• Published 8th Apr 2015
  • 1,080 Views, 37 Comments

Wires - Dark Avenger



Shining Armor is sent on a peacekeeping mission to Gueldergrad. The task should have been simple, but things never go smoothly in the Frozen North...

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Embarkation

All is fine in Equestria.


"Good evening! Thank you for coming. We're so glad to have you here."

"The pleasure is all mine. Thank you."

The rough woolen covers stirred, and a muffled groan escaped from underneath. A white unicorn with an electric blue mane slowly opened his eyes, taking in the droning, bluish darkness in his cabin.

It just would not work. Three hours of finely tuned boring talk shows, and still he only pretended, closing his eyes at best, not getting a minute of sleep.

"So... let's begin at the beginning, shall we? What can you tell us? What exactly is going on out there?"

"Well, have you not heard the news? It was the front page in every single publication."

His hoof reached for the idly blabbering radio, only to pause halfway and go limp. Frazzled voices kept him company each sleepless night. Maybe this one was live, too. It was probably early evening back in Equestria, which he confirmed by glancing at the half-dozen clocks on the far wall, each one showing a different time zone.

"To be honest, Mr. Normative, I didn't pay much attention. The journalists who go to these places tend to be... very passionate. Soon as they find a toothpick out of place, they call it an 'atrocity'."

"I see. But let's clear the air, shall we? For all the shock we're feigning, nothing the reports said was anywhere beyond our expectations. If anything, the only surprise was that it took this long to happen."

As the talk show went on, he looked over to the other three items on his nightstand, a weak smile appearing on his face.

“Morning…”

Shining Armor rolled his eyes and sighed, head pounding.

“Night, dear,” he said to the first one. “Night, Twily,” he said to the second. His smile faded when his eyes landed on the third. Saying nothing, he merely sighed again and rolled out of bed.

Somewhere by the wall was the clothing rack, and he reached inside for one of his coats. Without thinking, he took out the first one to meet his hoof and slipped his limbs into it, his skin tingling from the warm embrace. Moments later, the thickness, texture, and pinpricks of color he could see revealed that it was his ceremonial outfit: an obnoxious red and gold mess of fabric and decorations. His legs tensed up, and he groaned in frustration, but after all the trouble of putting it on, he did not have it in him to take the thing off.

"Oh? So is the Frozen North really as bad as they say it is?”

“No, don’t get me wrong. Things are never quite as simple. As a matter of fact, there are so many variables to take into account that even the most passionate journalist could not describe a fraction of it in a single article. Or maybe even a dozen. You see, the problem is…”

He trudged out of his cabin, closing the door behind him. Beyond the railing up ahead, the deep, grudgy void just before dawn greeted him. Faint shapes of clouds loomed overhead, and his eyes narrowed as they had to adjust to the lanterns dangling from the mast. Their light exposed the thick, shallow fog circling the vessel. Salty vapor touched his face, and he braced himself as the gentle swaying of the floor intensified for a moment. In the distance, he could hear the low drone of the other ships’ engines.

The surrounding deck was virtually desolated, with only a few patrols strolling nearby. A pair of earth ponies in thick, well-padded barding sat next to a barrel, a steaming kettle on top of it. Shining’s nostrils flared as he caught a faint whiff of coffee, a bright orange glow opposing the onsetting, droning darkness.

Both ponies immediately got up and snapped to attention as he passed next to them. He waved them off and kept moving, ignoring the weird looks they gave due to the flashy outfit. One of the stairwells took him to the lower deck. As he walked past the cabins, he could faintly hear the loud snores coming from inside. Such an early hour had only the least fortunate of the detail shuffling around. Barely a dozen thickly clothed ponies — some in uniform, others in civvies — were strewn about along the way, the former lazily saluting to him and grumbling something under their breaths.

The corridor eventually split, leading back to either side of the deck. Shining chose the starboard path, his eyes checking off all the milestones that he had already memorized. A short section came up where the railing was just a loose metal chain strung up between the support beams. The captain smirked when he noticed a familiar bright red sign on the opposite bulkhead, the words “KEEP BALANCE” written on it in bold, white letters.

