• Published 13th Dec 2012
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Skyfall - Dusk Quill

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Chapter 3: Monsters in the Night

The next few months passed by in long weeks of rigorous training, keeping themselves as fit as possible. Their accuracy with their weapons became more lethal the more they grew accustomed to the firearms, and their hoof-to-hoof combat was without rival. Fleethoof had nearly perfected his form when throwing a knife, and Sharp Shot had developed a faster method for speed reloading. Everypony aced every single test and met every goal they set for themselves. The obstacle course attained several new records. They were prepared.

Fireteam Skyfall was ready to spring into action in a moment’s notice.

But they trained more than just their bodies. Book after book on military history and intelligence went between ponies. Previous criminal cases were examined, testing each member’s observance and mental deduction. The strength of their minds was trained as hard as their bodies.

Princess Luna would stop by, overseeing the progress of her experiment. With Shining Armor busy with his new job, and Cadance away on her travels, all Fleethoof had to pour his attention into was his team. But as time went on, the preoccupation of Shining Armor and the presence of more guards around Canterlot began to stir the captain’s suspicions. Over time, where one guard patrolled, soon two appeared, then three, and soon after, four. Security was being tightened.

Princess Celestia became less frequently seen about the city as well. Luna became more visibly distressed with each passing week. Fleethoof wasn’t the only one who was aware of the changes. The rest of Skyfall Team approached him, questioning why there were more soldiers in the castle and on the streets, and why the princesses were becoming ghosts.

For the time, Fleethoof let it pass. His team was under enough pressure with their constant preparations, he didn’t need to burden them with the worries of royalty.

The days passed into nights, and the nights were as quiet and peaceful as ever. The warm summer weather had returned, and the Summer Sun Celebration had come and passed. Fleethoof could hardly believe it had been over a year since he had set out from the docks of Baltimare for war. Over a year since the violence and the death.

Bang!

Fleethoof was snapped back into reality by the sound of gunfire. Valiant and Cupcake stood down the range beside him, practicing with their weapons. He stared downrange at the silhouette target in front of him. His hooves grasped his rifle tighter, lifting it and aiming down the sights at his target.

He fired one shot, and then two, then three and four. The shots kept firing until the magazine ran dry. The range officer brought the target back to the captain in a blaze of magic. The bullet holes lay clustered around the head and upper torso on the pony silhouette, with only a few straying wide by inches.

“Hey, not bad, Captain,” Valiant said with a nod, jamming a fresh magazine into his own weapon.

“Thanks. You’re doing pretty good yourself, hotshot.” Fleethoof smirked and flexed his wing, stretching the numbed muscles.

“You okay, Fleethoof?”

He nodded. “Oh yeah, my wing just fell asleep.”

Valiant nodded, and pulled the action back on his rifle, chambering his first round. Fleethoof set his weapon aside and picked up his pistol, sending a new target downrange.

“Hey, Captain… what’s going on with the princesses? Is it something we should be worried about?”

“They haven’t involved us yet, Valiant,” said Fleethoof coolly, pulling the slide back on his gun. “I’m guessing it isn’t something to be worried about.”

“But you are still worried, aren’t you?”

Fleethoof didn’t respond. He cast a sideways glance at his friend and teammate, the expression on his face response enough. Valiant nodded slowly.

“Will you talk to Princess Luna? I mean, she is our boss, right? If it’s something we should know about, she’d tell us, right?”

Fleethoof nodded slowly, then brought his handgun to bear. “All right, Valiant. I’ll talk to Luna.”

Bang! Bang!

Fleethoof stood out on the balcony of his chambers, staring up at the nighttime sky, and across the darkened gardens of Canterlot Castle. Princess Luna had very generously offered him permanent accommodations in the castle, providing him a place to live in the city for his job. The rest of Skyfall Team either lived in the castle as well, or within the city limits.

Despite their readiness, the lasting peace after the armistice had proved to be effective. No dangers threatened Equestria, and there was no need for his unit—not yet. Not that he prayed for a catastrophe, of course. But it would have been nice to have something useful to do with their time.

As if his mind had been read, the sound of glass shattering came from the hall outside of his room. Fleethoof turned sharply on his hooves, staring intensely at the door as he listened closely. No other sound was heard. He dropped from the balustrade and cantered back into his room. He grabbed his handgun from the nightstand and slowly opened his door, peeking out into the dark hallway.

Many of the candles had been extinguished, only a few dimly lighting the corridor. A few doors down, Fleethoof could see the smashed window, shards of glass littering the carpet. He stepped hastily out of his room, quickly approaching the broken glass and looking down the hall, his tactical light illuminating the dark passageway. There was no projectile—it was a break-in. Nopony was there. They must have gone around the corner.

