• Published 8th Jan 2020
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Golden Age of Apocalypse - Book III: Legacies - BlueBastard

Everything is finally ready for Sunset Shimmer to be crowned a ruling princess of Equestria, but not all is as it seems as the Covenant make their move and the history of Equestria itself is called into question as GAOA reaches its explosive end!

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Chapter 13 - Nothing Is What It Seems

GAOA 13—Nothing is What it Seems

The only noise that was audible in the room in the medical wing was the steady chime made by the enchanted crystals. A magical equivalent to an electronic heart monitor, it sang in time with Pinkie’s heartbeat, the only sign she still lived. Buried under the strongest and most advanced medical enchantments known to ponydom, the normally energetic teen lay motionless, the rise and fall of her chest barely even noticeable under the blanket on her bed.

The good news was that Pinkie’s condition had stabilized and she wasn’t in immediate danger of dying. The bad news was that in a combination of the brain trauma she apparently had due to oxygen loss from her heart injury, the copious amount of blood she’d lost from the double knife wound, and her body having gone into shock from said wound, had put Pinkie into a deep coma.

Given that her heart had been nearly completely destroyed, it was a minor miracle that pony magic had been able to regenerate the heavily-damaged organ. But there were limits to pony magic, and even the best of ponies couldn’t pull an individual out of a coma. Even human science, for all the myriad advantages it had over pony physicking, couldn't do that.

“It’s all my fault,” said Sunset to herself. She was the only individual in the room, having turned back to pony form so she could fit in the pony sized chairs more than any other real reason. And for the past hour she’d sat there in silence while everybody else had come to check in on Pinkie (and also Sunset—given her temporary reversion to “Alpha Bitch Sunset”—though they hadn’t said as such), but had left, probably to try and take their minds off of it. Unfortunately, Sunset didn’t have that luxury since the two biggest things to happen since she’d been crowned Princess could be, at best, charitably labeled utter disasters. Her cousin had been abducted (for the second time since coming to Equestria) and now Pinkie had been critically injured protecting Sunset’s own native people.

“Some princess I am,” she mourned, not even able to cry at this point.

“Well, if it makes you feel better, I think you make for a better sister than a princess.” She looked up and saw Twily standing there, looking concerned. “You holding up okay?”

Sunset would have replied with a snark but she really just wasn’t feeling it. “Our cousin is gone, Pinkie’s fighting for her life, and I can’t do anything about it—I’m not holding up at all, Twily.” She got up from her seat, turned back human, and then embraced her sister. “I just don’t know what to do.”

“There’s nothing you can do, unfortunately,” said Twily, returning the embrace. “Pinkie knew the risks, but she...well, I won’t pretend to understand what’s driving her. I’m honestly still mad at her, even though I know it’s irrational.”

“But she didn’t even need to do it! She slaughtered a bunch of fucking butterflies and then got stabbed in the chest by a psycho pool-playing assassin! What did any of it accomplish?”

“A lot of ponies were saved that might have gotten mindjacked or whatever the one butterfly did to you,” Twily replied. “Pinkie may have sacrificed her life to save innumerable Equestrians that will never know of what she did.”

“And that’s just not fair! She deserves better than that!”

“I know, but again, there’s nothing we can do about it. C’mon, let’s get some of your favorite ice cream. Moose Tracks, right?”

“Only on Earth. Here, I prefer geranium vanilla.” In response, Sunset merely set her hand aglow and instantly summoned a cup full of that very ice cream flavor.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean, sis. Seriously, I know you’re worried about her, but you have to take care of yourself as well. I know you don’t want to hear this, but Mom and Dad actually asked me to come by and check on you.”

“Where are they?”

Twilight sighed. “Both of them are in consultations with the medical staff looking at Pinkie. The doctors wanted to speak with human ‘doctors’ and didn’t quite get that their doctorates aren’t medical doctorates. Still, they wanted to help, so….” The plum-haired girl left it at that.

The two of them were left standing there in uncomfortable silence for several seconds after. More than once Twily opened her mouth to say something, before evidently deciding that more meaningless platitudes would do no good, while Sunset merely grappled with the futility of doing anything at all.

