• Published 30th Sep 2022
  • 969 Views, 26 Comments

The Rejects: Enemy of the State - Argonaut44

A band of misfits must come together to foil corrupt Canterlot elite, war criminals, and old enemies. Meanwhile, Princess Twilight Sparkle must divert her attention between Equestria on the brink of war and a vengeful threat beyond the sea.

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04: The God of Chaos

Locks of turquoise blazed in the dark, bolting to kiss the black laced lips of the cave. Damp, cold, pitch black. She was buried beneath the snowy linen land, a creature cursed to live in spite of the sunlight.

Her horn ignited, jetting thin streaks of china blue fire, bellowing out deeper into the abyss. Each of her targets fell to single blows - and despite the strain on her bruised, battered body, she kept a steady rhythm in her work. Her hooves were firmly placed on the ground, while her horn levied strike after strike, until the sweat began to slip down her forehead. Her muscles were hardened from days of work, a rushed recovery that left her sore all over.

Somewhere deeper underground, a second pair of eyes lurked ever closer to the trembling ruptures. Gliding through the air, his smirk grew wider and wider the closer he came to the source of all the ruckus.

“Ah, there you are.”

Discord snickered, peeking out from around a corner of the cave, ignoring the blast of magic that had just nearly taken his head off his shoulders.

Starlight Glimmer narrowed her eyes, and her horn began to simmer down. She was out of breath, and her body was begging her for a rest.

“I thought you could use some company,” Discord continued.

“Think again,” Starlight muttered.

“I must say, I’m impressed. Three days ago you could hardly walk.”

Starlight sat down on the ground, out of breath. Her muscles were so sore, she could hardly stand up on her own hooves.

“I take it, you're ready then?”

Starlight sighed.

“...If you really want this partnership of ours to work, Discord, then there’s some ground rules I’m gonna need you to follow.”

Discord laughed.
Rules rarely feature in my vocabulary.”

“Well that’s gonna change,” Starlight said, “I know you’re only trying to survive, and so am I, but there’s more to all this than that. For one, we’re not going to hurt anypony unless we absolutely have to. Got it?”

Discord grumbled something under his breath.

“You still love to take the fun out of everything.”


Fine. I’ll play along,” Discord said, “For now.”

Starlight supposed that was as close to a ‘yes’ as she would get.

“If you’re right about Celestia and Luna…Maybe we can figure out what they know about Twilight, and what this is really all about. I have to make things right again, somehow,” Starlight hoped.

“Ah, Celestia and Luna, I have missed them both. They have a soft spot for me, I think. But then again, who doesn’t?”

Starlight rolled her eyes.

“Tomorrow morning, we’ll take off for Seaward Sholes. Then we can get some answers.”

Discord grinned.

“Seaward Sholes?” he repeated.

“They’ve got a mansion there. Somehow we’re gonna have to figure out a way to get inside and find them, without causing a scene.”

Discord’s ears perked up.

“B-But that’s my speciality,” Discord said.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Starlight said, “If it’s true nopony’s heard from them in months, I have a feeling something’s already gone wrong.”

Discord bared his fangs, cackling so hard he nearly tripped over himself.

“Oh, this is gonna be fun.”

Statues of bronze had been repainted in toxic green blood, where the last of the changelings had fallen to the wrath of the royal guards. Their captain could count the highest tally, though there was little to celebrate. He had personally checked every crevice and hideaway in the palace, to no avail.

They had taken Silver Stream.

Wedge Ward’s eyes were strained by shadow, where pulses of red scored the corners of his sight. He had arrived at the queen’s quarters first-thing that morning, immediately after his failed search for the missing princess.

He had come alone. No other was to be put to blame, should it come to that. The task had been his, after all. A simple one at that, one he had not even considered worth his time. If he somehow prevailed against whatever punishment was due, he was certain of his shrinking station, or the very least a fall from grace unlike anything a guardspony could have dreamed of. A dishonorable end to his career, to his life.

He could barely levy a second knock at the door, when the cyan-maned, apple-white face of Prince Terramar greeted him.

“Captain,” Terramar exclaimed, before he noticed the defeat in the captain’s eyes, and the tightness in his lips, and the dents in his armor.

“C-Come in,” the boy said, stepping out of the way.

Wedge obliged, removing his helmet to reveal his disheveled, burnt-orange mane. His stubble had grown into a thicker beard, and he appeared less like the gallant stallion Terramar had once known, and more of a gaunt, trembling beast.

Ocean Flow sat on the edge of her bed, glancing out blankly at her bedchamber window, that cast the room in soft grey light. .

“Your grace,” Wedge began, bowing slightly. Terramar stood off between them, his eyes locked onto the captain, eager for news. “I’ve sent patrols to search every corner of the city. We’ll find her.”

Wedge could hear the shaking in his voice, while his hoof nervously toyed with the leather strap of his scabbard.

Ocean Flow remained as she was, a statue, velvet eyes glazed over in dull agony.

Terramar, however, was pacing back and forth, Grinding teeth and shaky claws kept Wedge at a distance.

“It was my responsibility to protect her. I failed,” Wedge said, speaking with a strange kind of softness, “I’ll find her, I swear it. I will not let this treason stand.”

Ocean Flow lowered her head, defeated. Wedge’s convictions hardly seemed to phase her. She was despondent, speechless, while Wedge stood his ground by the door.

“I’ll speak to Princess Twilight myself,” Terramar said, “I can’t just sit here and do nothing.

Wedge may have wanted to protest the boy’s wishes, though he held his tongue. He had forfeited the right to make demands of anypony, as far as he saw things, especially in regard to the boy’s own family.

A knock came at the door behind him.

Wedge instinctively reached back for his sword, spinning around.

But it was only the young sergeant Hydrangea, whose golden curls stuck out from his helmet, clad in a full suit of armor.

“Captain, the meeting, sir,” Hydrangea said, standing upright.

“...Right,” Wedge muttered, before glancing back to Terramar.

“My prince, come with me. There are three units guarding every entrance to this room.”

Terramar flinched, wary of leaving his mother even for a moment.

“Quickly, or we’ll be late,” Wedge said.

“Late for what?” Terramar replied, joining Wedge by the door.

“Your sister’s been kidnapped, and the south is being put to flame,” Wedge said, “The war’s begun, boy. There’s no time to waste.”

Terramar glanced back at his mother, who paid him no mind, continuing to stare out the window, sitting so still she might otherwise appear a corpse.

Terramar turned back to Wedge, bit his lip, and made for the door.

Sunlight devoured the royal council chamber, while the city below craved the cover of dark.

Marius Moonshine wiped the sweat from his brow after twisting the door knob, and had expected to find the chamber unoccupied. He was early for the meeting, after all.

But he was taken by surprise, finding Featherglass resting in his council seat with his nose buried in a book.

Marius cocked a grin, waiting for the door to shut behind him.

The Setting of the Sun,” Marius remarked, reading the title of the book, “The last testament of the last king.”

Featherglass’ gaze remained fixed on the book, ignoring Marius as he strolled closer toward the table, practically gliding through the air.

“He who threw the Storm King back into the sea, who banished Shoggoth into the void, who caved in the breastplate of the Old Stag,” Marius continued.

“He never even met the Storm King,” Featherglass corrected, “Or the Shoggoth, or the Old Stag, for that matter. Despite what the histories all say. His legend is a work of fiction.”

“You speak as though you were there, a thousand moons ago. Whatever the truth, Equestria’s memory dares to differ. How much does the truth matter, anyway?”

“That is a question for our own princess, I think,” Featherglass smirked, “But these days the real truth is hard to come by.”

“Bold words for a pony who claims to serve her,” Marius said, shaking his head in amusement, “Or have you begun to give up the act?”

“We must all serve in our own way,” Featherglass retorted, “It’s a treat, in fact - you shaking at the thought of me getting what I want.

Marius rolled his eyes.

“My time is spent better than foiling you. Though, I’ll admit there’s some delight in watching ponies stumble over their own schemes.”

Featherglass’ grin stretched across his face. He rose from his seat, now eyeing Marius down from his lanky height advantage.

“I agree, completely,” Featherglass said, “For instance, when I foiled your plan to marry Silver Stream off to the Azimuths. If I must be honest, I did find some delight in the affair. And some regret. They might have made a lovely couple.”

Marius eyed him, unsure of what he meant.

“A mutual friend of ours, one who had my confidence. The pony who fed you information about my intentions. He was a poor investment. Thankfully, the wicked all fall victim to judgment, in their time, in their turn. His came sooner than you might have thought," Featherglass smiled. Marius’ eyes widened. A memory stirred, and made to carry him off his hooves. Sergeant Valance had not reported in that morning.

"Ah, and the Azimuths weren't the only ones with their eyes on Silver," Featherglass continued, "I may have let our sour friend Pharynx know just how valuable she really was. He may feel a bit safer having the girl at this side - some insurance against the growing list of belligerents."

Marius’ lips tightened, and he straightened his shoulders, staring past the smirk on Featherglass’ face.

“What I do, I do for Equestria.”

Equestria,” Featherglass mocked, “A collection crawled from under a stone. Held together only by the stories we tell to each other, to remind us each of better days that were never ours, or belonging to anyone at all. Works of fiction. To serve the many is to serve an ideal, one that does not exist. One that never has.”

“And what do we have, without the ideal?”

“We have freedom. Why enslave yourself to the immaterial, when you could otherwise have opportunity,” Featherglass said, “Opportunity, yes. For some, it’s a quick death, a fall in ruin. Others, they turn away in fear, letting the better chances pass by, again and again. Instead they grasp onto their earthly comforts. Gods, lovers, liars. But none of them will be the ones to write your name in the history books. Some may be content to return to the dust as nothing more. But I am not.”

The door to the chamber opened, and Featherglass glanced past Marius’ shoulder.

“Next time, I’ll be expecting a better effort,” Featherglass said.

Ponies began to wade into the council chamber, prompting Featherglass and Marius to both rise from their chairs.

Twilight Sparkle took her seat at the table. Snowfall Glitter sat closest to her, beside Marius. And beside him were Styles, Lieutenant Hawkbit, and the newly-elected Speaker of the Equestrian Senate, Veto, the successor to the late Filibuster.

Wedge Ward came in last, along with Hydrangea and Terramar, who came straddling in behind him like children in a place they did not belong.

“Captain,” Twilight said, having been prepared to begin the meeting without him. There was little time to spare.

“Your grace, forgive me,” Wedge said, before motioning for Terramar and Hydrangea to take their seats beside him. Venger and Grey Wick made room for the extra company.

“I was hoping Ocean Flow would be able to join us,” Twilight said.

