• Published 4th Jun 2017
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Ofolrodi - Imploding Colon



Rainbow Dash traverses the perils of the Dark Side of the world to reach the Midnight Armory.

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The Very Last Bastion

Panting.

Shivering.

Labored breaths in the dark.

A pair of fangs glinted beneath a quivering maw. Velvety fetlocks lifted a silver pendant made out of moonstone. "H'Luun..." A vaporous breath amidst the shadows. Squeaking. The crescent-shaped necklace glowed with meager brilliance, reflecting a pair of slitted blue eyes. "W'ynlppa sylm th'ysmmanym V'ynxxm, H'Luun." As the pendant glowed brightest, she stifled a sob and kissed it to her lips.

An authoritative voice shouted, producing a dull echo. "Vy'lyssa!"

Vy'lyssa jerked in place. With leafy ears folded, the mare looked across the rattling, swaying compartment.

Past several armored bodies huddled in a line, a figure marched to a stop. Leaning against a wooden bulkhead, she peered across the way. "Sy'mylwym syl thrym." She held up a leather bag chock-full of red-colored stones; they glowed faintly with each vaporous breath she made inside the claustrophobic chamber. "W'ynym thy'mym, Vy'lyssa?"

There was a dull, thunderous pounding from beyond the hull—followed by several more vibrations, each more dramatic than the last. The creaking compartment swayed as several of the ponies tightened their leather wings, murmuring one name over and over under their breaths.

"Vy'lyssa?" the officer repeated, stealing the mare's attention.

Swallowing a lump down her throat, Vy'lyssa swiftly hung the crescent pendant around her neck and nodded briskly. "Ywm..." She stood at attention. "Ywm, Wy'nnxx, W'ynlppa yln N'ymym!"

The officer's nostrils flared. "S'myssyn..." She tossed the satchel across the chamber.

Vy'lyssa caught it—then strapped it over her back and between her wings. She and her fellow warriors picked up metal rifles and proceeded to load them with enchanted stones.

"Y'symym yln H'Luun!" the officer Wy'nnxx shouted, pacing up and down the narrow space afforded between those standing at attention. Behind her, Vy'lyssa could see a dozen sweating ponies in the next compartment, busily breathing into a dim array of glowing stones attached to wooden gears and levers. "Hy'myn! Sy'lysn melyn thymym sym h'ylym thy'lydryll!"

One by one, the faces of warriors lit up as they breathed into the enchanted cartridges of their rifles. Emaciated, melancholic faces gazed miles past the narrow frames of their silver helmets.

"H'sylmna ly'dessa sym thrym!" Wy'nnxx growled, raising her voice above the surmounting thunder roaring just beyond the wooden shell that encased them. "Yss'ym thyln my'ssysn hy'mlyn'wym syln Lyn'drxx! Wy'ssyl Sy'kymylls'ym yln Thy'mma ny'ssa vylnym lym Lyn'drxx'lynna! My'syl thrym; sym'mym lyn T'chyrym'lynna myl Y'vrymym yln N'shydym!"

There was a particularly loud thud. Vy'lyssa gasped as the entire compartment shook. Her pendant rattled as she gripped her rifle tighter.

Without blinking, Wy'nnxx calmly pointed at the leather bag on Vy'lyssa's shoulders. "My'lynn sylm Vy'lyssa ry'nykk thrym... myln ly'rynna h'rum thy'lla lyn Sy'kymylls'ym yln Thy'mma mylm h'runna Lyn'drxx h'lymma!"

A mutual grunt rolled through the group. The warriors' fangs glinted in the runelight.

Wy'nnxx held her scarred hoof high and shouted: "Fy'lynna H'Luun!"

"Fy'lynna H'Luun!" the rest of the ponies shouted. Vy'lyssa contributed with a cracking voice.

Then she heard something that made her blood run cold. It was one of the laboring equines from the front, hollering through the groan of rattling wooden gears and pulleys: "Hym thym, Wy'nnxx, W'ynlppa yln N'ymym!" She trotted up to their compartment and raised a pair of goggles from her misty eyes. "Hym thym!"

A tense silence fell through the group.

