• Published 9th Jul 2019
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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.

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Chapter 16

“There,” Captain Song said, his body still. “There he goes.”

“Who?” Dawn asked.

“The courier,” Steel replied.

“Shouldn’t we stop him?” Dawn asked, her low voice quiet, barely filling the alleyway in which they were hiding. “Cut off their communications?” Sabra nodded, more in agreement with the question than with the cause.

“No,” Steel said, never taking his gaze from the distant clump of Order ponies. “Letting him go will be more effective in the long run.”

“How?”

“Because while he’s returning to whoever’s calling the shots, we’re going to take out the one who gave him orders,” Steel said. “The leaders in the tower—whoever that courier is going to speak with—will hopefully base their response on the assumption that this unicorn—” he nodded in the direction of the apparent commander, “—is still calling the shots.”

“And upon his return, will find otherwise,” Sabra said. “Thus throwing our foe’s plan into disarray.”

Steel nodded. “And rearing them back as they’re forced to react with only out-of-date plans to work with.”

“Keeping them off-balance while we continue unopposed,” Dawn finished with a faint nod. “Well, not unopposed.”

“But certainly with less organized opposition,” Sabra added.

“Exactly,” Steel said, still motionless. “So let’s let that courier get a little further away, and then let's see about that disarray.”

Sabra nodded. This plan is sound, he thought. And we’ve attacked several of their towers, removing our foes’ capability to communicate via lamps. They could send up signal flares from their horns, but such an act would also act as a beacon to their own locations. Allowing us to move freely past them.

“Dawn,” Steel said as the unicorn in charge of the remaining Oorder force began to bark orders, pointing and gesturing with her hooves. “Any ideas for taking their commander out at this distance?”

“Perhaps,” she replied after a moment. “Though it would be easier if I could get closer.” Her horn began to glow, and a length of rope poked its way out of her saddlebags. “And if we could keep their eyes off of me.”

Steel nodded, glanced at Sabra, then turned back toward Dawn. “All right. Think that house there will be close enough for what you have in mind?” He nodded, pointing his muzzle at a nearby rooftop.

“Easily.”

“All right. You head north, get to that rooftop, and make your move as soon as you can. Sabra and I will make some noise, try and draw their attention south. As soon as we see their leader go down, we’ll converge on them and take them all down.”

“Remember,” he said, turning to look at both of them. “These ponies have killed Royal Guard. Don’t hold back. They won’t.”

Sabra nodded, a faint pit in his stomach squirming. This has already moved to violence of the harshest sort, he thought as their small group split, he and Steel making their way south and Dawn north. It is all the Order will respond to, and the only tool of bringing peace at your disposal.

He knew it, but that did not mean he enjoyed it. It would simply be something he would have to live with. That, and the outcome. He turned his eyes toward the distant red banners, his memory to the piles of golden armor they’d seen as they’d flown past the city.

The pit in his gut vanished, his muscles tensing as all sense of trepidation was swept away. The Order must be stopped.

They moved through the streets quickly, their hooves sounding against the stone but muffled thanks to their suits. Once they ducked aside, dodging a light scouting patrol of three Order members that for a moment Sabra expected to take down, only for Steel to shake his head and give the order to withdraw.

“Right now they think they’re in control,” he said quietly once the trio had passed. “If we take them down, it could alert our quarry. If we disable our quarry, their morale may break, making them easier to take down when they panic, or do something foolish.”

Sabra nodded. “And if they regroup with their other forces?”

“We’re not going to give them that chance,” Steel replied. “Did you see any show of magic as they passed?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Neither did I. That tells me our opponents are still overconfident. Later, that will change. We’ll take them down before they gain that measure of awareness.”

They changed directions, moving north. Loud voices echoed down the streets around them, shouted orders mixed with—

Cries of pain, Sabra realized quickly. And begging. He glanced at Captain Song, but he hadn’t reacted. “Captain,” he said quietly. “Do you hear it?”

“No. What are they doing?”

