• Published 27th Oct 2012
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Happily Ever After - GentlemanJ



One day, even the hardest of soldiers hangs up his gun to find a chance at happiness.

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Chapter 6

Chapter 6

He never felt the blade, because it never struck.

Spinning with the thrust, Graves caught the guardsman attacker’s wrist and wrenched, eliciting a cry of pain as the dagger clattered to the stone pavement. A hard kick to the knee followed by a vicious jab to the throat, and the assailant crumpled into a boneless heap.

The two guardsmen hesitated only for a second before raising up their glittering spears. However, before they could so much as frown in the marshal's direction, a thundering roar sounded and both clattered to the ground, matching blackened burn marks smoldering in the middle of their backs.

“Glad you got the signal,” Graves called out as he cracked his neck, “but I could’ve handled it.”

“Just trying to help,” Shining Armor replied as he trotted back, the arcane energy around his gleaming silver sword crackling and fading away to nothing. “I mean, they did just try to kill you.”

“So it would seem,” the marshal deadpanned in tones of supreme boredom before kicking the first attacker over. “Any idea why some of your guardsmen would have it out for me?”

“No,” the young captain said with a shake of his head, “but I have an idea.”

Speaking a few quick incantations, Shining Armor flourished his sword and pointed the gleaming blade at the unconscious soldier. A quick flash of indigo light shot forth, and when it struck, the guardsman began to melt.

Polished golden armor charred and gave way to chitinous black skin. The helmet’s plumes sprouted into a head of spiky, antennae-like hair of a sickly green hue. The face, which softened like putty, quickly hardened into a distorted visage, somewhat human, but with eyes much too large and a mouth too full of fang-sharp teeth.

“I knew it,” Shining Armor grimaced as he sheathed his sword. “Changelings.”

“Huh. Who'd have thought?” Graves intoned as he knelt down next to the unconscious xenomorph for a closer look.

“I don’t get it,” the guard captain muttered. “We’ve got magical sweeps constantly scanning for Changelings these days. How’d they get in?”

“I assume it’s this,” the marshal replied, tossing the navy-haired soldier a roughly hewn pendant he’d pulled from the assailant’s neck. “Null stone. No idea where they'd get their hands on something so rare, but it’d bounce sensory magic off and let a few of them slip through without any trouble.”

“Assassins then?” Shining Armor growled. Graves picked up the fallen dagger and gave it a wary sniff. He nodded.

“Definitely. This blade’s been coated with aconite.”

“Then that means the Princess is in danger. We have to go. Now.”

Pulling Graves to his feet, Shining Armors spared only a moment to bind the three unconscious forms with ethereal cords before he dashed towards the palace center with the marshal hot on his heels.

*****

“So you’re not the Changeling target?” Graves asked as the two rushed forwards.

“Doubtfully,” Shining Armor replied without once breaking stride. “Taking me out would be a bonus, but their goal’s definitely still getting Princess Celestia’s power.”

“So they kill you off to make sure you can’t help her. But to what end? Is Chrysalis planning another invasion?”

“Not that we can tell. We’ve been constantly monitoring the Changelings ever since their last attempted coup: no mobilization, no preparation for war.”

“Which makes this a small-scale operation,” Graves nodded as he continued. “An oddly clumsy one too. They prepared pretty fancy gear, but bad intel just cost them three soldiers. Why?”

“... The gala,” Shining Armor remarked with illuminated, azure eyes. “By now, I should have been at the west gate on patrol, but the mess my sister and her friends forced a change of plans. They must have tried to get me to head there and finish the ambush, but tipped their hand because they didn’t know about you.”

“Then what about the Princess?” Graves asked, urgency apparent in his voice and in his iron grey gaze. “She should have been giving a speech in the ballroom, but that’s not happening. Where would she be then?”

“Heading back to the north tower,” Shining Armor nodded grimly. “In unexpected circumstances, she’s evacuated there. Let’s just hope we get there before the Changelings do.”

Cutting through gardens, leaping walls, and generally ignoring set paths in favor of speed and stealth, the two soldiers raced across the palace grounds towards their target, avoiding contact with all others. The chances were low, but each encounter risked a run in with more Changelings and losing the element of surprise. At this point, it was all they had.

*****

Approaching the north wing of the palace from the outside, Shining Armor motioned for silence: he saw movement. Slipping quietly behind one of the trimmed hedges, Graves carefully eased aside a few branches and peered through the ensuing gap.

