“Room Attention,” Spitfire barked. Several ponies immediately sprang to their hooves but most slowly raised themselves to a standing position. Soarin grimaced and shakily rose with the latter group.
“At ease,” the grey unicorn called as he strode to the center of room. Tiered desk circled the central floor where the general stood. A few dusty books and a broken chalk board were the only clues to what the room’s original use was. “Are we waiting on anyone else?” the unicorn asked.
Spitfire shook her head somberly “This is everyone who could make it, General Back Blast.”
“I see,” he said closing his eyes for a second. Back Blasts face snapped back to a steely stair. “I want to congratulate all of you. Thanks to your efforts, we have our foothold in Ponyville. You have made Equestria’s first ground gain since the retreat from Las Pegasus. It was rough but we have stopped those traitors cold,” a few pegasi beat their hooves on the desks building into an impromptu applause.
Back Blast paused and let it build. Despite the pain Soarin found himself joining in.
“Yes be proud,” the unicorn said as the hoofbeats slowly died down. “Now to the ugly business of it, I need to know what happened.”
Spitfire took her cue and stepped forward, “Captain Spitfire Commander of the Wonderbolts Wing, we were providing air patrol for the weather squadrons.”
A white and brown pegasus stood up next “Lt Commander Hail Storm Commander of 148th Stormborn Wing, we were providing the weather support for the breaching elements.”
A third pegasus struggled to stand. The pony next to her wrapped his wing around her shoulders and pulled her up “Lieutenant Cloud Skipper acting commander of the 472nd Wing, we were also providing air support for the weather teams.”
A loud silence hung over the room. Soarin met Spitfire’s eyes and the two shared a grimace.
“The initial breach went well,” Spitfire said calmly breaking the silence. “We drove off the defending pegasi and the 148 rapidly set up their storm clouds. From what I could see from above, the breaching elements rapidly entered Ponyville and may have even reached the town hall.”
Back Blast nodded, “then what happened?”
Spitfire turned to Cloud Skipper and gave her an encouraging nod.
“We…we were flying our assigned routes when the enemy returned. At first it was combat as normal, but then……then a trio of black clad pegasi detonated a cloud in the middle of airspace,” Cloud Skipper closed her eyes and shuddered.”
“Shadowbolts,” Fleetfoot growled from next to him. The faces of several other Wonderbolts darkened at the mention of the name.
“Half the wing went down in a second…..Captain Stormy Skies was somewhere in the center of the blast……no pony….no pony could find a trace of him,” she said barely above a whisper. Cloud Skipper sank back into her seat and starred at the ground.
Spitfire cleared her throat and the room turned back to her. “Given the situation, I ordered Commander Soarin to take two squads to help stabilize the situation.”
Soarin took it as his cue and limped towards the center. “Thanks to Wave Chill’s and Misty Fly’s squadrons we managed to block the initial thrusts into the opening. I witnessed at least three victories within as many minutes. It honestly seemed like we were going to pull it off,” he said nodding to the two squad leaders sitting in the back of the room. The two nodded back and a flicker of a smile crossed his mouth.
“Then, as Cloud Skipper said, the Shadowbolts arrived,” he said turning to stare out a nearby window. “There were at least 3 squads…. maybe more. In that instant they could have pushed into the weather teams if they wanted to….”
Back Blast’s brow furled “Why didn’t they push through? The loss of the storms would have crippled the offensive.”
“Because the loonies don’t have any tactical sense” Fleetfoot chided. A few halfhearted agreements wrung out.
Soarin shook his head “I don’t know. Instead they focused on dogfighting the Wonderbolt squads. It almost seemed like that was their focus. I saw three…” he thought back hard trying to picture the faces “I think it was Air Brake, Night Run, and Tempest, all attack Rapidfire without any concern for their own safety. He barely survived his crash.”
“So how did you get out of there?” Back Blast asked.
Soarin gave a sheepish grimace “We fought back towards the rest of the Wonderbolts. It gave up about half of the clouds but we at least kept some of them.”
“He dibn’t juwst do that” Wave chill slurred through a bruised mouth. “He nearly fawght em all by himbself to cober us,” Misty Fly nodded enthusiastically in support.
“It wasn’t nearly that impressive,” Soarin protested “I just needed to make sure everyone was going to make it out. Really I got pounded more than anything else.”
Back Blast snorted “I’m sure there was more to it than that. The withdrawal was a good call. I would have rather preserved some of the weather support than risk it all. Besides, if my estimates are accurate we gave far more than we received.”
Soarin glanced at Spitfire and he gave another skeptical glance. The fighting had seemed even at best in his opinion. A glance around showed a similar reaction from Hail Storm and several others.
“This has been most insightful. Rest up and prepare yourselves. I intend to capitalize on our victory as soon as possible.” The unicorn said turning to leave. “At ease” he shouted, before Spitfire could even open her mouth.
Slowly, Pegasi began talking amongst to each other. As Spitfire began to discuss something with Hail Storm, Soarin slipped towards the exit. With any luck, he wouldn’t have to wait long for the medics, if he could out limp most of the crowd.
