• Published 13th Dec 2012
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Skyfall - Dusk Quill

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Chapter 1: Genesis

Skyfall

By: Dusk Quill

"Only the dead have seen the end of war." — George Santayana

The guards opened the doors to the castle as a pony rushed up the stairs, eager to get out of the rain. The pony trotted into the warm foyer, tossing his water-drenched hood from his head and looking around. Nopony he recognized was around. Just a few guards stood at their posts. He pulled out the letter from Captain Fleethoof he had gotten a few days ago, summoning him to the castle on this day, at this exact date and time. Was he late?

“Valiant?”

A voice caught the pony’s attention, turning to the escort of Lunar Guards that were approaching him. He had never seen Luna’s personal guards before. He nodded. “That’s me.”

“Follow us. They’re expecting you.”

They? he thought quizzically, but shrugged and followed the soldiers anyway. He was sure to find out in a minute.

The guards led him up the large staircase in the foyer, up to the second floor. Valiant had never been to the higher levels of the castle before, only ever to the throne room and courtyards on the ground level, and that had been after the war ended five months ago. He was led down a hallway, rounding a corner around to the backside of the castle. No windows lined these corridors, and only hanging chandeliers illuminated the hall. They must have been alongside the mountain.

The soldiers came to a black wrought-iron gate oddly set in the wall. Valiant looked curiously at his escorts as they opened the gate and ushered him inside a small room. Oh well, he’d come this far…

Stepping through the gate and into the room, Valiant waited. There were no other exits to this room. The ceiling, floor, and walls were paneled in wood, and a lever sat near the gate. A soldier stood beside the lever.

“One more,” somepony called, and another escort approached, leading a second pony into the tiny room.

Valiant recognized this pony from his past. “Hey, Corporal Sharp Shot. What are you doing here?”

“It’s Sergeant now, actually,” Sharp Shot said with a proud grin, and looked over the pegasus at his side. “I could ask you the same. You seem to be doing much better. Not bleeding all over the place, at least. Did they give you any physical therapy?”

“No, just a long time on bed rest,” said Valiant. “The bullet didn’t do any real bad damage to me, so once I was fixed up, I was pretty much good to go.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re back all ri—whoa!” Sharp Shot stumbled and flattened himself against the wall as the room began to shift and shake.

Valiant nearly lost his balance as well, looking around to see what had happened. The guard had pulled the lever down, and the gate had disappeared above them. The room was moving. The room was moving. Valiant almost couldn’t believe his eyes. What sort of contraptions were Canterlot technicians coming up with these days?

The ride didn’t last too long, and before either of them knew it, the stone disappeared from the open side and became glass. Bright light flooded into the elevator from dozens of overhanging lights. They lit up the large chamber they had descended into perfectly.

The chamber was stark white from floor to ceiling. Rows upon rows of metal tables filled one side of the room, ponies of all varieties working at each and every one of them. Targets had been set up on the other side of the room behind a wall of protective glass, resembling a shooting range. Ponies stood behind the wooden barricades, firing off weapons at the targets downrange. A massive machine sat up against the far wall, a map of Equestria and the outlying lands projected onto its screen. A few doors dotted the walls at odd intervals, and a large metal one resembling a vault sat at the opposite end of the room.

Valiant and Sharp Shot stared in wonder at the sights before them, their noses nearly pressed to the glass. A feeling of splendor and curiosity took the pegasus, his eyes darting every which way to take every last detail in. As the elevator gradually approached the floor, the glass became another gate—and Princess Luna stood on the other side of it. The guard in the elevator opened the gate for the two shocked ponies, and the smiling princess welcomed them with a wave of her hoof.

“Welcome, Valiant and Sharp Shot,” she greeted, nodding to both of them. “Follow me please. Everypony else is waiting for us.”

The two ponies exchanged a look of shock and awe before slowly trotting out of the elevator. They followed behind Luna, still looking around them, taking it all in. The ponies working at the tables and ranges all wore white coats bearing an emblem Valiant hadn’t seen before. They were testing bullets, weapons, and an assortment of other things he didn’t recognize.

