• Published 27th Mar 2019
  • 1,331 Views, 195 Comments

Five Score – A Prench Tale Vol.1 - Alsey



Getting a cutie mark for my birthday was already strange enough, but what will I do now that my body has suddenly decided to take a Prench leave..?

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6 – Defiance

[Content Warning: Violence, Gore, Death]

Ambre's View

I'm startled out of my slumber by a resounding noise.

Pretty sure it didn't come from my phone... Opening my sleep-crusted eyes, I do a slow scan of the room, but nothing looks amiss. Maybe it was outside..?

At least this time it's not because of a nightmare... They always leave me feeling so vulnerable, and hopeless, that I would rather hide in a dark corner and never come out again... Though now that I've grown more used to how my magic works, I can't help but wonder: would I be able to replicate the spell depicted in my nightmare? The perspective of learning another way to bend reality to my will is exciting in and of itself, but it could also be a decisive test...

This recurring nightmare must mean something. It's too consistent, too lifelike. I can't remember any dream this vivid, especially as it doesn't seem to fade from memory after waking.

So...

If the spell used by the doomed unicorn I impersonate really does work...

What would it mean then..?

Could it clues us in on why we changed?

It still feels like I'm missing pieces...

Well.. Maybe this could be my goal for the day, testing that out? I'll have to be extra careful though, I don't want to melt something with a freaking magical laser beam... But I'm sure Laurence would be really excited too, if it works!

...

Laurence...

I turn my attention towards the bedroom's door. I can't hear anything right now, so she must have fallen asleep. Hearing her crying, and wailing, and... Even with Sébastien at her side she couldn't be calmed down...

Darn it! I knew I should've done something! She was hurting, and– and I did nothing, I stayed away just because I was afraid! Maybe I could've helped, if I'd acted right away!

Gosh I feel like such a coward...

I don't understand why I'm acting this way! I've gone against my whole family, my old friends, society itself! I'm not supposed to be the kind of pony who flees in the face of adversity!

I need to pull myself together, and I'll have to prove her I can do better!

*sigh*

Anyhow... She's asleep right now, and she certainly needs her rest, so there's no need to rush things. I don't have any urgent imperative to worry about, I can stay like this a little while longer... It's not as if our days were that busy recently anyway. No problem with catching up on some more sleep, right? Should be easier this morning since—

Wait...

No snoring?

I raise my head to see above the coffee table, and indeed, no sleeping Chad to be seen on the couch. Maybe he woke up earlier than I, like yesterday? He could even be outside, jogging.

That's probably not the most judicious thing to do, even if we're not in the middle of a bustling city. But on the other hoof, I suppose it's inevitable that we'll have to get out sooner or later. At least this way that can of worms is already halfway opened, and with a positive precedent.

We'll see, we must talk about it. Right now... it's snuggling time!

*happy little nicker*

I curl in my sleeping bag, searching for that elusive perfect position, but try as I might, I can't get as comfortable as I'd like. I must've grown too used to real beds! Come on Ambre, just relax, appreciate what you have...

I feel myself sliding into a pleasant slumber, a smile on my lips, my thoughts going this way and that...

... It's a little crazy...

... How much has changed in a week...

... I'm a magical unicorn, hehe...

... It's not so bad...

... I wonder if—

Ack!! I jerk back from the paw batting at my muzzle!

Sainfoin, you rascal!! I was trying to sleep here!

And– and don't mew at me like that! I can't be mad at you when you act so cute!

Aww... You're hungry, right? You were a little forgotten yesterday, with everything else...

I roll to get my legs under me then push myself upright, stretching and—

Okay, okay, I'm coming! Sheesh, it's like you haven't eaten in a month!

I shuffle after the fretful feline, peering through the kitchen cupboards until I find a bag of cat food, and I pour a good portion of kibble into Sainfoin's bowl.

“Here, satisfied..?”

He does start devouring greedily at first, but the bowl must still be two-third full when he stops, and leaves the kitchen like nothing happened.

Cats...

Well, I suppose, since I'm here now... It's coffee time! Compared to my first day here, getting myself a glass is laughably easy – thanks magic! – and soon enough I find myself back in the living room, sitting at the coffee table to enjoy my warm drink.

As I levitate the glass to my lips to take a sip, I pay special attention to how my horn is channeling. When performing levitation, the energy's coursing close to the horn's surface. In my dream, that 'laser beam' spell seemed to use the inner parts of the horn instead, and maybe also a zone between outer and inner parts..? Gosh, I'm the one with a horn, and it's still not that easy to visualize!

“I'm not a coffee guy usually, but I think I'll need it this morning...”, comes Sébastien's voice.

Oh! Focusing on my magic I didn't notice him joining me in the living room! The poor man looks exhausted...

“Well I think I'll get myself another one, I'll fix yours too!”

“Thanks...”, he sighs as we relocate to the kitchen, and I perform the same tasks as before, just as easily. Sébastien looks on with wonder, even as tired as he is: “It's still amazing, to see real magic with my own two eyes...”

“Pretty amazing to be the one to do it too!”, I smile as I levitate a glass right in his waiting hands.

...

Wait a minute...

“Sébastien... Weren't you with Chad?”

“'Chad'..?”

“Sarah!”

“No, I've just woke... up...”, he states with dawning horror.

Oh no... He didn't..?

I rush to the front door. The key's still in the lock, but... I hold the handle in my magic, press down...

And it opens.

It was unlocked.

Darn it, he did!!

When I turn back, Sébastien's already jumping into his clothes, and he scrambles outside, slamming the door shut behind him.

Oh gosh I hope nothing bad happened..!

From what Chad said they didn't have any issue yesterday, and there wasn't anybody around... There's no reason it'd be different today, I'm sure it'll turn out all right!

Just have to wait for them to come back...

...

Come on Amber, you're not going to just stay fidgeting in front of the door..?

I walk back to the kitchen, Sébastien's discarded glass sitting on the counter. I refill my own, but I'm in no position to appreciate it fully... I can't do anything but wait, it's maddening!

And they should be back by now, it can't be that far!

My ears swivel to the sound of muffled hoofbeats, and Laurence staggers into the kitchen.

“Hey...”, she mumbles, eyes bloodshot and head hanging limply. “What's going on..?”

“Chad's outside by himself, so Sébastien went to get him back...”

“That moron...”, she snorts after an instant to process the information, her features scrunching into a deep frown.

Okay, I must try something to improve the mood!

“May I make you some tea?”, I propose with a smile.

Her sullenness does seem to lessen a little: “Tea sounds great, thank you Amber...”

“Er, you called me 'Amber' again...”

Since Chad put his hoof on it, I've been noticing how often she makes this strange mistake. Not that I'm that bothered by it, after all it's still somewhat my name, but this name business is really perplexing. Pretty much just as I've apparently been calling... her...

Stupid me!! Why did I put this subject back on the table!?

I watch in dismay as Laurence's face decomposes into complete despondency: “Please excuse me... I'm tired...”, she mutters, tears starting to trickle from her eyes!

“No harm done, promise!”, I blurt out. “I was just, er, curious, that's all!”

“Don't know, sorry...”, she shrugs with a sniffle. “Guess you look like an Amber to me...”

Whatever, I can't have her dwelling too long on that!

“Er okay, anyway! Tea! Where is it?”

I follow her instructions to brew her her warm drink of choice, being extra careful to not make any blunder in the process. That done, we move on to the living room and the coffee table, and once she's seated I give her the steaming mug.

I wish I could also give her a hug, to try to cheer her up, and show I'm sorry, as improper as it would be...

She drinks in silence, as the minutes elapse...

Come on Sébastien..!

The wait seems endless, but at last we can hear his steps outside, and the door opening!

But...

He's alone.

“I never should've agreed to this in the first place!”, he spits in frustration.

I jump to my hooves: “You're really sure he isn't still out there!?”

“Of course I'm sure! You think I just went out for some fresh air!?”

“No!!”, I cry out. “It can't be, he must be playing a joke or something!”

“Well it's certainly not a funny o—”

Laurence stomps a forehoof, cutting us off: “Okay calm down you two! You're giving me a headache, and panicking will do us no good.”

She rises, and though she still looks awfully tired, she now stands taller, and firmer.

“First, what do we know?”, she asks, all businesslike. “When did she get out in the first place?”

“Yesterday we were there around six, or a quarter past six at most I think, but today..? Who knows?”

“Ambre, did you notice anything?”

“Maybe... Something woke me up, I'm not sure what. It could've been the front door I suppose...”

“What time was it?”

“Not sure... What time is it now?”

“Almost seven.”, Sébastien provides after consulting his phone.

“Then yes, it must have been around the time you went out yesterday!”

“Very well. So it's reasonable to think she went out to run like yesterday at approximately the same time. Séb, did you notice anything that would indicate what happened once she was outside?”

“I... I'm not sure... I don't think so?”

“I remember that it rained last night, did she left any hoofprints, on the way or at the park? If she encountered a problem, what would she have done? Did you discuss anything relevant to emergency situations yesterday?”

“Uh... Ah yes, we thought about using the side streets to avoid the main road! She had studied a map of the neighborhood, just in case.”

“Then if she had been spotted, it would've been logical to use alternative routes to hide from view and get back here – assuming she didn't do anything even more foolish. Séb, I'm sorry to ask, but could you go take another look? Use your phone and take as many pictures as you can, try to retrace her steps, see if you notice anything new.”

“Okay, be right back!”

He leaps from the couch, new determination etched on his face, and hastens back outside. I suppose that again we have to wait, but at least now I feel a bit reassured by Laurence taking charge of the situation. I wish I could make myself useful in the meantime! If I'm needed, that is...

“Ambre?”

“Yes S—” Oh drat! Stopped myself just in time! “Y– yes Laurence?”

My ears fold back instinctively as I see her gritting her teeth, wings rustling under her shirt, and one of her eyes twitching. She still manages to contain the brunt of her reaction, and her words, though stilted, are said without any animosity: “Start the computer, open a browser and search for a map of the quartier. I want to see it for myself. Oh, and the password is Je_Veux_Être_Ton_Oisillon.”

“Right on it!”

I hurry to the computer desk, relieved to not have to face her anymore. Magic is still my ally to complete this task, and I sure am thankful for the keyboard practice! I type the password and unlocks her session; I'm surprised she gave it to me so readily, considering she didn't even let me look when we used it last time!

