Time changes everything. Old friends leave us and new ones come into our lives. Now that Equestria and the other nations have been exposed to the galaxy at large, things are changing. Here are a few stories of how.
The following is a collection of one shots and short stories to bridge the gap between "Of War and Friendship" and the next big adventure as well as an outlet for random story ideas.
The sun had begun its usual trek across the horizon, pushing the last vestiges of night away. So few on this world realized, though, that this was the first time the celestial bodies had moved on their own in centuries. No longer under the control of supposed deities, nature had begun to retake stewardship of this planet. Life-giving rays of light reached their grip out over the harsh and uncaring desert landscape as they draped themselves over one of the few settlements that called this place home. Beams of light began to trickle in through the windows of the tavern’s upper rooms and slink their way across the wooden floor towards the occupied bed in the far corner. Several emptied bottles that littered the floor began to catch and distort the light, sending beams in random directions.
Trickles of light began to brush across the face of the man calling this room home for the time being. Aged into his early thirties, his face told the story of a man who had fought hard to gain whatever he had in life. His raven hair was ringed with a line of grey, giving his age away even further. A number of scars littering his chest and arms were proudly displayed on his fit body, trophies from the battles he’d survived.
His face scrunched in annoyance as the light nagged at him to awaken; with a tired grunt, he refused its call and turned over on his side. Upon doing so, his senses were bombarded with several new sensations: a warm softness brushing against his face, the slightly faded scent of shampoo and perfume; finally was the weighted presence beside him and the numbness in one of his arms. With some reluctance, the man’s dark brown eyes began to crack open, finding a mass of tangled orange hair and one cream colored ear lazily laying against it. Glancing over it, he noticed the feminine curve and shape it possessed, as well as how she laid on her side over his arm.
The being lying beside him began to stir as she sensed him awaken. Her head tilted slightly to glance back at him with one tired, green eye. A smile came across her face as she laid back down and scooted herself back into his body, “Mornin’…” She muttered in a tired sigh.
He glanced over her and the mess of his room. A number of discarded, empty bottles littered the floor. His armor and gear was left in a haphazard pile in the far corner. Turning his attention back to the alien woman beside him, he chose to simply enjoy the strange turn of events. His other arm draped over her body and was quickly held tightly by her forelimbs, “Yeah… Morning,” he grumbled out as he let his eyes slide shut.
As relaxing as his current state affairs were, he still had one question, how did he get here? His mind began backtracking to find the answers, jumping from one event to the next as the jumbled mess began to shift and slide into place until things began to make more sense. The crash, the long trek through the desert, the small town in the middle of nowhere and all the trouble he had to go through to get one lousy drink.
An uncaring sun burnt down on the sands and rocks of the desolate landscape at the edges of Equestria’s territory. Though for one man, it felt as though it was focused more on him than anything else. The singular figure of Lieutenant Shariad Feltan trudged his way through the wastes toward the ever-beckoning splotch on the horizon.
From behind his visor, he cast a rueful glare at the burning orb in the sky above him as he tried to will it out of existence. Despite his armor’s climate control systems, he could still feel the blistering heat that pounded down on him from above. He could feel beads of sweat soaking his body through and through beneath his armor and underlay. Muttering a few more curses under his breath, he continued to trek forward towards the town on the horizon.
It had been several hours since he’d awoken and found himself stranded on this alien planet. During this time, he had begun a quiet reflection on his situation, the events and choices that led to this moment in time. It all came down to one man in particular, that idiot who fired on that freighter. If not for that one misfire, he would still be second in command aboard his ship; they would have joined the great offensive against the Neo Protectors and struck the first blow of the civil war. Rather than reveling in glory, here he was: walking across the burnt, jagged landscape of some backwater planet.
These distractions served him well, as he barely noticed when he finally arrived in the town. The only thing he could notice right now was the ever-growing pain and discomfort his body was bombarding him with. Every muscle demanded he find a place to at least sit for a spell. In his tired haze, he barely regarded the locals, who all seemed to stare in shock and disbelief as he marched up the center of town.
His eyes fell upon a building towards the center of town. The sounds of music and happy chatter, which thankfully was in basic, could be heard even from the streets. A quiet thank-you was muttered to the forces at work for making whatever was inside speak a language he could understand. Pushing his way past the saloon doors, he was greeted with a sea of bewildered eyes.
From behind his visor, Feltan began to assess the room, his mind quickly recalling the briefing they had all received from Teth’s report. Equestrians: the strange, quadruped race that lived on this world. He was told they were friendly, but timid for the most part towards things outside their norm. Judging from what he remembered in the report, the room looked to be populated with the Earth breed types, no wings and no horns. He then remembered the blaster at his side as well as the number of weapons built into his armor, and was quickly flooded with confidence. Lumbering his way across the wooden floor towards the bar, he found himself no longer the center of attention as the occupants returned to their conversations and friends.
A tall, lanky creature moved up to the strange alien that had taken up residence at the far end of his bar. With a forced, plastic smile he leaned in, “Howdy stranger, welcome to the Salt Lick Saloon. What can I get ya?”
Reaching up, Feltan disengaged his environmental seals with a dull hiss before pulling his helmet off, setting it on the bar next to him. The sweat and dried blood that caked his face caused the bartender to visibly recoil a bit, bringing a grin to the warrior’s face, “What’s your strongest stuff?”
The barkeep quickly regained his composure and nodded happily, “Ah, well, just got a batch of Buffalo Fire Water in the other day. Stuff’ll put just about anypony on his flank.”
Reaching into a pouch hooked to his belt, the tired and broken warrior produced a few credits and laid them on the bar, “This buy me a glass?”
The currency was given a good scrutinizing, “Personally I prefer taking Equestrian Bits, but bein’ this far out in the territories ya can’t be picky, I always say. Yeah, this looks like it’ll get ya a glass.”
Several more credits joined the ones already on the counter top, “Bring me the bottle.”
His companion eyed the small pile of strange coins with a hint of joy and greed glimmering in his eyes. His hoof came up and scooped the credits off the bar and quickly placed them off to the side, “Of course sir, right away!”
The warrior waited patiently for his drink to arrive while doing what he could to not draw any attention to himself. The unfortunate thing was, being from a whole other planet meant that he was never going to accomplish this feat. Proven to him by the presence he felt brush against his arm. Drawing his gaze to the side, he found a female. Mares, they were called, if he recalled correctly, leaning on the bar beside him. Her coat was a cream color, well-maintained mane and tail of furious, bright orange and perfectly green eyes all brought together in a tightly compact form, not unpleasant to look at by any race’s standards.
“Howdy sugah, you look like you could use a little company,” Her voice was pleasant, soft and silken with a strange accent Feltan couldn’t place with anything he knew.
She spoke of company, but her half lidded eyes and hungry smile told him to keep an eye on his credits, “Just looking for a drink, ma’am.”
“Please sug, no need for formalities.” She insisted with a teasing giggle, “Jus’ call me Scarlet, Summer Scarlet if ya please.”
Feltan withheld the urge to roll his eyes at this declaration. He’d been to more than a few cantinas in his time and had seen her kind on more than a few worlds. A pretty face and honeyed voice, tasked with getting you to loosen your purse strings and spend every last credit you have in their bar. Tricks better suited for use on a younger man still led around by his libido, in his opinion. Still, no reason to act rude; he gave the mare a nod and a smile as he waited for his bottle to show up.
He felt her lean a bit more into his side, “So, what do Ah call you, stranger?”
“Stranger sounds fine for now.”
Scarlet couldn’t help but giggle at this fleeting dodge of her question, “Mysterious type, ain’t ya? Ah like that.”
“Just looking to keep a low profile,” He answered her curtly.
Behind his back, the warrior had no idea of the latest visitors to the establishment or the fact that the entire room had not just become quiet but the majority of the occupants had left. A mismatched quartet of creatures had entered the bar, causing so many to make for the exits. One was a lumbering canine with arms that seemed to stretch the full length of its body, a scar hinted at the violent loss of his left eye, hidden behind a small, round hat that tilted to one side. The other was a strange half-breed between avian and feline, the well-defined muscles and large size stated it was male, and the chipped beak and ragged wings said he could give as good as he got. Number three was another of the large, brown, bulky creatures he had encountered at the crash site. His horns were chipped from clearly heavy use, and one had been broken halfway down. Finally, at the head of the pack stood a mare with a dark blue coat and lime green tresses; atop her head rested a wide-brimmed hat that tilted awkwardly forward.
The leader of this ragged bunch zeroed in on the strange creature sitting at the bar and motioned for her comrades to follow suit. She cut a straight path towards him while her companions fanned out across the room. With a teasing grin, she leaned herself against the bar, “Well well well, what in Equestria have we got here, fellas?”
“No idea boss,” The bird creature in her company chirped, “Looks like some sort’a metal plated monkey.” He stated happily as he received the jovial laughs he’d been hoping for.
Feltan’s new companion quickly moved away from his side as the rough group began to close in, though the warrior however stood his ground. This wasn’t the first time he’d been hassled on some back-water world; people see the armor and think they can take you. They think if they kill a Mandalorian, it’ll make them a local legend or maybe even rich for selling the gear off his corpse. He cast an annoyed eye at the barkeep, who nervously tried to keep his distance until he reluctantly forced himself forward to drop off the requested bottle.
The human reached out for the bottle only to find a hoof pin his forearm down. Glaring daggers at the limb, he traveled it to the source to find the mare’s smiling face, “Hey now mister, why don’cha fill us in, huh? Ain’t never seen one’a your like ‘round here. See, my boys an’ Ah are right curious types.”
Feltan looked longingly at the bottle, so close yet so far away. All he wanted was to get drunk and forget about the past couple of days. He felt her hoof move slowly up his arm to his shoulder till she had herself using him to keep herself standing on her hind legs, “C’mon now sweetie, ain’t no reason ta be so unfriendly,” She cooed to him, “Ya look the rough type ta me stranger; always lookin’ fer new talent.”
It was time to play along. His arm moved from the counter top to slide around her midsection. He could feel her friends moving around behind him but forced his gaze to stay locked with her, “And just type of talent are you looking for?”
A coy smile slid over her muzzle as she leaned in a bit closer, “Somepony who ain’t ‘fraid ta get his… “Mitts” dirty.”
He glanced around the room with a chuckle, “So, I take it you four are some type of gang then,” Feltan mused aloud. With a relaxed grin, he looked about the room at his would-be assailants as they moved into position, “Judging from how everyone went and hauled sheb to get out of here, you’ve all got a reputation around these parts,” He continued his banter, “That usually means someone somewhere put up a bounty for you four.”
The mare raised a brow as she allowed him to continue his thoughts, “Even if you were right ‘bout that sweetie, there’s four’a us an’ only one’a you. ‘Sides, things can be so much more fun if ya come along with us.”
To her surprise Feltan leaned forward and breathed in deeply along her neck line, selfishly drawing in her scent. He smirked as he felt her body stiffen in surprise against him, “Gar klesir laandur, aruetii,” The warrior whispered teasingly into her ear.
She leaned back to smirk into his face, “My my, quite forward ain’t ya? Ah like that in a stallion.” The mare cooed to him breathlessly.
Feltan couldn’t help but chuckle at her reaction, “You know what the best part about all of this is? You have no idea what I just said to you.”
Before she could utter a response the reinforced layers of his gauntlets began to hum to life. The mare leaning into him found herself bombarded by a wave of electricity when his fist suddenly slammed into her stomach. The force of the blow sent her toppling backwards into several of the tables, sending splintering wood skittering across the floor. With this act, the room exploded into a scene of beautiful chaos with Feltan at the center of it all.
The remaining three quickly darted in for the kill in retaliation to his attack, exactly what the former Deathwatch Lieutenant had been hoping to get. Grabbing his helmet from the counter, he tossed it with all the strength and dead weight his arms could afford him. The armor-turned-projectile rocketed through the air and connected with the front of the canine’s face. A satisfying crack, followed by a pained yelp filled the air as he toppled into a table, holding his face as blood trickled from between his claws.
A loud roar drew his attention quickly to the fast-moving avian half-breed that launched itself into him. Fletan found himself pushed onto the defensive while his assailant slashed franticly at him with his long, sharp talons. The sharpened nails dug harmlessly into his armor, but the Mandalorian knew he didn’t have the constitution or the strength to keep weathering this onslaught.
His opponent was fast, but he didn’t need speed, just a good opening. Delving into his training as a shock boxer, Feltan began to duck and weave with the attacks, making them even less effective. Seeing this only made his enemy angrier as his strikes became more rampant and random. Finally there it was: a wide, over-exaggerated swing. Smirking in triumph, his sparking gauntlet flew through the gap that had opened up and smashed into the bird-cat’s chest. Bolts of energy leapt about his body as a defeated squawk escaped his beak before his form crashed into the wooden floor.
There was little time to rest as what felt like a speeder strapped to the front of a tank tied to a crashing freighter slammed into his side. Feltan had no time to retaliate, and very little to fight back with as he found himself forced roughly into the bar with such force the entirety of the building shook. He could feel his ribs cracking beneath his armored shell as his legs began to give out, and the air was ripped out of his lungs. Grabbing the counter for leverage, he found himself face to face with the brown, hulking monstrosity.
Over the behemoths back Feltan could see the sluggish grey one and the mare getting back to their feet, and looking none too happy with him. Her eyes glared murderously at the human, “Hold ‘im down, Bill,” She snarled as she grabbed a broken bottle off the ground, “I’m gonna cut that tongue right out’a his head. Ah wanna see jus’ how silver it really is.”
From the corner of his eye, though, he saw something that made his spirits fall that much farther. The bottle, fresh and unopened, the seal still tightly attached, had been knocked off balance. Feltan’s eyes went wide with horror as he watched it dance in uncertainty for a moment before choosing one direction to fall over the other. All he could do was watch as his precious drink toppled off the counter top just out of his reach, and shattered upon the floor. The sounds of breaking glass mimicked his own breaking heart and the wafting scent of strong, hardy spirits filled the air.
The human turned his rage filled eyes towards the hulk currently crushing him into the bar, “I just bought that you blasted di’kut!” He roared at the top of his lungs.
Outside of the saloon, the entire town had gathered to see the ruckus that had started; this only brought a frown to Sheriff Silver Star’s face as it would only make things more difficult. The aging, light brown coated stallion gave a tired sigh as he approached the building. From the reports he had been given, mainly the townsponies running and screaming in panic, a particular group of outlaws had wandered into town and were inside the local saloon. Silver Star wished to Celestia that he had at least a posse to take care of this situation, especially considering who he heard they might be.
As he got closer, he could hear the sounds of glass breaking and somepony causing all-around havoc. Through the throngs of ponies gathered thickly around the building, it was more or less impossible to get a good look inside. The hushed talk amongst the residence spoke of a strange creature standing up to the outlaws, and judging from the sounds, the fight was getting pretty heated.
Snarling under his breath, the Sheriff pushed his way through the crowd and forced them to back away and disperse. Finally reaching the front door, he steeled himself for what he was about to walk into. For all he knew, the stranger the other ponies had mentioned was nothing but a smear across the saloon floor by now. Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself through the swinging doors, only to stop dead in his tracks at what he saw inside.
An armored figure sat on top a felled bison, whose broken and tattered face showed he had received quite a beating. Around the room amidst the clutter and wreckage, laid the forms of those he’d come to intercept to begin with. The body of a Diamond Dog was tangled with the wreckage of what was, at one point, a rather sturdy-looking table. In the far corner of the room, a Gryphon laid in a heap, the broken remains of a bottle were scattered around his head. An unconscious mare was left where she fell, somewhat embedded into the side of the bar.
The armored form took in tired, labored breaths as its shoulders sat slumped forward like it was about to fall over at any second. Silver Star cautiously entered the saloon as he looked the damage over before coming to a stop at the foot of the biped’s newly-claimed buffalo throne.
Feltan turned his ragged gaze towards the Earth pony. In his hazed state he noticed two things right off the bat. Firstly was bright, shining star he wore on both a vest and his hat, what he assumed to be a symbol of authority. Second was the rather impressive mustache hanging from his face; he was admittedly surprised these creatures could grow facial hair properly. Impressed or not, there was business to conduct, “You the law around here?” He grumbled out.
The Sheriff was a bit surprised that this savage-looking creature could speak, “That’d be me; Sheriff Silver Star at yer service,” He gave the damage another once over, “Y’all must be the stranger folks’re goin’ on about. Land sakes boy, can’t believe ya took down Jackie Knife an’ ‘er whole gang alone like ya did.” Silver Star commented with no shortage of praise in his voice.