Princess Luna led the two awestruck soldiers across the room to a set of varnished wood doors, opening them with her magic, and stepping inside with her followers in tow. The room was lavishly furnished, with a crystal chandelier hanging over an elliptical table. Three other ponies sat around the table, and Captain Fleethoof stood at the head, dossiers stacked six high in front of him. He turned and smiled at the ponies, nodding his head to Luna as she took a seat at the opposite end.

“It’s good to see you again, Valiant, Sharp Shot,” Fleethoof said to them, looking across to the other ponies. “Now that we’re all here, allow me to introduce you to one another, and explain why you were called here.”

Fleethoof lifted and opened the first dossier, skimming over it quickly.

“Now when I say your name, just stand up and I'll tell you what got you here and what we're going to be doing. Sergeant Valiant, pointpony and support.”

“Um, that’s Private still, Fleethoof—er, sir,” Valiant said.

“Oh, you didn’t receive your decorations? That’s irritating. My mistake.” Fleethoof pulled out the badge and patch of the sergeant rank and slid them down the table to Valiant. “There we are. Now you're Sergeant Valiant.”

Valiant was stunned speechless for a second, staring down at the badge for a while. He didn’t even notice as the other ponies began to clap for him. He looked up at Fleethoof, seeing him motion for him to rise. He slowly stood up.

“Sergeant Sharp Shot…” the captain continued, and the unicorn rose to his hooves. “Sharpshooter... The name says it all. I'm giving you fair warning now, Sergeant, keep the sarcastic remarks in check, okay?”

“Oh, because I’m so sarcastic all the time,” Sharp Shot remarked with a roll of his eyes, returning to his seat.

“Was that the sarcasm or disregard?” Fleethoof asked with a joking smirk.

“I’ll let you guess, Captain.”

Fleethoof chuckled and opened the next folder.

“Specialist Blue Shield,” Fleethoof called out, and a pale lavender unicorn pony stood up next. “Field triage and medical skills.”

Valiant looked over at Blue Shield—and the memories hit him. He had been in a fog at that time, but it was ringing bells now. Blue Shield had been the pony who patched him up and kept him stable when he’d gotten shot in the Griffon War.

Fleethoof opened the next folder and froze, rereading the name a few times. “Sergeant Cupcake…?”

The largest pony in the group stood up. He was a chestnut Earth pony, and the picture perfect testament to the Earth pony strength. The pony was built like a tank, with muscles that made everypony else feel inexplicably weaker. Even Fleethoof stared at the pony, taken aback.

“Okay, I have to ask… is Cupcake really your name?”

“Yes, it is my name,” replied Cupcake, his voice deep and words slowly drawn out, a heavy Northern Equestrian accent tinting his tone.

“How did you get that as your name?” Sharp Shot asked, resting his chin on his hoof as he mulled that question over.

“It is name my parents give to me. My parents were bakers. They always want foal who would follow in their hoofsteps. They had me instead. I say no to pastry chef life, and I go be soldier, to fight for Equestria.”

“Didn’t you ever want to change your name?” Sharp Shot continued to ask. “I mean, Cupcake doesn’t even fit a pony like you. Cupcake doesn’t fit anypony in the Guard.”

“It is name my mother choose, and I love my mother,” Cupcake said, his eyes narrowing a little as he glared at Sharp Shot. “And I hurt any who make fun of my name. They laugh at me, but I have yet to see pony who can laugh at bullet.”

Sharp Shot reclined back in his seat, shutting up almost instantly. Fleethoof was impressed by the amount of intimidation it had to take to get Sharp Shot of all ponies to shut his mouth.

“Anyway… Sergeant Cupcake, demolitionist,” Fleethoof began, looking back at the dossier in his hooves. “So what weapons were you trained to use, Sergeant?”

“All Army would give me was little tiny rifle. I say no, give me bigger gun. They say there is no bigger gun,” Cupcake said, looking down at his hooves as he told his story. “So I use two rifles instead of one. I kill twice as many griffons, and is more fun that way.”

