Fire! Explosions! The goblin way! It'll be the end for most of you... but not all of you. After all..." He picked his nose, examined his stained finger, and flicked the filth away. "...we could always use the extra muscle." After that, he whistled shrilly.

Several goblins marched into the crowd, tasers at the ready. One by one, they reached in and yanked the calves out—and only the calves. Mothers and fathers shouted, rushing forward to stop the imps. They were rewarded with savage electrocutions at the end of the staves. Soon, the entire plain erupted with shrieks and screams as the children were separated from their families, dragged out and forced to squat in a tight circle between two of the metal walkers and their trained guns.

"Yeah, yeah... let it out..." Jex rolled his red eyes. "Lord knows those vocal cords are stretched out enough as it is."

"Papa!" a little calf shrieked, its teary eyes locked on the giraffe who had fallen earlier. "Help! Don't leave me!"

"Let him go!" the father snarled, bravely charging out of the group and knocking two goblins aside. "You can't have him!"

"We've got a runner, boss—"

"Do we, now?" Jex unholstered his pistol, twirled it, and fired from the hip. "How cute." Pow!

The bullet flew through the giraffe's lower fetlock. He instantly fell to the ground, grunting in pain.

"Papaaaa!" the colt howled, being yanked backwards by hissing goblins.

"Rnnngh—Haaugh!" The villager writhed on the ground, leaking blood over the metal-raked soil. He squinted across the way, seething. "Son... don't... don't you d-dare take him..."

"What, you want him to die here with the rest of you?!" Jex strolled over casually, shrugging. "Well, if you aren't father of the month!" He grunted and kicked the giraffe at the base of his throat.


"Papa, n-no!" The colt sobbed and whimpered. "Stop it!"

"What?" Jex spun and stared wide-eyed at the chin. "Is... is this your 'Papa?'"


"Is he really?!" Jex motioned to the nearest goblin—who handed him one of the sparkling staves. "Is this your Papa?!" He growled and proceeded to stab and electrocute the twitching villager repeatedly. "I couldn't tell from you shrieking it every five goddamn seconds!" Bzztt-Bzzzt-Bzzt!

"Grngll-Aaaugh—Mmffgngh!" the giraffe shook and convulsed.

"Noo-oooo!" the colt collapsed to his knees, sobbing pitifully into the dirt.

"Nnngh!" Jex shoved the taser down. Panting, he marched over and gripped the colt's quivering jaw between four gnarled fingers. "And you... are property of the Green Bandits now, so suck it up you sniveling little turd." He spat into the colt's face and then slapped him savagely across the muzzle.

"Ungh!" the colt fell hard to the ground, his bruised body mirroring his father's across the way.

Goblins laughed across the burning village. Even the walkers paused in their metal pacing to leer at the scene.

"Don't you see?!" Jex spun, snarling. "It's over! Zeezrom's fate was sealed the very moment that Val Roa stopped massaging your buttocks!" He jabbed a grimy thumb towards himself. "Your children belong to Jex now! And on their backsides we'll build a new... Northern Cartel! None of you—especially not your burning corpses—can ever hope to stop the goblin march!"

Silence hung over the distraught village.

"Mrrmmmf... J-Jury..."

Jex's long, feathery ears twitched.

Several goblins exchanged curious glances.

The leader spun, glaring down at the still-twitching father. "The Hell did you just say?"

"The Jury..." Spitting up blood, the giraffe squinted up with one good eye and sputtered, "They're out there... and they will st-stop you..." He gnashed his teeth. "They've stopped bigger monsters than you before." A vomitous gulp. "Your d-days are numbered, imp..."

Jex stared. Jex blinked. Suddenly, spittle flew from his mouth as he smirked. "Pffft!" He held a hand over his razor-sharp jaws. "HAH!... Ha ha ha ha! Haaaaah hah hah hah hah!"

In a growing circle, the goblins around him tilted their heads up, laughing and guffawing into the smokey air. The pilots of the walkers rolled against the instruments while the imps perched atop the tank above exchanged amused glances.

The prisoners looked at each other, shivering with further unease.

"Haaaah hah hah hah!" Jex bent over, hands on his knees. "The Jury?! Heeh heeh haaah! The JURY?!" With a running start, he kicked the giraffe in the chin.

"Grkkk!" the creatured rolled over, summoning another shriek from his son across the way.

Th-Thap! Jex perched on the quadruped's side, snarling viciously. "These last two months, all I hear is the 'Jury this' and the 'Jury that'. Well, I'm sick of it!" He leaned down, growling into the giraffe's battered face. "Give it up, peasant! It's all a laughably stupid myth! A group of altruistic foreigners, flying around in their magical sky ship, saving the countryside one village at a time?!" He spat. "It's just a pathetic lie you freaks have been telling yourself when instead you should have been bowing down to the Cartel! Val Roa abandoned you months ago! We are your bosses now! This whole continent should stop believing in silly phantoms already!"

"They'll be the end of creeps like you..." The giraffe wheezed, then smirked. "You'll s-see..."

Jex recoiled, grimacing. Gradually, his face formed a frown. "That's it..." Chiiiiing! He unsheathed a machete from his vest and pressed its tip right beneath the giraffe's chin. "You... You don't even get the luxury of blowing up, you snotfaced little farttard!"

"Papa!" the colt howled across the way.

"It'll be okay, son," the father said, closing his eyes. "Just look away..."