Fleethoof quickly ran to the turn in the hall, pressing his back to the wall from habit and peeking around the corner, just in time to see somepony in a cloak disappear around a corner down the other end. He took off down the corridor, his hoofsteps muted and silent against the soft carpet. He peered around the corner again, seeing the pony up ahead. The intruder approached a patrolling soldier from behind, grabbing him and snapping the pony’s neck before taking his rifle.

“Hey! Stop!” Fleethoof shouted, turning the corner and drawing down on the pony.

The cloaked pony glanced back at him, and then took off like a bolt of lightning down the hall. Fleethoof took aim, but the pony rounded another corner before he could squeeze off a shot. He grit his teeth and rushed off after the intruder, skidding around the corner. The pony was hauling tail through the castle, heading right for…

The princesses!

Fleethoof had to move faster. He ran after the pony, firing two shots blindly, hoping to scare and trip him up. The shots went wide, and the pony just kept running. The gunfire attracted the attention of the castle security though. Guards ran in behind and in front of the chase, joining in. The pony fired a shot from the hip, striking one of the stallions in the leg and toppling him to the floor. The pony continued and barreled through the blockade, unhindered as he galloped away. Fleethoof took to the air, flying over the ponies as they stood stupefied.

“Stop, right now! Stay where you are!”

They weren’t far from the princess’ private chambers now. They rounded another corner, the captain hot on the intruder’s tail. One more chance. He stopped and took quick aim, firing two rounds. He was rewarded with a choking cry from the pony, and the figure tumbled and collapsed to the ground in a heap.

The guards finally came around the corner, catching up as Fleethoof approached the body. He held up a hoof, not wanting anypony to come closer if the intruder was still alive and armed. He stepped cautiously alongside the crumpled mess, slowly leaning down, and then jerking the cloak off. The pony’s body lay broken on the floor, blood staining the carpet beneath him. He didn’t so much as twitch.

“Clear,” said Fleethoof, breathing a sigh of relief while holstering his pistol.

The soldiers approached the body, flipping it over. The pony was unrecognized by Fleethoof, not somepony he had met before. Doors opened from further down the hall, and Princess Celestia and Luna came out to investigate the commotion. From further down the corridor, Valiant and Blue Shield came running upon the scene. The guards tried their best to block the sight, but it was too late. Celestia pushed her way through, and Luna leaned against the wall, staring at the corpse in the hallway.

“Take care of him,” Celestia ordered her guards, a look of horror crossing her face.

“My guards will take him to be examined,” said Luna, signaling to a couple of Lunar Guards at the other end of the hall.

“What was he after?” a Royal Guard asked, picking up the gun the pony had taken.

“The princesses,” Fleethoof said darkly. “He grabbed a weapon as fast as possible and booked it over here. He knew where he was going. He was prepared.”

The soldiers lifted the body from the floor and carried it away. Some followed the corpse while the rest stayed with the princesses. It took several minutes of reassurance before any of them stopped asking if they were all right.

“Guards, go secure the perimeter. He may not have been working alone,” Fleethoof ordered, waiting until the guards had left on their mundane mission before facing off with the two alicorns. “You knew what this was. That look on your faces, you knew something was going to happen.”

Neither pony spoke up. Celestia stared down at the bloodstained carpet. Luna just kept looking to her sister.

“Your majesties, I need to know what’s going on. The increase in security around Canterlot, the Guard and its Captain on-duty round the clock, somepony breaking into the castle to get to you two… It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together. Something has you worried, and if it’s bad enough to shake the leaders of Equestria, then I want to know what it is.”

Silence continued to pass between the two parties, before Luna finally replied, “I am sorry, sister. You’ve had your time. Now I’m taking over. Captain, follow me please.”

Finally feeling like he was getting somewhere, Fleethoof followed Luna to her study, his teammates right behind him. Luna shut the door once the team had entered, and quickly strode over to her desk. She opened several files, aligning the papers before everypony. Fleethoof looked over them quickly. They were crime reports.

“I apologize for any secrecy I have been keeping these past few months, but my sister enforced it upon me,” the Princess of the Night apologized, still moving hurriedly around her study. “Apparently she still doesn’t trust me enough to handle affairs my own way. She thinks I’m still too new to the world.”

“With all due respect, Princess Luna, just what the hell is going on around here?” Fleethoof asked impatiently. “There must be a dozen reports here. This has been a long time coming.”