Wy'nnxx took a calm breath. "Ywm." She nodded, murmuring under her fangs. "H'ymly H'Luun."

"H'ymly H'Luun," echoed the room. Vy'lyssa felt the weight of her pendant. It drew her slitted eyes down to the wooden floor beneath them. A narrow slit of billowing red light bled upwards through the darkness.

The pony with the goggles grasped a lever. With anxious eyes, she looked at Wy'nnxx and the group as a whole.

Wy'nnxx trotted over until she stood across from Vy'lyssa. She stared boldly into the darkness... then moved her muzzle to produce a melodic chant: "Thymm wynn symm, myl nym thrymm. H'Luun d'lyassa wyll nym drym."

Without hesitation, the rest of the warriors joined in perfect harmony—their fangs forming bleak stars in the runelight. "Thymm wynn symm, myl nym thrymm. H'Luun d'lyassa wyll nym drym."

More thunder. The compartment shook. Vy'lssa's teeth clattered as she struggled to maintain the chorus. The red slit of light wavered beneath them as smoke crept in on tiny tendrils, smelling of ash and rot.

Wy'nnxx's sang the lead, her voice booming and fearless: "Thymm ryss kymm, myl ryn fym..."

"W'ynlppa wyll nym drym!" the warriors bellowed, their leather wings spreading. Armored bodies tilting down.

Wy'nnxx steeled herself. "H'Luun'lynna thrym—"

The warriors answered with finality, singing: "Fy'rym! Fy'rym! Fy'rym!"

A loud shriek. The pony in goggles yanked at the lever. A flash of red light.

And they dropped—

FW-FW-FW-FWOOOSH!

POW!

P-P-POW!

The sky was ablaze with explosions, flak, and magical discharge. Vy'lyssa sucked her breath in as she plummeted straight into the chaos along with Wy'nnxx and the rest of her squadron. In the mare's peripheral vision, she spotted dozens upon dozens of identical brown zeppelins dotting the heavens—each of which were simultaneously releasing countless bodies of leather-winged warriors into the fray. Below them, hideously charred terrain stretched from horizon to horizon, blackened by shelling and eviscerated with a neverending mosaic of trenches, trenches, and more trenches. A crimson patchwork of runaway fires blanketed the bloodscape below, casting a sickening cloud of amber-tinted smoke that obscured their target beneath them.

"H'vynna lym'myskynn!" Wy'nnxx hollered bravely into the burning atmosphere, although her words were scarcely discernible amidst the holocaustal bedlam. Ash and soot pelted her velvety coat as she flew close to Vy'lyssa, forming the center of the group. "S'rymma thym!"

The rest of the warriors drew in near. Vy'lyssa found meager comfort in this. As they flew past the last line of zeppelins—all bearing the lunar crescent—she felt the heated thuds of burning flak drawing closer and closer. At one point, a burning projectile sailed past them and directly into the wooden hull of one of the aircraft. The zeppelin immediately burst into flames, and Vy'lyssa could make out the wailing screams of burning warriors who hadn't yet taken the opportunity to disembark.

KAPOWWW!

Vy'lyssa gnashed her teeth. It took all her strength to hold onto her rifle while brilliant flashes of firelight pulsed in front and behind them. She glanced aside—staring past a falling chunk of wooden debris to see gigantic obelisks of translucent crystal levitating mightily in the distance. Her eyes twitched upon spotting a flicker of ruby light among them. Half-a-second later, the hovering geometric structures fired blood-red streams of murderous heat into the dead earth below, further charring the surface and producing more smoke.

Vrommmmmmmmm!

Her leafy ears ached from the monumental echo produced by the distant mana discharge. As Vy'lyssa's hearing returned to normal, a fellow warrior's shrieks replaced the ringing.

"V'ylna! T'chyrym'lynna h'ylna thym!"

The air filled with a soul-shaking buzzing sound. Vy'lyssa's eyeslits shot up as she gasped in mid-plummet.

A swiftly moving black cloud could be seen enveloping a half-deflated zeppelin. Within seconds, the occupants inside had been completely torn out of their stations. The air turned wet and red, and once the screams had dissipated—along with their entrails—the black cloud shifted. The buzzing increased savagely in volume... for the swarm was headed their way.