“Okay, well…” remarked Fleethoof, running a hoof through his mane nervously and chuckling under his breath. “I think we might be able to fix that problem for you, Cupcake.”

Cupcake’s eyes lit up. “You have bigger gun here?”

“Now now, one thing at a time,” Fleethoof said, holding up the penultimate folder. “We still have one last pony to meet. Corporal Lightning Flash, support and recon.”

The final pony stood up, a smoky gray Earth pony, smaller and thinner than the rest of the ponies.

“I am Captain Fleethoof. Several of you have met me before. For those of you that haven’t, I’m one of Equestria’s most recent and most promising captains, specialized in command and special operations, and I'll be your leader here. I also like long walks on the beach and sunsets,” Fleethoof introduced himself, tossing the last file aside with a crooked grin and looking across the table at everypony. “All right, now that we’ve all been introduced, I’m sure you’re wondering two things: where the hell are we, and what are we doing here?”

A few chuckles were heard, and a few nods were given. Luna smiled at him, nodding and encouraging him to continue.

“As you heard in the reports, everypony at this table is specialized in their areas of expertise: marksmanship, support, demolitions, medicine, recon, and command. You are all the best of the best in your fields,” explained Fleethoof. “You have been specifically selected for your talents and abilities to join a new group Princess Luna and I have formed. This group will not be officially recognized by Equestria’s military, nor will we be publicly revered or our actions acknowledged. The only ponies who will ever know what we do are ourselves and those directly involved with us, such as the princesses, some of the Guard, and any other officials on a need-to-know basis.”

“And what exactly does this group do, Captain?” Valiant asked.

“Anything Equestria requires us to in order to secure her safety,” Fleethoof said, taking a moment to let that sink into his audience. “Special ops and black ops missions do not have a specific definition. We could be doing infiltration, extraction, espionage, assassination, or destabilization. We do whatever we have to in order to prevent another full scale war from breaking out.”

“You said ‘black ops’,” said Sharp Shot, an uncharacteristic tone of uncertainty in his voice. “Does that mean what we’re doing won’t be legal?”

“Strictly speaking, it isn’t entirely illegal, but some tasks won't be completely ethical,” Princess Luna simplified.

“Ponies of Equestria, they are fragile creatures,” Cupcake said in agreement, staring blankly into space as he spoke. “They do not understand sacrifice we must make to keep them safe.”

“We will be peacekeepers, more than anything, but not everypony will acknowledge it that way. That is why what we do must be kept in the dark.” Fleethoof paused again before adding, “This is the first ever outfit of its kind to exist in Equestria’s history. War is changing, gentlecolts, and we must adapt with it to ensure our survival. We are all prototypes, experiments in this new class of warfare. I will understand if not everypony is comfortable with this kind of work, which is why I’m giving you the option to walk away now and forget this ever happened. But if you’d like to serve Equestria on this new front, feel free to stay.”

Silence took over the room. The ponies seated at the table looked around at one another, waiting to see who would stay and who would go. Nopony moved, and Luna’s smile grew wider. Fleethoof nodded, a small smile of his own playing at the corners of his mouth.

“I’ll stay,” Valiant spoke up first. “If there’s a way I can better serve Equestria, I’m all for it.”

“I guess that means I’m in too,” said Sharp Shot with an indifferent shrug. “Somepony’s gotta look out for this colt. Plus I’m curious to see where this goes…”

Cupcake slammed his hooves down on the table, looking at Fleethoof in the eye.

“To me, there is no dishonor in job like this,” he said loudly. “It is good idea. Few ponies break rules to keep many ponies safe. I will play this game—as long as I get bigger gun.”

Fleethoof chuckled under his breath, flashing his teeth in an amused grin. His gaze turned to the only two remaining ponies, waiting for their answer with bated breath. Blue Shield sighed, and spoke first.

