• Published 13th Dec 2012
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Skyfall - Dusk Quill

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Chapter 11: Endgame

“Two hours, sir.”

“Got it. Is everypony kitted up?”

“They’re doing final checks right now. Everypony has enough ammo and is ready to go when you are.”

“Perfect. Thank you, Valiant.”

“Sir… shouldn’t you be getting ready?”

Fleethoof glanced sideways at his friend, standing beside him on his balcony. The sun was setting over Nadira, bathing the city in fiery orange light. The ball would be beginning within the hour. But he had wished to arrive a little later, in order to give Skyfall Team time to prepare and set up.

“What do you mean?”

Valiant looked his leader over from head to toe. “I mean, shouldn’t you be getting bathed? Dressed? Whatever else somepony does when going to a fancy party?”

“I’ve already cleaned myself up,” he said. “All I have to do is throw on one of my suits, and I’m good to go.”

“Not going over the top for Cadance?”

“Shut up…”

“I meant not going over the top for appearances' sake?”

Fleethoof chuckled softly. He did have a part to play. Maybe Valiant did have a point. But he wasn’t trying to sell himself to everypony in attendance at the gala. He only needed to pass as the real thing long enough to deceive any potential threats. So far, nothing had happened in their time in Saddle Arabia. If there were to be an attempt on the princess’ life, it would happen tonight…

“I suppose you’re right… as usual…” he conceded with a sigh. “All right, all right… Let’s see what I have to work with.”

He stepped back into the room, and stopped in mid-stride as Sharp Shot approached him. In his mouth he held a long, black garment bag. Fleethoof was confused.

“What are you holding, Sergeant?”

“I don’t know, Captain,” said Sharp Shot, laying the garment bag across the bed. “Princess Cadance just dropped this off a moment ago. She said you’d need it.”

Fleethoof’s brow furrowed as he curiously stepped closer. Taking the zipper, he unveiled the contents within. Sharp Shot let out an impressed whistle, Valiant gawking from over his shoulder. Even Cupcake had gotten up to see what the commotion was about.

“Now that’s suave!” said Sharp.

Rolling his eyes and huffing, Fleethoof turned and took off for the door. Nopony tried to stop him or question him, too confused by his reaction. Fleethoof yanked the door open and quickly burst into the adjacent room. Blue Shield and Lightning Flash looked up in surprise as the pony charged into the room, relaxing once they saw whom it was.

“Cadance!” he called out, the princess emerging from the bathroom, a hairbrush held in her magic’s grasp pulled halfway through her mane. “What is all that?”

Cadance looked genuinely confused. “What’s all what, Fleethoof?”

“The suit.” An expression of recognition crossed the alicorn’s face. “I have a dinner jacket already.”

“There are dinner jackets, and then there’s dinner jackets,” Cadance said, placing emphasis on the second. “That is the latter. You want to look good for your role, don’t you?”

Fleethoof sputtered incoherently a few times. “It’s tailored. When did you—”

“I ordered it when we got you your other suits on the first day,” she continued to say. “I wanted you to fit the part all the better. Besides, you could use some time in real formal wear after being in a uniform forever.”

“Cadance, I—”

“Put it on, Fleethoof. You’re going to have to anyway.”

Fleethoof stood there defiantly for a few seconds longer, too stunned to say or do anything else. From the look on Cadance's face, he knew the discussion was over. Finally, he turned and walked back to his room. Everypony looked up at him as he cantered back in, stopping at the foot of the bed. Pursing his lips, he stared reluctantly down into the garment bag, and slowly pulled the clothes out.

Fleethoof adjusted the silver cufflinks at the end of his sleeves, glancing at his reflection in the mirror. The stallion in the mirror stared back, dressed in a sleek black tuxedo jacket and vibrant white dress shirt. A dark crimson tie lay nestled inside the collar of his shirt, contrasting against the monochromatic suit. Even he had to admit, he looked good.

“Very nice, Captain,” Valiant said.

He smirked a little. “No comment from you, Sharp?”

“Anything I say would be inadequate,” the sniper remarked, wiping his rifle down with a cloth. “Never seen this side of you before, boss.”

“That’s because I’m not a fan of the white-collar, upper crust lifestyle. Where’s my papers?” Valiant handed the invitation over to him. “Did anypony do any reconnaissance on the party?”

“They’re doing screenings at the door,” Sharp Shot said, loading bullets into magazines. “Invites only, no weapons in. You’re gonna have to sneak your gun inside.”

“Valiant, you’re my new bodyguard. Get in through the side entrances any way you can,” he said as he laid out the evening's plan. He loaded his handgun and screwed on the suppressor before handing it over to the sergeant. “What else?”