He strained, ears twitching. A cry echoed out from nearby, loud enough that Steel’s ears twitched. “They’re attacking the citizenry.”

“Keeping her forces occupied while she waits for orders.” There was no mistaking the glower of anger on the Captain’s face now.

Or the burning ember in his own chest.

“How far?”

He closed his eyes for a moment. “One, perhaps two streets north.” He tried to ignore the sharp slap of a hoof hitting flesh, and the cry of pain that followed it.

“That’s south of where they were earlier.”

It took him a moment to adjust his mental map. “By one street, yes.”

“Good. Then let’s find a vantage point and wait for Dawn to make her move. Once she does …” His voice became a growl. “We take these ponies down. Hard.”

Sabra nodded. “Yes sir. High or low?”

“Can you bring us up behind whatever home they’re questioning in front of?”

“I believe so, yes.”

“Good. You go high, I’ll go low. Target the ones hanging back. They’ll be the most likely to throw a spell once we move. Watch for Dawn, and move when she has. I’ll follow your lead.”

He nodded. “Naelewa.” Steel fell back, allowing him to take the point position, and he moved across the next street, eyes alert for any sign of a patrol or red-and-black armor.

Nothing. Steel’s words about the confidence of their foe seemed to be holding true. The homes here were packed close together, gaps between them barely enough space for a single pony to fit through. The cries and shouts he was hearing were echoing down one of them. He took a quick look down it, seeing only an open street on the other end, then moved to the other side of the home and did the same.

This time he caught a flash of red-and-black hindquarters, and he pulled his head back, motioning at the home they were standing in front of. Other side, he signaled, and Steel nodded, gesturing toward the roof. He nodded, and a moment later landed lightly atop the crystalline roof.

“—now,” a voice was saying as he worked his way to the peak of the rooftop and peered over it. “You helped those Equestrians. Your neighbors saw you betray us, betray the city—” There was another slap of hoof against flesh. “Now tell us: What did you tell them? We will know if you lie.”

“I-I told them nothing,” a shaking voice replied. “Nothing!”

“He is lying,” someone else said.

“No, I am not! I swear it!”

He couldn’t see anything from his current position but the peaks of the homes across the street, so he pushed himself up a little further, bringing a small sliver of the far street into view … along with several Order unicorns.

Thankfully, none of them were looking up. A few were looking down the street, or had their backs to him as they eyed nearby houses, but none were eyeing the rooftops. He eased himself further forward as another loud slap echoed across the street.

“Keep lying, filth,” a voice said. “You are only making your life more difficult. Perhaps you think you do not need the authority of the Order anymore? Maybe you think that you would be better off if our glorious king were gone? You aided Equestrian soldiers, enemies of our great state!”

“No, I did not! I swea—” The stallion’s protests cut off in a scream of pain that made Sabra’s gut twist.

Come on Dawn, he thought as he pushed up further, giving him a view of half of the street. The mare Steel had marked as the one in charge was standing in the center, her eyes fixed on whoever her force was interrogating, the rest of her force around her or out of his view. Worse, not all eyes were on their quarry. Several appeared to be watching from all angles.

And I can’t see if Dawn is in position, he thought, his eyes skimming the nearby homes but finding no sign of the armored medic. We were hoping they’d stay in that square. The Order, apparently, had possessed its own plans. Now what do we do? Steel was behind and below him, without a way to signal him otherwise. Do I wait for Dawn to act, or—?

“Enough of this,” their target said, her voice cold. Like the unicorn in the display they’d seen earlier, her horn was dyed red. “They have betrayed our king and their fellow citizens. An act of treason.” Her horn lit with a red glow. “Kill them.”

He moved, leaping into the sky as, at the same time, a length of rope, wrapped in orange, shot out of one of the alleyways between the houses.

The rope got there first. As Sabra arced down out of the air, pulling his Fimbo from his back and extending it to its full length, the end of the rope darted around the rear legs of both his target and those of her guards, tightening with a sudden jerk that pulled them from their hooves with shocked cries.

