• Published 17th Jul 2017
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An Exercise In Management - Nameless Narrator



A simple drone "accidentally" failed to leave the Badlands hive for the invasion to Canterlot. He was only two weeks old, one of the clutch specifically created to break through the protective shield. Now starving, he's just trying to survive.

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39: Together, facing a raid boss.

Windstorm, Hoofcrusher, Unbreakable, Xz’lat the Omnipotent, and the daughter of the fairy queen herself Glitterdust, the heroes of Equestria about whom many ballads had been written, stopped when Glitterdust’s outfit got once again tangled in a bush.

“Damn it, Bright Shine-” cursed Glitterdust, trying to free herself for the thousandth time.

The other unicorn hissed at her.

“XZ’LAT the Omnipotent, Glitter!” he waved his levitating runic staff of arcane power menacingly, “Why didn’t you cut the flowy bits off anyway? You knew this would be a forest mission.”

“You said a castle! You don’t get your ‘flowy bits’ stuck in a castle all the time, otherwise old princesses wouldn’t be wearing dresses all the time,” Glitterdust pouted, finally able to move again after a quick telekinetic assistance.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of princess Celestia in a dress. All she wears are those golden jewels with amethysts-”

“PRINCESSES WEAR DRESSES!” screeched Glitterust, her stare burning holes in the other unicorn.

Windstorm poked Xz’lat’s side.

“Let’s move. I don’t know if it’s a timberwolf or something else, but I swear I feel eyes on me.”

That feeling didn’t leave Windstorm until they finally saw the crumbled castle wall. That was when Xz’lat cleared his throat, and pronounced loud and clear:

“This is exactly it, the good old five-pony dungeon, just like in Ogres and Oubliettes. The lady mentioned a warlock and a succubus, so we can expect at least one knight, and possibly some henchponies or undead. He didn’t sound too powerful, so we’ve got a shot. Worst case, we learn the strat and progress the dungeon later on the weekend. If you’re all free, I mean.”

“U-U-Undead?”

“You’re doing that necrophobia drawback really well for a barbarian, Hoofcrusher. Really sets the mood.” Xz’lat winked at the earthpony with the big axe.

“Umm, guys,” Glitterdust levitated up her wand of fairy curses, “Are you sure OnO rules apply to real world? I mean, what if real adventurers don’t get a second chance?”

Everypony gasped at her heretical suggestion. Xz’lat shook his head.

“Nonsense, Glitter. OnO ruleset is based on the experiences of real adventurers in order to provide maximum immersion and authenticity.”

“That’s their sales pitch, definitely...” mumbled Glitter, her worry crushed under the enthusiasm of her party members. The menacing castle ahead, however, made her legs shake. With a determined frown, she lit up her horn to banish the forest shadows.

Stupid castle… scaring her like that…

There probably wasn’t anything inside anyway, and the old mare at the inn was just lying, but Glitter had to admit this would eventually make for a great adventure.

But…

If they did find the Holy Blade of the First Griffon Emperor, whatever it was, somewhere in the ruins of princess Luna’s old castle, they would be real heroes. They would get an audience with the actual princess, maybe both of them. That thought kept her going through the annoying forest, and even go along with Bright Shine’s stupid adventurer name.

“What do we do?” asked Unbreakable, raising his shield, “Charge through the front gate like a proper raid?”

“No no no no no!” Xz’lat shook his head vigorously, “The front entrance is always for the big twenty or even forty-pony raids. Small groups go from the back to prepare the assault. Like the Castle of the Dragon Lord campaign we finally finished last month. We must start small, and then,” his eyes glazed over as he pointed into nowhere, “the proper main event!”

“We don’t have forty ponies,” frowned Glitter, “We never get more than seven players for any adventure. We’d need something like the live action event in Manehattan last year.”

“Oh yeah...” Windstorm grinned, “The mare playing the zebra queen was so hot! I mean-” he corrected himself when Glitter shoot him a dirty glance, “I mean the accuracy of her costume was perfect.”

“I remember you examining the painted stripes up close for a mighty long time,” Glitter narrowed her eyes. Windstorm just shrugged.

“And it survived my scrutiny, making me give the event five stars afterwards. Definitely worth the bits.”

Xz’lat the Omnipotent cleared his throat.

“Once we manage a victory here, we’ll show our friends that we’re not nerds and they’ll want to join too! Imagine, an ancient griffon sword plus some low tier enchanter- I mean a powerful dark mage we can totally take on. Maybe we can even wrest the summoning spell from him, and take his succubus as a servant.”

