• Published 14th Sep 2018
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The Last Charger - Chengar Qordath



When Belladon Striker, a down-on-his-luck mercenary captain, crosses paths with Torch Charger, the last survivor of his clan, it sets in motion a chain of events that will redefine the very face of Freeport itself.

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The Last Charger 3

I woke up to someone pounding on my cabin door. There was only one pony on the ship with the guts to wake me up with a knock that annoying. The worst part was, Talon wouldn’t be doing this without a damn good reason, which almost certainly meant we were about to earn our pay.

I grunted and hauled myself out of bed, wincing when my hooves hit the deck. One of the joys of getting older; my knees spent the first couple moments complaining whenever I got out of bed. It was only gonna get worse. I wasn’t getting any younger, and every single step I took meant getting one step closer to my last. Between that and the headache I was nursing from not getting enough grog, it wasn’t a pleasant wake-up.

I hauled myself over to the door and pulled it open. “Yes?”

The frown on Talon’s face instantly confirmed my fears. “We’ve got trouble. There’s a ship ghosting us.”

Well ... that’s just feathering typical. Of course this couldn’t just be a milk run where nothing went wrong. “What type of ship is it?”

“Sloop-of-war, according to the captain.” She grimaced. “Apparently, that’s the naval term for a sloop that’s bigger and faster than us.”

“Bigger and faster? Hardly seems fair,” I grumbled. Though I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise; not like life had ever been fair in the first place. “It showing its flag?”

Talon nodded. “A Freeport one, but that hardly means they’re friends.”

I grimaced and nodded. “Not if they’re tailing us. If it was a merchant ship I'd guess they were just shadowing us for protection, but nobody hauls cargo on a ship like that. I guess they could be a naval escort of some kind, but...”

“I’m not half as cynical as you and I know we’re not that lucky,” Talon agreed. “Not to mention they’d be doing something to signal they were friendlies, since anyone with a functioning brain knows how it looks when a warship with a lot of heavily armed crew starts tailing another vessel. I suppose we should just be glad it’s thieves instead of the Council or Equestrians.”

“Too right.” Crooks could give a toss about the escorts; all they wanted was the cargo. If the Equestrians caught us we’d get a quick trial and a short drop. If the Emancipation Council caught us, it’d be less fancy but with the same end result. Granted, if we got between the pirates and their quarry like we were supposed to they wouldn’t hesitate to kill us too. They just might not bother running us down if we ran.

“Best to rally the soldiers then,” I ordered. “Maybe we can scare them off. It’s only one ship, and most pirates would rather hit a soft target than one that can actually fight back.”

“Worth a try,” Talon agreed. “And best to have the troops ready whether we scare them off or it comes down to a fight.” She started to march off to rouse everyone, then paused and glanced back at me. “Torch is in the crow’s nest keeping an eye on them. You want to go up and check in with him, or should I?”

“I’d better,” I answered. “I want to get a look at this ship myself.” Part of being a leader might be delegating things to others, but there’s no substitute for seeing it yourself. Lot faster to put my own eyeballs on the enemy than to make Torch try to describe it all.

Talon nodded sharply and wasted no more time, setting off at a brisk trot and calling out orders in her best parade ground voice. Stars above, I couldn’t run this company without her to whip everyone back into line. Feathers, she could probably do my job better than I did most days.

I’d be lying if I said I’d never considered handing it over to her. Probably be better for her and for the troops. Not for me though. Needing to be the responsible captain was probably the only thing keeping me from drinking my way into an early grave, or finding some other fittingly disreputable demise.

Instead, I could look forward to getting myself killed doing such glamorous work as keeping pirates from stealing a slave ship. The joys of being a mercenary.

I flew up to the crow’s nest to find Torch. The new recruit had the ship’s telescope fixed on the small but growing dot on the horizon that had to be the enemy ship. Somehow, he still looked presentable despite two weeks on a ship and being several hours into crow’s nest duty. It was enough to make me wonder if he was crossing the line between fastidious and foppish. I cleared my throat to get his attention. “What’re they doing?”

“Gaining on us,” he answered tersely. I was a bit surprised—normally Torch liked to talk a bit more and always seemed so friendly it kinda pissed me off. Which I suppose ought to mean that terse was an improvement. “Also, I can’t be sure, but...” He pulled the telescope back and offered it to me. “Look for yourself, sir.”