Wy'nnxx held her hoof out. "S'lynna rny'k!" She spread her wings and angled them back.

"Wym!"

The entire group performed a coordinated backflip.

Vy'lyssa grunted as she followed suit. On either side of her, a curved horizon flipped, its skies filled with blood and burning. The elliptical motion of the group's acrobatics stopped their vertical descent entirely, and by the time Vy'lyssa was upright she had cocked her rifle along with the rest of the squadron. They formed a silver phalanx—directly facing the incoming swarm of insectoid limbs and hissing fangs.

"Hy'ma... Thy'ma..." Wy'nnxx gnashed her teeth and flung her hoof down. "...Rykk!"

The warriors shouted into their rifles. "H'rhnum!!!"

The enchanted stones burnt out as projectiles flew murderously from the barrels and into the advancing cloud of black limbs.

P-P-P-POWWW!

Glossy exoskeletons burst in sprays of green liquid. The air filled with pained hissing sounds as the swarm drew back from the blast. A count of ten bodies had fallen—but soon the swarm had recovered, drawing in to form a solid mass of insectoid fury. Barbed fetlocks and jagged horns came into focus as the surviving monstrosities charged Vy'lyssa's group.

Wy'nnxx cocked her own rifle and prepared to holler another command—

"Sy'm!" a warrior shouted. "Lyn'drxx'lynna hy'lma sy'm!"

Dark shadows rippled through the firelight. Vy'lyssa jolted from the sight of obsidian scales, streaking faster than shooting stars. The temperature raised by ten degrees instantly as several leathery figures converged on the insectoid swarm. Ivory teeth flashed as a cluster of twenty-foot long drakes tore into the creatures. The air was awash with green, but then the flames of the attacking whelps evaporated the acidic juices within seconds. Above the midair collision, a far too familiar haze of ruby light ascended like a red cloud.

Before the warriors could utter a fitting reaction, a few of the drakes—their scaley maws still dripping with emerald blood—turned about and spotted Vy'lyssa's group. There was a loud roar, and a few of the whelps broke off, headed straight for her and the other leather-winged equines.

"H'vynna!" Wy'nnxx hollered, diving immediately and motioning for the rest of the warriors to follow. "H'vynna lym'myskynn!"

Panting, Vy'lyssa hugged her rifle, twirled about, and dove along with her squadron. The air heated up even more behind them. Winged shadows grew larger across the surmounting smog as the group plummeted towards the battlefield looming below. Bursts of flak erupted on all sides, filling Vy'lyssa's nostrils with sulfur and making her eyes tear up.

POW!

She shook.

P-POW!

She shook again—

POWWW! "Grhllkkk—!" One warrior's throat gargled as his neck—and the rest of his body—went flying in opposite directions.

Before Vy'lyssa could react—

CHNKKKKT! A draconian set of jaws clamped over another warrior's wing to her left. She watched as the pony shrieked in terror—"Eeee-Eeee-Eeee!"—and struggled in desperation to fight off the drake's maw with the bayonet of his rifle. All the whelp had to do was reopen its jaws and clamp down over the soldier's neck, and the rest of the warrior's body went limp.

Vy'lyssa could already taste the bile in her throat. It distracted her from the hurled breath of black flame sailing down towards her from behind.

"Hrttt!" Wy'nnxx shoved her—and her satchel of runes—out of harm's way. The surviving group followed suit, plunging through a dark cloud so as to obscure their dive from the pursuing drakes behind.

Vy'lyssa squinted as they pierced through a few more translucent layers of flesh-scarring ash. Then—at last—they broke through the fog of war... and a crimson purgatory stretched beneath them. Trenches full of mangled bodies and shrieking combatants stretched through a briar patch of collapsed, broken, and rusted machinery—the tools of war left from years... centuries... and millennia of endless combat. Leather bodies clashed with black carapaces. Runic projectiles met acidic discharges. And all the while, a haunting ruby haze hovered over the lacerated landscape—only to be channeled into floating monoliths that continuously and mercilessly fired beams of energy into the fray, further saturating the earth with red and green juices.

