• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,699 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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9. Storming the Castle

Author's Note:

Okay so, remember the warning in the description about some violence and language? Time to earn that T rating, folks! Strap in...

They’d be gathering just outside Grumman’s base (Rarity felt it needed some sort of name… Fort Friendship? Eh, working title) in one hour, after getting kitted up.

For her part, this had meant a few minutes staring cockeyed at barding that had been set out for her. It had lightweight armor plates built into a tough fabric Rarity didn’t quite recognize, other than that it was synthetic. Another minute to put it on, surprisingly. It was sized quite well for being so form fitting… suspiciously well… dammit, Valerie. Some of those measurements were not to be taken without permission! On the other hoof, the barding was surprisingly comfortable after just a couple minor adjustments, so Rarity decided not to make issue of it. Instead, a touch of magic pulled the dark grey hood up over her mane (the sacrifices one must make in the service of good…) and attached the earbud that was wired into the suit’s communication system. In Rarity’s case this of course included two way translation. The order of the day in that regard was ‘short and simple’. The extra time waiting for long translations could be deadly, but short messages were very nearly no delay.

The rest of her time was spent communing with Joyeuse. Though she had no direct experience with wearing the Alicorn Amulet, and no plans to ever change that, she could only (safely) assume this was entirely different, and quite soothing. The crystal would do little to strengthen her the way the Amulet would, since it had no dark magic to draw from her very soul, but it also wouldn’t corrupt her for the same reason. That said, a little could go a long way, and it wasn’t just the enhancement that made the gem worthwhile.

Harmony. She could feel it thrumming in her veins, like a song of battle wiping away her lingering uncertainties. She felt courage and resolve flowing through her. Yet there was a peace about it. Was this the serenity her old self defense instructor had spoken of? If so, she should have stayed with the class longer. Flying Kick had definitely been onto something. Joyeuse was happy to be with her; together they could do this. It wouldn’t just be Aiden protecting her; they could all look out for each other. She knew it wasn’t overconfidence talking, rather a lack of doubt. But speaking of Aiden…

He’d emerged from his own preparations in similar shape. His outfit was form fitting and armored much like her own. He carried two long, thin clubs on his back, which the translator had called canes. They didn’t look like canes… they looked like bats, if somepony wanted a thinner bat they could swing faster. They were definitely larger and heavier than Joyeuse, which was after all a cane sword that resembled a rapier. Frankly, she hoped neither of them would have to use the weapons, but doubted her luck would hold up that well.

He glanced down at her, and gave her a small smile. She’d come to recognize it as his ‘that’s cute but I’m trying to be cool about it’. He fooled nopony. “The hoodie looks surprisingly good on you.”

Rarity snorted in amusement. “Lies. Covering this fabulous mane so completely is a crime against fashion. One more thing Colonel Owens must answer for.”

“Heh. Just remember this isn’t a punitive mission. We’re there to steal your ride home and get out. Leave Owens to our backup. Once we start taking the shields down on the ship, it’ll be at least a minute for me to get to finish the job. During that time they will be coming for us, assuming we even avoid detection that long. If not… eyes on the prize. We make our way to the ship, defend Valerie as long as she needs to disable the shields, and then defend me as I open a portal large enough to encompass the ship. Once I drop us off in my pocket ‘verse, I can use a normal sized portal back out for us and leave it in there.”

“I thought the things you left in there couldn’t be moved any more?”

He shook his head. “Nah, that’s just the stuff I absorbed on that first time. Anything else, if I can find it, I can grab it. The ship will be easy to find in there; even without the shields up it has a noticeable aether pulse from its reactor.”

“I see.” She more or less did, but she felt she’d understand better when she saw the thing.

“You’re sure you want to go through with this? It’s not just about you getting hurt. We’re going to try not to kill anyone but I absolutely cannot promise anything. And if I noticed one thing missing from your stories at dinner…”

“I’ve never killed anypony,” he smirked at hearing that, for whatever reason. “I know. If it comes down to them or me, I know my choice is already made. As is theirs, for siding with him. It’d be lovely to give them all the chance to change sides, the way Vera did, but we had no chance to offer that to the changelings in Canterlot. I accept that there’s no such chance here. You can count on me, Knight Lieutenant!” She saluted sharply.