“Her highness was indisposed,” Wedge said, before gesturing at Terramar, “The prince is here on her behalf.”

Twilight nodded, albeit slightly discouraged. Terramar was more or less a stranger to her, while his mother was already firmly under her grasp. It could take years to accomplish the same with the boy, especially if he was as headstrong as she had been told.

“I understand you’re all feeling overwhelmed,” Twilight began, “I feel it just as much. But Equestria is counting on us to make all of this right. And I can’t do it alone.”

The table remained silent. Who among these ponies could she trust? Twilight sighed, her eyes heavy with exhaustion.

“King Pharynx has turned against us, and taken Silver Stream as a hostage. We’ll get no help from the changelings, that much is certain,” Twilight said, “And more, our outposts in the Crystal Mountains have confirmed that the Empire is gathering its strength. It is safe to assume that my brother is no longer an ally of ours.”

Twilight hesitated at the mention of her brother. Starlight, Cadance, now her own brother. She was running out of ponies to lose. She regained her composure, though her face had begun twisted with rage.

Snowfall, meanwhile, sunk in her seat. She was as much a Northerner as she was a servant of Twilight, after all. They would reconcile, she reassured herself. There would be no need for war.

“In the south, the dragons are being kept at bay for the meantime, though the Velvet Regiment is under-equipped to handle a prolonged conflict. They’ll require reinforcements soon. We need to secure our allies in Seaquestria, Augusta, and the Griffish Isles, before the dragons break through," Twilight said.

“Your highness,” came Terramar, leaning in against the table, “The Hippogriff fleet is in no position to take action, not while my sister sits in a changeling dungeon.”

Twilight’s eyes twitched.

Terramar hesitated, as the eyes around the table all centered on him.

“I-I would help you if I could, Princess, but I can’t put Silver’s life at risk,” Terramar insisted.

“Princess, you tasked me with keeping her safe from harm,” Wedge reminded, before Twilight could unleash her wrath on an unsuspecting Terramar, “Before I’m to be discharged, I want to request leave to make amends, to hunt down Pharynx and the changelings, and return Silver Stream to her family.”

Twilight sighed.

“We are at war now. The Captain of the Guard needs to be at my side.”

Wedge stared at her, blankly. He would be damned to escape justice so easily.

“Princess, we-”

“The changeling hive is a fortress. One pony by himself wouldn’t make it six steps inside without being ripped to pieces. I want Silver safe as much as you do, but we have to be more cautious.”

“What do you recommend then?” Wedge asked, incensed.

Snowfall glanced at him, wary of the Captain’s fiery temper.

“Featherglass,” Twilight said, turning her attention away from Wedge.
“How may I be of service, your grace?” Featherglass asked.

“You are to arrange a negotiation with the changelings for Silver’s return. If negotiations are impossible, find another way to rescue her, by whatever means necessary. I trust you to handle something as delicate as this.”

Twilight glared at him. In truth, she saw the task as something of a wild goose chase. Pharynx would never give SIlver up. She was the only assurance against the changelings’ destruction.

Still, Twilight would prefer Featherglass to be as far from the capital as possible, and so the task seemed fitting. He must have known about the letter Cadance had written, during the time he was earning her trust. Yet he chose to say nothing of it.

Featherglass, meanwhile, had deduced Twilight’s intentions, though was in little position to protest. His interests did not just lay in the capital however. And, if certain conditions persisted, he would need a good reason to be traveling, anyway.

“Of course, Princess, as you wish,” Featherglass said, feigning discontent.

Marius knew Featherglass better, shaking his head at Featherglass’ performance.

“Snowfall,” Twilight said, turning to the Lieutenant by her right, “I’m placing you in command of the second battalion. Hawkbit, you’ll lead the third.”

Snowfall shuffled in her seat, nervously.

“Hawkbit will move south to bolster the Velvets’ blockade and keep the dragons occupied. We can’t let them reach Dodge City, otherwise the capital will be in danger. In the meantime, you’ll head north to keep the imperial armies from marching too far south.”

Snowfall bit her lip.

“Princess,” she began, glancing at the ground, “The North’s my home. I can’t-...I can’t risk-”

“You know the land as well as they do. I need you to lead this offensive, if only to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. I understand these are your own ponies you’ll be fighting, but we have no other choice. They’ve committed treason to the highest degree. Unless you’d rather fight alongside them, I suggest you do as I say.”

“Of course, Princess, forgive me,” Snowfall said, meekly.

“Styles, I want you accompanying her,” Twilight said, “For logistical and combat support.”

Snowfall’s eyes narrowed, as Styles’ grin stretched across his face.

Not him.
“Princess, I’m quite capable of-”

“I know what you’re capable of. But I’m not taking any chances. Not on my brother, and not on you.

Snowfall flinched, suspecting Twilight wanted Styles to function more so as her spy, in case of deception. She resented the very idea, though was in no position to do much about it.

“Pharynx is only concerned with destroying me. If he brokers an alliance with the dragons and the Empire we’d be outnumbered and surrounded on three sides. We have to get things under control before Pharynx can capitalize on the chaos.”

Twilight sighed, wiping the sweat from her brow.

“Now. About this business with Valance. Can somepony explain to me what’s happened?”

Marius’ eyes narrowed, bouncing between Featherglass and Styles to his left and right. Styles. Who could be better for the job?

“The chaos at the Gala claimed his life. Nopony’s sure how,” Wedge answered, oblivious to the truth of the matter, “He was a terrible drunk. I wouldn’t be surprised if he walked right off the battlements.”

Twilight sighed.

“Captain, from now on, keep a closer eye on your subordinates.”

“I guess we’ll be called the Eight from now on,” Styles snickered.

“Not quite,” Twilight said, “Sergeant?”

Hydrangea, who had not spoken a word since entering the room, rose to his hooves, and his eyes began to widen.

“Your family’s loyalty and military support will be essential if Equestria hopes to prevail. As a show of gratitude, we would be honored if you took Valance’s place on my guard.”

“I’m…in the Nine?” Hydrangea said, astounded. He glanced down at Wedge, who smiled and nodded in approval.
“Don’t look so excited, kid,” Styles said, “Now’s about as bad timing as you can get.”
“I’d be honored, your highness, thank you.”
Twilight nodded, as Hydrangea took his seat.

“I’m counting on all of you to put an end to this unrest as quickly as possible, taking care not to add fuel to the fire. If you can do this, Equestria may come out intact.”

“How in the world did I end up stuck with you?”

Rows of red brick baked in the evening sun, by bronze summer glades and sidewalk-crack moss.

Starlight Glimmer tightened the hood of her jacket, a welcomed gift from Discord.

“If I wasn’t so evolved, I might take offense to that,” Discord replied.

He had assumed the form of a pony, dark grey with a darker mane, trotting alongside Starlight down Topanga Lane - a bustling rush of wild gardens, streetside storefronts, and honking taxi cabs.

Please try to keep a low profile. Nopony can know who we are or what we’re doing.”
“You worry too much, Starlight,” Discord cooed.
Starlight ignored him, until she noticed he had come to a halt.

“Discord,” Starlight whispered, tugging at her hood, trying her best to shield her face from the passing pedestrians.

But Discord’s smile had disappeared, and his eyes were fixed on something inside a storefront window.

Discord, c’mon, we can’t stop, we’ve-” Starlight said, marching back toward Discord. But her pleas stopped short, when she caught sight of what was behind the window.

TV sets, blasting frantic headlines and new reporters dressed in riot gear.

WAR! they all read, in violent technicolor.

Dragons, Changelings, Imperials…Poor Twilight is going to have her hooves full,” Discord declared.

“Don’t start celebrating,” Starlight said, her voice hollow, “...We have to act fast, before things get even more out of control.”

“Not much we can do, no?” Discord said, as Starlight dragged him back alongside her down the sidewalk, “International diplomacy is not exactly my forte. Or yours, for that matter. You couldn’t even handle one village.

“To fix this, we have to know what the core problem is,” Starlight said, “That’s what Celestia and Luna can help with.”

Discord grunted in dismay.

“Have you given any thought to where this all ends?”

Starlight eyed him.

“What do you mean?” Starlight asked without much hesitation.

“Well, as far as I can tell, the only way this mess gets solved is with either you or Twilight buried in the ground. But something tells me even if you had beaten her, even if you had her completely at your mercy, you’d still have spared her.”

“All I really wanted from her was an answer,” Starlight said, “And all she had for me were ramblings, clues, visions. I couldn’t understand any of it. But she wasn’t crazy. She really did see something, she really believed everything she was saying.”

“At any rate, she can’t be reasoned with,” Discord said, “Every now and then we have to make unfortunate compromises for the greater good. It’s a natural reality.”

“You’re wrong,” Starlight said, “Most ponies only resort to violence when they feel backed into a corner, when they feel like it’s the only way to survive. That’s exactly what I think happened to Twilight. What I need to find out is what was the corner she was backed into, and what was at stake if she did nothing. But unnecessary violence doesn’t help anything. If all you want is to take Twilight’s head, you’re on your own.”

“So because you failed once, you’ve reduced yourself to a pacifist play-detective searching for clues? The problem at hoof is Twilight. If you ask me, we should use our combined strength to pay her a visit, and end this once and for all.”

“She left me alive,” Starlight said, raising her voice, “Why would she do that? And when Trixie and I were first caught, she could’ve killed us then too. But she didn’t. She’s not too far gone. If she was, I’d already be dead.”

Discord scoffed in disbelief.

“You still care about her, that’s it. Even after everything she’s done? Why bother?”

“Because she was my friend.”

Starlight winced.

“Everything I learned from her, I still believe in it all,” Starlight said, “And I’d thought even with what she did, I could still try and live by her values. To put my friends before myself, to serve something greater, to protect ponies who can’t defend themselves. I could still believe in the pony she used to be.”

Starlight’s scowl hardened.

“But when I was tested, I failed. I left my friends behind, just for a chance at revenge. Now they’re all dead, probably. And if not….then Celestia knows what Twilight’s doing to them now. What I did was wrong. At that moment, I was no better than her. I can’t let that happen again. I have to fix my mistakes, and hers too.”

Oh, Starlight,” Discord said, rolling his eyes, “You’ve become so obsessed with the principles of the game, you’ve forgotten all about the practicals. Twilight roams free, almost unopposed. It doesn’t matter how many dragons, changelings, or crystal ponies line up to storm the capital gates - they can’t stop her. But you and I together, we might. You can play the saint as much as you like, but at the end of the day, if evil still festers because you were unwilling to take action, how much better have you really made the world?”

Starlight sighed.

“I guess we’ll find out.”

Discord laughed again.

“Oh, don’t look so glum. Now that I’m lending you a claw, the real fight has begun.”