"Please! Don't! Don't kill him!"

"Look away, son, it'll be over soon—"

"Heh, you wish." Jex licked his lips and raised the blade high. "I'm gonna make the brat drink every quart of you once you're drained, punk—"

An imp walked up, clearing his throat. "Uhhhh... boss?"

Jex clenched his eyes shut. With a prolonged sigh, he turned around with a thin, exasperated glare. "What is it? Don't you know there's nothing I love more about giraffes than slitting their throats?"

"Uhm..." The imp stepped aside, and four more goblins trotted forward. They ushered a pair of cloaked quadrupeds forward, their hooves bound in chains. "We found these two huddled inside one of the storehouses with the last of the villagers."

Jex stood up, leaning against his machete. "Ponies?" He stared quizzically at the figures' short height. "The hell are ponies doing out here this far west from Val Roa proper?"

"They claim to have been staying at an inn overnight, boss." One imp shrugged. "Zeezrom was the halfway point of their pilgrimage."

"Pilgrimage?" Jex's brow furrowed. "And why aren't they disrobed?"

"Wearing the cloaks is part of their religion, they said," one imp tried to explain. "The 'way of Mintian Monks'... or something or rather."

"'Mintian Monks?'" Jex groaned and face-palmed. "You friggin' idiots! Get with the program! Out here, we use religion for toilet paper!" He marched forward with a frown. "Get this crap off right now—"

Jex's hand yanked a hood down one figure, exposing a mare with chestnut hair and a stubby horn in the center of her skull.

"Unicorn!" Several imps shrieked.

The Green Bandits all trained their weapons at once. Cl-Clakkk! Even the metal walkers pivoted along their swiveling chassis and aimed dual cannons.

"WAIT!" Jex held his fist up, silencing the company of imps. As the seconds oozed by, everyone could hear his sickly voice chuckling. "Heh heh heh heh..." He pointed at the mare's stub. "For real—you're all afraid of that?! Looks like these 'Mintian Monks' dig cranial circumcision, if you catch my drift..."

The imps all chuckled nervously, gradually relaxing and lowering their weapons. The giraffes blinked at one another, holding their breaths.

Bellesmith stared calmly at him. Gradually, her lips curved. "I wouldn't be laughing if I were you."

"Hahaha—Oh really?!" Chiiiing! Jex tilted her chin up with his machete as he sneered, "And just how is a horn like that gonna stop me?"

Belle's teeth showed. "It's not my horn you should be worried about."

A half-second later, a tattooed filly galloped out from beneath Belle's cloak and thrusted her skull forward. "Rrrrrrrrrrrgg—" Kera's body shimmered all over in pulsating patterns. "HAAAAAAAUGH!" Her horn pulsed with unbridled magic.

Jex, eight other imps, and a mess of crates were instantly sent sailing. Their bodies soared over the giraffes' ducking heads, colliding with the splintery surface of a storehouse behind them. Th-Th-Thud!

"Beloved!" Belle hollered, halfway through shrugging her cloak off to revealed a sheathed staff hanging along her flank. "Now!"

Beside her, the pony disrobed to reveal a metal plate above a body of stripes. The Oracular Array flashed red over Pilate's eyes as the O.A.S.I.S. sphere detached from his choker. The orb darted between him and Bellesmith, zapping the chains of their manacles loose. A half-second later, both ponies extended their staves, gripped them in their muzzles, and dove at the nearest imps.

The goblins were still reeling from Kera's blast. Off balance, they took the metal blows to the head, neck, and chest with no contest. As the imps' bodies fell meatedly to the floor, Pilate added insult to injury by kicking a crate with a grunt, sending it sliding so that it tripped the closest metal walker. With a creaking groan, the metal monstrosity fell forward hard, its inner pilot rattling against the bulkheads.

As the vehicle struggled to get back up, the other three pivoted and aimed their whirring arm-cannons at the three ponies.

"Okay, Kera!" Pilate shouted, backtrotting.

"Reel it in, darling!" Belle added.

"Here goes...!" Kera clenched her teeth as her horn pulsed.

A vaporous bubble of air retreated inward, surrounding the three. Within seconds, the three walkers fired their large guns. Pow! P-Pow! The flaming ordinance flew in—only to ricochet uselessly off the translucent shield that the Xonan foal had constructed.

"Gnnngh!" Kera winced.

"Can you handle it?!" Belle exclaimed.

"Just... t-tickles..." Kera smirked sweatily. "That's all."

"Marvelous!" Pilate shouted, backtrotting with a rattle of the Oracular Array. "Form a barricade! Protect the citizens!"

"None of the shells are getting through!" Belle looked over her shoulder at the cowering group. "But there're still the calves across the way!"

"Right!" Pilate stood beside Kera and held up his forelimb. "Booster!" he shouted into a glowing sound-stone strapped to his fetlock. "We've got this side of the field! Time to bring her in!"

"Snkkkt! Already on approach, Stripes!"

"Here they come!" Kera squeaked, squinting skyward.

At this point, a line of goblins had recovered. They formed an angry phalanx, aiming over two-dozen riffles at the warbling shield. Just then, they heard a sharp whistling sound. Nervously, they all glanced about, oblivious to the pitch-black orb descending from the heavens like a meteorite.