A loud crash and cackling laughter let Rainbow Dash know that the rest of the strike team was back. Without wasting a second she leapt up from the couch she had been on and moved towards a chair in the corner of the room.
A few moments later, the source of the noise flew through the doorway and plowed straight into the couch turning it over. “Mph mph mph” an orange pegasus laughed from under the pile of moldy cushions.
“Hey Air Brake, did that kill ya?” asked the next pony to enter the room. Upon seeing the pile of laughing cushions, the pegasus twisted his face into a maniacal grin and propelled himself into the cushions with his leathery wings.
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and turned back to the door waiting for the rest of the team to enter. Air Brake and Night Run’s antics became very repetitive after a few seconds of their company.
The next two ponies chose to simply walk in. Rainbow dash fought down a gasp when she saw them. Half of Blastwave’s face looked like it had been barbequed. The thestral tried to keep a neutral expression but every movement brought a flash of pain across his expression. Nightingale lay across his back out cold.
“What happened to you?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Surprise and Blaze Tail” he said flatly. “I think Nightingale ran into Silver Lining,” he added quickly.
“Is she…..” she pointed to the body of the purple pegasus.
“Just unconscious, her fight must have been closer to the….” Blastwave was cut off as an orange and grey ball of pony tumbled towards them. He reared up his front hooves and slammed it down on the two pinning them in place.
“Aw you reaaly are no fun,” whined Night Run.
“Yeah….you should let us enjoy ourselves. I’m pretty sure we killed a Wonder Bolt or two.” Air Brake gasped between giggles.
Blastwave sneered at the two and walked over them. The two grunted but otherwise kept the smiling like maniacs.
Rainbow Dash sprinted to catch up to Blast Wave. “So the Wonderbolts were really up there?”
Blast Wave sighed. “Yes, hence why we failed to halt the solar forces. If it had just been us up there, none of this would have happened,” he said nodding his head towards Nightingale. “How did your phase go? I was too busy to see how the battle ended.” He asked.
“Oh, that was easy,” she said waving it off with her forearm. “The skies were so clear that I cleaned them in ten seconds flat. You could have left the entire job to me.”
Blast Wave snorted “Your humility does you credit.”
“Hey now, I’m not the one running off to duel my mortal enemy or some garbage like that,” she protested.
“You would have one if you had flown long enough, you little upstart,” he said barely keeping the amusement from his voice.
“Just you wait old timer! One day you won’t even realize what’s happened and you’ll be saluting me,” she proclaimed puffing out her chest.
Blast Wave let out a throaty chuckle. “One day maybe…..one day. Until then you’re stuck here. Now I have to get Nightingale to a medic,” he said walking past her and shaking his head.
Rainbow Dash slouched back down and waited for Blast Wave’s hoof falls to fade away. Behind her sounds more at home in a demolition site came from the breakroom. That suited her better though.
As silently as possible she slipped down a side passage in the Shadowbolts impromptu home. The back paths of their base always reminded her of a dark and empty tomb, but that was preferable this time. Stall Out liked to tell recruits that the back paths were haunted, but Rainbow Dash knew that was just a story…most of the time. The odd recruit or support personnel would disappear from time to time.
Rainbow Dash glanced backwards briefly and picked up her pace slightly. Her spine went rigid when she heard a faint press of hooves. She splayed her wings and let a faint ripple of lightning dance across her wingtips.
A white skull emerged from the gloom. Rainbow Dash dropped her wings and let the lightning dissipate. As it drew closer the “skull” became a black pegasus with a grim shaped blaze. “Dashie, Odd place for a stroll,” he said tilting his head at her.
Rainbow Dash frowned, “I could say the same thing, Dusk Wraith… and don’t call me Dashie.”
Dusk Wraith kept his head tilted. “I’m merely keeping low, friend. I just had to inform Nightshade that Night Run and Air Brake were a little….generous with their assessment of the battle,” he said remotely.
Rainbow ash shuddered at the thought. It was not wise to be in the same room as Night Shade when she was on a tear. “I’ll avoid those two for the next forever if I can,” she said.
Dusk Wraith sat there and blinked slowly. Rainbow Dash resisted the urge to turn her head at him. “I don’t think that’s possible,” he said after several seconds.
Rainbow Dash brought a hoof to her face. “It was a joke,” she said exasperated.
“Oh” he said before falling silent again.
They stood there for several minutes. “Anyways…..I’d best get going,” She said awkwardly.
Dusk Wraith nodded “Yes, we should. Make sure you stay close. Nightshade is planning to hit the Wonderbolts immediately. She wants to finish off the wounded that our noble opponents are sure to send up. I think she's going for a kill blow this time.”
“Well you always know where to find me,” she said hurriedly.
Just be careful. You never know who’s going to be soaring around these skies,” he said continuing into the darkness.
Rainbow Dash froze. It took every fiber of her being to keep a straight face. It took several minutes after Dusk Wraith had disappeared for her to start moving again. This time she moved at a much faster pace to the edge of the compound.
The infirmary had thankfully been empty when Soarin arrived. It still took him almost two hours to get fully treated. Even with the doctor’s best efforts, he still felt like a freight train had run him over. Every muscle in his body urged him to go pass out in his bed but Soarin headed towards the locker bay to deposit the remainder of his flight suit and equipment.