He flushed slightly and turned away, muttering something her translator picked up as ‘mutter mutter cute mutter mutter felony.’

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

“Alright, folks, fall in!” Donovan exclaimed in a parade voice. “First things first… hand or hoof in the air if you’ve traveled with Aiden Airways before?” His own hand went up, as did Aiden’s with a sardonic grin that made Rarity a little nervous. “No one, eh? Well….” he began chuckling darkly… as did Aiden.

The four humans of their group, Valerie Martinovich, Talia Henson, Samuel Ferguson, and Aaron Cooper, all exchanged uncomfortable glances. Rarity was tensing up, and not just from looking at their individual arsenals. Teleportation wasn’t bad, but Aiden’s pocket dimension was a graveyard filled with aetheric instabilities. Did it make you sick? Would you get all stretched in various directions? Did it shatter your mind with hallucinations? Did it give you horrible wind mane? DID IT GIVE YOU HORRIBLE WIND MANE?!

Donovan wound down a bit. “Heh… hah… naaaah. It’s actually nothing at all.”

Rarity nearly fell over.

“Seriously, despite moving at… Aiden?”

“Eh… effectively about three hundred meters per second.”

“Right, almost the speed of sound, you aren’t actually moving so much as being picked up and put back down about 160 meters away.”

“161.8.”

“Yep, that. You’ll barely feel it. Now, if you’re watching, you’re going to get sick. You won’t feel the motion since you’re basically teleport hopping, but you’ll see the real world and Aiden’s ‘verse swapping as he pulls us through portals at about two per second. It’s like a strobe light, only more annoying. So I strongly suggest closing your eyes until we get there, which will be about ten minutes. Feel free to get a power nap in and be ready to go. Questions?”

No one had any. Rarity had already ‘asked’ Joyeuse to help her with any motion sickness. Despite being sheathed, she could still feel the gem pressed against her shoulder. It was strapped along her side horizontally, allowing her to draw it with her teeth if needed. Obviously magic was better, but for the first part of the mission they wanted to minimize magic use. Even using her perception to search for traps could be risky, despite Valerie’s belief otherwise. Every precaution…

“Brute Squad, do you read? This is Command Actual.” Grumman’s voice came through her headset. Whyever did they pick that name?

“Brute Squad here, Command. Ready to storm the castle.”

“Sally forth, Brute Squad. We have eyes in the sky and will inform you of any issues en route. Maintain radio silence unless you hear from us or need evac. Godspeed.”

“Acknowledged, Command. Once more on that muddy path…” Aiden chuckled. Rarity felt his aether surge around them, and then…

She gasped and her eyes went wide. Were it not for Joyeuse’s soothing touch, she certainly would have been nauseated immediately. Instead… feeling the aether surround her and carry her forward, everything slowed down.

Aiden was in front. He was staring straight forward and his eyes glowed with a gentle orange light, like candles in the darkness that surrounded them. Donovan’s pink (‘lightish red!’) aura encompassed them all, ostensibly shielding them from a dose of aether distortion that would be harmless anyway. Redundancy was better than recklessness, she supposed. The human soldiers had all closed their eyes, though Rarity noticed Valerie peeking out through one open eye from time to time.

I want to see Aiden’s world here. ...Heh, glad I didn’t say that out loud, what with the phrasing… But it seemed Joyeuse heard her. As she watched, the slower time seemed to exist in only half the jumps, speeding her perception while all but closing out the real world half of the transit. It was like watching a movie reel with old film, clear enough but for a slight skip that was so frequent it faded into the background. She knew she couldn’t move too far from the group, but within Donovan’s shield, she began walking around to see out from various sides of their party. Aiden turned to look at her, but didn’t cease his channeling.

“Rarity, you okay there?”

“I’m fine, darling, don’t worry about me. I simply wanted a look around.”

Donovan whistled quietly. “Eyes open, eh? You’re quite the ironmare, aren’t you?” He chuckled as though the word were amusing somehow.

Rarity wasn’t sure why, or that it applied to her. “I’ve gotten a lot of help to reach this point, Donovan. I think the last time I felt like this was days after getting my Cutie Mark. The giddiness had subsided, and I simply felt… purpose. Inspiration. Aiden… this little world of yours… I want to help with it. I think we can do something about how it is in here, and how you feel about it. It doesn’t have to be a graveyard.”

