• Published 9th Jul 2019
  • 1,337 Views, 245 Comments

The Dusk Guard Saga: Hunter/Hunted - Viking ZX



An ancient, lost empire is on the verge of returning from its imprisonment, and the Dusk Guard have been dispatched. Their mission? Retake the city, secure it, and above all, keep its ancient ruler from seizing control once more.

  • ...
5
 245
 1,337

Chapter 10

Saddlebag check. Sabra’s hooves flew as he opened the top, double-checking the contents. Food rations, enough for three days. They tasted horrid, like something that had been left out to dry in the sun for days even with the honey that was supposed to make them sweeter, but it was better than simply starving. It was a shame they couldn’t simply take granola bars, which tasted much better in his opinion, but weren’t nearly as energy efficient.

Flares and glow sticks. Plus a beacon if I become lost. The saddlebags were well-organized, the interior divided into small pockets and compartments. Medical kit. Scarf. Cleaning supplies and hygiene. Strength mod. That one was in one of the few pockets that could be accessed from both the inside and outside of the saddlebags.

Satisfied that his bags were ready, he slung them over his back, cinching them down against his armor and locking the clasps. Then he moved to the next item: his snowshoes. Those went into a tight net on the outside of the saddlebags. His Fimbo along his back, the short, metal, collapsible staff slipping between some of the extra straps and staying in place after his hoof left it.

Over that, balanced on his back, was his winter gear. Tent, sleeping bag and a heavy winter coat that he was tempted to put on straight away, but was better on his back until they deployed. Then, with everything else in place, he picked up his helmet and slid it down over his head. As usual, his short mane protested the sudden weight, but reluctantly gave way as the helmet settled, lying flat against the back of his head and neck. There had been talk, and even tests early on, of letting the mane slide through a sort of mesh or even just an opening like the helms the rest of the Guard wore, but Sky had decided that it hurt the overall structure, offering too much of a weak point to be worth the comfort and ease.

So I must suffer a little discomfort in the pursuit of a little more safety. At least it wasn’t as bad for him. Hunter, with his long mane, probably had the toughest time with it out of any of them. His mane had a tendency to bunch up when he wore it and come out around the front half of the neck, though his recent manecut had put a stop to it.

On the other hoof, he thought, clasping the helmet in place and giving his head a small shake to make certain that there was no excess movement or looseness. The mane does bring warmth. Not as welcome during a Canterlot summer, but during a winter, or the cold frozen north where they now were … There are benefits.

He turned away from his bunk, looking out over the rest of the cabin. Captain Song was already fully at the ready, clad in his olive-green crystal armor, poring over several charts of the area. His own winter gear was piled on his back. Nova was behind him, still at his bunk making sure all his own equipment was ready, though barring any changes, he’d be staying with the airship for his part of the mission.

Another flash of light from outside the windows caught Sabra’s attention, and he turned. Another one of the strange tethers had appeared, pulsing like an open wound on the face of the world. There were three of them in view now, though as he watched, one of them vanished, the universe reasserting itself.

It was … unsettling. Merely watching the strange … shapes? Openings? He wasn’t even sure what the proper term could be for them, but watching them left him feeling like something was wrong. A warning perhaps, from some ancient, old part of his mind that sounded the alarm in the face of danger. That spoke of an imminent threat, like a prowling wrathlion.

He turned away, shutting his eyes for a moment and closing out the disturbing image of the world warping and twisting like it was a picture printed on silk cloth. No, not quite silk cloth, he corrected. Silk cloth does not stretch or warp the way this looks. This is like a picture printed on rubber, then bent in ways it was never meant to.

Except that the rubber in question had depth and space to it. And yet it was still bending, flexing, and twisting. A faint shiver ran down his spine, ending with a twitch of his tail.

Imminent danger. He took a deep, slow breath, then trotted over to the table, snapping a salute as Steel looked up at him.

“Reporting as ordered, captain,” he said, dropping his salute as soon as the captain had acknowledged it.

“At ease,” Captain Song replied, eyes already back on the map. “Just wait.”

“Sir.” He eased back, resting his weight evenly across all four hooves.

Across the room, it looked as though Nova was almost ready, geared up in his armor and with his own saddlebags fully stocked. However, he wasn’t slinging them across his back just yet, nor had he put on his helmet. Instead he merely turned and presented himself to the captain with a salute of his own.

“Ready, captain,” Nova said, a purple flash filling the sky behind him. Sabra didn’t miss the way Captain Song’s eyes flicked to the window before going back to Nova.

