Of Steam Gears and Wings

by RavensDagger

First published

The CMC go against the Empire that is ruling over Equestria. A la Dieselpunk.

Ten years after a massive war, Equestria has changed. The Empire now rules over all, giving peace and prosperity to those that deserve it, but some are against this new rulership.
The CMC, a small, raggedy group of smugglers working for the Apple family, are caught red-hoofed by an Imperial patrol. As the friends fight for their lives, they learn about themselves, each other, and the world they now reside in.
Meanwhile, in Canterlot, Emperor Blueblood has amassed a massive fleet and is preparing to smash what is left of the rebellion under the oppressive hoof of his Empire.




Last Flight of The Crusader

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Of Steam Gears and Wings -Chapter One- Last Flight of The Crusader

[center]Image by NoReasonToHope

When Scootaloo had first seen The Crusader, she thought it was ugly, very ugly. It was short, fat and had the oddest configuration and balloon placement she had ever seen on an airship. Unlike a normal airship, where the balloon was above the cabin, this ship’s balloons were wrapped around not one, but two cabins—one above and one below.

The top cabin held the sparsely-decorated pilot’s station that doubled as a crow’s nest, as well as the main engine. The bottom carriage held the main cargo hold, sleeping quarters, two small engines and the only weight capacitor on-board the ship; something indispensable to any modern airship. Separating the two cabins was a bundled mass of rusty scaffolding, ladders and wires left to the mercy of the winds.

In all, it looked like two great misshapen lumps held together by two metallic shuttles. The entire thing was painted red and blue by the inexperienced hooves of its owners. A prancing, cape-wielding yellow filly adorned its side, the symbol of the Cutie Mark Crusaders.

The Crusader was ugly, it stank and its motors leaked and sputtered more than they should, but it was airworthy. And after spending such a long time on board the little ship, it had worked its charm on her. They wouldn’t want it any other way: it was home.

A small smile adorned her face as she leaned on the railing right below the main propeller and its rudder. She could still remember the look she and Sweetie Belle had shared when Apple Bloom had bought the ship.

Apple Bloom had taken all the money the Cutie Mark Crusaders had scrambled together and bought it on her own. It didn’t cost much, at first, but they soon found out why the thing was so inexpensive. Three months of hard work later and it was ready.

Scootaloo’s thoughts were interrupted when she heard a creaking from the main rudder. “Huh? We’re not supposed to turn yet.” Stretching her wings leisurely, she let them catch the first rays of the dawn sun, taking the time to enjoy the way they rubbed against her leather jacket as they fanned out in the soft breeze.

Scootaloo turned and trotted around the balcony and up the metal ladder, her hooves ringing loudly in the still dawn. She climbed into the pilot’s cabin. A spartan room with next to no furnishings, the compartment made up for its lack of decoration by providing a magnificent view.

A white and brown colt stood at the helm, eyes closed and head low, almost touching the wooden wheel. He was breathing evenly through his nose, making small whistling sounds after each breath. Scootaloo slowly snuck up to him, leaning forward until her mouth was mere inches from his ear. “Pip! Wake up!”

The colt jumped awake and looked around in a panic. “What’s going on?” Pipsqueak stared at the dozens of dials that were part of the controls, quickly making sure that everything in the ship was still working. He looked around and spotted her wearing a sly grin. “What’s go-?” he started, but was interrupted by her laughter.

“Wake up, silly; it’s almost daybreak.” Scootaloo giggled once more and trotted over to the pile of maps thrown about on a table at the rear of the metallic cabin. On top of the pile was a map of their whereabouts. A red line had been carefully penned in Sweetie Belle’s delicate hoofwritting. It went from Ponyville to New Appleloosa, wiggling and twisting at places —sometimes to avoid obstacles, sometimes to avoid patrols—.

Pipsqueak grunted and shook himself in an attempt to clear off the last remnants of sleep; he was a relatively new addition to the crew and was starting to get used to being treated as such. Pipsqueak was always given the hardest, most boring jobs. In this case, night-flight duty. “Is anything wrong?” he asked, a note of concern and fear of failure in his voice. He glanced over at her nervously.

Scootaloo grabbed the map and brought it to the ship’s Gyro-compass. She compared the two with an experienced eye while Pipsqueak fretted behind her. “Aww, Pip, you took us off-course,” she sighed. “Turn the wheel eight degrees to port.”

“What’s going on?” Apple Bloom said as she opened the well-oiled floor hatch. Below her, the wind howled as it passed between the struts that connected the two gasbags together. “I heard Pip squeal.”

The only male on board blushed as Apple Bloom made her appearance. He went back to steering the ship while paying undue amounts of attention to the clouds ahead.

Scootaloo joined her friend before shutting the hatch and locking it firmly. “How is Sweetie doing?” Scootaloo lowered her voice in concern, as if her unicorn friend far below could hear through both cabins.

“Not bad,” Apple Bloom sighed. “She was reading that letter again...” The two friends shared a moment of awkward silence. Apple Bloom scratched her foreleg and looked around the inside of the cozy cabin. It wasn’t meant to have this many ponies in it. “Could we go out? Ah need some air.”

“Yeah, let’s go.” Scootaloo nodded in understanding and led the way out through the wooden door and onto the metallic balcony beyond, their hooves ringing and echoing into the cloudy sky as they made their way around one of the large balloons.

The two mares walked sure-hoofed to the side of the ship. From there, all they could see was open sky on one side and the tarp that made up the giant gasbag to the other. The sun was just cresting the horizon as the two friends sat on the cold walkway in silence. Their breaths made small clouds in the chilly morning air that were quickly lost as the ship moved forward. These were the moments they lived for.

“So, how are things below?” Scootaloo broke the silence.

“Not bad. I wanted to shift things around tonight, hide our cargo behind the apple shipment. Last cargo check was a close call; we really need to find more hiding spots.”

“Thank goodness Pipsqueak got a nasty case of Poxyolopis.” The two friends shared a smile at the nostalgic memory. “The look on that guard’s face when Pipsqueak puked all over the hold.”

Apple Bloom laughed. “Thank goodness you cooked that day; I almost joined him.”

Scootaloo gave her a friendly punch on the shoulder. “Hey, I never asked for cooking duty!” Scootaloo countered, indignantly.

“Heh, ‘awesome pilot’ does not contribute to the crew’s ability,” Apple Bloom responded just as indignantly. The two friends huffed and looked in opposite directions before breaking out into laughter.

Their laughter died off as the wind and the whirling blades of their ship carried their words away. “So, New Appleloosa... again.”

“Eeyup.” Apple Bloom replied, imitated her elder brother.

“Don’t you ever get tired of that run? Same sky, same patrols, same stuff hidden all over the ship. Hay, it doesn't even pay that much. Boooring.” Scootaloo leaned her head against the railing and looked Apple Bloom over.

Apple Bloom had changed a little. She was taller now, her old bow was tattered and frayed on the edges and didn’t look as large as it once had. Her entire body, cutie mark included, was hidden under an oil-stained red mechanic’s jumpsuit. She was covered entirely in grease and grime. Thankfully, their usual run was only two days long; they could afford to stink a little.

Apple Bloom sighed, breaking Scootaloo’s thoughts. “Yeah, it gets boring after a while. I just wish my sis’ would let me join the rebellion. I’m sure we could make a difference.”

“Well, we are sort of helping... we smuggle stuff around.” Scootaloo regretted pushing the conversation down that path.

“That hardly helps anypony.” She stomped against the railing with an Apple family kick, the metal denting slightly as the impact shook the entire railing. Neither of them worried about it much though: the ship was covered in dings and dents.

“Maybe we can. From what I can tell things aren’t going any better. We might have to join the rebellion soon.” Scootaloo smiled hopefully. “I wish we could...”

Apple Bloom giggled. “You jus’ want to be with Rainbow Dash, don’t ya?”

“I do not!” Scootaloo retorted too quickly.

“You sleep with that ugly coat on, and ah saw that poster in your room,” said Apple Bloom with a sly smile, causing Scootaloo to blush fiercely. “Just ‘cause she’s the one to give it to you doesn’t mean you should wear it all the time...” Apple Bloom started laughing at Scootaloo’s discomfort. “It’s all right. Your secret is safe with me... and Sweetie and Pipsqueak and the whole of Ponyville.”

Scootaloo just groaned in embarrassment.

A silence stretched over the pair once more. Scootaloo looked up at the clouds as they passed. The sun painted the sky orange, making the usually dark clouds appear as if they were on fire. Something metallic and obviously pony-made poked through the clouds and grabbed her attention as the sunlight glinted off of its shiny structure. “What’s that?” She pointed her hoof at the bar that stuck out from beneath one of the larger clouds.

Apple Bloom rose up and stared at the object. They both squinted as it grew larger and larger. The thing was slowly gaining on them. Suddenly the clouds parted and gave them a partial view of a huge grey blimp.

“Looks like trouble. Get Sweetie on the radar. Ah’ll go warn Pipsqueak,” Apple Bloom said before running off along the railings; she was soon out of sight as she went around the large gasbag. Scootaloo looked up at the bag and focused on her wings. Flying had never been her forte, but she was more than capable of flying over the balloon.

In a matter of seconds Scootaloo took off, cringing as she was buffeted by the stronger winds above the ship forcing he to flap harder to gain some altitude. Finally, Scootaloo made it over the bag and into the crevice between the two balloons of the airship. She avoided the tangles of wires, struts and antennas to land on the pilot’s cabin with a heavy thud, right beside one of the camouflaged roof turrets. Trotting over to the roof hatch, she bucked the rusty lever to the side and opened the doorway.

As Scootaloo fell in she was greeted by a wide-eyed Pipsqueak standing behind the wheel.

“No time; Apple Bloom will explain,” she said as she opened the bottom hatch and dropped down.

It wasn’t a long way from one cabin to the next, but the turbulence of the air passing in-between the two balloons made it a perilous drop. The type of stunt that had killed more than one overconfident pegasus. Scootaloo glided down to the roof of the much larger cabin below. She closed her eyes against the cold wind as it threw her off course, forcing her to flap furiously in an attempt land anywhere near the doorway.

With a loud thud and a small yelp, Scootaloo crashed into the much larger lower cabin. She quickly inspected herself, and let out a sigh of relief when she saw that she was unscathed by the ropes and supports that crisscrossed between the two gasbags. Scootaloo reoriented herself and found the doorway. Using her wing as a shield against the strong winds, she crawled over to the hatch.

The lower cabin was much larger; it had its own secondary piloting station as well as the cargo hold, crew quarters, two small engines that powered the rear propellers and it held the Sparkle Weight Generator: a must for any airship. It allowed them to magically regulate the weight of the ship, letting them go up or down at will.

Scootaloo grunted as she opened the heavy door, impeded by the strong winds that pushed against the large, flat surface. The door creaked and forced against the turbulent wind, but with one last heave the door popped open and Scootaloo slipped into the room as it slammed itself shut. The commotion of the door closing resonated through the metallic cabin.

Sweetie Belle, who was under the immense Sparkle Generator, twisted and turned beneath the generator, and then finally popped her grime-covered head out.

“Oh, hi,” she said, slightly surprised as Scootaloo panted for air. When she saw the way Scootaloo’s mane and tail were twisted and wind-blown, she giggled, climbed out from behind the generator and trotted over to her friend as Scootaloo began preening her feathers back into order. “What’s wrong, did you actually try to fly here?” Sweetie Belle asked, raising her brow questioningly.

Scootaloo looked away, slightly embarrassed. “Of course not, you’d have to be a foal to try and fly on an airship,” she quoted from the manuals. “It’s the first rule that pegasi shouldn’t fly on board a ship unless anchored...”

Sweetie Belle just stared at her, oblivious to her friend’s failed attempt to lie. “Just get to the radar: I think we’ve spotted trouble,” said Scootaloo before the conversation went on.

“Fine. You know, you could have used the PA...” Scootaloo facehoofed at herself for forgetting about the intra-ship communication units. Sweetie Belle laughed at her discomfort as she walked past the orange and purple pegasus. “Come on, I could use your help on the radio, and you could use a meal.”

Scootaloo started to deny it but her stomach betrayed her. “Who‘s cooking tonight?”

Sweetie Belle popped her head around the corner with a mischievous smile. “You are.”

Scootaloo groaned in disappointment and followed the unicorn. The communications station on board The Crusader was obsolete at first glance; it was tucked into the very front of the ship and only had one set of headphones and a simple console to control it. In reality, it was once one of the best on the market; it had simply been camouflaged by years of use to look cheap and ugly. It was tuned specifically to hear the imperial frequencies, something the average set couldn’t and wasn’t supposed to do. Sweetie Belle was the only pony on the crew that could manage the complicated magical device, something she took a lot of pride in reminding everypony of.

Sweetie Belle sat and stared at the system before starting to tweak it with her magic. As quickly as she could she turned on the radar and started scanning the skies. As the arm on the radar screen circled around, it slowly revealed a large oblong shape heading right for The Crusader.

“Airship,” said Sweetie Belle with a hint of concern.

She redoubled her efforts on the console to fine-tune the radar’s reading. “And it’s Imperial.”

They both swore silently. Sweetie Belle levitated a book out of a nearby case. Flipping through the pages she compared the silhouettes within to the one on the screen.

“Crap, it’s an Interdiction-class light destroyer. What is it doing here? They never come around these parts; too much wind for that large a ship.”

“Pip fell asleep at the wheel... again.” Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “He turned us off-course.” She said with a sigh.

“When? We stay as far as we can from their patrols, no way we strayed that far in a few minutes!”

“Sometime last night?” Scootaloo cringed.

“You never noticed?” Sweetie Belle lifted her hooves in the air, exasperated. “Bah, never mind, it’s too late for that now. Maybe they won’t bug us?”

As if pre-determined, the radio crackled to life at that very moment. “Light commerce ship ‘Crusader’, bearing North-west, this is the Conformity. Shut off all engines and prepare for a mid-air search party. Any and all deviance from orders will result in immediate termination of the crew by orders of the great Emperor Blueblood. Please confirm.”

The two mares gulped. “I guess they won’t just leave us alone.” Scootaloo turned to Sweetie Belle. “Now what? If they check our cargo...”

Sweetie Belle grabbed the intra-ship communications unit. “Apple Bloom, it’s the Imperials; they want to search The Crusader.”

A few crackles later and a familiar voice responded, “Yeah, ah can see it now; it’s huge. What should we do?”

The three waited in silence. “We outrun them,” said Scootaloo. Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes.

“That’s yer solution for everything: fly away,” responded Apple Bloom from above with a crackle.

“No, hear me out.” Scootaloo ripped the thick book from Sweetie Belle’s hooves and turned back to the page she was on. “Look, it says here that the Interdiction class has a top speed of forty-five knots.” She slapped the page. “Pipsqueak, what’s our top speed?”

Pipsqueak’s voice was yelled into the communications unit from afar. “Um, about thirty with only the main prop fifty with the two secondaries...”

“Ah can get it to go faster if we need it, but I’ll need to be down there,” interrupted Apple Bloom. “Might end up using some of our ‘special cargo’...”

“Um... If you don’t mind me adding,” said Pipsqueak. “Their um... cannons kinda fire faster then we can run... and I don’t think I could avoid them forever...”

“We have guns too, Pipsqueak. You can take care of those.” said Scootaloo.

Scootaloo tried to put as much confidence as she could into her voice, despite the huge lump in her throat. She had no qualms about smuggling under the Empire’s nose, but fighting against them head-on with such bad odds...

“Good. Then that’s what we will do,” said Sweetie Belle. “I’ll head up top and pilot for a while.” She turned to Scootaloo and raised a brow. “And what about you?” she asked.

“I’ll distract them.” Scootaloo smiled and puffed out her chest.

“We’re all going to die, aren’t we?” asked a distraught Pipsqueak, his anxiety visible even through the static of the communications unit.

Scootaloo ignored him as she abandoned Sweetie Belle, who began to head up top, and galloped through the ship heading for the cargo hold. To anypony else, it was a simple metal hold filled with dozens of crates containing fresh Sweet Apple Acres apples. To them, it was a room filled with jars of highly illegal Zap Apple Fuel.

Scootaloo flew over the crates and towards the wall at the back of the small room where she quickly landed and started tapping the wall until it sounded hollow. Bucking lightly against the wall, an entire section fell off, revealing a ladder leading down. She hopped down the ladder and slid out the bottom of the ship, cringing against the cold air that battered her against the metal ladder. There, amongst a tangle of ropes and wires, was the Expedite.

The Expedite’s small frame was clear against the sharp relief cast by the bright clouds below. The single-seat Mosquito class fighter was shaped like a bullet, and was only covered by thin plates of armour.

It had a single small cabin sitting at the top and front of its engine. Two deployable canvas wings adorned each side of the small fighter craft.

Because of its shape and lack of a gasbag it depended on its massive thrust, speed and stubby wings to stay afloat. At the fore were two long, protruding Pinkie-Party cannons that fired in successive bursts; weapons not usually found on such a small vehicle. It looked just like the insect it was named after, down to the six small deployable legs.

She loved every inch of it.

Scootaloo, with a small smile, admired the cobbled-together craft. It had been given to her by her idol. Ever since she had received it, she had spent days and weeks lovingly caring for the small vehicle with the aid of Apple Bloom’s mechanical expertise. Not a single original piece remained on it; they had all been replaced with aftermarket —and sometimes illegal— parts.

Carefully opening the cockpit, she dropped onto the seat and strapped herself into the harness. She lovingly tapped the console before flicking on the radio.

The radio crackled to life as she prepared herself for launch. “—ere, I don’t think they saw it. You know the Imps: they are not exactly experts at spotting that sort of thing.” Scootaloo recognized the voice as Sweetie Belle’s.

“All right guys, I`m ready down here,” she said, brimming with confidence as she finished her pre-flight checks.

“All right then,” said Apple Bloom, her voice distorted by the bad signal. “Ah’m in the engine room. Sweetie is at the controls.” Scootaloo scanned further along the ship, and through the tangled ropes, chains and wires she spotted the domed gunning station camouflaged as one of the view ports used on landing. It slid open, and a gun floated out wrapped in a purple shell of magic, fixing itself to a bracket on the swivel-mounted glass dome.

“Ready!” shouted Apple Bloom.

“All right then. Sweetie, when we’re under their ship, give her full gas. I’ll pop around and fly in the opposite direction. Let’s just hope they follow me and not The Crusader.” Scootaloo placed her hooves on the controls and waited for the signal.

“You sure you can outrun ‘em?”


A minute, then two went by as their ship slowly shifted and moved under the much larger Imperial ship above. Scootaloo anxiously followed the progress of the two ships by using their shadows on the clouds. Their ship’s shadow was dwarfed by the Interdiction class'. She gulped.

“Got a ping from the Imp ship. I’ll patch you guys in,” said Apple Bloom. “How in the hay does this thing work?!”

Sweetie Belle sighed over the radio. “Hit conference...”


The radio crackled again, then became clear. A strong male voice boomed out of the Expedite’s tin can speakers. “Transport ship Crusader, this is the Conformity. We are above you and ready to prepare docking maneuvers. Shut down all engines and put all Sparkle Generators on neutral.”

“Gun it, Sweetie!” The Crusader lurched suddenly and pulled itself out of the shadow cast by the Conformity above. The lower engines roared to life and sputtered two dark billowing clouds into the sky as their propellers started spinning. Scootaloo jammed her hoof on the engine start up button.

The Expedite’s engine sputtered, its tri-blade propeller turned once, twice, then sputtered into a stall.

Scootaloo cursed as she looked around in a panic, trying to find the source of the problem. She spotted something shiny on the floor and picked it up: a wrench with a tiny apple engraved on its side. Scootaloo stared at it until her mind put two and two together. “Apple Bloom, you remember that tune-up you were supposed to do on the Expedite?”

“He he, oops?”

“Not cool. I need to get out there!” Scootaloo slammed her hoof against her ship’s small communications unit.

“It’s nothing too incredible, you’ll just need to cold start the motor... Could you get to The Crusader? I’ll hoof over some Zap Apple fuel. That’ll kick it into high gear for a while.”

Scootaloo swore and untied herself from the harness. She popped open the cabin door, flung the wrench she still held in her hooves into the sky, and angrily made her way to the under-hatch of The Crusader, fighting the rough winds as she did so.

She twisted the rusty hatch and saw Apple Bloom`s smiling face. “Here!” The earth pony disappeared for a few second then reappeared with two jars of the precious liquid. Scootaloo bit into both jars, slobbering on them in the process. Apple Bloom smiled at her and started to back away when suddenly The Crusader lurched. Apple Bloom tipped over suddenly, moving as if in slow motion toward the gaping opening that lead only to the ground far below.

Scootaloo, acting on reflex, spun around in mid air and bucked her friend back into the cargo hold. Apple Bloom landed with a loud umph inside the hold. “Serrry,” she said through a mouth full of jars.

The pegasus quickly made her way back to her fighter, knowing that Apple Bloom would give her hay later.

She fumbled with the gas tank’s cap with her hooves, popping it open with a small release of pressure. She peered into the dark fuel container and, wasting no time, emptied an entire jar of Zap Apple Fuel into it. Scootaloo smirked through her filled mouth and hopped back into the ship.

“All right, I’m back,” she screamed into the radio after having dumped the remaining jar behind her seat. She sighed, relieved to be able to help once more.

Apple Bloom grunted over the radio. “I just hope you didn’t empty a full jar in there. It’ll take a week to clean out the boiler.”

“I’d never do that,” lied Scootaloo as she tried once more to fire up her ship’s engine. The prop spun again and again and then sputtered into a stall. White fumes puffed out of the engine compartment and were carried away by the breeze. “What the hay? Why won’t it start!” She hit the dashboard in frustration.

Sounds of gunfire and mechanical movement swarmed over the radio. “—ootaloo? You’ll have to spin the prop while pulling on the igniti—” The line screeched and went dead, leaving her alone in the cold, silent cabin.

She simply stared at the communications unit, wide-eyed for a few seconds as The Crusader shook again, this time much more violently. The stress of not being able to help was beginning to wear her out. Her friends were right above her, fighting for their lives, while she was useless, stuck in the cabin of a ship that wouldn’t start. “Crap, crap, crap. Stupid Imperials! Stupid Expedite!"

Twisting her teary-eyed head around in the cabin she looked at the tri-blade prop at the very back of the plane. The ignition was near the center of the dashboard amongst dozens of dials and meters. How was she going to press the button and turn the prop?

Before she found an answer to her own question, The Crusader shook. From the corner of her eye, she saw mangled parts of the ship’s outer balcony fall through the sky.

She was standing on that balcony minutes ago... Something clicked inside her. “This, is going to suck.” She did something that was forbidden in every flight manual in Equestria: releasing a ship without powering up the engine. The heavy clamps on the underbelly of The Crusader disengaged, and the Expedite dropped nose-first through the clouds.

Rolling water-filled clouds obscured her vision. Scootaloo felt herself lift up and be pressed into the back of her seat by the force of the falling aircraft. She reached out a hoof to squashed the start button. It was too short.

“Come on!” she yelled through clenched teeth. Using her wing as a prop, she pushed herself away from the seat and towards the control panel, the very tip of her hoof pressed onto the ignition and slowly the button sunk in. The vehicle forced itself to life. Behind her, a large plume of multi-hued smoke sputtered out of the engine and the blades started to twirl.

With a thump, she crashed back into the seat and let out a relieved sigh.

Scootaloo grabbed the throttle in one hoof and the controls in the other, and then pulled back with all her strength. Not too far below, the yellow expanse of the Appleloosan desert stretched out in every direction. Small details of the desert became clearer and clearer as her ship hurtled towards the ground at lightning speeds. Am I going to die? she asked herself.

Slowly, with sheer force of will, Scootaloo pulled back on the yoke, forcing the ship to bend under the pressure of the fall. The desert grew larger and larger until finally the ship righted itself, mere meters from the hard, sandy ground. Thick plumes of yellow dust were tossed into the air as the Expedite flew by.

“I love you,” she said as she affectionately stroked the controls of her craft.

She grinned as she pulled back on the yoke and pointed the nose of her craft back into the clouds, feeling the elation she always got when piloting a ship in a dangerous atmosphere. The engine responded to her commands with a rumbled muttering as it spewed rainbow-colored smoke.

When she finally pierced through the clouds once more, it only took her seconds to spot The Crusader.

The bright red ship was turning sharply below the Imperial patrol craft. The confident grin that adorned her face slowly slipped away as she caught sight of the Imperial ship above.

It was easily four times longer than The Crusader; it had only one oblong balloon covered in a web of intricately placed metal beams that served as both a skeleton and shield to the ship. On its black tarp was the gold and grey compass rose: the insignia of the Imperial Navy. The undercarriage of the Conformity stretched from the fore to the bow, forming a sharp wedge at the front of the ship. On each side of the carriages were six engines that billowed dark smoke into the cloudy air, hiding the grey ship in its own thick cloud of soot.

The ship had well over a dozen gun-stations on it, all twisting and shifting in an attempt to track the much more agile Crusader as it weaved and spun, avoiding most of the slow moving Imperial shells.

The Crusader was already damaged though; one of the small bottom engines was burning and an entire section of its railings was missing, having taken the blow that would have otherwise pierced a gasbag.

On the top of the ship were two long metallic bars, on which sat two planes Scootaloo recognized as Requisitor class fighter-interceptors. They were not strong fighters, but they made up the bulk of the Imperial fighter force.

Scootaloo started to sweat in her seat. This was not what she expected to fight. Was this what Rainbow meant about the beauty of battle?

“Scoot, where are you?” screamed Apple Bloom from the communications unit.

“I’m here, where do you need me?” she asked, sounding more confident than she felt. The Expedite flew towards the two twisting ships above. The Crusader was twisting and turning in a desperate attempt to avoid the continuous barrage of fire from the Conformity.

“Just get ‘em off of us!”

“Give me ten seconds!” Scootaloo pushed the throttle until it could go no further and felt herself being pushed back into her seat. The huge Imperial ship became larger and larger as she approached. She could see the tiny shapes of ponies running inside the ship through the windows that dotted the carriage.

Bang Bang

The unmistakable sounds of the main guns firing rang through the air. Seconds later, Scootaloo spotted the shells speeding towards The Crusader, leaving vapour trails in their wake. The heavy rounds missed the ship by mere hoof-lengths. She sighed in relief, then furrowed her brows in realization. They wanted to kill her friends.

Those shots were not warnings. This was real. They’re really not kidding! she told herself. Smuggling was a crime, so was their evasion, but to go so far as to try and kill them? Scootaloo’s mind drew a blank: this was insane.

She gulped and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to regain her determination, and clasped her hooves over the trigger on the yoke. The Expedite shook violently as its twin cannons fired a burst point-blank into the fore of the much larger ship.

She popped an eye open and quickly pulled back on the yoke. The Imperial ship’s hole-ridden flank was incredibly close. Scootaloo smiled grimly as she entered the cloud of soot that billowed around the Imperial craft.

From the corner of her eye, she saw both of the fighter bi-planes launch from their ramps. One, then the other. The pair of planes re-aligned themselves and turned towards her. Her smile faded.

The two planes were twin-seaters, equipped with a powerful rear-mounted turret but with a weak front firing gun. She couldn't afford to get behind any of them lest she face those machine guns.

Scootaloo pulled her plane into a tight loop, cringing as her body pushed into the harness, and faced the gigantic ship once more. The turrets were changing their trajectory to aim at her.

She laughed as a single tear rolled down her face. At least her friends would be safe. Scootaloo fired another burst into the ship and was satisfied to see a small tear appear on its tarp.

Her attention was stolen as tracers flew past the nose of her fighter. The two bi-planes were rushing towards her, guns blazing as they attempted to get a fix on her little plane.

“Dammit, leave me alone!” she applied some rudder and shifted the nose of her plane until it faced one of the bi-planes head on. Both aircraft fired at each other. Scootaloo flinched but kept pulling the trigger as bullets dinged off of the weak armor that adorned her craft. It couldn’t take much of this.

With a satisfying boom, the Requisitor’s fuel tank caught fire. The resulting explosion sent the flaming body of the ship flying in one direction, while what was left of its wing spun crazily towards the ground below.

She stared at the plane she had gunned down, realizing that she had just killed a pony. This was far from glorious. She glanced to the side and took in the image of the other plane shifting towards her as The Crusader in the background was still narrowly avoiding the shells fired by the Conformity. A few random ponies were worth the lives of her friends. “One down, one to go,” she whispered as she flew through the cloud of debris and flames left by the downed craft.

Bullets flew by as the Imperial airship below fired at her. “Crap!” Scootaloo spun her ship into another loop, and began twisting in an attempt to avoid the Imperial shells.

Suddenly, the Conformity stopped firing at her.

With a loud series of pops, a dozen holes appeared on Expedite’s right wing, sending the plane into a corkscrew spin. Scootaloo fought to regain control of the twisting ship, her body banging against the hard sides of the cockpit.

With lots of swearing, pulling and sweating she finally righted herself and started looking around in a panic. “Come on, where are you?” she screamed, frustrated. If she messed up, her friends were going to pay for it with their lives. She twisted from side to side in the harness as she quickly became desperate.

From the corner of her eye she noticed a small grey patch flying above a cloud. The other Requisitor was flying above her. “Found ya!” Scootaloo pulled up and joined the plane within the cloud, narrowly avoiding a deadly stream of bullets as she poked through.

She immediately tried to twist and turn to aim at the bi-plane as its pilot countered her every move. The two planes spun and twisted in the air. The Requisitor’s lack of speed was compensated by its agility and the pilot’s skill.

Scootaloo swore as she felt and heard the wing of her plane forcing against the pressure of the sudden turns. Below her she spotted The Crusader. It was still attempting to flee from the imperial ship. “Crap,” she swore again, imagining Sweetie Belle drilling her for using such foul language.

“Oh, shut it. I’ve got no time for this!”

The Conformity was still hot on The Crusader’s tail, just as the Requisitor was on hers.

She hit the communications unit. “Guys, I need your help!” She started to hatch a desperate plan.

“Don’t know if you noticed, but we are in a pickle here too!” answered Sweetie Belle.

“Just listen to me: I can’t shake this guy off my tail. I’ll do a flyby of The Crusader, use the belly gun to distract him.”

She heard Apple Bloom sigh across the unit. “Fine, Ah’ll try.”

Scootaloo gave up on the dogfight and flew over the top of The Crusader. She retracted the Expedite’s wings with a crunch and her ship dropped like a rock. The enemy plane flipped over and followed her down, firing all the way. She jammed her hooves on the rudder controls to avoid the streams of bullets from above.

With a loud whoosh, she flew right by The Crusader, glancing at her home as it whizzed by in a fraction of a second. Scootaloo jerked back the wing controls and expanded them, sending a silent prayer to Luna that the damaged wing would hold. It crackled and protested, but held firm as her ship lurched and suddenly caught the wind, rocketing her forward and under the protection of The Crusader.

As the Expedite passed underneath The Crusader, she saw the bottom-mounted turret move and position itself to aim right behind her. She smiled and saluted at it, knowing that Apple Bloom, inside the small gun turret, was unlikely to spot her.

Apple Bloom’s turret fired just as the remaining Requisitor appeared. The powerful machine guns boomed as they ripped the small aircraft apart, sending its flaming remains hurtling to the desert ground below. Scootaloo cheered loudly into the microphone.

“Scoot, it’s catching up.” Screamed Sweetie Belle, the desperation in her voice evident even through the fizz and crackle of the radio.

“What? But that’s impossible!” Scootaloo skimmed around The Crusader, her mouth gaping open at what she saw there.

The Conformity had its nose pointed downward, directly at The Crusader. Its sharp blade cutting through the wind as its downward momentum gave it speed. Most impressive was the fumes coming from the engines: it was no longer dark soot but now puffy rainbow-colored smoke. “Zap Apple Fuel,” she whispered, horrified.

The gigantic ship chugged towards The Crusader with no sign of turning or changing course. What is it doing, at that speed it’s-- “It's going to ram you!” she screamed.

With a loud, sickening crunch, the Conformity’s sharp nose sliced through The Crusader. Scootaloo watched, speechless and amazed as the ship she called home was bisected by the powerful Imperial airship.

The pilot’s cabin and the cargo hold each held on to one of the balloons as what was one ship turned into two under the force of the Imperial destroyer. Parts of the scaffolding and what was left of the railings flew in every direction spreading out below.

Scootaloo simply watched in horror as her home was wrecked. She saw a small white body contrasting sharply against the red balloon, realizing that Pipsqueak had fallen from the pilot's cabin. The quickly-deflating balloon still barely hung onto the cargo hold as it twisted and turned, Pipsqueak flung his hooves around, desperate for a hold. His hoof wrapped around a loose cord, swinging him around as he hung on for dear life.

She lost sight of The Crusader and of Pipsqueak as the ship sank below the clouds in a trail of dark smoke.

Scootaloo looked up through teary, shock-filled eyes to see what was left of The Crusader being harpooned by the Conformity.

The Conformity’s cargo bay was open and dozens of ponies were firing harpoon guns into the remaining balloon which still held onto the pilot’s cabin. As they reeled it in, the cabin shook and bounced, finally ramming the Imperial ship’s cargo bay door. Within seconds, it was tied down near the belly of the Conformity and was swarmed by pegasi wearing the grey uniform of the Imperial Navy.

Through her tears and sobs, Scootaloo heard a crackle from the radio. “Run Scoot, run!” She looked back at the ship in time to see the Imperial pegasi tackle her friend through the windows of The Crusader’s cabin.

Scootaloo stared at her controls. What should I do? The thought slowly and sluggishly made its way through her mind that her friends were either dead or captured. Tears streamed down her face, blinding her, but she was unable to muster the strength to wipe them away. Acting purely on instinct, she did what she did best: she ran.

Behind her, The remains of The Crusader were unceremoniously dumped out of the Imperial ship. As if to give one last act of revenge, parts of the quickly deflating balloon whipped around and rammed into the side of the ship, dinging its killer and shaking the entire Imperial craft. The Crusader slowly waved and trembled as it flew one last time through the beautiful Equestrian skies, now devoid of its precious occupants.

Edited by:

A thank you to Closetbrony for letting me flood him with stupid ideas. Also Jelfes for helping me iron out the last little wrinkles.

And of course the wonderful ponies who let me use their art as well as the folks from EqD and Fimfic!

-Ravens Dagger

Captured and Crashed

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“It’s going to ram you!” screamed a familiar voice over the comm.

Sweetie Belle was knocked to the ground as the ship shook. Shelooked behind her in time to see Pipsqueak disappear through the floor hatch. Desperately, she scrambled towards the wheel and attempted to steer The Crusader, but she was far too late.

Beyond the view-port, the gigantic frame of the Conformity was quickly approaching. With startling clarity, she saw the enemy ship’s forward blade slicing into the skin of The Crusader’s gas bags. Sweetie Belle froze, unsure of what to do. Before she could make up her mind, she was thrown across the room and landed in a tangled heap of limbs and hooves. The ship spun around and lifted suddenly, as if freed from a large amount of weight. Sweetie grabbed onto the wheel and hung on for dear life as her own ship tried to kill her.

As suddenly as it began, the bobbing and spinning stopped, and she felt the ship sinking. Through the open hatch, she could see clouds and sky. Struts and supports ended in jagged spikes, wires were snapped and frayed. What was going on? Sweetie Belle stared at the open space before the realization hit her; one of the balloons had been cut off.

She righted herself and quickly closed the hatch, then tried to contemplate her options through the haze of fear and confusion. The engine was still intact, but the prop was gone. Half the ship was missing, and what was left of her end was sinking. Outside, she could see the Conformity maneuvering itself above her. Worst of all, she had no idea as to where her friends were. “No, no please Luna, no!”

With a grunt, Sweetie Belle rose up and attempted to reach the comm; she had to warn Scootaloo. If at least one of her friends could make it out to get help...

Suddenly, a long, sharp needle pierced through the wall of the cabin to her left, blocking the way between her and the small communications unit in the corner before the barbed tip pulled back and gripped the wall. With a jerk, the ship was moving once more, this time horizontally.

Sweetie Belle stumbled over to the windows, feeling like a drunken sailor as the ship bobbed and bounced. Looking out, she could see the open maw of Conformity’s cargo hold. She was being swallowed!

Dozens of ponies wearing grey Imperial uniforms dotted the inside of the huge hold. They fired large crossbows at her ship. Bolts tipped with barbs and tied to strong ropes whizzed from the hold and bit into The Crusader’s remaining balloon. Strong earth ponies began pulling in her ship. Slowly and surely, The Crusader was being reeled into the gaping mouth of the Conformity.

“Dammit! Leave us alone!” She quickly looked around the cabin for anything that could serve as a weapon. Anything, a bar, a pipe, something long and sharp, anything. Twisting and turning in a panic, she suddenly saw and heard a bumbling red blur fly by: Expedite was still in the air. She smiled sadly; at least one of her friends was going to make it. Her smile disappeared when the cannons on The Conformity swiveled about their positions.

"Oh Luna..." she whispered fearfully.

She ran over to the miraculously intact radio, tapped it on with her magic and screamed into it. “Run, Scoot, run!”

Before she could do anything else, one of the windows shattered, sprinkling glass all over the cabin as a green pegasus wearing the typical grey uniform of the Imperial navy landed on the deck. The Crusader chose that moment to ram into the Conformity.

Both ponies skidded across the floor, Sweetie Belle losing her magical grip on the comm unit as it dropped on the floor and smashed itself into a million pieces in front of her eyes.

“You are hereby ordered to stop all illegal actions and follow our-” started the green pegasus as he righted himself. She cut him off with a swift punch to the snout. The pegasus’ face jerked upward as his muzzle sprayed blood onto the cabin’s ceiling.

She didn’t know what had taken her. She had never hit a pony before. But these Imperials deserved it, they had hurt her friends. “Get off my ship!” she screamed at the pegasus before tackling him in an angry fury of hooves and bites. She wasn’t going to let some no-good Imp take her beloved ship and hurt her friends without a fight.

More pegasi poured into the cabin, both from the broken windows and from the floor and roof hatches. Soon, the already small room became suffocatingly packed as it rapidly filled with a dozen pegasi all wearing the same oppressive, grey uniform.

Sweetie Belle stared as their numbers grew. Slowly she backed into a corner and growled at them, to little effect. One of them pounded towards her, swearing at her as he did so.

Acting on reflex, Sweetie Belle picked him up with her magic and slammed him into the metal ceiling. When she looked up and saw the panicking pegasus, she let go of him, letting him fall with a loud thump. “I’m so sorry,” she squealed.

The others looked at each other, then jumped on her as one, ignoring the squirming form of their ally. Sweetie Belle fired off her magic at random, hitting a few of the pegasi but not doing anything to stop their charge towards her. Within seconds, she was tangled in a pile of hooves as they grabbed and hauled her into the air upside down.

From her vantage point, she could see one of the pegasi she had hit clutching his stomach before vomiting all over the floor. She cringed, both in pity and disgust.

“You, you are hereby under arrest for---,” Started the same green pegasus. “Oh never mind, haul her in.” Three pegasi took hold of Sweetie Belle and flew out the top hatch. As they flew in between the two ships Sweetie Belle looked down at the clouds far below. She gulped and stopped squirming, she wasn’t afraid of heights but she realized that they could kill her on a whim as she tried to calculate the huge distance between her and the ground below.

The pegasi flew into the hold in a flurry of beating wings and unceremoniously dumped her on the deck from midair, as if they wanted nothing to do with her now that their job was done. She landed with a small thump and hopped onto her hooves, ready to fight. The sight of over a dozen ponies the size of Apple Bloom’s brother quickly sucked the will to fight out of her. Sweetie Belle’s ears dropped and her eyes widened.

“Welcome on board Conformity.” said a polite calm voice. Sweetie Belle looked around and spotted the pony that spoke. He was a tall, well-groomed unicorn sporting the dark uniform of a high ranking officer. “I am Darius, the captain of this vessel.” He paused to stroke his mustache and strolled past the circle of uniformed ponies, coming to a stop a few feet from Sweetie Belle and looking down at her, calculating.

Sweetie Belle shivered, for his eyes were not filled with malice nor contempt, but with envy, “And who might you be, young lady?”

“Um, I’m Sweetie Belle.” She lost all will to fight as the intimidating captain raised an eyebrow at her. She felt like a filly being punished by her father.

“Interesting... might you be related to the Belle family, perhaps?” He sat down graciously on the wooden deck. His eyes never left hers.

Sweetie Belle broke eye contact and looked around once more at the ponies around her, their respect for the captain was evident in the way they looked at him as if he was a loving father. “Um, yeah, my sister’s name is Rarity.” she answered timidly, the gravity of the situation starting to sink in.

Now both his eyebrows met at the top of his forehead as he looked at her, surprised. “You’re the sister of the famed Rarity? Interesting.” Darius’ eyes shifted for a few moments to the pegasi that flew back into the ship, then nodded to an earth pony behind him. The pony snapped a salute before running over to a console and pulling a lever. The ropes that held what was left of The Crusader retracted and the wrecked part of her ship fell out of sight.

Sweetie Belle whimpered as she watched her beloved ship disappear. Suddenly, The Crusader gave her a final good-bye as it shifted in the wind and rammed into the Conformity. Most of the ponies in the hold -Sweetie Belle included- tripped and fell to the ground. From the ground, she looked up and saw the captain sitting at the same place, seemingly unaffected. “Get the repair crew to check for damages,” he ordered calmly.

“I see that you managed to injure some of my ponies.” He looked over one of the pegasi that flew in, the pegasus who was holding a hoof to his bleeding muzzle in an attempt to stop the blood flow. Upon seeing his captain looking at him, he removed his hoof to salute him. “At ease.” The pegasus gently replaced his hoof to his face.

As the captain looked Sweetie Belle over, she could feel his calculating eyes as they roved over her body. “All ponies in need of medical attention, make your way back to the infirmary right away. No exceptions.”

A few pegasi took off, they shamefully bowed their heads and looked at their co-patriots nervously. “Too bad you never joined the good fight, we could use ponies as spirited as you,” he said in a louder tone that rang across the room. The pegasus ponies straightened out their backs and flew a little more proudly.

“Now, young lady, you will be escorted over to the brig. I’d suggest that you follow these gentlecolts nicely and politely. I’ll be over with you in a matter of minutes.” He turned sharply and walked towards a group of officers that quickly assembled around him chattering and flooding him with information.

Sweetie Belle was prodded on the back in a none too gentle fashion by one of the large earth ponies and she started moving forward, giving one last glance to the sky outside as the heavy cargo bay door shut with an echoing boom. The room was suddenly much darker.

That was it, she was stuck here, unable to tell if Scootaloo or Apple Bloom made it out alive, or even if they were okay.

She was escorted by four strong-looking earth ponies who kept silent through the entire journey, only occasionally muttering things to each other. She didn’t pay attention, she was unable to do so as her mind twisted and turned in desperation, causing her to shiver from both the sudden loss of adrenalin and the completely different situation she found herself in. She needed time to think, and the long walk through the winding ship gave her just that.

Maybe she could escape? The four ponies that navigated her through the maze that was the ships interior nipped that idea at the bud. What else could she do? Her ship was gone, her friends were gone... When the thought hit her, she froze on the spot. Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom... Were they really? No it couldn't be... Her eyes filled with tears as she was pushed along by one of the soldier ponies. The rest of the trip passed in a daze.

Eventually, the four ponies slowed to a halt in front of a thick wooden door. An old mare wearing a slightly tattered uniform came running over to the group while jingling a bunch of keys in her mouth. She inserted the key in its lock and ushered them into the dark room. She quickly appeared in the room with a box of matches and went about lighting the small lanterns set around the room. The room, or brig, as the captain called it, was filled with square cells, and the only thing in them were small buckets and simple cots bolted onto the walls. The old mare opened one of the thick, wooden doors. Each door had a large bar-filled hole in it. She moved aside and Sweetie Belle was shoved into the room unceremoniously.

Sweetie Belle’s eyes filled with tears and a few uncontrollable sobs escaped. The four guards and the old mare left without saying a word. They left the exit door slightly ajar, letting a thin strand of light stream in. She slowly sat down in front of the barred door and leaned her head against one of the metal bars.

That was it? How she was going to end? Stuck in some cell while her friends escaped or died. Sweetie Belle’s thoughts drifted over to the joy they had when onboard The Crusader. The fun they had, the memories they shared. All over. She let out a shaky sigh. It couldn’t end like this. She would find a way out, then she would find Scootaloo and Apple Bloom, the three would be the Crusaders again. They would get revenge on those stupid Imperials!

After a few minutes of quiet thinking, she heard the door to the room open with a loud, grinding creak. Three sets of hooves headed towards her cell, accompanied by the sound of dangling keys.

She quickly wiped her eyes clear of the tears that blinded her and felt a glimmer of hope. Maybe they were going to let her out? Maybe they realised who she was and were going to free her. She could use her family’s name to force them to save Apple Bloom and Pipsqueak!

Her hope was crushed when she saw the face of the green pegasus she had hit on The Crusader. He smiled menacingly at her. “Hello, little filly.”

She shrank back deeper into the cell.

“Oh, don’t be scared. We just want to play, in you.” He licked his lips as his two buddies laughed at his horrible joke.

Sweetie Belle gulped.

“Did you really think you could just waltz in here, hurt me and simply be dumped in a peaceful cell like this? No, you need to repay us for what you did... Did you bring any bits? No?” He smiled, “Guess you will have to find other

He licked his lips again and indicated to one of the pegasi accompanying him to open the gate. He gave a slight nod and one of the snickering pegasi opened the gate. Sweetie Belle noticed a 'look' about the green pegasus’ face. The kind of 'look' Rarity had warned her about. She knew what it meant, and it was not good.

Sweetie Belle shrank back against the wall and whimpered, “No.”

The pegasus convulsed once, then fell into an unconscious lump on the ground. Everypony turned to stare at the captain who had appeared quietly. He simply wiped his hoof on his uniform then turned his attention to the two remaining ponies.

"What are you attempting tto do on my ship, Corporal Green Lance?” Darius let the body of the unconscious pegasus flop to the ground. “I think it would do you good to join her, you seem so... eager

“Guards, seize these ponies. Shove them in those cells over there.” He pointed to the back of the prison. “I want a constant watch over this area of the ship.” Two burly ponies trotted into the room and snapped at his command. They dragged the three speechless -or unconscious- ponies to the cells at the far end of the small prison.

“Please forgive me, miss Belle, such a manner of acting is disrespectful and unbecoming of a navy officer. Please forgive my men.” He bowed slightly while she simply nodded, still in shock. “You will be happy to learn that we will be unable to verify your crashed ship until the morning, weather permitting of course.”

Sweetie Belle felt hope well up in her once more; if her friends were alive, they might have time to escape. If.

Your little group of smugglers is quite impressive.” he said, interrupting her train of thought. She stared at him, jaw slightly open until she realized how foalish she looked. She closed her mouth with a snap.

He picked a piece of paper from within his uniform’s coat. “Seemed that there are many reports of you smuggling various illegal matters, but not one verification has bore fruit. Not only that but you managed to destroy both of my Reqisitor’s and evade a full on battle maneuver for almost half an hour. Not including the amount of superficial damage to the ship caused by random strafing fire. Very impressive. Such talent,” the stallion sighed and crumpled the sheet of paper.

“Wasted on mere smugglers. You could have been such an asset the to the Imperial Navy.”

With his head down, Darius walked out of the cell. “You said your sister was Rarity, right?” Sweetie Belle blushed and nodded. Good, he knew her sister, and if he knew Rarity, he would know how important she was.

“Very well then, if you really are the younger sister of the illustrious Rarity, then I am certain you will spend very little time in court... Your name has saved you, young lady.”

He started walking away, but Sweetie Belle stopped him. She needed to know. “Wait... My friends, they were in the other part of the ship...”

He stopped and regained his calculating look for a few seconds. “If they were within the cabin at the time of the crash... It’s likely that they survived. We won’t be going down until the morning, they will have likely vacated the premises by then... If they are alive of course.”

Sweetie Belle was torn between relief and worry. “One of them, Apple Bloom, is the sister of Applejack...” Knowing that Rarity was her sister had impressed him, maybe now he would hurry up to help Apple Bloom.

His eyes grew wide. “The Applejack?” She nodded. “Hmm, what an interesting little group.” The captain trotted away with a bemused smile adorning his face.

Apple Bloom awoke with a groan. She lifted her head gingerly off of the, now smashed, radio set and groaned again upon seeing the state it was in. The expensive device was cracked, ripped and busted beyond repair. She simply stared at it for a few minutes, wondering what had happened to cause it to break and how she was going to fix it.

Suddenly, she remembered everything: she vividly remembered every part of the short and brutal fight. She was at the radio station now, her memory was still a little fuzzy. Why was she here? Had she run to the radio to call for help, maybe to surrender? She couldn't remember. With a groan, she clasped her head in her hooves.

A dial popped off from the set with no warning and landed near her. She lifted it with a forehoof and placed it back into its slot, only to have the entire faceplate crack. She started sobbing. The more she looked around her the more pain she felt. Everything was broken.

Apple Bloom heard a groan from above which shook her out of her reverie. Standing up, she trotted out of the small compartment, wiping her eyes as she walked.

The Spark Generator room was a mess; wires and tools were scattered everywhere. A few apples rolled across the metal grating. Daylight streamed into the room from where a wall once was, while wires dangled and sparked on contact with each other.

She started calculating the time it would take to fix. Her heart sank.

The groan came again. This time, she was able to pinpoint its location. She trotted over to the hatch, avoiding live wires and broken struts as she made her way to it. Once there, she forced the rusty hatch open, making a mental note to remember to oil it. Apple Bloom grabbed onto the ladder and hoisted herself up and out of the hold. What she saw made her gasp.

Blinded as she was by the sun, she couldn’t help but notice that The Crusader was no longer there. All that remained were jagged-edged metal struts that stretched upwards to the cloudy sky. “No,” she groaned.

“Help me,” said a small, muffled voice from her side. She stopped looking up and took in her surroundings: she was on top of what was left of The Crusader; around her, pieces of metal and tarp, as well as various parts of her ship were sprawled across the desert sand, glinting as the sun reflected off of them. She found the source of the call: two white and brown legs sticking out from below the still-deflating gasbag.

Was that Pipsqueak? How was he? She shook her head and tried to clear her thoughts. She had to help him.

Apple Bloom looked around for a way down from the top of the hold that had sunk itself into the soft sand. The ship, or what was left, was tilted on a soft angle, one end sunk into the sand with the other jutting out.

She ran off of the roof of the cabin and over to Pipsqueak, who was still struggling with the tarp and ropes that enveloped him. She cocked an eyebrow at the almost comical scene until he whimpered again, sensing her presence nearby. Apple Bloom jumped back into action, shushing him as she lifted the folds of the giant bag.

“Thanks,” he panted once he had squirmed out. His white face had turned red, his eyes were teary and he looked like he had been in a nasty fight.

“Are ya alright?” Apple Bloom noticed his hooves then lifted one to inspect it. They were severely burnt by the friction of the rough tarp. “What happened?”

Pipsqueak looked down, ashamed. “Sweetie Belle told me to go down when she saw the Conformity coming. I wanted to stay with her but-” he coughed into his hoof and silently wiped a tear away trying to hide his emotions from the mare.

Apple Bloom put a hoof on his shoulder. “It’s alright, we’ll be fine.” She looked once more at the smouldering wreck around her and at the endless expanse of desert. “Ah hope,” she added in a whisper.

This was not the type of scenario she was used to being in, nothing in her life had prepared her for this kind of event. Her friends were always there for her, now she was stuck with a useless colt in the middle of the desert with no help in sight. Apple Bloom frowned determinately. She could make it, she simply had to rely on herself. That would be easy, right?

They both heard a loud crunching sound from above. As they looked, pieces of metal fell from the sky and landed with heavy thumps on the sandy ground mere meters away from them, sending small clouds of dust and sand into the air.

“We need to get inside!” Pipsqueak pushed her towards the metal wreck.

Apple Bloom guided him around and into the cabin from above, hopping into the still open hatch. “Hurry up!” More chunks of metal and tarp fell from the otherwise clear sky, landing with booming thumps on the wreck’s roof.

Once they were both secured within the shuttle, he turned towards her and asked, “What was that?” while indicating the fragment of metal.

She wondered the same thing, what the hay could be falling from the sky like that, then an old memory came back to her, of talking to her sister when Rarity came back from the war. Her eyes filled with tears, she turned away from Pipsqueak to hide her face. “The Crusader.”


“Ah heard that the Imperials capture ships and empty them, then they let ’em drop to the ground below, unless they can use it.” She coughed into her hoof to regain her composure. “’Ats was what’s left of The Crusader.”

“Dammit!” He punched the wall, which hummed and vibrated under the impact, making him scream in surprise and pain as he cradled his injured hooves together. She approached him and pushed one hoof aside with her own inspecting his hooves again, this time taking her time looking at the injuries. Pipsqueak blushed furiously as her coat touched his.

“What did this?” she asked.

“I was sliding on the gas bag, I tried to grab on...”

“Rope burns.... well sorta.” She let go of his hooves and turned back. “Let’s go fetch something ta help ya, then we can figure out what to do. The Imperials won’t stay up there forever,” she said with a firm resolve that surprised her.

He listened to her, giving her all of his confidence. Suddenly, she felt pride in herself. She wasn’t the type to lead, but maybe she would be good at it. Her determination to get them out of there alive was quickly increasing.

“We need to pack up; we can’t just stay here.” She led him through the ship and into its small bathroom. The small clean room had everything one would expect of it, as well as a few commodities. She popped open a first aid kit and started bandaging his hooves. They both worked quietly, still deep in mourning and thought at the loss of Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo.

“Ah saw Scoot get away.” She broke the silence. He looked at her questioningly. “On the radar: Expedite flew tight outta range, towards New Appleloosa. Ah don’t think they’ll catch her; she can be fast when she wants to.” He nodded in response.

The ship shook as something heavy thudded against the ground nearby. They looked at each other. “Ah’m done, we can re-bandage it later, first we ought pack up,” she said almost stubbornly.

He nodded again and walked out of the room silently on his now-padded hooves. “Get to your room, take only what you really need. The rest we will fill with water and apples from the hold.” She made sure he had understood and then headed towards her own room. The door was locked. She searched around the many pockets of her garments in vain. “Crap.”

“Need help?” Pipsqueak approached her from his own, which was just around the corner.

“Nah, Ah’m fine.” With a quick twirl, Apple Bloom twisted around and delivered an Apple family buck to the door, leaving it a splintered wreck. “Thanks, ya didn’t need to help me. Ah can handle myself.” He blushed slightly and turned around, limping back to his room.

Apple Bloom shook her head at his silliness, then pushed the door open and walked into the cool room. There was a bunk, a vanity and a few shelves and drawers for the few items she could fit on board. She quickly sunk herself into one of the drawers and removed a trusty brown saddlebag, a gift from her sister, which she tossed unceremoniously to the ground and went about searching the room.

She took only what she thought she needed: a change of clothes, a warm blanket, a sharp working knife, some tools, some manuals and maps, as well as the first aid kit she had used on Pipsqueak. Finally packed, she huffed and looked around. This would be the last time she saw this room.

Apple Bloom trotted out of the room and began heading towards Pipsqueak’s when something caught her attention.

Inside Sweetie Belle’s very pink room was a vanity where a letter sat. It hadn’t moved from where she had left it, remaining completely undisturbed by the events as if to cement its importance.

Walking over the piles of stuff on the ground, she headed to it and saw the stains her friend’s tears had left on the brittle paper. For a few seconds, she stared at it undecided, then picked it up with her fore-hoof, folded it and tucked it deep into the saddlebags.

With a grunt, she trotted out of the room wearing the heavy bags and headed to the fore of the wrecked ship. Once at the radio station, she searched the ground below the huge comm unit until she found a small portable radio laying upside down on the ground.

It was square, bulky and had quite a few dings and dents, but it could communicate over miles of land. She smiled and dumped the heavy object onto her bag, balancing it over the saddle. She made her way back through the lop-sided wreck and into the cargo hold.

The hold was a mess. Cases of apples had been crushed, leaving a pulpy mess all over the once-spotless floor. She sighed upon seeing the mess and tried not to imagine the conversation she was going to have with her sister about it. Pipsqueak appeared over one of the many tipped boxes and beckoned her over with a wave of his hoof.

“We have water and plenty of food, we should have enough if we use it wisely and pack as much as we can. “ He handed her some water bottles then stared at the radio. “What’s that?”

“A radio, it might come in handy.”

“But it looks real heavy...”

“Oh, it really is!”

“Are you sure you can carry it over a long distance?” he asked with genuine concern.

“Aww, you’re such a gentlecolt, Pip! Thanks for the offer.” She dropped the device in his hooves with a bemused look.

“Mares...” he muttered as her tried to find a place in his bags for the machine.

They inspected each other’s bags, making sure that nothing was missing or badly packed. Once satisfied, the two made their way out of the ship, this time borrowing the cargo hold’s main opening. With a little grunting and some digging out, they managed to open the door halfway and squirm out. The sun was warm, almost at its peak in the cloudy sky.

“Where to?” asked Pipsqueak, shielding his eyes from the shimmering sun. Beams of light were glinting off the sand and made everything sparkle blindingly bright.

“Over there.” Apple Bloom pointed to another balloon. It was red with the crest of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Parts of the pilot’s station were still visible poking out from the sand.

“Alright, then” he nodded. They both gulped and hoped that they wouldn’t find anything disastrous.

As they made their way across the warm sand, their anxiety grew and they became nervous of what they would find within the crashed ship. They both worried about the safety of their friend, but were too afraid to voice that worry to each other, less they seem cowardly.

Pipsqueak reached the ship first. He climbed onto the metal cabin and started looking for a way in. The cabin had hit bottom-first and so the windows of the piloting station at the fore were still visible. Most of the ship was covered in the tattered remains of the balloon.

“How do we get in?” panted Pipsqueak when Apple Bloom arrived.

Instead of giving him an answer, she searched the ground near the ship. He tilted his head and gave her a questioning look. With an “ah-ha!” she lifted a piece of metal from the sand and trotted over to the window. She hefted the piece high above her head and guided it down and into the glass window, piercing it through and spreading dozens of cracks throughout.

She smiled at Pipsqueak who simply stared at her amazed. “What? We’re not going to use that window anytime soon...”

“Um, right.” He hopped into the hole and gingerly avoided the piles of sharp glass as he made his way to the back of the cabin. “Nopony is here,” he sighed in relief. He walked over to a yellowish-green puddle on the floor and sniffed it. He recoiled and wrinkled his nose. “Uggh, puke.”


“Not Sweetie Belle’s: Scoot didn’t cook last night.” The two shared a small smile despite the situation. “Maybe it’s Imperial?”

“Let’s hope so,” said Apple Bloom. Sweetie being captured was better than the alternative. “Her family should be able to get her out if they caught her. I think.”

Apple Bloom looked around the destroyed cabin. The wheel was crooked, the floor was wavy and had burst open at a few places. The main engine was damaged beyond repair, spewing gas and oil into little puddles.

She forced herself to act brave as a wave of pain and sorrow hit her. She had lost two friends and the thing they called home all within a few hours. She coughed and tried to regain her composure. Pipsqueak looked away, blushing.

She coughed one last time, then started searching around. She quickly found a map of their whereabouts. “Look here, Pip.” She pointed at a point along the red line. “We should be around here. If we head this way,” She scrolled across the line and planted her hoof on Ponyville. “We should make it in two days, three at the most.”

“But Scoot went south, towards New Appleloosa...”

She pointed out the trajectory that they would need to take to reach the city. “Add another week of travel... in the desert... with limited supplies...”

“Alrighty, then, Ponyville it is!”

She sighed and looked outside at the sun that was now cresting its highest point of the day. “Let’s get going; waiting here won’t help any, we have a long way to go.”

Noble Games and Stinking Taverns

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Of Steam Gears and Wings -Chapter Four and Five- Noble Games, Stinking Taverns

Blueblood smiled at the guests as they spun on the central dance floor of his castle’s great hall. He was quite proud of the hall, not a thing remained from his auntie’s era; the symbolism didn’t go unnoticed by the upper nobility present. The mood was a clean mix of jovial and formal as rich ponies that made up the elite of Canterlot and Equestria enjoyed themselves in a way that only the noble-blooded could: with class. The hall was filled with their banter and chit-chat. Blueblood smiled thinly from upon his throne. The mood was going to change, but not yet.

The light within the room shifted as a black form blotted out the sun from above the great glass dome that was the hall’s ceiling. The guests slowly stopped their dancing and enjoyment in favour of staring at the black form above. Many turned to each other and mumbled their confusion but, upon seeing his confident smile, they calmly carried on with their dancing and eating; this was just the preparation to the main attraction after all, and if it was going to be half as grandiose as the party that was already going on it was truly going to be the event of the decade.

The large black tarp slowed to a stopped just as more lights were lit; the guests were patient, they would have to wait for the unveiling later to see his newest creation.

Rising from the throne at the top of the staircase, Blueblood trotted down the steps, flanked by his two burly unicorn guards dressed in livery and wielding sharp swords upon their backs. As he reached the tables set with delectable foods and expensive cutlery, he began to mingle with the various guests. Nobles, officers and merchants; old blood and new. All bowed and made shows of respect. Some, those that owed him, went beyond and offered praise or wise advice, all the while shifting their eyes nervously.

Blueblood loved these little parties. Especially when held on his own terms in his own castle. Every chandelier, every chair, every little detail was hoof picked by him, the extravagance and overflowing richness of the event was quite apparent in the eyes of many of his guests.

Everypony tried to act their best. Everypony also wore their best, from elegant dresses to smart suits. The officers of the Navy in the crowd stuck out with their trim grey suits and many badges of honour. Conflicts and fights were put aside in favour of appearances and nopony dared to break any of the unspoken social contract. But, as with all good things, there were exceptions.

In this case it was the bright pink pony chatting loudly with a dozen nobles, merchants and high ranking officers. She laughed and roared at the slightest joke and constantly shifted on her hooves to the beat of the orchestral music. To his great discomfort the pink pony’s eyes turned and locked onto his own. “Hi, Emperor Bluey!” shouted the mare from halfway across the colossal room.

She quickly gave up any conversation with those around her and literally skipped her way over to him. “Hello, Miss Pinkamena.” He gave her a polite half-bow knowing that the hundreds of eyes were on the pair.

“Aw, I told you call me Pinkie!” The mare tapped him on the shoulder. His guards made to move forward, but with a slight wave of his hoof, they backed away.

“How do you enjoy my little inauguration, Miss Pinkamena?”

“Well, it’s not a Pinkie Pie party, but it’s not bad.” she said, as if trying to console him.

“Why thank you; it means a lot coming from you. Please, enjoy the rest of the party in better company than my own.” He smiled forcibly, inviting her to get as far away from him as possible. This mare could easily ruin one’s reputation.

“Okie dokie! Have a good one!” With that the pony disappeared in a pink blur, reappearing at the buffet table and quickly began chatting it up with the other guests, much to their disappointment. Blueblood let out a small breath of air he was unaware of holding. He couldn’t anger her yet.

A white and red unicorn appeared in Blueblood’s peripheral vision. Blueblood’s mood improved, he recognized that pony. “My Lord, are you alright?”

“Hello, Bunnyhelm.” said Blueblood, using the small privilege he had of being one of the few to use the councilor’s real name. Only once before had somepony dared to laugh at the pony’s name; he had payed for it dearly.

Blueblood turned to the prominent Lord and advisor. “Miss Pie can be a... hoof-full at times...” said Bunnyhelm.

“She is nothing I can’t handle.” Blueblood smiled and shook hooves with Bunnyhelm.

“I am surprised that you invited her tonight.”

“I didn't...” said Blueblood, he sought to change the subject. “So how are you today, Lord Chrono?”

“Quite excited to see what you have planned for today. Your inaugurations are always so... enlightening.” Chrono smiled; they both knew what was in store, but the many ears twisting towards their general direction while their owners eavesdropped encouraged them to keep playing coy with each other.

“Why thank you; I think this one will be one for the record bo-.” Just as Blueblood was going to continue with the small chat a a small pony wearing a servant’s uniform trotted over to the pair and bowed sharply.

“Ah, please forgive me Lord Chrono; it seems like the time for me to start the main event.” he said before giving the councilor a small hoofshake and trotting away, the sound of his hoof-steps drowned in the crowd’s roaring speech and laughter.

Blueblood started trotting toward the staircase, the crowd parting ahead of him to make way. His mind was elsewhere, thinking of the many arrangements to be made. Being the Emperor gives little room for rest, he reminded himself. His thoughts were interrupted as a young mare dressed in what was evidently a pret-a-porter gown backed into him. “Oh my, please forgive me.” In a show of gallantry Blueblood scooped the pink mare off the ground and deposited her on her hooves.

The mare turned to face him, face red with anger, she took in a breath to berate him but stopped, mouth agape, upon recognizing his face. “Oh, um... hello Emperor Blueblood. Plea-please forgive me,” she said as if the words were unfamiliar to her. “It was my fault.” The mare bowed deeply. At least she understood respect.

“No matter my lady, what might your name be if I may ask...” Blueblood grabbed her hoof and pecked it lightly. Dozens of mares in the crowd stared daggers at her.

“I am Diamond Tiara.” She blushed further. “Pl-pleased to meet you.”

Hmm, maybe he would get some rest tonight, he thought.

Blueblood scoffed at a nonexistent stain on her dress. “My, it seems that in my carelessness I have ruined your beautiful gown. Please, could we meet later? I am positive we can find something that suits you.” He coughed lightly and whispered into her ear. “And I am positive we can find other activities that involve undressing...”

Blueblood trotted around her smiling wickedly to himself, leaving the mare quite distraught by his offer. Let her figure it out, he told himself. Climbing halfway up the steep staircase, he turned to face the crowd. The crowd, sensing that something was about to happen, quickly hushed up and payed attention to their Emperor. After all, something entertaining was going to happen and they all craved for it.

“Ladies and Gentlecolts,” said Blueblood, his voice magically amplified. For a few seconds he basked in their undivided attention. “We are all here today to share good company and decent food, and maybe even gloat over my newest little toy.” Many in the crowd laughed at the lame joke. They were all as vain as he was, many would have loved to be in his position, many would try to get there. Blueblood gave them all a charming smile, knowing that it would work its magic on them.

“Without further ado, I present to you, the newest ship in the Royal Navy: the R.I.N. Sol Scorcher.” In a grandiose use of showmanship, he reared unto his hind legs and pointed to the ceiling. Right on cue, the great glass dome shifted with a loud grinding screech that drowned out the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the crowd.

The giant tarp that floated in mid-air was swept away as a squadron of fighter planes wielding long hooks flew by. Each plane kept their formation through the complicated set of maneuvers, rocketing across the sky carrying the huge billowing tarp behind them. The tarp fluttered away revealing the object hidden above. Four simple tugboats huffing and puffing against the strong winds, their rusting sides barely holding together. Nothing else but the tiny lights of the stars poking through the smog was visible.

Many in the crowd laughed despite themselves, obviously expecting something huge and powerful, not four little tug ships. Blueblood smiled patiently, they would not be disappointed. A thump reverberated through the hall, followed seconds later by another. Chandeliers chimed as they bounced on their hooks, glass’ full of wine sputtered and shook, the few fillies and colts in the hall searched for the reassuring hold of their mother’s hooves. Slowly the thumping grew louder as its source approached. Blueblood smiled his first real smile of the evening. Many ponies in the crowd pointed at the sky above. His new toy was appearing.

At first only three long bars appeared, sharp and curved inwards. They were easily as large as three ponies and, as the Sol Scorcher advanced, they became longer and thicker. Their menacing curves causing many amongst the gathered to begin sweating through their formal attire.

Soon, a large cannon easily capable of swallowing a small airship, appeared placed in the center of the three claw-like bars. The rest of the ship slowly came into view. Rows upon rows of guns were attached to the sides of the ship. No balloon was visible. The entire ship was covered in thick metal plates with openings at every few meters. A pony in the crowd, one that Blueblood had planted, pointed out the small hangars filled with fighter planes on the airship’s side.

Just as Blueblood opened his mouth to talk the ship’s engines stopped. Not a whisper was heard in the cavernous building as he began his small speech.“I present to thee once more; the Royal Imperial Navy’s most powerful ship, and my own personal flagship: the R.I.N. Sol Scorcher.” The room was quiet. The sheer immensity of it darkened the few few stars that poked out of the polluted sky. Many of the ponies in the crowd ducked lower, feeling the oppressive weight of the machine of destruction above them.

“Armed with a state-of-the-art arsenal of Arcana weapons, including thirty two heavy cannons, and the brand new Nova One Sparkle accelerator: a cannon so powerful it can destroy an entire city in a single round from a dozen kilometers away. It can also carry up to one hundred and forty fighter crafts. Specifically our brand new Vanquisher fighter-interceptors.”

Blueblood looked into the crowd, especially to those he knew to be rebel sympathizers. He gave them all a grim smile, enjoying the self conscious squirming of many of the ponies that had recently been conspiring against him. They were having second thoughts now.

“That’s my cannon!” Screamed a high pitched voice. Pinkie Pie jumped onto one of the dining tables and pointed at the emperor accusingly. “You stole my idea for a super cannon!”

Many were surprised at her daring, not every pony was brave or stupid enough to argue with the Emperor. Blueblood on the other hoof was expecting it.

“Indeed Miss Pinkamena, I did. Worry not though, you shall be handsomely recompensed,” he said in a tone that stipulated that the argument was over.

Pinkie Pie hopped off the table and zipped over to him. Fuming, she leaned forward until she was only inches away from his face. “You’re a big ol’ meanie aren’t you Bluey?” This time when his guards moved in towards her he didn’t stop them. Pinkie averted her gaze to the approaching soldiers and huffed as she turned around. “Somepony is stepping on a thin wire,” she said before trotting out of the eerily quiet hall huffing about mean emperors.

Blueblood descended the steps and was greeted by dozens of ponies. They all congratulated him with varying amounts of honesty for his new possession. He thanked them all politely while searching for Bunnyhelm.

When the advisor approached Blueblood, he nudged his head towards the entrance of the hall, indicating the need for privacy. Bunnyhelm nodded and walked by the intricately carved arch of the grand entrance.

Blueblood yawned loudly before saying his goodbyes and disappearing out of the grand exit, shortly followed by Bunnyhelm. Once outside he took in a puff of the fresh night air, emptying his lungs of the thick smell of perfume and cologne.

“Are they trustworthy?” the advisor asked, pointing to Blueblood’s two guards.

“Indeed.” He understood the need for caution.

“I saw you speak with little Miss Tiara, at the ceremony...” began the lord and advisor.

Blueblood indicated that he should follow and started walking down a well trod path to the castle proper. “The pink one? With too much confidence and no respect for authority? A little snot-nosed brat if you ask me.” They walked through the paved walkway that lead from the new hall to the great castle of Canterlot.

“Indeed, and, while I must agree with your assumptions, she is the daughter of Filthy Rich; some caution would be advisable when dealing with her.”

“I see, thank you. I’ll make sure she won’t speak of our... activities.”

A veritable army of soldiers wearing red armour appeared with a shimmer. The Royal Guard, over a dozen unicorns trained from infancy to serve Blueblood and only Blueblood. They struck fear in the hearts of all those unfortunate enough to see them. Even Bunnyhelm gulped and whitened slightly at the sight of them. Not one of them spoke as they simply trotted along at the emperor’s pace. “How goes the Sol factory?” asked Blueblood, completely unfazed by the appearance of the trained killers.

“Quite well, as you can’t see.” Chrono indicated the gigantic Sol Scorcher that was blotting out the moon above. The two stallions laughed at their private joke. “Miss Pie... was quite angry...” started Chrono a while later as they reached the exit of the garden.

“Indeed she was. Rightfully so, as well.” Blueblood smiled.

“I advise caution; Miss Pie and her friends own quite a bit of Equestria. They are a force to be reckoned with.”

“They only own a fifth of the land and its wealth. Still, I understand the need for caution. They keep playing in my back with their little shenanigans and even laugh in my face when I try to do something about it.” He stomped his hoof angrily on the marble stones they trotted across. The sound of his hoof strike echoed off the stone walls and into the still night. The Royal guard’s slowed their pace to match his perfectly.

“Hmm, I can see why you would be frustrated. Perhaps a change of subject?” He nodded at the suggestion, liking Bunnyhelm's ability to read him so easily.

“Give me the rundown of events...” They reached the stairwell that lead to the emperor’s study. Without a sound, the Royal guard disappeared, knowing their king and emperor was safe here.

Bunnyhelm cleared his throat before starting. “The tests on the new Vanquisher models has far surpassed our predictions. The newest batch of fighters should be ready sometime next week. Sparkle Tech still refuses to cooperate in the development of new Arcana cannons, food production over at the Apples farms corp has increased thanks to the new machinery, Cloudsdale has had a growth in their recruitment numbers over the past two months. A certain Captain Darius, ex-admiral of the Sun Fleet, has captured one of Miss Rarity’s siblings on a anti-smuggling ru-”

“Wait, we captured one of Rarity’s siblings smuggling?” Blueblood cocked his eyebrow at Bunnyhelm. “Let me guess, fancy dresses?” They finished climbing the long, tall staircase and came to a stop.

“No, in this case Zap Apple Fuel. The filly, Sweetie Belle if I remember correctly, was captured and her ship was destroyed in the proceedings. This might be a small victory for us. We will be able to prove that the Apples are still creating the illegal ordinance, and that the Belles are helping. Of course, the filly will go free. Her name alone will sway the prosecution in her favour. No pony wants to suffer through a whiny Miss Rarity.” Bunnyhelm shuddered.

“No, it won’t,” Blueblood smiled devilishly. “Shove her in Tartarus to rot for a while. Don’t make a fuss over the hearing either; I want this to be quiet....”

“Are you sure this is wise, your highness?”

“We can’t really hurt Applejack or Rarity directly, nor can we afford to be seen going against them. By giving back her sister, all we can do is slap her wrist and tell her not to do it again. But if her sister disappears...”

A wicked smile slowly made its way across Bunnyhelm’s face. “I see. Your wisdom is infallible, my liege.” The pair arrived at the study’s door. “I will leave you to a good night’s sleep, then.”

Diamond Tiara walked around the far corner, escorted by two members of the Royal guard. She blushed furiously, seemingly uncertain of her actions. “Oh my dear Chrono, it will be quite the pleasurable night; this I assure you.” said Blueblood before waving his councilor away and trotting into his study accompanied by the filly.

The Expedite roared forward at a speed that was more than reckless, not that its pilot cared. Scootaloo looked at the city of New Appleloosa and all its glory. Tall narrow chimneys rose into the air and spewed toxic vapours; the sun cast its last rays into the polluted clouds, turning the airship filled skies into varying shades of blue, pink and green.

As she approached the city more details could be made out. Large, tall buildings rose up, obscuring the lower levels where the poor and abject lived. The once-white walls were speckled with graffiti and grime, not to mention the odd scars from stray bullets. She had been there often, always on-board The Crusader, always with her friends. Scootaloo swiped away a tear from her eyes, ashamed at her own weakness. She needed to be stronger than this.

Hundreds of ships dotted the air, from small merchant ships to large cargo haulers. Between them all were the Imperial ships, from Interdiction class light patrol ships returning from their runs, to much smaller guard ships and balloons. There were even a few of the massive Obedience class heavy destroyers anchored to some of the many ports that stuck out of the city’s skyline.