So... Opening a browser, finding a map... I lose a little time finding the correct icons and such, but soon enough the screen displays a satellite map of the immediate area. Laurence comes sitting at my side; she looks a lot calmer, thankfully...

“Let's see... This is the park, this is the route they took the first time...”

She keeps on studying the map, me performing close-ups and street-views as requested, until Sébastien finally comes back.

Laurence doesn't waste any time: “Did you find anything?”

“I think so, yes!”, he answers, presenting us a small enamel pin or badge still fastened to a scrap of ripped cloth. The pin is an oval, with blue, white and red bands, kinda like the national flag in fact, but crossed by a black diagonal line.

... Where have I seen this before..?

“I don't recognize this symbol...”, muses Laurence.

“Me neither. I found this in an alley, right here.”, he says, pointing on the map. “I'm pretty sure she at least got to the park, they were mud tracks pointing back toward here, but at some point she leaves the main road through that street here. I found this thing at the mouth of this narrow alley. Not sure if it's linked, but it wasn't damp, so it mustn't have been here for long.”

“Did you take a photo?”

“Yes, here.”, and he proceeds to show her a picture of the scene on his phone

... I'm sure I've seen this symbol before... Come on Ambre, think..!

“Can't be sure without a before-and-after comparison,” Laurence states after perusing the picture, “but those marks on the ground? They look like skid marks, and more the kind people would make with their feet – or hooves – than with a bike or a scooter.”

“So you think someone ambushed her..?”

“I think the evidence points to something happening here, and this something most likely has to do with this pin you found. Now, maybe we could try an image search and—”

“Ah yes!”

They both look at me in surprise.

“Oh, er, sorry! It's just, I remember where I've seen this symbol before!”

The surprise turns to expectancy.

... Oh gosh I hope I'm not mistaken!

“Well..?”, prods Sébastien.

“Uh yes, so, one day there was that little piece of metal in a wastebasket, just like this pin in fact, though with the clutch broken then I suppose...”

“In a wastebasket? Where?”, Laurence asks.

“Well, where you both work, of course.”

“And do you remember whose wastebasket it was?”

“Not exactly... Though it was in the room with the glass walls and the model airplane, this I'm sure!”

Sébastien and Laurence share an uneasy look, but do not let me on what concerns them so suddenly.

“This is our only clue...”, she says, biting her lower lip.

“Then I guess it's high time I left for work, huh?”

Chad's View

Owwww... My head..!

...

Wut..? What's happenin'..?

Why everythin' so shaky..? Stop it guys, s'not funny...

...

Wait.

'Guys'..?

What the he—

I fall against cold metal, and this finishes to wake me up – what's happening!?

Getting my bearings, I realize I'm in cage, a big, freaking dog cage! I don't have any time to react before the men click the heavy padlock shut!

I try to get back on my hooves, but my legs are tied together at the fetlocks! And even if I could, I can barely shift my body around, the cage's only just large enough for my frame!

Bound like this, the humans easily tower over me. The tallest of the bunch is the most distinctive, all dressed in camo gear and with a ski mask or baralacla-something, like an extra on some war movie. Him and three other mean-looking fellows quickly exit through a door in the back though, leaving me with only two nervous guys probably a bit younger than me, and certainly less fearsome-looking.

Glancing around, I find myself in some sort of large basement or belowground garage. There's no windows, just softly buzzing neon lights, and tools and whatnot on shelves and workbenches. I can also see another cage like the one I'm in, but it's empty. Oh, and the really not reassuring bit? That rifle I can make out on a workbench, within reach of those two guys...

... What craziness have I fallen into? I've no idea how I got here in the first place...

I rack my brain in search of an answer. Let's see...

Woke up after another nightmare... Nothing new, I'd say...

Oh yes, went out to jog...

Alone...

...

Oh gosh I'm such a moron!!

What am I supposed to do now!?

Can't do much about the bonds or the cage right now, not with those two watching me. One's all scrawny, while the other sports a mustache that really doesn't look good on him, but they have in common to be awfully fidgety.

“God these things look freaky... Did you see those eyes?”, Scrawny whispers.

“Hard to miss them...”, Mustache answers. “And I really don't like the way it's staring at us...”

I narrow my eyes for good measure, going for a Laurence-style squint.

“Do you think it can understand us too..?”

I provide no other answer than some more staring.

“D'you think it's like..?”

“Not sure... Maybe this one belongs to someone, like some sort of exotic pet?”

Okay, this has gone on for long enough, let's have some fun: “Yeah guys, my master's a Saudi Arabian prince, and I'm, like, his most prized stud! So he wouldn't like at all that you knocked me out and got me into a cage, let me tell you.”

Hehe, their eyes go wide like saucers!

Less funny is Scrawny taking the rifle in his hands, though it seems to be more to reassure himself than threaten me. Mustache dares to take a step in my direction: “Is... Is that true..?”, he asks.

“You ain't the sharpest tools in the shed, huh..?”, I deadpan.

Scrawny seems to have had enough teasing for now, and he holds his rifle much more menacingly: “You– you got some balls, you monster!”

“Yeah, kind of a recent addition.”, I smirk. “More seriously, what's going on here? I was doing my morning jog and now I'm in a cage; care to explain?”

They put a good effort at regaining their composure, and refuse to answer. I can't do much but huff at their lack of cooperation, for now...

Ah, finally someone else's coming! Through the door enters a middle-aged fellow in smart clothes, with a lean and bony face and short-cropped pepper hair. Real politician or CEO vibes here, which is confirmed by my guards clearly deferring to him.

So he's the boss, huh? Maybe he'll be a bit chattier: “As I was saying to your two goons here, I'd like to know what the blip this is all about, please?”

“It is us who ask the questions here.”, he answers haughtily.

“Well ask away then! I'm sure I can find a couple minutes for an interview in my busy schedule.”

He frowns deeply – not big on humor, I guess: “What are you?”

I make a show of looking around: “Not an esteemed guest of the house, apparently. The current accommodations leave much to be desired.”

He doesn't flinch, his eyes boring into mine with an angry intensity. Okay, playing the wise-ass won't get me anywhere with this schmuck...

“I'm a pony.”, I sigh. “Thought that didn't need to be spelled out..?”

“Did you do this to yourself? Or were you created that way?”

“Neither.”

Technically true.

He's clearly not satisfied by my non-answer, but he doesn't push for more either. He turns around for the door: “Keep watch boys. The doctor should be here later today.”

And so he leaves me with Mustache and Scrawny, who don't look like they're any happier to be here than I am.

Guess I'll be here for some time...

“Hey guys, can't you bring a telly or something down here?”

Laurence's View

I pace around the room, again and again, despite each step reminding me of the state of my body... Hooves on the tiles, proportions all wrong, tail swishing – urgh!! But I just can't stay still either, not when there's so much going on!! My own searches for the pin symbol's meaning didn't reveal much... Or rather, they revealed too much, without any pertinent way to parse through all the possibilities and select the likelier one!

That green-maned idiot!! Why did he have to take such unnecessary risks!?

Ambre is on the computer, but she doesn't seem to have much more luck than I did. And still no news from Séb... We're past midday, he should've found whatever there was to find and reported to us!

Ugh, this is driving me crazy!! I should be out there, doing things to try to resolve this, instead of wasting time here! It shouldn't be Séb's burden to lead the investigation, and who knows what's happening to Sarah in the meantime!

*sigh*

Getting myself so anxious doesn't improve anything either, though it sure keeps wearing my floor down...

My ears perk when I catch the faint sound of a car parking nearby. Please let it be him this time..!

Please..!

A key's turning in the lock, it's him!!

I dash for the door as it opens, my friend... limping inside..?

WHAT!?

He's disheveled, some of is clothes even torn, specks of red in some place, and there's nasty bruises on his face!

“Séb!! What happened!?”, I scream as he closes the door and staggers to the couch!

“Hey, not so loud, I'm okay..!”, he grumbles.

“No you're not!”, exclaims Ambre as she jumps from the computer chair. “Stay right here, I'm gonna get the first aid kit!”

I prop myself up on the couch to look him directly in the eyes: “What. Happened.”

“Nothing that warrants throwing such a fit, really...”, he shrugs, laying a calming hand against the side of my neck.

My first instinct is to recoil, but he begins to scratch lightly, and somehow this helps steadying my nerves. “Please Séb...”, I ask again, much more calmly this time. “What happened?”

By then Ambre is back with the medical supplies, and she starts cleaning Séb's wounds with antiseptic-dabbled cotton pads. He flinches a bit at the contact, but it doesn't stop him from talking:

“So... I was leaving for lunch break, and I was walking to the mall on the other side of the street you know, to grab some munchies. But I'm not even halfway there that those guys show up, right where the path cuts through some bushes and trees, like they were waiting for me. They wanted to have a little 'chat'. I wasn't feeling too talkative though, and they didn't like it...”

...

I WILL RIP THESE BASTARDS TO SHREDS!!

Fury blossoms in my chest and lungs, and dozens of feathers rise and rustle with my ire, fueling my rage all the more!!

“Hey, calm down!”, Séb pleads as he takes my wrists in his hands.

'Calm down'!? How do you expect me to calm down!! Sarah has been captured by an unknown party, you were attacked, and..!

... And I have to keep my cool...

Come on Laurence, they need you – and they need you with your head screwed on straight!

“Sorry...”, I mutter, breathing deeply to force the rage out of my body. “Please, continue.”

He nods, and carries on: “There were some fisticuffs involved, hence my current state, but I managed to make a break for the mall. I was lucky enough that they didn't want too many witnesses, they didn't follow... Then I went around through another exit, I got to the car without issues, and that's it...”

Séb mostly patched up, Ambre puts the supplies away. “Would you like something to eat or drink?”, she asks.

“I wouldn't say no to some water yes, thank you.”

“That explains what happened to you.”, I nod. “But... Did you find anything at work..?”

He gets a sly, satisfied smile, but only answers after he has gratefully accepted the glass of water held in Ambre's magic and has taken a gulp:

“That I did. I talked to Kevin – he's our boss.”, he adds for Ambre. “He's usually a good guy, even if he doesn't always choose his friends very well. Anyways, I showed him the badge thingy from this morning, and he did recognize it. Apparently it would be like an insignia, for some kind of group that Charles – our 'second-in-command' – was trying to recruit him into.”

“Did he give you a name?”

“Nope; those guys seem to like their secrets. The really juicy part, though, is that Charles told him that important stuff would be happening soon, so it could be a really good time to join, and that they would hold a meeting to induct new members for dealing with said stuff.”

