• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,696 Views, 228 Comments

Back and There Again - Sun Sage



A strange gem takes Rarity to a world she almost recognizes. She's going to make it back home no matter what, but she might need some help to do it. And why is it all so familiar?

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16. On Two Fronts

The private airstrip reminded Rarity a bit of Wonderbolts training camp. There were two relatively short runways, a few squat buildings, and various equipment the uses of which Rarity could only guess at.

Most important was their plane, which resembled nothing so much as a large, white, metal bird… if said bird were more of a snake with wings. She grinned to herself, thinking of how Twilight would feel about that observation.

Meanwhile, Donovan was wishing them all luck. “See you in a few days… though I expect to be kept updated in the meantime.”

“Naturally, Knight Trellis, as do I. Sergeant Vualez and Lieutenant Jones can handle operations, but any issues with Knight Elleway, not that I anticipate that, or a media return-”

“Those are both terrible options to contemplate.”

“All the more reason I leave them to you, Knight.”

“Yes, sir,” Donovan replied with a grin and then a straight faced salute. “We’ll keep the fire burning, sir.”

“Good man.”

Donovan turned to Rarity then, kneeling down to her eye level. “Keep an eye on our boy there. Ferreles is a good guy, but I still have a weird feeling about this. It’s a little too convenient to have happen so quickly. Hopefully I’m just being pessimistic.”

Rarity nodded. “Windfalls are often suspect. We’ll make it work out, if we have to.”

“Good to hear. ...Nice Knight insignia pin, by the way. His old one?”

She smiled, and nodded again. “I think it looks rather dashing, don’t you?”

“It suits you,” he agreed. “Just in case it wasn’t clear before, welcome to the team. No matter where you go, no matter how far, we’re with you in spirit. Never forget that.”

“I shan’t,” she held up a hoof, which he shook. “See you again soon, Donovan.”

Aiden had loaded up everyone’s bags, telekinesis and portals expediting the matter considerably. He turned to Donovan, clasping arms with him. “Don’t blow everything up while we’re gone,” he said with a grin.

“No promises,” Donovan replied with a poker face. “But I’ll record it for you.”

“Deal.”

Rarity chuckled. Stallions…

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Donovan watched as their plane took off, smooth as silk, and quickly left sight. An upgraded private jet, it wasn’t quite a military transport, but closer than its appearance would suggest. They’d land in Sacramento in less than three hours.

He was in no particular hurry to get back, and the limo’s stereo was blasting Fighting Gravity as he relaxed and enjoyed the pleasant weather, leaning against the grill of the still warm vehicle and quietly watching the clouds. If this all worked out… how long before you might look up and see a pegasus flying around up there? Would that be possible in his lifetime. He hoped so. If Rarity was anything to go by, and for that matter the accounts in Grumman’s old Equus text, it’d be a positive for the world. For that matter, visiting a friendly world someday didn’t sound bad… if they could get him there without a ship, he thought with a chuckle. He’d never cared much for flying, part of the reason he’d been happy to stay behind, even if it was liable to be a few days of nothing.

...A slight twitch in the aether was his only warning before the stereo, and all electronics nearby, gave out completely, accompanying a quiet ‘ping’ against the side of the limo.

A sharper spike through the Field accompanied Donovan’s “Ah, shit…” before the vehicle erupted into a massive fireball, the shockwave of same throwing flaming hunks of metal in all directions.

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“Oooh, so listen to this! Did you know that General Celestia, I guess she’s a princess now, is the one that discovered that the Windigos were in fact the Demon race that conscripted the Oni to conquer Equus after they’d failed?” Vera Elleway related with only partially feigned enthusiasm.

Colonel Jeffrey Owens, on the other side of the brig’s clear, polymer barrier, sighed deeply. “Fascinating,” he muttered in a deadpan. He stood in the center of the room, as though too good to sit on the cot, watching her through the evenly spaced holes in the barrier.

“Isn’t it?! Apparently, they discovered that the Demon race… their proper name is here but I’m not even trying that pronunciation, were very few in number and couldn’t reproduce. Because of their nature they couldn’t properly interact with the world of Equus directly. It’s the same with the Angel race, it looks like. Anyway, they wanted to kill all life on Equus, so they could use the lifeforces, all strong in aether, alongside their resentment and suffering, to corrupt the natural aetheryte deposits, making the whole planet into one big, nasty magic amp. With that they could create a weapon to-”

“Elleway, is this why you betrayed me?! A goddamn storybook?!”

Vera blinked, and then grinned at Owens. “Why no, Colonel. I ‘betrayed’ you because you were using me to help you hurt a good person… a lot of good people, actually. Hmph, I called Aiden a sap, but I’m the gullible one. I thought you wanted to help people.”

“That thing is not a person.”