“Same order,” he said. “Wait.” Nova nodded and sat back on his haunches, looking almost completely at ease. Except that most of his weight was resting in such a way that he could easily leap to his hooves at a moment if needed.

They both waited quietly, even when the pitch of The Hummingbird’s propellers lowered, the aircraft slowing. At least we’re out from under the storms, Sabra thought, glancing out the window as the ship went into another turn. He could count four of the tethers now. And they seem to be lasting longer as well.

Which meant that the return of Crystal Empire couldn’t be far off. Maybe. Or it’s just another sign of things to come, he thought. Like the storms.

But … given what Lieutenant Hunter had said, it didn’t seem very likely.

The Hummingbird completed its turn, the deck beneath them leveling out. A moment later, Sky Bolt trotted out of the cockpit and over to her locker, opening it and plucking her helmet out. She gave him a quick smile as it dropped into place, and then trotted over to stand by his side, flashing a salute at Captain Song.

“Reporting,” she said, her voice bright and spunky, though he could hear a faint, trembling undercurrent in it. “The Hummingbird will hold itself alright and steady here for about twenty, twenty-five minutes.”

“Good. At ease. Dawn and Hunter should be here in a moment.” As if summoned by his words, Hunter appeared at the end of the T-hall, trotting toward them with a quick pace.

“Flare packs are ready, boss,” he said as he entered the room. “Stowed on the starboard side of the hall, right by the entryway. They’re ready to go.”

Captain Song nodded. “Right. Now we wait for Dawn.”

They didn’t have to wait long. Less than a minute had passed before the door to the medbay opened, and Dawn came out, clad head-to-hooves in her own armor. She strode up to the table and gave a quick salute. “Sergeant Major Triage, reporting.”

“Good,” Captain Song said, looking up from his map at last. “We’re all here. I wanted to go over a more detailed deployment. You’re all familiar with the general plan of dividing into two teams. Hunter, Sky Bolt, and Nova will be hunting this ‘shade’ of King Sombra at the Glacier of Woe, and myself, Dawn, and Sabra will secure the Crystal Empire proper.”

“Question,” Nova said, his ears twitching to one side. “Do the teams have names?”

Captain Song frowned as he turned to look at Nova. “Is that important?”

Hunter shifted, holding up a wing. “Actually, boss, he’s got a point. Team names, squad names, talon names … all are kind of a big deal. Plus, when Captain Armor and Princess Cadance arrive, a team name is a lot quicker than running out everypony’s name.” He shrugged. “We’re going to need something. It’ll be easier for explaining the plan, too.”

“Fair point.” Captain Song’s gaze shifted to Nova. “Thank you, private, for bringing that up. Alright then. Sabra, Dawn, and I will be team one. Hunter, Sky Bolt, and Nova will be team two.” Nova and Sky both let out groans.

“Really?”

“Just numbers?”

“You asked.” Captain Song’s expression shifted slightly, almost morphing into a grin. “You don’t like it, don’t let me assign team names next time.”

“Anyway,” he said, his tone growing serious once more. “Currently, we’re here.” His hoof stabbed at the map, connecting with a southerly square. “Right on the edge of the storms. Hopefully, if Hunter and Sky Bolt are both right, that’ll put us out of any danger when this city finally makes its appearance. The moment it does, however, we need to move.”

“Our first step,” he continued, “is to alert the Guard stationed at the end of the northern rail line.” The tip of his hoof moved slightly further southward. “Luckily for us, that happens to only be a few miles away now. They’re stationed there aboard a train, awaiting our signal. When the city appears, our job is to ascend as high as we can while staying below the cloud cover, as quickly as we can. At which point Lieutenant Hunter will deploy the flare packs out the side of The Hummingbird and watch for an answering signal from the Guard.”

“And if we don’t get one?”

“If we don’t get one,” the captain replied, answering Dawn’s question. Something about the way she’d phrased it made it sound to Sabra as if she hadn’t been asking for herself, but for the other members of the team. “Or we don’t see one after all the flare packs are expended, then we move to their position as quickly as possible to confirm they’ve received our message. If not, they’ll get it as soon as we drop out of the sky. If we can’t find them, we assume they saw it, but we didn’t see their response due to weather.”

“What if neither of those is the case?” Sky asked, speaking up, an inquisitive look in her eyes.