“And would that 'stuff' be pony-related, by any chance..?”

“That's what I thought too. Kevin didn't have any more info, but he too thought it was kinda fishy. He didn't agree, but didn't say no either, so Charles told him to meet him later at a tram station, and go to the meeting from there...”

“I see... But do you think Kevin could've talked of your conversation to Charles..?”

“Don't think so. Charles did stare at me a lot this morning, but he started even before he got a chance to talk to Kevin. I dunno, maybe they saw me with Sarah yesterday, that's why they went after both of us...”

I know Kevin's a friend of Séb's... I'll give him the benefice of the doubt for now.

“When and where is this meeting supposed to happen?”

“Tonight, at nine, and Charles would wait for him at the Pablo Picasso tram station.”

“Then... What should we do..?”, asks Ambre.

“I suppose calling the police on them is out...”, I sigh.

“Yeah, there's no proof this meeting's against the law, and... You really think the cops would be useful against any group that Charles would like to be a member of..?”

“Even if they attacked you? That sure isn't legal!”

“The two guys who jumped me both wore ski masks... The best I could do is filling a complaint, and that wouldn't get us very far...”

“So that's up to us...”

I don't like this... This is our only clue, but we still have half the day to wait until we can investigate! Anything could happen...

But on the upside, this leaves us time to prepare and, if possible, take a nap before I fall asleep standing...

I turn to the blonde unicorn: “Ambre, we need a map of that area.”

She trots back to the computer. “Right away–”

I can see plainly she was going to say another word but cut herself short at the last moment... And I know which word it would've been..! My whole body tenses, tears of pain and rage wheeling up in my eyes once again – IT'S NOT MY NAME! IT'S—

Stop!!

Focus Laurence, focus!! You can't let yourself fall apart until this is done with, so no thinking about this when we have so much going on! My name is Laurence Alexandra Ségaux, I'm a human woman, and I need to find out what happened to this stupid green pony!!

I just need to push forward a little further...

And now Séb and Ambre both look at me as if I were ready to explode.

Can't fault them...

I try to act casual: “So Ambre, this map?”

“Oh yes, here!”

She turns the screen our way, and Séb and I come closer to study the map of the rendezvous place. The zone surrounding the tram station is mostly high-end stores and offices, with some humbler businesses and vacant lots and fields further out from the city. If the weather stays on the rainy, it shouldn't be too busy around nine.

“So...”, I muse. “If Charles is waiting for Kevin here, instead of picking him up with his car somewhere else, it comes to reason that the meeting place itself would be in walking distance. Do we agree?”

Ambre nods, but Séb looks unsure: “Charles could still pick him up if he was parked nearby though. Maybe it's just more convenient for him this way?”

“Right. Do you know what kind of car Charles drives?”

“A big gray four-wheel drive. Pretty military-looking, can't miss it.”

“Then we must keep an eye out for this car – either it would be parked close to the tram, or it could even already be at the final meeting place.”

“And from here we follow Charles, see where he goes, and find a way to listen on the meeting.”

“Exactly. Even if we can't spy on them or if they don't let out any information on Sarah, we can then see what their next step will be.”

Ambre clops her hooves together: “So we got a plan!”

I nod. It's certainly not as foolproof as I'd like it, but we don't have much choice...

“Well then...”, begins Séb, gesturing at the screen. “I think I could go there, like a quarter hour before Kevin's supposed to show up, stake out for Charles, then—”

“That's out of the question!”, I complain. “You're hurt, and they clearly know you!”

“And what do you want me to do, just twiddle my thumbs while you go outside and risk life and limb!? They may know my face, but I'm still a good deal more low-profile than you both right now!”

I grit my teeth, forced to admit that on this point he's not completely wrong. “All right, you can be our lookout – but we're coming with you, and we will investigate. We're smaller and Ambre has magic, we're more likely to succeed.”

He's not happy, and I know my argument isn't the best, but he must see that I'm not about to concede any more ground on this issue.

“... I'll stay in the car then, but you keep a phone on hoof!”, he grumbles. “If it gets too hot, you fall back and you call me, understood?”

“Understood.”

His presence would certainly be a tactical advantage, and I know he's ready to do anything to help us...

But sorry, Séb. I won't let you get into any more danger than absolutely necessary..!

Chad's View

Gosh I'm hungry... and thirsty... and I'm sooooo bored..!

At least I could try to chat with my wannabe-guards this morning, but since they left for lunch... They could've at least left me something to drink, or even some hay, dang it!

And this cage that's far too small, and these ropes that cut into my fetlocks, and– and this whole 'evil men have captured me' thing!

Ugh, this is seriously starting to piss me off!!

“Hey you jagweeds!! Let me out!!”

And no answer of course! Typical..!

...

*sigh*

I really goofed something fierce here, haven't I..?

It just wasn't enough for me to grow hooves and stallion bits, oh no! I just had to find something else! All my life already crashing down, and..!

...

And I don't want to think about this...

But...

I can't escape it now...

I thought I had it sussed,
Yet again it's a bust!
What's left of my skin at stake
For a simple lack of care,
I can never catch a break!
It's just so very unfair!

What could I ever do,
With this world turned askew?
My body forced to change,
Now life is scary and strange!
I dread to be left alone...

I breathe deeply. It felt good to let this out, better than I thought it could ever be.

There's still this tingling all over my body, and somehow, despite everything, I feel calmer, almost hopeful, and—

Uh..?

My ears perk up. What is this?

I had it all planned out,
But now there's only doubt...
My future cut in the bud,
Prisoner of my own life,
Enemy of my own blood,
It can only end in strife...

That voice..!

And those are hoofbeats, I'm sure! Somepony's here, in the other room!

I can see a muzzle pointing through the crack of the door as it's pushed open. The pony walks in, and I recognize her!

That mare..! It can't be!!

Chocolate mane over pale orange coat with little darker spots, her barrel covered by a dingy blanket... What I can see of her cutie mark is just like the beignets I saw in my dream too! She looks so down, her beautiful blue eyes not straying away from the ground and ears pulled back... She hasn't even noticed me..!

Her lament goes on:

What could I ever do,
With this world turned askew?
My body forced to change,
Now life is scary and strange!
I dread to be left alone...

As the last word leaves her mouth, she looks up, and finally our eyes meet.

I can't help but ask:

Please tell me, who are you?
My dream, could it be true..?

She comes closer, just as amazed as I am:

I can't believe my eyes!
Did the stars hear my cries?

This is incredible..!

And undeniable!
A light in the madness!

You make me feel fearless!
Me and you, we can't fail!

As one, we will prevail!

My heart sings in unison with hers:

We both know what to do,
With this world turned askew!
Our body forced to change,
Now life is scary and strange!
We dreaded to be alone,
But no more cause to bemoan!
You and me, side by side,
There's no more need to hide!
Whatever we're up against,
We'll not fall again to angst!

All the hurdles we may face...”, I echo.

... We'll win in every case!”, she answers, and our next words meld together:

We'll withstand any weather,
'Cause we will be together..!

She's so close now, I can almost touch her! “You're... You're really her!! You're Crispy!”

“And you're Sweetchard...”, she breathes, eyes wide. “I though it was just a dream!”

I strain my neck and mash my muzzle against the cage, just as she brings hers closer, and we touch snouts through the bars!

I can touch her!! She's real!! I drink in her scent, like that of batter just out of the oven, with the faintest sugary hints... I can't believe it! I pull against my bonds, desperate to hug her, to hold her and never let go, but I'm still trapped in here! I can't protect her!

“Are you okay?”, I whisper.

“I'm... fine.”, she answers, but her pause makes me look at her dubiously... “Really I'm fine, don't worry!”, she adds with a small smile that really seems forced.

What's going on..?

“Did they capture you too?”

She avoids my eyes: “Not... exactly no. I—”

“Hey what's all this racket down there!?”, comes Mustache's voice from upstairs!

Dang it!! Of course Tweedledum and Tweedledumber had to find this very moment to come back!!

Crispy backs off from my cage, clearly afraid. Mustache arrives, rifle in hand. When he sees Crispy he lowers his weapon though, an expression of disgust on his face: “Oh it's you... The old man's not gonna be happy about that, you know.”

“I... I thought I heard something...”, she mutters, head down.

“From all the way back in the house..?”

Her only answer is to look away, as if in shame...

Soon Scrawny and their smartly-dressed leader make their entrance too, followed by a portly, balding man who clearly feels uncomfortable being here. Seeing Crispy, the leader immediately bears down on her, furious:

“Jean-Yves! I forbade you from going here!”, he yells with pure venom in his voice! “But maybe you would appreciate to spend the rest of the day in a cage, like a common beast!?”

His threat doesn't need to be more explicit: Crispy shuffles meekly to the other cage by herself, casting a resigned look in my direction, and he locks her in! Darn it how I want to buck these jerks right now!!

The man quickly regains his cold demeanor, and turns to the portly guy: “Please excuse me for this unfortunate scene. Now, as you can see,” he points at me, “we obtained another specimen, just as you requested.”

“Why are they tied up..? Aren't they cooperative?”

“I have no doubt it will quickly learn that it is in its best interest to do as it is told...”

“Well that didn't sound ominous and evil at all...”, I remark dryly, before turning to the latest member of the gang: “And you'd expect me to just play along after something like this? The guy sounds like a James Bond villain reject.”

My remark falls on deaf ears, apart from Scrawny's discreet chuckle.

“It's all yours, doctor.”, the boss says with a distinct lack of passion.

Thus Pudgy comes closer, and starts walking around my cage, looking me over and scribbling notes.

“Don't forget to take pictures...”, I sneer at the doc.

“Actually we may have to, for, well, for posterity, you know?”

I can only answer that with a snort...

“So, uh, how are you feeling?”

Not sure I could make my face look any more deadpan...

“Right, right, sorry... So, I have some questions for you... First, were you a normal human being once?”

“Normalcy is a matter of perspective, but human? Yeah, sure.”

“Did you experience this transformation recently? In the last few days, perhaps?”

“Yeah...”

“How did this transformation progress?”

"“Pff... Do we really have to do that..?”

“Yes please.”, he answers without looking up from his note-taking.

“So... Got a cutie mark for my birthday, then mane and—”

“Wait, 'cutie mark'..? What is that?”

“Butt tattoo.”

“Is this... an official term?”