Scootaloo pushed forward on the yoke, and her little red ship dived down, dozens of small airships veered wildly as she flew past building in a blur. She didn’t care, all she needed was a drink. Slowing down as she reached the lower levels, she took a quick peek at her surroundings. Unlike the upper section where everything was polished to a sheen and where the rich trotted, the lower city was much simpler. Dirty alleys and dubious locations were everywhere. The pony residents of this level were all shifty, light on their hooves and their eyes continuously roamed from side to side searching for trouble..

Her keen eyes spotted a bar with a large broken-down sign labeled The Salt Block II. She pulled on the Expedite’s air-brakes and released its landing gear. The small craft slowed to a halt and hovered. Small pieces of garbage and debris were kicked up by the Spark Generator while she veered the ship into a side alley, gently parking the Expedite on a pile of stinking refuse.

Scootaloo powered off the ship, her hooves flying over the controls out of habit as she looked around her. She had very little with her; just the few things that were already in the Expedite: A small knife, her precious jacket, some bits, and half a jar of Zap Apple fuel. The Expedites fuel tank was almost empty, her engine was bucking and spewing odd shades of pale smoke, the entire hull was scraped and dinged from the short fight with the Imperial fighters. She sighed before popping open the hatch and jumping out, vaguely aware of the eyes spying on her, from within shadows cast by the flickering streetlights. On a whim she locked the hatch before trotting over to the bar.

Holes had been blown into the side of the building, the paint was peeling or completely gone, and the smell of it was repulsive. Ignoring her instincts to turn away, she pushed the door aside and trotted in. The stench and sound within hit her like a brick wall. Smoke curled into the air from a dozen small fires where ponies were sniffing and taking substances of dubious legality. Soothing upbeat jazz music played in the background, making an odd contrast to the puffs of smoke and the general air of caution in the bar.

Coughing, she trotted over to the bar and sat on an empty stool, aware of the eyes that were checking her out and licking their lips. The barkeep, a tall lanky griffin, turned over and cocked an eyebrow at her. “We don’t serve milk.” he said with a mixture of sarcasm and venom. She simply glared at him, putting all the anger she felt into her stare until the griffin blanched and fetched her a dirty cup full of cider. She dropped a bit onto the table and was surprised to see it disappear in a sweep of the griffin’s talon.

“Thanks.” Slowly she lifted the glass to her lips and sipped the cider, head bowed in silence. She recognized the blend as watered-down Sweet Apple Acres. The taste of it made her want to tear up all over again for more than one reason. All she wanted was some peace and quiet; the odd, stinking bar provided that. Everypony returned to minded their own business and only whispers were heard over the soft jazz on the crackling radio.

Suddenly she noticed a dark pony walking over to her from the left. From the way he moved she could tell that he’d had one glass of cider to many. “Hey sweetums, want me to buy you a drink?” he slurred. The attention of many in the bar shifted away from drinks and small talk to the pair.

“No thanks, I already have my own,” she said. The inebriated buck grabbed her mug and shoved it aside.

“Now you don’t.” He leaned in towards her and whispered loudly enough her everypony to hear. “How ‘bout, after yer drink, me ‘n you go out back and have ourselves a good time?” She stared daggers into his face. He didn’t seem to notice. “What do you say, sweetums?” He slapped her flank.

Calmly, she rose from the stool and stood in front of him, giving him a beautiful toothy smile. He smiled back until her hooves smashed into his face, sending the drunk pony sprawling halfway across the bar.

With a sigh akin to a patient mother’s, Scootaloo picked up her mug with an outstretched wing and quietly trotted over to the lumpy form. “Drinks on me,” she said before pouring the remainder of her cider on his head. Gingerly, she aimed the mug and proceeded to jam it over his snout, effectively shutting up his drunken whimpers.

The bar was quiet for a few seconds as its patrons observed the spectacle, a few of the ponies present laughed and giggled quietly then went on taking care of their business. Scootaloo started to make her way back to her stool which she now found occupied by another, the pony on her seat just looked at her and shrugged. Hanging her head she began to make her way out of the crowded bar. This was not a good day.

“Hey madam?” She sighed, not this again. “Is your ship red?” She turned to a pony who was leaning against the filthy wall near the entrance. “Thought so,” he said. “You might want to go check it out: because the Imps sure are doing just that...” He gave her a sympathetic smile. Down here Imperials and their supporters had little love. If the Empire didn’t like you, there was a chance that those who dwelled in the slums would help you... or sell, kill or rob you, depending on their mood.

Scootaloo nodded to the mysterious pony and galloped out the door and into the slightly fresher night air. She had no reason to trust him, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Her business here was done anyway. Hurrying towards the alley where her ship was parked, Scootaloo slowed to a halt before reaching the edge, not wanting to stand out too much in the empty streets. Poking her head around the corner she spotted three Imperial troopers inspecting her vehicle. One of them, an unicorn officer, was floating up a notepad and inspecting it thoroughly.

The officer turned to his colleagues. “This is the one. Search warrant was issued this evening.” he smiled. “I smell a promotion for a certain somepony!” The other two joined in on the laughter. “Now, all we need to do is find that stupid mare...” He punched Expedite, leaving a small dent along its thin armour plates. Something snapped within Scootaloo: those Imperials took her friends, her ship and now they were laughing at her! Immediately she began to plan the sort of punishment she would give to them.

She slid into one of the many shadows that were rampant around the alley and slowly snuck forward, aided by her dark leather coat and the tall buildings that obscured what was left of the daylight. The three uniformed ponies started to move towards the exit of the alley, taking their time. Their rank and uniforms protected them from all but the most foolish of the locals. Scootaloo remained crouched in the shadows. Every few moments, she would raise her head ever so slightly, just enough to catch a peek of the scene in front of her.

One of the officers had his back turned towards her, gesturing to his two companions . The pair nodded in acknowledgement before rushing off in opposite directions, leaving the officer alone to inspect the ship.

Ducking back into the shadows, Scootaloo sucked in a deep breath. It was now or never.

With a strong beat of her wings, she leapt forward, using her momentum to slam into the unsuspecting Imperial. She tackled him into the far wall of the alley and slammed his head into the cement, leaving a crack both on the wall and on his thin grey helm.

The other two turned around, surprised. Scootaloo let go of the first unconscious Imperial and jumped onto the nearest one who simply gasped wide-eyed at her before they rolled across the dirty ground, wings and hooves flying as they grappled each other, sending puffs of dust and grim flying. She swung wildly at him, putting all of her anger into her hooves, while he desperately tried to defend himself from her savage attacks.

“Stop!” With a tug, Scootaloo was lifted into the air. She threw punches and kicks in a vain attempt to free herself, to no avail. The officer sat nearby his face illuminated by the glow surrounding his horn. “Seems that I was fated to get that promotion!” Scootaloo swore at him and made as few rather unnecessary comments about his mother, successfully evoking a look of disdain from the officer. “Let’s drag this whelp over to HQ, let her rot for a while.” The officer said to the still groaning form of his compatriot on the ground. The trooper laying in the filthy mud just twisted and hung onto his bleeding muzzle with a forehoof.

“I fear that I cannot allow you to do that,” spoke a heavily accented voice. From out of a shadow stepped a unicorn, wearing what could easily have passed for a noble’s garb, were it not stained and ripped. The rich looking unicorn stepped towards the officer. “S’il vous plait, good monsieur, would you leave the young Miss be?” The unicorn smiled at the officer and twitched his moustache with a delicate hoof.

“Who the hay do you think you are?” The Imperial officer stared at the strange pony incredulously. “I am an officer of t-”

“Oui, oui, an officer of the law and all that; I’ve heard it all before. Now, will you let the young Miss go, or non?” he cocked his head to one side questioningly. Scootaloo didn’t know who this pony was but she was glad for the small distraction. She put all of her force into trying to break free of the unicorn’s grasp. nothing happened.

The officer fumed before replying, “of course not! She’s mine.”

He sighed. “That was what I thought you’d say....” The rich pony reached into his well-trimmed coat.

The officer, reacting quickly, pulled out a pistol from within the folds of his uniform and pointed it at the head of the accented pony. The unicorn, unfazed, slowly pulled out a rolled piece of paper, acting as if he wasn’t threatened by the Imperial soldier. “This is the bounty you speak of, I believe?” He levitated the paper over to the officer, unrolling it in mid air.

The officer quickly glanced at the paper then back to the unicorn. “Yeah it’s her. Thanks, now get out of here. You’re being an obstruction of justice.”

“Vraiment?” The rich pony turned his attention to Scootaloo who was still floating in mid air. “My little lady, I must say I am very impressed!” he pointed to Expedite. “In that ugly thing you destroyed two imperial fighters and single hoofedly killed eight soldiers. Incroyable.” he nodded.

“What?” asked both Scootaloo and the officer at the same time.

Curiosity getting the best of her Scootaloo stopped struggling. “Can I see that?”

“Bien oui!” He levitated the bounty back to his side and pointed at it. “Tu vois, eight counts of murder, two counts of destruction of Imperial material, over a dozen counts of smuggling and embezzlement of funds as well as treason.” He looked at Scootaloo, “I thought you would look fiercer in person...” He sent the bounty flying over to her. She snatched it from the air and looked at the image. It was her, but two years younger, still wearing a less-tattered version of her coat. This was taken when she got her pilot's license. Scootaloo scanned the page. The unicorn hadn't lied. The Imperial propaganda department were really having a riot with this.

“Look you freak, I’ve had enough of you. Leave!” exclaimed the officer, cutting through Scootaloo’s concentration.

“Non.” The officer’s gun was wrapped in a magical sheen and was ripped from his hoof. The officer gasped in surprise as the gun twisted over in mid-air and pointed itself at his head. The odd pony smiled at him. “What is that thing the ponies around here say? Oh yes!” He stared at the officer, his eyes full of controlled fury and anger, and deadpanned, “Git.”

The officer stared at him wide-eyed as sweat began to pour from under his cap, then, gulping, he ran away screaming for reinforcements, his hoof steps echoing off the narrow alley walls. Scootaloo dropped to the ground suddenly as he let go of his magic.

Grunting she looked up, the face of the strange pony was inches away from her own. His inquisitive eyes scanning her own. “Allo, my name is Arnaquer, I wish for you to join my little group.” He rose up then gave her his hoof to help her up. “Will you join me, miss Scootaloo?”

Scootaloo drew a blank. “Wha-?”

Arnaquer stifled a laugh, “pardoner moi.” He coughed into his sleeve. “I so happen to be the leader of a little group that is... at odds, with the Empire. We could use somepony of your skills...”

“What?” Scootaloo’s mind took a while to comprehend to shift in scenarios.

“You’ll get to really irk the Empire. Maybe even avenge your friends...” hinted Arnaquer. “You’ll be guarding the ship while we make... special deliveries to certain important places.”

“Where?” she blurted out.

“Sparkle tech, Spectrum Skies-”

“You work for Spectrum!” The name of her idol’s company decided the matter for her. Not only was this pony offering her a way to retaliate against her nemesis, she could also work for her idol.

“Le veut tu? Do you want to help us?”

With a firm nod Scootaloo said, “Alright then.”

Author’s Note:

Special thank yous:







If you need to contact me (paypal) or images (Deviant Art) please do so at: Mr.Chicken501@gmail.com or in the Fimfictions comment section!

First part written while listening to this: Smile Emporium


Convicted and Lost

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Sweetie Belle awoke with a start. She was shaken off her cot by the lurching of the ship coming to a sudden halt, dumping her from the cot to the hard metal ground. Not that the cot was any more comfortable anyway.

Sighing, she rose up and took in her surroundings. She was stuck in a small cell that smelt strongly of sweat and dirtiness, it was dimly illuminated by the small gas-burning lamps on the far wall; the light just barely reached up to the fourteen hash-marks scratched into the metal walls.

Sweetie Belle was actually glad for the small source of light; had it been any bigger or brighter, she would be able to see herself in the sorry state she was in.

The only other objects occupying her cell were her cot and a bucket in the corner. She had been quite distraught at first when she had learned just what it was for, but now it was just another part of her life. Her clothes had been stripped away when they found her outside her cell trying to pick the lock with a screwdriver and a hairpin. It made her feel oddly naked and vulnerable.

Trotting over the few steps that lead to the entrance of her cell she sat down and waited, eyes closed. There was no sun or moon to indicate the passing of time, so she had learnt to listen to the ship’s vibrations. The ship’s large Sparkle Generator wasn’t too far from the brig. The engine practically spoke to her as it went about its timed cycles, keeping the ship afloat.

A moan from deeper within the prison stole her attention. The pony who had tried to assault her, corporal Green Lance, was still in his cell. He looked horrible. His mane was disheveled and he badly needed a shower. Hopefully she didn’t look as bad as he did.

“What’re you lookin at?” he snapped at her.

She actually felt a pang of pity for him, none of his two companions had bothered to visit him after being freed., leaving him alone in the cell spending his free time either swearing at her or doing obscene things.

Ironically, she had been getting more visitors. Captain Darius came to see her to discuss various things, such as her trial and how they managed to sneak Zap Apple fuel in and out of the borders.

Sweetie Belle listened attentively to the former and spewed nonsense at the latter. The captain seemed to know, but didn’t press her for more. Actually he was getting nicer and nicer to her. Once in a while, the pony who brought her food would talk; sometimes, she would even sneak her a little extra.

A sliver of light appeared and quickly grew as the jail’s door opened. A pony trotted in, his steps calculated and precise, despite the slight rumbling of the ship. “Hello, Miss Sweetie Belle,” greeted Captain Darius as he came to a stop in front of her cell. As usual he wore his gleaming naval officer’s uniform this time with twice as many medals as she was used to seeing on him. Smiling gently at her he began to talk, “we have arrived at port. Unfortunately, that means you must prepare for a trial.”

With a motion of his head, two more ponies trotted in, wrinkling their noses at the smell. One ventured forward and unlocked her cell door. “Come; we must make you presentable,” Darius said as he led.

Sweetie Belle timidly walked out of the cell and began following the captain. From the far cell Green Lance screamed and hollered. The other two ponies followed after Sweetie Belle, ignoring the pitiful pony as they shoved her along. She felt pity for him, but knew that she might be in an even worse scenario than he.

Sweetie Belle trotted behind the captain as he made his way through the ship. He moved about the many twists and turns of the maze-like structure of the corridors. They crossed several other crewponies who would smile and salute the captain respectfully, then glare at her as she passed.

“Please don’t be distraught. I am positive that they would grow to like you, given time.” He smiled at her.

“Why don’t they like me?” she asked. She knew that answer. At least partially. But the loathing she saw in their eyes coupled by what Green Lance wanted to do to her left her stunned. She couldn’t imagine doing something that would make everypony hate her so much.

“Why, they see you as responsible for the death of fellow crew members. After so long together in the air we become a... family of sorts.”

“If the crew were a family, would that mean that you're their father?” she asked. He looked around and rose an eyebrow at her.

“That is an apt analogy, I would believe. Yes, I have become the father of the crew.” While glancing behind at her the captain failed to notice a little brown unicorn trotting down the tight corridor while floating a thick manual in front of himself.

Just as Sweetie Belle was going to call out a warning the two ponies ran into each other and tumbled on the metallic walkway in a pile of legs and hooves. The captain rose up first, sweeping dust off of his uniform, then levitated the nervous earth pony onto his hooves. Dropping him with a light clang on the walkway before fetching his book and handing it to him.

“Wilson, was it?” he asked. The pony nodded. “You really should watch where you’re going,” he paused, “then again I should do the same.... You were too excited thinking of that marefriend of yours, weren’t you?” The brown pony became red. “Haha, it’s alright lad, keep working; you’ll see her soon.” Darius patted the crewmember on the back and indicated to Sweetie Belle with a quick jerk of his head to keep moving.

“So...” began Sweetie Belle after a few more minutes of trotting through the ship. “Where are we going?”

“To my bedchambers, dear.”

Sweetie Belle stopped on the spot, the two guards coming to a halt before prodding her forward. He wanted to go where? Her eyes widened in fear.

Darius turned around and looked at her quizzically. Suddenly, his eyes lit up in understanding and he blushed. “Oh my, please do not misunderstand me! In no way did I-” he facehoofed. “Please trust me, I have absolutely no bad intentions.”

The guards pushed her forward once more and she stumbled forward a few feet. “Right,” she said, still uncertain.

Despite the absurdity of the situation, something told her that she could trust the odd captain. She followed his lead until he stopped in front of a carved wooden door that looked partially out of place in the otherwise bland ship. Darius opened the door then backed away, showing that she should enter. Cautiously, she stepped into the room.

The room was just large enough for what it held: a dresser and a large cot, as well as a few commodities. It was coloured in the plain grey that the navy adored. What immediately grabbed her attention though was the open door leading to a bathroom where a light cloud of steam was forming.

“There,” he said pointing to the washroom. “Clothes were prepared for you in there; cleaned and pressed. I believe you know how to take care of yourself?” he nodded at her dismissively. “Good then, knock on the door when you are done- oh, and please don’t waste any time...”

Sweetie Belle nodded and watched as the captain trotted out of the room. Once he closed the door, she wrapped the handle in her magic and locked it. Satisfied, she inspected the room.

A lonesome picture frame sat upon a drawer, the only piece of decoration in the room. She trotted over to frame and gazed at the image.

Sweetie Belle grabbed the image with her magic and levitated it near her, a slightly younger Captain Darius stood to the side of a mare that was about her age. The mare was smiling to the camera. She carefully replaced it; it was obviously important to him.

She trotted over to the small bathroom and giggled in ecstasy when she saw the small tub full of steaming water. Without a thought she hopped into the warm liquid and sank to the bottom of its pool with a sigh.

She sank deeper and deeper into the bath, letting her hooves slide against the smooth surface. Soon, she was completely submerged, except for her pink muzzle poking out from the water's surface like a snorkels tube. Steaming hot water surrounded her body, the heat working away the aches and pains built over days of confinement.

A contented sigh escaped her lips. For a moment, it felt as though she was back home, sitting in her own bathroom and soaking in the tub. She didn't even get to enjoy such baths in her own airship, as water was quite the commodity on board. Waving her hooves in the water, she wondered why she was given the luxury of a bath in the first place. Perhaps they had more water tanks here or something, enough for the captain to have one every day.

Captain Darius. She didn't know much about him yet, but he did make an effort to visit her now and then in her cell, sometimes even sharing a few laughs. Definitely more civilized than that green pony that assaulted her. Corporal Green Fern was it? She hadn't even bothered to take note of his name. Thank Celestia not all of the Imperials were like him...

A knock at the door snapped her back to reality. Quickly looking around she found a bar of soap was conveniently placed near the tub; she picked it up and began cleaning the grime of the last few days off of her coat as quickly as possible before sliding out, dripping with soapy water.

Looking around she found a towel stacked above a neatly folded pile of clothes. The outfit was very similar to her own; a basic mechanic’s outfit with many pockets and small hidden pouches. She twisted it around and noticed the small crest of the Cutie Mark Crusaders over the left breast pocket. The hoof that had done the sewing was far from good, but she smiled at the effort all the same.

She glanced at herself in the small mirror and smiled. At least she looked presentable. Nice even. Trotting over to the entrance she knocked on the door and was greeted by the two guards; one of them did a double take on her, which she found curious.

She followed the guards with her head held high; somehow the bath and time alone rejuvenated her confidence. “Um... Would you, um... where are we going?” The guard ahead of her jumped in surprise, he evidently didn’t expect her to speak.

“To the captain,” he said, trying to sound casual.

“Where is that?” she asked, but he kept silent, pointedly looking the other way.. She shrugged and followed him through the enormous ship.

On occasion she would slow down to inspect some of the inner workings of the ship, especially anything having to do with the huge Sparkle Generator and its panoply of wires.

Eventually the trio reached the massive reinforced door of the main cargo hold. Upon opening it bright sunlight streamed into the room blinding her momentarily before she placed her hoof ahead of her eyes.

“You look much better, Miss Belle.” Captain Darius said as he appeared at her side carrying a full checklist. A pen flew by and crossed the last item on the list off before he pocketed both. Sweetie Belle blushed involuntarily. “I have arranged for transportation over to the judicial building. Please, follow me.” He led her over to a small six passenger sky-cart with a single massive engine took up half the skycart's size.

The pilot, a mare in navy uniform, saluted the captain, welcoming him aboard. She waited patiently for Sweetie Belle and the two guards to sit down and buckle themselves into their seats. The pilot leaned towards the ship’s dashboard and flicked a few switches, with a loud bang, the engine rumbled to life, sending clouds of dust scattering through the hold. Then she turned around and addressed her passengers with a smile. “Where to, sir?”

“The High Judicial Court please.” The mare looked at him wide eyed, then glanced at Sweetie Belle, connecting the dots.

“Alrighty then.” The mare turned back to her controls and tapped on a comm unit, a sharp crackle met her from the built-in speakers. “This is light transport unit two, nine, three, seven, four, requesting clearance to Judicial route.” Sweetie Belle paid no heed to the string of numbers and codes that followed. Instead she glanced out of the large entrance. Once her eyes began adjusting she could make out the shapes of tall spires that rose out of sight.

She decided that they must have descended to a lower part of the city before docking. She had never seen Canterlot, of course she knew that it was large. In her mind it was a slightly bigger version of New Appleloosa, only with more Imperials and less poverty.

All her mental images of a slightly larger New Appleloosa were shattered as the small airship forced itself into the air and out of the cargo hold doors in a puff of smoke and exhaust. They were not, in fact, close to the ground; they were thousands of feet up.

Above her, the tall gleaming white spires of Canterlot rose endlessly, piercing both clouds and sky as they reflected the light of the dawning sun.

Her jaw dropped, causing Darius laughed. “First time in Canterlot?” he asked. “Just don’t look down,” he advised.

Seconds later, Sweetie Belle felt her stomach rise to her throat as her head dangled out of the ship. The ground was far below them, so far that she had a hard time seeing it through the maze of airships that tangled and flew at speeds that made them appear as coloured blurs.

Hundreds of walkways connected the building together as thousands of pastel colored dots walked, trotted, and went about their daily business. Puffs of smoke rose from the vehicles and mingled into the air, giving it the stench of burning fuel and boiling grease.

Sweetie Belle forced herself back into the ship with the aid of the captain. “Breathe in through your nose, it helps. Also, don’t look down,” he admonished.

Sweetie Belle followed his advice and tried to calm herself down. She closed her eyes and breathed in gently, listening to the blaring sounds of the city around her. “There is so much.” she declared, unable to string together a coherent sentence.

The captain laughed and was soon joined by the two guards. “Indeed, they say ‘he who controls Canterlot controls Equestria’. It’s a good saying.”

Sweetie Belle tried to look at the sky above to distract herself. After so long in the skies the fluffy clouds and warm blue skies had become a second home to her. But, rather than seeing the usual peaceful white ocean of clouds being carried away by a gentle wind, she saw a black pool of fog dotted with the huge forms of airships too large to fit within the city. One in particular caught her attention.

The humongous grey airship was easily ten times longer than the Interdiction-class airships that surrounded it. Its forward cannon alone could have engulfed The Crusader. She stared at it wide-eyed and slack-jawed, not even glancing at the hundreds of other large military ships dotting the Canterlot skies.

“The Sol Scorcher. Best not look at it too much.” she felt a hoof pull her head back down and into the ship.

“We’re almost there,” said the pilot.

Sweetie Belle gulped, in her elation at seeing the city she had forgotten why she was there. She felt a reassuring hoof on her shoulder. “Don’t worry. Your sister is responsible for clothing half the city’s population. If the Imperials were to anger her...”

She smiled at him a little. “Thank you very much Mr. Darius. You’ve been very helpful.” He looked at her surprised and moved his jaw as if to speak, but no words came out.

“You’re welcome?” he finally said. They remained silent for the rest of the trip as the small shuttle raced towards its destination.

The pilot mare turned around and looked at the captain gravely. "Captain, we have reached our destination" The judicial building loomed ahead of them. Tall, black, and ominous within the sea of white towers, its main spire poking into the grey clouds above it, no airship other then the imperial warships were near it, almost as if the citizens of Canterlot were afraid of approaching the eery building. Sweetie Belle gulped.

Breaking out of the crowded traffic their little ship veered off and into one of the cavernous parking areas within the building. Sweetie Belle said a quick goodbye to the pilot mare before hopping out of the vehicle and onto the intricately carved marble walkway that lead to the entrance. Sweetie Belle looked around her just as the two guards positioned themselves on either side of her, leading her into the building’s reception room. With a screech Sweetie Belle heard the little transport that had brought them there zip away. Sighing, she looked up at the colossal wooden doors that they were approaching and prayed to Luna that everything would be alright.

They entered a room easily capable of fitting a few hundred ponies but was eerily empty except for a secretary. Their small party walked into the room, their hoofsteps echoing off of the the richly decorated walls of the desolate room.

“Captain Darius?” asked the secretary from behind a thick, wooden desk.

“Indeed,” he bowed to her, his face adorned with a concerned frown. “I see that nopony else is here... I will assume that the place is closed? Please forgive me, I should have sent more than one announcement of our arrival, I shall return once you are open.” He turned to leave.

“No, no, Captain. Quite the opposite; you are expected.” She ushered them towards the great double doors at the back of the room. Darius frowned but followed her lead. His hoof struck the marble ground as he positioned himself defensively in front of Sweetie Belle.

Sweetie Belle started to feel worry build up in her once more. Something was wrong here. The secretary opened the door and moved aside, letting them enter the brightly lit courtroom.

The main courtroom was an enormous room, filled with uncomfortable wooden chairs facing the main podium where an old bearded pony sat with a gavel in one hoof and reading glasses in the other. Every wall was covered with alcoves filled with dimly lit lanterns and marble statues depicting justice and valor. Sweetie Belle caught the irony of the stones that depicted justice in a system that was so corrupt.

The secretary guided the group over to some benches at the front where some ponies wearing clothes that Sweetie recognized as some of her sister’s more expensive sets sat. All of them turned and stared at her, slowly looking her up and down like vultures inspecting their next meal.

At the front of the room was an imposing stand where a judge sat, his head nodding up and down as she tried to fight off sleep. To his left was a large mahogany box filled with nobles that stared at her, sizing her up. She was separated from the guards and the captain by the insistent hoof of the secretary and placed in a box marked ‘accused’. Sweetie Belle gulped again. Something was really wrong here.

The judge sat up straighter in his seat then sighed with mock boredom. “This is just a triviality, really.” he said. “Will the accused state her name?” He stared at her.

“Sweetie, Belle?” she responded uncertain. A small murmur spread from the nobles but was shut by a pointed look from the judge.

“You are hereby accused of three counts of smuggling, eight counts of theft, fifteen counts of murder in the first degree... Oh bloody hay, you get the idea,” he sighed then turned to the jury. “Everypony that believes her to be guilty, raise your hoof.” All the hooves rose unanimously.

When they saw the shock that ran across Sweetie Belle’s face many stifled some light tinkering giggles in the cuffs of their expensive coats. They were here for entertainment she realized.

“You can’t do this!” protested Darius loudly as he rose from his seat.

“Captain Darius, do you really want to ruin your reputation all over again?” asked a white and red unicorn seated in the crowd wearing a grim smile.

“Bunnyhelm,” whispered Darius vehemently as he slowly sank back into his bench.

The judge continued unperturbed. “Well then, by the power given to me by his Emperor Blueblood the First, you are hereby sentenced to life in jail at the Tartarus penitentiary facility.” His gavel fell with a resounding crash.

“Wait? What is going on?” asked Sweetie Belle as new guards rushed into the room from behind the judges stand and began to drag her out. As they passed near Darius’ seat he reached out and grabbed her shoulder. She felt a weight hit the bottom of her coats pocket.

“Be careful, and patient, I’ll get to the bottom of this. Trust me.” Sweetie Belle nodded her tear streaked face as the guards kept pulling her out of the room. The last thing she saw before they closed the door was the shame-filled face of Captain Darius.

“How far is it?” he panted.

“Stop whining; the sun will be up in a few hours, and you'll be able to rest then.”

Whining? I am not whining. I`d like to see you carry this heavy junk. Wait, why is it that I am the one carrying it?” Pipsqueak turned to Apple Bloom and glared at her.

She simply huffed and kept trotting up the sandy dune. “Because Ah need to guide our sorry flanks outta here.”

Pipsqueak mumbled as he followed her tracks through the sand. “Bet you ten bits we’re lost...” he grumbled.

They had been in the desert for almost three days now, walking by night and sleeping during the blisteringly hot afternoons. They had yet to see a single sign of civilisation other then some scrap metal and bits and pieces of garbage dumped from the airships that flew high above them. They had contemplated making some sort of distress signal, but were afraid of who would come to help. There was no way of identifying the silhouettes of ships against the star-filled sky, if they made a signal chances were the help would be Imperial or some other outlandish rouges. Trading ships rarely bothered to save other ponies in distress.

They kept walking in silence for a while. Apple Bloom fiddling around with the flashlight-like device she had rigged together using parts she ripped out of their radio. The flashlight lit up the path they walked on for a stretch, on occasion she would twist it around and point in a random direction. They never saw anything more then sand, rocks and the rare cactus.

“How far is it?” asked Pipsqueak once more.

Apple Bloom had had enough. “For Celestia’s sake, stop asking that! Ah don’t know, alright. Ah can only point us in the right direction and hope we make it there before we run out of food.” she humphed and kept walking.

“I’m sorry,” he started, “I’m just a little anxious... and hungry.”

“So am I.”

“We’re going to die, aren’t we?”

She turned to him and shoved the light into his face. “Pipsqueak, will you shut up with your negative attitude?! Ah am tired of hearing you whine constantly.”

He looked away from the light and flattened his ears. “I’m sorry.”

She facehoofed. “No you are not! You need to pony up a little, Pipsqueak! If ya always act so timid you’ll never get any mares to like you.”

Pipsqueak blinked taking in the information. “You knew?” he asked a mixture of panic and embarrassment. His entire body flushed red and his eyes grew out of proportion.

Apple Bloom sighed. “Yes Pipsqueak I know, the whole the crew knew, hay, I’d go as far as to say that most of Ponyville knows. Your, ‘infatuation’ with Sweetie Belle is just about one of the worst kept secrets in Equestria...”

“Huh?” he exclaimed. “Sweetie Belle?” Upon seeing her quizzical face he stammered. “It’s not that I don’t like her, well, maybe, but I mean...” his voice trailed off into silence.

Apple Bloom facehoofed again and wondered what she had gotten herself into. The sun was going to rise in a few hours and they were just standing there chatting their time away. “Okay then, yer infatuation with Scootaloo then.” His ears dropped further. “Really, ah don’t see what you like in her. Ah mean she’s my friend and all, and ah love her. But really Pip’s she ain’t your type.”

She thought about the situation a little then smiled slyly. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle had both told her that Pipsqueak liked one of the mares on board the ship. She had always thought it was Sweetie and not Scootaloo... Maybe she could use this to her advantage.

She moved forward and patted him on the back. “Cheer up, I, Apple Bloom, promise that I’ll turn you into the perfect stallion for Scootaloo.” she declared aloud. Pipsqueak blushed furiously.

“Um, well... you see. It’s no-” he muttered while rubbing his bandaged hooves together.

“Aw, don’t worry. Ah’m sure I can make any mare fall head over hooves for ya, Just wait and see. I’ll show you how to be a real stallion! Now come on Pip, you can start by being gallant and leading the way, oh, and carry my bags.” She gave him a wide grin while he passed by her. She could almost feel the heat coming off of his face.

The two resumed their walk in a slightly better mood. After a while Pipsqueak turned and asked, “do you mean it?”

“Mean what?”

“Will you help me, um, ‘improve’?” he said with a slight wince.

Apple Bloom thought about it while they walked. “I can try to help you. But it the end it’s up to you Pip.” Suddenly a thought came to her. Stifling a giggle she leaned forward and whispered. “Ah’ll teach you how to please the ladies...” With a cough, Pipsqueak turned beet red and began trudging through the sand at a much faster rhythm, his cloth covered hooves barely making a sound as they scrapped along.

They kept walking, the only sound the rustling of the sand and the crunching of their hooves. Apple Bloom was oddly content despite their misfortune and Pipsqueak trotted with his head low in thought and embarrassment.

Suddenly, he lifted his head and looked over a sand dune they were about to crest. Apple Bloom ran into him in her absent mindedness. “Ow.” she quipped.

Pipsqueak twisted around and grabbed her with his forehooves. Flipping her onto her back he sat on her haunches, spreading his legs in between hers and pinning her down to the sandy ground.

“Pipsqueak, ah know ah told you that ah’d help you with the ladies, but if you’re trying to do what I think you are, yer gonna regret it.” she said with plenty of venom in her voice.

Pipsqueak looked down and at the position they were in and blushed fiercely, but he did not remove himself. Bending down lower he whispered into her ear. “There is somepony on the other side.”

“Fine,” she whispered back. “Now get off me before I make it so you never do anything with the ladies.” She glared at him as he hopped off of her and landed on her side.

“Sorry.” he said.

Creeping silently to the top of the hill, the two looked over the edge of the dune. In the middle of a clearing formed out of a wall of sand and a jutting ligament of sand covered rock, was a small fire. Beside the fire were camping materials, a rolled up sleeping bag, some pots and pans and a hiking bag, but no pony.

“Where are they?” she whispered.

“I am right here,” whispered a voice to their left.

Pipsqueak screamed like a filly and jumped, throwing the light high into the air as he dug himself into the sand. Apple Bloom whisked out the small knife that she had in her saddlebags, gripping it firmly in her muzzle while frantically searching for the threat.

“Calm, silly ponies!” screamed the voice. For a few tense seconds neither side moved, they simply tried to stare at each other through the darkness. Slowly, Apple Bloom moved her hoof over to the light Pipsqueak had dropped and pointed it towards the newcomer.

The young buffalo female put her hoof in front of her face to blot out the light. “You’re not an Imperial?” Pipsqueak stated the obvious.

“You’re not a filly?” the buffalo responded with heavy sarcasm. Pipsqueak gave her a look of indignation.

“Ah’m awfully sorry we intruded on your camp like that.” said Apple Bloom spitting out the knife into her hooves but keeping it close. “We’re just going to keep on our way if you don’t mind.” She poked Pipsqueak who once more began to move. He placed himself between Apple Bloom and the stranger as if guarding her. She rolled her eyes at his misplaced chivalry.

“You are more then welcome to share my camp,” smiled the buffalo as she waved a hoof towards the welcoming fire. “The sun is about to dawn, you won’t make it far before you need rest once more.”

The two travellers looked at each-other and confirmed their suspicions. “How can we trust you?” asked Apple Bloom blatantly.

“Any enemy of the Empire is a friend of mine, come.” She started down the hill and beckoned the two ponies. “My name is Keen Eyes.” She pushed out her hoof and waited for Apple Bloom to shake it. Slowly and cautiously she brought her own hoof in contact with the buffalo’s.

“Ah’m Apple Bloom, This is Pip.” She pointed to herself and her companion in turn.

“Well both of you are welcome to share my fire.” When she saw that they were not convinced she added. “I’ve got warm food...”

Both of their stomachs grumbled in response. “Well, maybe just a short pause.” said Apple Bloom reluctantly.

Keen Eye smiled. “Alrighty then.” The trio trotted down the hill and into the half crater where they were shielded from the weak wind and the moon’s light. The campfire splashed yellow forms contrasted against their deformed shadows on the cold sand walls. Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom both trudged closer to the inviting heat.

Keen Eyes rummaged through her bags and quickly found two bowls turning to a pot on the edge of the campfire she filled them then hoofed them over to her guests. Without a thought the two ponies dug into the meal. Apple Bloom took one sip and sputtered in disgust. “What the hay is this?”

“Rattlesnake soup,” Keen eyes said with a deadly serious face.

Apple Bloom’s eye grew large. “You cooked a snake! Are you trying to poison us?!” Keen Eyes’ lips quivered until a single tear appeared out of the corner of her eye. Apple Bloom huffed angrily at the bowl then slapped it onto the ground. With a squeak Keen Eye lost it, grabbing her ribs as she laughed on the sandy ground.

“Haha, what’s wrong? Your little pony bellies can’t handle some real food?” she asked sarcastically in between fits of laughter.

“Actually, it’s rather good!” Pipsqueak said. The two females had not paid him any heed as he ate his bowlful then stole Apple Bloom’s.

“You ate that?!” Apple Bloom gasped.

He looked at them quizzically. “Well yeah, tastes kinda good. Real spicy.” Apple Bloom batted the bowl out of his hoof.

“That’s disgusting.. I mean, it’s sorta, meaty, and alive-ish.” She wrinkled her muzzle in distaste.

His ears dropped and his eyes watered up as the sandy ground eagerly soaked up the remains for the warm soup. “But it tasted real good...”

“Oh, for Celestia’s sake, Pipsqueak!” Apple Bloom sighed.

The three sat around the slowly dying fire in quiet. Keen Eyes poked at the flames with a stick then began rearranging her bag.

“You said Celestia...?”

Apple Bloom looked at the buffalo. She had been transfixed in though as she looked at the hypnotic flames dance. “Yeah, what about her?”

“Do you believe that she really existed?” Keen Eye frowned at the unicorn.

“Of course I do! She fought and died in the great war,” she exclaimed. “Mah sister was in that war,” she added.

“Huh, I always thought she was an old wives tale.” began Keen Eyes. “The buffalo rarely mention her... what happened?”

“Ah don’t know. Mah sister does, but she won’t tell me. Maybe when ah see her next ah’ll ask.” Apple Bloom glanced at the saddlebag she had discarded nearby. Within one of those pockets was a very disturbing letter from Rarity. She sighed and looked away.

“So... What is a young couple like you doing out in the middle of nowhere?”

Both of them blushed furiously. “We are not a couple! We are simply... companions heading for the same destination,” stated Apple Bloom firmly with a stomp of her hoof.

“Oh, I am sorry, I just assumed... Well, I saw you two over the hill, very... kinky....” Their blushes increased exponentially.

Keen Eyes looked at Pipsqueak in a very sultry way. “So the little one is free?” She winked at him. “I wonder if he really does squeak?”

The pony in question worked his jaw and his brows furrowed until he deciphered the message. His entire white coat became a brilliant red.

Keen Eyes left him in his despair and turned her head back to Apple Bloom, a small smile planted on her muzzle. “Where are you two headed?”

“Why do you want to know?’ asked Apple Bloom suspiciously. Keen Eyes just stared at her with an arched eyebrow. “Ugh, fine. We are heading for Ponyville,” said Apple Bloom.

“Good, I am heading over that way as well, maybe we could travel together for a ways.” Apple Bloom was about to argue but Keen Eyes pressed on regardless. “After all, I know the land, and the locals won’t bother me. Oh and I am great at catching rattles. They always sneak up on you,” she made gestures with her hoof, mimicking the advance of a snake. “Then pounce!” She lashed forward with a hoof, stopping half a hoof length away from Apple Bloom’s snout.

They both gulped. “Maybe we could let you accompany us?” she smiled nervously.

Keen Eyes smiled brightly and dropped onto her blankets. “Sure, maybe I’ll find out if he really squeaks... Hey, anyone of you know how to fix an old airship?”

Apple Bloom blinked at the sudden change of subject. “Huh, um, yeah... why?” They were in the middle of the desert, what did she want her to fix?

Keen Eyes smiled, suddenly energetic. “Perfect, come here and tell me what you think.”

The buffalo got up and trotted past the pair, Apple Bloom grunted unto her hooves and followed her around the sand dune, Pipsqueak grumbled as he too followed the two girls.

“So, didn’t either of you think it weird that this dune is shaped so oddly?” asked Keen Eyes. Both of them shook their heads. “Well, I’m about to show you why.” she said as she reached the top of the small hill. Suddenly she reared up on her hind legs and thumped the hill. Instead of a soft thump that would usually be accompanied by a hoofsteps on sand, the ground sounded hollow.

“There’s a wreck under here.” Keen Eyes wore a large grin on her face. “Been digging around it all night. The insides are real nice, figured if we could open it up and get it started... beats walking.” She trotted over to one side and, reaching down with her head, opened a light blue hatch that led down.

Apple Bloom was the first to look into the hole, the insides were damp and badly lit, but they were fairly clean besides the odd stain of rust and pile of sand. “What is it?” she asked.

“A Griffon Chaser, I think. From the Great War. Probably crashed here a long time ago.”

“Hmm- Pip, go fetch the flashlight.” After a few minutes of mumbling about bossy mares the colt was back with the lit light in his muzzle.

Apple Bloom grabbed it and, without further ado, hopped into the ship. After a few minutes of binging and banging around, the mare’s head popped out of the hole. “Not the best of conditions, but it can be made to work.” Apple Bloom smiled gravely. “The Sparkle Generator is a goner... too bad Sweetie isn’t here,” she added, “Sweetie’s great with this sorta thing.”

“Who's that?” Keen Eyes asked.

Apple Bloom squirmed around a little before answering. “Nopony you need to know... anyway, I think I might be able to get this thing running even without the Sparkle Generator. The engine is really old but these old ones rarely fell apart. Might need something to light the steam boiler.”

“Steam?” said Pipsqueak.

“I told you it was old!”

“Uh-huh, now we just need somepony to unbury the prop while I get it in working order...”

Both Keen Eyes and Apple Bloom turned and looked at Pipsqueak with small mischievous smiles.

“Mares,” he swore.

Authors note:

Sorry for being so late, and also big sorry for the slight drop in quality on this chapter. Been having trouble here and there. In other news I wrote three stories in one week, and these aren’t counting my usual pile of side=-projects that will never see the light of day! (Why do you think it’s so late?)

Usual thanks yous to the fellows that helped me, add Bearycool and Chaosmeddler who did a fine job of telling me what they thought on this chapter. SALT and TheWattsman... I need a nap...

Old Memories and New Inventions

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Darius trotted through his ship with his head held low, his hoofsteps ringing lightly after each step on the hard metal walkways. His bleak mood was slowly but surely spreading through the ship. Many of the ponies he had spent years of his life with were looking at him with eyes filled with concern and fear. He knew that he had to start acting like a captain again, but he lacked the will to do so.

He was heading to his quarters through the well-scrubbed halls of the ship. As usual everything was spotlessly clean, just as he liked it. Today, however, he didn’t feel that little burst of pride that seeing his ship and crew in tip-top shape usually brought to him. Something was missing.

The stallion subconsciously made his way to his small room, ignoring the ringing and banging that came from various parts of the ship as it was being loaded with cargo and provisions.

Darius opened the door and dragged himself over to his bed, slumping onto the small grey cot. The day had been one filled with hardship. He was berated by his superiors, spending hours sitting around a table being told that all of his actions were wrong. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, Corporal Green Lance was released of all charges and actually promoted. It had taken all of Darius’ considerable leverage to get the pegasus to be put on a different ship than his. He couldn’t abide having someone so rude and self-righteous on the Conformity.

He shoved his head into one of the small hard pillows and let out a long sigh. The ship thudded rhythmically under him as it was loaded with more cargo. His crew had let him leave. They were loyal to him first and the empire second, they could feel the tension emanating from him. The crew had said nothing when he prematurely stepped away from the command to go to his chambers.

He pulled his head out of the uncomfortable pillow and glanced at the small image on his drawer. The frame was slightly crooked from how he had last left it. Sweetie Belle must have touched it, he thought. The memory of the young white mare sparked a pang of emotions in his chest. He pitied and admired her at the same time. Thought not the one to admit that he had feelings for the pretty mare, he knew that to deny it was to lie to himself.

Reaching out with his magic, he gently floated the frame over and gazed at it. Beside him stood his daughter, almost a head shorter than him, but already thinking of herself as a full grown mare. He smiled as she smiled back. That was the last time he had seen her smile.

She had begged and even threatened him to let her serve alongside him aboard his ship. At some point he caved in and let his daughter join the forces under his own supervision. She had brought life to the otherwise grey and monotone ship; the entire crew was in love with her quick wits and curious mind, not that it didn’t cause quite a bit of trouble. His smile slowly faded.

Back then he was a Vice-Admiral in Celestia’s own royal air guard. One of the first airship captains in Equestria. He had even greeted the princess and her six champions themselves on board his ship many times, an honour he still reveled in today. The war was simply a game. Who could move troops faster, who could muster more soldiers. Nopony was really out to kill one another; even their enemies were lax to assault anything that wasn’t strictly military. The few hospital ships that flew across battlefields had been real safe havens for allies and enemies alike.

It was almost a peaceful war. Darius barked a sarcastic laugh. Things had changed. He'd often wondered what triggered such a dramatic shift. At what point were decency and common sense thrown away, in favour of pure brutality and mindless slaughter? His ship burned, his daughter died, his Princess vanished.

He was left with nothing; a mere husk of his former self was all that remained. Oh, he could still captain a ship as well -if not better- than most, but his passion was gone. That is, until a week ago, where he fought against a tiny little ship with no odds of surviving. He watched it struggle and fight back desperately. It mimicked his inner turmoil so well that something inside him snapped. It was usually against regulations to board a ship in mid-air, but he ordered it anyway. What he received shocked him to his core.

A filly, hardy befitting of the title of mare, with so much fighting spirit and power in her little eyes. She was just like the daughter he had lost long ago. He had sworn to protect her right there and then. As he learnt more about her, that need grew. Darius was a father searching for a daughter. And he had found one.

When he trotted into the jail and saw the three ruffians, part of his crew, attempting to do such a vile act on her. He could have killed them there and then were it not for the eyes of the filly in question looking at him. He settled for a slightly more diplomatic approach. Now the leader of the bunch was free once more, and the girl he swore to protect was a captive heading to the most depraved location in all of Equestria.

He let the image drop on the rough surface of his bed. He didn’t want to look into her smiling eyes. `You should smile more.` Her last words came back to him. They were so similar, he thought. His daughter and this Sweetie Belle.

He twisted around and stared at the grey ceiling. Everything was grey. He hated grey.

Right there and then he made a decision that he knew would change his life forever. He was going to save her.

Darius jumped off of the cot with renewed energy. He knew what had to be done! He lifted the frame up and gave it a parting kiss as he quickly made his way out of the room. A small, sly, smile adorned his face, making every member of his crew he passed as he galloped towards the fore of the ship do a double take.

“Empty everything unnecessary out of here. Make room!” he ordered as he galloped into the cavernous cargo hold. Everypony stopped to stared at him, wide-eyed and curious. “Quartermaster!” he called.

“Um, here sir.” said an old stallion in a dirty grey jumpsuit. Darius recognized him, that same stallion had served with him right from the start.

“Make room in here and fetch me a dozen transport ships. I want enough to evacuate the entire crew.”

“Er... Yes sir!” saluted the quartermaster before turning to the soldiers under his command. “You heard ‘im, the captain wants some transports, get some!” Dozens of ponies raced around, attempting to carry out the strange set of orders. The quartermaster turned to Darius. “Now sir, where do you intend to get those ships?”

“I’ve no clue!” He smiled broadly.

The quartermaster smiled along with him, “I’ve got a few friends here ‘n there. I’ll get you some of ‘em old gunships if ya want.”

“Brilliant! Just make sure to strip them of their weapons and to store them elsewhere on board.” Darius turned and began to trot away.

“Oh, Captain!”

Darius turned his head and looked at the Quartermaster who spoke.

“I like it when yer happy, the whole crew does. You can count on us sir, we gonna follow you through hell an’ high water!” Darius smiled at him and started trotting away, glad to hear the sounds of ponies working and ships landing within the cargo hold. He stopped mid stride as a wave of cold air washed over him. A ship was in the hold?

“Captain Darius!” ordered a strong feminine voice. The captain turned around, expecting to talk to another member of his crew. The pony that greeted him with a false smile made him immediately lose his own.

“Admiral Trixie, how wonderful to see you on board my ship,” he lied. The blue unicorn gave him another false smile then whispered something into the ear of one of her many guards on her private transport, a beautifully curved blue and gold light-gunship-turned-transport. The name "Magnificent" was emblazoned along its side in strong purple letters. As she alighted from the ship, he called out, "I see that you have yet another new ship!” he said with forced good humour as the ship’s thin metallic ramp was descended using expensive hydraulic arms.

“Indeed, The great and powerful admiral Trixie is worthy of many ships!” He wished he could facehoof, but the staggering amount of soldiers packed in the small blue ship discouraged him. Members of his crew ran towards the Magnificent to tie it down, as was the normal procedure. Trixie, still halfway down the ramp, noticed their approach.

“Trixie doesn’t want that filth to touch her ship. Begone!” she bellowed. The ponies near her ship backpedaled wide-eyed away from her and her ship, fearing the retribution of a high-ranking admiral.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of having you on board my fine vessel?” he said in an attempt to distract her. She glared at him with a look filled with contempt, like somepony forced to view a mere ant as an equal. Darius worked hard to keep his false smile plastered onto his face.

“The great and powerful Trixie does not wish to suffer through your pleasantries. Know this: because of your stupid actions the Imperial navy’s high command has decided that you are to be re-stationed far to the south of Equestria!” She flourished her velvet cape and climbed back on board her ship.

Darius felt his heart sink. “Where will I be stationed, exactly?” he gulped. “Admiral.” he added when he fixed her glare.

“At Tartarus, you and your idiotic crew will escort the prison ship Adamant Fury to the stinking place.” She smiled wickedly at him, “then you get to patrol the desert skies until your case passes to the tribunals. Don’t worry, I am sure it will only take a few years!” With an unnecessary puff of purple smoke the mare ran into the light transport and it took off, slowly building up thrust as it lifted in a fury of wind and exhaust fumes that left everypony in the hold coughing.

Darius sat where he was and thought, ignoring the looks that spread on the members of the crew nearby. This was perfect, everything was going to his favour.

Slowly, a mischievous smile crept along his face, a smile that his crew hadn't seen in years...

They were going to war.

Bunnyhelm Chronos was in an excellent mood: Blueblood had granted him more power. The plant was running at optimal, and his position with the social hierarchy of the Canterlot elite was more than secure.

He overlooked Canterlot from his office within the Sol Control Facility. The tall spires of the city were all below him, none reached the height of the enormous plant. None could. It was built upon what was once the Canterlot mountains where, years ago, the city of Canterlot was carved from. He enjoyed the view, the sun -his sun- glinting off of the building and vehicles as ponies went along their daily mundane routines. “My city,” he said as he gently placed a hoof on the glass plane separating him from the outside world.

“Is there a problem sir?” His secretary, Inky Scribeswell, trotted into the room with a concerned expression.

He smiled at him. “No Inky, everything is just fine.” He had a wonderful smile. Bunnyhelm prided himself on his appearance.

“Okay then sir.” Inky began trotting out of the luxurious office but stopped midway out of the door. “Oh, Mr Chronos, don’t forget that appointment with the Spectrum Skies representatives.”

“Of course not; I’ll get right to it.” He smiled till the secretary could no longer see his face, then returned it to its usual scowl. “I guess I have to go.” With one last look at the city behind and a final sigh he trotted out of the room.

Bunnyhelm walked from his office with a light step and quickly reached the executive elevators. With a tap of his hoof the steam-powered lift propelled him upwards and to the top floor of the building. He glanced at his reflection on the elevator’s mirrored wall one last time before opening the door and trotting out with a large beaming smile. Immediately the wind tousled his mane and tail as he stepped onto the roof.

Placing a protective hoof over his face he could make out the ever-growing shape of a rainbow-coloured transport balloon. Anchors dropped from the sleek vessel and were expertly picked by the ground crew as they went about docking the small craft, seemingly unaffected by the strong high-altitude winds. With almost reckless speed and agility the small ship dropped onto the landing pad, guided by the expert hooves of its pilot.

Once docked, the ship’s side door popped open with a pneumatic hiss and a ladder unfurled, hitting the landing pad with a light thump. A pale blue pegasi with a white-streaked navy blue mane hopped out of the vehicle and was soon followed by two secretaries. The fat pegasus thumped down the ramp and quickly joined Bunnyhelm near the elevator.

They greeted each other with a hoof shake and words that were quickly lost in the strong wind. Twisting his head, Bunnyhelm indicated they should head into the elevator. The blue pegasus complied and ran in, followed by his two secretaries.

“Hi, I’m Soarin,” he reintroduced himself with another hoof shake. The fat blue pony smiled and bobbed his head, his curls of fat bobbing in time.

“Hello Mr. Soarin, I am Bunnyhelm Chronos.” He noticed Soarin about to laugh. “Please, call me Chronos,” he said in a manner that left little room for negotiation. “I am glad you could make it here on such short notice. I would have gone to your factory, but as it is my time is very precious.”

Soarin smiled amiably at him while he pressed a button on the elevator’s wall. “That's all right Mr. Chronos. You are, after all, one of Spectrum Skies’ best customers! Now about that order of the new Vanquisher models...”

Bunnyhelm smiled at the pegasi. “Don’t worry, we will have plenty of time to talk about such mundane affairs later. How would you like it if I gave you a tour of the plant?” Chronos watched as his words sank into the daff pegasi’s head. The plant was a symbol for the empire. Not everypony was allowed into it. Even fewer were allowed to see the actual mechanism.

“I would love to!”

“Excellent. And of course your secretaries will have to wait for us here.” The elevator’s door opened with a perfect little ding just as Bunnyhelm finished his sentence. Bunnyhelm turned to address the secretaries. “Please go down a few more floors. I am sure the ponies in the reception area will treat you nicely.” He smiled to the two and led Soarin out of the metal box and into the well-lit and luxuriously decorated hallway beyond.

“Now Mr. Soarin, would you like to see how we raise the sun?” Soarin bounced ecstatically on the spot. “Good, it is already twelve-hundred hours. We are about to pass into the second shift.” The pair trotted along the circular path that wound its way across the facility. “So Mr. Soarin, that ship you came here in...”

“Ah, the Thunderbolt. Nice little ship isn’t it? Miss Dash’s idea. A single-pilot light transport, it even doubles as a gunship. Single balloon and double chassis. The bulk of the ship is built around the balloon. Less space but more customization and armour. They are also quite maneuverable, they use the new Sparkle Five engines that Miss Twilight created. Two of them in fact, gives the little ship a bigger bang for your bit. The army is looking forward to buying quite a few.”

Bunnyhelm smiled. Soarin’s big mouth had once more gained him some valuable information. “The Equestrian army?” The pegasi nodded. “Interesting, I might be interested in purchasing a few, at a better price then the army could afford of course.”

“That would be great!” Soarin sounded genuinely happy. Bunnyhelm gave him a condescending smile but the pegasi was too daft to figure it out.

“Ah here we are.” Bunnyhelm scooted the pegasi into a large room filled with hundreds of ponies in lab coats hurrying along on their business caring for gigantic machines that billowed and puffed as they worked their magic. All of them connected to a large brass sphere in the center of the room. “And this is where we rise the sun.” Soarin’s face drooped in disappointment.

Bunnyhelm laughed. “Don’t worry, we often see that expression. Most ponies expect something wondrous and not a room filled with techies and scientists.” He tapped the blue pegasus on the shoulder. “Come on, I’ll show you around while we talk business.” He led Soarin through the ever shifting maze of ponies and brought him to the colossal brass sphere held up by large steel legs. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” he said while running a loving hoof down its smooth surface..

“Um, yeah? You er... wanted to talk business?” Soarin fidgeted nervously. Bunnyhelm smiled viciously to himself while facing away from the pegasus.

“Yes, yes I did.” He let go of the sphere and started trotting towards another exit at the opposite end of the room. The factory workers spilt and made room for him almost subconsciously. Soarin quickly followed. “Commander Trixie has been put in charge of my private military force. Oh, not a big thing mind you, just something Bl-- Emperor Blueblood gave to me. A few Interdiction-class ships and a Valour-class battleship. Unfortunately they are not at full capacity, if you know what I mean.” Bunnyhelm opened the door with his magic and ushered Soarin into the passageway beyond.

They stepped onto the railing with loud clangs. Soarin immediately looked down at the impressive distance below and gulped. “This is where we store the fuel and energy required to move the sun.” explained Bunnyhelm as he pointed to the giant vats full of very toxic chemicals below. “I’d suggest breathing through your mouth, although that tends to leave a rather unfortunate aftertaste.” He started walking along the metal bridge and soon heard Soarin’s less than confident hoofsteps behind him.

“Now, as I was saying. My little force needs some ships... Unfortunately, I know that Spectrum Skies is really busy with the last big order of ships...”

“Yeah, we can’t even meet the demand we have now. If you want to order ships you’ll have to wait a bit.” Soarin smiled sheepishly.

“You know Soarin, I can call you just Soarin, right? I really want those Vanquishers. In fact I want a lot of them, twenty to be exact. I also want fiv-- No, six of those new Thunderbolts you have. All equipped of course.” Bunnyhelm stopped walking right above one of the huge vats and turned to face Soarin.

“I’d be happy to supply you sir, of course there is the paperwork, and as I said, we are not ready to fill out the current demand. I doubt we could get your ships for at least another year.”

“You know what is wonderful about being a unicorn?” Soarin’s brow tightened as he tried to comprehend the change of subject. “It’s the magic! Oh sure, you can fly and earth ponies are strong. But we can do so much. Levitate for example. My, I could levitate you right up and clasp your wings shut with little to no effort.” Bunnyhelm made a show of looking around the large room. Nopony was in sight.

Soarin started to sweat. “That’s great, Bunnyhelm.”

“It is great. And call me Mister Chronos. Now, about the tardiness of those ships. I can’t have that. I really want them. Couldn’t you do something to... speed things up?” Soarin’s eyes filled with tears and he began to sweat. Bunnyhelm smiled brightly within the rising plumes of fog.

“You say that like you’ll kill me if I refuse.” His laugh contained no humour.

“Then I suggest that you don’t refuse.”

Bad Apples and Prison Ships

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Scootaloo thumped her forehoof against the Expedite’s dashboard impatiently. Groaning, she lifted her head to look through the bustling skies of New Appleloosa at the taxi ahead, It inched forward as Its little tailpipe rumbled, spewing puffs of exhaust fumes into the collective cloud above the skyway.

Mr. Arnaquer -she still had a hard time understanding him through his accent-, said that she should come with him to meet the crew. Scootaloo still had her reservations about the whole situation, at least sitting alone in her ship gave her time to think about it.

On one hoof, she wanted to get revenge for the deaths and capture of her friends. On the other hoof, she wanted to go home. Sweetie Belle had her sister, so the Imps were probably just going to ship her back home with a slap on the wrist and a stern warning not to do it again. Apple Bloom’s family would be royally pissed, and the Empire would be tense for a while, but they would get over it.

Scootaloo shook her head to clear her thoughts, focusing her attention on the shifting skyroads around her.

Either way, having the Expedite meant that could run back home. Scootaloo kicked herself mentally as a wave of shame washed over her. There it was again, the word she loathed. Run. Always run. The childhood bullies were right. She was a chicken.

Tightening her hold on the yoke, Scootaloo gave the Expedite more fuel, giving up on her anger as she rushed ahead of the taxi and weaved through the tightly-knit rows of vehicles. Arnaquer had told her where they were heading, so what if she got there before him? Scootaloo noticed the taxi lurch forward in an attempt to catch up. She smiled slowly at the challenge, almost unfamiliar with the gesture. She hadn't smiled in a week.

The Expedite weaved in and out of the traffic, narrowly avoiding many of the ships it flew by in reckless abandon. More than one horn was honked as she pressed harder and harder on the throttle, almost daring other pilots to overtake her. Arnaquer had told her to meet him at one of New Appaloosa's many airship docks. The tall abstract buildings loomed above her with their many walkways and corridors attached to various ships of every size and colour.

Scanning the faded name signs on the dilapidated buildings, Scootaloo quickly found the right building, a cheap hodgepodge of cement and old crane parts tied to over a dozen small transports. She wondered which belonged to Arnaquer. With her prop spinning wildly she banked her ship into the parking area, before deploying the landing gear and setting the Sparkle Generator on levitate. Turning on the spot, she kicked up a cloud of dust as the back end of the Expedite spun around, until it was placed evenly between the parking markings on the ground of the empty lot. With a light thump the ship landed just as she shut the main engine and waited for the prop to spin itself out.

The past few days had been difficult on her. Her entire world had shifted upon itself suddenly. The Crusader was gone, her friends were gone, and the Empire was still there, as strong and powerful as ever before. Scootaloo reached a hoof under her bench and pulled out the wanted poster. Her own huge and mischievous grin greeted her. They had taken the image from her pilot’s permit, she noticed. her face was slightly different, less tired, younger. The reward wasn’t large. Really, half the crimes labeled were false. Why did the Empire want her so badly? she wondered. A loud tap on the cockpit window made her jump out of her reverie with a loud screech that made her mane stand on end.

Just outside the cockpit stood a tall, well-dressed brown pony, one hoof still raised as if to knock again. "Ouvre," Arnaquer mumbled, his voice muffled by the airtight seal of Expedite’s cockpit.

“What?” she asked. He sighed in frustration and made wild gestures indicating that she should open the cockpit. With a hiss and a small grunt Scootaloo opened the glass dome and stared at the fancy pony. “What?” she asked again.

“J’ai dit ouvre! Bah, never mind. Come, we will meet the crew of my ship!” He hopped down and started trotting through the parking lot, his coat flapping in the wind as his taxi took off in a whirl. He stopped and looked at her, tapping his hooves in frustration, “Come! I have not got all day!”

Scootaloo looked at the nearly empty parking lot, The pavement was cracked and covered in junk, the few other ships there were real wrecks, and the buildings nearby were covered in graffiti. She most certainly did not want to leave a Mosquito-class fighter here. It may not have been incredibly valuable, but the parts alone would make most thieves more then happy. She was not going to leave the last part of home she had to a bunch of scoundrels.

“I can’t, if I leave Expedite here...”

“Silly filly! No thief would be stupid enough to steal from me! Look, at those... C’est imbecile!” He pointed at a group of suspicious ponies sticking their heads out of an alley. The heads quickly popped back in as he pointed at them.

“Vient! J’ai pas tout la journée!” He started trotting again, his hooves making dainty clopping sounds against the paved ground.

“Dammit,” Scootaloo quickly shut and locked the cockpit and hopped down Expedite’s side. In only a few seconds she was running alongside the fancy pony. “So...” she started, “what language is that?”

He looked at her from the corner of his eye as they reached the threshold of the thin, gangly, building. It had no door, and no walls for that matter. It was simply a tall structure, exposed at every level. “It is French. The language of the educated!”

“Oh, so they speak that in Canterlot?” Scootaloo flapped ahead of him and landed inside a well-worn elevator. Arnaquer slowly followed her in, pressing one of the many buttons.

“Non,” he finally said.

She looked at him, confusion plastered all over her face. “Then...”

“Oh never mind... Goodness, children these days!” He leaned his head against the elevator’s side and kept quiet for a while. Scootaloo fumbled around with the cuffs of her coat until she began to get bored.

“So, this crew of yours... what do you do?”

“What!?” Arnaquer exploded, “You know not of us?” She shook her head. “Imbecile child. Do you not know that it is dangerous to just go with strangers? My goodness, you have not a drop of sense in your pretty little head, do you?”

“Um, sorry,” she cringed. She really didn’t know him, but she knew that he disliked the Imps and was probably the type to do something about it. That was enough for her to follow him, at least, for now.

“We are smugglers, same as you and your friends. But we smuggle smartly. Unlike you.”

Scootaloo huffed at the small insult. “It wasn’t our fault!”

“It never is,” he interrupted. He leaned over and put a hoof on her shoulder. “What I offer to you is simple. I need a good fighter pilot on my crew, we had some... difficulties with the last. I know you are good. In exchange, you help me smuggle for the rebellion and I pay you. I can even get you some information on your friends, I know ponies. We both get what we want.”

Scootaloo remained quiet for the remainder of the journey up the slow elevator as she mulled over the proposal. “I’ll think about it,” she said just as it bumped to a halt.

“Parfait!” Arnaquer walked out of the elevator and onto the cement floor of the thirty ninth level. Scootaloo followed him, slightly calmer then when she had entered the elevator. When she looked up a gasp escaped her.

“That is le Furtif, our beautiful ship.” Arnaquer smiled proudly as he watched Scootaloo pick her jaw up from the ground. “It is the one and only model of its kind!”

The Furtif was a long blue piece of undisguised flying piracy. It was a flat-headed ship. The top deck ran from the piloting station at the front to a small hangar like protrusion at the very back that gave way to the cargo hold just below it. “That is the cargo access.” he said. “And that is the landing area. Soon, your ship will be clamped there as well.”

“As you can see, we are well equipped when it comes to engine power.” Arnaquer pointed out two sleek engines held in their own compartments that stuck out from the middle of the main body and swept towards the back. They made the whole engine assembly look like two bulbous wings with large props sticking out.

The ship itself was attention-grabbing, with its navy blue paint and flowing golden scrollwork, but what surprised Scootaloo the most was its blatantly undisguised weaponry. Two long cannons stuck out from either side and ran the entire length of the ship, dwarfing the half dozen other cannons and turrets on its sides.

If The Crusader had had half of the weapons on the Furtif, that Imperial destroyer would not have been able to lay a hoof on them.

“Oh stop drooling, somepony might slip!” Arnaquer huffed, hiding his smile with a brush of his curvy mustache. “Come, we will meet the crew.” Arnaquer smiled and gently pushed the still-stunned Scootaloo up to a big metallic ramp that led up and into the ship.

A face popped out of the great metallic entrance and smiled at the pair. “Hi Arnaquer!” a bright yellow earth pony said as he hopped out and landed inches away from Scootaloo. One of his forelegs hissed mechanically as it compressed into itself, under the weight of his landing body before popping back into its normal length. He wasn’t fazed by it at all.

She slowed to a stop and stared at him. He stared back, his insane smile growing as he gave her a quick once over. “You really picked a nice one this time!” he said, to the French pony.

Scootaloo was befuddled. Who the hay did he think he was? Was he even part of the crew?

“What do you mean, this time!” yelled a voice from within the ship. The crazy earth pony gulped audibly and cringed, spinning on his mechanical hooves as he ran to hide behind Arnaquer. “When I find you, Kami, I am gonna gut you!”

Scootaloo looked at Arnaquer, confusion plastered all over her face. What the heck was up with his crew? Arnaquer simply gave her a shrug.

A light blue unicorn stomped out of the ship, her hooves banging and clanking on the metal grating, making everypony nearby bounce as the ramp took in her weight. She glared at the crazy three-legged pony, then lifted out a heavy brass wrench from her saddle bags before swinging it at him.

Scootaloo followed the heavy metal tool’s trajectory wide-eyed as it soared through the air and hit the equally wide-eyed face of the earth pony with a sickening crunch, sending his small frame tumbling down the ramp. Scootaloo gulped. These ponies were crazy.

Arnaquer sighed again and grabbed his head in a hoof, gently rubbing his temple like a father about to berate his children. With a look of infinite patience on his face, he pointed at the blue unicorn then at Scootaloo. “Scootaloo, voici Wrenches. Wrenches, Scootaloo.”

Scootaloo took the opportunity to have a good look at the crazy mare. She was now breathing through her snout, her face grease and oil covered face was an image of pure calm and tranquility as she gave Scootaloo a sweet smile. Nothing of her previous outburst showed.

The blue unicorn was weighed down by three work belts, all filled to the brim with various tools—minus one wrench, which she was busy levitating away from the still inanimate frame of the yellow earth pony.

“Hi,” she said sweetly, “I just know we’re going to be great friends!” Wrenches grabbed the wrench in her mouth, grinned at Scootaloo, then skipped back into the airship, making the ramp reverberate after every bounce.

Arnaquer looked at her. “She is... different, but also the best mechanic I’ve ever seen, if you can keep her busy that is...” He turned and looked down at the three legged mound of yellow fur. “That’s Kami Kaze. He is our other pilot. Very competent, if a little overzealous.”

“What’s up with his leg?”

Kami Kaze suddenly snapped upright. “Oh, I know that one!” he piped up, turned to Scootaloo with a gigantic smile plastered on his bleeding face. “I lost it!”

Scootaloo wasn’t sure how to react, wasn’t he lying unconscious just a few seconds ago? He reminded her a little of Miss Pie, a thought disturbed her deeply. “Um, I’m not a medical pony or anything but... can you really just lose a leg like that?”

“Nope, a mecha took it!” He waved the metallic prosthetic around in front of his face, looking positively proud of having lost his leg to a mecha.

Before anymore weird things could happen, Arnaquer stepped in between the two and placed a hoof on Kami Kaze’s shoulder. “Je veux que tu aille chercher l'avion de Scootaloo, compris?”

The yellow pony shook his head up and down violently before addressing her again. “So, what kinda plane is it?”

The sudden switch from one language to another and the seemingly random question threw Scootaloo off. What did he ask? Something about planes? “It’s a red Mosquito?” she answered, uncertain.

“Really?! I had one of those!” he exclaimed cheerfully, “but I crashed it into an airship...” His ears drooped suddenly as he became sad. Then he perked up again just as suddenly. “Well, I’ll go fetch your plane.” he said while galloping off of the ramp, mid-way to the elevators he turned and screamed enthusiastically. “Maybe I won’t crash this time!”

Scootaloo waved back, repressing the urge to fly after him to ensure the safety of her ship. “Don’t worry, for all his oddity, he is a caring pony.” Arnaquer turned back towards the ship, then added in an undertone “Juste un peu trop stupid pour son propre bien.”


“Come, I’ll find you some place in the ship, then you can trot around and familiarize yourself with it.” Arnaquer started to walk away, “Oh, and welcome to the crew.”

Sweetie Belle gulped as the gigantic shape of the Adamant Fury loomed ahead of her. The double line of guards on each side of her only added to her stress and worry. After having spent a few hours in a holding cell, the Imperials had told her that she was going to be brought to the ship.

She didn’t protested at first, following their lead. But now, as, she saw the enormous green ship looming ahead, she started to have doubts. Was this really okay? That trial was evidently biased, but what could she do against so many armed ponies?

Sweetie Belle slowing down, only to have the butt of a gun slam against her flank. Near the boarding ramp of the ship a long snaking line of dejected-looking ponies wearing clothing similar to her own was being formed by the ruthless guards, the guards that accompanied her approached the line then rudely shoved her into it, causing her to bump into an impressively large earth pony.

From the ground Sweetie Belle looked up and into the eyes of the huge pony. “Get up lil’ one,” he said. “If you stay, guards will be mad.” With a quick twist of his hoof he lifted her up and placed her upright.

“Thanks,” she whispered. “I am Sweetie Belle.”

“Best not give names.”

Sweetie Belle stayed at his side, glancing behind and ahead of her at the hundreds of ponies being funneled into the ship by the wall of guards. At the front, an officer at a desk was quickly scribbling information about each pony before giving them a number. Behind them, desolate-looking inmates were being escorted into the ship by even more guards.

“Hurry up!” yelled one of the prisoners a distance away from them. The guards around him prodded him with their long lances, making the pony yelp and holler in pain.

“Their spears are magic, they’ll shock you real bad if they touch you. Better watch out.” advised the earth pony.

Sweetie Belle nodded firmly. She began to wonder about the other things she would have to learn, in this whole new world around her. Would she be okay? she wondered. Looking at the ever growing form of the Adamantium Fury she felt herself being dwarfed by the ships oppressive air. She felt so small.

“Next!” ordered one of the grey guards. Sweetie Belle looked around, to her dismay she found herself at the head of the line already. The big earth pony nodded at her.

Taking in a big breath of air to calm her fraying nerves, Sweetie Belle trudged forward to the desk.

“Name?” asked the officer, he sighed and looked at her through glazed eyes.

“Sweetie Belle.”

He furrowed his brow at her then referred to one the sheets that was splayed across the surface of his table. “Number, rank and designation?”

Sweetie Belle just stared at him. What did he mean? She hadn't been given a number yet...

“Five, zero, one. Threat high and designation maximum,” said a smooth voice from behind the desk. Both Sweetie Belle and the officer jumped and looked at the pony who spoke.

A white and red unicorn smiled at the pair. He was wearing what was obviously very expensive clothes and was flanked by two armed ponies in red garments. “I am Bunnyhelm. I was sent by his majesty to make sure the... transaction went on without a hitch.”

The officer immediately stood from his desk to give a salut. Bunnyhelm waved it off. “Just make sure the pretty young Miss makes it to the right cell,” he said.

“Yes sir, of course, sir!” The officer snapped another salute before quickly scribbled a note on his documents. He turned to the pair of guards designated to carry her and whispered loudly, before ushering her forward.

As she passed by him she received a hard slap on the flank. With a small squeak she twisted around to look at it. Where her cutie mark would have been was now a tag bearing her number. As the pain slowly faded away the realization that this was real dawned on her. She was a prisoner. A number in the system. With tears in her eyes Sweetie Belle followed the two guards into the ship, catching one last glance of Bunnyhelm’s smiling face before she disappeared around the bend.

The guards led her deeper and deeper into the huge ship, eventually bringing her to a room filled with four long rows of boxy cells. “Welcome home,” said one of the guards with a sly grin. Sweetie Belle whimpered at the slight.

They marched her to a cell in the middle of the very last row towards the front of the ship, and stopped. The cells were about seven hoof lengths deep by six wide, they had only a small cot and a simple plastic bucket to take care of business. Sweetie Belle looked at the thing in dread until a simple question escaped her mouth.

“Where are the bars?”

“Just get in, you’ll see.” One of the guards absently shoved her into the cell where she tumbled and fell, scraping her torso against the ground. Something within her jumpsuit poked at her ribs. The guard trotted to the side and, pulling out an odd triangular bar, inserted it into the wall nearest her cell. With a loud whoosh a green wall of energy descended between her and the corridor.

Sweetie Belle gulped. She recognized this wall. Each and every Sparkle Generator had one protecting their fragile inner workings. They were almost impenetrable shields created out of pure energy. One touch of the shiny material and it would be over for her.

“You’re lucky aren’t you, only the highest level prisoners get one of these babies. I’d love to find out who a wimp like you pissed off to land yourself one.” The guard leered, trotting away with his cohort.

Sweetie Belle slowly lifted herself off of the ground as the guards hoofsteps faded. This was horrible. Within a few hours she went from being hopeful to being completely crushed. She didn’t know much about this Alcatrotz place, other than the fact that it was the worst know prison in Equestria. Sweetie Belle rested her head against one of the cold walls.

Moving, she felt something poke at her chest. Unconsciously she rubbed against the hard object. That wasn’t part of the suit? Gingerly, she used her magic to pull the weird object from out of within her suit and into her hooves. It was a small thick triangular bar. Along its side the name and rank of Captain Darius was printed in neat, tidy letters.

“Is that what I think it is?” said a voice from beyond the wall.

Sweetie Belle jerked up and stared out of the green shield. “Hello?”

“Hi, I am over here. You see?” A light red pony from the cell across Sweetie Belle’s waved excitedly. “My name is Mira. Nice to meet you!”

Sweetie Belle was uncertain as to whether or not she should talk to the strange pony. Most of the ponies in here were criminals after all... “Um, hi? My name is Sweetie Belle,” she said finally.

“Pleased to meet you! So, that thing you’re holding... Is it a uni-key?” Mira pointed to the odd triangular object Sweetie Belle held.

“I don’t know, I found it in my pocket. Why, what is it?”

Mira smiled broadly. “That, my little filly, is our way out!”


“Yup,” said the pony as she nodded. “That’s one of those shmancy keys they give to high-ranking officers. They can open up just about anything...”

“Question is, how did she get one, and how did she sneak it in here?” said a much calmer, more mature voice. Sweetie Belle approached the edge of her cell and looked into the one next to Mira’s. An old grey stallion nodded to her.

“That’s Preacher. Or at least, that’s what we call ‘im.” Mira smiled through her cell wall at Preacher. He just grunted.

Sweetie Belle looked at the little object and felt tears well up in her eyes. Darius must have been looking out for her. She had to use it. “How did you say we could use it to get out?” she asked.