“Oh, sorry,” suddenly piped up a new voice, and both teens turned to see Coco Pommel standing there. “I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”

“Coco?” asked Sunset, surprised, “No, you’re not interrupting anything—but what are you doing here?”

“Well, I was told by Miss Rarity—both of them, in fact—to come and give a helping hoof with, erm, monitoring your friend on the bed there.”

“But you’re a fashion pony, Coco,” said Twily.

“Well, yes, but I’m not entirely a pony, if you know what I mean,” said the assistant fashionista. To emphasize her point, she briefly brought out her changeling wings and fluttered them momentarily before tucking them back out of view. “Even though Miss Pie's in a coma, she still has emotions. And because my, ah, ‘condition’ makes me empathic, I can sense them. The Raritys thought that if Pinkie’s condition improves, her emotional state would change and I could detect it. Without, er, anypony who doesn’t know what I am being any the wiser.”

“Thanks, Coco,” said Sunset, a brief smile coming to her lips, before turning back to Twily. “But I’m sorry, Twily, I just can’t leave Pinkie’s side. Not until I know for sure she’s going to be okay.”

“Absolutely not!” shouted Adm. Tumblehome, throwing the formal request back at the triplets. “You might have proven your SIRENs as something formidable on the Parade Grounds, but what do you want to requisition an entire airship for? We might as well be enlisting the damn elephants for crew members!”

“With all due respect, Admiral,” said Adagio, keeping herself composed, “this is a matter of national security. Not only are we trying to rescue one of the heads of the defense services of Equestria, but we are also trying to rescue two high-profile individuals; i.e. the ones related to this King Sombra.”

“Additionally, we’re also trying to rescue a foreign national who is a family member of Princess Sunset,” Aria added.

“And last but not least, we also intend to storm the Convenant’s main base of operations and perform a decapitation strike,” Sonata finished. “If we can successfully execute this, we can put the Covenant leadership out of business instantly.”

“A decapitation strike,” Tumblehome said with absolute distaste. “That sounds like a term you humans would come up with. In any case, I understand the reason, which is why I would expect you nitwits to come up with something actually sane and not...not...some completely asinine stunt that would probably get you all killed!”

Vice Adm. Apparent Wind, one of the pegasi with Tumblehome, narrowed his eyes. “As the head of the Naval Aviation section, I do not see a purpose for this folly. Frankly, I fail to see the purpose of this ‘Special Initiative’ to begin with. The combat squadrons, air fleets and surface fleets are all the Navy needs.”

Adagio’s mouth formed a hard line, wanting to rebuke the idiotic senior officers for being so set in their ways, but of course she couldn’t on account of the chain of command. Part of her wished that they’d taken up Gen. Halberd’s suggestion to be naval infantry for the Army instead of the Navy; he seemed to get an absolute kick out of how differently the SIREN program worked and would have been all for this. Unfortunately, the Army was spread thinly at the moment, dealing with the riots, as well as the betrayals within its own ranks.

“Actually, Admiral?” said Vice Adm. Adviso, who entered just then and picked up the discarded equipment requisition form with a wing, giving it a once over. “Based on the documentation Adm. Loam has given me, I’d say this is one of those ‘crazy enough to work’ ideas. Especially since it seems like this is almost standard practice for humans.”

Standard practice? How the hell are they not all dead?!” angrily argued Tumblehome.

“Perhaps we should let them demonstrate it, then?” said Luna, entering the office herself. She turned to the surprised triplets with a smile. “By happenstance, I ran into Adm. Loam earlier and by my request, he gave me the briefing on what it is that Operation LOST CHORD requires additional Navy resources for. And as the princess in charge of defense...I approve.”

From the look on Tumblehome’s face, it looked like she was going to pop a vein from so much anger. “Fine! Let them kill themselves! Good luck finding a ship captain crazy enough to…” She then facehoofed, remembering that a captain just crazy enough to let this stupid stunt happen on their ship not only existed, but said captain and ship were in fact in Canterlot at that very moment for resupply.

“I’m sure Capt. Easychord and the Super-Electric are available to get underway at a moment’s notice,” said Adviso with a smile, before glancing back down at the paperwork. “Though...you want to load in a ‘Valanx’? I’m not familiar with that kind of equipment.”