With a tired grunt, Feltan forced himself to his feet and dismounted his fuzzy seat. Standing now in front of the Sheriff, he practically towered over the “lawman”, “Speaking of that, time we discussed a bit of business.”
A quizzical brow was raised at the mention of business, “An’ just what business is that?”
Feltan motioned to his handy work, “I believe there was a bounty out on all four of these heads, correct? I’m collecting on them.”
Silver Star felt his throat go dry as a slight panic wormed its way down his spine. It wasn’t fear of this creature standing over him, or the violence he was clearly capable of. It was the fact that he knew Appleloosa didn’t have that kind of money on hoof. Those bounties were posted by the Equestrian Marshals, “Now, I need ya to understand, it’ll take some time ta get the money for ya,” He stated carefully as he held up his hooves, “But Ah’m sure we can work somethin’ out in the meantime.”
The rest of his thoughts became nothing but a jumbled mess. From what little he could recall about the rest of the night, the townsfolk had gone out of their way to show him their thanks. All the details of those events, however, were a blurry haze of booze. His sense had cleared now, and the biggest mystery was solved. As for how things led to his current situation, the former Deathwatch Lieutenant couldn’t care less.
Feltan slid his hand free of Scarlet’s grasp and began to run it along her outline. The warrior enjoyed the way her body shivered slightly and pressed back against him the more he explored her body. This brought a content smile to his face. He begrudgingly had to admit that she gave him a peaceful feeling, even if this moment was more than likely a fleeting one. A voice in the back of his head pointed out that once he left this small town, it was fated that they’d more than likely never cross paths again; at that point it would only be a matter of time before they both became distant memories of each other. The galaxy can be a cruel mistress, sometimes.
This brief slice of heaven, though, was shattered with the sound of a hoof rapping at the door. He grunted in annoyance as he looked between his companion and the door. With a defeated sigh, he lumbered out of the bed, “Cool your jets, I’m coming!” He snarled at the presence still knocking at the door.
The aches and pains that lingered in his bones yelled at him to lay back down, as did other urges. He swiftly collected a pair of undergarments and his blaster pistol before walking towards the door. Glancing back at the confused mare in his bed, he motioned for her to keep quiet as he placed the muzzle of the weapon against the door before cracking it open. Standing outside was the Sheriff, whom he greeted with a tired grin, “Sheriff Star, what can I do for you?”
Silver Star looked from the human to the form tangled in the sheets behind him before letting a wry grin escape, “Didn’t mean ta intrude son, but a feller from the Marshals is here an’ lookin’ to talk to ya.”
Feltan glanced over his shoulder at the suddenly bashful-looking Scarlet before nodding to the Sheriff, “Tell him I’ll be down soon.”
The infamous Jackie Knife and her gang taken down in one ill-fated bar fight; it spoke volumes to Marshal Swift Breeze. An aged Pegasus, his coat was a fading dark brown; his mane and tail were at one time solid black, these days, however, shades of grey had taken their toll on him. His form was clad in the standard duster and wide-brimmed hat that all members of the Marshals were issued with a bright badge of authority, proudly pinned to his chest. In all his years though, he couldn’t think of any sight like the one playing out before him. However, he was able to easily recall each and every crime of the offenders committed as they were loaded onto the armored carriage.
The Diamond Dog Crunch, as stupid as he is violent and best known for having beaten six ponies to death in one night with his bare paws. Next was the Buffalo simply known as Bill, originally all he was known for was a few petty crimes here and there, until he got somepony killed when he trampled them, from there it was a downward spiral into Jackie’s waiting arms. Yorick Brogue, formerly a soldier from the Gryphon fatherland, after falling out with his superiors, he found he could make quite a lot of bits with his talents. Finally, the queen bee of the hive, Jackie Knife; they could write books on everything this mare had done. There were a lot of people in the frontiers that were going to sleep soundly tonight.
Heavy footfalls drew his attention to the armored biped coming to a stop behind him. Swift Breeze found himself staring at his own reflection in the empty, black glare of the being’s T-visor. Despite the more than intimidating appearance of this creature, he kept himself cold and professional, “You the colt who brought these folks down?”
“Depends, you got the money I earned bringing them down?” Feltan growled at him.
Breeze chuckled at the rough response he received, “Yeah, I got your money, bounty hunter,” He assured him, “But I wonder if I might have a moment of your time, first?”
Behind his visor Feltan rolled his eyes, he somehow knew what was coming, “Fine, just make it quick.”
The Pegasus Marshal grinned happily at the chance, “I won’t lie, friend, to bring down these four you’ve got to have some obvious skills. And skills are something I’m always looking for,” He informed him.
The warrior gave a hearty chuckle at this praise, “You offering me a job or something, lawman?”
Breeze glanced back at the angered and downtrodden looks on his captive’s faces, “It just so happens that the Marshals have a history of hiring just about anypony with the skills, talent and the sense of justice needed to keep the frontier lands safe. You gotta have at least two of those covered to have taken down all four of those rats.”
Feltan leaned in close in an attempt to break the lawstallion’s iron will, “And just what makes you think I care to enforce your idea of justice?”
A knowing smirk came to Breeze’s muzzle before he gave his answer, “Because you got the look of a “lawman” about you.” The Marshal gave him a once over as he circled the human, “I like to think I’m a good judge of character, and you seem alright to me. I reckon you could’ve killed them if you wanted to, but instead you went out of your way to just knock them out.”
“Bounties are always more valuable alive, common knowledge.” Feltan snorted in reply.
Swift tried his best to stifle a chuckle as he continued his examination, “That is true, a pulse helps pad the number of bits you’d receive, but most bounty hunters don’t care if they involve civilians or not.”
“Lucky break for them is all,” The Mandalorian retorted, “They ran for the hills before the fight even started.”
The grin on the Marshal’s face only seemed to grow the more he tried to make excuses, “Yeah well, you can deny it all you want friend, but I’d say you were born to wear the star.”
Feltan gave his offer a once over in his mind. While it would be a considerable step down for him to go from military officer to beat cop, it wouldn’t be that far of a stretch for him. Before being head-hunted by Deathwatch, he had worked as a Journeyman Protector. Feltan knew a thing or two about frontier justice. Besides that, he knew full well the bounty he just earned wouldn’t support him forever, “On two conditions: one, I’m still collecting the bounty I earned and two, I ain’t wearing one of those stupid hats.”
Breeze laughed at the warrior’s demands but consented to them, “Fine, fine, it’d look stupid on top of the helmet anyways. So, I gotta put a name on the report and recruitment form,”
Feltan smirked from behind his visor, “Briggs, Salazar Briggs.” He stated with an offer of his hand.
With a smile the Marshal placed his hoof in the open palm, “Swift Breeze. Welcome to the Equestrian Marshals.”
The afternoon sun hung over the city of Canterlot, spreading life-giving rays of warmth across the land. Sounds of laughter filled the air as a pair of young colts chased one another about the lush park near the palace. The pair of nearly identical Unicorns were tiny balls of energy crammed into khaki coats and deep brown manes and tails. Only one detail truly set one apart from the other beyond personality: one possessed a pair of crystal blue eyes and the other deep green.
Their game came to a halt as a soft voice called to them lovingly, “Boys, lunch is ready!”
“C’mon boys, before it gets cold!” a gruff male added.
The pair shared an excited smile before rushing off in the direction the voices came from. As they drew closer their pace began to slow as shadows just out of their sight began to move and dart about. The further they trotted, the more unwelcoming the vestiges of nature started to become as they took on more sinister and contorted forms. It didn’t take long before the need to find anyplace but here became overwhelming to them both as they took off in a dead gallop.
Overhead they could hear the loud rumble of engines as the air became choked with a strange scent that burned their nostrils. In the distance just out of their sight they could hear the sounds of screaming and fighting. Venturing a glance upwards they could see the beams of energy streaking back and forth around them. Drive gave way to panic as their pace became doubled.
“Momma, Pappa!” the green eyed youth yelled out at the top of his lungs as he and his brother continued their frightened search.
Rounding the bend, they came to a screeching halt. Atop a small grassy mound sat a pair of charred skeletal figures with a picnic basket sitting between them. Tears flooded his green orbs as he fought to let out a scream, but nothing would come out; his vocal cords became frozen. His body refused to move, only shiver and tremble as he knew deep down in his heart just who these skeletons were at one point.
A long shadow suddenly rose up around them both. It swirled and shifted till it became a tall gaunt figure that loomed over them. Try as they might, they couldn’t run, they couldn’t move, they couldn’t even scream; just stare at this strange nightmarish creature. As it moved closer, they could hear pleasant words being wormed into their skulls. All will and drive was drained from their tiny bodies as the being stood over top of them reached out to pluck them both up.
Anvil sat up quickly in his bed, his tiny chest rising and falling quickly as beads of sweat rolled down his forehead. In a panic his dark green eyes searched around the room trying to make sense of what he had just seen. A comforting hoof rested on his tiny shoulder bringing his attention to his brother Hammer as concern and worry reflected in his crystal blue eyes.
“It’s okay bro, it was just a nightmare,” Hammer reassured him with a weak smile.
The weak-hearted colt could feel tears pushing against the sides of his eyes as he looked around the room. Metal walls surrounded them on all sides of the sparsely furnished living quarter. A tiny slit of a window gave them a view of black void they drifted through causing his heart to sink even lower. The nightmare was still going.
The colt gave his brother a sad stare. “Hammer… I wanna go home.”
“I know bro, I do too…” His brother stated with a sigh, “You gotta stay strong Anvil, just like dad always said,”
The door to their quarters slid open as an armored figure entered unannounced, “A’ight wee ones, time to rise an’ shine.” He ordered them firmly, “Grab your gear an’ get to the shuttle bay, departure’s in fifteen minutes.”
It had only been a few days since the day they were taken from their home, barely a week since the death of their parents and their induction into the Deathwatch. Now they found themselves hurrying to equip grey uniforms they had been given before being ushered into the halls of the ship. Neither one could find the courage to speak up against their frightening hosts.
Outside the room they found themselves being corralled alongside others clad in a similar uniform fashion. The majority of this crowd looked to be made up of the species known as Human with a few that neither colt had seen just yet. But there was one thing every one of them shared in common: they were all children. The difference in species aside, there was still the same youthful, small frame that even they had, as well as the look of fear, confusion and worry in all of their faces.
“Where are we going now?” a brown-haired child quietly asked to no one in particular. His build was more or less on the thin side with a dark complexion and deep green eyes. Beneath his uniform, the hints of scars along his neck and wrists could be seen.
“I dunno,” Hammer quietly answered him, “we’ve been kept in our room until now; I had no idea there were other kids onboard.” He couldn’t help but note the hint of confusion in the boy’s eyes. “My name’s Hammer, by the way, and this is my brother Anvil,” he added with a motion towards his brother.
The boy nodded in recognition to this. “Zane,” was the uneasy reply, “I know what you mean though; they kept me locked in my room. So were you both bought off the slave market too?”
“No,” he replied with a hint of bitterness in his tone. The stabbing pain of what lead to this moment in time gnawed at him. “They invaded our home and somehow we ended up here.”
Before long, all the children had been lead onto a shuttle that had been waiting in the hangar of the ship. The youngsters had all been packed into the smaller craft’s belly before the doors sealed shut behind them. Several frightened murmurs went up around the crowd as their young minds tried to make sense of what was going on and where they were being taken. The roar of the engines and shifting of gravity silenced them as the trip to the planet surface truly began.
The hull around them began to rumble slightly with the sounds of re-entry before they felt the quick shift from artificial to true gravity. Many found themselves becoming easily disoriented and fighting to stay standing. None of them were prepared for the sight that awaited them when the side doors of the ship suddenly opened. Those able to keep their eyes open against the rushing winds soon found themselves looking out into the wide open blue sky. The bravest of them saw that their craft was now circling high above a sprawling wilderness. Confused and frightened chatter rose up from the crowd as they each fought to keep themselves as far from the opened side doors as possible.
At the rear of the shuttle stood a figure clad in the all-too-familiar armor of the Deathwatch. He found it amusing to watch them scrabble away from the certain danger; if they only knew their potential. But all things need to come to an end. Growing tired of their chattering, the trooper fired several blaster bolts from his wrist mounted weapon over their heads causing them to freeze up and turn their undivided attentions towards him.
“Good ad’ikas, good,” he stated with a hint of approval. “Let me be the first to welcome you to your new home, Harkonna. This vessel will not be landing but all of you are getting off here.”
He could taste the panic rising up from these children, “Behind me are deceleration packs, so don’t worry: you won’t die from the fall.” His words were less than encouraging. “To the east of the clearing we’re above is the training camp where you’ll find food, water, and clean beds; the catch is you have to get there.”
From behind him he produced a few large black bags and dropped them on the ground in front of him, “You won’t be going into the wilds empty handed, though; we’re giving you all at least one of these packs containing a canteen of water, a supply of protein bars and one item you will need to survive with. Now, you can either try to go it alone, work as teams, or just kill each other and take their equipment for yourself. I don’t care, but I suggest you reach the camp before dark.”
“What happens after dark?” Hammer asked taking a step forward bravely.
Behind his mask the trooper smirked happily at the Equestrian, “That’s when the really nasty things come out to feed.”
Taking a drop pack and a duffle bag he tossed it at the foot of the children, “Who’s jumpin’ first?”
From the crowd a boy slightly taller than the rest stepped forward with a look of defiance in his stare. Though at first glance Hammer thought he was another human, there were details about his appearance that just didn’t fit. His skin was a dull grey with short kempt black hair. The eyes of this being were even stranger, sharp golden that seemed to glow brightly in dim light of the shuttle. With no hesitation he took the gear and proceeded to strap it on quickly before stepping up to the edge of the open hatch. He gave the rest of his fellow captives a final look of disgust before letting himself fall from view.
Hammer could feel an angry fire swelling up inside him as this humanoid launched himself from the ship. Like that look was meant for him most of all. When the next pack was dropped in front of them the Equestrian quickly snatched it up in his mouth before glancing at his brother, shocked into silence. “I need one more for my brother.”
“We hand ‘em out one at’a time kiddo,” was his reply. “Strap it on an’ jump.”
He couldn’t let that be an option. “No, I don’t go anywhere without my brother!”
Behind the mask, the far older warrior smirked from ear to ear. He was really starting to like this one. “Fine,” he gave in tossing only one of the gear bags, “then you two get to share the drop pack.” The warrior snarled at him, “Try not to hit any trees.”
Hammer gave the Deathwatch trooper a brief glare before he started strapping the drop pack to his brother and slinging the duffle packs around himself for safe keeping. The far more timid Unicorn squirmed nervously against his brother’s efforts. “Brother, I’ve got a bad feeling about this . . .”
“Don’t worry about it, bro,” he stated calmly with a fake smile, “I just gotta hold on to you; that should be easy.”
His confidence was only skin deep, though. The brash twin was more than a little worried about the prospect of leaping out of a perfectly good metal bird. Let alone putting his faith in their captor’s claim that this backpack thing would keep them from splattering into the ground. But the last thing he was going to do was let himself get separated from his brother. When his work was finished he lead his brother to the edge of the ship’s opening. He could feel his heart punching the inside of his ribcage as he stared out into the vast wilderness below. His mouth went dry and it took all his will to keep his hooves from shaking violently, the young colt couldn’t even imagine how his brother was taking this.
Giving the rest of them a brief glance over his shoulder, he wrapped his fore-hooves tightly around Anvil before putting all his weight forward. Before either of them knew what was going on, they were tumbling through the sky. Wind rushed by as his eyes closed tightly against the velocity. Through the deafening rush of air it was hard to tell his own screams from his brother’s. At this point in time he wished he had been born a Pegasus.
Before either of them knew what was going on, the device equipped to Anvil hissed to life. Panels in the back sprung open letting a sheet of material unfurl against the wide open sky. As it finally expanded to its fullest the pair were jerked as their descent slowed with a sudden tug. Though no longer falling at terminal velocity, they were still moving rather quickly as the ground below rushed up to meet them.
With a few choice words they had heard their father use on occasion, they found themselves entering a sea of leafy arms ready to grab them. The sounds of scream and branches breaking filled the air as the still calm of the woodlands were broken. The cloth that had saved them from a far more gruesome death tore and shredded as they tumbled to the ground.