Whuddd! All of the imps were knocked skyward in a line like bowling pins. Seconds later, the Lounge Sphere lifted back up and hovered over a cluster of recovering goblins. The twin doors swiveled open, revealing three ponies inside.

"Ding Ding Ding!" Booster Spice smirked beneath his green shades. "Whizball disembarking for Zeezrom!" He yanked at the ship's controls, pivoting the vessel around. "Next stop, Concussion City!"

"Cram it, nerd," Josho grumbled, pumping his shotgun. "Just because you fly the thing doesn't make you cool."


"Save it for the Bandits, old Stallion," Eagle Eye said, sliding out the door. "Ready?"

"After you, princess." With a wheezing grunt, Josho plummeted out of Whizzball's side.

One imp whimpered, twitching, fumbling to get up—WHAM!—his green face turned blue from Josho landing full-force on his spine. The stallion marched into the crowd, firing blast after manablast with his rifle. Imp bodies went sprawling to the earth, clutching their bloody limbs. As for those who managed to dodge the blasts—

WHANG! A telekinetically tossed shield slammed across their skulls, eventually returning to Eagle Eye's side. The petite unicorn landed in a slide across the dirt. He turned and glared across the field.

A company of goblins rushed him, shrieking, their sparkling staves raised.

Eagle Eye's nostrils flaired. Opposite his shield, he raised a metal rod that extended into a double-sided metal blade with mechanicaly teeth. Clak-Clak-Clak! Whirrrr! With a grunt, he rushed into the group, lopping their staves in half with his blade while colliding skulls together with his shield.

From across the way, Kera watched the two stallions neutralizing the army of bandits beneath Whizzball. "They're doing it! They're kicking their butts!" She looked back at her foster parents. "Now's your chance!"

"Beloved?" Bellesmith breathed.

"After you." Pilate smirked under his helm.

Both ponies galloped forward, emerging from Kera's shield. They zig-zagged in a serpentine fashion, dodging bullets, taser fire, and the occasional mortar that the goblins launched across the noisy battlefield. Undaunted, they made their way towards where the giraffe calves had been rounded up. Halfway through the sprint, a loud mortar whistled its way towards the pair.

Pilate gasped, his helm flashing bright read. "Behind us!" he shouted. "Seven o'clock!"

"I see it!" Belle was already diving sideways into him, shoving the two away from the impact. BLAM! Dirt and burning soil flew high into the air as the two crawled the rest of the way towards the timid children. "It's okay!" Belle panted, smiling. "We're the Jury! We've come to save you!"

"The J-Jury?" a colt stammered, wide-eyed.

"Is it really you?!" a long-neck filly murmured.

"Yes!" Belle nodded, leaning in to cuddle them close. "At least for the time being." She growled over her shoulder. "Piiiiiiiiilate?"

"Right..." The zebra slumped up against a crate, ducking bullet fire. "Booster!" he sputtered into his sound stone. "We could use some cover!"

"On it!" the goggled stallion spoke into the Lounge Sphere's intercom high above the battle. Yanking at the controls, he brought it around into a sharp, descending turn. Just as one of the walkers approached Pilate's and Belle's position and began to fire, Booster thrusted hard at the controls, bringing the spherical ship into a steep dive.

CLANG! He knocked the walker off balance so that it fired into a series of crates, exploding them to high heaven.

"That'll bend their ears!" Booster cackled. At the sound of whirring machinery, he glanced out the peripheral of his windshield and gulped. "Wuh oh..."

"Climb! Climb!" Pilate's voice crackled over the intercom. "You got their attention! Just as planned!"

"Easy for y-you to say!" Booster grunted as he ascended rapidly.

POW! POW! The two walkers still on their metal legs fired an array of explosive projectiles at the Lounge Sphere. Booster did his best to dodge and weave around the blasts without completely flying away from the scene.

As more and more patches of flak exploded over the village's rooftops, Jex and his fellow minions got up on aching legs. The Bandit boss took one look at the ensuing battle and gnashed his teeth. "By the Nine Hells..." He yanked his companions aside. "Get your green butts in gear!" Running behind several burning buildings, he pointed to the very top of the multi-tiered village. "Bertha! We get to her—we end this whole damn thing!"

"But boss! What about the explosive?!"

"It doesn't matter!" He managed a smirk despite his sweat and bruises. "That thing's already set to go off! What these yahoos don't realize is we already won!"

KABLAAM! A storehouse exploded not too far from Josho. The stallion grunted, pausing to duck the ensuing bits of shrapnel flying past him. "Rrrgh... I'd love this if it didn't suck so much!"

"Having a problem, grandpa?!" Eagle Eye exclaimed, blocking taser fire with is shield as he slid to a stop beside the obese stallion.

"Yeah!" Josho fired over Eagle's head, exploding weapons in the imps' bloody grasp. As the goblins fell—howling in pain—he reloaded his rifle with more manacrystals. "I thought we'd be doing this after breakfast!"

"These giraffes won't be eating anything ever again if we don't finish this as planned!"

"Tell that to nerdenstein up there!" Josho pointed at the Whizzball's erratic movements. "Not that I sympathize with the guy, but he's making love to mortar fire up there somethin' awful!"

"That about does it!" Eagle Eye shouted into a soundstone affixed to his shoulder. "Rainbow! The walkers are distracted! Time to drop in the pain!"

"Well it's about friggin' time! Where are they at?!"