“It’s really not as symbolic as it sounds. And for now we should focus on the mission.”

Rarity nodded. “I understand. I am focused. If I think too much about it it isn’t going to help, though.”

“Fair enough. But don’t wander off. You’re in no danger in here, but if anything disrupts me right now I want us all in one place.”

“Understood.”

“Thank you, Knight Rarity.”

She giggled. “...Knight?”

“...Dame?”

“Not what I meant.”

“Well, you’ve pretty much volunteered your way into the Esper Corps. Congrats on being the first non-human. Knight is our basic rank.”

Rarity cocked an eyebrow at Donovan. “After all your years in service, not one promotion?”

Donovan laughed. “We’re not really the same as other military branches. Knight is fine, anything else is a leadership role, and I’m not big on stepping onto that stage. Grumman doesn’t really have a normal chain of command anyway. He collects merit, not ranks. Technically Valerie is a Corporal… so far as we know,” She stuck her tongue out at him but didn’t speak or open her eyes, “but only Grumman wouldn’t take an order from her. Actually even he might.”

Now she spoke. “It’d depend on the order. I tried to order him to take time off once. His response was… impolite.”

They all chuckled, and Aiden spoke up. “Nearly there, let’s cut the chatter on that happy note.”

And then, just seconds later, it was suddenly over. Aiden’s ‘verse disappeared, replaced by the real world sight of a place Rarity might have preferred never to see again. It was a short, squat compound that might have passed for a pair of office buildings if not for the barbed wire fencing, the numerous roaming guards, and general aura of foreboding. Donovan’s shield had vanished in the same instant Aiden’s last jump completed, and they all looked out across the brush to Veritech’s well-lit exterior. Well-lit, patrolled, and…

“Aiden, there are aetheric distortions at certain spots in the grass leading to the main entrance. They’re moving.”

Aiden grimaced. “You can really see that from here?”

Rarity nodded.

“Okay, to be fair I didn’t know Grumman would be giving you some kind of pony superweapon. Still, feel free to say ‘I told you so’ right about now.”

“Don’t be silly; no one would say such a thing. You were looking out for me and it was gallant.”

“Heh,” he gave that small smile again. “Alright then. Back entrance it is. Guards and mana bombs are a definite nope. Eyes shut, folks.”

Two jumps later they were staring at the compound’s back side, which didn’t differ much except one of the buildings had what seemed like a loading dock for large vehicles with a guarded door next to it, and the other had no apparent entrance.

Aiden nodded towards the guard. “Better to my eyes. Rarity?”

“There are distortions here, too. Four of them, moving along… ah. It’s a basic pattern. Step where I step and we can avoid them.” She didn’t ask why they didn’t portal closer. She could feel the sense of watchfulness around the building. Using magic that close would be a bad idea. It seemed clear the others understood the same thing.

“Valerie, any ideas?”

“That leads into the main hangar where the ship should be. There’s an antechamber leading to a tunnel into the hangar, to be exact. The hangar opens from the ceiling, which is below ground. We’ll need to open it to disrupt the compound’s shielding so Aiden can port us all out. That won’t be a problem though. The ship’s controls can remote access the hangar, and with the Command Crystal’s codes that ship is mine as soon as we step aboard. Even better, most of the research labs and offices are in the other building. If we take out the guard and get in quickly using his keycard, we should be to the ship before they can get a response to us. The hangar is probably guarded, but if we hit them hard and fast I can start on the ship shields right away. Take up overwatch positions around the ship to watch the entrances while I work. When I call for you all, get inside immediately so Aiden can start charging the portal. Donovan, you’ll be covering the ship’s hatch at that point. Don’t close it, we want them to try to get in rather than just blow the vessel. With the shields down that’s a risk, so tempt them with the prospect of capturing us instead. Anyone have anything to add?”

Rarity spoke up. “So we just… run across those… mana bombs, you said they were?”

Aiden nodded. “Specifically, you take point and we follow you, two by two. Step where the person in front of you steps. Aaron and I follow Rarity, Val and Talia after us, Don and Sam bring up the rear. Rarity, time your path so that we all have a safe zone to get through by following where you go. A close call for you is an explosion for us. And to be clear: even a small mana bomb means a missing leg for anyone without their own aether field. Even if Don or I step on it, it’s still very bad, and us spotted.”