“Then we carry with the mission as planned, hope someone figures out what we’re up against, and that the Princess and her husband arrive in time.” There was a dark undertone to the captain’s voice, a sense of finality that spoke of an underlying meaning the captain didn’t wish to bring up.

“In either case, once the Guard have been notified, we are to proceed for the edge of the city with all haste. The city itself may be in chaos, so Bolt and Hunter …” His eyes flicked to the pair of them. “You two will be in the cockpit, finding us a staging ground outside the city. Someplace we can bring The Hummingbird down and unload all our gear and materiel supplies without coming under attack.”

“Wait, under attack?” Sabra’s eyes darted to Sky as she pulled up, wings popping out from her body slightly in surprise. “As in, spells and angry soldiers?”

“Yes.” The captain’s tone was flat as he looked at her. “You are a Guard now, Corporal Bolt. The city, as the Princesses remembered it, was under what was left of the king’s ‘Order of the Red Horn.’ And for them this long-forgotten war may have been mere minutes ago.” His eyes shifted, moving around the table. “Our vessel appearing out of the sky may be a shock to them, but they will respond, and with force. Which is why we want a landing zone on the edge of the city, one that gives us an easy egress point for the supplies we brought, but is far enough away that we can hopefully offload them without any interruptions. But yes, corporal, we may come under attack, and you’re going to have to hold this airship steady when that time comes, until we’ve defended it and the supplies are on the ground where they belong.”

Sky sucked in a breath, hesitation in her eyes. She loves this ship, Sabra thought. But she knows her duty. As if she’d read his thoughts, Sky opened her mouth.

“Understood, boss,” she said with a nod, her chest puffing out slightly beneath her armor. “Hold until we have all the supplies on the ground.” Then, in a lower quieter voice. “I knew I should have put some sort of cargo bay doors on this thing.”

“Don’t worry.” Hunter tapped a hoof against his armor. “If they do come for us, they’ll find out for themselves just how much of a hoofful we are. We’ll keep them off you.”

“Exactly.” Captain Song took control of the briefing once more. “But with that in mind, Sergeant Triage and Specialist Nova will be doing the majority of the heavy lifting, using their magic to get as much of the supplies out at a time as they can.” His eyes slid to both of them, only to get nods in return.

“Once the supplies have been unloaded, team one will secure the area and begin their half of the mission,” he continued. “Which is when team two will part ways.” His attention moved to Hunter. “Lieutenant, you and your team will take The Hummingbird east with all possible speed, toward the Glacier of Woe. According to what the Princesses told me, that’s where Sombra was sealed.”

“Did they name it before or after he was sealed there?” Nova asked. “Because if it was before, given how far it is from the city, they had to be planning that.”

Captain Song shook his head. “I don’t know about the name, but I don’t see the Sisters trying to do that solely because of what the place was called. It’s more likely that they drove him from the city to try and keep casualties to a minimum, and happened to see the final stages of the battle there.”

“The name came afterward,” Dawn said, cutting in once Steel Song had stopped speaking. Her voice was clear and steady. “It’s first recorded use on maps was roughly nine-hundred years ago. Prior to that it was simply one of the many glaciers of the Crystal Mountains.”

“Why the name change?” Hunter asked. Sabra nodded in agreement. “I thought the Princesses were trying to bury records of the place.”

“It was so named,” Dawn said, “because of the strange sounds the ice made. They were described by explorers as ‘the moanings of a doomed soul.’ Those less poetic and more interested in the scientific side of things have been more precise, referring to it as a phenomenon where the shifting of the ice produces periodic but frequent resonant vibrations that sound like, long, distraught moans. For obvious reasons, most scientific teams aren’t very interested in hanging around the place. They describe it as having a ‘creeping aura of fear and doom.’”

“Sounds like something you’d get when you’re walking around a possie that’s holding sealed evil in a can,” Hunter said, tapping his chin with a thoughtful look on his face. Nova, meanwhile, was giving Dawn a knowing look.

“What?” she asked.

“Daring Do books?”

“I can, and I will, schedule you for another complete physical. With only my coldest tools,” Dawn said, her eyes narrowing.

“Just asking,” Nova said, holding up his hooves. His attention shifted back toward the captain. “So that’s where we’ll go to take down this Sombra dude?”

Captain Song shook his head. “No.”

Nova frowned. “I thought you said we’d be heading there.”

“You will be,” Captain Song said. “But you won’t be taking Sombra down. Your job is to delay him. I wasn’t joking when I said you had no chance of defeating him.” Nova’s frown deepened. “But we’ll get to that in a moment. For now, team one.”

