• Published 2nd Jun 2012
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The Price of Loyalty - M1SF0RTUNE



A dark, dystopian dramatic thriller set in an alternate universe with a divided Equestria, and a tale of redemption for a traumatized young soldier of Queen Luna's army.

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Journal #1

Journal #1

July 8th, 1011 P.E.

Nothing much to report. It was just another night, except for the fact I had to meet with that damn doctor, again.

I know I said it a hundred times before, but I’m getting very sick of these therapy sessions.


“What happened to you this time, Ashen?” asked a slightly annoyed Doctor Archer as I entered the room. He examined my injuries, which included a black left eye, and a bloody forehead, with a large streak that stained the fur on the left side of my face.

“Do you honestly have to ask?” I said, grumbling in annoyance as I sat down on one end of the sofa. He went over to his mini-refrigerator behind his desk, producing an ice pack, which he levitated to me before I took it and held against my eye.

“Here, this’ll help with the swelling,” he said, before taking a seat behind his desk and started organizing the papers strewn about. I eyed his glass that rested at the end of the desk. It was still full of ice.

He must’ve been drinking, which meant he wasn’t having a good day and he wanted this to be over with in a hurry.

Good for me.

Once he got his desk in order, his magic opened the large cabinet behind him containing his blank recordings. He lifted off a spool already attached to the black box, and set it on the side of his desk while he mounted the new one into it, and pushed one of the buttons.

*Click*

“Doctor Archer with patient Ashen Nightwing. Date: July 8th, 1011. Subject was late for his counseling appointment…,” he paused for a brief moment to look over me, before turning back to the black box and began speaking again. “He came in with a hangover as well as multiple bruises and blood patches on his fur. Probably from last night, if I were to guess. Beginning session.”

He always began with this mundane garbage. It ground my gears on some days, with him starting these conversations like it were some kind of lab experiment that he had to document every detail on.

I hated that.

I hated that box, these sessions, even the doctor himself on bad days.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of a choice, with the only upside being this was a more favorable option than the alternative I was given.

“So, how are you feeling today Ashen?”

“Like death,” I mumbled.

“Care to tell me why?”

I sighed. I wasn’t keen on answering to him and that infernal box of his, but once again, it was this and a few more months of crappy desk jobs, or a padded cell.

“I had a rough night.”

“Do tell.”

I scowled at the Doctor, who was giving me a blank expression. He knew what I was going to say but decided to ask anyway; just more crap that irritated me. I glanced at one of his plants to the side.

“Do you really need to ask?” I muttered.

“Where was it this time?”

I didn’t bother saying anything. He already knew the answer.

“Starry Skies Tavern again, then,” he says nonchalantly, his eyes focused on his notes as the quill scribbled across them. A moment later he turned back to me.

“So what happened?” he asked.

---***---

Some stallion struck me again, this time into my jaw, before another one bucked me out the front door and out into the red-lit street, where I crashed into some trash cans that sat across the way. I was too drunk and disoriented to get up and resume the fight. I didn’t care much for it anymore either, I’d already lost.

One of my assailants stood at the entrance, ready to continue the fight, but some of the other patrons were holding him back.

“Come on Basher, he’s had enough.”

“Get off of me! I wanna kill him!” shouted the brown earth stallion, his eyes alight with fury.

“He’s not worth it. Just let it go,” shouted one of the ponies who restrained him, whom ironically happened to be one of my first assailants along with the burly earth stallion.

Eventually the brown one, Basher, shook out of their grasp, but didn’t continue with his assault.

“If I see you again nightbreed, I’ll buck your damn head in,” he said and spat in my direction before he shouldered through the crowd and back into the bar. Some of the other patrons glanced angrily my way, some of them shaking their heads, but all of them turning to resume enjoying their night as I lay like some discarded trash, not unlike the garbage I was laying in.

“Damn daykind…” I muttered with a cough as I struggled to regain my breath. The cough felt like I just took another buck to the chest. “You need to learn your place! We’re the right hoof of the Queen, and I deserve some respect!” I shouted at the building across the road as I thrusted a few angry hoofshakes at it, before I sighed and let my foreleg fall back down onto the ground in bitter defeat.

Who was I kidding? Nightbreeds have fallen far from their superiority a thousand years ago. There was a time where we struck fear into our enemies with our large webbed wings, our manes that would glow in the night like the Queen’s herself, and our powerful and destructive magic; but that’s not the case anymore. We hardly even resemble our ancestors, seeing as those of us with the glowing manes are few and far between. Those of us who have magic are even more rare.

We were just Queen Luna’s soldiers now; grunts. We’re obligated to do her bidding since she created us, and even though we make up her royal guard, we’re nothing more than simple, expendable infantry who barely have a place in the Lunar Confederacy anymore, and no matter how highly she depends on us or tries to defend the reason for our existence, that doesn’t change where we stand in this day and age with the daykind.

I slowly brought a hoof up to check my pounding head, and drew it back to reveal my charcoal fur was now stained crimson. There was blood trailing down past my broken horn and along the side of my face. It was a little hard to see out of my bruised left eye, and a violent sting of pain was accompanied with every blink. It didn’t compare to the pain in my chest though, from where the stallion bucked me out of the tavern. I was pretty sure I had a cracked rib.

Could’ve been worse, or so I figured. It was one of my better nights.

I struggled to sit up, wincing with each shock of pain that not even the vast amounts of alcohol I had consumed moments prior were able to drown out. I glanced around to see that the street was deserted tonight, save for a few random and uncaring passersby down the road. I was grateful, since I wasn’t keen on anypony else seeing me in my current state. As I was about to get up, I noticed some new damage to my favorite duster coat.

There were new cuts in the canvas as well as small blood stains, some of which didn’t belong to me, as well as stains from whatever I was sitting in. Damages were minimal at least, thanks to the tough fabric. Too bad it wasn’t enough to prevent any bruises, which I was sure would hurt like hay tomorrow morning when the alcohol wore off.

I groaned and rested my head back, brushing my glowing blue mane out of my eyes as I looked past a couple of rectangular, bright, and transparent holographic signs, and up at the night sky. Dawn was coming soon, and I needed to get home. There was an alley nearby I had slept in numerous times before, and the thought of doing so extremely tempting. However, I wanted to be as far away from the capital, and the rest of civilization within, as possible. Especially the tavern and the angry ponies within. I learned the hard way that sleeping in the Red Light district after getting into a fight isn’t a good idea either.

Reluctantly, I summoned the willpower to get up, though it took a few attempts. Eventually I was on my hooves, and inspected my wings to check for any damage. I couldn’t fly home with broken or torn wings after all.

Aside from the initial pain in my torso from unfolding them, all of the thin, grey sheet-like membranes in between the long black fingers and appendage that held them all together were intact. I gave them an experimental flap, which I winced to as they sent pain flaring through my chest.

I knew it was going to be murder flying home that night. Being drunk with impaired vision and injured is a bad combination for doing so. I was seriously considering the alley again at this point, until I suddenly remembered something.

I had an appointment tomorrow night, one I wasn’t allowed to miss.

“Great,” I muttered to myself. “Doc’s gonna kill me.”

I crouched low, extended my wings, having to bite my lip to try and ignore the pain in my chest, before I slammed my wings down and propelled myself into the air, then banked southward toward home.


If I had a choice, I would’ve skipped tonight’s session, regardless of how many I already missed. Last night was absolute torture trying to fly home. I ended up crashing after flying too low to the forests’ treeline, and landed in the clearing outside the house, adding another few bruises. I was in so much pain, I practically had to crawl inside. Never even made it to the bed.

(Wouldn’t have been a half idea to just sleep in the clearing again, but I don’t know what possessed me last night.)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to miss another session this month or he would extend my field suspension again


Doctor Archer sighed and shook his head.

“That explains the injuries.”

I made no comment as he jotted a few notes down.

“So why’d you start the fight?” he asked without looking up.

I scowled at the accusation.

“What makes you think I started-“

“Don’t give me that Ashen,” he said, looking back up at me with a scowl of his own. “We’ve been at this for a year and a half, and I’ve seen you come in here from fights dozens of times, most of them you started. If I don’t hear it from you, I end up hearing about it on the streets or from one of your colleagues.”

I merely stared in annoyance at the shrink for a moment, then I rolled my eyes and turned away, avoiding eye contact with him. I heard him write a few more things, before the scratching noise of the quill stopped, and there was a brief, uncomfortable silence.

“Well?”

I sighed. “I was just in a bad mood.”

“…Just a bad mood,” he repeated with an undertone of disbelief.

“Just a bad mood,” I restated, reinforcing my point. “That’s why I went to the Starry Skies to get a drink.”

“Or five,” flatly commented the doctor, as he wrote a few more notes down.

I ignored the remark.

“So why were you in a bad mood?”

“I don’t even remember anymore,” I said, rubbing my head a little with the ice pack. “I think it had something to do with my last assignment.”

“Hm… alright… does it have anything to do with why you were late tonight? I expected you half an hour ago, and even then, that’s late.”

“…No,” I reluctantly stated. “I got… held up.”

---***---

Deafening, is the quickest way to describe the mind-numbing beeping noise my alarm clock was making. It went on in repeated, intermittent drones, causing my ears to ring. I stumbled onto my hooves from the wooden floor of my dark room and slammed my hoof down on the infernal thing, effectively silencing it and causing the holographic digital display it projected to flicker a bit.

Had it not been for the time it showed, I would’ve fallen back to sleep on the floor. Unfortunately, the clock said it was almost midnight.

That meant I was running late. Very late.

I groaned, and reluctantly got to my hooves. It was only then that the pain, which had been dulled by the alcohol last night, came back in full force. I couldn’t stand straight, and my head pounded relentlessly. There wasn’t a single part of my body that wasn’t stiff, sore, or in some kind of pain, plus it was even harder to see out of my injured eye.

I dragged my half-asleep self into my washroom to inspect the last night’s damage. As I looked in the mirror, it was hard to see my reflection through multiple cracks that stemmed from an indented, round spot full of tiny pieces of broken glass near the bottom-right corner of the frame. I leaned in to look at the largest shard of the mirror, and examined my eye. Where normally my eye should be populated with white, blue, and black, there was a lot of red surrounding my pupil. It was also darkened and slightly puffy. Surrounding my eye, I saw a large stain of red across the right half my face, more so on my forehead and cheek. The patch ran all the way down to my jaw line.

“Guess I got off lucky this time,” I mumbled to my reflection, as I propped my forelegs up on my sink and glared angrily at the pony in the mirror.