Finally coming to a stop, Hammer found himself crushed under the weight of both his brother and the supplies he had strapped to himself. “Told ya… easy…”
As the last of the children took their reluctant leap of faith into the untamed wilderness, the trooper that had forced them to take the trip out of the moving shuttle retrieved a holo-disc from his belt pouch. With the press of a button the holographic image of a stocky, heavily built man came into being at the center of the device. “The last of them are away, sir.” he informed him.
“Good to hear,” his superior replied. “The ‘chaperones’ are already reporting their locations as we speak. Now to see who’s worth keeping and who’s getting sent home. Spot any hopefuls out of the bunch, Corporal?”
“Aye, a few.” He chuckled to himself, “Firstly was that Kage brat someone dropped off with us; kid had a fire in his eyes. Most of all was one of those Equestrian things.”
“One of the quadrupeds?”
“Kid refused to jump and leave his brother behind . . . he’s got promise.”
“I know better than to question your opinion, Corporal, but we’ll just see if he makes it to the camp.” With that, the image vanished from his palm.
The Corporal took a moment to stare out across the sprawling wilds below him. Behind his mask, he smirked from ear to ear. “You’d best not disappoint me blue eyes,” he muttered to himself as the craft drifted across the sky headed towards its landing zone.
After getting himself out from under his brother and their supplies, the twins began going through what they had on hoof. True to their “caretaker’s” words, the packs were stocked well enough with what looked to be dried food bars of some kind, a few containers of water, and a random item. Hammer, much to his surprise, found a knife nestled towards the bottom of his pack. His brother Anvil however found something that neither could figure the use of.
It was a small, disk-like object: its surface had a few buttons and judging from the size, it could fit into the palm of a grown human’s hand. Curiously, the timid colt prodded it with his hoof before accidently hitting a button. Anvil let out a frightened squeak when something sprang to life in a flash of dull blue. The pair looked at the grainy image of what looked to be a forest with a blinking red marker. Hammer cautiously reached a hoof out to test the projection and found he could manipulate the image through motions.
The purpose of this item suddenly dawned on Anvil. “It’s a map!” he exclaimed excitedly.
“That’s a pretty useful thing to have,” snarled a gruff, unfamiliar voice from behind them.
Turning to face it, they found a group of several larger human boys, each wearing a less than friendly sneer on their faces. Their leader was a broad shouldered youth with shorn red hair, “Tell ya what, you two hand over that map an’ we won’t beat the snot out of you.”
Hammer quickly moved to place himself between the bullies and his brother. “Leave us alone,” he snarled at them with a hint of fear in his voice. Though he’d never used a weapon of any kind before, he had taken great pride in helping his father maintain his. The colt’s hoof rested on the hilt of his new knife as he watched them all.
“Hah,” the red haired bully chuckled, “what are ya gonna do small fry, poke us to death? You’ve only got one blade and there are three of us.”
“He’s gonna get some back up,” a familiar voice stated as a new figure joined the fight. Hammer immediately recognized Zane as well as the weapon in his hand. The brown haired human leveled the blaster pistol in his hand with the small group of bullies, “How about you three head off, and maybe we’ll forget this ever happened?”
The red haired thug sneered at Zane before he started to slowly back off, “I’m not gonna forget this, just wait till you get to the camp.”
As their enemies retreated, Zane finally allowed himself to breath. His hands shook uncontrollably as beads of sweat rand down his face. “Oh man, I’m so glad they didn’t call my bluff,” he said with a playful snicker. “I think I’d pee myself before I was able to shoot someone.”
The twins couldn’t help but join in the infectious laughter of their human friend. Before long, the trio were moving cautiously, wandering about the wilderness while Anvil continued to fiddle with his holo-map. “Ugh, I just can’t figure this thing out,” he complained as he continued to swipe his hoof through the hologram. “Zane, do you know how this thing works?”
The human chuckled at the question. “I was raised in a slave pen from birth, I wasn’t really given that much schooling beyond, ‘do this and get whipped, do this and don’t get whipped.’”
“Uhm excuse me,” a soft voice called to them from high above. Craning their necks upwards, they found a human of slighter build than the others they had seen. Her head was topped with blond hair that bordered on being bright silver and her eyes were a deep blue. “I might be able to help you, that is, if you’ll help me first.” It was then that they noticed how she had become tangled in the tree she was hanging from.
Before anyone could make a move Hammer had already begun trying to ascend the wooden giant. “I’ll get her,” he assured them all as he started to climb the tree.
Zane had to admit, it was more than a little impressive to see something without hands or even digits of any kind start to scale the side of a tree. He watched his new friend scramble up to a branch just above the girl. The small colt wrapped his limbs tightly around the branch as he reached for the knife clipped to his side. With a few grunts and muffled choice words he managed to saw through the ropes keeping her suspended.
With a surprised screech she plummeted to the forest ground below. Zane scrambled in shock to try and catch her, but found her form zipping past him and his outstretched arms. Instead, the young lady’s tumbling body slammed into the more than surprised Anvil. The pair toppled across the ground, ending with her finding herself nose to snout with him. Her face turning a bright shade of red and she quickly jumped away from the boy who lay on the ground, frozen in shock.
Zane stood stock still, his arms still out ready to catch her with a look of disappointment on his face. Much to his surprise he felt the weight of something hit him, knocking him to the ground. As he shook his head clear the young human found himself looking into the blue eyes of his Equestrian friend. “My hero,” Hammer snickered sarcastically as he put his fore limbs around the boy’s neck and batted his eyelashes.
“Thanks for the save guys,” the young girl said as she dusted herself off. “I’m Ashley Cal-raan by the way.”
After regaining his composure, the soft-spoken colt pulled himself back to his hooves. “I’m Anvil,” he stated nervously. Glancing over at other two males, he withheld a sigh as he watched Zane try to toss Hammer aside, only to end up in a headlock. “Those two would be my brother, Hammer, and our new friend, Zane.”
The snickering pair stopped mid-wrestle to say, “Hi,” in nearly perfect unison.
“Good to meet some friendly folks finally,” Ashley stated happily. “Last group that passed by only stopped long enough to swipe my supply bag and leave me for dead.”
“Isn’t it great how these kinds of situations can bring us all together like this,” Zane stated sarcastically.
“Yeah, real great,” Hammer stated with a strong hint of disgust in his voice, “So, Ashley, how exactly do you think you can help us with our map problem?”
An impish grin crosses the young girl’s features as she fished a small device from her pocket. “Because those jerks that left me for dead didn’t get this,” she declared proudly as she held it out for them all to see, “my pack came with a compass!”
Their confidence and numbers increased, the children picked up their pace now that they had a set direction to head in. Hammer and Zane, being the only ones out of the four that were now armed, had taken the lead of the small column they had created. In this time, the pair had begun talking at length to kill the time, and had quickly discovered the pair shared quite a lot in common despite having been light years apart until that day. At the center of their formation, Ashley continued to dance her vision across the map saved on the holo-disc that Anvil was lucky enough to find. At the rear, Anvil nervously took in their strange surroundings and circumstances.
Anvil had always been the odd colt out, even back in Canterlot. Hammer had never had any trouble making friends while he was always the awkward one following along quietly. The young stallion always resented his brother’s talent deep down. His musings came to a sudden stop as he noticed how suddenly the company beside him had closed in around him.
“So, Anvil, where exactly are you an’ your brother from anyways?” the human girl walking beside him asked as she kept pace at his side.
He kept his eyes forward while avoiding her gaze. “Our home was in the country of Equestria,” he stated rather quickly. He could feel his heart race with every word he forced out, “The capital city actually, Canterlot.”
Ashley nodded along happily as she listened to him. “I’m from a small colony called Yukta.” She added sadly, “Well, it was, at least.” After a moment, she continued, “So tell me about Equestria; what’s it like there?”
Anvil could feel his cheeks turning a bright red through his fur. The fact that he was having this problem talking to an alien girl frustrated him: was it because she was a girl? “It’s, uh, it’s really nice, lots of trees and uhm, the ponies there are real nice too,” he stammered out as he tried to describe his homeland. “But uh, what kind of place is Yukta?” The colt asked in hopes of shunting the subject away from him.
Ashley’s mood seemed to darken at the question, her friendly smile crumbling into a mournful frown. “It was my home, then Deathwatch came and demanded we give them tribute for protection, and when we refused they wiped out colony and now I’m here.”
The Unicorn stuttered nervously, “I- I mean, I’m so sorry I didn’t-“
He was cut off by a pair of arms tightly hugging him. “It’s alright, not like you knew.” Despite the cream color of his fur he knew he could feel his face turn a bright shade of red under the human’s embrace before being let go just as suddenly, “Com’on, we’d best catch up with the others!” Anvil was relieved to at least hear her happy tone return, yet more than a little confused by her sudden actions.
As the day wore on it was finally agreed that they should give themselves a rest. In a touch of good luck the youths managed to come across a desirable clearing. The food and water was rationed out between them all as they caught their breaths and bearings. Hammer and Anvil filled the majority of the silence with detailed tails about their home world which seemed to enthrall their companions.
“What about you, Zane?” Hammer questioned, “what’s your home like?”
The young man forced a smile for his new friends. “It’s a lovely little dirt clod in space called Tatooine,” he stated with a strong hint of disgust. “A planet that’s nothing but one giant desert from one end to the other that revolves around two suns. Not much to say about it beyond the fact that everyone there is pretty much just as horrible and bloodthirsty as the planet and the nasty creatures that call it home.”
He continued his musings as he took in their surroundings with a bit of tranquility. “Funny thing is, this my first time ever seeing trees or grass, hah, or breathing in air that isn’t choked with sand. It’s all pretty wild but a huge improvement. Probably would’ve lived on that dirt ball till the day I died if I hadn’t started a fight that day.”
All eyes were now curiously watching him as his story continued, “See, there was this slave that kept pushing me around since I was the new guy. One day I’d had enough an’ knocked him down, I knew I was gonna get beat for it, but I didn’t care. Just my luck one of those Deathwatch guys happened to be there an’ saw me start the fight. He decided my ‘talents’ were being wasted as a slave and he took me with him. Now I’m here in the middle of Force only knows, in this big weird forest trying to find some camp.”
With his story finished he finally noticed the dour looks in everyone’s eyes. With a wide smile he shrugged it all off. “On the plus side, no more desert right?” A few chuckles went up from the group, thankfully disarming the sad mood he’d created. “So Ashley, how much further till we find this camp?”
The young girl began manipulating the holographic image of their surroundings. “Well, looks like we’re pretty close now,” she reassured them. “Another good hike and we should be there-” Her eyes lit up. “Wait a second . . .”
Anvil looked into the holographic image in confusion as he tried to make out the topographical mystery that had her currently enthralled. “What is it?”
“There’s something on the map, something it looks like they tried to erase but didn’t get everything,” she stated. “I can only get the very edges of it, but I looks like a fenced-off field.”
“Why would they block some random field off?” the Equestrian beside her asked as he continued to try and understand the image.
“Beats me,” she replied, “but it looks like it’s just a short ways north of the camp.”
Hammer raised a brow at this news. “Really, so it could be on the way then?”
“Well, with a small adjustment, I suppose so,” their appointed navigator replied.
“Hammer, please, let’s just go straight to the camp,” Anvil pleaded. He could tell his brother had something else entirely in mind though.
“Oh come on, bro, I just wanna take a look, that’s all,” he reassured his brother’s fears. “Just a quick look then we’ll go straight to the camp, promise.”
The woods around them were quiet to an uncomfortable pitch as they neared the mystery area on the map. Even the air they breathed seemed to become heavier and thicker around them. An oddly-familiar smell hung in the air and teased at their minds; it felt alien to the fresh clean air of the wilderness and refused to be identified.
As they neared the spot on the map, they found themselves on an out-cropping lined with a tree line. Below them was a large valley that had been cleared and fenced in. A layer of artificial stone had been laid over the forest floor along with a number of structures. Dotting the area was a large number of shuttles and drop-ships scattered about. “It’s an airfield,” Ashley muttered breathlessly.
Movement near one of the shuttles closest to their vantage point drew Hammer’s attention. One of the Deathwatch soldiers was pushing several children onto the craft. Though the distance was far he could make out small distinguishing features about them. He recognized them as having been with them during the trip down. “Where are they taking those kids?”
“Away,” a cold gruff voice answered him. A collective shiver went through everyone’s spines as they turned around to find one of the Deathwatch warriors standing over them. “The same thing that’s going to happen to you lot for straying so far from your mission.”
The group of youths recoiled slightly as he approached. Hammer weighed their options. They could try to run for it, but there were bound to more of them in woods waiting on them. If they tried to fight there was no way they could bring down full grown man with his weapon already trained on them. From the corner of his eye, he could see Zane’s hand shaking with fear as he inched towards the pistol he had strapped to his hip.
Just when it seemed the situation was about to get any further out of hand, something unexpected happened. A snapping twig drew the soldier’s attention away from the children he was busy apprehending to the sound of fast footfalls behind him. Turning on his heel, his vision was filled with an oncoming piece of wood. As the solid cudgel connected with his visor the sound of cracking glass and a pained grunt filled the uncomfortably silent air followed by the clack of armored plates as his body hit the forest floor.
The youngsters stared in disbelief and shock as familiar gray-skinned form stood over the toppled trooper gripping the tree limb used to fell him. For a moment there was silence before he cast a glare towards the other children. It was a small eternity before someone finally spoke up. “Holy crud, you laid him out in one swing!” Zane loudly praised the other boy. “That was freaking awesome!”
As idle chatter and praise went up from the rest of the group, the mysterious boy seemed less than enthused by it and neither was Hammer. The pair seemed dead locked in a battle of wills as they stared one another down for a time being. “Thanks for the save, but who are you and what are you doing following us?” Hammer asked with a hint of disdain in his voice that seemed to catch the rest of his comrades off guard.
“Vorren,” was the response: quick and to the point. “I’ve been following you since you found that map,” he stated motioning towards Anvil. “The four of you are embarrassingly easy to track.”
“More the merrier I say!” Zane happily declared. “With you on the team I bet we could take one of those shuttles right from under their noses.”
“You really think so?” Anvil asked excitedly. “We could get off this planet and go home!?”
“So you’re honestly thinking of stealing one of the shuttles?” Vorren’s attitude seemed to quickly change with this far more interesting subject.
“Zane, you can’t be serious,” Ashley scoffed at his half baked idea.
“Why not?” Zane asked with a wide, confident smile. “They’re just sitting there ripe for the taking. I say we wait till dark and sneak down there, grab a ship, and haul butt off this rock!”
“It’s a simple plan,” Vorren pointed out, “but it seems sound.”
“No way,” Ashley protested. “It’s too risky.”
“But Zane might be onto something here,” Anvil pleaded with her. “We have a chance to escape; we should at least give it some thought.”
As the debate wore on, the young colt, Hammer, remained silent as he weighed all the options laid before them. Zane was right, the ships were right there, ripe for the taking. But something gnawed at him in the back of his mind. It kept his hooves glued to ground as he stared down over the rise at the sprawling airfield below them. He tried to focus on that feeling, that voice in the back of his head, and found what he needed.
“We’re not going down there.” Everyone froze at colt’s sudden interjection. Hammer looked the group over before repeating himself, “We are not going down there.”
Anvil couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “But, brother, we can leave this place, we could go back to Canterlot we-“
“How exactly are we gonna get there, Anvil?” his brother snapped at him. “We don’t even know where our planet is, let alone where this one is!”
The rest of the children around him seemed to flinch at Unicorn’s tirade. “On top of that, does anypony here know how to fly one of those things?” With a hint of anger in his young eyes, he looked them all over, their silence telling him everything he already knew. “Besides that, what happens if we get caught? They have hundreds of armed soldiers down there; between us we have a knife, a pistol, and a tree branch. We’d be better off shooting ourselves with Zane’s pistol.”
His rant came to a sudden halt as he saw the tears welling up in his brother’s eyes. Sighing in defeat he placed a forelimb around his shoulders. “Listen to me, all of you, we have to go to the camp.” He could feel the confusion in their eyes boring into him. “We don’t have the skills or the stuff needed to pull this plan off, but I know where we can get them: from Deathwatch. We’re going to the camp, we’re going to learn everything we can from them and then we’re going to use it to escape them and go home.”
“That’s all well and good for you two,” Zane stated with a bitter tone, “but what about the rest of us? I don’t know about everyone else here but ‘home’ was a slave cage on Tatooine.”
“My home was destroyed . . .” Ashley stated sadly.
“My situation is . . . complicated,” Vorren added.