In a former gymnasium, row after row of lockers had been set up for the Wonderbolts and the other squadrons. Soarin glanced at several lockers that wouldn’t be opened anytime soon. Eventually he limped to his row. He reached for his locker but pulled back. A small tag had been taped to his lock. Without missing a beat Soaring cantered towards the back of the room.
Rainbow Dash paced in the back corner of the locker room. It had been relatively easy to get into the Wonderbolts compound. The borrowed uniform and a basic knowledge of the challenge and passwords meant that most ponies didn’t even question her appearance. That didn’t stop her from pacing.
“Dashie?” a voice whispered.
She stopped pacing immediately and turned to the sound of the voice. All of her anxiety fell away as Soarin stepped out toward her. Forgetting everything else she ran towards him. The two embraced and just held each other for several minutes. For a moment there was no war, just two ponies holding each other.
Finally they broke away and Rainbow Dash got a good look at him. She gasped audibly. A visibly pained expression crossed her face. His left wing was in a sling and his left front leg was wrapped in badges. His face was covered with small bandages covering numerous cuts. Dark bruises covered his body turning his coat a few shades darker.
“Are you all right?” he asked worriedly.
“What?” she said shocked.
“Are you all right? Did you get hit?” he asked again, the concern never leaving his voice.
“Of course I’m fine, you oaf. Why are you worried about me? Forget me, what happened to you? Why are you still up? Oh my gosh!” she said looking him over again.
“I’m fine,” he said with a tired smile. “I just got a little roughed up by some of your squadron mates.”
Rainbow Dash shook her head before pulling him close again and burying her head into him. “Stop being so stupid. You can’t fight this war by yourself.”
“I’ll try but you guys aren’t making it very easy” he said softly.
“I hate this so much. I wish this would all end. No one even remembers why this is still going at this point. Why can’t everyone just get along?” she said practically shouting.
Soarin reached down and titled her head up to face his. “Just give the word and we can run away from all this. We can go hide in the Griffon Kingdom or with the Zebra. We can forget all about the war,” he said without a moment’s hesitation.
Rainbow Dash smiled sadly. She leaned forward and gave him a brief kiss. “I know you mean that, but you know we can’t. We both promised to carry out this fight. I’m not going to go back on my word and I won’t make you do it either.”
Soarin rested his head against hers. “Then I guess we keep doing this,” he said. “How did you know we were here?”
“We didn’t. We were surprised when you all showed up. We were supposed to move North tomorrow but that’s all been put on hold,” she said.
“Well I guess there’s some benefit to all this then,” he said wiggling his eyebrows.
Rainbow Dash laughed “You look like you lost a fight with a timber wolf and that’s what you’re thinking about?”
“Yes,” he said without a second thought.
“I don’t think your doctor would approve.” She said scolding him.
“I won’t tell them if you don’t,” he said.
“Maybe if you’re super good as a patient, I’ll think about it,” she said booping his nose.
“That one may be hard,” he sighed. “They want us back in the air immediately. Someone thinks that today was a success. Can you believe it?”
“WHAT!” she shouted. She brought her hand to her mouth trying to take the outburst back.
“I know it’s completel…….”
“No, not about that,” she cut him off. “You can’t go back up there. Not until you’ve healed more,” she said firmly.
Soarin chuckled, “I don’t think I can tell Spitfire that. Besides I can handle it.”
“You don’t understand. Nightshade is going to send everyone up there and they are going to target any of you who look hurt. I don’t care what you have to do. Lie about your wing or just hide, but please don’t fly.” she said fighting back tears.
Soarin’s face fell. “You know I can’t do that,” he whispered. “I can’t leave anypony up there unsupported. Especially given what you’ve told me.”
Rainbow Dash scrunched up her face. “Don't you understand?” she asked.
“I won’t die” he answered certainly.
Rainbow Dash shook her head. “You know you can’t promise that. None of us can.” She said fighting back the tears again.
Soarin pulled her back in tight. “This time I will,” he whispered to her.
The two just held each other again in silence. Again the problems of the war faded away in each other’s embrace. “You better mean that,” she said crossly. “If you don’t, you’re going to have to deal with me.”
“Well now I have to keep that promise,” he said as the smile returned. The two gazed into each other’s eyes again and leaned into a deep kiss. It was a long time before they separated again.
They had gotten two days of relative peace, sneaking between the lines for secret meetings. Two days of comfort, then the war came back. The two forces had clashed again in an even more titanic battle than the prior one. Rainbow Dash didn’t even bother to go back to the debrief. Instead she raced to a pre-arranged meeting place towards the edge of town. The old bakery had seen better days like most of the buildings there but it suited her needs fine.
Rainbow Dash was the first to get there. She slipped inside and sat at a booth. She waited and waited. The minutes ticked on into an hour and then two. She started to pace. How long could she wait there she thought. Someone would notice she was missing eventually.
Before she could make up her mind, a rustle from nearby brought her back to reality. Her heart began to race as some pony approached the door. It opened slightly.
“Dashie,” a voice called out.