“It’ll fit,” said Sonata. “Trust me: we used to do this with bigger equipment all the time”.

Down in one of the armories, specifically the one lent to the SIRENs while their own facility was still being set up, the six members of the Advanced Training Group had caught wind that Whiskey—the only one out of all the nearly 200 females drafted into the organization who had not needed to go through the absolutely insane recruiting challenge—was going on a mission with the SIREN top brass to strike at the Covenant.

“It’s almost like you’re their favorite, or something,” groaned Moonblazer, leaning against a locker with her arms crossed. “But you weren’t even part of a formal armed group!”

“You make it sound like you’re jealous,” remarked Sunny Side.

“Well, she basically got a promotion from no rating to an SO3!”

“Do you even know what rating that corresponds to?”

“Of course I know what it is!” the former batpony argued. “I’m the one that came from the Naval combat squadrons, after all! It’s...it’s…” Moonblaze’s mind looked as if it was just about to short out from the attempt to figure out what it meant.

“It means she’s a Petty Officer Third Class in the Special Operator rating,” Sunny Side remarked with a grin. “Unlike we officers and our ranks, the enlisted troops have ratings that denote what their specialties are instead.”

“Well, aren’t we all just high and mighty,” Moonblaze pouted.

“No, it just means that I read the manuals, something that you should be doing,” Sunny Side snarked. “In any case, the enlisted are divided into two ratings: SOs, the special operators or mainline SIREN combat forces; and SBs, the special combat support, or backup. Given her extensive training even before she became a SIREN, chances are the Admiral wants her hooves on-ground...excuse me, boots on the ground.” Side made a mental note to keep that gaffe in mind; she couldn't afford that when they moved to the human world. “In any case, it means they have a lot of confidence in her skills already.”

“I wasn’t aware of all of that, either,” Whiskey admitted, “but given the senior officers call themselves Special Operators, it means they see me as truly belonging here.”

“That’s good,” said Embiggen, nodding. “I mean, you do kind of stick as the shortest among us—except Moonblazer.”

“Gee, thanks for reminding me,” groaned the ex-batpony.

Just then, all seven of the gathered girls heard the tell-tale sound of horseshoes—which was ironic to all but Whiskey given that they had grown accustomed to not hearing the noise their feet used to make. As one, they all turned to see Marimba Rondo approaching.

“That’s unnerving,” the seniormost Hoof said with a chuckle. “No wonder you’ve all made more than a few of my subordinates worried.”

“ATTENTION ON DECK!” shouted Side, and the SIRENS all fell into formation and as ordered, stood at attention.

“At ease,” Marimba told them with an appreciating glance. “Well, you’re all certainly well trained, that’s for sure. But I’m here to see Petty Officer Foxtrot, if only for a minute or so—I understand that you’re part of the response being sent to deal with the Covenant once and for all?”

“Aye, ma’am,” replied Whiskey as she left the formation.

“I understand military decorum is a thing in the armed forces, but the Hooves are a bit more informal.” She then beckoned for Whiskey to follow her, and together the two went a few feet away so they wouldn’t be heard.

“What do you need, ma’am?”

“Please understand that this is a big divergence from what the Hooves usually do,” the pony said, almost as if she was a bit nervous. “You already know that we Hooves are essentially a paramilitary unit, but we traditionally carry ourselves as just servants of the Princess, as part of our ongoing Promise to protect her the way she protected us against the evil Queen Cantata and the Black Sirens.”

She took a deep breath before continuing, “Alas, as varied as individual ponies are—and their beliefs—the same holds true for we sirens. It will forever be a regret of mine that under my watch the first traitor to the Hooves was able to carry out her plan. Worse still, she would have killed three of our youngest members to accomplish her goals. I won’t pretend I understand, but there had to be a bad egg at some point.”

“Castellan,” began Whiskey, “As much as I appreciate you opening up to me, I need to get ready for the upcoming operation.”

“Right, sorry,” the castellan apologized, then cleared her throat. “Ahem. Yes, well, the Hooves were lucky that the damage Lentando sought to do was mitigated and no lives were lost by her hooves all thanks to you. When I mentioned that the Hooves see ourselves as servants of the princess, I meant that we do not recognize particular feats like how the other branches award medals. To us, that is just part of the job. You, however, did the Hooves a valorous service and for that, I have decided to make an exception, particularly since I am aware of your history and how you came to be in the SIRENs.”