But not shocked enough that their leader wasn’t able to raise a shield shortly before his staff would have cracked down on her skull. The clang of the impact rang across the street and up his forelimbs, his hooves going numb as the shield cracked and splintered … but held.

He twisted, as much on instinct as on the flick of an ear, a spell of some power blasting through the space he’d just occupied and blowing a chunk out of a home down the street. He kept the twist going, turning his back on his initial target and bringing his staff around. He struck at the first thing he saw—a unicorn’s red-banded horn—and was rewarded with a sharp snap as it shattered. The stallion screamed in pain, raw magic boiling out of his skull.

He carried the spin through, pushing his mod into it with a hop and leaping over the body of the unicorn that had been rushing at him, horn glowing with arcane energy. The Fimbo caught him between the shoulder blades, knocking him down but not out of the fight.

He landed, only to have his hooves yanked from beneath him, a blue glow slipping from his legs, but not before he’d dropped to his belly. He rolled rather than rise, letting go of his Fimbo for the moment and focused on putting distance between himself and the four Order unicorns moving toward him.

One went down in a cry of surprise as Steel joined the fight, the force of his blow bouncing the guard off of the ground.

There was no time to watch. He kicked up with all his might as his hooves met crystal once more, rising into the air as a dark beam wrapped in purple cut through the ground where he’d just been. The crystal surface boiled like water, rippling and bubbling before freezing once more. He came down atop the mare that had fired the blast, slamming his hooves into the base of her skull. She slumped to the ground without a sound, the dark bubbles of magic around her horn winking out.

One down, a dozen to go. Or maybe not down, there was a chance she could get up. Like the stallion he’d tapped between the shoulder-blades, already rising with a snarl. But there were closer threats to worry about.

He ducked and threw his body to the side, taking advantage of his mobility to keep his core and head from being easy targets. His hooves lashed out as he moved, knocking aside blows as he dove into the middle of the closest knot of foes and laid in. One of them carried a blade in their magic, and he took them first, sliding under it and headbutting the unicorn in the chest. As he heard the ting of the blade hitting the ground, he shifted targets, dropping his hooves around the shoulders of the unicorn he’d just headbutted and putting his weight on them, swinging and kicking out at the order guard standing next to him. Whatever glow of magic their partner had in mind vanished as Sabra’s hoof caved the side of his helmet in.

He let go, rolling over the unicorn’s back and leaping away from a blast of fire that cooked the air where he’d just been. An oOrder mare was standing free in the center of the street, horn aglow as she created more bubbles of flame and hurled them at him. He dodged behind one of her own allies, the stallion letting out a scream of terror and pain as the bubble rolled over him. The other orbs shot past and detonated, the force of the three explosions enough to lift Sabra into the air and fling him through a nearby fence, his armor uncomfortably warm.

And I believed that the cold would be a problem on this trip, he thought as he stumbled into a run, kicking off the side of a building as several more of the orbs exploded behind him. The air around the mare was warping, twisting with a haze of heat, and then—

One of her own allies, hurled by Steel, slammed into her back, and the wave of heat vanished along with her concentration as they went down in a tangle of limbs. Jumping over another unicorn who charged at him, Sabra scooped up his Fimbo and brought it down atop the fiery mare’s head, eliciting a solid thunk. Then he whirled, locking eyes with the one that had charged him. They both started forward … and his Fimbo tore free of his hoof and slammed into the side of his head.

He rolled with the impact, though not quickly enough that he couldn’t feel the jarring throb of pain that his armor hadn’t been able to deflect. His Fimbo arced down again, wrapped in a purple blur, and he dodged to the side, scowling as the staff reacted instantly.

I do not like this trick. His staff stabbed for his gut, and he had little choice but to block it with his forelegs, deflecting the blow but feeling stinging pain ring up his legs. Still wrapped in the glow, his weapon flipped around in the air, and he barely brought his hooves up in time to block yet another hit that made his armor plating ring.