A collection of some ten guardsmen stood in front of the entrance to the tower with three or four others lying unconscious around them. Two of their numbers kept oddly luminescent green eyes on lookout while the remainder clustered together around the door, a sickly orange glow illuminating hard-set faces.

“What are they doing?” Shining Armor whispered.

“Dissolving the defensive wards. They’re being quiet about it, but it probably won’t take much longer to get through.”

“So Celestia’s still safe at least,” the guard captain sighed in relief. The fact that they still struggled with such a complex defense must mean that their objective was not yet complete.

“How do you want to do this?” Graves asked as he turned to his comrade. Shining Armor furrowed his brow in thought.

“If they’ve all got null stones, magic’ll do a tenth of the normal damage, maybe less. Could work if you had your spell gun, but-”

“-Ironside said no party favors tonight,” the marshal muttered dryly.

“In that case, we’ll have to make this up close and personal,” the guard captain muttered. “How’re your legs?”

“Not bad. You thinking of going for a Flying V?”

“I can get maybe five or six, if you can finish of the rest.”

In the dark of night, with half a platoon of well-equipped assassins against their own team of two soldier with only a single sword between them, Graves couldn't help but smile.

“Let’s do it.”

*****

The two Changeling lookouts swiveled their heads back and forth, keeping their eyes peeled for any signs of activity, anything that could disrupt their plans. But they were so intent on seeking out the hidden and the unseen that they almost missed the man approaching right in front of them.

Wearing a crimson coat with a blue sash, the man walked straight down the broad avenue towards them, casually, almost leisurely. Reaching to his side, he drew a brilliant, silver sabre, the air rippling as if from a heat haze that emanated from the blade’s cold, polished surface. Holding it out to his side, arm extended to the fullest, the man brought the sabre around in a broad, almost gentle silver arc in front of him…

... and the world shifted.

In one moment, there was nothing. In the very next, a whirling torrent of violent energy, a wall of pure, unrelenting force, blasted forth from the blade. Howling like a gale, the air-distorting wave of mystic might cascaded towards the Changelings with the unstoppable fury of a tsusami summoned by the wrath of an angry sea god.

“Shield! Shield!” the lookouts cried and five of their number rushed to join them. Golden armor melted away as the Changelings let drop their disguises and as one, with precisely trained coordination, they unleashed magics of their own.

A brilliant wall of verdant flame sprang from the stones, fueled by the abyssal energies that flowed through their veins, a gift from their beloved queen. The flames burned and flared, seeming to burn at reality itself with its unholy emerald light. The wall of force struck, crackling and hissing as the two powers collided. For a moment, the flames held the concussive wave at bay. But only for a moment.

Bending under the unstoppable weight of the blast, the green fires finally shattered as the guard captain’s arcane assault blasted through. The null stone pendants absorbed much of the magical energies, but even such powerful relics could only do so much. The wall of force slammed into the Changelings, knocking five of their number aside like ragdolls to lie in crumpled heaps on the stone pavement.

Crying out in alarm, one of the Changelings turned to rejoin his brethren as they worked down the tower’s shielding.

It was then that the lightning struck.

Unbeknownst to the invaders, the magical assault had only been the first attack. Running in its wake, dashing forward swift as an arrow and silent as a shadow, came Graves.

As soon as the xenomorph turned his back, the marshal grasped the back of its neck and channeled, sending pure electric current through his limb and into the creature’s body. He winced as violent pain lanced through his hand, the sensation akin to acid replacing the blood in his veins. Casting spells using your own body as a medium was dangerous at the best of times, and a rapid assault on a team of assassins was far from the best of times. But it was effective, and the Changeling fell into a twitching, spasming heap.

The second remaining assailant exhaled a great plume of viridian flame, but Graves was already gone. Ducking under the fiery blast, the marshal’s fist surged forth and struck the creature’s diaphragm. Chitinous shell cracked and the flames winked out with a choking gasp. A final, surgical blow to the chin knocked it out cold.

“Take cover!” a voice yelled, and the marshal dropped to the ground just as a pair of spears whizzed through the space where his chest had been. Two of the remaining Changelings rushed forwards, arms morphing into vicious hooked blades as the final assassin worked to finish removing the spell. From the way the orange light flared, it wouldn’t be long.

