• Published 13th Dec 2012
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Skyfall - Dusk Quill

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Chapter 2: Scars and Souvenirs

A few evenings later found Fleethoof standing out on one of the castle’s terraces, overlooking the city of Canterlot. A full moon cast the entire skyline in a veil of silvery light. The magical city already looked majestic on its own accord, but now it looked like something out of a fairy tale. Lights from windows dotted the dark sporadically, and the distant sounds of music and scents of flowers and food filled the air. A cool breeze chilled the nighttime air. The Running of the Leaves had been only a couple weeks ago, but already the temperature was shifting south, turning towards winter.

Fleethoof barely noticed the coolness surrounding him. His thoughts were miles away, his mind occupied by his new responsibilities. For the past few days, his team had been training so rigorously. From dawn till dusk, they would run the obstacle course again and again and again, switching it up with a few sessions at the shooting range to get used to their new sidearms. He had been right about loving his pistol. The gun was as smooth to handle as silk.

So far, everything had been so promising. But it was still enjoyable to take the evenings to himself and reflect in the tranquility of the night. He loved the moon and the stars and the serenity. Even when the weather was cold, he still sat out at nights, quietly contemplating. But now, the cool air was making his wing ache, Fleethoof's face scrunching in discomfort as he rolled the joint and stretched the limb.

“Good evening, Captain.”

Fleethoof looked back over his shoulder in surprise at the sudden voice. He recognized the soft tone, and smiled as Cadance wandered onto the terrace to join him. He retracted his wing back against his body, making room for her to stand beside him.

“Good evening, Princess,” he replied, bowing his head slightly in respectful reflex. “What brings you out tonight?”

“I could ask you the same,” she said, smiling at him as she leaned against the balustrade. “I didn’t expect you to stay around Canterlot after the war ended.”

“Is my presence that much of a disappointment to you?” Fleethoof asked teasingly, making the princess laugh.

“I never expected a pegasus pony to like living among unicorns so much.” Her words were gentle, and her voice warm, as always. “I would’ve guessed you’d return home to Cloudsdale.”

He shrugged. “I like Canterlot just fine. It’s a beautiful old city. Plus it’s convenient with my job.”

“And what job is that?” Cadance looked at him with a tilt of her head.

Fleethoof froze, his mouth partially open in a stopped sentence. He couldn’t tell her about Skyfall Team, not yet. It was still very much on a need-to-know basis, as dictated by Luna—and Cadance wasn’t on that basis. He didn’t want to get her in trouble or endanger her.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you.”

Cadance’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why not?”

“I just can’t,” Fleethoof repeated softly. “Just trust me, Cadance. If I could tell you, I would. But right now, it’s better if you don’t know.”

Cadance was silent and still for a few long moments. Fleethoof could see the calculations going on behind her eyes. She was trying to work out his cryptic message.

“Is it dangerous?” she asked, concern coloring her voice. She was getting warm.

“When have I ever done something that wasn’t dangerous?” Fleethoof jokingly retorted, a crooked smile on his face.

“Touché,” Cadance murmured in agreement, looking away for a moment. “Well, whatever it is, just promise you’ll be careful.”

Fleethoof raised one hoof and crossed his chest with the other. “Cross my heart.”

“Good.” Cadance looked back out over the Canterlot skyline again. “You don’t have bandages on your wing anymore.”

A chuckle came from the pegasus. “No, they came off a little while ago.”

“But it’s still bothering you.” Her words weren’t a question. Her eyes turned back to his. “Isn’t it?”

“I’m fine,” he lied.

As if trying to prove him to be a liar to the princess, a sudden twinge went off in his wing. His body tensed up, and he grit his teeth as he flexed the muscle out in it again. Cadance looked at him with worry, Fleethoof raising a hoof to show he was all right. Taking a few deep breaths, he let the ache subside before resting his wing against his side again. His secret was out.

“How long?” she asked.

“About a month now, on and off. It’s been getting worse each time.” He stared down at the stonework beneath his hooves, unable to look at her now.

“Fleethoof, you can’t be doing any dangerous job in your condition. You’ll get yourself killed.”

“I’m fine,” muttered Fleethoof.

“Have you been to see a doctor?”

“Two.” His words were short, terse with the effort of keeping the pain out of his expression. “They told me it was residual from by broken wing, and that it’ll pass in time.”

“I think you should go see a specialist.”

“No.”

Cadance was taken off guard by his quick rejection. “Fleethoof, if you’re in pain, you need to have somepony look at it.”