Sabra pulled his eyes back to the captain’s. Team one. The city. Our responsibility.

“Team one’s mission is going to be threefold,” Captain Song continued. Somewhere off in the distance another bolt of lightning split the sky, the flash tinged with purple. A distant crack rolled through the airship a few seconds later, the captain waiting for the loud sound to fade before speaking again.

“As far as the Crystal Empire is concerned,” he said, his gaze switching between all members of the team, but focusing, Sabra noticed, on himself and Dawn. “This battle between the Princesses was yesterday. Or a few hours ago, depending on how much slip there was to the stasis.”

“Slip?” Dawn asked.

He nodded. “Near the beginnings and ends of the spell, time starts to come … ‘undone’ was the word Princess Luna used. So they won’t simply snap from the end of that battle over a thousand years ago to today. Anywhere from a few minutes to a day or two may have passed.”

“Regardless, this means that the city is likely to be in a bit of chaos. We have three objectives: The first is to secure the city,. We have to show the citizens that we’re in control. Encourage order, distribute supplies through existing supply chains. That means we need contact with local civic leaders. Even under a despotic king, they’d have to have them or the city would grind to a halt. We establish order, not as conquerors, but as allies. We get local medical facilities and relief systems set-up.”

“While we have a large number of medical supplies aboard,” Dawn said, “we currently don’t have enough to supply an entire city. Will more be arriving?”

Captain Song nodded. “Captain Armor and Princess Cadance will be arriving with an entire train-load of relief supplies to distribute to the Empire. Another reason we need to establish a sense of order and make sure local leaders can be in charge of distribution. But that brings us to our second objective.”

“The Red Horn,” Sabra said. The captain nodded.

“Exactly,” he said. “This ‘Order of the Red Horn.’ Sombra’s remaining forces throughout the city. Not only will we need to work to establish order, we’re going to have to work fast and strike hard to make sure their ‘order’ doesn’t countermand ours. That’s our second objective: Take. Them. Down. Hard.” The captain’s face had shifted, expression growing stony.

Or rather, like metal, Sabra thought, the captain’s name flashing to mind.

“Thankfully, we won’t be facing a full army,” Captain Song continued. “But we will be dealing with enforcers. Secret police. Brutes of unicorns and crystal pony collaborators that are willing to do anything and everything to prepare the city for Sombra’s return. We’ll need to stamp them out, and fast. Which is why we’ll need to make a strong impression with the citizens. We need them to be able to distribute our supplies so that we can focus on Sombra’s leadership and followers, as well as trust the crystal ponies and local authorities to keep any we capture imprisoned if we’re forced to rely on them.”

“I want to note,” he said, and his eyes switched directly to Sabra. “This means that we’re in the real now. Ponies will likely die. And they will be trying to kill us. If you have any reservations about that, now’s the time to let me know.”

“I am ready.” The words were plain, simple, and he nodded. “A wise question, captain. One who wishes to fight must count the cost. I have.”

“Good.” The captain nodded, his face softening slightly. “I’ve heard that quote before. I should have guessed you’d know it. It’s truer than most think.” His attention shifted back to the rest of the table. “Both of those two objectives, taken together, are key to our third objective: getting the city ready for Princess Cadance and Shining Armor’s arrival. Once they arrive with their Guard contingent, we—”

“Hey sorry.” Sky’s voice pulled their attention away as she waved a hoof. “Maybe I missed this in the other briefing, but why are Captain Armor and Princess Cadance coming here?”

“Governance,” Captain Song answered. “Though as I understand it, it’s not intended to be permanent unless the citizens of the Crystal Empire ask for it. Take that as you will. Point being, we’ll need to secure the seat of government so that Cadance can act as a temporary ruler and bring some real stability and coordination to it, as well as some form of protection from King Sombra simply waltzing back in. Apparently between her natural talents and Captain Armor’s skill with shield spells, they’re capable of blocking him off.”

“At that point, provided we’ve done our jobs, Captain Armor and his Guard should be able to keep the peace and hold things until the Elements of Harmony arrive, and we can break away to join team two.”

“To repeat,” he said, throwing his eyes around the table. “Secure the city and make contact with local officials for distribution of supplies. Dismantle any remaining vestiges of King Sombra’s power, from authorities to banners. Leave the local populace with no illusions that we’re here to remove all traces of his rule. And last …” He rapped his hoof against the tabletop for emphasis. “We ready for the arrival of Captain Armor and Princess Cadance and rejoin team two. Understood?”