“Simple!” giggled Mira. “You just need to put it in the slot!” She pointed at the wall near her cell, right where the guard had turned on the shield.

Preacher looked at Mira then at Sweetie Belle and sighed. “You two are perfect, one is bubbly and stupid, the other is slow and stupid. Great.” He sighed again, then addressed Sweetie Belle. “Look kid, do you know what the biggest weakness in these shields is? No? I’ll tell you: there are none. But the thing that powers them...” His sentence was cut short as the ship rocked from side to side.

Sweetie Belle cringed and hung onto the cot until the ship steadied itself.

“What the hay is going on!” screamed a voice from further within the prison.

“Oh, calm down, Spray, these old ships are horrible during take off, just hang on for a while,” said Preacher, who hadn't moved while the ship lurched, he sighed again. “This ship was around when most of you were still in diapers. You ought to respect it a bit more, all right?”

“You’re a boring old fart,” said Mira.

“Watch your tongue!” Preacher growled back. Mira blew a raspberry at him.

Sweetie Belle looked at the odd exchange with a mix of humour and horror. Those ponies might be the only ones to be able to save her. “Um, Mira, about that escape thing?”

The red pony jumped to the edge of the cell. “Oh yeah! You see these wall, shield things? They’re powered by the ship’s Sparkle Generators. Because this is an old ship, it uses the pulse models. No continuous power, just a bunch of small strong bursts. Just look at it and you’ll see.”

Sweetie Belle decided to play along. Leaning in towards the shield, she stared at it intently. To her surprise every dozen or so seconds it would fade away then disappear only to reappear even brighter until it faded to nothing again. “It’s... pulsing?”

“Exactly,” answered Preacher. “Only for half a second, not long enough for anypony to jump out of the cell without being cut in half, but maybe long enough for you to get that key out...”

“I could open it up!”

“Yup! Then you can let us out!” exclaimed Mira. Sweetie Belle didn’t smile or cheer as she debated whether or not to let them out.

“Oh, come on!” said Spray from afar. “Don’t tell me she won’t let us out! This boat is full of Imps!”

“It is her key, it is her choice.” said Preacher in a deep voice that conveyed wisdom. “Get to sleep everypony, we can work out our differences in the morning. Anyway, it wouldn’t be very bright of us to steal a ship in the middle of Canterlot: the whole city is crawling with Imps. Best we wait for later, when we will be far enough away to escape.”

Sweetie Belle had to agree with him. When he mentioned sleep the entirety of the day’s ordeals fell upon her shoulders. She was tired. With heavy hooves, she trotted over to the cot and laid down, closing her eyes to the gentle humming of the ship. From her cot, she heard Mira and Preacher do the same. The entire cell block became quiet.

* * *

“Wakie, wakie!” said a sweet yet oddly masculine voice.

Sweetie Belle twisted on the hard cot. Her aching body told her that it was far from the time she should be waking up at. With a groan, she rose her head up and looked at the dark cell wall.

“Come on, little pony, time to pay up.”

Sweetie Belle furrowed her brows. Pay up? To whom? She twisted off the cot and fell onto the ground on all fours. Looking at the entrance she could barely discern the shape of a pegasus distorted beyond the green shield.

“Who is it?” she groaned.

“It’s me!” The face of corporal Green Lance lit up in the sheen of her cell’s shield. He gave her a slow sardonic smile. “Time to pay.”

Sweetie Belle let out a loud squeak and backed away from the cruel pony. Her mind raced crazily as she tried to discern how the pegasus had found his way to her cell. “How did you get here?”

“Well, you see, our little escapade on board the Conformity earned me quite a bit of trouble, something about not assaulting a prisoner. But once I got to court a certain influential pony heard of what I tried to do to you and he was very much pleased about it. And he actually promoted me. Now I’m a Sergeant Green Lance.” He licked his lips.

Sweetie Belle did what her sister had always told her to do in this sort of situation. Taking in a deep breath of air she filled her lungs, “HEEEEEELPPP! helphelphelphelp!” she screamed, making every wall within the metallic cell ring.

Green Lance cringed slightly then began laughing. “Oh please. Don’t bother. The guards are ordered to ignore every sound that comes out of here. We’re all alone.”

“Really? I always had the faint sentiment that I counted as somepony...” said Preacher from his cell.

“Hey look Preachy, he’s all ready for action!” Mira laughed and pointed in between Green Lance’s legs.

“Shut up you idiots! You’ll be next.” Green Lance turned back to Sweetie Belle, grinning as he looked into her tear-filled eyes. “Okay then, guess I’ll have to be extra good; can’t disappoint my crowd.” Unfazed, he trotted out of sight as he headed over to the cell’s locking mechanism.

Droplets of cool sweat began to roll down her coat. This couldn’t be happening! What was she going to do? Fight back? No, he was stronger. Run? This was a prison filled with armed guards. She looked around her at everything she had. Nothing, just the clothes on her back and Captain Darius’ key. The key! Swallowing, Sweetie Belle came up with a plan.

The shield dissipated with a quiet whoosh just as Green Lance reappeared. She noticed that his lance wasn’t very lance-like. Weren’t they supposed to be bigger? The corporal strutted into the room with a grim smile, eager to get to work.

Sweetie Belle, playing her role, slid back towards the back wall of her cell and began whimpering. “Aww, don’t worry, I’ll make it good.” he said.

“I hope they make you dead,” she countered. While Green Lance furrowed his brow at her questioningly, she used her magic to shoot the Captain’s key towards the locking mechanism of the cell across from hers.

The shield over Mira’s cell vanished, revealing the overly happy mare. Gently she trotted out wearing an insane smile “Fun, fun, fun! Thanks for the help, lil’ one.” The red mare turned and simply walked away, her hooves ringing off of the steel floor as she disappeared deeper into the prison.

“Huh?” Green Lance looked between the now-open cell and Sweetie Belle. “How the hay did you do that?” Shaking his head he continued, “Crazy-ass mares, where the hay did she go to? Bah, who gives a buck; I’ve got business to attend to.”

Sweetie Belle recoiled: Mira had abandoned her! Real tears stung her eyes as she tried to grasp at the situation. Almost calmly, Green Lance moved towards Sweetie Belle, his smile growing after each step.

“Hey stud!” Both Sweetie Belle and Green Lance turned to the entrance. Mira, holding a long baton with a hoof, was smiling at the corporal. “How’d you like to have a lance in ya?”

“Wha-?” he began but was cut short when the crazed mare hopped forward and swung the long black bar at him. Green Lance rolled to one side, narrowly avoiding the baton that crashed against the ground with a resounding crack.

“Not bad, stud-muffin; try dodging this one!” Tossing the baton in the air Mira hopped up and caught it in her muzzle. She tilted her head to one side, closed her eyes then gave the corporal a cute smile before charging at him.

Green Lance ran out of the cell and into the corridor, his hooves screeching against the metallic surface. “Help!” he screamed.

“They can’t hear you in here! You ordered them off, remember?” answered Mira through clenched teeth.

The stallion gulped as Mira stalked out of the cell, her face contorted in an evil, saliva-spewing grin. Gulping one last time Green Lance twisted around and ran away as fast as he could. Then, just as he passed in front of Preacher’s cell a grey hoof struck out, catching the green pegasus on the snout and sending him tumbling across the ground in a fury of jumbled hooves and wings.

With a joyful squeal Mira hopped over to the groaning stallion and raised the baton high above her head.

At the sight of the mare, Green Lance twisted around in an attempt to rise. When he noticed the red legs next to him, his head moved up, taking in the crazy mare and her stick. “No, no, please you don’t understand I was just kidd-” the rest of his words were cut off as the baton swung through the air and smashed against his head with a hollow thud.

Sweetie Belle inched out of the cell, looking everywhere at once, expecting an entire army of guards to appear at any moment. “Hey, kid, will you open my cell, or what?” Sweetie turned to Preacher who was massaging his hoof gently. “Come on, hurry up.” Nodding, she removed the key from its slot and carried it over to Preacher’s cell.

A buzz rose up throughout the cells as one question after another was fired off from the inmates.

“Hey, is that cute lil’ mare free?”

“What's going on?”

“Is that guard dead?”

One by one the other inmates awakened, many with a good idea of what had happened. They smelt freedom in the air and they wanted some.

Shut up!” Preacher screamed. The stream of questions quickly stopped and it was quiet in the prison. With a humph and a sigh the old stallion turned to Sweetie Belle. “You and Mira go around freeing the ponies; only the ones Mira wants, though.” Sweetie Belle however stayed where she was until the stallion sighed. “What?”

“Why only some of them? Couldn’t I free all of them?”

“Silly child: some of these prisoners are murderers and killers; they deserve to be put in jail, especially those in this row.” He indicated the line of cells where they were. “These ponies are the ones the Empire really dislikes.”

“Then I should have left you in there too...” she said. Preacher started laughing loudly.

“Quite right. You see, Mira and I are members of the rebellion. The Empire doesn’t like us much. Whether you want us to leave or not, we will.”

“But... no, everypony here will be freed. I don’t want to leave them here...” Sweetie Belle looked away from Preacher’s piercing blue eyes.

“Humph, fine, but later. First we get the members of the rebellion out; you can use the master controls to open all the cells at once when we are all out, all right? Mira, come help her.”

“No problem Preachy!” The red mare popped up beside Sweetie Belle, her fur covered in small red stains, courtesy of Green Lance. “Come on Sweetie, let’s free us some ponies!”

The two left Preacher where he was and began heading towards the other cells. Sweetie gingerly avoided the bloody green mess that was the Sergeant, taking her time to circumvent the stinking pile as she went about opening the cells that Mira indicated with glee.

Eventually, the pair went around the entire prison, returning to corridor where their cells were. While they were doing this Preacher had been gathering a large group of now-freed ponies around him. Upon spotting them, he waved with a forehoof for them to approach. Sweetie Belle just looked at Mira and started trotting over.

From the corner of her eye a sad face she recognized caught her attention: it was the big earth pony that has helped her in the lines the previous day. Sweetie Belle naturally headed towards his cell with the goal of opening it on her mind.

Mira skipped around her and landed in between her and the cell. “What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“I was going to free him...”

“He’s a criminal!”

“So are you!”

“And you!” Sweetie Belle flinched. Mira continued, “This guy is the real deal. He killed plenty of innocent ponies for no reason. You must not let him go.”

Sweetie Belle was still uncertain. After all, why should she trust Mira to begin with?

“She’s right: you shouldn’t let me out. Go along, lil’ one.” he said.

Sweetie Belle looked at him with sad eyes. “All right then...”

“Just remember me as Freeze Charge,” said the earth pony before backing away into the dark recesses of his cell.

Mira patted Sweetie Belle on the shoulder and led her over to the group of rebels congregated around Preacher.

“Folks, this is Sweetie Belle, and she is the one that freed your sorry flanks.” Some of the ponies trotted over to her, patting her on the back or giving her their thanks. “Sweetie Belle, this is the Echo division of the rebellion.”

Sweetie Belle gulped when all the faces in the crowd became serious at once.

“Mira, would you mind keeping an eye on her?” asked Preacher. Mira nodded happily. “Go with Spray to the main transport hold and fire up their engines. When we get there, we won’t want to stick around.”

“What about the rest of you?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“We are going to raid the armoury then cripple the ship’s engines. After that, we will meet up with you in the hanger. We won’t leave a single ship here.”

“Don’t! I mean... don’t break the ship: the other prisoners might want to use it...” said Sweetie Belle.

Preacher furrowed his brow, then grabbed his chin with a forehoof. “Hmmm. They might become an asset: the Empire is more likely to chase after them if they have an entire warship than us with our few transports.... all right then. I must say, for one so young, you have some decent ideas.”

With a sigh, Preacher and all the ponies ran out of the prison, leaving Mira, Spray and Sweetie Belle alone but for the company of the still-imprisoned ponies.

“Come on fillies, let’s go,” said Spray as he began trotting after the rest of the rebels. As they neared the exit, Sweetie Belle heard a single strangled shout that was quickly cut off. She looked towards where the cry had originated, and saw the shape of a single slumped pony in Imperial garb, blood flowing out of an open wound.

“Sweeeeetie, it’s over here,” whispered Mira, stretching her name in what would have been an almost comical fashion, were it not for the situation they were in. The red mare was pointing at a control panel dotted with dozens of buttons and small screens. When Sweetie Belle approached, she figured out what it was: the master control to the prison area.

Gulping, she levitated Darius’ key and slid it into a slot on the control’s face. With a small click, the machine accepted the device. Sweetie Belle quickly typed in the necessary prompts to open every cell at once. It was easy: after all, the prison ship was equipped with ludicrously old tech.

A few minutes of illegal tampering later, and all the cells began to grind open at once. Sweetie grabbed the key between her teeth just in time as Spray yanked her tail and began dragging her towards the entrance. “Whhath hare yeush dohing!?” she screamed through her filled mouth.

“Yoush wan to be lefft ina room phull of reeally anwry and reshently phreed criminalsh, yer choish, but Phreachher fold me ta get you to tha shipsh, and I don’ phink he eant in multiphle pharts.” Spray said through her tail, soaking the end of it in saliva as he passed the threshold of the exit. Dumping Sweetie Belle on the ground, he turned around and bucked the heavy doors closed with a loud thump.

“Hmmm, not enough.”

Spray turned around and noticed Mira, who was bouncing up and down, baton still in her mouth. “Ahh, that’ll do.” Running over, he ripped the stick out of the mare's mouth and shoved it in between the door handles, locking them from the outside. “Brilliant!” he exclaimed just as something -or somepony- slammed into the heavy door from the other side.

“I’m going to eat you!” screamed a voice from the other side.

“Oh, piss off.”

“That’s not very nice,” chastised Mira. Spray ignored her, and helped Sweetie Belle back onto her hooves.

“Come on, the hangar isn’t very far away.”

“Um, alright.” Sweetie Belle stepped around the two nearly-dead guards and trotted after Spray, quickly followed by the ever-enthusiastic Mira.

The three escapees ran through the straight, narrow corridors of the ship as Spray guided them expertly from the brig to the hangar, avoiding the corridors and passageways where heaps of Imperial guards and soldiers lay unconscious.

After over a dozen minutes of dodging through the grimy hallways filled with flickering, badly-maintained lights, the three arrived in the huge hangar. Spray poked his head out of the entrance and then turned back to the two mares behind him. “All clear, get those ships up and running: the others should be here soon.”

With a quick nod, Sweetie Belle followed Mira around the stallion and into the cavernous hold.

One wall was made up entirely of two huge doors that split in the middle. When opened, they allowed the half-dozen fighter planes that were still on long launch ramps prepared to take off at a moments notice. The most eye-catching thing stood in the middle of the room, A large grey gunship. Freshly painted and bristling with new equipment. It stood out starkly in the old, run-down, hangar of the airship.

“Are those Vanquishers?” exclaimed Mira as she approached one of the bat-like ships. slowly, and with wide eyes, the mare reared up onto her hind legs and gently rstroked one of the fighter plane’s stubby wings. Turning back to Sweetie Belle she grin, hugely. “I love it!” Then the mare`s attention was grabbed by the gunship. With a loud gasp she charged to it. Abandoning the Vanquisher for the much shinier ship.

Sweetie Belle, a little more cautious, approached the ship as well. She noted the name etched into its side: Thunderbolt Mark One, Model Eight. As she read the nameplate, Mira opened the sliding side door and hopped in. Seconds later she popped her head out and smiled sheepishly at Sweetie Belle. “Um, how do you turn this on?”

Sighing, Sweetie Belle joined Mira in the tight cabin and surveyed it. At the front were the pilot’s and co-pilots seats, as well as the body of the main controls. Within the main cockpit were two sliding doors on either end, beside each, a pair of machine guns mounted on swivels was bolted to the hull. The back of the ship ended in an upwards sweeping mound where the cabin was attached to the ship’s small balloon. The floor was flat but for two great bumps that housed the Sparkle Generators.

Mira hopped over the consoles and sat in the pilot's seat, and then looked at Sweetie Belle for a clue on how to start the ship. With a sigh, Sweetie Belle indicated for Mira to move over, taking over the pilot’s seat. The sounds of hooves climbing into the ship made Sweetie Belle twist around. Spray nodded to her before speaking. “The Vanquishers are all on standby. Honestly I don’t know what to do about this ship. The Sparkle Generators on these models are notoriously hard to deal with.”

“I think I might be able start it...”

Spray scoffed at her. “Yeah, right. The little filly, hardly big enough to be called a mare and knows how to reprogram a Sparkle Generator.”

Sweetie Belle reddened as her abilities were laughed at., but she wasn't about to give up yet. After a few seconds of working out the mechanics of the complicated set of dials and meters, Sweetie Belle got to work. Buttons flashed, machines started up, and the entire rig rumbled to life as Sweetie Belle’s magic and hooves danced across the controls. This type of Sparkle Generator was new, she noted duly, but not nearly as hard to work with as those back home.

“All done,” she chimed. Spray and Mira both stared at her, completely awed. Sweetie Belle’s blush returned in force. “What? Miss Sparkle taught me a lot about Sparkle Generators in Ponyville... I mean, I wanted to learn, and she needed somepony to test them...” The uncomfortable silence grew.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

Spray shook his head. “No, no. You’re just full of surprises that`s all.”

The sounds of a dozen ponies screaming and hollering cut their discussion short. Some of the rebels that had accompanied Preacher burst into the room, many of them immediately headed right for the nearest fighter planes they could find and hopped in, closing the cabin behind them, one approached the Thunderbolt and hopped in.

“Trouble: the remainder of the guard didn’t take it kindly that we stole from their armoury; they followed us over. We’ve got to take off. Now!”

Preacher and a few others appeared at the entrance, the small remnants of the group were walking backwards, explosions sounded from the exit as they fired at the unseen enemy with their newly-obtained weapons. “Get to the ship, I’ll hold them off!” ordered Preacher as he dove for cover behind some crates and returned fire to the Imperials rounding the corner.

The last of the rebels ran to do as he told and either hopped into the Thunderbolt or took over the last of the Vanquisher’s.

“Go!” yelled one of the ponies in the ship to Sweetie Belle.

“I don’t know much about flying!” she yelled back. Every one of the passengers groaned. “Shouldn't the gates be opened first?” Everypony in the ship looked out the front viewport and to the massive steel doors still tightly shut.

“Crap.” Spray opened the gunship’s door and yelled at Preacher who was still hiding behind cover. “Boss, the doors!” He waved at the door control panel near the main exit.

Nodding once, Preacher took a running start towards the controls, firing the last of his rounds blindly as he ran. Jamming a hoof unto the panel the entire gateway began to vibrate and shiver, and then open with loud metallic grunts.

The sun’s light blinded Sweetie Belle as it peeked through the ever-growing maw of the opening doors. She was suddenly distracted by the unfamiliar sound of gunfire. The guards were swarming into the room, firing at anything that moved.

“Get in the ship!” yelled Spray from the still-open door of the gunship. Preacher turned to him and, with a sad shake of his head, remained where he was, guarding the control panel.

“Shit, shit, shit.” Spray punched the ships walls, making the entire cabin reverberate. “Gun it, Sweetie!”

“Al-all right then.” Sweetie pushed down on the throttle, and the Thunderbolt slowly lifted up from the ground, sending clouds of wind towards the guards as their gunfire became more erratic.

“Should we use the machineguns, Sir?” asked on of the rebels. Spray took a while to realize that they were addressing him.

“No, you might hit the wrong target—” the rest of his words were drowned out as, one after another, the Vanquishers took off in a fury of sparks and exhaust. Spray leaned forward at tapped on Sweetie Belle’s shoulder. Nodding, she added more fuel and the Thunderbolt began moving forward. Mira leaned over and flicked on the radio, and small chatter from the other pilots in the Vanquishers filled the cabin.

As they pulled out of the Adamant Fury’s hangar the full brightness of the sun blinded her. The mid day sun beamed into the ship, warming the skin of ponies who had spent too long in cold, confining, cells. With a small smile, Sweetie Belle contemplated her newfound freedom. Still, it saddened her that Preacher was left behind. At least the other prisoners would be able to help them out, right?

“Watch out!” screamed a voice over the radio, breaking into Sweetie Belle’s thoughts and forcing her to look ahead.

Not a hundred hoof-lengths away the form of a giant Interdiction-Class destroyer loomed, all of its barrels aimed straight at them.

“Move, Sweetie Belle!” yelled Mira before covering her face from the incoming wall of flame that engulfed their ship.

Sweetie Belle’s eyes widened as she realized there was no escape.

First things first. A HUGE thank-you to CheezeSauce, that magnificent fellow spent all day working on this chapter to make it decent for public consumption, please give that brony a pat on the back and a twenty dollar bill! Without him this wouldn't be here.

Also, I extend my thanks to TheWattsMan, who as usual did an excellent job of picking away at my mistakes. And to Eruedraith, who helped a ton with the proofreading!

Chapter seven... Eventually!

Changing Sides, Crashing Ships and Opening Letters

View Online

“Captain Darius, something is wrong on board the Adamant Fury!”

Darius rose up from the Conformity’s command seat, his back cracking as it moved for the first time in days. Ever since the Adamant Fury had left port, the grey unicorn had sat on that chair, refusing to leave. Darius knew what he had to do, but he still didn’t know how he was going to do it. “What’s wrong?” he said as he headed for the comm-station, stretching his limbs once he arrived there.

“We’re picking up inter-ship communications. Sounds like there was some sort of commotion in the brig. Every soldier on board was called to arms.” The tech officer furrowed his brow as he placed a hoof against his headset.

Darius leaned forward. Maybe Sweetie Belle got out. Had she found the key? Had she dared to use it, or was this all a coincidence?

“They... they got out, sir. The prisoners are pushing through the ship, multiple casualties reported. Armories one and three are under siege...” Suddenly, the officer threw the headset off of his head and jumped back. A piercing wail burst forth from the headset where it lay against the dial-filled control board, resounding around the room. Ponies everywhere in the command room winced and grabbed their ears.

Darius flicked off the set. “I think they reached the communications room, captain...” said the officer duly.

Darius hurriedly walked over to the main viewport of the ship. The sentry on duty moved away, giving the captain some privacy as he installed himself in front of the glass windows that gave a one hundred and eighty degree view of the fore. From there, Darius looked at the gigantic green shape of the Adamant Fury.

The Adamant Fury. His new enemy.

No, this wasn’t the group he had joined, this empire was not lead by a princess of noble birth, just some lowlife scum trying to pass himself off as an Emperor.

A sudden movement to his right caught his attention. The Decimate, the other escort ship, was maneuvering to flank the side of the Adamant Fury. "What's it doing, getting so close?" he muttered under his breath, a horrible suspicion growing in his chest.

“Captain!” screamed the one of the watch officers.


“The Adamant Fury’s hangar is opening!” The officer pointed a hoof at the opening on the ship's side. Small Vanquisher-class fighters flew out in a blaze of grey and red, each and every one twisting desperately to avoid the large frame of the other Interdiction-Class airship.

The Decimate’s anti-aerial cannons opened fire. Hundreds of bullets poured through the air in an attempt to bring down the agile Vanquishers. The light fighter planes weaved through the gunfire that hurtled through the air around them.

Darius abandoned the scene and ran to his command chair. “All units, prepare for battle!” he bellowed. Immediately every officer in the room sped up their work; throughout the ship, hundreds of ponies ran to arm and prepare the ship for war. Darius placed his hoof on his command chair’s console, quickly navigating the keys until he opened a direct channel to the Conformity’s gun stations. “All units, take aim at the Decimate,” he ordered.

“Comms-officer, I want all default fighter plane frequencies on the loudspeakers right now.” With a nod, the officer jumped to work, and soon the room was filled with the panic-stricken chatter of the rebel fighters.

“Watch ou--!”

“ --Preacher out yet?”

“What are our orders?”

“May Celestia guard my life, may Luna bless my aim...”

“--I’m hit, I can’t stay with you.”

“Get clear Wedge, you can’t do anymore good back there!”

“Fuel support hit! Main engine ou--” An explosion was felt as the Decimate finally hit one of the fighter planes. The fuel tank ruptured, creating a great ball of fire that rocked the Conformity before the massive airship stabilized itself.

The comms-officer reached his hoof over to the controls and decreased the volume. Turning to Darius, he asked, “What now, sir?”

“Now, I talk.”

Darius leaned back into his seat and typed a code into the seat’s small interface, causing a loud ping to sound through the entire ship. “Hello, crew of the Conformity, this is your captain speaking. As you may have found out by now, I have decided to desert the Empire in favour of taking my own course in life. The Empire has changed. It is but a husk of the values it once stood for. We lost our Princess, and now we are not even allowed to talk of her.Today, I rebel. I ask nothing but the servitude that you have always given me. If you feel the need to leave, the cargo hold is filled with unarmed transports. Take your pick: stay or leave. Whatever you choose, choose... now." With that, Darius turned off the comm and looked up.

Everypony in the room was staring at him. They knew of his plans, of course, but hearing him speak them so openly shocked them a little.

“You’re more of a father to us than my real dad, sir. I’d follow you to hell and back,” said one. All the other ponies in the room silently agreed.

“Perfect,” said Darius, a bright smile on his face.

Darius slumped back into his chair, relieved, and began absently listening to the chatter on the fighter planes’ comm. The rebels were in a fair bit of disarray. It seemed like their leader was still trapped in the ship. Some wanted to return, while others wisely chose to keep to the chain of command. The rebellion was going to have a hard time if it was all so disorganized, he thought to himself.

Trying to suppress his frustration, he rose up from his seat and calmly trotted over to the viewport. Less than a klick away, dozens of Vanquishers were circling around the Decimate, their light machine guns spewing streams of bullets into the armoured sides of the Imperial airship in a vain attempt to damage the much larger craft. Bullets pinged and dented against the metallic plates to no avail. Across the ship, small puffs of smoke and punctured pieces of brass showed where a lucky shot was made.

The Decimate’s cannons were firing wildly at the fast-moving ships, but they, too, were unable to hit the agile crafts.

"This is going to end badly for both sides," Darius said grimly.

Scanning the battlefield, Darius noticed a small gunship zipping out of the Adamant Furys open hangar, headed straight for the Decimate. He cringed, expecting the gunship to ram into the ship’s hull.

“Move, Sweetie Belle!” yelled an unfamiliar voice.

A shiver of fear ran through Darius’ spine. Was she in that gunship?!

Turning, he galloped to his command chair. Opening the channel to the gun stations, he yelled, “All guns, fire!” Just as he finished speaking, the Conformity’s first salvo roared, shaking the entire ship with the force of their explosions. The heavy shells arced through the air, and then, almost gently, they touched the Decimate’s armoured side.

The Conformity recoiled as dozens of explosions dotted the flank of the neighbouring airship, sending everypony reeling and tumbling as shockwave after shockwave lurched over them. The Decimate screeched loudly as its metal frame bent out of shape in midair. Half of its motors were missing along one side, huge gouts of flame spewing out of the newly-torn holes along its canvas walls. The Interdiction-class’ inch thick armour wasn’t made to resist that type of battering. Soon, the Conformity’s comm was flooded by the screams and pleas for both help and vengeance from the Decimate. From out of the fire a small, white gunship appeared, only slightly scarred by the hungry flames.

When the waves had subsided, Darius looked at the ship that was once his ally. Tapping on the comm, he muttered a new command, “All units, cease fire.” Then, turning to the comms-officer he ordered, “shut off all communications units.” With a pop, the ship’s speakers silenced themselves. Darius could feel the tension mounting in the room. These ponies would follow any order he gave them, he knew, but they all had comrades and friends on board the Decimate.

“What now, sir?”

Before Darius could give an answer, the Vanquishers turned away from their now-dying prey and started flying towards the Conformity.

Darius didn’t care. The little gunship was safe.

Now, all he had to do was survive. The Vanquishers whirling towards him could still pack a punch if they tried. The little gunship behind them also seemed well armed. But, without a doubt, their greatest weapon was Sweetie Belle. If they had her, he wouldn’t dare to attack.

“Empty main gas-bag to forty-five percent capacity,” he ordered. The engineering officer hesitated, then complied. Darius nodded to himself, then continued, “shut down main Sparkle Generator, set auxiliaries on half power.”

“I don’t intend to be rude, but that will make us sink incredibly fast, sir,” said the engineer.


Gulping, the engineer relayed the order. As the main bag began to empty itself a loud ‘whoosh’ was heard throughout the ship. Darius felt himself become lighter as the ship quickly began to lose altitude, catching up to the slowly falling form of the Decimate, whose crew was still trying to raise the ship.

“Should we launch the fighters, sir?”

“No. Let’s not waste good ponies because of some stupid protocol written by an idiotic noble who never saw the inside of an airship. We are no longer part of the Empire.”

Before the officer could answer, half a dozen Vanquishers whizzed by the falling ship, only to reappear on the other side, heading in the opposite direction. “Sir?”

“Open comm between us and them.” The officer nodded and jumped to it.

“Ready, sir.”

Darius trotted over to the communications unit and picked up the microphone. “Hello, this is Darius, captain of the Conformity. I wish to plead formal surrender.” His words were met with the gasps of everypony in the room.

With a crackle, the voices of many ponies flooded the command room at once. Suddenly a loud brash male voice took command.

“This is Spray, current leader of the New Lunar Republic Strike Force Three. Please repeat request.”

“New Lunar what?” asked a small voice that Darius recognized over the static of the radio.

“Miss Belle, is that you?” he asked.

The line went dead for a while, then popped back into life. “Um, hi, Mr. Darius... thanks for that key. It was really useful.”

“He’s the one that gave you that?” said another voice in a whisper.

“Yeah, he’s really nice...”

“Shush,” said Spray, “Captain Darius. You know this girl?”

“Indeed. Miss Belle and I are... acquaintances. Now, will you let us go? Or do you want me to fight back? Know that the ponies on board the Conformity have a lot more training than those fools on the Decimate. We won’t miss.”

With a pop, the signal was cut. After a long pause and a few crackles, Spray spoke again. “That was the worse plea for surrender I’ve ever heard; aren’t you supposed to beg for your life, not threaten to kill us all? Bah, all right, we’ll leave you be. Echo division out.”

Darius sighed and slumped back into his seat. There was going to be no more bloodshed that day.

“Hang on!” screamed Apple Bloom. The Griffon Chaser sped across the desert landscape. Every few meters, one of its short metallic wings would clip some of the bright green bushes that were becoming more and more common as they sped along. Behind them, long trails of dust marked their passage before being swept away on the light breeze.

“We’re all going to die, aren’t we?” cried Pipsqueak, who was hanging on for dear life to the rear rudder. Apple Bloom wasn’t able to make the small fighter plane airworthy, but she was able to make it move. Now, Pipsqueak was tasked to ‘aid’ the rudder that hardly responded to the controls.

“Shut up, Squeaks. We’re almost there. I can feel it!” said Keen Eyes, who was strapped onto the main body of the plane, slowly twiddling with the engine’s main boiler in an attempt to keep it at a stable pressure. Every few minutes long plumes of steam would jet out of it when she opened the emergency release, battering the only colt onboard in the face with hot vapour.

“That’s the third time you’ve said that!” accused Pipsqueak. The buffalo mare ignored him, turning her smiling face towards the front.

The trio were not quite flying, although the device they were on was made for just that. The Griffon Chaser’s nose was bobbing at only a few hoof lengths above the ground as the plane-turned-car sped along the increasingly grassy hills. Squinting, Apple Bloom focused on the scene that was unfolding over the next hill. Her face twisted into a crooked smile as she saw her hometown appearing over the horizon.

Ponyville hadn't changed from the last time she saw it, only a few weeks past. Colourful ponies still trotted around the massive town square where the shadows of airships roamed. The sky dock at the edge of town was, as usual, busy loading apples into small cargo ships. Beyond the town, miles and miles of apple orchards stretched over what was once the Everfree forest: now, only perfect rows of pruned apple trees remained, dotted with mechanized apple pickers and the small red airships that emptied their collected loads.

“We’re almost there!” she screamed back to the two accompanying her. Pipsqueak’s face changed from a look of sickened stress to one of pure relief. Meanwhile, Keen Eyes simply nodded, suddenly serious. Apple Bloom picked up on this. “What’s wrong?”

“Hmm, oh, I was thinking... How are we going to stop?” Apple Bloom could hardly hear the buffalo over the sound of rushing wind.

“Stop?” she repeated.

“Yeah, stop.”

Apple Bloom’s eyes widened as she turned around. The Griffon Chaser was speeding downhill at an alarming speed, which meant that they wouldn’t be able to stop easily. Quickly judging from the direction they were going... they would pass right through the center of the busy, house-filled town.


The plane thundered past the first few houses dotting the town’s exterior, rusty wheels rattling on old bearings. Heads popped out of homes and businesses alike to look at the sight of three on board desperately hanging on the the aircraft-turned-projectile charging into town.

“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” screamed Pipsqueak at the top of his lungs. Ponies everywhere ran for their lives as the Griffon Chaser flew past, kicking up clouds of dust. Apple Bloom forced the nose of the ship down, the old prop cutting wedges into the paved roadway before disintegrating in an explosion of shrapnel and metal bits. The nose dropped further, ripping off one wheel then the next until the belly of the plane rubbed against the road, sparks and small parts of the craft flying everywhere as the entire town was alerted to its presence by the loud grating of its metal hull. The three on board bounced and bobbed within the ship as it rattled and shook.

“Get outta the way!” Apple Bloom yelled, as building after building that she recognized passed in a blur. The library, Carousel Boutique, the town hall. Apple Bloom leaned over to the side and looked down. Maybe they could jump off? The dark hardtop road encouraged her otherwise. She gulped. If they couldn’t stop or jump off... they had to crash. Looking ahead, she sighed mournfully, before aiming the ship towards the softest building she saw, Sofas and Quills.

“Apple Bloom!” yelled Pipsqueak, “before we die, I just want you to know that I’ve always lo--”

With a resounding crash the ship slammed into the front wall of the wooden building. Apple Bloom was lifted from her position in front of the wheel. From in the air, she briefly glimpsed ponies screaming as they scattered in every direction, while others just stared, transfixed, at the disaster.

With a loud, ominous crunch, she felt herself slam into the remains of the wall, then roll onto a soft cushion-like surface. One eye cracked open, and she drowsily noticed a brown form hopping out of the Griffon Chaser, wearing a saddlebag with the symbol of three little red apples.

She blacked out.

Bunnyhelm Chrono smiled contentedly at the piles of letters, plans, and blueprints that adorned the top of his desk. Everything was perfect. The main pile had his new allocations of troops and vehicles, the smaller pile to its side was shipments of maintenance equipment, Empathy, and ammunition, and at the far end were blueprints and reports on every aspect of the rebellion he could get his hooves on. All he needed now was a motivator and then he co--

“Mr. Chrono,” said Scribeswell as he poked his head into the luxurious office. “A letter for you, sir.”

Bunnyhelm sighed, his smile fading. He hated interruptions. “Inky,” he addressed the secretary. “I get hundreds of letters a day... put it on the ‘in’ box. I’ll have a look at it later.”

The secretary coughed, standing his ground. “But, sir, this one is from one of your... special sources. It has an attachment you might be interested in...” The pony trotted into the room, smiling kindly and ignoring Bunnyhelm’s growing frown until he arrived at his desk and gently laid the letter atop the tallest stack of paper.

“Inky, wait,” said Bunnyhelm. The secretary stopped mid-stride and turned around to face him. “What is your job, Inky?”

Inky’s face scrunched up slightly as the question bounced around in his head. “To serve you, sir?” he answered uncertainly.

“Exactly!” exclaimed Bunnyhelm. The secretary smiled. “To serve me, that means that your job is to make me happy, is it not?”

“Um, yes, sir...”

“Inky, what does happy look like?” Inky stared at Bunnyhelm, then cracked a small, sheepish, smile. “Brilliant! Now Inky, look at my face.” Bunnyhelm furrowed his brows and stared at the secretary with his piercing eyes. “Is my face like this?” he smiled for a short second, “Or like this?” his face returned to an expression of fierce annoyance.

“Um, the second one, sir?”

Bunnyhelm cracked a wicked grin. “Good...” he said, stretching the word. Then he deadpanned, “Get out.”

Bunnyhelm furrowed his brows as the door closed. Inky was a great pony, but he had seen too much of his real personality. He was becoming a liability. Oh well, he thought, glancing out the window behind him towards the city filled with tens of thousands of ponies. He could always find a replacement...

He turned back and looked at the letter. Using his magic he flipped it into the air and pried it open.

As his eyes scrolled across the contents of the page his face broke into a large, wicked grin. Some days, everything just went along perfectly. Getting up, he trotted out of his office and into the lobby. Scribeswell jumped as the door slammed open. “Inky, where’s the Emperor?”

The secretary stared at him dumbfounded for a few seconds before answering. Glancing at some of the sheets on his desk, Inky shuffled through them until he found a detailed schedule. “Er, the Emperor is heading to some event at the Spectrum Skies Speedway, sir.”

“Inky, how would you like to go to the Speedway with your family today? My pay, just deliver a letter for me on the way there...”

Inky blinked, stunned. “I’d love to, sir! Thank you very much!”

“Oh, you deserve it Inky, you deserve it,” he said as he backed back into his office and shut the door with a delicate click.

From within the top floor of Ponyville Imperial Docking Bay Four, Keen Eyes adjusted the binoculars with a quick tap of her hoof. The image of a yellow, bow-wearing mare laying on her side on what, moments before, was a sofa, shifted, and refocused itself. A sad smile creeped across her buffalo lips. At least Apple Bloom was all right.

Turning slowly, Keen Eyes began to search for Pipsqueak amongst the rubble left after the Griffon Chaser’s crash. Sofas and Quills was a mess: the small, flightless airship had torn through the entire front wall, rupturing and breaking into the building. All that was left of the shop front was a single intact display, where Apple Bloom had fallen. Keen Eyes kept looking, slowly, turning from left to right until she spotted a single white-and-brown leg poking out from beneath a pile of quills.

Keen Eyes winced when the earth pony dragged himself out of the pile, only to tumble across the floor. Other ponies, curious as they were, started streaming nearer and nearer to the crash site until, finally, two of them wearing white coats with little pink butterfly emblems ran into the building and immediately jumped onto Pipsqueak, pinning him to the ground as they went about inspecting him. Keen Eyes let out a small sigh. At least with ponies from Empathy Medical around the pair would be alright.

“A response to your letter, ma'am,” said a voice from behind her. She jumped, startled, before turning around and looking at the bored earth-pony technician. He simply hoofed over a long folded piece of telegraph paper covered in furious pen strokes.

Keen Eyes glanced at the sheet, then looked at the pony, her brow wrinkling. “You decoded it?”

The dirty technician just shrugged. “Yeah, figured you’d need the help.”

“How dar--”

“Look here, missy, my clearance level is more than high enough to look at this jumbled crap. Now I’ve got things to do.” The earth pony turned and began to walk away. “Don’t forget to shut the door of the tower when you’re done,” he called over his shoulder.

Keen Eyes grumbled before opening the letter and reading it. When her eyes reached the end of the sheet she began grumbling even more, crushing the brittle paper under a fore-hoof before turning back to the scene of the Griffon Chaser’s crash.

Grabbing her binoculars again, she peeked at the scene far below. One of the ponies from Empathy had moved on to Apple Bloom, touching her forehead with a hoof while taking her blood pressure with another. Apple Bloom didn’t seem to care, as her attention was divided between talking to a hat-wearing orange earth pony, glancing at the crashed ship, and worriedly looking over at Pipsqueak.

Keen Eyes followed the young mare’s gaze and broke out in snickers at what she saw. Pipsqueak was standing on three hooves, with one of his bandaged hooves hovering just above the ground. Every few seconds, a pained wince would cross his face in time with the glow of a bored medical unicorn's horn. Quill after quill was being pulled out of the white-and-brown earth pony’s flank.

The small clock tower that Keen Eyes occupied resonated with her laughter as she rolled across the floor, clutching her chest with her hooves. “Poor Squeaks!” she said, wiping a tear from her eyes. Her laughter died off quickly as she felt the oppressive loneliness that comes from laughing on your own.

Coughing, she climbed back to the window’s edge and looked down again. This time, she focused on the orange mare that was speaking to Apple Bloom with grand exaggerated gestures. Suddenly, the mare’s head tilted upwards, revealing her face to Keen Eyes’ sight. A small gasp escaped the buffalo’s lips as she recognized the cowpony. “Is that Applejack?” she whispered to herself.

The two mares seemed to be talking quietly. Apple Bloom’s face slowly began tearing up when Applejack suddenly hugged the little mare. “The hay, they know each other?”

Keen Eyes tore her eyes away from the heart-wrenching scene and looked around. Ponies stood all around the building, giving it a respectable distance that was uncommon for ponies looking at an accident. Keen Eyes quickly spotted the reason why: thick, burly bouncers sat facing the crowd evenly separated from one another. Nopony stood within a few hoofsteps from them. That was all the evidence she needed to confirm the cowmare’s identity.

Quickly sliding back to the couple, Keen Eyes witnessed the beginning of a fight between the two. Apple Bloom had put herself in a defensive stance, screaming tearfully at the cowmare, who simply bowed her head in shame. Suddenly, Pipsqueak appeared within Keen Eyes’ scope, trotting over the debris-covered floor to Apple Bloom, putting a reassuring hoof on her shoulder.

Apple Bloom seemed to calm down at her friend's presence. The doctor behind Pipsqueak, on the other hoof, was fuming. The pair turned to Applejack and spoke calmly for a few minutes while the doctor resumed his quill-picking duties. Applejack seemed to remain quiet, only nodding her head every once in a while, or opening her mouth to say a few short words before continuing to listen.

Eventually, Applejack shushed the younger mare and began speaking in turn, Apple Bloom and Pipsqueak’s face, twisting in confusion and anger, then sudden understanding. Apple Bloom got off the couch, stumbling to the ground before Pipsqueak righted her, then pointed to the downed ship.

Slowly, the three earth ponies walked over to the ship, followed closely by the doctor. Apple Bloom reached the ship first and began trying to climb into it. With an exasperated sigh, Applejack trotted up to the mare and helped her up and into the rusty ship. After a few moments, Keen Eyes saw all sorts of tools, parts and other junk fly out of the ship as Apple Bloom threw them overboard. Minutes late,r the mare poked her head out and shrugged.

Applejack shook her head then lifted it and hollered. Half a dozen workponies thundered over to the mare, not even panting as they raced from halfway across the town to stop at the mare’s hooves.

Applejack talked to them for a while, gesturing to the ship before turning back to Apple Bloom, who was still trying to climb out of the ship. One of the burly workponies trotted over to her and lifted her up on one hoof, making Pipsqueak blush indignantly. Keen Eyes smiled at the little pony’s adorable pout.

Keen Eyes was distracted by the sudden shadow that passed above her. Discarding her binoculars, the buffalo looked up at the tube-and-mechanical-arm-covered belly of a small, single engine airship. As the ship flew past her she read the name emblazoned on its side under the symbol of a bright red apple; F&F-Co: Super Apple Picker Nine-Thousand and One. “The hay?”

The apple-scented ship maneuvered its way around the town, and to the group of ponies gathered around Applejack. Stopping near her, a hatch along the vehicle's side opened, and a long cord dropped from the ship, hitting the ground with a puff of dust. Applejack patiently trotted over to the cord and picked it off the ground with a forehoof, revealing to Keen Eyes that it was tipped with a small microphone.

A loud pop was heard throughout the town as the mic was turned on. Everypony in the nearby crowds turned their attention to the airship hovering overhead. “Hey everypony,” began Applejack. “I don’t want to bother you too much but we’re kinda looking for a buffalo filly. Brown... goes by the name of Keen Eyes. Anyway, if y’all spot her, could ya bring her over to one of my ponies, or, better yet, get one of them to catch her. She has something that belongs to me... There’s a reward... Thanks!” With a screech the microphone went dead.

Keen Eyes panicked, turning to the pair of brown saddlebags with three little apples stitched onto their lapels that was at her hooves. She gulped. Abandoning her binoculars to the windowsill and picking the bags up in her mouth, she galloped out of the room and into the next room over. As she slammed the door open, the first thing Keen Eyes saw was the smiling face of the technician, “Hello, buffalo. Seems like you’re in a spot of trouble...”

“Get outta my way,” she said, seething. Her eyes wandered around the small room, desperately searching for an exit.

“Aw, come now, I ain’t that mean... fine then. Go down two levels; there you’ll find an Order-class light patrol ship. Get in it and hide somewhere. I’ll make sure you get out of here alive. Goodness knows what the Apple goons would do to you.” He smiled wickedly at the thought,

“Why should I trust you?” asked Keen Eyes, knowing full well that there was little else she could do.

“I’m under orders from Bunnyhelm to keep you alive. You don’t cross Bunnyhelm.”

Let’s see, as usual, a big thanks to TheWattsMan and Cheezesauce for the editing Eruedraight and ChaosMedler for the reading and a big thanks to Burraku_Pansa for the last minute help, thanks a bunch guys!

Expediting Braces, Royal Pains and Rainbow Graces

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“On three... one, two, three!” Grunting, Scootaloo pulled with all her might, even flapping her wings to add strength. “Come on, only a few more...” said Wrenches as she too forced crazily, the mare’s horn glowing brightly as she shoved upwards from below the tank.

With another strangled grunt Scootaloo forced the fuel tank up. Inch by slow inch it rose, until, finally, the two mares succeeded in pulling it out of the Expedite’s engine casing. The heavy orange tank tipped over the edge and fell to the ground below. It landed on the metallic floor with a loud bang. “Well, that was easy...” panted Scootaloo as she wiped her forehead.

“Yeah, easy,” responded Wrenches as the blue unicorn began levitating her tools back to their respective places. “I can’t believe that your fuel tank was made of brass.... Brass, really? The hay were you thinking?”

Scootaloo flew off the side of the Expedite, landing with a gentle thump on the grated metal floor of the Furtif’s hangar. Trotting over to the discarded fuel tank, Scootaloo tapped it with a forehoof. “Brass is harder than copper. Figured it would armour the tank a bit more than a copper one; wouldn’t want a stray bullet hitting a highly explosive fuel tank right behind the pilot’s seat,” she said defensively.

“Yeah, maybe... It’ll also double the weight of the damn thing. Really, who talked you into this?”

Scootaloo’s brow furrowed in indignation. “Nopony did! I just knew that brass is one of the few strong metals that won’t interfere with the Sparkle Generator... So what if it’s a bit heavier.”

“Fine by me. Your ship, your problem!” The unicorn mare floated up an identical tank, only this one had a much lighter bronze sheen to it. “This one is a bit lighter, bit softer though. you’ll have to be careful not to overheat the engine too much. Melted copper is a bitch to clean up, ‘specially when half the ship blows up along with it.” The mare smiled innocently to Scootaloo. “Pass me that ratchet,” she deadpanned.

Scootaloo huffed before looking at the rest of the hangar to the Expedite's left. It was mostly empty except for three large, tarped over forms. “It’s not under those tarps!” said Wrenches. Scootaloo looked at the mare who had somehow read her mind, seeing that she was halfway in the Expedite’s motor housing, only her flank sticking out.

With a sigh. she trotted around the Expedite, intent upon avoiding the piles of spare parts and the random assortment of tools, to reach one of the many boxes that were laying around the cavernous garage. “I really appreciate the help... not that I can’t handle it myself... it’s just that Apple Bloom used to take care of that sorta thing...” Scootaloo glided up and landed on one of her ship’s small wings, hoofing the ratchet over to Wrenches.

Wrenches patted Scootaloo’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll get some news from them soon. Now, help me pop the headers off the engine; cylinders are all seized up.” The mare swiped a hoof along the edge of the Expedite’s engine block, coming up with a thick swab of rainbow-hued goop. “Literally... didn’t anypony tell you to be careful with this stuff?”

“Yeah, Apple Bloom sorta did... often.” Scootaloo turned away from the mare, “so, what do you guys do on here,” she spun her hoof in a circle, indicating the entirety of the ship. “for fun. I mean.”

Wrenches giggled inside the housing. Her laughter was muffled by the metal housing and sounded as if it were emanating from the insides of a tin can “Well, I fix things. That’s enjoyable in its own way. The capt’n tries to keep us outta trouble while making trouble for others but causes even more trouble himself. Kami Kaze... well, lets just say that I spend most of my time fixing his stupid mistakes. Not much to do on here. Hey!” she exclaimed suddenly, pulling her head out of the engine’s side. “Can I change your guns?”

Scootaloo shook her head at the sudden change in subject. “Change my wha?”

Wrenches sighed then pointed at the two long cannons that protruded out of the Expedite’s front. “Your guns. Can I change them?”

“Why would you want to change them, they're perfectly fine the way they are!”

Wrenches scoffed. “Common, I’ve got a few arcano cannons from Kami’s... last few ships. I’m sure I could fit them on here in a jiffy.”

“Last few ships? And why the sudden urge to mess with Expedite?” asked Scootaloo.

“He goes through a lot. And the capt’n told me that you were part of the crew.That, and I needed to make sure you didn’t crash yourself dead like the others. Oh, and I just noticed a really nice addition under your ship. You have a class six arcano battery under there. The hay you get one of those anyway? They’re reserved for special Imperial ships only. Even the Furtif only has a dozen class five’s. And goddess knows Arnaquer put only the best in his bab--” Scootaloo motioned Wrenches to shut up.

“One at a time alright. I got the ship from my old mentor... well I guess she was my idol? Anywho! It had plenty of weird things in it. I mean, she was really addicted to speed. Best flier I ever met too. Ever since she gave it to me I’ve been fixing it up, adding parts here and there to replace the older and weaker ones.” Scootaloo petted the ship's hull as she beamed proudly at Wrenches.

“Right, then why didn’t you replace those old cannons.”

Scootaloo hesitated. “Er... well, I sorta like the feel of them when I fire...”

Wrenches rolled her eyes then playfully shoved Scootaloo off the side of Expedite. “Go on, get outta here. I’ll rif this baby up so hard that next time you pull the trigger you won’t have ears!”

Scootaloo glided to the ground, then turned to stare up at the busy mare. “What? What should I do? I don’t exactly have a job on here...”

Wrenches’ grease covered face appeared over Expedite’s wing. “Find Kami, I’m sure he’ll find something useless for you to do.” Her face disappeared only to pop up again a few seconds later. “Oh, and if, when you find him, he isn’t steering the ship could you politely bash his head in? Don’t worry, just use something hard and sharp, that way you won't hurt yourself.” Wrenches flashed Scootaloo a winning smile before disappearing for good.

“Alright then,” said Scootaloo, before turning away from Wrenches and her ship and beginning to trot away. “Off to... somewhere.”

The orange mare looked around. She spotted the thick metallic door that led from the hangar to the rest of the ship, and walked to it, head held high at the prospect of some peace and quiet. Opening the door, Scootaloo found herself in a long narrow corridor, dotted every few meters by pulsating light bulbs. They shone brightly against the sky-blue walls.

Scootaloo passed the doorway and walked into the corridor. In the past few days she had spent on the ship it had become familiar. Scootaloo aimlessly chose a direction and started marching, her hooves lightly tapping on the grated floor. The sound ringing throughout the narrow passageway. “Hi Scoot!”

Scootaloo bounced upwards. Her head smacking against the ceiling as she tried to take flight. She landed with a thump. The shook her head and looked around, clutching her chest and beating heart with a forehoof. “What the hay!?” She turned around to be greeted by Kami Kazes' grinning face.

“Sorry Scootaloo, didn’t mean to scare ya.” Kami Kaze smiled gently at her and helped her up with his mechanical limb.

“Yeah, right.” she huffed. “Isn’t that thing supposed to be noisy?” Scootaloo pointed at the gear-filled brass limb.

Kami Kaze looked at his artificial forelimb in surprise. “Oh, this old thing? It can be quiet when I want it to, very well made. You wouldn’t believe the amount of near-fatal accidents this thing has survived!”

“Un huh.” Scootaloo leaned in and inspected the device. “Where'd you get it?”

Kami Kaze blushed as he lifted his forelimb for her inspection. “Got it when I lost my real leg. I crashed a ship while my mom and dad were trying to teach me how to pilot. Got my cutie mark that day. He glanced at the mushroom cloud symbol that adorned his flank and smiled childishly. “They were so proud!”

“Proud?” Scootaloo began to walk again as Kami Kaze followed at her side.

“Yeah, my mom’s name was Banzai and my dad was called Seppuku. They were some of the best mecha pilots that ever lived, or died, on the line of duty!”

Scootaloo looked at the proud stallion skeptically. “So you’re from an Imperial family?”

“Hmm? Oh no, they died well before the Empire was formed. They piloted mechanized robots; that was before warships and planes ruled the war. They taught me to pilot the same mechs as them. Then I moved on to planes. I really liked flying...” He looked up wistfully, a small smile plastered on his lips. “So... why do you love flying?”

Scootaloo turned and looked at him suddenly, her hair swishing around as she faced him. “What?”

“Why do you love flying. It’s no secret that you do. I’ve seen the look on your face when I was in your ship, pure fear and jealousy. You love that plane. You’re also always wearing that vest... a pilot’s vest might I add...”

“Yeah, I guess I do love flying. I am a pegasus. We all do... well, most of us.” A silence stretched over them, their hoof beats struck the metal floor in time with each other, the sound only broken by the occasional hiss of a mechanical hoof. Every few meters Kami Kaze would lead them down another corridor or part of the ship. Suddenly Scootaloo started talking again.

“My idol, when I was a filly, was an awesome flyer. When the war began, she and her friends played a super important part in it. She really pushed the creation of planes and the likes, combining the thing she was best at, and the war effort. She really wanted everypony to taste flight... Meanwhile, I was rubbish at flying.” Kami Kaze looked at her and arched an eyebrow. “It’s true, I was a horrible flyer. Stubby wings and all.” she swished her now full grown wings, sending a small draft down the corridor. “Then she took some time to teach me." She trailed off, staring at her hooves. "How was it having parents?" Scootaloo asked suddenly, looking up at him.

Kami Kaze hesitated at the unexpected question, his head low in thought before he answered. “It was great; while it lasted. Then they died and it was horrible... at least you had friends, and a mentor; I was lost until Arnaquer found me.”

“Yeah, I had friends...” Scootaloo felt a cold brass hoof on her shoulder. Turning, she looked into Kami Kaze’s bright eyes.

“You know, we could always be friends, or, more than friends.” Suddenly his ears dropped and his eyes widened. “That’s not what I meant. I swear!” The yellow pony turned a bright red.

“You remind me a bit of Pipsqueak.” she tapped him on the shoulder playfully. “Don’t worry, I’d be happy to be your friend...”

He beamed. “Really?! Great, I never really had friends before.... well, Wrenches and Arny don’t count.”

“Arny?” she deadpanned. A small smile crept along her muzzle.

“Arnaquer sounds so pretentious... not that he isn’t.”

“Where is he anyway?”

“Hmm, oh! He’s in the radio room. Damned nice machine; can hack into just about every network in Equestria with it. He uses it to talk to his... customers.”

“That good huh? Do you think I could use it to... you know, maybe intercept the Imperial database? Try to find out where Sweetie Belle is, and whether or not Apple Bloom is alright?” Scootaloo smiled in turn at the prospect of learning of her friend’s fate.

“Well, we’re really not supposed--” Scootaloo batted her eyelashes and gently bit on her lower lip in a saucy manner. “But I guess it would be alright,” he improvised quickly. Kami Kaze gulped.

“Thanks Kami!” Scootaloo wrapped a wing around his back, pulling him into a quick hug before releasing the distraught stallion. “I really appreciate it!” The mare ran forward, a mischievous, poorly concealed grin on her face until she reached the edge of the next corner. Turning, she looked at him, placing a hoof on the back of her head as she did so. “So, um, which way is it?”

Sighing, Kami Kaze ran forwards and pointed the way, murmuring something about bad influences under his breath as he did so. The pair trotted down one pristinely clean corridor after another, Scootaloo aimlessly reading the signs over the doors they passed. From bathroom number three, aux-Sparke-Gen Two, bunks, until they finally reached a door labeled ‘Main Comm Room’.

“Here it is,” said Kami Kaze, suddenly eager to be in the tight quarters with her. “Maybe I should go in with you, you know, to help you with the complicated dia-”

A voice from the room interrupted him. “Oui, Oui. j’ai compris. Mais pourquoi?”

Scootaloo leaned up against the door, pressing her ear against it. “Um, I don’t think we shoul-” Scootaloo plugged her hoof into his mouth, shushing him.

“I don’t know Arnaquer,” said another, this one very much female, regal with a Canterlot’s elitist accent.. “My first reports were just before the actual unveiling. I still haven’t gotten much on what it’s like on the inside. We need more information than this. The only thing accounted for is the cannon, and even Pinkie doesn’t know how they got it in their hooves. Goddess know how they got that thing flying.” the voice huffed haughtily.

“Actually,” said yet another voice, this one calm and composed, sounding much like a teacher would. “I do know where that engine is from.”

“S'il vous plait, expliquer,” said Arnaquer.

Slowly, Scootaloo shifted her weight against the door. Grasping the handle with a hoof, she twisted it until she heard the light clicking that accompanied the latch releasing. She opened the door until a tiny sliver of light crawled across her face. Inside Scootaloo could make out the form of a hunched over unicorn facing three glowing squares.

The calm voice sighed. “It’s a Sparkle Generator. A very, very powerful Sparkle Generator.”

“Oh please darling, we knew that much. Something that big couldn’t keep to the air without a few dozen... but you said ‘a’ Sparkle Generator. Do you mean to say that there is only one?” the haughty voice replied.

“En effect, that there only is one, it must be a newer more powerful model, non?” The hunched over form straightened its back as it spoke. Scootaloo marked him as Arnaquer.

“No, it’s the opposite. It’s one of the original Generators,” began the calm voice again. This time Scootaloo inched her head forwards just a little, peeking at a lavender blob on the screen before it faded away.


“When I built the first Sparkle unit it was intended to draw power from a unicorn's magic. The problem is that most unicorns don’t have enough raw power to keep it going for hours on end. Imagine the amount of ponies you’d need to keep even a simple ship going for months, days even? On a tight rotation you’d need a few dozen capable unicorn. And so we created generators. They convert fuel into a quasi-magic like substance. That way you can run the Sparkle unit without a unicorn around at all times.”

“I see, so are they using one of those old Generators on the Sol Scorcher?”

“I... I think so,” she said uncertain. “That odd way it pulses through... I don’t think it’s being powered by unicorns.”

“Mais la, you contradict yourself....” said Arnaquer.

“No, not quite. From the few reports I got from my agents, as well as Rarity’s, there aren’t enough unicorns on board, let alone ones with enough talent. I think they are using a new fuel. Something immensely powerful, but those bursts. Judging from the reading I got off their radiation, there are unicorns regulating it. They are dampening the bursts. That fuel source, whatever it is, is so powerful that it is giving off a constant stream of energy. The unicorns on board are serving as dampeners.”

Scootaloo pushed the door open another inch, wincing as it creaked slightly.

The haughty voice spoke again, “Goddess, what could possibly be so powerful”

“Je pense que tu l’as deja dit.”

“Yes, maybe, however unlikely it may be... Arnaquer?” This time the calm voice was filled with worry. Behind her movement could be heard, like that of a very powerful engine starting up. Scootaloo strained to concentrate on both what was being said and what was happening in the foreground.


“I have to cancel that order. The Imperials are getting ready for something, I don’t know what it is; but it’s big. Half my informants have disappeared, and suddenly my stocks of engines are missing. Even my best customers seem to be getting ready for something...”

“Indeed,” added the haughty voice. “I received an order recently, from the Empire of course. Uniforms. And yes, I know I’ve received plenty of orders in the past. But the sheer quantity they want, it’s staggering!” A glass clinked, then sipping was heard. “Quite distressing.”

Arnaquer seemed to consider something for a while. Then he turned to the screen with the lavender blob. “I have... two questions. First, what do I do with the... possessions I have?”

The blob nodded. “Bring them to Cloudsdale; Rainbow will take care of them.” Scootaloo’s ears perked up and she smiled. She was going to meet Rainbow Dash! “What’s your second question, Arnaquer?”

“What should I do about the two idiots that have been listening in on us since the beginning?” With a quick glow of magic the door was wrenched open, sending Scootaloo and Kami Kaze tumbling into the room in a mess of organic and mechanical limbs.

“Umph.” Scootaloo’s lungs were crushed by Kami Kaze’s weight. Slowly, the orange mare look up and into the three disapproving faces that stared down at her. “Hi... guys... how are you doing?” She smiled unconvincingly.

“Is that... Scootaloo?” asked the haughty voice. Scootaloo turned to the screen that spoke to see the surprised face of Rarity staring down at her.

“Vous la connesaier?” asked Arnaquer, turning to look at the monitors with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes, we know her.” said Twilight Sparkle with an exasperated sigh. “Hello Scootaloo.” Twilight’s image on the screen turned to face Arnaquer. “What is she doing there?”

Arnaquer stared at Scootaloo. “I picked her up after she lost her companions to the Imperi-”

“What!?” interrupted Rarity. Her face changed to one of concern as she alternated between looking at Arnaquer and at Scootaloo. “What happened to your friends?”

Scootaloo’s face lit up with sudden realization. Rarity could save Sweetie Belle! Charging forward into the dimly lit room, Scootaloo grasped both sides of the screen, making Rarity back away in surprise. “Listen to me, Sweetie Belle was taken by the Imperials. The ship was called Conformity. You need to help her. I don't know what happened to Apple Bloom. You need to tell Applejack!”

“Oh no, not Sweetie Belle! She always loved helping me around the shop...” said Twilight, a look of genuine sadness crossed her face before being replaced by anger. “The Imps knew. That’s why they are moving like they are... They must think that Sweetie Belle will be a good hos-”

Suddenly a loud alarm went off in the ship, a piercing whine that made all those in the room, as well as those listening in, cringe. “What’s that?” asked Scootaloo turning to Arnaquer.

“Guys, we’ve got an incoming Imperial fighters. Bearing north north-east!” screamed the distorted voice of Wrenches through the ship's PA.

Aldecry nodded then turned to the two screens. “I am sorry ladies, we will have to continue our conversation at a later date.”

The crowd roared as one when the four blurs streaked by them, elating young and old alike in their magnificent display of skill and talent. Even Blueblood couldn’t suppress his childish, almost immature smile as the pegasi below raced around in a wide circle. The fact that he was seated in one of the best locations in the stadium and that everypony in the flying auditorium had to pay their respects to him just added to his joy.

The six colourful boxes that faced his from across the arena insulted him in a silent fashion. Only one had anypony in it. The yellow and pink, butterfly decorated box was filled with sick and dying foals. The fact that they shared a view as good as his own irked him, but he put it aside, best to enjoy this while he could.

Blueblood’s eyes followed the lead racer, Imperial Decree, as he took the last turn before the finish line, trailing golden smoke from the harness as his goggles were squashed against his face by the turbulance. Behind Imperial Decree was the fan favorite. A rainbow streak punctured the golden smoke in a fury of wingbeats, catching up to the larger male as the two racers began to fight for the lead.

Blueblood clutched the ticket that he held in his hoof. The sum he had placed on Imperial Decree was paltry, and yet he urged the racer that bore his marks forward, willing him to, at the very least, defeat the rainbow-maned pegasi.

He knew that his racer didn’t stand a chance from the very beginning: Rainbow Dash was, after all, the fastest flier in Equestira, hooves down. But the idiotic mare had stopped to sign some autographs, losing her some precious time where Imperial Decree had rocketed forward, nabbing the first spot and a considerable head start at once.

Blueblood leaned forward, his eyes fixated, not on the racers, but on the floating black finishing line that was oddly contrasted against the cloudy skies below the enormous, round, airship stadium. Two streaks blurred past the line, one gold one multihued.

Twisting his head, Blueblood looked at the giant scoreboard tied to a small blimp in the centre of the arena. The crowd held its collective breath as the image slowly appeared. Two forms were on the screen. One the black and gold Imperial Decree, and the other the cyan form of Miss Dash. The cyan hoof was just one tenth of an inch ahead of the black one.

The crowd erupted in cheer as their favorite won once more. Blueblood watched as the thousands of ponies that made up the tightly-packed crowd rose as one, screaming and hollering their love and adoration of the rainbow-maned pegasus. Rainbow Dash flew around the circle once more, spinning around and hooting along with the crowd, a big smile plastered on her face just beneath her goggles. At times she would dip into the crowd and hoof-bump enthusiastic fans. Then the mare shot upwards as hundreds of sparkler and firework launchers lit up the sky with multi-colored explosions and bright flashing lights.

Blueblood fumed. They loved her, genuinely loved her, while he stood here, alone in a gilded box, forced to look at his own defeat and be courteous about it. Just as he prepared himself to stalk out he felt and heard a presence at his side.

Turning, he saw the shape of a unicorn mare wearing the elegant armour of the royal guard appear. “My liege, a letter from one ‘lord Chronos’,” the mare said as she bowed, two letters floating at her side.

Blueblood huffed impatiently; he wanted out of here. Shaking his head, he thought better of it: Bunnyhelm always looked out for him, best to pay attention. “Read it,” he said as he trotted over to the well-stocked bar at the corner of the box and began to pour himself a drink.

The mare coughed once then began:

“My dear friend and Emperor Blueblood,

For many years I have watched as you shook in fear of a certain six mares.” The mare gulped as the Emperor glared at her, but she read on.

“Don’t deny your fear, for I too share it with you. For a long time I have searched for evidence, neigh, proof, of their treachery. My Emperor and friend, I daresay I have found it. Enclosed is a copy of a letter sent between two of these mares, and within you will find proof of not only their treachery, but of their will to... do away with you. Preparations have been made, act as you will it.

Your faithful subject: Bunnyhelm Chronos.”

The mare finished and gently closed the letter with her magic.

Blueblood looked at the letter that hovered in the mare’s magic. What could possibly... with a shaking hoof he pointed at the letter, “Read it,” he ordered.

The mare looked at the letter then shook her head. “My Emperor, it indicates that it is for your eyes only, my clearance does no-” Blueblood cut her off as he ripped the letter from her magical grasp with magic of his own.

Quickly, he tore it open and read it, a wicked yet worried smile spreading across his lips as his eye scrolled down the page. “Make sure the Sol Scorcher is at battlestations alpha. Evacuate all military personnel and noble ponies from this filthy arena and make sure that my transport is ready!”

With a nod, the royal guard mare blinked out of the room, teleporting away to do his bidding. Still wearing his wicked smile, Blueblood trotted over to the room’s unique door and into the hallway beyond, where dozens of guards lined the corridor. To his surprise, a cyan pegasus stood at one end of the corridor, grinning at him.

“Hiya Emperor,” she said his title in a voice filled with sarcasm and venom. "I wanted to congratulate you, that pegasus of yours was almost able to make me sweat out there!”

“Oh, I am certain I can make you sweat, Rainbow Dash,” he said with an even greater amount of venom. Doubt flashed across the mare’s face. Blueblood addressed his guards. “Ponies, capture that mare, alive or dead...”

Rainbow Dash had spent the greater part of her life training to be fast; this wasn’t lost on the first three royal guards that she knocked out with quick bursts from her hooves. In a flurry of movement, the mare ducked below the swing of one large earth pony, dug her hooves into the thick carpet and pushed herself away, beating her wings frantically as she made her escape.

“Orders, my liege?” asked one of the guards.

Blueblood scoffed. “If she makes it out of the arena, chase her down... Use the Vanquishers,” he said, enjoying the irony. “Now get me off of this dump!”

Rainbow Dash weaved between the supports and brackets that made up the skyport surrounding her arena. Hundreds of airships, from buses to private transports, were stuffed on thin long ramps that connected to the Spectrum Skies Flying Arena of Awesome. Behind her, two gun-wielding Imperial pegasi flew, the fuming rocket packs on their back giving them the needed propulsion to keep up with the fast mare.

She would have enjoyed it, the rush of wind, the uncertainty of what would lay around the next curve or strut. The bullets pinging against the hulls of nearby ships. Even the sound of a thousand Sparkle Generators humming while they spewed dark smoke into the air. But the thought that Blueblood had finally snapped worried her. He had done it, he had ordered her death. And he could do it. From the corner of her eye she spotted the enormous looming form of the Sol Scorcher, hovering idly a few kilometers from the arena that the Emperor attended. She had to get out of here, she had to warn her friends.

Swooping around one particularly large airship, this one with the butterfly emblem of Empathy Medical on its side, Rainbow Dash came face to face with half a dozen gun-toting pegasi, all of whom smiled viciously and aimed at her.

Without thought she blasted forward, slamming into the first, and nearest, one. Five shots were fired, ringing and echoing off the ships around them. Rainbow Dash felt blood splatter against her coat as the pegasi she fought with went limp. Looking into his blue eyes she saw the life fading from him as blood poured freely from the entry wound on his chest.

She stalled there, hovering silently as the pony she had been fighting with moments before bled out in her hooves. The sounds of cannons reloading kicked her back into action. Stealing his still un-fired weapon with a quick swipe of her hoof, Rainbow Dash let the body fall as she took off once more, this time the bullets missed her by a long shot as the mare flew as quickly as she could away from the stadium.

Rainbow Dash closed her eyes and flew, weaving and bobbing, but trying her best to keep to her path despite the oppressive weight of the gun in her muzzle. Soon she opened her eyes once more and glanced behind her. She was alone, the forms of the Imperial soldiers were but little specks in her goggles as they too bobbed up and down in a vain attempt to catch her. Rainbow Dash almost smiled to herself. The blood that stained her cyan coat quickly quelled her cheery mood.

For a moment the mare hovered where she was, contemplating her choices and what she should do. Her thoughts were cut short by a loud, and quickly approaching hum. Turning around, Rainbow Dash looked up in horror at the three sleek fighter planes painted with the typical Imperial insignia on their sides. More disturbing were the cannons that jutted out from the fore of the fighter ships.

With a sharp, whistle-like sound the planes fired. Pale green beams of energy sprayed out from the ships mounted cannons, hurtling towards the hovering mare. On instinct she folded her wings and dove, narrowly avoiding the searing beams. “Assholes!” she yelled at them as she began to maneuver out of their way. The three Vanquishers blasted past her, forcing her to beat her wings furiously, lest she be injured by the strong drafts created by their passing.

Rainbow Dash hurriedly reversed direction, desperately trying to gain altitude as the planes circled around for another pass. “Come on! Leave me alone,” she begged. The irony of the Imperials using planes she designed to try and kill her was not lost on her as they circled around towards her, firing again and again, illuminating the cloudy sky with green flashes and loud zaps.

Twisting around, she froze in midair as her entire body flipped head over hooves to face the ground, executing a perfect stall turn as the quickly approaching Vanquisher’s fired at her continuously, their beams getting closer and closer after each shot. Rainbow Dash felt a hot, searing pain against her flank as one of the beams grazed her. “Oh, you want a fight?! You’ll get one!” She swore as the three aircraft blazed past her, hitting her once more with a powerful gust of wind.

The three planes curved upwards, slowly maneuvering to once again point at the diving mare. She Beat her wings as quickly as she could before tucking them into her sides, forming an almost perfect aerodynamic shape, were it not for the heavy gun on her back. Rainbow Dash flew towards the ground far below, steadily gaining speed until a small cone of wind pressure formed ahead of her. Soon she heard the buzzing of the three right on her tail as they tried to follow her quick descent. At that moment, she unfurled her wings, cringing as the sudden air pressure threatened to tear her tendons and muscles from the bone. The sudden deceleration took the pilots by surprise.

The arrowhead formation of the Imperial fighters broke up, as each went in one direction, intent on regrouping and chasing her down once more. She wasn’t going to let them get away with it again. Hovering on the spot she lifted the heavy gun, pressing it against her shoulder and waited. Twisting her head from side to side, Rainbow Dash picked out one of the planes, the first of the three to turn and face her.

As the plane adjusted her in its sights, she too readied her weapon. Aiming down the long barrel of the gun, she placed the crosshairs right in front of the cockpit and waited. The Vanquisher fired. Bolt after burning bolt blasted past her as she breathed calmly, in and out, patiently waiting for the right moment. “May Luna’s will, guide my strike,” she whispered.

The moment arrived.

With a twitch, the mare’s hoof pulled on the trigger. The weapon discharged criving the stock into her shoulder painfully as it recoiled. The bullet arched forward, slowly, peacefully, spinning through the air before piercing through the Vanquisher’s glass cabin and wedging itself in between the wide eyes of its pilot.

The plane shook as the dead pilot’s body rammed haphazardly against the controls, spewing blood on every surface within the plane. Not waiting to give the two other pursuers a chance at her, Rainbow Dash dropped the heavy gun with contempt and disgust before diving towards the falling vehicle. Matching its speed and calculating its twisting trajectory, she pulled up alongside the craft and, with a few loud grunts, ripped open the cabin.

Pulling herself into the aircraft, she gave the now dead pilot a quick ‘I’m sorry’ before detaching him and throwing his body out of the plane. Strapping herself in, she looked over the bloodstained controls with a quick, experienced eye.

Pulling back on the yoke, the mare twisted her head from left to right. She spotted the two other planes before her own righted itself. Pushing against the rudder controls, Rainbow Dash began to steer the powerful warbird.

A female issued from the comm. “Alpha F-One to Alpha F-Three, I noticed a disturbance in flight, confirm.”

It was soon followed by another voice, this one of a male, “This is F-Two, I lost sight of the target.”

Rainbow Dash looked down at the comm unit tucked on the edge of the Vanquisher’s dashboard and contemplated what to do. She didn’t have time to decide as one of the fighter’s pulled up alongside her. Quickly wiping the blood off the glass with a hoof, Rainbow Dash looked into the ship beside hers. The shocked eyes of the pilot gazed disbelievingly back at her. " F-Two to F-One, You aren't gonna' believe this; but the target is in F-Three..."

Rainbow Dash cut the mare off as she slammed on the airbrakes. All along the Vanquisher’s solid wings, small panels popped up with a pneumatic hiss, catching the wind and rapidly decreasing her airspeed. Rainbow Dash was propelled forward in the cabin, the straps digging painfully into her coat as she applied weight on the rudder. The Vanquisher snapped to the side as she made small adjustments, aiming at the back of the other fighter plane. With a yank, she pulled the trigger, unleashing a barrage of green bullets into the back of the Imperial fighter.

The ship wobbled once before disintegrating into a thousand little pieces of shrapnel and debris. “F-One to F-Two! Are you alright?!” screamed the male voice over the intercom. Rainbow Dash looked around quickly, far to her left was the stadium and the hundreds of ships anchored to it. The few Imperial airships around the stadium were all quickly pulling away towards the massive form of the Sol Scorcher.

The other fighter plane moved within her peripheral vision, obscuring the sun as it moved in towards her. Jamming on the yoke and shifting her weight along the well-oiled rudders, Rainbow Dash spun out of the way of a blast of green bolts, twisting her ship as to spin around the lethal beams.

Placing her hoof on the trigger, she slowly pulled the mechanism back. Before she could fire however, her ship was battered aside by a strong gale. Forcing her to tug and pull against the controls. “The hay is going on?!” she screamed in panic as another wave hit the rear of the sleek fighter plane. A wall of heat battered the aircraft, increasing the temperature within the cabin to the point where the fit mare had to pant for breath.

Turning her head she looked in the direction of the blast.

Where the stadium was only seconds ago, was now a blindingly white beam of pure arcane energy that traced its way back to the Sol Scorcher. The beam had pierced a hole the size of a large airship. And hadn’t stopped there. The beam stretched on all the way to the ground, disintegrating everything unlucky enough to be in its path.