“The palace has several entrances to it, but the ballroom only has three: the main door, from the veranda, and through the delivery bays and kitchen.”

“Then we know where they’ll be coming from…” said Fleethoof while buttoning up his jacket, and running his hooves through his mane. “Sharp, you know where I want you. Valiant, you too. Cupcake, I want you to take position at the service gate. Make sure everypony coming in and going out is legit.”

Da, Captain.”

“Once we get there, Valiant is in charge. He’ll be making sure everypony is doing what they need to do. Place Blue Shield at the entrance, and Lightning on outdoor patrol with the rest of the prince’s security. Sharp Shot, you’re on recon. Relay anything you see to the team.”

“You got it, boss.” Sharp Shot jammed the magazine into his rifle.

There was a knock at the door, catching the attention of everypony. Fleethoof made a few final adjustments to his appearance, and then grabbed a rose from one of the vases around the room. Cupcake opened the door, and in walked the rest of Skyfall Team, accompanying Princess Cadance. The mare stepped gracefully into the room, dressed in a long, flowing azure dress that accentuated her lithe form. Her mane was held back with a glistening gold tiara. She looked like the definition of elegance, and was very alluring. A wide smile spread across her mouth as she looked over Fleethoof, clearly pleased with how well he wore his part.

“I’m impressed, Fleethoof,” she said, nodding to herself. “You clean up nicely.”

“Like I said before, I aim to please,” he remarked, presenting the rose to her before placing it in her mane, just behind her ear. “You look lovely tonight.”

“We should get going,” Blue Shield said, glancing at the clock on the wall. “We’re late as it is, and we’ll need time to get set up.”

Fleethoof nodded, grinning at Cadance, offering her his hoof. “Shall we, your majesty?”

Cadance laughed and nudged Fleethoof with her side. “By your leave, Ambassador.”

The carriage Prince Malik had sent for the ponies was just as luxurious as Fleethoof had imagined. Plush, velvet seats sat within the ornately decorated cab, pulled by a team of royal white horses. Champagne had been left in a bucket for their enjoyment, although it remained untouched. Fleethoof didn’t want to be impaired by any amount of alcohol, and Cadance simply declined. Skyfall Team had gone off on their own, making their own way towards the palace to avoid detection.

Without backup, Fleethoof was suddenly aware of just how vulnerable the situation was.

The carriage made its way leisurely through the city, letting its occupants enjoy the Arabian night. Eventually, it pulled up to the large palace, brightly illuminated from the inside out. A red carpet ran the length of the path out to the road, welcoming its esteemed guests. The two ponies made their way up the large stone steps into the foyer of the palace.

“Good evening, masaa el kheer, and welcome,” a well-dressed horse greeted the two as they entered, obviously one of the many servants of the palace. “You are here for the gala, correct? May I see your invitations?”

At his request, Fleethoof produced the two small pamphlets from within his jacket. The servitor glanced over them briefly, and then handed them back with a wide, welcoming smile.

“Welcome, Princess Cadance and Ambassador Envoy! Please, follow me.”

Exchanging a quick smile, the ponies followed their host down a long, wide corridor. Servants filed back and forth around them at either end of the hall, and the sound of music and chatter could be heard up ahead. As they rounded the corner, the large glass doors to the ballroom came into view. Several guards stood in the way, screening everypony coming in at a makeshift checkpoint. In amongst the horses, Fleethoof noticed a very familiar pony standing in with the guards, hoof resting on his pistol at his side.

The two ponies exchanged a surreptitious nod as Fleethoof and Cadance approached the security checkpoint. One horse checked the pegasus’ jacket while another checked their invites. They passed.

“Thank you, your majesty, Ambassador,” the guard said in a passive apologetic tone. “Marhaban, welcome, and enjoy yourselves.”

Two guards opened the large glass doors to the massive ballroom, constructed of imported marble. The molding around the ceiling was gilded in brilliant gold, and the ceiling was covered in frescoes depicting horses at times of war and peace. Two gigantic crystal chandeliers illuminated the room. The far side of the room was made entirely of windowpanes, leading out to the adjacent veranda. Several round tables lined the edges of the room, draped in fine white tablecloths, creatures of all kinds seated together and making idle small talk.

“The lovely Princess Cadenza has graced us with her presence!”

Here we go… Fleethoof thought as Prince Malik approached the two.

“Prince Malik, it is a pleasure to see you again!” Cadance replied, curtsying before the sovereign.

“Your highness,” Fleethoof greeted simply, holding his tongue as he politely smiled and bowed before the prince.