"H'vaan!" Wy'nnxx's words could somehow be heard as the group leveled out and cruised fearlessly over the holocaust. A velvety fetlock pointed dead ahead. "Sy'kymylls'ym yln Thy'mma!" she hollered as shells and burning draconian fireballs exploded into the calcified soil on either side of them. "Sy'm! Sy'm!"

Vy'lyssa looked straight forward.

There—ahead of them... ahead of all of them... beyond the trenches and the blood and the explosions and the lingering ruby haze... there stood the target... a single structure... the only standing structure... the only structure that mattered. It rose like a triangular mountain of pitch black purpose amidst the sea of carnage. It was a multi-tiered obsidian ziggurat, and the machinations of war had washed up to its unblemished surfaces like scattered sea foam against relentless shoals. Despite its glossy dark exterior, it was paradoxically a very luminous thing—with beams of saturated gold light shooting out from each corner of the pyramid and burning endlessly into the chaotic dark.

And it was where the drakes were—the heart of them. Black winged whelps circled and circled—breathing dark fire on every piece of mortal flesh that warred its way near.

And Vy'lyssa's group was headed straight for it.

"W'ynlppa yln N'ymym!" Wy'nnxx shouted. Schiiiing! She unsheathed a silver scimitar and led the airborne charge low over the charred landscape. "H'ymly H'Luun!"

"H'ymly H'Luun!!!" the group bellowed, and they had reason to. Black scales crossed the firelight; drakes were inbound.

The squadron could not afford to stop. They glided forward with righteous purpose, skirting past plumes of flame and weaving in and around delapidated catapults. They flew so close to the entrenched battle below that they could feel the hot kiss of blood being sprayed from their misfortunate compatriots. Soon, the dreadful luck spread—and one by one the warriors were being picked out of the sky by the jaws of drakes and the intercepting claws of insectoid assassins.

The remaining members closed in tighter alongside Wy'nnxx and most especially Vy'lyssa. They formed a tight cluster around the pony with the satchel, firing their rifles violently into any and all attacking groups. "H'rhnum! H'rhnum! H'rhnum!"

The air filled with green and black blood. For every body that dropped—friend or foe—the air grew brighter with a ruby glow... until the haze lifted up and faded into obscured starlight. One drake—taking a blast of runic shrapnel to the neck—burst into a writhing mess of flames before colliding with a translucent monolith. The crystalline structure wobbled slightly... before pivoting around to face the incoming squadron. Vy'lyssa could make out a single equine shape situated deep inside, its body flanked with floating shards of pulsating energy. A series of ghostly eyes flickered, and the ruby haze immediately surrounding the vessel was drawn into its hull until it shrank into a beam of light focused directly in the pilot's horn.

Vrommmmmmmmmmmmm—

"Thry'mym!" Wy'nnxx suddenly flew to the front of the group, loaded a rune into her rifle with her teeth, and growled: "M'wynhrm"

POW! A projectile shot out from her barrel and exploded vaporously before the levitating monolith. The timing couldn't be more perfect; as soon as the vessel fired, the ruby light was reflected back into the rectangular structure at twice the intensity. The equine shape inside shattered like glass... and the rest of the monolith crumbled just as quickly, littering the trenches with dull shards.

"Eee-eee-eee!" was the resounding cheer from every leather-winged soul within view of the scene. It didn't last long—for an enormous shadow crossed over the trenches, accompanied by a cataclysmic roar of spine-shattering proportions. Vy'lyssa looked straight up, and the sky was gone. All she could see was scales. And onyx wings.

"Lyn'drxx!" a warrior shouted in terror.

Wy'nnxx let loose an authoritative shriek, grabbing back the attention of her surviving squadron. "Thy'lym h'vaan sym'yl!" She gestured towards the deepest trenches and dove. Vy'lyssa and the others joined her immediately. The hairs of their tailed curled from a hellish new heat. Draconian claws raked the air overhead along with a gigantic lashing tail as the roaring doubled... followed by an apocalyptic plume of pitch-black flame that coated the tops of the trenches in sulfuric fury.