I took it and had a look. The ship was still too far away to make out much in the way of details, but what little I made out was enough to make the bottom drop out of my stomach. Way too many sets of wings for a normal pirate crew. And then I saw one of them marching around in a fancy breastplate that was so polished up I could practically feel it stabbing me in the eyes. Only one merc around wore something like that.

“Dammit.” I scowled and passed the telescope back to Torch. “Those aren’t just pirates, we’re up against a Striker company.”

“I take it that’s bad news?” Torch asked.

“Very bad,” I confirmed. “Especially with that bastard Glory leading them. Guy’s got enough of an ego for any three captains, there’s no way he’d back off or go easy on us.” Especially not when I’d taken a swing at him once. It was over a decade ago, back when we’d been Tenth Company rather than Belladon’s Brawlers, but Glory was the kind of guy who didn’t forget or forgive stuff like that. He’d want a fight as soon as he found out it was me, and probably not the sort of nonlethal ritual honor duels the clans used to do when they had conflicting jobs. That practice had been a relic of the good old days, before we’d murder an entire friendly clan if the price was right.

Torch scowled out at the ship. “Glory Striker. That’s ... Third Company, right?” I nodded, and his scowl deepened. “They were one of the companies in the vanguard when...” Torch grimaced and shook his head. “What’s the plan, captain?”

I sighed and ran a hoof through my mane. “We try and make this look like too big of a fight to be worth it. Talk to ‘em if they’ll listen. Maybe they'll blanch at fighting other Strikers. If not, I doubt they’ll want to bleed too much to steal a bunch of slaves.” I didn’t actually believe any of that could happen, but I’d give it a shot. I was a decade past overdue for some good luck.

Then Torch asked the question that had been weighing on everyone’s mind. “And what happens if they don't back off?”

I shrugged. “Fight if we have to.”

“Even though they’re your kin?” Torch pressed.

“You got a better idea?” I growled. “If we don’t protect the cargo we aren’t going to be able to eat when we get back to Freeport, and I’m not going to let some bastard stick a knife in my back just because he happens to be a third cousin once removed.” I glowered at him, a bit surprised by the question. “And why’s it matter to you? I figured I’d need to hold you back from sticking that sword of yours into every single of them. Like you said, Third Company and Glory were there on the front lines of the attack on your family.”

Torch grimaced, and I could swear I heard his teeth grinding against each other. “Revenge ... is something I’ve had to learn to let go of. There was an old saying my father was fond of: if you’re out for vengeance, dig two graves. One for your enemy, and one for yourself.” His eyes narrowed. “They already destroyed the rest of my clan. I won’t let them have me too.”

“Right.” It was a noble sentiment, but I wasn’t sure I bought it. It’s one thing to say to you won’t go revenge crazy, and another to resist the urge to stab one of the featherers who killed your entire family when he’s standing right in front of you. “Just remember that. We’ve got a tense situation and potentially a nasty fight on our hooves. I don’t want everything going sideways on us because—”

“I’ll follow orders,” Torch cut me off. “All of us making it out of this in one piece is the most important thing.”

“Damn right it is.” I grimaced and looked down at the deck, seeing Talon whipping the rest of the troops into position. Only metaphorically thus far, but if I ever let her get her hooves on an actual whip I wouldn’t put it past her. “Best let everyone else know what we’re in for--better they hear it ahead of time and get used to the idea.” None of them would be wild about the idea of fighting other Strikers, but they’d handle it a lot better if it wasn’t a nasty surprise.

“Of course.” Torch turned his attention back to the approaching enemy ship. “Oh, and captain? Best let the troops know they’ve a necromancer on that ship. Undead thralls too.”

I frowned at the news. “How do you know that?”

Torch didn’t even spare me a glance. “I have been watching them with a telescope, sir. Even at this distance, it’s easy to tell the difference between the living and the dead.”

Oh. Right. Obviously. Shouldn’t be so damn paranoid. Not like it takes a necromancer to know what a zombie is. “Good spotting, I’ll tell the others.”

“Thank you, sir.”

I hadn’t thought it was possible, but I was in an even worse mood by the time I made it back down to the deck. I decided to start with the least bad part of it and work my way up. “Great news, Talon. They’ve got a necro.” I grimaced down at the deck. “No idea where a bunch of no-accounts dug one of those up.”

