• 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 18 - The Plights of Pawns

Ashen Mystic and I were the only ponies left in the interrogation room. I had sent the others away, much to the astonishment of Ground Cover – who looked at my against-the-grain dismissal of Princess Luna as though it were somehow the most heinous thing he had ever seen. The Crown had bestowed me full authority, and I intended to use it.

“You know that isn’t going to happen for a while.” Her last question remained cemented at the forefront of my thoughts as I allowed my answer to slip to the winds. “The blue one seems calm enough, but his abilities are an enormous security hazard. And the other one is – frankly – just a crazy bitch.”

“They’ll be deprived of their special talents!” The mare’s voice elevated in both pitch and volume as she peered at me with her strained vermillion eyes. She had shifted in response to the agitation that involuntarily sparked along my coat, for raised fibers and flared wings foreshadowed the renewed vigor to come.

“I would have given a shit about their special talents a few weeks ago. You cannot honestly expect me to grant a release of restriction after what happened here. Do you really believe I’m going to just wave a hoof and give special concessions to a bunch of murderers? The deal is really simple: their long-term confinement in a more suitable location as opposed to execution in exchange for information.

“Now that I’ve lived up to my end of the bargain, the only thing it’s time for you to do is to live up to yours. I don’t owe you anything else. Maybe in some other universe we could have been colleagues or even friends, but in this one, you made decisions that make that impossible. As much as your old vitriol suggested otherwise, it isn’t my fault that your organization turned down that path. It was your own.”

I pushed a pad of parchment, a jar of ink, and a quill across the table to the startled mare. My words had burned her, and a piece of me yearned to lend a bit of sympathy to the altered creature before me. Trigger’s intervention had cast much of the negativity that had spurred her corps into the void of oblivion. The Ashen Mystic that had penned the scripts of hatred, that had orchestrated the mindless violence, was not seated here.

Instead, I was dealing with the shell that had to burden the consequences. It was the reason why she could not be sentenced to the pits of Tartarus and the reason why I had to navigate the meandering teeth of applied morality. “However, you have the power to remove ponies from the terrible path they’ve been placed upon. The consequences of your actions have been shown, and contrary to what others might believe, I’d rather stop further issues before they go and toss their lives away. Now, I’ve said and given enough. I want names and locations.”

Through the several minutes that followed, the only audible sounds that joined the hum of the hanging lights were the repeated rasps of quill over paper. The cadence carried with it the unusual power of sedation, and I found my mind roaming free while my stare remained affixed to the smooth motions of the feather.

From the mind-numbing deskwarriors to the clutches of this supremacist fiasco, my entire day had been ensnared by procedure. Lethargic waves of grogginess swept over me with the mental viscosity of molasses. I was caught in this – trapped in a series of problems that stretched well beyond the horizon.

Princess Luna had delayed the inevitable, but the generals would come crawling back like they always did; I would never escape the haunting reach of my imagination’s shadow. I had saved Canterlot from these … depraved ponies, but I had sacrificed the innocence of my creativity to do so. A month ago, this would have been the point at which I would allow myself to tumble down the agonizing spiral of self-doubt, but those emotions could be easily pushed back simply by looking at Ground Cover’s living face.

I had gone through my recovery. I had watched those around me make their own sacrifices on my behalf, and in that respect, doubt was the emotion most removed from my reflection. I’m tired… I was; three weeks had passed, and it felt as though time had opted to hold all of my baggage in a manner optimized for collapse. Matters had gone unresolved by the Crown, and in many senses, they had just waited for me – whether by choice or not. I was being nudged ever closer to complete exhaustion.

There would always be another problem to solve, student to teach, or soldier to train. There would always be another shadow to outflank, but I was outflanking with my own shadow. I had seen it plastered over Ashen’s body the moment I had let the words sail to her ears. Despite all the excuses that I could render, I was a murderer too.

It would be a decision that I would have to make again. There was no computable way around it. Lichlos had come – for whatever twisted purpose – which meant that regardless of what progress I had made in this room – regardless of what saving I had done – Equestria was likely bathing in the calamity of my own darkness. I’m tired of pitting dreams against nightmares.