“Welcome, welcome! It is a delight to have you in attendance,” said Malik, still only directly speaking to Cadance. He took one of her hooves gently in his own and placed a kiss upon it, his enthusiastic demeanor never diminishing. Again, Fleethoof felt a swell of unease.

Cadance held his gaze and smiled tactfully back. “We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

“Come, we are just about to dine,” the prince stated with a wave of his hoof to the longest table at the end of the room, “I had seats reserved at my table especially for you.”

“How very kind of you, your grace. Isn’t that generous of him, Ambassador?” Cadance turned to Fleethoof, her eyes begging him to say something to end the conversation.

“Entirely selfless,” said the pegasus, voice droll while looking casually around the room, observing his surroundings. “I noticed you don’t have much in the way of security, your highness.”

Malik didn’t seem overly concerned by the pony’s observation at all. “Do you deem it necessary to have more than is present? Saddle Arabia is not presently in a state of war or threat. Are we in immediate danger, Ambassador?”

“No, of course not. But with so many important officials from other nations in one room, you’d think precautions would be taken…”

“And they have been,” Malik cut in quickly, smirking haughtily as he finally looked at Fleethoof. “We have a sufficient amount of guards on the premises. Do not fear, Ambassador Envoy. You are safe here. Though one might take your concern for insecurity.”

“And one could mistake your indifference for arrogance.”

“Okay! So, dinner!” Cadance chimed in, abruptly cutting both sides off before either could say something they would regret. She smiled awkwardly in an attempt to off put the conversation. “Shall we?”

Malik nodded. “Of course, my dear! Right this way.”

The ponies walked along the sides of the room, out of the way of servants and tables. Fleethoof looked around at the few guards within the ballroom. Security was minimal on the Arabians’ end. At the far corner, he could just make out Valiant standing with his back to the wall, dressed in the same outfit as the servants, surveying the entire scene. Other than the noticeable difference in height, he blended in perfectly.

“You really shouldn’t egg him on,” Cadance whispered to Fleethoof, breaking his attention.

“Huh? What?”

“Prince Malik, he isn’t used to others challenging his authority,” she said, cautioning him. “Don’t say something stupid and make him angry.”

“Perhaps he needs somepony to challenge him every now and then…” he muttered under his breath.

“Fleethoof…”

“Okay, okay, I’ll behave.”

“Good.” Their aside ended as they approached the largest table in the room. Decorated officials from all over the world were already seated, sipping drinks nonchalantly and talking amongst themselves. Fleethoof didn’t recognize any of them—although he wasn’t very big on the political scene. He could only imagine who they were to warrant a personal seat at the prince’s table.

No sooner had he sat down, than a dozen horses came around the table, laying out a variety of foods and filling glasses with drinks of various scents and colors. He had never been to a proper sit-down dinner before, and the captain suddenly felt very much like a fish out of water. Cadance gently tapped his leg under the table, smiling reassuringly at him. He smiled back. It was going to be a long evening…

Fleethoof felt a nudge against his back, and glanced up to see Valiant. The pony smiled down at him, then leaned in closer, placing a napkin on Fleethoof’s lap.

“Start with the silverware on the outside, work your way in,” he whispered surreptitiously to his officer.

"I do know how to eat, thank you for your concern."

“Your rifle is in the storage behind the kitchens. Everypony’s ready. Time for the show.”

Fleethoof was suddenly aware of a weight within the cloth on his lap. Valiant nodded to him, then trotted off, returning to watch from the sidelines. Sneakily, he unfolded the napkin. The shiny black metal of his handgun was barely visible. He slipped the gun under the bottom of his jacket, then reached inside his coat, settling the gun into his holster under his shoulder.

“Good evening, everyone! Masaa el kheer! ” Prince Malik announced with a few taps to the side of his glass, silencing the room. “I’d like to welcome you all to the annual Summer’s End Gala. Before we begin, I’d like to make a toast…”

Fleethoof stifled a groan. He could already feel the beginnings of a headache drumming at his temples. It was going to be a very long evening…

“Archangel is in position… Standby… We’re clear, over.”

“Copy, Archangel. Maintain visual, report any activity… Over.”

“Copy that… Eyes on the prize… Over and out.”

“Shield, report, over.”

“Nopony else approaching from the front. We’re silent. Over.”

“Good copy… Perimeter report, come in, over.”

“The streets are clear. A lot of civies though, Sergeant… over.”

“Copy. Any activity at the side?”

“Nyet. Service gate is clear, Sergeant. No sign of Sword ponies.”

“Maintain positions, everypony. Report anything, especially you, Archangel. Out.”

High above Nadira, atop one of the highest buildings in the city, sat a lone pony. He clutched his rifle tightly by the grip, lying prone across the stone rooftop. He set the rifle’s bipod up on the edge, peering through the high powered scope down at the massive building below: the Alavi Palace.