The screams of tortured metal and the grinding of the destroyed colosseum could be heard clearly, despite the distance she was from the scene. From her seat, she could see the sign that proudly proclaimed ‘Spectrum Skies Flying Arena of Awesome’ catch fire and melt away in the wake of the Sol Scorcher’s destruction. Airships began to fall from the sky as their gas bags bloated from the superheated air and burst like oversized party balloons, sending debris flying everywhere as the huge forms fell to earth. One of the last to go was the yellow and pink Empathy medical ship as it raced away from the skyport, only to have the deadly beam sweep over it, turning it into yet another charred wreck.

Slowly, almost peacefully, the arena dropped from the sky. The monstrous stadium began to tear itself in half with its own sheer bulk. Shards of burning debris spiraled around it like stray ash from a campfire. One after another, the Sparkle Generators failed, as the ship rent itself, the sound a cacophony of screaming metal, Rainbow Dash watched in horror as hundreds, possibly thousands of tiny, pastel shapes fell to their unavoidable deaths.

She was brought back to reality as the loud pinging of energy beams against her fighter’s hull. The Vanquisher shook as bullet after bullet pierced the tail, then the engine housing. Above her, the remaining aircraft pulled up as smoke began to billow out of hers.

“Oh, come on, come on!” she screamed while pulling back on the yoke, straining her back and hooves against the resisting joystick. The needles in the guages of the Vanquisher’s dashboard fluctuated wildly as system after system failed. Taking a peek from her squinting eye, Rainbow Dash saw what was left of her tail section. Where the tail once ended as a stubby lump, was now a gaping hole. Half of the rudder held on by only a thread before it snapped apart and was whipped away by the wind.

Looking ahead, she saw the quickly approaching green fields. Gulping, she let go of the yoke, using her hooves to punch and jab at the seat straps.

She was stuck.

“May Luna guard my night, may Celestia save my day...”

This chapter was both a pain and really fun...

Editing by... Sorren, and Eustatian Wings and... er... Dammit.

If you haven`t read my blog post yet (On Fimfic) I`ll be on "Vacation". Basically I`ll be taking a short break from speed writing, concentrating rather on editing old chapters and fixing some of my stories up for EqD.

Forging Alliances and Visiting Echo Base

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Preacher looked around at the half dozen Imperials. His gun lay on the floor in front of him, dumped amongst a pile of spent casings. One of the Imperials limped forward a step, like his companions, he was in bad shape. All of them looked disheveled, worn out and grimey. Seeing the Decimate catch fire and burn while the ponies within screamed in pure terror seemed to have quelled some of their will to fight. The piles of inanimate guards throughout the ship may not have helped either.

Sighing Preacher lifted his hooves. “So, what now boys?” The ponies looked at each other; none had the markings of an officer, they were all just new conscripts, ponies that were confused, disorientated and at a loss as to what to do next.

One of then, this one seemingly braze stepped forward, brandishing his gun towards Preacher. “We-we’re going to arrest you!”

Preacher lifted an eyebrow at the young pony. “And put me in what, jail? Please, try to remember what happened to the last one.” He sighed as he indicated the room. Boxes that once held parts for the now departed planes were torn apart by stray bullets, the launch ramps crooked and bent by the rapid exit of all the fighter planes at once. The great copper door was bent inwards by the explosive blast of the Decimate’s downfall.

The group of ponies seemed hesitant. Suddenly, screams and hollers were heard coming from the hallway behind them. Just as the first of the Imperial ponies turned towards the sound, a dozen ponies in grey prison garb galloped into the room. While some were obviously crazed, most just had looks of pure anger and loathing on their face as they looked at the would-be guards.

Preacher sighed and walked forward. He had seen this type of thing before. Ponies put in cells and locked up, sometimes unjustly, horrible things done to them. Passing by one of the Imperials, Preacher noticed that the young stallion was shaking. “No need to do anything brash now,” he said as he stood near the other prisoners. Placing himself in between the inmates and the guards, yet still out of either’s line of fire.

“Move it shithead. Imma’ kill myself some pony,” one of the inmates said. The others cleared a wide berth as the pony advanced. He licked his lips then proceeded to lick his knife. Amongst all those there, he was the only one without a gun, despite the fact that many had two, or even three.

“Calm yourself!” Preacher barked as the knife wielding pony hopped forward and swiped madly at the nearest guard. The Imperial jumped back, hissing in pain as the knife drew a line across his chest.

“Nuts. Pull back!” ordered a strong masculine voice from behind the group of inmates.

Turning, Nuts glared at the group. “Oh, piss off Freeze!” The crazed stallion galloped forward again, this time his wild swing missed as the guard hopped backwards, his eyes wide and filled with fear as he looked at his gun, Nuts, and the wall of armed inmates.

“Bolts, your brother, make him back down.” said the same voice. Preacher perked an ear up, trying to spot the pony who spoke. A large pale blue earth pony stepped out of the group and stood at the front, leaning forward.

“Sorry Freeze, he’s nuts... I mean really, really, nuts...” said one of the inmates, shrugging innocently as Nuts laughed hysterically.

The large, blue earth pony shook his massive head. “I’ll take care of him.” Slowly the powerful pony trotted forward until he stood only a few hoof steps behind Nuts.

Nuts glanced back, his head tilting back until he stared at the earth pony’s face. “Ah, common, Freeze, only a little.” Freeze shook his head. Nutz continued, “Just one, c’mon. I’ll just kill one; you can have the rest! You know me. I can share...”


Nuts grinned cruelly. “Then I’ll have ‘em all. You can’t stop me!” Turning, the mad pony skipped forward, raising his blade high above his head before sweeping it down toward the whimpering form of one of the injured guards.

In the blink of an eye, Freeze was on him. He hit nuts in the side of the head, the impact emanating a sickening crunch. The stallion was sent tumbling from the ground, blood rushing from his ear.

Freeze looked at the guard pony, whose facial expression was a mix of relief and fear. “Sorry,” said Freeze.

Walking over to Nuts, Freeze grabbed the unconscious pony and, with a twist of his powerful neck, shoved the pony onto his back. “Don’t move!” yelled one of the guards, pointing his gun at the back of Freeze’s head.

Preacher decided to intervene. Coughing, he took a step forward. “Gentleponies, I think you can all clearly see that... Freeze? Here is one of the leaders of this break out. Now, think for a moment what this group of... very, well armed ponies would do to you if you killed their leader?” Preacher paused for a moment then sighed, pointing to the piles of empty casings that dotted the ground. “I don’t think you even have a bullet for each one of them, and that’s only if they meekly stood there and let themselves be shot at. Maybe the best course of action would be to surrender...?”

“Eeyup,” agreed Freeze.

The few remaining guards looked at eachother. then, one by one, they dropped their weapons on the ground with small clatters. Two of the inmates ran forward, picking the weapons up with magic and muzzles before running back to the group.

“Bring them to the brig. Be nice,” said Freeze as he trotted back towards the inmates. As he passed the guards, they backed away slowly, as if fearful of his presence.

The large earth pony bent forward, gently removing the unconscious Nuts from his back and placing him on the ground in front of Bolts. “Take care of him. Might want to put him in the brig too.” One of the guards gasped. “In a different cell,” he added.

The inmates circled the guards as they marched forwards, heads low as they mulled over their faiths. Freeze gave some quick, concise directions to the inmates then turned to Preacher.

“Hello. I am Freeze Charge.” he said.

Preacher extended a hoof and they shook while he spoke. “I’m Preacher... You’re the leader of the inmates I presume?”

“Eeyup, you’re the leader of the rebels?”

“I was,” sighed Preacher.

“You can help us?” asked Freeze Charge.

“How?” asked Preacher, sitting on the cold, metal ground. He felt slightly dwarfed by the huge earth pony until he too, sat down.

“We want to join the rebellion.”

Preacher rubbed his chin as he considered. “All of you?”


“I can help,” Preacher replied resiliently.

“Thank you.” Freeze Charge smiled gently and extended a hoof to Preacher, who gladly shook it.

“Great, now we-” A pony in the grey uniform of an inmate ran into the room, stopping near the two talking stallions. The pony clutched his chest as he panted for air.

“Sir,” he addressed Freeze Charge, his voice trailing off as he panted.

Freeze Charge placed a hoof on the young ponies shoulder. “Calm. You need to breath. Talk later.” The pony nodded then swallowed.

“Sir,” he resumed once he had caught up with his breath. “We’re on open comm with an Imperial ship. The flight charter indicates that there were two escorts for this ship. One of them is still out there!”

Freeze Charge began walking briskly towards the exit, his heavy hoofsteps ringing through the large hangar. Preacher shrugged, sighed, following him. “Will they attack?” asked Freeze Charge.

“No sir,” said the inmate as he ran after his leader. “The Imperial said that they would surrender.”

Freeze Charge and Preacher both slowed to stare at the inmate, was beginning to sweat. “Ship damaged?” asked Freeze Charge.

“Doesn’t look like it.”

“Is the crew sick?” asked Preacher.


“Lack of provisions?”


The inmate shook his head at the onslaught of questions. “Look, I don’t know! Just get to the communications room; you’ll find out once you get there.” The pony gulped as both stallions stared at him, unimpressed. “I’ll be... over there...” he said, before turning around and running down a corridor, seemingly at random.

The two stallions remained quiet until they reached the room appropriately named ‘Communications Room’. Entering the dilapidated room, Preacher looked at the grimy old consoles and the chipped paint walls that surrounded a massive, obsolete radio. At the controls, was a mare who had decorated her dull grey uniform with a small plastic flower. On her head was an old set of headphones .

Turning on the swivel chair that was bolted to the ground, the mare placed her back hooves on a small, coffee stained, table before looking at the two stallions. “Comm number two boss man!” she said, pointing at an old receptor at the back.

Walking over to the receiver, Freeze Charge flicked it on. After a few seconds of shaking and buzzing. the machine’s old speaker popped to life. “Hello?” said Freeze Charge tennantively into the nearby microphone.

“Am I speaking to the leader of the... inmates?” said a gruff masculine voice.

Freeze Charge leaned into the microphone. “Eeyup... I guess.”

“I see,” said the voice with a twinge of doubt. Preacher sighed then stepped up, grabbing the microphone from Freeze Charge’s hooves.

“Hello, I’ll assume that you’re the captain of the Imperial ship?”

“That is correct.”

“My name is Preacher. I’m the leader of the echo rebellion division.”

The radio was quiet for a few seconds. “I see... interesting. Well, Mr. Preacher, I have the desire to join the rebellion. I know that it isn’t uncommon for ex-imperials to join...”

“Isn’t uncommon! What isn’t uncommon is one or two Imps that have seen the errors of their ways, they see the tyranny of the Empire or they are just plain tired of the dictatorship that they’re part of! One or two. Not an entire ship full!”

“I see,’ said the voice at the other end of the comm. “Perhaps we could come to an agreement of sorts?”

“Nnope,” said Freeze Charge. Even Preacher was surprised by his quick denial. The massive pony grabbed the mic once more. “I trust you. You can join,” he said.

“Join? Join?! How can you just accept him like that?! How do you know that he won’t just stab you in the back? I refuse to let that pony become part of the rebellion!”

Freeze Charge stared at the old pony in the eye. “We aren’t the rebellion.”

Sweetie Belle squirmed in the hard plastic seat. It had been hours since the last time she had been allowed to stretch her hooves. Not that she could stretch them much. Looking behind her, she saw the tightly packed compartment of the Thunderbolt. The already small gunship was filled with twice as many ponies as it should have held, the smell alone was a reminder of that. At first they had opened a viewport, but the cold mountainous air proved to chilly for anypony on board.

Sweetie Belle looked at the seat next to hers. Mira was tucked into a ball, peacefully snoring away as the ship rocked and lurched lightly on its way to Celestia knew where. Sweetie Belle stifled a yawn. “You tired?”

Sweetie Belle looked behind her again. Spray was standing there, the midday sun splashed across his face, illuminating the black pouches under his eyes and the folded map in his hooves. “Nah, I should be fine. How long is it again?” She unconsciously glanced at the fuel gauge. only a quarter tank left. Not enough to get all that far.

“Another few hours. do you feel comfortable piloting?” he asked. After their escape from their collective near death on leaving the Adamant Fury, they had found out that only three ponies onboard knew how to pilot a ship. Sweetie Belle was one, Mira another. The ponies had grudgingly accepted that she be allowed to pilot.

“Its not bad, a little tiring but it keeps me busy. I just about figured out how that Sparkle Generator works.”

Spray barked a small, almost sarcastic, laugh.

“What?” she asked.


Sweetie Belle furrowed her brow and turned to face him as best she could, the straps of the seat digging into her shoulder. “What about me?”

“Well, you’re full of surprises. First, you have a key to our cells. Then you know how to mess around with Sparkle Generators. Then, as if to make sure we all know you’re special, you know the captain of an Imperial cruiser that may have wanted to kill us all. I am just saying that you’re a very unexpected mare. That’s all.”

Sweetie Belle turned back to her dials and controls, “Oh, I hadn't thought of that.”

“Huh, even the toughest guys in the group are starting to warm up to you, but that’s probably because they think you’re cute.” Sweetie Belle’s white face became beet red.

From their side, Mira snickered, breaking the awkward tension that had built up. “She’s even cuter when she blushes!” said the mare, loud enough that half the ponies onboard heard and laughed. Sweetie Belle huffed and refocused on her flight path and on piloting the airship.

Suddenly Mira sat up straight. “We’re here.” she said solemnly.

“No we’re not!” Spray grabbed his map and looked at it, fixated by the squiggly lines he flipped it over, “Er-- I don’t think we are...”

A broad smile creased Mira’s face. “Right there.” She pointed. “Don’t you see it? That slit in the mountains!” Ahead of them, a great mountain rose up from the ground until it poked at the cloudy skies. Following Mira’s hoof, Sweetie Belle spotted an unnatural looking crevice halfway up the peak. “That’s it right there, Echo base!” The mare became giddy, jumping up and down in her seat as only her straps held her in place. “Oh, Oh, can you hurry up? I want to see Luna!”

Sweetie Belle froze, “Luna...? As in the Princess of the night?!”

Mira laughed, ‘of course silly! Which other Luna do you know?!”

Sweetie Belle looked to Spray for confirmation. He just shrugged, “It’s true. It isn’t called the Lunar Republic for nothing.” He leaned over the bench and fiddled with the communications unit. “Echo base, this is Rebel strike force three. We’re back guys, and we brought some new toys!”

“Confirming, Strike force three, please give us your access codes.” said a calm female voice from the other end of the line.

Sweetie Belle stopped paying attention as Spray uttered a seemingly random series of numbers and words. Soon, one by one, the Vanquisher’s darted ahead and into the crevice while in her vision, it grew larger and larger. As they approached, she could make out more details about the base. At the top of the peak, jutted a huge generator system, wires painted to resemble the scenery that snaked down and into the base proper. Dotting the mountain side were dozens of camouflaged turrets. Ponies wearing thick coats mulled around them, most seemed to be intrigued by their arrival.

The most impressive thing was the size of the entrance. Only a tiny slit was open, but judging by the size of it, one could fit a dozen massive airships through it.

Spray finished spewing codes into the mic before passing it to her. “Pay attention. He’ll give you the proper directions.”

Sweetie Belle furrowed her brow and concentrated. A hush fell over everypony in the ship as they felt the pressure of the huge base that towered above them. Even Mira piped down for the occasion. Simple and concise directions and explanations were given to her over the radio, they did little to prepare her for what was inside.

Passing the threshold into Echo base, the first thing she noticed was the brightness of it all. Hundreds, if not thousands of lights illuminated the cavern filled with dozens of enormous airships, smearing the caverns sides with odd shadows and reflections.

“Pay attention Sweetie Belle,” said Spray, placing a hoof on her shoulder. Gulping, Sweetie Belle did as she was told.

From the radio she was given orders to follow the winding line of Vanquishers as they slowly made their way down, passing docked airships on either side. Sweetie Belle tossed her head from side to side, reading the names stamped on the sides of the ships. West Wind, Party Crasher, Mirage, Tusk. “There’s hundreds!” she exclaimed in awe. Ships were docked one atop each other. Walkways ran from one ship to another, most with a few ponies wearing mechanic’s garb milling around them.

“Ohh, ohh, over there!” screamed Mira, ripping Sweetie Belle’s attention away from her surrounding as to the spot where the excitable mare was pointing. Below them, the Vanquishers were steadily landing on an area of the main floor with light thumps as ponies pushed wheeled ladders towards the fighter planes.

An area right in the middle of the circle of Vanquishers was left empty. Grabbing the yoke and gently playing with the rudder, Sweetie Belle positioned them above the area then flicked on the lower thrusters, letting the Thunderbolt gently fall towards the ground below. “End flight checks?” she asked Mira, an and air of excitement in her voice. This was it. This was the real deal. Outside, ponies were gathering, pointing impressively at the newly arrived ships. Sweetie Belle tried her best to ignore the families until they had landed.

With a light bump, the Thunderbolt landed. Almost immediately the side door was slid open and the dozen ponies inside rushed out, stretching their aching limbs as they did so. Mira, not wanting to be left out, desperately fought with her restraints before finally undoing them and racing to the exit, sniffing at the slightly fresher, if moldy, air of the cavernous base.

Spray leaned forward and tapped Sweetie Belle’s shoulder. “Come on, We’ll show you around, I’m sure we can find you a place to stay for a few days.”

Mira popped her head back in, a huge smile plastered on her face. “You could stay at my place!” she exclaimed. “Nopony ever wants to have sleepovers with me!”

Sweetie Belle gulped, then looked at Spray. She asked the inevitable question. “Then what? I mean, I could stay for a day or two but-”

He furrowed his brow. “That depends on you, if you want to stay, I’m sure we can find a place for your skills in the rebellion, that is, after you pass a background check.” Sweetie Belle winced. He still didn’t trust her. “But if you want to leave, I’m positive we could get you home somehow.”

Looking down, she nodded. “Alright, I guess we will see.”

“Perfect. Now come along. I’ll introduce you to my family.”

Sweetie Belle stood up, ridged with surprise. “Your family?! You’re married?”

Spray looked at her, his face contorting in badly hidden insult. “What? I’m too ugly to get married and have kids?”

Sweetie Belle blushed. “No that’s not what I meant. I mean-” she stumbled, turning an ever deeper shade of red.

“Come on.... I wanna show you around!” whined Mira from the doorway, hoping from one hoof to another impatiently. Sweetie Belle took the opportunity to untie herself and make her way to the back of the ship.

What she saw upon exiting took her by surprise. Dozens of ponies that, minutes ago, were stuck with her in the confines of the Thunderbolt, were now hugging and kissing newly arrived ponies that were shyly making their way around the parked Vanquishers. Foals ran around, tugging at the legs of some of the rebels until they picked them up, glad to see their children. Some, on the other hoof, moved about, searching for love ones they couldn’t find. Sweetie Belle hadn't realized that the rebellion would be so... family orientated. And yet, looking around, she could clearly see the militarized part of it. Guns were slung around the backs of more than one pony, and most wore the remains of decade old military uniforms, patched up and cleanly pressed.

Looking around, she noticed that the walls had little windows in them, some with lights behind drawn curtains. “What are those?” she asked.

Mira, who had yet to move from Sweetie Belle’s side answered. “Silly, those are our homes! Oh, I should bring you to mine!”

Suddenly, the chatter amongst the newly arrived rebels and their friends cut off. To Sweetie Belle's immense surprise, they all turned at once and bowed to her. "Wha?"

"She turned and got a muzzle full of dark indigo coat. With an oomph, she fell on her rump and looked up. There before her, was the Princess of the night, staring down at Sweetie Belle’s shivering form. Her mane appeared to billow in an unseen and unfelt wind.

“Pr-Princess Luna?!” she exclaimed, backpedaling away from the imposing monarch.

“Woona!” yelled Mira as she charged the princess, leaping into the air to grab the Princess around her head with a mighty hug. Suddenly, a dark aura of magic encircled the mare and pried her loose, placing her at the Princesses hooves.

“Hello Mira. I am glad to see you well and healthy!” boomed the Princess, bowing down to nuzzle the eciatable mare.

“Whaa?!” repeated Sweetie Belle from her spot only a few hoof steps away.

“Princess Luna,” said Spray as he moved forward, bowing his head politely as he did so.

“Ah, hello young Spray. How do you fare? We had much fear for your safety. The rumours were quick to spread of your teams capture and demise. To see you here amongst us again gladdens us greatly!”

“Well madam...” Tuning he indicated the ponies and ships behind him. “We are all glad to have returned safely.”

Luna looked around, quickly scanning the assembled ponies and ships with her millennia old eyes. “Where is Preacher?” she finally asked.

Spray shifted uneasily. “We-we lost him Ma'am. When escaping from the Adamant Fury... he stayed behind to make sure we got out...” A murmur spread amongst the gathered rebels as news of the lost pony spread like wildfire.

The Princess pondered this for a moment, her hoof rubbing against her chin as every pony present waited to see her reaction. “Who has acted as leader since?”

Spray fidgeted again. “I have, with the aid of Mira of course.” he added, to which the red earth pony smiled.

“We see. Then you shall remain as such until Preacher has returned,” the princess declared. “Now, please, tell us of your escape.”

“We were confined to the prison transport Adamant Fury in direction to the Tartarus holding facility, the Alcatrot section to be specific.” Ponies in the crowd winced sympathetically. “On our way there though, um...” Spray looked around and spotted Sweetie Belle, still bowing near the princesses hooves. “Sweetie Belle here had a uni-key, using it she opened our cells, aft-”

The princess cut him off as she addressed the shivering Sweetie Belle. “You are the pony who has freed our rebels?” Sweetie Belle nodded quickly. “You have our thanks. Such a brave and noble task shall not go unrewarded!”

“Um, thank you very much Princess,” squeaked Sweetie Belle.

Turning to Spray again, she addressed him. “How did you acquire these vessels? They are of Imperial make, and yet, they are advanced, the newest ships there are.” Luna gently trotted to the nearby Thunderbolt and tapped its side.

“Yes Ma’am, they were on board the Adamant Fury. Miss Belle aided us to escaped the cells. Then we made our way to the hangar where we captured that gunship and twelve fighters.”

“Twelve? We only count eleven.”

Spray scratched a hoof awkwardly. “Upon exiting the Adamant, we ran into an Interdiction-Class airship using the callsign Decimate.

The princess looked at him then at the gathered soldiers. “You brought it down on your own?”

“Er, no ma’am. Another Interdiction-Class, the Conformity, it opened fire and destroyed the Decimate.

The Princess arched an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Er- Miss Belle negotiated with the ship’s captain. He was acquainted with her.”

“Oh, oh!” exclaimed Mira, “She also started up the Thunderbolt. Nopony else knew how!” Sweetie Belle blushed furiously.

The Princess let her hoof slip away from the Thunderbolt’s frame. She turned and walked towards Sweetie Belle. “It seems that I was mistaken. These vehicles clearly don’t belong to us, but to you, Miss Sweetie Belle.” The princess bowed. “Thank you for helping us. We will be certain to take care of you until you, and your vehicles, can leave... Unless of course you wish to let us use them?

“Have them?” she repeated blindly. Shaking her head, Sweetie Belle refocused. “But, I don’t really deserve them... Do I?” She looked at the gathered ponies for assistance, but other than Mira and Spray, most were unfamiliar faces.

“Do not deserve them? From what we have understood you single hoofedly saved an entire division of rebels from a maximum security prison, stole a dozen Imperial ships from under their hooves, then negotiated a turncoat maneuver with the captain of an Imperial ship, effectively making the Empire lose two Warships and a dozen fighter craft... All within a day. We are impressed.”

Mira hopped over to Sweetie Belle and slapped her shoulder. “You’re awesome!”

In her confused and disorientated state, Sweetie Belle failed to see the horror that played across the faces of the gathered ponies as they looked behind her. Even princess Luna seemed cautious. The only unaffected pony was Mira, a large smile spreading on her face.

Sweetie Belle turned around and looked at the pony behind her. The pony she saw was familiar, and yet, she wasn’t.

A pink mare, dressed in a smart, well trimmed suit stood behind her, her face contrasted by a straight mane as she was flanked by two impressively large guards. “Princess Luna, I have horrible news. We should talk in private. This is really important... Sweetie Belle?”

“Miss Pie?!” said Sweetie Belle, stunned.

Mira looked between the two, her head pivoting crazily. “You two know each other?!”

“Yeah,” started Sweetie Belle, her voice impassive. “Miss Pie was real friendly to me as a foal. What are you doing here?” she addressed Pinkie Pie.

“I could ask you the same thing,” retorted the mare. Then, she faced the princess. “Luna, the Empire. They moved.” With a quick twist of her head the pink mare signaled one of her guards, who pulled out an envelope and handed it over to the princess.

For a few moments the cavern was oppressively silent as everypony felt the pressure mount. Luna pressed a hoof over her mouth, gasping as her eyes wandered down the page. “No, this can’t be.” she whispered, tears streaming down her face.

In a sudden show of anger, the princess threw the file down, stomping on it with one of her large hooves. “Those assholes! They take my sister. They take my throne. They muddle with the ponies I am supposed to protect, and now... now they massacred so many!” The princess of the night’s mane billowed uncontrollably as her anger shivered in the air around her.

“Wh-what happened?” asked Sweetie Belle, realizing too late that she attracted attention to herself.

Luna stared at her, her anger faltering before she wiped at her muzzle, mumbling something incomprehensible under her breath. Suddenly the princess straightened her back and stood. “We... I need, some time alone,” she said as she took to the air, disappearing amongst the tangled assortment of struts and airships above.

A sigh was let out by the crowd.

“They killed ponies,” said Pinkie, her voice soft and filled with pain. “They killed thousands and thousands of ponies. They were not warriors, not soldiers, not even rebels.” The pink mare looked up, her eyes staring daggers at an invisible point ahead. “They... will die.”

A thank-You of immense proportions to Sorren for the insanely OP edit! Go read this fellow’s stuff, it’s pretty darn good. (Almost as good as my own!)

Grey Meetings, Apple Meetings

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“Everypony, please take your seats.”

With a quiet rustling, and the scraping of chairs against marble flooring, the group of ponies around the large maple desk sat, save one.

Bunnyhelm paced around the round table, slowly inspecting the half dozen nobles and militants gathered with him. “You ponies were gathered here for a simple reason,” he said, speaking up as to be heard over the pulsing of the ship’s Sparkle Generator. “We are here to discuss the fall of the Empire.” His eyes scanned the group as they reacted. A gasp escaped many of the ponies, yet most smiled expectantly under thick brows, eyes watching back.

Bunnyhelm continued. “Two days ago the almighty Emperor Blueblood made the first use of this ship's powerful Arkana Cannon, obliterating an arena full of presumably innocent ponies.”

Bunnyhelm had gone full circle, bright sunlight basked his white coat in a warm glow as he stood behind his seat. Twisting, he snapped his hooves together, the sound resonating in the tiny room. “His actions are inexcusable. Not only were they actions against ponykind, they also made many lose faith in the Emperor. And as an added consequence they lose faith in the Empire itself. Blueblood’s crackdown on those six mares has begun... with devastating results. Capturing just one cost us so much...”

One of the gathered rose, pristine hooves clacking against the table as she supported herself on it. “The Great and Powerful Trixie does not see how we can persuade the ignorant commoners of low birth to rekindle their blind faith in Blueblood.”

“Nor do I,” admitted Bunnyhelm. The ponies in the room looked at him quizzically. “The only solution I see... is actually rather simple.” He moved his seat then sat down at the table. “We eliminate Blueblood.”

A few of the gathered stood up in shock. Others just tilted their heads, or arched an eyebrow. Bunnyhelm’s roving eyes picked up all their little movements and twitches. “It is impossible for the Empire to defeat the rebellion in a war of attrition. For every pony we anger we will create a new enemy, and, we must not forget that Luna, the leader of the rebellion, is immortal. She will outlive us all.”

“Nor can we fight against the six mares that stand as towers for the rebellion. Their involvement in Imperial politics run too deep. Blueblood is, at this very moment, destroying their commerce and business using ground troops, shutting down their factories and barricading their stores, all in a vain attempt to capture them all. He will not succeed.”

One of the gathered sighed. “Get to it, Chronos. What do you propose?”

“Why, General Bolt Lock, we let the rebellion kill Blueblood. He is... disposable after all. We let them do it in a fashion that makes it look like a great victory for them, something they can be proud of!”

The general rose from his seat, slamming a hoof against the table. “Are you an absolute fool? Wh-”

“Hush!” Bunnyhelm lifted a hoof. “Think, the rebellion cannot be squashed by hammering them with ships and soldiers. They are too flexible. Members come and go, making it impossible to really destroy them. The bonds that hold them together are very well protected. Not beyond our ability to destroy, but the process of doing such would harm us greatly. No, the rebellion’s greatest weakness is time, time, and their inability to strike. They are not tangible enough to hold their own territories and lands. Disputes over rank and privileges will spring up amongst them if we let them take some ground.”

“What I propose is simple. Soon, Blueblood will lead the greatest Imperial fleet ever assembled. But he has no target. We will give him one, one that is dear to the rebellion. And, as he marches towards that target. On the day of his greatest battle, we will leave him to rot.”

“Ponies rely on us. Some hate us. Some know that we’ve done wrong. But most ponies still count on the Empire. We just need them to count on us more than they do the rebels.”

Everypony nodded solemnly as Bunnyhelm smiled. He had them. Getting up, he walked to the only window in the room, a tiny porthole with hoof thick glass. Beyond the glass were eight Interdiction-Class patrol ships in pairs of two, each flanked the sides of the four huge Obedience-Class Destroyers. The huge ships floated lightly in the air, dwarfing the hundreds of tiny fighters and transports that scuttled around from ship to ship.

And yet, none were as large or as imposing as the Sol Scorcher. “The plan is simple,” he finally said. “Ponyville is owned by the Apple Farming Industries, rebel sympathisers. Their leader, Applejack, was one of the six champions of Equestria during the great war. At the end of it, three full divisions turned down their weapons and began working for her. The place has ample firepower to bring Blueblood down.”

One of the ponies laughed. “Ample firepower? You don’t need much to kill him!”

Bunnyhelm smiled lightly along with him. “You fail to understand. We need to make it look like an overwhelming victory. Blueblood is going to die.” Bunnyhelm touched the heavy wall at his side. “And so shall the Sol Scorcher.”

“What?!” they cried in outrage.

Trixie got up from her chair, star spangled admiral’s cap falling off her head. “Trixie was told that the ship was unsinkable!”

Bunnyhelm lifted a hoof, motioning them to calm down. “It is... mostly. With the army of ships we are gathering it most certainly will become untouchable. But it has weaknesses, weaknesses that can be exploited.” Trotting over to his seat, Bunnyhelm leaned over, grabbing something under the desk. Everypony leaned forward, curious to see what he brought out.

Rising, he threw a letter onto the table. Half a dozen eyes fixated upon it. On the cover of the cleanly folded copy was a simple message. “To Sweetie Belle; from your Sister Rarity.”

“What is it?” one of them finally asked.

“A letter, from Miss Rarity. Nothing too fancy, at first glance. But it’s in code. I’ll let you decipher it on your own,” he said cryptically.

“Does this mean that they know how to destroy the Sol Scorcher?”

“No, but it means they can weaken us greatly. As to how they will discover the means to destroy this ship, I am about to tell them.”

The group looked at him quizzically. He smiled kindly. “Did I not tell you that Blueblood captured a very important rebel? She is on board and she wants to leave. How about I give her a gift before she departs?”

“You’ll free her,with documents about the ship’s weaknesses?”

Bunnyhelm hummed. “No, not quite. I’ll just help her along by giving her some blueprints. They'll have to figure it out on their own. A ship, one tagged as a rebel smuggler was passing nearby. I am certain they’ll relish the opportunity to visit our little installation...” Bunnyhelm rose from his seat, trotting to the sole entrance of the room. “Now, gentlecolts and mare. I shall take my leave. I have an important document to deliver!”

* * *

“Which cell is it?” asked Bunnyhelm to the nearby guard as he trotted into the dimly lit brig. Inky Scribeswell followed him in. The secretary's eyes were rimmed red as he timidly carried a clean brown satchel. It was stuffed full of paper, bulging at the edges.

The guard snapped a salute. “Cell number One-One-Three-Eight, sir! Do you wish for an interrogations team?” Bunnyhelm waved the request away.

“No, no. I just want some privacy with Miss Dash.” Nodding the soldier whistled. The few other ponies patrolling the small brig trotted out of the cell block, saluting Bunnyhelm as they passed.

Calmly, Bunnyhelm trotted forward. His hoofsteps beat in tandem with Inky’s, ringing against the thick walls of the quiet prison. The only source of light and sound was the hum emanating from the prison gates. Glancing up, he looked at the numbers stenciled above the cells, stopping at the one marked ‘one-one-three-eight’. Inside, on a dreary grey cot, was a bright cyan mare, her thinning rainbow mane and tail poking out from beneath the lumpy blanket. The brightness of her body was almost offending to the grey on grey patterns of the Imperial ship.

“Miss Dash?” he asked.

The mare moved under the covers, pulling them around her as she gave him a cold shoulder. “Rainbow Dash,” he began, opening a folder from out of his briefcase. “Best Young Fliers Competition winner. Known to have used the Sonic Rainboom to incredible effect five times in her lifespan. Was scheduled to join the Wonderbolts three weeks before the Great War started. Championed by Celestia herself during the opening months of it instead. Led the first aerial assault division for almost two years before the advent of fighter planes. Retired from the front lines and, with the aid of her friends and fellow champions, created some of the most devastating war machines ever... After the war she became the sole owner of Spectrum Skies, the largest and best producer of fighter aircraft in Equestria...”

Closing the file with a snap, Bunnyhelm looked up. “You have a very impressive resume, Miss Dash.”

The lump on the bed grunted as it turned over, facing him with angry red eyes. “What do you want, Bunnyhelm? To parade me on the streets? Make it known that you’ve won? Use me as a hostage? What-do-you-want?”

Bunnyhelm smiled. “I wanted to give you this.” Turning to Inky, he motioned towards the bag. The secretary meekly grabbed the satchel and deposited it on the edge of the cell. Using his magic, Bunnyhelm shut the magical screen. With a swift kick he slid the bag across the floor to the feet of Rainbow Dash’s cot before turning the magical barrier back on.

Rainbow Dash looked at the bag suspiciously. “Don’t worry, Miss Dash. If I wanted to kill you I would have left the dirty work to the guards. Better yet, I could let Blueblood do as he wishes...” The mare looked at him, fury and fear painted across her face.

“So you know what that is? What Blueblood wants for you and your five little friends?”

A few silent seconds stretched by.

“I’ll assume not. Well, first, he wants his way with you. he always was a perverted twit. Then, when you’re spent, he’ll throw you to the hounds so to speak. That’s not the worst part of course. You see, in his throne room there are six plaques, each with a name and body part. One of them, is labeled ‘Rainbow Dash: Wings’.”

The mare looked at him, uncertainty and fear mixing with her expression of pure loathing.

Bunnyhelm smiled at her reaction. “Don’t worry. you are by far more useful alive than dead... Come Inky, we are leaving.”

Turning, the noble pony began to walk away. Inky stood his ground, giving the mare one last shrug of his slumped shoulders before following Bunnyhelm out of the brig.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“What’s the worst that could happen, Pip?”

Pipsqueak looked around uncertainly, half his body illuminated by the light emanating from the nearby building. “I can think of plenty of things that could go wrong,” he exclaimed in a loud whisper.

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. “Come on, we’re just going to listen in a little.” With a swift twist and kick, the metal grating that blocked the huge grey building's ventilation system popped free. “It’s now or never Pip.”

The stallion fidgeted, shivering slightly as a cold gust of apple-smelling air blew around him. “I don’t know, Apple Bloom, what if we get stuck?”

The mare huffed at him. “You callin’ me fat?”

Pipsqueak’s eyes widened in panic. “No, no, I’m just trying to say that this will get us in trouble.”

Apple Bloom rounded on him, grabbing his shoulder with her hoof. “Pip, don’t you want to impress the mares?”

The stallion reddened slightly as his brown eyes wandered away from her orange ones. “Yeah, I guess...”

“Well, if ya do this for me, Ah’ll be mighty impressed. Such a stud, sneaking into a rebel base to spy on the going ons of a top secret meetin’.”

“You’d be impressed?” he asked, a glimmer of hope twinkling in his eye.

“Oh, very impressed, you just wait till I tell Scootaloo just how brave you were...”

“Oh,” Pipsqueak looked away. “Right, Scootaloo...”

Apple Bloom smiled sweetly before letting go of his shoulder and turning back to the vent. “Don’t worry Pip, Ah told ya I’d help you with the mares.” She winked at him. “Now help me up.”

Pipsqueak did as he was told, dragging his hooves over to the vent’s side. “Still think this is a bad idea,” he muttered.

Apple Bloom jumped up, grabbing the edge of the vent with her fore-hooves as her back legs scraped against the hard cement surface of the building. Pipsqueak positioned himself behind her, pushing up on her leg to hoist her into the building. Suddenly the mare’s leg slipped, making Apple Bloom fall a few inches. Pipsqueak ‘oomphed’ as his face got smacked by Apple Bloom’s flank.

Finally, the mare caught hold of the top and pulled herself into the shaft. Turning, she extended a hoof to help him up. “Why’re ya blushing like that?” she asked.

Rather than answer the young stallion grabbed her hoof and pulled himself up and into the vent with a grunt.

Inside the vent, the two ponies crawled forward. Apple Bloom leading the way quietly, save for the occasional ding against the metal siding. “I think we’re here,” she eventually whispered, edging around so that she stood on the other side of a small hole in the vent. Through the grating, feeble light poured in, illuminating both Apple Bloom’s and Pipsqueak’s face.

Peaking through, Pipsqueak could see a square room. He could see a makeshift table made of empty apple crates, which were the only piece of furniture in the otherwise barren room. Nopony was there. Inching forward, he leaned against the grating with his head.

“What are ya doing?” whispered Apple Bloom.

“Listening.” The only sound was the far away fans and the occasional creak of the vent as it shifted under their weight.

“Oh... Hey Pip? You remember on the Griffon Chaser?”


“Right before we crashed, you yelled something... What was it?”

Pipsqueak sputtered. “I-I... was talking to Keen Eyes. Yeah, that’s it. I wanted to tell her something.” He coughed, looking away as his face heated up.

“Keen Eyes,” Apple Bloom repeated in a whisper, not noticing how flustered Pipsqueak had become. “I wonder what she’s up to, just leaving us like that...”

“I think she was an Imp,” said Pipsqueak.

Apple Bloom’s face darkened. “Yeah, I guess she was.” The two ponies remained quiet for a while, contemplating, until Pipsqueak’s ears perked up.

“Somepony’s coming,” he said, hushing Apple Bloom. Inching forward, the two crammed their heads together trying to look down into the room below.

The door opened with a rusty squeak as ponies began to walk in. The first was Applejack, who had a caring hoof over the shoulder of the dejected yellow and pink pegasus beside her. The sounds of pitiable cries filled the air as the pegasus clutched her face in her hooves.

“Ah’m so sorry Fluttershy, we’ll do everythin’ we can to help, all right?”

The pegasus nodded slowly, another sob escaping her. “It-it’s okay Applejack, I’ll be fine.” The mare fluttered over to the makeshift table at the centre of the room, sitting on the ground with slumped shoulders. “It’s so unfair.” Suddenly, she looked up, a righteous fury burning in her tear-stained eyes. “How could he do that?!”

“Ah don’t know, Fluttershy. Ah don’t know,” said Applejack, shaking her head as she too took a seat at the table.

Two more ponies walked into the room. One was dressed with a tattered commander’s uniform, still bearing the ranks of a mechanized-division leader. The other wore a large dark trench coat, hood pulled over his head.

“Who are they?” whispered Pipsqueak. Apple Bloom shrugged beside him before shushing him lightly.

“Is she alright?” asked the pony in commander’s grab.

Applejack nodded, giving her a small smile as she patted Fluttershy. “She’ll be fine. She was just really disturbed by what happened. One of her ships was ther--.” Applejack looked a little shaken. Both Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom could see her face clearly in the cheap yellow lighting. Bags had formed under her eyes, and little stress wrinkles were beginning to show along her face.

The pony in the trench coat shifted, an orange hoof poking out from underneath. “Shall we begin?” he asked.

“Yeah, I guess we should.” Applejack turned to the general-looking pony. “Commander Faust, could you brief us please?”

The commander rose from her position at the table, pulling out a thick manuscript from her coat as she did. Placing it on the table she began to read. “Imperial orders from Blueblood sent hours after the Spectrum Skies incident. Imperial troops began gathering into one massive fleet. Shield arrays around Canterlot are up and at full powe-”

Applejack grunted. Grabbing her hat with her hoof, she threw it on the table. “Enough about Canterlot. It ain’t that we’re worried about. Where’s the fleet headin’ to?”

The commander sighed. “We don’t know Miss. We do have preliminary numbers, their main gathering point, and non-military Imperial movements. Miss Fluttershy might be interested in the latter,” she said, looking at Fluttershy.

The shy mare looked up from the table and her eyes met the commander’s. “Um, why would I be interested?”

Commander Faust shuffled the papers around, settling with four separate sheets from the pile. “Rarity’s fashion factories in Manehattan were assaulted and rendered inoperable. Spectrum Skies, as you know it, has been closed down forcefully after the disappearance of Rainbow Dash. The Sparkle Society has lost each and every order for their machines. Counterfeit Sparkle Generators are now on the market. Every legal action attempted to chase down the makers of these fakes has been stalled by the Empire. If all of this is accurate, Miss Fluttershy, Empathy Medical might be next.”

Fluttershy gasped. “But, all those foals and injured ponies, what will happen to them?” Her eyes brimmed with tears once more.

The commander rubbed her elbow, unable to stare at the crying mare. “I-I don’t know Miss Fluttershy.”

“Hmm, Rarity is gonna be mighty angry once she finds out. Still, this does tell us what their plan is.”

“Indeed,” whispered the trench coat wearing pony. “From this evidence, I believe that Blueblood is trying to rid himself of not only the rebellion, but you as well. He wants to get rid of the Champions of Equestria.”

Applejack slammed her hoof on the wooden table, cracking it. “What in tarnation is his problem! We never did anything to him, and now he wants t-to kill us?!”

“That isn’t all Miss Applejack,” said the trench coat pony. “I believe that the Empire’s next target is Ponyville.”

Five ponies gasped.

“Um, wh-why Ponyville?” asked Fluttershy.

The commander placed a hoof under her chin, slowly nodding her head. “It makes sense. His goal is to eliminate you. He knows that the six of you all hold this town dear and that if he threatens it with the Sol Scorcher, you will all retaliate. Not to mention that this town has openly flaunted its hatred for the Empire in the past. It’s no surprise that he dislikes it.”

The room became quiet as the four ponies pondered for a few minutes. Then Applejack spoke, looking at the trench coat wearing pony as she did so. “How will Luna react?”

“She will come to your aid if you request it. Even if you do not, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few rebel ships appearing at the right time. The Sparkle Society will also help, as will Pinkie Pie, and Rarity. So mechanical assistance, clothing, armour and weaponry, as well as ammunition will all be provided for. Unfortunately, with the sudden loss of Rainbow Dash, we cannot be certain if we will be able to secure enough fighter aircraft.”

“And what are our chances?” she asked again.

This time the commander answered. “Decent. We have plenty of ships. Your fleet of Apple-Pickers alone will give them something to think about once they’re equipped by Miss Pie. Of course, Luna’s fleet is quite considerable. The Moon and Sun alone could give Admiral Trixie’s flagships something to think about for a while. Some of our soldiers have been around since the great war. They’re old, but have a lot of experience. The Imperials will be evenly matched. The only oddball is the Sol Scorcher.”

“Ah see. Can you make the necessary calls?”

“Indeed Miss Applejack,” replied commander Faust.

“Good. Then until we have more information, this meeting is adjourned.” Applejack stood up at the table, backing away from it slightly.

The trench coat wearing pony lifted a hoof suddenly. “Wait, Miss Applejack? I was wondering whether it is customary for you to place ponies in the air vents?”

“Ponies in the air-vents? Now why in the hay would I do th--” Applejack looked up, understanding flashing in her eyes. “Horseapples, when I catch those meddling--”

Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom shared a look of desperation. “Move,” she squeaked.

The white-and-brown pony began sliding backwards, shimming along as quickly as he could while Apple Bloom gingerly crawled around the vent opening. Suddenly two orange hooves pierced through the metal, bending it into a dozen rounded wedges not a hoof-length from the tip of his muzzle.

“When I git you, yer going to regret spy’n on us!” yelled a voice from below.

“Um, Apple Bloom, maybe we should, um, talk to them?”

Apple Bloom looked Pipsqueak in the eye. Right there and then the two came to an unspoken agreement.

“Yes, let’s talk about it! No need to kill us... please don’t kill us,” squealed Pipsqueak into one of the holes Applejack had made.

The vent shook as another massive impact hit. Both ponies within cringed as the metal bent, squealing in torture as rivet after rivet popped. Then it stopped. Pipsqueak and Applebloom both sighed in relief.

Applejack bucked it again. With a grinding creak, the square tube ripped apart at the seams, sending the entire thing crashing to the ground below, the wooden table breaking the fall slightly before it too broke apart.

Pipsqueak lay on his stomach in a daze, his mind disorientated and confused by the hard fall and harder landing. He felt something wet and slobbery tugging at his rear hoof. It pulled him, his belly rubbing against the cold metal as he slid out, only to crash on the floor with an ‘omph’.

“Pipsqueak! You’re an Imperial spy? Well I’ll be. The girls will be mighty disappointed to find that out.” Pipsqueak looked up to Applejack, her hat casting a shadow that obscured the better part of her face.

“There’s another Miss Applejack,” said the trench coat wearing pony. He unceremoniously dumped Apple Bloom on the remains of the table.

“Apple Bloom,” shouted Pipsqueak, shoving Applejack out of his way to reach the young mare. Instead of meeting her, the tip of his muzzle met the tip of the trench pony’s gun. Pipsqueak froze, eyes slowly guiding their way up along the orange hoof, across the dark leather-like material and to the pony’s gleaming, merciless, eyes.

“Oh my,” said Fluttershy, approaching the groaning Apple Bloom. The pegasus hovered over the yellow mare, her hooves tenderly touching Apple Bloom, inspecting for injuries. “Oh, you’ll be fine, but you should really go see a doctor.” Fluttershy looked at Applejack, almost as if asking for permission. “Coul-could I go get one of my doctors?”

The trench coat wearing pony cut them off with a raised hoof, lifting his pistol away from Pipsqueak’s snout. “You know these ponies?” He pointed to Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom in turn with the tip of his weapon.

“Yeah,” sighed Applejack. “She’s mah sister, and he’s her friend.” Applejack groaned as she circumvented the trench coat wearing pony to stand by Apple Bloom’s side. “Apple Bloom?” she asked as the young mare began to regain her bearings. “Just how silly are you? First you crash into a building. literally, then you sneak into a meeting like this. Why, I ought to tie you to a tree for the amount of trouble yer causing!”

“Ah, Ah’m sorry sis,” the mare replied feebly.

“Uh-huh. You two mind explaining just what you were doing in there?” asked the cowmare, her eyes shifting from Apple Bloom to Pipsqueak.

Pipsqueak ran forward, placing himself between the two sisters. “It, it was my idea Miss. I wanted to know what was going on, but I was afraid of coming here alone, so I forced Apple Bloom to come with me.” Pipsqueak blushed furiously as the mare scrutinized his face, and his lie. Apple Bloom looked down in shame but didn’t say a word.

Applejack huffed, the edges of her eyes wrinkling sadly as she looked down at the white and brown stallion. She opened her mouth then shut it, uncertain as to what to say.

“Miss Applejack,” said the trench coat wearing pony. “If I may, could I suggest a proper punishment?”

Applejack sighed, turning away from her sister and Pipsqueak. “Sure, go ahead.”

“Well, the rebellion always needs more ponies, and these two look like fine young candidates. Perhaps we could use them to our advantage. I am sure that a life of service would--teach--them a thing or two about obedience.”

Apple Bloom looked at Pipsqueak, her eyes wide with both excitement and fear. Her head moved, making the tiniest of nods as the corners of her mouth twitched upwards. “Yes ma’am, we would gladly serve you and Equestria!” said Pipsqueak, cringing as he felt himself sink deeper and deeper into a cesspool of trouble.

This one was another pain to write. You’d better like it!

Oh and a small heads up, chapters will be a bit smaller from now on. Me being Uber busy does little to help!

Edited by:


Proofread by:


Cpl Hooves

What’s this? Advertisement for another story I wrote? Yes, yes it is!

Setting Traps and Saving Spectrums

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“Sir, the ship is visible on screen three,” said a unicorn dressed in the regalia of an officer, a large grey headset wrapped around his head.

Bunnyhelm glanced at the large screen. On it, four large icons were slowly converging towards him, growing larger and larger by the second.

Two of the ships were Interdiction-Class patrol ships, long bodies ending in sharp blade-like protrusions as they cut through the air, their six engines puffing out black smoke in the otherwise clear blue sky.

Those weren’t too attention grabbing, though the Obedience-Class destroyer that hovered between them was.

The massive ship carried weapons that could fire shells the size of a full grown pony. They lined the sides of the ship in two rows of three, all pointing to the front of the Obedience-Class. Enormous, smoke-spewing engines billowed dark fumes that waved and twisted in the air, almost obscuring the fourth ship.

“Officer, zoom in on the target.” Bunnyhelm said, his voice loud and impactful in the command room, louder even than the powerful rumbling of the Sol Scorcher’s engines.

The officer nodded, leaning forward to guide a comm-pony to the delicate task. Meanwhile, Bunnyhelm’s eyes wandered around the room.

White paint covered every surface that didn’t contain a knob, button or lever. Screens covered every wall and even parts of the ceiling, images from the outside of the Sol Scorcher were displayed on them: from the idyllic white-clouded skies to the massive fleet of warships that accompanied them.

Bunnyhelm loved it; every inch of this place emanated power. His hoof ran along the rough floor adoringly. From here, he could order the destruction of entire empires... Cities and countries would shake and quiver at the approach of this ship and its fleet. Slowly, the gentlestallion’s face creased into a sardonic smile.

He was interrupted by the officer. Trotting forward, the lord looked at the screen. On it was a clear image of a blue ship wielding enormous cannons. On the ship’s side, in an elegant scroll, was the name ‘Furtif.

“Archives mark it as a smuggler, sir...” The officer’s eyebrow rose as he stared at the list that flew by the screen impressively, the faint glow of the screen reflecting off his eyes. “Eighteen counts of vandalism, fourteen of disregarding a stop order, twelve counts of destroying Imperial equipment using deadly force... and sixty three counts of smuggling... none of them charged.” The unicorn officer slowly turned towards Bunnyhelm.

“Perfect! I want a printed version of this.” asked Bunnyhelm.

A voice behind Bunnyhelm spoke up, soft as a whisper and incredibly calm, almost sad. “I have it already, sir.” Inky Scribeswell walked around Bunnyhelm, tossing a plain white envelope onto the console.

Bunnyhelm picked it up with a sweep of his magic and held it aloft. A slow smile crept along his face as his eyes wandered down the page.

A few minutes ticked by, Bunnyhelm reading the file while the other ponies in the room worked intensely to keep the massive ship steady in the air.

“Sir,” interrupted the officer. “Admiral Trixie demands permission to fire at transport ship Furtif.”

Bunnyhelm puffed air out of his nose, slowly lowering the envelope until it landed on the console once more. “She wants to do what, exactly?” His piercing eyes stared at the officer until he blanched.

“She wants to fire at the transport, sir... With the Powerful...”

“Who told her that the transport was coming?”

The officer squirmed a little, beads of sweat beginning to peek out from beneath his cap. “I did, sir...”

“I don’t recall ordering you to do that...”

The unicorn gulped, eyes looking down in shame. “I'm sorry, sir...”

Bunnyhelm sighed, shaking his head from side to side as he did so. “It’s fine, reverse the order to fire at the ship. Open the Sol Scorcher’s fourth hangar and ready it for grappling procedures. We’re taking the Furtif in for an inspection.” Bunnyhelm then faced his secretary. “Where’s Miss Trixie stationed?”

Without even glancing at the many folders that filled his saddlebags, Inky answered. “As of zero, five, zero, one, she is in command of the flagship Great.”

The noble pony turned around, beginning to walk out of the command room under the surprised look of a dozen soldiers. “Oh, make sure that the boarding party is composed of new recruits... It’s good practice.”

“Ye--yes, Sir!” the officer called out, saluting.

With that, Bunnyhelm walked away, his hoofsteps loud in the suddenly quiet room. The exit door opened with a mechanical hiss that was emulated by the relief-filled sighs of many. With quieter steps Inky followed, his heavy saddlebags slapping against his sides as he trudged along.

The two stallions trotted through the wide and empty corridors of the massive ship. Bunnyhelm took the lead as both of them made their way towards the back of the ship. “Is my personal transport ready?” he finally asked, breaking the silence.

“Yes, Sir,” Inky responded in a quiet voice. “All preparations are complete.”

Bunnyhelm slowed to a stop near a junction in the passageway. The signs above him offered a comprehensive directory to the ship. Some pointed to the crew's quarters, while others pointed to the hangar areas and even to the brig and privy. “Good, make sure this area of the ship is cleared of personnel.” The lord turned down one of the hallways, this one marked ‘Hangar Three’, before looking back. “I have an important little meeting to attend; I’ll be back in a few.”

Inky stood in the corridor, watching as Bunnyhelm trotted away. With a swish, the blue secretary turned around and started walking down another hallway, head low in thought.

Bunnyhelm’s contented hums filled the hallway as he walked along, gaining himself nervous glances from uniformed ponies of all ranks. He sniffed at the air, smiling longingly as the scent of oil and grime filled the corridor.

Soon, he arrived at a heavy metallic door, held open by large and powerful hydraulic arms. Beyond that door, an entire world stretched out, completely different than the clean and pristine hallways of the ship.

Pegasi in mechanic’s garb zipped about as cranes shifted on the spot. Huge mechanical arms flexed and rotated in preparation for the upcoming events. Nearby, an entire squadron of soldiers in thick armour shifted from hoof to hoof self-consciously under the curious stares of many a maintenance worker.

Drills and impact tools hammered and spun, creating a cacophony that made the screams and hollered orders of the ponies sound like mere whispers, quickly lost under the torrential drone. Bunnyhelm smiled, his heart giddy as he watched the chaotic effectiveness of it all.

“Mister Chronos?” said a little voice from beside him. Turning, Bunnyhelm looked at the familiar form of a buffalo, the dirty clothes of a mechanic hastily covering her gangly features.

Keen Eyes shifted uncomfortably under his hungry stare, then looked away and towards the assembled ponies below them.

“Is everything ready?” he asked.

The small buffalo nodded demurely. “Yes, Sir, everything’s fine and going according to plan.”

A slow smile creeped along his face. “Brilliant.” Suddenly, he turned around, creating a light breeze of wind as he did so. “I’ll be where I can watch the show... Don’t disappoint me, Keen Eyes.”

Keen Eyes averted her gaze, looking away shamefully as her face reddened. “I won’t. Oh Celestia, I won’t.”

Heavy hoofsteps faded, becoming distant echoes before they were finally drowned out by the sound of the Sparkle Generator’s constant hum. The inside of the Furtif was usually clean. Now, it was spotless as over a dozen ponies in Imperial garb had scoured the ship from one end to the other.

“Is it clear?” one of the corridor’s white walls whispered.

“I think so...” said the panel right next to it. Suddenly it glowed brightly, popping and hissing as it moved aside. Out of it tumbled the form of a red mare, eyes roving around in search of trouble as a huge monkey wrench hovered menacingly by her side. “It’s clear guys.” said Wrenches, a note of relief evident in her voice.

Another panel hissed aside. A small earth pony with a mechanical limb rolled out, his heavy leg awkwardly clanging against the floor, sending him sprawling against the corridor’s opposite wall.

Arnaquer stepped out, sighing as he levitated Kami Kaze back onto four hooves. “Be quieter, s’il vous plaît,” he hissed.

“Guys...” squeaked a suffocated voice. All three ponies stopped and turned towards the wall that spoke first. “Guys, I’m stuck...” Scootaloo said lamely, a few dull thuds ringing out as she banged the wall.

Kami Kaze walked calmly towards the wall, his expression a controlled mixture of worry and suppressed laughter. “You’re stuck?”

“Kami, if you don’t help me outta here, I swear on Celestia’s horny head that I’ll punt you to the moon!”

Arnaquer sighed, rubbing a hoof against his temples. “M’a etre vieux jeune...”

Kami Kaze grunted as he shifted his weight against the wall, until finally it popped, a rush of warm air escaping as an orange blur flew out. Scootaloo leaned against another wall, panting lightly with her eyes closed.

“Were... were you afraid?” asked Kami Kaze, almost goading her.

Scootaloo glared at him, a thin smile badly disguised. “No, I wasn’t. I was just... concerned.”

Kami Kaze opened his mouth to speak, but Arnaquer interrupted him. “Kami, go to the garage, make sure everything is fine.” The earth pony sighed, turning as he trudged out of the corridor.

“So,” continued Scootaloo. “Who’s she?” the pegasus asked, pointing a hoof towards the back of the group.

Three pairs of eyes turned to look at a small brown form in an ill-fitting Imperial mechanic’s outfit. The buffalo squeaked, backpedaling quickly before her limbs were wrapped in a magical glow.

“Hmm, seems like we have found ourselves an intrus.” Arnaquer moved forward, measured paces ringing off the metallic floor as he slowly trotted around the squirming buffalo. “I would ask you what you are doing here... but evidently that would be a waste of my precious time.”

“Pl-please don’t hurt me!” she cried, redoubling her efforts to free herself.

Arnaquer stopped his pacing in front of her, a sardonic smile adorning his face. “Inquietez vous pas, sa va fa--”

“Wait, since when do the Imps hire buffalo?” Scootaloo interrupted, eyeing the buffalo female suspiciously. “Aren’t they supposed to be super xenophobic or something?”

Arnaquer glared at the orange pegasus. “I was going to scare her... it’s amusing... and yes, they are xenophobes, they don’t even like the French!”

“Small wonder why,” muttered Scootaloo under her breath.

Wrenches groaned. “Will you idiots make up your minds? We’re stuck in the most powerful ship ever, surrounded by trained Imperial guards, possibly members of Blueblood’s own, our ship is in a huge hangar that is crawling with Imps and--” A loud, thunder-like boom resonated throughout the ship. “And the bay doors are closed... Now would you please tie her up so we can start doing something, anything?”

Everypony stared at Wrenches as she panted, having run out of breath from her loud rant. The buffalo female squeaked, earning her a cold glare from three ponies.

“Young lady...” asked Arnaquer, suddenly stoic. “Do you happen to have information about this... ship?”

“Um, this one here? Or the Sol Scorcher?” she asked, gulping under his unmoving and uncaring expression.

“Le Scorcher.”

“Um, well... It’s really big... And it has a lot of guns and weapons and soldier ponies. Not to mention hundreds of mechanics and service ponie--”

“C’mon Arny, she’s useless. Just chuck her out a window and let’s get out of here!” pleaded Scootaloo, nervously hopping from one hoof to another. Kami Kaze placed a reassuring hoof on her shoulder.

“Attend, there are things I wish to know,” he turned towards the buffalo. “Tell me, are there places you’re not allowed to go?”

“Um, yeah, I guess. Like the main deck and the armoury... And recently the brig...”

“The brig? What’s there?”

The young buffalo’s eyes widened. “Oh, one of the champions of Equestria! Apparently Emperor Blueblood defeated her in a huge dogfight!” She began gushing as everypony present suddenly gave her their rapt attention. “It was the rainbow-maned one, you know Rainbow Da--”

Scootaloo jumped over Arnaquer, landing with a loud thud in front of the buffalo. “Blueblood beat Rainbow in a dogfight?! Bullshit! What happened to her! Tell me what happened!” The orange pegasus’ wings extended as she screamed, almost in a fury, at the little buffalo.

“I-I don’t know, the-they brought her to the brig...” The buffalo tried to backpedal vainly against the force of Arnaquer’s magic. Tears stained her eyes as Scootaloo stared at her angrily.

“I’m going to go save her!” Scootaloo announced boldly.

“Okay, but make it quick, me and the buffalo will go unclose the ship’s hangar.” Arnaquer stepped forward, flipping the buffalo upside down with a small burst of his magic before dangling her a few hoofsteps into the air.

Wrenches replaced her. “Um, Arny? Are you sure?” The mare looked at him, brows furrowed. “I mean, the ship is crawling with Imps...”

Arnaquer did a half turn. “Don’t worry. Go, find Miss Dash and bring her back... You’ll be fine, I swear...”

“And what if you’re wrong?”

“Then you won’t be able to punish me for it!”

Kami Kaze trotted in, looked at the commotion, then began backpedaling.

“How’s the cargo?” asked Arnaquer, diverting his eyes from Wrenches.

“It’s... fine... what the hay is going on?”

“Are you guys sure about this?” asked Scootaloo, inching forward to peak out of the doorway.

“No, but Arnaquer wouldn’t let us do this if it were dangerous,” whispered Wrenches as she leaned over the mare, her warm breath splashing against her neck.

“I don’t know what the fuss is about. I told you, there’s nopony here!” Bold as day, Kami Kaze walked forward, mechanical limb hissing as he moved into the light that poured into the ship.

The three ponies were at the Furtif’s exit, the large doorway completely open while the ship’s ramp was deployed, leading to a walkway below them.

“See, nopony there!” Kami Kaze smiled towards Scootaloo before disappearing around the corner.

“Hey, wait up!” she yelled, hooves clacking against the ground’s copper grating as she followed him out.

A few seconds later, she bumped straight into Kami Kaze. He had stopped at the bottom of the ramp.

"Hey what's the holdup?" Scootaloo said, pushing past him. Then, she too stopped in her tracks as she saw what lay ahead.

“Guys?” asked Wrenches as she too walked out. “Guys, what are you... Oh.”

Their minds failed to describe, to comprehend, the massive size of the the hangar. Parked on either side of the Furtif were three Interdiction-class Imperial ships, all solidly anchored by hundreds of walkways that filled the cavernous insides of the Sol Scorcher.

The quiet, punctuated only by the wind that circulated through the hangar and by the rhythmic pulse of its Sparkle Generator, sent shivers down the spines of the three ponies. All of them bent their shoulders down at the huge emptiness around them.

Scootaloo was the first to break the silence. “Now what?” she whispered, moving forward slowly while searching the enormous room with her eyes. Her wings beat nervously as she turned towards the others.

“I think we should get going...” Kami Kaze tore his eyes away from the hangar and focused on the ground ahead of his hooves. “Come on, she said that the brig wasn’t too far.”

The three ponies began walking, their hoofsteps clacking against the metal grating and echoing throughout the cavernous hold. Scootaloo’s coat rustled as she stalked forward, Kami Kaze and Wrenches right behind her.

“It’s so quiet,” whispered Kami Kaze, his usual fearless attitude gone as he slumped his shoulders forward.

Scootaloo gulped before answering. “Yeah, quiet.” Suddenly, her attention was grabbed by a nearby cart: a small motorized vehicle with a tiny engine at the front, and a large box at the back. “How far was the brig again?”

“All the way across,” said Wrenches, her eyes fixed on their objective. A thin, narrow walkway led from the Furtif’s exit all the way to an enormous archway where more vehicles were parked. There, hundreds of stenciled signs pointed in a thousand directions, all coloured in different shades.

“Right, how about we take that cart?” The pegasus pointed towards the machine nonchalantly.

Kami Kaze gave her a nervous smile, rubbing his sweaty forehead with his good limb. “Scootaloo, do you know what those things are?”

Scootaloo looked at the vehicle's cargo, long shiny metallic tubes that ended in a conical point, all of them as tall and thick as she. “No, what are they?”

“Bullets. Big, huge bullets.”

Scootaloo laughed nervously. “So we trot?”

“We trot.”

The three resumed their slow pace, shivering as a light breeze played in the air around them. Within moments they had reached the entrance, its colossal metal doors wide open and almost inviting, were it not for the somber air of quiet danger that permeated the location.

“So, in through there?” asked Scootaloo, a nervous tremor in her voice.

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe.” Kami Kaze placed his organic hoof on the mare’s shoulder, looking into her eye.

“Right,” she said with renewed vigor. “Let’s go save Rainbow Dash...! Which way do we go in?” She looked from one passageway to the next.

“I haven’t got a clue!”

Wrenches sighed. “Idiots, I swear if I were to die you’d all die along with me!” Grumbling under her breath she took the lead, briefly glancing towards the signs that dotted the walls before picking one of the corridors.

The hallway she picked was long and narrow, built to limit the access of anypony stupid enough to break out of the brig. Their shoulders relaxed as they trotted down the corridor, the walls reassuring them as the echo of their hoofsteps mixed with the pulsing of the ship’s engines.

“How far is it?” asked Scootaloo, huffing miserably after they had crossed the third bisecting corridor.

Wrenches didn't answer, instead taking took a sharp turn into the next hallway, leading them right to a thick door with the word ‘Brig’ painted above it. “Oh,” said Scootaloo. “Should we just go in?” Stepping up to the door that was slightly ajar, a thin beam of light spilling out of it and into the corridor.

“This is way too easy,” muttered Kami Kaze, his head low as his eyes glanced around the barren and spotlessly clean area.

Wrenches sighed for the hundredth time. “Just get in!” she said, pushing Scootaloo’s rump until she finally conceded and tumbled into the room.

The pegasus mare looked around at the grey arches that made up the ceiling. They all dipped down towards a central console: a huge semi-circle of screens, buttons and levers that was covered by hundreds of labels. Fresh coffee stains were on the table.

“I’m assuming this is the jail control... thing?” she said as she flew over and into the console's semi circle. Behind her, the jail’s lights flickered as they illuminated the long corridor of cells, each one glowing faintly as the magical doors buzzed. The mare looked over the controls, eyes wandering from one panel to another, searching frantically for a particular button. “Gah, which one is Dash’s cell?!”

“This one, you moron!” screamed a voice from deeper within the corridor of cells.

All three ponies glanced at each other. “Oh, for Celestia’s sake, you’re the worst bunch of rescuers I’ve ever had!”

“Is-is that you Miss Dash?” asked Scootaloo, a clear note of hope ringing through her voice as it echoed down the hallway.

“Yes, it’s me. Now open the bloody cell!” The mare’s voice screamed in a high pitched whine.

Scootaloo and Kami Kaze stared at each other. Scootaloo shruggedbefore beginning to trot down the corridor, her hoofsteps quiet as she glanced from cell to cell. “Miss Dash?” she asked uncertainly.

The orange mare trotted in front of the last cell, eyes widening as she looked within. Rainbow Dash sat in the middle of it, legs crossed and a look of fierce determination and annoyance on her face. Suddenly, the older mare’s eyes flashed in recognition. “Scootaloo?” she asked, rising up on the spot, one eyebrow raised in confusion. “What the hay are you doing here?”

The orange pegasus smiled, her eyes tracing up and down her idol’s body. She was worse for wear. Small brown singes marked her otherwise multi-hued mane, while bruises and scratches covered her coat. And yet, she was alive.

“Well, what are you waiting for, kid? Get me out!” snapped the mare.

Scootaloo jumped back to reality, a hoof reaching out and striking the nearby panel until the magical shield that made up the cell’s exit wavered and disappeared with a hiss.

Rainbow Dash rushed out, her wings popping to their full lengths as she brushed by an overly happy Scootaloo. “Let’s get out of here!” she half-yelled, half-ordered.

“Whoa,” said Wrenches, lifting a hoof and signaling for calm, her eyes lidded over in a look of pure annoyance. “Calm down, we’ve got things under control.”

Rainbow Dash tilted her head to one side, her own expression one of arrogance and irritation as her brow furrowed and her stance changed. Her wingtips gave a light touch to the corridor walls as the mare’s wings splayed out defensively. “Who’re you guys?” she asked, her voice thick with mistrust.

“Look, Miss Dash, we don’t have the time to climb your ego, so shut up and let’s go!” screamed Wrenches, one of her ratchets floated alongside her.

“Who do you think you are?! Do yo--” The rainbow maned pegasus froze mid-sentence, her eyes locked on something behind Wrenches.

The room seemed to chill over as all eyes looked behind her.

A lone stallion stood there, mouth agape and eyes wide as he looked at them all. “Are-are you supposed to be here?” he squeaked, a hoof absently rising towards the comm-unit on his uniform.

“So, you guys have a ship?” asked Rainbow Dash.


“Is it fast?”


“Let’s go.”

Arnaquer stood behind the buffalo, his horn’s glow reflecting off the tight walls of the service corridor as it floated a heavy gun behind her head.

“Y-you don’t need the gun,” squeaked the female meekly.

Arnaquer poked her roughly. “Oh, please, the others are gone, you can stop your act.”

Keen Eyes trudged on, grumbling under her breath until she reached a spot in the corridor that had a large door on its side. “It’s here,” she said in a quasi-whisper before pointing towards one of the doors.

“Alloz-si, open it,” he ordered, his voice gruff as she walked over to the door and pushed it open. Immediately, they could hear the mutterings and beepings of well over a dozen computers that lined the walls. Keen Eyes turned around, her eyes locking with his until he shook his head towards the door, telling her to go in.

Arnaquer followed the female buffalo into the large, open room. A huge glass pane decorated an entire wall, giving everypony an impressive view of the hangar and all the ships that were anchored within; including the Furtif.

Keen Eyes stood meekly in the centre of the room, Arnaquer’s gun pressing lightly against the back of her head as his own head searched the room.

“So, what is Bunnyhelm up to?” he asked as he trotted over to one of the large consoles adorned with hundreds of dials, screens and levers. The lights flickered as the engines gave another strong pulse.

“I--I don’t know--” The gun smacked her behind the head lightly, but strong enough that an audible thud was heard.

“Don’t lie to me,” he said, a hint of menace barely disguised within his voice as he kept walking across the room. He stopped at one of the consoles. “Look how convenient. Somepony left a book containing all the clearance codes, and the radio is on the right channel to send them.”

He entered the commands, pulled on a lever, then gently pressed the machine`s ‘off’ button. “What does he want?” he asked again.

“I-I told you, I do-don’t know what you--”


Arnaquer removed his hoof from the now broken screen of the command station. Pieces of glass fell off his fur and hit the ground with tiny tinkles. “Enough, I’m leaving. Give Bunnyhelm my regards.”

With heavy hoof-falls, the stallion walked out, the gun still hanging at the back of her wide-eyed face until he passed the threshold of the doorway.

With a whizz, the weapon whisked away and after Arnaquer, just as her eyes glazed over into a bored stare.

A minute went by, then two, the sounds of his hoof-step`s echo slowly fading.

“Now, that was interesting, wasn’t it?” said a smooth and calm voice as a white and red unicorn walked in. “Can’t fool Arnie, huh?”

“No, sir. He’s very wise.” she said, a hoof rising in salute as Bunnyhelm trotted past her, coming to a rest in front of the massive glass panel. He looked down, towards the opening on the side of the Furtif.

There, Arnaquer was walking up his ship’s ramp, a bored expression on his face as he ignored the soldiers that milled around. His body disappeared into the ship just as the ramp began to raise.

A long, low sigh escaped Bunnyhelm. “Don’t you love it, when your adversary is as smart as you are?”

That last part, those two hundred words or so? Insanely fun to write.




Cpl Hooves

Frederick the Saiyan

Mr.Chicken501@Gmail.com Email / Paypal


I have the urge to play Bioshock. Oh lord, when I play or read something, I tend to emulate it in my writing afterwards. Scary possibilities.


Cpl Hooves has informed me that a buffalo female’s proper name is “cow”. Not sure why I told you this.


Just as I am about to post this, I get this


By some fellow called Wandering Artist...

I got fan art!

*the author proceeded to have an aneurysm*


View Online

Spray leaned over Sweetie Belle, his hooves twisting to keep balance on the shivering ship. “Look, Sweetie, you just need to be quiet. Don’t say a thing and keep your ears open. Sitting beside Princess Luna is an honour, act like it is.”

From behind them, Mira scampered forwards, her skipping hoofsteps circling the white unicorn. “Pfft, stop being so silly, Spray. Luna won’t mind Sweetie one bit!” The excited mare punched Sweetie Belle’s shoulder.

The white and purple unicorn shook her head, then looked down towards the centre of the massive room. Below, ponies in maintenance suits were quickly cleaning the ground floors of the airship’s immense stadium-like room. Brooms swept the floor with urgency while dusters guided by magic flew across every surface in sight, except for the large machine in the centre. “What I don’t get is why she wanted me here. I mean, I’m of no use to her, or to the rebellion.”

Mira giggled, hiding her mouth beneath a hoof. “No use? You’ve helped a ton already! And your sister is Rarity! That’s, like, super important.”

Sweetie Belle bowed her head, eyes intent upon the metallic floor. “I don’t want to be special just because my sister is some fancy, know-it-all pony industrialist. It wouldn’t be fair!” she huffed. Sweetie Belle began to walk in a tight circle, swaying her hips provocatively under the stares of Spray, Mira and a few members of the maintenance crew. “Ooh, I’m Rarity. I’m pretty and nice and I have ponies that do everything for me. The Empire is evil and mean and stupid and dresses are good.” The mare stopped her rant, and flashed a dagger-filled look at the drooling workers nearby, who resumed their brooming with renewed gusto and red faces. “I can’t stand her sometimes.”

Mira and Spray looked at her, surprise and shock displayed on their faces as their eyes twitched from Sweetie to the pony behind her. Sweetie Belle let a low, dread-filled sigh escape her. Slowly, she turned, trying vainly to hide the cringe that adorned her face as she looked up to Princess Luna’s tall indigo form.

“Hello, Sweetie Belle,” said the princess, her long neck dropping to Sweetie’s height as her calm, soothing voice washed over them. “We hope you won’t mind, but We asked that you be near us during this... meeting.”

Her mind filled with both dread and an unreal sense of deja-vu. “Oh,” said Sweetie Belle simply as she stared at Princess Luna.

“‘Oh’ indeed, Miss Belle,” replied the princess as she gave Sweetie a graceful smile. Luna’s attention then turned to the other two ponies in the elevated platform.

Spray gave her a quick, precise, and very formal bow, his expression only hinting at the irritation he felt welling within him. Mira was beaming widely, the muscles in her red limbs twitching sporadically as she eyed the new arrival like a dog given a new toy.

The Princess shared her smile with them, but didn’t speak, choosing instead to trot to the edge of the box to look at the stage below. The three other ponies shared a quick glance before Luna broke the silence. “So, Sweetie -may We call you that?- We have heard that you have some trouble with your dear sister, Rarity?”

Sweetie Belle blushed, hard. Talking about family issues with near-strangers was not on her list of priorities, especially not strangers who happened to be royalty. “S-sorta, I mean, things haven’t always been the best between us.” She twitched awkwardly as her face boiled.

The princess simply laughed, her booming voice startling the workers below. “Ah, We sense a great understatement there.” She turned, giving her back to the maintenance ponies who redoubled their efforts. Bending forward, the tall princess looked right into Sweetie Belle’s squirming eyes and smiled knowingly. “You might be surprised to hear this, but things were not always perfect between Celestia and Ourselves. In fact, over the many millennia We have known each other, We fought more than once.” Luna placed a hoof on Sweetie Belle’s shoulder. “Don’t worry,We are positive that everything will work out.”