It flipped again, and the other end caught him in the chest, the crystal plate chipping as the tip of the staff ground into it.

He brought both his hooves down atop the rogue weapon, shoving down as hard as he could, and spotted the head of one of the unicorns Steel had been fighting jerk downward. A second later the spell popped, his Fimbo under his control once more. He spun it around his hooves and flung it at another oOrder member who was lining up their glowing horn with Dawn—now leaving the alley as her ropes choked a number of her opponents. The staff flew true, connecting with the stallion’s head just behind his right eye. He dropped without a sound.

Wood splintered against his armor, the scorched remains of the fence he’d been thrown through crashing over him in a rush. The wood was light, the impacts minimal, and he attacked the stallion that had thrown them, breaking through his weak attempt at a shield and raining three rapid strikes across his jaw. Bleeding and likely missing teeth, the unicorn fell.

A red glow at the edges of his vision caught his attention, and he turned to see the blade one of the oOrder members had dropped sliding across the ground toward the unicorns Dawn had restrained. Several of them were already unconscious, their oxygen cut off by the tight ropes, but their leader was still alert, spittle foaming at her jaw as she stared at the blade sliding closer and closer.

Sabra stepped on it, staring at the mare as he felt the blade tug against his hoof. Her eyes—already burning with hatred almost as hot as the orbs that had nearly burned him alive earlier—narrowed, lips pulling back in a sneer. But Dawn’s ropes clenched tighter, and the tug against his hoof grew weaker. She made a final, desperate attempt to pull the blade free … and then slumped, eyes rolling into the back of her head. A moment later an orange glow settled over her. Dawn’s sleep spell, ensuring that the mare was in fact unconscious, and not just acting. Only then did the ropes relax.

A silence settled over the street as Steel let go of his last opponent, their body sliding limply to the ground. Only then did their surroundings catch up to Sabra, along with the smell of cooked flesh. His stomach churned in response to the scent.

“Report,” Steel said, stepping up and looking at Dawn. “Who’s dead, and who’s alive?”

“These seven are alive,” Dawn said, gesturing to the ones she’d ambushed as her ropes shifted position, tying themselves in tight knots around her victims and securing them against one another. “As for the others …”

Her horn lit with an orange glow, filling the street as she panned her horn over the other oOrder unicorns. “Most of them are alive,” she said after a moment. “Several won’t last the day without care, however.” She began to move toward one of them, but Steel blocked her path with a hoof.

“Only the most serious cases,” he said, looking right at her. “The ones that won’t survive until their own side comes to care for them.”

“Their own side might not,” Dawn replied.

“Fine,” Steel said, nodding. But he didn’t lower his hoof. “Can you stabilize them quickly?”

“I can try.”

“You have three minutes.” He dropped his hoof. “Then we need to disappear. Two of their number teleported away. They can’t have gone far, but they’ll return with allies.” He turned to look at Sabra. “Any injuries?”

“Nothing serious.” He glanced down at his chest plate, noting the deep chip the impact of his Fimbo had left. “I will be all right.”

“Good. Then give me a hoof,” Steel said, stepping over to the unicorns Dawn had restrained. “We’re taking this one with us.” He put a hoof on the leader of the group.

“What about—?” Sabra turned to look in the direction of whoever the Order had been about to kill, only to see a tightly closed door.

“They split the moment you jumped down,” Steel said, grabbing one of the ropes with his teeth. “Help me get her on my back, will you?”

Sabra nodded, and soon the mare was lying across Steel’s back, still bound and breathing heavily. “What are we going to do with her?”

“See what she knows,” Steel said, his voice grim. “After that, we’ll drug her and lock her up somewhere.” He turned to Dawn. “Almost done?”

“Nearly.” Dawn knelt near the burned stallion. “I suppose treating his wounds is out of the question?”

“Not if they aren’t immediately life-threatening.”

“Fine.” Dawn’s horn glowed once more, and a syringe floated out of her bag. She tapped it with one hoof, then injected it into the stallion’s flank.