He followed the movements of the guards down on the streets and in the palace courtyards, watching them closely, memorizing the patterns and gaps. His gaze shifted, over to where a group of ponies were unloading a cart of supplies into a side entrance. More guards were there too. He took aim at the brightly lit glass wall, aiming into the grand ballroom at the gala taking place inside.

The crosshairs moved slowly over each individual in the room, before coming to rest over the torso of Fleethoof, and then Princess Cadance. His hoof flexed over the trigger guard, relaxing his grip momentarily.

He had them.

“Archangel is in position…Standby…” the pony spoke into his comms unit, quickly surveying the outside courtyards again. “We’re clear, over.”

Sharp Shot patiently listened as each pony went through the list, verifying what he had just reported. Everything was peaceful and going according to plan so far. From his vantage point, he could see most of the ballroom, and the entire outside of the palace, including the entrances and veranda. Nopony was getting past him.

“Maintain positions, everypony,” Valiant’s voice said through his headset. “Report anything, especially you, Archangel. You're our eyes. Out.”

“Archangel copies all. Out.”

The pony rolled his head from side-to-side, stretching the muscles in his neck and shoulders before returning his eye to the scope. Thank Celestia it was a nice night. He’d be just miserable if it were raining, not that he hadn’t had to deal with that little nuisance before on the job. He watched the meal progress through the lens of his scope, watching the laughing faces of a griffon and zebra exchanging jokes, the solemn expressions of a couple foreign ponies discussing something serious, and every character in between.

“How’s our little actor doing, Val?” Sharp asked, watching Fleethoof and Cadance as they spoke to a horse at their table.

“He’s playing the part,” said Valiant. “Don’t ever tell him I said this, but I think he’s having fun with it.”

Sharp Shot chuckled a little bit. “He’s just happy to be sitting next to Cadance…”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“And why wouldn't he be?” came a response from Blue Shield. ”Princess Cadenza is a lovely mare. Any stallion would be fortunate to be in her favor.”

“Are you saying you want to get with the princess, doc?”

“We are making jokes on dangerous mission now?” Cupcake’s voice interrupted, followed by a hearty laugh. “I like! You ponies bring smile to my face.”

“Let’s not get too comfortable,” said the sniper, sweeping over the courtyard again. “We’ve still got a lot of night ahead of us…”

After the meal had ended and the servants had cleared the settings away, the glass doors opened again. Fleethoof turned around in his seat, watching as a full orchestra entered and took place on a slightly elevated stage in the corner of the room. The guests fell silent as the musicians began playing, the melody filling the ballroom with sweet, airy music.

Fleethoof smiled a little, chuckling to himself. This life of luxury was almost too much for him to ever get used to, even if the music was pleasant. But a sudden question came to mind, and his expression dropped as he pondered over it.

“Why wasn’t the band playing during dinner?” he asked Cadance, turning to face her. “Why just show up now?”

“Oh, for the dancing, of course.” Fleethoof could physically feel his face drop, especially when he saw a few couples rise from their seats and make their way to the space in the center of the ballroom. “What’s the matter, Ambassador? You do dance, don’t you?”

“I didn’t realize that was a requirement in politics…”

A smile touched Cadance’s lips. “Always. So… shall we?”

“Uh…”

“You don’t know how to dance, do you?”

“I know how to dance!” Fleethoof said quickly, unintentionally raising his voice a little, before mumbling. “It’s just… been a while…”

Cadance looked visibly amused at his embarrassment. “How long?”

A long pause. “…Flight School prom…”

The princess laughed, a lighthearted giggle. Fleethoof could feel his cheeks warm.

“Shall I ask Prince Malik instead?” she asked, poking fun at the flustered pony. “I’m sure he’d be very interested.”

“No,” he responded in a snap, standing up and offering his hoof to Princess Cadance with a wry smirk. “May I have this dance, your majesty?”

A genuine, delighted grin brightened Cadance’s face. “Absolutely.”

Fleethoof delighted in leading Cadance away from the table, managing a quick wink to the frowning Arabian prince as they passed by on their way to the dance floor. Although his expression was of confidence, inside he was trembling nervously. They were now in a very open area. Would he be able to keep his eyes open if he were distracted? Was he about to blow his cover?

As he stepped out into the open space, he realized it was far too late to worry now.

He turned to face Cadance, exchanging a quick smile. Excitement and happiness shone in her violet eyes, and he knew even his inability to keep rhythm in his four hooves wasn’t going to keep him from doing whatever she wanted. Swallowing back his pride, he stepped closer to Cadance until their bodies pressed together, feeling her neck resting against the side of his, and took the lead.