Rising to his feet, Graves narrowly dodged a violent downward slash, the breeze of the passing blade caressing his cheek as it passed by no more than a hair's breadth away. Spinning with the following thrust, the grey-eyed soldier brought an elbow crashing across the creature’s jaw, ducked a horizontal cut that would have separated head from shoulders, and used the momentum to drop down and sweep out the last Changeling’s legs. Before it hit the ground, Graves reached out and channeled once more and brilliant arcs of lightning seared the insectile creature into unconsciousness.

A flash of crimson flew by as Shining Armor rushed passed, sword raised and flashing with golden light as he prepared to strike down the final invader. But just as he was about to bring it down, the tower doors creaked open.

“No!” he cried, unleashing the stored energies in gleaming crescent slash of light. But before it struck, the Changeling ducked into the tower and sealed it shut. The magic wards reset and the arcane beam, strong enough to cleave boulders in two, dissipated harmlessly against the nigh-impregnable defenses.

“Blast! He’s sealed it!” Shining Armor shouted as he pounded on the impervious wooden entryway. “And he’s changed the access spell: I can’t get in!”

“There’s gotta be some way,” Graves replied, his gunmetal grey eyes darting around in search for an entryway. “... There! Upper balcony! I see an open window!”

“That’s got to be a good ten stories up at least,” the guard captain frowned. “How are you going to make it?”

“I might need a lift.”

Shining Armor’s eyes widened in alarm. He knew what the marshal wanted to do. And it was crazy. Beyond crazy. Insanely stupid and borderline suicidal. But time was running out, and they were desperate.

“Ready when you are,” the captain finally replied as he took a two-handed grasp on the hilt of his sword.

With a quick nod, Graves ran. He sprinted as hard as he could towards the tower, leaping as he approached and planted a foot against the stone wall. Leaping again, he soared even higher, the thrust pushing him away from the tower’s marble surface and placing him right above the guard captain’s head.

Shining Armor swung, and another blast of mystic force burst forth, a stone wall of raging wind plowing into the marshal and propelling him straight up. Riding the wave, Graves flew like a loosed arrow, so fast in fact that he overshot the balcony by a good twenty feet.

Graves reached out and channeled once more, the translucent silver spear and spell chain bursting from his palm and sinking into the stone railing with a solid thunk. A spray of blood misted the air as the magical feedback split the skin on his hand like an overfull wine skin, and the wrenching yank on his arm very nearly tore it from its socket. But it worked. Graves managed to pull himself off the concussive wave and tumbled onto balcony with a painful crash, the force of the impact cracking his ribs and driving all air from his lungs.

“Graves?!” Celestia called out, the book she’d been reading quickly forgotten as she stood and lowered the barrier over the window. “What on earth are you-”

“Changelings,” he gasped, standing as he forced air into his chest so he could choke out the words. “Assassins. Coming... for-”

The door to the room swung open and the final insectile assailant dashed in, arm morphed into an organic crossbow. From a quiver on his belt he pulled forth an ominous, black bolt carved with malevolent, glowing green runes. He placed it on the weapon, raised it with practiced precision and drawing a bead on the stunned princess...

Time slowed.

Ignoring the screaming protests of pain and agony that wracked his battered body, Graves willed his legs to move and leaping forward, threw himself between Celestia and her assailant. The bolt left the bow, streaking forward like an onyx wasp, whistling through the air towards its target. But it would never reach.

Graves gasped as he felt the bolt pierce his chest. Instantly, as if it were some fiendish parasite, the cursed quarrel began sapping away at his strength. He could feel his mind clouding, his conscious slipping away as the unholy arrow drained him of his life as surely as a leech draws blood. He knew he wouldn’t last long, moments at most. But he’d last long enough, because he had one last job to do.

Raising his hand, so slowly as if he were forcing his limb through thick, oily tar, the marshal poured every last drop of his rapidly dwindling energy into his hands. Ignoring the exhaustion weighing down every limb, the grating of broken bones, and the flashing pain as his hand split open with bleeding, crimson spiderwebs, he channeled.

It wasn’t much, just a single bolt of lightning to return the favor. But the shining lance of electric wrath shot forth and drove itself straight into the disbelieving, green-eyed assassin.

The xenomorph crumpled to the ground. It didn’t move again.

“Not... bad...” Graves coughed, flecks of blood speckling his lip as he fell to the floor. It would be the last thing he did before his mind drifted into oblivion.

**********