Hammer looked to his alien companions with a wide smile, “Then come with us.”
“What, you serious?” Zane asked in bewilderment.
He gave Anvil a reassuring hug before turning to face them all. “I’m dead serious; none of you have any place to go, but we do, so come with us to Equestria.”
“Well, you did make it sound like a nice place,” Ashley said with a soft smile.
“Better than going back to Tatooine,” Zane agreed with an impish grin.
“With the way I listened to you both go on and on about it, I might as well see what all the fuss was about,” Vorren relented with a shrug.
“Then it’s settled,” Hammer stated proudly, “We play Deathwatch’s game and then we all leave this place together, we leave and we go home, to Equestria!”
The dark of night and solemn silence had settled upon the city of Canterlot as a lone figure watched the quiet streets from on high. Princess Luna looked over the sleeping city below her from the perch on her tower as a cool breeze teased at her short, kempt light blue curls. Against the dark of night, the deep blue of her fur and feathers made her appear almost invisible save for the reflection of the moon upon her cerulean eyes. She listened contently to the sound of her city sleeping all around; it was a rest she knew her people needed after all that had happened.
Looking over her shoulder, she spied the onyx-colored plates of her armor, fashioned in some haste to give her an edge against the off world invaders. This memory of course brought forth the one who had crafted them for her: the monolith known as Traycn. She had only known the creature for but a few days, but felt she had learned much about him. He was a beast, even amongst his warrior brethren, whose prowess in battle was equaled only by his endless thirst for it. Clad in deep red armor, he appeared to be more akin to a full company of her finest royal guards than a single being. The seemingly-endless weaponry that had been at his beck and call, built into his armor and body… there was no challenge he was not prepared to face. From the shadows of the night she could remember his sharp, piercing golden eyes and the ruthless hunger that lay bared behind them and the jagged scar that cut down the front of his face through deep green scales.
A pain entered her neck as the memories of their first meeting returned to her. The unrelenting hate and anger that seemed to push him forward against the onslaught of her gravity spell. Unconsciously, she held her breath as she remembered the metallic digits as they clamped tightly around her neck; how effortlessly he hefted her form into the air before slamming the side of her face into the stone floor of the ruins, and the fear that chilled her blood as his words spitefully slipped into her ears before his commanding officer stepped in to restrain him. Had she not been of hardier stock than a normal pony, she was certain he could have killed her.
But the brute had redeeming qualities; his skills as a warrior and craftsman were without question. After sizing her and the young ponies under her charge, he was able to craft for them battle armor from suits confiscated from the men they had taken captive. Her armor had fit to near perfection and served her well through the brief campaign to save her world.
The battle upon the Deathwatch frigate had been a truly eye-opening experience for the princess. Traycn’s brutality had been brought to its fullest as they fought side by side. Her heart began to race in excitement as she reached out and ran a hoof along her armor’s chest plate; a few small singes still clung to it from blaster fire. She knew that, had she met the beast during Equestria’s war torn days centuries ago, she would have seen him as a worthy challenge: a rival, friend, perhaps even in some strange way that only warriors could understand… a lover.
It had been shortly after the battle for the frigate that she had so foalishly trotted into Teth’s waiting arms. Held captive for the remainder of the invasion, she had learned the fate of ogre known as Traycn from his comrades, his brothers. Kad had told her of his last stand against overwhelming odds outside the castle’s walls. He told her of how Traycn stormed the enemy line and sacrificed himself to wipe out a force of fifty men. Luna remembered how her heart broke at the sight of the blackened crater where had met his end. In all her long years she had not met any like him; a kindred soul that called to her from the fields of war.
A few tears came to her eyes as she let herself wonder through her mind. If only. If only she had been there and had not been taken captive by Teth, and if only she had been at his side when they attacked the castle. She could have saved him; with her skills and her magic they could have torn their ranks asunder. Her musings were broken at the sound of a vase crashing to the ground from within the castle. Quietly, she slipped from her room to investigate.
As she silently trekked the halls, the sounds of voices could be heard bouncing off the darkened walls around her. Under her breath, Luna cursed the loss of so many of the royal guards and her sister’s reluctance to accept Fett’s offer to supplement the losses with her own forces. If they had the numbers, then whoever she was nearing would not have ever been able to slip inside.
Following the sounds of conversation, she found herself outside of the throne room. She could hear them just beyond the doors and could finally make out specifics about their voices. “Oya ner vod, ‘nother good shot!” a familiar male voice cheered.
“I told ya I could hit that target vod!” the second voice slurred out between fits of laughter.
Those voices: she knew them very well. Quietly, she nudged the door open to find a pair of humans laughing and falling over one another upon the dais. In the dim light of the throne room she could make out details of these men.
One clad in what looked to be a jacket of faded brown material; the rest of his form was dressed in dark grey pants lined with a number of pockets and a pair of well-traveled boots, as well as a simple white shirt. He was sprawled haphazardly against the steps, a half-empty bottle in his hand. His head was topped with a sloppy mess of hair that looked to be between blond and graying. In the light of the moon she could make out the dark blue of his eyes.
The other fished around in a small crate left at the foot of the stairs until he triumphantly raised a fresh bottle over his head with a happy cheer. In the low ambience around him his dark skin looked to blend into the night, save for his bright flicker in his brown eyes and the bull’s eye etched into the side of his head. Like his companion, he wore a similar mix of military and casual clothing; the main difference being the long dull-green coat draped around his body. Laughing happily, he took a seat beside his friend before uncorking the bottle and taking a long drink from it.
A smile crept across Luna’s muzzle as she knew these humans; though the majority of her time spent with them they had been clad in the armor of their kin. Pushing her way through the doors, she strode her way towards them. “Kad and Kell Skirata, I must say, I did not expect to find thee at this late hour,” she happily greeted the pair. “Least of all, breaking into the throne room.”
“Ca’tra!” the pair greeted her in unison happily, their arms opened wide as they motioned for her to join them.
With a soft smile she made her way to the pair of warriors, heartened greatly by their jovial greeting. “I still wish thou wouldst tell me what this pet name thou hath gifted to me means.”
Snickering, Kell tossed a bottle in her direction. “We promise it means something good,” he reassured her with a goofy smile.
A blue aura easily plucked the bottle from the air and floated it before the princess of the night. She could smell the strong scent of the spirit within. Now closer to the pair she could also see their cheeks flushed red and their eyes glassed with joy as they swayed against an unfelt wind. Not wanting to disappoint, she took a long drink from the bottle before passing it back. The swift burn and unusually sharp, sweet taste flooded her mouth and throat bringing a tint of red to her own cheeks.
“I trust thou did not break into Canterlot castle simply to indulge in a few drinks,” she stated in a questioning tone before stealing another long drink of the strong ale.
Kad chuckled a bit as he motioned towards the throne. “We thought he’d get a kick out’a the idea.”
Her gaze followed his motion and found a small metallic object resting upon the throne. Carefully, Luna ascended the stairs to examine what lay upon her sister’s seat of power. Its features became clearer and slowly more familiar to her as she found herself staring into the empty black eyes of a skull. Though humanoid in appearance, small factors set it apart; most importantly though was the metal alloy rather than bone that made it up. Several opened bottles of liquor had been placed around the skull along with a few other random offerings ranging from a half-eaten candy bar to a hoof full of credits.
Though any pony’s first reaction to coming face to face with a skull of any kind should be to cringe in terror, all Luna could do is stare into the eyes in wonder. Though the owner’s eyes had long since been removed she swore she could still feel them staring into her. In her heart she could tell who this way that laid before her, “Is this…”
“Traycn,” Kad answered her before taking another long drink from his bottle. “Traycn the Red Demon,” he said proudly as he raised his bottle towards the skull with every title he recited. “Traycn the Clanless, Traycn the Unstoppable, Traycn the Feared . . . Traycn the Last of the Taung Reborn.”
“And now,” Kell added, snickering, “Traycn the very much dead.”
Despite his inebriated state, Kad could easily feel the unease and confusion growing in their Alicorn friend. “We missed you at his funeral, so we brought it to you!”
Luna looked back at the drunken warriors as she fought to find a way to put her emotions into words. Deep down she had wanted to be there, for her chance to say goodbye, but her guilt refused to grant her the leave. A hand resting upon her back drew her attention away from the warrior’s only remains to find Kad standing beside her. “Ya shouldn’t blame yourself, Ca’tra; he died well, like a Mando’ade,” he spoke soothingly to her.
Luna looked upon the skull once more before brushing a wing gently across its cheek. “I know thou doth speak the truth, Sir Kad, yet . . . the guilt doth taint me for my rash actions.”
Kell stumbled his way to her other side and draped an arm around her neck, leaning heavily into her for support. “Yeah, well, not osik we can do ‘bout that now,” he pointed out before stealing his bottle back from the dark blue aura around it. “He died in a way all of us would be so lucky to go out: a huge ball’a fire with’a ton of screaming enemies for company! Oya Traycn, verd lo kyr’am!” Kell happily cheered for his fallen brother as he raised the bottle in salute before downing another long draw from it.
“Oya manda!” Kad cheered in return before taking another drink himself.
Luna had no idea the meaning behind the words they spoke in their native tongue, though the pride and joy in every word brought a smile to her face.“I wonder if thou wouldst do me an honor: tell me of how you met.”
With a playful smirk Kad took a seat beside the throne. “That’s a long story, yer’ highness; ya sure ya wanna hear it?”
Taking a seat on her haunches beside the drunken knight, she magically lifted one the bottles beside Traycn’s head, “We have all night.”
“Well then,” Kell added as he took the spot beside her with an impish smirk, “as far as anyone really knows, it all started on a dirty lil’ ball called Geonosis,”
The overwhelming sun of Geonosis beat down upon the red sands of the admittedly ugly planet. Scores of beings from around the galaxy had converged upon this world for the grand gladiatorial expo. Thousands of the galaxy’s hardened and hungry warriors trekked to the red planet to spill their blood and the blood of many others. The endless cheers of the crowd spurred these bloodthirsty warriors on and on through pain and fear of death.
Amongst the crowd, several armored figures made their way into the arena to enjoy the show. “Oh c’mon, Torb, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little blood sport,” a far younger Kad Skirata reassured his Chiss friend.
“I prefer my entertainment of a far more sophisticated nature, Skirata,” the unscarred Torb complained as his comrade nudged him along with the crowd.
Kell, then in his mid-twenties, strolled along behind his brother and team mate with a small figure sitting atop his shoulders happily. She was a small Twi’lek girl of dark blue hue and bright violet eyes clad in simple yellow dress. Kell happily sang along with the tune the little girl belted out.
“Kell’ika,” a Twi’lek woman clad in Mandalorian armor called after him. Her skin was a sky blue with detailed markings running down her leku. Deep green eyes narrowed on the human just ahead of her. “I wish you wouldn’t teach my daughter those drinking songs.”
Kell smiled from ear to ear at her chastising. “You worry too much, Dawn; not like our little Luna’s gonna grow up to be a drunkard because she sang along with her buir.”
Luna canted her head to the side. “Sir Kell, I had no idea thou had a family of thine own,” she said with a hint of playful joy.
Kell gave his slowly emptying bottle a somber glare, “Did, long time ago,” He gave the bottle a quick drink. “That’s a whole ‘nother story though.”
As the four warriors and one child took their seats, the assembled horde cheered and chanted all around them for the fights to begin. The small Twi’lek girl, Luna, remained happily seated on her human caretaker’s shoulders as she started to join the chants. Kell couldn’t help but chuckle at the girl’s enthusiasm; it made him proud how she was already starting to become quite the little warrior.
An excited hush fell over the crowd as a portly humanoid figure strode through into the middle of the massive arena. Holding his arms wide he addressed the masses, “Ladies and Gentlemen!” His voice echoed across the loud speakers placed throughout the stone works, “Welcome to Geonosis, and the finals of the Warrior God Competition!”
Cheers sprang up from the crowd at the announcement. “We have seen the greatest, the deadliest and the most ruthless killers the galaxy has to offer this past week. Now it all comes down to this: only one of our six remaining contestants will leave this planet alive, blood soaked and probably broken, but alive!”
As more cheers sprang up from the hordes of beings the announcer waved his hands to calm them again. “Our first warrior is by far the most surprising. Hailing from parts unknown, this bloodthirsty killer has survived every trial placed before him and defeated every foe, to the death! You the people have named him the Mandalorian, and I’d say he’s lived up to the title thus far!”
With a motion to the side of the arena, a large gate slowly opened to allow a large hulking figure to stride through into the open. Tall, strong, and covered in a random assortment of armor, he reveled in the sounds and shouts of honor and glory the people thrust upon him. In one hand he carried a large blaster cannon hoisted unto his shoulder and at his side a vibro-axe.
“And his opponent-” The announcer stopped midsentence as one of the locals flitted down beside him and whispered something into his ear. The man looked more than a little shocked at whatever he was told and quickly corrected himself. “Uh, ladies and gentlemen, it seems we’ve had a slight change in program. It appears we will be having a man versus beast competition!”
Confused murmurs rose up from the stadium, however Torb seemed more interested in what was being said over his com. “Interesting, it would appear that there is more here at work than a simple schedule change.”
The eyes of his comrades now upon him, the Chiss continued to divulge information. “Our countryman down there has been set up to lose this fight it seems,” he pointed out casually. “My com has been picking up our friend down there and his manager talking; I think you’ll want to hear this, Kad.”
Slipping the com-bud into his ear as suggested, Kad found himself listening in on the conversation as well. “Sorry friend but I’m afraid this is the end for you and I,” sneered the voice on the other line. “See, you’ve been costing me too much money and making too many people upstairs angry with all your wins. So now, I gotta take you out. No hard feelings, though.”
“Etyc hut’uun,” snarled a deeper voice from the other line. “When I finish this animal you set upon me, I will find you and beat you to death with your own severed arms!”
Luna was visibly angered by the actions of his manager. “The cretin,” she snarled out between barred teeth. “Tell me his fate was not delivered too quickly.”
“He got what he had come’in,” Kad assured her, “before that though we had ta haul sheb down there an’ give’em a hand. See, he was about to go up against on’a the biggest, nastiest critters known throughout the galaxy…”
Kad, Kell and Torb raced towards the bright light at the end of the long tunnel. They could hear the cheers of the crowd and roars of beast their fellow verd was being forced to fight. The thick metal of the gate leading into the arena was quickly removed with a swift cut from the Knight Errant’s saber allowing the group to spill out onto the field of battle. Several confused shouts rang up from the crowd as these new warriors invited themselves to the fight.
In the distance they could see the lone warrior now armed solely with his axe, ducking and dodging the swipes of a massive bipedal creature with a thick, rough, greenish hide. Its long gnarled claws tipped a pair of arms that were longer than the entire body reached and scrabbled to snatch up the tiny metal incased morsel. Its face was a flattened mess of sharp teeth that emitted a loud angry roar with every missed chance.
“Rancor, are you freaking serious!?” Kell blurted out at the sight of the monstrosity.
“I wouldn’t stress it vod,” Kad reassured him, “between the four’a us this’ll be a slice of uj cake,”
“I’m just disappointed by the whole cliché of it vod.” Kell said wryly, “But there’s just one hitch in your plan bro, all we got are side arms and your glow stick.”
“An’ here I thought ya loved a challenge,” Kad snickered in retort.
From behind them they could hear the angry shouts of the local security, “Kad, go help our new friend,” Torb quickly barked at him, “Kell and I shall hold security at bay.”
“Copy that.” The young knight took off at full speed towards the embattled warrior just ahead of him. “Verd,gar nayc-“ His words stopped midsentence as the man he sought to help spun on his heels with a swing of his axe in Kad’s direction. The knight narrowly avoided the attack as he allowed himself to fall to his back, his momentum carrying him away.
Luna could do little stop her fits of giggles at this. “His first reaction was to try and kill thee?”
Kad did what he could to keep a straight face between the giggling princess and his brother’s own boisterous laughter, “Can’t blame the guy too much, I DID come run’in up from behind ‘em whilst he was fight’in a damned Rancor.”
Eventually regaining her composure, with no help from the ale she had been drinking, the princess managed to calm down enough to stop her snickering. “What happened next?”
With a smile the knight continued his story, “Well, after some talk’in to whilst fight’in off both him an’ the Rancor, I managed to convince ‘em we were on the same side. Now all we had t’do was kill a big angry monster that wanted to eat us like foil wrapped candies.”
Kad and Traycn exchanged a knowing look between each other, despite their masks each knew what the other warrior was thinking. They were going to kill this monster so they could kill the man who set it after them.