“Oh by Celestia’s flowing mane, is he actually doing what I think he’s doing?” Sharp Shot asked, a huge, self-satisfied grin spreading across the pony’s mouth.

“What? What is Captain doing?” Cupcake asked.

“He’s… He’s dancing, everypony.”

“What? The captain dances?”

“Oh, this I have to see.”

“Calm down, everypony! He’s just dancing! Sheesh!”

“This is the best day of my life.” Sharp laughed, acting like a giddy foal that had just heard some new gossip.

He continued to watch Fleethoof and Cadance sway back and forth together on the dance floor through his scope. The stallion looked completely nervous, but the mare looked like she was having the time of her life. Oh yeah, he was never going to let the captain live this one down.

“How’s everypony’s posts so far? Report in,” Valiant said.

“Nothing from Archangel, as far as I see, over,” murmured Sharp Shot into his headset. This was becoming dull.

“Nothing out front, either.”

“Service gate is quiet.”

“I’ve got nothing outsi— Wait. Hold that.”

Sharp Shot perked up at Lightning Flash’s report. He swiveled his rifle around, surveying the courtyards and veranda. He couldn’t see anypony. What had Lightning seen?

“I don’t see anything, Lightning,” said the sniper. “Can you give me your location?”

“I’ve got two ponies, just hopped the south wall, from the— Hey! You two! Stop right th—”

The transmission cut off suddenly in a burst of static. Sharp’s heart stopped beating momentarily. He looked across the courtyard again. Nothing. He couldn’t see anything at all. Where was his teammate? What was going on?

“Lightning, repeat that. What’s going on down there?” No response. “Lightning, come in!”

“Cupcake, go check in on Lightning’s position. Make sure everything’s okay,” ordered Valiant.

“Da, boss.”

“Archangel, keep your eyes open. Something’s up.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” he said to himself. He checked to make sure a round was chambered in his rifle, and began his search of the palace grounds.

Everything had gotten quiet. Even the foot traffic outside the palace had slowed to a near stop. Something definitely felt out of sorts, and it bugged him to no end. So far, everything still seemed normal. All the guards continued on their routine pattern of patrol, uninterrupted, undisturbed. But something felt wrong.

That was when Sharp Shot noticed a shadow move out of the corner of his eye.

He turned his rifle quickly, locking the dark silhouette within the reticle of his scope. He couldn’t make out the form, but it was definitely equine, about the size of a pony, lingering just below the ballroom veranda. It hadn’t been there before.

“Cupcake, what’s your location? Over,” he radioed in quickly, not wanting to shoot his teammate by mistake.

“I have found Lightning. He is beat up and out of conscious,” Cupcake said in grim report. “His gun is gone. We have intruders.”

“Are you by the veranda?” Sharp Shot adjusted the zeroing on his scope as swiftly as his hooves could.

The pony began to climb up a tree beside the veranda, leaping up onto the ledge and hoisting itself onto the balcony.

“Nyet. We are by the south wall.”

Sharp squeezed the trigger. A dull pop resounded from the end of his suppressor as the round fired almost silently, sailing through the night air and finding its mark between the pony’s shoulders. The sniper watched as the figured collapsed forward and ceased moving, just barely out of the light cast from the ballroom. The body would be concealed, and nopony would notice a thing.

“Hostiles sighted, one kill confirmed,” he said hastily, sweeping across the service gate. “He was sneaking in from the veranda. I got— Oh, shit… The guards at the service gate are down. I repeat, the guards at the side entrance are down.”

“Everypony converge on the ballroom. Blue Shield, get in here. Cupcake, sweep around behind them through the side. We’ll bottleneck them before they can get into the gala.”

Valiant sounded as worried as Sharp Shot felt. He was breathing harder as he looked across the courtyard again, spotting the bulky form of Cupcake heading for the service gate to the kitchens, and then back to the gala.

“Archangel has the ballroom covered.”

“I’ll alert Captain Fleethoof before they—”

The ballroom suddenly went dark, all power from the chandeliers shut off. In an instant, the entire room had become pitch black. Sharp Shot couldn’t see a thing.

“Oh fuck…”

Cadance giggled softly.

“What?” Fleethoof asked, cocking a brow in curiosity.

“For somepony who hates dancing, you’re pretty good at it.”

“Hey, I didn’t say I hated it. I said I hadn’t done it in a while,” he corrected, smiling humorously at the princess. “There is a difference.”

“Clearly there is,” said Cadance, leaning further against the stallion. “It’s a shame you didn’t become a diplomat, Fleethoof. I could get used to this.”