She then reached into her maid uniform and withdrew a necklace. It had a fine silk black band that met below the neck with a pure gold joiner, attached to which was a brilliant pure ruby fitted to a pendant frame. “Our rubies are part of how we are able to perform our function while also having our natural forms on hoof if need be, as these rubies are harvested underwater around our native home; the Sirenia Isles. This necklace...was Lentando’s. Obviously she has been removed from the Hooves permanently and we have as such stripped her of all paraphernalia associated with that position. It will all be reassigned to the next Hoof to join the ranks...except this.” She held it out for Whiskey to take. “This ruby’s magical properties will do nothing for you, since while you are a shapeshifter like we sirens, the magic behind it is different. Or maybe it will, I don’t know. The point is, I, Castellan Marimba Rondo, bestow upon you, Petty Officer Whiskey T. Foxtrot, Royal Equestrian Navy, one of our most closely guarded secrets, in recognition of the service you provided for the Hooves.”

Whiskey was taken aback. “I...I...er, thank you.” She reached down, picked up the necklace—immediately sensing that the band was in fact enchanted to stretch or shrink to fit the wearer—and put it on. As expected, it was a perfect fit.

“It looks good on you,” said Marimba with a smile, to which Whiskey blushed.

“SO3!” shouted Aria, running into the locker room and then turning to face the humanized kitsune, “You were to report on station three minutes ago! Get your ass in gear!”

“Cmdr. Blaze,” said Marimba, bowing, “I apologize, but I’m the reason your subordinate is still here. I wanted to give her a token of thanks on behalf of the Hooves.”

Aria immediately noticed that both Marimba and Whiskey were now wearing identical necklaces—and back when the triplets of SIREN and the siren triplets had eaten dinner together, the latter had explained to the former the importance of their necklaces. That Whiskey had one meant it must have been special and as such, could be considered a medal in the eyes of SIREN proper.

“Very well then,” she said to the Castellan, but then turned back to Whiskey. “Doubletime it, Petty Officer! We’re on the clock!!”

“Aye, Commander!” said Whiskey, snapping briefly to attention, before immediately rushing off. Aria nodded with approval; for a transplant from a relatively non-naval background, Whiskey would be a great SIREN.

“And as for the rest of you!” she then ordered, turning to the other ATG members, “I believe you have your orders as well! Turn to, or else you’ll be hearing from all of command when we get back!”

The Enstelleron was one of the most secure places in the castle. Not because of a need for security, but rather a need for comfort: the room, always reflecting the night sky and its starscape, was Luna’s personal art studio, where she could practice her nocturnal magics that allowed the moon and starlight to look so beautiful on so many nights. However, any artist always wanted a second opinion, which is why the Enstelleron was only available for use by a select few in the palace.

Thus, it had been used often when the Princesses wanted somewhere to talk in private, where they could be themselves and not the quasi-deified symbols of the nation. Where they could let their manes down and just be mares. It allowed them to speak with an ease they rarely felt.

And right now, Cadance was using it for all it was worth as she tried to talk her friends out of heading out on a mission that was, quite honestly, so far out of their hooves it was furlongs away.

“Ah’m goin' an' that’s final!” exclaimed pony Applejack, stomping the ground.

“No, you’re not, and that’s final,” said Cadence, using the tone of authority, something she didn’t care for using that often. “Besides, I don’t even have the authority to make such an approval. Princess Luna is the one in charge of matters of defense. Regardless, I’m sure she’d have the same stance.”

“But Ah gotta!”

“AJ, I know going off to fight the bad guys is what we all usually do,” said Twilight, “but this has a whole mess of politics involved because somepony, who isn’t even a pony, was kidnapped and the representatives of that, er, ‘country’ to put it in simple terms, want to handle it themselves.”

“And, well, if you think about it,” observed Pinkie Pie, “every time we’ve saved Equestria, it was usually against one single meanie and not against a group of them.”

“What about the Changelin’s?” countered Applejack.

