• Published 13th Dec 2012
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Skyfall - Dusk Quill

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Chapter 5: Let the Game Begin

Fleethoof stood outside Night Shade’s cell, leaning back against the wall. The cool stone felt refreshing against the warm summer air that choked the prison. Dark sapphire eyes stayed locked on the scene before him. Blue Shield sat opposite of Night, a notepad in his lap, both unicorns staring each other down. This had been going on for two hours now, and it was well into the night.

“Would you like to tell me about your childhood?” Blue Shield asked, tapping his pencil against the paper.

Night Shade didn’t say a word. He didn’t even move a muscle. Shield’s notes remained as blank as when he’d started. It was a very one-sided conversation, that was for sure. But he was determined to get some information from the stallion. If he could get something—anything—he could start to build a psychological profile. But silence gave him nothing—nothing new, at least.

Captain Fleethoof took a deep breath and sighed heavily. This had been the routine for six days now. The Guard had begun their searches again. Their time was practically over, and still they had nothing. It frustrated him to no end, and headaches had become a daily trouble. Shining Armor had expressly forbidden any torture to be dealt to the prisoner, limiting their methods of approach. Short of magic, there was no way of breaking into the pony’s mind.

He had to admire Night Shade’s determination though. That pony was stubborn and loyal to no end, it seemed. He was protecting The Sword like his life depended on it. Fleethoof still had yet to step inside that cell. He had done his part in bringing him in. He did not want to spend any more time with that creepy, mental pony.

“How about your time in the Guard? You said you were in the Frozen North Offensive. I’ve never heard of that.”

No response. Not even a blink. The pony sat like a statue.

“Could you tell me about it?”

Dead silence.

Blue Shield sighed, staring down at his empty notepad. He looked back over his shoulder at his captain, who simply shrugged. He didn’t know what to do anymore than anypony else did. All they could do was keep trying. The door at the other end of the prison opened and closed, and moments later, Shining Armor came around the corner, headed for them.

“Has he said anything?” he asked Fleethoof, his voice hushed so as not to interrupt the ongoing interrogation.

“Nope. Not a word,” Fleethoof muttered, the agitation evident in his rough voice.

Shining Armor glanced over at the two unicorns, then leaned closer to the captain, whispering, “We’re running out of time.”

“Don’t remind me… I know…”

Shining Armor looked at the prisoner for a minute, then nodded. He approached the barred door, and the guard beside it unlocked it. Blue Shield looked up as the Captain of the Guard entered, patting him on the shoulder.

“Go take a break. I’ll take it from here,” he said, taking Blue Shield’s spot on the floor in front of Night Shade.

Shield gave Fleethoof an apologetic look as he passed him on his way out of the prison. Fleethoof felt bad for his team. They were all trying their hardest, and they always looked like they had failed when they couldn’t break the prisoner. He didn’t blame them.

“So, Night Shade…” Shining Armor started to say, getting comfortable on the floor. “Let’s stop playing games now. You know what we want, and I know you have it. So why don’t you tell me about The Double-Edged Sword group?”

Night Shade stared blankly back at his captor, his eyes dead and cold. Shining licked his dry lips, trying to think of another approach.

“How about your plan? You seemed very proud of it. Why not share it with somepony else? Hell, why not scream it to the world?”

This time, the prisoner’s eyes dropped completely, tracing the cracks in the stones of the floor. He shifted his weight slightly, folding his hooves across his chest. Shining Armor shuffled his hooves on the floor impatiently.

“Look, I’ve tried being patient, but I’m not going to let you hurt the Royal Family,” he said, his voice low, and deathly serious. “Tell me what you’re planning and you’ll be a lot better off. We can work with you. If not, I can’t guarantee you’ll ever leave this cell again. In fact, I’ll make sure you—”

“Fleethoof.”

Shining Armor blinked in surprise as the pony suddenly spoke up, interrupting him mid-sentence. Fleethoof’s gaze was torn from the ground up to the prisoner. Had he just spoken his first words in days? And… had he said his name?

“Excuse me?” Shining asked.

“I want to talk to Captain Fleethoof,” Night Shade repeated slowly, enunciating each word before looking past Shining to the pegasus outside the cell.

Shining Armor turned to glance over his shoulder, his eyes meeting his friend’s. Fleethoof just stared in surprise, not entirely sure how to react or respond. Shining Armor turned back to the prisoner.

“He doesn’t talk to terrorists. Why don’t you tell me what you—”

“I said I want to talk to Captain Fleethoof.”

Again, the captive cut off Shining Armor. The two stared at once another, battling wills. Shining backed down first, nodding slowly. If it meant some progress, he didn’t care whom he spoke to. He stood up and made for the door, Fleethoof stepping up to the bars.

“Good luck,” Shining murmured to his friend as they traded places.