FWOOOOOOOOMB!

"Grkkk! Htttt!" Vy'lyssa winced, gritting her teeth as the group flew straight into the trenches. The soot grew thick in the air, making it difficult to breathe—much less stay aloft. Her commanding officer must have sensed it, for soon Wy'nnxx was gesturing the command to "touch down." Exhaling, Vy'lyssa and the rest did so, landing on the battlefield for the very first time since dropping.

When Vy'lyssa made contact, her fetlocks sank a solid inch into the powdery earth. After so many eons of bloodshed, it was more bone than dirt. The pale gravel shifted with each step the group made. Vy'lyssa struggled to count how few of her brothers and sisters were left in the squadron. When she realized it was no longer in the double-digits, she felt a brand new nausea rising deep in her gut.

"Shhhh!" Wy'nnxx insisted, gestured a few more silent motions beneath the thunder, then led the group forward through the trenches. They galloped steadily, making their way for the undying heart of the battle. The roars of the drakes could be heard in greater intensity; the screams and hisses of those being consumed acted as nightmarish punctuation. As they hurried along, they passed under the looming shadow of crystalline obelisks. The rectangular ruby structures were firing at something up above—until that something swept past them with a savage swipe of its giant scaly black wing.

THWOOOOSH!

The crystalline vessels immediately shattered. Glass and shrapnel rained down onto Vy'lyssa and her flinching compatriots. As the material landed, they emitted clouds of ruby vapor—fumes that briefly took on the distinct effigies of tortured equines. The air lit up with bodiless screams, and then the ruby eidolons evaporated just as swiftly as they had formed—leaving ruby streaks trailing upwards into the smoke and stars.

Vy'lyssa waved a hoof before her face, wincing. The scales and shadow of scales passed by overhead. When the trench lit up again, it revealed a single soldier... frightened... shivering... separated from his unit. He hugged his hooves to his chest and rocked back and forth, shrunken eyeslits scraping the sky for drakes and floating monoliths.

"Wy'nnxx..." Vy'lyssa stammered, pointing straight ahead.

Wy'nnxx held a hoof up, and the group stopped in their tracks. Her leafy ears perked up at attention as she squinted at the lost pony. "... ... ... W'ynlppa yln H'luun? V'ymsylla thrym h'vyym?"

"Mmmmm..." The lone soldier whimpered, rocking back and forth even harder. In the next flicker of firelight, the group could see several limp corpses lying all around him. "Sylmym sym, H'Luun..." He grasped his shivering face betwixt two velvety hooves and sobbed outright. "H'Luuuun... H'Luuuuun sylmym symmmmm..."

Wyn'nnxx's jaw tightened. She looked up at the sky as more dark shadows flitted overhead, intercepting zeppelins and blotting out the constellations with blacker and blacker flames. "Hrmmmm... mylm symym hy'lym thrym..." she murmured to herself.

The lone soldier continued to sob, his voice reaching foalish octaves.

One of Vy'lyssa's companions let loose a sympathetic breath. He trotted over and knelt beside the soldier, steadying his body with two strong hooves. "Vy'm vy'm, H'Luun'lynna." He leaned his head in and nuzzled the shellshocked stallion. "Vy'm vy'm..."

"Brxxym!" another warrior chided, fangs showing. He shook his head. "V'lynna symylm thrylym!"

"Eee-eee-eee!" The one comforting the stallion hissed back, frowning. "M'lynna vry'ym syln H'Luun wr'ynna—"

As he was speaking, the shellshocked stallion's eyes pulsed green. His left forelimb inexplicably morphed into a giant scorpion's tail that—Schliiiink!—sank meatedly into the comforting warrior's neck.

"Grkkkk!" Foam and mucus fountained out of the warrior's mouth.

"Brxxym!!!"

Vy'lyssa gasped. "T'chyrym'lynna!" she hollered as loudly as she could.

"...!!!" Wy'nnxx spun about, eyes wide. She flung her hoof towards the shape-shifting monster. "Vy'rykym thryn!"

The rest of the squadron already had their rifles out. "H'rhnum! H'rhnum!"