“Afraid so.”, I shrug.

“I see... You were talking about your hair?”

He keeps asking me silly questions about the change, still taking notes all the while. It gets kinda boring, so I let my eyes wander. The leader doesn't pay attention to me, looking at Crispy instead. He seemed angry at first, but slowly it morphs into sadness...

“... nightmares?”

“Uh?” This brings my attention back to the doc and his inane questions: “Sorry, what did you say?”

“I asked you if, after the transformation started, you had recurring nightmares?”

“Yeah, every night actually. It's not exactly pleasant, let me tell you...”

“I see... One last question please: if there really wasn't any obvious source, would you have any idea why you were subjected to this transformation?”

That's the million-euro question, isn't it..?

“Nope. Only thing I know is it must be linked to the My Little Pony cartoon, one way or another.”

“Sorry, to a... cartoon, you said..?”

“Yup. Go look it up, it's well worth the watch.”

“I...” The confused doc turns to his boss: “I think I have everything I need for the time being. Keep him here for now, if I need to run some tests, and in the meantime I'll try to come up with something.”

Eh... Good luck doctor. I don't see how you'll get much out of this, other that turning a gal into a pony guy is a nifty magic trick...

“Please escort the doctor out.”, leader guy says to Mustache.

Mustache and the doc leave, and the boss moves to do the same, but he hesitates. His eyes stray towards Crispy, who looks sad as a rock, and after another moment of uncertainty he goes and opens her cage:

“Jean-Yves, I'm... I am sorry. Come.”

He doesn't wait for her, but she still follows, casting one last, apologetic look in my direction, before leaving me with my remaining flunky guard.

She obeys... But she's clearly as much a prisoner as I am!

I need to find a way to get us out of here!

Ambre's View

'On his way back on foot', reads Sébastien's text. A reply is quickly sent, thanks to the stylus he provided me.

“He's coming, we should see him soon...”, I whisper to Laurence.

Like we supposed, Charles had parked his car nearby, in front of a hunting and fishing store. It's the third-to-last in a row of buildings along the road, located on the periphery of the commercial zone, close to the highway.

After our initial reconnaissance run, Séb dropped us off close-by, and since then we're keeping watch hidden in a ditch on the other side of the road. The night is falling, and there isn't much streetlight around here, which is good for us sneaky ponies.

I feel hot and a bit uncomfortable in my ill-fitting clothes, but Laurence insisted; for this, and for me to find some way to tie my mane and tail to make them more manageable. I'll admit that it's convenient, especially when we had to go through an abandoned field to reach that grimy ditch... I'm not satisfied yet by how it makes me look, but... Er... It's not really the time to ponder fashion choices, I suppose.

Since we've been posted here, lots of other cars have parked in front of the store, more than a dozen I think. All the conductors and passengers were men, and all went inside, despite the shop being supposedly closed for the day.

What are we getting ourselves into..?

No, I mustn't think like that! We're doing it for Chad, he needs our help!

I bring back my focus to the here and now, and how Laurence's ears are perking under her hood. Following her gaze, I spot this Charles guy walking towards the store. With his short dirty blond hair, open jacket, and camouflage-pattern pants, he doesn't really look like anything special. Certainly not like a devious criminal, in any case...

My phone buzzes with another text from Sébastien: 'Please be careful'.

Well... We're still trying to spy on a bunch of potentially dangerous persons, so... We'll try our best..?

Charles enters the store. We wait a couple more minutes, to see if more attendants are expected, but the coast looks clear on this front.

Laurence begins to climb out of the ditch: “All right, we're going in...”

I gulp, my anxiety spiking as I move to follow her. We stay close to the ground as we cross the road, and I hope that in the process we won't be ran over by some random reckless driver... It's only a two two-lanes roadways separated by a median strip, and traffic is scarce at this hour, but considering the speed of some of the cars we saw zooming past earlier...

Finally we reach the other side, and I allow myself a little sigh of relief. We still have to cut across the sidewalk, some low bushes, and the cramped parking lot to reach the ominous store itself. Somehow I'm not exactly eager to leave the shadows of the bushes to complete that journey...

I lag a bit behind Laurence, who is already setting hoof among the parked vehicles. I don't know how she manages to be so fearless and decisive, when we don't even know what's waiting for us inside... But it's too late to think about going back now, and I should get moving if I don't want any curious driver to—

Wait, why does this old panel van have its turn signals flashing?

Oh no, it's turning our way!

And Laurence's almost in the middle of the parking lot!! Even if she hides between cars they could see her, and she hasn't noticed them!

Magic flares in my horn as I cast my perceptions Laurence's way, taking hold of the base of the pink tail peeking from the top of her pants, and I pull with all my might!

She eeps, wings trying to spring from under her hoodie while she skids backward on the pavement, but I don't let her go until I've dragged her all the way back to the bushes, and just in time as the van turns into the parking lot!

I huff and let myself fall on my rump, my magical aura fading from my horn and from Laurence's tail... Thank goodness I managed to pull that off!!

Freed from my grasp, Laurence turns around with outrage written all over her face:

“What's the meaning of this!?”, she growls.

“You're heavier than you look..!”, I heave without thinking, my brain still reeling from the sudden magical exertion. She shoots me an angry squint, but I still have to get my breathing back under control from the effort and stress, so I just point a shaking hoof towards the parking lot.

The van has stopped by now, two men getting out from the front and walking to the vehicle's back doors. They don't seem to have noticing anything amiss, fortunately, and don't even look in our direction. They unload packs of cans and bottles, and bring them inside the store.

Phew... We were darn lucky it was a conscientious driver who respected proper traffic rules...!

Laurence clears her throat, looking a bit embarrassed: “... That was some good quick thinking here, Ambre. I really should've been more cautious... Now come on, we need to find some way to get inside, or at least a window to peer through. And, huh, please continue to keep an eye on the road, just in case...”

She ventures back through the parking lot, looking a lot warier than the first time, and I trail after her, still a little lightheaded. We don't have any nasty surprises on the way, and we reach the store. No lights come through the front windows, so I suppose the meeting is taking place in the back. What should we do?

How to get inside..?

My head turns towards the left, and the side of the store.

This way... Yes, I feel like there's a way inside!

I leave Laurence to try her luck with the front door, focusing on my goal. I end up at the mouth of a narrow alley between the store and another building, a garden supplies business. The space is occupied by stacks of wooden pallets, used cardboard and dumpsters, but even from here I can see a little light further down...

Yes, that's the way!

I slink through the clutter, the socks covering my hooves muffling the sound of my steps on the dirty pavement, until I reach the source of the light: a door leading into the store, propped open by a little plastic container!

Yes!

I go for the door, but something suddenly registers in my peripheral vision.

From the corner of my eye, I see a man smoking while looking at his phone, previously hidden behind a stack of crates.

No..!

I freeze.

Maybe if I don't mov—

He looks at me!!

The cigarette falls from his mouth, and his eyes go wide! What should I d—

I jump back in surprise as Laurence dashes right over me and clocks him square in the jaw! Still carried by her momentum, she controls and cushions his fall.

Oh gosh thank you Laurence..!

She starts rolling from under the unconscious man, but her head whirls towards the door, ears alert; there's someone coming from inside!

Laurence hides behind a dumpster, dragging the man out of view, but I'm still out in the open! Glancing around, I don't see any corner that wouldn't be in view of the door!

In desperation I dive into a bunch of cardboard pieces, covering myself as best as I can, though still leaving me enough space to peer through. Good thing too, as I just have the time to levitate the man's broken phone under the dumpster before the other person pushes the door open!

“Hey Bastien, you still here?”, the new arrival calls.

He looks around, but doesn't seem to notice us for now...

Please go away, please go away..!

“Tch, you damn flaky...”, he grumbles as he picks up the plastic container that maintained the door open and flits back inside.

Darn it, it's one of these emergency doors with a crash bar! I take one of the smallest cardboard pieces in my magic and fling it against the bolt, just as it's closing! There's no tell-tale 'click', I hope it worked!

I emerge from my papery blanket, just as Laurence gets out from behind the dumpster: “We really didn't need that, it's a miracle we weren't heard or seen!”, she hisses at me. “Now help me tie him up!”

I follow her instructions, binding the man's wrists and ankles with strips of stretch wrap. When I then try to gag him, though, I find that his jaw's a lot slacker than it should be, blood dripping from his mouth, and that he also lacks a couple teeth... Laurence takes a closer look when she notices my unease, and her own ears fold back when she sees the damage done by her simple punch...

“Damn..! I need to be more careful with these things...”, she mutters, looking at her forehoof. Her attention quickly switches back to me however: “And why didn't you wait for me to come with you!? You could've been hurt!”

“I'm sorry, I... I just wanted a way to get inside!”, I protest.

“Yes, and now the door's closed anyway!​ We're back to square one!”

“Maybe not...”, I reply, going for the door. A little pull from my magic, and it opens! The piece of cardboard did the job! I replace it with something a little more substantial, and turn back to Laurence, a slight grin on my face: “And voilà!”

Her surprise quickly changes to a smirk: “Good job Amber! But don't go around doing things on your own again, it's safer when we can back each other up, got it?”

I nod, and after we make sure that no suspicious sound comes from the other side, we pull the door open.

We find ourselves in a small restroom, probably for employees. There's another door, and through it we can hear lively conversations. After Laurence has wedged a broom against that door to not have it opening in my face if someone tries to go to the bathroom, I put an ear against the panel, and start listening in.

For now all I can hear amid the clinging of bottles are talks about sports and other trivial subjects. I hope the true meeting hasn't started yet... Otherwise this would've all been for nothing..!

The pointless discussions go on for more than a couple minutes, until a bottle is struck against a table or somesuch to demand silence:

“All right people, let's bring this meeting to order!”

Some shuffling sounds, probably the attendants taking their places, before the organizer goes on:

“First of all, we have some prospective new members with us tonight! Please welcome Lucas, Clément, Louis, Valentin, Maxence, and– wait, where's your friend?”

“Said he wanted to have a smoke,”, replies someone, who seems to be the same man we had to hide from earlier, “but he wasn't too sure if he was interested. Guess he chickened out in the end.”

“No matter then, we need men who aren't afraid to do what needs to be done! We must grow stronger, and that requires absolute conviction!”

The others cheer loudly.

“Moving on to the matter that preoccupies us tonight. Now, you all probably heard about what happened in Grenoble on Monday...”

What is he talking about..? I should've payed a little more attention to the news...