He kept dragging his hooves ahead, eventually coming up to a green arrow with a cross in the middle, pointing to one of the doors. Pushing it open, he stifled a dredging yawn.

Medical office. The latest hotspot for troubled souls and upset stomachs.

The opening led into a cramped waiting room, the white paint on the walls having turned a dull gray a long time ago. The stallion walked past the empty benches and opened the door opposite the entrance, a label on it reading “CHIEF M.O.”

A puce coated pegasus with a messy bun of dark pink hair looked up from his desk and gave a wide smile. “‘Morning’, Shiny. Duty calls this early nowadays?” He looked down at the captain’s chest and gave a low whistle. “And in your royal clothing, no less...”

Shining Armor responded with a stern frown. “You are forgetting the chain of command, lieutenant.”

The medic sighed and got up, lazily taking up a straight stance, wrinkly uniform vest seizing up. “Officer on deck!” he said in a slightly raised voice. “Lieutenant Setterline, reporting as ordered! How may I assist you, sir?”

The captain held his ground and said nothing for a few tense seconds, keeping up his serious look. Then an odd cough broke the silence, and both their faces began to crack up. Finally, they both let out a hearty chuckle and bumped their forehooves together. The medic, hazy through the night shift, fixed up his glasses as they had slumped a bit.

“Wow,” Setterline said. “You must really be in trouble if you’re pulling this old stunt now. The pills not working?”

“Yeah…” Shining rubbed the back of his head. “Can’t sleep any better than last time…”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re not alone. Insomnia is the number one complaint among the crew so far.” Setter looked out the window with a frown. “They say it comes with this place. No sunlight for over a week… It can drive a pony crazy.”

“Any bad cases?” the captain asked.

“Nothing too serious. Gave ‘em pills, same as you.”

“That bad for them, too?” Shining hummed and looked away. “Sure it’s nothing serious? If we got so many on pills now...”

The doctor waved it off. “Hey, this stuff may as well be rock candy. Most of them just need something that looks like drugs, and they sleep like babies.”

“Great. If you keep giving it away as candy, we’re gonna run out.”

“Just be glad while that’s our biggest problem. And don’t worry.” Setter chuckled again. “There’s plenty more where that came from.”

“About that…” Shining leaned closer and whispered. “Think you could give me something… a bit stronger, maybe?”

The doctor leaned back and grinned, crossing his hooves. “Captain, I’m sure you know that’s against regulations.” He rubbed the side of his face, hoof rustling against his sideburns. “Then again… I do have this supply of extra-strong tranquilizers that were ‘misdirected’ to me. I’m sure my commanding officer wouldn’t hesitate to do the right thing. Confiscate them as soon as they found out and dispose of them.” As he spoke, he was already reaching for one of the nearby cabinets.

Shining Armor chuckled. “You crazy foal. You thought of everything, didn’t you?”

The doctor nodded and handed over a box of pills. “I pride myself on my foresight.”

The muffled sound of rushing water seeped through the walls, and one of the doors outside the cabin opened, a pony climbing out and fumbling with the rear half of his suit. He let out a low groan and stumbled away, his face a looking a bit green.

“You mentioned ‘#1 complaints’...” Shining said and looked back at his friend. “Any other trouble?”

“Nah,” Setter replied. “Most are just seasick, like that poor fellow.” He nodded his head at the departing stallion. “That, and we had one incident with a grunt’s hoof meeting a rusty nail.”

“Oh…” The captain blinked. “Infection?”

“Nope. He’s one of the shiners.” Setterline shrugged. “Barely left a scratch. More of a cosmetic problem, if anything. He told me he wanted to look spotless, ‘pride of his homeland’ and all that, but it wasn’t healing up like he said it should.”

Shining Armor scowled for a fraction of a second. “I see…”

“I swear, those guys just love to show off what they’re made of. Literally. With all the pride they have in their looks, I just hope they’re the same way about fighting.”

“I guess we’ll find out…”

“Expecting to see us resort to that?” the doctor said. An odd bitterness entered his tone.