Talon shrugged. “Probably just a cheap thug caster with barely any talent. Not like Freeport’s short on aspiring necros who think knowing how to make a couple basic zombies is their ticket to power and influence.”

I grunted and scowled at the other ship. “Small surprise when Freeport’s the only nation on the planet that not only tolerates necromancy, but outright encourages it. I’d bet the only reason Equestria and the rest let us get away with that is because we’re giving their warlock hunters an extended vacation.”

“No reason to stay in a nation that hunts them when we’ll welcome them,” Talon agreed. “Not that Equestria will thank us for taking the warlocks off their hooves. After all, when there’s nowhere safe for necromancers to hide, there are a lot less necromancers.”

“Right.” I grimaced, my thoughts sliding back to Torch and his clan. The Chargers never would’ve gotten mixed up in all that black magic otherwise. Mors was just another soldier who picked up a couple tricks while he was helping Ushabti push the Zebras out. That could’ve been the end of it if not for the damned necrocrats. When the ruling class were all necros, it made everyone who wanted to be somebody start studying up. The Chargers wanted to climb the ladder, so they went from a few of Ushabti’s old war buddies picking up a few tricks to being full-on necros. Nothing good was ever gonna come of that.

Talon snapped me out of my idle thoughts. “The men are as ready as they’ll get. Want to say anything to them before it starts?”

I snorted and shook my head. “Have you forgotten what happened the last time I tried that?”

Talon frowned though I caught a hint of teasing light in her eyes. “I forget, was last time the one where you were so drunk nobody could understand a word you were saying, or the one where you got interrupted by a crossbow bolt bouncing off your helmet three words in and defaulted to ‘Kill the feathering sons of whores!’”

I shrugged. “Like I said, speeches aren’t for me. Keeping everyone else alive is more important than saying a few pretty words before the part that actually matters.”

“Right.” Talon frowned at me. “You seem even grumpier than usual, and I didn’t know that was possible. What’s the bad news you haven’t told me yet?”

Damn. The mare knew me entirely too well. Nothing for it but to tell her the truth; not like she wouldn’t find out soon enough either way. “We’re dealing with other Strikers.”

“Oh.” Talon fell silent, her eyes flicking back to the other ship pursuing us. “That’s ... oh. Who is it? Maybe we can—”

“Glory and Third Company,” I answered. Nothing more needed to be said.

“Damn.” Talon scowled at the distant vessel. “Of course it would be him. If we hadn’t been working off the books I’d wonder if Nightshade...” She grimaced and shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. Think there’s any chance he’d back off?”

I shrugged. “Depends on how much of an ass he feels like being.”

“So he definitely won’t back off,” Talon concluded.

“Wouldn’t bet on it.” Glory was the sort of asshole who never passed on a chance to climb up, especially if he could step on someone else to boost himself up a little higher. In other words, exactly the sort of asshole Nightshade liked. No way Glory’d take the hit of leaving a contract unfulfilled for my sake.

Talon sighed and nodded. “I suppose there’s only one way to find out. Give him a warning shot to see what he has to say?”

“Right.” I grimaced at the other ship. “Best move we’ve got.”


It took us more than an hour to get into position to fire that warning shot. That was the ugly part of escort duty: we had to position ourselves so we were between them and the slave ship while at the same time avoiding putting ourselves in a bad position. Since getting in position to fire a warning shot at them necessarily meant putting ourselves in range for them to shoot back, I couldn’t fault the captain for wanting to play it safe and take his time maneuvering. If the ship sank, we were all doomed.

It felt wrong to be running things without Talon right there to bounce ideas off of, but she was more useful where she was. Once we’d started closing in on us she’d booted Torch out of the crow’s nest and taken it for herself, along with that fancy crossbow of hers. She’d taken it as a trophy off a mixed company of gryphons and zebras five years back. It might not have quite as much stopping power as the larger rail-mounted arbalests, but I’d seen Talon nail shots from over a hundred meters away. If it did come to a fight, hopefully she’d put a bolt in Glory’s head early on and stop things from getting worse.

After what felt like far too long, we got into position for Talon to take her shot. The other ship was too far away for me to see how Glory reacted to having a crossbow bolt slam into the mast a few inches away from his head, but I liked to imagine he dropped an entire load of horseapples onto the deck right then and there.