“It has, Captain—and if I had a say in the matter, you would already know all of this. These are reports for the past few months from particular incidents. They are all linked to the same perpetrators: a radical group of ponies bent on dethroning my sister and I for our ‘crimes’ during the Griffon War and our reign. They’ve addressed themselves as The Double-Edged Sword.

“The group made themselves known to us almost six months ago. They sent an anonymous letter to Shining Armor, threatening that unless we made the travesties of the Griffon War known to the public and step down from power, they would force us out. Since then, my sister has been increasing security, but it has been to no avail. Their acts of terror continue to pop up. Ponies go missing, soldiers are attacked in the night, and now this… They’re getting bolder with every day.”

Fleethoof began rifling through every report on the desk. Several missing ponies’ reports, three accounts of assault on the Guard, and with tonight’s events totaled fifteen acts of violence. This radical group were terrorists, fighting a war that had long since ended for a broken, almost nonexistent race.

“This is madness…” muttered Fleethoof. Beside him, Valiant and Blue Shield began looking through the reports as well.

“Their first letter we received stated that we have until the anniversary of the war’s end to surrender our reign, or they will carry out their threat.”

Luna slid a folded piece of paper across the desk to him. Fleethoof opened the sheet, and looked over it. The sheet was bare, save for two lines of plain text and an insignia at the bottom. It was the seal of the former Griffon Kingdom.

Your sins will be cleansed. Your abuse of power will be known.

A year to the day to surrender, or your line will be broken, and Equestria liberated.

— The Double-Edged Sword

“These are the ponies who were protesting war?” Blue Shield asked in disbelief. “What happened to the peaceful chanting on street corners?”

“These aren’t those protestors, Blue Shield… They gave up long ago. These are the griffon radicals,” Fleethoof explained. “They’re renegade ponies, sympathizers with the griffons’ plight. They see history the way Alaric saw it. We are the bad guys, and this would be justice.”

“That’s the problem with history…” said Valiant. “There’s always two perspectives…”

“Luna, these ponies are trying to kill you.”

“Nonsense,” said Blue Shield with a barking laugh. “Nopony can kill an alicorn! They can’t die!”

“Actually, we can,” Luna corrected, her voice dark and grave.

A silence took the office for a moment, catching even Fleethoof by surprise.

“What? But I thought alicorns were immortal?”

“Immortal, yes, but not invincible. My sister, niece, and I do not age. We do not fall ill, nor decay in any form. But we can be overpowered. Our bodies can be broken. We can be killed just like any other pony. We are simply more… resilient to harm.”

The room grew quiet once more. Fleethoof’s mind was reeling with all the new information he had received in the past fifteen minutes. Dark realization dawned on him.

“A year to the day the war ended…” he repeated slowly, eyes widening. “But that’s just under two weeks!”

Luna merely nodded gravely.

“Your majesty, there isn’t enough time to do a citywide search for these rebels. Canterlot is huge. We’d never find them in time.”

“That is why I need Fireteam Skyfall to pick up the investigation. Shining Armor’s soldiers are spread thin as it is with the extra posts. They cannot finish the search on their own,” Luna said, pushing every file and folder towards the three ponies. “But you have all the time in the world. This is the chance for Skyfall Team to show their merit.”

Captain Fleethoof looked to both his sides, looking to his teammates. They were as shocked as he was. But he could see a light in Valiant’s eyes, an excitement and a charge. Luna was right—this was where they made their claim to fame.

“Please, Captain. I’ve never said this before, but our lives are at stake.”

Glancing up at Luna, Fleethoof’s eyes narrowed in focus and nodded.

“Tell us where to start, Princess.”

“The princess wants us to do what?!”

Sharp Shot’s exclamation of disbelief was mirrored in the faces of everypony in Skyfall Team. Nopony seemed entirely certain of themself. Under a month to find a terrorist cell and stop whatever they were planning against the Royal Family was almost unheard of.

“We’re the only ones who can do this quickly and quietly, Sharp Shot,” said Fleethoof, trying to reason with the pony. “I know the time frame is ridiculously tight, but we don’t have any choice. The lives of the Royal Family are at stake, and they refuse to put Canterlot into a state of panic when they aren’t the ones in danger.”

“How do we know this?” Cupcake interrupted, folding his hooves across his chest. “How do we know these terror ponies do not mean to harm citizens too?”

“We don’t. But they haven’t been openly threatened. We have to acknowledge those who are definitely at risk, and right now that is only the princesses.”

Sharp Shot reclined back in his seat, sighing heavily. “Okay, so what’s our first step?”

“The Guard did decent investigations on the previous crimes, and covered a small portion of the city. We pick up on their latest leads and work forward with what we have.”

The door to the meeting room opened suddenly, and Quarter Master warily stepped inside.