I loathed seeing him; just looking at him makes my blood boil. Deep down, I knew he didn’t fulfill his quota of injuries last night, and he badly needed more of them. I could never pity the pony I saw in the mirror, and I didn’t care one bit how much pain he was in or the humiliation he received throughout the last couple years. That pony deserves worse, and he also owes me a new mirror.

The alarm suddenly went off again in the other room, taking my attention from my brooding and reminded me that I needed to get going. The shower just off to my right felt inviting, but I didn’t have the time nor willpower to get in it and clean myself off. Instead I just turned on the faucet and splashed some water on my face a few times with my hooves, making a rather lazy attempt to clean the blood off of it with little success. I glanced at my reflection once more to inspect the clean-up job, and thought of how pointless it felt. There were deeper stains I couldn’t wash out of my fur that were invisible to the naked eye as is, so why was I even trying to clean this fresh patch of blood off?

I shut off the valve to the sink, and dried my face off with the dirty towel that rested on it, already stained with a few red patches as is. Once I finished, I threw it over my shoulder without a care where it landed, then returned to the bedroom and silenced the alarm clock, which said it that it was midnight.

I sighed and crossed the room to the open closet, and considered changing into one of my old black, blue, and purple uniforms or suits for the sake of variety, or at least something that wasn’t dirty. That or consider following up on my therapist’s recommendation to start working on my etiquette. Ultimately I decided he, nor anypony else, would particularly care how I looked. Besides, I prefered my duster anyway.

While it was dirty, torn in places, and rugged, it’s what I normally wear anyway, and I hardly went anywhere without it except on very rare occasions. I tightened the straps around my torso, but kept the shirt-piece loose. I brushed some of the dust off my long sleeves that hung down along my forelegs ending just short of my ankles. Lastly I made sure the tail of the coat was comfortably draped over my back, which partially covered my folded wings, and my tail went through the split near the flank area. Hoping I was at least a little presentable, I turned to leave, but stopped just short. An object in the corner of the room temporarily demanded my attention, because it was a stark reminder of why I was going where I was going.

As I stared at this object, the room felt like it dropped a few degrees in temperature, and a pit formed in my stomach as horrible memories flooded into my mind.

“What are you doing?!” echoed the disembodied voice of a particular, distant memory.

I was unable to take my eyes off the thing. The scabbard containing an old friend - and an old enemy - within it, and just seeing it sent painful reminders of the past relentlessly into my mind.

“You monster!” screamed a different voice from the same memory.

Part of me wanted to run. I wanted to run a million leagues and never stop running.

But no.

I couldn’t escape, no matter how far I could’ve ran. Not from these memories. I felt like I was trapped in a dark void with this damn thing keeping me locked in place. It refused to let me leave as the room filled with visions of blood and fire.

I wanted to die then and there just to make them stop.

“Please…,” came yet another voice, a mare’s this time.

I swallowed hard and my heart felt like it was pounding 200 times a second.

“Please don’t do this!” begged the same mare.

I wanted her to shut up, I wanted this torture to stop, and I wanted to stop staring at that damn object, but I couldn’t move, and I couldn't tear my eyes away.

I held the blade, ready to strike her down...

“NO, WAIT! STOP! ASHEN, DON’T-!”

*BEEP*

*BEEP*

*BEEP*

I jumped as the sound of my alarm snapping me out of my trance, and quickly pulled my eyes away, forcing them shut. It took me a brief moment to recover, but also realize that I had forgotten how to breathe. I released my breath and stood there, gasping for air.

“Damn it…,” I cursed to myself.

I shook my head. “I don’t have time for your crap tonight Justice,” I muttered at the thing in anger as I adamantly kept my eyes away from the accursed object. Eventually I turned to the clock, and a small smirk crept across the side of my muzzle. Frankly, I don’t remember the last time I’ve ever been grateful for that stupid clock.

I walked over and switched the alarm off, for good this time, and turned to leave, only to find myself stopping again for a moment and casting a forlorn glance back at the object. Not even a second later I shook my head, sighed, and turned to the door.

“There’s plenty of time for it later.” With that, I finally left the foreboding room.


Okay, so yeah, my night didn't start off well. A hangover and an obnoxious clock makes for a lousy combination. I’m amazed I actually slept through that thing for a whole hour though.

Anyway, despite being in a ton of pain, I grabbed the first thing of food I could get my hooves on and bolted, which unfortunately meant my only apple. I meant to save that thing for a special occasion or something, those damn things are rare and expensive.

For the record though, it was a really good apple even if I probably got ripped off by a few dozen bits. Too bad I won’t get to eat another one for a couple months; it was the sweetest thing I’ve had in ages. Put me in a better mood, at least until the pain in my chest started flaring up again and I had to keep landing every now and again on the way capital, making me even more late. One of those breaks were spent at my favorite view of the city, which was nice, I guess.


I circled the small mesa, descending slowly, and nearly crashed into it. My landing ended up becoming a stumbling trot before I managed to come to a halt at the edge, panting heavily with a few groans of pain mixing in.

“Almost there Ashen… almost there.” I said to myself in between breaths, trying- but failing, to give myself some motivation. Remembering where I landed, I turned to my right and smirked.

Might as well enjoy the view while I catch my breath, I decided. I walked toward the edge, settled onto my haunches, and smiled at the dazzling, moon-lit vista.

“Hello, Starlight City,” I said to the warm night air as I took in the sights.

The dazzling capital of Starlight City stretched roughly twenty miles from end to end and was filled with structures of many shapes and sizes, each correlating to designs relevant to the district they were housed in. It lit up the entire night in a collage of bright, vibrant neon colors from the holographic signs, the crystal-powered lights, and the reflective surfaces of the mirror-like towers to the northeast, and of course, Her Majesty’s full moon.

Almost all of the city rested level on flat terrain in a rough circular shape, save for the northwest corner, part of the Red District, that’s settled on a cliff and overlooked the city. The eastern-southeastern part of the city wrapped around the towering Mount Gale, a mountain many miles around and many more miles high, with a blanket of snow tipping the peak.

The Red District, or what we call the “Red Light Sector,” or just “Old Town,” is a residential area, and the oldest part of the city. The district has small one to five-story buildings, and contained more wood and bricks than metal or marble like the rest of the city. As the nickname implied, it’s a run-down part of the capital, and also the darkest part of the city. Some bad ponies tend to live in that region, as well as the poor. The only great things about Old Town are the main reasons I frequent there; the bars, the clubs, and the drinks. Unfortunately, they’re hard to enjoy nowadays, thanks to my rather poor reputation I've formed there, but I've made do.

Then in the southeastern quarter of the city is Yellow District (aka “New Town”), another residential sector. New Town is similar to Old Town, except less decrepit, and a more rural feel to its design and population. It has some slightly taller buildings than Old Town, with a use of marble in a lot of the architecture. It’s also the part of the city that received the most renovation over the years, thus the nickname. It was definitely a nicer part of the city to be sure, but it’s more costly to live there, especially due to added conveniences. Not as many good places to drink there.

The northeast corner housed Blue District, home of the skyscrapers. It’s a sleek, silver, and very clean, almost sterile, part of the city, compared to the other three districts. Mostly, it’s a place for corporate desk jobs, businesses, news joints, food vendors, mail services, and many other types of jobs I don’t even know about. It’s called the “Work District” for a good reason. I usually don’t visit that district, apart from where I go to get my therapy. I know probably one bar there, but it’s far too uptight and classy for me, plus the drinks aren't as strong.

In the final quarter of the city was the Green District, perhaps the most important part of the city next to the capitol in the center of it. It consists namely of laboratory buildings, warehouses, and factories, office complexes and so on. It’s where all of the food from the entire country’s twenty-six territories goes into, gets processed and managed, and then shipped out to the different towns. It doesn't have a nickname, and sadly, no bars or drinks. However, a lot of assignments there have had me quell riots on a rare occasion, or frequent labs there for testing of CrystalTech prototypes- power crystal-driven devices, that range from our defenses and weapons, to appliances and devices. CrystalTech is what powers the entire city, if not the entire country.

Power crystals are the country’s dominant resource, and we've spent years trying to utilize them and the magic they contain. Unfortunately, their discovery 200 years ago also kick-started the Dragon Wars. All of the early research was restricted solely to defense, then priority shifted after the four-year-long war to using the crystals to assist in the harvests, and eventually they began powering homes and devices. Every radio, holo-vid viewer, even the lights (which ironically made up the names of the districts) are all powered by power crystals. I don’t know where our society would be without them, especially with their usage and extraordinary capabilities during the Dragon Wars and today’s defense of the south border, a fact that several of those annoying bureaucrats at the Royal Palace never fully appreciate.

The Royal Palace is easily the most protected and oldest part of the city, which is a major standout from all the rest of the capital in terms of its’ design. Taking up roughly a quarter of a mile in diameter in the center of the capital, the massive castle is split into five different buildings, with four being connected at each corner of the main building, what we call the “Citadel,” with the subsections housing the different Departments, one of which was where I work. They run or manage every aspect of the country, from agriculture and economy, to laws and regulations. Inside the main structure, the Citadel, was where the Queen and her Council resided. Every decision that’s made for the country, is debated and decided on inside that structure. The Palace itself is a marble building with purple and black roofing, with gold and silver trimming. Decorating the top of the dome-like top of the Palace was a recreation of the stars in the night sky, with each one being encrusted with a different gem to give off glimmers and twinkles from the moon and city lights. It was a beautiful building, supposedly inspired from architecture in our neighbor’s capital, Canterlot. Surrounding the Palace was a large marble wall, with built in security using power crystal-generated devices that would keep unwanted intruders or fliers from getting in or out without authority. It was a near-seamless blend of technology and architecture that made up that surrounding wall, while the Palace itself remained tech free in its’ design. It was definitely old fashioned, but still an awe-inspiring sight no matter how many times I saw it.

I eyed over the entire city, finding my breath taken away as it usually is when viewing it from my small perch. I’m about twenty minutes away and it still looks enormous. I can even hear the sounds of all the busy residents inside the city, enjoying the nightlife, or working one of their busy jobs.

This was just one of the small reasons why I love my country. I could sit here and gaze at the capital for hours and hours at a time. There are very few things in this life I enjoy anymore, and this was one of them.

Sadly, this isn’t one of my more relaxing nights to soak in the view. I had an appointment to keep, so I was only able to spare a few minutes to catch my breath and marvel at the sight of the Capital, before I reluctantly got back up, spread my wings, and leapt off the edge of the mesa, now gliding in the direction of the Blue District.

---***---

I was flat on my back on the sofa staring up at the ceiling as I finished explaining why I had been so late. As I explained and had to keep taking the ice pack on and off my head, he silently nodded and jotted more of his notes down.

Eventually he spoke up again.

