• 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 24 - A Fallen Horse, Part Two

Azure flapped her wings as hard as she could, and her heart strained to keep pace. The beautiful blue of the Equestrian sky glimmered like the beckoning finish line it was, while the dreary shade of Trigger’s dreamshell loomed as it drew ever nearer to completion. Through the pain inflicted by a pair of bolts embedded into her flank, she fought to finally free the prisoner from that horrifying place. Adrenaline shot through her veins with every pulse that determination could muster, but it became more and more evident that her speed just could not cut it.

Blood soaked into the fabric of her uniform, and the red heat that burned into her senses grew harder to overcome. Her altitude sagged and her vision blurred as the soothing light at the end of the tunnel faded to black. There was no escape now. If she wanted to make it out alive – if she wanted to prevent a war from engulfing the world – she would have to fight off the crew she had come to call family or at least defeat the captain.

She tightened her grip upon the griffon despite continuing to lose altitude. A worried grunt escaped his beak as he eyed her sweating form, and revelation soon caught his demeanor with a bristling jolt that alerted every muscle it could. His wings and forelimbs had not yet been liberated from the torn restraints, and a part of him carried the seed of doubt that he would struggle to find the strength needed to fly on his own.

Nonetheless, he had to do something. She had taken his burden. She had chosen to save him from those filthy clutches of cruelty. She had thrown away her patriotism for the safety of a sworn enemy – his safety – and her symptoms suggested some sort of toxin was at work. He exhaled sharply as he moved his aching limbs, but he had to ignore it. He had to shake free of those last damning links. He had to push out the sting that tormented his wounded thigh. He had to regain some semblance of honor as thanks for her saving him from that hell. He simply had to fly, but his maneuvering only garnered a stern glance from the female soldier.

“I won’t be able to make it back,” she whispered in a raspy voice while shifting her claws gently to guide the chain from his limbs, “and I couldn’t take you back there anyway. Our way out is closed, and there’s some sort of crazy, hovering dark ocean beneath us.” She winced as a swelling pain crept up her spine, and she cringed to the feel of moisture soaking her copper fur and snaking along the contours of her feathers. “I can’t believe they shot me…”

The noble groaned to the relieving sensation that accompanied the stretching of his unfettered claws. He clipped the ropes holding his wings before pulling that contemptable rag from his beak and pitching it to the mystical sea of reverie. “Let me carry you,” he answered quietly as he worked to cast off the frayed threads.

“You’re not fit to fly,” Azure rebutted without hesitation. “You were kept in that cell throughout our deployment without anyone on the ship having a damn clue. It’s astounding what the captain is capable of doing when he sets his mind to something, but this was not the right thing to do. Our mission was supposed to be about not being left in the dark. It wasn’t supposed to be this. He stabbed you. He threw us closer than ever to complete annihilation! My only option is to make sure that you live. That is all I can do for my Republic. It’s all I can do for any griffon.”

The pace of Azure Sky’s breathing spiked before she tumbled down towards the murky brew. The passion that had been noticed in her spitfire gaze dissipated into something that her male counterpart could only describe as lifeless, and her body had pushed copious amounts of water from her system in a painful attempt to dispel the poisonous fruits of her country’s technological labor.

“You’ve already done more than any other griffon to ensure that such a fate does not come to pass. You have my word that I will live to see that it does not, and Artemis Stoutheart always keeps his promises!” His chest expanded as a preparatory gasp filled his lungs, and his talons took hold of the weakening Sky. The unsympathetic abyss of truth waited ahead of the plummeting pair. The noble would either succeed in salvaging hope from the rim of uncertainty, or they would descend to meet an unknown end.

His withered wings spread wide for the harrowing scream that fled his parted beak. Stoutheart’s limbs quaked, but he held onto the limp lieutenant with the same grit that she had shown while getting him to this point. The seconds ticked by as perceived hours until silvery waves of magical energy took hold of the griffons and placed them upon a floating pedestal that was assuredly Amora’s spellwork.

“Get me closer, Defiant!” she wailed. “They’re both injured, but it looks like we arrived in the nick of time.”

Moments later, Twyst landed upon the platform with a jerking thud. The stallion grinned, his face beaming with excitement as he leaned closer to the perplexed Artemis. “Well, it looks like you two just made our jobs a fuckload easier, and you’re a mismatched pair at that! This has Wing written all over it, but who gives a shit about that? You’re safe now, Your Excellency.”

“Did you really think it would be that easy?” A growl emerged from Conrad’s throat before the griffon pressed forward with a flap of his wings. “Did you really think I’d let you kill me on my own ship after what you’ve done? Did you really think I’d die like a pathetic, gutless Cry?” An urge to escape swelled within me as the scorching blaze of the surrounding mutiny joined the captain’s address to gnaw upon my mind. “When my soldiers finish putting those traitorous fuckers down, we will take great pride in cutting what I want out of you. And now, there’s something else on my list! I’m going to find out exactly what this place is!”