By the time Glory got around to actually answering, if he was still panicked he’d gotten it under control. “So that is you, Belladon! I thought I smelled stale booze and failure on the wind but I couldn’t be sure. Now though ... nobody else would say hello by shooting at me!”

“Just making sure you're being honest, Glory!” I shot back at him. “Can’t help but notice that you're chasing me at the moment!”

“Just your cargo, old man,” Glory answered. “Stand aside, go run off and find a bottle to crawl into. You might not be much in the way of family, but I’ve still got no wish to damn myself for a kinslayer if I can avoid it.”

“Can’t do that, I’ve got a contract,” I answered simply. “You know how this ends: we’ll each pick our champions for the honor duel.”

“An honor duel?” Glory scoffed. “You think I’m coming up on your ship to play at games? You took a shot at me, Bell. It’s over for you, and for that pet nag of yours. You should’ve told her to aim better because both of you are dead!”

Damn. I should’ve known ... scaring the crap out of him with a warning shot had seemed like a good way to mess with him, but maybe it had worked a bit too well. Glory had always been a bit too damn full of himself, and when you have as much ego as he does there’s nothing that hurts more than getting it deflated. Still, this was too far. “You’re gonna attack your own kin? Think the elders back home will like that?”

“Nobody in the clan gives a damn about you, Belladon!” Glory snarled. “I could come back into port with your head mounted on the mast and they wouldn’t even feathering blink! Besides, you fired the first shot and refused to stand aside. It’s on your head.”

“Horseapples!” I snarled. “That was a warning shot and you know it! If Talon wanted you dead, she would’ve hit! You’re just looking for an excuse, you sorry bastard!”

“Bell, we both know that if there’s anyone in the whole clan looking for an excuse to kill his own kin, it’d be you.” Contempt laced his words. “Think you’re better than the rest of us just ‘cause you’re too stupid to take good money for a bad job. Not like it stopped you from working with feathering slavers. Don’t worry, I’ll tell my archers not to put a single shaft into you. I always hoped that whenever you feathered up bad enough to bring down the hammer, I’d be the one swinging it.”

“Useless-ass pretty boy like you couldn’t even pick up a hammer with all four hooves and miserable little shaft you call a cock!” I shot back. I looked up at the crow’s nest. “Talon, new plan. He’s mine.”

Talon frowned down at me from the crow’s nest. “That’s stupid, sir.”

“Yeah well, what else is new?” I grumbled. Besides, once I planted my axe into the damn bastard’s neck the rest of his men might back off. I turned to the rest of them. “What the hay are you standing around for? Get ready for a fight! They say nopony is more accursed than a kinslayer but they’re starting the fight anyway.” I scoffed and shook my head. “Besides, it’s not like we’re not already damned.”

It took another few minutes before the fight actually started. I probably could’ve had Talon put a bolt into someone’s head before then, but just because Glory would claim we fired the first shot was no reason to make it true. I wanted every single one of my troops to know for sure that we hadn’t started this fight.

That said, as soon as they loosed the first volley from their arbalests we wasted no time responding in kind. Naval battles between two ships full of pegasi always had a precious sort of balance. The first instinct was to take the fight to the air, but open skies didn’t offer much in the way of cover to protect against the bolts flying between the ships. Any sort of long-range boarding risked the fliers getting shot to bits over open water.

That didn’t mean Glory wouldn’t try. He had enough in the way of numbers to keep the arbalests manned while he rushed in with a boarding party. In theory, his shooters could suppress mine while he closed in to board, which meant I’d need to go out and meet him. A big nasty aerial melee nobody could safely shoot into would leave our archers free to focus on each other, which I at least felt decent about. He might have a few more arbalests, but as long as Talon was free to put that fancy crossbow of hers to use I felt good about our chances. Quality over quantity.

That just left the melee to worry about. Odds were Glory would be leading the air attack force, since he was too much of a hothead for anything else, and he’d pretty much challenged me to face him on the field. I saw no reason not to accommodate him. I was mediocre with a bow, and if it looked like I was scared to face him one-on-one it wouldn’t be great for morale. Besides, I wanted to teach him a lesson. With my axe. Namely, a lesson in how an axe to the face feels.

When Glory made his move I flew out to meet him with our force. I waited as long as I safely could before countercharging, mostly so Talon and the other archers could pick off a couple of them. Anything to help even the odds.