“Well, probably a good thing you decided to stop at your ‘perch’ again. It’s healthy to find… sober and less painful activities. Although I still wish you didn’t crash into my building. Again.”

“That was a bit hard to help, Doc,” I stated dismissively.

“It could have been helped, had you decided not to get into a fight last night.”

I ignored the comment and continued to stare aimlessly at the ceiling, but I also did my best to avoid eye contact with him to avoid a lecture. Thankfully, he just started writing some more notes again until then I heard the small clink of the quill being placed back in its’ bottle.

“Let’s change topics. Maybe you could tell me about that assignment you mentioned? The one that left you in a bad mood?”

I sighed.

“It was just another damn Population Control job with Moonbeam out in South Hayford. She was giving me a hard time and making my job a lot more frustrating.”

“How so?”

“Because I’m sick of her lectures and how naïve she is when she tries to handle these kinds of jobs. It’s the law, she needs to get over it.”

“You shouldn’t be so harsh, you know. Moonbeam just tries to let them down easy is all.”

I turned to him, just to see a look of pity on his face. This made me a little annoyed as I sat up.

“It’s law, Doc, and part of our job. Somepony has to enforce the law, and anypony who’s in the Queen’s service knows it has to be done. There’s no time for bleeding hearts or sympathy when we’re barely getting by this season.”

“I’m not saying I disagree with you Ashen. Law is law. If families can only have one foal per household to keep our food supplies from running out, then it’s my duty as a member of this country to support that. Just not everypony else thinks it’s fair or necessary.”

“Then they’re selfish idiots who risk sounding like separatists,” I said as I laid back down, turning back to the ceiling. “They forget or seem to be oblivious to the droughts we’ve had the last couple months, and the southern farmlands are barely pulling in any fresh food. Even the Council’s worried they’ll have to cut back on the food shipments to the Territories for rationing this winter.”

“I’ve seen the bulletins, Ashen, so I know how bad it’s getting. That doesn’t mean you have to treat Population Control assignments so bluntly, however. They do need to be done, yes, but you should think about what the families involved are going through, at least just have a little respect for their situation. You know it’s almost always unintentional.”

“My job description does not include consoling ponies who violate our laws. All Moonbeam accomplishes is wasting a lot of time, and it makes my job harder.”

He sighed and shook his head, before scribbling some notes down. A few moments later he spoke up again.

“So tell me what happened with your last assignment.”

---***---

Two days ago…

We just arrived in South Hayford, a small village surrounded by multiple large farms. It consisted of many wooden buildings with straw rooftops, most of them small, none exceeding two stories. The village itself was situated in a massive flatland, with the capital’s bright lights shining over the hills off to the east. It’s one of those kinds of towns that use old fashioned farming methods and don’t use power crystals.

The mayor was the first to greet myself, Moonbeam, and two rookie soldiers escorting us, at the outskirts of town.

“You good ponies must be from the capital. Welcome to South Hayford, how may we help you today?”

“Greetings. We’re actually following up on a report considering the ponies in the…” started Moonbeam as she levitated her clipboard in front of her, her violet eyes scanning through a list of notes through her half-moon glasses. “Picker estate?”

The tan-colored mayor stallion frowned and nodded. “Oh, I see. Come to uphold the law, have you?”

Moonbeam sighed and levitated her clipboard back into her saddlebag, as she brushed a few strands of her black mane out of her eyes with a white hoof. “We’re here to follow up on it is all.”

“You mean rid a mother of her unborn child. Don’t try to dress it up with me, Official. I know exactly what this means and it doesn’t mean I like it here in my town. I’ll have you know that Mr. and Mrs. Picker are two of my oldest friends and they have done more for this country than you’ll ever know.”

“Please, I don’t like this any more than you do but it’s the law.” Moonbeam was offering as sincere a smile as she could possibly offer, but it wouldn’t do much to ease the stallion. “It’ll be painless, I promise.”

“Not for her, it won’t be! For goodness sake, her son is about to move out in less than a year which is not a violation with the law!”

“I’m sorry mayor, truly I am,” said Moonbeam reassuringly. “But law is law and we have to carry it out, otherwise we’ll have to arrest them, and nopony wants that.”

“I don’t understand! Why can’t you cut them some slack, as I’ve said, their son is-

I sighed with impatience.

“I’m not dealing with any more of this,” I interrupted, stepping up to the mayor. “According to Article Three, Section Two of the Queen’s Law, there is only one foal allowed per household. Anypony who resists or interferes with this section Queen’s Law is to be arrested and tried for treason against Her Majesty’s will. Now if you’re going to continue to get in the way of our job, I’ll be the one to escort you to the prison myself,” I finished, staring down at the stallion, who was now looking fearfully into my eyes. “Am I understood?”

“Y-…yes…” he responded, cringing. “Then I will not interfere with Her Majesty’s business anymore. My apologies.”

“Good. Just be sure to remember your place, daykind.”

For a moment I thought I saw Moonbeam flash a scowl up at me, but I didn’t particularly care. The night was off to a bad start, and it was a long walk to the town and a long walk back, plus it was late. The quicker we got this done, the better.

“You two, with me,” I called to my two guards, and eventually Moonbeam caught up to me as I began to walk away from the mayor. “Where’s the Picker Estate?” I asked flatly.

“It’s the farm on the other end of town. Look, Lieutenant, was that honestly necessary?”

“What?”

“Your behavior back there, with the Mayor.” She said trying to keep up. “He was just looking out for his friends, you don’t need to be so blunt.”

This made me stop in my tracks, and I turned to my two escorts, two young stallions, one in white fur, the other in a dark grey.

“You two, head over to the Picker Estate, we’ll catch up.”

“Yes, sir…” mumbled the white one, and the two of them pulled a meek salute before they walked past us. When they were out of earshot, I spoke up again.

“Listen, I don’t care if you’re supposed to be my handler, your job is to do as we’re told, just as I am. We’re not here to sympathize, we’re not here to coddle, we’re here to do a job, and then go home. That’s it.”

Moonbeam just glared angrily at me. I tend to get this kind of glare often from here but I’ve grown to ignore it over time, as well as her many lectures and repeated nags. The look just indicated one of them was coming.

“Law is law, Ashen. Yes, I know all about it, and we have to obey otherwise we could risk starving the rest of the populace. This isn’t the first time I had to abort a pregnant mare before, so don’t you dare remind me how to do my job-”

“Then don’t you tell me how to do mine,” I interrupted. “I don’t care if you dislike how I get things done Moonbeam; this job requires a firm hoof. We have a job to do, and trying to coerce violators of the law is a waste of time and practically encourages others to do it if they think we’re going easy on them. Let’s get this done and get out of this dump.” I said as I began to walk away from her.

“Why? So you can just drink yourself to death again, Lieutenant?!” she shouted at me, causing me to stop in the middle of a field with an added groan and I glance over my shoulder to see her approaching. Part of me was grateful nopony else was around, because she was starting one of her lectures.

“Don’t think I know what you do whenever you’re off duty for the remainder of the night, Ashen. I’ve also had to be the first to listen to all the complaints and reports about fights you start, and I have to be the one to clean up your mess. Hay, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t still have your job. The least you could do is look at me when I talk to you Ashen!”

I was glancing aimlessly off to the side, partly ignoring her up until that last sentence.

“Yeah yeah, that’s nice Moonbeam, I don’t care,” I stated dismissively and started walking again.

“I have half the mind to just make sure you get court martialed, but you know what Ashen? I know about your condition. I know about your therapy sessions and the fact you barely sleep at night. I also know how hard you keep trying to kill yourself when you start those fights! For buck’s sake, even your therapist even called me in once after a fight you got in months ago. They almost killed you!”

“You stay out of my business Moonbeam,” I said sternly at her, stopping in my tracks again baring my teeth, my wings unintentionally flaring as my frustration built up. “I don’t want you, or anypony else giving a damn about what I do with my life, and more importantly, I want you and the rest of the world to just shut up and leave me alone!” I finished, punctuated with a slam of my hoof into the dirt, before I turned away from her once more. However she followed up behind me, and wouldn’t let up.

“Ashen, please, just let me help you.”

“I don’t want your help! I want to just get this damn job over with, get drunk maybe, and go home! End of story!” I shouted back.

“But-” she faltered and finally decided to shut up, her voice quivering into a pathetic whimper. As we continued our walk in silence, I cast a forlorn glance back at her, to see her ears sagged and eyes watching the floor.

It took us only a few minutes to cross the large field of rather unhealthy-looking trees to end up a small farmstead. It was a two story building built out of dark wood, and even darker brown shingles adorned the triangle-shaped roof. Behind the home was a much larger red building which I assumed was their barn. It seemed relatively bright compared to the house, as well as the rest of the farm.

The two guards were already waiting in front of the door, speaking with the residents inside; a middle-aged brown earth stallion with a darker brown mane streaked with signs of grey, and a teenager of the same coat color standing next to him with a mane of black. Both of them seemed very unhappy of the guards’ presence, and their expression only worsened as Moonbeam and I finally arrived at the front door.

It was silent for a moment, before Moonbeam brushed a few strands of her mane out her eyes with a hoof and cleared her throat, her tone returning to a professional manner.

“Hello, Mr. Picker. We’re here about your wife.”

He just glared at her angrily, but she kept a strong face.

“No. You’re here about my kid, who hasn’t even been born yet,” he responded seethingly.

“…Yes, you’re right, I apologize,” she said calmly. “I first want to offer my condolences however. This pains me a great deal to do this, Mr. Picker.”

“If it weren’t for the fact, ma’am, that I have a family to support, I’d risk jail time and tell you all to go buck yourselves and leave me and mine alone.”

Her eyes fell to the floor, darting around for a moment, before she glanced up at the stallion again.

“I would too, to be honest. Frankly, I hate this job, and even more so, since I was in your wife’s situation before.”

This caused the two residents and even my two guards to look at her with curiosity. However I rolled my eyes before looking elsewhere, since I knew what was coming. I often wondered if she was an actress in a past life. This was one of her three or four stories she became rather adept at telling, but I for one wasn’t in the mood to listen to this one again.

“I was met with another Official, just like you are today, and told me about this too. My own husband was furious the day they came for me and my unborn foal, but I told him that I didn’t want our ten-year-old son to live his life without a father, and I didn’t want to bring another foal into the world who would starve and suffer just like my son had. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with, but I just hoped what I was doing might be better for my baby. I still regret it to this day, but I have seen how much our poor country struggles.”

She then glanced over her shoulder over at the various trees.

“You have a lovely farm, Mr. Picker, but not very many trees have been producing apples, have they?” she asked, turning back to him.

Suddenly his eyes fell to the floor and his ears sagged, the younger stallion looking toward his father with the same expression.