“We kicked a lot of flank that day,” said Rainbow with a smirk, remembering how awesome they’d all looked, “but we still failed and got captured.”

“It was a crazy wedding, for sure,” said Cadence, the nigh-imperceptible tremor in her tone betraying the fact that she still hadn’t quite overcome her own ordeal then.

“I believe the point is, darling,” said Rarity, “that despite being the mares who showed that brute Tirek what for, this is a situation we are collectively out of our league in dealing with.”

“But we just fought a war a year ago!” the earth mare continued. “Yer tellin’ me that even with all that, we can’t do this?”

Rainbow sighed. “AJ, buddy, I’m technically the only military pony here, and even then, most of my duties in the Wonderbolts aren’t in a military capacity. Honestly, while it could be argued that we Bearers are a paramilitary force, we’re better off being used as troubleshooters for special situations that best fit our particular talents.”

Rarity looked at the pegasus. “That was...surprisingly eloquent, coming from you, dear.”

Rainbow shrugged. “I have my moments.”

AJ grit her teeth.

“This is about the other Applejack, isn’t it?” asked Fluttershy.

AJ nodded: her friends knew her too well for her to even try to lie about the subject. Being the Element of Honesty wasn’t exactly helping in that sense, either. “Ah just gotta make it up to her somehow, what with me bein’ such a stubborn mule about this whole thing. And on top of Razz bein’ there, savin’ that human seems to be the only way Ah can figure Ah can make it up to her.”

“Honestly, Applejack?” Rarity stated, “I think if you just went and apologized to her, that would be all you need to do.”

“A simple apology for the way Ah was actin’ is not going to change what Ah did!”

“I think you’re overreacting a bit on this one, AJ.” Twilight shook her head. “Maybe a few mean words were exchanged, but it isn’t like we don’t get on each other’s cases sometimes.”

“But she put her life on the line fer mah family!”

“And I think she would have done so regardless of how you have been acting. I mean, here you are willing to put your life on the line for her friend as well as our own. You and she are still very much alike, after all—your circumstances are just different.”

“Huh...Ah...Ah guess you’re right, Twi.”

The rest of the group nodded approvingly.

“So, when you next get the chance, just say you’re sorry, alright?”

Applejack looked away as she nervously scuffed a hoof along the ground. “Ah guess Ah’m just… nervous about facing her again, that’s all.”

Another thought entered Applejack’s mind then. There’s also the fact that a small part of mea stubborn part that I could honestly do withoutstill resents her just a tiny bit. She decided not to voice that one.

Cadence giggled. “Does this mean I can point out that the humans left to go fight the Covenant about thirty minutes ago?”

Everypony turned to look at her in annoyance.

“Coulda saved us a little hassle there, Princess,” rebuked Rainbow goodnaturedly.

“Besides, you six are still heroes to the land, regardless. If anything, you’re better off trying to appeal to your common pony to stop with all the rioting. Evidently this is the Covenant’s last-ditch plan and what with Celestia being hassled by the nobility, she needs all the relief she can get.”

Having gotten her back wound treated by the infirmary—or what passed as one in this hole—and showered, along with a fresh set of thirty normal feather knives so her OCD was under control, Corner was feeling better already. Physically, at least. Internally, she was becoming more and more unsure by the second as to what exactly was going on. Mostly because of what happened with the human getting her lower half turned into human sized pony legs, plus tail, and Oracle Dynamine acting like that was to be expected. Corner’s gut told her something was off and she needed answers. It had occurred to her that even though it was clear the prophecy meant for the four Scions to be gathered, it hadn’t actually ever said anything about needing the mirror or the Alicorn Amulet. Sure, those things were tied to Sombra, but not necessarily the Scions otherwise.

Corner soon found her quarry in the main atrium cavern, directing other ponies—mainly unicorns—to inscribe magic rune looking shapes on the walls, while the Mirror of Sombra had been moved toward the back wall. Corner figured they were setting up the ritual, though she didn’t know a lick of magic, so she couldn’t say for sure. Pool ball trajectories? Sure, she was a whizz at those, but ask her to differentiate between the runes of a unicorn foal’s first summoning circle and how that foal wrote their name and she wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference.