Eagle craned his neck over a shattered crate. "Two standing on the north end!" Sweating, he squinted his expert eyes and shouted, "Two more getting up! They're gonna blindside Belle and Pilate!"

"Not if we've got anything to say about it. Eyes to the sky, Jurists!"

Across the field, huddled by the calves, Pilate gripped Bellesmith's shoulder. "Shhh! This is it!"

The soundstone on Pilate's fetlock hissed: "Dropping the pain!" As the broadcast faded, the group heard a sharp whistle from overhead. The giraffe calves looked up—only to have their eyes covered by Pilate's and Belle's hooves.

"Don't watch this part."

Thwoooooooooosh! A black body fell, then slammed into the earth with an enormous thudddd. The goblins stumbled on their feet from the sheer reverberation of the landing. As the dust settled, they looked into a shallow crater to see a quadruped clad all over in black armor. Slowly, Roarke's head tilted up, clad in a glossy black helmet. She glared across the field. Seconds later, every crevice in her suit lit up with deep amber light—and then she was rocketing violently across the charred grass.

A walker finally stood up, only for Roarke to clip its leg out from underneath. The driver inside yelped as the thing stumbled forward on one metal "knee." As he looked up, he shrieked to find a miniature rocket flying into his windshield. KABLAAM! The chassis exploded, sending his smoke-trailing body flying across the field.

Roarke lowered a smoking fetlock. A taser blast flew at her from behind. She dodged it blindly, reverse somersaulted, and came down with a smashing leg-drop into a cluster of armed goblins. "Raaaaaaaugh! WHUD! Without taking a second breath, she leapt mercilessly into the sea of shrieking imps, knocking their bodies skyward one at a time.

The giraffes couldn't help themselves. They stood up from behind Kera's magic field and cheered, whistling and hollering. Amidst her sweat and strain, Kera smirked. "Go get 'em, teach!"

"Nnnnngh!" Roarke's voice rang from inside her helmet as she barreled through Bandit after Bandit. At last, she had to duck from a full line of gunners firing at her figure. Firing rockets from her legbraces, the metal leapt high over the group and shook her flank in midair. Th-Thwpppp! A long metal prehensile tail flew down and wrapped tightly around a fat goblin's leg. He shrieked as he was yanked up from where he stood.

When Roarke landed, she spun and flung the weight of the imp's body into a line of charging imps. As their bodies fell, she slammed several of them at once, knocking their lungs empty with the bruised goblin at the end of her "tail." More goblins closed in, so Roarke galloped, leapt sideways, and clasped onto a flagpole on the edge of the village. Firing her rockets, she spun around from her grip, swinging the shrieking goblin like a mace in a full circle. In just three revolutions, every goblin was knocked to the floor. Roarke finally detached her tail—sending the victim flying over treetops as she landed, unlocked several chambers along her suit's shoulders, and fired two dozen electrical needles into the collapsed group, shocking the Bandits unconscious.

Across the way, one of the three walkers had recovered and was aiming dual cannons straight at Roarke's black figure. The goblin driver inside cussed beneath his breath as he locked onto her. Right as his finger hovered over the trigger, a petite blue body suddenly landed against his windshield. Cl-Clamp! "What th-the—?!"'

A blue hoof reached up and touched a lighting-bolt pendant clinging to the pony's neck. The air sang with a high-pitched whine as Rainbow's necklace overloaded.

The goblin inside shielded himself and shrieked.

FLASSSSSSSSSSH! Rainbow's pendant fired a steady beam of harmonic energy into the chassis, lighting the walker's cockpit up from the inside. Backflipping, her voice cracked into the air. "Roarke! All yours!"

The metal mare spun around. Half-a-second later, her rear rockets fired. PHOOOM! She flew like a missile, her armored suit plowing straight through the walker's chassis. CRASSSH! She emerged on the other side, body-dropping the unconscious goblin pilot to the ground. Sliding to a stop, she looked up at Rainbow with a glinting helmet. "Seriously? You had already finished him off."

"Pffft.. don't complain, girl." Rainbow backstroked in midair with a wink. "You enjoyed that."

"... you are not wrong."

POW! Mortarfire exploded right behind them.

"Luna poop!" Rainbow wheezed, suddenly twirling to avoid machine gun fire from the remaining two walkers. "Let's celebrate later, huh?"

"We always do..." Roarke galloped beneath Rainbow's rapid flight.

Back-stepping on clanking legs, the two mechs nervously fired at the two approaching ponies. The goblin pilots inside hyperventilated with panic. With a prismatic blur, Rainbow Dash streaked back and forth across their field of vision. Desperate, the Bandits tilted their chassis up, firing into the sky. Whizzball and the pegasus were just too quick for either of them to hit. Whatever the case, neither of the pilots were ready for when Roarke ran between them, pivoted, and fired a series of metal coils into both walkers' legs.

Seconds later, Roarke dug her rear hooves into the ground. Steel pegs extended deep into the earth, rooting her iron-wrought body into place. With a deep growl, Roarke yanked back with her forelimbs.

The walkers stumbled backwards, falling onto their rear chassis. Rainbow flew down and perched on the right arm-cannon of one of the walkers. "Roarke! Scalpel, if you will!"

Roarke aimed a forelimb, rotated the exterior around until it aimed a glave, and fired. Pow!