Starlight sighed, and almost cracked a smile, somewhat amused.

“There it is!” Starlight exclaimed, pointing further down the street.

At the end of the street, on a high-rise hill, was Celestia and Luna’s mansion, the largest and grandest in all of the city.

She led him behind the corner of a nearby alley, peeking her head out to inspect the premises.

With the snap of his claw, Discord conjured a pair of x-ray goggles, fastened right over his eyes.

“What are you doing?”

“I thought I’d take a look at the inside,” Discord explained, before sourly disintegrating the goggles with a point of his paw, “My lucky streak continues. I can’t see a thing. They seem to have taken every precaution.

Starlight shook her head, having expected as much. It was within Discord’s capability to teleport the pair of them to Seaward Sholes with little effort, though finding their way inside Celestia and Luna’s mansion would be a different story.

Across the street, the golden gates of the property glowed in the setting sun, and beyond, the seaside cliff perimeter spat up a salty breath of wind back their way. The mansion stood higher than its neighbors, overlooking the sea on its great grassy hill, its marble columns yawning in the afternoon heat.

“The magic must be in the foundations,” Starlight reasoned, “They went out of their way to make their house Discord-proof. Now that’s an idea I can get behind.”

“Their loss,” Discord grinned, “I don’t suppose you have any bright ideas? There must be a first time for everything.”

“There’s no guards anywhere by the gates,” Starlight noted, “Don’t you find that a bit strange?”

“Not at all,” Discord said, “What do alicorns really need guards for, anyway?”

“The barrier is too strong for either of us to break through. I’m going to have to figure out how to manipulate the spell already in place.”

“I’m beginning to think they might not want visitors,” Discord snickered.

“If even you can’t get in, then the spell must be a mix of a personalized inhibition charm and a firewall enchantment,” Starlight deduced, “To counter the latter, I know a fissured breach spell that should cause enough of a disruption for us to work with. And for the former…”

She glanced up at Discord, who remained blissfully ignorant for a few moments before he realized she required use of him.

“Discord, I’m gonna need a sample of your blood,” Starlight said.

What?” Discord recoiled in horror, “I assure you, Starlight, I’m clean. And frankly, you’re not my type.”

Discord. Be serious. The charm is probably too advanced for anything surface-level. I need a physical sample to make something stronger.”

Discord shook his head in disgust.

“You unicorns and your spellbooks and witchcraft. You really do take all the fun out of it! I miss the good old primordial days. Things were simpler then.”


Discord laughed and raised his claw, before tearing against his other arm, deep enough until he could draw blood.

Starlight acted quickly, her horn igniting in time to salvage a few drops from the wound.

“OK, now turn around.”

“What is it now?”

“I can’t focus when you watch me.”

“This is ridiculous,” Discord said.

Just do it!” Starlight exclaimed, impatiently.

Discord sighed and obliged, spinning around.

He remained there, sulking impatiently while Starlight’s horn coughed up sparks and smoke, and the drops of blood began to manifest into an aura of dark purple.

“I’ve got it,” Starlight remarked, charging up her horn.

Her horn came alive again, and, from across the street, Discord’s eyes lit up, watching as the entire mansion shuddered in a magical swirl. Birds flew from their perch, and dust flew from the edges of the barriers.

“OK, try now,” Starlight said.

Discord eyed her, skeptically, before snapping his talons.

But, to his surprise, the pair of them disappeared in a flash of light, leaving short streaks of ash in their wake on the pavement.

Starlight’s eyes lost track of the sun by the time the world readjusted herself. They were somewhere inside the mansion, which was practically pitch black, with all the windows boarded up from the inside.

Starlight’s horn lit up, revealing Discord beside her, whose eyes narrowed against the strain of the light.

“A little early for bedtime, don’t you think?” Discord winced.

“Something’s wrong,” Starlight said, kicking over some loose trash and knocked-over furniture.

Discord snapped his talons, and strings of holiday lights began to wind their way around the walls of the house, revealing the extent of the disarray inside.

Despite the mansion having appeared in pristine condition from the outside, behind those walls it resembled the aftermath of a natural disaster. Streaks of ash scored the walls, and all along the floor there was broken glass and down feathers, the innards of the couches, pillows, and chairs that had been torn apart. The foyer chandelier sat in a heap of shattered glass in the middle of the foyer.

“All that wealth and they still couldn’t hire a maid,” Discord remarked.

“The house is abandoned,” Starlight said, after glancing through the nearby rooms, “We’re too late.”

“Maybe they’re on vacation. I could use one myself,” he groaned.

“Twilight must’ve gotten to them first. They’ve been ponynapped, or maybe they’re dead just like Ember and Thorax. Maybe-...”

Starlight froze, and her eyes began to widen.

“Whoever’s behind this, they might have left some physical evidence behind.”

Starlight’s horn flickered, and the color of her aura began to change to a darker shade of blue.

“Blacklight,” Starlight explained, as she began to inspect the area.

“Look here,” she continued, pointing at a small patch of blood, “Discord, petri dish.”

“You forgot the magic word.”

Gah! Discord!

Discord rolled his eyes, before conjuring a plastic petri dish, as requested.

“We can already tell there’s been a struggle. It probably belongs to our hosts,” Discord suggested.

“Easy way to find out,” Starlight said, after collecting a sample of the blood in the dish.

Her horn suddenly ignited again, blasting at the splatter of blood.

Smoke rose from the glossy floor, and the blood had disintegrated upon impact.

“Alicorn blood would’ve stayed intact,” Starlight explained, “This belongs to somepony else.”

“Ah. Perhaps they want it back.”

“I’ve got a job for you, Discord. At the police station, they’re bound to have access to a blood sample registry. We could pinpoint an identity. Or, if I’m right, a lack of an identity.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t think Twilight is behind this. She’s not keen on leaving a mess, unless she meant for ponies to find it that way, like with the murders in Ponyville. But here, the security spell was still up, which means this was meant to be kept under wraps.”

“If not Twilight, then who?”

Starlight glanced at the ground.

“I’ve got a hunch.”

Telegram wire and blotted typeface spun within the frenzy of black ties and cigar smoke, where ponies dressed in scuffled suits scurried between cubicle rows and towers of paperwork.

To Trixie Lulamoon, the ringing phones and buzzing display were still echoing in her ears, a muffled, droning chatter clawing at the walls of her pitch-black prison cell.

It was the indignity, more than the inconvenience.

Alias had been quick to lock Trixie away, having correctly deduced she was somehow responsible for Cadance’s letter reaching the Equestrian press.

Trixie, however, had little to regret. After years of coming up short, she had finally given that prissy princess punk exactly what she deserved. Twilight Sparkle was ruined.

She smirked to herself in the dark, and imagined what Starlight would say.

Trixie’s smile faded. For all her efforts, she could do little to exact a proper exchange, a proper rebuttal to Twilight having taken away her best friend.
My only friend.

Now she was stuck in this den of night-crawling freaks, cramped in a room not much larger than the hull of her stage carriage, provided with just two measly meals per day.

That had been the arrangement for the past week, and Trixie was at last beginning to wonder whether Alias had any real intention of releasing her. He probably was not sure what to do with her, anyway. She may have been working with him, but she was never working for him. She owed him nothing.

But she would not have to dwell on the question for long, when without warning, light flooded the room. She had forgotten where the door to the room even was, with how dark it had been.

Trixie groaned and shielded her eyes from the blinding light.

“Hey, Ms. Whistleblower. Still alive?

Trixie recognized the voice, before she could manage to keep her eyes open against the strain. It was that ditzy pink pegasus, Amity, though she looked a bit worse for wear compared to the last time they had seen each other. Then again, Trixie could say the same thing for herself. A week in solitary confinement had that effect.

Heh,” Trixie muttered, “Nothing the Great and Powerful Trixie couldn’t handle…Don’t look at me like that. Have you got anything to eat?”

Amity stuck a hoof in her purse and dug around for an apple, tossing it to Trixie.

Trixie scampered down on the fruit like a rabid beast, while Amity watched on in shock.

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but…” Amity began, “The Chief wants to see you.”

“I knew it,” Trixie laughed, “Everypony always wants an encore.”

Amity stepped out of the way, allowing Trixie to follow her out into the hallway. Immediately, she was nearly swept in a passing surge of agents, marching into another meeting room. The hallways were littered with crumpled-up documents and snuffed-out cigarettes.

“What the heck happened while I was gone?” Trixie asked, while Amity began leading her off toward another corridor, “This place looks like a warzone.”

“Yeah, well, let’s just say Equestria didn’t take kindly to that letter you sent out.”

“That was the idea,” Trixie replied.

“Riots, protests, insurrections in every major city from coast to coast. Some ponies side with Cadance, some ponies side with Twilight, now everypony’s at each other’s throats. Soon there won’t be anywhere that’s safe. Chief has tasked us with putting down the unrest. Twilight doesn’t have the resources to do it herself, not while she’s got her hooves full.”

“With what?” Trixie asked, though she suspected the answer already.

Amity glanced at her, as she continued on down the hallway, toward a glass-walled office room at the far end.

“The dragons are marching from the south. The Crystal Empire from the north. The changelings have kidnapped the hippogriff princess, their king wants some sort of deal, to get out of this mess unscathed.”

Trixie’s smile had begun to slip away, as the thought of such mass calamity began to dawn on her.

They arrived at the glass office, where Amity gently pried open the door.

“Chief,” she said, softly.

Alias grunted. His chair was facing away from the door, toward another glass wall peering down into the control deck below.

Leave,” he replied.

Amity gulped, as her eyes fell to the floor. Without protest, she spun around, ready to disappear. Trixie began to turn as well.

Not you,” Alias growled.

Trixie gritted her teeth and backed up into the office. She shut the door behind her.

Alias spun around in his chair, glaring at her with those stony grey eyes.

Trixie turned to take a better look at Alias. The stallion’s mane seemed to have turned a paler shade of grey, and there were pulsing veins jutting out from beneath his cold flesh.

He sat in his great black leather chair, huffing at his cigar.

“I was ready to let you rot in there,” Alias said. He stamped out his cigar against the tray on the long table. “But I meant what I said, before. There’s still some use to you, I think.”

Trixie cocked her head back slightly, straightening her posture.

“I knew you’d come crawling back. What’s the catch?”

“Starlight Glimmer is dead. Your friends from Hellhatch are AWOL. If you really want to have a seat at the table, if you really want to play the game - then you’ve got to do things my way. You took advantage of my trust, went behind my back, and now who knows how many ponies will lose their lives because of it.”

“What reason did Twilight ever have to fear you? I finally gave her one. You’re welcome.