“Where would you keep her? It’s already bad when we’re doing a long campaign and have to sleep all in your room.”

“Windy- I mean Windstorm has room in the cloud house, don’t you? Or you can always make more.”

“For a succubus? Heck-” he leaned in to Xz’lat’s ear, “You’re sharing the control spell, right?”

“You bet!” the archmage whispered back.

“Heck yeah!” Windstorm announced his decision, making Glitter shake her head.

“Magnificient!” Xz’lat pointed his staff at the nearest hole in the wall, “Onwards then, my brave companions!”

The not too bright day in the forest became even dimmer when the group entered the gloomy castle hallways. Their demeanor changed, all five ponies suddenly looking alert and far more… prepared. Unicorn horns glowed, Unbreakable took the front while Hoofbreaker secured the group’s back, and Windstorm hovered in the air, scouting for traps.

They knew exactly what they were doing. After all, they had done it dozens of times before.

Suddenly, Windstorm stopped, carefully landing on the dusty stones, turned his head, and mouthed:

“Hoofsteps. One.”

Unicorns dimmed their light spells, earthponies gripped their implements, and everyone squinted towards the end of the hallway from where louder and louder hoofsteps were approaching.

“So, I’m an evil henchpony, and the boss said I was supposed to lead the good guys...” a small pony figure came from behind a corner, mumbling to himself, “Hunched back, check. Muttering, check. Evil laughter… hee hee? I should have asked miss Ei- AAH?!” the pony literally jumped on the spot when he noticed the group.

“A goblin pony! GET HIM!” called out Xz’lat in the most commanding tone he could quickly muster.

This was shaping up great! Goblin ponies were the weakest of foes, only dangerous in larger groups, and the castle halls were the best for fighting against larger numbers.

His horn flared, and a bolt of fire flew out of the tip of his staff, charring the stones at the goblin pony’s forehooves. The creature shrieked, immediately darting back from where it came from.

“Follow him!”

The group didn’t need Xz’lat’s order to rush after the goblin.

The first hallway, they caught the glimpse of the goblin already clearing another corner. The second hallway, they lost him completely.

“Damn, he’s quick,” Windstorm gasped for breath after the quick mad flight, “What now? Wait! That door is open, and I’m not hearing any more hoofsteps,” lowering his voice, he flew back to the approaching group, “I think he’s hiding somewhere in there,” he pointed at the door.

“Alright, let’s move,” Xz’lat nodded, “Tanks first.”

The two earthponies grinned at each other before bursting into…

...a large open stone room with a balcony on the other end, and some rotten ponnequins strewn around. An ancient armory plus a training room, perhaps?

Xz’lat immediately knew this was one of the places where to look for an ancient sword.

HOWEVER, the goblin was nowhere to be found. Instead, what waited for them in the center of the open area was a-

“A ch-ch-ch-ch changeling!” yelped Glitter, backing off immediately.

Indeed, an overbearing, broadly-built changeling, all black armor plates, long horn, short, grey crew cut, and additional grey armor plate around his stomach, was standing still, measuring the group with his one blue, unblinking eye.

“We gotta go, we gotta go,” Glitter panicked, “You read what they did to Canterlot. They put ponies into-”

“Pull yourself together,” Xz’lat ground his teeth, the focusing. A moment later, shimmering orange barrier surrounded each member of the group. Glitter took a long breath, shuffling closer to her brother. He struck the ground with the bottom of his staff, making sparks fly from the impact, and pushed forward through the others to have a clear look at the changeling, “You, monster. What do you know about the Holy Blade of the First Griffon Emperor?”

“HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!” booming laughter came from the balcony above, revealing a gorgeous amazonian pegasus wearing a rusty ancient black armor covered in ruined moon symbol and bat wing motif, “How do you like my pet? You’ll have to go through him first if you want the pleasure of facing me. Once I break you, maybe my master will reward me with his loving touch...”

“Did we get it wrong? Is she the boss, and the changeling the servant?” whispered Windstorm to Xz’lat.

“She’s hot as balls too. I’m not complaining,” Xz’lat snickered back, “And a pegasus can fit into your cloud house as well.”

Xz’lat turned to face his compatriots.

“Okay, so the miniboss rules are that unless we aggro him he won’t go after us. So, you know the positions, right?”