“Scion Corner Shot,” said Tiny, before Corner even tried getting her attention. “The ritual is not yet ready. What is it you need of me?”

“Answers, really,” said Corner.

“All in good time, Scion.”

“Yeah, no. After all the shit I’ve been through, I’d like to know what it is I’m actually trying to help achieve here. Can the power of the Scions really bring back King Sombra?”

“Your devotion to your ancestor will be rewarded, I assure you,” said Tiny, with the tiniest bit of irritation. “All will happen as foretold on the mirror’s backside: the darkness guides us and its manifestation will return to us in this time of our greatest need.”

So what, resurrect Sombra? Corner wondered, not entirely convinced. She keeps saying that but she doesn’t say how it will be done. “Uh-huh. See, I’m having the itsiest, bitsiest problem believing that,” Corner then trotted over to the mirror and nudged it sideways so the still-visible prophecy on the back was revealed. Giving it a quick glance over, Corner nodded as if in understanding, but it was more mocking how little she did. “This is the part I don’t get: “These four: Scions, dark legacy, called now and thus command, Take up stations and move on towards your struggle great and grand, Licorns broken, pinions ripped clear, strong bones ground into sand, My children—go, your quest awaits…” Corner then turned and looked at the approaching Tiny Dynamine with half lidded eyes of skepticism, finishing the last of the prophecy; “...on Canterlot’s grave, stand.”

“Yes, I would think it is pretty clear, is it not?”

Nothing is clear about this fancy poem,” the pegasus retorted. “The only thing that is clear about it is the fact that it doesn’t mention anything about resurrecting King Sombra.”

The Oracle studied her with a frown. “Have you considered, perhaps, that you simply aren’t interpreting our Lord’s words correctly?”

Have you? Corner wanted to ask, but held her tongue. Her thoughts inexplicably went back to her father (no, the traitor! the voice inside her insisted) as they had been doing more and more.

Closing her eyes and letting out a breath, Corner said, “Look, all I want is to make sure that everything I sacrificed…”

(Everyone I sacrificed)

“...will actually be worth it.”

Oracle Dynamine opened her mouth to answer but Corner cut her off. “And do me a favor, don’t just feed me a bunch of horseapples about ‘the importance of faith.’ I had enough of that from Barkeep.”

Tiny Dynamine’s calm frown deepened, and for a brief, almost terrifying moment, Corner could see genuine fury behind the eyes of the usually stoic, wise Oracle. “Mind your tone with me, young Scion….”

Corner met the Oracle’s cold fury with a little of her own. “I have done enough minding for you oh so wise leaders! I have done everything you and Father Lux have ever asked of me! Sacrificed everything because I believed in the cause! Now I just want to know what all of that loss is going to do for it.”

Dynamine suddenly slammed a hoof down with enough force to crack the ground they both stood on, and loomed high over Corner, the cold fury inside her turning hot. “You think you know sacrifice?!” Tiny Dynamine bellowed, her voice suddenly taking on a deeper, distorted tone. Alarmed, Corner actually took a step backwards. Dynamine stepped forward again, her presence still looming. “You think that you know loss?!

Corner realized that she could sense something else radiating from Dynamine aside from her fury. Corner may not have known runes from writing, but she definitely knew the feeling of powerful magic when she sensed it. She always knew that Tiny Dynamine was powerful, but this power felt different from unicorn magic…different even from the more familiar dark magic of her progenitor (though, there was definitely a hint of that as well). Whatever this power was, in this rare unguarded moment from Tiny Dynamine, Corner could tell that hate fueled it—not for her, but for something else. Something greater. Perhaps the whole world at large?

Then just as quickly as it had come, Dynamine’s rage was gone, as was the Oracle herself. Physically, Tiny Dynamine was still very much present, but she stared off into the distance with a clouded look on her face. It was as if someone had flipped a switch, and Dynamine’s body was just a shell. Corner thought that if she’d pushed her right then, the Oracle would fall over like a box of potatoes, but she dared not try it. It seemed a minute before Dynamine resumed talking right where she’d left off as if nothing at all happened, and something about that unsettled Corner more than Dynamine’s rage moments prior.