“No.” Shining held up his hooves defensively. “That’s… not what I meant, just… You know…”

“Yeah, I got ya.” The doctor sighed. “Anyway… I cleaned out the metal fragments, and the cut vanished in a second.” He gave an odd chuckle. “Those guys are quite something. An army with them on their side would have quite an edge, wouldn’t it?”

“Got that right…”

The two chatted away for a while, the doctor even offering a cup of lukewarm coffee to his superior. Shining gratefully accepted, his smile and laughs never betraying the nausea pounding his skull from the inside. Once his cup was empty, the captain excused himself and left the compartment. The soothing lights and white walls of the infirmary gave way to the grays upon grays outside. His limbs shivered as an icy gust of wind bit into them, and he regretted once again not having changed his clothes after he had put the red one on.

Two days to go, he thought.


He leaned against the railing just outside his quarters, staring at the invincible fog that enveloped their little fleet. His pulse was still rumbling in his ears from the run he had made back and forth across the entire ship. It kept him warm, and the rush he got was a refreshing change from the pulsing ache since he woke up, though he knew it would not last forever.

All around him, a steady drone was coming to life as the crew emerged from their cabins, calling to each other while tending to their duties. A large throng built up at the center as the troops lined before the mess hall. At first, the colors and voices all blurred together before him, and he longed to just shut it out. Then, among the grays and tans of the ponies buried under protective clothing, he caught several glimpses of bright, shimmering figures moving about. Another bit of color to the deck to add to his unplanned ceremonial appearance.

Hoofsteps rang out on the deck as somepony approached him from behind. Instead of a series of dull thuds like the ones a pony would make, each step made a more distinct noise, akin to rock banging against wood.

“Captain?”

Shining Armor hung his head slightly and closed his eyes. “At ease, lieutenant,” he said without looking.

The crystal pony nodded, and her stance relaxed slightly. “Everything okay, sir?”

“I’m doing okay…” His hooves shuffled, and he stared out over the edge once more. “Just… didn’t sleep well.”

She stepped up beside him and tried to follow his gaze, but there were no distinct shapes to make out in the thick fog. Occasionally, the silhouette of one of the other ships was visible, but her commander was not looking at either of them.

“Sir, are you sure you’re—”

“It’s fine Bonnie.” Shining Armor chuckled. “Give it a rest already.”

“Yes, sir.” Boninite — or “Bonnie”, as her superior liked to call her — lifted a bright orange forehoof to take off her helmet and shake her cyan mane free. The captain’s ears twitched when he heard the faint jingling sound her motions made — one of the subtle details a pony could recognize after having spent enough time among them.

“Anything to report?” he said.

“All ponies are accounted for,” Bonnie replied. “Nothing out of the ordinary… Just a few seasick ones.”

Shining nodded. “Morale?”

“So far so good. Mild homesickness at worst.”

“Hmm…” Shining glanced at her and smirked. “Do the radiance levels confirm that?”

Bonnie smiled back. “You do know they can fake that, right?”

“Yes. Downwards. They can’t push it above their threshold.”

Bonnie nodded. “Everypony is in good shape. Wouldn’t make sense to pull a trick like that anyway. I mean… I doubt you could provide a lot of decent R&R for them in that place.”

“I would if I could.” Shining sighed again. “No brushes between the groups?”

“None so far.” She chuckled. “Relax. They’re getting along just fine.”

A voice rose above the commotion on the lower deck. An officer was busy scolding a handful of grunts for not having polished their gear before putting it on. One of the soldiers made a show of yawning and not paying attention, to which the officer responded with a swift smack to his head, after which he sentenced the whole group to cleaning duty.

“Let’s hope it stays that way…” Shining muttered. His eyes tracked the dark brown outfit of the wannabe perfectionist below.

“Hmm?” The crystal mare looked at him. She followed his gaze and noticed the strict officer. "Oh, him again."

"It's okay, I'll handle it." Shining stretched a little and gestured at the shining figures spread throughout the chow line. “Worry about them instead. You really think they’re ready for this?”