“... The media's official version is that two criminal gangs settled score, but you should all know they aren't to be trusted! The truth is that one of these 'gangs' was none other that our friends from Les Vigiles de la Bastille...”

I exchange glances with Laurence, but she doesn't seem to recognize the name either.

“... Maybe, if you follow the right sources, you already knew that. But what they didn't share is that their murderers weren't some random thugs like the ones they used to fight, no! The Generals have now decided that each Brigade in the country should be briefed on what has been recognized as a potential threat to our nation!”

There's silence for an instant, before the room erupts into sneers and snide remarks:

“Is this some kind of joke!?”

“Who do you think we are!?”

“That can't be true!”

“Please!!”, yells the organizer to be heard over the din. “I can assure you, these are real photos! And to all who doubt, I can show this!”

He must be playing some kind of recording on a phone, considering the audio quality. It's harder to make out than the talking, but I can hear what could be firearms, screams, and explosions.

The kind of things I wouldn't expect to ever hear outside of a movie, or a warzone...

“As you can see,” the organizer continues, “these creatures are very real, and a single one already took the lives of far too many brave men... But they didn't die in vain, no! They sacrificed themselves for their country, to give us a chance to learn about this menace! We have to prepare ourselves against the threat of these hoofed monsters!”

'Hoofed'..?

I see realization dawning on Laurence's face at the same time as it does on mine: we're not alone! There are other ponies out there!

“Our best men are still studying the corpse of the creature from Grenoble as we speak, to better understand its unnatural abilities and finding ways to counter them. Like you just saw, they are extremely dangerous, and represent an indisputable menace to our people! It is probably only a matter of time until they pick another target, but even if we don't know yet where they come from – demons, extraterrestrials, biological weapons from enemy nations or terrorists – one thing is certain: we will fight back!!”

The whole room roars in approval, but the organizer isn't finished:

“Remember, it is our burden, as true citizens, to do what needs to be done, even when the so-called authorities shy from their duties to preserve our nation and our ways of life! And the battle has already come to us: this very day, we captured one of these beasts!”

Chad!!

“Right now it is kept at the Laterrade estate under constant surveillance, or so the old man says. Our eldest members know that he has always supported us, but we're not sure he can be trusted to treat this matter with the importance it deserves! From what we heard, old man Laterrade asked for a doctor to come examine the creature! Clearly he doesn't know what danger they represent, if he has a simple civilian come in contact with our enemy! We may have to pay him a little visit, and convince him to deliver the monster to us, for proper interrogation!”

“Laurence,” I whisper, “we know where he is now, we don't have to stay here..!”

“You're right. Let's move out.”

We leave the building and get back to the alley, letting the emergency door close fully this time, though I slow it down to lessen the noise as much as possible.

“Check your phone, see if you can find an address.”, asks Laurence while she goes to check on our unexpected prisoner.

I try various spellings, but I get relevant matches for only one. I show Laurence the search results when she comes back: “There's two 'Laterrade' around here. One is living downtown, the other in the suburbs.”

“The one from the suburbs would be most logical. More likely to be referred to as an 'estate', and easier to detain a pony and move it around.”

“That's what I thought too.” I glance behind her: “How... How is he..?”

Laurence frowns, and doesn't meet my eyes: “... He'll live.” She shakes her head, returning to her resolute self: “Let's focus back on our mission for now! If I visualize correctly, it's not too far, but we still need a vehicle.”

“Okay, I'm texting Sébastien!”

“No.”

The surprise almost makes me drop my phone: “Uh? Why?”

She doesn't answer, and starts to walk towards the mouth of the alley.

I put the phone away and trot past her to cut her off: “Laurence..?”

She squints at me, but this time I stand firm, and her façade crumbles quicker than mine, voice cracking and tears welling up in her eyes:

“Listen Ambre, I... I refuse to implicate him even further, especially if we have to launch a rescue operation against unknown forces! Not only would that put him into more physical danger, but that could also force him to break the law, and become a fugitive! I won't let him destroy his life for us, we both know he wouldn't hesitate to do so!”

Oh...

“I'm sure we can manage without him, I know it! I just don't want him to be hurt again..! Please tell me you understand..?”, she openly pleads.

“I understand Laurence, but... I'm not sure it's the best idea either...”, I admit.

She sniffs, breathes deeply, and forces her stern squint back on, even if she can't erase the tear tracks through her fur: “Objection noted. Come on, we're wasting time...”

I let her prowl to the parking lot, and with a sigh I follow after her.

“That panel van from earlier,” she decides after looking around the parked vehicles, “it's the oldest, so I don't think it has an electronic lock.”

“But we don't have the keys!”

“No,” she agrees, “but we have you.”

*gulp*

Sweetchard's View

It's hard to judge the passage of time in this place, but if they've turned the lights off and left me alone, that probably means it's close to nightfall, right..? T'would be a shame to be spotted in the middle of my escape, after the pain of gnawing through this yucky rope...

Even with my legs freed there's just not enough space to stretch them fully, and they got more than a little sore after a day cramped in here... Time to change that!

I review my mental picture of the cage and the rest of the room, feel around with my snout until I'm sure of where the padlock is, then comes the delicate step of shifting and contorting my big bod— Ouch! Stupid cage..!

This is getting really uncomfortable, but I manage to turn myself around. I curl to get my hindlegs to face the cage's door, doing my best to get traction with the rest of my body, and I confirm precisely where the padlock is. Alright, now time to see if these hooves are sturdy enough for the job!

One...

Two...

Three... Buck!!

The whole cage rattles as my hooves impact, and I can feel the steel giving in!

Another good one-hoofed buck, and the padlock clatters on the ground!

Ah! It stung a bit, but I'm finally free!!

That wasn't remotely close to the definition of 'stealthy' though, I shouldn't dawdle!

I exit the cage backwards, fully stretching my body along the way. Then, keeping to my mental map, I shuffle towards the door through the darkness. I miss it at first, but soon enough I'm able to try pushing the handle down with a forehoof...

... But like I thought, they did lock it when they left.

Well, I know what I have to do!

I'm tempted to try a flying kick, just for the fun of it, but that would probably get me injured more than anything else... I basically redo what I did in the cage, just with a little more amplitude of movement, of course!

The poor door doesn't stand a chance, and the wood surrounding the lock almost explodes with the impact. I'm lucky I didn't get any splinter stuck into the delicate part of my hooves!

Pulling the busted door open, I arrive in a room pretty much like the one I got used to through the day, but with a major difference: wooden stairs, with some light spilling from the ground floor! I climb the stairs and get to what seems to act as a garage for a large riding mower, soft moonlight coming from a window. Looking around, I dismiss the shut roller gate, as I see no way to open it from here, and go straight for the door leading outside.

I'm not surprised to find this one locked too... Though this steel door looks a heck of a lot more durable than the first one! So what now..? The idea of turning the riding mover on and busting through is somewhat amusing, but sadly impractical. I'm not sure I could use the tools down below, as they're designed for human hands... Drat, I'm so close! I can even see the sky through the window..!

...

Eh...

Rearing up to inspect the window, I see that its sashes are supposed to slide horizontally, and that the only thing keeping it shut is a little lever-like bolt...

Didn't think I could use windows with hooves, did you..?

The sash slides open easily, and I take a long, deep breath of cool evening air – gosh that feels good! Next part's a bit tricky, as I need to hoist myself high enough to pass through the window, and drag my barrel against the windowsil—

Awwouch!! I bite my lip to prevent a pained squeal from getting out!

... Forgot I have hanging bits now... Heck that wasn't pleasant at all!!

I twist sideways to finish getting out, and I land on moist grass.

Ahhh, freedom!! It's really relieving to be outside, hooves on the ground!

Okay, back to our escape... It's a bit harder to close the window from the outside, but if it helps postponing the moment they'll realize I'm gone, it's worth it. As long as they don't look too closely, that should do the trick.

I now find myself facing that big fancy mansion, almost a château really – leader-man must be seriously loaded! Beyond the ring of flower gardens, a large private park extends all around, with lots of tall trees, and a gravel driveway leads to the front gates in the distance.

I could make a run for it.

But... I can't leave without Crispy..!

I snort in frustration, not sure of what I need to do... There's weird things going on here, and I don't know the details. Did she live here, and changed like us? Is she staying here of her own free will..?

What I do know is that I can't just go like this! If she really wants to stay here, fine, but if that's not the case...

I stomp a forehoof, my decision made.

Light only comes through windows of the mansion's second floor. I walk towards an entrance, slowly and keeping close to the ground, these French doors on the side looking quite promising. I reach the gravel path surrounding the house and—

Shoot!! First floor lights turning on!

I just have time to scoot and hide behind a large planter before Scrawny and Mustache get out of the mansion through the French doors, flashlights in hand:

“I tell you, I'm sure I heard something!”, Mustache says.

So much for discretion, if they heard me from there..!

“I'm sure it's just the old man still ranting at his horse...”

“Come on, we should still check it out. If we're wasting our time here, at least let's do things seriously!”

Scrawny grumbles but follows Mustache towards the garage. I'm lucky enough they don't think of looking around first, but now I don't have much time until they see I'm missing!

My second stroke of luck is that the two idiots left the door open on their way out, so I have no problem getting inside, and I lock them out for good measure.

The interior is as lavish as I expected, but that's not what catches most of my attention: there's yelling coming from deeper into the house, and some of it is from Crispy! I walk quickly through the large kitchen and into the main hallway.

“Stop this!”, Crispy pleads. “He's no more a beast than I am!”

“And so you are!”, Leader-man shouts right back.

“And yet you couldn't suffer to see me in a cage like a lowly animal!”

“A weakness on my part! I should heed the Lord's judgment of your soul!”

... What the heck..?

I start getting up the stairs to the second floor, forcing myself to go slower to not be heard.

“We don't even know if God has anything to do with this!”, Crispy protests.

“God has to do with everything!”

“Even with the Devil's work!?”

Reaching the landing, I slink towards the room they must be in.

The man keeps on yelling his religious nonsense: “So you would say that it is the Devil who inflicted this curse upon you?”

“It's certainly more likely the Devil's work than God's!”

“Then do you finally admit, that you cavorted with the Devil and everything God reproves!?”

“Of course not!”

I want to intervene, but how to go about it..?

“And yet do you not regret now, how you let yourself be swayed by the lies and perversions of these morally corrupt, so-called indigents, how you let them corrupt your soul and your body! God punished you for your misplaced leniency!”