“So could I,” he said in agreement, spinning the mare in his hooves and dipping down with her as the song came to an end.

Soft applause echoed around them from the other attendees. But it was lost to Fleethoof. He was in his own little world with Cadance. The smile never left his face. The mission, his duty, his team, all of it was forgotten—lost to the moment. Lost, along with him, in her rich purple eyes. He never let himself admit just how much she had affected his life, or how much she mattered in it.

A stallion. A single colored coat. A mane with hues of the same color. A military background. Somepony close to her heart.

“Cadance,” Fleethoof began. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to say, but saying her name felt like a good start.

And then the lights went out. A few individuals screamed. A griffon shrieked somewhere across the room. Murmurs of panic and confusion began to abound throughout the darkness.

“I’m guessing that’s not a political requirement too, is it?”

“No, it’s not…”

“I didn’t think so. Time to go,” Fleethoof said firmly and lifted Cadance back up and taking her hoof.

He led her through the darkness mostly by memory and what little light came in through the windows. All around, he could hear chairs scraping against the floor, and creatures moving about. The front doors opened. The guards must have been coming in to see what was happening. Where was Valiant? He couldn’t see a thing.

And then a gunshot went off, and every creature in the room screamed. Fleethoof pulled Cadance down to the floor, covering her with his body as he scanned through the blackness, his eyes slowly adjusting. A thin ray of light could be seen at the far end of the room. It must have been the kitchens.

“Stick close. No matter what, don’t let go of my hoof,” he told the princess, taking off through the dark again with her clinging tightly to his side.

Shouts rang out around them. He bumped into a few chairs, and what felt like a pony, but he couldn’t be sure. He just focused on getting through the dark to the light at the other end. He had to get Cadance out before anything else. Then he could focus on finding the ponies responsible for this. It had to be The Sword.

The light was closer now. They were almost there.

The overhead lights came back on suddenly, blinding the pony and stunning him momentarily. Fleethoof blinked his eyes rapidly, dots blurring his vision as his eyes tried to settle. There was a pony in front of him. A pony with a gun. That was all he needed to see.

Fleethoof grabbed the barrel of the gun, pushing it away, and then yanking the pony closer to him. As soon as the pony was pulled closer, Fleethoof connected his hoof to his jaw in a strong right hook. The pony went down. Fleethoof grabbed Cadance and rushed her down the hallway to the kitchens.

“The princess!” the pony shouted.

And then the gunfire started again. He could hear each shot popping behind them as they ran down the zigzagged corridor, emerging in the large kitchen, the white tile and shiny metal appliances almost hurting his eyes. The horses in the kitchen looked up when they heard the gunshots, rushing out of the only other exit. The gunshots stopped. Hooves came clopping loudly down the hall after them. Fleethoof drew his pistol.

“Get down!” Fleethoof ordered while pushing Cadance out of the doorway and behind a cabinet as he took position just beside the door. He pulled the slide back on his gun, chambering the first round.

The first pony came rushing into the kitchen, completely unaware. Fleethoof fired one shot from the hip, striking the pony’s leg and causing him to topple to the ground with a cry of pain. Cadance gasped sharply behind him. The second round went through the back of his head, silencing him forever. The pony was carrying a Canterlot Guard rifle. He was right, it was The Sword.

The hoof beats continued towards him. He rounded the corner quickly, and crashed into another pony, the two of them tumbling over the body on the floor. They crashed into one of the metal preparation tables in the kitchen, bowls and cutlery flying to the floor. Fleethoof lost his hold on his gun, the pistol mixed in with the falling objects. The pony tried to right herself, still holding onto her rifle. Fleethoof grabbed the gun and both ponies pulled at it. The gun went off, the bullet ricocheting off the metal surface and bouncing around the kitchen a few times before striking a light, darkening the room slightly in a flurry of sparks.

Fleethoof brought his body around, connecting his shoulder with the side of the pony’s head. She fell back, the gun falling between them. He reached across the table, grabbing one of the leftover knives as the pony corrected herself and charged at him again. He grunted as her body connected with his chest, pinning him against the table. Her hoof swung around at his face as she hit him once, and then again—but never made contact. He intercepted the blow with the knife, the blade sinking deep into the mare’s leg at the bend.

She screamed in blinding agony, blood seeping through her fur and dripping down her hoof. A quick strike to her stomach doubled the pony over, and another kick knocked her to the floor. More hoofsteps came form the hallway. Fleethoof looked up in time to see a third pony come into view, holding Lightning Flash’s submachine gun.

Bullets began tearing through the air as Fleethoof rolled over the table and ducked behind cover, barely making it in time. A close shot tore through the shoulder of his jacket, narrowly missing his skin. He snatched up his fallen gun and propped himself up on the table’s surface, squeezing off a few rounds long enough to make the pony circle back behind the corner for cover.