“Then neither… hey… ‘neighther?’ Heheh… horse jokes… then neither am I!” She held up a hand, and electrical energy crackled between her fingers like a Jacob’s ladder. “Magic, you unmitigated ass. Jeez, I have more in common with the Oni than you! And I sure as Hell have more in common with her. ...Or I wish I-”

The base shook as several blasts of energy, which Vera felt as much through the aether as through the floor. “What the…”

Owens chuckled. “I believe my ride is here.”

Vera cocked an eyebrow. “I believe you’re jumping the gun.” She tapped her earpiece. “Elleway, report.”

“Vualez in comms. Lieutenant Jones is activating base defenses and trying to get a signal out. We have incoming, at least twenty of them. There’s a breaching pod on the wall of the north quarter, and an Oni Mech that just tore through the gates.”

“Shit… I thought those were all destroyed.”

“Guess you missed one, Knight. Want to go deal with it?”

“Nothing I’d love more… can you handle the breaching pod?”

“There’s a team on the way there now; wish I were with them, but Jones had to organize the robots so I'm stuck up here. I can’t get through to Grumman with that Mech jamming us, and I don't think he will, either. Your orders are to take it out, and anything else at our gates. We’ll handle the home front.”

“Acknowledged.”

“...And punch Owens in the head before you go.”

Vera blinked, and then grinned. “...Are you seeing anyone, Sergeant?”

A snort, and then laughter. “You do owe me a dinner, now that I think about it,” the amused reply came through as the base shook again. “I’ll answer based on how you take down that damn thing.”

Vera laughed. “Acknowledged, out.”

Owens was smiling. “You seem too confident. Let me assure you, this will be-”

A line of electrical energy like a lightning bolt slammed into him, sending him ragdolling into the far wall. He crumpled to the ground, unconscious but breathing.

Vera stared down at him, smoke rising gently from her outstretched hand. She considered finishing him off then and there… and it wasn’t a simple decision for her. After a few seconds, she sighed. “More like the Oni… but I’d rather be more like her.” She turned, and ran down the hall, becoming a blur as she slammed through the doors in a rush towards the front gates and what she hoped was the enemy’s main force.

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The breaching pod finally carved its way through the wall, securing a path inward for its inhabitants. They were greeted by gunfire, and returned said greeting in kind. Little did the defenders know, not all of the breaching pod’s soldiers were firing. In fact, two had already snuck out under the cover of stealth devices. While such things were far from foolproof, with the smoke, fire, and exploding debris, the two were able to slip down the hall past the pitched firefight that was little more than a distraction.

They made their way to the medical ward; their first destination before going deeper into the compound to free Colonel Owens. To their surprise, the doors into the ward opened freely. These amateurs had been caught completely off guard! Their head researcher was just sitting there, facing away from them.

They were elites, two of Stolhann’s most successful 3rd Gen experiments. Their bionic implants allowed limited aetheric control that strengthened their physical forms, improved healing and durability, and heightened their senses. In short, they were, in those regards, nearly equal to the weakest of the 2nd Generation, and the bionic advantages themselves closed the gap to nearly nothing. And, of course, they were well trained and heavily armed.

They both raised their weapons, and fired.

The stun blasts were intentional; this was a priority target for interrogation and potential brainwashing by Stolhann. Doctor Moriko Hamada had had a unique opportunity to examine both the alien and a 1st Gen Esper at the same time. Any conclusions she’d drawn would be invaluable to Owens’ cause.

None of that mattered to the forcefield that the stun blasts splattered harmlessly against. The elite soldiers switched to full auto lethal fire, to overwhelm the shield’s generator, as Doctor Hamada swivelled around in her chair. She sipped a cup of coffee as though nothing interesting were happening. She winked, with no changing expression, as their shots continued ineffectively. Then the wall next to her opened, folding to the sides to reveal a double barreled plasma turret that could best be described as ‘overkill’.

To their credit, they immediately sought cover by ducking behind the door, away from the medical ward. Regrettably, the wall they chose to hide behind was not rated for heavy plasma fire. They were gone from the world before they could consciously register the heat of the blast that reduced them both to mostly cinders. The inner wall of the hallway took the remaining energy stoically, as it was heavily reinforced.

Competing with it in stoicism, and possibly winning, Doctor Hamada turned back to her desk and continued her paper on her findings concerning Equestrian biology.

------------------------------------------------

Elsewhere, the battle was less one-sided. The mech seemed content to sit outside, firing blasts of energy and guided missiles to shoot down drones and batter away at the base’s defensive fortifications. It was twelve feet tall, bipedal, and resembled something between an armored knight and a futuristic tank that someone had strapped extra guns to. But that wasn’t the biggest problem. The garage was secured, Lieutenant Jones and a security team had it well covered. The mech was too big to enter and the troops that had tried had fallen there. As such, Sergeant Vualez was taken by surprise when the door to the main control room exploded inward.