“No, they won’t,” said Sweetie Belle, a note of defiance clear in her voice. She surprised herself as well as the Princess, who arched an eyebrow. She heard the echo of her voice coming back to her from across the room, somehow reaffirming what she had said. “Rarity is a horrible sister. She loves her work, her fame, and her stupid little friends more than she’s ever loved me.” The white unicorn stomped the ground with a hoof. “Ooh, I’m Rarity,” began Sweetie Belle, her voice expertly mimicking that of her eldest sister. “I like clothes and fashion. The Princess chose me as an Element of Harmony, and I have thousands of workers who do everything for me.”

She ‘harrumphed’ as she sat down hard on the metallic grating, tilting her head up in a final act of haughty defiance. Part of her wondered if she was still imitating Rarity, or if it was genuine.

Giggling, light and childish, broke through Sweetie’s demeanour. The Princess held a hoof to her face as one of her wings wiped a small tear from the edge of her eye. “You are so much like her. It’s incredible,” she said between giggles.

Sweetie Belle frowned at her; that was far from the answer she expected. Behind the princess, Spray was making desperate motions with his hooves across his throat as he mouthed the words ‘shut up.’

The Princess calmed herself with a tiny sigh. “Yes, very much like your sister. You remind Us of Ourselves when We were much, much younger.” The Princess glanced at the soon-to-be-filled room out of the corner of her eye. “I think the solution lies, not in fighting with your sister, but in searching your own heart.”

Sweetie Belle’s frown deepened. Just as she was about to answer, a guard in well-used but well-maintained armour walked into the alcove, announcing the arrival of the final guests to the ship.

Spray took the opportunity to grab Sweetie Belle and bring her to a corner of the platform. “Are you mad?” he whispered in a hiss of hot, minty air. “You back-talked the Princess; you could get court-martialed for that sort of thing!”

“Nope, she couldn’t,” said Mira as she joined them, her face contorted into a wild grin with just a hint of concern showing as she looked at Sweetie Belle. “That was brave, a little silly and completely pointless, but brave. The Princess likes it when ponies act natural around her. Hay, it’s the only reason I’m still around!”

Spray grunted at Mira. “That was stupid, utterly and totally stupid. Had her royal Majesty decided that Sweetie was being rude, she could have ruined quite a bit more than the relationship with her sister. The Princesses can send ponies to the moon, don‘t forget that.” His gaze returned to a now severely admonished Sweetie Belle. “And don’t do it again.”

Mira shook her head. “Sweetie Belle isn’t part of the rebellion. At least, not officially. The Princess wouldn’t do anything like that.”

Sweetie Belle regained a bit of composure, sweeping a hoof across her chest to clean off some non-existent dust. “Thanks guys… I guess.” She faced Spray and opened her mouth, only to lose her nerve as suddenly as she got it. “I-I was just…”

With a sigh, the older stallion gave her a sudden hug. Sweetie Belle’s eyes widened in shock, but she relaxed after a few tense seconds. It felt right and, somehow, brotherly. “Don’t worry, I understand. You’ve been through a lot recently--” he never finished his sentence as Mira crushed them both from above.

“I love you guys!” she declared quite loudly.

“Ladies and gentlecolts.” A voice over the intercom demanded attention as it echoed around the room. The three friends broke apart, two of them awkwardly scratching the back of their heads as they turned their attention back to the entire room.

The maintenance ponies were gone, replaced by well over a hundred ponies bedecked in what seemed to be their finest attire. Sweetie Belle blinked twice; she had never noticed their arrival.

Military outfits, old and worn yet still gleaming, seemed to be the main theme as the captains, admirals, and generals of the rebellion took their seats around the circular amphitheatre. Still, the room was filled with the bright colours she dreadfully recognized as she sister’s designs. A quiet murmuring filled the room, most of it composed of the well-meaning ‘hellos’ and ‘how-do-you-dos’ of the ponies present, but all of the voices silenced as a tap echoed over the intercom.

“Ladies and gentlecolts,” the voice repeated, insistent upon quiet this time. “We would like to introduce you to the beginning of what may prove to be one of the most arduous task ever faced by pony-kind: the reclamation of Equestria into the just hooves of our Royal Alicorns.”

It struck Sweetie Belle as odd that nopony whistled or cheered. A few smiled, but the majority remained in a quiet, sombre mood. She set about trying to recognize some of the faces within the crowd as the voice over the intercom went on and on about the mundane titles that Luna had cultivated over the years, from ‘The Queen of the Night’ to the ‘Vanquisher of Chaos’.

All three pony races were represented in fair numbers as she scanned over many faces that she didn‘t recognize, and yet were somehow familiar. Celebrities and wanted ponies, she realized. She froze on a pale yellow pegasus to her far left. Sitting between two burly pegasi, both of whom wore the attire of Empathy Medical proudly on their broad shoulders, was a tiny form, only her head poking out of the shadows cast by her guards.

Sweetie Belle felt a small wave of surprise well up within her, but it was quickly drowned by cold logic. Of course Empathy Medical would show up; they were an important player within the rebellion. But if Fluttershy was here, maybe… Sweetie Belle continued her long-range snooping.

Fluttershy was searching the crowd as well, her wide-eyed stare shifting from pony to pony and twitching timidly every time she made eye contact. She fidgeted nervously until an orange hoof reached out of her alcove’s shadow and touched her shoulder.

Her nervous squeak startled many, but Sweetie Belle just smiled at the nostalgic sound. She leaned forward, squinting at the darkened pony behind Fluttershy. Slowly, Applejack melted out of the shadow and sat beside her friend as the two guards moved to the outer edges of the spacious platform.

“Is something wrong?” asked Spray in a low hush, his own gaze following hers.

“No, I just saw Fluttershy and Applejack.”

Spray hummed in agreement as he too found them below. After a moment, he leaned towards her and asked, “Wasn’t one of your friends Applejack’s sibling?”

All colour flushed out of Sweetie Belle. “I’ll have to tell her,” she whispered in realization.

“Tell her what?”

“That Apple Bloom…” Sweetie Belle gulped.

Far below her, Applejack moved to one side, looking into the darkened entrance before motioning her head towards the centre stage. Out of the shade, Apple Bloom’s cream and cheery shape moved forwards, head bowed low dejectedly as she walked to her sister’s side.

Sweetie Belle watched her friend, mind reeling as her mouth fell agape. Spray said something that was lost in her reverie, but It didn’t matter, Apple Bloom was alive.

The pony in question looked about, face turning red as she took in the massive, elitist crowd. Her searching stare wove around the theatre, naturally attracting towards the Princess’ personal position.

Their eyes locked

Princess Luna stepped forward, her indigo body cutting in between their breathless gaze and, with a gentle flourish of her wings, commanded attention as she glided to the centre of the room. “Ponies,” she said, her voice amplified by unseen magic. “We shall not waste a moment more of your precious time. As you well know, the Empire that Our nephew now controls has sprawled out of control. It is expanding, growing in a manner unfit for a proper Equestria. And with this expansion, comes the loss of morality, the very thing that makes a pony, a pony.” The princess paused for effect, and both Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom had their attention divided. “Days ago, Blueblood ordered the ruthless massacre of thousands of ponies. He does not plan to stop.”

The princess vanished in a blink, only to reappear at Sweetie Belle’s side. “Miss Pie, please show them what you know,” Luna ordered.

The opposite end of the atrium lit up, revealing a straight haired Pinkie Pie who sat at the edge of her own balcony, in plain view of everypony present. “Thank you, Princess Luna,” she replied, her usual bubbly voice muffled by a sombre tone.

Leaning forward, Pinkie Pie nodded towards the ground below the large machine that Sweetie Belle had spotted when, which had begun to hum and shiver slightly.

The machine lit up, panels slowly sliding open on the hinges of powerful magic. A stream of light poured out, twisting and sculpting itself in mid air to the astonishment of many.

Slowly, the clouds of multi-hued light took shape, flattening over the ground to become a landscape. Canterlot’s mountain rose at one end, tiny pinpricks showing where the city’s many towers lay. Towards the centre, more were appearing: thick green swaths for forests and snaking blue lines marking rivers and other bodies of water.

“A map?” whispered Sweetie Belle, her voice filled with wonder and awe. She had seen holographic maps before, she had even used them herself, but this was beyond the scale of anything she had ever seen.

More cities appeared: a tiny replica of smog covered New Appaloosa, a weather beaten Cloudsdale. Ponyville sprouted out of the green ground, marked by an arrow shaped symbol that stretched across the map, and away from a floating doughnut. Sweetie Belle recognized it. It was the Speedway.

Pinkie Pie broke the momentary reverie as she spoke up. “The main Imperial fleet is moving.” A red circle formed half-way above the arrow, and the entire map jumped forward as it zoomed in. Well over a dozen long, grey forms appeared. Sweetie Belle shuddered as she saw the Sol Scorcher leading them all.

“They are heading towards Ponyville, a known rebel camp, and to many of us, myself included, the place we call home. The Sol Scorcher is amongst them. I have little doubt as to their goal in heading towards that location. They want to annihilate its population, and cut off our means of survival.” A quiet murmur of anger spread across the ponies.

“Of course, we won’t let them,” interjected the Princess.

Pinkie Pie smiled, almost cruelly, as she eyed the scaled down Scorcher. “Rebel ships from across Equestria are heading here.” The map zoomed out, and a hundred green arrows flung themselves across the map to a point not far from the town. “We plan to create a blockade, bring down the Sol Scorcher’s defence fleet, then destroy the ship itself. Then, we start to retake Equestria.” The green lines circled the red, then the vanished one by one.

Sweetie Belle thought it a nice plan, but she knew the real cost of such an endeavour. The ponies present were captains, leaders, representing only a fraction of the population of the rebellion. How many were going to die before it was all over? She glanced towards her long-lost friend below. Apple Bloom sat at Applejack’s side, attention riveted on the projection.

Pinkie Pie interrupted her thoughts as she went on. “We need help, we need supplies, and we need willing ponies.”

Immediately, a cacophony of voices rose, adding their support to the cause and pledging both ships and ponies. Princess Luna smiled.

Pinkie Pie signalled for quiet with a raised hoof, and, within seconds, the clamour died down. Her blue eyes roved the crowd, finally stopping on Applejack and Fluttershy below.

“Um, Empathy Medical is ready to help you in any way possible.” Fluttershy shrugged self-consciously under the stares of the assembled strangers.

“And so are we!” declared Applejack at her side. “The Apple Family, as well as everything we’ve got, is ready when you’ll need us!”

Pinkie Pie smiled once more, but this time it was different. She no longer had any traces of anger, only hope, and an odd giddiness tinged her voice as she next spoke. “And I’ll provide the fireworks! Now, if only…”

As if on queue --and Sweetie Belle suspected that it might very well have been the case-- a guard pony ran up to Miss Pie and whisper something into her perked ear. A grin spread across her face as she whispered back.

For a moment, nothing happened as all eyes intently followed the guard while he ran backstage. A short time later, the map vanished, splitting into the giant squares that hovered over the far wall of the amphitheatre behind Pinkie Pie.

The squares fizzed and the air filled with a static screech before two images formed. Sweetie Belle recognized both instantly.

Twilight Sparkle held the screen to the left, face set in the determined frown she always wore while working on an experiment. The other screen had a face that Sweetie Belle really, really didn’t feel like seeing.

“Hello, everypony,” chimed Rarity, her voice filling the room and grating on Sweetie’s already tense nerves. «Princess Luna,» the white-and-purple unicorn gave the princess a half-bow before wielding a dazzling smile. «And Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Fluttershy! My goodness, we’re almost all here!»

Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes, a gesture not lost on Sweetie Belle. «Princess Luna, on behalf of the Sparkle Society, I’d like to extend all the aid we possibly can in your following ventures.»

«Oh my, I almost forgot,» said Rarity before she laughed her tittering laugh. Sweetie Belle ground her teeth, while Mira placed a comforting hoof on her shoulder. “Combat Couture would also adore to give what help we can. The Empire, after all, has done some horrible things, not to mention the amount of that dreadful grey they keep splashing all over.”

The Princess stepped forward, face set in a smile, yet her eyes were deadly serious. “Thank you all for your support. We are both honoured, and incredibly thankful, to have such noble subjects. Now, if none of you mind, We would enjoy it if We could go over the remainder of Our plans.”

The map re-appeared, this time only showing the region in and around Ponyville. “The Apple Corporation’s forces have been reinforcing the outer regions of the town, hiding pre-Empire artillery units in the nearby forests and preparing large groups of mechanized units for battle using the equipment donated by Pink N’ Heimer Co. In the air, we have the Rebellion’s main armada, led by this ship, the Moon.»

Hundreds of tiny green pinpricks appeared and spread out across Ponyville and the valleys surrounding the town. In the air, an enormous fleet popped into view, the names of each ship written above the corresponding marker. And yet, the entirety of the green was only just an even match to the oppressive red that covered the outer edges.

“The Sun,” Luna continued, “will be arriving shortly, hopefully within the next twenty-four hours. With it, is a very large number of fighter craft owned by Spectrum Skies, piloted by loyal ponies.” More green swept in, a few large airships with many smaller escorts. Amongst them all, was a swarm of tiny points.

“Finally, we have the ships belonging to Miss Rarity, Miss Sparkle, and Miss Pie. Most of them are converted cargo haulers and transporters, but they are all sound of crew, weaponry, and mechanics.» From the flank of the large red swath, a veritable army of mid-sized airships appeared, slowly gliding toward the enemy’s rear.

“Our plan is simple. In twenty-eight hours, once the Imperial fleet has reached point alpha" the red ships moved forward to a pre-designated point- "the group led by the Moon and the Sun will converge, driving a wedge through the Imperial formation.”

Both green shapes crashed together, becoming an arrow-head that ripped the red formation in half. “Once beyond this point, we will split, form up with the third fleet, and push the Imperial fleet forward.”

The three green forms became one thick formation that swept the red ships forward and towards Ponyville. “The greatest weakness of ground troops is that they lack the range and maneuverability or airships, but this way, the very powerful cannons that we have salvaged will be put to good use battering the fore of the enemy formation while we pick at them from the aft.”

The ground around Ponyville seemed to flash a dazzling array of colours as red ship after red ship blinked out of existence. Sweetie Belle hought the display was rather pretty, but deep down, she knew that the real battle would be much bloodier and messier. How many of the ponies standing around here would be left? What about those they represented? Her eyes drifted towards Apple Bloom once more.

Twilight coughed from within her screen and the image flickered, becoming larger. “I believe that the plan is sound, goddess-knows that anything too complex would mess up seconds after first contact. Still, the greatest variable is the Sol Scorcher.” The lavender pony looked down and the sound of intermittent tapping filled the room for a few seconds. “This is all the information our network was able to squeeze off of it.”

The images pumped out by the projector shifted, the green and red merging to form a gigantic ship. Beside it, a to-scale model of an Interdiction-class patrol ship appeared beside it.

For once, the crowd reacted; murmurs and whispers spread like wildfire, and nopony acted to quell the tide. Sweetie Belle almost joined them as she looked at the vessel. She recognized it from her trip to Canterlot, but here, to scale and so detailed…

Grey, grey was everywhere, from the two fang-like protrusions along its side, to the edge of the gaping maw that ended its cannon. Little informative pop-ups pointed to the dozens of tiny holes along its edges. They were ramps, ramps for fighter planes.

Soon, the murmurs died down as the ponies took in the vessel. “Should I show the video?” asked Twilight Sparkle, she cringing slightly when the Princess sighed.

“Yes, it’s only fair that they know.”

Twilight nodded and the room filled once more with her intense tapping. The three dimensional image became flat and attached itself to Twilight’s side. A small count-down timer at the corner of the screen began counting down from five.

A ship, the same they had just seen, was floating in the centre of the screen, while at the opposite end, the flying doughnut of the Spectrum Skies Speedway was visible. The Sol Scorcher’s cannon began to glow a deep red like that of burning embers. The timer had reached two seconds when it fired.

A single beam, white and intensely hot, shot out, and before the timer reached zero, the beam had cut through the Speedway.

The quiet that filled the room was different, not the quiet of a waiting or impatient crowd, but one of awe, pure and fear-filled awe. Fluttershy cried lightly from within her booth, Applejack awkwardly patting her back.

“Dear Celestia, what have they built?” whispered Spray at her side.

“That’s it. Should I replay the video?” asked Twilight.

“No, no, this will be sufficient,” said Luna, her own royal voice shaky. The princess took a deep breath, then searched the crowd. “Does anypony, anypony at all, have a solution to this?”

Nopony spoke.

“Um, Princess?” asked Twilight as she bit her lower lip. “I just received a transmission from the Furtif…”

Luna nodded, and Twilight’s image fizzled out of sight, followed shortly by the recording of the Sol Scorcher.

Only Rarity’s image remained, and even she looked mollified.

A minute went by, then two, but the room remained quiet, save for Princess Luna’s quiet words with various ponies within the crowd. They exchanged information, tactical data, and good wishes.

Suddenly, Twilight reappeared with a static spark. She was smiling a little, her previous worried frown gone. “I have good news, Princess!» she said in a hurry.

Tension filled the room once more, an odd contrast to the announcement.

Another screen appeared. In it, were three ponies, two in the foreground, and one peeking silently from behind them. It was Scootaloo. Sweetie Belle gasped, and was surprised to hear it emulated by many of the ponies around her.

Quickly, she glanced towards Apple Bloom. She too, was riveted on the screen, mouth slack.

«Hey, everypony! Anybody miss me?» said a haughty voice, only slightly disturbed by heavy static. Only then, did Sweetie Belle focus on the other two ponies.

One, the one who had still remained quiet, was a tall, thin, moustache-wielding unicorn. The other was a cyan blue and rainbow-maned mare.

Rainbow Dash spoke again, over the happy squeals and joyful laughs of her friends. Sweetie Belle could sympathize with their feelings as she watched a curious Scootaloo peek at the screen. «I got a little something you guys might like…» she said. The pony disappeared for a second, then reappeared holding a round, metallic disk.

“I, thanks to my sheer awesomeness, happened to get my hooves on this copy of the Sol Scorchers blueprints.”

“What? How? Where were you?” Twilight shotgunned questions at her.

Rainbow Dash lifted a hoof towards her friend, gently motioning her to calm down. “We don’t have time for that, I’ll explain it all later. Suffice to say, I have some really important things here, and you’ll need them.”

Twilight nodded firmly. “Start sending them over then.”

Rainbow Dash slipped the disk to the male pony who immediately got to work. He frowned, then spoke.” Sa marchera pas, the connection is too weak.”

“Where are you? We wish to know,” asked the Princess, her voice urgent.

The male answered, an incoherent stream of numbers and data that went above Sweetie Belle’s head. Twilight calculated aloud for a moment. Then, the map reappeared.

Both armies were present: the red slowly advancing and the green placing itself. A blue dot was blinking, a dozen kilometres away from the two armies and Ponyville.

“You’re too far out. We’ll need a ship to head over and act as a relay.” A green dot detached itself from the formation, heading towards the blue one before stopping mid-way.

Luna nodded. “We cannot spare any of our bigger warships, perhaps one of your converted freighters?”

“Sorry, Princess, but they’re too slow, and none of them have the required equipment to deal with this sort of thing.”

“We see. Mayb--”

“I volunteer!” Sweetie Belle couldn’t resist it. She needed to say something, anything. She needed to to show up her sister, who was now polishing a hoof. She needed to see her friends, talk to them, live with them. She took a step forwards and into the cone of light that made up the centre of the room. She called out. “I volunteer. I have the ships necessary to accomplish this mission, as well as the equipment and experience.”

All eyes were on her. It was priceless.

Rush, rush, rush...

Edited by:

Staple Cactus

Your Antagonist

Proofread by:

Cpl Hooves

Fred the Saiyan

Fleets Meet

View Online

Author’s note:

I am terribly sorry for placing one of these here, but I feel the need to warn the reader of a change within the series. From now, until the end of the first climax (that is, the battle you have all seen coming) the chapters will be much, much shorter. Too many important characters are centred around this one focal point, and I feel the need to cover much ground while keeping the story fresh.

My deepest apologies for the inconvenience.

The contrast was interesting, Pipsqueak noted.

He and Apple Bloom were still within the Moon, Princess Luna’s flagship, nearly an hour after the sudden end of the meeting. Ponies were milling around, most with determined, if sombre, scowls on their faces as they ran and trotted in every direction.

Apple Bloom, unlike those around her, was far from sombre. She was jovial. Her hoof skirted the ground lightly as she skipped, while a beaming smile split her face from ear to ear, showing off an impressive mouth full of white teeth. Her tail rode high in the air, occasionally brushing against the tip of his nose --not that he minded, quite the contrary. Seeing her this happy made his own heart skip frantically.

She had found her friends. Not just one of them, but both and as far as she could tell, they were a-okay.

“So, what are we looking for?” he finally asked as they passed the entrance of the conference hall for the five-hundredth and first time.

Apple Bloom sighed. “Sweetie Belle, of course! She‘s alive Pip, and she‘s here! Can you believe it?”

“Uh-huh,” he replied, his humour only slightly fazed as he looked around once more. The crowd was beginning to thin out. From outside one of the many small port windows that lined the walls, he could see dozens of small, two passenger airships gliding away from the Moon, each heading towards what was presumably their own commands.

“So, how long are we going to search for her?” he asked, one hoof idly rising to the side of his brand new coat. The rebellion had given him a fighter pilot's jacket, with his name printed along the back at the nape of his neck. The same hoof slid to the lip of one of the coat’s many pockets. Inside that pocket was a folded piece of paper, one that held the information of where he would be deployed.

“Aw, don’t worry, she’ll show up soon. Ah can feel it.” She practically gushed with excitement, even slipping into her family’s thick accent for a verse.

“Right, but that’s not what I’m worried about. I mean, I’ll be fighting soon, right? I know how to pilot a ship and all, but I’ve never fired at anypony before, and I’m sorta worri--”

Apple Bloom jumped, her hoof whipping out to point somewhere in the crowd. “There she is!” Grabbing Pipsqueak by the scruff of his coat and giving him a firm tug, Apple Bloom raced forwards and through the sparsely decorated room.

Pipsqueak didn’t protest. He simply sighed, lowered his head slightly, and followed meekly.

“Sweetie! Sweetie Belle!” the farm pony cried out. Ahead of them, the white unicorn in question turned around, green eyes searching until they landed on the fast approaching pair.

Her face twisted into a huge grin as she moved to face them. Two ponies beside her instantly twisted and followed, though Pipsqueak didn’t recognize either of them. One was a bright red mare, while the other was a tough looking stallion who stood at Sweetie‘s side like a well-trained bodyguard.

“Apple Bloom!” she cried, galloping forwards. The two friends crashed into a tight hug, spinning in a half-circle under the somewhat surprised looks of everypony around.

After a short while, they broke the hug apart and looked into each other’s glowing faces.

Apple Bloom spoke first. “I thought the Imperials had killed you! Or worse.”

Sweetie Belle shook her head, denying the notion that she was dead with a smile and a few tears. “I was certain that you were dead. When I saw the Crusader crash…”

For a few moments, they became quiet. Still close, still happily looking each other over, but quiet. They were mourning, Pipsqueak realized.

“Scootaloo’s alive too,” Apple Bloom added, and they both broke into large smiles again.

For a while, they both gushed out a torrent of words that were lost on Pipsqueak, and apparently on the stallion too. He yawned, a forehoof in front of his mouth. Slowly, he looked around and spotted Pipsqueak.

With a quick look around him, the stallion got up and trotted over at a brisk pace, stopping beside Pipsqueak. “Hello,” he said without hesitation.

“Hi, I‘m Pipsqueak.”

“Spray,” he replied as he extended his hoof. “So, you’re with Miss Bloom?”

“Yeah, you’re with Sweetie?”

He smiled sardonically. “I was with the rebellion… but I guess Miss Belle stole my allegiances a little.”

“A little? C’mon Spray, we’re all on the same side!” the red mare piped up from beside him, rearing up and standing on his back. She reminded Pipsqueak of Pinkie Pie. “Hi, Pip, I’m Mira!”

“Um, hello, Miss Mira.”

The mare checked him out, eyes widening when they stopped on his jacket. “Oh, you’re a fighter pilot! How nifty.”

Pipsqueak idly touched the lapels of the coat. Blood rushed to his face against his will and turned it a fierce shade of red. “Yeah, I guess I am. Just joined really.”

One of Spray’s eyebrows popped up. “Hmm, can I see your papers?”

Pipsqueak obliged, and moments later, Spray was looking over the sheet with a critical eye. He turned towards Sweetie Belle and walked over to her, sheet still in hoof. “Sweetie Belle, you know how you’ll have an escort during your voyage? Well, Mira and I are certainly coming, at least part-way, so is most of our group --on the Vanquishers you, um, acquired-- but we might still have a few spots empty, and Pipsqueak is a pilot with the rebellion…” He left the implication to hang in the air.

Sweetie Belle nodded sagely. “Of course, I’d love to have Pip with us.” She grinned at Pipsqueak kindly and nodded again, this time as if accepting him into the crew.

“Coolio! Aren’t you happy, Pip?” Mira asked as she hugged him close with one forelimb.

“Um, of course I am. It’s an honour, I think… that was brave, what you did in the auditorium,” he said to Sweetie Belle. She blushed in turn, but held her back straight and proudly.

They stood in a rough circle, quiet as they looked at each other. Pipsqueak in particular was paying a lot of attention to Apple Bloom. He was starting to realize that he might never see her again. They all did. From the hunched shoulders, to the nervous laughs. They even stayed closer to one another than was usually permissible, as if they were afraid of separation.

“Alright, I think this is it guys,” Spray said as he scratched the nape of his neck. “We need to get going.”

Sweetie Belle nodded, and practically jumped on Apple Bloom. Both mares hugged again, their emotions pouring out of them. “Where will you be?” the unicorn asked.

Apple Bloom smiled shyly in response. “I’ll be fine; Applejack wants me onboard the flagship. I should be on the safest place around.”

“Well, um, okay then. I guess this is it… See you later?” Sweetie Belle took a timid step back, splitting the physical bond that held them together.

Without another word, the group split. Sweetie Belle, Mira, and Spray reluctantly heading one way, while Apple Bloom and Pipsqueak hung back. “You should go with them,” she said, her voice almost cracking.

“Right,” he replied, taking a few tentative steps after the threesome. He stopped. This was a war. He might die. Apple Bloom might die. This might very well be the last time he saw her alive.

He spun around, taking a few decisive steps towards her. Her brows furrowed a little, in that way he always thought was so cute. He stepped right up to her, really close. He was vaguely aware of the other three slowing to a halt behind him, but he didn’t care.

“Pip, what are yo-”

Not letting her finish, he leaned forward, his blushing face touching hers. Oh, Goddess, what am I doing? Her frown disappeared, replaced by very wide eyes. “I-I, um, like you a lot,” he whispered as he backed away. The air became still, the two ponies lost in their own world despite the bedlam surrounding them. They stared into each other's eyes. Expressions of shock, confusion, and maybe some kindness played across them.

Apple Bloom opened her mouth, shut it, and opened it once more, her brow was furrowed as she struggled to find the right words that never came.

Not waiting for her response, Pipsqueak turned tail and ran, catching up with the rest and blowing past them while radiating incredible heat.

Behind him, Apple Bloom finally spoke. “Oh.”

Blueblood was ecstatic as he sat in the command chair, a new one fit for the grandest of kings. He was, after all, the Emperor. He paid no heed to the nervous glances of the other ponies in the room; they didn’t matter. They were just lowlifes who had the wondrous opportunity to be in the same ship as he that day. “This, this is absolutely beautiful!” he finally said.

In front of Blueblood, in a cavity carved into the ground, Bunnyhelm stood tall and proud over a holographic map that displayed accurate positions of the rebellion’s fleet. He trotted around, whispering advice to the commanders and war-planners gathered there. Surprisingly, much of the upper brass had found excuses not to be there at this time, and Scribeswell, Bunnyhelm’s famous secretary, had been hard pressed to find these replacements.

Beside the Emperor’s seat was a sweaty Vice-Admiral, the well groomed pony swallowing nervously after each sentence uttered by the giddy monarch. The pony’s rank meant nothing here, that much he knew, and his attitude was slowly wearing off onto the rest of the nearby crew, all of whom were hunched over consoles and screens.

Just then, the Vice-Admiral’s worst nightmare came to fruition: Blueblood lolled from one side of his throne to the other, and stared at him calmly. “So, Commander,” the noble pony began, misreading his rank. “What do you think the rebels will do?”

With a quick swipe of his hoof, the vice admiral wiped his forehead. “Well, your majesty, if I may use the projector, I could show you the best statistical possibilities the mathematicians at Canterlo--”

Blueblood waved his arm, signalling for quiet. “No, no, none of that. I want to know what you think.”

“What I think?”

Blueblood glared at him, but he kept grinning. His mood would be hard to ruin that day.

“Well, I think that the rebellion will do one of two things, sire. Either they will use everything they have to take down the Sol Scorcher, then hope that the rest of the fleet flees whe-- if it goes down. Or, they’ll focus on every other ship and try to ruin our defences. Either way, I think they will try to lead us into a trap.”

“Preposterous!” hollered Blueblood in good cheer. “Nopony would be foolish enough to try and trap us. We have the mightiest fleet ever built right under our hooves! Don’t you agree Captain?”

“Oh, um, yes, sire.”

Bunnyhelm trotted over from the holographic display to the Emperor, a confident smile playing on his lips. “Actually, your majesty, the Vice-Admiral is right. Either one of those plans he proposed is likely to occur.”

Blueblood looked at him doubtfully, but the flicker was soon replaced by genuine trust. “I’m not in any danger, am I?”

“Of course not. The Sol Scorcher is the most advanced ship ever conceived,” Bunnyhelm reassured him, a hoof reaching out and tenderly touching the Emperor’s shoulder. “The rebels would practically need its blueprints to find a flaw in its design.”

Ending with that boast, Bunnyhelm walked by, his smile, from the position where the Vice-admiral sat, turning ice-cold. “I have to go, my liege. As usual, problems plague every good plan, and I still have a few… loose ends to take care of. I shall return.” With that, Bunnyhelm marched away, the doors at the far end of the room swishing open mechanically as he reached them.

“Wait!” Blueblood called out, startling many. The Emperor twisted around in his throne, looking at the noble pony behind him. He looked like a child, clutching the back of the chair as he did, thought the Vice-Admiral. “You will be back, before it all starts?”

Bunnyhelm gave Blueblood a calming nod. “Of course I shall return here; I swear as much.” Turning once more, he walked out of the room, Scribeswell in humble tow. “Goodbye, Blueblood.”

Sweetie Belle checked everything again for the umpteenth time. The Sparkle Generator was running at optimal, all automatic defence guns were on stand by, the other six planes behind her were flying in a decently tight formation, and the Imperial fleet was only just within sight.

She sighed, desperate to relieve some tension from her aching shoulders.

“Something bothering you?” Mira asked. The red pony was leaning into her own seat, occasionally tapping on one command or another, otherwise remaining uncharacteristically quiet.

“Hmm, oh, no, I’m fine,” the skittish unicorn replied. She roved over the commands again, making sure that every relay was positioned just so.

“You know, with the width of the beam, and the amount of ships trying to catch it, even if you’re off by a few degrees, it won’t matter much.”

“I know,” Sweetie Belle answered absently. She adjusted the system another notch. “I just want to make sure they all get the message as quickly as possible. You know, do my part.”

Mira scoffed back a laugh. “You did your fair share already. Something’s bothering you. Want to talk about it?”


“You sure?”

“Absolutely,” Sweetie Belle said, shifting her attention back to the Thunderbolt’s controls. With a flick of her hoof, she switched it off automatic flight, if only to occupy her hooves.

“Fine then,” Mira said, a note of defeat in her usual bubbly voice. “Mind if I talk about something else then?”

Sweetie huffed noisily. “I can’t stop you.”

The earth pony smiled mischievously, then said, “Nope, you can’t. So, what do you know about cannons?”

Sweetie Belle frowned. “Cannons?”

“Yeah, the things that go boom, sometimes result in the loss of life. I’m sure you know the ones.” Sweetie nodded. “Right, but what do you know about their origins?”

“Not much, I guess,” the unicorn admitted almost reluctantly.

“Pinkie Pie invented them. Don’t look at me like that. You’re not really surprised. She didn’t create them for war, not at first. They were a toy, a party implement to surprise ponies. Then, when the war started, she wanted to use it, scare the living heck out of the enemy.

“But somepony had a better idea. They replaced the confetti with projectiles. Next thing you know, both sides had cannons, and tons of them. She was sad, apparently, and hid away for a while, refusing to help even while her friends were trying their best. Then, somepony invented the hoof cannon, the musket. The giant mechs were equipped with them too. Before that, the only ponies with ranged weapons were the unicorns. Now the earth ponies and the griffons were in on it.”

Mira looked outside, eyes following the clouds idly while Sweetie flew in a straight line. It was a beautiful day, for now. “She stepped out of her hole when they invented the gattling cannon. Damned things could take out the old steam mechs, kill everypony in them. They were light, too. So, Miss Pie decided to win, by creating the most powerful weapon ever. Others, who by then, were making money selling these weapons, tried to stall her. Even her friends discouraged her. She went on.

“There are three types of cannons, you know? The old gunpowder ones, those became the more conventional shell-firing ones used today. The arcana canons, they fire a single beam of energy. And another type, this one was sorta like the arcana canons, but much, much stronger. Those ones worked with gravity or something, and the Sparkle Generators couldn’t tolerate them at all. By the time the war finished, Pinkie Pie had strapped weapons onto some airships and steam mechs that made the enemy quake in fear.”

Sweetie Belle looked at Mira evenly and said, “Why are you telling me all of this?”

The red earth pony shrugged. “My intuition tells me that it might be important. I met Miss Pie, once or twice. She told me to always follow those senses.”

For a while they remained silent, Sweetie Belle following her pattern of self-thought as she looked straight ahead. “I can see the Furtif,” she finally said.

Far ahead of them, a blue smear stood out from among the clouds, barely noticeable as something other than a hole through the white canvas.

Instantly, a dozen machines throughout the Thunderbolt started clicking and rumbling. “Signal is on, and strong,” Sweetie said, a smile playing on her lips.

She bent backwards, reaching out and tilting a small screen so as to see it. Images, all tinted in a light blue, were flashing by. Most were mundane, but some were obviously the inner workings of a very large ship. The Sol Scorcher. No wonder they couldn’t upload these files. They’re massive, Sweetie Belle thought.

Silently, Sweetie Belle glanced around, and through the window of the Thunderbolt’s cabin. In the distance, maring a huge patch of sky, was the Imperial Navy’s prized possession, the Emperor’s flagship. Beside it, and only taking up a small portion of its length, were the tiny Interceptors and the much larger Obedience class ships.

“Pay attention, Sweetie,” Mira cautioned, all of her humour long gone.

“Right.” The unicorn returned to her task of piloting the ship toward the Furtif. The blue ship was quickly approaching in the distance.

Mira sat up straighter in her seat, her attention focused on a screen at her side. “Um, Sweetie, the blue on this radar thing is us, right? And the green are the rebels.”

“Uh-huh. Grey belongs to the Furtif, and red is Imperial.”

“Okay, well, there’s two little grey ships heading our way.” -Sweetie Belle smiled.- “And about sixteen red ships somewhere above us.”

Scootaloo smiled. She always smiled when she was flying like this. The Expedite was purring below her. Beside her, Kami Kaze was sticking to her flank. Everything was going smoothly. And finally, she was going to meet Sweetie, or come as close as she could to meeting someone that was in another ship and flying messenger during the biggest battle in recent history.

The mare slapped the comm unit --a new one, installed by a slightly grumpy Wrenches the day before--and was glad to hear a familiar voice over the static crackle.

“What do you mean by ‘sixteen red ships somewhere above us,’ exactly?” a voice asked that Scootaloo immediately identified as Sweetie Belle.

Another voice answered, the shrug almost audible. “Heck would I know. I’m no expert at reading this thing. There are sixteen red points, and they are heading this way.”

Scootaloo frowned. She had been hoping to surprise Sweetie Belle a little, as much as the white unicorn had surprised her over the screen, but the context of the conversation was far from difficult to guess.

Pressing on the comm once more, Scootaloo signaled Kami Kaze’s little plane, the Divine Wind, and the Furtif. Hardly a second passed before she received two response signals.

“Guys,” she began, “I think we might have trouble sooner than we wanted it. Sixteen Imp ships. Can’t spot them, but Sweetie thinks they are there...”

Arnaquer’s gruff voice was the first to reply. “Merde. We must protect the Thunderbolt, at least until we have approached the main fleet sufficiently, or until the information is all sent. Do what you must, Scootaloo.”

Another voice squealed over the comm. “Oi, kid, tell that unicorn friend of yours to hurry up. I can’t stay cooped up in this tin can like some sort of chicken. Get me a plane!” Rainbow Dash shut her own device with a scratch and a screech.

Scootaloo took a deep breath, touching the fringe of her jacket lightly as she did so. This was it, the moment of truth. Today was a day where she would either kill, or be killed.

She gulped.

Her keen eyes scoured the bright blue skies, searching desperately for the stains that would mark an Imperial squadron. C’mon, where are you? She blinked back, glancing at the Thunderbolt and the six Vanquishers flying behind it. The small airship was hurrying forward, its engines puffing madly as it cut the wind and clouds that surrounded it.

Around them, the sky was cloudy. Serene, peaceful, but entirely blanketed in swaths of white mist that seemed to stretch as far back as the Sol Scorcher and its imposing escort.

Scootaloo could also see the multi-coloured rebellion fleet. Ships of every hue flew in loose formation while heading out to meet the Imperial Navy.

“Kami, you see anything?” she asked, slightly nervous.

For the first time since they had left the Furtif, Kami Kaze spoke. “Maybe. Movement above the ThunderBolt.”

Scootaloo glanced up, catching only the faintest streak of grey from behind the clouds. Homing in on the area, she gave a slight tap on her yoke and pointed her crosshairs over that region.

Over a dozen ships appeared. Gently, almost delicately, they rolled out of the great mass of a cloud front. The smooth maneuver contrasted greatly with the destruction they were built to accomplish. Behind them, four more planes appeared, these ones ripping massive chunks out of the sky as they lowered themselves awkwardly. “What in the hay, is that?” Scootaloo exclaimed as she eyed the newcomers apprehensively.

The four new ships were fat. There was no other way to describe them. Fixed, arrow shaped wings curved inwards over a thick, round body. The front end was shaped like a rounded cone, with a few needle like protrusions Scootaloo recognized as antennas. The oddest part of the already far-from-normal vessel, was the rear end. Three props jutted out the bag, each one bigger than the last. Two of the three spun in one direction, the other went the opposite.

“Moths,” Kami Kaze answered. “The Empire once needed bombing ships that were smaller than airships. The damned things are easy targets, and a waste of good ponies, but they can pack one heck of a punch.”

“Will they target us?”

Kami barked a laugh. “I don’t think so. It’d be a waste of ammo. Your friend’s ship on the other hoof, is a fat, juicy target...” He left the implication to linger for a while.

With a single, fluid motion, Scootaloo slammed the throttle as deep as it would go. Her back slammed into her bench and her harness tightened, biting into her coat. Hoping that Kami Kaze had the sense to follow, she rocketed forward and towards the oncoming Imperials.

“Sweetie,” she called out through set teeth. “Get to the Furtif, I’ll take care of these mules!”

“Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle’s voice asked. Even over the static, Scootaloo could hear the slight tremors of fear.

“Yeah, it’s me. Long time no see! We’re all about to die, so let’s save the pleasantries for later, all right?”

“Right!” Sweetie said, fully determined.

“I’m about to engage those Imps on your tail, but us two can’t do it alone. Tell a few of your escorts to veer off and hit the Imps head on. The rest of you head towards the Furtif.

“Nope, not if you’re in danger behind me.” Scootaloo raised an eyebrow at the comm unit. Sweetie Belle the obstinate, she could live with it.

“C’mon Sweetie, you need to get those transmissions sent; it’ll be hard to do if you’re dead!”

Scootaloo could practically hear her friend’s frown. “Okay, but once it’s done, we’re coming back,” Sweetie Belle said. Seconds later, the line went dead and Scootaloo noticed a small bump in the Thunderbolt’s speed.

The pegasus positioned herself within the Expedite’s cockpit, hooves set lightly against the controls, just brushing the knobs and switches that were arrayed in front of her. She blinked, forcing herself to focus on the task ahead of her.

Afar, four wedges of fighters were diving out of the clouds, slowly angling themselves towards Sweetie Belle and her escort. The twelve planes were Requisitors, Scootaloo noticed, the awkward biplanes she had fought with weeks before. The guns along their backs swiveled around and pointed out above the top of the planes at a shallow angle.

What are they doing? Scootaloo wondered as she quickly approached the fighters. She was just above the Thunderbolt when she caught on to their plan. “Crap!” she swore to nopony in particular before switching on her comm.

“Kami, the Imps are about to pass below Sweetie!” she called frantically.

“An undershoot? Good, they’ll lose time pulling back up.”

“No, not good. Those back guns of theirs will rip Sweetie to shreds!” Scootaloo screamed. Kami Kaze remained quiet. “What are you doing?”

“Sorry, I was giving orders to the planes that’ll join us. Should we engage them from ahead?” he asked, wondering whether they should barge right into their formation and hoping to split the tight wedges apart to cause a few to break off. Scootaloo quietly grunted. There was no point in that. Only a few fighters needed to make it past them and under Sweetie Belle. What they needed was a way of making them weave and dodge.

She smiled a cruel, mischevious grin. “I have a plan,” she said.

By then, the two had reached the four triangles, and they could clearly see the young faces of the pilots looking back at them.

“Follow me in. We’ll heat them up from behind!” Scootaloo pulled up, joy building up within her as she felt, rather than heard, the familiar motions of her plane around her. The Expedite’s nose poked up, climbing perpendicularly along the top of the formation. Scootaloo turned, jamming her hooves on the rudder and slamming the yoke to one side.

The Expedite flipped over, the back end spiraling around as the plane did a tight corkscrew to face the back of the Imperial formation.

Below her, still arranged in neat rows, were the twelve Requisitors. She took a deep breath, eyes peeking quickly at the rapidly approaching Thunderbolt. It was now or never.

Wind whistled around her as everything shook, rattling her teeth as she glared down at the nearest craft. Applying a little pressure to the rudder, she moved her crosshair over the back of the gray-green craft, and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

This one was surprisingly hard to write. Hopefully it will be worth the effort!

Edited by:


Your Antagonist (king of farmcon)

Proofread by:

Frederick the Saiyan

Cpl Hooves

I usually post urls to their pages... but Fimfic is being a little... Well...


A Tombstone

View Online

Scootaloo squeezed her hoof on the trigger again and again, desperately stabbing the little red button. Nothing happened.

In front of her, the four squadrons of Requisitions remained on their downward sweep, moving at an exhilarating pace towards Sweetie Belle and her Thunderbolt. “Come on!” the orange pegasus screamed at her inanimate controls. “Sweetie’s going to die!”

Frustrated, she flicked on her comm unit. “Wrenches, what the hay did you do to my guns!?”

She waited, impatiently counting down the seconds as she swished past and through clouds, the Expedite growling along with her.

Finally, Wrenches’ voice screeched through her speakers. “What’s wrong with the guns?”

“ ‘What’s wrong with the guns?’ They’re not firing! Click click, no bang bang!”

“Have you tried holding down the trigger?” Wrenches asked after sighing.

“Hol-- Are you kidding me?”

The Requisitors were quickly approaching the Thunderbolt. As they did so, Scootaloo could clearly see the rear gunners aligning their heavy weapons. Hurry up, hurry up, her mind screamed desperately. Tears began to appear at the edges of her eyes.

A stream of red blurred past her side, followed milliseconds later by the constant and very loud drone of a machine gun. The bullets riddled the back of one of the biplanes, wrinkling it into an abstract form before the cabin’s windows splashed red.

The smoking craft spun out, trailing smoke and flames as it shot through the nearest cloud and out of sight. Kami Kaze’s Divine Wind pulled up alongside her, the three-legged pony within twisting around to give her a goofy smile.

Her radio gargled again and Wrenches’ voice spoke through it. “Okay, aim at an enemy, hold down the trigger, then sit back and watch.”

Grumbling to herself, Scootaloo played with the rudder, adjusting the front end of Expedite until her crosshair smoothly slid over the shivering back of the Requisitor. The trigger slid back, clicking slightly as it met the far end and snapped into place.

Counting impatiently, Scootaloo waited. Exactly as she reached the five second mark, she felt her mane starting to tug upwards. “What th--”

Two brilliant red beams shot out of the Expedite, making the small craft rumble as they pierced through the sky, and into the nearest Requisitor.

The air sizzled, zapping sporadically as electric bolts spread across the metal frame of the biplane. The beam didn’t stop as the plane began to dive, instead continuing to cut through it until it finally split the vehicle in half. The two pieces of the burning wreck exploded as the beam collided with the plane’s fuel reserves. Parts littered the skies like fireworks, sending fumes and flames everywhere.

The beam travelled onwards and into another Requisitor, this one on the outer edge of the forward-most formation. The two ponies within visibly cringed when the blade sliced a pair of wings clean off. The plane tumbled, side over side.

Yet another craft, this one only a few hundred paces ahead, began to fly edgeways, its pilot desperately trying to veer away from the deadly beam to no avail. They were being pulled in, like shards of metal to a magnet, as the biplane crashed into the beam, vaporizing its mid-section.

Gently, Scootaloo let go of the trigger and watched the beam fade away into nothingness.

“What the hay was that?” Scootaloo asked into the comm-unit, voice edged with both hysteria and awe.

Wrenches answered, “It’s an arcana cannon. Just hold for a few seconds, try not to hit your allies, and don’t forget to let it cool for a bit after every shot. I didn’t install the overcharge-stopping doohickey.”

The orange pegasus smiled. This I like, she thought, pressing the trigger lightly. Her eyes alighted on the remaining nine Requisitors like a hawk on a helpless bunny. She smiled malevolently.

With a screech, Kami Kaze spoke over the comm. “Um, Wrenches, I like that you found the time to, um, improve Scoot’s plane, but did you really have to give her a laser cannon? Really?”

“You’re just jealous!” the pegasus retorted as she pushed her craft towards his. Playfully, Kami Kaze ducked under her and reappeared on the Expedite’s other side, a trail of grey smoke following the maneuver.

“I asked her for those months ago!”

Arnaquer was heard over the radio, his gruff voice calm, yet hinting at the heavy possibility of punishment. “Arretez! You two get to work. The Thunderbolt must reach us soon. Miss Dash is becoming irate.”

“Right, save your bickering for later Kami; we have a job to do.” Scootaloo looked out ahead of her. Of the dozen Requisitors that had been flying after the Thunderbolt, only nine remained. From within the cockpits, she could see the pilots squirming around, trying to see what had happened to their vanguard. “Kami, can you take care of the ones nearest Sweetie? I'll take out the rest, then pull around.”

Kami Kaze sighed through the speakers. “Got it,” he said as his small gun-heavy craft pulled ahead. Scootaloo watched the once-sleek vehicle move forward, all twelve of its cannons twisting to pick out an unfortunate enemy. Every other inch of the craft, it seemed, was covered in either a fresh bullet hole, scorch marks, or metallic patches.

Shaking her head, she returned her gaze to the nearest Requisitor, the last remaining member of the rear flight. Loosening the throttle and opening the air-brakes a little, Scootaloo jumped forwards in the cockpit, held in place by her straps.

The biplane raced ahead, seemingly intent upon catching up with its allies, when her cross-hair aligned with it. “I'm sorry,” she whispered as she squeezed down the trigger. She counted eighteen seconds before the Expedite bucked and her vision was filled with the multi-hued glare of the beam.

One of the ponies within the biplane, the gunner, had time to jump out and tug at his parachute's cord before the converging beams bisected the craft.

As she jammed a hoof on the rudder and adjusted her ailerons, her craft swung around and faced the rest of the Requisitors.

Kami Kaze's Divine Wind was playfully spinning and weaving around the lumbering craft, spewing round after round every time he came around. They didn't stand a chance, she realized. The three-hoofed pony might have been crazy, suicidal even, but he had no fear and many years of real experience.

Two planes from the nearest flight were occupied trying to stave off Kami's hungry assault. Six planes remained, all of them within minutes of reaching Sweetie Belle. Scootaloo looked around her and through the thick cloud of exhaust coming from the Expedite. Barely visible were the four Moths, slowly beelining towards the Thunderbolt.

“All right, you can do this Scootaloo,” she pep-talked herself. “Worst case scenario, you mess up real bad, Sweetie dies, and so do all the rebels. Right, can't mess up.” She jammed the throttle and pulled up, piercing through the clouds to alight in the centre of a ray of sunlight. She could feel the soft warmth prickling against her fur as she angled herself and barrelled off towards the Thunderbolt.

After what she suspected was far enough, she yanked the yoke forwards and dived below the clouds. The two remaining formations of Requisitors were right there, all still in neat rows, just waiting to be picked off.

Her ship rumbling as the air raced by, Scootaloo began to compress her trigger, counting down once more as she did so. Exactly on the eighteenth second, her cross-hair alighted on the forward-most Requisitor.

“Good bye.”

Pipsqueak watched in awe as the Expedite fired beam after beam into the seemingly helpless Requisitors. Scootaloo’s craft dived into the the tattered formation of Imperial planes, deftly avoiding their fire before returning it with her own deadly beams.

He returned his awed gaze to the inside of his Vanquisher’s cockpit. Sleek lines met his sight, each one curving around the complex controls in a fashion that led the eye towards the important things: the yoke, throttle, and weapon controls.

His hooves lightly stroked the knobs and yoke as he took a deep breath. This isn’t my thing, he thought. He’d never been in a fight before, let alone one of this scale. His hooves shook against the controls and he closed his eyes, trying to concentrate.

Behind and below him, another Requisitor met its end, exploding in a ball of flame and shrapnel that vibrated the air around him. He cringed, closing his eyes once more and wishing he were far away.

His radio crackled. “-ipsqueak?” Sweetie Belle said. Opening his eyes, the earth pony flicked on his microphone and spoke in a too-loud voice.

“Yes, Ma’am?”

“Ma’am? Anyway, join up with the rest of Lambda squadron, you’re lagging behind. Oh, and keep your radio on.”

Pipsqueak blushed as he noticed that three of the ships in formation around the Thunderbolt had pulled up and were veering around. “Yes, Ma’am. On my way, Ma’am.” He pulled back on his yoke, feeling a slight jolt as his sleek fighter lifted. Within seconds, the agile craft had oversteered him through and past the exhaust of his allies.

“This is Lambda Three. How you doing back there new kid?”

Are they talking to me? “Um, not bad, Three... I think.”

The pilots of the three planes in front of him laughed. One after another, they shook their tail end in a show of companionship. “C’mon Four, catch up or you’ll miss all the action, ” Three said.

Pipsqueak obliged, fumbling with the throttle until his plane slid into the formation. On the side of each plane was a number painted in a hasty scrawl. Three’s plane hovered beside his, cutting the wind with its sharp fore-blade.

Pipsqueak looked ahead and into a wall of cloud. Beyond it, he could just barely make out the huge shapes of Imperial warships in the distance. Turning to the left a little, he could make out the equally large group of Rebellion ships. The rebels looked like a rag-tag group with their odd patchwork of ships, their less-than-tight formation, and their slow, lumbering advance. Between the two groups, the occasional flash of light arced across the sky, exploding as they crashed into the ground below.

They flew forward in silence, only broken by the odd crackle on the comm and the sharp pop of a faraway detonation. Finally, Pipsqueak broke the silence. “Um, what’s our mission, exactly?”

Two ponies groaned over the comm. Three once again answered him with the patience of a mother. “We’re going after those Moths. Sweetie lost sight of them and they could easily wreck our planes... Actually, we were supposed to go after those four flights of Requisitors, but that little red plane--”

“Oh, the Expedite?”

“The what?” another voice asked. Two’s plane shifted a little, tightening the distance by a few meters.

“The Expedite; it’s Scootaloo’s plane. Um, she’s Sweetie’s best friend; well, one of them. She was on the Crusader with me.”

“So,” the same voice began, this time with a grudging respect. “You were on the same crew as that dangerous thing and Miss Sweetie Belle? Damn kid, you must be good.”

Pipsqueak fumbled with his words again, both wanting to deny it and and basking in the temporary glory.

“Moths, Five o'clock!” Two screamed. Both his and One’s Vanquishers pulled up and turned around, cutting the air above Pipsqueak’s plane as they twisted back.

Huh, it’s started? Pipsqueak blinked back in surprise before turning around in the cockpit to look behind him. A few hundred meters back, not too far from the Thunderbolt, four massive round planes were lumbering along. Pipsqueak gulped when he saw the enormous array of weapons poking out of the ships.

“C’mon, Four,” Three said. He turned towards the Vanquisher beside his and looked into the cockpit.

A sweet, round-faced mare smiled back at him and winked before pulling back on her yoke. Blushing for no apparent reason, Pipsqueak followed.

One and Two were already halfway there, the rear props of their planes spinning wildly as they arched across the sky and towards the Moths. The four heavy fighters began to turn around slowly to meet the sleeker fighters.

Alright, I can do this, Pipsqueak told himself as he watched One and Two disengage and fire in one smooth maneuver.

Bullets pinged against the armoured sides of two Moths, but the planes kept turning as if completely unfazed. “Whoa, these suckers are tough. But they’re slow. Stay in behind them and keep firing.”

“See you when it’s done, kid!” Three yelled as she charged ahead, guns blazing.

Seconds later, Pipsqueak was in the fray, his own target buzzing below him. Crap, I have to get around! He jammed a hoof on his rudder and slammed into the the side of his cockpit, losing sight of the Moth once more.

Desperately, he pulled up, pointing the sharp nose of his craft into the sun and jamming the throttle as deep as it could go. Maybe if I get far enough and turn around-- His thoughts were cut short as a literal wall of bullets rent the air not a meter off his side. He weaved around, avoiding burst after burst as he tried to stave off panic.

With a huge yank, he ripped his yoke back and almost puked when his stomach climbed into his throat. The Moth was in front of him, every one of its dozen or so guns flashing wildly as they spewed a swarm of ammo towards him.

Dents started appearing on his wing and on the body of his craft as bullets dug into the Vanquisher’s feeble armour. I can’t die; I need to see Apple Bloom! He pulled the trigger.

His Vanquisher burped, sending a mass of steel crashing into the front of the Moth. Nothing happened. Again and again he pulled on the trigger, firing burst after burst of useless bullets.

Just like that, the two planes flew by each other, the wind shivering between them as they passed. Oh, Goddess, I’m alive? He panted hard, blinking away the sweat that was trickling down his forehead.

Okay, I’m more agile. If I can avoid him, I might win. He gulped as he began turning around to face the enemy once more. Seeing that the Moth was only halfway through its own turn, Pipsqueak afforded himself a smile, which disappeared as a stray line of bullets from another fight blew by. Right, concentrate. Aiming down his crosshairs, he guessed where the plane would be in a few seconds and fired.

He was awarded when a line of smoke began to trail out of the Moth’s side. Still, the plane kept turning to face him. He cringed, expecting another head-to-head, but was surprised to see two plates fly off the front end with a puff of smoke. What the hay is tha--

Hundreds of rockets filled the sky in front of the fat fighter, each and every square meter filling with one or two of the deadly devices.

Oh, it has rockets. Cool.

Without any thought, and acting purely on instinct, Pipsqueak flipped onto his side and pulled up, jamming his hoof onto the throttle. He cringed as the missiles grew larger and larger. He could feel the air vibrating around his Vanquisher. His hind legs slapped the rudder controls. He tore back at the yoke and kept pressure on his throttle, and in a tenth of a second, the missiles were by him.

Turning his craft once more, Pipsqueak’s whiter-than-white face looked up and at the Moth. Two gaping black holes were opened at its front as it was starting to pull up.

He blew past it himself, still flying under the acceleration of his quick avoidance maneuvers. Again, he played with his controls and turned around slowly. Oh goddess, not again.

The Moth, too, had turned around as was facing him once more. Twisting a little, and hoping that a second wave wouldn’t arrive, the earth pony aimed his crosshair into one of the holes and fired.

A few flashes of light sparked uselessly within the box. Screaming madly, both in anger and desperation, Pipsqueak squeezed the trigger down again and again, sending his own tiny and seemingly ineffective shots into the gaping holes.

Something within the Moth sparked and ignited under Pipsqueak’s stunned stare. The tiny explosive jolt was followed by a dozen more, each one spreading further into the plane.

With startling suddenness, the entire bottom half of the Moth exploded, raining the sky with chunks of shrapnel as the massive plane began to tumble towards the ground below in a slow spiral.

I-- I did it!? Pipsqueak slapped his comm unit on. “Hey guys, I did it! I got one!” he excitedly screamed.

Three’s voice was the only one to say anything. “I could use some help down here, real bad!” she said, her voice quivering.

Pipsqueak rolled his plane onto its side and looked below.

Three’s plane seemed to hang in midair, not moving, as the mare within looked up. Pleading magenta eyes gazed into his own, grabbing his attention and holding it despite the huge distance.

Time froze as a Moth, damaged and puffing smoke, aligned itself along Three’s side and fired. He could hear the distant popping as the bullets arced across the sky and bit into Three’s tail.

The Vanquisher jerked, bullet after bullet ripping across it, while Three, stuck within, screamed a silent cry for help. The wave of destruction traveled from the back to the front, rending and ripping the thin metal of the once-sleek fighter. Finally, it reached the cabin, crushing the glass of the cockpit with booming finality before moving on.

Three died in a tiny, almost nondescript fashion as her plane simply stopped flying, it became just another mangled mess that fell like a brick through cloud and sky.

“No,” Pipsqueak whispered in horror as the mare he had hardly just met, disappeared from life forever.

Pipsqueak’s gaze returned to the Moth, whom started to veer away, one of its sides still smoking violently. He pitched his plane down and started to loop around and towards the Moth, cutting down on his throttle as he did so.

Two voices argued over the comm, One and Two, but he ignored them, focusing solely on the plane ahead.

Carefully and methodically, he aligned himself with the fighter’s three-propped rear and adjusted his crosshairs until they fit right over the Moth.

He fired. Burst after burst dented and dinged the massive plane, hardly doing anything but make it go faster. Its pilot weaved, skipping from side to side and rolling erratically in a desperate attempt to get Pipsqueak off his tail. But with unnerving precision, the earth pony followed, firing every time the Moth entered his sights.

Thirty seconds into the battle, one of the Moth’s props ripped apart, all three blades flinging themselves across the sky. Pipsqueak kept firing, heedless of the world around him, or of the urgent screams over the radio.

Another burst, and another part of the enemy craft fell apart. Pipsqueak grimaced as he avoided the stray parts. Dammit, just die!

The Moth caught fire, flames licking the side of the plane before they flickered in the wind. His Vanquisher fired again, and the Moth rocked as small explosions dotted its side. Got you, you sick bastard.

Pipsqueak turned his attention to his weapons display, idly noting that he was halfway through his supply of bullets. He found a small tab labeled ‘rocket’ and flicked it, smiling malevolently as he felt and heard the clicking of the Vanquisher’s hull opening. A red tab lit up on his trigger.

Gently adjusting his pitch and yaw, Pipsqueak closed one eye, judging the distance between him and the Moth. “Goodbye,” he said as he squeezed the trigger.

A rocket, tiny yet dangerous, whooshed forwards and kept a straight line. The Moth’s pilot never saw the flying explosive until it made contact with the tail of his plane.

The detonation of both plane and explosive deafened Pipsqueak and lit the sky with a fireworks display of sparks and plane bits.

Pipsqueak leaned back, his head resting on his seat as he let out a tension-removing breath. “I won,” he whispered.

He opened his eyes and looked around him. The sense of victory vanished immediately, to be replaced by both shock and fear.

The bulk of the Imperial fleet was there, only a few hundred meters ahead of him. Everywhere he looked, his vision was filled with massive airships and, more disturbingly, fighter planes.

He clicked on his radio. “Help?”

“Transmission incoming!” one of the tech-ponies screamed. All the other ponies who had been anxiously awaiting that very call got to work: running about, jabbing, pressing, and working all the complex machines that dotted the Communications Room.

Apple Bloom watched with a sort of awed detachment as they did their tasks with a single-minded determination. This is war? she wondered. There were no explosions, no death screams, no glorious heroes or malevolent villains. Just normal ponies trying to be brave while hiding their fearful glances.

“Um, excuse me, um, Miss Apple,” a voice at her side asked. Turning, she stared up at a long limbed and buck-toothed pony. He slowly pulled out a thick folder and hoofed it her way. “These are the plans we received from the Thunderbolt. Could you bring them to the viewing room, please?”

Apple Bloom smiled at the shy colt. “Sure thing; I’ll get it over there in no time.”

The exit of the room was another fiasco with ponies walking in and out, all funneled through the tight metal archway. She stared at the crowd, the weight of the important document seeming to double as she felt the responsibility weigh on her shoulders.

A smile crossed her lips as she backpedaled. With thundering hoofsteps, the cream mare charged forward and leaped, flying over the heads of the preoccupied ponies below.

She landed gracefully on the brass grating of the huge hallway that bisected the Moon, the same one in which she found Sweetie the day before. The one where Pipsqueak had kissed her. Her face’s colour deepened as she made her way up the ship.

From beyond the thick metallic walls, she could hear the hum of the ship’s engines and its massive sparkle generators. Perhaps more ominous though, was the constant popping of distant cannons.

The rebellion wasn’t much of an army, she realized as her gaze travelled over shaking stallions and trembling mares. They were normal ponies that were going to war. Her mind started counting absently, picking out the parts that were most likely to go first, as if she were tinkering with one of the Crusader’s engines. She stopped herself with a firm nod. These were living ponies, not part of some machine. She hoped her sister thought the same way.

Eventually, Apple Bloom reached the viewing room, the large amphitheater that took up a sizable chunk of the ship. She stood in the entrance, dazzled by the flickering display of ships in dozens of colours moving towards each other.

“Watch out!” a voice screamed from somewhere in the corridor behind her.

On the displays, the largest ship by far fired a single thin beam that passed below the Moon.

In reality, a cascading rumble sounded through the ship, deafening all but the loudest sounds as the Moon seemed to twist in midair, its fore dropping suddenly. Apple Bloom fell onto her stomach, hooves grabbing onto anything in reach as she started skidding backwards.

Mares and stallions both screamed and shouted. Damage reports were ordered, given, and promptly lost as the ship lurched once more, suddenly righting itself.

Groaning at the loss of orientation, Apple Bloom shook herself and walked over to the View Room, her steps much more cautious. Peeking into the room, she looked beyond the holograms of warships and aircrafts to Princess Luna, whom stood poised in the centre of the room. Ponies were running to her and reading short, one line reports as she paid rapt attention to the movement of the ships.

Apple Bloom overheard one of the ponies as he approached. “Main shield hit by the outer edge of the Sol Scorchers blast. Light destroyer Silver Streak lost,” he said in an emotionless, clipped voice before turning and running away.

On the display, a small green ship winked away, disappearing as a marker flashed below it. “Rescue teams on that location,” the princess ordered, her voice carrying no doubt that her words would be followed.

“We’ll take care of them, ma’am,” Applejack, who was sitting at Luna’s side, said. “My ponies on the ground can be there within the hour and get them to Fluttershy’s ponies right quick.”

“No, keep your formations. We’ll see to them later.” The Princess looked back and at a group of ponies near yet another communications unit. “How long until it recharges?”

“We-we don’t know, your Majesty. The link isn’t up yet.”

The Princess hummed to herself and looked back at the images.

The rebellion was forming up, just as she had ordered the day before. Two thick wedges of ships approached one another, as if they were going to collide on the third, and largest, formation. Amid the green and red ships, little flashes of yellow light arced across the room, plotting the trajectory of every shot fired.

“They’re still gauging their distances,” Luna predicted. “As soon as we are within range, they will start their counter maneuvers.”

Apple Bloom sensed the gravity of the situation, but, remembering the urgency of her mission, settled for a tiny, awkward cough. “Um, s’cuse me, your Majesty,” she said, noting that the next pony in the long line of note-readers glared at her.

The princess looked down at her, but her eyes were still glazed over. She had yet to really register Apple Bloom’s presence. “I, uh, have the Sol Scorcher plans,” the earth pony continued.

Luna snapped to attention and focused on the pile on her back. With a slight glow of her horn, the princess grabbed the sheets and held them aloft in front of herself, scanning the pages attentively. A frown creased the princess’ forehead before she returned to staring at her holograms.

Apple Bloom idly stroked the floor, waiting for something, anything, to happen. Finally, after minutes of boring waiting and listening in on the continual stream of announcer ponies, she decided to wander around the room.

The images that floated about kept twitching as the positions of the ships were moved and accurate reports assessed. Her eyes wandered around the room and rested on the busiest corner where ponies were receiving their reports.

Slowly, she approached and stood nearby, ears perked as she listened to the incoming traffic. “Freedom’s falling behind formation, engine trouble,” one of the ponies said in an emotionless and calm voice.

“Imperial Interdiction Class is smoking.”

Silver Streak’s rescue team’s ETA is five minutes.”

Thunderbolt sent four of its fighters after a quarter squadron of Moths. Thunderbolt is still transmitting,” an orange mare said as she sat with headphones on, pressing various buttons.

Apple Bloom got up and snuck a little closer, listening intently to the mare. A minute passed before she spoke again. “Team Labda has engaged Moths.”

“Unit Three was lost.” The mare ticked on a tally mark.

Apple Bloom stepped forward, closing the distance between the two. “Um, ‘scuse me ma’am, but can I hear those reports?”

The orange mare turned around, staring at Apple Bloom indignantly. “Shush, we’re working here,” she hissed.

Apple Bloom reddened. “No, I won’t leave. I want to know what’s going on!” The attention of a few other ponies shifted from their work to the two mares.

“Well you can’t have it, little Miss.”

“Why not?” Apple Bloom stomped forward.

The mare stepped out of her station, aware of the growing number of eyes on her. “Because, you don’t have any authority to--”

Thinking fast, Apple Bloom shoved a hoof into the mare’s mouth. “No authority?” she exclaimed as indignantly as possible. “Do you not know who I am? I’m Apple Bloom. From the Apple family. You know, the ones feeding half of Equestria?” Her hoof moved from the mouth and poked the mare’s chest before Apple Bloom pointed towards where her sister and the Princess stood. “See that? That’s my sister standing beside the Princess. If I wanted, I could go there and make sure you’re never hired by anypony, ever, again.”

Slowly, with wide eyes and shivering hooves, the mare removed her headphones and passed them to Apple Bloom. She slapped them onto her head and walked over to the console. There were a dozen switches, one row of which were labeled Thunderbolt and had a section marked with Lambda one through six.

She flicked the first. Heavy breathing met her ears. Not Pipsqueak.

She flicked the second. This time it was the cackle of a seemingly mad pony. “Got ya, I got ya!”

Apple Bloom shook her head and skipped to four, after a sad pause over three. Pipsqueak’s panting came in loud and clear over the headphones. “Help!” he screamed in desperation.

With startling rapidity, Apple Bloom ran past the gathered ponies and out of the room under the surprised stares of everypony gathered.

The walls of the hallway became a blur as she barreled down them. I need to save Pipsqueak! I need to save him, she kept repeating to herself. The entrance to the hangar

came and went, and she found herself in the Moon’s massive deck. Hundreds of crafts could be held here, from fighters to light bombers and even some of the smaller airships. Unfortunately, the hangar was empty but for a single ship tucked in the far corner.

Without hesitation, Apple Bloom raced across the cavernous room under the watchful eyes of the deck-workers. She inspected the cobbled-together craft as she galloped, realizing with horror that each and every inch of the thing was covered in eight dents or thin rusty metal.

Its cockpit was mounted on one side of the body in such a fashion that the pilot couldn’t see the other side. The body itself was one long, cigar shaped tube with a propellor at both ends. A single cannon jutted out of the bottom, its long rusted shaft as long as the plane itself.

Apple Bloom reached the plane, ripped open the cockpit, and hopped in, cursing as one of the bench’s broken springs dug into her backside. Slamming the door, she unhappily noted that one of the hinges was missing and that there was no trace of an airtight seal. Gulping, she fumbled around the at-least-somewhat familiar console and found the ignition.

No pony had bothered to remove the key.

Nevermind that, she thought, I need to get to Pipsqueak. She turned the ignition, and was hardly surprised to hear nothing. “Oh, c’mon!” she screamed as she punched the dash.

A knock resounded through the plane, emanating from the weathered old stallion tapping on the cockpit window. “Uh, Miss, this plane d’un’t work,” he said before giving her a toothy smile.

She reddened. “I don’t have time for this. Pipsqueak’s dying, and I need to save him, and I never told him that I liked him, too.” She began sobbing and punching the console.

“I’m sorry Misses; the Tombstone’s been sitting here f’er years, but maybe if y’all step out an--”

Her hoof struck one of the many buttons on the dash. An alarm rang through the little plane and, moments later, the huge engine ignited, the distinct sound of an eighteen cylinder engine rattling the Tombstone’s cockpit.

Both the forward and back propellers started spinning with wild abandon.

Smiling to herself, Apple Bloom tweaked the controls and powered on the plane’s antiquated Sparkle Generator and pushed the craft forwards and out of the hangar. “I’m coming, Pip!”

“She’s g’un die.”

Fun fun fun!

Edited by:
Cpl Hooves
Your Antagonist
Frederick the Saiyan
Staple Cactus

Fall Of Giants

View Online

Apple Bloom shivered as the Tombstone rocketed forwards, the ship banging and clanging wildly as it practically tumbled through the sky. She stared ahead of her, wide-eyed in awe, at the waves of fighters about to crash into one another.

The Imperials had launched all of their fighters, hundreds of them. Small formations of shining Vanquishers dotted the sky as their slower predecessors lumbered along.

Apple Bloom marveled at the sheer beauty of them as they gracefully arched forwards. Not only the fighters, but the Empire’s airships flying in tight wedges behind them, their massive guns tweaking and jerking into position. Each and every one of the ships marked with the Imperial crest was impeccably clean, as if they had just come out of the factory, ready to stomp down on the rebels.

The rebellion, she noticed, wasn’t nearly as orderly or nice. A mismatch of planes sputtered and flew towards the oncoming Imperials, no two exactly alike. Some were covered in hasty patchwork, while others had the distinctive sheen of rust on their edges. They weren’t in formation; instead, the fastest and bravest took the lead, flaunting their skills with wags of their wings.

What the rebellion lost in quality, however, it greatly made up for in quantity. For every fighter shot down by an Imperial ship, there were two rebels ready to take its place with a thirst for vengeance.

It was quiet The only sound filling the air was the groan of the Rebellion fleet at her back and the drone of a thousand planes. Nopony had fired yet.

Apple Bloom looked around the cabin, noticing a few extra holes that let her see the world outside. Her inner mechanic cringed before she finally found the radio. For a few wasted seconds, she stared at it, noting the dials and switches that were supposed to be there. That’s it? That’s the radio? Dang, the thing’s older than AJ. How old is this thing? She glanced around the machine again and shivered.

She flipped through channels until she found Pipsqueak’s. Immediately, his panic-filled voice blurted into the cabin. “Help me! I don't want to die! Oh Celestia, somepony save me! I never even got la—”

Apple Bloom tapped on the thing she assumed was the receiver as she picked it up. “Pipsqueak?” His voice quieted, only broken sobs remained. “It’s me, Apple Bloom. I’m coming to save you. Just wait, all right?”


She blinked dumbly at the speakers for a few seconds before bursting out in anger. “What do you mean ‘No’? It isn’t your choice; I’m going to save your lousy flank and that’s that!”

Apple Bloom slammed the microphone back into its holster and jammed her hoof onto the throttle.

The Tombstone bucked, its motor gasping before it began to gurgle and bark. Both propellers began spinning at a higher revolution under Apple Bloom’s careful glare. If she had learned anything during her years as a mechanic on The Crusader, it was that planes weren’t supposed to burp.

Okay, I can do this. For Pipsqueak. She caught herself clutching at her chest. No, I mean, for my friend.

Ahead of her, the tip of both armies were within a few hundred meters of each other when they fired.

A hailstorm of bullets filled the sky, accompanied by the loud pops of planes exploding in mid-air. Apple Bloom gulped as the sounds of the clash reached her. It was an absolute cacophony of crashes, explosions, pops, and screams, all of them emanating from one source.

Both armies seemed to merge, the flashing of their guns marking the meeting point. Within ten seconds, the sky was filled with the flying dead, planes twisting as they tumbled toward the ground below and trailing smoke behind them.

The Imperials in their tight formations were easy targets, but their combined firepower overwhelmed the tattered ships that the rebellion had brought.

As suddenly as it began, it stopped as the two waves passed through each other. Immediately, every ship broke whatever semblance of order they had retained as they split apart, chasing after their enemies.

Pipsqueak is somewhere behind that, Apple Bloom thought, eyes closed as her entire body shivered. I just need to fly through that enormous battlefield, in this Tombstone, and reach him. She gulped.

The battle seemed to come to her as the cyclone of fighting twisted around and washed over her.

In a split second, she was surrounded by planes, all of them either evading fire or trying to shoot down their targets. Oh Celestia, I don’t want to die!

Uselessly, she jammed her hoof onto the already maxed out throttle, before clutching onto her yoke and shaking it.

Streams of bullets cut through the air not meters away from her, shortly followed by the wreck of an Imperial fighter.

She pulled up, twisting and jabbing at her controls at random. I can make it; all I need to do is not get hit.

The Tombstone shook violently, a dozen holes appearing in its rusty armour. Apple Bloom screamed as the cigar-shaped craft plunged downwards.

Preacher sighed as Freeze Charge groaned.

Darius didn’t budge. Now wasn’t the time to show weakness.

In front of him was the familiar glass pane of the Conformity’s command room. It was a comfort to him. Its scratches, the tiny crack in one corner, the one area above it where the sealant needed replacing and a single drop of rain would sneak in on cloudy days.

The familiarity contrasted with the devastation beyond. Darius had a front row seat to the battle.

Below, and a few kilometers away, the two armies were meeting in a fatal clash.

Even from this distance, he could pick out the flashes of individual planes firing at each other while the airships moved above them.

Preacher sighed again. “Do you see it?” he asked.

“See what?”

“The Princesses’ plan. It’s quite simple, really, yet complicated. Very much like her.”

Darius looked at the battlefield once more. Two groups of rebel airships were converging into a single point not too far from the Imperial lines. The massive combined formation was slowly pushing like a wedge into the Empire’s fore, splitting the organized army in two while fighter planes from both sides fluttered in the centre.

“I see it. She’ll cut through them, then spread up and down. Her ships will have a clear line of fire on both sides, targets everywhere. And if an Imperial shell misses, they might hit their own. It’s risky. The rebels now have a fight on both sides.”

Preacher nodded sagely, then pointed to a spot far behind the Imperials. “See that? Now that’s the Luna I know and fear.”

Darius followed the pointed direction and glared at what seemed to be an oddly shaped cloud, a cloud with a thin vapour trail. “Airships?”

“Yup, another force. Painted white, although that won’t gain them much time. They’re cargo ships by the looks of it. Not made for this type of thing.” He sighed. “Still, they might tip the tides. Maybe.”

All three stallions turned and looked at the Sol Scorcher as one. The quiet uncertainty floated ominously in the air. The sides of the massive ship glowed for a few seconds, and the air around it seemed to distort.

Freeze Charge spoke in his deep gravelly voice. “It’s about to fire.” The Sol Scorcher shook, smoke puffing out of tiny vents along its side, before it finally stopped. For a few idle seconds, nothing happened.

