• Published 5th Jun 2018
  • 1,584 Views, 274 Comments

Meliora - Starscribe

Earth is only just recovering from a war that almost wiped out the pony descendants of humankind. But when the Alicorns fail them, the survivors turn to an unlikely source for aid: Jackie the bat pony.

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Chapter 1: Myotis

“There’s nothing illegal about leaving the city,” David said. “Based on the way people are acting, they’d probably be happy to have us gone. But nobody living in the city knows what it’s like out there, except for the retrieval teams. And they don’t live out there, they just visit. But you… you know. And you’ve got the magic of a whole army. And you probably have the money to outfit us.”

She didn’t, not if he was right about the “half the bats” figure. But she knew where to get it.

“Look, I was hoping you’d be here tonight. There’s someone I want you to meet.” David gestured to one of the ponies who had been sitting beside them, one of the few whose names she hadn’t known. A mare, more experienced and world-weary than David the refugee. One of her wings had a large gash that had been fixed with stitches, somewhat inexpertly. It looked like it still hurt. “This is Eclipse. She’s been the one organizing all of this. She wanted to meet you.”

The mare wasn’t shy—she dragged over her stool right then, apparently unconcerned with any obstruction she might be causing to traffic in the club.

Jackie watched her, ever-wary. This wasn’t like David at all—this pony moved confidently on her hooves, and was plainly wearing a weapon. The crowbar could’ve been a tool, but it had a sharpened end and there was something brown dried there.

“Well, here I am,” she said. “You’re the one who put him up to this?”

Eclipse didn’t say anything for a few more seconds, appraising. “I thought you might be some rich stallion’s pet when David talked about you,” she said. “Come down here to lord over us now that you’d been lifted out of poverty. But I see that isn’t the case. You heard what he said—we need to get out. You know what it takes to live out there. Not to end up like… the last time somepony tried that.”

“I do,” she agreed. “But I don’t think you do. You need to understand what’s waiting out there. You know all the forts are taken, right? You won’t have any of the infrastructure you’re used to. No free food and water from the dispensers twice a day, no free doctors, not even any shelter at first. You have to do all of that yourselves the way your ancestors did.”

“We know,” Eclipse said. “All of that. We wouldn’t take one of the old forts even if they weren’t all full of ponies. Eventually Mundi would grow that big and ponies would try to take away everything we’d built there. We want to go so far away that we can keep what’s ours forever.”

“Have you thought about where? Basically anywhere is going to be awful to get to, I hope you realize. We’re in the desert. We’ll have to cross it, maybe cross Europe, or the Middle East, or…”

“If you’re the Dreamknife, you know the old kingdoms. We planned on Thestralia. It’s gigantic, but still separated by water. Mundi can’t swallow us up by accident. Plus, lots of the tech we use here in Mundi was invented down there. We’re hoping some of it might still be working for us to use.”

“Thestralia,” she repeated, mild anger in her voice. Though not directed at any of these ponies. Odds were, the ones she was thinking of were all long dead by now. The Dreamlands were a dangerous place, and harsh to those minds who chose to dwell within forever. “The Arcane Network isn’t really anything like what we have today. But they are similar, I suppose. I can’t really help with that part—the only time I visited Thestralia I was… let’s say ‘unwelcome.’ If they’d found out I was there, well—” She smiled with satisfaction. “They didn’t find me, so I’m still here.”

“You’re right that we don’t understand everything we’d be facing,” Eclipse continued. “There’s no denying that. A few refugees like David are better prepared than the ones who grew up here. But most of us… we can’t stay here. You’ve seen what happened to us over the years, Dreamknife. You really want us to stick around until they take away the facade and just make us into slaves?”

She was about to say how much she doubted that would happen, considering who ruled here and the campaigns she had once fought. But Alex ruled here now, and somehow hadn’t noticed the suffering right under her hooves. It was hard to manage an entire species. Little things, like the suffering of an entire tribe’s worth of ponies, could be easily missed.

“It’s a good thing you kept this secret,” Jackie finally said. “If as many as you say really want to leave, then I can’t imagine the ponies you work for would be too happy. They might even do something rash to try to encourage you not to leave.”

“We thought of that,” Eclipse said, a little smug. “And some more. We’ve been saving what we could for supplies, though we didn’t know what we might need. I’ve seen the maps. We’ll probably have to make it to the sea, build a boat, sail it all the way there.”

Jackie shuddered at the thought, imagining what sort of boat a bunch of bats with no shipbuilding expertise could make. “Uh… no. That’s a terrible idea. Plus, I know a faster way. No offence, but I don’t like the odds of anypony who grew up here surviving a trek across the world. And I would know—I’ve seen it done like, five different times.”

“So that means you’ll do it?” Eclipse asked, reaching past Jackie with her hoof, taking Jackie’s shot glass from the counter, and swallowing the last of the Romulan Ale. “You’ll lead us out of here, help us build something new? Be our princess?”

“Yes, yes, no.” Jackie stood up. “Don’t use the P word with me again, honey. I think it’s shit what has happened to bats down here. Honestly, it was either get out or watch ponies start dying. This way, maybe they’ll learn to respect the ones who stay behind a little more. Or maybe they won’t, and when we’re established they’ll have somewhere to go.” She raised a hoof before the other pony could go on. “But I have a few conditions, so listen carefully. First one is you never do that princess shit again. I am not one of them, and I never ever will be. I hate their world and almost everyone in it.

