• Published 22nd Dec 2012
  • 12,645 Views, 250 Comments

Schemering Sintel - N00813

Many years ago, Spike was kidnapped. Now, Twilight has finally found him and his abductor.

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4 . Bloodshed

Chapter 4: Bloodshed
By N00813
Twilight trudged into Constable Light’s office. The pony himself wasn’t difficult to find – in fact, he’d found her, trudging through the middle of a growing crowd with her cloak covered in blood and the eczema-riddled dog pelts draped over her back. She had simply ignored the throng of bodies, ignored the dampness growing on her back and ignored the way the cloth seemed to become heavier and stickier as she placed one hoof in front of the other. The bitter, burning taste of vomit had almost vanished from her tongue on the journey back, the last of its traces clinging stubbornly to her teeth.

Little puffs of white breath blew out of her mouth as she galloped on, her pace perfected after a life of adventure in the Known World. There was no ache of lactic acid building in her muscles, no chafing drought at the back of her throat as the cold air scraped against her windpipe. It was only her, the path, and her thoughts.

They’d left the skins by the side of the road, in front of the Constable’s building, a rickety wooden structure that seemed to have been cut from the pine trees surrounding the village and roofed with a sheet of corrugated iron.

Inside, Twilight waited behind a little desk. It was a flimsy piece of furniture – a flat plane of laminated plywood supported by two spindly legs on one side and a drawer on the other. The room was small and cramped, only three metres wide and five long. Even with just the two of them inside, it was difficult to close the door without knocking over the piles of miscellaneous rubbish standing by the walls and the sides of the doorframe.

Just above her head, a small lantern swung almost imperceptibly from a hook set into the ceiling. The flickering flames rose and dove, washing over the two with waves of weak orange light.

As she sat on the hard, lumpy cushion opposite of Light’s own, she could see the pony himself withdraw a cloth bag from an open drawer. He stuck a hoof inside, before casting a glance at her, his face twisted in obvious discomfort even when half-shadowed. She looked away.

“Payment,” the Constable muttered after a while, flinging several dozen small gold coins onto the desk top. The coins clattered as they hit the wooden surface, clinking whenever one met another. He went back under the desk as Twilight glared at the money, a scowl forming on her lips.

Was this what she’d turned into? What the world had turned her into? Whoring out her skills, her special talent for money?

How was that different from any other job? A voice in her brain piped up, and Twilight’s frown faltered for just a moment. Fluttershy sells her skills as a vet. Pinkie plans parties and sells pastry, both for money. Applejack sells her goods in the market.

Other jobs don’t involve killing and murder, she countered, her grimace deepening.

Light glanced her way, after putting the remainder of what was probably a coin bag away and locking the drawer. “This was what’s agreed on the bounty. Take it or leave it.”

Twilight gasped, eyes widening at the sudden interruption and ears flicking up. She breathed out, feeling her face begin to assume a neutral expression. “Yes, it’s fine.” A pause. “What are you going to do with the skins?”

“Burn them, probably. No use. Disease-ridden, and the skinning was the worst botch-up I’ve ever seen.”

The money felt sticky in her blood-soaked hooves.

A roar from above shook the very core of her bones, and her stomach wobbled under the sonic assault, but Twilight gritted her teeth. Little pebbles seemed to dislodge from the cliff-face by her side, raining down on her like hail. She pressed on, pounding her hooves into the ground, small dust clouds kicking upwards behind her.

The end of her journey lay at the top of the mountain. Spike would be there.

Clip-clop, clip-clop. Inhale, exhale. A rhythm of exertion.

Bandit gunfire smashed into her shields. Her magic flared up, shields glowing purple as they stopped the spherical bullet. Twilight grit her teeth. Her horn felt like it was driving into her head like a nail, trying to burrow its way through the thin skull there and into the brain.

The unicorn inhaled a massive breath, ignoring the smell of gunpowder and burning wood as she rocketed towards the other side of the caravan. A rickety thing, she’d first thought it would fall apart when its wooden wheels went over the first pebble. Now, even as holes appeared in the wood and little metal and wooden sticks jutted out of its walls, it looked as impenetrable as Canterlot Castle’s walls.

The thumping pain in her head she momentarily forgot, as tufts of exploding khaki earth sprouted out of the ground around her like miniature geysers. Animalistic, hackle-raising screeches howled from the forest to her back.

Her hooves thundered beneath her.

The wooden caravan shuddered alongside the thumps of impacting arrows and crossbow bolts, and the cracks of gunfire.