Our swords screeched through the countering bite like two animals jumping into the throes of combat. Anxiety cascaded through my tumbling consciousness while the calculations piled. The large force that Trigger had halted with his dreamshell would return at any moment. Those who had taken up arms against Lichlos would likely be slaughtered, and then it would be me against all. I had to get out. I had to get off the ship and jump back into the glorious Ocean of Reverie.

“Your vessel sucks, Conny,” I spoke upon snapping my weapon back from the front. Once clear, I darted to the east, avoiding the corpses of the blood-soaked beasts who had fallen and their living, assailing comrades. I left the streaks of red, whizzing of arrows, and yowls of battle in the dust, for the pitch-black expanse of the imagination called me away from the metal contours of the Talon’s personal hell.

Lichlos, however, did not let me go. I looked back to catch the glaring heat emanating from his emerald irides. His wide span tore the air with powerful thrusts that tapped into the inferno that had to be raging beneath his coat. The gap between us was closing at a remarkable speed, and I threw my wings wildly to sail into an arcing crescent that brought my hooves to the supernatural water’s edge.

He flew by me in the wake of the maneuver, and his talons tightly gripped the hilt of his weapon before he rolled into a dive. A spark of Trigger’s sorcery danced over the outside of my uniform once I dipped my hind legs in the essence of the dreamshell. Clouds coalesced in front of my reared form, and branches of lightning burst from the horizontal band as soon as I swung Resolve through the vapor.

“Finally graduate from your own class, Professor?” Lichlos jeered as he evaded the forking lances of electricity. At the head of his charge, fog appeared from his exhaled breath. Flickers of ignition spiraled through the mist much like the griffon’s twisting feline physique, and the weight of disbelief shot momentary pangs of quiver-inducing dread from head to hoof. “You’re not the only one.”

The bolt popped from the haze in a searing flash that expanded to fill almost the entire extent of my vision. Warmth crept up my muzzle as the fiery streak approached, and I frantically hurled a hind leg and both wings to throw myself to the side. A foreign gust of wind was there to meet me, its backer waiting with his saber’s edge already closing in on my outstretched extremity.

“Why don’t I make you like your namesake!?” he wailed as he swung with all of his might for my wing. The bastard had improved immeasurably since I had last seen him. His quickness and strength had grown during his tenure as an airship captain, while all I could do was lock up. I had tossed all of my weight like some dumb rookie into dodging that electrical strike. He had followed his shot, and now I was disgustingly vulnerable.

I gulped on instinct in that fraction of a second. Fear trickled into every thought and every fleeting glimmer of an exit until my feathers burned in the passionate perception that they might not be attached to their wielder. Suddenly, I was far above the earth, tumbling within an internal projection that annihilated my mental filters and cast twitchy jerks to all of my limbs. The term ‘horror’ failed to convey the sheer panic that cruised about my body on the mere notion that I could fall from a high place without the ability to save myself.

Conrad jolted to the unexpected bang that followed, and his eyes gradually shifted from the source of his surprise to my prepared gaze. My vision had triggered a massive adrenaline release to oppose the agony that had plagued my hopes. I had been saved by the stored reminders of my tenacity and my creed. I had something to protect, and from this plane, I would do it. Years of youth had been spent crawling through this fascinatingly strange place and sewing heroes from the untapped fibers of fantasy.

From the depths of reverie, an iron pillar had risen to meet the griffon’s sword before it could slice into its mark. It had manifested at my behest – a stark reminder of the power a lucid dreamer held within this space. “I told you already. I will keep my home safe, and you’re not getting anything from me.”

“How is that even possible?” Lichlos blurted as he retreated with his blade in tow. Apprehension seeped into the timbre of his voice, and his body exhibited those same little twitches that were the telltale signs of frantic reasoning. “There is no way that was your doing! Pegasi don’t have that kind of…” He jumped into the air as another iron pike shot from the water towards his chest. “There’s no way you could have done it! You haven’t ascended!”

Dismay stretched the limits of his countenance before I plunged into the sky with the tip of my ardent steel primed for a jab. The sense of being overwhelmed practically dripped from his kinetic language, and the nervous sweat that filled his coat snuffed the vigorous fire that had flashed with every arrogant statement he made. His iron tooth, having lost its bite, stayed still at his side as though the griffon were either waiting for me to kill him or give him an answer. I halted the former path on my own accord once the percussive clamor of curving metal bars rose from the sea to seal the officer in a personal cage.