“I understand you had to do unpleasant things for this day to come. We all have,” Dynamine said with unsettling calm. “But you can rest assured that everything you have done has cleared the way for everything we are about to achieve.”

Shaking the mental cobwebs from her head, Corner found her center again. “How the actual hell was eliminating Father Tilled Fields ‘clearing the way’? Traitor or not, he was just minding his own business out there!”

“Because failure to deal with treason would look unfavorable in the eyes of our lord!” The Oracle said, the more familiar zealous fervor returning to her voice. But after what Corner had just seen, something about it seemed… hollow, now. “Besides, your resolve was slipping. My… informants in Ponyville seemed to think you were getting too comfortable with the companionship given by Rasberry Beryl and her friends. Scion or not, her loyalty is to the Crown. So, I deemed it necessary to test your faith, which is why I brought the matter of Tilled Fields to Father Lux in the first place. He was hesitant, mind you, but—”

“Wait, he was hesitant?” asked Corner, leaning in. “He thinks I’m a worthless bag of fur and feathers and makes no secret of that now, despite knowing I’m a Scion! You’re telling me that somepony actually disloyal to the Covenant almost had a stay of execution by him?”

There was another—much shorter—pause before Tiny spoke again, only this time she was fully present—physically and mentally. Corner had the feeling that the Oracle had just said more than she had perhaps intended. “Father Lux is still a neophyte when it comes to leadership, but he’ll need not lead us for much longer.” Tiny then abruptly turned away. “Now, please leave me to my work. No more distractions!”

“Sure,” said Corner, warily eyeing the Oracle as she walked away. That wasn’t right: Lux was a complete fanatic who wouldn’t tolerate treason for a second. Corner was now left with more questions then answers and the Oracle had suspiciously dodged the main question entirely. And then there was her outburst, and almost bi-polar behavior after. There was only one place Corner knew she could get some concrete answers now, so she immediately departed for it.

“Look, I dunno about you,” said Mizzenmast, “but are you sure this is a good idea?”

“We’ll have to do some recalculations due to the lower airspeed, but….” Sable shrugged. “It’ll have to do.”

Aboard the Super-Electric, the SIRENs were preparing themselves for their, as Tumblehome had put it, “stupid stunt that was going to get them all killed.” The Valanx itself was already boxed into its cage and strapped in securely, while the humans likewise strapped on their required gear. It had taken some explanation to Princess Luna how to both bring the Valanx from Earth to Equestria via the portal, as well as to teleport it to a location where they could load it into the Super-Electric’s cargo well, but now the big, bulky armored vehicle was in its cargo drop harness, ready to go. It looked as imposing as a barely-caged animal despite it being an inanimate object.

The sailors aboard the Super-Electric scratched their heads looking at the massive metallic wagon-like thing, wondering how it would move. It didn’t help that the giant harness it was in was called a MEATS—Maritime External Air Transportation System—as the name both confused and disturbed them. More than one made comments about “albatrosses” and how this would not bode well for the ship.

“We’re getting close!” shouted Easychord from an upper deck, more fascinated by the whole process than her crew was. Still, she was captain and the ship’s safety was her priority. “We’re not going to be able to continue this course for much longer unless you didn’t tell me you intended to wreck my ship!”

“Won’t be necessary, Captain!” Sable then turned to Blu who, strangely, refused to tandem jump with him or even use his own version of the required gear. “Director, are you sure you don’t want—”

“I’m afraid that my non-human physiology would just make it awkward for you to, er, attach me to you. I assure you, although my way will be different, it’ll work.”

Sable gave the stallion a skeptical look; while he had seen K9 jumping equipment, he would have to trust that Blueblood knew what he was doing. Hopefully. “Have you even done this before?”

“Never really had a reason for it, no. But...it’s for Tavi. And I’m the only way any of us are going to get to her,” he held up his hoof, which still had The Strand active on it. The line continued away from it and toward Saddleback Mountain, but disappeared within the trees.

Elsewhere on the well deck, Sonata and Aria noted that Whiskey looked extremely nervous.

“I’m guessing the kitsune normally don’t do this?” asked Sonata, trying to lighten the mood.