Alias glared at her, though seemed somewhat amused by her persistence. Other ponies may have pleaded for forgiveness. Trixie would sooner die.

“And if I’ve screwed you over so bad, why let me live?”

Alias shook his head, exhausted.

“We’d reached a dead end on Twilight. There was no way to prove she was behind the murders, not beyond a shadow of a doubt. And even if we had, it wouldn’t do any good. As much as I regret what you did, you at least tipped the scales back in our favor. I just wish you hadn’t had to start a war to do it.”

Trixie scoffed.

Twilight is the one who started this. Now she has to deal with the consequences.”

Alias glanced back toward the glass wall, down at the cluster of agents scurrying around the control center below.

“Whatever we throw at her, she’ll throw something worse back at us.”

“Does she know about this place?” Trixie asked, realizing his implication.

“No. But it wouldn’t take her long to find us. We have some time to prepare. Twilight is distracted with the war, she won’t be able to hunt us down herself. Still, you’ve put us at risk.”

“Not much fun to be had, without a little risk,” Trixie rebuked.

“I’m glad one of us is still smiling about all this,” Alias muttered, “We’re at war, now, Ms. Lulamoon. Only, our war will be fought with information, not blood. The palace has secrets, secrets that I need to find out. We have ponies inside already, but it’s dawned on me that we have one pony who might be worth more than all of them put together. A pony who has Twilight’s confidence. A pony who you’ve apparently struck an unlikely friendship with.”

Trixie raised an eyebrow.

“You mean Rarity? Don’t push your luck, she’s not cut out for this sort of stuff. And, uh, she’s not exactly a fan of my act.”

Alias grinned, rising from his chair.

“Then it’s up to you to fix that.”

Crooked earth came kicking and bawling into dusk, along the iron-rung tracks where the Friendship Express rode abound, coughing up clouds of black smoke, hacking up sparks of searing hot coal. The steamers at the helm were burly ponies, browned and weathered with dirt. And in one cargo car by the rear, where the doors had long fallen off their rusty hinges, Blondie sat on his heels, shivering.

Salt Shaker had left him in the blistering breeze, not long after making the jump onto the train car.

Best to not leave a trail, the giant had said.

While it would not be foolish to judge the stallion as a hulking brute at first glance, Salt Shaker held something of a soft heart, at least relative to his line of work. Blondie had not seen his like before, a learned pony with a regal lord’s taste and civility, all a front for the wrathful, bloodthirsty killer kept quiet underneath.

Blondie had not asked where Salt Shaker had run off to further up the train, and was too tired to pry. The sun had nearly slipped out of the sky, sparing half-light dangling against frozen dew that hung off the passing pasture crops.

Redshift, whose royal armor was still stained red, was bound in chains, tossed over by a stack of boxed produce, as gracefully as if she was another piece of cargo.

The mare’s serpent eyes were alive with hatred, as if she might self-combust at any moment, or suffer an unannounced heart attack. He had once found it amusing, considering the threats she had made, though now he found it a sad thing, for whatever cause could drive a pony to such extremes, to such relentless cruelty.

He shared a sleepless night with Rainbow Dash, who had silently been watching him from across the train car, her hoof gently dangling off the edge, where the breeze blew her mane half-across her face.

He noticed her only when the moon had shown its face, as the train trudged along through fields of grain and hills of tall grass.

“I don’t get it,” Rainbow Dash announced, abruptly.

Blondie’s eyes darted over to her, as if perturbed that the silence was broken.

“What’s that?” he muttered.

“I’d usually be out like a light by now,” Rainbow said.

Blondie shook his head.

“Too much on your mind, maybe.”

“That’d be a first,” Rainbow laughed, at her own expense, “I guess I can’t sleep when I’m excited. I’ve got a feeling Canterlot won’t be the same since I left.”

“Me too,” Blondie said.

Rainbow narrowed her eyes.

“I’ve been putting my life in your hooves, and I don’t know a single thing about you. Some ponies might call that rude.”

Blondie nodded his head, smiling, conceding she might have been right.

“Your stories are bound to be more exciting,” Blondie said, “Only one of us is friends with a princess.”

Rainbow’s smile faded.

“Twilight sent me on a wild goose chase, just to get rid of me. But at least I know she had something to do with that stupid case, her and Ember and Thorax and all those creatures,” Rainbow said, “It better be worth it, now that my friends’ lives are all in danger.”

Blondie winced, recalling the deal they had made with his former employer, the same deal they had already abandoned.

“Crozer’s all talk,” Blondie said, “He won’t step hoof out of Manehattan, and he won’t come after your friends.”

“...I hope you’re right,” Rainbow said, “What the heck were you doing working for him anyway? If you wanted him dead so bad.”

Blondie smiled, briefly, and his gaze shifted against the edge of the cargo car, his eyes trickling over past the fields by night, where the mountains loomed overhead.

“He hadn’t given me a choice, at first,” Blondie said, “I wasn’t going to let him get what he wanted. He’d burn down that entire city if it earned him a profit…And he was right about me. Me and Crozer, we aren’t so different.”

Blondie caught his breath, and could not bring himself to continue looking over at her.

“I’d lost everything, a long time ago. Now I think I’m just looking for one last adventure. One last chance to make things right, to settle some scores. That girl, I thought maybe she was my chance. But I’m not who I used to be,” he said, pawing at a black scar that ran along his right leg, half-visible beneath his brown coat.

“Y’know…I was kinda thinking the same thing,” Rainbow said, laughing at herself, “I just…I used to be off saving the world every other week, and now….What am I supposed to do? Those days are over. I thought this could be another chance. That maybe I could make things right after what happened in Ponyville. But I’m getting slower, and I’m getting older, and…Shoot, I shouldn’t be making this about me, it’s just…I get in my own head too much, y’know?”

“Look at you two. Enough to bring a tear to my eye.”

Blondie and Rainbow both glanced over at Redshift, who had raised her head from the floor.

“I can see you’re not cut from the same cloth as your friend,” Redshift said, glancing towards the door where Salt Shaker had left earlier, “I know how to open the case…I don’t need the girl anymore. We can help each other.”

“Whatever’s in that briefcase, I’m sure it shouldn’t be in your hooves,” Rainbow snapped.

“That case matters more than you think,” Redshift said, “Princess Twilight certainly thinks so. Ponies that stand in her way don’t stay there for long. Friends or not.”

Rainbow winced.

“What does Twilight want with it?” she stammered.

Redshift snickered.

“You two really don’t have a clue, do you…That briefcase was never supposed to leave her laboratory, until one of her poindexter scientists thought he could make a quick buck selling it off to your Manehattan weapons-dealing goons. Hundreds of ponies are hunting that case down, as we speak, at least half of whom are on Twilight’s payroll.”

“I don’t believe you,” Rainbow said, glancing at Blondie for support.

“Then keep your mouth shut, flygirl. You, Cowboy, you and I could make an arrangement.”

Blondie glanced at Rainbow, who was staring right at him.

Neither had noticed as Redshift began fiddling with the lock to her chains. The sound of the metal clicking was masked by the roaring of the train.

Before Blondie could reply, however, the door to the train car came swinging open, and in arrived Salt Shaker, an exhausted grin on his face.

“Ah, Blondie, I told you, didn’t I? Everything worked out with our friend the conductor, for a price, of course. Poor dead Granger’s savings came in handy without delay, yes. Now, what’s with the long look? Has the tinhead kept you awake? I told you she’d be a drag, Blondie, you never listen to me.”

Salt Shaker kicked Redshift in the gut, though the lieutenant was hardly impressed.

“He’s going to leave you for dead, Cowboy,” Redshift said.

Blondie scoffed, glancing at Salt Shaker, who had, in fact, left him for dead once already.

“Ah. Trying to cut deals, is that right? You have nothing to offer, my dear, except a miserable attempt at entertainment. If you weren’t such a dreadful bore, I’d be more inclined to keep you alive.”

“I could make sure the girl doesn’t get hurt,” Redshift said, “Twilight will get that case back one way or another, so why not help while you can?”

“...I’ve seen ponies tear each other to pieces over that damned thing,” Blondie muttered, “And if what they say about Twilight Sparkle is true, she’s the last pony who should be wielding a thing like that.”

Rainbow glanced at him, concerned as to what he was implying.

Redshift sighed, before laughing to herself.

“Don’t say I didn’t give you a chance.”

Neither was quite prepared, when she snapped back against her chains, splitting the lock apart. Redshift raised up the metal shard shiv she had found to scrape at her chains, and dove straight for Rainbow, who did not have enough time to make it up to her hooves.

Redshift had her by the throat in no time, while Blondie jumped up to his hooves, and Salt Shaker reached for his pistol.

Neither of you move,” Redshift barked, before breaking down into a fit of laughter, “Wait until I tell Snowfall what her little errand earned me…You kept me alive, Cowboy, so I’ll return the favor. But we’re even now, got it? Pray we don’t meet again.”

Redshift threw Rainbow to the ground and took a step backward off the edge of the train car, jumping off down the hill along the tracks, tumbling down through stalks of wheat, lost in the middle of nowhere.

From the train car, Salt Shaker angrily turned to Blondie, while Rainbow picked herself off the ground, rubbing some faint trickles of blood that had been drawn on her neck.

“We should have put her out of her misery, while we were able.”

“She could’ve killed us. She didn’t,” Blondie countered.

“We can already count on Crozer hunting us down. Now you want the royal guard after us too?”

Salt Shaker approached Blondie, who hardly rose to the giant’s chin.

“Kind or not, mistakes come back to bite you, my friend,” Salt Shaker said, “And we have enough enemies on our trail already…”

Salt Shaker grumbled some curses to himself, as he sat back down on the floor, hoping to get some much-needed rest.

Blondie glanced over at Rainbow, and wondered again if he had made a mistake.

But her eyes told him otherwise, and he sat back into the breeze, where the smell of smoke and grating iron carried him to sleep.

Morning bells cut the farewells short, aboard the old oak dock down the Great Harbor lane.

The ponies of Gooseneck were clustered about the causeway, hoarding in droves while files of shivering ponies drew up lines of rope and struggled beneath splintery crates of cargo.

Bandolier stood a head above the majority of his new shipmates; Scurvy had been telling him the truth, after all. He was sailing with a boat full of colts.

“Don’t look so glum, mate,” chimed Scurvy himself, bouncing a cigarette in his teeth, grinning as he dragged a thick spool of rope towards the ship ramp. He could taste the salt in the air, and he had almost gotten used to the whining cries of seabirds parading in the air.

“Your ship’s more like a daycare,” Bandolier muttered. He had spent the past few nights sharing drinks with the stallion, eager for the prospect of the sea, though a sober pair of eyes made the truth plain.