Fleethoof slowly stepped into the cell, listening to the door close behind him. The sound of the lock clicking tightly into place sent a thrill of nervousness through him. He was trapped in the room with Night Shade now.

Night Shade smiled welcomingly up at him, who was still lingering by the door, his red eyes sparkling with life again. He motioned with his head to where the other ponies had sat. Slowly, reluctantly, the captain approached. His hoofsteps clopped noisily against the stone floor in the now silent prison.

Fleethoof sat down on his haunches without hurry, now sitting right across from the deranged psychopath. Only a small space separated them. It was the closest Fleethoof had been to the pony since the chase, and already it made him feel queasy. Something about him just put him off to no end.

“Well?” Night Shade asked after a few minutes. Fleethoof was confused. “Aren’t you going to start asking me questions too?”

“You’re the one that wanted to speak to me”

“Right…” The word hung in the air for a moment, and then he smiled widely. “Hi!”

Fleethoof’s brow furrowed in confusion, and he stared cautiously at the pony before him. “Hi.”

“It’s nice to meet you at last, Fleethoof. I read about you in the paper, and I knew I had to meet you.”

The captain nodded slowly. So that was how he knew about him. It was nothing more than what the newspapers had printed.

“Why did you have to meet me?”

Night Shade waved his hooves as wide as his cuffs would allow him, still smiling so widely it was unsettling. “Because you’re just like me, silly.”

“No, I’m not.”

“But you are! You just don’t realize it yet.”

Fleethoof scoffed and shook his head. “I’m nothing like you, Night Shade. I’m not insane. I still recognize good and evil in this world. I still respect my leaders.”

Night Shade looked hurt for a moment. He cocked his head to the side, a questioning look in his eyes. “Am I insane? Or am I just enlightened? Do you even know the definition of insanity?”

“You’re insane.”

He seemed to ponder this for a few moments. “You seem very certain of yourself, Fleethoof. Everything is in its place. Everything nicely black and white.”

“I know the world isn’t black and white, Night. It’s my job to see the shades of gray.”

“So you admit you are like me.”

Fleethoof didn’t have a response for that. He didn’t know how to even begin to form a reply to that sort of lunacy.

“Do you know about the Frozen North Offensive, Captain?”

Fleethoof shook his head, and the pony continued.

“A couple of dragons had begun roosting in the far North, near pony settlements and towns. Princess Celestia went to reason with the dragons, but it was to no avail. Their smoke would have smothered the towns in the north, killing hundreds of ponies. When diplomacy failed, she had her officers organize a small force to go in and… fix the problem. Nice and quiet like, so nopony would have to go into a panic. Real fucking simple, right?”

Fleethoof’s body tensed up a little as he listened to Shade’s tale. It sounded similar to his mission in Skyfall, although his task had been rescue and not elimination. Something glinted in the prisoner’s eye, but it faded before Fleethoof could decipher it, and he continued.

“I was in the Guard at the time. I wasn’t anything special, but they required one pony from every unit in Canterlot to answer the call. My officer chose me, and I was sent with twenty other ponies to the North. At the time they didn't tell us what it was for, but we found out eventually. Twenty-one ponies to kill two dragons. Can you imagine the terror I felt, Fleethoof? Can you just picture the fucking pandemonium?”

He could. Fleethoof could recall the fear very vividly, so much so that he could still feel the chills going through him. His wings ruffled slightly, but his stance remained statuesque.

“Anyway, the dragons weren’t a horrible problem. We timed our attack with a coming storm to cover the battle. It was over very quickly. We ended up with only four ponies left, including myself. But the storm that helped us became our enemy very fast.

“We tried to make our way to the nearest town, to hopefully find somewhere to lie low and make our way home. We got turned around in the storm. It got dark, and it got cold. We took shelter in a cave, waiting for the storm to end. It didn’t, not for days. I kept praying that Celestia would send help, praying that we would be rescued for our blind loyalty and service to her…”

Fleethoof could see something break in Night Shade’s eyes. The pony looked down with the thousand-yard stare, lost in the distant memories. He shivered, and then looked back up at the captain.

“We ran out of food and water, and rescue never came. We set back out in the storm, trying to make our way home desperately. It was our only choice. One by one, my friends succumbed to the cold and the snow and the ice. We couldn’t even bring the bodies with us. They were left to freeze over in the middle of nowhere. When only one other pony was left with me, I prayed harder. I couldn’t accept that Celestia would do this to us.

“When she collapsed in the snow, I held her close, feeling her body shivering against mine. She looked up at me, her eyes broken and sad. And she whispered to me, Captain. She asked, ‘Why did this happen? Why did she abandon us?’ And my spirit broke, Fleethoof. My heart and soul fell to fucking pieces as she died in my hooves! I only survived because I carried on, and I came to a town. I collapsed inside a house as strangers hurried to help me. Strangers were more noble than Celestia!”

