• Published 14th Jan 2016
  • 433 Views, 51 Comments

A Shadow of Resolve - Wing

After the battle in Manehattan, we bathed in the light. We soaked up the tranquility, believing that our jobs as Bolts were bound to get easier. But the shadows don't go away. They just wait until you're ready to play again. The night will last...

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A Game of Targets - Installment 35 - Interlude for a Rival

Regal, lumbering, and proud, King Bernard moved through the tunnels of the Macintosh Den with a swift speed that was uncommon for a dog of his size. His brown and white coat danced oddly with the crystal-backed lighting, and the pairing created an optical illusion that still managed to pull the attention of a few armored guards.

The forward-facing nature of his lime-kissed stare remained unwavering as his stride brought him ever closer to the large chamber that was his secure enclave. Bernard could already spot part of the group that had gathered around his gem-encrusted table. Self-satisfaction tugged at the corners of his lips as he watched his brethren. Leaning forward with anticipation plastered upon their masks, they waited for him. They yearned to hear his voice. They sought the full extent of his wisdom. When he had first arrived, the mutts had called him chief. Now, he made sure that they followed the example of those closest to him. Everyone called him king.

Sweet, alluring, and intoxicating, the saccharine scent of silent praise filled his nose. His pulse rushed to the elation that swelled from the sight of his innermost circle rising to greet him as he made his entrance. It was simply further evidence that he had been correct all along. If only Mother could understand. “Thank you for assembling on such short notice. We have urgent business that needs to be discussed.” His gaze slid beyond the council of diamond dogs to a tan unicorn seated adjacent to his spot. “Please seal the room, Wire, and I do mean completely.”

The stallion quickly nodded to acknowledge the command – though his ears had immediately swiveled back. “There’s something about the way you talk, Your Highness,” he uttered after his horn crackled with emerald-tinted magic, “that reminds me that I am no longer amongst my own kind.”

Bernard dropped into the velvet plush of his seat and sat stoically until the distrusting pull of Wire’s spell could be felt from all directions. The constructed shield blacked out the entrance, nullified the transmission of sound, and ensured their privacy. “I haven’t met a pony that speaks as I do… However, the coarse grit that drips from this stupid mutt’s form is quite useful for effect.”

Green licks whisked away the furry façade, leaving behind a shimmering seafoam carapace and the glossy black body of the changeling prince. “Our excursion into Las Pegasus indeed yielded interesting results,” Duel informed the entourage, “and validated Wire Wise’s worth to our cause. My mother has gotten involved with this Wing pegasus.

“The events that took place in Canterlot and Manehattan earlier this year threaten to shape our world, and we simply cannot allow that. My mother has chosen to rely on the misguided fiction of old in her search for success. She seeks more love by lowering our species to the whims of others. Love is meaningless if we have to continue to belittle ourselves to obtain it! It is meaningless if we sacrifice all other emotions for one given with an asterisk and a hoofnote.

“Just look at what we have done here! We have usurped a nation by breaking the mold. We garnered all of the food we needed by slaughtering those in our way. We have opened ourselves to the wonderful nourishment provided by admiration, worship, fear, and chaos. Now my mother aims to take it away despite being ignorant of our progress. Think about how she firmly held onto history without seeing the present or future, and that in doing so, our ability as a species to harvest Equestria was damaged to the point that further hindrances upon us became necessary.

“If she had done her job as queen correctly, she would have learned centuries before I was born that there is no need to adhere to a tainted legacy of nomadic raids – and that there is certainly no need to restrict ourselves to inefficient farming. Now threatened by our independence movement, she’s masking her defeat by turning to an equine to save her ass!

“However–” The elevated eagerness in his tone subsided into a tranquil tenor. “We know her game. There is uncertainty lingering in her hive, and it is exploitable. Her stability is dependent upon the success of her new partnership. At all costs, we must ensure that it fails.”

Wire Wise leaned over the table. His muzzle scrunched, and his brow sculpted a firmly cut scowl. “We need to get Ashen out of that university and away from those that have brainwashed her! If she’s freed from her confines, then the EHVM will be restored. And it can lend its full assistance in your own battle against ignorance.”

Duel pressed his peppered forelegs against the tabletop and snapped his head towards Wire. “I’m not concerned with Ashen at the moment. She’s a valuable asset to you. I understand that, but she is not a valuable asset to me.” He flicked his tongue to feast upon the undulation of the unicorn’s emotions. “Calm yourself. I am not trying to be snide. I’m simply warning that the obsession with Ashen will undermine our broader goals. She isn’t needed to build an empire. You’re the one who wasn’t caught, after all.”

Another flick of the tongue followed the obvious softening of the pony’s stance. The stallion had settled back into his chair and attempted to relieve his frustration with a slowly drawn sigh. “Then what do you think our course of action should be, King Duel?”

The changeling retracted one of his legs and propped up his muzzle. His grin widened as the seconds passed, and his gaze drifted to a half-lidded, defocused stare. “It sounds to me as though you are itching for a direct conflict, Wire. You have history with Ashen, and my mother’s newest ally has a history with you.

“However, a direct engagement does not benefit either of our objectives. Our population had to be persuaded to send members of the tribe outside the Denlands, and those removed from this circle who were involved in the extraction weren’t particularly thrilled to have been in a fight with a pony. I need them to be inspired should a direct conflict become necessary, and the fact that they are not prepared to make that commitment could push the finish line beyond our reach. A premature assault also runs the risk of bringing the full weight of the Equestrian royals upon us.