“Ready?” Bonnie chuckled. “I’d say they’re eager. They may not look it, but I know it for a fact.”

Shining huffed. “I wish I shared your enthusiasm…”

"You signed up for this, sir. We're just following your lead."

A smile tugged on the captain's lips, and he straightened himself a little. "Right you are," Shining said. "Well, I'll take your word for it."

“Hey, don’t you dare brush us off, your highness.” Bonnie poked him in the side lightly and chuckled again. “We’ve been babysat by Equestria too often. Now it’s our turn to shine.”

“Is that why you brought all those toys in the cargo?” He nodded his head at the ship to their right, which just managed to pop out of the fog for a minute.

The mare blinked and cocked her head to the side. “What toys?”

“Nevermind…”

“What? Is it our ‘payload’ again?” She shrugged. “Look, sir, I already checked the rosters and everything. Nopony knows what that stuff is. Maybe something the civvies forgot to unload, or—”

“I said never mind, lieutenant.” Shining’s voice took on a more bitter tone now.

“Yes, sir…” Bonnie sighed and turned her gaze back to the fog. Neither of them said another word.


A large, dark blob consumed the sky up ahead. It hung there for an hour, as though it were hesitating, before it made its advance toward the ship. The captain shook his head. The winds picked up, and a few cold droplets splashed against his face. A blaring signal went off, and everypony still exposed on the deck scrambled to get indoors.

Shining Armor waited for the last one to vanish from his sight. The roar of the sea and the wind was almost deafening now, and his limbs strained to keep him attached to the railing. Shivering from the cold spray, he stumbled back into his cabin, locked the door tightly, and slumped down on the bed. The radio was still going.

“...and that’s why their lower classes aren’t exactly easy to reason with either. If you already have lands really difficult to cultivate, you’re going to find tense people. And the moment you take away the very foundation of their existence, they have nothing to lose. Farmers turn into warriors overnight.”

The ship lurched slightly, nudging him against the bulkhead, and he could feel the wave they just rammed in his own guts. He buried his face in his forelegs and let out a low groan. Upon feeling the expensive fabric against his face, he quickly took the bright suit off and pulled the bucket next to his bed a bit closer.

“I see. Well, as a final comment on the subject… What do you have to say about the rumors of an Equestrian intervention in the works?”

“I’d say it would be a foolish move. Sometimes it’s best to let a fire burn down instead of trying to put it out and burning yourself.”

“Really? But… what about all the

“They made their choice. Look, I’m merely stating the logical thing to do. I’m not an expert on ethical dilemmas. Sure, we should endeavor to help, but there’s no telling what else we might set off.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s no harm in just trying to get everypony to stop fighting.”

“Is it? Listen: that place was never a city built around ‘friendship and harmony’. The oldest stones put in place were walls erected by the settlers to defend them from nomad raids. Of the dozens of governments it had, most of which were oligarchies or straight up dictators, barely a fraction ever relinquished power peacefully. A leader in that place could seldom expect to die of natural causes.”

There was a long pause.

“...wow…”

“Indeed. That’s why I don’t think we should send anyone. So if our government is indeed planning a move, they should reconsider.”

“Too late now,” Shining muttered.

A deep signal blared, making the floor vibrate, and a voice rang out on the loudspeakers. He poked his head out of the cabin and looked to the horizon up ahead. The fog was breaking up, replaced by a thick, yet much more translucent curtain of rain. Beyond it, he could make out a thin, dark strip between the mercury ocean and the blackened steel sky.

“And if they won’t?”

The stallion grumbled and returned to the bed in his cabin. He buried his head under the covers, but the voices from the radio kept faintly seeping through the fabric.

“I can’t say. But if there is one thing to expect in Gueldergrad, it’s things not working the way we want them to.”


Only trade routes remain toward the Baranzovo Sea, mostly used by cargo liners and freighters.

Author's Note:

Welcome to Dub— er... I mean... thanks for reading this far... :twilightsheepish:

Also, please give JLB some love. He deserves just as much credit for this as I do, if not way more.

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