Night Shade’s hooves tensed as a familiar fury filled his heart. His ruby eyes narrowed viciously, burning with hate. His anger was so strong, the heat was almost tangible to the stallion sitting across from him. It felt like he was sitting too close to a hearth, with the flames licking at his skin.

“I waited the storm out, then caught the next train back to Canterlot. I was so upset with Celestia, and I needed an explanation for her betrayal. But do you know what I found when I got back home?”

Night Shade’s lips curled back as a slow, disturbing grin began to make its way back onto his face. His eyes locked with Fleethoof’s, burning into them.

“Celestia had lies printed about us. We were a convenient cover-up. ‘Guards slain by monsters’ is what was printed across all the fucking newspapers. She said unknown assailants had jumped our garrison in the Frozen North, and that our bodies hadn’t been recovered. We were just accepted as missing in action, with no conclusion. A fake investigation was conducted, but ultimately abandoned. She blew us off like we were nothing!”

It wasn’t often that Fleethoof felt circumstances come full circle, but suddenly everything Phalanx had told him long ago made sense. Celestia had used her magic to deceive Equestria once before, because she was covering up the deaths of ponies who had slaughtered dragons to protect Equestria. It was that magic that she resented using because she had lost many ponies with it before. Night Shade was one of those ponies. Phalanx must have been one of the officers who had sent him on the doomed mission.

“Night Shade, I am very sorry for your ordeal… I understand the pain you went through,” said Fleethoof after a while.

Night Shade's expression brightened up, but his unsettling grin remained. “I know you do. I heard of your feats at Skyfall through rumors and gossip. That’s how I knew you would understand me. You have suffered. You’ve been left hurt. You are me.”

“No, Night Shade… I’m still not.”

“...What?” Shade asked, his expression falling.

“What happened to you was terrible, but you cannot blame Princess Celestia for the circumstances,” he explained. “The Griffon War was terrible for me. It left me scarred and damaged. But I do not hold any animosity against the princesses for it. There are factors beyond them involved in every event. I’ve seen the remorse Celestia had for sending even a single pony to fight with my own eyes. She isn’t the monster you make her out to be.”

“No! You’re wrong!” Night Shade hissed, rising to his hooves and beginning to pace anxiously alongside the wall like a caged animal. “You survived! It was different!”

“And it would be different if everypony else survived with you too. Night Shade, it isn’t too late to turn your life around. You can still redeem yourself.”

“To what point, Fleethoof? So Celestia can spend my life like a sack of fucking bits again?”

“You’ve painted Princess Celestia as a villain in your mind, but that isn’t the true pony she is.” Fleethoof’s words were hard and straightforward. “You’re going to dismantle the stability of Equestria trying to punish a ghost in your mind.”

Night Shade stopped in front of Captain Fleethoof, glaring down at him. Fleethoof stood up again, staring the pony down. The thick tension filled the small cell again. The prisoner snorted angrily, but Fleethoof didn’t waver.

“I thought of anypony, you would understand, Fleethoof,” muttered Night dejectedly. “I thought an abused hero from the war with such a heartbroken past would be compassionate. It looks like I was wrong.”

“You know nothing of my life. I can understand wanting revenge for losing ponies close to you. I know the feeling all too well. But you’re seeking it against the wrong target, and I can’t let you do that.”

“Oh, I won’t. My group will,” came the prisoner’s reply, flashing his teeth in a grin again. “They do as I say. They follow my plan to the letter.”

Fleethoof furrowed his brow. “Your plan? You came up with it?”

“I’m the leader of The Double-Edged Sword,” Night Shade stated blandly, then blinked in surprise. “Oh, you really didn’t know? You ponies don’t know anything about us, do you?”

“You don’t seem the type to be leading a radical griffon sympathy group. You don’t care for the griffons at all.”

“No, I don’t. But it was easy to win the group over with propaganda of hate towards the alicorns.” Night Shade smiled proudly and trotted over to the bars of his cell. “All I did was pretend to love griffons, rally the most heated vagabonds, and instilled the same hate. They don’t even know what they’re doing. They just blindly follow their charismatic leader because they want to.”

Fleethoof scoffed, smirking a little. “Charismatic? You?”

“No need to get nasty, Captain. I’m trying to be very friendly, welcoming you into my home and all,” said Night, motioning around his cell again. “I’m just using them to get at the princess. They really are a nice bunch. They almost fucking hate Celestia as much as I do. And right now, they’re preparing to do my bidding.”

“Why did you want to talk to me?”

Fleethoof’s question made Night Shade turn around completely. “I wanted to see just how similar we were. I liked you.”

“There has to be more than that,” Fleethoof said. “Why did you really want to talk to me?”