“What the-” she started before cutting herself off and diving out of her seat, just before a blade went through its back. She drew her sidearm and fired, but the knife wielder vanished. As before, she felt a tiny gust of air. She was a veteran of the war, she remembered this odd feeling, and every little sign. And she was still stinging from the last time a magic user got the drop on her… hopefully said magic user was taking out that damn mech, but for now...

“Teleporter! Enemy Esper in play!” she shouted before rolling again, again narrowly avoiding being run through.

“Excellent reflexes, human!” The Esper standing over her was unfamiliar to her, but the slasher grin on his face was chilling. He looked young even for an Esper, almost boyish, and only slightly taller than Aiden. His eyes were brown, but so bloodshot they verged on maroon. “But I don’t know who you’re talking to...”

Lily Vualez looked around the control room and sighed. Her subordinates were down, possibly dead, and four of Owens’ troopers were pointing rifles at her. Dammit. She raised her hands in surrender.

“She was talking to me, James.”

Lightning filled the room, curving around as it smashed into each of the four troopers, overloading weaponry while a crude, telekinetic shield bubble formed over Lily. Each trooper went down, twitching and shuddering as their bionic implants fried. Two screamed as parts of them burned from the inside out, the other two seemed mercifully unconscious.

Vera winced. “That’s gotta really hurt. No wonder Owens wanted me as his ally. I’m a natural enemy to these guys. He should probably work on shielding. I mean… if a taser is more effective than usual you probably want to revisit the drawing board. Not that he’ll get the-”

The enemy Esper, James apparently, disappeared in a flicker and a gust of wind. He appeared behind Vera, only to be thrown as she spun and grabbed his knife wielding wrist. He hit the wall, and vanished again before hitting the ground.

Vera shook her head. “James Leland, former Knight. 1st Generation… Esper Corps deserter, you left your people to die in-”

“Oh shut up!” A grenade flew through the air from behind a console. Vera surrounded it with a force field shaped like a cup, funneling the blast down, relatively harmlessly, into the floor.

“You always were undisciplined. Relying on nothing but your talent, never developing your magic. Small wonder you fell in with Owens; you’re almost as dumb as I am!”

“SHUT UP!” He appeared behind her again.

And took a telekinetically enhanced fist in the face.

“No you. My power speeds up my reaction time. I may not beat Windborne in a distance race, but in close like this, I might be the fastest Esper. Teleporting behind me isn’t enough.” Vera sighed, kneeling next to her downed former comrade. “What did Owens promise you?”

“Hmph,” he replied, looking balefully up at her. She swore she could practically see his nose already mending from where she’d broken it. 1st Gen healing… “If you’re so fast, how come you failed? You were caught, and now turned against us.”

Vera smiled. “I was beaten the same way you were. On that day, my convictions were too half assed. Small wonder since I was working for the wrong side. What did he promise you?”

He snarled. “With more Espers, we’ll be safe! Humans can become like us, and they won’t fear us! We’ll be able to live without fear, even if the Oni return!”

Vera shook her head. “You really are almost as dumb as me. I let him trick me like that, too, but... There’s no such thing as ‘living without fear’... you and I know that better than most. Sergeant Vualez there knows it, too. Can you believe she forgave me so easily? I attacked her, took her place here, could have killed her. She has every reason to fear me, and hate me. And we have every reason to fear what’s out there. Nothing will change that.”

“We can change it! Owens can-”

“No. That’s not how it works. I get that now... goddamn I really do. We can’t erase fear by building bigger armies, walls, more guns. We can't be rid of those things, maybe not ever, but they aren't what really matter. We keep fear, we respect its warnings, but we don’t ever let it take the reins… heh, reins… We keep it where it belongs in our hearts, a quiet voice that keeps us sane. We do that by filling our hearts with much more important things.”

Lily snickered. “Holy shit…”

Vera waved a hand. “Yeah yeah, corny I know, too much pony reading lately.”

“No no, I kind of liked it.”

“Sane… you call putting faith in aliens sane!?” James seemed increasingly agitated, but his aether was quiet. He wasn’t looking to teleport; she had his attention.

She smiled, shaking her head. “Who said I was just putting faith in them? My faith is in all of us… all of us who know how to walk forward.” She held a hand out to him. “Care to come along?”

For a moment, he looked as though he’d bolt. Then his eyes narrowed slightly, and he sighed. He reached up, taking her hand.

As he pulled her forward, he brought his knife up with the other, aiming for her face. She spun away from the strike, sending a massive spike of electricity through the hand she held. He screamed as his grip on the knife became involuntary while all his muscles convulsed. The hand she held charred, burning partially away as his eyes sizzled in their sockets. Vera winced. She’d gone overboard when he’d surprised her.