In one fell swoop, the projectile lopped the metal gun off. CRACK! Rainbow hoisted it over her shoulder and flew skyward. She immediately descended on the second mech as it still wildly fired at her. "Rrrrrrghhh!" She twirled, dodged the blasts, and shoved the cannon deep into the metal chassis. CRUNCH! Holding her breath, she flew back and bucked the stubby end of the gun with both hooves. KAPOWWW! The cannon discharged, sending the contents of the cockpit—and its pilot—flying across the earth.

The last mech, armless, tried getting up out of Roarke's coiled grip. A metal shield flew in, telekinetically pried the cockpit open, and exposed the gasping pilot for Josho to march up and slam with the butt of his rifle. Just like that, the battle quieted. Josho and Eagle Eye marched up, sweaty and breathless—but altogether unscathed.

"Well, that was fairly textbook," Josho said. "Though I've never read a damned textbook in my life."

"Yeah..." Eagle Eye took a deep breath and collapsed his mechanical sword. "...unless it was a book about farts."

"Why I oughta—" Josho blinked. "Eh, you're right."

"Walkers are down, Ding Dong!" Rainbow shouted across the field strewn with groaning goblin bodies. "I think we can breathe now!"

"Rainbow!" Belle and Pilate waved wildly, pointing uphill. "Look out!"

"Huh?" Rainbow blinked, her mane blowing in the morning wind. She raised a fetlock with a glowing soundstone to her fuzzy muzzle. "The buck's wrong with you guys?"

POWWWW! A hole exploded in the building directly behind them, showering the group with splinters.

"Whoah dayum!" Josho wheezed.

"Nnnngh!" Eagle Eye hissed, using his magic to shield the group.

Booster Spice's voice crackled over the sound stone, "I think she was trying to warn you about the very real tank with very real armaments on the very real hill above us!"

"Tank?" Rainbow blinked, knocking clumps of wood and sawdust off her head. "What tank?!"

P-POWWWWW! A shell hit, even closer this time. The Jurists spotted a flash of light from the turret up above. Jex perched atop the treads, pointing and shouting at the group below.

"That tank," Roarke hissed beneath her helmet. "The one your changeling friends reported on when they flew back to us yesterday."

"Oh... right..." Rainbow chuckled as the group dove for cover. "I-I forgot about it."

"You forgot about the tank?!" Eagle wheezed.

"Hey! I was too busy being awesome for a moment there!"

"Rainbow..." Roarke sighed.

Rainbow stuck her tongue out. "You were too!"

"Hmmmm... true enough."

"Rainbow!" Pilate's voice crackled through the sound stones. "If we don't stop that metal monstrosity, there won't be anything left of Zeezrom for the villagers to stay alive for! Also, I won't be able to disarm the Green Bandits' bomb!"

Rainbow's eyes went wide as saucers. "There's a bomb too?!"

"Are you kidding me?!" Eagle Eye yelped. He pointed across the field. "It's right there! Can you not see—"

Rainbow grinned dumbly at the unicorn.

"Darn it, Rainbow!" Eagle Eye stomped his hooves. "Cut it out!"

"Th-that was pretty funny," Josho chuckled.

"No it was not!" Eagle protested.

"Ahem. Yeah yeah..." As another shell exploded—even closer—Rainbow spoke into her sound stone. "Props? You know that thing that we talked about?"

"Snkkkt! You mean that thing where we do the thing to save you guys from the thing?"

"Yeah. That thing. Do that thing now."

"Okie Dokie Lokie! You heard her handsome! No, not you, the other handsome—Snkkkkt!"

Rainbow tilted her head up. "Keep out of range, Booster! You're no match for those shells!"

"And you are?!"

"Don't worry about us! Backup's coming!" Rainbow dropped the stone and glanced at the others. "Ya hear that? Backup's coming."

"You're certain she has enough fuel for this maneuver?" Roarke asked.

"Pffft. Puh-lease." Rainbow waved a hoof. "I gave the book enough for her to do twenty laps around this town in a blink." POWWWW! Another shell went off, bathing them in soil. Rainbow blinked through the dust with a calm smirk. "...anyday now."

High above, Jex shouted at the goblins operating the tank. Under his command, the vehicle grinded its way down the multi-tiered, village, drawing closer to its target. "Blow 'em out of the ground!" he hollered, spitting blood and gritting his teeth. "I wanna snuggle up in pony flesh tonight!" He pointed with a taser at the center of the group. "Ready... Aim... FIRE!"

The shell flew true, screaming its way down toward where Rainbow Dash and her friends were huddled. Out of nowhere, a branch of sparkling mana intercepted the shell and exploded it in midair.

Jex gasped, looking upwards from the tank turret. "What in the name of holy buttjuice?!" His pointed ears drooped as a shadow bathed him and his comerades.

FWOOOOSH! With a bright crimson streak, the Noble Jury dove into the narrow valley, its skystone engines reverberating across the nearby mountainsides. Through the cockpit's windows, Zaid could be seen gripping the controls. He threw a devilish grin over his shoulder—at Floydien who was standing on the port side, his antlers brimming with bright energy.

"Next loogey you grimy boomers launch will be your last!" Floydien spat. "Cult boomer! Fly Nancy closer so Floydien can zap them with the horn-horns!"

"Hell yeah! Reindeer games!" Zaid shouted into the intercom, "Fire the lateral steam ports, Blondie! Time to go all ballerina on these butt muffins!"

"Ooh! I love pirouettes!"