“The drought this year has been killing our business, miss. We’ve hardly had any good produce for months. My family and I have been praying that maybe the weather pegasi over in the capital were looking hard for another large enough water reserve for rain to come to these parts. It pains me to see my wife and my son here barely get by with what little food we’re allowed to keep. This season’s been hard on us…”

Moonbeam nodded understandingly, a sympathetic expression still adorned on her face. I’ll give it to her, she knows how to sell a performance. She at least had the two of them and even my other guards convinced.

Now it was the younger stallion’s turn to speak up.

“I still don’t see why you couldn’t make an exception though. I’m going to be moving out of here in less than a year, and my mother has always wanted me to have a brother or a sister.”

“The mayor told us about that. However I’m not the one who wrote the law, I’m afraid, and we can’t make exceptions, especially with this season.”

“Why not?”

“Most of the farms haven’t been bringing in much produce, and we’re worried we’ll have to cut back to start rationing again for the winter. Ask your father. According to our records he wasn’t able to meet the quota for the season.”

The younger stallion turned to his father.

“She’s… she’s right. We’re well short of the amount we normally are able to harvest due to the drought.”

“But dad-

“That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with you, son,” he said, looking back up to Moonbeam, his expression was a bit more calm now. “If my boy is moving out, and the law says there can only be one foal per household, then I don’t see why we can’t-

“Mr. Picker, we can’t do that. It’s unfair to every other family in the Confederacy, as well as illegal. The country simply cannot afford risking our overall food supply, especially this season.”

“Ma’am, look… you have a kind heart, but I’m only just asking for a year, please. Think about your own foal, wouldn’t you have done something at least give it a chance?”

“Well…uh…” she started, but I stepped forward, holding a hoof in front of Moonbeam, stopping her from answering further. This is where I knew the song and dance would go horribly wrong, since wasn’t one of her most rehearsed parts of her story.

The time for negotiation was over.

“Mr. Picker,” I spoke up with authority. “Let me make this perfectly clear. You either let us come in and do our job, or we’ll have to arrest you.”

That was when his anger returned.

“How dare you! This is my home, and this is my wife and an unborn foal you’re talking about here! This is murder!” he shouted.

My two guards looked at me with a shocked, yet worried look in their eyes.

“I’m only going to say this once. Get out of our way. Now.”

“N-No!” stuttered Mr. Picker, who was going on the defensive now, his son standing there unsure what to do. Mr. Picker however was barely standing his ground.

This was when I forced my way into the front door and shoved the two of them aside with little resistance.

“Mrs. Picker!” I addressed into the house. “In the name of Her Majesty, Queen Luna, I order you to come out, NOW!”

I heard a shout from a room just off to the left, which seemed to be a kitchen. I glanced back at my two guards.

“With me,” I commanded.

Reluctantly the two of them followed, with Moonbeam standing at the front porch as we made our way into the kitchen.

I found Mrs. Picker sitting at a small table made for three, with plates full of half-eaten food set at each spot. She sat there looking up at me with fear in her eyes.

“You’re hereby ordered to submit to abortion, according to Article Two, Section One of the Queen’s Law. Resist and you will be arrested and tried for treason.”

“Please! Don’t do this! I’m begging you!” shouted Mr. Picker from behind me, but my two guards were blocking the way.

“Ensign.” I said, turning to the white unicorn.

“Sir?”

“Are you familiar with the procedure?”

“Y-yes but… I’ve never done it bef-”

“Good. You’ll be handling it.”

“S-sir?!” he asked, his pupil’s shrank down to a fraction of their normal size.

“Corporal, help me keep her still.” I said to the grey one, as I approached Mrs. Picker, who was slowly backing up toward her kitchen counter.

“N-no! Please! Not my baby!”

“Don’t move and you won’t be harmed,” I said, going up to her and holding her in place by the counter where she put up a bit of a struggle. I turned back toward the grey corporal, who simply stood there staring at me. “Hey! Get over here and help me Corporal, that’s an order!”

Reluctantly he came over and tried to hold Mrs. Picker still as she continued squirming, shouting, and crying.

“Please! For goddesses’ sake, stop this madness!” shouted Mr. Picker from the hallway. Moonbeam was standing next to him, as well as Mr. Picker’s son.

“Ashen?! What are you doing?!” shouted Moonbeam.

“My job. Ensign!” I shouted at the white stallion, who looked dumbstruck back at me. “What are you waiting for?”

He refused to move. Suddenly Mr. Picker shoved past him, and tried to pry me off.

“Get off of my wife!” he shouted.

He just made my day a lot harder.

I released Mrs. Picker and brought my elbow into the older stallion’s stomach, before bringing my hoof up to his jaw, sending him reeling back. He was about ready to throw a punch, before I pinned him to the wall, my foreleg pressing up against his throat.

“You’re lucky I’m feeling nice today or so help me I will have you thrown in prison for the rest of your life, Mr. Picker, then we’ll see how well you can support your family.” I said with a snarl, before glancing over my shoulder at the stunned white guard.

“Ensign!”

His eyes whipped up to me.

“Either do your job or I’ll have you thrown in prison instead.”

“Ashen!!” called Moonbeam, but I ignored her.

“Now or never, Ensign. I’m warning you.”

This finally got him moving, albeit shakily. He walked over toward Mrs. Picker. The other guard was barely holding her down, but he flashed a horrified, pleading look between me and the white stallion, wanting one of us to stop this insanity from unfolding.

“I’m so sorry, please forgive me,” said the white stallion pitifully, as his horn began to glow a bright blue. A moment later, Mrs. Picker’s stomach started to glow as well. She was screaming and begging for the stallion to stop, but it was all over in a matter of seconds. His horn stopped glowing, then he stumbled his way backwards, bumping into the table before he fell onto his haunches.

“I-…it’s…it’s done, sir…” said the white stallion in shock.

The grey guard released the mare, and leaned back against the counter, while Mrs. Picker rubbed at her belly, crying in denial at what had just transpired. At this point I released Mr. Picker, who slid down and sat against the wall in defeat. Moonbeam and the younger Picker stood in the hallway, the latter still carrying the same shocked expression as his parents and the recruits, with the former adorning no readable expression as she turned her back to me.

Mr. Picker’s son dragged himself over to his mother, along with his father, and held her in a tight embrace, even crying with her. Mrs. Picker was wailing a manner of unintelligible things amidst her sobbing, however one thing she started shouting was crystal clear.

“You monster! How could you?! You’re nothing but a heartless, soulless murderer!”

I hesitated for a moment, before I stepped up to Moonbeam.

Yeah. I know, Mrs. Picker, I thought to myself. I know.

“Job’s done. Let’s go.” I said to Moonbeam coldly before turning to my other two guards, who still wore their stunned, shocked expressions, unable to comprehend with what they just took part in. “You two! Let’s go!”

The two of them slowly looked up between me, eachother, and Mrs. Picker, before they got up, and tried to carry themselves out the front door. The white stallion stopped and looked at me in the eye. I saw the look dominantly of horror, but I also saw a flash of anger, just before he followed the grey one outside. Moonbeam followed suit.

Just as I was about to follow, something caught my eye just to my left, down the hallway. At the end, I saw a door cracked open, and I wasn’t entirely sure, but I thought I saw a crib in the dark room.

“Get out of my house you monster!” shouted Mr. Picker from behind me. The entire family’s eyes were in tears, and they cast angered looks my way as I stood there looking at them.

I turned away, and silently stepped out the front door.

The two guards were over to the side, quietly talking with one another, did their best to avoid eye contact with me as I glanced in their direction. Moonbeam was sitting down opposite the house, looking out past the fields and toward the light coming from the capital over the hilltops.

I approached her, and stood next to her.

She stared vacantly off in the distance, but her eyes weren’t filled with the same shock, sadness, or anger, unlike the guards and the Pickers had. Instead, she seemed distant and detached.

Silence hung over us for a moment. Eventually I spoke up.

“It’s a job Moonbeam. Somepony has to do it,” I stated flatly with a sigh.

“…That doesn’t mean I have to like it, Ashen,” she mumbled back.

“I don’t enjoy this job either. Just be happy that we didn’t have to arrest anyone this time.”

She glanced over at me.

“I’m amazed you just take it all in such stride, Lieutenant. What on earth makes somepony so cold and ruthless?”

I sighed and turned aside, incidentally in the direction of the other two guards, then frowned.

“By being loyal, Moonbeam. Be loyal long enough to Queen and country, eventually nothing can phase you anymore.”

Her eyes fell to the ground.

“I pity you, Ashen. What happened two years ago… I’m sorry it happened to you. I’m sorry it made you so heartless.” Her ears sagged at this point as another moment of silence passed, before I broke it.

“How many more do we have tonight?” I asked coldly.

“…Two.”

I sighed and stood up. “Let’s finish up then. Come on.”

Save your pity for somepony who deserves it, Moonbeam.


So after a spectacular crash into the building and an hour of mindless talking in, the Doc had me tell him about the assignment with Moonbeam the other night. The rest of it went without a hitch, and Moonbeam was fairly quiet, save for when she had to give one of her “speeches.” I’m still a bit ticked off that she won’t stay off my case.

I get enough of it from Doctor Archer.


My story finished about five minutes ago, and things were uncomfortably quiet, save for the rare sound of his quill scratching paper. He paused, then set his quill down and glanced up at me.

“You were angry with her for being concerned of your well being?”

“…Yes.” I said; my attention and any conviction in my voice were elsewhere, and I was slouched into the couch, glancing at one of the doctor’s paintings.

He sighed and rubbed his eyes after a pause.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing, Ashen. This isn’t the first time you told me about a fight you had with her. I think, however, you really should let her in. You could use somepony in your life who cares about you.”

“I’m better off alone, Doc,” I responded almost immediately without even looking at him.

The uncomfortable silence came back, before he turned his attention to his notes, where he spoke up without looking at me.

“What happened after that assignment?”

---***---

Music pounded through the dark night club, making everypony get up and move to it. The place was illuminated with lights generated from choreographed power crystals, creating a dazzling light show to go with the accompanying soundtrack. Most of the dance floor was populated with dozens and dozens of ponies, all enjoying the nightlife as the music possessed their bodies to move and refuses to let them stop, not that they didn’t seem to want to.

Loud, trance-like dance music played in a quick rhythm full of heavy beats; an engaging song produced by a musician sitting at the helm of various machines to produce his hypnotic sounds, his head banging to the addictive rhythm as well. All felt drawn to dance to it, except for one pony.

Myself.

I sat at one of the few tables that populate the place, drinking something heavy with alcohol that I don’t even remember, as I silently spectated the multitude of dancers. Everything was a multicolored blur of bright lights, with the music becoming slightly distorted.