“I haven’t much gold for able bodies,” Scurvy said, “That’s what I need you for, my friend.”

“I expect a better wage for better work,” Bandolier said.

“We’ll see about that. Har! You wanted a new start. Here it is, boy,” Scurvy laughed, before briefly climbing up the ramp to unburden himself.

Bandolier shook his head in disbelief, while taking in the worn wood of the ship.

“The Bronze Beauty. Seen better days, she has,” Scurvy said, returning down the ramp.

“Up you go, I’ve got work for you before we set sail.”

“I’ll be right there,” Bandolier said, reaching for his flask of Seapony Tears.

But his hoof came back with nothing, and, upon checking his belt, he came to the dreadful realization that it was missing.

“Looking for something?,” came the voice of a young colt, smirking from atop a barrel nearby. While his companions were busy at work, the colt found himself idle, finishing off the flask.

“Give that back,” Bandolier said, turning towards the colt.

“Where we’re going, it’s contraband,” the colt touted, tossing the flask off the dock. Bandolier stared at him, incredulously, “So, y’know, you’re welcome.

“Who are you supposed to be, anyway? This isn’t a retirement home, pal.”

“Your rat-nest friend got desperate,” Bandolier said, glancing around at the colts dragging crates and barrels up the ramp to the ship, “A motley crew of foals makes for poor company, I imagine.”

“Alright, first of all, Scurvy’s not my friend, I work for him. Second of all, nopony makes better company than me.”

Bandolier narrowed his eyes, unimpressed.

“I’m Sandbar,” the colt introduced, “I sorta run things around here, y’know. Scurvy’s losing it, y’see. Lucky for him, he’s got me. I’m the brains of the whole operation.”

“Ah, then we really are in trouble.”

Sandbar grinned, and jumped off the barrel.

“I hope you don’t get seasick, gramps.”

Sandbar marched right past Bandolier up the ramp.

Bandolier glanced down at his hooves, blistered against the wood, and took one last look back at the town. His face hardened, and he turned toward the ship, storming up the ramp into the blinding sun.

Sunlight dwindled against the rosy brick and tangled weeds, where Starlight Glimmer stood idly by in the dark.

She grunted under her breath, shifting her weight to relieve the pressure on her leg. Not every bruise would heal.

She was terrified, even if she refused to admit it.

She recalled her last meeting with Twilight, on that dusky field of blood, met with eyes she no longer recognized. Was it just the crown? The throne? No, there had to be more.

Why keep fighting, she wondered. The battle was a losing one, and if by some miracle she ever discovered a way to defeat Twilight, she was certain that Equestria would not survive the consequences. But she could still serve the common good, perhaps not in the simple opportunity of challenging Twilight a second time, as Discord so desperately wanted, but instead by delving deeper into the source of the mayhem. Starlight knew Twilight better than most. She never acted without reason. But that reason eluded Starlight, who meanwhile was unsure if she was the right pony for such a task. She was weak, she thought to herself. Too weak to stand up against evil. Too weak to even save her friends.

She thought of Sunset, Lightning, Wallflower, Suri, and wondered whether any of them were alive. She had to find out somehow. Without her they wouldn’t have been thrown into this mess.

And Trixie, perhaps the only real friend she had left in the world, she could only hope had wised up and fled the country. Starlight cursed herself; it was her fault for having dragged them all down with her. She had to find them. She had to protect them. They were hers, and she was theirs, as far as she saw things.

She took a great deep breath, shut her eyes, and focused everything into her thoughts, into what Twilight had said to her.

Impossible choice.

Celestia. Murdered, Lied, Bribed. Reign built on a lie.

Ember. Thorax. They’d have come after Twilight. Taken what power they could.

Why not work with Twilight, Starlight wondered. Why would Ember and Thorax willingly make Twilight into an enemy? Twilight was more powerful than all of them combined, she had proven it the hard way. So why take that risk?

She recalled the last conversation she had with Thorax and Ember, the day before the massacre.

We’ve been putting a lot of plans together.

We could use your help to make Equestria even better.

She wondered what they would have told her. Did they mean to recruit her for their coup against Twilight? Why would they think she would join them?

Starlight shook her head, stuck on the puzzle.

She sighed, and remembered why she had even agreed to venture out again, in spite of her prior failure. To find out if what Twilight said about Celestia was true, she would have to go to the source.

“Maybe I should stop doubting you.”

Starlight glanced up, right as Discord, still in his pony disguise, popped out from around the corner.
“You got in OK?” Starlight asked.

“It was an absolute waste of a disguise. The police station was practically empty. War protesters downtown, I suspect.”

“And what’d you find?”

“It’s just like you said. There’s nopony on record matching the blood sample. It’s like they don’t exist.”

Starlight nodded, satisfied enough to make a conclusion.

“That’s because they don’t,” Starlight said, “Legally, at least. I’ve met these ponies before. They call themselves the Erased.
Discord’s eyes widened, recognizing the name.
They’re the ones who tried to interrogate me, some time ago. Are they friends of yours?”

“Not quite,” Starlight said, “Odds are they already know we’re here. If we want to find out where they’re keeping Celestia and Luna, we’re gonna need to draw them out, somehow.”

“What have you got in mind?” Discord asked.

“I think it’s time you do what you do best,” Starlight grinned, “Cause some chaos.

Spinning in sundown delights, the city of Irwind writhed in its old stone walls, riddled with moss, ash, and bullet holes. Nothing further but bleak, there along the western shore, there where the great docks climbed into the sea. The sailors spoke of better days before, when the ships would sail from the west, smelling of sweet cinnamon and citrus. Nets would hang off the bows of great oak-wood freighters, dangling in the light, warm and bright like a second sun. And the birds would return to their nests on the copper rooftops of the city, ascending up the seaside ridge.

The tides would leave as quickly as they had come however, and a paradise had been lost.

Trudging through the city gate, with a leather satchel strapped around his back, there would be a new witness to the city’s decline.

He was Vertigo, a stallion-at-arms, faint-fern in color, with a dark green mane.

Across the cobblestone steps, in each passing alleyway there were ponies with ripped fur and tattered wears, lying half dead in puddles of rainwater and pitch, each laced with sores and red-ripple blisters.

The way they moved, jagged and uncoordinated, reaching out with begging hooves to no pony, reminded him more of some savage beasts, more so than a pony. What amazed him was the sheer number of them, lying with missing limbs or loose teeth, all of them groaning for food, for water, for a quicker death.

One of them had stood up to greet him, a young girl, shivering, frail, and white like a living skeleton.

She did not have to speak, before the soldier had reached into his satchel, retrieving some spare bits he would have otherwise used for a taxi.

He bent down toward the girl, who could hardly form the words to beg properly, instead just sticking her hooves out, trembling. He left the bits in her hooves, and clasped them, remorsefully.

She smiled, weakly, and scampered back to her spot against the wall of an abandoned building, while the soldier continued on.

Red flags hung over broken-down barricades, where pools of blood had begun to dry up. The spoils of yesterday’s uprising, he figured. On the road to Canterlot, he had heard about the news. Princess Cadance’s letter. Riots. Rampage. The war. He had his work cut out for him here, it looked. The city reeked of rotting flesh.

He had an easy time believing Cadance. He was present for her arrest, weeks prior, and had made a note of the conviction in her testimony. She had nothing to gain from speaking such bold claims, and she had everything to lose. He might have been more eager to defend Twilight, if she had not been the one to have sent him here to begin with. A city of the poor, a city of squalor.

She had meant to humiliate him, he reasoned, she meant to punish him for speaking his own mind. She had no idea what his own mind was worth, however, or any of the ponies she had used for her plots and schemes. His life meant little to her. And so perhaps Cadance was correct after all, and perhaps the revolutionaries would not have died in vain.

Still, he was a soldier of Equestria. He was only meant to follow commands.

So were they, he thought to himself, eyeing the corpses of the soldiers who had fallen at the barricade, still strewn about haphazardly. And nearby, by the sidewalk, along a long stretch of wool fabric, the corpses of the revolutionaries lay in an orderly line. Dignity for the dead. While his own comrades lay on the street like a butcher’s rotten discards. Such would be his fate, someday. Someday soon, more likely than not.

It took him the better half of the day to arrive at the Governor’s Palace, belonging to the Azimuth family, whose sea trade operations had once raised the city into grandeur, and whose greed had since reduced it to ruin.

Vertigo found the palace under heavy guard, and was subjected to a rigorous inspection before being allowed to enter.

Lady Azimuth had left the city a week or two ago for the Grand Galloping Gala, as had her son, Hydrangea, and so he was not certain who he was meant to greet upon his arrival.

He did not ask the guards, who seemed confident where he was meant to be, leading him through the marble halls of the palace.

Around a corridor, he was brought to a hanging garden, billowing out into the balcony, providing a view of the sea beyond.

There was a mare, standing by the column railing, playing with her chestnut curls, watching the ships disappear over the horizon.

The guards left him alone with her, which he found odd, though he made no comment on the matter. He stood at attention, presuming this mare to be somepony of importance.

“And who might you be?” she asked, without turning around.

“Vertigo, ma’am. Captain, Royal Army. I’ve been sent here by Princess Twilight to aid in putting down any unrest that may have arisen.”

The mare smirked, though Vertigo had not seen it, facing her rear.

“And why have you come here alone, Captain Vertigo?”

“My company’s made camp outside the city, We do not mean to be more of a burden.”

The mare turned around glaring at him. He was taken aback by her beauty - she had a curly mane like her brother, but chestnut instead of gold, and done up in a gilded headdress. Her coat was a soft sea green, fainter than his own, and her eyes were deep blue.

“Your presence here is enough of a burden as is, Captain,” she said, scowling, “I know your masters' intentions. Your princess craves only to destroy ponies’ lives, to reduce a peaceful land to one of fire and ash.”

Vertigo flinched. To say such a thing would be grounds for treason, for death. But he was motionless, perplexed. There was such hatred in the mare’s voice.

“You must have met my pretty brother, he’s a knight like you. I’m Delphinium, but I'm called Delphi. My mother left me in charge of the city. But only in name. I sit here, while your princess's soldiers ravage my city. Ponies are beaten, thrown into jail, murdered, all for speaking out against injustice, or for anything at all. I had tried to put an end to this, before they stowed me away here. I am not supposed to tell you any of this, or else they said they would….No matter, now, sir. I’m without a friend here. I’m meant to protect them, my ponies, I have to do something. My home has been destroyed. And now I learn they’ve sent you, as well. I am already a captive. What more do you plan to do with me? Try as you might. I will not serve the whims of a tyrant.”