My meditative state crumbled once Mystic placed the quill upon the tabletop and slid the list towards my waiting forehooves. Hallmarks of anxiety trickled across her morphing expression as I scoured the collection of names and mapped the geographic distribution in my head. Monitoring all of these ponies simultaneously would be a challenge that would almost certainly necessitate the involvement of other guard units.

“Your stand-down orders will be sent to those on this list. I suggest that your statement be a candid relaying of the events that have transpired. Given some personality traits that I have witnessed, I’m sure there are some that would jump at the chance to believe that your words are forced lies. They need to understand the deal completely.

“The abandonment of violent activities will absolve them of any conspiracy charges that could arise from what took place in the city. Ignoring your degree will result in us hunting them down. I don’t care if you’re forward about your situation either. I think everypony should know all of the circumstances that go into our arrangement. I’m not going to babysit you for a draft either. If you’re really concerned with the lives of your underlings, then I know you’ll just get it done. The palace staff will do what it has to to send it out…”

My instructions surrendered to a growing silence when my eyes fell upon the set of words that concluded Ashen Mystic’s roster. Two in particular bled into my mind with an unrelenting speed that pierced the metaphorical molasses that had thrust me to the dazed realm of depressing rumination. Wire Wise… “I’ll hand this off to the House XO,” I stated after plucking the sheet. “The locals will be looking after you, though I will check in from time to time to make sure that our agreement is upheld.”

Ground Cover was standing at attention when I made my swift exit from the hellish chamber, and he quickly broke form when he realized that I had no intention of waiting around for formalities. Seeing Wire Wise’s name felt like another slap in the muzzle – as though the world itself actively sought to fling my past right back in my face. Some troublemakers would just never escape the trouble they exuded, and there one was, reminding me of the other affliction of history that yearned for my undivided attention.

The bustling streets and harsh glances drew a smirk to Trigger’s countenance as he strode through the heart of Manehattan during its rowdy lunch hour. His Coltston stood out like a sore hoof here, but the edge he felt pulsing from every tourist-worn citizen sent a tingle of pleasure down his spine. If anything, he was finally free to conduct a show of his own once again – free to play the role of a feeble underling when these streets were his.

The port could wait. There was no set timetable or appointment for his arrival, which meant that he was free to declare himself as Wing’s little errand colt whenever he damn well pleased. And frankly, there was something that had been lingering in the back of his mind since the very concept of the sortie sparked into existence. There were several ponies that he had not seen in quite some time, and as he stood at the busy intersection of Bridleway and Trotter, there was no way in Tartarus he was going to let at least one engagement go unrectified.

“Oh boy, would ya be proud of her if ya could see this,” the stallion concluded as his eyes scanned the bold black and gold sign mounted above the flower shop entrance. The whole display – from the lettering to the manner in which the light cascaded along the towering skyscrapers to drape the store in a glimmering veil – proudly displayed the owner’s essence.

Trigger stepped forward and pressed his hoof against the door. Through the cut glass, the full spectrum of floral colors reached out for the rough-and-tumble stallion and pulled him around the swerving wooden frame. No one appeared to be running the counter when the ring of a high-pitched bell sang to summon the shopkeeper, but the solitude proved to be as ephemeral as an angsty foal's tranquility.

The stallion had barely made his way inside when a bolt of argent and black sprang through a rear entryway and coiled itself around Trigger’s forelegs. Lilac irides, glistening with a vivacity that perhaps only childhood glee could hope to rival, awaited Trigger’s paternal stare when he lowered his head. “What’s goin’ on, Squirt?”

“I knew it was you,” she spoke with a squeal practically begging to be released from the confines of her lungs. “My friends and I were upstairs working on our spellcasting practice. I’m a little bit ahead of them because I’m not really the same, but they’re really great. Did you come to Manehattan to finally teach me some things? I think I’m really ready now.” She inhaled sharply, coming down off the high of the frantic scramble as she retreated to proudly display her cutie mark. “See?”