With all the speed his body and the Force could provide, Kad rushed in towards the roaring beast. From his perspective, the Rancor’s movements slowed to an agonizing crawl as it swatted and reached for him. The massive appendages were easily ducked and dodged as he sped forward. The Force wielder came to a sliding stop as he ran between the legs of the monster.
Looking back towards his comrade he saw him already moving into position within dangerous reach of the Rancor. A smirk twisted across Kad’s face as he dug deeper into the Force and reached out towards the behemoth. He felt his influence grasp it tightly at the legs before wrenching back towards himself with all of his might. He could feel the pain of trying to lift something so massive course through his entire body as he pulled at the creature.
His efforts were rewarded though as the monster gave a surprised roar as its feet were dragged out from under it. Flailing its arms uselessly, the Rancor fell forward towards the waiting warrior standing the ever growing shadow.
Sneering from ear to ear, Traycn hefted his axe up to his shoulder and steadied his stance. The warrior made no move to get from under the toppling beast but instead let out a guttural roar that rang out over the Rancor’s. He poured every ounce of his rage and anger into his arms as he took one mighty swing. The axe blade cut deeply and true, aided by the forces of gravity, splitting the creature’s neck as it seemingly crushed him.
The cheers and jeers of the crowd fell silent for a moment as stadium as a whole held its’ breath. Suddenly something stirred within the Rancor. Thick blood began to gurgle from the monster’s mouth before a something violently forced its’ way through the teeth of the fleshy prison. Traycn strolled from the Rancor’s mouth drenched in thick ichor, his axe in one hand and in the other an unidentifiable piece of organ. With a triumphant roar he raised both into the air forcing out similar cheers of glory from the crowd.
Luna was absolutely enthralled with the story. “Huzzah, a grand victory indeed!” She cheered the warrior’s past achievements.
Kad couldn’t help but snicker a bit at the sight of an intoxicated princess Luna. Her eyes were happily glassing over as a hint of red started to shine past her navy blue fur. The normally well kempt sky blue mane atop her head was starting to fray. “Yeah, that was our boy Tray,”
Kell tapped the side of the metal plated skull with his nearly empty bottle of ale. “Eeyup, Traycn was truly a living legend.” With a wide grin he looked back at the princess, “Ya should’a seen the turn out when folks heard he was really dead this time!”
“I can only imagine,” Luna said with a sullen smile, “but sadly, mine own guilt would not permit me attend out of shame that, had I not rushed off to Tia so recklessly, he would be alive.”
Her somber mood was shattered at the feeling of Kad’s hand atop her head mussing her mane, a sign of comradery she was not used to yet still welcomed, “Ya ran off to save your sister, your vod, there ain’t no way Tray’d hold that against ya.”
His words began to fill her with confidence and tugged a far warmer smile across her face. “Please, tell me of the festivities I missed.”
On the far west side of Canterlot stood what was once considered the most run down and shadiest taverns in all of Equestria, The Limping Mare. It had always been a stark contrast to the white gold city’s reputation for beauty and elegance, however the owners had always kept everything just up to code preventing even Celestia herself from finding a legal way to remove it. During the battle for Canterlot the building had gone untouched by the occupying forces who simply assumed the grubby building had been abandoned. This small saving grace meant it was one of the only businesses that didn’t get raided, meaning they stood to make a tidy profit off the misfortune of their neighbor; most importantly, they had plenty of booze. All of these factors came together for one very important thing, this all meant that the surviving members of what had been Epsilon squad had a place to give their fallen friend a “proper” send off.
After receiving Princess Celestia’s reluctant blessing, a large number of Mandalorians descended upon the grimy hole in the wall. A small number of ponies had come to pay their respects, mainly survivors of the royal guard who felt they owed the monster for opening the gap needed to save their beloved princesses. Twilight accompanied by her friends and brother had made it a point to show up as well. Beyond those who were expected to show regardless, a number of rough and less than reputable looking types had made the long journey to see for themselves if the rumors on the holo-net were true. Finally beyond everyone and everything that had piled into The Limping Mare, at head of it all, set upon the bar was Traycn’s grinning metal plated skull.
It wasn’t long before the sounds of conversations filled the room as ponies and aliens alike mingled and shared a few trade stories about the warrior. Drink after drink had been bought as the tip jars began to overflow with a mixture of credits and bits. Well wishers and those whom actually knew him made the effort to approach the skull and give their parting messages before moving on to find more ale.
Kad watched as the room ebbed and flowed, sensing the storm of emotions saturating the air through the Force. He watched as a pair of red faced stallions stumbled their way up to the skull to give it a shaky yet stoic salute before slurring out their thanks to him. A group of Protectors Kad recognized as members of a small group called the Salamanders, cheered him on for a past favor that saved their lives. As predicted, Twilight Sparkle made her sullen approach to stand before Traycn’s only identifiable remains, several tears streaming down her face as she spoke softly to the warrior. Kad let out a sigh as he withheld the ever present urges of any father to comfort the girl, he reminded himself that she had family, she didn’t need him.
As he continued to scan the room he slowly began picking out his brothers in arms. Kell led a number of warriors and even a few ponies in Mandalorian drinking songs with a bottle in one hand and his free arm draped around the ever bubbly Pinkie Pie whom seemed to learn the tunes very quickly. Torb kept his distance from the crowds choosing instead to occupy a far corner while nursing a bottle of red ale. Arkanna hadn’t known Traycn for very long but had made a point to show up. A certain golden coated mare staying close to his side was clearly saddened by the loss of their comrade. All present save for one, Zex. The former doctor turned field medic had vanished shortly after the fighting died down.
Kad couldn’t help but laugh a bit at all of this. Traycn had always said his death would be celebrated the galaxy over by all those who feared him. If only there was a way to show the monster who wrong he really was. Pushing himself off the wall he’d been helping keep propped up, Kad made his way to the bar. Using the bottom of a bottle as his gavel, the Knight struck the bar-top as he called out for the crowd’s attention.
With all eyes on him, Kad began to address the crowd, “Friends an’ family, both new an’ old. We are here tonight on this tiny orb to wish our dearly departed brother a fond farewell. Tray’d always told me, ‘Alor’ad, when I die, destroy my body,’ Welp, looks like he did that himself!” Kad gave pause to allow the laughter stirred from the crowd to die down before continuing, “The thing about Traycn was, when ya first met ‘em, folks tended to think he was some sort’a blood thirsty monster. When ya got to know ‘em, ya learned that your first impression was right, Traycn was in every way a cold blooded heartless killing machine. Even before he lost the majority of his body to battle after battle, he was still the Red Demon. But this wasn’t a bad thing, an’ I don’t just mean ‘cause he killed for us, it meant he didn’t try to hide who an’ what he was. He knew he was monster, he knew he was the thing nightmares were made of, but he never hid it, never tried to make ya think any different. He was the purest form of honesty I have ever known an’ I will always respect that ‘bout ‘em.”
Kad placed a hand on the skull as he spoke directly to it. “Tray, I always hated you, probably just as much, or more so, than you hated me. But ya made life interestin’, an’ I will miss that buddy. When I’m cold an’ dead, I’m gonna come find you, an’ we’re gonna settle up.”
The dark coated Alicorn gave Kad a playful nudge. “Thou art far more articulate than thou wouldst lead others to believe Skirata.”
It was hard at this point to tell if the red in his cheeks was from all the drinking he’d done, or the princess’ chiding. “Well, when you’re up in front’a military hearin’s a lot ya tend to get a knack for standin’ up in front’a folks an’ talkin’.”
With a happy chuckle Luna proceeded to drain what ale was left in her bottle. An act that gave both warrior brothers a moment of pause as they watched in surprise and admiration as she finished it off with ease. With a happy sigh she tossed the bottle away, gifting her with the surprisingly pleasant sound of shattering glass on marble, “I wonder, brothers Skirata, wouldst thou continue to honor me with tails of our dearly lost comrade?” She asked with a hopeful smile, “I wish to know more about his adventures, the trails he faced and the enemies he vanquished. Wouldst thou honor me with this humble request?”
The pair shared a smirk as Kad motioned towards the cooler left at the bottom of the dais. “If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna need more ale.” He stated happily as he took hold of it within the Force and dragged it up to them.
With a happy snicker, Kell started nudging his brother’s arm, proceeded to repeatedly probe him over and over again. “Vod, vod vod vod vod, tell’er ‘bout the battle on Sargolla.”
Kad’s face lit up at the idea. “Hah, now that’s a good one!”
Sargolla, a normally unimportant yet industrious world had managed to draw the attention of forces far greater than their own. A cache of ancient Sith artifacts had been found deep in the untouched jungles of the simple planet, a discovery that had drawn the attention of a power hungry Sith lord.
Seeking powerful lost treasures, his forces invaded the world and quickly overwhelmed the planet’s defenses. Victory and full subjection of the planet seemed assured, until the local rebel factions managed to scrape together the credits and nerve needed to make a call that would change this fight in their favor. A call was put out to Mandalorian space asking for help in return for a rather generous sum of credits. When the call was answered they didn’t expect the answer they received.
The Sargollan people had expected to see a liberation fleet fill their skies, to see columns of Mandalorian troops marching through their streets. Instead they received four squads of warriors and a reassurance that it was all they needed.
Among the contingent of warriors sent to do battle on Sargolla, Kad Skirata and his Epsilon squad had been handpicked for the mission. Despite their record of high collateral damage and borderline insubordinate behavior, they were one of the few teams with not only a Force user but also experience fighting Sith. It didn’t take long for them to endear themselves to the hearts and minds of the freedom fighters and strike unrelenting fear into those of the Sith invaders.
Kad and his team had adopted a number of the freedom fighters, taking them in as unofficial Mandalorians. Taking them on lightning raids and guerrilla assaults from the dense jungle, dealing much needed moral boosting blows to the enemy. Blows that the man heading this campaign took a great deal of notice of and wanted stopped
They trudged carefully through the smothering heat of the jungle all around them. Reports from spies and recon teams said there was a supply column moving through the area. If Kad and his boys could take that down, it’d set a new bar for the other teams as well as cut off arms to the capital. Everything about this target seemed on the up and up, but why did Kad’s stomach still feel like a ball of angry ice?
As they made their slow advance the worse that bad feeling got. There was a pressure in the air that he just couldn’t pin down but he knew it wasn’t anything good. As they reached the edge of the clearing where the supply column was supposed to be, Kad was hit with a realization that this was a trap, as well as a sniper’s blaster bolt that knocked him off his feet.
A sharp painful fire filled his chest and lungs as the world became a hazy blur of blaster bolts and explosive rounds. Kad found himself struggling to breathe and unable to sit up, he could feel that something was wrong with him and would learn much later that the blaster bolt had caused his lung to collapse. The more he breathed and tried to fight back the pain the worse it seemed to get as he struggled to keep conscious.
Through the haze a presence made itself known to him through the Force, a dark and hateful presence that seemed to be moving towards him. In moments a dark clad figure stood over top of Kad, a young human adorned with black and red facial tattoos. A blood thirsty sneer parted his lips as he ignited the lightsaber hilt in his hand. “My master will reward me for ending your life, mongrel.”
Before his threat could be made good on, a roaring crimson hulk slammed shoulder first into the Sith assassin. With a swift blow to the smaller human’s chest he was afforded several feet of breathing room as Traycn stood between this enemy and his comrade, “If anyone is going to kill him, it will be ME!”
His challenge made clear, Traycn drew the beloved vibro-axe hanging from his side and began his charge anew. The Sith warrior could scarcely believe his eyes, this single being was beneath him yet it sought to fight him as if it was his equal. Sneering in annoyance he motioned towards the careening behemoth to simply flatten his wind pipe and be done with it. To his shock and horror it was clearly not going to be that easy.
Traycn felt the invisible crushing force like a vice on his neck pressing down on him. He would not let this stop him. Rage filling his body in the absence of oxygen he closed the gap swinging the sparking axe blade towards his opponent’s head.
Cursing under his breath, the human was forced to roll away, lest he lose his head. Affixing a death glare on the heavily armored giant, he couldn’t help but sense an overwhelming smug sense of satisfaction coming off the Mandalorian. Traycn, wishing to share his small victory with his opponent, tapped the area of his helmet where his chin would be. Taking the hint, the Sith reached to his chin and found his hand coated lightly in blood.
His anger now boiling over, the Sith darted in to unleash a series of expertly aimed blows on his enemy. Though Traycn’s own fighting style was far more simplified and direct, his vibro-axe was able to intercept and deflect the attacks. Those that were missed were easily soaked by his thick beskar plates.
From his spot on the ground, Kad could see the fight as it raged back and forth. The exchange of blaster fire between the dark armored Sith troopers and the lightly clad rebels had become nothing more than back ground noise. Through the blinding pain he could see the differences in their styles, while the Sith was far more elaborate and stylized, Traycn was tempered by true, no holds-barred fighting. Though he lacked the same fluidity of his opponent, the massive Taung had one thing on him: raw, unbridled power.
As the sparking axe head of his weapon smashed through the thick trunk of a tree, the human deftly dodged out of its way. But he found himself being blindsided by thick metal plated knuckles catching him on the jaw. His vision blurring momentarily, he realized there was no end to this physical assault. Breaking away from him, the darksider jumped out of Traycn’s reach to give himself breathing room, a respite that Traycn was in no mood to allow. Charging in once more, the Taung warrior found himself rushing into a wall of the Force made manifest in the form of bolts of dark blue lightning leaping from the Sith’s finger tips and began to dance painfully over the warrior’s body.
Traycn roared in frustration as his pace slowed to a determined trudge. Every step brought unrelenting pain and suffering through every nerve ending in his body. His helmet began to fill with the scent of burning flesh as he pressed forward. Raising his axe high in the air, he brought it down with one swift motion to cleave his enemy.
The head of his weapon buried itself deep into the soft loam, Traycn’s iron grip on it holding fast and solid. However, the arm itself stopped short of his elbow where a mix of charred metal and flesh would have connected to the rest of Traycn’s body. The Taung warrior briefly regarded the smoldering stump that at one point had been his right arm before returning his attention to the Sith. His Sith opponent’s bright red saber illuminated the hateful smirk on his face as he savored what was surely to be the changing moment of this pointless exchange. How right he was.
In the span of a heartbeat, Traycn gripped his opponent by his arm and tugged him violently towards him before slamming his helmeted head into the bewildered Sith’s face. This was but the opening blow, stunning the darksider before the true onslaught began. Quickly grabbing the enemy by the back of his head, Traycn began slamming him repeatedly into the thick Mandalorian iron that incased his head.
After several blows it was impossible for the Mandalorian brute to tell the difference between the blood smearing his visor and the blinding rage driving his movements. Growing bored from his prey’s lack of movement, he let the barely breathing Sith drop to the ground. With an annoyed grunt he retrieved his prized weapon before returning to the Sith warrior struggling to remain conscious. Behind his visor he sneered from ear to ear knowing that this whelp before him could feel every bit of his intentions through the Force. With his remaining arm he hefted the axe into the air before letting gravity and his own full strength to plant his blade into the Sith’s chest.
Traycn took a moment to enjoy the sight of his handy work before returning the axe to his hip. Around them the fighting still raged on. Epsilon and their pet rebels were easily holding their own and carving through the Sith troopers.
Kad stared up at the mass of red armor and into his blood stained visor. “Ya know,” He spoke between labored breaths, “If ya really wanted me dead… Now’s your best chance,”
Traycn turned this point over in his head for a moment. He was right after all, he couldn’t even stand up. All it would take is one swift blow to end his life. Snorting in annoyance he grabbed Kad by his armor’s collar and hoisted him up to lay across his broad shoulders. “There is no honor in killing you now.”
Kad coughed out in pain as his seared lungs fought against his rough treatment to fill with air, “Heh, I never knew ya cared so much Tray,” He snickered out before his comrade began marching back towards their extraction point.
Luna smiled softly to herself as she stared up at the skull resting upon the thrown, “He was a being of unshakable honor,” Luna said, “I saw his hatred for thee, Kad, when we called the swamp lands home for a time. To kill thee was his greatest of goals, yet when left at his mercy his hand was stayed.”
“That was Tray, your highness,” Kell remarked with a snicker, “He was brutal, uncompromising and unrelenting, but he was bound by a code of honor that he refused to break at all costs.”
“Tray was one in a million.” Kad stated sullenly.
“Hah, literally,” Kell wryly commented with a knowing grin as he nursed his ale.