“It's not my fault!!”, she screams. “I nev— Oww!”

He hit her!?

That's it! I don't care anymore, I'm going in!

“Then why did you refuse to work with our priest!? Why do you revel in this deprav—”

“HEY! Stop!!”, I roar as I burst through the half-closed door!

They're both standing in the middle of what looks like a study room, and they're both staring at me in complete shock. Crispy is the first to find her words:

“Wha– Sweetchard!?”, she stutters, backing away from me. “What are you doing here!?”

“I won't let you be bullied by this guy!!”, I snarl at the man, who glares at me with pure venom in his eyes!

Crispy looks on the verge of panicking, she stares at the man and me in turn, her ears splayed back.

“Come on, come with me!”, I call for her. “We're getting out of here!”

“But I..!”

“You wanna spend the rest of your life in a cage!? Or worse!? You can't trust these guys!”

She doesn't have an answer for that, tears starting to form at the corners of her eyes. I walk forth, getting my body between her and her tormentor, and I give her a soft nuzzle on the cheek, keeping my own eyes on the man all the while.

“Come on...”, I whisper to her. “There's nothing good left for you here.”

Finally she starts coming along, and I escort her back to the door, still shielding her from the furious man.

“Is this how you thank me..?”, he hisses at her through clenched teeth. “I forbid you from leaving!”

Crispy stops an instant, but I nuzzle her flank to encourage her, and she manages to leave the room. I give the man the most hateful scowl I can muster, and I leave in turn. I guide her towards the stairs:

“Quick, the others can't b—”

My ears spring back at the sound of ste—

Something hard strikes me on the side of my head and I stumble forward, only to smash against the stairs' railing!

Looking up, I see the man, his face red from rage, and what he holds in his shacking hands:

The rifle.

He struck me with the butt, but now that I'm an easy target he shoulders the weapon, aiming right at me!

“No, stop!!”, Crispy screams as she puts herself between me and the man!

He seems to hesitate, his features softening for the briefest instant, but the anger rises again:

“And so you betray me, just like they said you would!! You're not my son anymore, you're just one of them now!!”

“Please Dad..! Don't..!”, she begs, but he doesn't listen, even though he too starts crying:

“May God have mercy on our souls!!”

But he doesn't have the time to fire – Crispy barrels towards him and pushes him back, but that sends them both tumbling down the stairs, and she cries out in pain!

“Crispy!!”

I shake the daze away and jump back to my hooves, almost tripping over myself as I go down the stairs as quickly as I can! Crispy is on her side, and she's hurt, holding her right foreleg against her chest! I help her getting up, but she immediately goes to the man laying next to her:

“Dad, no!!”, she cries as she tries to kneel at his side.

Getting closer, I can see that the fall wasn't kind to him, but he's still breathing, and I certainly won't feel sorry for him!

“Crispy, we can't do anything for him right now.”, I tell her. “His goons will call an ambulance as soon as they come back, but we need to get away or we're toast!”

“I... Yes, you're right...”, she mumbles.

Good, now back to the escape part!

I dash for the front doors and buck them wide open, but of course Crispy has trouble following me! I trot back to her and lay down: “Get on my back, quick! We've got to get out of here!”

Oof! She feels a lot heavier than in my dream! But I'm strong enough, I know it!

I stand, Crispy holding me tight, and I trot outside as fast as I can!

We're barely out that I can already hear one of my former guards yelling, but I don't pay attention, not with having to run and balance a sobbing Crispy on my back!

“He tried to kill me... He tried to kill me..!”, she cries...

I don't have an answer to that, so I keep on running, just as all the exterior lights around the mansion are turned on.

Ambre's View

“It should be the last house on the road.”

“This big thing on top of the hill..?”, asks Laurence.

Even from here we can glimpse the roof of the mansion beyond the trees, the tiles glistening under the moonlight.

I check the map on my phone one last time. “Yep, that's the one.”

She sighs, but keeps on driving the van towards our fateful destination. She's surprisingly deft with her hooves, even if her stance looks really awkward, sitting on the edge of the seat with her neck bent to see the road. I'm only really needed when we have to uses switches or knobs like for the headlights, and that's pretty lucky; magic or not, I have no driving experience to speak of...

We are both growing even more anxious the closer we get to our objective. What will we find up there..? I hope Chad is—

I blink, as all the exterior lights of the mansion turn on, like an ominous beacon into the night!

What's happening!?

“Fuck!”, Laurence growls, “This can't be good!”

We pick up speed and soon we reach the last bend of the road, the mansion's old-style iron gate in view up ahead. It seems to be closed, but we aren't slowing down!

“Shouldn't we stop!?”

“Too late! Hold on to something, we're going through!”

Oh no no no no no!! I close my eyes and grit my teeth as our van crashes against the gate, the seat belt digging into my chest! Metal groans all around me and glass fractures, but we do get through!

“Damn, engine's stalled!”, Laurence curses. “Tell me if you see anything Amber, we have to find him!”

I open my eyes, peering through the cracked windshield then the side window as Laurence uses the last of the van's momentum to perform a U-turn. Our headlights are busted, but thanks to the luminosity provided by the mansion I can still spot this equine shape running towards us!

“I see him! Oh, and there's another pony!”

“Now quick, open the back door, I'll need you to start the ignition!”

“Yes Sarge!”

I unbuckle my seat belt, turn towards the back of the vehicle, and with a good flick of my magic I push the van's doors open! Chad reaches us an instant later, and– Oh my gosh, that mare is hurt! I help him carrying her inside and he jumps in in turn: “Perfect timing girls! Let's get out of here!”

There's a sudden loud crack, and sparks fly from one of the open doors! Was that a gunshot!?

I don't want to know!! I slam the doors closed then quick-quick-quick I bring all my focus back on restarting the engine, getting my magic through the key mechanism to turn the ignition switch on directly!

I turn and crank the engine, but it only clicks and fails to start!

Oh come on!!

I'm starting to get a headache from magic overuse, but I can't stop now!! I turn again and– Yes!! Laurence doesn't waste a single second in smashing the accelerator, and I almost fall over as we lurch forward!

We speed down the road, away from the mansion, and I buckle my seat belt just in case. The two ponies behind don't have access to such luxuries though, and they're forced to hold the back of our seats to steady themselves.

“Thanks for coming for us, you're real lifesavers!”, calls Chad. “Oh and by the way, this is Crispy! Crispy, this is Ambre and Laurence!”

'Crispy'..? Is that a pony name?

I'm about to ask when the van swerves sharply to the right! “Dammit!!”, barks Laurence!

What was that about? Did she have to avo—

Woah!! Something just hit us from behind!

I look into the side-view mirror, and there's a vehicle right on our tail!

“Laurence, what's happening!?”

“That car! It's Charles!”

Charles!?”, Chad cries out in disbelief. “What's this jerk doing here!?”

We're hit again, the van skidding on the pavement, but Laurence manages to steady our course!

“Bastard's trying to push us off the road! He's faster than us, I can't lose him!”

Oh no, they must have noticed the missing van, or the man we knocked down, or something else, I don't know!! What are we gonna do!?

I'm really thankful for that seat belt as Laurence takes mad turns to try to shake our pursuer off, but he keeps on coming! It's a miracle we don't crash into a wall or another car as we zoom through the suburbs!

This is getting us nowhere, the cops must've noticed us by then, and with this wild driving left and right and over speed bumps, that poor Crispy mare is going to be even more hurt than when be picked her up!

“Do you even know where you're going!?”, Chad yells at Laurence.

“... Sorry, didn't plan for a car chase this morning!”

WHAT!?

“Go for the countryside, this way!”, exclaims Crispy. “We can ditch the van and hoof it through the guarrigue, I know someone who could help us!”

“As good an idea as any right now!”

We soon transition from the suburbs to the nearest village, following Crispy's directions, but Charles keeps on coming!

“Okay, I hope that'll work!”, Laurence shouts as she performs another tight turn and rockets directly towards a narrow alley, a very narrow alley!!

“We won't fit!!”, Chad screams!

“We will!”

I shriek loudly as we drive into the alley, and the sideview mirror next to me flies off into a million pieces as it hits a wall!!

We come out of the alley without any more damage though, and get back to a wider road.

“See? Told you we'd fit.”, says Laurence as if nothing happened.

... You almost made me have a heart attack, you crazy mare!!

But I suppose that at least this way Charles and his big car can't follow us...

We speed along, the houses giving way to various businesses and warehouses, and the countryside is close at hoof.

Gosh, what a night... I hope we'll—

Wait wha—!!

Something crashes against the left side of the van and pushes us off the road!!

No!! He's sending us right int—

*scream*

Sweetchard's View

“... Everybody's all right..?”, Laurence groans.

“I'm okay..!”, I grunt. “Crispy?”

“Could be better...”, she moans. “Thank you, Sweety...”

I'm still holding her tightly. I did my best to shield her when we crashed, so even if her leg certainly isn't better, at least she's alright... My back's gonna kill me tomorrow though..!

“Ambre?”

No answer.

“Amber!!”

“Urgh... I– I'm up, I'm up! But oww, my horn..!”

“We have to get out of here! You two in the back, can you open the doors?”

“I'm gonna try!” I let go of Crispy and stagger to the back of the van, walking on what is supposed to be the right side of the vehicle. I put a forehoof against the doors – and they tear off from their hinges, clanking loudly on the ground. “... Yeah that won't be an issue.”

I help Crispy to her hooves, and despite the pain I allow her to lay on my back once again. She could probably walk with just one foreleg, but... I guess I feel better, feeling her so close to me, and together we get out of the totaled van.

We find ourselves in a wide courtyard, looking at ranks of tractors and combines and plows, all kinds of stuff and machines for farm work. Must be a specialist dealer's depot... There's a two-stories building in the back, offices I would guess. Behind us, on the other side of the van, is what's left of the steel gate we went through... It's a miracle we got out of this mostly in one piece!

Laurence finally manages to free Ambre from her seat belt, and she's leading the dazed unicorn out of the van. Now we just have t—

Darn it! There's footsteps coming from the depot's entrance!

It's Charles!! He must've crashed his car a little further when he pushed us off the road, and now he's walking unsteadily towards us, gun in hand, cutting off our exit!

Buck!! I turn tail before he has any opportunity to shoot at us! “Not that way!”, I call to Ambre and Laurence as they both get out of the van, and they trail after us as I run towards the building in the back, stopping only when we reach the front door!