“I suppose it will be better to work for this group than the Guard. If this team does their job successfully, it will mean mine will be for naught if the soldiers aren’t fighting,” he said, reasoning with himself, and slowly nodded. “Yes, I’ll join. If these jobs are exceptionally dangerous, you’ll need somepony who knows how to close a wound. Besides, Valiant is here, and he has a tendency to get hurt.”

“One time!” Valiant cried out, throwing his hooves up in an exasperated manner. “Why is everypony bringing that up? Sheesh!”

“Now now, play nice,” Fleethoof teased, looking to Lightning Flash lastly. The Earth pony just stared at the table, uncertainty clouding his eyes.

“These missions…” he said, pausing as he formed his sentences in his mind. “… they are very dangerous, right? Life threatening? Like, there’s a very real possibility we won’t come back from some?”

“That’s always a possibility, Corporal. Even in war, there’s that lingering danger.”

“I don’t like the thought of doing something behind Equestria’s back like this… but I guess the world’s changing, huh? There’s a need for somepony to do this…” Lightning muttered, pausing for a moment again. “If I won’t, somepony will… whether I agree with it or not. It needs to be done.”

He looked up at Captain Fleethoof. “I joined the Guard to be a part of something bigger than myself. This is even bigger than the Guard. All right, Captain. I’m in.”

Fleethoof nodded, and looked to Luna, a smile on his face. The princess had a satisfactory expression, clearly proud of her plan thus far. Everything had come together well so far.

“Gentlecolts, welcome to Fireteam Skyfall,” said Fleethoof, looking between every face. “Let me show you around your new playground.”

The ponies meandered through the bright room, gawking at the expanse around them. The underground hall was huge, with the ceiling and walls stretching far and high around them. There was so much open space, it definitely didn’t feel like they were beneath Canterlot Castle.

They walked alongside the long rows of shiny metal tables, looking over everything that lay across them. Several tables were dedicated to different types of bullets, small brass casings of all shapes and sizes covering their surfaces. Another had parts of guns and metals, clearly experimenting with the different alloys. The rest had odd shaped devices and tools.

The group came to a stop as a unicorn in a gray tartan sweater approached them. He smiled as he approached Fleethoof, and the two embraced, the pony adjusting his thin glasses when they finally pulled away.

“Everypony, this is Quarter Master,” Fleethoof introduced the stallion. “He was the head of weapons research and development for the Royal Guard. Now he puts his brains to work exclusively for us, because apparently he likes us better.”

“Well, with Princess Luna at the head of the military, free reign over my creations, and twice the military budget as before, how could I resist?” Quarter Master remarked. “Hello, Skyfall Team. I’m very excited to be working hooves-on with all of you. But please, do be gentle with your new equipment—more so than Captain Fleethoof here was…”

“I know, I know, and I’m still sorry,” Fleethoof said in apology with a dramatic roll of his eyes. “I really didn’t mean to lose your prototype, but when you’re fighting an insane tyrant in midair, holding on to your gun gets a little tricky.”

“Just be thankful I had all my notes and designs still,” Quarter poked teasingly. “Thank you for your feedback, by the way. We just sent the first batch of guns out to the Guard.”

“It was a pleasure to work with such a beautiful weapon,” replied the captain, then turned back to his team. “And speaking of beautiful weapons, Quarter Master and his team have presents for us.”

Everypony’s expressions visibly lifted, their eyes lighting up with interest. Fleethoof was reminded of foals on Hearth’s Warming Eve. It made him chuckle.

“Quarter Master has made us all new sidearms, and his team will be working with us to design new primary weapons for us to use,” he continued to explain. “Listen to the researchers closely. They know what they have, and what they can do for you. A lot of the pieces are already here, you just need to create your own gun. Have fun!”

The ponies split apart, heading off with a scientist of their own to separate tables. Fleethoof smiled, and looked back to Quarter Master. The unicorn returned his smile.

“So I guess I’ll be working with you, Captain,” said Quarter. “Shall we begin with a gun that has two straps, so you won’t lose it?”

“Har har,” Fleethoof mockingly laughed, his tone dry. “Actually, I know exactly what I want.”