Rarity nodded. “Understood. I do enjoy a precise pattern.”

“Good. Everyone ready? Aaron, hit the guard the moment we’re into the clearing. Stun shot if you can hit him with it.”

“Easy.”

“Kill shot if not- okay, good. Talia, close cover on Val while she gets the keycard and the door open. We’ll reassess inside, but we’re doing so on the run.”

“Can I hit the head first?”

“...No, Cooper, no you can’t.”

“Aww, I was ‘Aaron’ before.”

“You’ve been demoted. Rarity, when you’re ready.” The rest were already adjusting their formation.

Rarity nodded, not taking her eyes from the roaming mana bombs. They were almost like tumbleweeds in Appleloosa, only more predictable. She exhaled slowly, Joyeuse singing silently in her mind. It was a simple pattern; she was ready. With a burst of speed she surged forward. The guard ahead yelped and then made a gurgling noise as he slumped against the wall, but she scarcely spared him a glance. Hopping to the side in her dead sprint she avoided the first bomb with plenty of room to spare. No boom behind her as the second wasn’t even close thanks to simple timing. The third required a stutter step, but only she was at risk as it rolled past while she watched. She heard a curse behind her as Talia stumbled but kept her feet. The fourth and final bomb rolled past as she slid around it to the right, reaching the wall of the facility, puffing lightly through the adrenaline. The team… her team... was safe for now.

She spared a glance at the guard as Valerie took a keycard badge from him, as well as his weapon. He was alive; she could feel the artificial magic in him. She frowned slightly. Why could she only now feel it? She couldn’t tunnel vision; they were counting on her to see everything.

The door beeped, and opened. Rarity’s eyes went wide as her senses screamed in horror. She screamed as well. “TRAP!!!”

To their credit, they responded instantly. Talia pulled Valerie away from the door and to the dirt along the wall, Aiden and Donovan leapt forward to cover the door with overlapping shields. Donovan’s was an explosive aether, vaporizing the hail of bullets coming from the other end of the door. Aiden’s was simple force.

The two combined saved all their lives as the wall itself exploded outwards. Even Talia and Valerie, practically leaning against it, were spared by the precision of the shield, though the force transferred through it, even a trickle, had been enough to send them sprawling. No one could return fire or even see inside, but Rarity knew it had only begun. Whatever was in there, whatever the walls had somehow hidden, was making her blood run cold. She drew Joyeuse in her magic, feeling the increase in her strength and calm as its essence suffused her own. They could still…

“Hrk…” Aiden stumbled backwards, a massive, smoking spear impaled through his stomach. It had cut through the shield like it wasn’t there.

Rarity screamed, both in fear and rage, and jumped in front of him as another spear came through the smoking rubble, deflected as Joyeuse flew, nearly of its own accord, into the thrown weapon’s path. It would have pierced his skull. Donovan snarled, and his shield darkened at a single point. That point returned fire with extreme prejudice. Most of the building exploded away from them, pieces would later be found miles away by confused local residents. If Aiden’s shield hadn’t somehow still been up, they’d have all been at least deaf, if not flattened by even the weak side of Donovan’s counterattack.

“Shit, shit, shit! Man down!”

“Aiden!!”

“Back up, give me some room!”

Rarity gasped a shuddering breath. “Don’t touch the spear! It’s infused with dark magic!”

“How can that…?”

“Just back away, keep us covered!” Valerie exclaimed weakly from her spot on the ground.

Rarity was at Aiden’s side. His eyes were wide but somehow lucid. His magic was unstable, but not weakening. He… wasn’t dying? She took a calming breath. It didn’t help much. “Can you focus? I have to remove the spear.”

“He’ll bleed out,” Cooper warned.

“Espers... don’t bleed out, ...Private,” Aiden said, weakly, demoting Cooper again despite the dire circumstances. “Not from a puncture... like this. Hurts like... goddamn anything. But we heal, and we survive… worse than this. It’s an Oni weapon… goddammit… stupid… we knew he had them, but… ugh, I can’t move it.”

