• Published 14th Jan 2015
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A State of Darkness - Wing

An ongoing tale of original characters set in an Equestria with secret branches of the well-known guard corps, A State of Darkness revolves around the Wonderbolt DarkOps unit as it protects Equestria from threats both foreign and domestic.

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A Game of Darkness - Installment 16 - The Wing Gambit

There were no hidden meeting rooms this time – no nooks or crannies of a library – no out-of-the-way rendezvous spots; my patience for those had ended the second my eyes fell upon the name Lichlos. He had issued a challenge to me – one that stretched across an academic eternity – and it was one to which I intended to respond.

The timing of his appearance could not have been clearer. The countless hours we had spent discussing the philosophies which had thrown us ever closer to our rift stored grain after hourglass grain of truth. Once, he had been a trusted friend, someone with whom I could laugh and share my inner-most thoughts. Where others had viewed my ideas with skepticism, he had always shown interest. However, that enthusiastic support had sat stained upon a mask of his own design. Behind it, there were eagle eyes eagerly affixing ambition to the gains and spoils of malicious opportunity. There was simply no way that mere coincidence could explain his presence upon Equestria’s shores.

“I still can’t believe that both of you received the Celestian Cross.” Mozy’s voice reined the breeze as one of her hooves gently stroked the wooden vessel. From her expression, I presumed that she was trying to uplift my mood, but noteworthy recognition failed to sway my mind when the specter of a demon haunted my every thought.

Luna’s teal eyes had pierced my soul when I allowed Conrad’s parchment to drift back to the quartz tabletop. She had seen the nightmare that had ensnared my essence, and upon the announcement of my intent to leave for Manehattan, she had immediately sent for the members of the DarkOps squad as a precautionary measure.

“While we appreciate the valor of those in attendance, we think this not the appropriate time, Mosaic Breeze,” the princess addressed my protégé before the alabaster mare settled uncomfortably into her chair. “Clearly, the appearance of this Lichlos has perturbed Sir Wing’s demeanor, and he wishes to depart for Manehattan at once. We believe ye can convince him that such actions are the hallmarks of a stubborn pegasus – and not a scholarly one.”

I shifted my gaze to Amora, who stared back at me with the same aura of disbelief I had exuded when I first read the griffon’s name. With the lone exception of Trigger, she had known me longer than the others. Together, we had ventured to Whynnyapolis seeking wisdom amidst the beautiful, frigid metropolis, and while we had found it, we had also met Conrad. She had witnessed his theatrics first-hoof, and as such, the mare was more than capable of vouching for the quality of my seemingly stubborn claims.

“Lichlos is a sociopath,” she spoke with an astounding level of calm, “but Wing, you can’t go – at least not yet.” She raised her forehoof to cut me off before I gave the slightest indication of my brewing rebuttal. “He’s trying to get under your coat, and it’s working. You know the type of griffon he is. He’s calculated everything up until this point, and he’s probably figured out his next twenty moves.

“What do you know about his plan? He just sent you a bait letter, and you’re already set to run off to confront him. What are you going to do when you get there? He’s here on diplomatic grounds, which means you can’t do anything to him anyway unless he assaults an Equestrian citizen or does something that qualifies as an act of war.”

Wick rested his grey muzzle atop his forehooves and furrowed his brow as he gradually leaned forward. “The situation between Talon’s End and Eagle’s Cry isn’t that great. The tension there is known on a global scale – at least when it comes to those in positions of power – which means that we need to be cautious.

“We cannot gallop into the den without an understanding of the motives involved with his arrival. The North might not be too thrilled to learn that its nemesis has dispatched an envoy – especially considering our recent trade agreements. He could just be trying to stir that pot at our expense. Though,” Wick’s face contorted into a contemplative scowl as he continued, “an image of Wing’s stadium shot was published, and the timespan seems right, so we do need to consider that he is here to irk our resident physicist.”

“Ya know you’re all buckin’ pissing him off with logic, right?” Trigger quipped before he kicked back in his chair and set his hind legs upon the tabletop. The others gingerly turned their heads towards the stallion to view the knowing grin that stretched the contours of his muzzle. “Of course, he knows you’re right already, which just makes it suck more, so allow me to break it down and move the shit show along.

“Conny is a weaseling douchebag; he always has been, and he always will be. He cultivated Wing’s trust and friendship with the sole goal of getting on the inside of the armaments project, and at first, things were fine. But any way ya cut it, shit is still shit. Everypony in this room knows about Wing’s rules when it comes to the guns. Lichlos wanted to break them. He wanted detailed information on the shell production. He wanted access to all of Wing’s notes on resonance, and he always spoke about how the project was too small to fit a global picture.