“It also–” Duel took the time to turn his head to briefly face each member of his council before setting his sightline back onto the unicorn. “–does not fit your data mining skill sets. Those are best put to use elsewhere, and in fact, I find your participation to be central to mutual success. While our invasion was a farce, the overwhelming majority of equinity remains in the dark on the subject. The stupid, little treaty my mother brokered with Captain Barrier limited our reach in Equestria, but it did manage to alleviate the fear felt by ponies.

“I ask you all to consider this notion. What do you think would happen if newspapers in every major city printed reports that Queen Chrysalis had broken the accord by leaving the Hivelands? What if you were one of those ponies reading? How would you react to the news that one of your recent heroes was suddenly thrown into the discourse? What if your hero was actively supporting the species that last invaded your capital?”

Murmurs serenaded Duel as he happily allowed his stillness to propagate – to motivate his loyal subjects into thoughtful action. “I’d be furious,” one of them finally sharpened a tongue against the slur of legato notes. “I’d demand answers. I’d object with everything I am.”

“Good, good,” the changeling leader replied after waving his hoof toward his blue-eyed compatriot. “Now, imagine the masses acting like that. Imagine them rising up in a single wave of sociopolitical disharmony. It is unlikely Celestia or Luna would risk an open war with us when it would rile every tribe in Equestria. In the perfect scenario, the princesses would be driven to speak out against my mother’s plan. Her position would be greatly weakened. Her station would be ruined, and we’d likely take that… windrat… down a peg or two.”

Duel’s tongue emerged from his muzzle for a less-than-subtle taste of Wire’s emotions, and the changeling’s smile broadened to the fruity flavor that begged to overwhelm his senses. “Mmm, I see you’ve put it all together. In case there is any lingering doubt as to why I’ve kept an intelligent unicorn in my council, let this discussion point put an end to it. My business here is concluded. Go use those talents of yours and infest the media. Destroy my mother’s credibility. Destroy that pony’s credibility. Make the other equines remember the fear of Chrysalis and forget the heroism you despise. Leave their plan as an ash stain upon our world. Then, we’ll go claim your prize.”

~Las Pegasus~

“Colonel…” A hushed whisper filled my ear as a band of sunlight crept beneath the curtains of Esamir’s hospital room. “It’s morning, Hun. You’ve been here all night. It’s time to go home.” I stared groggily into the blue eyes of the attending nurse, and for a moment, I had to remind myself that – for once – it was not Amora with whom I had to argue.

“Nurse Redheart,” I groaned, still trying to shake the horrors of being woken up after spending the night in a chair decidedly not meant for sleeping. “I’m not leaving until he’s up. We don’t leave our own behind. He was under my command at the time, and Barrier would have my ass if I didn’t live up to his standards now. The only way you’re getting me out of here is if an army drags me out.”

The mare flipped her pink bangs away from her eyes and scrunched her snow-colored muzzle. “I wasn’t trying to be combative, Wing. I just don’t want to end up with two patients when one’s exhaustion can easily be prevented.” She leaned a bit closer to me, and I observed her eyes wandering over my frame. “Mm, I guess you’re okay for now, but don’t push your luck.”

“You don’t have to worry about me. All I’m concerned about right now is making sure he wakes up.” You don’t always get to wake up after all. Sometimes you find yourself trudging through the nightmare alone, and waking up alone in the dark–

“Wing!” she snapped a far harsher whisper into my ear. I jolted in the chair, huffed as my feathers ruffled, and slowly released the breath that had practically pierced by lungs. “You were frowning, Hun, and your pupils dilated considerably.”

“Sorry, I was – lost in thought a bit.” The muscles in my muzzle still sagged, and my pulse had yet to subside from the rapid descent into gloomy memories or the induced startle that had followed. “I just need to be here, Red, but I’m sorry if it gets annoying.”

Redheart pressed a hoof to her muzzle and stifled a giggle. Her eyes squinted as her cheeks burned with joy, and quick, happy puffs escaped her nostrils. “I do look after the hurt for a living. There is nothing annoying or wrong with looking after somepony you care for.” She let her hoof fall and drew a calmer breath. “But… I read what you did, and I know what he did. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever understand the type of dedication it takes to sacrifice health and life, but I think I’d like to learn because I find something noble in those sacrifices made.

“If you don’t mind me sticking around, I’ll stay and keep you company while you wait. My shift is about to end, so it’s not a bother. It seems like the least I can do for my most cooperative patient – and my least cooperative non-patient.”

I shrugged and rolled my eyes at the extraneous statement before nestling back into the flattened cushions. The need to counter with a shameless witticism brewed within the confines of my distracted imagination until Esamir’s raspy voice derailed that train of thought. “Colonel… is the filly okay?”

Author's Note:

Hey everyone! As announced through my blog, I had taken quite the hiatus. That hiatus has ended, though there will be another blog in the coming days about the subject -- and how it impacts the ASoD universe. Thank you for your patience as always; I hope you enjoy.

Again, Esi belongs to the wonderful Sober. If you haven't, you should check out his stories, and I may or may not have included Redheart to push a story of his that is in the works. I totally did...

It's good to be back.

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