“Fifty percent,” I spoke after lowering my readied razor. “It’s all my doing, but I would never be worthy of that ascension. Regardless Conrad, this is over. You’re under arrest for the reckless endangerment of another living being and for violating the tenets of the Treaty of Baltimare.” I turned around to face the Albatross and began flying back towards the ship. With the head of the snake confined, I hoped that the other griffons would come to see the errors of this entire sequence of events.

“Don’t you leave here without answering me!” Lichlos wailed. “Don’t you fly off touting your damn equine privilege!” He threw his talons against the bars and relentlessly hacked at the sturdy prison. “I can see it in you! I can see it in that subtly smug composure! You won’t change them! You’re not the righteous piece of shit that you pretend to be! Some may have betrayed me, but that crew will cut you down! So just stay here! Stay here, and tell me what you know!”

A crazed desperation laced the threads of his rant before the pulse of a lightning spark burst from his beak. I spun my head and glanced upon the anguish that ensnared his trembling form. Like a child, he kept trying to bait me back to him. He kept trying to keep me in the deranged tale that his mind was scripting, but his attack had not even made it to me. The cell had been grounded for a reason.

“You’re cutting me out again,” Conrad grumbled after spending several minutes alone. “Look at what you’ve done – exactly what I said ponies could always do. You’ve taken away my sun – with magic. You’ve taken away my freedom – with this bastardization of magic! And you won’t give me the knowledge I deserve. They’ll bring you back to me at any second. They’ll bring you back at the brink of death, and we’ll make you talk. We’ll make you give me what I want!”

His claws dragged across one of the towering, wet pipes, producing a squealing noise that could hurl daggers into one’s ears. A king without the chessboard, he quaked to the razing belief that he had lost his pawns and the means to the end. His voice cracked to the depressing wave that bore down upon his dreams. He had come for the sorcery – the secret of Canterlot – and he had been left to wait in its very clutches. Don’t be left to rot like some inept cockroach…

Inconceivable rhetoric clung to his wind as he cried into the artificial dusk. The burden upon his ambition crippled the remaining strands of sanity until the slithering speakers in his head abruptly launched from Conrad’s clicking tongue. “Use us!” Dilated pupils absorbed the ambient glow of reverie as it reflected off the thin film that coated the griffon’s clenched talons. “They didn’t come for you. Use us!”

Revelation bounced about his shaking body as he spun around to gaze upon Trigger’s realm. The puzzle that had upended him began to take shape, and his frantic wailing settled into the heavy breathing of a scientist that had just uncovered a profound and monumental truth. “They’re not coming for you. Use us!” the spirits of his dream uttered again, casting their shadowy bands of nightmare from Lichlos’s mouth until the portrait came together in his mind. “I will!”

He allowed his saber to fall through the gaps in the iron weave as he inhaled the scent of his newfound perception. “Such clarity,” he mumbled before shattering the bars by simply flicking his claws. Pride resurfaced in his stance as he set his sights upon the Albatross. “Is this what it feels like to the unicorns? Is this what it feels like to you!? Is this how you did it? Is this how you ran off with magic?”

Darkness snaked through his heart as the sirens of nightmare continued to coo. “You all abandoned me when you thought we hit the endgame. You left me in that ridiculous cage to suffer while you flew off to broker a ridiculously biased peace. Progress has no room for cowards. I guess it’s a good thing that I hold no qualms about wiping the board.”

Black tendrils drifted from the corners of his eyes after Conrad lifted his forelimb towards his vessel. He could feel it – and them, clustered like piles of worthless life atop those who actually had the guts to die for his goal. “Your minds are weak, so I will take them. Fly away, sweet Albatross; you have a new purpose now.”

Amora grimaced as she stood atop the Republic airship. She, along with Twyst, Wick, and D.H., had left Mosaic Breeze to tend to the pair of refugees from the confines of her lasting barrier. She scanned the corpses that had been pitched across the exterior of the craft while the carnage that tore through the ragged crew held the attention of her comrades. The scene was appalling to all but Twyst, who stood with an expression upon his countenance that could not be further from the medic’s stunned appearance.

The ponies had arrived just in time to see the main griffon force return to the jarring sight of mutiny, and each group seemed startled and puzzled by what could have driven the soldiers to turn upon one another. “Lieutenant Sky betrayed us!” one screamed moments before an arrowhead lodged itself into the creature’s soft neck.

“Gänse’s actions could have started an open war with two other nations!” another cried back before he rolled into cover behind one of the vessel’s protruding points. “How were we going to survive that? How are we going to survive this? We’re just one ship! This was supposed to be a diplomatic mission!”