Swisssssssh! The ship rotated clockwise, giving Floydien a better look at the tank below.

"Um... b-boss?" One of the goblins peered out of the tank's interior, shivering.

"Don't stop for nothing!" Jex growled, stomping his head back inside. "Fire! Turn the village to dust!"

The tank's turret glowed red hot.

Up above, Ebon Mane peered over the Jury's edge with a pair of binoculars. "There, Floydien!" He pointed. "It's charging up! T-Minus three seconds—!"

"No no no..." Floydien's red eyes flickered—along with his antlers. "Suck on a glimmer spoon!" He lunged his skull forward, firing a swath of manastream.

The energy bolts flew right in front of the turret just as it fired. POWWW! The shell exploded just as it exited the tank's cannon, sending the vehicle off balance.

"Aaaaugh! Dammit!" Jex and his fellow goblins struggled to cling onto the tank as it rolled awkwardly down hill, smashing through a hill of compost and garbage.

Down below, Roarke and Rainbow Dash tensed.

"Woo! This is it!" Rainbow shouted aside. "They're distacted! Josho! EE! Free the villagers!" She flapped her wings and shouted into her sound stone. "Pilate! Do whatever voodoo you do! And quick!



"Already with you, Rainbow." Roarke's leg-braces began hissing with exhaust.

"You're smirking under that helmet. I just know it."

"Keep... wishing..." Thoooosh! Roarke rocketed skyward, joining Rainbow as the two mares zoomed towards the tank, spinning wild circles around it and knocking down goblins on the vehicle's side that tried shooting at them.

"You heard Dash!" Eagle began sprinting towards the group along with Josho. "Let's set these giraffes free!" As the two stallions reached Kera, Eagle patted her head. "You did great, Kera! Now go help your mom and dad!"

"Okay!" Kera exhaled, dropped her magic field, and galloped across the way. Giraffe fillies and colts ran the opposite way, reuniting tearfully with their families as Josho and Eagle Eye sliced their bindings apart, one by one. At last, Kera slid to a stop beside the black bomb along with Pilate and Belle. "I'm here!"

"Good, child," Pilate murmured. "Keep her steady." He knelt down, commanding the O.A.S.I.S. sphere to hover above the container's instrument panel while Kera stabilized it. "Alright..." The runes on his brow flickered as he registered what the beam from O.A.S.I.S. was scannning. "Seems to be set for twenty-four minutes from now..."

"The holes are color coded, beloved," Belle panted. "The first two red and the second two yellow."

"Hmmmm... typical goblin design. Should be just as sensitive as the ones before."

"Can we just smash it like that one time?" Kera murmured.

"Darling, just because that worked before—" Belle sighed.

"But it was so much fun!"

"It wasn't for the ponies of Mosiah whom we almost gave heart attacks," Pilate murmured. "Alright, Belle, as rehearsed—start by unscrewing the upper left and upper right portions of the faceplate..."

"Okay..." Belle reached in with a thin tool.

"Easy... easy..."

A shell exploded in midair above them.

"This would be a great deal easier without Mr. Floydien's fireworks," Pilate grumbled.

"Come onnnnnn..." Kera grinned. "The goblins first mistake was not knowing that explosions is our business!"

Up above, the Noble Jury swam a tight circle around the Tank, with the magically-imbued elk firing manastreams at the goblin vehicle constantly, forcing it on a path away from the villagers below.

"Keep it up, Floydien!" Ebon shouted as he peered through the binoculars. "At this rate, they're going to steer into the mountain!"

"No retreating while Floydien is spitting up the sky!"

"Watch it, fella! Or else you'll hit Rainbow and Roarke—"

"Bite your tongue, sailboat!"

"Unnngh..." Ebon rolled his eyes. "I only cook here..."

"Just a little more, buckeye!" Rainbow shouted during one of her blurred fly-by's. "We're making them madder!"

Zaid leaned his head out the cockpit. "Sooner than later, they're gonna wanna swat the mosquito!"

"That's the idea, dude! Is Props ready?!"

"And how!"

Meanwhile, atop the tank, Jex was at his wit's end. "Damn it! We're getting nowhere with that damnable flying crapstain!" He leaned down and hollered into the vehicle's interior. "Eyes to the sky! TAKE 'EM OUT!"

"Y-yes, boss!"

With a metal whine, the smoking turret tilted up, up, up—facing the jury.

Ebon's eyes widened. "Finally!" He shouted towards the rest of the ship. "They're aiming at us! Now, Propsy! Now!"

"You're up, Blondie!"

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand..." Props replaced Floydien, hoisting a thick metal launcher over her shoulder. "...happy happy fun time!" BLAM! She fired a bright orange missile. The thing whizzed through the air and contacted the tank's raised turret directly. SPLUTT! A fine orange paste coated every inch of the cannon, blocking up the turret's hollow. "Courtesy of Props and Prowse Enterprises!"

Jex blinked at the blocked-up turret. "Uhhhh..." He gulped. "...did you follow my last command?"

"Y-Yes, boss! Is there a problem?"

The turret glowed bright red from the inside out. Rainbow and Roarke flew up and away, out of range. The Jury also swung itself towards the far end of the village.

Jex whimpered before diving off the tank. "...poop."

KA-BLAAAAM! The tank exploded in three different directions. The rest of its ordinance erupted, sending chunks of metal streaming sky high and littering the peaks of the looming mountains.