“Because I’m bored waiting for my victory, and I want to play a game with you. Like a test.”

If he hadn’t been before, Fleethoof was extremely confused now. He looked through the bars at Shining Armor, his friend’s visage just as perplexed as he was. Smiling like a madpony, Shade took a couple steps closer to the pony again.

“What makes you think I’ll play any game with you?” he asked defensively.

“Because if you win, the princesses get to live another day.”

From the other side of the bars, he could see Shining’s eyes widen. Even the guard outside had shifted his stance to peer into the cell. Fleethoof knew he couldn’t pass up this chance, even if it was just a chance. As much as he detested being around this traitorous pony, he had to play his game.

The captain heaved a sigh, and surrendered. “Fine. What’s the game?”

“It’s simple. I’m going to tell you where our hideout is, and it’s up to you to stop us before we kill the princesses,” Night said, explaining the rules of his twisted game. He began circling Fleethoof, a predatory look in his eyes. “You’re so much like me, Fleethoof, whether you accept it or not. We’re two sides of the same coin. I want to see which side is stronger: the side of loyalty, or the face of justice.”

“You’re lying.” Fleethoof snorted and glared at the pony. “How the hell do you expect me to believe a word you’re going to tell me? You’re just wasting our time on a fucking goose chase to leave the princesses vulnerable.”

The prisoner laughed. “Now where would be the fun in that? No, Fleethoof, my plan is already in motion, and try as you might, it cannot be stopped.”

“We’ll see about that…”

“Indeed we will! Now, you have less than twelve hours to find my friends and stop them, or you lose. And if you lose, Equestria will be liberated from the lies and corruption. Understand?”

Fleethoof nodded once. Adrenaline ran through his body, keeping him on edge. The hunt was back on.

“Okay, Captain. Are you ready to play?”

“Yes!” snapped Fleethoof, impatience wearing him thin. “Where is your group?”

“It’s so simple! Would you like to guess?” The unicorn was teasing him now.

“Night Shade, where are they?”

“Come on, guess! It’s more fun this way!”

“Night Shade…”

“One guess!”

“Night—“

“Guess!”

Fleethoof rushed the prisoner, taking him off his hooves and slamming him into the metal bars. The steel clanged loudly with the impact, and both Shining Armor and the soldier jumped in surprise. Fleethoof pressed the pony’s head into the bars, eyes seething with anger.

“I’ve had enough fooling around. You’re in my jurisdiction now. Tell me where The Sword is, or Celestia help me…”

The pony burst into a fit of mad laughter. “Oh, you’re wild, Captain! So fiery and passionate! I can see why she likes you so much!”

“Captain Fleethoof,” Shining Armor spoke up, trying to get Fleethoof’s attention.

“What does that mean? Who does?” Fleethoof asked.

“I told you we were watching. Always watching, from the courtyards, the gardens, even the terraces. Look at this! We haven’t even begun playing and I’m already having fun!” The pony just continued laughing.

“Fleethoof—” Shining Armor’s words were pleading now.

Fleethoof’s expression dropped, and a deadly look took over his eyes. He released Night, only to slam him back into the bars, hard. The pony’s head rattled as it smacked against the metal. But still the maniac continued laughing all the while.

“Tell me where they are!” the enraged pony snarled, pressing a hoof to Shade’s throat.

“Fleethoof!”

“Tell me now!”

“They were at the house. The house you caught me at, all along! Isn’t that hilarious? You were right above them, and you didn’t even know!”

Once he had the information he needed, Fleethoof let the insane pony collapse to the floor again. He was still howling with laughter, even as Fleethoof stormed out of the cell and down the corridor, with Shining Armor hot on his hooves.

“Good luck, Fleethoof! When you get back, I’m going to free you all! Hahaha! Ahahahaha!” cackled Night Shade, doubled over on the floor.

“So what’s the plan?” asked Shining once they’d left the prison. “A full assault on the house?”

“No, they’ll see it coming a mile away. My team will search the house. You focus on keeping the princesses safe in the castle. We don’t know if all the members are at their hideout, or if they’re moving to strike. You must protect the princesses at any cost.”

“Got it. And Fleethoof…”

The pegasus stopped halfway up the stairs in the foyer, looking to his friend. Shining Armor gave him a confident smile and a tip of his head.

“Watch your back out there.”

Fleethoof smirked and nodded. “You keep them safe, Captain of the Guard.”

The two ponies separated, Shining Armor going off to rally the Guard and prepare the defense. Fleethoof made his way down the hallways until he came to a door, pounding on it so hard it shook in its frame. A few minutes later, a shocked and sleepy Valiant answered.

“What happened, Captain? It’s three in the morning… Did the prisoner finally say something?”

“Get down to the base and get kitted up, Sergeant,” Fleethoof said urgently. “This game ends now.”