“Shh, it’s all right. This will hurt. Brace yourself.” Rarity’s magic wrapped around the hateful spear. Joyeuse bled off the corruption, without even darkening. The pure gem seemed eager to cleanse the wound. No more so than Rarity. “On three,” he nodded, taking several quick breaths, “… one, two, THREE!” Her telekinesis pulled the spear from the wound, prompting a brief spurt of blood and a scream from Aiden. The blood splashed her as the spear snapped in half in her grip, and then into fourths. The pieces, drained of their magic and nothing more than simple iron, were flung away.

Aiden curled towards Rarity, snarling in an attempt to cut off sobs. She put a hoof to his shoulder, cradling him gently as he rocked back and forth with the pain echoing through him. She could feel his magic swirling around the wound, beginning to heal, but it would take hours from what she was feeling. And then, the cold feeling returned from within the smoking rubble. Her head shot up, “There’s still someone in there!” Aiden’s shield flickered, allowing sound again so they could hear an approach.

Donovan snorted. “Not for…”

He was interrupted by clapping.

In a burst of wind, the dust and smoke were cleared from the leveled building. Within, inside a shield of their own, were half a dozen… beings. Rarity couldn’t call them human, not all of them. The one making her blood run cold could not be called such.

The four on the outside seemed like standard Veritech soldiers. She’d seen them patrolling the buildings inside and out during her stay and on this mission tonight. They looked and felt no different than the guard they’d dropped outside. The man clapping was none other than Colonel Jeffrey Owens. Rarity remembered well the disdainful but avaricious way he’d regarded her during their few brief meetings. His gray, leonine mane framed a sharp, hawkish face, punctuated by piercing blue eyes yet marred by touches of self indulgence around the jowls and chin. His physique, as well, had gone a bit soft, giving him the appearance of a once hardened athlete aging with middling grace. He reminded Rarity of a Griffon gone to seed. He was perhaps ten years younger than General Grumman, but it was hard to be sure.

His lack of physical intimidation was more than compensated for by the sixth being. Over two meters tall, blue skinned, and naked from the waist up exposing a mish mash of tubes, machinery, and festering wounds, the being positively reeked of corrupted aether. Its eyes, yellow sclera with red pupils, were even more disturbing, reminiscent of… Rarity didn’t want to think about it. His head was topped by six horns, swirling upwards like a curved crown, and his hands featured seven fingers each, all capped by massive, black claws. He grinned at Rarity slowly, showing off shiny black fangs even in the now poorly lit battlefield. Her senses sharpened as she knew she was staring down an Oni-koru in the broken flesh.

Aiden spoke up. “Brute Squad actual. Condition black. Owens confirmed for high treason. Requesting immediate evac.”

Static.

“Oh come now, Windborne. It should be obvious we were prepared for this.” Owens said as he came forward, staying within his own shield. “I am impressed though. I didn’t expect you to bring my alien back. And look, you gave her a little sword! That’s adorable! Can she hold it in her mouth so I can take a picture for my niece?”

“Valerie, darling, what’s English for ‘I’ll shove this sword so far up your tailhole you’ll taste your last meal twice?’”

Valerie, despite the situation, snerked. She was a professional and a veteran of the Oni war; it would take more than this to kill her humor.

The Oni laughed as well. “Shall I translate for you, little one?” As one would suspect, his voice was a deep baritone. It was gravelly, as though he were sick, and he looked it.

No, Rarity corrected herself. He looked dead on his feet. It didn’t make him less a threat, to her mind. She snorted at him, “You hurt a very dear friend of mine. I don’t suppose you’d like to apologize before this gets ugly?”

There was a click behind her head, her eyes widened.

The Oni grinned. “I’m sorry you’re going to die so soon. I’ve only seen your kind in the old archives. A shame I can’t kill you myself.”

She didn’t turn around, didn’t budge. She knew just enough about guns to know what was behind her ears right then. From the corner of her eye, she could see Aiden looking balefully behind her.

“Ferguson… I’m going to hang you from your own guts while you’re still breathing.” Aiden muttered.

“Hmph,” Samuel Ferguson replied, holding his backup pistol at the back of Rarity’s head. “You do jack or shit and I’ll pull the trigger before you get me. This little monster is too full of surprises, so we’re stopping here. You’re all surrendering, or you get to see what color her brains are. Colonel, why didn’t you warn me about the mana bombs?! You put my life in the… hands of this little freak?! I’m going to want a raise in-”

He cut off his own words as Aaron sprang forward and grabbed his gun, jamming the barrel upward and flicking a switch along its side with an almost casual hand motion. Ferguson fought him, but only briefly.