The mule that had been pulling the caravan grimaced as he leant against the vehicle’s planking alongside her, a hoof pressing on the blooming red hole in his skin. A bloody crossbow bolt was in his other hoof, and he was shaking like a leaf, groaning. He must have gotten shot when he paused to unhitch himself from the yoke. Twilight could spot the angry red scrapes flare on the mud-brown skin around his neck and chest.

Beyond him, Twilight saw another unicorn, this one a male with a coat of blue and a mane of grey. He wasn’t fast enough. She saw his brown eyes widen as his throat suddenly disappeared with the wet sound of ripping flesh.

Her own eyes mirrored his. Her jaw fell loose. He simply fell.

She watched him gurgle on the blood pooling around him, his own blood, eyes silently pleading, as the sandy earth around him reddened. She raised a hoof, lit her horn –

And with a flare of heat, white consumed her vision.

The first obstacle did not affect her pace at all.

The path crumbled beneath her hooves, spiderwebbing outwards from where her hooves had been, forming a mosaic of worn brown earth.

The image of the path, several dozen metres ahead, repainted itself in front of her with a sharp pop. The rumble of crumbling rock played behind her, like symphonic accompaniment. An expanding ring of dust and grit surrounded her as she fell back to earth.

She hit the ground running, and once more, the jolts running up her legs as she slammed her limbs against the earth faded out into the darkness of her mind.

“No use,” the mule said through grit teeth, thrusting the hoof holding the bolt at her arm. She cried out in shock, the sound cutting off into a squeak as a solid, powerful thunk sounded from the wood behind her. “He dead.”

Twilight watched the light go out of the unicorn’s eyes, watched the eyelids close as the pupils rolled upwards to gaze into the sky, one last time.

She gasped, pulling back, her eyelids almost pulling themselves off her face. Her jaw hung as she tried to process the image in front of her.

He was dead. Just like that. No wise last words, no nothing – just choking on his own blood as he lay on an empty road in the middle of nowhere. Just another missing pony, to be added to the lists.

It wasn’t fair.

She felt warm trickles of liquid run down her cheeks, and her throat began to constrict in the most unusual way.

Twilight blinked away the grit in her eyes. Even here, as far away from the Khamelan deserts as possible, there was still that irritating prickle that told her to close her eyes, and wash them out with a bowl of water. They weren’t tears, for sure. Those prickled at the back of the eyes.

The ground had only barely begun to rumble before she activated the thin strands of silver metal woven into her cloak with a stray thought. The threads shone, long thin scratches of pure white light etched onto the dirty brown canvas of her cloak. Under the burning light, little trickles of sweat burst out of her skin. Not a millisecond later, a translucent purple shell flickered into existence around her body.

Through her purple eyes, the world tinted purple.

Twilight scowled as the worm burst through the earth, smashing into her shields. The hit barely did anything to her. Only the flicker of bright magenta light from her underside alerted her to the fact that something had tried to make contact. The cloak’s power gem still shone as brightly as if it had been freshly charged.

Groundworms could ‘swim’ through the earth with the help of their latent magic as quickly as fish could in water or pegasi in air. Twilight knew that she couldn’t win in a race of speed, but she could kill the thing.

Experience taught her that the presence of one meant the presence of others. It would be best if she went and got the whole family out, before killing them all in one fell swoop.

The ground rumbled in earnest, as if an invisible crowd was applauding the show that was about to begin. Twilight set her jaw, never slowing down, eyes flicking from the brown earthen mound to the grey rock to the green shoots on the packed earth in front of her.

Three of them rocketed out of the ground.

Time slowed down.

Twilight could hear, or somehow sense, the worm behind her burst out of the ground like a leaping tiger, just as the three in front began their graceful flight towards her. The grey, grey-blue and grey-brown tubes that were their bodies seemed to shimmer in the sun, thanks to their slime coating, but the black darkness of their maws seemed to grow as they flew closer and closer…

Twilight grinned, and released a spell: a localised, area-of-effect ‘Nova’ around her own body. The result was as spectacular as the spell was efficient.

The purple magic, a thin, two-dimensional ring, spread out from her torso. It seemed to pass through the worms’ bodies without resistance. Yet, a split-second was all the time needed for startlingly bright blue blood to spurt out of unnaturally straight cuts.

One half of their bodies had barely separated from the other when the remains of the dead worms smacked sloppily against her shields. Blue goo smeared messily down the surface of her magic. She vaporised the stain with a flash of light from her horn.

Soon enough, the rapid, repetitive pounding of her hooves against the earth faded again into her mind, and she was left with nothing but the darkness.

“Where the fuck were you?” the mule groused, glaring at the caravan guard. He pressed a cloth bandage, doused with alchemical medicines, to his wound all the while. The crossbow bolt responsible for that wound lay by his side, forgotten for the moment.