“I’m not going to have somepony else tell me something’s wrong with me, and that I can’t do my job, when clearly I still can,” he said, straightening back up. “Please, Princess, you can't tell anypony about this. I can handle it on my own.”

Cadance was quiet for a moment, clearly conflicted between moralities. Finally, she nodded.

“Okay…” she said softly. “If you promise to go see a specialist at least once.”

Fleethoof rolled his eyes and huffed a sigh. “Cadance—”

“If you won’t do it for you, do it for me,” she cut in quickly, making it very clear she wasn't going to drop the matter. “I want to know you’re okay when you’re doing whatever it is you can’t tell me you’re doing.”

Finally looked back up at the princess, Fleethoof had been prepared to refuse her deal. But then his eyes met hers. He could see the pleading look in those purple irises. They begged him to protect himself. She still cared. Something inside him broke, and despite his instinct reaction, he nodded assent.

“Okay…” he spoke, barely above a whisper. “But please, Cadance, not a word to anypony. I can’t be taken out of duty. I’ll go mad if I’m stuck sitting around for the rest of my life.”

A gentle smile touched Cadance’s lips as she nodded this time. Fleethoof pulled the princess into a tight hug. He always felt he could be himself around her, even though they were worlds apart. Well, not so much worlds anymore, now that he was a top-ranking officer. Being around Cadance just felt… normal.

“So what can you tell me about your job?” she asked when they finally pulled apart.

Fleethoof looked out at Canterlot for a second before his gaze settled on her again. “I’m protecting Equestria. I’m always protecting Equestria.”

“That’s not much,” Cadance noted with a laugh, “That’s like me saying I’m being a princess.”

“Is that not what you do? And here I was under the impression you actually did something with that title…”

His sarcastic remark earned Fleethoof a playful shove from the alicorn. He chuckled. She had obviously either dealt with teenagers or ponies like him before. He could tell by the look in her eyes, and the way she behaved. Sarcasm was not a foreign language to her.

“As a matter of fact, my new role includes more than just sitting on a throne or kissing newborn foals,” said Cadance in humored reply .

Fleethoof’s attention was peaked. “What new job is this?”

“It’s a secret.” Her words were mocking him, teasing him with a little smile as they played on what he had used mere moments before.

“Princess…”

“It’s nothing exciting. More diplomatic missions, spreading love, improving relations,” she said. “But I’ll be able to see new places. That’s exciting, right?”

“The last time you went somewhere, you were kidnapped,” Fleethoof reminded her, his eyes dark with concern. “I found you four days later, chained up in a tower in the middle of a warzone.”

“It’s different this time. There’s no war going on.”

She was right, but a lingering doubt still worried the captain.

“Just promise me you’ll try to stay safer than last time.”

“You promised me, so I promise you I’ll be okay,” Cadance vowed, crossing her chest this time with a smile. “Cross my heart.”

Fleethoof smiled back, but couldn’t shake his worry. He’d seen the world, and though he wanted to believe it was all good intentions and sunshine, he knew a precaution was better than a hope. He had lost enough friends. Cadance was not one he was willing to risk.

The pale, white color of the examination room didn’t help Fleethoof feel any better. He was already dreading his decision to come here in the first place. Seeking medical attention felt like admitting a sign of weakness. He couldn’t afford to be weak now. But he had made a promise to Cadance, and though he wanted to get out as fast as possible, he wanted to be a stallion of his word even more.

The doctor had already come in and examined his wing where it had been fractured. New x-rays had been taken, and were compared to the originals when he’d had his wing set in a cast. Everything had healed properly—at least that’s what the other doctors had said. Now he put his trust in a wing and vertebrae specialist in Cloudsdale General Hospital.

Fleethoof sighed and looked around the room at the various charts and instruments everywhere. He felt very uncomfortable. Nothing made sense to him around here, and that frightened him even more. Terrifying thoughts of being forced into discharge ran rampant through his head, of his career ending right at its dawn. He couldn’t handle that. Being ordained into normalcy would drive him insane.

His hooves beat absent-mindedly against the exam table as he waited. How long had he been here? There wasn’t a clock in the room. That was most likely deliberate. The suspense was making him stir-crazy. He just wanted to know what was going on with him. His wing began to ache very subtly. He rubbed along the length of it, soothing the pain. He couldn’t feel any abnormality that would’ve come with a complicated recovery. What was going on?

The door opened then, and a pegasus in a white coat floated inside, shutting the door behind her. She looked up at Fleethoof, massaging his wing, and gave him a concerned look.

“Is your wing bothering you again, Fleethoof?” she asked.