The Dark Side of the Moon is the only club I frequent often, considering they can serve good drinks, play good music, and a lot of fine mares went there. Tonight I was here for more than just the drinks to put my mind at ease.

A tan colored pegasus was on my table, showing off her moves in rhythm to the music. I watched her while slouched back against the long sofa-like seat that curved around the corner of the wall I sat against. She flashed the occasional sultry smile at me, and I downed a bit more of my glass every now and again, while my hindhoof tapped the air in rhythm with the music as I enjoyed my personal show.

Several minutes went by, and I guess I was feeling generous that night. I pulled out my moneybag and threw down about five bits, which was quite a tip, especially considering I probably only had roughly thirty left. She smiled even more brightly, continuing on with her show, her wings also extending to add that little extra dazzle with the occasional flap of them, even brushing the feather tips against my muzzle every now and then.

I smirked at each teasing display, and before long it all started to go to my head, creating a deadly concoction when mixed with the alcohol in my system.

That mare was really pretty.

-----

I shoved the tan-colored mare back through the club’s side exit door and out into the alley as I invaded her with a barrage of kisses. Lust was driving me wild that night and I didn’t have a care in the world as I made out with her in that dark, dank alley. I pressed her back against the wall, and felt my body grinding against hers, her wings flailing about with excitement along with my own. I ran my forehooves along her slender frame, my tongue eagerly sought hers out to fulfill a mystery of what its’ delectable taste was. I could just smell her enticing scent, one that was mixed with a bit of sweat left over from her performance only a moment ago.

Eventually she switched places with me, my back now against the wall as I hugged her abdomen tightly and she kissed me back with such fervor. Eventually our lips parted, and our eyes met. I gazed deeply into those soft, brown eyes, and for a moment I thought I saw a need, but also pity. However I’m sure I just dismissed this as a side effect of the alcohol and thought nothing of it. I just pressed my lips back against hers, engaging in another tango of aggressive kisses.

I felt her forehoof run down my chest, as I continued to explore her body with my own forehooves, even brushing them against her soft wings a few times. The passion fueling the kiss continued to grow, as I ground my body against her own, which she returned in kind. Her hoof traveled along my chest, and then to my side as it ran along my coat.

At first I thought she was just exploring my body in return, causing me to drop my guard, and the inevitable intercourse would occur, but it was then I learned of her true intent, which ended up ruining my night.

In a few short seconds, we were exchanging saliva, then suddenly I doubled over after being kicked in the stomach, then got clocked upside the head. I was on my haunches by the alley wall, and I thought I saw her doing something to me and my coat with her mouth, before I watched her in my daze as she fled down the alleyway, disappearing into the night.

It only took me a few seconds to recover. I groaned with the difficulty of breathing, combined with the pain in my stomach as I stood up and sighed. As I began to brush myself off with a hoof, it stroked once over my pocket.

My coin bag was gone.

It took me a moment to register this. My foreleg fell back to the floor, and I rested my eyes shut for a moment, running the moment over again in my head.

I started laughing.

I just laughed and laughed and laughed, and anypony who saw me then would’ve thought I was going crazy. After the moment passed and my mad laughing died down, I glanced down the direction the mare fled.

If I took off after her just then, I probably would have caught her with no problem.

Instead, I simply smirked, turned around, and walked the other way.

---***---

The doctor was scribbling a few more things down. I was on my back on the sofa once more, staring aimlessly up at the ceiling.

“You didn’t track her down or contact any local authority?”

“No.”

“So…you let this mare mug you, and just get away with your money?”

“Yep.”

“Why?”

I shrugged, looking toward the couch. “Didn’t care I guess.”

“Or… perhaps you let her have it?”

I looked at him nonchalantly, which he returned it with a more inquisitive look. I just turned back to the ceiling. “Think what you want.”

“That’s quite touching Ashen,” he said with a brief smile. “Maybe you aren’t so hopeless after all.”

I ignored the comment.

“Do you have another question for me?” I asked, trying to change the topic.

The doctor then looked through his notes for a few moments.

“Hmm… well I do have one more before we end tonight’s session.”

“What?”

“Have you seen Greywing this week? I heard that our forces just returned from their latest expedition earlier this week.”

“…Why?”

“He’s your friend, isn’t he? Somepony you can talk to and relate with?”

“No. He was just my mentor. That’s it.”

“Right…right,” said the doctor as he wrote my response down. “So have you spoken with him?”

“…Yes. Saw him three nights ago. I just got off duty for the night after doing a bunch of stupid paperwork.” I turned the opposite end of the sofa from my head as my ears sagged a bit. “I didn’t sleep well that night.”

The doctor gave me a puzzled look with a raised eyebrow. “Did you have another one of your dreams again?” he asked.

I hesitated a moment, but then I nodded.

“Do you recall which?”

I considered long and hard whether or not to tell him, but if I didn’t say anything, I knew he’d bug me about it anyway. Not like he hasn’t heard about them before. Still, it wasn’t something I was fond of sharing.

“...the…one with the dark room, where I….” I trailed off.

He gave me a troubled look. He understood what I meant, and promptly began to write a few more notes down. “Is that why you went to see Greywing that night?” he asked.

“No. He found me actually. I was already on my fourth drink by the time he showed up. Good thing too.”

“Why good?”

“Well…”

---***---

Three days ago…

I slouched against the black tabletop of the bar, my head rested on my left foreleg while my right was aimlessly tilting around a brown bottle full of a fizzy liquid. The place was lit with a few neon red lights, save for one white floodlight that hung behind the bar. Some slow, instrumental guitar music was coming from a large music box in the corner of the room accompanied from some quiet chatter from others populating the bar.

This was one of my regular places, and closest to the Palace, so it was a very short flight. “That Place” is the name of it. Simple little bar, with a simple bartender, simple patrons, and simple, but good, drinks.

“Rough day, Ashen?” asked the brown unicorn bartender, as he levitated a glass and cleaned it with a rag.

“Something like that,” I mumbled, still playing with the bottle.

“Usually you’re not here unless you’re depressed.”

“…Yeah.” I simply said.

“Wanna talk about it? I’m a good listener y’know.”

“Thanks… but no thanks, Bar Keep.”

The large stallion shrugged. “Suit yourself then.”

I glanced up at him.

“Do other ponies come in here to share their life story often or something?” I asked.

“Sometimes. Most folks don’t come to my bar. When they do, they often come with some story or other. Rarely any of ‘em happy.”

“Oh.” I simply said, looking back to the bottle.

“You should go home, Ashen. You look like you haven’t eaten all day.”

“…Yeah,” I said vacantly, poking the bottle with my hoof again.

I was probably like that for a few moments before I heard a voice behind me.

“I thought I’d find you here, nightbreed.”

It was a familiar voice. It wasn’t a friendly voice either.

I glanced over my shoulder. Standing at the door was a bright grey unicorn stallion accompanied by a light green pegasus. It took me a moment to register who they were.

Damn it…

The green one started talking again. “We actually expected you over at the Break of Dawn tonight, I was hoping we could have a little ‘chat’ after our last ‘discussion.’”

“Buck off, Air Raid. I’m not in the mood for your crap right now.”

“Oh I’m sorry,” said the unicorn sarcastically. “Are we inconveniencing you? Well that’s too damn bad.”

“Javelin, Air Raid, you may be military, but you’re not trashing my bar tonight.” said Bar Keep as he spoke up. Everypony else in the room glanced up to see what the fuss was.

“Shut up ‘Keep, we have a score to settle with this mutant trash.”

I sat up and grumbled as the bartender stallion went silent.

“Why don’t you run along and do something more productive, Javelin? I’d hate to bust up that pretty face of yours again. Not to mention I don’t want to break one or two of your boyfriend’s wing bones before I send you both back to the Dragonlands as easy pickings.” I said, turning around back toward the bar.

Air Raid chuckled a bit, taking my snide remark in stride. “Oh I’m so gonna enjoy kicking your flank, nightbreed,” he said rather casually as he flared his wings and began to approach me, with Javelin right behind him.

I glanced over my shoulders as I saw him advance. Once he was close enough, I took the neck of my bottle with my teeth and smashed it against the corner of the table, spilling its’ contents, and swiped at the pegasus, narrowly missing him by a matter of inches as he backpedaled to avoid the attack.

I crouched low on all fours with my wings spread high, putting up an intimidating display.

“Well, well, Jav’, looks like he’s got a bit of fight in him.”

“Tell you what, I’ll hold him down, maybe you can start with breaking his wings.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Air Raid with a smirk, Javelin wearing the same expression as his counterpart.

The tension was mounting and it wouldn’t have been long before somepony snapped. Just as one of us was about to make a move…

“Enough!” shouted a voice from outside.

The two of them suddenly cringed a little, and glanced in the direction of the doorway as a grey figure stepped through.

Suddenly I recognized who it was, as did the other two, who they dropped what they were doing and saluted.

“Commander Greywing! Sir!” exclaimed Javelin.

Artemis Greywing stood tall over the other two, not in physical height but authority, his slate coat grey from years of experience. His silver eyes darted between the other two ponies and myself.

“Outside, you two,” he commanded. “Now.”

Air Raid opened his mouth to argue, but Javelin snapped at attention, saluting the older nightbreed. “Sir! Yes sir! Right away, sir!” he said, worry was almost easily audible in his tone, as he quickly pulled the pegasus out the entrance, while casting an angry scowl back at me as he left.

I dropped my guard another moment later, then spat out the bottle, letting it clatter and roll around on the ground, as Greywing turned back to me.

“Still getting into bar fights Lieutenant?”

I silently turned around in my seat and resumed my previous position, slouching once more against the tabletop, minus the bottle to distract myself. Greywing came up and took a seat next to me.

“It’s been a while, kiddo.” He tapped the bar. “Hey there Bar Keep. The usual, if you please?”

Bar Keep smiled and nodded. He used his magic to clean up some of the mess while he fixed up a glass of light ale, a drink I knew well that former commanding officer enjoyed. He set the glass down in front of the grey nightbreed, who picked up the glass with a hoof and took a sip.

“Mmm… and this is why this is my favorite place in Old Town. Good job, as always Bar Keep. You still know how to make a good drink.” He said, setting a few bits down on the table with a smile. Bar Keep then pushed the coins back to Greywing.

“On the house, my friend. Thanks for stopping those two, they always tend to give me trouble.” He said, glancing in my direction. “Among several others when the good Lieutenant’s visiting my bar.”

Greywing briefly glanced in my direction, before turning back to the unicorn. “Please keep it anyway, at least for the damage.”