Then, a beam of pure red crossed the sky, poking through the rebel fleet. The shields of a few of the larger ships glared brilliantly, fluctuating as the laser rippled through them.

The red line kept travelling, slicing through half a dozen airships of all sizes and cutting holes into their exposed sides.

As quickly as it had begun, the beam receded, leaving only a glare in the eyes of those who had witnessed it.

Darius watched as four airships, each one at least as large as his own, caught fire and crumpled on their way to the ground. He perked his ears, waiting for the wall of sound to hit them.

An electric crackle and buzz filled the command room, followed by the loud whoosh characteristic of an airship’s last moments.

He swallowed. “Incredible,” he whispered. No matter how many times he saw it, the sheer power of the Sol Scorcher shook him to his core. “I doubt the rebellion will win. The moral impact of that vessel alone is enough to cripple them.” The rebellion fired a volley at the Scorcher, the projectiles exploding uselessly against its magical shields.

Preacher sighed. “No. It’s unlikely that they’ll win the way it is now.”

Darius made a half turn and beckoned his comm officer over. The pony rushed to him, an awkward radio strapped onto his back. He dropped the device near the captain and trotted back to his station, unwrapping a cord as he did so.

He picked the unit up and pressed his hoof against a few keys, pausing before clicking on the last button. “Are we ready?” he asked the other two stallions.

Freeze Charge grunted. Preacher sighed and nodded.

He pushed it.

The room filled with a series of beeps and screeches for a few seconds before Darius picked the receiver and placed it at his ear.

“Imperial Control. Your code has been verified. Confirm that you are Captain Darius of the Conformity?” a tense, impatient voice asked, the words shotgunning out in quick bursts and losing all of their formality.

“I am he.”

“Good. I am Lieutenant Radar of the Sol Scorcher, Comm-unit Sixteen. How may I help you, Captain?”

“I’m heading towards th--”

“And make it fast. I don’t have all day, all right?” Radar said.

A vein on the captain’s forehead throbbed. “I see. Lieutenant, I’m coming to join the Imperial fleet.”

“We don’t need you.”

With infinite patience, Darius kept talking. “May I speak to your superior, please?”

“What, no! This is a war-comm, not customer services.”

Darius paused, thinking. “So be it. When this battle is over, you shall be court martialed for insubordination, recklessness causing harm to Imperial troops, and dissention. I’ll make damned sure that the next place you’re posted at will make Tartarus look like a spa.”

The voice came back, this time filled with a fearful respect. “Whoa, you can’t do that kind of—”

“You know the laws: any captain that takes control of two ships shall be made temporary admiral until such a time as he delivers those vessels into Imperial hooves. I have the Adamant Fury tethered to my ship, an Interdiction class.”

“O-okay.” Darius could almost hear him gulp.

“We need clearance and permissions to approach. I don’t think the rebels will be happy to see reinforcements arriving from above.”

“Yes sir, I have approach vectors right here. Shall I give them to you?”

Darius deposited the headset and nodded at his Comm-officer. The pony flicked a few switches and began taking quick notes. “Welcome to the Imperial Navy, gentleponies.”

Sweetie Belle gently tapped on the Thunderbolt’s controls, aligning the front end of her ship as it glided into the Furtif, pushed along by its Sparkle Generators.

Brass girders whispered past the gunship’s balloon, almost touching the pliable material while Sweetie bit her lower lip, eyes twitching from obstacle to obstacle as she squeezed into the tight hangar. She knew that the smallest of cross winds could spell doom for both her and Mira.

Both mares exhaled simultaneously with a sense of giddiness as they crossed the threshold. Immediately, Sweetie Belle began flicking off various switches and her ship dropped.

For the first time, she inspected the actual insides of the hangar, seeing it for what it was, instead of a gigantic trap.

The impeccably clean and well-maintained ground was empty, save for a cyan spot in one corner and a long row of tarp-covered boxes. Barely a speck of dust rose up as she coasted to a steady landing on one side of the hangar, the Thunderbolt’s legs thumping silently on the floor.

Sweetie exhaled and leaned back, shutting her eyes as the stress washed out of her. Now, all she had to do was act as an antenna for the rebellion and hope that they won.

Mira’s hooves thumped against the side window and her nose wrinkled up as she pressed her face to it. “Sweetie, Sweetie, look; that mare over there!” She pointed at the cyan spot Sweetie Belle had noticed earlier.

“What about her?”

“It’s Rainbow Dash!” Mira pushed away and stared at Sweetie, awe filling her eyes. “The Rainbow Dash!”


“Can I go see her? Please?”

Sweetie thought about it. For the rest of the battle, her job was to keep streaming the Sol Scorcher blueprints until the fight was over. Just sit there and wait. “Sure, go ahead, but stay close. Just in case.”

Without a response, the red mare unstrapped herself and slipped out of her seat, hooves thumping eagerly as she charged to the back of the cabin and passed the entrance. Sweetie Belle watched her, blinking furiously as Mira galloped to the very back of the Thunderbolt and popped open a small hooflocker. The mare stuck her body in, only her back legs and flanks spilling out.

“What are you getting?” Sweetie asked.

Rather than answering, Mira pulled out a thick scrapbook held in her mouth. She smiled and spat it out. “It’s my autograph book. I bring it in case of idol-meeting emergencies!” Bending, she picked it up, bucked the Thunderbolt's door open, and disappeared within a few seconds.

Sweetie Belle stared at the now-opened entrance, the afterimage of Mira floating in her vision for a half-second.

Right. I’m all alone now, I guess, Sweetie thought as she leaned back into her seat. She watched one of her escort Vanquishers pull into the hangar, the pilot —one of the ponies from the Adamant Fury— expertly spinning the agile craft around and coasting to a quick and efficient landing in the centre of the hangar.

She sighed, boredom filling her and the cabin as time stretched on, the only sound the distant hum of the Furtif’s engines and the ticking from her ship’s datascope as it transmitted the information. She waved a hoof in the air, then rechecked the controls, then began cleaning her hooves. Gah, I’m in the middle of a war, cleaning my hooves! She slapped the console.

Unbuckling herself, Sweetie Belle hopped out of her seat and trotted over to the complex radio. She sat before it and, with a glow of her horn, flicked on some switches.

The cabin reverberated as she picked up a dozen channels at once.

“--mit! We lost the Silver Lining! Bloody Scorcher just wiped it right out. Oh God—” She twisted a knob.

“Re-coordinate: airships three to seven, please fill in the gap,” an officious voice said. “Shield capacity is failing in section twelve, all ships prepare for drop maneuvers.”

Sweetie twisted the knob a little more, a growing sense of apprehension filling her. “We can’t defeat that thing. Did you see it? And everything we fire at it just bounces off. It’s unbeatable...”

She touched the controls one last time, tears brimming in her green eyes. “My wife was there. My wife was on the Farmer’s Fury. I saw her. I saw her fall off of the top. She was running, then she fell, and then the beam touched her... She was on the Farmer’s Fury. I saw her.”

She clicked the radio off and simply stared at nothing. I’m doing nothing, she realised, the full weight of her uselessness hitting her. I-I have to help. What if my friends...?

She looked out the window then, her attention caught by the Vanquisher leaving. Within it, she could see the distinctive multi-hued mane of Rainbow Dash. She’s going to meet up with Scootaloo, then they’ll attack too. What if the Scorcher takes them? Sweetie gulped and faced her machine, the only tool at her disposal.

Her horn glowed powerfully in time with a dozen knobs and switches and, soon, the primitive computer’s screen was shifting through the Sol Scorcher’s blueprints. There has to be something here.

The images flickered by her as she studied them, her mind on the brink of being overwhelmed as she took in the sheer complexity of the ship. It’s huge! She shook her head. No, that’s a weakness. I just need to find one vital thing, one weak spot that we can exploit.

Her eyes landed on a schematic of the shield system and she froze. That might help.

The door hissed open and a smiling Mira —slob-covered book in mouth— pranced in. She ran to the hooflocker, heedless of Sweetie Belle, and spat her precious book into it. “Hey Sweetie, found anything cool?”

“Maybe,” Sweetie said. She flicked by a few more pages. “The Sol Scorcher’s shields go down every time it fires.”

“Ah, you’re looking for weaknesses?” Mira walked over, looking over Sweetie Belle’s shoulder with a curious gleam in her eyes.


“Found an exhaust port, yet?” Mira asked.

“Huh!?” Sweetie Belle paused her frantic search long enough to stare at Mira.

The earth pony smiled knowingly. “Nevermind.”

Sweetie Belle after a quick eye roll she resumed her screening. Mira went to her seat and lounged into it, stretching her back and yawning. “Wake me when you figure out how to disable the super laser thing.”

Disable the main weapon? It wouldn’t destroy the ship, and it would still have its secondary weapons, but it would just become a massive airship, not a super-weapon. That might work!

She began switching through the pages that concerned the weapon itself, the massive thing that made up most of the ship’s weight. Her eyes widened as she noticed something, and Mira caught on.

“What is it?”

“The energy source. The thing that feeds the beam. It’s a constant, like a massive battery in the centre of the ship. All they do is free some of that energy and concentrate it into a single beam... but how do they...?”

Sweetie Belle focused on the image, zooming into the exact part where the two mechanisms converged. Her eyes widened. “Sweet Celestia.”

Mira hopped out of her seat and ran over, smiling hugely. “Found it?”

Sweetie nodded and looked the mare in the eye. “I think I have. We need to tell the main ship, and Princess Luna!”

Mira shoved herself between the computer and Sweetie. “Wait, think about it. The Princess is already overloaded; wouldn’t it be better if we just contacted the right people?”

“The right people?”

Mira twisted around and reared up. Her hooves played across the controls and the radio fizzed to life. She picked up the microphone and practically screamed into it, “Heyo, anypony listening in?”

Scootaloo glared at the enemy ships, idly counting the hundreds of tiny dots that she knew she would be fighting against in a few moments. Her breathing evened out as she desperately tried to calm herself.

She failed.

Raw excitement tingled through her veins and a cruel smile graced her lips. Bring it, Imps, she thought before sliding from side to side with her ship.

Her radio crackled. “Oi, Scoots, what’re you swaying like that for? You almost rammed me there!” Kami Kaze whined.

“Heh, sorry, Kami, just a little nervous. I’m ready to test this baby out with some real Imp fighters. Teach the Empire a lesson in humility and butt-whoopings.”

Kami Kaze groaned. “Really? This is a war, Scoots. It’s not all rainbows and deathrays.”

Another voice joined in, one that Scootaloo had idolized since her youth. “Okay you two, shut up, alright? I can’t fly straight with your endless chatter.” Scootaloo looked ahead of her and at the ship leading their three-plane formation.

Within the Vanquisher, she could see a thick lock of polychromatic mane shaking lightly. Scootaloo smiled again. She was flying with her idol, to the most epic battle in... ever! It was awesome. “Yes, ma’am!”


For a while, they flew in silence, approaching the growing battlefield in a straight rush with only the booms of war and the rumble of their engines to accompany them.

“Forty-five seconds from outer edge; time to pick out some targets?” Kami Kaze asked. Scootaloo tightened her hoof over the trigger.

“Not yet...” Rainbow Dash replied. Her craft pulled up and climbed at a crazy angle. Both Kami Kaze and Scootaloo pulled up after her, their bodies crashing into their seats as they did so. The three planes rose sharply, three identical trails of exhaust following them. “Look at the fight, then look at who the real enemy is.”

Scootaloo pushed her yoke to one side, turning so as to see the battle from her side window.

The Imperial and Rebel airships were mingling. Some of the Imperial heavy ships were beginning to angle up and take off while still launching volley after volley at the rebels. Shields fizzled and died left and right. The scene was ordered chaos in its purest form.

In the centre of it all was the Sol Scorcher. The ship was turning slowly, its fore following the front of the Rebel fleet as it maneuvered. The rebel airships desperately scattered as the Scorcher fired one of its deadly beams.

“It’s the Sol Scorcher,” Scootaloo said. “It’s leading the battle.”

“Not bad, kid,” Rainbow said and Scootaloo beamed with pride. “That ship is their ace. If we can take it out, bam, no more Imps.”

“Uh-huh, that’s pretty obvious. So what’s your masterful plan?” Kami Kaze deadpanned.

“Yeah, give me a second. I’ll get us to join one of the groups strafing the Scorcher.” The channel cracked. “Hello? This is... Lambda squadron. We have three fighters here willing and ready to jump in; we’re going after the Scorcher.”

“Are you stupid? This is a free-for-all, lady. Get your flank into gear and start firing at some Imps. Leave the big one to the professionals!” A rough voice screamed over the comm. Scootaloo stared at her speakers with indignation written all over her face.

“Just who do you think you’re talking to?” Rainbow Dash asked, her voice filled to the brim with venom. Before the other pony could answer, she went on. “I’m Rainbow Dash. The Rainbow Dash. Savior of Equestria, owner of Spectrum Skies, fastest pegasus ever... you heard of me?”

“Um...” He paused, now uncertain.

“Yeah, so give us that entry vector. Right. Now.”

Scootaloo smiled sheepishly as the pony spewed off the numbers and coordinates in a rush, her chest puffing out in pride.

A few moments passed and still they climbed, until they were high above the battle. Rainbow’s comm came back on. “Okay ponies, follow me. We’re going to go down there, skim along the Scorcher’s side, and empty everything we’ve got on her. Then, we’ll pull back and shoot down some fighters. Then, back at it again till the big thing goes belly up, alright?” Without waiting for an answer, Rainbow Dash pushed down, diving madly towards the battle.

Scootaloo followed, her huge grin contorted by the acceleration.

Below her, thousands of lights flashed as fighters and light bombers scurried like bees around the massive airships. Vague shapes of fighters flashed by Scootaloo’s Expedite, their forms distorted by the speed of her dive.

An Imperial airship turned with startling suddenness, cutting off their path while its anti-aircraft guns fired in every feasible direction, the lines of bullets tailing rebel fighters.

Rainbow Dash began weaving around the lines, as if predicting where they would be, before she finally rolled around the enemy craft, her wings almost touching the tough skin of the vessel.

Scootaloo gulped, then dived in with both eyes closed and teeth gritted. The Expedite rocked from side to side as red-hot projectiles boomed past her. She peaked out and gasped before kicking at her rudder and slamming her yoke to one side.

Her ship curved to the side, her rear props shredding and ripping into the thin outer layer of the Imperial airship’s ailerons. Bits and pieces of fabric followed her down as she panted.

Kami Kaze’s Divine Wind slid in beside her as he expertly avoided a pair of battling fighters. “You okay, Scoots?”

“Yeah, just a close call. I’m fine,” she said, hitting herself as she failed to quell the nerves in her voice.

Rainbow Dash spoke up. “We’re almost there, kids. Give her everything you’ve got, then we’ll pop around and do it again!”

Scootaloo looked ahead at the Sol Scorcher. The ship filled every inch of her vision. She could feel the constant pulse of its mysterious engines as the boom shook her very bones. She gulped and placed her hooves over the trigger. I can do this.

The three planes began to curve along the side of the enemy flagship. Just as they passed the very tip, Kami Kaze and Rainbow Dash opened fire.

Hundreds of ripples appeared as both their ships sprayed the side of the Scorcher with veritable streams of ammunition. Rainbow’s Vanquisher screamed and Kami’s Divine Wind boomed constantly.

She squeezed her trigger and began counting down. Beside her, the enormous cannons of the Sol Sorcher fired their deadly shells at the still-maneuvering rebels. Where there were no cannons, there were holes fighter planes could pour out of.

The eighteen seconds were up. A red beam poured out of her ship, burning a hot-white line into the Scorcher’s shield. C’mon, die already you stupid shield! As easily as it began, it was over, and the three planes flew past the cone-shaped end of the Sol Scorcher. That was it? We didn’t do anything!

“Gah, what a waste!” she muttered in frustration over the comm.

“Calm down, we’ll just go at it agai--”

“Heyo, anypony listening in?”

“What in Celestia’s name?” Rainbow began.

“Oh, I’m with Sweetie. She found some stuff out that might help you.” The comm filled with the sound of scraping. “No, really, take it! I can’t explain this beeswax!”

“Um, hi. I found something on the blueprints. When the Scorcher fires, the shields have to go down—”

Scootaloo grabbed the mic. “That’s brilliant, Sweetie! We can totally bring her down—”

“That’s not it,” Sweetie Belle continued, ignoring Scootaloo’s enthusiastic interruption.

“There’s a spot, towards the back of the Scorcher's firing cone. It’s not very big, but if you can hit it enough... well, you can disable the conduits that funnel the energy into the main firing device. That’ll create a feedback loop that might destroy the remainder of the system. The ship won’t go down, but it’ll be damaged and won’t be able to fire anymore. I think.”

The comm line was quiet as they processed the information. All three of them flew in tight evasive loops above the Scorcher, led by Rainbow Dash.

“Alright, let’s try it!” Rainbow said with gusto. She flipped around and faced the flagship, followed seconds later by the other two. “But when will it fire?”

Along the side of the Scorcher, a dozen vents spewed out thick smoke. “Oh, well that’s convenient... Line up, filles; we’re going in!”

The front of the ship shifted a little and another red beam blasted out of its barrel and over the horizon. Scootaloo paid no heed. The beam dwindled to nothing and all three of them blinked back the red glare.

Within the metallic cone, Scootaloo could see a dozen triangular plates stretching to a small hole at the back. Below that hole was a curved lump in the cone. That’s it! Shifting her craft, she aimed at the divot and pulled her trigger, willing time to go faster.

Rainbow Dash opened fire, the twin lines from her ship snaking around the inside of the cone.

“Kami, why aren’t you firing?”

His ship pulled ahead of hers. “We won’t have time. The shield will come back and we’ll have to start over. Every shot means another ship lost!” Even as he spoke, the shield began to reappear, cascading from the aft to the fore. “I’m going in!” he screamed and his ship jumped forwards.

“What!?” Scootaloo watched as the Divine Wind flew into the massive cone and began firing, all twelve guns ripping chunks out of the walls.

The shield clasped shut and she pulled her hoof off of the trigger. “You idiot! Get out of there!”

Rainbow Dash joined in. "What do you think you're doing!? You're pretty awesome, but not nearly enough to survive that!"

Kami Kaze laughed, his voice calm and composed as Scootaloo flew by the Scorcher’s barrel, losing sight of him.

“Wonder what I'll need replaced this time?”

A thunderous roar filled the air.

Yes, I did.

Edited by:

-Fred the Saiyan

-Cpl Hooves

-StapleCactus (He’s different)


View Online

What's Apple Bloom doing here!? Pipsqueak’s mind screamed as he twisted within the Vanquisher’s cockpit, desperate to catch sight of the mare of his dreams. Amidst his excitement, he momentarily forgot the Imperial fighters tailing him.

A thick stream of bullets grazed the side of his ship, whistling past with only a hair's breadth to spare. He grimaced, twisting his head once more to glance at the two craft tailing him. I don’t have time for this: Apple Bloom’s going to get hurt!

Tears in his eyes, he pushed down on his throttle and played with his yoke, avoiding the flood of flaming bullets while slowly heading towards a certain cigar-shaped fighter. He ducked his ship below the bulk of the fighting, stray bullets scattering across the sky he had occupied seconds before.

He turned, sinking deeper into his seat as his Vanquisher spun in a tight circle. Above him, the Rebel and Imperial fleets were trading blows, airships from both sides burning as they pivoted and vaulted towards the ground nose-first.

One of the Requisitors on his flank rolled out of the way of a stray volley, placing itself within his sights. Without hesitation, he pulled the trigger, wincing as twin lines of bullets blasted out of his ship and crashed into the biplane.

The explosive shock wave was hardly noticed amongst the rolling tide of the battle, and Pipsqueak ignored the flame-spewing form of the downed craft as he blew past it, his eyes still searching for Apple Bloom.

There she is!

Far ahead of him, hidden beneath the oppressive shadow of the Sol Scorcher, was the Tombstone. The long fighter puffed black smoke, attracting more than one greedy Imperial pilot out for an easy kill.

The nervous earthpony slammed his hoof onto his comm controls. “I’m coming Apple!” he screamed madly as he charged into the battlefield.

Flak blew around him, sparkling in the sky while it rained deadly bits of metal. Stray bolts of magical energy sizzled through the air, messing with the navigational equipment of every ship present. Shields burst and hummed to life as massive blows were traded on both sides, the war zone becoming a cacophonic orchestra of death and defeat.

The Tombstone shivered again, the ricochets of enemy projectiles bouncing off its thick armour. She... she won’t make it.

Pipsqueak cried out in pain and anguish as he watched, helpless, while the Imperial fighters closed in on her ship. No!

Above them, the enormous Sol Scorcher shivered. Its vents quaked before glowing and finally spewing powerful beams of light. The strobes played across the battle, dancing over plane and airship, cleanly slicing through everything it touched.

The gathering of still-formed Imperials met a dire fate as the deadly light burned through them. Pipsqueak’s eyes widened in shock as one of the beams pierced the sky ahead of him before veering off into the distance. The Requisitor that had tailed him was veering off as well, two of its stacked wings singed black from the wandering beams.

The Scorcher bucked, a trail of loud pops sounding out as explosions rocked the ship, spreading across its cannon. Midway through the vessel’s length, they stopped, the ship and battlefield settling into a deep calm.

What’s going on? Did somepony destroy the Scorcher? Nevermind that, now’s my time to find Apple Bloom. He swallowed hard and kept flying through the momentarily peaceful war zone.

The Tombstone was flying on, its side crumpled and armour dented, but the sturdy craft began a steady circling maneuver. The earth pony within moved around the cabin, her large bow wobbling. She’s alive! he thought before pressing his plane into a steep dive, rapidly catching up to the cigar-shaped wreck of a ship.

Quickly, Pipsqueak flicked on his comm. “Apple Bloom. You there, Apple Bloom?”

The line screeched static for a few seconds. “Yeah, I’m here. I came ta save you,” the earth pony said lamely, her accent poking through.

Pipsqueak sobbed in relief, a grin spreading across his face. “I-I.... You’re so stupid. So, so stupid,” he said, not meaning a word as he spun around and coasted alongside her.

She looked through her stained and marred glass, a smile adorning her freckled face. “So, should we, um, go somewhere private?”

Pipsqueak blinked dumbly at her.

“I mean, somewhere where we won’t get shot at?”

“Oh, um.” Of course that’s what she meant. “That sounds like a good idea. Follow me?”

From within her cabin, she nodded at him before he gunned his engine and rocketed forward, keeping a steady pace as they both raced skywards.

They flew around the hulking form of the Sol Scorcher, avoiding the bits of debris that fell from its frame. The capital ship was leaning to one side, yet it was not sinking. Some nearby rebel ships fired a volley at it, their projectives rippling against its still-active shield. Pipsqueak gazed at it in wonder. It just won’t go down.

Along its sides, heavy cannons were swiveling out of their anchored positions and taking aim at the maneuvering Rebel airships. With a series of thundering booms, they fired.

As the sound resonated across the sky, the battle kick-started into high gear.

It’s not over yet, he noted sadly, watching as more ponies died in the merciless battle. His comm crackled to life, snapping him out of his revery.

“Pip, watch out!” Apple Bloom screamed.

He looked ahead and at the grey tarp that was blurring by, the words Conformity scrolling by him.

Those explosions, those beams firing wildly, that eerie quiet. Did they actually do it? Sweetie Belle checked and rechecked her data, her eyes hardly blinking as they scrolled across her machine’s various screens. “They did it!” she said, an inkling of hope trickling into her words. “They did it! The Scorcher’s main cannon is down!”

The white unicorn jumped on the spot, her horn almost tapping the Thunderbolt’s low ceiling. Within seconds Mira was at her side, a beaming smile on her red face as she, too, jumped around in a tight circle.

“So that was it?” the mare asked, her excitement contagious. “The big bad meany ship is a goner?”

The skipping slowed to a halt. “No, not yet.” Sweetie Belle said as she glued herself once more to her computer. “The main cannon is out of order; that’s certain. They won’t get it online anytime soon, either.” She pushed away and beamed at Mira. “I can’t wait to see the footage of that explosion.”

Mira proceeded to make whooshing noises and clamber around the confined space, practically jumping off the walls while Sweetie waved at her to calm down. “Stop that; I need to call Scootaloo. I’m not sure how long it’ll take before the main reactor goes, and that’ll make one heck of a blast.”

The cabin filled with a garbled screech as the unicorn adjusted a few knobs with quick, expert twists. Scootaloo’s distinct voice filled the room, but it wasn’t the elated screams of joy Sweetie was expecting. The mare’s ears perked up and she frowned as her friend’s sobs fizzled out of the speakers.

“Scootaloo? Are you okay?” she asked, almost as if cooing at an injured animal.

Scootaloo sniffled, her hoarse voice responding. “We-we did it. Kami Kaze brought it down. It’s all on fire and there are things coming out.”

Sweetie’s back straightened. “Well, isn’t that good? What’s wrong?”

“Ka-Kami is dead,” Scootaloo barked, her voice breaking mid-word.

“Who? Wait, what happened?” Oh no, not Scootaloo’s friend; she’ll be devastated.

“He... he just flew in, firing and--” She broke off, entering an uncharacteristic silence. For a moment, only the close-bandwidth chatter and screams popped through the line, filling their ears with incomprehensible white noise and babbling.

“There’s more of them coming, Sweetie. I don’t know what to do.”

“More of them coming?” Sweetie Belle typed a quick command on the console and read the data as quickly as she could. “No...”

Mira leaned over to Sweetie’s side, the glee in her expression and voice, replaced by a slight frown and focused eyes. “What is it? What’s going on?”

“That, that signature, it’s the Conformity, and this one, it’s the Adamantium Fury, the prison ship,” she said, pointing at lines of text in turn.

“But... didn’t that mister help us?”

“Yeah.... Scootaloo, get out of there, alright?Just fly back to us for a few minutes.”

Scootaloo breathed into her mic. “Yeah, sure, I guess.”

“Good, see you in a few. We can talk then.” She closed the comm, shifting some knobs as she changed channels.

Mira watched for a few moments, quiet as she contemplated the glowing controls. “Who are you calling? The Princess?”

The glow subsided and Sweetie Belle straightened her back, her chest rising and falling evenly. “No, I’m calling someone who has a lot more explaining to do.” With a shaky forehoof, she tapped a button, compressing it with a soft click.

Nothing happened but a change in the pitch of the static. The white unicorn glared at the screen, her face reddening and her brows furrowing into an angry line.

“—is Imperial Navy ship Conformity. Please state the reason for yo—”

“Give me Captain Darius!” she screamed. Sweetie dragged the microphone down to her mouth.

“Uh, we can’t ju—”


“One moment please.” The line clicked and was then filled with the sounds of a busy airship: hooves tapping on keyboards, the heavy breathing of nervous ponies, the constant hum of cathode ray tubes.

Something clicked and popped, then a deep, exasperated voice said, “This is Captain Darius.”

“Hello, Darius,” Sweetie Belle said, her tone completely neutral. Is it really him? What’s he doing here?

“Miss Belle? I-I was not expecting to talk to you so soon. It’s a pleasure to hear you again, although the circumstances aren’t the best.”

She huffed into the microphone. “What are you doing here, Darius? Are you with the Imperials?”

The line went silent for a few seconds. “You remind me of my daughter, you know that? So smart, such a pretty voice, yet so headstrong.”

Why is he skirting around the question. She glared at the unanswering screen. “Will you answer me, or not?”

He sighed. “All in due time. All in due time. Good bye, Sweetie.”

What, he’s leaving? That double double crossing jerk! She punched her machine, denting the heavy casing.

The line went dead.

Darius clicked the microphone into its slot and let out a small, almost imperceptible sigh. And so I had to lie to her, of all ponies... He glanced at the room around him and the many consoles, all of them operated by a member of his loyal crew. At least, I think they’re loyal. He shook his head. No time to doubt them now; our mission is reaching its end.

Methodically, and without losing his balance on the constantly-shifting floor of the Conformity, Darius made his way back to the glass front of the room, ignoring the quick stares and twisted ears of his crew as he inspected the scene outside.

The battle had stalled, the attention of every ship on the Sol Scorcher just beginning to straighten itself. His eyes quickly jumped onto the rent plates of armour at its fore, the slow moving side-cannons starting to deploy themselves, and the thick plumes of pink-grey fumes spilling out of the main cannon’s mouth. “Do you think it’s over?” he asked, his voice betraying his negative mood.

Preacher sat leaning against the glass, his greying mane smushed against the window. He sighed. “No, the Scorcher still has some fight it in. In fact, that might spur the Imperials into a reckless battle.” Pushing away, the old stallion shook his head remorsefully. “I don’t know what they did, but it was certainly a good kick. Unfortunately, it’s a hornet’s nest down there.”

Darius nodded, blinking as two tiny fighters blurred past the glass, their backwash causing it to vibrate violently. He followed the plane at the rear, a long, cigar shaped thing that should have been retired a decade ago. “But the Rebels still have some fight left, don’t they?”

Preacher sighed again. “If the Imperials had come here without the Scorcher, I would have called it an even fight, a close one at that. The Scorcher gave them an advantage, one that they have used full well up until now. But the damage is already done, and the Rebellion’s chance of winning this is slim, even if that damnable ship were to crash.”

From within a shadowed alcove nearby, Freeze Charge spoke. “I agree. The losses were too great. Still, if they push on, they might make the Imperials think of them as more than just a few brats with cheap old fighters.”

Darius nodded grimly. “And our plan, will it have the desired effect?” It’s getting closer, he noted dully as the Conformity lumbered past the outer layer of the battlefield, bee-lining towards the centre.

Airships fired, filling the sky once more with deadly projectiles as the battle resumed. A new ferocity pushed both sides as the feeling of an imminent climax thickened. The explosive, thundering sound only took a blink to reach them, rocking the Conformity and the larger ship tethered to it. And so it continues. We have to get to work.

“What if the rebels surrendered?” he offered, the edges of his brows twitching as he awaited the obvious answer.

“The Imperials would make demands; the Princess would disappear, as would the bearers of the Elements; some ponies would be arrested; then life would go on, the Imperial hoof as strong as ever,” Preacher replied, his voice a dull monotone filled with a pessimistic despair.

And Sweetie Belle, what would happen to the filly who escaped Tartarus? “I see. And will it work, our plan?” he asked once more.

Freeze Charge answered. “I think it will.”

Preacher nodded. “It would be interesting, to say the least.”

I guess we don’t really have a choice. For Equestria, then! “Helmspony, full speed ahead!”

The tiny tin-can like ship shuddered beneath Bunnyhelm as the popping of artillery guns could be heard through the thick, sound-proof walls. He leaned his head to one side, and grabbed at the straps keeping him in place. Only a few more moments, and it shall be over, he told himself, cringing as his ears popped.

From the seat beside his, Scribeswell spoke. “We’ve reached The Great, sir. We’ll disembark shortly.” The secretary held a thick wad of papers in front of himself, trying to catch the light from the single lamp within the tight cabin of the transport. “We can count ourselves lucky, sir; we got out of the Scorcher with perfect timing.”

Sir, sir... Soon, they will address me as Sire. Bunnyhelm looked across the grey-walled cabin and at his secretary, watching as the pony turned a page over.

His eyes wandered to a single glass of water, the liquid shifting as the ship accelerated. The sounds of the battle became fainter. Yes, he’s right; my timing was impeccable. We hadn't foreseen the rebellion moving this quickly, or this well... It’ll serve to make it believable. One last step, then I can leave this forsaken pit.

A half-wall in front of them split open, and the goggle-clad head of an Imperial pilot poked in. “We’re beginning anchoring maneuvers, sir. Thirty seconds until landing; please hang on.” With a click, the door clasped shut, and the cabin filled with a deeper rumble as the Sparkle Generator kicked on.

The vehicle turned and began moving sideways, the noble pony and his secretary leaning into their seats until a loud ‘clack’ was heard and the ship stopped.

The door opened again, accompanied by some slight hissing as a nearby airlock depressurized. “We’re here, sir. Welcome to Admiral Trixie’s flagship, The Great,” the pilot said, a huge grin plastered on his face as he gave Bunnyhelm a quick salute and retreated.

The seal unhinged itself and dropped down and out of sight, aided by two pairs of thick and burly arms. It turned into a ramp while Scribeswell quickly undid his master’s belt, freeing him to wander out of the cabin.

There, he was greeted by a welcoming sight.

The inside of The Great was familiar to anypony who had ever been within the common airship. Struts and support beams crawled along the outer walls of the vessel, thicker where cannons and gun batteries were placed opposite the reinforced armour. Some fighter planes were hanging onto ramps, poised to take off at a moment’s notice. A long railing extended from one end of the cavernous hangar to the other, hooks and grappling arms prodding out of it and holding onto small ships and cargo.

Bunnyhelm smiled, not at the hangar, but at those there waiting for him.

Two rows of soldiers decorated the ramp leading to the fore, all of them dressed in the sharp red livery of the royal guard with their hooves straight and their backs straighter as they stared ahead, not blinking as they waited upon him. The noble pony hopped out of his transport, knees cracking as they took his weight.

At the end of the row of soldiers, tapping a hoof impatiently, was Trixie. She wore the grey on grey uniform of an Imperial admiral, but with an added purple trim that was adorned with tiny sparkling stars that reflected the artificial light of the hangar. “Trixie has been waiting for you, Lord Bunnyhelm,” she said before giving him the tiniest of bows.

“Ah, hello,” he responded as he began marching towards her. The guards along his sides snapped salutes as he trotted passed them, filling the room with the quick rustling of their garments. “Is everything ready, countess?”

She nodded. “The Great and Powerful Trixie is always ready,” she stated, her hoof tapping the floor indignantly, her true feelings betrayed by the blush creeping along her face.

He smiled. Ah, so the new title is having its effect already? Brilliant, he thought as he stepped by her and to the sliding door beyond. It hissed opened just as the admiral spun around and caught up.

The room beyond was an open-ended corridor that angled upwards and into the ship’s command room, the sounds of tapping and quickly barked commands echoing down the hall and into the receptive ears of the noble pony. The sounds of the end. “Can we prepare to depart immediately?”

“Of course. Trixie had assumed that you would want to remove yourself from here in such a hasty fashion.” She trotted to his side, only half a step behind him as she licked her lips and stared at him, eyes half-lidded. “Trixie always aims to please.”

The fool, anything for a little advancement. I might have to get rid of her as well. “Yes, yes, just run ahead and make sure everything is ready. We should depart within a few minutes.” The control room gasped into silence as he trotted in, the eyes of all sticking to him before shying back to their work.

He marched on, his footing careful and calculated on the ever-moving floor. In the centre of the room was a holo-projector, images of the battle playing across it as tiny replicas of the ships ticked from point to point, mimicking the real things outside. Without willing it, Bunnyhelm’s eyes strayed to the Sol Scorcher, quickly sizing up the still-intact model Something else caught his attention, nagging his trained mind into giving it a modicum of his time. Two airships, both marked as Imperial, were heading towards the Sol Scorcher, breaking through and above the entire formation. Bunnyhelm blinked at them, tracing their trajectory with his mind’s eye.

Nearby, the pony responsible for the image projecting machine sweated profusely beneath his too-tight uniform. “Is something wrong, sir?” he asked.

Bunnyhelm turned towards him, inspecting the room as if he had all the time in the world. They can’t know that I’m nervous. Everything was in order, straight angles marked by the perfect cleanliness that was common in Imperial ships. Yet, there was a distinctly ‘Trixie-like’ vibe about things. The consoles were made of exotic woods whose names could only be pronounced by herbalists. Thick purple carpet covered the steel floor while the forward ports were shaped like stars.

His eyes alighted on a nearby pony working behind an archiving computer. “You, can you tell me who’s in command of those ships?” The noble pony pointed at the tethered vessels.

A few ponies swallowed hard before filling the room with the sound of their hooves tapping on keyboards. “I have it!” one proclaimed. “The ships are the Conformity and the Adamant Fury, both captained by... one Captain Darius.” The tech-pony furrowed his brows at the screen. “The ships are flagged as MIA, sir.”

A slow, cruel smile spread across Bunnyhelm’s face, causing more than one pony to shiver. “Calculate their trajectory.”

More tapping filled the room as a curious Trixie fidgeted near the helm with an expressionless Scribeswell at her side. “If they remain in their current route, their chances of hitting the Sol Scorcher is approximately eighty percent.”

“I see.” Brilliant, Darius. You are a brilliant, brilliant fool. Maybe I underestimated you. “Once they are within a hundred meters, cut out the power to the Scorcher’s main shields.” Bunnyhelm sat, smiling to himself as he watched the figures of ships tick nearer to one another.

Soon, very soon.

Blueblood paced across the floor of the command room, his whiny voice bouncing off the walls. “What do you mean it won’t fire!?” he yelled at the top of his lungs.

The Vice-Admiral cringed for the sixth time, and for the sixth time, he tried to explain. “Sire, the rebels have destroyed our main cannon; we cannot fire it because it’s been blown apart.”

“But how are we going to kill them all!?” he screeched, tossing the cannon’s remote across the well-lit room where it smacked the Vice-Admiral in the face with a sickening thump. “Move us out of here, you dolt! We’re sitting ducks!”

The beaten pony blinked at his Emperor. “Oh, um, yes, sire, that’s an excellent idea.”

Blueblood seethed at him. “Of course it is. You don’t become Emperor with at least a little knowledge of tactics and airships. Now get us up and out of here!”

The Vice-Admiral bowed towards Blueblood with a kindling of admiration in his bright eyes before turning on his heel and spewing orders.

The Emperor rolled his eyes, sighed deeply, and climbed out of his throne, manicured hooves tapping lightly against the carpeted floor as he levitated a glass of wine to his lips. “Fools,” he muttered beneath his breath as he marched to the nearest viewport, eyes giddily scanning the battlefield. Ah, I can watch the rebellion’s last breath. How glorious!

Ships roamed around, blasting at each other as they danced in large circles while bright explosions dotted the sky in what looked to Blueblood like a wonderful parade.

An Imperial ship was heading for his own under his watchful eye. He frowned the Royal Frown at it. It’s coming awfully close, isn’t it? he thought to himself before sighing in relief as the ship named Conformity began to angle upwards. I’ll have to reprimand the captain later; have him punished for idiocy.

The Conformity’s lower hull blew past, struts and ailerons skimming just meters away from the Sol Scorcher’s hull, making the larger ship rumble slightly as the Conformity's engines spun wildly. The larger of the two ship’s shields fizzled lightly at the near contact.

Truly mad, he thought as his eyes were drawn to a loose chain dropping from the back and swinging around towards the Scorcher. He’s so sloppy!

As the Conformity pulled up, a larger, darker ship appeared, a grey-green vessel that was slowly careening downwards, its mass twisting as its propellers spun aimlessly.

It shifted slightly, showing its broadside to the quickly approaching Sol Scorcher.

“No. No, no, no!” Blueblood screamed as the Adamantium Fury, his Adamantium Fury, slid forward effortlessly. “Move this boat! Get us out of here!”

The confused Vice-Admiral turned, blinking at the flustered Blueblood as the monarch waved wildly. “Pardon me, sire?”

“We’re going to die, you incompetent shi--”

A loud boom spread across the ship as it jerked to one side, walls of flame raking around the area where the Adamantium Fury was ramming in, struts and metal bracings crushing into the armour of the larger ship. Everything shifted as the concussive wave traveled through both ships, setting off massive explosions across their bodies as section after section rippled with the blasts.

A pool of yellow liquid formed beneath the Emperor as his legs trembled. Moments after the ship capsized, the royal throne flew into a nearby wall to be crushed, splintering into a million pieces. Everypony in the room followed suit, filling the area with their panicked screams that could hardly be heard over the cacophony that the dying ship made.

The Sol Scorcher bent onto itself where the Adamantium Fury impacted, both ships becoming one as their hulls entwined.

Blueblood lay in crumpled heap on the side wall of his ship, his bloodied head rising as he looked at the mess around him. “It’s not fair!” he screamed at the top of his feeble lungs just as the escalating explosion reached him.

Both fleets reeled.

The Rebel ships scrambled away from the growing ball of flame that was, moments ago, the most powerful vessel in Equestria.

The Imperials split, those still loyal to the Emperor wheeling in large confused circles, calling on every channel for some sort of leadership. Meanwhile, the few focused Rebels fired away, peeling away at Imperial shields and ships. The fighter planes pulled back, siphoning back to their carriers to hide from the newfound bravery of the Rebels. Some Imperials, those who seemed to come out completely unscathed from the battle, pulled up, leaving trails of thick smoke as they snuck behind their allies and spun around, cannons aimed and ready, but not firing.

It was only a minute later that the Sol Scorcher hit the ground, engulfing an small forest in a cascading wall of fire and steel.

Quiet covered the battlefield, only the hum of uncertain fighters and slowing airships filling the skies.

Below, Applejack’s Apple Corp moved in their thick-legged mechanized units, the soldiers within staring in awe and confusion.

Another few minutes passed before the cheering started. Within the Moon, the Rebellion’s flagship, the cheering was loudest.

Seven mares, however, didn’t join in. Instead, their attention focused on the cold logistics of the war: the ponies and vessels lost, the enemy maneuvers, putting together just what had happened over the course of the last hours for the history books.

Ships rallied together and fighter planes looped and flew in wild formations, celebrating the fact that they were alive. Fluttershy’s Empathy Medical airships rolled in and jumped to work, curing both allies and enemies.

Not too far from the battlefield, the Furtif mourned in quiet, slowly coasting towards their accepting allies.

The Conformity stalled above the crashed Scorcher as planes circled around it, probing it with their curious eyes.

Edited by:
-Fred the Saiyan
-Cpl Hooves

The First Epilogue

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The princess surveyed the battlefield, her cyan eyes roving over the scene of destruction that had hours ago been a flaming, war-torn landscape. Now, all that remained were the husks of dead ships illuminated by her bright moon, and the scurrying crews of ponies looking for both companions and adversaries.

She sighed and closed her eyes. And so, this is how this chapter of Equestria’s history unfolds.

With a single slow and graceful motion, the princess of the night spun around and watched the other battle that was still ongoing: the war of logistics.

Ponies trotted and galloped across the control room of the Moon as they desperately tried to make sense of the numbers that were streaming to them from everywhere. Death tolls, the potential cost of repairs, where the Empire had gone, who was responsible for what. One mare in particular looked towards the princess, their eyes locking before she abandoned her post to the great detriment of those around her.

“Hello, Twilight Sparkle,” the princess said, her voice tired, yet relieved.

The mare bowed her head, her shoulders slumping slightly. “Hello, Princess Luna.”

The two mares glanced at the sky beyond the airship they were in. Tight formations of Rebel aircrafts flew in wide sweeps, patrolling the skies hours after the war was over for the slightest sign of the Empire’s hoof.

“It is over.”

“Yeah, I guess it is. This part, at least... You should get some sleep, your majesty; tomorrow will bring its own woes.”

The alicorn nodded, accepting the younger mare’s sage advice. “You are right.”

“Will we be moving soon?” Twilight asked, a note of anxiety in her voice.

Luna turned away from the glass and the mare, her eyes picking out four shapes in the darkness of the room’s corner. Three young fillies and a single colt, all four of them smiling and hugging, thankful to be alive. Yet when one of them, an orange pegasus, looked her way, Luna could see the sadness and loss hidden within her eyes. “Soon. First, we will send a delegation to Canterlot, just a small ship, one commandeered by some who have proven themselves loyal. Then, we shall follow, and crush the Empire, once and for all.”

Twilight nodded in agreement, wiping her eyes with a forehoof before the silence consumed them.

“Canterlot,” the princess said. “To Canterlot, and Sister.”


That’s it.

For Part One of this fic.

Some statistics!

Over 85 thousand words (counting my very long A/Ns)

Over 5500 reads

500 comments (Which kept me going, thank you very, very much!)

8 Months in the making

800 favorites

Now, some fanart!

A reading:


An Orchestral Piece:


And a Dirge:


Artwork by:

Coloursymphony (Cover Art)

NoReasonToHope (First Chapter)

AMDude (Chapter Three)

And Finally!

A huge Thank-you to all the bronies that have helped me edit, here’s a few:
(In no order)

Frederic the Saiyan

Cpl Hooves


Your Antagonist







My spelling really does scuk.

Remorse and Medals

View Online

The ship rocked lightly as another moved by it, casting broken shadows through the port-windows dotting the length of the corridor. Scootaloo ignored it, sighing as she walked forward with her head held low. Her leather jacket creaked rhythmically at every step, the noise only masked by the thumping of far-away engines and occasional boom of a stick of dynamite.

The mare moved to one of the windows and climbed onto two hooves, placing her forehooves on the cold metal on either side of the glass. Her grey-purple eyes reflected in the glass, staring into her empty soul. She blinked at her face, noticing the bags that had formed beneath her eyes and the puffiness of her cheeks. Shaking her head, Scootaloo leaned forwards, allowing her mane to cast a shadow over the glass and let her see the world beyond.

The Furtif was coasting hundreds of meters above Ponyville, her shadow mixing with the hundreds of dark shapes moving across the once gay little town. Other airships dotted the sky, some flying in tight formations, all with their Lunar Republic insignias flashing in the sunlight.

On the ground far below, the tiny shapes of ponies moved about, many of them gathering in the large fields around the town where the Moon, Luna’s personal flagship, was tethered to the soil. The massive vessel was covered in dents, scratches, and holes the size of the princess herself. Still, everypony seemed to be attracted to the blue form and the rows upon rows of chairs being laid out beneath it.

Scootaloo groaned in frustration and shifted her gaze. Further away, yet still within the sight of her pegasus eyes, was the plot of land where mere days ago they had fought. The wreck of the Sol Scorcher was still plainly visible, its framing raising out of the ground like the bones of a long-dead beast. Around it, often standing on end, were the carcasses of dozens of ships. The grey Imperial vessels were hardly visible in the horizon, while the gaudily-painted and disrepaired Rebel ships stood out like rusting sore thumbs.

She pushed herself away with a sigh, averting her eyes back towards the metallic floor of the Furtif as she kept walking down the tight corridor. What am I doing? she asked herself, her shoulders slumping and her tail hanging limply behind her as she marched.

Her hooves carried her to the left and down another corridor, this one lined with doors very familiar to her. On the wall was a painted sign pointing ahead and to the hangars. Scootaloo kept treading forwards until her peripheral vision caught sight of a dent-covered metal door, one riddled with bullet holes and a few scorch-marks. Kami’s room.

The mare paused, her head raising as she inspected the door, then moved towards it. Gently, she placed a hoof on its warm surface, the heat seeping up her arm. He’s gone, forever, isn’t he? She swallowed a lump in her throat before slipping her hoof to the handle and twisting it.

A rush of stale air flowed out of the room, carrying with it the musky smell of Kami Kaze, plastic explosives, and gunpowder.

Light from the hallway poured in, creating a rough triangle on the floor and wall of the short room and illuminating part of a bunk bed. Moving in, Scootaloo felt along the wall with a hoof until she rubbed against a switch. It clicked, bathing the room in the light from a single gem covered in wires glowing a steady blue.

Scootaloo inched in, her gaze sweeping across the room as she moved into it like an intruder waiting to be caught.

In one corner was a work desk covered in barrels, cartridges, and a few parts she recognized from run-of-the-mill aircraft. All of them were laid out in perfect rows and placed within labeled boxes. In the centre of the room was a tidy bed, the covers neatly folded and tucked beneath the mattress with the pillow lying forgotten in the middle of the floor.

Wow, he was actually... tidy? she thought as she pushed into the room, her curiosity getting the better of her. I didn’t think he was like that. The mare moved towards a dresser bolted into the wall and absently pulled one of the drawers open, revealing a stack of showy undergarments. With a snap and a massive blush, Scootaloo shut it. I didn’t know a lot about him.

Perched above the dresser was a framed image, one she picked up with her wingtips and brought into the light.

Standing tall and proud in the centre of the image was a short green-hued mare with a beaming smile on her face; beside her was Kami Kaze with most of his limbs in a normal state.

“He loved her.”

Scootaloo jumped, the frame sliding between her feather-tips before crashing onto the ground and spraying glass everywhere.

Turning, she faced Wrenches, the mechanically-inclined mare, leaning against the doorframe with one eyebrow perked at the mess Scootaloo had made. “Sorry about that,” she said, her voice lower and more gravelly than usual.

The orange mare looked down at the picture, now free from its frame, and picked it up, gently bringing the image back into the light. “Who was she?” she asked.

“Kami’s fiancée.”

Scootaloo snapped her head towards Wrenches, the question all over her face.

“Yes, he had a wife... or was going to,” Wrenches said before stepping in, gingerly avoiding the sharp pieces of glass. “They were both young... or at least younger. She was the daughter of some up-and-coming officer in the navy, before the Empire. Quite the bubbly personality, if I remember correctly. She had this thing for making everything... work.” Wrenches barked a bitter laugh. “I guess if she could make a relationship with Kami work, she could do anything.”

“What happened?”

“The Empire happened. When Equestria changed hooves... well, the aid and support groups trying to help our then enemies weren’t as appreciated. Kami Kaze was the son of two ranking members of the army. Mechanized commanders. But, he somehow managed to get work piloting, instead. So, he flew escort for some of the early aid missions, covering and scouting from above as the army brought help to poor villages.

“Then, when the Empire shifted camps, Blueblood ordered a full-frontal assault. Those villages were in between.”

Scootaloo looked at the smiling mare, then at the background of the image, a tiny straw-housed village filled with injured ponies and doctors. “Then what?”

“The Empire fired. An entire mechanized division assaulted the village from afar, raining shells and whatever new weapons they had brought with them. Kami got to his plane and took off. The mare stayed behind. Apparently, he saw the shell that killed her arc through the air before exploding.” Wrenches sighed. “He did what he was named for; he brought his aircraft around and attacked the Empire. Brought down seven mechanized units, including two anti-aerial platforms, before running out of munitions. Then, he rammed into one. Didn’t matter; she had still died.”

Scootaloo blinked back tears. “Is that how he... his legs?”

Wrenches nodded somberly. “Yeah, they recovered him from the wreck; weren’t sure what to do with him. By then, they knew their target was friendly. I guess being the son of those officers paid off. He was treated in what was left of the village, before any of the injured there got treatment.”

“Is that why he hated the Empire so much?”

“Yeah. He left right after, visited the mass grave where his would-be wife was, then galloped away on the rusty prosthetics he had. Eventually, Arny picked him up...”

Scootaloo folded the image carefully, then gently placed it within one of the inner pockets of her jacket.

“You should get going; you have a ceremony to attend. I’ll take care of this.”

She shook her head. “No, too many died to make a fuss about honour and things like that.”

Wrenches didn’t protest. Instead, she simply sat down and perked her ears. Down the corridor, they could hear the rhythmic tapping of hooves on the metal grating. Moments later, Arnaquer poked his head into the room, eyes wandering over the two mares until they rested on Scootaloo.

The pegasus stared back unblinkingly, her expression daring him to speak against her. Finally, he sighed and inched forwards. "We all miss him. No pony will ever be able to take his place. Mais, sitting here and crying about it, sa ne changerait rien. We may have won a battle, but the war is a long way from being over. The best way to honour him now, is to move on, get back out there, and kill as many of those filthy bastards as we can."

Scootaloo sniffled, then wiped a hoof past her eyes before glaring at them. “But that ceremony...”

The noble pony scoffed at her. “You are young and inexperienced; you don’t understand the trivialities of war. It’s about morale. Something Kami Kaze understood very well. Why do you think he was always armed to the teeth? To strike fear.”

Breathing hard, Scootaloo nodded and stepped out, casting a last glance at the room before exiting. Within, Wrenches gave her a tiny, sad smile.

Alone, Scootaloo marched down the corridor.

I guess they’re right; there’s nothing I can do. With a sense of foreboding and finality, the mare lifted her head up tall and stared ahead, ready to face anything that came at her.

She spun around the corridor and almost came face-to-face with Sweetie Belle.

The periwinkle-maned unicorn let out a high-pitched squeal and fell onto her rump with wide eyes. “Ah, Scootaloo?!”

Scootaloo forced a jovial smile onto her lips, one that her eyes refused to emulate. “Hi, Sweetie. I wasn’t expecting you here!” she said with false cheerfulness, one that the unicorn immediately caught on to.

“Uh-huh, I came to pick you up,” she replied, a slow, comforting smile making its way across her lips.

“Yeah, we should get going.” Scootaloo stepped around her friend and attempted to march ahead. Sweetie Belle’s extended hoof stalled her.

The unicorn slid up to her side, never breaking eye contact. “Look, Scoots, I know that what happened to your friend—”

Scootaloo shook her head, her purple mane flopping limply from side to side. “No, let’s not talk about it... please.”

For a moment, both mares stood in silence, only the ticking and occasional grinding of the ship’s metal baking in the sunlight filling the void.

“Okay,” Sweetie finally agreed. “But, we’ll talk about it later, when things are smoother. I don’t want my best friend going around with that sort of burden on her back, okay?”

“Yeah, I promise.”

Sweetie Belle turned and, with a tiny smile adorning her lips, lead her friend to the awaiting transport.

She never noticed the single tear rolling down orange fur.

Thump, Thump.

Apple Bloom focused on that constant thumping, the rhythm of it keeping her mind off other things. Instead, she paid attention to the movement of the four triple-jointed legs of the enormous steel walker they were in; the panoply of other ponies jammed onto the double row of seats; and the burping and groaning motor at the machine’s back, the smoke it bellowed forming a pseudo tail behind them that was quickly whisked away.

She leaned her head back and looked over the side, noting the large distance between herself and the ground that had been trampled by another such vehicle. The marks on the ground created a trail leading up to the Moon where the other transports were unloading their precious cargo.

All of that failed to distract her from the warm-blooded stallion sitting right next to her who had recently confessed his love to the mare. No! Ah need to think of other things. Apple Bloom shifted her bright red face away, eyes focusing on the destination they were slowly navigating towards.

The Moon was gently moving from side to side under the prevailing wind, making the lives of those hanging onto its side difficult. They wore welding torches and tools strapped around their bodies as they rapidly repaired the vessel.

Below the flagship was a raised platform surrounded by a massive semicircle of chairs and open grass, enough room for every pony in the fleet and more. There, thousands were congregating, smiling at their victory or crying at their personal losses.

One of the transport’s legs jammed, rocking the entire platform she was on and sending Pipsqueak crashing into her, one of his white hooves slipping between her thighs and rubbing against the fabric of her jumpsuit.

She glared at him, her eyebrows meeting together as she practically seethed anger and embarrassment. “Pipsqueak, what in Celestia’s mane do you think you’re doing?” she screeched, instantly gaining the attention of the dozen-odd other ponies reclining on the vehicle’s benches.

The mechanized transport took another step, one of its four massive and rust-covered legs thumping forward. At the head was an open cockpit where two ponies sat, fighting with the controls until they got the transport moving once more.

“I-I, um, I’m sorry?” he muttered, his face almost catching fire as it reddened. The other passengers mumbled and laughed discreetly, the words “young love” echoing in his perked ears more than once.

“Well, you can prove you’re sorry,” she began, “by taking your hoof out of there!

The colt whipped his limb away as if it had caught fire, then cradled it uncertainly, before inching away from her. He sat at his end of the bench, casting the occasional furtive glance her way.

Darn it. It wasn’t his fault. Her gaze went to one of the faulty legs as it climbed up, pulled by massive hydraulic pistons. Somepony ought to oil these things once in awhile!

Blinking, the mare looked behind her. Between her own cumbersome transport and the now bustling town of Ponyville were hundreds of such vehicles, all of them shifting from side to side, marching forwards within their lines. Most showed signs of use: from rust covering their exteriors, to missing limbs, to a few with gaping holes in their armour. The sure-fire proof that they had been in the earlier battle.

“Ah’m sorry,” she whispered, edging towards him slightly. Gently and with unnerving slowness, she moved her own hoof towards him.

The transport bumped again, followed shortly by a shout of “sorry, my bad” from the co-pilot.

Apple Bloom tumbled towards Pipsqueak, her cheeks squishing against his shoulder as she practically fell onto him.

“Um,” they both said as one, their eyes meeting and widening even as their breaths quickened until they were almost panting.

“Oi, git a room!” whinnied an old, weather-beaten stallion sitting across from them. He rolled his eyes, then barked a laugh, before tapping an equally old mare on the shoulder.

Apple Bloom and Pipsqueak moved away from each other, coughing and averting their gazes to anything but one another.

“Oh, Herb, you idiot,” grumbled the old mare before she slapped the stallion’s hoof away. “You ruined their date... and they were so cute, just like us when we were that age.” She chuckled, covering her toothless grin with a hoof. “Remember that time, under the hanger of the princess’ ship? Oh, you were such a ruffian.”

Apple Bloom turned and looked at the row across from her. There, half a dozen ponies were sitting around the old couple, all of them covered in grease, oil, and grime. The stench of burnt wiring and metal permeated the air around them, wafting to the mare’s nose at every step of the machine.

The old stallion sitting in the center, Herb, squinted at her as he leaned forward. “Wait jus’ one second. I know you!” he exclaimed, pointing right at Apple Bloom.


A few of Herb’s comrades pulled their attention from the surrounding countryside and dragged it onto Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom, dull eyes inspecting them drowsily.

“Y’re the one that stole the Tombstone! Ah remember you! You just upped and took off with that flying death trap... and y’re still alave?”

The ponies around him straightened, ears perking and placing their hooves on the rotten wooden flooring as they stared attentively.

The bow-wearing mare glared back at them. This sounds like trouble. “Yeah, Ah’m the one that took the plane, but Ah returned it!”

“Well, that’s even more impressive!” Herb said, smacking his thigh as he chuckled. “In the twenty years Ah’ve been with the navy, Ah’ve never seen anypony come outta that thing alave! Why’d ya think we call it the Tombstone? Those kill marks on the side aren’t the planes it brought down, it’s the pilots that’ve died in ‘er!”

Pipsqueak shot a glance at the mare at his side, one that spoke volumes. “Wait, you used that sort of thing to come ‘save’ me?” he asked, his tone someplace between chastising and impressed.

“Well, what did you want me to do?” she hissed back. “There weren’t any other planes around. What could Ah have done?”

Pipsqueak shrugged, his voice rising above a whisper. “I don’t know, stay in the ship? You were safe; you didn’t have to come and get me!”

Apple Bloom huffed, crossing her hooves over her chest as she leaned back into the bench. The transport bumped again as it crossed a tiny stream, the massive steel hooves crushing the ground beneath with an impact sounding like thunder. “Since when do you think you can boss me around?” Ah liked him better when he was all quiet.

The mechanic ponies watched the exchange in the same fashion one would watch a plane wreck: they know it won't end well, but they can't bring themselves to look away.

Pipsqueak rounded on her. “Since I started caring about you, you big doofus!” he yelled, waving his hooves around above their heads. “I don’t want to see you get hurt. I love you too much.”

Every pony in the vessel sighed contentedly; even Herb managed some sort of awkward groan.

Tears sprang to Apple Bloom’s eyes before she blinked them away. “Yo-you’re the doofus!”

“I-I, uh, what?” he asked, uncertain as to how to proceed.

Apple Bloom looked ahead of their transport where a steel structure of tubes and supports was firmly rooted on the spot. Out of it, a few different types of ladders and ramps extended, all of them preparing themselves to welcome the oncoming ship.

The passengers and crew remained quiet as they approached the structure. Beside it was an entire row of similar devices, all of them filled with ramps and steps leading down to the trampled-upon grass. Further off, the preparations around the raised platform were nearing their end, filling the air with a palpable excitement and an eagerness to begin.

The co-pilot of their transport stood up on wobbly legs and turned around, a dopey grin on his face as his horn glowed alight. He coughed, his voice magnified by his magic to bounce around the confines of the vessel. “Ladies and Gentlecolts of the Lunar Republic, I’m glad to announce your imminent arrival to the first Remembrance Ceremony of the Republic. Please stand up and prepare yourselves to disembark... to, uh, attend this monumentally historic occasion!” he said before the pilot stood and hit him upside the head.

Apple Bloom hopped out of her bench and stood in the wide alleyway, followed moments later by Pipsqueak. Above, the framework of the ramp system deployed itself in time with the jolting of the transport freezing to a stop. Out of the structure came a steep staircase that thumped in the middle of the passenger compartment.

Soon, everypony was lining him or herself up to step out of the behemoth, patiently waiting in a single file. Pipsqueak gestured to Apple Bloom to take the lead with a wave of his forehoof. She shook her head.

“Nu-uh. Ah ain’t letting you walk behind me,” she said, flashing an embarrassed glare at him. “You’ll look at my flanks while Ah’m climbing the steps!”

The few ponies who had overheard giggled to themselves, adding to the jovial aire of the open cabin. Blushing and grumbling to himself, Pipsqueak dejectedly trudged ahead of Apple Bloom, his tail slipping between his legs.

The lines dwindled as pony after pony climbed up the ramp, then down the spiral staircase to the ground below. Eventually, Apple Bloom had her turn up the steps, her hooves clicking on the metallic surface as she followed Pipsqueak.

“So,” the colt began, stretching the syllable, “what do you think of all of... this?” He waved a free hoof over the assembly of soldiers and ponies.

He’s acting weird, she thought, casting a furtive glance of her own to his backside. “Ah don’t know; Ah think it’s a little overboard. Probably just some speech, then some political stuff about defeating the Empire. Ah’d rather stay at home.”

They climbed down the staircase, the bottom of which clear save for a single unicorn, who held a clipboard up with his magic, ticking off names as everypony passed. The lime pony looked up at Pipsqueak and smiled like a predator, his overly-white teeth flashing in the sunlight.

Pipsqueak shrugged. “I don’t know; I think that it’s rather nice Luna and the high command organized something like this. Lots of ponies died, and we ought to be respectful.”

Apple Bloom snorted. “Yeah, but Pinkie’s the one that organized this Ah heard. It’ll probably end in a part—”

“Excuse me!” the lime unicorn said as he stepped up to Pipsqueak. “Are you Pipsqueak?” he asked, once more glancing at his clipboard. On it was a dated image of the colt in question.

The stallion looked back at Apple Bloom, eyes filled with worry and uncertainty. “Um, yeah?”

The unicorn shifted his weight, his predatory smile only growing. “Perfect, follow me.”

“Um, why?”

The unicorn froze halfway through his turn. “Pardon?”

Placing a hoof on her temple, Apple Bloom stepped forwards. “He said, ‘why?’ ”

He blinked, gaze shifting between the mare and the colt, before he pointed at his pristine uniform and the tags on his shoulders. “I’m a sergeant of the Lunar Republi—”

“And we’re not part of the Lunar Republic. Now, why do you want my Pipsqueak?” The colt at her side blinked at her, mouthing the word ‘my.’

“Look, missus, just shut up, all right? Your coltfriend here is needed at the medal-giving ceremony; he’s one of the delegates.”

Pipsqueak stomped forwards, roughly jamming a hoof into the sergeant's chest until the unicorn stumbled backwards. Around them, a crowd of ponies made up both of passersby and the passengers of their transport gawked and stared. “Don’t you dare talk to Apple like that! And- and she’s not m-my fi-fillyfriend!” he screamed before turning to Apple Bloom and staring at her.

The mare took two wobbly steps forwards, her legs almost giving out beneath her. Closing her eyes, she sighed, then took two hurried steps forward and pressed her lips on his burning cheeks. “Don’t you dare do that again!” she chastised, her own face matching his in shade. “Ah can take care of myself j-just fine.”

“Um,” the unicorn began, lifting a hoof as if he was a foal in school, “I still need Master Pipsqueak to come...”

They both broke eye contact, then looked at him. “Why?” they asked as one.

He sighed. “He’s to be medaled during the ceremony. I’m to get him there. Now, can we go? We’re going to be late!”

Pipsqueak blinked dumbly, his gaze going from the pretty mare that had just kissed him, to the soldier ordering him on. “I-I, uh—”

Apple Bloom shook her head, some of her short mane falling in front of her orange-red eyes. “Go on, Ah guess... but be careful. Ah don’t want to have to run after you!”


The mare slid forwards again, their bodies almost pressing as they exchanged heat. “Just go...”

He blinked, blushed, then swallowed hard before backing up slowly. “I, uh, I’ll see you later!” he said before spinning around and trotting to the unicorn’s side.

The unicorn huffed and smiled. “All right, come on... sir. We need to get you into a uniform of some sort.”

Hesitantly, and with an uncertain but giddy smile on his face, Pipsqueak followed the unicorn, quickly disappearing into the dispersing crowd. The last Apple Bloom saw of him was his tail as it slipped into a motorized cart along with the unicorn.

Herb and his wife moved to either side of her, their hooves gliding gently over the few blades of grass still standing. For a moment, they stood in quiet, allowing the other passengers to begin the short trek back to the stands and seats laid out around the platform.

“C’mon, sweetie, we should get going; I’m sure your little coltfriend will be back in a moment,” the older mare said, patting Apple Bloom on the back while wielding a large smile.

“He’s not my coltfriend,” Apple Bloom grumbled, then sighed. “Right, Ah guess there’s nothing else ta do, huh?” The mare looked around, inspecting the world around her while trying to tear her mind from what had just happened. Did Ah really just kiss him?

The patting hoof became insistent as it pushed Apple Bloom forwards. Reluctantly, the mare took one step, then another, as the old couple sandwiched themselves around her.

“Now, Ah know of the perfect place to wait in one of these event thingies,” Herb boasted.

“And where would that be, honey?” the old mare asked, her voice distracted as she searched the crowds.

They marched on, gently aligning themselves off to the right of the gathering place and towards a crane set off to its side. There, dozens of ponies in rough and tumble uniforms and jumpsuits were gathered, all of them reeking of oil and grease as they traded hoof bumps, tall tales, and quick jokes.

“Where are we going?” she asked, looking between the two ponies at her sides.

The old mare chuckled. “Just to see some friends. I think you might like them.”

“The best place,” Herb continued, “has to be close enough that you can see what’s going on on that stage, yet far enough that ya won’t get deafened by the end of the show. ‘Specially with Luna around! I tells ya, that princess has got a set of pipes on her.”

Apple Bloom shook her head, tuning out the stallion as they approached the crane. Along its side, ponies were climbing up the slight incline and finding themselves seats on the metal rigging and cords making up the machine. At the base of the device was a group, half of which was slowly heading towards them. A tall and lanky colt ran out, a dopey grin on his face as he led the way. “Herb! Grandma G! How’re you guys doing?!” he asked before skidding to a halt on the muddy ground.

“Grandma G?” Apple Bloom asked, one of her eyebrows rising as she looked at the old mare.

Grandma G hid a knowing smile, a twinkle in her eye as she leaned in. “The G’s for Grease. Got it with my cutie mark, but it’s not all that becoming for a young mare. I’d rather not be called as such, if you see what I mean.”

“Well, ya don’t seem to mind me screaming it while spanking y’er flank,” Herb said aloud.

Rather than blushing, the old mare tittered a laugh and stepped ahead of them, quickly enveloping the colt in a tight hug. “Sprocket, how’re you doing, my boy?”

Apple Bloom gave the colt a quizzical look, comparing his pale blue coat to the two old ponies’ bright orange. Herb answered the question that was on the tip of her tongue. “No, he’s not really related, but the whole of us—” He gestured at the group engulfing them that was tossing “hellos and good days” to Grandma G. “—are sorta like a fam’ly. You know, ‘cause we’re all mechanics.”


Sprocket detached himself from Grandma G and walked over to her, extending a hoof in welcome even as his eyes hungrily ran up and down her body. He’s checking me out! she thought, uncertain as to whether or not to hit him or to be flattered.

“Hi,” he said, a blush creeping onto his puffy, foal-like cheeks. “I’m not familiar with you, which is odd. I thought I knew all the pretty mares around here.”

Hit him, definitely. The crowd of mechanics settled around them, patient smiles on their dirty faces as they waited expectantly for her answer. “Ah, uh, Ah’m...”

Herb grabbed her shoulders, shaking her lightly. “This here filly’s the one who piloted the Tombstone.” Eyes widened all about. “And she’s still alive!” An ahh of wonder spread through the mechanics as they doubled their efforts to look at her.

“Oh, Herb, you’re making her shy. Now, sweety, how about you tell them all your name, then we can go find ourselves a seat.”

She swallowed hard. Why am Ah so nervous? she wondered as she scanned the crowd of curious looks. These ponies look nice enough, and it ain't like me to be like this... damn Pipsqueak; he messed with my mind. “Mah name’s Apple Bloom,” she said while smiling.

“Oh! You’re from the Apple family?” Sprocket asked, an easy smile on his lips. “Any relations to Applejack?”

“Yup, she’s my sister.”

In a split second, every mare and stallion hushed, the quiet thick as it took over the group, even Herb and Grandma G staring blankly at her. “Um, is that wrong? Somehow?” Apple Bloom asked, her voice setting them all back into motion.

“N-no, of course not,” Sprocket replied, something between fear and admiration in his eyes as he took a half-step back and gave her a curt bow.

“Argh, not this.” The bow-wearing mare slumped to a seated position. Didn’t see this coming. “Ah’m not some magical, all-powerful pony just ‘cause mah sis is... famous. Ah’m the same as all of ya. Ah know that the type four Sparkle Gen is the best on the market and that if you don’t tune the carburetor on the Spectrum’s six cylinders just right, it’ll buck you off mid-flight. Ah know that some of the guns made by Pinkie have to be clicked twice when installing them or else they’ll jam... now just treat me like any other mare and let’s watch this... thing.”

Guiltily, the crowd smiled and slowly dispersed under her glare before heading towards the crane and the few seats spread around it. Under Apple Bloom’s watchful glare, she could see the message and rumours spread from one to another as ponies glanced her way.

“Well, why’d you not tell us?!” Herb whined as he pouted, then winced as his wife cuffed him behind the head.

“Nevermind that, Herb.” Grandma G turned a beaming smile to Apple Bloom. “Shall we find ourselves a place to sit, sweety?”

She nodded. “Yeah, that sounds good.”

With that, the couple marched on, Sprocket following at their heels like a puppy after a steak. The crane loomed ahead and above them, its towering crisscrossing beams leading up to a singular metallic arm hefting a massive hook dangling from the end. On it, droves of mares and stallions sat, all of their eyes focused on the stage hundreds of meters away.

As Apple Bloom arrived, the ponies filling the base moved away, allowing her and the three accompanying her to pass. She rolled her eyes. It’s not worth arguing at this point.

Apple Bloom climbed up the impromptu ramp, then onto the beam, then gingerly went from bar to bar until she found a place for herself on a cold, metallic support.

They all sat, hooves dangling off the edge and waving in the tiny breeze even as the sun played across their manes. The Moon moved despite the thick ropes holding it in place, swaying gently back and forth as its broad sides caught the wind.

Apple Bloom allowed her eyes to wander over the crowds and the stage below. On the platform were chairs, a long row on the far right and seven on the left; six of them simple, yet gilded pieces; while the seventh was a monstrosity, enormous in size and weight with more gold on it than the heft of most ponies.

“Oh, I feel like it’s about to start!” Herb said as he jumped on the spot, the entire beam bouncing. He earned himself a dozen glares.

Grandma G rolled her eyes, then leaned in towards Apple Bloom. “I’m warning you, Herb’s a peanut gallery all on his own.”

Before Apple Bloom could comment, a single horn bleated a tone. As the sound carried out and waved across the assembly, every single pony hushed, the few still standing rushing towards their seats.

The Moon creaked, the entire vessel shivering as a panel opened up along its side, revealing the hangar made to hold hundreds of fighters and planes. Out of the darkened cavern came a single sleek vehicle, its four sparkle generators flaring as it hovered towards the ground.

Within its open back were seven mares: the six Elements of Harmony, all of them wearing their regalia and decorative dresses, and Princess Luna. The noble pony was bedecked in a simple flowing cape beneath an intricate, but tiny, tiara.

The platform came to a rest on the stage, billowing clouds of dust puffing out around it and washing over the crowd. Luna stepped out, one decorated hoof at a time, followed shortly by the six mares accompanying her. A dull screech rang out, emitted by dozens of stacked speakers and magical devices laid out across the grass. On centre stage, a single pegasus dropped from above with a pole, the top of which held a circular microphone.

From the far right, over a dozen ponies climbed onto the stage: some injured, others limping, but all proudly wearing the regalia of the Lunar Republic.

Apple Bloom’s eyes narrowed on three in particular: Sweetie Belle; Scootaloo; and lastly, Pipsqueak. The stallion stood awkwardly with the tight-fitting uniform as he found his way to a designated seat. “Well, isn’t he cute?” Grandma G asked.

The Princess took another step forwards, her head raising as she inspected the crowd with ancient, all-knowing eyes. She coughed into the microphone, the gesture somehow reminding all that she, too, was nervous. “Mares and gentlecolts, thank you for gathering here today, for today is a momentous occasion. Years from now, when your foals or grandfoals ask you about this day in history, you will be able to say you were there at the beginning of the end.

“The end of tyranny, the end of this horror story called war, the end… of the Empire!”

A single cheer erupted from the crowd, the noise and screams and stomping of hooves deafening. Luna lifted a hoof, and they immediately quelled.

From her vantage point, Apple Bloom watched in awe. So much power, she thought as her gaze focused on the Princess and the semi-circle of mares behind her. She both felt and knew that they alone could be an army.

“But take heed, my little ponies, such a wonderful conclusion cannot be obtained without a toll, and a hefty one at that.” She shook her head, hanging it a little in both a sign of respect and solemnity.

“Today, we have lost some of the bravest, most courageous, ponies who have ever lived, willing to pay the ultimate price to see the rest of us live in a world free from oppression. If you are one of the many to have suffered such a loss, you have Our deepest condolences, as well as a promise. A promise that although they are no longer here, they will never be forgotten. A promise that their sacrifices will not be in vain. A promise that we will see them avenged as we pave the way to a better tomorrow!”

Once more, the crowd erupted into cheers, though now they were mingling with the sobs of the weary.

“While we show our respect for the dearly departed, we must also show it to those who remain, continuing to fight for the freedom of all. We honor those who fought bravely in the fight, as there will be many more where such exemplary ponies are needed.”

A group of bat-winged pegasi fell from the side of the Moon, all of them wearing the dark indigo livery of Luna’s Guard. They carefully carried ornate plates bedecked with bright crimson cushions on which bright medals were placed. Gently, they lowered themselves, revealing silver medals gleaming a deep blue in the day’s light.

At Apple Bloom’s side, Herb began to fidget, a nervous smile crossing his wrinkled features as he leaned towards the mare. “This is the best part!” he almost squealed.

Twilight Sparkle took the lead, stepping up to the podium even as she unrolled a thick scroll held aloft by her glowing magic. “Commander Right-Wing,” she said.

The princess moved to the side of her nearest guard and, with her magic, grabbed hold of the first medal.

From the group of twelve ponies, a grey-maned stallion stood and hobbled across the stage, hundreds applauding his efforts and thousands joining in as the medal encircled his neck. He bowed to the Princess, then waved at the crowd, before returning to his place.

“That Right-Wing fellow. He almost died in the battle. Then, he hooked his ship onto another that was sinking; saved hundreds of lives, too,” Herb whispered. “He also made all of our jobs difficult.” Some of the other mechanics hummed in agreement.

The lavender unicorn leaned into the microphone once more. “Scootaloo.”

From among the seats, Scootaloo stood, smoothly making her way across the stage. She didn’t wave. She didn’t laugh or smile. She just walked with her back straight and fierce determination in her eyes. The few who dared to cheer gained bitter glares that froze them mid-movement.

With the shortest of half-bows, Scootaloo accepted the medal and returned to her seat.