“Come on! This way!” he called to Cadance as he stood up, putting two rounds into the injured mare and then taking off to the back exit.

“Fleethoof, who are they?”

“They’re the ponies I told you about, the ones after you and your aunts. We have to get you out of here!”

More gunfire went off behind the two ponies. Fleethoof kept glancing back to make sure Cadance was right beside him, and that they weren’t being followed. The narrow corridor led out to an open delivery bay. The port was closed, the metal gate sealed tight. A few large doors marked the food and supply storage in the adjacent rooms.

“What do we do now?” asked Cadance with panic shaking her voice.

Fleethoof bit his lip, looking around as his mind raced for a plan. He had no way of knowing where Skyfall was, or what their plan might be. He had to think for himself and Cadance, and nopony else. Behind them, voices began echoing down the hall, voices he didn’t know.

“Into the storage room, now!” he said, yanking the heavy door open and ushering the princess inside.

Boxes of supplies and crates of food lay stacked all around the room. Sacks of grains and flour were piled up like sandbags. Somewhere in this room was his weapon, and he needed it fast. He searched as fast as he could, pushing aside boxes and other blockades as he hunted desperately.

A voice shouted out behind him, and a few bullets were fired, hitting the doorframe around the storage room. Fleethoof darted to the wall just beside the door and peered out. Two Sword members had made it. He fired four rounds out, killing one of the ponies while the other rushed safely back into the hall.

“Fleethoof!” Cadance said, stepping into view with his weapon in hoof.

He ran over and took the gun from her. Valiant had already loaded a magazine into it for him. He pulled the action back, priming his firearm while looking over his shoulder for any enemies.

“Throw down your weapon, and we’ll let you live!” the Sword called out to them. “We only want the princess! You mean nothing to us!”

Fleethoof scoffed and shook his head. As if he were really about to comply with terrorists. He turned, ready to fight—and froze. A moment of pause took him, and he slowly turned back to look at Cadance. She looked terrified, eyes wide with worry. If he failed…

He drew his handgun and ejected the magazine, counting the bullets left. Just two remained, with one in the chamber meant three shots left. Only three shots. He slid the magazine back into the well until it clicked.

“Cadance, listen to me. This is very important,” Fleethoof spoke softly, his voice gentle and hushed as he placed the gun in her trembling hooves. “I have to go stop them. I need you to stay in here. Hide, hunker down behind something sturdy, and stay quiet. If they get past me… If they get in here, you have three shots. Just three, got it? Take your time and make them count.”

She shook her head slowly. “Fleethoof, I-I can’t… I can’t do this. I can’t kill somepony.”

“Yes, you can. I believe you can if your life depended on it,” he said, looking back to see a pony poke their head around the corner, looking for them. “Do it for me, please. Stay quiet, aim your shots, and keep a tight hold on the grip. Go find my team when it’s over, okay?”

Cadance didn’t reply, but nodded slowly. She looked like she was in shock. Fleethoof hugged her tightly before trotting briskly back out the door into the delivery bay. He kicked the door shut and fired a few shots blankly at the wall, hoping to suppress the ponies back there. A gun came around the corner and returned the blind fire, going wide by feet.

Fleethoof took position behind a large box left on the dock, supporting his rifle on the surface and taking aim. It felt good to be holding his weapon again, like a part of him had been returned. His breathing slowed as he steadied himself. The number of Sword members present was unknown, but he didn’t care if it was one or one hundred. He had a duty to protect the princess, and he was going to see it through.

Gunfire was heard in the hallway. Fleethoof could see the light from the muzzle flashes flickering on the walls. They were shooting at somepony else. A pony popped into view, taking a potshot at him. It went wide, splintering the stone behind his head as he returned three shots of his own, watching the pony dodge and weave behind another crate. A second pony ran out into view, shooting into the hall. Fleethoof took him down with a quick burst of fire.

“For The Sword!”

The door beside the delivery gate opened suddenly, taking Fleethoof off guard. A pony ran in, spotting the captain, and began taking shot after shot at him. Fleethoof ducked beneath the crate as the second pony fired on his cover. He was suppressed from both sides.

“Captain!”

The sound of Valiant’s voice ringing out surprised him. Heavier caliber gunfire mixed in with the shots from the enemies’ guns. There were a few cries amidst the combat. Fleethoof stood up again, analyzing the scene. Valiant had come from the hallway, and had just gunned down one of the two remaining opponents. The last pony had moved positions, facing Fleethoof now. She didn’t even notice the pony as he fired at her, killing her instantly with a few rounds.