Down below, Eagle Eye shielded the villagers of Zeezrom while Josho rushed them under the cover of a barn. They gazed aside as the remnants of the tank fell randomly across the surrounding forest.

Meanwhile, at the bomb, Belle and Pilate finally uncovered the outer shell, exposing the flickering round core within.

"Alright! It's finally detached!" Belle said, snipping the last of three or four wires. "That gives it a minute tops!"

"You hear that, Rainbow?!" Pilate shouted.

"Darn right, I did!" FWOOOSH! Rainbow flew down and grasped the glowing explosive. "Booster!" She shouted into Pilate's soundstone. "Time to live up to your name!"

"Roger that!" Whizzball soared down from above.

"Be c-careful, Rainbow!" Belle entreated.

Rainbow winked at the mare with a devilish smirk. "I never am." She looked over her shoulder. "Kera! Clean up!"


"Everypony on the Jury! Make this quick!" As Josho and Eagle Eye galloped over, Kera began floating the goblin bodies together in a large cluster. Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash launched herself up—gripping the explosive. She passed by Roarke on the way down. "Bread and butter!"

"Just come back safe..."

"Awww... you do care!" She shouted at Whizzball as it flew up with her. "Alley oop!"

"I got you, Rainbow!" Booster slid the sphere underneath her.

Rainbow's hooves made contact. She hugged the pulsating core to her chest as the Lounge Sphere ascended rapidly, pushing the two upward... upward... through the clouds and the misty sky above. At last, Rainbow's legs uncoiled, and she launched off the craft, cruising skyward as fast as her wings could glide her. The blue tint of the sky dimmed around the mare, reflecting off her rattling pendant. When—at last—she could ascend no further, she grunted and tossed the bomb's core high into the cold, frigid atmosphere.

"Aaaaaaaaaand—grand finale!" She was plummeting before her exclamation was finished, and with good timing too.

The resulting explosion lit up the countryside for dozens of miles. A shockwave flew down, chasing Rainbow Dash but not quite outpacing her descent. She laughed along the way down, grinning as she twirled, uprighted herself, and "surfed" the blast, letting it carry her the rest of the way towards the Jury.

A hundred feet above Zeezrom, Zaid held the Jury at a still hover. Whizzball was just sliding into its rear hangar while Roarke, Josho, Eagle and the others got situated on the top deck. Belle held Kera close, who was straining to contain a levitating sphere of telekinesis beneath them—chock full of bruised and beaten Bandit bodies.

"Here comes the blast!" Ebon shouted, clinging to Eagle.

"Steady, Nancy, steady," Floydien grumbled out the side of her muzzle.

"Silly handsome!" Props sing-songed. "She can take it!" PHWOOOOM! The ship rocked and rocked as the blast wave surged past the vessel. Props' goggled eyes blinked beneath her windblown mane. "...see?! Heeheee!"

Belle spoke over Kera's shoulder. "You got it, darling?"

"Nnnngh..." Kera gritted her teeth. "Uh huh..." She nodded shakily.

"Concentrate, child." Roarke trotted up. Cl-Cl-Clak! Her helmet retracted into her collar, and she shook loose a full mane of scarlet hair. "Be calm and think inwardly," she said, her ice-blue eyes squinting in the dawnlight. "Just like I taught you."

"Okay... okay..." Kera slowly smiled. "I think I got it!"

"Of course you do, Kera," Pilate said, patting her shoulder. "Where's Booster?"

The stallion galloped up from the stairwell, lifting his goggles and panting. "I'm here!" He gulped. "Same thing as before?"

Th-Thap! Rainbow landed. "Absolutely! Quick as lightning! In and out!" She pointed. "Like we were never here!"

"Yes yes yes..." Floydien pivoted. "Where's the lake?"

"Nnngh..." Pilate seethed as he detached the ocular array. Belle nuzzled him as he stared off with clear eyes. "Should be four miles south. A single burst will do it."

"Ya hear that, Zaidy Waidy?!"

"On it!" Zaid bellowed, pivoting the controls of the ship. "Whew-wee! I'm getting the hang of this!"

"Don't count your spit so soon, boomer."

"Props—" Josho spoke.

"Right!" Props galloped downstairs. "Boosting! Gimme a help, Greenie!"

"B-but...!" Booster Spice galloped after her. "I just got here!"

"Everypony hold on!" Ebon Mane exclaimed. He looked up and smiled as Eagle Eye trotted over. "Well, that was quick."

"Mmmhmmm.." Eagle kissed him on the lips and nuzzled him close. "You did good."

"You did even better," Ebon said, then grimaced. "Bleachk! You're all sweaty!"

"I dunno." Eagle giggled. "I'm starting to like it."

"I know you are."

"Ughh..." Josho rolled his eyes and trotted over to a railing. "Somepony make me hurl before I hurl!"

"Snkkkkt! Hold onto your flankies!" Props voice shouted.

"This is it!" Rainbow gripped the deck beside Roarke.

The skystone above pulsed bright... brighter... and then flashed with crimson energy. In a heartbeat, the vessel was hurling itself south, speeding away from Zeezrom and gliding over the treetops.

"Nnngh!" Kera gnashed her teeth. "Wh-why do the bursts h-have to be so... bursty?!"

"Just a few seconds more, Kera!" Belle held the filly close. "You got this!"