As the night progressed, Luna found herself lost in the tales of glory and honor; the sweet taste of ale from worlds far flung from her own teased her senses and mind. She happily allowed herself to be whisked away by her companions for the evening as the continued to oblige her request. In time the ale trickled away to nothing as the night and sleep sought to claim the three of them.
Rays of morning light cut away the darkness that had infested the castle itself as the sun made it’s now natural climb into the sky. Celestia made her way through the slowly stirring halls of her castle as the early rays trickled through the windows. Though she no longer held power over the skies above her world it was hard to break the sleep cycle she had become accustomed to for well over a millennium.
As she neared the throne room she braced herself for the daily drudgeries of the royal court. Celestia was a monarch who truly loved her subjects with her whole heart and soul, but this did little to silence her dislike of more tedious duties. There was always some noble or pony with too much money and time looking to move ahead by gaining the say so of Equestria’s princesses. But now that they had to deal with aliens amongst the court, things had taken on a new level of annoying in her eyes.
Nearing the massive double doors she noticed a pair of guards arguing back and forth with each other. “You go in there and take care of it,” One hissed at the other.
“I out rank you,” The other bit back, “Now get in there and fix this before-“
“Ahem,” Celestia cut the guardspony off; causing them to both jump before quickly turning to face her, standing stock still.
“Y-your highness, a pleasure to see you up and about, have you had breakfast yet, I hear the chef is preparing a delicious meal of-“ The stallion’s words were cut off once more as Celestia raised a wing to his mouth to silence him.
The princess regarded both a critical stare. “Guards, why do I get the feeling you’re both hiding something from me?”
“Nonsense your highness,” The younger of the two responded quickly, “It’s just that, well, the repairs to the throne room are taking far longer than expected and the masons have caused quite a mess.”
Celestia looked between the pair of forced smiles before pushing her ways past them both and pushing the door open. To her surprise, she was met with a bit of resistance and the sounds of glass being rolled about. With an annoyed, grunt the white Alicorn entered the throne room finding hooffools of discarded liquor vessels strewn about the room. The scent of ale permeated the room despite the gaping hole in the side of the wall the still remained half finished.
What drew her attention most of all was the sight upon Equestria’s seat of power. Upon the dais was a pair of humans that had become rather infamous to her in such a short time, Kad and Kell Skirata, snoring beside each other. Beyond them however was a far odder sight. On the throne itself sat the soundly sleeping form of her sister Luna. Several emptied bottles laid strewn about her position as the smell of intoxication still clung to her. In her forelimbs however, pressed tightly to her chest was a metallic object that she seemed to cradle. As Celestia looked closer she felt herself pull back in slight revile as she realized what her sister held against herself, a metal plated skull.
Traffic over the planet Gaia had greatly increased since its discovery and induction into Mandalorian society. A mixture of warships and cargo freighters created a protective barrier around the outskirts of the world. In orbit around the planet the beginnings of a space station had started to take shape as crews worked tirelessly to construct it. The true thing to behold though was the lovely blue orb dotted with green; a ball of life and potential whose very sight could uplift the hearts of those that beheld it, save for one heart.
Cassus Skirata looked out across the planet below him with a mix of boredom and annoyance in his bright golden eyes. The young boy couldn’t be more than seven years at the most, his dual heritage granting him a number of traits from both parents. Standing at an average height for humanoids his age, he had a figure that had begun to show outwards signs of a physically demanding life. His skin tone was a mix between both his Human and Pantoran parents, very pale with a hint of blue that made him appear almost corpse like. A pair of golden eyes and a head of pink hair destroyed any illusion of looking more Human than anything. The Mandalorian youth was clad in simple clothing that fit loosely on his body, their colors faded from years of being passed down from one person to the next.
With a sad sigh he slumped to the floor as he watched the world below and the ships coming and going from the space station skeleton in orbit. It had been so hard to make friends on Concord Dawn living so far from the main settlements. Now he was being ripped away from the few friends he had and dragged to the other side of Mandalorian space to live on some new colony that his father just HAD to help put together.
Soothing hands on his shoulders and caring words pulled him out of his growing depression. “Cassus, I know that none of this seems fair to you.” Shin’ima was a tall woman of Pantoran descent. Her skin was a warm azure hue and eyes of deep gold brought together by short, neatly-kempt pink hair that stopped just short of her jaw line. She wore a white form fitting tank top and dark grey fatigue pants with a pair of well traveled boots while the hilt of a lightsaber hung proudly at her hip. “You know your father loves you very much and wants you to be happy, but this wasn’t something he could stop from happening. If this was avoidable, he would’ve turned down this assignment.”
Cassus wanted to find a reason to argue with his mother; he desperately wanted a reason to be angry at his father. But beneath the surface he knew what she said was true. Out of the few high ranking members of the Mandalorian Knights, his father was the only one that had not only established a rapport with the inhabitants of this planet but also their leaders.
Before his mind could wonder even further his mother’s arms wrapped around him in a tight hug. “I do have some news I think will make you happy. Your father and I have been talking and we’ve decided it’s time you started your apprenticeship.”
His face lit up at this news. With a wide smile he pulled himself free of his mother’s grasp and turned to look up at her in wonderment. “Do ya really mean it, I’m gonna be a squire?” The youth’s voice dripped with excitement.
Shin’ima nodded as she watched the youngling chatter away excitedly. “Your father wanted to tell you himself, buuuuut, I’m sure he won’t mind me spoiling the surprise.”
Ponyville had certainly become far more active in the past week and a half since first contact had been established. Three key members of this incident stood near the formally empty field that was being used as a make shift landing zone. Kad Skirata paced impatiently as he wore a small trench into the soft loam under foot casting tentative glances at the sky at every slight sound. Near him the pair of mares that had accompanied him watched the warrior.
The lavender coated Unicorn, Twilight Sparkle, and the sky blue Pegasus, Rainbow Dash, watched him closely with a sense of bemusement. It had been a strange sight to see him clad in something other than his armored shell. The two had made an aside comment on how he seemed less like the hardened fighter they had seen over the past week and now acted more akin to a young foal waiting anxiously for Hearths Warming Eve.
Kad had told them nothing about what was so special about the next shuttle landing. They had been coming and going since for several days now both here in Ponyville and in Canterlot as Mandalorians and Ponies alike worked to rebuild the damage left in Deathwatch’s wake. Something about this next transport though had certainly lit a fire under the Knight and prompted him to ask that they accompany him to the landing. To compound the mystery, every attempt to probe for information was met with a wry grin and a sly, “You’ll see,” in reply.
Over head the sound of a roaring engine echoed through the valley as the latest drop ship descended towards the landing zone. Kad shielded his eyes with his sleeve. “Hah, they’re finally here!” He happily cheered over the noise.
Upon touching down with the soft grass below the gangway of the ship lowered letting off the latest collection of engineers and supplies. From the small crowd of humanoids a tiny figure darted through the bodies making a fast bee-line for Kad, “Buir!”
Kad took a knee with his arms spread wide. “Ner ad!” he called out as the small form launched itself into him clinging tightly. Wrapping the boy in a tight hug, he laughed happily while mussing his already messy head of pink hair. “Cassus, by the dead gods I’ve missed ya boy!”
A light hearted feminine chuckle drew his attention to Shin’ima standing over them. “I hope I was missed as well.”
With a wry grin, Kad set his son aside as he rose to embrace his wife around her midsection. “Ya know ya were.” He snickered before pressing his lips tightly to hers.
Twilight and Rainbow gave one another an awkward glance as they watched this play out in front of them. Wishing to bring things back on track, the purple Unicorn cleared her throat to draw Kad’s attention.
Reluctantly he pulled himself away from Shin’ima before looking over at the pair of mares. “Ah osik, where’s my manners?” He scolded himself, “Shin’ima, Cassus, I wanna introduce ya both to some friends. This here is Twilight Sparkle an’ Rainbow Dash,” He introduced the pair with a motion towards them respectively, “these brave women saved me an’ Kell’s lives dur’in that nasty fight that went down.”
Cassus stared up at the two in wonder as his father’s words began to sink in, “Wow, you two saved my dad an’ uncle?”
Never one to miss out on impressing a youngster or the chance to gain a new fan, Rainbow Dash puffed her chest out with a smirk. “Yeeeeeah, it wasn’t noth’in short stack, all in a day’s work for the Elements of Harmony after all.” She said flaring her wings to add impressive emphasis to her stature.
Twilight could barely withhold the urge to roll her eyes with a sigh after watching her friend’s cocky display. “I believe what Rainbow Dash is trying to say is that we only did what we felt was right.” she calmly corrected, “After all, we owe them our lives just as much if not more.”
“Either way,” Shin’ima spoke up, “thank you both for returning my husband to me, our family is in your debt ladies.”
“Aye,” Kad happily chimed in, “you girls are always welcome in our home an’ in our family!”
Both mares were more than a little taken aback by the praise being showered upon them. Tints of red filtered through their fur coats as a touch of embarrassment managed to chip away at them. Even Rainbow Dash’s love of the spotlight began to dwindle.
Twilight quickly sought a new subject to help her regain her composure and move the focus away from herself. “So, I heard that you turned down a home in Canterlot, Kad.”
“Yeah,” He stated with a nod, “can’t stand cities, big an’ loud, instead I talked them into a home right ‘ere in Ponyville, now you girls’ll be stuck with me.” A teasing grin moved over his face.
Shin’ima gave the small mountain of luggage and positions still sitting on the transport a begrudging glare. “I do hope this new home isn’t far from here, it’ll take several trips to get everything to the house as it is.”
“I could lend you a hoof if you’d like Mrs. Skirata.” Twilight eagerly spoke as an aura engulfed her horn and a small pile of the personal effects, lifting them into the air with ease, “Just lead the way.”
Shin’ima looked from the floating luggage to the young mare lifting them high above her head. “Oh my, Kad had told me that you were all full of surprises but I never expected this.” Before Twilight could go into a happy tangent about the simplicity of levitation the Pantoran woman added, “So very helpful and friendly, thank you so much, dear.” With a motion of her hand, she reached out through her connection within the Force and several more of the containers lifted into the air, “Open use of the Force for tasks, such a progressive world you have.”
As entertaining as it was to watch his mother getting to flex her powers and to see that Twilight Sparkle had a strong connection to the Force as well, Cassus had other plans. With a devious smirk on his face he slinked away from the group while all eyes were on his mother and Twilight. Turning to head deeper into the town his path was suddenly blocked by a cyan wall that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
Rainbow Dash withheld the urge to snicker as the tiny humanoid bounced off of her harmlessly and fell backwards onto the ground. “Whoa there short stack, now where do ya think you’re going huh?”
Cassus shook his head clear of the confusing feat her abnormal speed presented him with in order to answer her. “I was gonna go explore.”
Her hoof came down on his head to muss his hair playfully. “Not on your own ya don’t.”
Rainbow Dash and her young human charge toured the streets of the still-being-repaired Ponyville. Cassus watched the mix of Mandalorian and Pony engineers that either side was able to spare for fixing Deathwatch’s mess. The significance of this weighed far less on the child’s mind than it did on the mare’s.
She had heard from Kad as well as seen a few of the holo-vids, Deathwatch had struck hit and run blows on other worlds throughout Mandalorian space. How many people had lost homes, friends and loved ones to the selfish actions of these monsters. To make it worse they were still out there, the cruelest injustice of it all.
Not all was sour for their victory though. Beyond the sounds of hard working aliens and locals there was also the heartwarming sound of life returning to the town. Ponyville had seen better days, but it had also suffered roughly no civilian casualties. Seeing the Ponies she had come to know and love returning to their lives tugged a smile back to the weatherpony’s face. At least some things could return to normal if they tried hard enough.
“So this is home now…” Cassus mused to himself, a hint of sadness in his tone.
Dash placed a reassuring wing around the boy’s shoulders. “I know our little berg doesn’t look like much, but this place’s been the center of a lot’a crazy junk. Heck, on a good day this place can be more dangerous than Manehattan after dark.”
Cassus found the prospect of this tiny town being exciting more than a little hard to swallow as he rolled his eyes at the thought. “Yeah, this place looks really crazy, right up there with Nar’Shaddaa.” In all honesty he could care less about how exciting the small town was or wasn’t, it didn’t change the fact that his friends were all back on Concord Dawn, light years away from him now.
Dash quickly picked up on the sullen mood clinging to the child. She knew a thing or two about leaving your old life and friends behind to start a new one. “Miss your pals huh? Don’t worry about it kiddo, if there’s one thing Ponyville’s known for, it’s making friends. Give it some time an’ you’ll have a whole new gang to pal around with.”
The sounds of heavy hooves wheels on the dirt road drew the mare’s attention away from the unhappy half-human in her care. She was now aware of the heavily laden cart being dragged quickly down the street that was dangerously close to crushing the child. With a swift motion of her wing she forced Cassus out of harm’s way.
A teasing smirk played across her face as she drank in the look of shock and awe on the child’s face as his brush with death sank in. “I told ya this place can be dangerous,” She reminded him before giving his head a pat with her forehoof. “S’a good thing ya got the one an’ only Rainbow Dash to look after ya, short stack.”
Her moment of unbridled pride and triumph was cut tragically short as an orange and purple streak careened into the boy. It took Dash a fraction of a second to realize that her young charge had vanished from her side. With a touch of reluctance her gaze shifted to find the child laying on his back several feet behind her with a group of very familiar looking fillies standing over him.
“Ugh, what did I hit?” the small Pegasus Scootaloo asked in a haze as she leaned over the bar of her scooter.
Her dark orange coat coupled with a dark mauve mane and tail did little to draw the attention of most away from her smaller than normal wings. She did her best to clear her violet eyes from the shock of the sudden stop.
“More like who did you hit,” Retorted Sweetie Belle, the Unicorn filly in the cart being dragged behind the scooter.
Sap green eyes looked between her friend and the body on the ground with a touch of panic. She possessed a darkened shade of white to her coat while pink and purple curls fell about her mane and tail, “I told you not to go so fast!” She scolded her friend.
“Girls, I ain’t no expert on aliens’r nothin’, but I don’t think he’s supposed ta be that color…” Applebloom stated cautiously as she inched her way from the cart towards the humanoid on the ground.
Her coat was a light shade of yellow with a head and tail of deep red with her main tied back with a pink bow. Amber eyes scanned him for injuries as she muttered a prayer to the princesses that everything was alright.
Rainbow Dash darted past the three fillies who were gathered around the alien. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, please tell me that didn’t just happen!” She pleaded to any powerful force that could hear her, “I’m terrible at foalsitting, why did I decide to do this in the first place!? Oh crud, please don’t be dead!”
All the life drained out of Scootaloo’s face at the mention of the alien in front of her being dead. “N-no, he can’t be dead, I didn’t hit him that hard, there’s no way!” The young Pegasus grabbed the boy by his shoulders and shook him, “C’mon, wake up, open your eyes!”
In a quick motion the child’s eyes flung open as his arms flailed forwards to grab the filly trying to shake him out of his stupor, “Brains!” He moaned out in a dull, grating tone as he lurched forwards towards her. Panic quickly overtook all four of the Equestrians gathered around the child. Frightened screams hit a pitched crescendo until the sounds of laughter caused them to calm down.
All eyes were now on the small humanoid who rolled about the ground in a fit of laughter. “You, guys, should’a, seen, your, faces!” Cassus managed to force out between his snickers.
One pony in particular was less shocked and more enraged with the boy’s antics. Reaching out, Scootaloo took him by the shoulders and pinned him to the ground. “What the hay, kid!” Her voice cracked with agitation, “I thought I just killed somepony, that wasn’t funny!”
Cassus put his arms up in defense as a wide smile stretched across his face. “Whoa, heh, maybe we’re get’in off on a bad foot, erm, hoof.” He admitted as he pulled himself out from under the irate filly, “How about we try this again?” He extended his open hand to the three other children, “I’m Cassus Skirata, my family just moved here to your planet an’ town.”
There was a moment of awkwardness between the four children before the little white Unicorn strode forward and placed her hoof in his hand. “Hi there, I’m Sweetie Belle.” She stated happily as he shook her hoof.
The redheaded Earth Pony was next giving his arm a good hardy shake with her friendliest smile. “Howdy there Cassus, mah name’s Applebloom, welcome ta Ponyville!”
Scootaloo gave the alien a suspicious look before reluctantly taking his hand, “Scootaloo, nice to meet ya I guess,” Her tone was still dripping with annoyance from his prank.