The metamorph simply stood there, hissing venomously as it took the spray of bullets. Each shot hacked away a fake piece of pony flesh, revealing carapace and green fluid underneath. Immediately behind the dying beast, the warrior "corpses" rose to their hooves, galloped at full force, and charged the group in the form of insectoid equines.

Wy'nnxx bravely met the front head-on, swinging with her scimitar until she was lost amidst the spray of green slime and shell fragments.

As the trench turned into a bloody melee, Vy'lyssa struggled to keep her aim straight with her rifle. She shouted each command with determination, wheezing into the smoke of her spent rune stones. As she next reached to her bandolier to reload—she spotted the walls shifting. With a gasp, she looked up to see the edges of the trench peeling away as more metamorphs unveiled their camouflage and rushed the squadron's flank. "T'chyrym'lynna sy'lyma'ryk!" she hollered as two of the creatures pounced on her.

Wh-Whump!

She fell on her back, her spine aching from direct contact with the stone-hard contents of her all-important satchel. Her face was full of drooling mandibles. Seething, she pressed the length of her rifle against both monsters, fighting them back as she saw her own writhing muzzle reflected in their soulless compound eyes. She heard a gurgling sound—and realized that the monster to her left was preparing to vomit.

"Hrrtt!" She jerked to her right.

Milliseconds later, the creature spat insectoid bile onto the floor of the trench beside her, instantly carving an acicid pothole that filled the air with rancid steam.

"Rrrr—raaaaaugh!" Vy'lyssa shouted, extending her wings at full length. This shoved her—and her opponents—forward. The two metamorphs stumbled while she regained her hoofing. WHAM! She pummeled one so fiercely that the shell of its skull caved in. She then aimed point-blank at the second beast's chest. "H'rhnum!"

POW! The beast's torso exploded...

...showering green acid over the body of a leather-wing warrior. "Aaaaaaugh!" The air turned pungent with his roasting flesh.

Vy'lyssa jerked in place, muzzle agape.

"Aaaaaaaa-haaaaaaaugh!" The soldier collapsed on the ground as his backside melted, exposing vertebrae and sinew. "H'Luuuuuuuuuuuuun—!"

Breathless, Vy'lyssa stumbled forwards to aid him—

Vrommmmmmmmmmmmmm!

The air lit up with a ruby glow. Vy'lyssa gasped. She looked straight up.

A monolith loomed directly overhead. The lone pilot's horn on the inside pulsed with bright red light and—

FLAAAAAAAAAAAAASH!

—the entire trench erupted in flames.

Vy'lyssa trembled and shook all over. By her third breath, she realized she had somehow survived the mana discharge. After some deep hesitation, she opened her slitted eyes.

As the shadow of the glass obelisk passed over, she saw the calcified corridor strewn with bodies. And—to her palpitating horror—not all of them were dead. Pitiful moans and blood-curdling sobs lingered in the sulfuric air.

Gritting her teeth, she lurched forward. The entire right side of her body was covered in second-degree burns. Fighting past the tears, Vy'lyssa came towards the first writhing shape she could find. It was one of her fellow soldiers; both of his forelimbs had been blown off. His eyeslits darted about as his muzzle hung open in horror. At last, his eyesight caught hers... pleading.

She leaned over him, giving his forehead a kiss. A quick kiss. Then—schlinkkk! She sank her fangs into his neck. The soldier's eyes rolled back... and he was still.

Muzzle dribbling with hot blood, Vy'lyssa scrambled towards the next victim. She followed a wet puddle of red, then stumbled over a fresh carpet of bowels. The mare—or the spasming half that was left of her—grasped onto Vy'lyssa's face with trembling fetlocks. She tried desperately to say something but all that came out was bile.

"Shhh-shhh-shhhh..." Vy'lyssa leaned over, gave the mare a single feather-soft nuzzle, then met her jugular with her fangs. She waited until the soldier's shaking fetlocks went limp, and then she moved to the next body... and froze.