“The Inarese are typically attuned to the ground,” admitted Whiskey, “They don’t really even have an airship navy, either—no need when the stronger kitsune can summon entire storms like pegasi can move the clouds.”

“Well, just follow our lead,” reassured Aria, putting a hand on the shorter girl’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine.”

From high above them, Heliodor had been perched on the rigging and he started cawing loudly, before promptly opening his wings and diving off below the ship.

“Admiral,” Easychord noted, “if you’re going to do it, now is the time! I can’t let the ship get any closer to the mountain, the winds are too strong at this height!”

“Roger that!” he shouted back, before turning to his strike team. “Mission is go, repeat, mission is go! Green on the Christmas Tree!”

“Green on the Christmas Tree?” Whiskey commented confusedly.

“That means it’s time to jump,” Adagio said matter-of-factly, and the look she got back wondered whether she could have explained that better.

While Blueblood didn’t quite get the human military terminology, he did get the important part: the mission now officially starting. Summoning all his magic, the stallion telekinetically pushed the caged Valanx away from him...and off the edge of the well deck. The giant mass of metal and fabric plummeted to the ground until its parachutes automatically opened, slowing its descent.

Sable watched briefly before promptly running up to the edge and, calling upon all his Ranger training, jumped into the emptiness. Adagio soon followed as did Aria, plunging into the forested depths below.

Sonata patted Whiskey on the shoulder, then pointed silently towards the well deck’s edge. Looking back at the girl, who was a fraction of her own age but seemingly far skilled beyond her years, Whiskey nodded, took a deep breath, and then made her own jump. Sonata gave a thumbs up to Blu before she was the last human to jump.

“You’re crazy, you know that?” said Mizzenmast to Blu.

“Yeah,” he admitted, charging his horn with magic, “That’s what Pavane would probably say too.” Then he himself galloped off the side, but instead of the others who had parachutes or wings, all he had was the ability to teleport. He was going to have to pull a Twilight Sparkle and calculate teleports to kill his momentum or else he was going to be a bloody smear on the ground.

Deep within the underground compound, though still close enough to the surface that well disguised windows still let in light in some places, lay the archives. They’d already been moved from the former location of the Covenant’s headquarters by the time Corner had finally come here following her disastrous mission in Ponyville and the explosive escape from the train.

And then going to kill the closest thing to a father she’d ever had.

Had he really been a traitor? She hated herself for not even questioning it more when she realized who Barkeep had sent her to kill. Maybe it was the fact Fields had staunchly derided the Covenant in his own words immediately after he realized she was there, but now Corner was uncertain. The Covenant she’d grown up in had tolerated those who were not entirely loyal to the upper echelon of its ranks—loyalty to Sombra and his ideals was all that mattered, after all—the way she’d been raised alongside the other few pegasi assassins, which is why she’d been against Lux getting promoted after the old leader had suddenly passed.

Around the same time Oracle Tiny Dynamine had shown up, now that she was thinking of it.

Everything changed with her, thought Corner, and the implications were not good. She silently searched through the disorganized files, simply left here after moving more just to preserve the archive of the Covenant’s history for when it would rewrite Equestria’s own and condemn the evil Alicorns for what they were. It wasn’t easy; holding a torch in her good wing as to not sprain her other wing in light of her injury, she had to watch out to not set the whole thing on fire.

Eventually, she did find the file she was looking for—the one explicitly about Tilled Fields, a veteran of the Covenant and once one of its most esteemed and well-respected members. She immediately sat back on her haunches, torch still in her wing, and she rifled through the contents. At the back page, she found what she wanted...and dropped the torch. It fell to the ground and extinguished itself on the cold stone floor.

The fact was, according to the file, that Tilled Fields had left because of irreconcilable differences with the Covenant...with the full blessing of the leader at the time. He was no traitor. He’d never been.

I killed him...my father...over a lie.

A lie that evidently had started with Tiny, all to try and keep Corner in line. Was it paranoia that drove this deception? Or were Dynamine’s fears well-founded? I certainly had enjoyed spending time with Razz before circumstances turned us against each other. What had happened? Who could she even trust?

With a heavy sigh, she resigned herself to that irritating truth—the only one who she could trust to even remotely tell her the truth? Raspberry Beryl.

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