“It was not my choice to come here,” Vertigo said, bluntly, “Villages are being razed, all across the south. The dragons have unleashed their fury, and while I could have taken my company to help defeat them, instead Twilight has sent me here. To suffer the broodings of a spoiled highborn brat who has no idea how the world works.”

Delphi smirked.

“It would seem we are both prisoners of circumstance, then,” the mare said, approaching him, observing the exhaustion in his eyes, “And perhaps I am naive. But I know in my heart that the path our princess has set us on, will be the ruin of all.”

Vertigo said nothing, while his eyes flickered to the ground.

“Twilight has put you in charge of the city?” she asked.

“She has.”

Delphi approached him, impressed by the shimmer of his armor in the sun, and his broad form that towered over her.

“The protests will not stop. Not while Twilight remains on her throne,” Delphi said, her voice shrinking to a whisper, “My city yearns for reform. You could help me do it. Set me free from here, allow me to meet with the resistors. No more ponies will have to suffer. No one will have to die.”

“I was sent here to destroy them, not make peace. Twilight did not wish for-”

“I am not asking Twilight,” she said.

Vertigo glared at her, warily. This girl was mad.

But there was a sadness in her eyes that compelled him to humor her. And the fire in his own blood had begun to boil again, as it had when Twilight had first sent him away.

Perhaps fate had not spurned him, after all. This girl could be his chance.

The moon lay fair over the seas, where lantern light gleamed in ghostly tides. The cliffs of Southshore stood, glimmering and vast, out beyond the tranquil bay.

Bandolier came to the edge of the starboard deck of the Bronze Beauty, where the air seemed sweeter in the breeze. From the long line of spray, where the moon touched the sea’s black horizon, the grating roar of storms stewed in the dark. Pebbles and grains of salt and sand shuddered against the wood, with each draw of the waves. And at their return, up the high strand, they began again, and ceased, and began once more. With nervous patience, they held the hull of the ship, restlessly.

“Savor it while you can.”

Scurvy had staggered over toward him, finishing off the last of his rum. He promptly threw the bottle into the ocean, despite there being some drink leftover.

“The fish need it, too,” he laughed, “Folks from across the sea, they don’t smile on vice. There, devilish tastes earn you a death sentence. Aye, be wary, friend.”

“You’ve yet to tell me what we’re carrying,” Bandolier said, dryly. He yearned for something to clear out his mind, as his hangover dragged on for the first day at sea. The rocking of the boat made his stomach churned, and he was beginning to realize how much he had taken dry land for granted.

“You never asked,” Scurvy chuckled, “Some gadfly in Nautilus is causing a stir, that’s the word. Tempers are rising, they say. We’re carrying weapons, military-grade.”

Bandolier hesitated, recalling somepony’s vague warning in the past of some creature across the pond. Lavender, she was the one. What had she said? What was the warning? The memory was a blur, as he might’ve otherwise preferred. But some gnawing ache in the back of his head made him uneasy of what he had yet to understand.



Enemy of Equestria.

“We’ll be stopping in Newport first, when we get the chance. You can indulge yourself there before we cross the sea.”

“We ought to stay there,” chimed a new voice, belonging to Sandbar, who was climbing down from the crow’s nest above, nearly toppling off the ropes into the sea.

“Only if that mother of yours has finally signed the divorce papers,” Scurvy cackled.

“Try and fail, Cap’n,” Sandbar grinned, touching down on the wood. He casually approached Bandolier, sniffing him out for treachery.

“I don’t like the looks of this one. Where’d you find him?” the colt barked.

“In a puddle of shit, with half his teeth missing,” Scurvy said.

“Sounds right,” Sandbar nodded.

Bandolier ignored the colt, glancing back at the shoreline. The sea seemed to speak to him, softly, asking him to fly deeper into its maw, into the abyss.

“He’s an inmate, I’d wager, currently at large.”

Scurvy glanced at Bandolier, unconvinced.

“No, he’s too pretty for that,” Scurvy said, “What is it then, my friend?”

Bandolier turned back to face the pair of them, who remained slightly suspicious.

“...I’ve been wasting my life,” Bandolier said, “Searching for a fight worth fighting. Someday soon, I expect to finally find it.”

Sandbar snickered.

“A cross-eyed drunk with delusions of grandeur. He’d make better shark-bait than a sailor.”

Bandolier sent him a side-eye.

“Shouldn’t you be in school?” he laughed to himself.

“Alright, enough,” Scurvy laughed, waving both of them off, “Get some rest, both of you, I’ll have the watch. A night like this is a rare kind of gift.”

Bandolier reluctantly obliged Scurvy, though lingered by the deck, staring off at the moon as it sank beneath the sea.

Blackbirds scattered between twisted, dead tree-limbs, while oily reds and golds melted into the sky. With each step, the marble pillars of Canterlot were made ever more a memory, and the roaring of the river shrunk into a whisper.

Against the rocky cliffside, the path seemed to become narrower the higher they climbed, and the mountain air was paper-thin.

Juno focused on putting one hoof in front of the other, careful not to stumble right off into the stony chasm that lay just inches away. The wind had begun to pick up, forcing her to hold onto the rocks to keep herself balanced.

She was second in the line, the chain gang shakedown of captured convicts she had been thrown alongside, following her unprompted arrest.

There were only four royal guards to keep the sixteen-odd prisoners in order, though Juno had no intention of concocting any crafty escape schemes. Yet.

Her memories of geography class with Miss Cheerilee were faltering, and in truth she had no idea where she was or how to get back on the road to Canterlot. If she did manage an escape, she figured she’d only last a day before the wilderness killed her or she could be recaptured.

Not to mention, she had found a strange sense of safety in her current predicament, one that as of yet, she had trouble seeing the purpose in surrendering. Hask, Tails, Boze, and Bender, her former traveling companions, were all at the back of the line - exactly where she preferred them to stay. She had made sure to put as much distance between them as possible, sticking herself in the front, right alongside the leader of the royal guards, a green stallion with narrow eyes and a dour scowl. The captain happened to be the lesser of two evils to be dealt with, and consequently she clung to him like a squire to a knight, tagging along at his side in silence. If Hask should try anything again with her, she was counting on the Captain intervening. Or at least, she hoped that was what a royal guard would be compelled to do, though she was no longer sure she could trust any of her preconceptions. Her prior concerns had first felt like cynicism, though now the world seemed to be indulging each of her worst-case scenarios with little apprehension. Now she was in the belly of the whale, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

She had already tried explaining to the guards that she was innocent of any wrongdoing, though her pleas fell on deaf ears. To them, she was just another thief.

The chains dug deep into her skin, and though each step made her ache, she refused to let herself fall behind or become a nuisance. If she could somehow get on the captain’s good side, she figured a daring escape may not even be necessary.

She was too terrified to even glance behind her shoulder, at risk of catching Hask’s line of sight from farther down the line. Her mother and father had warned her about ponies like him. She cursed herself, for having frozen up, for having let herself become helpless, for having trusted any of those ponies at all.

No, she told herself, as the mountain mist gave birth to the first faint drops of drizzle, I’m going to get out of this. I’m going to finish what I started.

She smiled, and her eyes widened, realizing that she may have found an unlikely opportunity after all.

She glanced up at the Captain, whose grimace seemed to have hardened as the rain trickled off his armor.

“You’re not taking us to Canterlot,” Juno figured, speaking over the rain.

The Captain glanced at her, but was otherwise unphased. He didn’t even bother to reply.

Juno did not need his confirmation, however; if they were heading to Canterlot, they would have made it by now. But it had been five days already, still with no sign of stopping.

Juno rubbed at her cuffs.

“You’re lucky, then,” Juno smirked, boldly, “Y’know, I was heading there to meet with some friends of mine. Friends you wouldn’t like to cross.”

The Captain scoffed, and was seemingly amused, and Juno seemed invigorated then, all while feigning resentment for his dismissiveness.

“You won’t be laughing when they find me. You’re gonna be in serious trouble.”

“Is that right,” the Captain muttered under his breath, struggling not to smile.

That’s right. Y’know what happened to the last ponies who got in Sunset Shimmer’s way?”

Juno nearly tripped over her words, though maintained a cocky grin.

The Captain glared down at her, and his half-smile quickly faded. He assumed she was lying, but how could a foal come by that name to begin with?

Sunset Shimmer?” he repeated,You want me to believe you’re friends with Sunset Shimmer?

“I don’t care what you believe.

“Nopony’s seen Sunset Shimmer in months. Odds are she’s dead.”

Juno flinched. Sunset couldn’t be dead. Juno had to be the one to kill her, nopony else could take that from her.

“Those friends of hers are still causing a ruckus though, are they coming to your rescue too?” the Captain laughed.

Juno’s ears perked up.

“Which ones?”

“The Washout girl and all those Hellhatch runaways. Every week we get the report, they’re out up to no good.”

Juno allowed herself to smile only for a moment. Washout. Hellhatch. Whoever these ponies are, they could get her closer to Sunset. She was one step closer, and all it took was a little white lie.

“Hm. I guess we’ll see. You better keep an eye out just in case.”

“Right, kid. Will do,” the Captain mused.

Juno finally allowed herself to glance around her shoulder, and could just barely make out Hask’s head from around the corner and down the slope. Sooner than later she would have to find a way out of this, before he could kill her, or try something worse.

Starlight tightened the strap of her coat and fixed her hood, watching the crowd of ponies mill in circles around the central plaza fountain. The sun was nearly set, and ponies were eager to return home.

She had stuck herself in one of the alleyways facing the plaza, searching for anypony who might appear suspicious.

Where is he? Starlight wondered, glancing at the clocktower nearby, What’s taking him so long?

She kept her eyes fixed on the passing crowds of ponies. She might remember a face or two, from her brief time spent with Alias and the Erased. Ponies sat by vine-wrapped streetlamps, sipping short glasses of wine at cafe patios, having to speak up to be heard over the roar of the plaza fountain, which sat in the center. Foals ran and played by the water, fishing for coins. The police had gotten control of the riots downtown, and the city appeared to have made a quick recovery, at least for now. They clung to their routines, and their pleasantries, and their luxuries, willfully ignoring the dog at their doorstep, the unspoken burden to come, the war. Those foals may soon be recruits in an army, and their mothers would be sewing the buttons to their uniforms. Starlight almost pitied the scene, a sad imitation of ordinary life, a last effort for order.

Starlight became alert, when she felt the earth shake below her hooves.

She smiled, and glanced back up at the crowd of ponies, stepping on the tips of her hooves to take a better look. She was searching for anypony acting suspicious, for anything at all.

A flash of white light blinded her for a moment, along with everypony else trotting around the plaza round-about. The crowd came to an abrupt stop, disoriented.