“Yes sir.” Dawn snapped a quick salute. Sabra followed her actions.

“Understood, captain,” he said, letting a slow breath slide out of his lips after he’d spoken. One advantage to the helmet was that your body language tended to be a bit more “concealed” than normal, at least where the face was concerned. We’re going to liberate an ancient empire locked in time. He would be turning his Fimbo against ponies not in practice, but with full intent of violence.

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, he thought, the words of the ancient zebra general running through his mind. He took another slow breath, a faint shiver running down through his shoulders. You have trained, and you have prepared. You have faced true battle before.

You will not hesitate when the time arises.

“Okay.” It was Nova speaking. “So what about us, then? If we’re not supposed to defeat this King Sombra …?” He let the question trail off.

“If you could, it would certainly save everyone a lot of trouble,” Captain Song replied. “But the Princesses assured me that it is highly unlikely. Sombra’s a shade now, some sort of soul bound to magic rather than a physical form. Worse, the moment he’s released, his link with the Crystal Empire will be back in full force, which means every minute he’s back, he’ll be getting stronger. And the more afraid of him the crystal ponies are, the more power he’ll gain.”

“So we’re going to keep him from the city, then,” Hunter said, and Steel nodded.

“Exactly. Your mission is to hunt him—”

“I thought you said we couldn’t stop him?” Nova cut in.

“Hunt him and harass him,” Captain Song continued, another purple flash from outside lighting the air behind him. “While he’s weak, you’ll have the upper hoof. You won’t be able to kill him, but you can certainly push him into running away from the direction of the city.”

“But he’s going to get stronger,” Hunter said. Sabra nodded slowly. He hadn’t missed the way Captain Song had worded his orders.

“Yes,” the captain said. “He will. Eventually he’ll reach the point, no matter what you do, that he stops running, where your team is no longer a threat to him. I guess that’s why the Princesses wanted to remind us to have faith in one another. The strongest of us won’t be able to stop him eventually, and we’ll have to rely on one another.”

By strongest he must mean Nova, Sabra thought. He’s the one with the most direct magic on their team. How else would one harm a shade of magic and spirit? Throw snow? A faint shiver ran down his spine. Actually, maybe that would work.

But there were the Princesses’ words about faith. Something tickled at his mind. Why faith? Why not another word? Sky began to speak, and he pulled his focus back.

“So what do we do when we reach that point?” Sky asked.

“You change gears,” Captain Song replied with a nod at Lieutenant Hunter. “The Lieutenant knows how. Draw him away from the city. Distract him.”

“We make ourselves a target,” Hunter said. “He turns the tables, grows to be more powerful than us? We annoy him. Make ourselves so obstinate he can not ignore us. Aggro him until he goes starkers.”

“And if he figures it out?” Nova asked.

Hunter shrugged. “We up the game. Ever seen a small dog taunt a bigger one until the big one loses it?”

Nova nodded. “It doesn’t usually go well for the smaller dog.”

“True,” Hunter said, grinning as he leaned forward. “So let’s be smarter than the dog.” Then he turned back to Captain Song. “So … that it?”

“Not quite.” The Captain, shifted, glancing out the windows toward the distant storm. “At some point you’ll need to come pick us up. Once we’re done in the Crystal Empire, Captain Armor and Princess Cadance will put up a shield around the city that should keep Sombra out. Once you see that barrier, either you or Sky Bolt will need to bring The Hummingbird to pick us up, at which point all of us will work together to try and distract Sombra until the Elements arrive.”

Sabra spoke up, putting a voice to his thoughts. “And then?”

“Then … we stay out of the way.” Silence reigned across the team as they shot glances at one another.

We leave? With this Sombra still threatening an empire?

“I know what you’re thinking,” Captain Song said, his eyes darting to each of them. “Or at least most of you. We’re Dusk Guard, the best of the best. We’re supposed to be the ones called for when things go horribly wrong. But we cannot be the ones to finish this. It’s beyond us. And when that happens, it’s our job to retreat, to get out of the way and let those whose job it is deal with the assignment.” His eyes crawled across the team once more, staring at each of them, and Sabra could see the hard determination in the captain’s eyes as they moved over him. “When our job is to pull out, we will pull out. Understood?”

“Yes sir.” Only Hunter and Dawn had spoken.

“Dusk Guard,” Captain Song said. “This is not up for debate. These are your orders. Do you understand them?”