“What was that?” Steel asked.

“A sedative,” she said as she rose. “He’ll stay asleep now. If someone forces him to wake, he’ll be incoherently disabled.”

“Do me a favor and inject the rest of those unicorns you tied up with it.”

“I don’t have much but …” Sabra could see her mulling it over in her eyes. “Very well. I suppose that will keep them from being a threat without either guarding them or bringing them other forms of harm.” The syringe darted in and out like a tiny spear, delivering its dangerous payload.

“Done,” Dawn said, the injector floating back into her bag. “Now?”

“Now we run,” Steel said, turning and pointing. “Circle south, and see if we can catch the first groups sent to a watchtower in an ambush on their return. If not them, then we take the watchtower, since they’ve already ‘secured’ it, and hand it over to the local resistance.”

“From there,” he said with a shake of his shoulders. “We see what I can get out of our prisoner.”

* * *

There was a new guard on the lookout from the watchtower, Sabra noted as they neared the structure, one that was far more alert than his or her predecessor had been. Which meant that their usual approach likely wouldn’t work if they wanted to keep their activities a surprise. He slid back down the roof, landing in somepony’s rear yard.

“No good,” he said, shaking his head. “They’re on alert.”

“And likely have spells wards laid as well,” Dawn added. “To prevent a surprise attack like before.”

“Hmmm …” Steel said, rubbing a hoof at his chin. “Wards and a lookout. Think we can avoid setting them off?”

“I could try sensing them,” Dawn said. “But that’s more Nova’s speciality than mine.”

“His aid would be useful at this point,” Sabra agreed with a nod. “Or Hunter’s.”

Steel shook his head. “The one that matters is the watch. They can signal the rest of the city. If we can keep them from sounding the alarm, we can deal with the ones inside.”

“Unless your armor isn’t enough to counter the wards,” Dawn pointed out. “Given our tactics so far, I would expect the entrance to be heavily protected.”

Sabra’s eyes slid to the mare lying across Steel’s back. “Could we perhaps use that to our advantage? Provided we ensure the watch alerts no one to our presence?”

“Now wait a moment—” Dawn began, but Steel was already nodding, his gaze switching to their unconscious captive.

“Maybe,” he said, and then looked at Dawn. “Do you have anything that could keep their watch from sending out word?”

Dawn shifted, likely frowning inside her armor. “I can try and work a rope up the side of the building, but it will take time.”

“Teleportation?”

She shook her head. “Too obvious. The flash would be a telltale sign, and I’m not that skilled at teleportation in any case, though I have been working on it.”

“Anything that can delay that lookout from getting a signal off while Sabra and I take out everyone inside and make our way up.”

For a moment Dawn was quiet, but then she nodded. “Actually, I may have something. It’s not an easy spell, but it might work.”

“And?” Steel prompted.

“It’s a ‘stick-it’ spell,” Dawn said. “It’s designed to make something incredibly sticky. We use it to help hold incisions closed until we can stitch them shut.”

“So you make the lookout sticky?”

She nodded. “Lips, in particular, so they won’t be able to shout. Hooves, so they can’t move. If I put enough power into the spell, they’d find themselves stuck to anything they touched. If they pressed their nostrils together, they’d suffocate.”

“Will the spell hold that long?”

“Hard to say. I could cast it at a distance, but without precision. And it won’t prevent them from signaling with their own magic.”

“He could forget if he were unable to breathe,” Sabra noted. “For a moment, at the least.”

Dawn nodded. “That’s why I suggested it. I hit them with the stick-it spell, and then try to keep it active as long as I can while getting close enough to get a horn-lock over their horn.”

“That should be enough,” Steel said, glancing at Sabra. “You think you can get up that tower before her target manages to get the horn-lock off?”

He nodded. “Of course.”

“Three-pronged assault, then,” Steel said. “Dawn, sneak close and go to work. Sabra, the moment you see that horn-ring floating out, move to take the guard. Then storm the steps. Hopefully they won’t have warded those.”