"Not like anypony will be devastated if you drop 'em early!" Josho grumbled.


"What?! For real!"

"We're slowing down!" Roarke shouted.

"Get ready," Belle said.

At last, the ship coasted to a stop above a deep, glittering lake.

"Aaaaaaaaaand..." Kera grinned maniacally as her horn stopped glowing. "Bon voyage, ya melon fudges!"

Her magic field disappeared completely, dropping the legion of Goblin Bandits into the drink. They gasped in midair—as if awoken by the sheer tug of gravity—and each imp shrieked as they plummeted. With several loud percussions, they all splashed into the waters, coming up to bob helplessly at the surface.

"You wanna do the speech this time?" Roarke droned.

"Pffft. Please..." Rainbow rolled her eyes. "I suck at these things. You do it, Miss Gravel voice."

"Hrmmm... if you insist..."

"I never get to do them," Ebon pouted.

Roarke trotted past them. "The day you learn to grow an extra pair, then maybe you can."


At last, Roarke over the ship's port side, snarling at the sputtering, water-treading miscreants below. "Now listen up and listen up good! This is not the Southern Cartel's territory! We've told your brothers and sisters across the countryside, and they all learned the truth the hard way! This is not your land to claim! And these are not your creatures to torment! When Val Roa closed its borders, it was not the open invitation you thought it was! And those of you who think differently will face the same wrath that you met today! Tell all of your fellow Bandits—Zeezrom is off limits! Mosiah is off limits! Amulek is off limits! All of this land from Val Roa to Alafreo is sovereign territory! And if you have a problem with that... you have a problem with the Noble Jury..." Her eyes narrowed as she hissed, "And the Jury's vigil never sleeps..."

"You're dead! You hear me?!" Jex shook his fist while almost-drowning. "You have no idea the connections I have! The Jury is done for! You hear me?!"

"We'll have to deliberate on that!" Rainbow Dash grinned. "In the meantime, you have to not become water balloons!" She motioned to Zaid and then waved at the sputtering Bandits as the ship took off. "Let's see who has better luck than the other!"

"Yeah!" Kera stuck her tongue out. "And you smell!"


The Noble Jury rocketed away, abandoning the goblins in their peril.

Jex frowned, bobbing up and down in the lake water. The imps all around him yelped and shrieked in fright. He snarled, punching his way through the group as he led the long, arduous swim to shore.

"Hrmmmf..." Roarke sighed, her mane billowing in the breeze as she glared at Rainbow. "Always with the last word."

"Heh..." Rainbow shrugged. "I couldn't help myself, sorry. Beside, a spotlight would only blind you, girl."

Roarke stared back. Slowly, she smiled and leaned in to nuzzle Rainbow's neck. "You truly amuse me..."

"Thanks for keeping it Rated PG around Kera's ears."

Kera's face scrunched up. "PG?"

"Yeah. 'Pony Godly." Rainbow ruffled the child's mane. "Way to go. All of you." She trotted down the deck as Booster and Props galloped back up. "We're getting better and better at this team thing."

"Except when you forgot about the tank," Josho grumbled.

"I didn't forget the tank!" Rainbow paused, fidgeting. "I just... got momentarily invested in something else."

Booster smirked. "I always wondered why I was asked to design her new suit so tight."

Roarke slapped his head from behind. "Don't give yourself that much credit, breeder."


"Nancy should have enough steam steam to make it past the next ridge," Floydien said, taking Zaid's place in the cockpit. "And then, recharge the glimmer."

"Say..." Zaid stumbled out, scratching his head as he stood by Props' side. "Why do we gotta turn all of these into unsung hit-and-runs anyway?"

"'Cuz that's what makes it all work, Zaid," Belle said. "The Jury has to be a name, as quick and hard to grasp as divine intervention itself."

"It's the only way to fill in the gap that Val Roa's left," Pilate said.

"Yeah..." Rainbow sighed, head hanging. "Until we can figure out why Val Roa's walled up to us and everypony else."

"Don't think about it!" Floydien shouted from the cockpit. "I'm still buffing Nancy's hull from the last time! That sort of glimmer shimmer could burn her inside out!"

A cold shudder ran through half the Jury's bodies.

"Perhaps..." Roarke fidgeted. "...a respite is in order?"

Rainbow looked across the deck. "Pilate. Where'd our changeling buddies want us to rendezvous again?"

"Northeast of Silver Point."

"Woo!" Booster pumped his hoof in the air. "I haven't been home in a while!"

"Live with it," Josho grumbled. He smirked towards the rest and motioned with his hoof. "Let's go downstairs and eat already! The feast's on me!"

"The feast's always on you," Ebon Mane rolled his eyes as he trudged downstairs. Eagle Eye giggled, which led the rest of the Jury to laugh.

FWOOOSH! The crimson streak of the Jury soared overhead. Down in the village of Zeezrom, every giraffe stood out in the open, jumping up and down and cheering for joy. One by one, they gathered together with buckets, easily putting out the flames that the goblins hard started.

In one corner of the village, an injured father recovered, being nuzzled by his wife while their little colt jumped into his forelimbs. He smiled as the calf leaned up and rubbed his tiny antlers against his shoulders. The little giraffe glanced up into the sky, his glossy eyes reflecting the scarlet streak that the mysterious skystone ship made against the eastern horizon.

"Th-thank you..."

And his teary eyes closed above a peaceful smile.

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