“Bomb!” yelled one pony, who was echoed by some others.

The war was fresh on ponies’ minds, Starlight supposed, though they had nothing to worry about, yet. Still, panic had already set in, with ponies rushing to climb over each other to escape the area.

In the middle of the crowd, Discord suddenly appeared in his pony disguise, grinning with a stray fang stuck out over his lip. Seamlessly, he had teleported another pony right into the middle of the crowd near him.

Starlight’s jaw dropped, realizing the other pony was tied up in duct tape, with a wiry, brick-shaped explosive strapped to his chest.

“Everypony run!” Discord bellowed, “It’s gonna blow!”
Another pony appeared nearby, another incarnation of Discord, a unicorn pony with a patchy beard and dagger teeth. He wore a red armband and a bullet-proof vest.

Long Live Equestria! To Hell with Twilight Sparkle!” he roared, as his horn began to ignite.

The crowd had been flung into a frenzy now, while more pony variants of Discord began to spring up throughout the crowd. Some were dressed like revolutionaries, some like civilians, and some like policeponies. The policepony variants moved into battle with the revolutionaries, and the civilians did their best to scream, and cry, and obstruct others from escaping too easily. In a matter of moments, at least thirty Discords were brawling in the street, tearing out each other’s manes, beating each other into the concrete.

Run!” yelled ponies in the crowd, “Run!”
The foals by the fountain, with tears in their eyes, screamed as they darted off from the plaza. Ponies abandoned their dinners at their patio tables, shoving through the crowd to make their escape.

Starlight shook her head in disbelief, but went along with the plan, continuing to comb the crowd as ponies sprinted to escape the madness.

Then something caught her eye - a pony, standing across the street by a cafe awning, wearing a black coat, suit and tie. He was frantically reaching for something in his ear, while nervously backing up away from the fountain.

The crowd, meanwhile, frantically ran in every direction to desert the area, though wherever they meant to run, there were policepony Discords to block their path.

Let me through!” yelled one, desperately.

Help!” came another.

Starlight gritted her teeth and moved in, cautiously approaching the pony while he began to mutter things out loud, while holding something stuck in his ear.

He nodded, suddenly, and his horn ignited, aimed straight for the first Discord to have appeared, who was still standing by the fountain, watching on as his replicants battled each other to the death, like a proud father.

Starlight’s eyes widened, and she ignited her own horn, desperately shoving through the crowd to find a clear shot.

Discord!” Starlight yelled.

Discord came alert, just in time to dodge the beam of magic sent by the pony in the black coat.

Starlight sprang out from the crowd, her horn ablaze, firing straight into the pony’s side.

The blackcoat cried out in pain and fell to the ground, reeling in agony.

Discord’s replicants began to disappear, allowing the crowd to flee the scene.

The crowds had continued to drain out of the plaza, while Starlight stood over the pony, her horn still sparkling.

Nice try,” Starlight said, pressing her hoof down on the pony’s chest. He grunted, pawing at the burn mark left on his coat.

“You know who I am?” Starlight demanded.

The pony’s eyes widened, as if he had seen a ghost. He nodded, slowly, wincing in pain.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Starlight said, dimming her horn, “...Celestia and Luna. Do you know where they are?”

The pony grimaced. His eyes darted over to Discord by the fountain, and back to Starlight, who still had her hoof stuck firmly over top of his chest.

She heard his mouth crack, and a yellowish capsule suddenly burst apart inside his mouth, spilling down his throat.

Wait! Stop!” she exclaimed.

The pony began to convulse and foam at the mouth, while Starlight could only watch, helplessly.

Discord arrived behind her, his smile fading away at the grizzly sight.

Starlight sighed, waiting for the pony to stop trembling, before kneeling down beside him.

“I wish you hadn’t done that,” she said.

Starlight hesitated, unsure what to do, before fumbling through his coat and his belt, and reaching for his ID badge. However, she pulled her hoof back, leaving the corpse with his belongings.

“What’s the matter?” Discord asked.

“We don’t know where they’re operating from. His friends are gonna have to show up to clean this up. We can follow them, and hopefully get one step closer to finding Luna and Celestia.”

“I get that, but why not take his things? Those could come in handy getting inside.”

“These ponies aren’t stupid. They’ll notice, and they’ll make sure to try and throw us off the trail.”

Discord scoffed, though seemed impressed.

“Just what do these ponies want with the princesses anyway?”

“Information, probably. The same thing you and I are after.”

Discord reverted to his proper form, stretching in discomfort. His clones began to vanish, with the exception of two, who were busy scrounging for ponies’ leftover grapes on one of the cafe tables.

Discord noticed Starlight’s disapproving glare.

“Relax. I’ve done that stunt tons of times.

“Discord, that was not OK.”
“It worked, didn’t it?

Starlight shook her head, exhausted.

“They definitely know we’re here now. They won’t risk us following them back as long as we’re at large.”

Discord glanced back at the two remaining clones, and grinned.

“I might have a solution for that.”

Snowflakes glowed gold in the gaze of lantern light. The stars slipped in and out of view, through the feather-dust clouds that scored the sky in speedy strides. Their urgency was mimicked by the ponies below, rushing into the castle courtyard, each carrying crates of food, or weapons, or supplies. Their sweat froze to ice right off their chins, as they hurried to the loading dock. Half of the brigade’s carriages had already left for the mountain pass.

Shining Armor had agreed to Broadwing’s plan, after a lengthy logistics debate. The young prince meant to take Seaguard, a fortress city on the western shore, the northernmost naval stronghold of the Equestrians. But Broadwing was confident that the city, which had once been property of the Empire, would open their gates without much of a fight. Still, Shining was reluctant to the task, particularly with Broadwing leading the siege on his own.

The two princes had decided they would do better split up than in tandem, and so Shining Armor was to remain in the Crystal Empire, gathering military support from the Yaks, Moose, Dains, Reindeer, Novadori, and Selvites. If the North was to have any hope against the might of Equestria, they would need all the strength they could muster.

Broadwing had waited to leave until after the first day of the brigade’s deployment, having meant to keep an eye on the progress of the supply chain. They would be traveling light, though in the event of a prolonged siege, he could not afford to be left under-supplied.

The green pastures that lay across from the Crystal Mountains were mere miles away. Though for all his life, that strange new world was only ever real in his dreams. The snowy wastes of the North were all he had ever known. And now he had charged himself to lead the first strike, to land the first blow. For Cadance, he reminded himself. For the North.

His mother, Primrose, would be remaining with Shining, and had begun to come to terms with the possibility that her son may not return, that he might be intercepted, or caught in a trap. That he might be killed.

Broadwing stood along the battlement wall, staring off at the mountains, watching the caravan of carriages stretch off into the dark, trembling torches shrinking into distant blinks.

“I thought I’d missed you.”

Broadwing was caught by surprise, turning to find his little brother stepping out from the adjacent doorway.

Broadwing smiled, and turned back to the mountains, as Orion marched up beside his brother. Orion was a few inches shorter, though the two were of similar size and strength, regardless. They looked the most alike of any in the family, despite Orion’s own ambiguous parentage, and the horn stuck on his forehead.

“There’s a strange sight,” Orion smirked, “Broadwing’s finally got nothing to say.”

Broadwing scratched at his eyes, exhausted, but laughed under his breath, amused.

“...I keep thinking about all of father’s stories, about battling windigos and giants and spiders made of ice…I wanted to be there with him, for all of it. I’ve no idea what to demand of myself, not since he was gone. So I think about what he would’ve done, and I do that. But now I’m to look at each of these ponies’ faces, and learn their names, and know that I might be sending them to die. I wish there was another way, but there’s not. Nothing makes sense to me, nothing but war. Mother won’t listen to me, but I know it. This is what father would have done. So I have to do this.”

“I know you do,” Orion said, grabbing Broadwing by the shoulder, “If it was my choice, I’d be there beside you.”

Broadwing eyed him.

“On that matter, mother won’t even entertain me.”

“You haven’t heard the latest,” Orion smiled, “She’s arranged for me to serve in the rangers. I’ll be leaving the city not long after you.”

“The rangers?” Broadwing repeated, laughing in disbelief, “You’ll be of more use as one of our dishwashers, than trudging up the mountains with the rangers. Half of them are convicts.”

“She said it would suit me, and my station,” Orion said, flatly, “I don’t have much of a say in it. Don’t worry for my sake, brother. I’m not the one marching off to war.”

“...Next time we meet, I’ll have some stories of my own for you.”

“I’ll be waiting to hear them,” Orion smiled.

Broadwing nodded.

“Goodbye, little brother.”

And the two of them embraced each other, and remained as such for a minute or two. The snows seemed to slow then, and the rush of ponies and carriages below came to a halt. From the mountain peaks, the marching of hooves began to echo through the young prince’s hooves, and his blood began to run faster, craving the urge, craving the battle.

His war had begun.

Weak, weary, and wanting for something to eat, Juno was the last of the prisoners to collapse, after the soldiers had decided to stop and rest for the night.

The silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each barebone tree limb’s leaves kept her from falling asleep, despite her exhaustion.

The soldiers’ leader, who Juno had learned was called Coda, had picked a grassy clearing to make their camp, a small forest buried past the shady mountain lanes.

She had picked herself up before she could get much rest, deciding to make use of what precious time she still had. She could feel Hask staring at her from the other side of the field, his eyes alight like a pair of fireflies.

She scampered over to find Coda, who was occupied fixing stakes to the ground for his tent.

“Have you got any work I can do?” she chimed.

Coda glared at her, though seemed amused.

“Haven’t you pestered me enough today? Go sit with the others.”

“No way,” Juno said, blankly, “How about I go fetch some wood for a fire, or-”

No,” Coda snapped.

“I won’t run off. I don’t even know where I am! I’d get lost. C’mon, let me do it. C’mon!

“If you want to make yourself useful, you can start by keeping your mouth shut. OK?”

Juno growled, gritting her teeth together.


She remained right at his side, however, not having gotten the hint he wanted to be rid of her, completely. He sighed and thought it best not to continue arguing with the foal. He would not be made a fool of, especially in front of the prisoners. He could hear their breath, trembling, waiting for a chance to strike.

“So you seriously don’t believe a word that I’ve said?” Juno stammered, “Do I look like a thief?”

“A street urchin on the run, is my guess. Not my job to sort through the muck. It’s my job to catch ponies.”

“Well, you’re not very good at your job. Is that why you’re out of here, instead of guarding the princess or something? It is, isn’t it! Look at your face!” Juno hollered.

“I won’t tell you again. Get a move on and join your friends, and leave me be, or you’ll regret it.”

“They’re not my friends,” Juno snapped, “I’m not going anywhere near them. They’re gonna-” Juno stopped herself, realizing she wouldn’t be believed anyway.