Everyone nodded.

“Wait, one more question! Do you have an enrage timer?” Xz’lat wanted to make sure everything about the encounter was clear.

“Yes, that question just halved it,” the pegasus impatiently tapped her hoof against the railing.

“Let’s do this! Tank, go!”

Unbreakable heroically charged towards the changeling who reared on his hind legs, and punched his shield. Even with the protective magic, the crushing blow made Unbreakable back off and yelp in pain.

Hoofbreaker came from the side, making the changeling roll away to dodge the mighty axe blow which made the earthpony himself lose his balance for a moment.

Thankfully, Windstorm was there with a powerful flap of his wings, using the high ceiling to divebomb the rising changeling.

Glitterdust, being the good healer she was, immediately ran towards Unbreakable, casting a mild numbing spell on his shield-holding foreleg before darting back.

“Buy me time!” Xz’lat called out, focusing more and more power into his staff.

The changeling was back on all fours again, swatting Windstorm away, and charging at Hoofbreaker. Glitter had to leave the group’s tank to immediately tend to the pegasus who got the wind knocked out of him with a single attack.

“I was just… careless...” the pegasus groaned when the relaxing magic started flowing from Glitter’s horn to his body.

The changeling reached Hoofbreaker who had to block an uppercut with his axe which unfortunately made him hang by it around the changeling’s hoof. No amount of earthpony kicking made the enemy seemingly made of stone budge, and all Hoofbreaker could do was hold on to his weapon before being flung aside as if he weighed nothing.

“Tank, start tanking!” screamed Glitter.

“Trying to!” Unbreakable charged on his three legs, his shield raised. Finally, his earthpony weight made the changeling stumble a little, and take notice of him, “Uh oh.”

His shield shattered under the wide swing down which sent Unbreakable on the floor.

“Damn it!” Glitter stomped her hoof, sending a telekinetic shove the changeling’s way with zero effect, “Are we gonna wipe on the first miniboss?”

Xz’lat grinned.

“No, we’re not.”

He unleashed his spell - a beam of fire scorching stones and incinerating old ponnequins in its way. The changeling shielded his face. He held second after second.

Then Xz’lat’s magic fizzled, the wizard blinded by the light of the spell as well as by exhausted sweat dripping from his brow. When he tripped over his robe, Glitter was there to catch him.

“Whuh, how?”

When he could think again, he saw the changeling simply standing there, his carapace glowing red.

“WELL DONE, ADVENTURERS. I GUESS YOU ARE WORTH MY TIME!” the pegasus pounced from the balcony, landing on her slender, long legs without wincing despite not spreading her wings to cushion her drop. She nodded to a ponnequin pile on the side of the room from behind which the goblin pony crept out, “Minion, lead my pet away before they break him. Then come back for their… corpses.”

“Yes, miss Eight- I mean,” he thought for a moment, “Dark knight Black Rose.”

He poked the glowing changeling, and hissed when his hoof touched the still burning carapace.

“Come on, Nine.”

“Ow,” said the changeling simply, poking his burning armor too.

The adventurers let the minion and the changeling leave. After all, they were the noble heroes. Their job wasn’t to execute the defenseless, even if they were evil.

“Wohoo, first real boss!” Windstorm pumped his hoof in the air.

Xz’lat blinked out of sync.

“Wait, there’s more?” he was swaying, barely able to stand after such magic expenditure, “Maybe we should retreat for now?”

The door to the armory closed behind them.

“I don’t think so,” Black Rose began advancing towards them.

That woke Xz’lat up. Her bloodthirsty grin made him, for a moment, rethink the idea of adventuring, and settle for something simple, something without sexy armored amazons who looked as if they could break his neck between their thighs. To his credit, he was fast enough to recognize danger.

“Tank, TANK! TAUNT HER OR SOMETHING! DRAW AGGRO!”

“Hey, lady!” called out Unbreakable. Black Rose ignored him, “HEY!” another failure as she kept advancing on Xz’lat made him go for his ultimate taunting ability. He smacked Black Rose’s butt right where the back plate of the armor ended.

She finally turned her head, narrowing her eyes. Yep, that had always worked on mares.

“Black Rose, you’re too muscular to be called a mare, and no nice stallion will ever want you because they’ll be scared! Maybe only some homo who’d mistake you for a stallion!” he recalled the first part of Black Rose’s evil monologue, “Hah, perhaps that’s what your master you want so much is!”