He snorted and chuckled before dragging his forehoof through her mane. “Not yet, Kiddo. Afraid I’m here on official stuff this time. Your enthusiasm reminds me of your Uncle Wing’s though, so it probably won’t be too long before we can tackle some advanced dreamshell stuff.” He leaned until his muzzle sat right beside her ear and continued with a whisper, “And I think your mark is about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Midnight, did your friends...” Shock sucked Laizzy’s wind after she emerged from the stockroom and placed her sights upon Trigger’s hunched frame. Her bright blue eyes wavered beneath blonde, swaying curls while renegade emotions anchored her startled unicorn body. “Trigger,” she gasped, forcing the breath through her alabaster muzzle.

She had had her doubts over the last few weeks – wondering if the stallion inked upon the front page of every newspaper in the land had indeed been her brother. She wanted to shrink away and deny the possibility that it could have been me, but the odds of the filly misidentifying my likeness were surprisingly low. “He’s alright, isn’t he?” she pushed again through swelling tears as the thought of my potential demise surged to the forefront of presumed reasons for Trigger’s presence.

“Calm down, Laizzy. Wing’s doing just fine. They did quite the number on him, but he’s back on his hooves. Ms. Ambrosia showed up and helped our little pegasus get right as planned rain – right quick. It turns out concerned mare is a super effective attack.”

The petite unicorn’s worry was promptly displaced by the rising tides of anger that drove Laizzy Chain directly towards the midnight charger. “It’s nothing to joke about. What is he doing getting involved in things like that? He’s a professor, not a Wonderbolt! Why was he even there? And then you show up out of the blue after I’ve been sitting here fretting over that photograph for weeks!

“Our parents don’t even believe it’s him, but I know that stallion when I see him. First you two send me a filly – not that I don’t appreciate your company, Middy – and now he’s showing up in places where he has no place belonging? What is going on?”

Trigger sighed and set his hat upon Star’s head. His hoof instinctively brushed his silver mane while he parsed what exactly could be stated. Perhaps coming here was not the best idea after all. He had not even remotely anticipated this reaction, but in retrospect, it was not at all surprising when one considered the bonds of the family.

“Wing and I – along with a hoofful of other ponies ya know – serve the Crowns. There really isn’t a whole buckin’ lot I can share with ya, Laizzy. A lot of this information is classified. I know that must suck a lot to hear, 'specially if you're pining for the full tale, but there is a lot at stake that I just can't risk. I will say that we’ve been doin’ this for a long time – back to his days in Whynnyapolis. And since ya have been looking after Squirt, it's also fair to tell ya that our commissions had a lot to do with the adoption of this precocious little youngster.

“I’m gonna be blunt. I wasn’t really expecting the hot water, and I think that if ya still have an issue with things, ya’d best take it up with your brother. For now, just let it be. He’s in good hooves – even Princess Luna has got a pair of eyes on him – and ya seem to be doin’ a great job with Midnight Star.”

“How can I let it be, Trigs? Ponies died, and he was there. That could have been him. He could be gone and then I’d never even know the reason why. How could he do that to me? How could you guys not tell us?”

Her words kicked the stallion into a higher gear. “Don’t even start thinkin’ like that. It was never about leavin’ ya out of the loop. It was always about protecting what deserves to be protected. Yeah, things could have ended up a lot worse, but do ya have any idea how many ponies he saved? We’re shields, Laizzy, and ya should know that better than pretty much anypony else. In fact, that’s the reason I’m even here, but I figured that before I go throw myself into another crapstorm, I’d check in with my favorite little fillies.”

“Buster, flattery will get you nowhere in my flower shop. I can assure you that I am more than used to wandering stallions looking for quick fixes to big problems. In fact, I’d say that I made a business out of it.” She spun around, giving Trigger a cold flank after a brief shake of her daffodil cutie mark. The resulting silence stirred Midnight Star to yield a confused gaze until the older mare broke form with a chuckle. “But you’ve been looking after Wing for a long time, so I will trust you as long as you tell me the truth about your official business.”

“No shortage of trickery, I see,” Trigger quipped. “When did ya grow up into such a clever girl?” The stallion snickered as a grin joined the numerous blossoms that filled the locale. “Don’t answer that, and be sure to teach her all your secrets; but to answer your question, I’m here because of a griffon – one really nasty griffon.”

Author's Note:

Well it took me long enough, but here is another installment! I think 'calm before the storm' encapsulates this one perfectly. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a Trigger-Lichlos standoff in the next chapter!

Hope you all enjoy,

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