“I hear she got enough kills to get ace six times over, and she’s the one that dented the Sol Scorcher enough to bust its massive canon-magigy.” Herb snickered to himself. “She’s also pretty hot.”

His wife hit him, sending his head crashing into one of the metal posts and ringing loudly. He stared back, properly chastised as he rubbed the growing welt.

“Sweetie Belle,” Twilight said from the stage, immediately recapturing Apple Bloom’s attention.

The unicorn beamed at Scootaloo as she visibly restrained herself. She crossed the stage in an anxious blur and scooped up the medal with a toss of her head, the silver pendant tapping against her breastbone.

Sweetie Belle turned, flashing her sister an incomprehensible grin that was met without expression, before returning to her seat.

“I heard she’s the one that found the Sol’s weaknesses, and she’s the one that got that ship to ram into it, and she won the Republic some fighters, and she personally angered Bunnyhelm somehow,” Herb said in a ramble.

Next, came a slew of names and quick grabs for the precious medals, each one met with fewer and fewer applause. Finally, a red and black pegasus stood and strutted across the stage, the heartbeats of every female doubling as his long sensuous wings gave a single beat.

He lowered his shades to the tip of his nose and winked into the crowd, dozens of mares fainting at the sight.

Luna looked at him quizzically while levitating his medal, only to have the stallion bow in front of her, grab one of her forehooves, and tenderly kiss it.

“Uh, Herb?” Apple Bloom asked.


“Who’s that?” she asked, cringing in disgust as the leather-clad stallion pranced back to his place.

“That, would be Nitro. He’s some hotshot pilot. He doesn’t even know how to treat a plane right. Keeps bringing them in with all sorts of dents and stuff.” He shook his head, a motion imitated by many other mechanics. “He’s also sort've a jerk.”

“Huh, right...”

“Pipsqueak,” Twilight called before rolling up her scroll and tucking it within her dress.

The nervous stallion stood and made his way across the stage, drenching sweat across the already-sleek floor. The stiff-legged Pipsqueak reached the princess and almost fainted when the medal dropped around his neck.

“I gotta say, he looks okay in uniform...” Apple Bloom contemplated. Grandma G. and Herb traded a look and a quick smile. Pipsqueak made his way back to his chair, blush deepening for every added cheer.

Luna walked back to the podium and attempted to smile at the gathered. “On behalf of the Rebellion, and Equestria at large, We thank you for your courage and strength in such troubling times, and pray you would continue to fight for the good of our country.”

The Princess bowed, once to the assembly, then to the medal bearers. A pin could have dropped and been heard by all as a shocked silence spread. “We could not ask for a better group of ponies to work with. Once more, We thank you all for coming today, but while we have won the day, the next is still being contested. We will need to tend to the wounded, reorganize, and plan our next move. We will need everypony to give Us one hundred percent tomorrow, so We can feel better about letting everypony have the night off.”

Every single pony within a few kilometers cheered, screamed, and hollered their joy to the heavens. The sound went on and on, broken only by the childish giggle of the princess herself. “Enjoy yourselves tonight, for tomorrow is another day, and another battle to be won.”

Edited by:
-Staple Cactus

Pre-Read by:
-Cpl Hooves
-Frederick the Saiyan

A huge thank-you to Staple Cactus who aided me well past a reasonable bedtime just so we could have this up on time. Go say hello! (Completed at 2:45 AM. You’re welcome!)
And the folks that helped me outline this story and threatened to beat me if I didn’t get to it!


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It was a perfect day.

Butterflies fluttered between their hooves and a gentle wind played with their manes and tails. An air of excitement filled the surroundings, carried through the voices and movements of hundreds of ponies enjoying their last moments on the earth.

The sun beamed down erratically, drawing Sweetie Belle’s attention to the sky. There, hundreds of airships lingered, all of them acting as shields to the bright sunlight as they tried to fit into formation.

More were joining every minute from the four cardinal directions as well as the ground. The young mare even recognized some retrofitted Imperial ships that just a week ago had been trying to kill them.

“Do we have to come here?” Pipsqueak asked, biting his lower lip as they neared the ramp that would bring them to their destination.

“Yes, Pip, we have to be here,” Sweetie answered. “But don’t worry; with all the bigwigs there, I’m sure you could just hide in a corner in peace.... Maybe you could spend it thinking about Apple Bloom?”

The mare's lips curled into a cruel grin as her companion sputtered and blushed madly, tripping over his hooves until he managed to regain his balance. “That’s, that’s.... How’d you know?”

She rolled her eyes, smile turning soft and friendly as she closed the gap between them. “Pipsqueak, both Scootaloo and I have known for a long, long time. Don’t worry, the secret’s out now. Just endure this and you can go back to the loving hooves of your little honey-bun.”

The unicorn’s giggling was drowned out by the clanking of their hooves on the metal ramp as both ponies reached the steel structure leading up to a cluster of tethers.

At the end of the chains was an old sightseeing ship. An oblong and sharply pointed balloon was mounted above an enclosed cabin, three sides of which were made of glass panes worked into the decorative supports. Not a speck of rust or grime showed on the old vessel and the propellers at the rear showed clear signs of recent repair. Hmm, nice vessel, Sweetie Belle thought as her eyes lingered on the balloon’s flank. The Stargazer, she read.

At the top of the ramp, a solidly built stallion in the dark-plated armour of a royal guard snapped a salute and drew the ship’s side door open. Soft music and cooled air escaped the large cabin, accompanied by a chattering of conversation.

“Come on, Pipsqueak, we get to meet the princess.” Sweetie Belle turned and climbed into the ship, noting the tiny shift of the vehicle as her weight pressed into it. Now what? We’re here, like they asked, but they could have been a little more specific on the why.

A waiter slipped by, lowering a tray filled with bubbling glasses of champagne until his eyes roved over them and the clearly discernible signs of their age. Both the young stallion and mare wore the new uniforms of the Lunar Republic. The clothing was notoriously difficult to obtain, but a quick flash of their newly acquired medals made it so that the requisition officers were more than willing to hoof the garb over.

“Can I get you something, esteemed guests?” he asked, his posh accent quickly grating on the mare’s nerves. “Perhaps a glass of... milk, or water, and I believe we have some apple juice; it looks like champagne.”

“No thanks,” she said sweetly, playing with the collar of the long midnight-blue jacket. “I would like to know who’s who, their status, and what the current topic of the day seems to be. Don’t bother going into too much detail; I just want a refresher.” Sweetie Belle smiled as the waiter blinked at her, fumbling with a loss of words. I guess getting dragged to all those silly high-brow events by sis was worth something.

“I, I see,” he said, pulling at his collar. “Well, if you look over there, you’ll see the, um, who’s who of this... party.” The waiter gestured to a group of ponies that had formed near the ship’s end, beyond the archaic wooden helm serving as the control system of the Stargazer.

There, Princess Luna sat surrounded by a dozen sycophantic ponies, all of them batting their eyes at the Princess, hanging onto her every word. This guy knows nothing. Those ponies are just suck-ups and nobles. The young mare’s eyes searched on, focusing on anypony she recognized.

Commander Right-Wing, one of the ponies who had been awarded during the ceremony, was leaning against a window, looking at the fleet above.

Nitro, the ace pilot, was chatting while gesturing wildly, the crowd of mares at his hooves looking at him with wonder-filled eyes. For a split second, his gaze turned to Sweetie Belle and he winked before returning to the mares.

Arnaquer, the Prench pony, twirled his mustache as he inspected the Stargazer's controls, his brows furrowed in concentration.

Twilight Sparkle was at the fore, adjusting a pair of glasses on the bridge of her nose as she looked at a thick wad of notes and calculation-covered sheets.

Beside the lavender mare, Fluttershy was talking to a stallion wearing the typical garb of an Empathy Medical doctor. The long yellow coat sitting on his back bore the emblem of the medical company.

So, that’s that, she thought, sighing nervously before taking a few more steps into the cabin and circumventing the waiter. With a clatter of hooves, Pipsqueak followed, keeping to Sweetie Belle’s side as the unicorn crossed the room. “Um, what are we doing?” the colt asked, bowing his head low.

“We’re going to go with the flow, find out what we can, then follow orders. There’s not much else we can do.... Maybe once this is done—this meeting, not the war—the four of us can get together and find a goal.”

“A goal?” he asked, his nose sniffing as another waiter passed, carrying a platter filled with hor-d'oeuvres. “What sort of goal, and why?”

“Everypony needs a goal. Ours was to live a happy life and have some adventures on The Crusader. But now, we don’t really have any. Sure, we’re okay now, but we need something to work towards, or else we’ll fall behind.”

“That’s... sorta really wise,” he said.

The mare looked over her shoulder at him, smirking a little. “Thanks. For now, let’s just wait, and listen.” Both of them reached the far end of the vessel where a duct rose from the ground and blasted cool air into the room.

They did not have to wait long before an old grizzled stallion marched to the centre of the room, his greying mane and gentle hobble carrying him up to the ship’s command centre. There, he reached up, every joint cracking, and pulled on a bell’s string.

A single ding rang out, cutting through conversations and grabbing the attention of all. The old stallion smiled a toothless grin at them all and nodded. “Ladies and gentlecolts, we are about to take off. I hope you enjoy your ride onboard the Stargazer and I’d ask that you hang on as we release our mooring.”

Sweetie Belle turned her attention to the tiny balcony running around the ship and the pegasi undoing the tethers beyond. With a lurch, the ship was no longer anchored to the ground. The entire cabin wavered a little, the floor dipping and bobbing, before the engines rumbled to life.

Tall plumes of smoke sputtered out of the exhaust as the propellers began to spin wildly. Ever so slowly, the Stargazer began to rise, all of the ponies within flexing to compensate for the gradual movement.

“Where do you think we’ll be going?” Pipsqueak asked, his wide eyes searching the skies beyond the balcony.

Sweetie Belle shrugged. “I’m not really sure, but I’m guessing we’ll be visiting the main fleet. All these ponies need to be impressed and it would make a nice show for those on board the fleet ships to see their heroes parading around.”

The young stallion looked at her, appraising the mare with a quick and curious glance. “You’re really... on top of things today, huh?”

They locked eyes. “We can’t just be innocent anymore, Pip. These are serious times and this is serious business.”

“Yeah, but...”

She shook her head, puffy purple and pink mane bouncing from side to side. “No buts. This is a war, and until it’s over, our unique objective is to survive. What would you do if Apple Bloom died? What would she do if you died? We can’t play anymore, Pipsqueak. We can’t play anymore.”

The pegasus at her side looked at the ground dejectedly, the calm reality of their situation sinking into him as he sighed. “Yeah, I guess... I’ll-I’ll go find the loo.” Reluctantly, the colt turned around and walked away, eyes on the varnished wooden floor the entire time.

The Stargazer kept rising

Leaning against the viewport, Sweetie Belle looked up to the rapidly approaching ships. How many are there? How many ponies in each? How many will live to see the end of this? This war, she thought, how and when will it end?

We have support. Even the Crusaders and I were working for Luna, and I can’t imagine how many others want her to rule again. But Blueblood, he had a lot of support, too. In the few years he ruled, Equestria changed completely. We didn’t have that sort of ship. Her gaze lingered on the Moon, the Princess’ flagship, as it wheeled around, massive cannons shifting as they positioned themselves.

Even ships like this old thing were rare, she thought, ears perking at the rhythmic thump of the Stargazer’s engine.

That wasn’t the only thing Blueblood did... No, not Blueblood; he’s dead. The Empire. They pushed new medicines and better housing and more work, patriotism, and something to build one's life around. Even if Luna wins, the Empire will still survive, only under a different flag.

She turned, eyeing the nobles, the generals, the high-ranking soldiers and officers. All the ponies that surrounded the one leader: Princess Luna. Do they realise every little decision they make now will either kill thousands or lose them this war? They won’t see it themselves, for the most part.

For a moment, the Princess looked above the heads of the ponies surrounding her, her deep cyan eyes locking with Sweetie Belle’s for a mere second before moving on. Still, the unicorn felt herself grow smaller at the sheer power and wisdom those eyes contained. Eyes that had seen a thousand battles, countless deaths, and had faced despair. No, she can lead us. The Princess is not our problem.

The little tourist boat rumbled as a massive warship flew by, drawing the attention of leaders and nobles as the emblem of the New Lunar Republic flashed through the glass walls.

The Princess smiled sadly at the emblem, then cleared her throat, the simple sound perking many an ear. “Hello,” she began, not forcing her voice into the loud baritone she used in formal occasions. “We are here for a simple reason. No, we are here for many reasons.” The tall dark alicorn moved forwards, tearing herself away from those crowding around her.

“War is not a simple thing. There was never one reason or any single battle, for any single fight or any single war. We fight for a hundred reasons, each one unique.” She turned around, her translucent mane fluctuating in a non-existent wind as it twirled around her.

“Some, fight for their loved ones; others, for revenge. Some ponies want a better future, be it through new leadership or by using this war as a basis to make more bits. Whatever the reason, we are all here for a common cause. Do you know what that is?” she asked, gently sitting on the ground as she looked down at those in front of her.

“To defeat the Empire!” one of the nobles shouted, beating his forehoof in the air while others joined in his cheer.

Luna shook her head, the simple motion turning the stallion’s face red before he shrunk into the crowd in shame. “No. The Empire is not our enemy. The Empire is made of countless ponies. Some innocent, some not. But all worthy of our forgiveness. No, our enemy is ourselves.”

Murmurs of confusion filled the room, even Sweetie Belle furrowed her brows, questioning.

“Ponykind has changed. To have ponies accept the reality of war, to use it as an opportunity....” She looked at some well-endowed ponies, most of whom cringed away. “We don’t want that. We want the things we have developed, the things we have built with our labour and our sweat, to be used for good. And that is why we must win. The Empire’s war-machine needs an enemy, else it will stagnate. And so we must stop it, and all wars.”

Arnaquer raised his hoof, like a colt in a classroom. Luna nodded at him. “Equestria is not alone. And other nations would love our land and possessions and ponies...”

“We shall see what happens when it happens. But first, we must make diplomacy an option.”

All ponies agreed, either with quick nods or an uncertain ‘yes’, but all agreed.

“Now, onto the second matter of the night.” The Princess stretched, popping her hooves as she bent her back like a cat. “We refuse to allow any fleet movements towards Canterlot—”

A dozen commanders and generals spoke out at once.

Hmm, Luna might be good, but if this many of her staff disagree with her, we might as well surrender now.

“Be still!” Luna shouted, the voice overpowering in the confined space. “This is not a matter We are willing to discuss. Canterlot is a precious target, one the Empire will defend with hoof and nail. If we assault the capitol, this will become a war of attrition. We don’t want that.”

“What about a scouting party?” Arnaquer asked.

The princess’ brows furrowed for a few moments. “Yes, We concede that knowing the exact movements within the capitol would be of some use. Do you volunteer, Mister Arnaquer?”

The stallion played with his moustache. “Oui, I think I can do it. My ship is more than ready... although I won’t lie, I could use some... back up. Si vous... if you wish for there to be more than just scouting done?”

“Do you speak of sabotage? Subterfuge and the likes?”

He nodded, a cruel twinkle in his eye.

“We see. Yes, Commander Right Wing will accompany you, as well as...” The Princess searched the crowd. “Miss Belle and her vessels. I believe that includes the young ace, Mister Pipsqueak.”

Pipsqueak gulped and nodded. “As well as Nitro.” The charming stallion blinked at the Princess. “He has much talent in the air and We believe he will be of use in filling in the losses of Miss Belle’s squadron.”

Everypony nodded and consented to the Princess’ word.

From her side, Sweetie Belle noticed Pipsqueak cutting the distance between the two of them until he stood right at her side. “What’s going on, exactly?”

The young mare tore her attention away from the politics to look at her equally young friend. “We’ll be together, and I’m sure I can get Arnaquer to assign Apple Bloom to his Furtif. Don’t worry.... Actually, I think we’ve been lucky. I don’t know where the main fleet will be going, but we’ll be skimming the capital. You know, checking out what the Imps have done there. Then, we’ll report it all. We should be some of the safest ponies out there.”

But why do I have the impression it’s going to be a very, very long...voyage?

The sun’s light crawled across the varnished wood floor of his cabin, its movement made rapid by the slow wheeling of the airship. Gently, the warmth of it spread across the unicorn stallion’s body until it touched his face, caressing the sharply-honed features passed from generation to generation.

Ah, morning already. It’s going to be a glorious day!

Stretching, Bunnyhelm pushed out his limbs in every direction, allowing muscles and tendons to pop and pull before he slid out of his velvety covers.

Hooves clacking on the ship’s wooden floor, the stallion trotted over to the gigantic window taking up an entire wall, the thick metal plating meant to protect it having been slid back into the wall by the serving staff.

He smiled, not a sardonic, cruel grin or a sheepish look of innocence, but a genuine smile of contentment. In the privacy of his own room—on a ship that he, for all intents and purposes, owned—he did not need to act.

Dark eyes roamed over the scenic display playing out for him.

The clouds held the silver lining of the bright dawning sun as they gently blew by, often broken apart by the sharp noses of Imperial ships. His ships.

The stallion fell into a game he had played as a foal, looking from ship to ship and counting, remembering everything he could about them. From the Interdiction-class vessels, the backbone of the Imperial navy; to the massive Obedience-class battleships, made to strike fear in all.

He knew them all: their weight, air-displacement, the speed at which they could turn, and the way they were armed. He had to know; he was the Emperor.

Blueblood didn’t know a darned thing about any of this, Bunnyhelm thought. But Blueblood is dead. This time, when he smiled, it was sardonic, meant to freeze the blood of those who saw it.

The room’s door opened, the sound almost non-existent as it swung on well-oiled hinges. Bunnyhelm shifted his attention to the glass pane and the reflection on it, in particular the blue shape gently trotting towards him, hooves making nary a sound. “Hello, Inky.”

The blue pony stopped, nodding to his master. “Hello, Comm... Emperor Bunnyhelm. I do hope you had a pleasant night’s rest?” Bunnyhelm nodded, taking the time to stretch once more. “Your Majesty, I believe Commander Iron Hoof of Canterlot has been on the line, waiting to communicate with you.”

“That’s fine,” the noble said, his tone dismissive yet firm. “He can afford to wait a little more.” With a huff, Bunnyhelm sat, staring at the horizon beyond and at the dark puffy smoke lining it. We’ll be there within hours. Home. “Inky?”

“Yes, Your Majesty?” the butler and secretary responded immediately, just as a thick grey and white jacket landed on Bunnyhelm’s back.

“Do you know what... empathy is?” Bunnyhelm asked, fitting his forehooves into the sleeves of the jacket. Hmm, an admiral’s uniform, he thought to himself, looking over the form of the white lapels and the golden trim. Ah, but with the symbols of the higher court. A good choice, he noted, shrugging into the coat.

“Do you... do you mean Empathy Medical’s potion? The stuff that can cure almost everything?”

“No, no, I mean actual empathy. The feeling, the emotion.” The Emperor snapped around, cold eyes boring into that of his servant. “I understand the principle of it, but I can’t find its... place. Its place in this dark world.”

“Empathy.... Empathy is to care for others, even when that might not be the best thing for you to do... for yourself.” Inky walked over to an open travelling chest in one corner, head and upper body disappearing as he dived in. When he came out, two things were held in his mouth: a tiny tiara-like crown adorned with jewels set to the symbol of the Empire, and a vial filled with a viscous blue liquid that seemed to glow and pulse gently. Rearing up, he placed the crown on Bunnyhelm’s head, before placing the vial at his hooves.

“That’s Empathy, the magical cure-all. It’s not for nothing that Miss Fluttershy called it Empathy. This tiny thing can cure just about anything, and it costs next to nothing. Did you ever wonder about that, Your Majesty?” Inky’s hoof tip played with the vial’s neck, twisting the contents in a small circle.

“I’ll admit that I have not.”

“It’s the definition of empathy. Miss Fluttershy understood the suffering of others, understood pain. And despite being rich enough and influential enough to hide away from any problem, she used everything she had to create this... this miracle.” He lifted the vial, holding it between them and allowing the liquid to catch the rays of the sun. “And it’s free.”

“A foolish move,” the Emperor scoffed. “With the right marketing and the right demonstrations, she could have sold it for millions of bits.”

“But then it wouldn’t be empathy, but greed,” Inky whispered as Bunnyhelm trotted by him.

“It matters not. Let’s go.” Reaching the door, the Emperor paused. “How long has Iron Hoof been waiting?”

The secretary fumbled after his master, quickly passing him and holding the door open. “It has been three hours since contact has been established. Commander Iron has been waiting ever since.”

Bunnyhelm nodded, yawning as he crossed the room’s threshold and started walking down the corridor, immediately heading toward the nearby communications room.

Ponies, all of them in the garb of the Royal Navy, slid to the walls and bowed with respect as Bunnyhelm crossed the ship. Often, he would stop and compliment one or mention some by name. Ah, the game of leadership.

Two guards, shoulder-mounted weapons at their sides, peeled out from connecting hallways and walked at the Emperor’s side, managing to pass almost unnoticed despite their heavy armaments and heavier armours.

The doors of the communications room opened on automatic hinges and allowed the Emperor to enter. As they shut, a single muffled thump sounded out, followed by a pure silence. The sealed room blocked out everything: the movement of rudders, the drone of the engines, the constant hum of the Sparkle Generator. It was as if he had been teleported to another world, one where silence was truly golden.

“This way, sire,” Inky whispered unconsciously as he walked ahead, hoofsteps turned into thumps by the carpeted floor.

Dozens of ponies were lined up in front of massive and complex machines, all of them pressing in codes or rewiring boards with quick and efficient movements. The Rebels would never be able to achieve this kind of dedication and sophistication.

In the centre of the room was a cubical, the semi-sphere obviously meant to give the pony within some form of privacy. Adjusting his jacket and clearing his throat, Bunnyhelm marched into the room within a room.

A single microphone was poking out of the ground, already adjusted to the Emperor’s height. “Hello?”

“Emperor Bunnyhelm?” came the immediate response from a deep, baritone voice.


“It is Commander Iron Hoof, my lord. At your command.”

A slow smirk crossed the Emperor's lips. “Is everything in place, Commander Iron Hoof? Are your ponies ready to evacuate, your ships ready?”

“Indeed, sire! Some were... reluctant, but all are waiting for orders. Soon, Canterlot will be abandoned and given into the hooves of that despicable Luna.” The voice paused for a moment. “Ah, and your... discrete messages to the populace, those about the glories of our old Emperor Blueblood, have been spread according to plan. All will remember his good deeds, and many will be saddened at the news of his death.”


A single low boom sounded out through the room, stalling the motions of each and every worker as all focused on the blue mare standing in the entrance, her star-studded cape billowing out as she strode forwards. Trixie’s face was twisted into a mask of loathing and anger as she marched across the deck, purposefully stomping, though it was to little use.

“Bunnyhelm?!” she shouted.

“Yes, Admira—"

“What did you mean, by this?” she asked, whipping out a long, narrow sheet from the insides of her jacket with her magic and levitating it in front of the Emperor’s face. “This is crazy. You just want to give them Canterlot? Are you crazy? After all that work with Blueblood? That’s mad!”

Once again, she fails to understand, Bunnyhelm thought, resisting the urge to lose face and glare back. “Admiral Trixie, perhaps we could talk in a more... private, setting? If I remember correctly, this type of vessel has a war room?”

The mare grumbled, flashing her magic once more before the note disappeared into the fold of her coat. “All right, big boy, but you’d better have a good reason for this,” she seethed.

“I always do,” he replied aloud, stepping around the admiral before trotting to the doorway, boisterous mare in tow. “Could somepony connect Commander Iron Hoof to the war room comm?” he asked before exiting, knowing that many would jump to the order.

The walk from one room to another was uneventful, most they met choosing to turn tail upon seeing the unadulterated wrath on the admiral’s face. One of his guards ran ahead to open the thick mahogany door leading to the one room dedicated to conferences and tactical meetings.

Three ponies entered the room before the door was shut. Two found seats for themselves at opposite ends of the long rectangular table. “Admiral Trixie...” Bunnyhelm began.

“Bunnyhelm,” she replied.

“No, no, the full title is: His Royal Highness, Bunnyhelm the First, Emperor of All Equestria and the Crystal Empire, Head of the Realm, Defender of Harmony” That ought to cow her a little.

She swallowed appropriately hard.

“Do you understand the orders?” he asked.

She pulled out the slip once more, slamming it onto the table as her wrath returned. “Of course I do! You want all the fleets, all of them, to pull away from Canterlot and go to this... that, dump! How can you do that?! It’s stupid; it’s just idiotic!”

The Emperor sighed, turning his attention to the ever-loyal Scribeswell. “Inky, describe to me everything you can think of, off the top of your head, that Canterlot provides for the Empire.”

The secretary blinked, stumbling over the first few words he pronounced. “W-well, it’s the, the capital, and it’s where all the politics are, and the fashion industry is really strong there. And I think it’s the place with the most retired soldiers and all that....”

“Perfect! Now, what does New Appleloosa give the Empire?”

“Um, iron works, some textiles; it’s where most of our research is done.”

“And Cloudsdale?”

Inky scratched at his nape. “Isn’t that where most of the Empire’s ships are built?”

Bunnyhelm nodded. “And Manehattan’s our largest port to the outside world, Baltimore holds the largest mineral and mining operations, Las Pegasus holds the most food production sites. Every city in this Empire has a purpose. But Canterlot, Canterlot’s the jewel.” He leaned forwards. “A useless jewel.”

“What do you mean?” Trixie asked, the gears behind her eyes turning.

“Of all the cities in our Empire, Canterlot’s the one the Rebels want the most. Of all the cities in our Empire, Canterlot’s the one we need the least.” He leaned back into his seat. “We will give Canterlot to the Republic, and do you know what they will do? They’ll parade, they’ll sing and dance and be happy, and then, only then, will they realise that Canterlot’s worth nothing.”

Trixie nodded reluctantly.

“Canterlot has nothing more than politics in its favour, and in a war of attrition, lawyers and nobles serve little purpose. The enemy can have them; they can try to defend that city. In the meantime, we have our forces stationed all around them, ready to pounce. How long will they last with no true supply lines? With limited resources and a massive city to feed?”

“Trixie sees the reasoning behind your actions... but that place, of all places?” The mare pouted, crossing her hooves over her chest. “Trixie would rather go to Manehattan.”

Bunnyhelm smiled sardonically. “I have my reasons. Please, Admiral, trust me.”

“Indeed,” came Iron Hoof’s voice, distorted by the cheap speakers placed in the table’s centre. “I firmly believe Lord Bunnyhelm wants nothing but the best for our glorious Empire! The Rebel threat will be crushed, and victory will be ours!”

Trixie eyed the speakers, then the Emperor, her uncertainty and will to protest slowly fading. I have her now. I cannot afford to have her, of all ponies, scheming behind my back. “Admiral Trixie, once we have landed, I’ll have some...' He touched his hooves together. "...work for you. A series of missions that will require the utmost attention and ability on the part of a certain leader. I would like that leader to be you. Be certain the reward more than lives up to the task.”

A sparkle flashed in the mare’s eyes, one that encouraged Bunnyhelm to smile and nod. “I’ll be off, then.”

With that, Bunnyhelm slipped out of his seat and made his way to the door, not bothering to excuse himself or say goodbye as he shoved the door open with a burst of magic and began trotting down the corridor.

Behind him, Inky Scribeswell followed, the smaller pony galloping to catch up to his master.

It’s so glorious, Bunnyhelm thought to himself as he walked through the familiar corridors, noting the hums and thumps of the ship around him. This game of war and propaganda and politics. Like chess, only so, so much more.

Each and every tiny decision, every spoken word and placed look, all of it communicates so much, all of it shaping and affecting our future. My future.

The noble pony marched on, climbing a shallow incline leading upwards in the massive vessel. Ah, the risks and the stakes, the combat of minds, wills and sheer brute strength, the constant rolling of the dice.

A slow smile twisted the edge of his lips as he crossed another grey corridor and beelined for a wide double door, one that opened with a whisper and allowed him into the command room.

And this, this is why we will win. Bunnyhelm felt pure pride welling up within him at the sight of the room.

Two furrows were built into the floor, each wide enough to hold two stallions abreast. Along the edges of those trenches were computers, screens, tactical and communication readouts, and every control mechanism for the ship and the fleet around it.

Puffing out his chest and straightening his back, Bunnyhelm marched down the centre of the room to the raised platform between the canyons where he could look down at every technician and engineer.

The attention was not what he sought, but rather, the view.

At the fore of the room was a multi-paned glass: a viewport from the very front of the ship, the farthest point. From there, Bunnyhelm could see in three directions.

To the left, he could see the majestic ships of the Empire, all of them piercing and cascading through the clouds in a perfectly coordinated ballet, one that would freeze the hearts of any meant to face them.

Twisting his head to the right, the Emperor caught sight of more vessels, these from a distant garrison that were gently sliding into position along the fleet’s side, weapons bristling in every direction, while squadrons of agile Vanquishers and hardy Requisitors flew in wedges.

He smiled to himself, the feeling of power weighing in his chest like a massive stone, a child growing more and more as he watched the awesome power of the Empire at work.

His Empire.

Ahead of him was the city of New Appleloosa. Tall spires of smokestacks rose out of the ground, spewing dark fumes into the cloudy sky that obscured the sun. Within the fortress of toxic gasses was the city proper, a maze of industrial buildings reeking of chemicals; thousands of apartment complexes sandwiched together; and skyscrapers rising like daggers, the bit of light there was glinting off their metallic sides.

Our new home, he thought as he sat on the cold floor, vaguely aware of a dozen eyes on his back.

His sharp, trained eyes picked up on something, an opportunity that sent chills down his spine.

From the city below, five ships were flying: three long white cargo vehicles with a familiar butterfly emblem on their yellow-gold sides and two obsolete cruisers, their archaic guns pointing in every direction but that of his fleet, as if paying their due diligence to his might.

“Scribeswell?” he asked, expecting an immediate answer.

His faithful servant did not disappoint. “Yes, Your Majesty?”

“I want those ships, the Empathy medical ones. I wish to talk to their leader.” Spinning on one hoof, Bunnyhelm stared right at Inky, blinking his impatience.

“Of course, sire, right away!” Turning, Inky charged away, hooves stomping on the raised platform, until he skidded to a stop at a nearby control station where he conversed with the ponies within. Moments later, he was returning, a long pole-mounted microphone held in his jaw. “Here, Your Majesty.”

“Is it on the right frequency?” he asked as the servant stallion installed the microphone in a pre-made hole.

“It should be. Those in the communications room should be taking care of it right now.”

“Perfect!” Bunnyhelm exclaimed. Now, to give a little show to all the wonderful crew members watching. I must secure my position as the leader right now.

A crackle filled his portion of the room, followed by the booming voice of an old mare. “Hello, this is the captain of the Nature’s Guardian. Why am I being hailed?” the captain asked.

“Right to the point, aren’t you?” Bunnyhelm asked, putting an ounce of humour into his voice.

“I’m a busy mare,” came the curt reply.

“And I’m a busy stallion. I’ll get right to it, Captain. I have a few questions as to the origins of your ship’s content and its current destination.”

A sigh filled the intercom. “Damn Imp pigs. You guys can’t mind your own business can you?”

Across the control room, a dozen ponies gasped quietly as murmurs and wide-eyed stares spread. Ah, were I Blueblood, that mare and her entire crew would be dead.

Instead of losing control, Bunnyhelm laughed, the sound bouncing off the walls and gaining him another mixed reception from a hundred perked ears. “Quite right, Captain, quite right. Still, you’ve piqued my curiosity...”

“All right, you seem the okay sort. What do you want to know? Oh, and make it fast, will you?”

Bunnyhelm nodded to nopony in particular and sat down, shifting his weight until comfortable. “I’ll start, then. First, what’s your goal, where are you heading, and what are you carrying?”

The mare huffed. “I thought you were going to go easy on me. Fine, my duty is to escort these three Empathy Med ships heading to Pon— Canterlot. There are pirates out there, although most have enough decency to avoid a medical transport; we heal them too, after all. As for where we are going: to Canterlot, to deliver a decent supply of goods there.”

He hummed to himself. “Captain, I would hate to stall you, but there are some fears that I have concerning your small fleet.”

“Well, that sounds like a fat load of croc to me! You guys just want to mess around with me!”

“Captain, we have just suffered some considerable losses to the rebellion, losses that we don’t want repeated. The only reason they were able to muster enough strength to stand up to us is because of their web of smugglers and lies. If you are carrying something hidden, or if there’s a real reason behind that transportation, tell me now and the consequences will be minimal.” Bunnyhelm smiled inwardly, knowing that in the short exchange he had with the Captain, the mare would fall into his trap headlong.

“Who in the name of almighty Celestia do you think you are! I’m not doing no such thing. You deserved those losses as far as I’m concerned!”

Bunnyhelm shook his head, forcing his tone to become saddened. “Many ponies lost their lives, on both sides. I don’t want that sort of thing happening again. A small inspection fleet will be boarding you and searching your vessels. I guarantee it will take little time.”

Through the radio, the clear sounds of the mare kicking at something and swearing under her breath was heard before she returned to the microphone, panting in anger. “Who are you? I’ll report your flank to your superiors for this tomfoolery!”

“I see.... My name is Bunnyhelm Chronos, Second Emperor of the Grand Empire of Equestria, Admiral of the Seven Fleets, Monarch of Canterlot and Ruler of the Noble Houses.” He cleared his throat, the tiny sound carrying across the entirety of the massive room. That had its desired effect. This is rather amusing. “I’m also the one in command of the fleet far above you. Need I name the amount of capital ships held aloft?”

Silence filled the radio waves, broken only a few seconds later by a single “Huh.”


The mare sighed into her microphone once more. “Yeah, yeah, I see your... little fleet. Fine, send your inspection team over; they won’t find a gorram thing.” The mare clicked her intercom off, the subtle sound resonating of defeat.

A small victory, but a grand one. I won nothing but the attention of this crew. Now, they know of my personality.

“Inky,” he said in a low voice, meant only for the ears of the servant. “Make sure the inspection team finds something, stall the delivery by a few days at the least. Mayhaps you could flood them with paperwork; nothing too obvious, though.”

Ah, what a wonderful day! “Now, let’s go; I’m hungry.”

Scouting and Quarantine

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“You can’t go, it’s stupid!” Apple Bloom whined, her hooves thumping against the corrugated steel of the Furtif’s floor.

Scootaloo sighed, fixing her eyes on the corridor ahead; she couldn’t allow this sort of distraction. As they trotted past a view port, the pegasus caught a blurred view of a midnight-blue vessel floating above the clouds, and a huge city of towering skyscrapers in the distance beyond that. “I have to,” she said.

“Well, Ah won’t let you get yourself killed.” Her friend thumped even harder to no avail. It had been over a week since they had left the camps around Ponyville, and over a week since they started the unending discussion: what should they do?

The Crusaders weren't fighters; at least, not at first, yet they had found themselves on the front line of a massive battlefield. Sweetie Belle had wanted to keep safe while impressing her sister; Apple Bloom wanted nothing to do with the war; Scootaloo had chosen to fight the Imperial threat tooth and nail. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

“If I die, then too bad. I did it for a free Equestria,” Scootaloo said, the words ringing across the hallway in a dull drone, as if she didn’t truly believe it.

Apple Bloom huffed, “Alright, fine. Don’t mean you have to go and off yourself. You’re going to fly into Canterlot. That’s, like, Imp-city. Every other Imperial soldier’s in there and there are more AA guns than you’ve got feathers. It’s silly!” she said as they moved out of the corridor and into the Furtif’s hanger, her high-pitched drawl echoing across the room.

Some ponies turned their way, the stallions watching with vivid interest as the leather-clad Scootaloo’s own gaze locked onto the Expedite. She took a deep breath of the hangar’s air, taking in the smells of grease, sweat and gunpowder as the two twisted around the maze of planes.

“It’s just a scout mission, in and out, check what they’ve got and fly back. If I’m lucky, fire a few zaps towards the Imps.” She glanced over her shoulder at Apple Bloom. “We need this to be done, else the Imps will never die.”

The bow-wearing mare stopped, her perception narrowing until only Scootaloo filled it. “You’re just mad ‘cause they killed that coltfriend of yours,” she barked.

The room, once loud and filled with thumps and clanks and the chatter of ponies, became silent. “What did you say?” Scootaloo asked.

“I said that you ought to pay more attention to yourself, and the friends that you have that are alive, instead of making up the Empire to be some sort of boogie mare.”

The dull collisions of Scootaloo’s hooves on the armoured ground were deafening. “Kami didn’t deserve to die,” she whispered. “But he did. And he did for all of us, and for Equestria. You have no right to doubt him or his purpose. He did his share, now it’s our turn. So back off, or fight by my side. Those are your choices.” The mare spun around and marched on, leaving a distraught Apple Bloom in her wake.

The room was quiet for two beats, then the conversations and noise-making returned with gusto as all tried to forget what they had seen. Scootaloo walked on until her path was blocked.

In her path, and leaning against a shiny new Vanquisher, one coated with chrome plating and enough kill-marks to make the sturdiest blush, was a pegasus. The tall, black-coated and fiery-maned creature gave her a beaming smile, flashing neat rows of pearly white teeth. “Hey sugar,” he said before slicking back his mane. “So, I heard that you’re an ace... want a full deck?”

She stared at him, letting time flow by on its gentle course while his lips twitched and sweat began to pool along his scalp. She sighed, then spoke as her head shook from side to side. “I could have killed you eighteen times over these last three minutes; I chose not to. It would be a waste of fresh meatbags to throw at the Imps. I did notice your plane, though. Modified catalytic converter. Retrofitted exhaust. Quad-prop system and a fuel-inject that’s reinforced for Zap-Apple fuel. Losing that would be a waste.

“Instead of wasting your time with pointless flirting, especially where you don’t stand a chance in Tartarus, how about you get in the damned plane, shut up, and get ready to face a wall of enemies a thousand times your superior.” She shrugged. “Or I could cover you in grease, shove some jam down your throat and toss you over the edge. Your choice.”

The stallion’s smile faded once and for all before he admitted defeat, spun around, and hopped into his fighter-craft. Grunting to herself, Scootaloo moved on, her attention fondly lingering on her Expedite.

Some nearby mechanics began to whisper aloud, trails and bits reaching her, “...Dude, she just shot down Nitro...” “He’s an ace, too, bunch of medals...” “Heard that she was a member of this ship’s crew before we were all thrown in.”

The long, red, and vicious craft sat in the hangar, a fresh coat of maroon making her shine in the artificial light. Along its side, and in equally new paint, were dozens of marks depicting the likes of Imperial planes, and one long mark: the Sol Scorcher. Along the plane’s bottom were two long cannons that ended in a mass of wires and tubes that oozed deadliness.

She hopped onto it, shoving open the cockpit and sliding behind the familiar controls before she buckled herself in and finally relaxed. So much trouble. But this isn’t the easy path. The empire’s going to fall, and I’ll be there to see it crumble. Then... what? she wondered, her gaze lingering over the levers and yoke and the hundreds of dials and knobs.

She waited, hoof lingering over the radio and the ignition until she heard a familiar clunk and the massive outer wall of the hangar began to slide open. Around her, three aircraft roared to life, preparing to take off into the smog-filled azure. Mechanic ponies made some last-second checks then ran off, wary of the great chasm that had opened nearby.

A bitter wind howled into the room, sweeping across and rippling tarps and dragging tools about as the sun’s light illuminated everything, instantly warming the room. Scootaloo flicked on the ignition.

Instantly, Expedite’s engine kicked to life, smoothly purring while its rear-facing prop hummed fiercely. “That’s my baby,” she whispered as she stroked the yoke.

With a tap on her throttle and a flick at the clamp-release, her plane hopped forwards, barreling out of the Furtif’s hangar before nose-diving down. With a terrible screech, the plane tore through the air before Scootaloo gently pulled back on the yoke, evening the aircraft out.

Above her, three more craft shot out of the hangar, all of them forming up behind the silver-painted leader. The radio crackled, and the pegasus who had recently attempted to flirt with her was on air. “This is Nitro, flying in for a recon mission on the—”

“Shut the chatter up, le jeune!” barked Arnaquer’s gruff voice. “No need to tell the adversary that we’re here.... Épais.”

Scootaloo giggled alone in her cockpit as she pulled up with her new-found momentum and rocketed past the formation of scouts. Twisting her vehicle around, she looked down at the Furtif and its long, deadly shape, flanked by two light frigates that paled in comparison.

On her other side was Canterlot.

The capital stretched onwards and upwards, rising to the air with dozens of thousand-hoof-length spires filled with lights that tried to outshine the dawn sun. It was massive, despite the considerable distance between herself and the mountain-side city.

With the tip of her forehoof, the mare played with the controls on her radio, switching it to shortwave frequency. The comm-unit sparked and crackled before settling to the proper place. Satisfied, she turned her attention back to flight, pressing the rudders and controlling the yoke until she dropped down and slipped into place ahead of Nitro’s silver Vanquisher. “Hey, form up on me,” she said.

“High band?” Nitro asked, even as he reluctantly complied.

“Yeah,” was all she said as a reply before pressing down on the throttle.

“Did Arnaquer not tell us to avoid this?” he asked, adding some emphasis on ‘us’.

“Yeah, but he can’t hear us now,” she said, “and it’s Canterlot. Do you know how many ponies fly in and out every day? How many will be chatting to each other? We’re fine, just don’t go off spewing stupid stuff.”

He huffed over the line, but didn’t say any more, allowing them to fly through the puffy white clouds in relative peace.

Her violet eyes surveyed the cityscape ahead of them, from the bridges connecting one building to another, to the columns of smoke rising into the sky above. The structure of the mountain it was built upon was hardly visible, save for a single massive rock jutting out and above the city. Her eyes kept roaming the scene, looking for something that was missing.

She found it.

“Pull up,” she said before doing as she ordered. For a few moments, the four climbed until they reached the edge of their craft’s altitude limit. “I don’t see any Imperial ships.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Nitro scoffed.

“Yeah, except I don’t see any Imperial ships. This is Canterlot. The capital. It should be swarming. And the AA placements look dead. And there’s no major civilian traffic. Something’s really wrong.”

“We should pull back then,” he said as bravely as he could, though a twinge of worry sounded through his voice.

“Yeah, you’re right. Escorts one and two, pull back to the Furtif and stay there. And while you’re at it, tell them what we’ve learnt.” She dismissed them, tapping her rudder controls and realigning her vessel ever so slightly. Behind her, the two escorts peeled off, heading towards their carrier ships with their usual hums.

“Hurry up. If it’s a trap, we’re going to spring it,” she said nonchalantly.

Nitro’s vessel wavered through the air, as if the pilot was uncertain. “Okay, but we meet the mission parameters and get out. I don’t want to stay down there any longer than I have to.”

In silence, the two craft pushed on, cutting through the sky and trailing an equal amount of vaporous lines behind them. Scootaloo fixed her unwavering gaze on the city, noting the complete lack of toxic fumes wafting out of the various factories and the plumes of ash rising out of the city proper.

Radio towers were crumpled over, massive holes having been blown into their sides while some buildings belonging to the Empire had been completely devastated. She spotted a few flashes of polychromatic ponies as they scurried about on the land below, and many more who sat around, unmoving.

They crossed the threshold of the city, flying over the vague lines of defensive stations and battlements. They were alone. No other plane shared the skies, although they were parked by the hundreds along the street edge and in the various parking garages.

The popping of a rifle went off, echoing across the street and making Scootaloo search around madly. Below, two groups of ponies were fighting, bullets slicing through the air as they maneuvered around, struggling for an advantage. Before her plane zipped on, Scootaloo caught sight of a little filly wielding a rifle as large as she. It’s chaotic down there.

“What happened here?” Nitro asked in a whisper, his voice rasping over the air.

“I don’t know. Keep your eyes open for Imperial patrols; it could still be a trap.”

They gently dipped below the tallest buildings, windows and steel structures blurring by both planes. The gigantic billboards along the sides were flickering on failing lights while the crushed forms of civilian airships lay on the roadways below. “I got something,” Nitro said, his voice tinged with fearful excitement. “Find the commercial frequencies on your radio for news and music...”

With an absent forehoof, Scootaloo twisted the knob of her console around until it landed on a channel, one blurting out the same two lines of a song again and again. She moved on, twisting it some more until the voice of a young mare filled the cabin. “—ulander, from the north district. We took shelter in the Caravan radio station when ponies started getting sick. My brother, Sparky Pie, got sick too this weekend, the same day the last of the Empire’s ships left. I’m not sure why I’m telling you all of this....” The air crackled for a moment, and a chair creaked.

“Guess there’s not much to do here. Mom’s trying to cook something up, but she’s coughing a lot, and she’s run to the bathroom three times already....” She sighed. “She’s sick too. Dad was at work when it really began, but we haven’t seen him since. Mom’s optimistic. I think he’s dead. Sparky's not doing so good either.... Why did they have to leave?”

Scootaloo touched her microphone until the thought came to her that it was a one-way transmission. “Why am I not getting sick?” the mare asked. “Is it ‘cause of the Empathy vaccine? I don’t think so... all I’ve been doing is sitting here, eating canned food and drinking my tea... Mom and Sparky hate the smell.” She barked a laugh. “I guess this is how it ends....” The air went silent for a while, filled only with the sporadic sniffling of a mare, and some distant coughing. Finally, she spoke, “Why did they have to leave?

“My name’s Coo Culander, from the north district. We took shelter in the Caravan radio station when ponies started getting sick. My brother, Spa—” Scootaloo slapped the radio off.

“We’re heading back.”

“Move it, Pip,” Apple Bloom said, pouting behind the reflective glass of her suit. “Ah have to go.” Beyond the young stallion waited a dozen ponies, the great majority wearing similar orange suits as they fiddled with their rifles and cast furtive and amused glances at the feuding couple.

Pipsqueak huffed for all he was worth, forehoof thumping against the metal-plated ground of the secondary hangar. “And I said no. It’s too dangerous and I don’t want to see you get hurt... I can’t.”

They blushed at one another, one part anger, one part barely-restrained love before she took a long step forwards and stared him down. “Pipsqueak, Ah said that Ah’m goin’, and that’s that.” She shifted within the hazmat suit, the rough plastic rubbing against her coat.

He looked over his shoulder and at the gunship sitting there, its side doors opened and waiting, even as a few mechanics checked the thin, long wings. “But, Apple,” he said, his voice becoming softer, a kind whisper that she knew could break her heart. “What if... you know... please just stay with me?”

“Ah want to stay with you too,” she lamented, leaning forwards until the glass of her cold mask touched his forehead. “But Ah have to.” She pushed back, straightening her back and reaffirming her resolve. “We’ll see each other again, tonight. It’s a promise.”

“Aww, it’s so adorable!” squealed a muffled voice from behind Apple Bloom. “Look at these little love-birds. All kissy-kissy and all that,” said a short, red mare that pranced up behind them with a grin as broad as her visage.

Apple Bloom blinked at her, eyes fixated on the red form within the clashing orange suit. Slung over the mare’s back and swinging from side to side was a rifle whose barrel pointed at her rhythmically. “My name's Mira!” she announced loudly. “I’ve been entrusted by Sweetie Belle to lead this here mission!” Mira snapped a hoof to her forehead, thumping iy against her face plate and smushing her face as she did so.

The soldiers stared at her, then at the weapon she had gotten her hoof on, then at the complicated vehicle she was about to pilot with them into a hotbed of danger. It was going to be a long day, they decided.

“Hi, nice to meet ya. Ah’m Apple Bloom.” The young mare extended a clothed hoof and Mira grabbed it, eagerly shaking it and its owner.

“Yup! Sweetie told me all about you,” Mira said before turning her gaze to the awaiting ship and the ponies milling around it. “I’ll be waiting for you in there with the rest. Kiss your coltfriend and come along, all right?” Smiling, the mare pranced past Apple Bloom, her long tail whipping out and snapping at the earth pony’s flank.

That mare’s crazy. And I’ll be with her all day long. Apple Bloom swallowed. “Right, um, Ah’ll see ya later Pip....” Averting her eyes to the ground, the young mare trudged past the colt, heart swelling with a melangé of mixed feelings.

The soldiers began to board into the vessel, making it creak as their weighty boots thumped into it, and found their way to their respective seats. The gunship had been stripped of everything, save for a side-mounted gun that faced Apple Bloom as she marched towards the open door tucked beneath a gull-shaped wing.

“Wait,” Pipsqueak called as he raced up to the mare and touched her shoulder. He spun her around, forcing her to face him. “Why’re you going? Really?”

She twisted away from his grasp and gently pushed his hoof away. “Ah have to. Scootaloo was right, Ah’ve done nothing so far and Ah ought to do my part.” She shook her head, an Apple family smile touching the edge of her lips. “You know how stubborn Ah am, don’t try to change my mind.”

Pipsqueak watched in forlorn silence as Apple Bloom marched away, tail swishing beneath its plastic wrap. She looked back at him, catching a glimpse of the brown-spotted, beige pony before grabbing onto the cold handles of the ship and hopping onboard.

Mira was at the controls, leaning back in the cloth seat as her hooves expertly moved from one set of levers to another, flicking and clicking them as the vessel came to life. Along its side, two props began to spin, sending a vortex of dust and wind billowed through the tiny hangar.

Apple Boom found a seat between two of the soldiers and squeezed herself between the burly stallions before surveying the sparse interior of the dropship. Everything jostled and bounced as flashes of brilliant light splashed across the metallic walls. Then, with another lurch, the aircraft shot out of the hangar, humming as the Sparkle Generator worked against the planet’s magnetism.

The pilot spun around, smiling through her mask as she gestured for Apple Bloom to come forwards while she held the yoke with one hoof.

Gingerly, Apple Bloom stood and navigated through the sea of legs and rifles to the front, keeping her weight low against the constant turbulence. Finally, she reached the front and lowered herself into the co-pilot’s seat. “What’s wrong?” she asked over the din of the engines.

Mira adjusted the controls a little more, eyes focused and filled with a deep determination as she fixed her gaze on the city ahead, then, she turned her attention to Apple Bloom, instantly losing the seriousness and replacing it with glee. “Oh, nothing much! Arnaquer said that this would be a walk in the park, and he looks truthful enough. He’s got a mustache, after all.”

“Uh-huh.” The younger pony scooted away from the pilot and glanced ahead. There, hundreds of towers ripped out of the earth and stood above them, the Furtif and her escorts floating amongst them. They had reached the city the night before, and found nothing but the barest hints of civilisation before Arnaquer ordered the investigation of the surface.

This isn’t that dangerous, right? she wondered. We’re just going on the surface, but we have suits so we should be fine. One of the soldiers coughed. And we have a dozen skilled rebel fighters.... I miss Pipsqueak.

“You know the order of operations?” Mira asked, tapping a few more controls as the vessel shifted and slowed down.

Apple Bloom blinked, her mind slow to process the question. “Oh, yeah. Get in, find out what the hay happened, get out. No biggie.”

“Exactly!” The mare gestured wildly, sending the vehicle skirting across the wide avenue and skimming mere hooflengths from the edge of a few buildings before she righted it. Behind, some of the tough-as-nails soldiers vomited.

“Oi, what’re you doing up front?!” one of the stallions shouted, his blood vessels bulging as he gripped onto the bench.

“Sorry!” Mira piped up before wrestling the ship back to the centre of the lane. Once there, she began to maneuver it for a landing.

Apple Bloom’s ears twitched as she caught a vague sound, one that only a pony who had spent years keeping wrecks in the air could detect: something was wrong with the plane.

A few lights began to flicker a deep red on the dashboard even as the mare detached herself. The engines began to buck and sputter, gouts of flame and sparks flying out of their exhaust and making the craft tremble and lose altitude. “Hang on!” Mira said as she wrestled with the suddenly unresponsive controls.

Apple Bloom bit her lower lip, took a deep breath and slipped beneath the metallic dashboard, her gaze travelling over the sea of levers, wires and struts that made up the vehicle’s controls. “Mira, which warnings are prominent?”

“Um, the... one with a pony shoving its face in a pillow?”

“That’s the airbags!” Apple Bloom shouted as she felt the plane tip forwards and lurch down.

“We’re halfway to E. Is that bad?”

Resisting the urge to sigh, Apple Bloom wedged herself further into the plane’s skeleton, her hazmat suit pulling and tugging on every hook-like edge. Not too far from her face, the mare found a wire dangling back and forth, its end serrated and split. Grunting, she reached out with both forehooves and grabbed the wires with her rubber-covered appendages.

The ship trembled, throwing her to the side and cracking a massive dent into the glass plate of her helmet. Again, she pushed back and grabbed the wires, jamming them together and twisting while rivulets of sweat poured down her mane. This is crazy, what the hay is wrong with thi

The pitch of the engine’s whirling changed and the Sparkle Generator began to hum happily. Apple Bloom leaned against the insides of the vessel, trying her best to face Mira as she shouted, “Mira, bring her in for a landing!”

“Ah, sorry ladies and gentlecolts! This landing’s about to get interesting!”

One of the soldiers grunted from behind. “Define ‘interesting!?’”

“Um,” Mira began tapping her hoof against the controls. “‘Oh Goddess, oh Goddess, we’re all going to die’?”

Apple Bloom squeezed herself out of the hole, duly noting the massive tears in her suit before slumping back into her seat with a huff. “So, what was it?” Mira asked, beaming down at the mare.

“Throttle and clutch controls. Too much fuel without changing the rotation; and the Sparkle Generator runs on the same system. Magical backfeed.” She closed her eyes for a moment, taking her mind off the now and focusing rather on the rhythmic pace and heartbeat of the plane. They’ll have to check this thing out when they bring it in...

“All right folks, Miss Bloom here didn’t feel like seeing us all turn into putrid pony parts, so she fixed the plane. I can now guarantee a safe, boring, and screamless landing. ETA— forty-five seconds.”

Beyond the glass dome that covered the front of the craft, Apple Bloom could see an open square where four corners met. In the centre a majestic statue of Blueblood waited, its horn broken across the plaza while the flowers laid around it, wilted in the lukewarm sun.

The ship twisted, its Sparkle Generator thumping as it slowed the vessel down and kicked up thick puffs of dust and debris as it came to hover above the ground. A few colourful heads poked out of the building’s windows, staring at the lone ship in fear and hope.

One of the soldiers leaned up to Apple Bloom’s side, head low as he talked over the drone of the generator, “Ma’am, you coming down with us?”

The mare swallowed hard, looking at the eerily empty streets beyond. “Yeah, Ah’m comin’.” With a heave, she pushed herself off of the bench and clattered onto all fours.

One of the soldiers grabbed the vehicle’s door and slid it open with a grunt, allowing the door to slam into place for six of them to jump out in a matter of seconds. They fanned out, rifles trained to every nook and cranny while the soldiers took deep, calming breaths.

It was Apple Bloom’s turn to hop out. With an oomph, she landed on the hard ground, flexing her knees to take the majority of the impact. Her eyes scanned ahead, anttention pulled to every billow of dust or stray movement of curtains. She was afraid. This wasn’t her place or the type of situation she was used to. For the upteenth time that morning, the young mare questioned herself, wondering why she hadn't accepted the offer of a weapon, maybe even a bit-operated hoofgun.

A pony tapped her shoulder. “You’re tagging along with group two,” said a lithe stallion with two barrels jutting out of the sides of his uniform. “That’s us,” he pointed at two more, another earth pony, this one a mare, and a massive stallion with a special suit, one that allowed his horn to stick out.

“Oh, okay,” she said, blinking at the suddenness of the change. Three other groups formed, one staying around the ship while the other two began to walk towards the city proper, heads low and weapons held high.

“C’mon, Miss Bloom,” the stallion said before turning around and marching off after his comrades. “I want you in the centre, where it’s safest.”

Alright, she thought, a deep sense of foreboding and an odd perception of the present rising up in her, this is it. Just follow them around and look, try to find out just what happened here...

The three moved in silence, their attention on everything at once as they distanced themselves from the whirring sound of the dropship and slid into the still, eerie silence of Canterlot’s deserted streets. The skyscrapers towered above them, so high that their tops became lost in mist and maze of walkways and bridges interconnecting the city. The distant pop of weapons echoed about, faint and muffled by their suits yet still enough to set the four on edge.

They would just rounded another corner when Apple Bloom coughed lightly and asked the simple question, 'So, what're we s'posed to be doin’?

All three stared at her, either glaring or rolling their eyes before returning to their silent vigil. “We’re looking for information. What exactly happened here to make it,” the stallion gestured around, “like this. The Republic needs to know if we’re going to do anything with the city.... and we need to know what happened to the Imperials. Where they went off to.”

“All right. So why don’t we split up?” she asked aloud, her gritty voice carrying on far ahead of them.

The soldier stallion groaned. “Because that’s a terrible idea. We have no clue how hostile the ponies we meet will be. Best to stick together.”

She nodded and kept walking, staying in the centre of the triangle of armed ponies. The roads remained the same: clean beneath the surface of trash and muck and devoid of any life or the signs of thousands of ponies that were supposed to be there. Above, peeking out of the windows, were mares and stallions that took a glance, then faded away.

So, we need to find out what happened... but how? Again she looked around, searching for signs of anything that would give reason to the chaos to the supposed plague that had taken the city, but she found nothing. Maybe... “Hey! Is anypony home?!” the mare screamed at the top of her lungs.

The stallion-soldier ran up to her, uselessly placing a hoof over the glass face of her mask in an attempt to shush her. “What are you doing?” he asked, eyes wide, angry, yet confused.

She shrugged. “I’m calling for help. Somepony has to be around here, still healthy and all that. They’ll come.”

A door squeaked open with a purposefully loud screech before a single yellow hoof stuck out, touching the ground. Instantly, all four soldiers were aiming at the limb.

“Calm down,” the young mare said, pushing away the soldier’s rifle. “It might be a nice pony, and you’ll never know if you kill him.”

“Thank you, young lady, for your kind consideration. I’d rather not get shot today,” said an older gentlepony as he stepped out, wearily trotted to the middle of the road, and lifted a forehoof in greeting.

The soldiers stared at him, uncertain of what to do. Things weren’t going as they had foreseen. Apple Bloom, on the other hoof, was fine. “Howdy, sir, how’re you doin’ on this mighty fine day?!”

He tipped his Canterlotian bowler hat down. “I’m doing wonderfully. Can’t say as much about my neighbours and the rest of the city. A rather pitiful affair. “

“Uh, yeah. I guess it is.... So, my name’s Apple Bloom, and these here,” she motioned to the soldiers, “are my friends.”

He eyed the group, his humour thinly hiding his calculating gaze. “You and your friends are rather well equipped.”

“Yup, we’re from the Rebellion. We were a tad curious as to why the Imps just up and left like that.”

“It probably has something to do with how you fellows obliterated their fleet, then poisoned our water supplies.”

The mare blinked. “Poisoned your water?”

“Indeed. Every drop of water in this city has been poisoned. And, if we are to believe the Imperial forces, it is you who have done so.”

"What?!" she protested, stomping a hoof on the stone roadway and making a puff of dust rise up. "We'd never do somethin’ like that. It ain't right."

More ponies had appeared, their eyes staring from cracks in the walls and windows as their ears perked. "Oh, don't get me wrong," the gentlestallion said. "I truly believe that the Empire has lied to us all. Although this is a rather odd scenario they have pitched us in. It's a predicament, and one that I'm curious to see the Rebellion crawl out of."

She grunted, brows furrowing as she took a half-step forwards. "We didn’t do a darn thing to this here city. Heck, we’re just a scoutin’ party. We have got no clue what’s goin’ on here,” she said, all the while pushing the soldier’s hoof away as he desperately tried to shush her.

“Yes, well, unfortunately you’ll have to prove that would-be fact to quite a few angry ponies. Several of them were rather fond of the Empire—not so much you.” He shrugged.

“They don’t seem awfully mean to me,” she said, nodding towards those cowering in the buildings.

“They’re afraid and sick.”

Her brows furrowed again. “But you’re not.”

The yellow pony smirked at her and nodded. “Quite right. I happen to own a little wine-pressing industry, so good water was never an issue for me; then I found some Empathy. Quick shot and I was as fine as a... fine thing. But, those that cooked with or drank the city-water, they’re sick. I haven’t seen any dead yet. But with tensions as high as they are.... Little miss, I’d suggest you and your little crew get going. Canterlot has maintained some civility. But it’s on the breaking point.”

“No, Ah ain’t leavin’. There’re too many ponies that need help and Ah intend to help ‘e--” Two gunshots sounded out, the wave of sound blasting through the road and making all flinch.

“That’s coming from the ship,” one of the soldiers murmured before sharing a glance with his comrades. They silently agreed, trading glances that only those who had spent years together understood. “Miss Bloom, we’re going.”

“Aww, but Ah was makin’ headway!”

He ignored her, instead grabbing her and dragging the mare across the street. Behind them, the yellow gentlepony waved a sad good-bye and adjusted his bowler hat. “Whelp, that was counter-productive,” he murmured as the group twisted around a corner. “May Celestia save us all.”

Apple Bloom panted, her legs burning as she tried to keep up with the soldier. They, on the other hoof, didn’t seem affected as their hooves hit the ground in a regular beat. Ahead, the buildings gave way to the intersection they had landed in, one surrounded by throngs of ashen-faced ponies whose eyes darted around and whose pleas overpowered the sound of the twin rotating engines.

The other groups were already back, facing the crowd as they leveled their weapons and sweated as the numbers only grew. What’s going on? the young mare wondered.

One of the braver ponies from within the crowd surged forwards. “Don’t you dare! You did this, now fix it!” he screamed at the top of his lungs, voice harsh and desperate as he stomped the ground passionately.

“Get in the ship, now,” the soldier accompanying her hissed, shoving her ahead while he brought up his weapons.

Wide-eyed and confused, Apple Bloom galloped to the dropship and hopped up, arching through the air only to crash halfway into the vehicle, back legs dangling out. Instantly, one of the soldiers bit the nape of her neck and tossed her into the back with a deep, growling grunt.

Mira’s hooves were flying across the board, as she murmured under her breath—the sound lost in the cacophony of screaming and the thumping of the engines. “We’re about to go guys!” She shouted over her shoulder.

Beyond, the crowd was closing in. Many of them were coughing or moving away from the crowd with a sharp jerk before galloping away, tails between their legs.

One of the soldiers let loose a few rounds, the projectiles smashing into the statue in the road’s centre and tearing massive chunks out of it. The ponies kept hollering and screaming, although fear now dominated the anger in their eyes. They’re sick... they just want help.

The ship began to rise the moment the last of the soldier ponies hopped in.

So many sick ponies, and there’s nothing we can do. The Empire won.

Good news!

Sorren, the melodramatic bugger, wrote a prequel to this story, and it’s pretty good. (We made sure that the canon works).

It’s called Of Aerial Dominance and can be found: Here.

Hit it up if you want more airship pony fix between chapters.

Edited my:
These guys.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention! Somepoy made this:


It's pretty sweet.

Politics and Show Offs

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The Battle of Ponyville had been horrible. The booming of cannons and the death screams of ponies over the comms had marked Sweetie Belle in a way that, perhaps, had yet to unveil itself.

What had happened below them, however, was far, far worse.

She had watched as Apple Bloom made her way down, scouted and returned, coat paler than ever before.

Those weren’t soldiers. They had no part in the war. The ponies of Canterlot were just that: ponies. Now, Sweetie Belle reasoned, they’re all sick. Somepony or someponies poisoned them. And I think I know who.

She trotted down the Furtif’s corridors, brow low and concentrated as she marched on. The swishing of her new officer’s garb carried on before her, announcing her presence to the new crew members onboard. Eyes widened and snouts met the floor in formal bows as she stepped by, hardly acknowledging them.

What can I do? she wondered. I’ve got the Thunderbolt and a few fighter planes, but those are useless against a plague.... Why did it have to be a disease?! She stomped forwards, encouraging those dilly-dallying behind her to hurry up.

What’s Luna going to do? Try to save these ponies and weaken her Republic, or ignore them and let them die?

Sweetie Belle sighed, a long, slow breath that seemed to add ten years to her youthful face. She didn’t like this. Not one bit. She wasn’t a fighter, either. She was not meant to kill or rally troops or stand behind the lines and give incredible orders. She was just a filly in the body of a mare, waiting for mommy to hug her better and for big sis to pick up the slack for her.

“No!” she exclaimed, freezing mid-step. I don’t need her anymore. I’m a grown mare and I can take care of myself. Luck and some skill brought me to this place, and maybe they can help me out of here. And maybe I can save some, and my friends. Yes, that’s what I need to do. And I’ll tell the princess as much, too.

The Furtif’s gray corridors gave way to a darker shade as she rounded a corner and walked along a catwalk. It moved between the walls of the ship, which themselves sloped downwards to hide among crowds of brass struts and thin aluminum supports.

The dull clanging of her hooves on steel lasted only a few moments before she had crossed the vessel and reached the room beyond; the sound behind her echoed on, diminishing with every repetition like the heartbeat of the metropolis below.

With barely a flicker of thought, her magic deployed and wrapped around the door’s handle, twisting it and gently pushing the entrance open. There, amid a faint blue glow radiating across the wood-panelled room, was Princess Luna.

Sweetie Belle took a quick step into the room, slid the door shut, and bowed. “Princess,” she said.

“Rise, young Miss Belle; We were waiting for you,” the monarch said in a deep, passionate voice. “All are gathered, and so We shall begin.”

Below the azure alicorn was a ticking device. It appeared to be a round, flat machine. Its top seemed to be a bowl of light, where the barest hints of mirrors and tiny robotic instruments moved about. Along its edge was a simple lens, connected by a panoply of wires to the main base. Sweetie Belle knew what it was, despite having seen so few. A holoprojector. With a two-way interface so that she can see us.... Her brow creased. How did Arnaquer get his hooves on this?

The pony in question was sitting across from her, the machine displaying the slowly turning princess between the two. He flashed a confident smile to her, one of his clean hooves stroking his moustache carefully.

Beside him stood two stallions. The first she recognized as Darius, the captain to whom she owed more than she wished to think about. He nodded to her, graying mane shifting about his head and alighting on his uniform—still that of the Imperial Navy.

The other was the captain of their other escorting vessel, a thin, old stallion who carried the weight of his duty with bent shoulders and deep sighs.

“We wish to know how things are going. You should have reached Canterlot by this time,” the princess said, not a trace of a question in her voice.

Oui, we have arrived upon Canterlot. At this moment, we are many kilometers above the surface of the city,” Arnaquer said, his smile growing as the alicorn’s brow twitched.

“Have you found secrecy there? A method to hide within the confines of the Imperial capital?”

“Non, there are simply no Imperials here. On est tout seul.”

Luna stomped her hoof onto the ground a split second before her image fractured and warped. “W—en— ... where are they?” spat the speakers mounted onto the device.

This time, Darius answered, having arrived at the site only days before. “Your Highness, the Imperial garrisons are empty. No ships remain, although we have found traces of where they have gone and when. The capital is free.... Mostly.”

The room filled with silence. “Mostly? Hmm, perhaps Imperial spies remain. Perhaps it’s a large trap with a shining jewel at its centre. Our senses tell us that something very wrong is happening there. Something sick.”

Blood rushed to Sweetie Belle's face. It wasn’t caused by fear or embarrassment, but by shame. The thought hadn't occurred to her that she would be in the room that would announce the dreary news to the princess. That she would be one of the unfortunate to stand there as the shock played on the princess’s features. It was shame.

“Ils sont... they are sick. The ponies of Canterlot are all very sick. We do not yet know what it is, but we do know that it was spread through the water and that Empathy in moderate or large doses can cure it.”

“Did this start before or after the Empire left?” Luna asked. To their great surprise, her voice was not tainted by anger, but by the low, whispering charm of sadness.

“Yes, only a day after,” Arnaquer said, that foolish grin still on his features. “I suspect that they are to blame. It’s what we wanted, only soiled.”

“We see.... Little choice is left to us. We must move upon Canterlot with all haste and aid these poor ponies; it’s what Our sister would have wanted,” Luna said as she sank into a seated position. “And you, your entire fleet, We wish for you to follow the Imperial threat. Find where it is they have hidden, like the cowards that they are.”

One of Arnaquer’s eyebrows rose up and one of the captains coughed to cover his surprise. “You wish for us to abandon Canterlot? With all of our vessels?”

“Indeed. The full force of our fleet is only days away. We bring with us medical supplies and enough force to take Canterlot once and for all.” She smiled, teeth glinting behind supple lips, like a rabid dog reminding its future meal that nothing could be done. “Swift judgement will be brought to our enemies who remain, and Equestria’s forces will marshal to our sides!”

“Je voix,” Arnaquer said. “We shall maneuver after the Imperial forces that have gone, if such is what you wish.”

“It is.”

“—And we shall find these Imperials, and if their forces are light enough or even if they outnumber us by the thousands, we shall poke and prod into their defenses!”

Luna raised a hoof, keeping it poised at chest, signaling for silence. Arnaquer obliged. “No, We wish only for you to follow the Imperial threat and find their place of rest. Attacking them like a conniving thief would be wrong. We wish to meet them in a full battle, our ships drawn in neat lines as we fight like true, honorable ponies. They have lost their dignity, but we have not lost our own.”

Her eyes shifted around and seemed to land upon Sweetie Belle. The young mare knew that the Princess did not really see her, instead seeing through the swiveling ‘eye’ of the machine. Nonetheless, a cold shiver ran down her spine.

“Young Miss Belle, We want you to keep us informed of any situations. We trust your judgment and the reputation of your family.”

The incandescent blue form of the princess snapped out of existence with the tiniest of zaps, making the manes of those remaining stand on end. The captains shifted about, waiting in the thick, humid air of the suffocating room. Without the eerie blue glow of the holographic display, all that lit the environs was a low-wattage bulb firmly fixed above the doorway, hardly enough for them to cast full shadows across the ground.

“We will disobey,” Arnaquer said, brushing it off like it was a simple comment on the weather or the passage of time.

Three pairs of eyes stared at him, widening then shrinking back down in disbelief. Darius was the first to snap out of the stunned silence. “Pardon me, sir? You wish to counter a superior's orders... just like that? Are you not afraid of reprimand, or punishment?”

Non. Her so-called ‘Republic’ is too weak to do anything of what you might call ‘insubordination.’ We are too far and too precious right now,” Arnaquer explained, not belittling or humbling himself, but talking as equals as his firm gaze captured all of them. “Luna is wise. She is powerful, too, but her eyes do not see all; her mind is not omnipresent.” Slowly, he shook his head. “She clings to matters and methods of actions that do not belong to this century or this millennia.”

“And what? You can act better than she?” he asked, deep jagged lines appearing along his brow.

“Perhaps, perhaps not. I do know how to fight in a rebellion, a war of attrition and guerilla warfare. Her course is one of honour. Le mien, is one of victory.” He smiled once more, a twinkle in his eye. “I intend to win, at all costs.” Shouldering on between the two captains, Arnaquer moved towards the singular exit, followed by the glares of the stallions behind.

He stopped at Sweetie Belle’s side. “Little filly, do you wish to win? Or obey? Much could depend on you. And it will never be easy,” he cautioned, cajoling, but more than firm.

Sweetie Belle was at a crossroads between two vastly different futures and the indifferent past. What do I want? For me, and for my friends, and for my... family?

Darius sighed, air rushing out of him as he bent down and sat. Sharp eyes looked at her, and she knew he would follow. She didn’t know why, but she knew. So would Scootaloo, she reasoned. She really hates the Empire. And Apple Bloom? She’s not a fighter, but after what she saw down there.... Pipsqueak will follow her, regardless.

“I’ll come, Mister Arnaquer.” Words escaped her lips. And she would not regret them.

There was nothing quite like a long, warm shower to relax one's muscles and spirit.

The tiniest of cold breezes crossed the cavernous bedchamber and the lone stallion sighed, enjoying the play of wind across his still damp coat. He relaxed his rigid posture, tiring of the long session of stretching and pulling his muscles taut then sitting and breathing.

Nothing like a long, hot bath. One delivered by a harem of pretty, young mares that giggled jovially and smiled seductively.

The sun finally built up enough courage to slip by the threshold of the cityscape’s edge, firing a massive beam of yellow light into his room and banishing the cold. He began to sigh once more, then it turned into a deep, throaty laugh.

Nothing like being the Emperor.

Bunnyhelm Chronos, second to ascend to the Imperial Throne, Lord of Equestria, vanguard of the three races, defender of righteousness, ender of the alicorn’s tyranny, was in a very good mood.

With a tiny grunt of effort, the tall, imposing stallion slid onto his hooves and began to cross the room, light hooffalls muffled to silence by the thick, luscious carpet. Taking his time—and knowing that he had all the time he could want—he crossed the room and navigated around chairs and couches worth more than the lives of many-a-pony.

A pneumatic hiss interrupted his silence as the double doors leading to the balcony coasted aside. The sweltering noise of bustling crowds, planes zipping by at speeds well above the speed limit, and the wind howling around the tall, grey steeple he was in filled his ears, attesting to the life of the city.

He advanced at a crawl, slowly taking in the skyline of the city, the thousands of rising spires that made up New Appleloosa. His New Appleloosa. Bunnyhelm stopped at the guardrail’s edge, knowing that somewhere a winged shadow was tensed, ready to take flight if the Emperor so much as slipped forward. Instead, he placed an unshod hoof on the railing and held it, allowing the cold to absorb his heat while the wind played with his mane.

He grinned.

A fleet was gliding into the city. The noses of the many airships tore through the clouds and smog to reveal their great and powerful grey sides. On them was the familiar emblem of the Empire, resplendent in the midday sun. Ah, so the Eastern forces have arrived, he mused, half a day late, but here nonetheless. Perhaps some stress as a punishment?

His grin widened and he called over his shoulder, to no pony in particular. “Have the captain of the approaching fleet meet me in the hangar by the time I get there.”

A skittering of movement was made behind him and he knew that a dozen were racing to fulfill his commands. Ah, but I set a challenge, and that means that I, too, have to act.... what a fun little game I play!

Thoughts buzzing contentedly, Bunnyhelm skipped across the balcony, abandoning the pollution-filled streets and rows of factories in favour of the sparkling-clean interior of his tower. He knew that soon—very soon—his moments of quiet contentment would be gone, and that he would return to being something else. Not an Emperor, but a tactician. He still had some enemies to toy with.

The cooler bedchamber snapped him completely awake as he beelined for the room’s end. There, through a pair of double-doors opened by guards of almost unnaturally large stature, he found a long corridor with walls of crimson gilded in silver and gold. A waste, in his opinion, but one that was already paid for.

“I need to wear something,” he told the corridor. Instantly, side-doors opened and mares with wild manes and dizzyingly-coloured outfits poured out, ready to dress him in any number of ways. They stared, brimming with curiosity. Is it for me? Do they want to know if I’m different than Blueblood, who beat them on a whim and made some disappear, or are they really just here to work? “Something simple, if you would please. I have an outing with an aircraft and robes of state tend to disagree with grease and moving parts.”

Some laughed while others jumped to the task with fury and passion, something that he noted duly.

Boots were placed in front of him and a tight aviator’s jacket—with gilded edges and the royal house’s emblem prominently featured on the breast—was deposited onto his back. He took his time slipping in, then pulled the coat around his form before smiling at the fashionistas and walking on, boots thunking on the marble floor.

Guards flanked him as he marched down the now-familiar corridor that ended in a tight corner. From around that bend came the sound of an argument, one between a pair of deep, dangerous voices and another, high-pitched and shrill. “I’m telling you,” said the squeaky voice, “I’m his personal assistant, I have every right to go in there!”