He nodded slowly. “… Yeah.”

“How bad is it?” the doctor asked, coming closer and feeling along the length of his wing for herself. “On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst.”

“It’s a one, maybe a two right now. Just an ache, really.”

“Well, your x-rays came back clean,” she said, placing the film on a light board to show him. “The fractures from your initial injury healed perfectly fine. That’s good news. But that also means there’s some bad news too.”

Fleethoof looked up at the mare in worry. Those were the words he had been dreading.

“What does that mean?” he asked, plain and simple.

“Well, it means the pain isn’t being caused by something skeletal, but by something muscular or neural in your wing,” she continued to explain to him. “Your wing was pretty badly damaged when you came back from the war. It had been fractured in multiple places and the muscles torn when it was dislocated. It’ll be almost impossible to definitively diagnose it as either problem, and if it’s muscular it could heal slowly on its own with rest—or it could be a long-term issue.”

Again, Fleethoof looked up in worry, feeling his heart drop. “Long-term? You mean, permanent?”

The doctor nodded sympathetically. “Unfortunately, yes. And if it’s the nerves that are damaged, then that is permanent. Wings are very delicate, after all, Mister Fleethoof. You’re very lucky it was salvaged at all.”

Fleethoof didn’t feel very lucky. It was almost like a cruel joke. He’d survived the war in one piece only to find out he was more badly hurt than ever. He could feel his stomach knotting up. He wanted to cry. It wasn’t fair.

“How do I deal with this?” he asked grimly. He could feel the hope slipping past his grasp like sand. “If this is forever, it’s going to get… worse… isn’t it?”

“Possibly. We can’t give you a definite yes or no to that either. But I’m going to prescribe you some painkillers to help you deal with the aching. I want you to come back in for a check-up in a few weeks. If your pain has subsided or intensified, then we’ll have a more accurate idea of what we’re dealing with. In the meantime, you should still be able to fly. Just don’t try to carry more than your own weight, or strain yourself too much. Just take it easy.”

Biting his lip, Fleethoof nodded slowly. The mare scribbled something down, and then handed him his prescription. He took it with shaking hooves, staring blankly into space.

“It’s a good thing you’re not on active duty anymore,” the doctor remarked with a laugh. “Your wing will be able to rest just fine. Stay safe, Mister Fleethoof! See you in a month!”

And with that, she left the room. Fleethoof continued to sit on the exam table, staring blankly at the cloud floor. He was in trouble, and he knew it. His breathing was shallow, and he felt nauseous. This was it. His career was over.

No, there had to be a way out of this…

He looked down at his prescription. The name was recognizable. It was a powerful painkiller, the kind they had offered for his broken wing, but he’d initially refused. It was almost ironic now, but the humor of the situation was lost to his dread.

Finally, he got off the table and made his way out of the hospital. Fleethoof got his prescription and was out of the hospital in a heartbeat. All he could do now was hope and pray. But he was a pony of action, not of faith, and waiting did not come easy to him.

Popping a pill into his mouth to dull the sudden stinging he felt in his wing, he dared to let himself hope. Hope that he wouldn’t be crippled, and that this would blow over. If not, his career was dead in the water.

"Fleethoof?"

The sound of his name being called over muffled gunshots snapped Fleethoof out of his daze. Ever since he had gotten the news about his wing, he found himself slipping in and out of conscious thought, lost to the worry of his own predicament. He looked around with quick snaps of his head. He was in Skyfall's shooting range, staring down at a target a few meters downrange. Beside him, Valiant was staring at him, concern darkening his eyes. How long had he just been standing there?

"Huh? Oh, sorry, Valiant. I must have spaced out," Fleethoof said in apology, feeling his cheeks warm and ears flatten against his head. "Were you saying something?"

"I was just asking if you were okay," said Valiant. "You've been acting sort of strange lately, Captain."

Fleethoof mentally kicked himself for making his worries so visible. "I'm fine, Valiant. And you can call me Fleethoof. We're all the same here in Skyfall."

"You'd let us know if something was bothering you, right?" Valiant's question struck a nerve within the captain. His friends were looking out for his well-being. It made him smile a little, but the anxiety that resonated from the pain in his left wing killed the sentiment almost immediately. He made a silent vow to keep an eye on how frequently he zoned out like that.

"Yeah, I would."

Valiant nodded once, and then turned back to his lane in the range. Fleethoof looked down at the rifle in his hands. Quarter Master's team had recently finished their weapons, and Skyfall was still practicing and getting used to them—breaking their toys in, so to speak. Fleethoof had to hand it to the unicorn, he knew how to design a weapon. Fleethoof's gun was identical to the previous model he had used in the Griffon War, with some modifications to the form and sights. Most strikingly, the gun was completely covered in a matte black finish, and boasted the captain's cutie mark engraved into the side.