Of course, that put a big target on her head. I wasn’t sure how much Glory knew or remembered about Talon from back before the clan fell apart, but if he’d forgotten just how devastating she was with a crossbow she’d been doing a good job reminding him. Three of his troops went rushing up for the crows nest, dodging and weaving as much as they could to throw off her aim. She managed to pick one of them off, but I didn’t like her odds of getting the other two before they closed in on her.

No way I’d risk getting my best shooter tied up in melee. I signalled Torch, and the two of us rushed up to intercept the attackers. They were so focused on not getting hit by Talon that they never saw us coming.

Torch flicked past his opponent lightning-quick, a flash of steel accompanying the move. I couldn’t tell exactly where or how he hit the other Striker, but whatever he did made the soldier drop like a stone.

My approach wasn’t anywhere near as elegant. I planted my axe in between the bastard’s ribs with a satisfyingly meaty thunk. The pegasus full out of the sky, his weight wrenching my axe head free as he went. He tried to stay airborne, but between the pain, bleeding, and whatever damage I’d done to muscles and organs he couldn’t manage. He hit the water hard enough to bounce, and then slammed into the hull of our ship with bone-breaking force. He sank under the water and didn’t come back up.

A moment later a crossbow bolt whipped over my shoulder, thudding into the face of another of the Third Company men who’d been trying to come up on my back. Even without checking the angle or the bolt I knew who’d taken that shot, and I waved a quick thanks to Talon before whirling about to find a new opponent. Glory had to be hunting for me, and I saw no reason not to find him first.

I spotted the bastard right above us, chucking a javelin down down at Torch. I tried to call out a warning, but by the time I’d said anything it would’ve been too late. Good thing Torch was on the ball and dodged away before he got skewered.

Still, if the kid had been just a bit slower ... there aren’t a lot of things that really piss me off, but the idea that a low-down bastard like Glory had come within a hair’s breadth of killing the last surviving Charger was enough. “Glory you son of a dried up old nag, I’m coming for you!”

Glory grinned down at me, bringing his glaive to bear. “Ah, there you are. I was afraid you’d gone and hid in another bottle of rum.” He twirled his polearm around. “Let’s give the men a good show, shall we? Just because your life was a total waste doesn’t mean you can’t at least die in a suitably inspiring fashion.”

“I’m not here to die,” I growled. “And it’d take a far better warrior than you to pull it off.”

I swept my axe in a broad arc to test his defenses. Glory easily flicked down so my axe swept over his head, then countered with a wide sweep of his glaive to force me back. “There are no men better than me, and you’re just a miserable old drunk who should’ve died with the damned necromancers you loved so much!”

“This miserable old drunk’s still got more fight in him on his worst day than you ever had.” I took a few more swings to check his speed. I didn’t like what I learned: he was slipping and sliding around my attacks, dodging past them without even trying all that hard. The Glory I’d known ten years ago had been quick on his hooves and quicker in the air, but didn’t always know how to use it. A decade of experience had taught him that, but he wasn’t old enough that he’d started seriously slowing down yet. Which was more than I could say about myself.

Then again, I’d never been all that fast in the first place. And I was still every bit as tough and strong as I’d been back when I was young buck. Maybe even tougher. And a hay of a lot meaner. I slowly dropped height, letting him follow me along until we were barely above the water. Glory grinned and pushed in a bit more aggressively. “Getting tired already?”

“Nah, just suckering you.” I dropped down and smacked at an especially tall wave, sending salt water flying into his eyes. Glory snarled and fell back, whirling his glaive through the air in a wild defensive pattern. I tried throwing a knife at him while he was blind, but the lucky bastard managed to deflect it with his wild swinging.

“You dirty...” Glory glared at me through reddened eyes.

“You’re in no position to call anyone else dirty,” I shot back. “Sorry if you don’t like someone fighting back, I know you’re used to butchering children.”

“Are you still on about that?” He closed back in on pushing a bit more cautiously than he had been and taking full advantage of his huge advantage in reach. With his glaive being nearly twice as long as my axe, it wasn’t hard for him to hold me off. “It was over a decade ago.”

“The blood of innocents doesn’t wash off that easily.” Despite my bravado, I knew I was in for a tough fight. He was faster than me and his glaive had a big reach advantage over my axe. That was a really bad combination.