Twilight felt another jab of shame well up from her stomach. She couldn’t heal him – in fact, she couldn’t heal anyone who wasn’t a unicorn approximately her size and weight. The healing spell she’d learnt was very specific in its instructions, and incorrect use would do more harm than good.

The guard, a griffon female whose forearms and chest were simply drenched in blood, rolled her eyes as she picked up the bolt with an idle claw. “Cleaning up. You think they just fucking disappeared?”

She twisted around to slot the bolt into some pouch, revealing the five crossbows and one primitive flintlock gun slung across her back. All were ill-gotten, paid for by the blood of their former owners.

The mule grumbled, but said nothing more as the caravan guard glanced at his wound. The bleeding had slowed, but his brown skin still looked a bit pale.

The griffon tsked. “Idiot.”

Twilight, with her shields still up and her horn beginning to pang in tune with her heartbeat with pain and smothering fatigue, crept out to take stock of the damage.

Three bodies lay in various pools of blood around the caravan. The unicorn with his throat torn out was slumped, as if sleeping on a bed of red sand, closest to her hiding place. She carefully kept her eyes off him. An earth pony who looked like she’d been stabbed through the heart had fallen against the other side of the caravan, painting the wood panels and the dirt red with a massive splatter of her blood. Finally, a griffon lay in the centre of the road in another widening pool of red earth.

The last one was a bandit, judging from the hodgepodge armour he wore. Yet, Twilight couldn’t help think that the caravan guard was wearing the same clothing and armour – if another set of cards had been dealt, the caravan guard might have been one of their attackers.

His chest was still expanding and contracting, rising and falling even as blood gushed out freely from a hole in his stomach.

He was still alive.

Twilight gasped in shock. She stumbled backwards. Her diaphragm heaved as the smell of blood wormed deep into her nostrils.

It was disgusting.

Through the red gash in his abdomen, Twilight could see the fleshy, wormlike strings of his intestines wrapped into a tight, bloody bundle that was slowly fraying apart with each breath. She could see his organs jitter about as he inhaled and exhaled.

She closed her eyes – no, smashed the eyelids shut – but the image had already seared itself into her mind. Slumping down with suddenly-weak knees, she found herself sitting down on the road.

The bandit, somehow, managed to turn his head slightly, enough to stare at Twilight out of one eye. The unicorn herself froze, eyes widening, like a mouse staring into a cat’s eyes.

“Please,” he croaked, and Twilight felt her own eyes widening even further, as her throat constricted. The bandit hacked out a cough, droplets of blood spraying out from the wound and from his beak, further showering the sandy earth with red. Twilight could see the organs extrude blood through the hole in him. “Kill me.”

Twilight blinked, unsure for a second, before twisting around. Thankfully, there was no sign of carnage if she kept her eyes looking high enough. “He’s still alive!”

The caravan guard was in the midst of unloading all of her newly-acquired weaponry into a spare wooden crate as she turned with crossbow in claw.

“Oh, him,” she cawed, chuckling. “He’ll die. Don’t worry.”

Those last two words ran around in her head, mocking her, as she gaped soundlessly. As if the guard thought she wanted to kill him. Why had he attacked? Why couldn’t this all have not happened, and then no one would have to die?

“Kill me,” the voice sounded, wet and thick with blood, and Twilight turned to face the bandit once again. His eyes were closed now, and his beak pointed towards his chest. “Please. Mercy.”

Mercy, huh. She couldn’t heal him. She could, however, do what he wanted. Mercy, he said. He wanted death.

She thought back to the blue unicorn with the grey mane that had his throat torn out by a bolt or a bullet. He had a dream of his own, family members who cared about him, and the bandits took him away from them in a single act of selfish, senseless bloodshed. The earth pony mare, who received only death today, not the riches or glory she was hoping for at the very start of this mess. Anger rose up in her, bubbling and thick as the blood beneath her hooves.

The blood beneath her hooves. His blood. Murder, an act of mercy. It was a kindness, nothing more. Euthanasia. He was going to die, regardless of what she chose to do. Who cared who, or what, killed him? There was no difference. In the end, he was still going to be a dead body on the road.

And in the end, it was a simple matter. Pinkie’s knife, blade shimmering, plunged into the bandit’s throat with token resistance. Twilight forced herself to keep watching as red blood spurted weakly around the blade, splattering onto the handle, onto the front of her cloak and soaking through to the coat within.

She watched as the light went out of the griffon’s eyes, and he smiled, his last conscious act.

She kept watching, staring at the corpse, as bitter tears sprang out from her eyes, mixing with the blood of her first murder in the hungry earth below.

She yanked the blade out, and turned away.