• 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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The liners 'Scylla', 'Humpback', and 'Atoll' are privately owned merchant vessels. All three frequently deliver goods along the coast of the Frozen North.

"Officer on deck!" the sergeant barked. All the grunts nearby halted in their duties and snapped to attention.

"At ease, as you were..." Shining Armor blurted out as he stumbled past them. He never even looked up, his eyes focused on his coat – a less blatant, well-padded winter outfit this time – as his foreleg fumbled with the zipper, which would not go up the rest of the way. He tried to use his magic again, but through the mire of his headache and insomnia, his horn could only fizzle and spit a few sparks at best. Eventually, he gave up and just left his coat half-open, despite the wind biting at his exposed hide.

The metal deck rang under his hooves as he trotted hastily toward the bridge. Along the way, he glanced over the railing at the horizon, where the dark mass in the distance grew steadily. If he focused hard enough, he could even make out a couple of snow-capped peaks further inland. Alas, there was no time for sightseeing.

He ran up another flight of stairs and hurried along the upper levels. At the door to the bridge, a pair of guards in full armor locked their heels and saluted by holding their spears high. He hastily returned the salute as he walked past them, the bulky metal slab locking into place behind him.

The interior was dimly lit, half the lights either broken or missing. Most of the illumination came through the dirty and cracked windows that lined the front and sides of the chamber. The walls along the opposite half were taken up by various aging machines: gauges to show engine status, weather monitoring, the radio, and, unsurprisingly, a large coffee machine. At the center of the chamber was the wheel, currently operated by a dark brown mule in a wrinkly shirt. Bold letters adorned the polished wood: “HUMPBACK”

A flash of blue and orange cut through the dominant grays and blacks in his vision, and he noticed a familiar crystal pony standing in front of the windows. She spun around when the door opened, her eyes widening in surprise. “Captain!” she blurted out and saluted, which made her superior roll his eyes.

“At ease…” Shining Armor sighed and slapped himself with a foreleg to stay conscious.

“Sir…” she began. “You really don’t have to be here. Get some rest, we’re still over fifty miles—”

“It’s all right,” he replied. “Couldn’t sleep anyway. Don’t want to now.”

“Yes sir.”

The captain chewed on his lip as he walked up beside her, staring out the windows at the land they sluggishly approached. The mere ten minutes he had spent outside left his face numb. His teeth kept biting into his lip and cheek, not so much to calm his nerves but to make sure they were still there.

“Um… Sir? Everything okay? You look...”

“Tired? Yes…” He sighed. “Took some pills before bed… I think they’re still working…”

She nodded, and her hooves shuffled a bit, but she said no more.

“Anything to report?” he went on.

Bonnie smirked. “Nothing new since last time.”

“Good. Have all officers prepare their units for deployment. We’ll start looking for a place to land.”

“Understood.” She saluted again and marched out of the room, giving him one last, worried glance before the door closed behind her. Shining was left to chew on his numb lips and shake the cold out of his legs on his own.

“I’ll never get used to this…” he muttered and took out his binoculars.

“One… two… four. That’s four facilities on this patch...” He kept talking to himself, occasionally peering out the window with the binoculars before going back to the map laid out on the table next to him. A bright aura emitted by a quartet of crystals enveloped it, allowing him to zoom, enhance, and highlight certain areas on the image. He noticed a familiar snowflake insignia embedded into each floating gem and smirked a little.

His gaze wandered outside again. The weather had not improved, but it almost looked tolerable compared to the sight of the coast. The impressions he had from books, the press, and even military reports could not be compared to seeing the place with his own two eyes. Even as the mild frost damage burned his skin, and the bleak descriptions of the region swirled about in his head and made him shiver, he could not help but let out a low whistle of approval.

“Yeah, ‘t ain’t a good vacation place, y’know,” the mule navigator spoke up. “Cap’n.”

“I had figured, thank you,” Shining Armor replied with a huff. “The weather here is… unruly.”

“‘s not just th’weather, Cap’n. You’d a’seen that by now. Won’t wanna get stuck here for long, if y’ get me...”

“Well, it’s a short mission.” The captain’s eyes never left his map as he spoke. “We get in, we take whoever wants to leave, we settle any issues that rise along the way, we get out. What makes you worry so much?”

“Yeah, well, I can sorta see the way y’look at it.” The ship lurched a little as he turned the wheel, gently steering the vessel until it ran parallel with the coast. “Been shipping y’military folks a few bits now. ‘s fine if it’s our conninent… but this?” He shook his head. “Nah, Cap’n… This a crap place. So jus’ saying.”