The words provoked a lull in the fighting while the belligerents floated in thought, and the momentary reprieve proved beneficial to my own arrival. I sailed over the southeastern point of the dirigible, touched down mere steps ahead of my friends, and immediately addressed the flock. “Stand down and please listen to me! I know national pride is something griffons hold very dearly, and I know that your captain is capable of saying incredibly motivating things. We went to school together, studied together, and dreamt together; but at some point, he put himself ahead of the common good.

“It seems as though I am the reason why you are all here, and while I don’t know the full details of what he did or said to bring about all of this, I can get the gist. It sickens me. It sickens me that something I made to protect my fellow pony has tainted many. It actually pisses me off that two nations sent ships to my shores just to try to gain some upper ground to use against the other.

“Yeah, I don’t know what your captain said about me, my plans, or my rules; but I do know that your captain is defeated, which makes the rest up to you. I stand before you in the open – no sneak attacks – no driving charges through your ranks – no weapons of unparalleled power – so that you can look into my eyes when I tell you the truth. I don’t even allow the vast majority of ponies to even use the weapon that brought you here. The four behind me have never touched them, so I can say without a shadow of doubt that I will never allow my research to be distributed to any griffon nation!”

For the first time, I observed relief wash over the ranks. Their postures relaxed and many stowed their weapons as the grand decision added a degree of sympathy that had been sorely missing. Soon, Trigger could lower his dreamshell, Conrad would be hauled off, and this whole mess would be spun into a beacon of hope for future generations.

Static suddenly shot through my tail as Twyst’s green thaumic aura yanked me into one of Amora’s protective shields. Unsuspecting griffons dropped lifelessly, either onto the platform or into the dreamshell’s ocean, before the unicorn’s barrier could reach them. None of those in sight showed any sign of physical wounds, and the dread and shock that motivated our wide-eyed stares only pushed the medic to spread her protective spell to as many as she could reach.

Rivets exploded from the Albatross in a chaotic chorus that joined the muffled screams of those inside who had been trapped and crushed by the crumpling frame. Helium plumes hissed as the liberated gas climbed to the height of reverie’s scope, and even Twyst opted to release his rheostatic hold upon my vulnerable hairs so he could throw a solid platform beneath our hooves and lend some shield support to Amora. “Did you feel that?” he asked the physician while casting his focus to the east.

I watched Conrad’s ship crumble before my eyes and right below my hooves. Its metal hull ruptured, ripped, and twisted into unrecognizable chunks that surreally wafted towards their imprisoned master. In the distance, a bluish glow highlighted the center of what appeared to be a cylinder assembling from the figurative galaxy of commandeered parts that spiraled around the central core.

As the source of light intensified, Resolve resonated in my grasp, surrendering a warning that pulled me outside of the unicorns’ incredible defensive efforts. The thing in the distance exuded the essence of nightmare, and even from that far away, its pending calamity pulled upon the steel of my sword of dream. The danger was tangible, and the hairs of my coat stood upright as we collectively accelerated towards yet another anticipated climax.

The dark wave of magic came swiftly from that demonic coil, and its piercing blast met a cluster of imagined diamond morning stars that congregated about my descending foil. Amora’s groan leapt to my ears, for the energy of the intercepted strike still managed to burrow into the barrier. I heaved my strength into the counter, fully following through until the hideous burst dissipated into oblivion.

A rumbling zephyr turned my attention to the outline of Conrad’s escaped physique. No time for questions remained once I rolled to face him, for the metallic gleam of an aimed barrel poised before his talons eclipsed both the smug expression that saturated his appearance and the numbness that gripped mine. “Looks like I didn’t need you after all.”

My body’s wail of pain and the blaze that tore through my chest did not register before I impacted the water. Amora’s scream never reached me, and Wick’s shouts didn’t make it either. The sight of Twyst keeping those ponies from doing something immeasurably heroic and stupid went unseen by my eyes, and Lichlos’s maniacal laugh was wasted upon a target that could no longer care.

I sank into those depths while blood dissipated past my tattered uniform, but the only things I could feel were those cold tendrils of that unfinished ether coursing over their next find and Resolve’s pulse still beating by my hoof. It was the forlorn cadence of sorrow that it emitted – the only one I had a chance of recognizing.

It sang of my failures, for I had failed them. I would leave them crying and alone against a foe of my own making. I would leave my handsome creature of reverie without a brother. My sister and parents would suffer, and worst of all, I would leave her. I would break a promise that I had made long ago. I would leave my flower without her gardener, and I knew that no other stallion would ever live up to the joy of her company.

Even there, under the razor of Death’s unrelenting truth, her warmth shined. It seeped from the shattered shell still dangling around my neck, and it filled me with the most touching flicker of light any pony could ever ask to receive when confronted with the tainted Ocean of Nightmare. I embraced that beautiful feeling with everything I had left. There was no more time for the insubstantial things – no more time for regrets – just her light...

and no more…

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