The knife in his kidney ended that.

Rarity gasped and spun around. Aaron was still holding Ferguson’s gun straight up, but only in one hand. The other was around the traitor’s throat. The dagger, Talia’s, was being twisted in his torso by the infuriated woman.

Aaron pulled the dying man close. “Grumman made me responsible for her, you know? I’m a damn joker, right? The screw up, the team jackass. Hell with that. You betray us and point a gun at the woman I’M GODDAMN GUARDING?! You don’t get to give your reasons.” He spun, and flung Ferguson into their side of the shield, holding the pistol that could have ended Rarity’s life in one clenched fist. The traitor bounced off the shield as Aaron pointed the gun at his head. “Knight Rarity. You may want to look away.”

She didn’t. He fired. Joyeuse lilted a soothing, silent song as her eyes teared up. Why? How did everything go so wrong? She wanted to scream, she wanted to throw up.

She wanted to hurt something.

And Owens was laughing. “Well, one less paycheck to send out. I didn’t really need him anymore, so thank you. But he was right. You’ll be surrendering now. Donovan Trellis. You might be a match for an Oni-koru of Pravus’ caliber on your own. But while holding up that shield you’ve already proven you can’t channel enough power to be a threat. Windborne’s down for the count, though as always I’m impressed by the resiliency of the First Gens. He’ll make a wonderful specimen. I’ve never had a First Gen to cut into. As to the rest… well my little horned friend might be a concern… so Pravus will kill her first. The humans can be done in at leisure… unless you surrender. If you do, I’ll let them go. I have no interest in harming true humans. Or, we can stand here and trade insults until Aiden’s aether runs out. With the corruption in that wound it won’t take long. With his portion of your shield down, yours won’t be enough to stop Pravus from beginning the slaughter.”

Rarity snorted, but didn’t respond. He couldn’t understand her and she didn’t care for this Pravus serving as intermediary.

She needn’t have worried. “Riiiight. You revived an Oni-koru like some bad Frankenstein fanfic because you have humanity’s best interests at heart.” Valerie snarked, standing up shakily. There was blood in her hair and smeared on her forehead.

Pravus chuckled darkly.

Owens shrugged dramatically. “What can I say, Assistant Research Head Victoria Marren? Or wait, was that right? You have so many false names, so many trusts betrayed… The world I envision won’t need backstabbers and spies. It will be pure, built of strength and loyalty!”

Rarity made a loud ‘PAGH!’ noise at that. This monster even using such a word was repulsive. Joyeuse sang quietly of retribution… of cleansing the stain of… Rarity’s eyes went wide. Cleansing…

“Aiden…” she whispered as Valerie continued to distract Owens, “I have a terrible idea and it’s going to really hurt.” Aaron surreptitiously moved in front of the two of them while glaring daggers at Owens.

Aiden smiled up at her. “I was trying to work up the courage to ask. You cleansed the spear, so…”

She nodded. “Joyeuse did, I just directed the energy. Grumman really saved our asses with this.”

Aiden cocked an eyebrow at her choice of words. “Yeah… early records to the contrary, he’s good at that. Humanity would never have made it through the war without him.”

She nodded. “Sorry about this." She leaned down and nuzzled him, and lightly kissed him on the way back up. “Just in case this is a worse idea than I’m thinking.”

Aiden was grinning like an idiot. “I kissed an alien,” he sing-songed quietly.

“Yes, yes, somewhere Cadance is giggling. On three…”

“Wait, who?”

“One, two, three!”

And she stabbed Joyeuse into his wound. Light blue and dark orange mixed as magic swirled around them, filling their shield with a twilight blue aura.

Owens swore, jumping back from the bright light as his human guards shielded their eyes but held their positions. Pravus laughed as he looked on. “I see! How marvelous! This is what the archives spoke of!” He continued laughing madly as the light finally faded.

Rarity was panting heavily. She felt drained, as though she’d channeled her Element of Harmony. She was recovering quickly, and Joyeuse was subdued, but jubilant. And Aiden was on his feet.

“Holy Celestia… that was weird! I have the oddest urge for Earl Grey tea and a bubble bath.”

Rarity blinked in surprise. “The Hell you say?”