"... ... ..." Wy'nnxx sat up with as much dignity as she could. She was slumped up against the side of the trench, surrounded by the imploded carapaces of three metamorphs. The acid from one of them had devoured most of her rear left leg, and several claw marks had been raked savagely across her chest. She supported herself by her grip of a rifle. Glaring eyeslits surveyed the hollow corridor... the smoldering carcasses. Eventually, she met her subordinate's gaze. "...scrk... Vy'lyssa..."

Vy'lyssa gulped. "Wy'nnxx."

Wy'nnxx's brow hardened.

Vy'lyssa stood tall at attention. "Wy'nnxx, W'ynlppa yln N'ymym!"

Wy'nnxx exhaled. "Hrmkk... h'vrkk... h'vrykk sylm ly'messa..."

Vy'lyssa stared blankly at her.

Fuming, Wy'nnxx spoke through glinting fangs. "Sy'kymylls'ym yln Thy'mma." She gulped. "H'vrykk sylm. Thrym'sym."

Vy'lyssa shivered. In so doing, she felt the weight of the satchel on her back—heavier than ever.

Wy'nnxx snarled. "Thrym'sym."

After a solid breath, Vy'lyssa nodded briskly. "Ywm, Wy'nnxx, W'ynlppa yln N'ymym!" That said, she leaned her fangs into Wy'nnxx's neck.

A velvety hoof stopped her. "Vyn vyn..." Wy'nnxx shook her head. Wincing, she pushed herself further up against the wall of the trench and cradled the rifle in her front forelimbs. "V'lysym ryk, Vy'lyssa. W'lynna thrym Lyn'drxx'lynna th'lyma sym..."

Vy'lyssa nodded, hesitantly trotting backwards. She saw a hint of red in her peripheral, and she spun about. The mare's muzzle hung agape as she saw hazy patches of ruby light rising from the corpses of her fallen comrades... only to be absorbed by the distant monoliths hovering high above as they took aim at nearby swarms of carapaced equines. Vy'lyssa shook... she fumed...

...and soon she abandoned Wy'nnxx altogether, galloping down the winding trench towards the location of their target. Behind her, she heard a bevvy of insectoid hisses, followed by runic rifle shots. Her slitted eyes teared up, but she forced herself forward—flapping her leather wings until she was threading the calcified needle at a blistering pace.

Above her, the sky filled denser and denser with onyx wings. More zeppelins fell—victims of black flame. Buzzing swarms and crystalline vessels swept in as well. Everyone and everything was zeroing in on the ziggurat and its glossy black foundations. Vy'lyssa could see the golden beams of light breaking in a hundred places in every breath. The draconic roars grew louder and louder. The whelps' matriarch circled in a tighter orbit, defending the very last bastion. Massive wings filled the spaces above the trench with scales until there were no spaces left.

At long last, Vy'lyssa reached the end of the corridor. She clamored up a steep hill of bones and debris. In the shadow of a rusted trebuchet, she hid... panting and wheezing in the thick sulfuric atmosphere. Craning her neck around, she saw it—the base of the massive ziggurat... so close that she could almost make out her own reflection in its immaculately glossy surface.

The drakes were circling so close that their wingtips nearly lopped off her skull. She ducked low, watching as they warded off the advances of three separate armies with burning plumes of black flame. The zeppelins bearing the lunar crest collapsed. Swarms of suicidal carapaces melted before the merciless heat. Only those who piloted the crystalline monoliths bothered to keep any distance, but the intense beams of ruby energy that they pelted the draconic brood with were proving just as futile.

Vy'lyssa had no more time to waste. She reached deep into the leather satchel on her back. After a brief rummaging, she produced a dense cluster of glowing runes. They spat electrical bolts of enchanted energy—burning her flesh at the mere touch. She absorbed the pain—all of it—and gripped the payload in her fanged teeth.

"W'ynlppa sy'lymma th'ysmma, H'Luun," she murmured out the side of the muzzle...

...and charged straight towards the monumental ziggurat.

More than three dozen drakes saw her. Roaring, they immediately dove towards the lonesome soldier.

She was counting on that. Spinning around, Vy'lyssa met their charge by flinging the electrified cluster of runes straight into the flock. Without a second's hesitation, she crouched, slid on her rear legs, and propped her rifle up with her forelimbs. One eyeslit squinted as she aimed and shouted: "Y'hnyrr!!!"