Coda glared at her, and watched her confidence collapse in an instant. He glanced back to Hask and the others, and back to Juno.

“...Alright. Go get some firewood, then.”

Juno lifted her gaze off the ground, eagerly.


“Be quick about it,” Coda said, “You can sleep over here tonight. Alright?”

Juno smiled, and something in his voice reminded her of her father, as though she wished to earn his respect somehow.

“Thank you,” she said, before scampering away toward the woods.

Juno plucked another twig to add to her stack, a respectable collection of dry wood, perfect for tinder. The sun was nearly set, and she was due to return back to the camp. Coda might have suspected she had run off, otherwise.

“Lost little girl, all on her own…”

Juno froze, spinning around.

There was Hask, his shackles snapped at the chain-links, bruises and scratches adorning his blood-red coat.

“It’s a pity you and I were interrupted. I’d been waiting for a chance to pick up again. Would you like that?”

“Don’t touch me,” Juno warned, taking a step backwards, “Don’t take another step.

Hask laughed.

“It’s OK to give up, y’know. My boys are taking care of the guards, right now, as we speak. It’ll all be over soon. There’s still a place for you, with us. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

No,” Juno said, shaking in her boots, “I-I’m warning you, I’m not messing around anymore.”

“Heh. I never was.”

Hask began walking toward her, prompting Juno to drop her pile of twigs, backing up in her tracks.

“You must think you’re pretty smart, huh?” Hask growled, “I had a funny feeling, when we found you. Like it was too good to be true. They sent you out to distract us, is that right? You’re working for them, aren’t you. Pity it worked, they picked a good piece of bait, heh. I couldn’t refuse. How could I? Now there’s no more tricks. It’s you and I, now.”

Get away from me!” Juno managed, searching for something to defend herself with, “I’m gonna stomp your face in, I mean it!”

“I won’t be as nice this time. Or maybe you wanted everything to shake out this way, is that right? You want it to be like this. Heh. I knew it. You little whore. Make it easy or make it hard, I couldn’t care less anymore.”

Juno ran into the tree, right as Hask reached her.

She was too terrified to scream, too terrified to move.

He moved his hoof toward her cheek, grinning madly as he did.

But he never reached her, before the bolt of toxic green magic seared the flesh off his foreleg, burning a hole down to the bone.

Hask screamed in agony, toppling down to the ground on his back. He clung his leg, which was smoking at the crusts of pus and boiling blood.

Coda jumped down out of the brush, followed by the three other guards.

Coda found Juno trembling against the tree, and coldly glanced back down at Hask.

“Get her out of here,” Coda ordered.

The guards began trotting over to Juno, who was still out of breath.

From the ground, Hask spit at Coda’s hooves. The guards stopped their approach, each of them reaching for their weapons.

Coda glanced down at his hooves, and back up to Hask, who was weakly swaying back and forth, delirious from the pain.

Coda swung his hoof into Hask’s face, knocking the blood-red stallion off his knees.

Hask grunted some curses and tried to pick himself up, though never got the chance, before Coda came swinging down on him again, and again, and again, each time Hask trying to withstand the blow. On the sixth strike, he fell back on the grass, blinded by the blood in his eyes. Coda continued, however, stomping down on the stallion’s skull, while Juno watched on, horrified, from right beside him.

Hask was soon left a bludgeoned mess of pulp and blood, twitching between the cracks in his head, leaking blood and bits of brain like a cracked egg.

Coda sighed and wiped his hooves off with the fabric of his cloak.

Juno stayed as she was, her eyes fixated on the gorey remains of Hask. Part of her might have wanted to celebrate, considering what that pony had meant to do with her. But she recalled her father, and the sound he had made before the blast took him, and the blood and the fire and the screaming. She turned away at last, unwilling to look on any longer.

The stars bled into black, above where the moon drank from the edge of the sea, spilling its white milklight into the current.

Starlight Glimmer had made her camp on the edge of a rooftop. Discord was late. Again.

“I’m more useful than just as an errand-boy, you know.”

Starlight jumped, when Discord slithered up past the edge of the roof, finishing off the very last of his grapes.

“Get over here,” Starlight whispered, yanking Discord over the edge of the roof.

“You found them, I take it?” Discord asked.

“Right across the street. The pony who tried to kill you - I saw some of his friends pick up the body, they dragged him with them. I followed them here, to that butcher’s shop over there. It’s a front. What about you?”

“I waited around the mayor’s office until those Erased ponies paid me a visit. They’re currently chasing a decoy uptown. How long before they figure it out?”

“No idea. We’re gonna have to be fast, got it?” Starlight said, “We sneak in, find anything we can on Celestia and Luna, and we’re done. In and out.

“You should give me more of a challenge,” Discord smiled.

“These ponies are dangerous. If they could restrain you once, odds are they can do it again,” Starlight reminded.

“Worry about yourself, Starlight Glimmer. You’re moving slower than you used to.”
“...Can you get us inside?” Starlight asked.
Discord smiled.
“Ah, Starlight, is there anything I can’t do?”
“Shutting your trap, for one.”
Discord growled, before snapping his talons.
In a flash of light, the world shifted into fluorescent fog, a grey elevator descending down.
However, to Starlight’s horror, Discord had teleported them into an elevator, one that happened to be occupied with three Erased ponies, exhausted after a day’s work.
What the-!” exclaimed one.
Starlight’s horn ignited, blinding two while she kicked back at the other.

She swung her horn across the room, throwing the remaining two agents against the wall before they could recover.
The three bodies slumped to the ground.
“Uh…Whoopsies,” he said, “I’ve never been here before. I had to guess.”
Warn me the next time you decide to be an idiot.”
The elevator came to a halt, and the doors slid open.

“Let’s take a look around,” Starlight whispered, “Let me know if you find anything.”

Beyond the elevator, they found themselves in a warehouse of old machinery and storage units, bathed in red light and steam.

Discord flew ahead of Starlight, who was checking for exits and sizing up the space of the warehouse.

Discord sniffed out a collection of strange scents - oil, formaldehyde, and what could only be blood.

Above on a catwalk, along a row of zoo-exhibit glass boxes, he found a barred terrarium fixture, dimly lit in the smoking red light.

Inside, he saw a nest of golf-ball sized glowing green eyes. Parasprites, but larger than he had ever seen.

Below in the center floor, Starlight perused the assortment of boxes, containment cells, and strange devices. There was machinery that appeared antiquated in design, though she had never seen anything quite like it. Clunky steel assemblies, some made with pointed tips and hammer-mechanisms. All she was certain of was that they appeared dangerous. Better not to touch.

She might have wanted to find more of the Erased ponies, and interrogate them for answers, that was until she came across the main attraction of the warehouse, there in the very center of the room.

Starlight inspected the object from afar - a pod large enough for a pony to lie down in.

Starlight glanced back at the elevator door, and wondered how much time they would still have before the other agents realized they were here.

Starlight approached the pod, a thick metal cocoon fastened to heavy tubes and wires sticking out into control panels.

Starlight noticed one of the modules, which displayed something that resembled a heart monitor. She glanced back at the pod.

“Discord,” she muttered, though he had not heard her, busy instigating the parasprites’ wrath from outside their enclosure, tapping on the glass with his talon.

Starlight glided her hoof against the metal. It was beginning to rust, and was grimy at the surface.

Her horn ignited, and she lifted the door off of the pod. Steam billowed out from the inside in thick clouds.

From the catwalk, the shriek of steam escaping the pressure took Discord by surprise. He lifted his head to gaze down below, watching as Starlight held the torn-off door mid-air in an aura of magic.

Starlight set the door down on the ground nearby, and took a step back from the pod.

The steam began to clear, as Starlight narrowed her eyes, trying to make out what was inside.

There was a pony, she realized, lying in the pod. The pony’s eyes had begun to open, in spite of the heavy cloud of exhaustion that implored her to remain as she was, helplessly immobilized.

There was a plastic mask stuck over the pony’s mouth, fixed to a tube of filtered oxygen. The pony had been held in place by a series of leather straps that dug into her coat. Wires and tubes were stuck with needles into the pony’s flesh, near her neck, forelegs, and hind thighs.

The pony’s breath had begun to change, from a shuddering, panicked gasp, to a steadier, crueler draw.

Starlight had recognized the pony, despite the bruises and sweat, despite the wires and studs, despite the madness in those eyes.


Princess Luna snapped her legs against the leather, tearing off her restraints, before removing the wires stuck into her veins.

She staggered out of the pod, glaring at Starlight and Discord, who were paralyzed just a few yards away. Luna grabbed onto the edge of the pod for support, before stepping out into the open.

Starlight opened her mouth to speak, though found the words stuck on her tongue.

Luna narrowed her eyes, first at Starlight, and then at Discord, who was staring down in disbelief, above on the catwalk.

The anger on the alicorn’s face was vivid, a twisted scowl of disgust, remorse, fury.

Luna’s horn began to ignite, a flame of cerulean.


Discord was too stunned to move, however, waiting until Starlight had to teleport the both of them to the far side of the warehouse, both narrowly evading the torrent of magical devastation that had been unleashed.

Half the warehouse succumbed to the incineration, with experiments breaking free of their cages, and materials spilling out all over the floor. The parasprites were the first to fly free, buzzing wildly out into the warehouse. Other creatures - most of which were strange amalgamations of other animals - fled from the fires, roaring and barking and searching for an escape.

Luna’s breath was shaky, as she struggled to sprout her wings. She stumbled farther along away from the pod, grunting when the last wire snapped out of the stud in her neck.

She fired another blast toward the ceiling, this time burning a hole straight toward the surface. She could make out the stars above, mocking her in their stride.

Starlight scurried back to her hooves, watching Luna begin to take flight. Discord was right beside her, still petrified.

She ascended up in a rage, muttering the same thing under her breath, again and again.

Twilight Sparkle.

Author's Note:

Thanks for reading!! Next chapter will be back to the main gang! Luna is going to be causing some problems.

I really like the Discord/Starlight dynamic in the show and am trying to capture that energy, hope it works out. Every episode of the show where they're together is a ***banger***.

I know I am very bad at sticking to schedules for these chapters, but right now I'm shooting for May 18th. The original plan was for ten chapters like last time, though now it's looking like twelve. All of the writing I do in college is very formulaic and doesn't allow for a lot of creativity, so this is sort of like a refuge for me, I try to prioritize it to keep the habit and practice becoming a better writer. Also I've got another Fimfiction story I'm planning to put out in weekly segments, starting in May or June, so be on the lookout!

Hope you liked this one, & thank you again for reading, feedback is always welcomed! <3