I took the fight up high again, forcing him into a power climb that limited how much he could use his superior speed and maneuverability. He might be agile, but going straight up was far more about muscle mass than being quick on your hooves. As we climbed I did my best to keep up the pressure, but he’d evidently learned his lesson and wasn’t having any of it. Eventually he managed to land a glancing hit on my cheek, laying it open. That was going to hurt like a nag once the adrenaline wore off. Glory smirked. “And first blood to me. I’d worry about it ruining your good looks, but you never had those to begin with.”

“It’s a scar,” I grunted, wiping the blood away. “Not the first I’ve gotten, and it won’t be the last. Don’t think that just because you’ve got a pretty face you’re on the side of the angels. Before I met you, I never even knew you could stack a pile of horseapples that high and polish it up enough to pass for an actual pony.”

Glory snarled and pushed a bit harder, and I had to twist to make sure his glaive only met armor. My chain was holding up so far, but I wasn’t optimistic about it lasting forever when he kept landing hard hits on me. I still had my gambeson underneath that, but that wouldn’t last long without the chain backing it up. Glory smirked as the momentum shifted in his favor. “You talk a lot for a dead stallion.”

I backed away and did my best to just survive the next minute. I wasn’t going to win this unless Glory screwed up, and that was only a matter of time. Especially if I tweaked his ego a bit more. “Talk’s all you’ve ever been. Look at you—you’re nothing more than a pirate. And stealing slaves at that.”

“Slaves you’re escorting,” Glory shot back.

“Mercs don’t always get the jobs they want,” I countered.

“That’s not the story you told ten years ago,” Glory landed a solid hit on my chest, popping a bunch of rings off my mail. “What happened to the sanctimonious ass who wouldn’t shut up about how the Charger contract was wrong? Face it, we’re both mercenaries. The only difference is I’m ten times better at it than you could ever hope to be!”

I winced at the blow, but I knew it was working. His attacks were coming in harder, and more direct, easier to predict. “You know how you’ll go down in the history books, Glory? As a child-murdering, backstabbing, gloryhog kinslayer.” I parried his glaive aside and hit him with my best verbal shot. “Assuming anyone even bothers to ever remember a two-bit asshole like you.”

I knew I’d hit the mark when Glory’s eyes narrowed and his teeth clenched. Punch a man in the face and he’ll forgive you the next day; wound his pride and he’ll hate you until his dying day. And Glory had a lot of pride to wound. “And you'll be remembered as dead!” He snarled and threw caution to the wind, trying to skewer me through the weak point in my armor.

It was a mistake. The attack was too obvious, and he’d telegraphed the hell out of it. I got the haft of my axe behind the blade and shoved it wide, then rushed in before he could recover. I’d gotten too close to him for my own axe, let alone his polearm. My helmet, however, was just fine. Normally headbutts are a bad move. When you’ve got a helmet on and the other guy doesn’t, that changes. Glory’s nose made a very satisfying crunch when my steel-covered forehead slammed into it.

While Glory was still reeling from the first hit I pulled another one of my hidden daggers and jammed into a gap in that fancy breastplate of his, right where it opened up for his wing. The knife bit deep into the muscle, and I gave the blade a nice twist just to add to the fun.

I backed away a step to bring my axe to bear for a killing blow, but Glory must have recovered enough sense to realize he had only one winning move left. He dropped straight down before I could take off his head, managing something between a glide and limp sort of one-winged flying as he headed back to his own ship.

No way I was letting him get away that easy. “Did I say I was done with you?!” I decided to milk the situation for all it was worth, shouting as loud as I could. “Look at your captain, Third Company! Running away like a beaten dog with his tail tucked between his legs!”

Glory managed to make it back to his ship, crashing down on the deck in way that probably made his wound even worse. He’d only barely managed to keep a hold of his weapon, but the long polearm had splayed out on the deck, lying flat with most of its length exposed.

I wasn’t one to waste a golden opportunity, and I brought my axe straight down onto it. Normally chopping the head off a polearm in the middle of a battle isn’t an option unless the wood is way too thin or low quality. When it’s lying flat against a hard surface...

Glory stumbled back to his hooves, wincing with every move as he cast aside his broken weapon. “Damn.” He started to draw his sidearm, but paused with the blade half out of its sheath. Even if he’d been healthy, taking a spindly little smallsword up against a proper axe wouldn’t go well. Trying to make it work while I’d landed a near-disabling wound...