“What about you?” Sabra asked.

“I’ll go in through the front door,” he said. “The moment I see you start moving up the tower.”

“But the wards—” Dawn began, only for Steel to cut her off.

Probable wards,” he said. “Besides, I won’t be the first one through the door.”

“Those wards could be fatal.”

“That’s their problem. Besides, I doubt they want that. The leadership here, claims to the public aside, has to be in desperate need of information. Likely they want one of us alive, at least.”

“Still, we could lose our source of intelligence.”

“Better than them keeping it,” Sabra said. “We already were fortunate to take her alive. As long as our foe no longer has access to what she knows.”

“Sabra’s right. Either way, our foe no longer has access to her. Either way, we come out ahead. Now let’s take this place down, and quickly!” He turned, the conversation over, and headed for the end of the alley.

“Which direction?” Sabra asked, glancing at Dawn.

She thought for a moment before replying. “South,” she answered. “I’ll come from the south. Give me a minute or two to get into position.”

“Very well. I will come from the north.” He turned and followed Steel, slowing only when he needed to cross one of the wide streets that the watchtower had a clear view of and waiting for the lookout to focus their attention elsewhere. Once he’d moved far enough north, it was a simple matter to break to the east and close in on the watchtower from one of its many blind avenues of approach. It meant cutting through yards, alleys, and in one case what he was fairly sure had been a livestock pen at one point, though he saw no livestock, but it kept him away from the sight of the lookout, and that was all that mattered. Only once he drew close did he bother ducking back against the sides of buildings once more, sticking out of sight until he was just north of the tower’s position, directly across the road.

Once more, he thought, using his mod to climb the backside of the building and ducking behind a chimney while the lookout was focusing elsewhere. Then he settled down to wait, his ears alert and his eyes half-closed as he waited for Dawn to make her move.

He didn’t have to wait long. A faint “Mmmpph!” came from the top of the watchtower, and he bolted around the chimney, calling forth the mod as he made his first jump, clearing the street. The sounds of muffled panic from above him intensified, followed by a heavy-sounding thump that made him grimace.

If that alerts the Order inside … he thought as he jumped up the massive, crystal spikes. It could make his job a lot more difficult. If even one unicorn got a signal off with their horn …

He cleared the top of the watchtower under his own power, the mod empty. The lookout was pressed up against the outer railing, their tail and body stuck to the wood, their body shaking back and forth as they tried to dislodge both it and their hooves, all of which were stuck fast.

As was their mouth and their eyes. Sabra felt a faint shiver crawl down his back at the sight. The stallion’s ears were also stuck in a down position, flat against their skull.

Blind, unable to breathe … The horn-lock stuck to their horn was just the final note in the stallion’s alarm, he suspected. He reached for it, ready to secure it, but then pulled back. Then I would be stuck as well. Very well. He waved a hoof to the south, and a second later the stallion’s eyes and mouth popped open with a gasp, the unicorn staggering away from the wall and looking around in a panic.

His eyes fixed on Sabra, widening, and then went blank as Sabra’s hoof crashed into his chin. The stallion hit the floor and didn’t get up.

There wasn’t much time. He ducked and made certain that the unicorn’s horn-lock was secure, then glanced down at the intersection before the watchtower. Steel was almost at the front steps, but he stopped just a few feet short of them. Sabra gave him a wave, and the captain responded with an almost invisible nod before reaching back over his shoulders to the mare on his back and gripping the back of her armor in his teeth.

Then, he pulled her off of his back and began to spin. Slowly at first, but then faster and faster until the mare was just a limp, blurry figure hanging in the air.

“Hey Order!” Steel managed to call through the obstruction in his teeth. “Knock knock!” He let the mare go.

Sabra wasn’t sure what happened first. At some point during the mare’s journey over the steps, there was a sharp crack followed by a flash of light and the scent of ozone, but at the speed she was moving, the event blurred with the crash of her body smashing through the front doors, either knocking them from their hinges or breaking them apart entirely. Several more snaps and cries of dismay sounded from inside, but he didn’t hear them. He had already whirled and ripped the hatch open. Diving down the spiral stairs, it was less of a controlled descent and more a series of zig-zagging, downward leaps.