Bar Keep shrugs, and levitates the coins into his pocket. “If you insist. Would you two like some privacy this time?”

“That’d be appreciated, Bar Keep,” said the older nightbreed.

“Very well then. Ashen, Artemis,” he said nodding to each of us as he said our names, before disappearing into the back room.

I silently sat there, my head rested against my crossed forelegs, and I was staring vacantly at the bottle rack behind the bar. The quiet mumbling from the other patrons plus the quiet twangs of the guitar from the nearby music box were the only sounds filling the room for a moment, until Greywing got my attention.

“So how have you been, Lieutenant?” There was an undercurrent of concern in his voice.

I wasn’t sure how to respond at first, before I sighed and shrugged, mumbling “The usual, I guess.”

“Still having trouble sleeping?”

“…Yep.”

“Guess that explains why you’re here tonight. Usually you’re at ‘That Place’ when something’s got you down.”

“Uh-huh….” I mumbled with mild sarcasm.

“How’s Maelstrom? I thought he might be here tonight. He’s usually here on Thursdays.”

“He died three weeks ago.”

“…Oh. Do you-”

“Dragons; South Watch.”

“I thought he was working the east border.”

“Transfer.” I said quickly.

“…I see. I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Why?” I asked, glancing up at him.

“I thought you two were friends.”

“We just had a few drinks every now and then, not much else.” I said, turning back to the wall in front of me.

“So you’re not mourning him?”

“No. Anypony else who’s on dragon defense duty knows the risks.”

“He didn’t request the transfer did he?”

“…No.”

“Then it’s a bit unfair to presume-

“No offense Artemis, but he’s in the Queen’s military. These kinds of things are expected of him. If he wasn’t prepared for it, then he shouldn’t have joined. Probably what got him killed in the first place.”

“That’s rather heartless,” he commented.

“That’s life,” I responded.

“…I see,” he said sullenly. “Well, here’s to Maelstrom then.” He took a rather large swig of his drink, before setting the half-empty glass back down.

Things got quiet between us again for another moment, as Greywing looked into his glass, searching for his next words.

“Have you been seeing any other ponies from our old squad?”

“No, besides Sharp Shot and Wraith for a couple drinks. Thought I saw Gale last week over at the Dark Side of the Moon, but I didn’t talk to him.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t been talking to Jetstorm or Nightfire. Those two look up to you, Ashen.”

“I haven’t been really interested in getting in touch with anypony, to be honest.”

“You should, Lieutenant. What happened at North Hayford was two years ago, you should really get out and see the world again.”

“With all due respect, sir, I get that enough from my psychiatrist, and I’m not interested.”

Greywing sighed. “Figured you’d say that….”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked as I glared up at him.

“Nothing. Just means I’m concerned about you, kid.”

“You’re not my father, Greywing, so I’d appreciate it if you’d stop trying to act like it.”

“I’m sorry, but somepony needs to look after you. You clearly aren’t taking care of yourself.”

I sighed and glanced to my left, staring blankly at the music box, namely to avoid eye contact if anything else. “Well, I’d rather you didn’t. I can look after myself,” I mumbled.

“You’re hardly even doing that Ashen, since you keep drinking yourself to death every other night.” I knew where this was going, and I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture, especially from Greywing.

“How was the recent expedition?” I asked evasively. It took him a few seconds as he gave me a look, but thankfully he took the hint.

“Not so good.” He turned toward the wall behind the bar. “I lost a couple stallions to a manticore after we crossed the fifth marker.”

“That’s fairly early in.” I commented.

“Yes, well, we were looking to try heading southeast once we got to there; too many dragons to the east of that region, so we decided to try elsewhere. Thought we found something after a kilometer or so away from the marker, but unfortunately it was a manticore nesting ground.”

I sighed and shook my head. “Ever wonder if these expeditions get pointless after a while?”

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it. We’ve had these expeditions for the better part of thirty years. We’ve traveled miles through the territory and we still have yet to find any fertile land out there. Even if we do, there’s too many wild creatures for any new farms.”

“Ashen, you know these are necessary.”

I grumbled at that and pressed a hoof to my forehead. “No, they’re not. We’ve been at it for so long just because we’re desperate; we’ve spent more resources than we’ve found, especially lives. The only good the expeditions are for is making sure we don’t overpopulate and starve the country.”

He glanced my way, a shocked expression on his face.

“You don’t really believe that.”

“If it weren’t for the expeditions and South Watch, sir, then the population laws would be far more strict, you know that. It’s been up for serious discussion for the past year that we might have to write a new law to cut back food shipments to the twenty-six territories and we may have to resort to only one foal per family, maybe even a max population for each territory.”

Greywing continued to stare at me for a few moments, then shook his head.

“Never imagined you’d become this cynical, Ashen.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who started the expeditions, and I’m certainly not the one who wrote the laws, I just enforce them.”

“And you’re okay with killing unborn foals? Sending good stallions to their deaths out there in the Dragonlands? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I didn’t say that. I just said I enforce the laws. That’s my job as well as yours. If the Queen and council say to ‘jump,’ we ask ‘how high?’ Have you forgotten what it means to be a nightbreed?”

He released a defeated sigh and turned to his drink. After a pause,

“I remember roughly four years ago, I met a colt who wanted to be the first to find new fertile land on the expeditions. A volunteer. Nopony volunteers for the expeditions, or even the South Watch, Ashen. I loved him like he were my own son, and he had such fire in him. One of the most ambitious and kind ponies I’ve ever met.”

I glanced in his direction.

“What happened to him?” he asked sullenly.

My glance fell to the table, then eventually I turned away from him, my head resting on my crossed forelegs.

“He was too young. Naïve, delusional, and stupid, thinking that anything he did made a difference in this country,” I muttered, with a sigh. “He’s dead, Greywing. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can stop living in denial.”

We sat there in silence for a few moments. I heard the sound of tinkling ice against glass as he downed the rest of his liquor and set the glass down.

“I have to report to the Law & Order Department about our latest expedition. Maybe once I finish, why don’t you and I share a few more drinks? My treat.” He offered a smile with the sincere request.

I’ve seen that smile before. He always gave ponies that kind old smile, where it was meant to lift spirits, and let others know that they had a father-figure who would do anything to help them. It was also the same smile where he was hoping I would accept his request, and be friends just like “old times”, as if nothing’s changed.

That’s not the case anymore.

“I’ve got work tomorrow, Greywing.” I slumped out of the chair and back onto my hooves. “Maybe another time.”

His smile faded just as quickly as it came, and his ears drooped. Just as I was about to step out of the doorway, he spoke up again.

“Ashen.”

I stopped for a moment, leaning my side against the doorframe. After a pause I glanced back over at him over my shoulder.

“You need to stop throwing your life away, and you need to forgive yourself. What happened two years ago wasn’t your fault.”

“You weren’t there, Greywing.”

“…No. No I wasn’t….” He paused, looking to the side briefly. “I’m an old stallion Ashen, and I’ve seen many horrible things, and I’ve had to do things I’m not proud of. I can’t even imagine what you’ve been going through.”

He looked back up at me.

“But I can’t just watch you let your guilt tear you apart Ashen.”

I wanted to say something. Something that might shut him up and never make him speak of this, or to me, again. Maybe just give him some depressing line about how hopeless I am, or how late his advice is. There were probably a number of things I wanted to tell him.

A very small part of me, however, wanted me to tell him that I really did appreciate how much he cared, but that was something I could never tell him. I didn’t deserve his kindness, his concern, or any of that. Not after what I had done.

Without another word, I stepped out of the bar, and for a moment, I thought I heard him call out my name again.

I turned right, and started walking down the street with no destination, wanting to go wherever this road would take me as long as I didn’t have to look Greywing in the eye again. This would’ve dragged on until dawn, perhaps even wandering into another bar before I went home, but instead, I took a passing glance down an alleyway moments after I had left the bar. What I saw made me stop walking.

I saw a young unicorn mare with a pair of saddlebags and two ragged-looking stallions beating her senseless down a darkened alleyway, where a dim red light of the street just barely illuminated the crime in progress.

I just stood there and stared. Watched. I didn’t raise a hoof to help, I didn’t call for the local authorities, I didn’t shout at the crooks to make them give up and leave, I didn’t run over to beat the criminals within an inch of their lives to teach them a lesson; I didn’t do a single thing, just watched in silence, and reminisced on what Greywing was discussing with me only moments before.

If this scene were two years ago, I would’ve rushed in without hesitation to save the day, just like I had countless times before. I would have sent the two muggers running home making them regret the day they started stealing, and would’ve escorted the young mare to the hospital, wish her well, and be off, like some kind of superhero that mattered to somepony. I was so naïve then, thinking any and all of the little things I could do to help ponies would be for the good of the country, when all I was really was doing was stopping one crime when five more would take their place; delaying the inevitable. It all became so pointless after a time, trying to save one pony after another when it just didn’t make a single difference. The muggers would’ve done it a day afterward, and the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that. The mare would’ve been mugged by somepony else, maybe she could’ve been another criminal herself, what with that stuff in her bags. A number of things could’ve happened, and have happened.

This was merely a small reminder of the desperate times our country lives in now. Starving, poor, nowhere to go, nopony to turn to, and we just tear ourselves apart more and more with each passing day.

We have no future.

We have no remorse for the horrible things all of us do to survive.

We have no hope.

Worse still, I learned far too late there’s nothing I can do to change it, and that it’d be a waste of time trying.

So too would any effort I make to save the mare in distress.

The two muggers eventually noticed me watching, and were about to stop and run, or fight, whatever they would need to do to survive. I only needed one look into their eyes and their bodies to realize that they’re just two more desperate souls, but also souls that have gone too far doing what they have done for me to be able to change it.

Only way I could stop them would be to end their misery.

However, I wasn’t in the mood for bloodshed that night.

I hung my head, and walked away , just as I heard the beating recommence.

We truly live in a hopeless world.

I was just ahead of the curve.

---***---

Doctor Archer stared at me as I finished my story of the night in question. I was on my back, forelegs wrapped behind my head. I acted relaxed and casual, but it was merely a mask to the ache that was in my heart. I avoided eye contact throughout the whole story, but I could just feel that look of disapproval staring daggers at me as he rapped on his desk with a hoof, and it was starting to get uncomfortable.

“So…,” started the doctor, much to my relief, since I couldn’t stand another second of that awkward silence. “I think that should wrap up tonight’s session.”

This caught me off guard. I turned to him and sat up.

“Already? Aren’t you going to say something?”

The doctor was merely keeping an apathetic expression as he stopped the recorder, and began filing away his notes. “No. We’re done for tonight Ashen,” he said, eerily calm.

“You usually say something about things like this.”