“What was that..?”, Laurence whispers.

“Charles! He's there, and he's armed!” I put my back to the building's wall, expecting our foe to come out from behind a tractor at any time... But he doesn't come. “Wait... He's not following us..?”

“He doesn't need to... We're like fish in a barrel here.”, Laurence says, gesturing around with a forehoof.

Looking where she points, I understand what she means: the whole depot is enclosed by tall, sturdy chain-link fences. The only way out is where Charles is standing.

We're trapped..!

No! I'm sure we can still do something! But for now we can't stay in the open, we have to hide! I try for the building's door, but it's closed of course!

“Darn it, I'll buck it! We need to get inside!”

I move to drop Crispy, but Laurence stops me: “No, wait! We could need that door! Amber, can you unlock it?”

The blonde unicorn doesn't look confident: “I'll try, but... My horn still hurts..!”

Ambre still gets in front of the door, and her red magic covers the lock. We can hear faint metallic sounds, but the door doesn't budge, and the poor filly looks to be in pain! She whines, and her aura flickers out. “It's too much, I can't control it..!”, she moans sadly.

Laurence sits next to her, putting a forehoof on the young pony's shoulder: “It's okay, you tried your best on this one. Do you still have some juices though?”

“I... Yeah, I think, but it won't help if it's too complex..!”

“You see this window up there?”, she asks, pointing at one of the wide single-panel awning windows on the second floor. “It should be a simple bolt mechanism at worst, could you do that?”

Ambre frowns in determination and stomps a hoof: “I will!”

Her horn shines with magic, despite the effort it seems to require, and soon a reddish mist pushes the window pane open!

“Bravo Ambre, you did good!”, Laurence congratulates the woozy unicorn, helping her sit down, then turns towards us: “All right... Give me some space now please, I'll try something.”

She gets out of her hoodie, and with a full-body shudder she slowly spreads her large blue wings.

Wow, I forgot these things were that big..!

She draws back, then dashes at full speed towards the building, beatings her wings all the while, and when she reaches it she jumps and actually starts running up the wall! She manages just barely to get a hoof into the opened window, but that's enough to get a hold, and she squirms into the building!

We wait with bated breath, until finally the door opens, Laurence leading us inside before locking it back! The building's first floor turns out to be a large workshop, with offices only occupying half of the upper floor. Plenty of places to hide, at least...

I let Crispy get back on her hooves, now that we're in relative safety. Ambre lies down on the side after helping Laurence in getting her hoodie back on. The pegasus-in-disguise, for her part, takes the stairs to the second floor to look out the windows. After those nice acrobatics I would've expected her to smile at least a little, but no...

“He's still here, and he's on the phone...”, she drones from her perch.

“No..!”, Crispy wails, “If the Brigade knows where we are, they will never let us escape!”

“Maybe he didn't see us getting inside? If we hide here, we could make it!”

“I'm afraid she's right, Chad...”, Ambre mumbles through her doziness. “We heard them, there's, like, at least a dozen of them, they're looking for ponies, and they'll do whatever they can to get us..! If they don't find us outside, they're sure to try the building...”

That's... No! No, not after all this!

I stomp in frustration! We just managed to get out, we won't let them capture us again!! We'll fight if we have to!

“Okay, calm down.”, Laurence admonishes as she comes back down with us. “I looked around, and there is a way out. The windows on this side,” she points at the wall opposite the door, “they open over fields, beyond the fences. If you get down this way, you could make it.”

Really? I climb the stairs to take a look. Like she said, on this side there's only a vast cultivated field, but... “I don't know... It's right in the open. They could see us before we reach cover...”

“Not if I force their focus here.”

Ambre's ears jump at hearing that: “What..?”

“I will be a distraction. You get through the fields, while I hold them here.”, she says matter-of-factly.

Not sure I like where this is going... “But what about you?”

She stays silent a moment, then she simply joins me by the window, pointing at something outside:

“... You see these transmission towers, just beyond the fields?”

I look closer, and now that she mentions it, I do notice the metallic structures. But it's far, I can barely see them.

“I will meet you at the one directly in front of us, once I'm sure they can't follow. But once you get there, you contact Sébastien, you decide on a meeting point for him to pick you up, and you hole up somewhere. Not my place – it's probably the first thing they'll try.” She turns to my mare: “Crispy, right? You were saying that you know someone who may help us?”

“I think I do, yes. I haven't seen her in years, but she's a good woman, and she hates my father dearly, so... So I hope that'll be enough to get her on our side...”, she sighs.

“That's better than nothing.”, Laurence nods. “All right, now we need some way to get you down through that window.”

Laurence and I go back to the workshop floor, but as soon as the pegasus is down the stairs Ambre confronts her, even if she's still all wobbly on her hooves: “You can't do that..!”

“I can, and I will.”, Laurence answers with a raised eyebrow. “Now try to gath—”

“No!!”

We're all a little surprised at Ambre's outburst, Laurence blinking owlishly: “... Uh?”

“It's not a good way!”, the unicorn protests.

“It's... our only real option, Amber.”

“No, there must be another way, a better one! I'm sure! We can't leave you behind!”

“You're not 'leaving me behind'...”, she grumbles, rolling her eyes. “I pull off a distraction to leave you enough time to clear the area, it's a legitimate strategy.”

Ambre stomps angrily: “That's the same darn thing!”

Laurence bears down on the smaller pony, a hard squint on her face: “What would you do then..? We're cornered, if we don't move it's only a matter of time until they find us. We don't know the terrain well enough to hope to distance them on foot, not with two of us slowing the group. We have to slow them down to give you a chance!”

“What about Sébastien, and Sainfoin!”

“It's you three who are in danger right now, you are my priority! It's the only way I can save you!!”

But Ambre still doesn't back down: “No, I know there's a better way!”

“No Amber, you don't know!!”, Laurence yells in the unicorn's face. “Stop trying to come up with excuses and delay us for no good reason!!”

Ambre finally crumbles under Laurence's angry stare, falling back on her rump, dejected. The pegasus then turns towards us, still looking quite peeved: “We have a plan, so let's get to it! We need a ladder, rope and/or chains to get down this window! Come on ponies, I can hear cars parking outside, we already lost too much time!”

She's right, and we scramble to follow her instructions – even Ambre does after a moment. Rummaging around the dark workshop, we find a long hose that could do the trick, and start anchoring it down in front of the window.

As I'm working on this with Laurence while Crispy and Ambre are downstairs, I dare to voice my concerns: “You're sure about that..?”

“Yes.”

She didn't hesitate.

“You can't hold them all alone...”

“I'm only a distraction. Your Crispy is wounded, Amber can't do much magic. They can't stay here, and they need someone able to defend them if I fail. You understand?”

“... Yeah.”, I admit, reluctantly. “But I don't like it.”

“You don't have to. I'll try to buy us as much time as I can, but you also need to make good use of that time.”

“And you..?”

“I can fly to the transmission tower when the time's right.” She then stares at me, with those intense eyes of hers, and whispers: “... If I'm not here after ten minutes, you leave, understood? You leave, you contact Sébastien, and you get to Crispy's friend. Got it?”

She...

I feel her hoof on my shoulder. “Don't make it harder than it already is. And don't let Ambre do anything foolish.”

I nod grimly.

Soon after our escape route is finished, and I'm the first one down. It's hard to hold the hose correctly, but it still does the job. I get really anxious when it's Crispy's turn as she can only use her uninjured foreleg, but there's no issue, and I allow her to lay on my back once again.

We're waiting for Ambre to follow us, but...

“No, I stay with you!”, she whines from up there.

“Get down there Amber, that's an order!!”, Laurence scolds her. “They need you and your magic! And stop crying!!”

We only hear her sobbing, then Laurence talking softly to her: “Ambre... Please...”

The cries stop, and finally Ambre goes down the hose to join us. Even then, she doesn't have all her hooves on the ground yet that she whispers angrily at the pegasus: “You better meet us at the rendezvous point! Or I come back to get you!!”

Laurence doesn't answer though, just looking at us one last time before she pulls the hose up and closes the window.

I sigh, my ears drawn back. “Come on Ambre...”

We start walking through the field, the young plants reaching almost to my belly. I hope we will make it...

And I try to not think about what's gonna happen behind us...

Laurence's View

It's about to rain.

I can barely see the pale face of the moon through the window, hidden behind the clouds. From my vantage point on the building's second floor I have a good view of the courtyard, and the tractors and other large farm vehicles parked there. Beyond the tall wire fence, the street lighting is sparse along the road, while the surrounding fields are left deeply steeped into the shadows of the night. It's the perfect time for a bold and daring escape.

And for waxing poetic, apparently.

...

Focus, dammit...

The others left about five minutes ago, and during this time more and more cars have parked in front of the crashed gates. For my part, I put the last touches to our cursory attempts at defensive measures. Preparing covers, gathering potential weapons, blocking some doors... Once they get inside, they will have to cross the workshop to the stairs, then there's the corridor between offices – two successive bottlenecks. That should slow them down, and keep it as much as possible at one-on-one...

Well... All set, or rather as much as can be done in five minutes, and as ready as I'll ever be...

I finally switch the upstairs office's lights on, signaling my position.

No going back now.

My ears swivel at the sound of barking outside. Peeking discretely through the window, I see the bastards all grouped together talking, about twenty of them. They have two large attack dogs on leashes.

Damn... I don't want to hurt dogs...

I chance a closer look. Most of the men are just in plain clothes, though I can't exclude some kind of light body armor for the more military-looking of them. As for weapons, I can spot everything from gardening tools to baseball bats and crowbars, and more worryingly, some firearms – mainly hunting rifles. This guy in full camo garb seems to be a leader of sorts, snarling orders I can't quite make out from the distance. All in all, I probably don't stand a chance, but I don't plan on going down easily either.

The men divide into two groups, most of them coming directly toward the building while the others make their way through the cluttered courtyard. They lead the dogs, and the beams of their flashlights dance between the rows of agricultural machinery. Probably scouting the perimeter, just in case the light in the building is a diversion, and securing any of their preys' potential escape routes. Sensible, but fortunately for us, too late. Only pitfall would be the dogs catching a conspicuous scent leading into the countryside, and I cannot allow that.

I push a chair under the window and hop on it, revealing myself and making a show for them – 'the search is over, your prey is here'.

It works.