A jolt ran through Cassus’s arm at the touch of her hoof; he quickly pulled his hand away as if bit by something. He could feel the group’s collective confused eyes resting on him; however, something in the cart caught his attention and gave him a way out. “So, what’s with all that gear ya got?”
The little toy wagon hooked to the scooter had been filled with a hodgepodge of gear. Ropes, helmets, lanterns and what looked like a hook or two. “It’s for official club business.” The young Pegasus quickly interjected.
“Yeah, we’re the Cutie Mark Crusaders!” Sweetie Belle proudly, and rather loudly, proclaimed.
“An’ we’re on’a mission ta find our cutie marks!” Applebloom added with just as much enthusiasm as her friend.
Cassus stared at the three fillies in confusion as his mind tried to make sense of all this new information. Sadly, only being seven years old had its’ limitations, but most of all, “What the osik is a cutie mark?”
Dash quickly gave the boy a scolding tap on the back of the head with her forehoof. “I know what that word means.” She warned him.
Rubbing the stinging pain from the back of his head, Cassus gave himself a mental reminder not to rely on his Mando’a to speak out of turn. “Sorry…” He muttered before returning his attention to the other kids, “So what’s a cutie mark?”
The three gave him a blank stare as if he’d just grown several limbs out of his forehead and started dancing around. “You, you don’t know what a cutie mark is?” The crack in Sweetie Belle’s tone sounded as though she might fall over in surprise. “It’s only one of the most important things in a pony’s life!”
“It only appears when a pony finds their special talent!” Scootaloo added.
“It means ya know exactly who ya are, an’ what you’re good at!” Applebloom finished.
This did little to explain things to the offworlder, “But, WHAT are they!?”
“It’s a mark that shows up on your flank when you find your special talent.” Scootaloo explained while motioning towards the various villagers of Ponyville.
It was then that Cassus found his attention drawn to a number of flanks and the markings adorning them. “Huh, I just thought you guys were into tattoos.”
“Ya see, we’re some’a the only ones in our class without our cutie marks, so the three’a us joined together ta find our talents because…” Applebloom lamented, “Our flank’s’re blank, see.”
Before Cassus could say anything, all three flanks were on display before him. Seeing this, the grown mare quickly stepped in, placing herself between the young boy and girls. “OKAY, girls, why don’cha give the kid some breathing room alright!” Dash’s face had begun to tint red through her fur. Part of her wanted to get mad but she knew it was just the foalish innocence of youth at play.
Rolling her eyes, Scootaloo mounted her trusty scooter and dawned her safety helmet. “Whatever, c’mon girls, we gotta get moving if we wanna get our cutie marks before dark.”
With that and a few quick goodbyes, the three of them were zipping down the road as the small Pegasus flapped her wings at a fever pitch. Cassus watched as they vanished into the crowd with a hint of curiosity in his eyes. There was something about that Scootaloo, something that the back of his mind told him he had to follow them. A hoof patting his shoulder reminded him of the one catch, his cyan guardian.
“Not bad, short stack, you’re already starting to make some friends.” She declared proudly to the smaller alien.
An idea slowly started to form in the young boy’s mind that just might do the trick. “Hey Dash, do ya think maybe I could go explore’in on my own for a bit?”
The speedster gave him a bemused look as she shook her head. “Look kiddo, I know this place seems peaceful an’ all, but you really shouldn’t be wondering around a strange place on your own.”
“Aw c’mon, I can handle myself just fine.” He retorted, “I just wanna look around on my own for a little bit.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes and began to nudge him back on track with a brush of her wing. “No dice kiddo, took my eyes off ya once an’ look what happened.”
She was certainly smarter than Cassus gave her credit for, but he still had one trick up his sleeve and she was leaving him little choice. “Yeah, hey, about that,” He looked up to the mare with a wide grin on his face, “ya know, it’d be a pretty bad thing if my parents were to find out ya shoved me into an oncoming scooter.”
Dash stopped dead in her tracks as she gave the child a deadpan stare. “What did you say?”
“Look, I don’t wanna resort to blackmail, buuuut,” He lifted his hair up a bit to show off a bruise he’d suffered in the crash, “I’m sure this guy’ll bring up some questions.”
She did what she could to keep a straight face as a sudden tinge of anger started swell up in her. “Why you little… I mean, I don’t believe this,” Her poker face quickly crumbled away.
“One’a my uncles is a Chiss Strategist,” Cassus playfully reminded her, “Did’ja think I wouldn’t use this to my advantage?”
Growling under her breath she hated admitting it but the kid had her by the tail. “Fine, ya get one hour of free time.” She said, “But Celestia help you if I ever get asked to foal sit your flank.”
Her threat in place, Cassus watched as she vanished in burst of blinding speed into the cloud cover above. He quickly searched the skies for any sign of his appointed guardian until he was satisfied that she really had given him the space he needed. His attention shifted now towards the direction he’d seen the, what were they called again, Cutie Mark Crusaders, heading.
On the outskirts of town laid the dreaded Everfree Forest. A place considered by every resident of the town to be an unnatural place. It’s where the plants grow on their own, the clouds move by themselves and the animals need no caretakers. At one point, one of the few places where nature was rightfully in control and the location of this day’s latest round of cutie mark hunting. The three fillies, Scootaloo, Applebloom and Sweetie Belle had gathered together the supplies they believed they needed and had journeyed into the woods.
“Somehow, I just know this’ll help us get our cutie marks this time!” Scootaloo reassured her friends as they neared their destination.
As convenient as the cart was, the forest had little use for well trampled roads and paths, forcing the youngsters to leave behind their transportation and continue on foot. Their backs weighed down with gear, they made their way towards a large rocky opening in the forest floor.
“You said it, Ah can’t wait ta get mah cutie mark in cave sprlore’in,” Applebloom beamed at the prospect.
“Yeah, but did we really have to leave that new kid behind like that?” Sweetie Belle questioned as she cautiously and reluctantly peered over the side, “His mean prank aside, he seemed really nice, and I’m sure we could’ve used a little extra help with this one.”
“Tch, I wouldn’t worry about it,” The Pegasus filly scoffed, “besides, he’d probably be too scared to try this anyways.”
“Actually,” An all too familiar male voice caught their attention. Sitting on a large jutting root was the alien half breed they had met in town. His pale face tinted slightly redder as a few beads of sweat rolled down his forehead as clearly tried to hide the fact that he was out of breath, “there’s noth’in we Mandalorians love more than a healthy dose’a danger.”
“How did you…” Scootaloo couldn’t wrap her head around it. They had left him in the middle of town and she was sure nopony knew where this spot was.
The confused look in their eyes only seemed to fuel the smile on his face all the more, stretching wider and wider. “One of my uncles is’a sniper in the Neo Protectors, it was easy to find your tracks.” He proudly bragged, “Also, run’in like my sheb was on fire helped.” It felt good to sneak out a curse without a hoof or hand to the back of his head.
Leaving his makeshift seat behind, Cassus began walking around the gapping maw of the caverns below. “So, lemme see if I understand your plan. You three are gonna climb down there in hopes that it’ll give ya them cutie mark things right?” When they nodded in confirmation, a wide grin stretched across his face with a playful glint in his eyes, “That sounds so freak’in cool!”
The newest residents of the small town of Ponyville stood before the humble little house that would be their home from now on. It was a simple home like the many others that dotted the village, possessing two floors, a basement, an attic and a lush tree in the front yard. Kad and Shin’ima took a moment to admire it proudly alongside Twilight Sparkle and a rather sizable mountain of luggage.
Kad stole a kiss from his wife’s cheek as she took in the sight of their new home. “Welcome home naakla,” He whispered lovingly to her.
A slight tint of red filled their mare escort’s cheeks as she gauged the tone of his voice. Mando’a was still a language that she had barely any kind of grasp on, but the way he spoke and the look in her eyes as he said spoke volumes about the meaning. In the back of her mind she cursed herself for letting Rarity talk her into reading those romance novels. Clearing her throat she brought everyone’s attention back to the task at hand. “Welcome to Ponyville Mr. and Mrs. Skirata, shall we-“
“WAAAAIT!” A tired voice rasped.
The group’s attention shifted to the bright pink mare trudging towards them. Her normally joyously curly mane and tail looked disheveled and ragged. The seemingly endless energy that her bright blue eyes reflected had fizzled out with the bags hanging from them. Behind her, she was dragging a wagon towards them as she huffed tiredly. “Gimme a second… almost there… don’t move,” Pinkie pleaded to them desperately.
She brought her wagon to a stop in front of them as she whipped the beads of sweat from her brow. “So many coming to town… Been busy welcoming them all…”
Taking a deep breath to regain her composure she elbowed a button on the side of the cart. Several flaps opened up and a myriad of instruments were revealed. Before Twilight could protest her friend’s actions she forced herself to belt out her tune.
“Welcome welcome welcome,
A fine welcome to you,
Welcome welcome welcome,
I say how do you do?
Welcome welcome welcome,
I say hip hip hurray,
Welcome welcome welcome,
To Ponyville today!”
She sang out between tired breaths as she lazily moved with the music putting on the best show her tired muscles could afford.
There was a brief pause of shock as they all watched the pink Earth pony fall to her haunches. Before anyone could utter a word a small device on the wagon fired a wall of confetti at all those assembled. Pinkie gave them a tired smile as she waved her forelimbs in the air. “Ta’daaa…”
Shin’ima became overcome with a fit of laughter at the mare’s antics. “Thank you very much for the warm welcome.” She said bowing her head to the tired mare.
Pinkie gave her a tired smile as she let herself lean back against her cart. “It’s what I do.”
“Ya alright Pie?” Kad asked as he looked the normally bubbly girl over, “If memory serves, by now ya’d have talked our ears off ‘bout everything under the sun.”
“Too tired,” Was the rather blunt answer she gave, “so many coming to town, gotta make’em feel welcomed; on’a side note, really need to make the welcome wagon lighter.”
Shin’ima took a seat beside her on the ground, “You poor dear.” She stated softly, “How many of these welcome songs have you been performing?”
Pinkie smiled proudly as she announced, “Fifty seven counting yours, a new record!”
“Pinkie, you haven’t been trying to welcome every single off-worlder to Ponyville have you?” Twilight asked with no shortage of concern for the party pony.
“No silly, I don’t have enough streamers for that and besides, they’re just passing through.” Pinkie said waving the question off, “But with everypony coming back to the town, I figured they deserve a friendly smile and a happy visit from the welcome wagon.”
With no more second guessing left; the four children made their descent into the earth’s waiting belly. A massive cavern awaited them stretching into the darkness for what seemed an eternity. Rock formations jutting from the ground and ceiling created the feeling of gnashing teeth as the trickle of water far out of sight reverberated off the walls. The gaping hole that provided their ingress, cast a single wide beam of light down upon them creating a somewhat safe zone for them.
“Okay, so, where do we find these cutie mark things anyways, what do they look like?” Cassus asked them eagerly.
“They aren’t something you can find laying on the ground.” Scootaloo informed him as she took a few adventurous steps towards the edge of their small shaft of light.
“A cutie mark appears magically when your find your special talent.” Sweetie Belle added before flicking on her helmet’s lantern. The tiny lamp pushed back the darkness enough to reveal some of the formations of the walls.
“Okay, so they magically appear when ya figure it out then?” Cassus felt he was starting to really get a handle on this cutie mark thing, “So, we’ve proven we can go down a rope into a hole, now what do we do to find your talents?”
“Well, the book we got from Twilight said that ‘splorers go an’ check stuff fer anythin special ‘bout their sround’ins.” Applebloom recalled, “Guess we try ta look at stuff ‘er some’in.”
Their mission laid out before them, the foursome split up to explore the main antechamber of the cavern. Each one took care to note every detail that they discovered. The curvature of the rock formations, the smelly fungus growing from the walls, nothing escaped their keen eyes and curious minds. As the seconds dragged on into minutes and the minutes felt as though they had become hours, one thing became very clear to the children.
“Ugh, this is so boring!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed as she hung her head dejectedly, “This is nothing like in the Daring Do books.”
“Ah hate say’in it, but maybe our special talents ain’t got noth’in ta do with caves an’ such.” Applebloom said sadly.
“Maybe if you guys had more to go on besides go look at stuff.” Cassus complained as he prodded a pile of fungus, “Least we found a really cool cave.”
This bit of good news did little to lift Scootaloo’s spirits. “I thought it would work this time,” She grumbled under her breath. Anger began to swell in her chest as she gave her blank flank death glare, “why doesn’t anything ever work?” She snarled to nopony in particular, “No matter what we do, or how hard we try, nothing ever freak’in works!”
“It’s okay Scootaloo.” The little white Unicorn consoled her, “We’ll just go try something else, like we always do.”
“Don’t you see though, nothing ever works for us!” She retorted in anger, “We always end up getting covered in tree sap, or stuck together with taffy, just one failure after another. We’re never gonna find our talents at this rate!”
In a huff of anger she gave the wall beside her swift kick with all the force her tiny body could offer. As her hoof connected with the wall, a small rock near the base tumbled lose, setting off a very unfortunate chain of events. A low rumble filled the cavern and the world around the children began to slowly shake, growing more violent with every tremor. Before they knew what was happening the rocks above their heads had started to fall all around them. Panic set in as the three fillies and humanoid made for what they hoped would be safety, ducking and dodging solid stony chunks of death from above as the deafening rumble drowned out their screams.
In a rush of adrenalin, Cassus dragged up what little his parents had taught him about his powers. With what little grasp and understanding he had, the young Mandalorian pulled as hard on his connection to it as he could. It was a strange new sensation for the child as time around him seemed to crawl slowly around him. If pressed, there was little to no chance that the youth could properly put to words what this felt like. He could suddenly feel where some of the rocks would fall around them, like he was staring at the cheat-sheet of a test. It was then that he became aware of a large collection of stones hurtling towards the small galloping white filly. Something else caught his attention, a ripple through the Force and it was close.
Cassus pushed his legs as hard as he could to close the gap between himself and Sweetie Belle. He could feel the life ending barrage of rocks inching closer and closer towards them both now as he brought himself within range of her. Lunging forward, Cassus tackled her, using their combined momentum to narrowly avoid the collapsing ceiling.
His efforts appeared to be in vain as several more collapsed around the huddled pair. Scootaloo and Applebloom watched in horror from the safety of an outcropping in the wall. Their friend and fellow Crusader along with their new friend were suddenly blocked from view as rock after rock fell upon them.
Kad and Twilight fought with the awkward shape of a couch while taking care not to disturb the pink mass sleeping upon the cushions. Under Shin’ima’s insistence, Pinkie was made to take a rest from her noble work which quickly brought about a nap on the comfy piece of furniture. With no warning, Kad and Shin’ima both stopped mid stride as if something far in the distance had called to them.
“Mr. and Mrs. Skirata,” Twilight could feel a touch of concern growing in her breast, the last time she had seen the Captain react to something like this was at the passing of Traycn, “is everything alright?”
Finally as the onslaught died down the pair slowly made their way towards what was no doubt their friends’ grave. Shock chocked the life out of their expressions as the slowly neared the spot, steeling themselves for whatever horrible sight was in store for them. However, as they drew closer they both noticed something rather odd about the rock pile, it was moving ever so slightly.
Exchanging a look of surprise, their pair of fillies quickly closed the gap and started feverishly pushing and pulling stones away as best they could. Soon, they had cleared a sizable chunk away from the pile whereupon they found something they truly did not expect to find. Their friend and the off-worlder were alive.
Kad gave the Unicorn a smile and nodded. “Yeah, everything’s fine,”
“There was a ripple through the Force,” Shin’ima explained to her, “I’m certain it was Cassus,”
“Probably show’in off for the other kids.” Kad said with a chuckle, “C’mon, let’s get this couch inside before someone else comes by an’ takes a nap on it too.”
Cassus had placed himself between Sweetie Belle and the rocks, one hand kept himself braced against the ground and his weight for the most part off of her. The other hand however was palm up facing the stones, the rocks hovered barely inches away from his outstretched hand as if pressing against an invisible bubble. His face showed a great deal of strain as he fought to maintain a protective wall around them both; beads of sweat rolled down his grime coated face.
Not stopping to ask questions, the pair of fillies quickly started doing what they could lighten his burden. Cassus could feel the overwhelming weight letting up on him. Digging deeply into the Force as best he could, Cassus pushed as hard as his grasp on the power could afford, sending what was left atop them both hurtling away.