His head tilted before turning back to her. “The Hell you say?” His eyes went wide, showing off a new feature. He pointed at her. “Rarity! One of your eyes is grey!”

She pointed at him. “One of yours is blue!”

Aaron looked back and forth between them. “Magic’s weird.”

Owens snarled. “Enough. Pravus! Destroy their shields and kill them all. Leave the alien corpse intact. You can eat the rest, I don’t care!”

Pravus chuckled and began channelling dark energy.

“Donny boy?”

Donovan grinned. “The pipes are calling…”

Their shields both exploded outward simultaneously. Pravus ducked towards Owens, shielding him from the blast of incinerating aether on the crest of a wave of twilight blue force. He was staggered, and burned, but held his ground. Owens seemed unharmed as he turned and ran into the tunnel leading to the hangar.

Pravus was laughing. Rarity had to give it to him, he seemed a rather jolly monster. “I have waited a decade for my vengeance, little heroes! You, the Thousand Blade Butcher! And you, the Light of Death! I know you both!”

“The younger ones are so dramatic.” Donovan muttered.

“Hey, I think Thousand Blade Butcher sounds kind of cool.”

“Quiet, Aaron.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Knight Rarity, Sergeant Henson?”

“Yes, Valerie?”

“Ma’am?”

“Shall we fetch ourselves a Colonel?”

“Oh my, yes, let’s do that. The boys can handle this.” They ran around Pravus, who tried to turn on them, only to be knocked away in the other direction as a blast of aether flew through a portal that opened in his face.

Aiden chuckled. “Dunno how that Equestrian magic works, but hot damn. You can’t hold the field stable enough to stop my portals… you might as well be a foot soldier, Elite Warbrave Pravus.”

“Ahh… so you remember me, as well? How wonderful, little hero. Do you remember the screams of the weak as I-” his taunt was cut off, as a bullet bounced off his head, rocking it back and stunning him briefly.

“We gotta finish this guy. I want the Colonel’s secret recipe!”

“Wrong Colonel, Aaron.” Aiden facepalmed as Donovan’s aether blasts herded Pravus further away from the hangar.

“They could know each other.” Aaron insisted.

“He’s gotta be trolling us.” Donovan offered.

“I can’t be sure.” Aiden said with resignation. “This weird aether boost won’t last, and I’m still torn up in the guts. We need to end this.”

“Feel free, he’s deflecting me. I can wear him down but it’s going to take awhile. He’s a shadow of what he used to be, though.”

“I noticed that. Kinda sad, really, seems like the story of their lives.”

“Probably not a great idea to devote yourself to just war.”

“Such a touching moral…” Pravus’ voice came from behind them, directly behind Donovan, who swore as he tried to get distance from the suddenly twenty feet closer enemy.

Aiden was faster. His pair of carbon fiber bastons had caught the Oni’s outreaching arm like scissors. “Thanks for closing in.” He tilted his head slightly, and channeled.

Twenty baseball sized portals opened along Pravus’ torso, cutting through his weakened magic defenses with ease. Viscous blood the color of oil splattered about from the wounds as he dropped to his knees.

“You know, the closer I am, the better I can sense things, and the better I can affect aether flow. My maximum range is not optimal for fighting. Why do you think I’ve never carried a gun?”

“You’re a shit shot?” Aaron asked.

“Literally the worst.” Donovan confirmed.

“...Shaddup.”

Pravus was chuckling, though it quickly became wheezing. “I could not win anyway. Not with this broken form. Ten years infusing hatred into those spears, sitting in a pool of my own life fluids, stitched together by…” he sighed deeply, before coughing. “I could have killed you had they both struck true. A pity…”

Aiden smiled wanly. “Yeah… real shame. Any last words? Because you’re fading fast enough even I can tell.”

“Hmph. Your Colonel Owens is a soulless devil. No true warrior would treat an honored enemy this way.” He gestured to himself, and the cruel machines and dark energies that kept up his mockery of life. “Our kind killed yours, yes, and delighted in the war. They died, and went to the hereafter. The universe wastes nothing. They will be reborn. Perhaps they will be stronger. The survivors are stronger. What he’s made of me… it is a mockery of strength, a desperate grasp at false power. End me, Butcher, that I may be reborn one day.”