Fleethoof lifted the gun and fired a few more rounds into his target. He watched the paper recoil in the air as each one penetrated its surface. He loved this weapon, as well as the pistols and other equipment Quarter Master has fashioned for his team. Valiant's lane erupted in a series of gunfire as he began peppering his target with his new gun, the larger caliber rifle booming ostensibly loudly beside him. Further down the range, Lightning Flash and Cupcake were examining their new weapons. Both ponies had received completely new designs, with Flash's being a compact submachine gun for easy use, while Cupcake had gotten his request of a massive machine gun. Fleethoof had to admit, whenever he heard that gun start up, the thunderous hailstorm of bullets it produced even scared him. He was very thankful Cupcake was on their side.

A loud crack came from the far end of the range. Sharp Shot was sighting in his new rifle as well. The pony had been as giddy as a foal on Hearth's Warming when he saw what Quarter Master had produced for him. Ever since then, all of Sharp's time went into caring and upkeep on it, never once leaving his side. Fleethoof was fairly certain the pony slept with it at night too. The mental image made him chuckle internally.

Despite the equipment and devices being manufactured for them by the week, Skyfall still had yet to be put into action—something Fleethoof took as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it meant that he could have plenty of time to rest and recuperate if his wing was only slightly damaged. On the other, it meant they had literally nothing to do but spend brass on the range, or run their obstacle course, or spar with one another for hours at a time. Not that practice wasn't a benefit, but Fleethoof had never liked the downtime between actions. The waiting was what killed him.

"Do you think we'll be getting our first mission soon, Captain?" Valiant asked as he reloaded his rifle beside Fleethoof. The captain could only shake his head.

"I don't know, Valiant..."

"I hope so. I really want to put ourselves to the test!"

"In due time, Sergeant," said Fleethoof, bringing his rifle to bear as he took aim at his target. "In due time."

“Well, the good news is that it doesn’t seem like the damage has gotten any worse.” The doctor’s words were soothing to Fleethoof’s soul.

“That’s very, very good news,” Fleethoof said, allowing himself to smile and breathe a sigh of relief.

However, the doctor hesitated, gently pressing different points along Fleethoof’s wing from base to tip. “Does this hurt at all? Anywhere?”

“Just discomfort and aches, but it doesn’t hurt as badly as before.”

“I think it was mostly muscle tissue and tendon damage that hadn’t healed yet,” the pony explained, continuing to examine the pegasus’ wing, watching whenever he would tense up. “But it does look like there’s been some nerve damage.”

Fleethoof felt his good mood die in an instant. “What does that mean?”

“It means that your wing will never fully recover the strength it once had. You may notice a drop in wing power and flight stamina. It will probably continue to ache, and it may hurt again if you do anything too strenuous to it. So no racing, no lifting heavy weights, and no daredevil stunts.”

“But I’ll still be able to fly all right, right?” He held his breath, his most vital question out in the air.

“Yes, you should still be able to fly normally, or as close to normally as before. Just be careful with what you do,” the doctor said, filling out his chart with quick strokes and checks. “If you hurt your wing any further, you may cause even more irreparable damage. I’m going to keep you on a painkiller regiment to deal with the long-term pain. Nothing addictive, just enough to soothe it on a regular basis. If it starts hurting again, come back and see us.”

Fleethoof nodded, feeling a strange combination of relief and despair. On the one hoof, he was still able to fly, albeit at less his previous capability. But on the other, his wing would never heal. He would always bear the scar, just as he bore the thin silver line across his chest from his other brush with death. Reality came crashing down on him. If he wasn’t careful, he could cripple his wing for good—and then he would be grounded for life. Fleethoof shuddered at that prospect.

“How long will I need to be on medication?”

“If I’m honest… probably the rest of your life,” the doctor answered earnestly, pursing her lips momentarily. “You can take them as you need to deal with the pain, but the damage done was fairly bad. Your wing will probably always feel that residual pain.”

Fleethoof stared blankly down at the floor. The news was bittersweet. It was worse than he had hoped for, but better than he had feared. He’d be able to fly, but at the cost of handicapping himself.

“I’m sorry.”

He nodded slowly. “Yeah, me too…”

Looks like I’m going to have to rely on my hooves more, he thought ruefully as he left the hospital.

Fleethoof. His name had never been more accurate.