“Dammit…” she said sadly, letting go of what was left of his hand. “Fastest Esper, I said… I’ve got a long way to go…”

His other hand had practically melded itself to the knife. His eyes, if they remained, were blessedly shut, and his body twitched gently. Amazingly, he was still breathing. 1st Gen resilience… but he was definitely out of the fight. No unicorns or magic swords were there to help him.

“Sorry you had to do that, Vera.” Lily said from behind her. “Are the others…?”

“I don’t know, hopefully just wounded. Doctor Hamada, wounded in the control room, friend and foe.”

“Acknowledged. Medical drones are scrambling now. I’ll join them when the halls are a bit safer.”

“Confirmed,” Lily said. “Oh shit, Elleway, you were supposed to be dealing with that mech!” The shaking had become almost constant now as the combat drones had been used up to minimal effect.

“Sorry about that… I felt the Field moving funny up here and changed course. James Leland… I’d only met him once, a year before he went AWOL. He seemed-”

“Reminisce later!”

“...Over dinner?”

Lily’s eyes narrowed. “You know I’m not usually into women.”

“That ‘usually’ works for me, love a challenge.” Vera replied, grinning beatifically.

“Kill… the… damn... mech!”

“I’m going, I’m going! But… the Field is moving around out there again…”

----------------------------------------------------

Doctor Christina Stolhann was not, in times prior, this hands on. She’d ceded examination of the alien to her assistant… that damned spy… over a trivial issue more because she preferred not to handle such grunt work directly. Most of the work rebuilding this magnificent device had been handled by her engineering team, while she’d concerned herself with theoretical applications of Oni technology. A corruption of their ideology alongside creative retooling of their medical science had resulted in Pravus’ reborn form.

And now she’d succeeded in redesigning this clearly successful masterpiece. The Oni-koru weren’t much for engineering such weapons, for the most part. But they had their exceptions, and many considered piloting every bit as noble a pursuit as direct combat. Their mechs were a combination of the two, and it’d been a simple matter to envision one rebuilt as a siege weapon. Seeing said vision to fruition had been a labor of love, but a labor nonetheless. And now she was seeing the payoff in person, from the pilot’s couch. Grumman had insulted her intelligence, spit on her work, stolen her research material… and now he would pay. He would come home to find everything in ruins. And then she would take everything else from him, while he looked on. Nothing would stop her…

The mech listed forward, stumbling on its reinforced legs, as a massive, unstable aether blast exploded against its heavily armored back. Stolhann’s eyes went wide as damage readouts appeared before her. Shields were down thirty percent, and rear armor plating was down to eighty percent integrity!

“Impossible…” she said as she turned to face the new threat.

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Donovan Trellis was having a bad day. Some might consider driving a limo around a bit degrading for a war hero, but he’d always enjoyed doing so. He’d liked that car. He’d liked the stereo. He’d really liked the collected music on the phone that had been connected to said stereo. That same phone had contained a number of pictures, as well. ...They were backed up in cloud storage… but that wasn’t the point!

Also, getting blown up was annoying, so there was that. ...Although, if there was any Esper likely to survive such a thing without a scratch, it was the one whose special talent was explosions.

Donovan Trellis had awoken as a 2nd Generation Esper three years into the war, at the age of fourteen. Like most of the 2nd Gen, he was actually slightly older than the 1st Gen, and several years older at awakening. Like many 2nd Gens, he bore a single scar, inflicted before his improved healing had come along with his awakening magic, that was a reminder of that day. His was a circular burn scar in the middle of his chest. A plasma burst, designed to explode on impact, had struck him. In the milliseconds that it burned his flesh before exploding him to vapor, it had awakened his latent gift for magic. His body had absorbed the rest of the force of the discharge, and he’d redirected it, turning the tide of the battle for his hometown.

He couldn’t always hold onto the energy he absorbed; often it just dissipated harmlessly into the Field, particularly with larger blasts he took. It wasn't that he had some kind of dangerous upper limit; magic didn't work that way... usually. It was more like trying to hold onto too much sand. Today though… he had a specific reason to hold onto all the energy he’d absorbed. He needed every little bit.

He wasn’t Aiden, or Vera. He didn’t really have a convenient way to cover distance quickly, and certainly not discretely. Discrete wasn’t his talent. He worked with explosions: sometimes you needed to go big and unignorable.

So it was that a massive, comet like object smashed violently into the largest, most obvious target in front of what Donovan had come to view as home. That object gave off a huge explosion upon impact, rocking the mech forward, damaging it less than he’d have liked, and sending him flying in the other direction to land easily on his feet.

“You broke my ride… my turn.”

Author's Note:

To be continued, tomorrow!

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