“Friendly!” Fleethoof called out as Valiant turned his gun on him. “We’re clear.”

“Clear in storage,” the sergeant said into his headset, hurrying over to his leader. “Are you okay, Captain?”

“I’m fine. Where’s the team?”

“On the way over. Lightning’s been hurt, but he’s alive. Where’s the princess?”

“Safe.” He opened the storage unit again. “Princess Cadance—”

A bullet struck the wall beside Fleethoof’s head, making the pony stumble backwards in shock. He fell to his flanks, eyes wide and teeth clenched, his feathers ruffled in fright.

“Whoa, whoa! Easy, girl! It’s me!”

Princess Cadance’s head poked up from behind a stockpile of flour sacks, the smoking gun still clutched tightly in her hooves. Fleethoof pressed a hoof to his chest, feeling his heart hammering away. He chuckled and stood up again as Cadance came out, looking at the dead bodies on the floor. With a choking sob, she wrapped her hooves around Fleethoof, holding tight to him in her state of terror.

“Thank Celestia you didn’t listen to my advice about aiming,” he said in a teasing manner, slowing his breathing again. “That was close.”

“Tell me it’s over now, just”—her words broke between a sob—“please, please tell me there’s no more violence.”

Fleethoof looked over at Valiant, hearing the static voice of somepony in his comms unit. He nodded slowly. Blue Shield came running into the delivery bay, guns lowered calmly. Their fight was over and done.

Squeezing her tighter in his arms, Fleethoof nuzzled the princess and whispered, “It’s over…”

The whistle blew loudly as ponies and other creatures boarded the train bound for Equestria. Cupcake finished carrying the last of their luggage onto the train car while Sharp Shot, Blue Shield, and Lightning Flash boarded. Only Valiant and Fleethoof lingered behind with Princess Cadance as she bid farewell to their host. Prince Malik had come to see them off, which included ample amount of sweet talk and apologies to the princess.

“Please, accept my most sincere apologies for the tragedy at the gala, fair princess,” Malik apologized, bowing his head remorsefully, as if he had caused the events to transpire. “Aasef. I am deeply sorry for any harm that may have threatened you.”

“As I said the last thirty times, your grace, you are forgiven. It was not your fault,” said Cadance with a gentle smile.

“I should have had more guards at attention. I was foolish for not taking extra precautions around such delicate and precious a thing as your life. Permit me to make recompense for these dark times.”

“Yes, as Fleethoof told you before. You should have listened to him. But now you know for the future, your grace. That is all I ask. Learn from the past, that’s what it’s there for.”

Prince Malik now turned his attention to Fleethoof, situated beside the sovereign. His steely gaze softened slightly by humility. “You were right all along, Ambassador. Or should I say Captain?”

“Captain will do, your highness.”

“I should have listened to you, Captain. It seems there is more to you than meets the eye. Aasef. My pride nearly cost you and Princess Cadenza your lives. You were better prepared than I for handling the situation, lord of war.”

Lord of war. He must have meant warlord. But Fleethoof liked that title better. He smiled and bowed his head gratefully.

“You have proven yourselves to be allies of the crown. You and your ponies are always welcome in my kingdom, Captain… Provided you don’t bring bloodshed to our home every time you visit,” Malik conditioned with a soft laugh, bowing his head in parting. “May your journey home be safe, and your lives long and prosperous. Ma’a salama. Farewell.”

Cadance dipped her head in return. “Ma’a salama, Prince Malik.”

“Take care, your grace.” Fleethoof nudged Cadance gently, motioning towards the train.

The ponies boarded the train, the royal guard of Nadira saluting them as they climbed aboard. Fleethoof rolled his eyes. He was glad he didn’t have to act like the upper one-percent anymore. That was a role he was glad to have behind him.

The whistle blared one last time, and then the train began to move down the track, pulling away from the station. From the cool of the car, Fleethoof watched as the city started to vanish into the distance, opening up to an endless sea of golden sands. He heard a couple glasses clink together behind him.

“To another job well done!” Sharp Shot said in mock toast. “Cheers!”

“Cheers!”

Da! And good job to Captain Fleethoof, the best actor I have ever seen!” said Cupcake.

“You’ve clearly never been to a theatre before,” remarked Sharp in wily jest, sipping his drink.

“All right, all right, no low blows, Sergeant.” Fleethoof trotted over to join his teammates. “Pour me a glass. To Skyfall!”

“To Skyfall!” everypony chanted.

Their mission was over. They were going back home.

Author's Note:

The inspiration behind Cadence's dress: http://fav.me/d4yugxd

Masaa el kheer: Good evening
Marhaban: Welcome
Aasef: I am sorry