POWWW!!!

A single red bullet ripped through the wall of scales, impacted the midair payload, and released the enchanted contents packed densely within. FL-FL-FLASSSSSSH! Shredding blue bands of flesh-eating lightning erupted in every direction, devouring the brood. The drakes burned in midair—all of them—from the whelps charging Vy'lyssa to the ones flying up high to the ones downing zeppelins and insectoid swarms on the far side of the pyramid.

Unnatural thunder filled the air as a vaporous concussive blast fountained outward in every direction. The event horizon slammed into Vy'lyssa head on, and the poor mortal was thrown hundreds of feet away from ground zero. She spun several times, her wings too limp from the runic discharge to catch air. Golden light shimmered and black gloss reflected lightning. Smoke and flames and blood and—

WHAM!

—the earth slammed hard into Vy'lyssa's body, accompanied with a sickening crack!

"Aaaaaaugh!" she yelped, only to feel several torturous stabs of pain. Her ribs had been broken in several places, and they dug into her lungs with each tumbling spin she took down a sea of rust and skulls. When she finally rolled to a stop, she lay limp. Helpless. Looking down, Vy'lyssa could see that the bone of her left leg was sticking out of her flesh. But this wasn't what concerned her.

Her pendant was gone.

Whimpering... she looked all around. Quivering eyeslits darted left... right... left—

Something glinted in the deathlight. A crescent. Slender. Pale. Beautiful.

Choking on a sob, Vy'lyssa forced her body to roll over. Then—one painful lurch after another—she crawled across the petrified soil towards the sacred emblem. As the blue flicker of lightning above finally faded, the sky was full of falling shadows. The shriveled corpses of burnt drakes fell all around her. Charred whelps landed all across the battlefield, giving the air necrotic percussion.

The brood was finished. The three armies could now advance on the ziggurat. Vy'lyssa could only hope that her army would get there first.

She crawled until she could crawl no further. With a trembling hoof, she stretched and reached and struggled for the pendant. Just as her fetlock made contact...

...an immense shadow bled over her. The air shook with thunderous wingflaps.

Wincing, Vy'lyssa clutched the crescent moon to her chest. One of her lungs had already collapsed. The other was struggling to filter the remaining oxygen from the sulfur in the air. Nevertheless, she stared up with twitching eyes... stared up as the figure of the draconic matriarch encompassed all and everything.

The giant dragon hovered over her dead children... until at last she levitated just above the razor-sharp summit of the immaculate pyramid. Giant claws grasped onto glossy obsidian, and soon the scaly beast was perching on the structure. Next, she did something strange. She stretched her massive wings out—enshrouding opposite sides of the ziggurat. Soon after, she wrapped her tail and claws about the perpendicular sides. Then—once her many stone-hard limbs had effectively blocked off every entrance—the matriarch did something even stranger.

She lifted her many-horned skull towards the heavens... let loose a bellicose roar for the ages... and then thrust her neck onto the topmost spire of the pyramid.

The air rained down black blood. The spire had effectively impaled the dragon's throat... ripping out the top of her skull.

Soon, the matriarch went limp... breathing no more. The smoke and flame had vanished from her nostrils, and there she lay... wrapped around the ziggurat in an immortal hug... baptized in the ashes of her own children.

With the last vestiges of Vy'lyssa's sight, she noticed the three armies converging on the limp corpse that had effectively blocked them from entering their eternal target. As the thunder of a three-sided war redoubled, Vy'lyssa almost thought that she should feel ashamed. Instead... she felt the cold cleansing kiss of a crescent-shaped moonstone to her velvety lips.

And then—in the absence of that bliss—she felt nothing.

All would have been darkness.

All should have been darkness.

Instead, the waste and carnage was swiftly evaporated by a rising pulse of blinding gold light—emanating from the far end of the curved plane. In so doing, the brightness ripped apart all ruby traces of memory, pulling it apart thread by thread like some fragile tapestry.

FLAAAAAAAAAAAAASH!


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