“There’s nothing I have to say, Ashen. Why, do you have something you want to tell me?” he said, stopping all actions to look me dead in the eye.

I sat there on the sofa, looking into his eyes, searching for what his intent was. The doctor was always persistent. He always tried to pry for any emotions that I would always tell him that don’t exist, he would try to fish for deeper understandings of why I’ve done what I’ve done. I was expecting him to ask me why I just left, or what I did afterwards, what I thought when I left, maybe how much I was drinking, what I was drinking, or if I said anything else to Greywing; I expected any number of questions.

Not a single one came, and it started to bother me.

“Are you just giving up or something? Did you finally accept that I’m beyond all hope of help so you’re just going to pack up and leave early? You don’t have any other questions for me about my week or anything like that?!” I said as my voice was gradually rising. “Do you not give a damn anymore about me letting another mare get mugged or me nearly getting into another fight? What about how I handled things with the Picker family? What about some sort of advice to try toning down my drinking or find something productive to do with my life?”

I stopped myself from saying anything further, because I just realized I was shouting at him.

However, he appeared unfazed as he watched me, expressionless. We stared at one another for the longest moment, and the silence was getting to me again.

“Say something!” I shouted.

“Why do you want me to say anything at all? I thought you wanted to get out of here as quickly as possible.”

“I…did,” I said, haltingly.

“So what’s the problem, Ashen?” he asked, his relaxed tone still present, as he set some paperwork down and approached me, settling onto his haunches in front of me.

The question caught me off guard. At first I wasn’t sure how to respond, but then I figured he was looking for an answer, like me wanting to talk more, or not wanting to leave, something crafty like that. I just turned to the side and tried to come up with a sound excuse.

“I thought we were going to be an hour is all.” I said with somewhat of an attempt to sound convincing.

“Ashen, we’ve been here for almost two hours,” he calmly explained.

Something sank inside my stomach, as I glanced to the nearby clock. The time showed that it was almost three. I slowly turned back to him.

“So, I think we got enough done for today, and I’d like to go home and see how my wife and son are doing. Unless you have anything you’d like to say, you’re welcome to leave now if you’d like.”

How could I have lost track of the time like that? I was sure that it hadn’t even been an hour yet since I got here. Was it the headache from my hangover and last night’s rumble, or did I just spend too much time talking and less time thinking about how much time had gone by?

More importantly, why did I even care? I was able to leave now, and get away from the doctor, and get back to…

What was I even going to do for the rest of the night? Where was I going to go? Drink some more? Get into another fight? Visit the club and get mugged again? Go home and dwell for a few hours until I go to sleep?

I was starting to wonder if I even wanted to leave, which became a real consideration had I not remembered that I was trying not to care.

No, I didn’t care. Period.

Whatever.

So why was I still sitting there?

Archer was still waiting on me to do or say something while I was mulling this over in my head in a matter of seconds. I shook my head and came back to earth, then got up.

“Fine. I don’t have anything else to report this week anyway.” I approached the door, just as I lifted a hoof up to open it,

“Ashen.”

I glanced over my shoulder to look back at him, and he was… smiling? “I’m proud of you. You’re showing some real progress today.”

What’s that supposed to mean? I thought.

“For the first time in months, if not years, I finally got to see a bit of the real you under that thick armor you’ve built up around yourself. I saw a good pony in there Ashen, you’re just refusing to let him out. The fact you wanted to talk some more, something you never usually do, is a sign of the you that wants to talk, to share your pain, and that you wanted somepony to listen.”

That son of a-... he was only pretending to leave to see how I would react!

I reeled around and faced him, now burning with anger.

“Oh shut up Doc, you don’t know a damn thing about me, so don’t act like you do!” I shouted.

“I do know for a fact Ashen that you came here tonight, and I know just a moment ago you weren’t ready to leave. You showed up late, but you still showed up, and then when we normally spend about forty-five minutes to an hour, you decided to talk with me for a couple hours. That’s the part of you that needs a friend, or at least someone to listen to you Ashen. You can’t deny that.”

“I don’t need any damn friends! I don’t need you, or anypony else, and I especially don’t need another one of your lectures!” I shouted with a stomp of my hoof.

“Then leave, Ashen. The door’s right behind you,” he said, gesturing with a hoof. “If you really feel like that I’m wrong and that this is a waste of time, that you don’t need somepony to talk to, then go ahead and leave. There’s nothing holding you here.”

I really didn’t want to admit it, but he actually had a point, much as I didn’t appreciate it. Instead of just turning around to leave, as simple as it is, I remained rooted to the spot. I bit my lip and turned aside, grumbling, releasing a groan.

“This is what I’m talking about. You think you’re so alone and hopeless Ashen, but I see a pony that is carrying so much remorse, regret, pain, frustration, loneliness, and anger, and that he needs someone to confide in, yet denies that he needs it. Here you are, not ready to leave, and even going out of your way to accuse me of giving up and ask why I didn’t ask any more questions or offer more advice. You were worried that I didn’t care anymore; that I didn’t want to listen and be somepony you could trust and talk to. It’s high time you opened your eyes and accepted that.”

I just wanted to shout at him, get angry with him and start breaking his stuff, maybe even hurt him just to shut him up; I wanted nothing more than to deny it, and spit back in his face how wrong he was. However, the problem was he was so right. He was so right, and it hurt so much that he was.

I didn’t want to be in that office anymore.

“Think whatever you want, Doc,” I said as dismissively as I could, and turned back to the door to push it open. “But I have a duty to perform for Queen and Country, and I can’t afford to think about friends or my own well being. I’m a soldier, one that needs to put their own thoughts and emotions aside to get things done, and that’s what I have to be to do my job.”

“You may be a soldier Lieutenant, but you’re still a pony; a pony that can bleed, suffer, and feel pain. Trying to carry that pain with you wherever you go is something that does not help this country nor the Queen. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can go back to the field,” he said with finality, he turned back to his desk to finish cleaning up.

I scowled one last time at him, and decided that I didn’t want to waste time trying to get the last say or prove a point. So without another word, I just walked out of the building, and took to the sky.


We finished the night with my night I talked with Greywing (which wasn’t a very pleasant story to begin with), he gave me some crap tidbit, which put me in a bad mood, and I pretty much went straight home. I was tempted to swing by Dark Side of the Moon again to try and shake the thoughts off, but I guess I just decided to come home and write to vent a bit before I went to sleep.

I really wish the Doc didn’t make me write these stupid things as part of my therapy, but he insists that it helps if I’m angry or depressed or something, it gives me an outlet to let off some steam. It’s a bit more tedious than the (ineffective) medicine he gave me, but it’s worked. Somewhat.

After today’s session though, I’ve kinda grown to hate the idea even more of making friends who tell me how to run my life. I don’t have the time for pointless pursuits like that. I have a duty to the Queen, not to make friends and make myself a better pony. Doctor Archer needs to get that through his thick skull, and clear me for field duty. The sooner the better, so I can finally stop writing these stupid journals, attending his sessions, and finally stop doing mediocre peon work up at the capital.

I’m hoping tomorrow will have some excitement, for once.

I guess that’s that for this journal. Let’s hope I can catch at least an extra hour on top of the usual four to five tonight.


June 9th, 1011 P.E.

11:32 PM

First assignment of the new week, and unfortunately, it was a mediocre one. I was assigned to check on our shielding on the eastern border at Outpost Andromeda, along with some unicorn guy who was apparently newly certified with CrystalTech. I was mainly his escort, and seeing as I had a certification myself, I was to assist any and all repairs or tweaks if any needed done; make sure they went off without a hitch. I also had other work to do over there regarding transfers. That coupled with my certification ended up being the main reason I was given this tedious task. They gave me his name before we left, but I forgot about it. Didn’t really care about escort jobs anyway, especially when it came to maintenance.

The two of us walked through the underground halls of the citadel, looking for a certain room.

“So… are you sure it doesn’t hurt?” asked the rather timid brown unicorn, who seemed barely past his foal years. “I’ve never used Teleports before.”

“No, for the last time, it doesn’t hurt. It’s just disorienting, and can make first-time users nauseous but that’s it. Although there has been one case of a couple ponies that came out with their fur singed,” I joked.

He gulped, and I chuckled briefly at that. At least that made things slightly amusing.

The crystal-lit hallways illuminated the path to our destination, and eventually we found ourselves at the end of it where there was a large wooden door. I knocked thrice, and a slide on the middle of the door opened, revealing bright green eyes of a bright blue unicorn.

“Yes? Oh. You must be the ones they told us to get the teleport ready for,” said the rather disappointed unicorn.

“Is it ready?” I asked.

“Yes, yes, it’s all prepared, despite the short notice and all the work it takes to prepare a Gate for transmission.” He glanced at the brown stallion next to me. “Oh, lovely. Double transmission. Just what I needed,” he finished with a groan.

“Yeah yeah, look, can you hurry up and open the door? We needed to be at Outpost Andromeda ten minutes ago.”

“Yes, yes, one moment,” he said impatiently, shutting the small slide before the sound of various locks started coming undone could be heard. I rolled my eyes after a few seconds passed, and finally the door opened, the unicorn clad in a white lab coat and black mane waved us in.

“Well come along then,” he said impatiently. “If you’re in a hurry then hurry up and get in here!”

I sighed and walked in, my companion following just behind me. “Nice to see you too Doctor Sprocket,” I commented sarcastically as I passed him.

We were now in a massive laboratory. All over the place were dozens of tables, most of them having crystals of many sizes, shapes, and colors, some haplessly thrown around the room, others rigged to various machines and even some chemical contraptions. There were many different devices and machines that did things that were even beyond my own comprehension, like I’m sure one of them was a water purifier and something else had to do with growing potatoes (which I assumed after seeing a potato at one of the tables that was hooked up to a machine embedded with crystals. What it actually does is anypony’s guess). This was the central laboratory where crystal research is done, Doctor Sprocket being the head of the department.

At the end of the room, there was a very large machine that hung from the ceiling. Two computer consoles were positioned in front of the machine on the ground, that had a number of buttons, screens, levers, microphones and other gizmos. The entire machine was wired up to various crystals that lay scattered around the room, some hung, others settled on desks, and there was even one laying near to the machine on the floor.

A small staircase led up to a flat metal, circular pad. Above it were mountains of cables connected to a massive machine in the shape of a 4-ringed beehive. Suspended around this machine were three very large green crystals held in the air by retractable claws, each roughly the same size of an average pony, and were producing a deep humming noise indicating they were already warmed up.

There was a green pegasus mare with a teal mane and blue eyes off to my right working on some kind of experiment with half-moon glasses resting on her nose, also clad in a white coat, who was she watching my escort and I enter the room.