Shining Armor huffed again. “And what are you saying, exactly? If you got something on your mind, I’m all ears.” He turned around and fixed the loudmouth with a stern look. The civilian had nothing to fear – he was not under the soldiers’ jurisdiction – but the gaze still made him recoil slightly.

“I’m, ah… geeeh…” The navigator tore himself from his panel and stared at the stallion with two sunken in, droopy eyes. “...’s my smoke break, actually. You got a butt?”

“Ugh… trading it for words of wisdom?” Shining Armor rubbed his forehead. “I don’t smoke. Go ask your buddies.”

“Eh, fine, hav’t yer way.”

The captain frowned and watched the mule waddle out of the room. A gust of cold wind got in as he opened the door, sending shivers down the pony’s spine.

He blinked. “Wait a moment… why was I talking to you, anyway? Where’s the captain?”

The mule paused and turned around, scratching his head, and his hoof pointed at the floor where Shining Armor stood.

“Not me,” Shining went on and rolled his eyes. “The captain of this ship. Whatshisname… Driftwood?”

All he got in response was low muttering about “cider barrels”. The mule shrugged and stepped outside, a more quiet crew member taking his place, which left Shining alone with his thoughts. He shook his head, teeth grinding at the image of the aged, fat stallion who, on a good day, could be seen at the helm with a wide grin on his face and an aura of alcohol around him.

But right now, he had other problems. Like the one looming mere miles from their vessel.

Novy Rubezh was definitely something else. He found it difficult to dismiss the morbid curiosity it brought up in him. Out the glass, his eyes found the fifth large industrial complex along the coast, with signs of there being more further inland. Thick pillars of smoke rose toward the heavens, varying between gray, black, and pure white. Twisted metal monstrosities spread their tendrils into the sides of the mountains, no doubt to consume their insides and carry them to the main building for digestion. If he looked closely enough, he could even make out the occasional tiny wheeled figure move among the vast mechanisms. Using their size as a reference, the vastness of the facility sent a shiver down his spine.

The structures were massive and, as far as he could tell, working at full steam. But not all the details spoke of a pristine “industrial deity”. A thick layer of dirt and soot coated almost every surface, even those nowhere near the tall smokestacks. The metal giants attached to the brick bodies all had large stains of rust leaking from their seams. Even the roads that led to the facilities were in terrible shape, though obviously due to constant, heavy use. It looked less like a beast billowing fumes, and more like a decaying body that was slowly being gutted by scavengers.

Once his face managed to thaw out somewhat, Shining glanced at the device to his right. A pair of thick, black cylinders stood upon a long, rotating stand, the longer half of the eyepieces pointing out the windows. While his binoculars were military-grade, they still could not compare to the power of the optics a freight liner required. And with the crew pretty much ignoring him at this point, there was no harm in “confiscating” it for a while.

“Alright…” he said to the device. “Give me what you’ve got.” Resting his hooves on the sides, he placed his eyes against the circular slots and aimed the device at their target. It took a bit of fumbling with the controls to find the right setting, followed by careful adjustment of the angle, but eventually he brought up a clear image of the coast. His jaw dropped as soon as the view focused.


At first he thought his insomnia caught up to him again, and he stepped away from the device to rub his eyes. A second look, however, erased all doubt: strewn somewhere between a facility in the mountains and another near the coast was a small settlement, the shapes of the houses puny compared to the brick and metal giants around them.

Furthermore, they were completely desolate.

Remembering what he had read about the locals, he recognized the village as a small workers’ settlement – a “khutor” in the local language. Blue, yellow, and red fragments of carpentry stood out in the overwhelming white. The sight of actual colors in the endless sea of grays should have been soothing to his eyes, but somehow they just seemed unnatural, like bright body paint on decaying wooden corpses.

Besides, that was not what worried him most. Things were way too still. Not that he expected a crowd, especially with the snow leaving the place half-buried, but he still thought there should have been some signs of life, what with all the busy industrial areas nearby.

The optics turned inch by inch as he scanned the village. No lights were on. No attempts were made to clear the snow. Empty dog kennels. No smoke coming out of any of the chimneys. Give it a week, and the whole place would be rooftops peeking out of piles of snow if things went on this way. Or maybe even nothing at all, judging by how a good chunk of them had already collapsed from the elements.

While recent decades have seen heavy urbanization for goats... the words of the article flowed up from his memories again. A great number of rural settlements remain, some of them dating back entire centuries. Although they are aesthetically unique, in terms of origins, they are in fact very similar to how earth pony settlements formed around the—

Shining felt an odd pain in his chest. He leaned away from the bulky device, shook his head to banish his thoughts and memories, and looked into the thing again. “‘Coast is clear’ my flank...” he grumbled to himself. His hoof tapped the side to zoom out, and he went back to inspecting the lands near the shore.