“Yes sir.” Sabra let his voice join Sky and Nova’s, as well as Hunter and Dawn’s as they echoed their words once more.

“Good,” he said with a nod. “I know it isn’t easy. But if we stay, we’re only going to get in the way of the Elements. Our job is to set things up so they, the Princess, and Captain Armor, can do their jobs.” Another purple flash lit the sky. “We do our part. Liberate the city, make it ready for their arrival, and make sure Sombra doesn’t arrive until after they do.”

Another purple flash, bathing the interior of the airship in violet light that washed over everything. “What’s being asked of us isn’t easy. It’s going to be hard. There’s going to be pain, there’s going to be challenge. There’s going to be cold.” The purple light faded, but not entirely, leaving a pale cast over the side of Captain Song’s armor. “But that’s why they called us. Because we won’t shy away from our duty. Because we will carry out what the Princesses asked of us. Because we are the Dusk Guard.” The purple light flared, growing bright and pulsing with an odd cadence.

“And unless I miss my guess,” the captain said, turning as Sky let out a gasp of surprise. “Our mission is about to begin.”

“Sun above,” Hunter said, his jaw dropping as Sabra turned. “Look at that.”

Outside the port window, facing north, the world was on fire, purple flames stretching from the sky to the snow. Only they weren’t flames. He could see right through them, though at the same time some part of him shouted that he couldn’t, that both were happening at the same time. He could see the sky, the distant Crystal Mountains, but at the same time, his view was blocked by the licking flames. He shut his eyes and then opened them again, hardly aware that like the rest of the team, he’d moved from the table and to the side of the cabin. He put one hoof up against the glass, watching as the purple fire seemed to spread, shift, and then stretch.

Lightning began to arc out of the sky, around and through the flames. Except they weren’t flames anymore. They were gashes, rifts he couldn’t explain and doubted he would ever see again. Vague shapes twisted about inside them, at once formless and with form and depth a sight that even at a distance made him close his eyes for a moment more. The distant cracks of thunder began to blend together as the strikes became more and more frequent, and as he looked out over the plains, the flashes were so bright that when he blinked, they left forked imprints across his eyelids, the rapid cascade too much for his visor.

Stranger still, the lightning was doing something. The forked bolts were striking inside the rifts, flickering out of existence and bending in strange ways as they fell through. And still the rifts, rippling and waving, grew.

“This is it,” Hunter said, his voice barely audible over the constant roar of the lightning. There was a new sound beneath it now, a whistling drone that Sabra could feel through the glass, and then the deck. The rifts swelled again, and one by one their sides began to touch … only to melt into one another in a way that looked flat, like both rifts occupied the same plane even when he could see that they didn’t.

“That looks weird,” Nova said. No one disagreed. More and more of the rifts were coming together now, merging into a shape that was both a half-sphere and a flat half-circle at the same time. Worse, inside the shape—something that didn’t even make sense as it was flat and not—were shapes, displaying the same strange physical substance as the rifts themselves.

“I don’t think we’re going to need to send much of a signal!” Hunter was shouting to make his voice heard over the constant roar of the thunder, and a quick sideways glance showed that those without their helmets had their ears pressed back tightly against their skulls. The light began to surge. “If they miss this—”

Whatever he was about to say was drowned out as a tremendous roar rolled over The Hummingbird, along with a shockwave that made the whole vessel judder under Sabra’s hooves. The sound changed, the drone building alongside something that almost sounded like a tear, but liquid somehow. His visor tinted, the only thing he could make out the bright flash from the north … and then the light faded, the sounds dropping away as well, several seconds later. And sitting on the Crystal Plains …

The Crystal Empire. There was no mistaking it. A tall, spindly tower of what looked like crystal shimmered even under the storm. Long roads stretched in all directions around its base, the paths splitting and branching among buildings like the arms of a snowflake. It was massive, miles across … but all dominated by that central tower, a clear focal point of the city that drew the eyes like the centerpiece of an art collection. The storm didn’t even appear to dare touch it, circling around the city like a wary predator.

“Dusk Guard,” Captain Song said at last, his voice subdued. “The Crystal Empire.” Then he spun, his voice bellowing across the cabin. “So let’s move!”

Author's Note:

And with that, the Crystal Empire returns at last! There's a reason they didn't show that bit in the show.

Seriously though, this bit was fun to envision. But now the waiting for the team is over, and the work can begin ...

New chapters on Tuesdays and Fridays, as well as every hundred upvotes! If you're enjoying the story so far, don't forget to check out my website or my published books!