Black Rose’s eye twitched. Time stopped for just a little bit.

Xz’lat’s jaw dropped as he saw a freshly adult earthpony twice his weight being repeatedly swung in sweeping arcs around by his hind leg and smashed against the floor. Hoofbreaker tried to help, only to receive a forced kiss by thrown Unbreakable.

“I’LL SHOW YOU HOMO!” screamed Black Rose.

“That taunt worked better than expected...” mumbled Xz’lat, stll dizzy.

“...I need healing...” was all Unbreakable managed to say while flying by.

Then his world shut down.

Sqeaking of rusty hinges woke Xz’lat up unspecified amount of time later.

“Whuh?” his eyes shot open, but he could barely move. Through bars, he saw his friends, each in one from a line of cells. What was much worse, though, was Black Rose towering over him.

“For your failure, you will face the ancient punishment ritual of snu-snu,” she announced.

Xz’lat’s pupils turned to pin pricks.

“Snu? That’s… that could be… maybe from ancient griffon… or from the Stalliongrad area… possibly… something with fire... what is th-”

Black Rose’s armor clanked on the floor.

Xz’lat’s jaw dropped, accompanied by something he’s never seen from a mare before - a hungry, devious, and most importantly seductive grin.

Black Rose gave one quick glance everypony’s way.

All of you.”

While Glitter gulped...

...more and more incredulous grins grew on the stallions’ muzzles.

***

Just as Three’s done with affixing the final glowing green glob of goo to the wall, he hears noises echo through the dark underground.

”Hey, boss, I think they finally got out and they’re really following the lights.”

Good job, Three. Can you quickly check if they left the keys in the prison?

”Juuust a second,” he boops the nose of a batpony statue which immediately spins around along with him, then he trots down the secret passage, and opens a hidden door in one of the dungeon cells. After a quick look, he says, ”Yep, they just tossed the keyring on the floor.”

Well done, Three. I don’t know about you but I was so nervous my head hurts. I’ll check up on Eight.

”I’ll go see Nine in the healing room. He didn’t like being set on fire much, but he’s tough.”

Three still wants to find a way to thank Nine for helping him against the traitors when we were fleeing Canterlot. When he finds one, I’ll be happy to join. Too bad Nine doesn’t seem to want much… or anything really. Oh well, he’ll get used to how things work here.

Eight, how are things on your end?

It’s pretty weird looking out of her eyes and not seeing her body or hearing any hoofsteps. Useful, though, considering she’s walking only few pony lengths away from the last member of the adventurer group.

”They’re following Three’s trail out without thinking. They’ll be out of the castle in no time without wandering and snooping around.”

Out of curiosity, since when can you turn invisible?

”One taught Four, I ordered her to teach me. Warrior carapace isn’t really made for it, so it leaves me rather… squishy, but let’s not act as if what One calls the pinnacle of her skill is something unnatural. This ‘invisibility’ is just chitin density and surface manipulation, nothing mystical.”

I’m pretty sure One never made that claim, but I’m not going to push it.

Alright, just make sure they get out, ‘Black Rose’. I’ll just tag along.

”Will do, King.”

Noiselessly, she simply follows the group.

“I can’t believe it was so easy to escape,” whispers Glitter.

Xz’lat just shrugs.

“A thoughtless jailor is crucial to a proper dungeon crawl. Page thirty-two of the original OnO rulebook. Now, let’s regroup, hone our skills, and try again. We wiped on the first boss, but that was all a learning experience. Nothing can be perfect on the first try.”

“You really want to go back there?”

“Yeah, duh. You don’t?”

Glitter only blushed.

“Black Rose was perfect...” mumbles Hoofcrusher, licking his lips, “My hips still hurt.”

They all look at him. He adds:

“From the fight, I mean.”

“My flank hurts too… from the fight,” Glitterdust blushes so hard she must catch on fire any moment now, “...hurts good...”

Xz’lat whistles innocently.

“Let’s come up with a plan, and defeat her next time!”

Windstorm clears his throat, happy as he finally recognizes a familiar castle hallway.

“Do we have to…?”

Now he is the target of four shocked stares.

“You don’t want to come back? Do you remember how long her tongue was?” asks Unbreakable.

Hovering in the air, Windstorm rubs his forelegs together.

“I meant… do we have to... win?”

They all hear a chuckle from behind, but when they look there’s nopony there, only darkness.

Probably just the wind.

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