“Pardon me, Skyfall Team,” he said, levitating a scroll over to the captain. “But this was just given to me by a soldier. He said it was found on a body from last night, and that you’d want to see it, Captain.”

Fleethoof snatched the scroll out of the air quickly. His hooves couldn’t unroll it fast enough. Much like the others, this letter only had a few lines of text, and was marked with the same emblem.



You are not safe behind your high walls.

We will find you. We will make you face justice.

One last warning you shall receive, monarchs.

Upon the next phase of your kin.



“…What the fuck?” Sharp Shot muttered as Fleethoof read the letter aloud.

“It sounds like a puzzle… A riddle of some kind…” said Valiant quietly to himself. He tapped a hoof against his chin as he stared intently at the grain of the wood in the table.

Blue Shield rapped his hooves rhythmically against the table’s surface, eyes darting back and forth as his mind worked. “One last warning… So there will be one more letter sent to the princesses?”

“It seems that way,” said Fleethoof, pacing around the table slowly. “But that would mean they intended for their assassin to get caught. This wasn’t an earnest attempt on the alicorns’ lives. So why send anypony at all? Why not just post the letter?”

“Pilot fish,” Cupcake said suddenly, catching everypony’s attention and a few befuddled gazes. “They are pilot fish. They scout ahead for the big shark—they assist him. They were testing castle’s defenses, finding weak spots.”

“That’s… actually very clever…” Blue Shield stated with a slow nod.

“So when their pilot fish doesn’t return, they’ll know they can’t get in that way.” Sharp Shot sounded amazed by the ingenuity of the enemy. “That’s brilliant.”

“It also tells us about the enemy,” Fleethoof said, resuming his pacing. “They have enough numbers to risk losing one, and some basic strategic knowledge.”

Sharp Shot scoffed. “One pony doesn’t make that much difference.”

The captain stopped his pacing dead in his tracks, right behind the sniper. He peered down at him with a stern look in his eyes.

“One pony can be the difference between victory and defeat,” he quoted, his gait picking up again.

“But what does the last part mean? The next phase of your kin?”

Valiant’s question brought stillness to the room. Nopony moved. Nopony spoke. Minds raced as they tried to figure out the answer to the mystery.

“I have no idea…” muttered Fleethoof.

“The moon.”

Again, Quarter Master’s voice surprised everypony in the room. Fleethoof hadn’t even realized the unicorn hadn’t left yet.

“Come again?”

“It’s the moon,” Quarter Master said, approaching one of the boards in the room and drawing the diagram of the lunar phases. “There are only three kin in the Royal Family: the sun, the moon, and love. Only one of those three goes through phase changes. And the next major lunar phase is the first quarter moon, two nights from now.”

Fleethoof slowly grew a wide grin and clapped his hooves together. “Somepony give that pony a gold star.”

“That gives us almost no time to prepare, Captain…”

“And we don’t know how they’re planning to deliver this letter.”

“Or where they’re delivering it to…”

All the concerns raised by his team were valid. It made Fleethoof proud that they had all developed such intuitive thinking. But it also did pose a real problem to them. They didn’t know what The Double-Edged Sword’s next move would be. They couldn’t predict a thing, except the date.

“We’ll just have to cover every possible outlet,” he said in response.

Sharp Shot and Cupcake looked at him like he was insane. Blue Shield and Valiant just looked confused. Lightning Flash was slamming his head into the table in frustration.

“Captain, there’s only six of us against Celestia knows how many of them,” Sharp Shot pointed out, scoffing at just how impossible the situation truly was. “Canterlot is a massive metropolis. There’s no way we could cover every mailbox and the castle gates on our own.”

Fleethoof nodded assent, giving a confident, crooked smile. “We’re just going to have to ask our cousins for some help…”

“And I can help with the coordination,” Quarter Master chimed in again, an excited look on his face as he adjusted his glasses. “I recently perfected new devices for you all. Headsets you hook over your ears. They’re connected to small, portable transmitters that allow you to communicate with your teammates across great distances for better organization and support.”

“Those will come in handy,” said Fleethoof, his smile widening. “What’s the range on those, Quarter?”

The unicorn exhaled heavily, calculating in his head. “Well, from what we’ve tested, and with the little energy and magic they actually use to transmit, potentially limitless. Our furthest transmission was from our base to Ponyville, with crystal clear reception. Weather does play a factor, though.”

“Very handy indeed. We’ll put those to good use.”

Valiant turned in his chair and looked up at his officer. “So what’s the plan now, Captain?”

“Now, Valiant,” he said, making his way for the door. “I call in a favor from a close friend.”