“I don’t suppose the council got my request for an actual unicorn assistant have they?” started the irritable Sprocket as he went over to the left console of the Gate. “Because, as absolutely gorgeous as this pretty girl is, I swear by the moon and the stars I’ve never met a bigger featherbrain so inept with CrystalTech in all my life.”

The assistant frowned and looked at the ground, her wings sagging a little.

“I swear, they just piss on my department without even having the courtesy of calling it rain. I ask them for more crystal experts, they send me pegasi instead. Nopony takes my work seriously and they have me working on some stupid new appliances for the masses instead of letting me get some actual useful research done! Do they think I run a damn Gate Station down here or something?”

Sprocket kept ranting as he started working the machine on the left console. This was one of the multitude of reasons why I never liked him. If he weren’t so important to current CrystalTech research, he would’ve been fired years ago.

“Alright featherbrain, get on that other console,” Sprocket barked.

“Yes doctor…” she meekly replied, then walked over to the right console.

“I swear, stupid bureaucrats can shove it up their flanks next time they decide to send me another pegasus,” he muttered.

“Come on,” I said to the brown unicorn while I walked up to the metal pad on the floor, and turned to face the two doctors. He reluctantly followed, and stood next to me.

“Power levels?” asked Sprocket.

“We’re in the green,” the assistant responded.

Sprocket pressed a button, and re-adjusted an extended microphone. “Outpost Andromeda, Outpost Andromeda, you read me?”

Scratchy noises came from the speaker on the doctor’s console. He turned a couple knobs, before a clear voice rang through. “Outpost Andromeda here, do you read us Green Station One?”

“Loud and clear. You ready for a double transmission over there?”

“We’re green across the board, ready to receive.”

“Standby.” Sprocket flipped a switch, and began operating the console.

“Now I’m sure I don’t have to tell you both to hold completely still, otherwise I’ll be sending you over there in a multitude of bloody pieces. Oh, and don’t try to touch the crystal field, it’ll rip you to shreds,” explained the doctor. I rolled my eyes, already having heard this before, but my escort seemed to shudder a little as his pupils shrank, even gulping too.

First timers. What a pain, I thought to myself as I shook my head and sighed.

“Send us,” I said to the doctor. He didn’t seem to acknowledge what I said, just started operating the consoles. The two started communicating with each other, Sprocket taking her through the process step by step and using a lot of big words that I didn’t catch, nor care to listen to. Before long, the whole room was starting to light up with a green glow. Magical energy could be felt flowing through the room, especially as the three crystals suspended above our heads began to lower to our level. They stopped a few inches short of the floor, and slowly began spinning around us. Cracks of lightning could be seen sparking from the crystals, and the humming as well as some other whirring and mild buzzing could be heard growing louder and louder. As each second passed, the crystals spinning faster and faster until they became a bright green blur, and the noises were nearly deafening to the point I couldn’t even hear the scientists anymore. A magical bubble began to form around us, going down to the pad, and above our heads. I could also hear the brown unicorn shouting at me over the noise, probably asking whether or not this is normal or if it’s safe again, but I just ignored him.

Within merely a minute, a bright flash of light blinded the two of us along with a thunderous pop, and suddenly we weren’t in the lab anymore.

Slowly, an orange unicorn stallion came into view clad in Her Majesty’s colors; black armor subtle hint of blue in the metal curved in many articulate ways around the soldier’s body in an elegant design, with a crest of the moon adorned on the front and constellations scattered along the back. Neat by design, but absolutely uncomfortable.

“Welcome to Outpost Andromeda,” said the soldier, accompanied by a salute. “Are you Lieutenant Nightwing?”

“Yes, at ease.” I saluted back, waiting for the crystals, which were still spinning, to slow until they eventually came to the stop, and raised back up to the machine; identical to the lab we were in only a moment ago. The crystals locked themselves in place, and the machine powered down as some smoke vented from the top.

I was only disoriented for a moment, and regained my bearings within seconds to look around the large room made of a dark stone. To my left, there were wooden stairs that led up to the second and third floors of the tower, which had the barracks and lookout tower, respectively. Across from us, behind the soldier, was a large wooden door on the right side, and adjacent of it in the corner of the room was another massive machine that had many wires that ran all around the room. It also contained a large glowing blue crystal embedded inside of it giving off a moderate glow, assisting the five or six torches that barely illuminated the place.

Just as the orange stallion was about to speak again, my escort bolted out the front door, smashing it wide open, more than likely to lose whatever lunch he might have had before the trip. The soldier and I watched him go, then released a mild chuckle.

“That must be the CrystalTech specialist we were expecting,” he started. “You’d think they teleport on a daily basis.”

“You’d think that,” I commented. “His first time, apparently.”

“Heh, no wonder he looked so green when you arrived.”

“Anyway,” I said, turning back to him and refocusing my attention as I stepped down off the pad. “We’ll be here for at least a few hours. By then the Gate should be recharged and we’ll be on our way.”

“Yes, sir. Do you want to check the fence first?”

“Yeah. Let’s go collect the maintenance guy while we’re at it.” I walked toward the large door, the soldier following in close behind.

“Um, Corporal Sparks, by the way sir, and I just wanna say it’s a pleasure to mee-“

“Have you had any fluctuations or faults with the barrier?” I interrupted.

“Er, no sir.”

“Any creature attacks?”

“No sir…well, actually, there was a cyclops…”

I stepped through the door, and I was outside the black towering building that was Outpost Andromeda. Illuminating the front entrance and a small stairway just in front of it were two bright blue crystals extended from rods inserted into the building’s dark metal walls. At either side of the building was the real spectacle, as well as half the reason my escort and I were here.

Extending across either side of the building was a transparent, but thick energized blue barrier. They were, in a very real sense, walls made out of strong magical energy, about as high as a four-story building. Each section of the high wall was interconnected by tall rods with crystals adorned at the top, and there was one for every hundred yards all the way to the outposts that were north and south here, extending the barrier to wrap all the way around the country’s borders.

My job along with my companion, was to perform routine maintenance on the generator that powered that massive energy field (the large machine with the big blue crystal). This was one of my more mundane jobs, but at least it got me away from office work back at the capital.

Speaking of which, I found the squeamish stallion come around from behind the small stairwell as Sparks and I descended it.

“S-sorry sir… I just… urp.” The now-green-brown maintenance stallion brought a hoof to his mouth, trying to prevent from throwing up again. Once he managed to regain his composure, he wiped his muzzle off with his foreleg and cleared his throat. “Ready for duty, sir,” he meekly stated.

The stallion even finished with a salute, which I just rolled my eyes and turned my attention back to the barrier.

“Did that cyclops do any damage to the emitter rods or the outpost building?” I asked, turning to the soldier who was eye-ing the wall along with me.

“No, sir. It just seemed to be a little curious about the wall, and tried to approach, but got zapped and ran away.”

“It didn’t cause a major drain to the generator crystal did it?” I said, turning to him.

“Uh, no sir. No major power drains. It only shocked it for a moment and went on it’s way. It was just a slight fluctuation, nothing worth mentioning really.”

I looked at the ground and found a pebble at my hooves, which I kicked up with a hind leg and whacked it with my tail toward the area above the fence. The nearest emitter rod suddenly extended a green crystal out from the top, and a green blast of energy shot up and shot the pebble out of the air.

“Looks like the anti-air countermeasures are working alright,” I commented. The brown stallion finally came over to join us as he witnessed the brief test I performed.

“Wow… they really are as accurate as they told us in training,” he said.

I glanced at him and raised an eyebrow. “Is this your first time seeing the fence?”

“Uh, ‘fence,’ sir?” he asked.

“It’s a nickname the border watch ponies gave it a few years ago. Been calling it that ever since. Anyway, you didn’t answer my question.”

“Oh, sorry sir. Yes, I’ve been trained about the generator system and the emitter rods, but this is the first time I’ve worked with the barrier itself. It’s really stunning to see it first-hoof.”

“Well we’re not here to sight-see, we’re here to check the magical energy levels in case the crystal needs replaced, make any fixes if necessary, and report back to the capital. Understand?”

“Uh, yes sir. Sorry, sir,” he said, still standing there, looking apologetically at the floor.

The soldier and I were staring at him for a moment, and he looks back up at us in confusion.

“What?” he asked, unsure what to do.

“That means now, kid.” I said, and gestured with my head toward the building.

“Oh! Right! Sorry!” he exclaimed nervously, before going into a sprint back into the building, leaving the door open ajar behind him.

I sighed and turned back to the barrier. “Bucking civilians. I hate babysitting.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you here, sir? Couldn’t they have just sent the specialist?” asked Sparks who stood next to me.

“I’m here to assist with repairs if necessary, but I needed to check on you and the other ponies stationed here, make sure you’re all doing your jobs right, or seen anything strange lately, etcetera.” I said shaking my head, and then I remembered something else. “Oh wait, you said your name was Sparks, right?”

“Yes sir, why?”

I reached into one of my front coat pockets with my teeth, and produced a piece of paper, which I laid out on the ground and unfolded with a hoof. “I have a transfer order for you.”

He looked at me as if he got slapped across the face, and nervously asked. “Where to…?”

“You’re to report to Commander Greywing for the next expedition into the Dragonlands.”

His pupils seemed to shrink a little.

“When is-” he started, but I cut him off.

“You’re to come back with us through the Gate when we leave for your assignment. They’re leaving in three days, and they need you trained and briefed yesterday,” I nonchalantly explained.

“I…I see…I’ll need to tell the Captain….” His head hung and he looked at the floor, as if I told him his father just died.

“Where is he?”

“He’s up in the tower, we’re both on night watch detail,” he dismally responded.

“Just the two of you?”

“No, my friend Private Storm Cloud is flying along the perimeter somewhere south of here.”

I began to walk back toward the large building, him barely following alongside as we continued the conversation.

“And there are two other ponies stationed here for daytime duties, correct?”

“Yes, sir… they’re asleep right now.”

I pulled open the front door and stepped inside, where I saw the brown stallion already hard at work checking readings and running tests on the crystal inside the large machine. Sparks shut the door behind us as we entered, then I called over to the specialist.

“Hey, civilian, how’s the crystal looking? Good?” I asked, stopped part-way up to the stairs, with Sparks already climbing them ahead of me.

“Oh, uh, yes sir. There’s only been a small energy drain but nothing serious. This doesn’t need to be replaced for at least another year.”

“Alright. Finish your tests here then check on the emitter rods south of here, make sure they don’t need replacements.”

“You got it s-

Before he could finish his sentence, the wall behind him exploded.

Author's Note:

6/27/2013 - Chapter has been updated and polished! Hope you like the tweaks and improvements!