The main office, when he arrived, was already in shambles. He caught a brief glimpse of the front doors thrown open, of a small, scattered group of Order unicorns all standing to face it with horns alight, of the oOrder mare Steel had thrown through lying in a singed lump on the floor … and then he ambushed the first unicorn from behind, taking their legs out from beneath them with a snap of bone parting. At his first target’s scream, the rest of the room began to turn in response, only for Steel to storm through the front door and tackle the two closest unicorns.

After that, nothing about the fight was remotely fair. Though holding superior numbers, the Order were disoriented, off-balance, and most of all, facing an attack from two sides. In seconds, the last unicorn fell to the floor, one hoof up in surrender while the other worked at holding their teeth in.

“Check the building,” Steel said. “I’ll make sure no one here tries anything foolish.” Sabra nodded and moved to the back, checking individual offices as well as the restrooms. He found one Order unicorn cowering in the bathroom and marched him back to the front, coming in just as Dawn arrived.

“We’ve got trouble,” Dawn said, as she stepped in, her eyes flicking over the wounded Order unicorns before coming back to Steel.

“What kind?”

“Crystal ponies,” Dawn said. “A mob of them. Headed this way. And toward the next closest tower.”

“Horseapples.” Steel took a quick look around the room. “They can have this tower, but assaulting the next? They’ll get routed. Even if there are any former guard among them.”

“Or take horrific casualties if they did take it,” Dawn added, her emphasis clear.

“Can we stop them?” Sabra asked.

“Do we want to?” Steel rebutted. Dawn’s eyes went wide with shock. “Wiped out or not, the ponies in this city standing up for themselves is a good thing. It’s the retaliation that’s dangerous. I didn’t think they’d move this fast.” He let out a quick sigh. “All right, here’s what we’re going to do. They can have this station, and lock up all this trash while they’re at it. But I need to talk to our source here—” He gave the still-unconscious mare a kick with one hoof, and she let out a moan. “And find out everything we can about their power structure. I want you two to meet up with that other group and slow them down.”

“How?” Sabra asked.

“Ask?” Steel suggested. “Just don’t let them hit that tower before you soften it up. They’re going to be in the same kind of panic this place was, so they should be easy to hit.”

“What if they send out a signal?” Dawn asked.

Steel shook his head. “If there’s a mob heading there, we probably can’t help that now. Either the watchtower will get a signal out, or someone at the center of the city will notice. Prevent it if you can, but if the local populace is already moving …” He shook his head. “Just do what you can to keep them safe. Both of you.”

“And you?” Sabra asked.

“I’ll meet you there. If they get the word out, odds are that place is going to get hit, and hard. I’ll find out what I can from our friend, throw her in a cell with her friends—plus let out anyone down there that needs to be—and then come meet you. We’ll go from there, but odds are, that place is going to get hit. Or any other watchtower the public is moving for. Are we clear?” He looked at Dawn, and she nodded.

“Spec?” Steel asked as he turned his eyes to him. His hesitation must have shown on his face.

“I …” he began. “This must have been what the ancient captains spoke of when they wrote of no victory, only stages of loss.” To his surprise, the captain shook his head. Dawn, he noticed, was nodding as well.

“Not even close,” Steel said. “This is just a complication. And for the record, I don’t quite agree with some of those old captains. There’s winning, and then there’s winning. Don’t ask me to get any more specific then that. Take the tower, keep the crystal pony citizens alive. Clear?”

Sabra nodded, the old quotes still flashing through his mind. “Yes, captain.”

“Then move it.”

Author's Note:

Ooh, resistance is starting to crop up. And can you hear the songs of angry ponies?

Bad joke, I know, and half of you didn't get it. But things are definitely heating up for Team one!

Anyway, as always, 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 works!

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