His eyes flicked to the other Third Company ponies, who’d been sitting back and watching the fight play out. “Someone give me a weapon!” Nobody seemed to be in any rush to do so. Especially after some of my Brawlers started landing on the deck. The low-level defiance set him off even more. “What are you waiting for! Rush the fool! He’s only one pony!”

That tore it completely. Being honorless scum was one thing, especially when Glory’s lot were pretty sorry excuses for soldiers and some of the worst of the clan, but nobody likes serving under a coward. When Glory tried to limp over to one of his men to take away his weapon, the soldier pointedly backed away. Maybe it was some last scrap of honor left in them. Or maybe they’d all just realized that if Glory died, one of them would be the new captain.

That’s when Glory played the last card he had left. His eyes settled on the black-robed unicon and his accompanying zombies. “I’ll triple your pay!”

The unicorn shrugged, and a second later his zombies rushed me. There were about a dozen different curses I wanted to shout out all at once, but there wasn’t time for any of them.

I had far too much experience in dealing with the undead. By most standards these would be pretty piss-poor zombies. They didn’t have much in the way of equipment, and from the way they rushed in like blind idiots the necromancer either didn’t have the talent or brains to give them proper combat skills. They did have one really big advantage, though: there were ten of them and only one of me.

I put my axe to work lopping off limbs, but I couldn’t kill them anywhere close to fast enough. The wall of undead flesh slammed into me and bore me down to the deck, getting in too close for me to do any more axe work. I pulled a couple more daggers, but they weren’t made for taking out the undead. A zombie doesn’t give a damn if you stick a knife in their heart or slit their throat, though I did manage to land a lucky shot and put a dagger through one’s eye and into its brain, dropping it. Another snapped back with one of Talon’s crossbow bolts in its skull, but I doubted I’d have time for her to reload and pick the rest of them off me.

Just as I was getting ready for an especially nasty and painful death as half a dozen zombies mobbed me, there was a flash of purple light that blasted the undead away. I had no idea what it was, but I wasn’t going to waste any time asking questions when I had the opening I needed. I planted my axe in one zombie’s head, then brought it around to decapitate a second.

Then Torch was at my side, putting that fancy sword of his to work. Despite it not having anywhere near the weight of my axe, it still seemed just as capable of lopping off a zombie’s head. For a second I could swear I saw the blade glowing, and when he made his next attack it dropped another zombie. Not lopping off the head or doing so much damage it couldn’t move anymore, the zombie just ... dropped.

The necromancer snarled and his horn lit up, firing off a beam of pitch-black energy at the both of us. Torch brought his sword around and deflected the spell before it came close to connecting. Then he did something that really surprised me.

Torch extended a hoof and murmured a few words I couldn’t make out. A second later several amethyst bolts shot out of his hoof, slamming into the unicorn. Where the attacks hit the necromancer’s skin turned dead and grey, almost like a corpse.

I needed a few seconds to realize what had just happened. Torch had feathering lied to me. He was a feathering necromancer too!

The unicorn seemed just as flabbergasted as everyone else there. “But how ... you don’t even have a horn!”

Torch drew himself up to his full height. “How? Because I am Torch Charger, and you are just a two-bit thug who can’t even begin to grasp the truth of the high arts.” His next attack struck the unicorn, and for a second I could swear I saw two of the unicorn, as a weird sort of ghostly afterimage got ripped out of the unicorn’s body.

The necromancer fell to the ground, dead as a stone.

I still had a lot of questions, but they could all wait. For right now, I had a chance to end this stupid fight. “Surrender! The lot of ya!”

None of the Third Company troops moved. Glory had slumped down and looked like he was struggling to stay sensible through the pain and blood loss, and most of the rest were nervously looking between the dead necromancer and my new pet warlock.

One of the remaining Third Company officers stepped up. “We still outnumber them! Just because Glory’s down doesn’t mean—”

Talon’s next bolt caught him in the throat before he could get any further into his inspiring speech. There were times I truly loved that mare.

I put my axe into the officer’s head to finish him off. “Anyone else wanna be a hero?”

I managed a weary smile as blades started hitting the deck. At least this damned stupid fight was over. Now I just had to figure out what to do with most of a company’s worth of captured Strikers. Not to mention Torch.

Author's Note:

As always, thanks to my pre-reading and editing team for all their hard work. Also, I would like to thank all my dedicated Patreon supporters. You guys are awesome.

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