“Secondly, we’re not doing the race thing in Thestralia. We aren’t going to make another Mundi there, only backward. Anypony who wants to come with us can come, and you aren’t going to mistreat them even if they’re unicorns.”

This caused Eclipse pause. She frowned a moment, considering. Then she shrugged. “If anypony wants to throw their fate in with us, then I suppose that’s fine. They won’t. After what happened with the Dawnstar colony…”

“Probably not,” Jackie agreed. “But one day, they will. Other ponies down on their luck, maybe new refugees who want something a little more familiar than fucking Bladerunner to live in. You promise me right here that they can come.” She advanced, her expression growing cold. She reached into the empty air beside her, and drew out her dagger. It was unchanged from the day she’d first used it, a hilt wrapped in leather and gold, an angel set into the blade of reflective metal that splintered into rainbows near a point that hurt to look at.

“They didn’t give me that stupid nickname because I’m a blacksmith when I sleep. I’m not going to be responsible for another dystopia. I swear if you or any other ponies try to go back on your word once we’re living the good life, and you decide to put some unicorns into a damn Datamine…” She tilted the knife forward, and dropped it onto the bar. It sank through the corrugated metal as though it were smoke, right down to the hilt. “There won’t be a place in this world or any other for you to run.”

David stared at the blade, transfixed. A few other bats in the bar had apparently noticed as well, including the barkeep. But he of all ponies knew not to complain—whenever Jackie caused trouble, she always paid for it. His silence was worth more to her than chits.

“You aren’t the first one to say things like that,” Eclipse said. Apparently Jackie had guessed right about her intention not to guarantee what she’d been asking. But then, why shouldn’t she expect to double-cross her as soon as she’d done what they wanted.

“Maybe not,” Jackie said. “But how many of them have done it?” She drew out her knife—there was no need to clean the blade, which couldn’t dull any more than it got dirty. She slid it away back into its Otherspace sheath, gone from sight. “I’ve killed… more people than I wanna think about. I’ve killed more people than you’ve met in your whole life, hundreds of times over.” She shivered a little, at that part of herself that was long dead. “Dealing with me is a little like the devil, only the exact opposite. So long as you don’t give me shit, and you do what you say, it’s great. Otherwise…” She paused, hesitating. Something about the way the ponies moved in the bar no longer looked right. When you were Jackie’s age, even slight changes in group behavior were glaringly obvious.

She saw what it was at once, and forced herself to smile. “Oh, hey, that’s cool. Free bonus gift, just for signing up.” She glanced up at the door, breathing in a deep breath of Dreamlands air. “I dreamed there was a wall there,” she said. And just like that, the traitor trying to slip out the door smashed his head into solid bricks. A fatal injury for a unicorn, though like everyone else here he was only a bat.

There were sounds of panic from in the bar as ponies noticed they were suddenly sealed in. Someone turned off the music, a few people screamed. Jackie ignored them all, and let herself slip backward into the shadow of the bar. She emerged on the other side of the room, out from the shadow of the old jukebox.

“Hey there.” She grinned at the pony who had tried to escape, still lying on the ground in a slight daze. “That was real clever. Trying to slip away in the middle of our conversation? I wonder who you work for.”

As she spoke, she watched him struggle, trying to get something out of his belt. A gun.

She hadn’t lived this long by taking chances—she was only ageless, not immortal like an Alicorn. But instead of going for his gun, she smashed a hoof down on his wings, breaking several delicate bones and tearing the skin in two places.

The bloodcurdling shriek he made was loud enough that the crowd around the door parted immediately, many averting their eyes from the terrible injury Jackie had just inflicted. She ignored them, dragging the still screaming pony to the hooves of Eclipse and David by the bar. “You know him?” she asked, her voice as bored as though she’d dropped a drink. “Or maybe you know where he got this.” She deposited the gun on the counter beside them. “I didn’t know bats could own guns anymore.”

“God in heaven,” David muttered, looking away with disgust and horror on his face. “You really fucked him up.”

“Jason,” Eclipse said. “He’s… a new member. You attack ponies like this often?”

She shrugged. “When they have dreams like this sack of shit, yeah. Look.” Jackie touched a hoof to his head, leaned sideways so she was touching Eclipse with her flank. With the contact between them, she could show some of what this “Jason” had been dreaming about. It was a familiar dream—wealth, power, prestige, finally being recognized, adored by his female friends. Except it started with him joining up with an organized crime syndicate deep in the underground, who had been tasked by a shady corporation to make sure their workers didn’t try anything. They’d suspected something like this was coming, and wanted a man on the inside to see.

In a few seconds of real time, Jackie’s magic had shown Eclipse hours Jason had spent with the mob, learning to use the weapon, getting his instructions on what conditions would move him up the ladder. Turning in this little resistance before they could mobilize anything was the first step.

Those seconds passed, and Jackie broke contact with them both. “See? He’s lucky I didn’t just kill him. But if I had, his dreams would’ve died with him. You couldn’t have seen that little fantasy.” She leaned down towards him, grinning with her sharp teeth. “Should’ve known I’d be able to see daydreams too, asshole. I’m, what, eight millennia old? Shoulda’ kept it in your pants.” She gestured, and the brick wall covering the door returned to the dream she’d stolen it from. “There. Oh, and…” She looked up at Eclipse again. “If you’re serious about this, I suggest you advance your timeframe to… three days. This shitstain is about to go missing, and that’s information in itself. You really want to do this, it’s time to decide right now.

“We do,” Eclipse said, glaring down at her newly-revealed traitor.” This only proves how important it is. We can’t wait another day.”