“Uh-huh, that doesn't sound likely. Sounds like something an assassin might say, eh? You a killer? Come to off the new Boss-stallion?”

Bunnyhelm, ignoring the feeble cautions of his retinue, trotted ahead and looked around the corner to find a rather interesting sight.

Two ponies were on the ground: a blue stallion and a massive white guard. The guard’s armoured hooves were milimetres from the blue stallion’s throat, threatening to attack the squirming creature at any time.

Three pairs of eyes snapped up to Bunnyhelm, but only one of them smiled. “Lord Bunnyhelm! These two wouldn’t let me pass,” Inky Scribeswell said, voice squeezing out from beneath the oppressive weight of the guard.

The guards released the secretary with a nod from the emperor’s part. “Yes, Inky, and I would venture to say that they did a fine job, too.”

Uncertainty crossed Scribeswell’s features as he glanced warily at the half-dozen behind Bunnyhelm. “Bu—” he began, but the new Emperor cut him off.

“I must say, you men are doing excellent work! There’s no way anypony could possibly harm me here, is there?” he asked one of the guards, turning his tone into a sweet, honest one.

The guard flustered, turning red beneath his armour. “Of-of course not, sire! We would defend you with our lives,” he finally managed, sinking into a bow as the last words escaped him.

Ah, a little reward at no cost, some adoration and idolization for later. Perfect. Sharp eyes turned to Scribeswell. “For the record, he is my advisor and can freely come and go. I trust him as well.”

Bunnyhelm continued his trot, vaguely aware that the group had reformed behind him and would be ready at a moment’s notice. Scribeswell was at his side, levitating out a clipboard and quill before taking dutiful notes. Bunnyhelm waited, knowing that soon the secretary would divulge the information he sought.

“The rebels have reached Canterlot, but only a small scouting party; sooner than we had made allowance for. It might be that they’ll begin treating the sickness now.”

Bunnyhelm shrugged. “A non-issue. The more they need to cure, the more their resources will be taxed. We might send some aid of our own.”

Scribeswell blinked back in surprise, but Bunnyhelm had read him already. “A show of goodwill, that we’re not the cause of that dastardly sickness and that we’re still worrying about our dear citizens. It’ll create some conflicting emotions and at a low price.”

The secretary nodded and took a few more notes. “A minor outbreak was found in New Appleloosa but it was quickly stemmed. I took the liberty to demand more care during the processing of incoming vessels. There are some rumours that the rebellion is led by Luna: a truth. I began to spread a counter, the the leader is simply a look-alike to the former princess, little more than a taller than average pegasus with a horn attached to her. Also, there’s some rather major disquiet amongst the lower class of this city. Ponies are angry at the raised taxes and military control. Enrollment went down, sharply.”

The charismatic leader hummed. “Do try to lower the taxes a little, just enough so that they notice. We can increase it gradually afterwards. Still, I don’t believe the lower-class will be an issue, not with the amount of loyal forces gathering here.... Anything else?”

Slowly, Scribeswell shook his head and leafed through the papers. “Nothing noteworthy. There’s some fleet movement; a group of Rebel scouts followed our trail.... ah, Canterlot’s energy readings are fluctuating wildly. Becoming stronger, actually.”

Bunnyhelm sighed as they both entered an elevator, the valet instantly tensing upon their arrival in his moving cage. Two of the guards accompanied them. “To the hangar, please,” Bunnyhelm told the old control-stallion before turning his attention back to Scribeswell. “Ah, I so wish I could have kept that wonderful machine of Blueblood’s. Everything about it was perfect. But the loss of the Sol Factory is nothing compared to the gains.”

The elevator jerked to a halt and the valet blushed, nervously unhooking the door and pushing it open. The troupe moved out, the guards joined by new members that formed a shield around Bunnyhelm. The group trotted down the utilitarian corridor, around a tight bend, and into the hangar.

The gigantic room could have been the normal affair: a place filled with the stench of grease and oils, the haunt of mechanics and working ponies where a variety of ships and aircrafts would station themselves. But Bunnyhelm had had other plans.

Ships and crafts in pristine condition were lined up along the walls, waiting to be used as the artificial light sparkled on their waxed hulls. Mechanics waited in neat rows, sweating in their clean jumpsuits while they eyed the Emperor.

The clacking of their boots on the steel-grated floor echoed through the room, and Bunnyhelm noted a squadron’s worth of pilots trotting out of a side area and rushing to their Vanquishers. Ah, an escort already? Somepony read my mind, Bunnyhelm thought, and he could not stop himself from flashing Scribeswell a tiny, private smile. The stallion was flustered.

“I don’t think Eastern Admiral Yama Moto has arrived yet, Sire,” Scribeswell said. “Perhaps we should wait a little longer?”

At that precise moment, the low, humming drone of a gunship filled the cavernous room. Ears perked and attention was drawn to the far end, where the room ended and open sky began.

An old ship flew in, spewing a dark, belching smoke that infested the room in a matter of seconds while its props began to counter-rotate. The steady thumping of the vessel’s Sparkle Generator echoed in their ears and mind, making more than one pony cringe back as the vehicle came in for a smooth landing.

Bunnyhelm shook his head and was vaguely aware that somepony had been a little too nauseous. “Scribeswell, I’ve decided that I will not meet with the Admiral. I’d rather inspect the fleet on my own than get on board that... thing.”

The Scribe nodded vigorously. “Yes, Sire. Which vessel shall you use?”

Bunnyhelm surveyed the long rows of crafts, realising that he could take possession of any one of them without any qualms. Fighters, some shuttles, a few bombers and support ships. All the very best the Empire could afford; all in mint condition. “It’s odd, isn’t it? When you have so many options, it’s difficult to.... All I wish is for a quick fly-by, in relative comfort and with a craft that has good stature and visibility....”

Bunnyhelm began trotting forwards, looking from one vessel to another before, finally, he stopped at one, a slow smile crossing his lips and sending shivers up the spines of those accompanying him.

Conqueror, read the flowing script on the long, narrow vessel’s side. A vehicle entirely plated in chromed armour from the tip of its blade-like nose to the twin engines sweeping out behind. It looked like a sword, Bunnyhelm noted, a massive claymore with stubby wings and tiny hoof-thick holes along the wings that hid magic-seeking missiles.

A dozen hooves clanged up the ramp and into the tight, yet perfectly decorated interior of the Conqueror. The emperor took a deep breath, filling his senses with the fresh aroma of newness that permeated the vessel. Along one side was a row of padded seats built for a mixture of comfort and efficiency, so that one could take their cocktail in mid-flight with little trouble; the other side was a long, thin office, filled with radio equipment, sensors and communication devices that would require a few trained professionals to operate. Bunnyhelm ignored the latter.

He rushed through the passage with a foalish sort of glee, his laughter loud and sonorous in the airtight cabin as he trotted into the control room and plopped himself into the co-pilot’s seat. Royal hooves hovered centimetres above the wild display of controls, levers and buttons that made the ship tick, yet he failed to touch any.

“Are you sure?” Scribeswell asked as he watched over Bunnyhelm’s shoulder. “We have many pilots, Sire, all of whom are exceptionally good at their trade.”

“Yes, yes, and I’m sure whichever you find will be perfect. I am but the co-pilot, as you’ll notice. The view is better from up here, and I’ll have you know that I was quite the flyer in my youth.”

The secretary nodded and retreated, his face void of any emotion. “I’m sure you know best, Sire,” he said before pulling back and finding a seat with the small army of guards that had piled in.

A young stallion arrived moments later, the light thumping of his hooves and the crackle of his leather jacket drowned out by the clicking of belt buckles. He stopped beside Bunnyhelm’s seat, blinked at him uncertainly, then returned his gaze to the control panel, finding comfort in the myriad of complex mechanisms.

“Hello, sir,” he said, his officer’s uniform brushing against the two seats as he maneuvered into the command chair. “Nice to meet you; I’m Sure Winged.” He extended a hoof to bump. “I’ll be our pilot today. Am I safe in presuming that you’ll be my co?”

Happily, Bunnyhelm obliged the young buck. “Indeed, although you’ll find my skills to be old and rusty.”

Sure Winged shrugged and nestled himself into the seat, giving the various levers some quick preliminary checks. “No worries, I’m sure the Emperor wouldn’t have allowed you on here were you not qualified. Between you and I, he doesn’t seem like the type to take risks.”

Bunnyhelm allowed a small, knowing smile to cross his lips. “No, he’s not the sort. Still, he might make exceptions if he sees little danger. Life is a game of balance, after all.”

“Maybe so, sir. Maybe so,” Sure Winged said, the muscles in his forehead knotting. His hoof reached out and clicked away at a series of buttons.

With an electric buzz followed by a vicious hum, the twin engines of the Conqueror roared to life. Two arcs of blue fuel jetted out behind the craft.

The steady thumping of a Sparkle Generator whispered through the hull, prompting Bunnyhelm to touch the side wall and revel in the tiny—almost soothing—sensation. A dampener? On such a small vessel? Interesting, he thought as the Conqueror lifted out of its hangar slot and coasted ahead, its landing gear skimming not a metre above the tarmac.

“Beautiful flying,” Bunnyhelm said off-hoof as Sure Winged edged the Conqueror around the admiral's ship.

“Thank you, sir. Three years in the academy and some decent time practicing. Anypony could do it.” Sure Winged pushed down on the throttle and blasted out of the hangar, the echoing roar following them out in a concussive blast that dissipated as they hit the open air.

Behind them, six Vanquishers zipped out of the staggeringly tall building and immediately formed up alongside the Conqueror. As one, the formation navigated through the concrete jungle of New Appleloosa, taking wide turns around the massive towers and slipping in and out of the congested arial traffic.

Bunnyhelm leaned forward and looked above the ship, eyes glinting as he caught the reflection of the rising sun off of the buildings. There, in the uppermost parts of the city, one could almost imagine it to be Canterlot, or another of the truly major hubs with the towers and huge apartments topped with penthouses.

Then, they flew out of the city.

The gleaming towers became stubby smokestacks and pipes that belched out acrid fumes. The sea of moving planes and rapid ponies became haulers whose drivers wore thick masks against their cargo. With an indifferent sigh, Bunnyhelm fell back into his seat and turned his focus up, and couldn’t help but grin.

The sky was a deep, azure blue, one marred by thousands of grey forms but not a single cloud. Countless airships filled the skies, all of them dancing an intricate ballet to avoid touching one another or mingling too much. He easily spotted the Eastern ships in their particular shade of grey and extra ground-facing cannons.

“Wonderful, isn’t it?” Sure Winged said, more than a little awe tinging his voice. “Biggest fleet ever gathered. Every Imperial airship that could be spared brought to one place. That’s more than twice the entire ships present at the Battle or Ponyville.... I was there; that was chaos.”

“But orchestrated.”

“Maybe. Do you happen to know where the Emperor wishes to go?” he asked, casting a furtive glance over his shoulder.

He really doesn’t know... heh. “I want to go there,” Bunnyhelm said, pointing at some location far above.

“Um, yes, sir,” Sure Winged said, a nervous sort of comprehension dawning on him.

“Oh, please, call me Bunnyhelm.”

Hooves gripped the yoke with renewed vigor, becoming as white as the young stallion’s face. “I’m sorry, Sire, I didn’t realise...” he whispered, as if his hushed words could belittle the situation.

“No, no. You did nothing wrong. And call me Bunnyhelm, I insist. Now, hurry up, I want to see the full extent of the fleet myself. Its full might, beauty and power,” Bunnyhelm said before letting out a cackling giggle.

“Yes, um, Bunnyhelm, Sire,” Sure Winged said. His dextrous hooves pulled and tugged with the controls and the flying-yacht of a transport angled up a few degrees, slowly climbing up and around in a gigantic spiral.

One of the guards expertly climbed through the ship, a platter with a glass of wine in its centre floating alongside him. “Wine, Your Highness?”

“Hmm? Yes, thank you. Some brandy for my friend here, if there is some,” he said, picking up the glass and swirling its contents around. Sure Winged blushed and swallowed hard, then narrowed his eyes to the task at hoof.

The drink arrived with a clinking of ice just as the pilot pony expertly navigated through the sea of massive ships. There, on the upper levels, the air was thick with the concentrated smells and fumes of the factories below mingled with those that puffed out of the Imperial airships. Bunnyhelm didn’t mind the aroma, or even pretend to notice.

His attention was on the ships. Battleships lumbered through the skies like whales, surrounded by Interdiction-class vessels made to look like fish in a symbiotic relationship. Independent ships were jostled around as they tried to form up with the larger groups, yet remain courteous to the other ships.

He giggled in glee as full squadrons practiced above them, forming up and breaking apart on second-long queues. They left behind trails that absorbed the sun’s light until they dissipated into nothingness.

Within the ships blurring by, Bunnyhelm could make out the forms of ponies in uniform, many of whom twisted around to look at the silvery Conqueror and its escort of aces.

His countenance changed, unnoticed by any in the vessel, not even by himself. Gone was the flattering smile and the kind tongue, the soft eyes and trustworthy set of the jaw. Now, all that marked his features was a lust and greed so grand it could make the blood of any go cold.

Nothing like being the Emperor... but somepony was still standing in his way.

The Misfits edited. Mostly.

don't look at the grammar in this one. For once, I really don't care about my standards.

Write write right.

Flight and Marriage

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The blaring sound of a mare screaming boomed into Scootaloo’s cabin, shocking the young mare into consciousness. Her legs struck out blindly against the piled-on blankets, creating a knot that only unraveled itself when she tumbled out of the bed and crashed on the grated floor with a lung-emptying oomph.

Scootaloo took in a deep breath, expelling it with a sigh while her ears perked up and listened. A siren was blaring in the foreground, muffled by the sheer size of the ship. Its urgent wails were accompanied by the scurrying of feet on catwalks and the rapid, excited murmurs of ponies.

“Imps?” she repeated.

With an exaggerated slowness, the pegasus pushed herself to her hooves and climbed out of the tangled mess to head for the doorway. There, she stuck her head out into the corridor and stared down both ways, glaring with crusted eyes at the ponies from the New Lunar Republic that were running around the Furtif. “What’s going on?” she asked as she grabbed one of them.

The stallion—a young officer—glared at her, then went red to the face as he stared at her familiar visage. “Uh-um. There’s an Imperial patrol ship off our starboard. A battleship with escorts. They want to inspect us!”

She barked a laugh that held no humor. “I’ll show them an inspection. Go on, boy.” Letting the stallion go, she turned and trotted back into her room, adrenalin coursing through her veins, waking her up as she picked up her leather jacket and slipped it on.

Marching down the corridor, Scootaloo found herself jostled on both sides by rushing technicians and pilot ponies who were still trying to slip on their goggles and uniforms. The sea of grey carried her on, like flotsam in the waves, until it dropped her body in the hangar bay.

“You okay?” asked a mare to whom belonged a pair of white hooves; they were all Scootaloo could see from her low vantage point, face squished on the floor.

“No, I’m not. I’m actually rather pissed,” she said, once more forcing herself to all fours. “Oh. It’s you!”

Sweetie Belle beamed, blinking back as she gave her friend a crooked smile. “Yup. I picked up something on the scanners earlier while toying with the Thunderbolt’s mainframe. Turns out it was an Imperial patrol. Brings back memories.”

They both glanced away, finding things to stare at on the polished walls. “Yeah. So, what are we going to do about it?”

“Well, Arnaquer and I talked. Seems like he doesn’t want to destroy them. But they are Imperial, and in terms of sheer firepower we’re far ahead of them. He figures we can risk it and try to board them.”

“Board an Imp ship?” Scootaloo asked, her first smile of the day dazzling and cruel. “Ah, yeah, now that sounds like a plan I can get behind.”

“Nope,” Sweetie Belle said, crushing the pegasus’ hopes. “You’re going to be piloting today. We’ll need you and the Expedite to clear out whatever they can send at us. Right-Wing was talking over the comms, he thinks that the best way around our little issue would be to immobilize the Imperials and then try to maneuver around to take them.”

Scootaloo shrugged and looked past Sweetie Belle to the hangar. Dozens of fighters were lined up, waiting for launch in front of the still-closed bay doors. At the far end sat her red death-dealing machine. “Got it. Will you be on the comms?”

“Yeah. We’re not launching for another ten. Apple Bloom did something to your plane with Wrenches by the by, said it would make it faster. Oh, and they washed it out. I mean, seriously, I could smell the inside of the cockpit from here.” Sweetie’s nose wrinkled and she bit her tongue. “That’s nasty, Scootaloo.”

They shared a quick smile and the pegasus walked on, only faintly hearing Sweetie Belle’s murmur of “Be careful out there,” before she arrived at the Expedite.

The mechanics studiously ignored her or spared only sidelong glances before rushing back to work, all save one black and red pegasus.

“Hey, honey, how are you today? You look positively radiant!” Nitro claimed as he clamoured to her side, his smile brightening the room and knocking out a few mares.

“Oh. You.”

“Yup, it’s me, Hon. And I’m right here,” he said before approaching her to an uncomfortable distance. “And I can be anywhere you want. Ladies like the Nitro—”

The stallion finished his sentence with a baffled thud as he hit the ground, staring wide-eyed at a growing puddle of his own blood that was drizzling out of his muzzle.

“Get a life.”

Scootaloo spun around, ignoring the hundreds of stares directed her way and climbed into the Expedite. The cockpit hissed as it shut, locking out the sounds and smells of the world beyond behind a hoof-thick pane of bulletproof glass. She sank into her chair, the cool controls welcoming her with simple familiarity, like walking back home after a long vacation.

She breathed in slowly, trying to steady her nerves. Her solitary battle against the Empire was silly, she knew, but she had to go on. She had to keep pushing and prying until they were all gone, forever. They had dared to hurt her friends and there was no payment that could sate her.

Reaching out, she flicked on her comm unit and waited, a few seconds worth of static filled her cabin, droning on until it became a white noise only to be replaced by a pop and click. “Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle asked from all around her.

“Yeah, I’m here. Can I launch yet?”

“Not unless you want to hit the hangar door. I talked to Arnaqueur, and if I understood correctly, we’re moving around them. I’ve started to jam their radios on all frequencies, that means that soon all you’ll hear is a lot of static.” Sweetie Belle paused. “Can you fly like that?”

“I might do better if I don’t have to listen to anypony.”

Her friend laughed. “Figures. All right, they’re about to open up. It’s just going to be you and a few others. I think they have a dozen or two fliers out there, so be careful. You don’t have to take them all on your own, the Furtif has great point defence.”

With a grinding squeal, the door right in front of her began to wrestle its way open, allowing a wicked wind to whip into the hangar and grab at the mechanics that still ran about. A moment passed and it became stable, only the brilliant light of the sun beaming in. “I’m ready. Don’t worry about me, Sweetie.”

A few ponies pushed a metal rod ahead of her plane, a long piece of steel that formed a rail going from Expedite’s underside until it cut off in open sky. “What the?” Scootaloo said aloud as she bent forwards to see the end of the rail.

The ponies scurried away like mice seeing a cat, leaving Scootaloo alone to her wondering.

The ship turned, the lurch felt even within the Expedite as the Furtif spun around and showed its broadside to the Imperials.

Scootaloo suddenly had reservations.

Two Interdiction class patrol vessels, the same she had faced before losing the Crusader, were flanking an Obedience-class battleship. The vehicle was easily three times the size of the Furtif and had with twice as many guns bristling out of it. Along its flattened top was half a squadron—six planes—of new Imperial Vanquishers.

“Crap,” she swore, flicking her eyes to the twin Vanquishers parked on both Inquisitors. “Well, this is going to be fun.” The mare reached up and grabbed her seatbelt, bringing it closer to tie it. Something went clunk.

Scootaloo had little time to wonder before the Expedite was catapulted forwards, cramming her into her seat as her ship sliced through the air like a wayward bullet.

Her muscles fought against gravity to no use, and her entire seat creaked under the ever increasing pressure of her acceleration.

Ahead, the three Imperial ships grew incredibly large incredibly quickly, their forms blotting out everything the pegasus could see with a sea of grey tarp and metallic plates. The Expedite began to fall. Slowly she gained a downwards curve, the drone of wind subsiding and replaced by an eerie silence.

“Dammit! I’m going to kill you, Apple Bloom! I’m going to murder you! Why the hay didn’t you tell me about this!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, only vaguely aware that the pony in question couldn’t hear her.

With a huff, she clicked herself in place and reached out, slapping the ignition switch with an angry hoof before nestling herself into her padding.

The twin rear props of the Expedite burped, then began to spin in slow revolutions, gaining speed and prolonging the arc of her fall with every second. Scootaloo slapped on the airbrakes and shuddered along with her plane, watching as the front end caught wind and flipped over. She executed a full 180 degree spin while twisting the plane around, effectively making her face the direction from which she had come.

“All right, that’s it. I’m killing something.”

Pushing the throttle up, Scootaloo retraced her path, flying in and out of the vague vapour trail she had left behind as she came back to the airships.

The Furtif was still swelling in the air, deftly avoiding the warning shots fired by the Imperial gunners and firing back with precise and deadly counter-fire. Still, both sides were only testing each other, teasing with little pinpricks.

The Vanquishers were launching, one plane after the next taking to the air and flying in tight, arrowhead formations of three as they circled up.

Scootaloo’s eyes narrowed and she aimed at the leftmost plane of the group, the image of the sleek aircraft imprinting itself in her mind as she pushed the Expedite even more and cut the distance.

Cannons on the Imperial ships boomed and lines of anti-aircraft fire cut through the air like barbed wire, criss-crossing everywhere that Scootaloo looked and burning the blue ocean of sky into a treacherous storm.

She weaved, flying like a needle to avoid the threads that would mean her death as she aimed up to the three planes flying away from her and towards the Furtif. “Don’t have time for this,” she muttered and aimed down the reticule. “Eight,” she said, beginning the countdown while pulling on the trigger.

Twin rows of bullets splashed out of the Expedite, arcing through the sky and narrowly missing the enemy Vanquisher. “What the! Where are my lazers? What did Apple Bloom do?” Searching for anything different, Scootaloo found a box with four switches jutting out of the cabin’s corner, held together with hasty welds and bubble gum. She read the switches aloud: “Projectile fire, Shield, light burst beam, Uber Laser Cannon?”

Blinking at the board, she flicked off the projectile and turned on the light burst option, prompting the display on her dash to light up and show a pair of fluctuating bars.

Again she pulled the trigger, gingerly tilting her plane to aim at the lead Vanquisher which was beginning to maneuver into a tight roll.

Twin lightning-like beams of red energy arced out of the Expedite, coming from the tips of her wings and slicing through the air. They impacted the Vanquisher, cutting gouges into the thin metallic plating and leaving scalding marks across the enemy plane’s fuselage.

The enemy pilot, thinking fast, twisted around and out of the beam’s way, avoiding her imminent death.

“All right, so these aren’t as strong as the big beam, but faster. Got it.” Scootaloo grinned and gunned her engine, pressing on her rudder pedals to realign herself with the damaged Vanquisher.

Another burst of red hot power and the plane was no more. Both wings tore off in mid-flight, turning the craft into a dead weight that spun out of control before bursting to flames.

With timid detachment, Scootaloo watched the Vanquisher plunge to the forests far below. “One down, nine to go.”

A string of bullets zipped by her cockpit, some furrowing into the cabin’s unexpectedly thick armour or pinging off and back into the sky. She twisted around, staring over her seat and at the two planes that were forming up behind her. For a brief moment, she could see the determined glares of the pilots.

The Expedite arced up, skimming under the Furtif’s belly and weaving around the comm towers and gun placements jutting out of the airship until she had gone full circle, coming around the top upside down. One of the planes had slowed down, wary of following her hair-raising turns. It was its demise.

Closing one eye, Scootaloo aimed down the reticule and took a deep breath of the exhaust tinted air. She fired, pressing down on the yoke’s secondary trigger while jamming it to the side and sending her into a spin.

The two beams fired out, but rather than piercing a straight line through the sky, they spun around each other, forming a massive, tunneling helix that grew ever longer until it crashed with the unwary Vanquisher and ripped two perfect holes into its hull.

Plumes of smoke escaped the plane and it slowly began gliding down, its motor no longer turning.

She completed her turn and positioned herself behind the injured plane, a hawk swooping in to kill an injured fitch. “See ya.”

A second burst ripped out of the Expedite, cleanly slicing the Vanquisher down the centre but only cutting a few centimetres into the metal. The rear prop blew apart, wood and tin shrapnel flying everywhere.

The Expedite shook violently, sparks snapping out of the dashboard and holes poking through the would-be bullet-proof glass.

At her side was the second Vanquisher, riding in like a flaming valkyrie with all of its guns blazing.

She shoved the yoke forwards and the Expedite dipped, avoiding the hailstorm of bullets that followed her tail. Scootaloo spun, sending her craft flying in wide circles and twisting through the sky in a dizzying array of loops and turns, but still the Vanquisher held to her tail.

“Gah! Let go of me!” she screamed before searching once more for an escape.

More bullets pinged against her hull.

The Vanquishers are faster than Expedite, but not as quick to move. But this pilot’s good. She’s not letting go. All right, let’s try something different....

Scootaloo reached out, the very tip of her hoof whisking by two switches on her jury-rigged command board. The guns shut down with a whisper while an ominous hum filled the stifling air of her cabin.

Two concave forms appeared around the Expedite, both shimmering with a magical hue that bore every colour of the rainbow in a translucent, glass-like sphere. The shield solidified with a crackling pop.

Scootaloo pulled the throttle down, slowing the Expedite to a crawl even as she pulled up and almost froze in mid air, the nose of her plane pointing to the sky above. She looked up, out of the top of her cockpit and right at the surprised mare piloting the Vanquisher. They stared into each others eyes for a moment.

The Vanquisher hit her.

The warbird valiantly tried to pull out of the way, but it was far too late. The entire side-fuselage crashed into the shimmering shield like a train running into a rock-mass. Both planes veered off in wild directions, leaving behind a panoply of parts that littered the air and sparkled with a mischievous glee in the sunlight. Like shooting stars the bits of metal came tumbling down, splattered with oils and the lifeblood of the pilot.

The Expedite fell out of control, twisting from side to side in mid-air while sirens blared and a pair of red lights glowed, turning her cockpit into a circus of panic. “Shut up, will you!” she screamed before hitting the command console. With a wild wave of her arm she shut down the shield and watched as the lights turned off and the encircling protector faded from view. “Oh.”

She straightened out her plane and began climbing once more, studiously ignoring the faint smells of burning plastic emanating from under the hood. “Right, so that’s three down,” she muttered.

Above her, the Furtif was sliding along the side of one of the Imperial ships, not a single gun firing into the behemoth as grappling wires anchored the two together and pegasi in Republic garb hopped onto the enemy vessel. Meanwhile, the Furtif’s point defence guns were barking constantly, like a dog trying to scare off a stray cat as they fired upon the Imperial fighters that came too close. One of them was ripped to shreds by a heavy cannon, detonating in mid-air like a firework.

She zoomed after one of the three remaining ships, one that was wheeling around and avoiding the worst of the firepower directed her way. “Got skills, eh?” Scootaloo wondered aloud as she raced to her new objective.

The enemy pilot saw her coming and split from her companions, gently coasting through the air as she fell away from the Furtif in a backwards arc.

Gently playing with her yoke, Scootaloo brought the Expedite around and began following the Vanquisher into a massive white cloud. As the whiteness enveloped her she lost sight of the plane. “Right-o, let’s dance,” she whispered before toggling on her machine guns.

The clouds parted, giving the young mare a stunning view of land and sky and sea. Equestria stretched on, a patchwork of fields and forests that grew thinner as they reached the horizon and finally spilled out into the surging ocean. Waves as tall and as wide as the biggest of airships tumbled over and crashed into the beaches and rocky shores, tiny from afar.

But no Vanquisher.

A resonating hum sounded out behind her and Scootaloo twisted around to stare right down the encroaching barrel of the enemy plane.

Jamming a hoof on her yoke and rudders at the same time, the mare brought her plane around, narrowly avoiding the first booming shots that flew by. “Oh, it is on!”

“All right, puppies! It’s time to kick some Imp-flank!” Mira screamed at the top of her lungs. The two dozen strong-willed and tough-as-nails Republic fighters flinched.

“I want to see each and every one of you pansies run in there screaming, I want you to tear those bastards apart from mane to hoof and I want to see you tearing their eyes out of their weakling faces with your teeth. Their intestines I want you to wrap around your heads like the trophies of war! The horns of unicorn and the wings of pegasi will hang over our mantelpieces this night as we feast on their raw hearts!”

One of the soldiers excused himself and went to vomit in one corner of the hangar as every mechanic stared wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the mare.

Okay, maybe now’s a good time for me ta step in? Apple Bloom slid up to Mira’s side and smiled at the assembled soldiers; instinctively she narrowed on Pipsqueak’s visage. “Right, what Mira meant to say, is that that’s what were going to do to you, if y’all don’t go in there and do a good job. See, Arnaquer really wants you guys off his boat, and that Imp ship looks like a good place to put you all. So there’s your choices. Either you take that there plane, or you go nowhere. But nowhere is out of the nearest hatch.” Her smile grew as the soldiers fidgeted uneasily.

“Now, I don’t want y’all to be nervous. This should be easy. Them Imps aren’t expecting us, and we should outnumber them. We also outgun the bunch of them so let’s go over there and clobber those idiots, all right?”

They snapped-to, all of them becoming rigid and saluting with practiced precision. “Yes ma’am.”

She sighed but kept her smile plastered onto her features. “All right. This is gonna be rather simple. We’re going to pop open the main door then, using the harpoon guns you’ll be given, you’ll jump into the empty space between ship and fire away. Now, don’t worry, y’all have tow-lines, just in case.”

Mira giggled and lifted her hoof like a school filly. “But only half of them are actually anchored to anything, so try not to mess up!”

“Um, right. So, then you guys will get into the Obedience class ship and start clearing out the area. The second wave’s going to be made up of more soldiers and some mechanics. The third will be all civilian. That means that before the third wave arrives, you’ve got to have secured that bit of the ship” Apple Bloom huffed. I really don’t envy people that have to lead, it’s not easy getting the point across.

“For every scratch on the mechanics and pilot ponies, intentional or accidental, we’ll cut off a limb!” Mira announced. Then, the mare skipped over to a box of ordnance and picked up half a dozen rifles, each tipped with a wicked barb-like bullet and a reel of metallic cabling on their sides.

Apple Bloom trotted out of the centre of attention at the fore and around the congregated soldiers. Pipsqueak joined her, a blush marring his grin. “You did great,” he said before placing himself at her side and walking along with her.

“Aww, that’s not true at all. And Ah don’t know why they asked me to help with that.”

He shrugged. “You do have good connections. Scootaloo’s a star and Sweetie Belle’s looked up to. And you’re not that bad yourself—” Pipsqueak froze upon feeling the heart-ripping glare that Apple Bloom directed his way. “Hey, hey, I was joking. Please don’t kill me?”

“Hmph, well, then Ah’ll have to do something crazy and impressive to get their attention, right? Then I’m sure all the stallions will be running after me.” Apple Bloom pretended to swoon. “Can you imagine? All those studly, powerful stallions, giving way to my feminine wiles? Oh, with their big, muscular bodies.” From the corner of her eyes, she saw Pipsqueak turn a horrible shade of red while beads of sweat poured out of his hair line.

“Okay, you can kill me now,” he whimpered.

Reaching out, she thumped him on the shoulder and nudged him along. “Get over it, Pipsqueak. I’ve got my fill of stallions chasing after me. Although, something could be done for the strong and muscular bit....”

“W-well, I’ll work on it then,” he blurted. Some of the soldier who had been eavesdropping on the conversation chuckled.

She grabbed at the tiny colt, pulling the lapels of his uniform until they smashed into each other. “Stop being so silly, Pip,” she said before roughing up his mane. “You’ll get the hang of it, eventually... maybe.”

“I sure hope so. I wouldn’t want to hurt you in a few years by being less than what you want,” he said, turning away from her and looking across the hangar bay.

In a few years? she thought.

The speakers whined, then the voice of a stallion filled the room. “This is the captain speaking. Preparez vous. We will start boarding maneuvers presently. I do not want things to go badly so do not mess up. You have ten minutes to deploy all crew members.”

The bay doors cracked open, revealing more and more of the grey wall of iron and tarp that made up the enemy vessel. As they watched a huge cannon flew by them, its bore bigger than a full-grown pony. Then there was nothing but grey walls with the occasional port holes oozing light and darkness.

Slowing down, the Furtif approached the Imperial vessel until their sides were only whispering by each other. “Ten seconds until hangar!” a mechanic screamed just as the door thumped fully open.

Grey turned to steel and Apple Bloom stared at the open maw of the ship’s cargo-bay, a massive anti-aerial gun was placed in the centre of the space, gouts of flame and smoke pouring out of it while ponies in dark uniforms milled about trying in vain to extinguish the flames. Others were pushing around carts of munitions or trying to wade through the panic of battle.

“Prepare to fire!” Mira ordered at the top of her lungs just before grabbing a harpoon gun of her own. Slung over her back, and that of every soldier, was a saddle holding a rifle and the pulleys needed to connect to the wired bridge they were going to create. “Fire!”

Two dozen pops sounded out, echoing in the two hollow cavities while an equal amount of sharp barbs zipped through the air, carrying with them metallic cords. The harpoons pierced into the ship’s hull, anchoring themselves above the hold while the cords wound up and became taut. “Go, go, go!”

Like an unkindness of ravens the Republic soldiers crossed the trench between ships, every last one of them landing with a resonating boom on the interior deck of the enemy ship and priming their arms in a single, fluid motion. “Hooves down and sprawled out!” they began to scream and order as they charged across the deck, roughhousing mechanics and soldiers alike onto the ground.

Mira, who became the defacto leader, bounced forwards with untamed glee, expertly knocking out any that posed a threat and pinning them to the ground. “All right, pansies, spread out! I want this entire ship secured right now! Group one, follow me, we’re going to meet the captain!”

In the Furtif, ponies used the fixed cords and long slats of wood to create a bridge between the two ships, one that was promptly used by a second wave of heavily armed and armoured soldiers.

Pipsqueak licked his lips, then looked at the soldiers. “I-I should be with them,” he said.

“Don’t be an idiot. You’re a pilot, not a fighter. Stay with me.”

“B-but how am I ever going to look good to you if I’m not out there with them?”

She smacked him behind the head, taking something she had learnt from a wise mare long ago. “Idiot. You’re really terrible with mares, you know that?” He nodded but she ignored him. “That’s not exactly what I want. I don’t want to go around picking bits and pieces of your flank from the floor with a shovel. That’s not romantic at all. If you’re going over there, then I’m going with you.”

“No! You’re not.” Pipsqueak said as he sidestepped and blocked her way. The ponies around them stared again, this time in awe at the colt’s actions.

Apple Bloom blinked at him. “Pip, if ya can’t woo me then ya can’t boss me ‘round neither.” They stared at each other, the colt unwavering even as soldiers and mechanics and pilots continued to board the Imperial ship and prisoners were dragged into the Furtif by the dozen.

“I-I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“And I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

They glared at one another, creating a circle around themselves that nopony dared to entre. Finally, Pipsqueak sighed. “All right, fine. But no going out on the front lines, you stay behind with the rest of the mechanics.”

“And you stay in sight. I don’t want to see you wandering off like some clown just to get shot down.”

They both nodded, spun around, and began to make their way towards the bridge, crossing it at the same time to enter the Imperial ship. As they did so, Apple Bloom flagged down one of the Republic officers. “How’re things goin’ ‘round here?”

The officer saluted her, then Pip. “Things are well, Ma’am. We’ve secured this area and are pushing them up to the command area. The fore of the ship we’ve yet to touch, we suspect little resistance from there.”

“What’s at the fore?” Pipsqueak asked, staring past the uniformed pony and at the back end of the airship’s hangar.

“A few guns, some ammunition and storage,” Apple Bloom said. “I looked over the schematics for this type of ship when we saw them coming, I think I memorized the gist of it. The fore’s not a problem, but the main sparkle generator’s there. If we control that....”

“Then we control the ship,” the officer finished. “Indeed, Miss Bloom. We will be heading there once control of the ship is established.”

“Shouldn’t you top it a little higher on the list of priorities? If some crazy Imp goes and busts it up, we'll be heading down right quick. A ship of this size weights way too much to float in the sky and the secondaries really suck.”

The officer blinked, then looked over his shoulder at the soldiers rushing into every other corridor with their weapons blazing. Meanwhile, mechanics and pilots were moving about the hangar and disassembling the vessel and preemptively preparing it for Republic control.

“All right. can you two and maybe a soldier or three handle that? The brute resistance was at the front of the vessel, so you shouldn’t have much to worry about.”

Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom traded a look. “Yeah, we can take care of it,” she said, winking at the officer while Pipsqueak blushed in indignation.

“Figured the power duo could handle it. I’ll get you folks some support,” he said before twisting around and galloping off.

“Since when are we a power duo?” Apple Bloom asked before she began trotting to the far end of the hangar.

Pipsqueak hummed an off-note. “Um, they’re just rumours and all that. You know how they get when there’s nothing else to talk about.”

“Oh, and what do them rumours say about me, exactly?” she inquired, pressing closer to him with every step.

“W-well, I-I guess they find you weird. But not in a bad way! It’s just that... well, you knew Scootaloo and Sweetie before all of this, and me and you we’re a... um... yeah. And you’re a member of the Apple family too, so there’s that. Basically, everypony thinks that you’re really special and well-connected and the mechanic ponies respect you too cause you’re really good with that stuff.” Pipsqueak’s walking became stiff and bullets of sweat poured down his forehead. “Let’s walk faster?”

“Heh, sure thing, Pip.”

Three ponies ran up after them, a young pegasi that hardly fit in her armour, an older stallion that seemed to have worn his for too long and a scowling earth pony whose face seemed to be chiseled out of bedrock. “Ma’am,” the stone-faced unicorn said, “We’re your escort team. The mechanical groups will follow shortly, but the officer in charge does not think that their attention is needed unless there is actually a problem.”

Apple Bloom scowled at them, then sighed. “Al’right, that’s fair ‘nough. How ‘bout you fellows lead the way?”

The three nodded and then, all of them serious-faced and ready for action, trotted by her and headed to the back of the hangar, Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom on their tails. A thick steel door jutted out of the far wall between a pair of support struts, closed until the three soldiers placed themselves around it and the young pegasi mare opened it from above.

They stared down a long, upwards sloped corridor that lead on into darkness. Neon lights flickered at regular intervals, casting a dull glow on the grey walls. “Come on,” the stone-faced soldier said before galloping in, his rifle floating by his side.

Apple Bloom charged in after him, keeping her head low as the two others flanked her on both sides, while an excited Pipsqueak followed behind. The group climbed up along the bottom spine of the ship, finally reaching a landing that was taken up mainly by a pair of anti-aerial guns, both of which pointed out the back end of the ship and into the open sky, where trails of smoke cut through the clouds and led down to the mangled forms of enemy aircraft.

The tips of the gun still glowed a faint red and trailed smoky whiffs into the empty room. The three soldiers ran ahead, swinging around the room until they reached the other end’s only exit. “It’s clear!” the young pegasi called.

“They were here just a bit ago, where’d they head off to?” Apple Bloom asked as she approached the gun and touched its side with a gentle hoof. This ain’t normal, unless they were called back to help out front.

“Let’s keep moving,” Pipsqueak suggested. “If we can get to that generator we’ll be done, mostly.”

“Uh-huh. Get a move on folks.”

Apple Bloom ran up just as the soldier opened the next door and began navigating the winding staircase found within. From there, they could see clear across the ship and through the maze of struts and supports. Afar, ponies were running and battling on the myriad of catwalks that criss-crossed in the centre of the vessel, the sounds of their movements carrying over as distant echoes.

“It’s right over here,” the officer said, pointing at the gigantic round structure that the staircase lead into.

“No duh,” the pegasi muttered before zipping by them and slipping into the room. A moment later she stuck her head out and smiled. “It’s all clear guys.”

As they trotted in, Apple Bloom giggled in awe at the gigantic sparkle generator and the machine hummed back in kind as it reached the peak of its rotation. The entire room was vibrating with its gentle drone of magic and technology while hundreds of lights and dials flickered on the complex panels that barely hinted at the machine’s functionality. “Y’all go on. I’ll, uh, stay here and make sure it all works, alright?”

The soldiers nodded and found the next door up. “Are you coming, Sir Pipsqueak?” the oldest asked.

“Oh? No, I’ll stay here and guard the young miss. Thank you and be safe,” Pipsqueak replied. They traded deep, knowing nods and the soldiers disappeared.

“Since when are you a sir?” Apple asked before trotting a quick circuit around the generator.

“I’m not. But I guess it comes with the rank and all that.” Reaching up, Pipsqueak rubbed at his foreleg then wiped away some sweat from his brow. “After the medal giving thing, I sorta got a raise and all that....”

She huffed yet again. “And you didn’t tell me? Well, what’s yer rank then?”

A thump sounded out behind them, coming from the entrance to the room from which they had come. Apple Bloom saw them first, three pegasi in the grey Imperial garb, staring back at them with furrowed brows and wicked grins.

Apple Bloom shrieked. The wail travelled across the room in a thousandth of a second and made the sudden intruder wince.

Grabbing her with a forehoof, Pipsqueak pushed Apple Bloom aside and screamed, “Get behind the generator, now!” before reaching around and tugging at the single, tiny knife tucked in the leg of his uniform.

He turned, facing the three imperial ponies while keeping his head low. The blade he held sparkled in the dim light of the dust-filled room, casting a reflected glare across the vaulted ceiling. “Back off,” he growled.

One of the enemies, the biggest of them and the one who held himself at the fore, grunted in laughter before slinging a pistol from over his shoulder. “Shut up, grunt,” he barked.

Three popping echoes exploded through the room.

A slice of blood and skin and cloth appeared along the edge of Pipsqueak’s shoulder while two holes were punched into the thick plating of the generator behind him.

With a wordless gasp the colt fell forwards, blood seeping out of him and imbuing his uniform as he tried unsuccessfully to move away from his predators.

“Ah, crap, I missed,” the brute said, smirking at the earth pony as he began to advance.

Apple Bloom snuck her head out from behind the machine and stared at Pipsqueak, her jaw dropping as she swallowed hard. Tears poured out of her glaring eyes as she looked up and to the brute that had assaulted Pipsqueak.

“You bastard!” she screamed as she shot around the generator and ran full-tilt at the soldier.

Pipsqueak twisted around, wincing as his shoulder touched the ground, and shot out with a sudden spurt of speed and agility to ram right into Apple Bloom. He and the mare went skidding sidelong across the metallic floor while bullets zipped through the spot where Apple Bloom had been.

“Need to reload!” the pony screamed as he turned to his companions.

As he did so, the three soldiers that had accompanied Pipsqueak and Apple Bloom charged into the room.

The pegasi flipped through the air and delivered a shattering buck to the face of the rear-most imperial, sending the pony flying while her companions slid to the ground and aimed down the length of their rifles, both screaming “Freeze” at the same time.

The Imperials dropped their handguns and ground their teeth while the Republic soldier came down on them and wrestled them to the ground. Finally, they looked at the pile made by Apple Bloom and Pipsqueak.

“Pip? Pip, are you okay?” Apple Bloom asked, a forehoof touching the colt on his good shoulder and rocking him gently.

He groaned and shifted around, legs splayed out in every direction. Opening his mouth wide, he let go of the blade and let it clatter uselessly on the ground between himself and Apple Bloom before looking right at her. “You okay?” he asked.

“Stop being so stupid! Answer my question first, idiot!”

“Well, if you can manage to be that rude then you must be okay. That’s good, don’t think I could stand to lose you.” He smiled up at her, ignoring the sweat beading on his forehead.

She sniffled and looked away, rubbing a hoof over her eyes to dab away at any tears before he’d notice. “Stop trying to be so romantic. Those scenes always suck, and you know it.”

“So is now a good time to tell you that I love you?” he smiled at her, not bitterly, but kindly.

“Idiot,” she huffed, jabbing the sharp point of a hoof into his ribs. “You,” she rounded on the nearest soldier. “Check on the generator, make sure everything’s green. And you,” she turned to the light young pegasi. “Get me a doctor over here as quick as ya can.”

“I won’t let you die, Pip.”

Pipsqueak reached up, touching her on the cheek. “You can be an idiot too, sometimes. I’ll be fine.”

“No! You won’t! You could have died! You could still die! What if you get infected? What if it hit an artery? I don’t want to lose you.”

“Well, then, marry me,” Pipsqueak said, flushing red as he turned and stared diligently at the floor.

Apple Bloom blinked, the world going out of focus as her blood rushed to her face. “Wha-what... what sorta stupid thing to say is that?”

“Was that a no?” he asked, silent, calm and sad.

She hugged him, her orange fur tarnishing itself in his blood as the two ponies came closer. “Of course Ah will," she whispered.

Single Stroke

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Luna stepped out of the transport vessel, allowing her lungs to fill with the constantly moving yet terribly stale air that fluctuated above Canterlot. Her ears perked and her body tingled, listening to a voice unheard above the cacophony of sound emanating from all around her.

Above, Republic ships were wheeling about in great circles while civilian planes were beginning to buzz and twitter like nervous birds between the towers below.

They had arrived the previous morning and, thanks to the advanced warning sent to them by Arnaquer and his group, had immediately begun to quarantine and cure the ponies of the metropolis. There was still plenty of work to be done and many ponies to care for.

“He dealt us quite the blow,” she announced to nopony in particular.

“Pardon me, Ma’am, but could you repeat that?” one of the ponies that had followed her up the top of the mountain asked.

She dismissed him with a slight wave of her forehoof. “It’s fine. I was just thinking about the pony we are fighting. This so-called Bunnyhelm. He’s rather shrewd, but, perhaps he is too quick to act. There were secrets left in this city that he abandoned in his haste.” The Princess smiled, a cold wind surfing around her as the sun finally hit the horizon and fought against the moon’s glare.

The city was bathed in warm light, the towers becoming pillars of gold and flame while the sky shone a deep, royal red. Yes, it was time for the sun to return.

“Leave me,” Luna ordered, turning and giving her back to the assistants and guards that had followed her onboard the tiny diplomatic vessel. “I wish for solitude.”

“But, Your Highness, it could be dangerou—” the stallion began. His throat caught and his words became silent as the Princess stretched to her full height and looked down at him.

The moon was still high, glowing in the sky as it became a spectre of its glorious form. Still, its image reflected in the Princess’s eyes as she looked at her soldiers. “I can take care of myself. There’s a pony I wish to meet; it has been a long, long time.”

She began to walk away, long, indigo legs daintily touching the metallic grating of the platform they found themselves on. Beyond her, and jutting out of Canterlot mountain’s side like a tumour of steel, was the Sol Factory.

As she approached the structure, unwary of any traps it might hold, it grew larger and more ominous.

Smoke stacks still fumed with toxic gasses and the massive pipes that ran though the building jutted out of the walls, only hinting at the complex maze of machinery held within. It was a marvel: a machine able to power all of Canterlot and then some; a machine so complex that even those working on it had only vague notions of how it worked.

Luna grinned.

The doors blocking her access gave way with a single blow of magical power, their steel frame rending into a little sphere before being catapulted out of the path. Daylight flooded into the rooms therein, illuminating the dust that floated in the air with a surreal glow.

Luna pushed ever onwards, instinct guiding her though the office spaces and factory floors. Past loading docks and assembly rooms. Finally, she found her heart.

The core sat in the centre of the room.

Brass walls, hooflengths thick, formed a rough sphere that the room itself seemed to have been built around, instead of for. Along the bulging surface of live wires, tubes and pumping pipes that huffed with pressurized steam was a pattern of rivets.

The Princess looked at the device, moving around it in a teasingly slow circle while each and every one of her muscles tensed. In the quasi-quiet of the factory, she could hear the voice.

Screaming and anguish and fear and despair and hope.

She found the door.

Encased on the orb’s side was a rounded archway, a sealed entrance, or, perhaps, an exit. Warning labels and dire images gave away hints of the despair that one might suffer if they dared to tamper with the machine.

“Ah, Bunnyhelm. So foolish to leave. You forgot, Blueblood could always keep a secret. He always had a trump card.” Luna touched the wall.

Her magic and power flowed forth, imbuing the brass structure and making it glow in the familiar colour of her power.

She waited. Waited for the call to come. And when it did, she gasped, tears springing to her eyes and flowing down the sharp angles of her cheeks. Her legs became loose, losing their ability to hold her up as she crumpled and fell to a sitting position.

Her laughter and crying filled the cavernous room and Princess Luna reached out, the very tip of her hoof touching the door.

It opened.

Hissing steam and the white-hot glow of tremendous power sliced out, burning and cutting a path through the room all along the rim of the doorway, a path that encircled Luna without harming her. As the afterglow of magic touched her, she shivered.

The door pulled up, machinery that had rested for a decade being put to work with nary a whisper.

Out from within the machine stepped a single white leg.

Ready For War

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Sweetie Belle juggled the dozen sheets levitating by her side, all of them twirling through the air in a makeshift tornado as she trotted down the tight corridor. Stopping as she reached the intersection at the end, bathed in fresh dawn light pouring through the port holes, she dropped the sheets and began to organize them by hoof.

This was important, she knew. She couldn’t mess this up, because every little mistake she made put the life of another pony in jeopardy. Silently she cursed Arnaquer and those high ranking ponies that had come up with the plan, not that it was a bad plan. In fact, she could only see one major flaw it in. Why did they have to put me in charge of this?

A huff escaped her, a sound so similar to her sister’s own exasperated sigh that Sweetie Belle paused for a moment, biting her lip in embarrassment. She shook her head. “Right, I can do this, they’re trusting me. I have to do this!”

Scooping up the pages, she gripped them in her telekinetic magic and began racing down the ship once more, light splashing into her drowsy eyes every time she passed one of the tiny windows.

Sitting in the sky beyond the Furtif were three ships, including the Obedience class vessel they had boarded and one of the Imperial interdiction frigates that had survived the battle, even if just barely. As she glanced from the corner of her eye she could easily see into and through the hobbling airship, its frame exposed like the ribs of a wounded animal left to rot.

She had spent all night aboard that vessel, breaking down its communication devices and rifling through all the paperwork and passcodes hidden in it. The information was priceless, or at least it would be to some ponies. Sweetie was just glad to be out of the flying deathtrap.

Continuing down the corridor, Sweetie arrived at one of the many entrances to the Furtifs hangar and barged in, blinking in shock at what she saw.

That door had opened to one of the rails above the main floor of the hangar room, a floor covered in ponies. Every able-bodied pony was there. Mechanics, soldiers, and pilots crowded around, talking in low whispers as they sat and waited. Sweetie Belle swallowed.

A few glanced up and waved to her or smiled expectantly as she pushed herself forwards and into the limelight. The crowd hushed, ponies calling out to each other to be quiet as all attention was driven up to where Sweetie Belle stood.

She licked her lips and looked across the crowd, staring around at the vaguely familiar faces one by one until she found her friends. Apple Bloom, Pipsqueak and Scootaloo were congregated together, the young couple sitting with tails entwined while Scootaloo made a show of glaring at anypony that came too close to her.

“Um,” she began, then took a deep, slow breath. I can do this. I've done far, far worse than talk in front of ponies I don’t know. “Hello, everypony. Today is an important day. As some of you know, we’ve stopped traveling forward and are now stopped some thirty kilometres from the outer reaches of New Appleloosa. Soon, we will enact a new plan, entitled Project Headphone.

“This operation will begin in”— she glanced at her hoof on which a watch was affixed.—”forty minutes.” Ponies across the room gasped or reeled back in shock. “Now, let me go over the preliminary phases of the plan. All of you will find details before you depart about your specific tasks but we’ll go over the group’s goal together.

“As you are all aware, New Appleloosa is the current staging zone for the Imperial Navy. They have well over an estimated one hundred airships of varioussizes, meaning a fleet equal to all the ships at the Battle of Ponyville, Imperial and Rebellion alike.” She could hear them gulping, but closed her eyes and went on.

“Our goal is to infiltrate New Appleloosa, meet up with the ground-based reinforcements and rebellion fighters, and make every moment of those Imps’ lives a living hell. Every group will be assigned a target to take down using any means necessary. You will also be given secondary goals that are broader, designed to whittle down enemy morale. Every pony will join a group with a single leader and each group will be given one of twelve targets.”

Twelve ponies trotted into the room below, each of them carrying long scrolls inscribed with a list of names and wearing long, colourful sashes. “When your name is called out,” Sweetie Belle instructed, “please find your designated team leader. Meanwhile, think about this:

“So far, the Empire has done nothing good for Equestria. Friends, family, and nations have all died or been obliterated by this cruel and evil force. Now, we will strike at them as they have hit us. Using the most underhoofed of methods and by manipulating fear with their every gesture.

“We will sabotage their efforts. We will make them question their leaders. We will draw out their reserves and trample their morale with each and every one of our movements. The ponies you are with today are the ones who will truly bring an end to the Empire and restore Equestria to its former glory!” Sweetie Belle shouted above them all, caught up in the fervour of her own voice.

The ponies cheered with one big “Hoo-rah!” that thundered across the hangar and made every wall shake and shiver.

Tears stained Sweetie Belle’s eyes, but she could do little other than smile as ponies ran to do the bidding of the Republic.

Sweetie Belle took her time descending to the ground floor of the hangar. She tasted the sweaty, tangy odour of the Furtif and realised, for the first time, that she was going to miss the vessel. It had carried her and her friends through much, and all of them had grown while onboard.

She reached the hangar where the doors had been left wide open and found the room not half as full as it had been when she was talking. Some ponies were returning already with large filled duffle bags over shoulders and backs, while others stood around in tight groups, hugging and trying to stifle cries as they said their goodbyes. Nopony had refused the mission.

“Sweetie!” Apple Bloom called from halfway across the room, waving a long, brass wrench in the air above her head. “Come on over!”

A few heads turned her way as she crossed the hangar, her own head held low as a blush spread across her very white cheeks. Her friends were all gathered around the Thunderbolt and the Expedite, both vessels parked beside each other at the far back of the takeoff ramps.

Scootaloo was upside down under the Expedite, a few loose cables held gingerly in her hooves as she looked out towards Sweetie and grinned. Wrenches was by her side, scowling as she gestured wildly and tried to explain something to the young pegasus.

Apple Bloom, meanwhile, was already aboard the Thunderbolt, the ship’s engine compartment open at her side while Pipsqueak was sweating bullets trying to keep the heavy lid opened above her bow-wearing head.

“Hi guys,” Sweetie called back as she slowed to a halt not too far away from both small groups. “Is everything almost ready?’

“Yup, Ah got some grub stashed up, Pip’s got some of our personal stuff, and Scoot’s got her plane all fixed up. She gave all of us a bunch of trouble for installing... a few things without giving her a heads up about it.”

Scootaloo slid out of under the Expedite to glare at Apple Bloom, but the glare hid an amiable smile. “A few things?”

Still smiling, although it was a little strained, Sweetie Belle tuned out the squabbling between the two mares as they fought over trivialities. From behind her came Mira, the mare placing a red hoof on Sweetie’s shoulder before grabbing her in a crushing embrace.

Tears were flowing off of the mare’s face, dripping all over Sweetie’s shoulder. “I’m going to miss you so much,” she said between wracking sobs. “You did such a nice job!”

Sweetie wiggled in her grasp, trying to break free enough to breathe until Mira finally let go. “M-Mira, you, you don’t have to worry, I’m okay. Everything’s going to be all right.”

She sniffled, then inclined her head backwards. “I don’t believe you!” she shrieked at the top of her lungs while Sweetie tried to console her with little pats along her back.

“I promise, I promise that everything’s going to be okay,” Sweetie said, biting her lower lip while blood pooled beneath her cheeks. That wasn’t part of the plan. I guess that it is possible that I’ll never see her again. I hope that’s not the case. Now teary eyed herself, Sweetie grabbed Mira and hugged her in turn, feeling her warmth as their coats mixed, red on white. “Mira, we’re going to see each other again. B-but you have to promise to survive for me too, okay? You might be a little crazy. And you go overboard often, but you’re my friend too, and I won't let any of my friends die without first giving them a good scolding, okay?”

Mira nodded, burying her leaky face into Sweetie’s shoulder. “Okay, I promise,” she said before separating and turning her face away. Her eyes were bloodshot but still filled with raw emotion as she gazed right at Sweetie. “Please don’t do anything silly.”

Sweetie smiled. “Of course not. Somepony has to be responsible around here.”

With little ado, Mira trotted back to the Thunderbolt, wiped away a few tears and hopped back in, immediately setting to work on the plane's equipment.

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo had stopped fighting, their good humour dying off a little as they stared at Sweetie Belle. She sat up. “Come on you two, get a move on! We’re leaving this boat soon and we’re not nearly ready yet. We have important things to do!” she said with a glee and excitement that she didn’t feel at all.

Her friends did not seem to notice as they jumped back to their work. Sweetie nodded to herself. They’re a good bunch, all of them, she thought as she stared at the still-closed hangar doors. We need to end all of this, we really do. For all our sakes.

Trotting forwards, Sweetie Belle hopped into the Thunderbolt, then found her way to the pilot’s seat. The voyage would be long and they were going to fly in tandem for a good part of it. She began playing across the controls with her forehooves, getting reaquainted with them when she heard two voices speaking.

Her ears perked and Sweetie held herself higher, looking out of one of the nearby windows.

Near the nose of the craft, Scootaloo and Wrenches had stopped their hasty repair work to talk, both in low tones that snuck into the craft. “Thanks, for everything,” Scootaloo said, averting her gaze from the mechanic pony.

“It’s no problem. You and your friends have repaid it ten times over. It’s just too bad that... never mind.”


Wrenches sighed, seeming to become smaller as she looked away. “I wish Kami Kaze were still here. He’d know what to say.”

Both mares grew quiet, staring at the ground below their hooves as they thought. “He liked you, you know?” Wrenches finally whispered. “He liked you a bunch.”

Scootaloo nodded then quickly brushed the tip of her wing by her eyes. “Yeah, I know.”



“Could you do me a favour?” Wrenches looked up, meeting Scootaloo right in the eye with a piercing, powerful gaze. “Kill as many of those assholes as possible. They did some terrible, terrible things, and they ought to pay for it.”

Tea Time

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The serving pony trotted forwards, a platter balanced expertly on his back against the tiny motion of the ship beneath his hooves. As he advanced, trotting at a steady pace, he lowered his head to a low bow, seemingly uncaring eyes facing the ground as he stopped beside the only table in the great atrium, the liquid in the teapot on his back swirling gently.

The stallion placed the platter on the table’s surface, its edges lightly scraping it and filling the massive room with sound. He bowed to those sitting there, turned, and headed out of the room with an even gait, his hooffalls echoing around the chambers, muffling the other sounds.

“The tea hasn’t changed at all, has it?” one of the table’s two occupants said, reaching out with a white hoof to grab the teapot. She poured herself a cup full, then moved on to the next, never spilling so much as a drop.

“Indeed, We always favoured the older brewing methods,” the other occupant said. She grabbed one of the cups and, in perfect synch, they both sipped at their tea. “What will you do now, Our dear sister?”

Celestia brought the cup down and turned to stare out of the massive windows stretching from ceiling to floor. The sun, her sun, was full in the cloudless sky above. “I have the impression that I should say recuperate. But I have never felt better than this. Not for a long, long time, it seems.”

“We understand,” Luna said.

“I’ve read the reports, and the one you penned for me,” Celestia said as she unfurled her wings, allowing them to bask in the warm light.

Luna nodded. “Do you have any queries?”

The other princess shook her head. “It resolved many questions. Only the future bears any questions worth asking now.”

“Many things will happen. We hope it will be for the best,” Luna said, taking another sip. “We have longed for this moment.”

“As have I, as have I.... Do you know what happened to... them?”

The dark princess nodded solemnly and, with a tiny conjuration of her magic, she forced a black, leatherbound book into existence. Its worn covers slapped together as it landed on the table by Celestia’s tea.

“Is that his logbook?”

Luna nodded.

“I see.” Celestia pushed it aside, her hoof touching it carefully as if the bound book were fragile. “There was one more thing that the report failed to delve into, sister.”


She took a sip, savouring the warm tea. “What do ponies think of me? My return, and what happened during my absence?”

Luna sighed. “Many thought of you as dead, sister. Others, Us included, knew such to be impossible. Your arrival is a great shock, and surely it will rally many to our cause. We have pondered over many long nights as to whether or not this warfare is for the betterment of Equestria or not, but We decided that the absolute freedom of our ponies was of the utmost importance. We hope that you share our views, sister.”

Celestia pushed herself up and away from the table, taking long, graceful strides towards the window to stare at the sky beyond. The sun, still young and fresh, played with her mane and tail, adorning her in ephemeral jewels of light. “I do. Blueblood showed me a side of being a pony that I would have rather lived without knowing of, and I discovered it before that incident. I think we need to change some things, but I wish to do so with little loss on either side.”

“We agree,” Luna said. “Are you once more capable of using the full extent of your power? Or do you wish for more time to recuperate?”

“When I was in that chamber I was forced to use our inherent power, my magical ability to its fullest extent. At first I was crippled, unable to do anything but exert myself and give my all. Then, as I grew stronger, it was only but a chore to pass the time. In the end the strain it put on me was nothing. Sister, I have never felt as powerful as I feel now.”

Celestia looked out of the windowed panes and at the forested lands below. All across the trees and fields stretched a shadow, like a hand with a thousand claws sliding forwards and to the west. It was cast by ships. Hundreds of them moved at a snail’s pace across the sky with more joining every minute. There were ten times what had been at the last battle, both rebel and Imperial as more and more joined the cause.

Over the horizon, New Appleloosa waited.

Cold Efficiency

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Cold efficiency.

The captain of the Acclamator watched as a single fighter bore down on him and his crew with all the anger and strength of a raging dragon.

Three Vanquisher class fighters had been sent out and three spinning tunnels of smoke marred the azure sky, pointing ever downwards to where the ships had crashed. He shifted his weight from haunch to haunch, trying to bring his hat down over his sweat-covered forehead. He was aware of eyes on him, the eyes of the other ponies in the Acclamator's command room.

It had started not an hour before.

The Acclamator, a new class for ships of the line, an Interrogator light battleship, made to replace the aged Inquisitors, was pushing along on its patrol. New Appleloosa, where they had come from, lay not a hundred clicks behind them, to the south and west,

The radar operator had coughed, then had signaled for one of the officers to approach. The captain, vaguely aware of the disturbance on the otherwise dull patrol, had trotted up to him instead, walking with surety on the unnervingly stable ship. “What’s wrong, ensign?” he had asked.

The radiopony had blinked at the captain then looked at his screen, eyes glowing in the dim light of the new equipment. “I think I spotted something, sir. Two ships, three clicks north, heading this way. Approximately the size of light cargo transports, maybe a light passenger plane.”

“That’s not too incredibly interesting,” the captain said, letting an eyebrow rise as he stared down at the operator. “Why raise the alarm for that?”

“Um, well, they’re jamming us, sir. I thought there was something weird, so I was switching frequencies when the blips appeared. It was a mistake, sir. I wouldn't have been able to spot them if it weren’t for that.”

The captain stood taller, a hoof lifting to touch the lapels of his coat without thought, brushing past the symbols of rank pinned there. “Interesting indeed. Good work.” He moved towards the front, where the helmsman was standing, leaning against the wheel as he scowled at the skies ahead.

The wheel was at the fore of the craft, part of the command room that jutted out a ways to allow a wide view around the ship. Through the foremost tip of the craft, from the bottom of the keep to the top of the rigging, ran a sharp, serrated blade with the symbol of the Empire etched to it. The blade made it impossible to see what lay directly in front of the ship. “Helm, bring us eight degrees port. I want to see something,” he ordered.

He felt rather than saw the ship beginning to turn. Then, with all the patience of one who had attained the rank he had wished for, he found a spyglass and eyed the skies.

It took a few precious moments, but he found them. A tiny, sharp red fighter craft, and a jade-coloured transport, retrofitted with long antennae. Neither wore Imperial markings.

When he brought down the telescope he noticed, for the first time, the second in command at his side. “Mosquito-class, sir. Tough old fighters.”

He sniffed, a small laugh, filling his nostrils with the scent of new rubber and spit-shined boots that made up his command. “Fair enough. I’ll leave it to you to hail them?”

The pony saluted, crisp and sure. “Yes, Captain.” Then he was off at a brisk trot, commandeering the radio station to get the message across.

The captain returned to his throne-like seat. The second was good, though a little stiff in his role. A few more patrols would do him good. Maybe, he thought with grimness, they were pirates, or rebels.

He chewed his lip,struck with indecision. It would do good to test the Acclamator out. To let it bloody itself, and to make the crew proud of her. A proud crew would work harder when the odds were no longer in their favour. On the other hoof, the new AA guns were unfired, and the ship still gleamed with newness. Going to battle, even if it was only against weak enemies, would sully her.

The decision was taken from him when the second returned, his face a little whiter. “Um, Captain?”

“Yes? Speak up.”

“Sir, they boldly claim to be rebels. One, a mare, told us to prepare to meet our maker. She did not.... She was threatening sir.”

“So be it.” He leaned back, raising a hoof for all to see as he pointed to the skies ahead, a little emperor gesturing for war. “To battlestations!”

Alarms sounded through the ship and hooves thumped on gangways. Ponies everywhere manned point-defence guns and the massive cannons jutting out of the ship settled in their banks.

The pitch of the Sparkle Generator shifted as it traded some of the effort with the auxiliaries. One of the ponies by his side saluted to him. “Fighter squadron, ready to launch, my Captain!”


He watched as three planes, sleek warbirds with rear-facing props that bristled with readiness, were catapulted out and ahead of the Acclamator. They pulled up, veering off toward the lone enemy fighter.

“Should we fetch popcorn?” the captain said, his joke raising a few good-humoured laughs from ponies leaning out of their stations to look ahead.

Then the battle begun.

The Mosquito weaved around the first strafing shots, narrowly missing each one by only a hoof’s length. Then all three planes fired at it, filling the skies with lacy ribbons of death.

The captain cringed, filling a twinge of pity for the foolish mare. Then she dodged them all, only ever moving just enough to avoid the blows. No more, no less. He blinked at the sheer luck of the pilot, that the wind would save her so.

Luck, he realised soon after, had nothing to do with it.

Cold efficiency was all the pilot of the red plane displayed. She snuck up behind a first Vanquisher with a turn so tight and sharp that most pilots would have blacked out, then shot exactly two bullets.

Twin gouts of flame erupted as the gas tanks on either side of the Imperial fighter caught fire. The plane lost control, its pilot bailing out with a burning parachute on its back.

The other planes swerved in, like hawks coming for the kill with extended talons. But like a feather in the wind she avoided them, never moving more than she needed to, as if she simply did not have the time or the will to waste on beauty and grace.

That was it, he realised, the thing making him so nervous. There was no dignity or decorum in her flying, just efficiency, agility, and the knowledge that she was better.

A Vanquisher tailed her for a ways, firing again and again at her, to no avail. She slipped out of reach every time until she twisted around and into an immelman. When the nose of her craft whispered by the Vanquisher she fired a single round.

The captain had his spyglass to his eye by then. He saw the Vanquisher's cabin fill with a burst of redness.

The third she fell when it blew past her, overextending itself in an attempt to catch up. Three shots was all it took to clip one of its wings and send it hurtling to the ground.

Then she spun to face them.

Every mouth in the room was agape. Every eye was on the red mosquito. Every thought was turning to fear as it approached, sure as the dawn’s light.

“To arms!” the captain shouted, his barked command making them flinch to action.

Flak filled the sky ahead and streams of projectiles as thick as a pony zipped ahead. It was futile. On she came, sliding out of the path of oncoming bullets with tight, precise jerks from side to side, like a wasp hovering over its prey.

The captain blinked when he taught he saw a shimmer around the craft just after a particularly close blast of flak. Then the cannons stopped. She was too close, too close to safely fire at.

She shot seven times. The first six slid by the command room and off to the side, allowing the captain to sigh as he saw them go wide. Then the seventh slammed through the armoured glass at the fore of the room, leaving a hole no wider than a hoof.

The helmpony’s head exploded. His body fell against the wheel, dragging it off to the side before he thumped to the ground, reduced a bloody mess.

“C-captain!” one of the operators said. “Engines two, four and six on Port side are all down!”

He sat straighter. “Call for back up! Warn headquarters!”

It was the radio operator’s turn to panic. “I can’t sir! Our comms won’t work!”

“Radar’s jammed!” another announced.

“Sir!” a watchpony said with such alarm and fear in his voice that the captain instantly turned to him. The pony was near the front of the room, red marks on his hooves. He was pointing, shivering as he indicated something above them.

The sky was marred with missiles streaking towards the limp vessel.

And so the Acclamator fell.

“We're going ta have ta make invitations,” Apple Bloom said as she leaned back in the Thunderbolt’s cabin. She was aware, vaguely, that they were approaching New Appleloosa, but more interesting matters weighed on her mind..

“Yeah,” Pipsqueak said, touching the tip of his hooves together. “I guess we will.” He was shrouded in the semi-darkness of the cabin, his white face, illuminated by a bank of radios, peeking out of the shadows. Sweetie had abandoned the radios a while back to focus on the task of flying. Only a few hours ago she had been there, jamming signals and hacking through the Imperial lines, but that was over now.

“I guess we should call all our old friends?” he mused. “I wonder where Featherweight’s at now? Haven’t seen him since he went out east.” At the fore, Sweetie twitched in the pilot’s seat.

Apple Bloom shrugged. “Oh, and you’re going to have to deal with Applejack. And mah brother.”

He sat straighter. “Um, are you sure? Maybe we could just send them an invitation too?”

Apple Bloom harrumphed. “Nnope. Not the way it’s done in our family. You got to go there yourself and stand up like a stallion. Maybe you ought to pull some strings, show up with some soldiers from the New Republic, and that snappy uniform, with all them medals?”

“You think that would help?”

“Well, it might take a while more to see ya sweating.” She grinned at him, devious and cunning. “But you do look handsome with those tight pants on.”

He swallowed. “Sweetie, are we there yet?” he asked, suddenly eager for fresh air.

“Almost, Pip,” she said.

He crawled forwards, pretending not to notice Apple Bloom’s knowing smile as he snuck into the piloting cabin. There he watched, wide eyed, as they came closer and closer to an army of airships.

Hundreds of grey shapes loomed ahead, with planes by the thousands milling about, docking and landing and zipping through the equally grey skies. They darted about, a cloud of bees surrounding their hive of New Appleloosa.

The city sprawled out in every direction, a loose collection of spires and skyscrapers that swayed in the strong winds. More vehicles, mostly colourful civilian vessels, bustled about near the towers. Ponies flew from one building to another while the streets below, hardly more than shadow-filled pathways, showed signs of subtle movement.

“Pick up your jaw. You might stick out if they see you prancing around with it open like that.” Sweetie pulled back on the yoke and shifted some of the controls about. “Take the copilot’s seat for a bit. Try not to crash.”

He promptly obeyed, feeling the yokerespond the moment he set his hooves on it.. Sweetie twisted around and pulled out some maps and papers, studying them with a quick eye. “We’re going to land on the south side of town at one of the older docks. The Imps don’t patrol there as often, but it's often enough to mean it should be safe.. We’re going to meet a young buffalo operative. She’s going to guide us in a bit more.”

“What’s our mission?” he asked, never taking his eyes off the skies.

“We’re going to hit a foundry and sabotage it a bit. Then we’ll assassinate Bunnyhelm.”

Apple Bloom jerked up in her seat. “We’re gunna what?”

Sweetie remained quiet, only occasionally uttering a few words to help Pipsqueak guide the plane in. He followed her orders and soon they were hovering into a derelict part of town, well away from the the towering spires of the City’s centre.

The tower they were to land grew and expanded as as they approached. A sudden upwards draft forced Pipsqueak to switch on the Thunderbird's Sparkle Generator, and he deftly slid up the building. He maneuvered the transport between two of the ramps until it hovered right above a landing pad.

Sweetie flicked the switch to drop the gears and sat back, sighing. “We’re going to hurt the Empire, a lot. That means taking its head off. I think that maybe Bunnyhelm’s not the real ruler, that he’s just a figurehead. But he’s popular, and everypony knows him. If he dies....”

“Yeah, but killin’ him? Ah’m not one for murder, and he’s not the sort to just kneel over and let us at him, no matter how crazy he is.”

“That’s why we’re going to have to plan carefully. He’s going to show up for a presentation of some sort in two days. That means that we have that much time to act. The rebel fleet should be heading this way. Not the whole thing, I don’t think, but enough to maybe make the Imps worry.”

“So, what do you want us to do?” Pipsqueak asked. The Thunderbird landed with a firm thump and he shut off the engine, a dull whine filling the cabin. “I-I don’t think I could pull the trigger myself, you know?”

She shook her head. “Of course not. But we need to see the city, to plan around the event. There are messages to send to some ponies and some good propaganda to spread. The New Republic’s not going to take New Appleloosa by force. We’re going to seep in when they’re not paying attention.”

Pipsqueak shifted his weight on his seat. The biggest issue he had was that the plan sounded like a real plan. Lots of ponies had put a ton of effort into thinking about it and putting things in motion. He, out of happenstance, had been placed in a part of that plan that he wanted little to do with. But Apple Bloom was there.

“Alright, we’ll help. Ah saw what he did over at Canterlot. Not much that can turn somethin’ so vile back to goodness. No fan of killing, but some things might need to be done.”

He words decided it for him. With a firm nod he turned off the last consols and pitched them in darkness. “I’ll help too. Maybe if I do good enough, I won’t have to impress the Apples much.”

His finance barked a laugh. “Ain’t no chance that you’re getting out of it, Pip.”

Sweetie managed a smile as she rose from her seat and trotted to the back of the cabin. There, she popped open the door and let it slid on hydraulic pistons. “Our informant should be here soon, if she isn’t already.”

He moved to Apple Bloom’s side, sitting down beside her at a distance that, only a year ago, would have set his face aflame. Now he only blushed a little. Together they watched as the hatch opened and sunlight poured in, revealing to them the simple, flat protrusion on the tower’s side that they had landed on.

Framed by the light was a brown figure. Short and stocky on the edges, but more from muscle than any amount of fat. She blinked at them with great brown eyes, eyes that betrayed a second’s panic before becoming calm.

They knew that buffalo.

“Keen Eyes?”

She nodded, a tentative smile gracing her features.

Pipsqueak looked at her, taking a moment to focus.. She had a few new scars and a bruise along her side. The clothes she wore were tattered and mud-stained, but functional. Stepping up, the buffalo placed a tentative hoof in the Thunderbolt’s cabin. “Hey, you guys are.... Apple Bloom? Pip?” She grinned, but her eyes were devoid of joy.

“You’re familiar with them?” Sweetie asked. “Good, this might make relations faster. I’ll presume that your name is Keen Eyes?” Keen nodded. “Great! Scootaloo should be landing the Expedite soon, once we’ve joined up could you bring us to our quarters? I’ll assume that our ships are safe here?”

Keen Eyes’ expression shifted at the mention of Scootaloo. “You mean, the Scootaloo, of the red death?”

The three in the transport shared glances. “Um, yes?” Their gaze shifted to another nearby platform where the Expedite was hovering a few hooflengths over the ground, puffs of dust swirling up around it.

“She’s here, with us?” Keen asked, but before waiting for an answer she trotted around, motioning with her head for the rest to follow. “Oh, I’ll have a few ponies to tell about this. Come on, I’ll bring you over to one of the safehouses. You can rest in peace there.”