They shout, some in surprise, others in rage, and a more level-headed one shoulders his rifle. I have just the time to duck down as the window pane shatters with a loud bang, the bullet still grazing my upper thigh. I hear them rushing to the building's main door, then their curses as they find it locked. I know it's only a matter of time until they get through – at least there's no first floor windows.

Only have to wait for the storm...

I switch the lights off. The furious pounding at the door rings out in the darkened building. The first drops start to fall from the sky, and soon I can hear the comforting splatter of rain on the sheet metal roof. I watch idly at my first wound of the night, a thin trail of blood slowly making its way down my leg, crossing in vibrant red the cutie mark emblazoned on my body.

Despite the pain, I can't help but snicker at the sight. Up until fairly recently I had a pretty ordinary life. Nothing especially remarkable, just my little routine, some good parts, some a bit less so, but still in the realm of normalcy. Now I'm on the losing end of a siege against armed men, and I'm not expecting to make it through... It's almost funny how things have changed in less than a week...

*sigh*

What have we done to end up in this mess..?

Well no time for any more useless reminiscing, in any case – they've finally busted through the front door.

Please forgive me Sébastien... It's better that way.

I put my stern face on in a futile attempt to hinder the flow of tears that started after Amber and the others left, and I walk to the half-opened door leading to the corridor, leaning my back against the wall to stay upright more easily.

I can hear them walking around the workshop, and their first steps on the stairs. My hold tightens around the big wrench I picked up. I wonder if Charles will be among them... I get a little twinge of pleasure at the idea of shoving this lump of hard steel right into his pretty face.

The first one has reached the landing. Four others join him, but of the five only two venture into the corridor.

They get closer.

Sweat trickle down my back. I push the discomfort of staying upright away from my mind.

Closer...

The fire kindles in my chest as one of the men starts pushing the door. The head of his ax is the first thing I see, as he uses it to nudge the door open.

He makes his first step inside.

I don't leave him time to see that I'm right next to him – I whirl to strike, aiming for the jaw. I feel the bone crack as the wrench connects, his cry of surprise changing to a pained gurgle, and I push him back with a shove of the foot.

The other one dashes forward over his friend, entering the room to attack me with his crowbar, taking advantage of my unstable stance. He swings at me, grazing my left shoulder. I dodge his next attack and kick his legs from under him, rolling away to get out as he falls to his knees, then striking his right wrist with all my strength!

He shouts in pain, dropping his weapon, but he lunges at me! He gets hold of my sweater, using his bulk to pull me to the ground, but that puts him right in the trajectory of my next kick, hitting him square in the chest. He hacks loudly, and I use the opportunity to strike him in the jaw too, and as he's still groggy from the impact I push him out of the room to join his friend.

I get back against the wall, pushing crowbar and ax away to the side of the room, while the two wounded crawl back to their companions.

Next!

This time there's too many of them to count their numbers just from the steps.

I breathe deeply, and wait.

The first one is smart, and runs through the door with his arms held up to protect his face – my strike doesn't do much, and I stagger backward!

The second makes use of that distraction to attack with a large knife, slashing at my face – I jump back but he presses on, aiming for my chest! I twist to avoid his thrust, his blade still slicing through my sweater and my skin, but he can't control his forward momentum and I kick him in the ribs!

But I've been too careless! Hands grab me from behind and pull me to the corridor! I struggle, punching one guy straight in the face and biting the arm of another, and I manage to fight my way out of their grasp!

Dammit! I need to stay sharp!

I've lost the wrench on the way, and I'm now in the corridor, three men left in front of me, two behind! I don't leave them time to think, I rush the first one and kick him directly in the right knee! His leg buckles, and I use his fall to land an uppercut that shoves him back. I'm too slow to avoid the crowbar that hits my right shoulder, but it allows me to grab for it and tug it from the guy's hands. I strike at his face, hitting him hard in the cheekbone, and he's down for the count!

There's a sharp pain in my back, and as the last guy in front of me is about to swat at me with his baseball bat, I roll forward, right under the bat and away from them. I dash back against the three men, enduring the brunt of another swing of the bat with my left arm to better punch the wielder in the jaw, then taking hold of the next one's arm as he tries to stab me again, and twisting! The knife falls to the floor, and a high kick brings its master down along with it!

I don't have time to dodge the last guy's attack, so I bring my arms up to protect myself against the strike of his shovel. My bones rattle, but I can't slow down! The tool is too long to be properly used in the narrow corridor, and when the man tries for another swing it's child's play to crouch and punch him hard in the solar plexus, bringing him down too!

I catch my breath, and it almost costs me my life – there's a terrible bang, and I feel a bullet flitting through the air barely more than a handspan away! I run back to the room, jumping in to avoid another shot!

Dammit!! They still have their guys laying around here, are they crazy!?

The thin door between my room and the next bursts open, the desk I had toppled against it pushed away! Bastards used the opportunity to try and flank me!! Two burly men charge at me, I evade with a roll and strike back against the first one, kicking the side of his knee. The other lunges at me with a knife while his friend keels over, and he's fast! I dodge as best as I can, but he still manages to slash me again and again, until he overextends and I get a shot at his face! Hooves still prove to be devastating weapons, as my adversary is knocked down, but I can't waste time contemplating as his friend is back on his feet and picked up a crowbar!

I take a nasty blow to the head, and my vision goes swimming for an instant, the man using that time to keep striking at my body! I'm forced to crawl away, using the desk as a cover to give me the chance to get back up, and as he goes for another swing I rush him, using his superior height as an advantage to go under the swing and give him a nice uppercut!

My ears jump, alerting me of the next threat, as a man, rifle in his hands, takes aim at me from the other room!

I leap to avoid the shot, the sound reverberating awfully in the closed spaces, and I spot my wrench on the floor. I grab it, and as I get back in view of the shooter I throw the tool at him!

My aim isn't good, the wrench flying a good meter to his left, but it gives me a chance to close the distance as the man ducks away instinctively, and I down him with a flying kick! I claim the rifle, go back to my room, and throw the weapon through the window – I wouldn't have been able to use it.

I can hear my remaining foes cursing and whispering among them. Ah, you thought it'd be easy, huh!? Guess again!! I won't let myself be killed without a fight!!

As they prepare their next assault, I get out of my torn and bloodied sweater, and I move position to the room opposite mine – there's a tad too many groaning, half-conscious wounded guys on the floor of my original hideout.

For a moment I fear that they would be cowardly enough to send their dogs at me, but no, those are humans who step on the landing. I count three of them, and despite how I laid waste to their colleagues, they don't seem to hesitate as they walk through the corridor.

It's getting harder and harder to ignore my own wounds... I won't be in the fight for much longer at this rate..!

The first enemy is coming at my door's level. I grab the steel pipe I had hidden here.

Well then...

Time to finish this!!

I slam the door open, finding myself behind a tall man with a freakin' machete in his hand! I don't leave him the chance to turn as I smash the pipe on his head, knocking him down!

From the corner of my eye I see that the second guy in camouflage clothes is holdi– Jump back!!

I bounce back into the room just as he fires his handgun, and the bastard's a better shot than the one with the rifle, my left shoulder is burning from the pain!

But I can't be distracted again, not with that camo-wearing bastard running after me!

He aims his gun just as I kick a chair in his legs, and he loses the weapon as he falls over!

I dash to him, the wings on my back beating furiously, and I strike before he has the time to pull out a combat knife!

He's good though, rolling away from my blows, and his last friend comes at me with another ax! I can barely evade his savage swings, and he lands a hit on my right side!

I stagger to the ground, hissing in pain..!

Come on Laurence, get back up!!

I twist away just in time to avoid a powerful overhead strike, and the ax stays stuck into the floor! I leap back to my feet and shove the man away from his weapon, right as camo-guy attacks with his knife!

He stabs me first in the left arm, then slashes across my chest before I can jump back! But once I get enough distance I soar at him, landing a double kick against his chest! He almost flies away from the impact, ending up by the stairs!

But I land badly, my still beating wings upsetting my balance, and I crash against the floor..! Gosh it hurts, and it's getting harder to keep my eyes open..!

No..! I can't give up yet!

Come on, on your feet Laurence!!

Stay sharp! Stay sharp!!

“I'm going to kill you!!”, yells my last enemy, brandishing the machete of his friend, while a gust of wind goes through the corridor!

I dodge his first slash, but I trip on the ax and this leaves him a window to hit my left leg! I buck him away, but he charges right back at me!

Avoiding the attack by going under him, I shove both fists into his belly, and as he's still staggering I kick him in the chest!

He falls hard, but still gets back on his feet! What's this guy made of!?

I try to back away, but my left leg buckles under me, the pain coursing through my whole body, menacing to make me faint..!

No..!

Don't give up, stay sharp!

“Burn in hell, you monster!!”

I watch as he backs away, takes a cylindrical object from his belt, and throws it at me!

Instincts take over, and my aching wings propel me backward, but at the same time the strange gust of wind comes back, so strong that it literally cuts the air as it goes down the corridor, leaving slashing marks against the walls, and—

And..!

I watch in absolute horror at the man who was standing here..!

At both halves of him..!

I retch, backing away from the sight and tripping over myself..!

I desperately try to look away, fighting the urge to faint, and my eyes fall on what the poor guy was throwing at me, laying on the floor close to me...

...

Wait isn't that a grena—

Ambre's View

It started raining a little before we got to the power line. It's not much more than a drizzle, but my clothes still feel completely drenched.

And still no Laurence...

The electric hum of the tower did nothing to mask the gunshots, but since there was this loud bang like they were shooting fireworks, there's no more sounds coming from the other side of the field...

Please Laurence..! We're here, you don't have to stay! It doesn't have to be the end!!

But she's still not here...

I sent a text to Sébastien, who was extremely worried of course. We'll follow the power lines and meet him at a little road, it should be discreet enough.

...

I didn't say anything about Laurence...

“Come on Ambre, we already waited too long...”, Chad says.

I don't want to hear that!! I only want her to come back!!

But I keep waiting under the rain, and she doesn't come.

From the flashing red-and-blue lights, it looks like the police is finally arriving on the scene.

“Ambre... We have to go...”

I know he's right, that I can't do anything right now, but..!

...

I get back on my hooves. I'm still a little lightheaded.

I can't do anything...

“... Okay.”, I whisper through my sore throat.

Chad walks away, Crispy on his back.

I look one last time at the building on the other side of the field, my tears mingling with the raindrops, and I turn back to follow them.