Aiden sighed, and nodded. “Farewell, you monster.” Another portal opened, and Pravus’ decapitated corpse crumpled to the ground.

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

Talia, Valerie, and Rarity made their way quickly down the tunnel, following the echoing bootsteps of Colonel Owens’ escape. As they turned the corner and entered the hangar, Rarity gasped. “Sweet Celestia… that’s the ship?”

Valerie fired several shots at Owens as he ducked around the vessel for cover, rewarded with a shout of pain from clipping his shoulder. “Dammit. Yeah… doesn’t even rate Millenium Falcon status, huh?”

“...I… don’t…”

Valerie snorted, fighting the urge to facepalm in combat. “Remind me to have a movie night with you before we send you on your way home.” She was talking loudly, but at the same time gesturing behind her back to Talia. She nodded, and slipped into the shadows in the other direction. At the same time, Rarity jumped to the side as a wall mounted turret opened up on her position. “Traps!”

“Shit, no kidding!” Valerie leapt behind a crate, then snarled a more acrid curse as bullets shredded her cover, nearly ending her before she could roll away behind something sturdier.

The floor was smeared with blood where she’d done so.

The turret refocused on Rarity as it continued firing. “Wait, I’m remembering something,” she commented as Joyeuse deflected the incoming fire almost casually. “What’s Star Wars?”

“A memory clogged in that grey eye of yours, if I had to guess! Get behind-”

The turret exploded as Talia’s rifle spoke up for the first time that night. Valerie gave a shuddering sigh. “Never mind.”

Rarity stiffened as she felt aether flowing again. “The ship is powering up! I’m going for him!”

“I’ve got you covered!” Talia called out.

“S-same,” Valerie’s weakened voice chimed in.

A second turret in the hangar wall came online as Rarity came into its line of sight, but was destroyed by a single shot from Talia. Rarity made it around the side of the ship and through the open hatch. And Joyeuse deflected another shot, this time from Owens’ pistol.

“Damn you… you little freak! How dare you threaten humans!”

“Oh please, you parasprite turd, I just kissed a human.” She licked her lips with a little smirk. “Not bad, actually, little salty, but not in a bad way. We have been exerting ourselves, after all. …..Oh right, you can’t understand me!” She giggled, and then chortled as Joyeuse deflected the last of his bullets. She was feeling the strain and horror of the night catching up. The part of her that was laughing began to tremble. All this bastard’s fault… HIS DAMN FAULT!!! It would be easy… Joyeuse wasn’t that dull. With her magic flowing through it, it could have cut silk dropped upon it. She knew she could kill him. Part of her wanted to. Joyeuse sang mournfully, and inside, so did she. She smiled sadly. “Even if we spoke the same language, that would still be true. I’m so sorry.”

Joyeuse’s pommel cracked into his skull at fastball speed, knocking him unconscious to the deck.

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

“V14 to V7, do you read? Pravus is down and the Colonel has retreated to the Oni vessel, please advise. I have the First Gen in my sights, but my weapon won’t kill him. I need backup! V7!”

“V7 is on break. Or broken, take your pick.”

V14 looked up from his scope at the sound of a familiar voice. “...Knight Elleway?! Colonel said you were captured!”

Vera grinned. “I was. Turned, too.”

V14’s eyes widened behind his helmet. “Oh shit…”

Vera’s grin widened. “For pony…” A massive electrical shock put a twitching V14 helplessly into the turf.

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

After gathering up a seriously wounded Valerie and helping aboard a flagging Aiden, Brute Squad sat aboard their prize while waiting for the ceiling doors to open. They had jammed, and telekinetic efforts from Donovan and Rarity were now forcing them open.

“Got it,” Valerie said, panting at the effort and moving slowly to avoid exacerbating bullet wounds and what may have been a minor concussion. “The shields are powering down. They’ll be inactive in twenty seconds. “Aiden, can you still handle a portal this size? Even with this debacle turning in our favor… mostly… we can’t exactly haul this thing out of here another way. We can launch, but with long range comms still down I don’t like that idea.”

Aiden nodded. “Me either, but I should be fine. I can start as soon as-”

Beep. Beep. Beep.

“Shields are down.” Aaron said.

“That’s not-” Valerie cried.

“Trap!” Rarity shouted.

Less than a second later, the Oni ship exploded.

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