Winds. Those would definitely be a problem. Winds so furious and dense that any tree he knew would have been torn apart, although the pine forests that dominated the local flora seemed unperturbed. A glance at the mountains allowed him to catch the start of a fresh avalanche. Humongous creatures stomped among the peaks, most likely a coastal yeti tribe. But, worst of all, he found more abandoned khutors.

Shining Armor counted ten, and each made his gut sink a little bit lower. The final and largest one was even close to resembling a small town, which made it even more unnerving when he found it to be completely empty.

At the center of the town was a large billboard, a smiling equine face plastered all over it. It looked like a stallion, but it was difficult to make out the details; the sign was covered in cuts, tears, and even signs of attempted burning. The support beams had given out, and it now leaned against the wall of an unfinished office building.

“The hay…” he muttered. The kid at the wheel gave him an odd look, but did not say anything.

The captain quickly rubbed his eyes and slapped himself again before taking a second look. It was no illusion: a dense array of black, vine-like threads could be seen wrapped around the sign, making the ensemble look like a tree with its roots exposed. From there, the threads dispersed throughout the settlement and out into the pines surrounding it. Shining now recognized them as the same lines he had seen going through many a forest along the coast.

“Hmm…” He turned the binoculars a bit further eastward, and his hoof came up to slap his forehead. “Oh, heh-heh… of course. Power lines. And if this bit here is correct...” He quickly checked if the pylons that led into the distance were going in the same direction as the one indicated by the map. “Yep, we’re here…”

The captain stepped back and walked over to the radio operator. Switching to the PA system, he spoke into the mic attached to the console.

“All officers, report to the bridge.”

With that done, Shining Armor smiled and returned to the windows to retrieve his equipment. Something about what he saw kept nagging at him the whole time, and eventually he peeked into the binoculars again, aiming them back toward the woods.

Weird… he thought. Since when do they hang the power lines on the branches?

His ears perked up at the sound of metal grinding on metal. Another gust of cold wind entered the room, followed by a series of hoofsteps. His little session was officially over, it seemed.

“Eh, cap’n?” the mule slurred. “I ain’t, like, all sure if yer allowed to use all that.”

“Oh, right,” the captain answered with a chuckle. “Sorry about that, heh-heh...” He rubbed his eyes as they slowly adjusted back to normal vision. “I think I’ve seen enough anyway.”

“‘s no problem, though, if it’s real needed an’ all. I can go back on ma’ break, take th’time y’need, but I…uh… Well, y’break somethin and it’s on me, so… I ‘unno…”

Shining smirked at him. “I understand. Tell you what: next time, I’ll discuss it with your captain.”

Riiight,” the navigator responded with a smirk of his own. “Got me there…” He returned to his post back at the helm. “Need me out for your meeting and all that?” he asked fleetingly.

“No, it’s alright,” the captain said. “I trust you can keep your mouth shut?”

“Eh,” the mule shrugged. He then took a moment to cough profusely, while his eyes wandered over the collection of butts in the ashtray next to him.

“Good.” Shining laughed playfully. “Because otherwise we’d have to throw you overboard.”

“Eh,” the mule repeated and coughed again.

“Are all units prepared for deployment?”

The officers hummed and nodded in response. Shining Armor smiled. “All right. Then let’s discuss the plan one more time. Now the intel is pretty hazy on the area, so we had to find a good landing spot ourselves.”

He unfolded the map on the table before him. “We confirmed with our… uh...” Trailing off, he glanced at the ship’s captain. A plump, bearded stallion in a white uniform stared back at him with a vapid smile, while Shining tried to come up with an appropriate word. “...sailing advisors that, uh… this will be our ideal landing spot.”

His hoof pointed out a highlighted strip on the line between the green and the blue areas of the map. The officers leaned a bit closer, struggling not to crush each other in the now cramped space.

“Steep shores, which means the ships can anchor close,” Shining went on. “Good terrain inland, and we’d be less than ten klicks from the city. But keep in mind, my little fillies: no shelter all the way until we reach Gueldergrad, and weather reports are as bad as it gets, so we’ll need to hustle. Got it?”

The group stepped back and nodded once more.

“Very well. Any questions?” the captain said. Nopony answered. “Excellent.”

One of the crew members waved at the fat stallion, and he stepped forward, clearing his throat. “Captain Shining Armor,” he said, his voice thick from alcohol and forced humility. “We are approaching the drop point.”