“The bucker’s ambition to bathe his own kind in magic was palpable, and keepin' him around became a risk that no sane pony would ever take. But that’s not the only thing irking the fuck out of our lavender pegasus. It’s Conny’s choice of location. What better way to get under your target’s skin than to hit the family’s hometown?”

“You just can’t risk playing guessing games with him,” I interjected after rubbing my temple. “He could be here simply to piss off Eagle’s Cry, but he could be coming after the revolvers. He was enchanted while we were both in Whynny and borderline obsessed when the whole concept was nothing more than an infantile notion. Unfortunately, those hypotheses might not even come close to conveying the real danger he poses. Manehattan has a huge population, so there’s always a chance that he is here to try something far worse. Either way, I’m not about to sit around and wait to find out.”

“Wing, they’re not going to let ya go, and frankly, neither am I. It’s not because I don’t understand the situation. Lichlos is a crazy dipshit, but let’s face it; no one in this room wants to have to explain to Ambrosia how her knight in liberty blue spandex got fucked over again.” Adding his own refrain to our bantering duet, Trigger played the power chords that he knew best and serenaded us with a brazen humor that often belied his intellect. “He wants ya to go to him, Wing. Why the buck should we give him what he wants?

“Perhaps instead,” he recommended with an upbeat flamboyance, “if Conrad is so determined to seek out amusement like a dumb little foal, we should keep the plaything he wants out of harm’s way and let him find a fox he’s not used to playing with directly.”

The stallion did have a point. He had still been restrained to the confines of my mind when Gänse and I attended graduate school, and while there was a possibility that the griffon would be able to identify some of the more familiar mannerisms of my gunslinging reverie, it was more likely that he would grow frustrated by my absence. At the very least, we’d be able to gauge Conrad’s response, and at best, that response would reveal something useful about the scope of his mission.

“You do know him, and he doesn’t know you. That is a distinct advantage that I guess I can’t afford to pass up. Though, I’m sure you already know that my concession boils down to you pulling the Amby card on me, T, which in this instance, forces my hoof. I’m down with your gambit. Just remember that I’m not going to sit on the sidelines forever.”

“Thou wilt not be held upon the sideline at all, Sir Wing.” Luna’s voice usurped the atmosphere with its boisterous, billowing fervor. “We are engaged in a task that we believe demands your participation. The three ye defeated at the arena are still being held in the castle dungeon. With Sir Trigger leaving us for Manehattan, we could use your first-hoof experience on the matter for interrogation and settling punishment. There are still answers we do not have.”

Shimmering emeralds hawked over their new domain as the Albatross sat docked beside her floating quay. The skyline of Manehattan responded with a glimmer all its own that enticed flocks of Talon soldiers to the clear panes. They stood in a united front upon the bridge, dressed in the same camouflage Azure Sky had worn just prior to the ship’s departure.

After nearly two weeks of traversing the ocean’s gales, they were eager to escape the shells of fiber composite and aluminum that kept their helium-filled vessel pinned to the heavens. “Rambunctious youngsters,” Lichlos muttered as he remained seated upon his velvet throne. The spectacle was more of a distraction than anything else, but it was to be expected. In the end, it would just be another exciting element of his game.

Another thing that he anticipated was Azure Sky’s return. He had dispatched his underling hours ago to deliver the arrival report to the Manehattan brass, but her mission did not end there. Other ponies drifted about the city, ones with which the griffon held particular interest. “Negative Scopes, Spiritual Essence, Laizzy Chain… I wonder if he ever mentioned me to any of you. I wonder if you know just what your cherished child – and adored brother – has been up to all this time. Do you know of the dangers he has been wielding right beneath your noses?”

He inhaled, ending his quiet reflection, and rallied his troops. “With knowledge comes responsibility, my soldiers. We have sailed across the great sea to ensure that the pursuits of this land will not interfere with the glory of our republic. These ponies have chosen to accept a trade agreement with the bastards of the North, and if Equinity’s secrets are allowed to transfer unchecked to our enemies, then we could be simply wiped from this earth.

“I will not hide the scope of this mission from you now that we have reached Equestria’s dominion. This is not just a diplomatic engagement. We are here to monitor those who endanger us the most, and I am here to determine which action is necessary to facilitate Talon’s survival.” Gänse’s countenance did not reveal an inkling of the ecstasy that responded to every subordinate’s nervous twitch and anxious shuffle.

He had struck the taut string with the perfect hammer to produce a pitch that could grace the ears of chaos incarnate. Roots of doubt were easy to plant in fields fertilized by centuries of mistrust, and the mere invoking of the Cry could send any Talon griffon to the precipice of blind devotion. The expanse of possibilities bounced around his brain as move after move played out upon his imagined chessboard.

He ogled the premise of the white knight and scripted the numerous nuances in which his great opponent would dart upon the field of battle, lavender wings flared, ready the reap the benefits of nations tossed to the clutches of calamity. Of course, the cavalier would oppose, struggle, and flail in an effort to preserve the beloved principle of harmony that pervaded all of pony society. But no matter how much you oppose me, Wing, it will not be enough. I’m going to pull other pieces into this match – ones that I’m sure you’re expecting to see and ones that you’re hoping I’ll miss. But it won’t end there. I’m finally going to get what I want. I’ll grasp your sorcery with the bare strength of my claws, and I will finally pit your pathetic philosophy against a situation it cannot endure.

“Message delivered, sir,” Azure Sky announced upon retaking her place upon the command deck. “I verified the courier’s departure for Canterlot myself, and the sergeant-in-charge informed me that your letter would arrive at the palace post before the noon hour.” She watched as malicious flickers danced upon Conrad’s swerving irides. “I also gathered the information you requested. His parents still live in the Bright Sea area of West Manehattan, and his sister owns a flower shop and studio on the corner of Bridleway and Trotter.”

“Excellent job, Ms. Sky. I knew you’d set the bar for our first Equestrian operation.” Lichlos paused as the others stewed silently within their collective sea of trepidation. His tongue gradually meandered along the edge of his black beak, and the weight of sadistic pleasures gathered upon its tip until the accumulated weight drove the cream-and-charcoal griffon to action. “What of your other assignment? Is there any news regarding the Eagle’s Cry?”

The candid address produced a plethora of percussive growls that rose as sharpened talons scuffed the floor. Once again, Conrad inhaled that luscious scent of agony that latched upon the quivering winds of anguish and uncertainty. Succulent, that aroma lounged about the breadth of his daydreams, and it was only bested by the affirmative chirp of his king pawn.

“I became exceptionally curious when I observed the Equestrians’ dock schedule. They have us tethered to the southernmost quay, and the northernmost one is slated to be occupied by another vessel the day after tomorrow. The ponies seemed reluctant to reveal any additional information; however, I found it suspicious that they would spread their resources across an entire port to cover two ships – unless, of course, there was a reason to implement that separation.”

“I expect everyone to remain on high alert,” Gänse dove into the role of a vibrant, nationalistic commander. “Assume the worst and prepare for the coming of an Eagle’s Cry battleship. We can take absolutely nothing for granted. I want it drilled into every soldier’s head that we cannot take a pony’s kindness as truth. They have a standing agreement with our sworn enemy, and they possess a weapon and a magic that we do not understand. Remember that we are here on diplomatic grounds, but do not paint targets upon your backs. Show them the resolute edge of a Talon’s End!”

The ranks snapped to attention as his words raked their ears. Like he had done countless times before, Conrad had twisted their emotions into confused fervors. In two days, their nightmares would come. Each of the little pawns in his presence would experience the desolation of a direct contact abroad. Each of them would obtain the power to hurl three nations into a bountiful war – gifts he had secured himself.

In fact, he ensured it the second he allowed another gift to slip across the sea to his agents in the North. The pieces were indeed assembling to the recipe of his maniacal script, and soon enough, he would flick each and every foe from captured bits of the board. For now though, he would have to remain satisfied with his opening moves. The invitation had been sent to the pegasus, and there was no doubt that the revered King of Eagle’s Cry had expanded his knowledge to ensnare the departure time of the Talon's Airship Albatross.

Author's Note:

Hello folks! First, sorry for the crazy delay between the publication of Installments 15 and 16. There are a lot of reasons that I could dive into, but a lot of it is frankly TL:DR material. I'll just sum it up in a few words: conference in Germany, work, more work, lack of motivation, and lots of motivation with no time. Did I mention work? :P

Either way, this arc has been giving me some fits. I really want to crank the intensity up given the introduction of Conrad and the broad things he brings to the table. However, he's a complex, slow-moving character, which makes it really grueling to write installments. I started this chapter the day after publishing I15, and it took me almost a month to get to this point. Despite the time frame, I'm hoping you all won't be too upset with me. As I keep telling Tea, my plans for A Game of Darkness make the original nuclear option now feel like a BB gun. Now, that's how ya hype something.

Anyway, enjoy the read, and thanks for sticking with it - and me. :)

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