The unicorn nodded. “Understood. Relay the signal to the other ships.” He folded up the map and motioned for his troops to leave. “Captain.” He nodded to his civilian counterpart, who did not respond as he approached the window to take a look at the shore with the ship’s optics. Shining rolled his eyes and headed for the door.

“Wait!” Driftwood called out. “What the— Sir? You might want to take a look at this.”

Shining Armor gave a deep sigh and turned back. “What is it?”

The ship's captain stepped away from the binoculars and motioned for him to take a look. “Due east of the landing point. Over that hill. You see it? Smoke.”

Shining peeked into the device. “Hmm… I don’t— Oh, there it is...” His jaw dropped. “Wait… that’s not…”

“Not factory smoke, I know," Driftwood said. “And there was no smoke there the last time we sailed here.”

“What… campfires then?”

“Campfires?” Bonnie stepped back into the chamber, the other officers following suit. “Sir? You mean… there could be refugees there?”

“Refugees?” another lieutenant asked. “Maybe they’re just goats.”

“And what if they’re ponies? Intel said things were getting bad in the city.”

“Should we check it out?”

Everyone stopped talking and looked at Shining Armor. A shudder passed through his right foreleg, and he took a deep breath.

Forgive them, they know not what they do, he thought. Make do with what you have. It’s your duty, after all.

“Steer us due east, captain,” he said. “Let’s take a look.”

The plump stallion nodded and barked the orders at his subordinates. The ship lurched as they throttled up the engines, and the coastline to their left moved past a little faster. At this point, it was close enough for them to see its features without special tools. Several shouts rang out when the thin pillars of smoke rising beyond their original landing point came into view again, but a nearby hill on a small peninsula obscured the source.

It took ten minutes to circle around the obstruction, and the commanding staff of the Humpback got their first look at their point of curiosity. Shining Armor looked through his own binoculars once more, discerning the outlines of several large buildings that resembled warehouses. Lining the shore below them were various concrete structures: u-shaped dry docks filled with debris, unfinished piers, and even a large metal crane that hung precariously over the water.

“I don’ need t’tell ya: no way we land there,” the mule navigator spoke up. He earned himself a frown from his captain, but ignored it. “That wall’ll crush us the first tide that comes around.”

He pointed at the dark surface of the massive seawall that lined almost the entire section of the coast. At certain points, it was further strengthened by countless large concrete blocks dumped into the water, the waves crashing against them and breaking up in the process.

“I’ll have to agree,” Driftwood grumbled. “Our only chance would be the port, but that thing is in no shape for us to use. The piers aren’t finished, and that crane looks ready to crumble the first time we’d start it up. And that’s just what’s on the coast. No idea about the rest...” His head nodded at the structures further inland.

Shining did not answer. He turned his gaze back to the warehouses, where he noticed the smoke was rising from. A few tiny, quadrupedal figures trudged back and forth between the buildings, oblivious to the large ship approaching them.

“Those are ponies, no question,” Setterline remarked. “Can’t see any weapons. And the way this place looks…” He lifted his binoculars to his eyes again. “If we have ponies to help here, we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

“Sir?” Bonnie said and turned to her commander. “I’m not too sure about this either. Even if we make it ashore, we have no idea what’s waiting for us there.”

“We can always just circle around from the drop point after we land, right?” another officer suggested.

Driftwood nodded hastily. “I think it’s settled then. I’ll radio the Scylla and Atoll to begin deployment. We’ll turn back and—”

“Belay that,” Shining Armor said. He tapped his hoof on the window, pointing at the ill-fated port. “This is where we land.”

The chamber went deathly silent, all eyes trained on the blue-maned stallion. Shining did not bat an eyelid this time, merely kept looking through his binoculars.

“Radio it in, captain. All units, wait for my orders.”

Bonnie was the first to come to her senses. “But sir, we—”

A raspy voice rose from the crowd. “Lieutenant! Are you about to question a direct order?”

Bonnie shot him a look. “You’re not talking to grunts here, warhawk. Keep it to yourself.”

“The captain made his decision,” the stallion in the dark brown outfit snarled. “That’s final.”

“This isn’t a question of loyalty or protocol,” Setter shot back. “This is a meeting. We’re supposed to—”

“Enough!” Shining Armor raised his voice. Bonnie tried to speak again, but his stern look kept her words in her throat. “And you don’t speak for me, warhawk.” He turned to the other officer. “You take it through the chain of command. In this case, through me.

The stallion said no more. Shining smiled and glanced at the port again.

“No turning back now. This is where we begin.”

The exodus led by High Strung across the Baranzovo Sea was the first ever direct influx of pony population in Novy Rubezh.

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