Freed from the crushing rocks, Cassus let go of his draw on the Force. His small body no longer being forced past its limits, the pain and fatigue of his display quickly flooded him. Cassus collapsed beside Sweetie Belle in a heap breathing heavily. “Okay… that really hurt…”
The three fillies stared at the young Mandalorian for a moment before Sweetie Belle finally spoke up, “You can use magic?!”
“Not magic.” He grunted out as he tried to pull himself into a more comfortable position, “Used the Force.” A playful grin stretched across his face, “Honestly I just did all that on instinct, not even sure how exactly I did it.”
“Magic or whatever, who cares, you’re both alive!” Scootaloo happily declared as she threw her forelimbs around the Unicorn in a tight squeeze, “I thought for sure that… that you guys were dead, an’ all because of something I did…”
Her guilt trip wasn’t given much time to continue on as a hand slapped her on the back. “We ain’t dead, so no foul, right?” Cassus happily offered her as a compromise.
A smile reluctantly formed on her face, “Yeah, no foul.” Her attention returned to the Unicorn, “So, you alright?”
“I think so.” Sweetie Belle answered as she tried to return to her hooves. Her eyes went wide in shock as she put weight upon her back left leg. With a pained grunt she awkwardly stumbled into Scootaloo, “Or maybe not.” She gave the offending limb a frightened look, thanking the sisters of sun and moon both that it wasn’t twisted in some strange angle. It was however swelling rather painfully, “I think it’s sprained…”
A quick curse slipped out of Cassus’ mouth as something dawned on him, “That was probably my bad when I tackled ya,” He admitted with a guilty pang, “better than be’in crushed under’a bunch’a rocks right?”
The three of them were in agreement on that much but were now also aware of one filly in particular who had been uncomfortably silent the entire time. All eyes fell upon the red haired Earth pony who sat with her back to the group, her attention fixated on something else all together. What her attention had been set upon quickly became very clear, as the massive shaft that served as their entrance had become blocked with piles of rocks. All their hearts sank and shattered as they looked upon the tons upon tons of solid rock that was now wedged into their only exit.
“What was that you said about being under a bunch’a rocks?” Scootaloo asked sarcastically.
“Man… I really need to know when to shut up…” Cassus scolded himself.
“Ah think we might be in’a bit’a trouble y’all.” Applebloom pointed out weakly.
“Didn’t you guys tell someone where ya were go’in?” Cassus asked starting to feel a bit more nervous about their hopeless situation.
“We didn’t tell anypony where we were going.” Scootaloo replied in a shaky tone, “What about you?”
“I… kinda sorta… ditched my chaperone by tell’in her I was gonna tell my parents ‘bout her knocking me in front of your scooter…” Cassus replied sheepishly.
“Ya mean there ain’t nopony who knows we’re down here?” Applebloom’s voice started to crack with fear.
Panic was starting to settle on the youths once again, all save for Sweetie Belle. There was something in the air, through the remnants of the dust and the stale mildew, there was something else, “Girls.” Her calm tone went unnoticed, “Girls!” The other two fillies finally stopped their frightened chatter, “Erm, and Cassus.” She added sheepishly, “Does anypony else smell that?”
Taking a moment to check the air, Scootaloo’s mood seemed to take a drastic upturn, “I think I do, it’s faint but I think I can smell fresh air!”
“Ah smell it too!” Applebloom excitedly added.
Out of curiosity took a deep breath in through his nose to investigate as well. “All I smell is mildew…”
“Maybe ya’all ain’t got as keen’a senses as we ponies do.” Applebloom said. Following her nose the fire haired filly, trotted about the cavern stopping near an opening in the walls, “It’s come’in from down this way!”
With a pained grunt, the little white Unicorn forced herself back onto her hooves as she tried to block out the bite from her sprained limb. “Maybe we’ll find another way out if we follow it.”
“You sure you’re okay to walk though?” the Pegasus filly asked with growing concern.
“I’ll be fine,” Sweetie Belle reassured her.
“No ya won’t, you’re gonna slow us down.” Cassus informed her. The Mandalorian youth took a knee with his back to her, “Climb on.”
The filly gave him a confused look, “What?”
“Like I said, you’ll slow us down with that leg.” He stated flatly before giving her a wide confident smirk, “Sides, my fault your leg got hurt an’ as the new guy I’ve gotta work off my debt, right?”
It was impossible to tell how long they’d been underground. Minutes and hours fused together to create an all new length of temporal measurement that stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. The four children made their way through the seemingly endless honey combs of tunnels directed by the waft of fresh clean air. Florescent moss along the walls cast an eerie dim light upon their paths aided in slight by the ever weakening lights of their lanterns.
Aches and pains sapped at Cassus’ body as he did his best to keep pace with the fillies up ahead of him. The massive burst of Force energy that tore through him in reaction to the danger earlier and now the weight of the Unicorn clinging to his back, it was certainly more than he had expected this morning. On will alone he continued to trudge forward as a few beads of sweat rolled down his forehead.
Sweetie Belle held tightly to the boy’s back as best someone that lacked hands could. A touch of red had begun to bleed through her dark white coat as she let her mind wander. She knew next to nothing about this boy, this alien, and he knew just as much about her, but he risked his life to save her own. Now here he was caring her through this dank dark cave, maybe all that stuff her sister had said about these Mandalorians was true.
“Hey, what was it you said about HER slowing us down?” Scootaloo snickered over her shoulder.
“Some’a us only walk on two legs!” Cassus shot back at her.
“Ah could carry’er fer a bit Cas.” Applebloom interjected.
“No,” Sweetie Belle felt her cheeks flare bright red at how quickly she spoke up, “we need you and Scootaloo to spot any changes in the direction of the air,” She quietly prayed to Celestia that her friends hadn’t noticed her reaction.
“Soooo,” Cassus broke the awkward silence that had settled on them, “I heard about Deathwatch hit’in your town.”
The three fillies seemed to take on a far more somber mood at the mention of the attack their home town had suffered. “A lotta stuff got busted up,” Applebloom mentioned, “weren’t no pony got hurt though.”
“That Tolik guy and that Guardspony Gallant made us all leave the town the day before.” Sweetie Belle added, “Everypony was long gone before any of the trouble started.”
“Why’d they go an’ attack us anyways?” Scootaloo asked in annoyance, “We didn’t do anything to them.”
“Same reason they attacked their fellow Mandalorians.” he stated with no shortage of venom, “Noth’in but a bunch’a stupid terrorists that think all of us should be act’in like them.” Cassus grumbled, “They didn’t just attack your village an’ capital, those di’kutla hut’uun jerks attacked pretty much everything with a Neo Protector insignia on it then ran off.”
“Why’re they so angry at everypony?” The small farm pony asked.
“Well, accord’in to the history vids, we Mandalorians used to pretty much pick fights with everyone.” Cassus replied, thankful for the conversation to draw his attention away from his growing fatigue, “Deathwatch wants us to go back to the old ways, when we’d conquer anyone that’d look at us funny. Pop says that do’in that’d be suicide, we’d just get the whole galaxy mad at us again an’ end up get’in beat like every other time. He says that’a warrior’s someone that should protect the weak, only a brute tries to step on everyone.” A wide, proud grin stretched across his face, “That’s why I’mma become a Knight just like him.”
The filly attached to his back gave him a curious look, “A Knight, my sister always said that only nobles could become knights.”
“That or don’t they gotta fight’a dragon’er some’in?” Applebloom added.
“I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to save a princess or something too.” Scootaloo chimed in.
“Princesses and dragons? You guys’re think’in of the wrong kinda Knights.” The half-human said, “See, my pop’s a Mandalorian Knight, it’s this group made up’a Mandalorians that’re born able to use the Force. Like me. They go ‘round keep’in our people safe from stuff the Neo Protectors can’t handle. An’ someday I’m gonna be one too!” Cassus’ voice rang with pride as he explained what his father did, “Though, fight’in a dragon sounds like it’d be freaking awesome!”
Time seemed to pass a little faster as idle conversation and the exchange of ideas distracted their minds from the hopeless situation. Before long the air around them became less stale as a few tell tale gusts of wind swept past them, beckoning them to move further down the tunnels. They knew that before long they would reach the exit and be free of these dark catacombs.
Before long they were treated to trickling slivers of sunlight in the far distance that split the black wall ahead of them. Their pace quickened as they sought to close the gap, happily cheering one another on as they closed in on the exit. A progress that came to an abrupt stop just in front of opening and the large heavy rocks wedged tightly into it.
“Oh come on!” Sweetie Belle shouted in frustration.
“Wait, Cas, why don’cha ya jus use that Force magic’a yours?” Applebloom suggested eagerly.
“Yeah, like when ya pushed those rocks off’a you an’ Sweetie Belle!” Scootaloo agreed.
The half-human child gave a defeated sigh, “All that stuff I did was sort of’a reflex kinda thing.” He explained, “Besides, there’s no way I’m strong enough to push this stuff out’a the way… Not alone at least,” Cassus said as he looked towards Scootaloo expectantly.
“Why are ya look’in at me like that?” The Pegasus asked with an uneasy tone.
Cassus took a knee to let Sweetie Belle off of his back for a bit before taking a seat on the damp cold stone floor himself. “I think ya know exactly what I’m talk’in about, Scootaloo.” He replied, “Back dur’in the cave in, didn’t ya notice some’in odd, that everything sorta moved slower around ya an’ somehow you just kinda knew where the rocks were gonna fall.” A wide grin moved over the boy’s features as everything started to fall into place in his head, “You used the Force.”
The Pegasus found herself the center of attention, a spotlight she clearly was less than comfortable being under as she started to shy away. “That, that doesn’t make any sense, how can I use magic without a horn?”
“How can I?” Cassus shrugged as he let himself get comfortable where he was sitting, “Back in town I felt it when you shook my hand. Its one’a the reasons I followed you three out here, to see if what I sensed was true or not.”
“So, that means that Scootaloo can move stuff with’er mind like you was do’in?” Applebloom interjected curiously.
A look of frustration held tightly to the filly in question’s features, “Great, so one more thing that makes me a weirdo freak…” She grumbled, “I can’t fly, I don’t have a cutie mark and now I’ve got magic space powers to boot!”
Cassus quickly found the energy to get back on his feet and closed the gap between himself and Scootaloo. “I don’t think ya understand. You’ve got something powerful in ya, something that only shows up for one in a million.” He looked between her and the rocks before holding out his hand to her, “Gimme your hoof, I’m gonna show ya just how awesome this power is.”
The afternoon sun had started its long descent towards the far horizon as it moved across a clear blue sky. Birds chirped happily as a cool breeze sifted through the trees. A perfect peacefulness that few ponies had ever played witness to, the fear of the unknown within the Everfree forest kept most at bay. It was a peacefulness that suddenly shattered.
A loud rumbling filled the air causing much of the wildlife to quickly scatter and hide. Without warning, several large moss covered rocks that had laid in a haphazard pile for what seemed like centuries suddenly found themselves being rapidly relocated. In a sudden and violent burst, the large rocks exploded from the hole they had sat in front of, toppling and hurtling downhill. The masses of stone rolled and toppled, crushing and rending everything in their path, even several trees which suddenly fell to the ground under their onslaught.
The three fillies and their half-human companion watched in awe as the masses of solid earth tore a path through the wilderness, most of all the young Pegasus. Scootaloo couldn’t believe what she was seeing, under Cassus’ guidance she had made this happen. She had reached out, she had felt herself push against the rocks and then with one solid push she had forced them out of their path.
She looked between her hooves and what she had caused to happen. This power, this Force as Cassus called it. It had always been there as long as she could remember, just this thing she could feel but never understood. Now for the first time she was seeing just what it could do, just what she could do. A small touch of fear ran down her spine as the child’s mind ran through everything it could conceive, but there was something else, excitement. She had sat up plenty of nights lamenting over how she could never follow in her hero’s hoofsteps, but now a whole new road was just opened up for her.
All four of the children took a moment to bask in the warmth of the sun that seemed to have vanished for what felt like an eternity. Their eyes readjusting slowly to the bright colorful world they had thought gone forever. A cool breeze passed over them, tickling the sweat and grime that clung to their tiny forms as they drank in their victory against all odds.
Something gnawed at Sweetie Belle though, something that she felt the others had overlooked as well. “Uhm, does anypony know the way back to town from here?”
The four of them were frozen for what seemed like an eternity of awkwardness. When no one answered her it became abundantly clear what the answer was. A defeated sigh rose up from them all as they slumped to the ground in a tired dog pile. At least they were out of the cave now.
The sun had begun to set on the tiny village of Ponyville casting shades of red and orange across the town. A small humanoid figure made his way through the streets, ignorant to most anything around him. Cassus was sore, tired and above all else, hungry. After the long day of what felt like endless adventure, all he wanted was a warm shower, a warm meal and a warm bed.
Despite his zombie like state, he was able to recall his mother and father’s indication on where their new home was located. Trudging through the streets he finally came upon the two story house with a tree in the front yard. He could smell his mother’s Pantoran cooking from the street, eliciting a rumble from his stomach. As he pushed open the front door he was greeted with a far stronger whiff of the sweet scents of spices and herbs. He was also greeted with a peculiar sight of a bright pink Earth pony asleep on the couch and a purple Unicorn sifting through a book in one of the unoccupied chairs.
Twilight glanced over the edge of the book in her magical grasp at the sound of the door opening. Upon seeing the disheveled looking child enter she quickly set it down. “Oh my, Cassus, are you alright?”
The boy gave her a weak, but none the less wide, grin. “I’m fine, just did some explore'in that’s all.”
She gave the boy a concerned smile before trotting over to him. “Well, you look like you’ve had quite an adventure.” She giggled, “So, did you make any friends?”
He couldn’t help but beam a bit before giving his answer, “Yeah, I made three friends today.” Cassus stated with no shortage of pride, “I’m really hope’in we can go play again tomorrow.”
Twilight happily gave the boy’s hair a tussle. “Well, I’m sure your parents are eager to hear all about what you’ve been up to today, I know I am.”
“So am I.” A very familiar voice chimed in from behind the young Mandalorian. Chills ran down his spine as he slowly turned around to find a pair of rose eyes staring dangerously into his, “So, short stack, bet you got all kinds’a stories to tell us don’t cha.”
Part of him wanted to flee, another said hide, but his tired body said that neither was a possible option. Instead all he could do is stare back with a wide nervous grin. “Heh, hey Rainbow Dash, how ya do’in?” Cassus could feel his pulse start race he stared down the Pegasus eyeing him like a Strill eyes a new chew toy. This was going to be a long awkward dinner; nothing is ever easy.
Birds sang a lovely tune as the warming embrace of the sun began to lovingly caress the smooth stone walls. Rays of light trickled through the glass covered windows of the monastery signifying to all within that daily routines were to begin. The thick cacophony of this world’s native avian population was soon joined by the sounding of a large bell. A dull chime that echoed throughout the temple and surrounding valley forcing all within range to face this new day.
Figures clad in dull simplistic robes began seeing to their daily duties. A wide mix of different races walked the grounds of this sprawling compound as they saw to their chores. Each soul doing their part, be it tending the garden’s collection of varying vegetables, cleaning the monastery grounds or preparing the day’s meals.
The quiet routine of the day was paused briefly as the roar of engines began to drown out the sounds of daily life. This ship’s approach was given little attention by most, save for the youngest of the temple’s members. Several youths quietly slipped away from the duties and responsibilities in hopes of catching a glimpse of these visitors. They all wanted to see the first beings from this newly found planet to set “hoof” in a Jedi Temple.
As the small craft touched down on the landing pad, its gangway lowered as four small eager figures spilled out. Scootaloo, Applebloom and Sweetie Belle, excitedly looked around their new surroundings, the first ponies on an alien world. The three of them had been clad in fairly simple dresses. It had taken their guardians some time to explain the taboos of nudity to the fillies but eventually they understood. Close beside them the half Human half Pantoran Casus joyfully enjoyed the chance to just be off the ship. Behind the children their pair of guardians, Twilight Sparkle and Shin’ima Skirata, descended the ramp.
Twilight adjusted her saddle bag as well as the light grey jumpsuit she had been given. The outfit had been modified and fitted to her shape and mode of travel for dealing with beings far removed from Gaia. She had never minded wearing clothing, having spent so much time living alongside the Princess she had become very familiar with formal attire. Still, it was somewhat strange to wear cloths at all times while off planet. Then again, it was better than risking the chance of offending somepony, or even worse, being ogled by some pervert.
“Remember children,” Shin’ima called out to them, “Ms. Cheerilee is expecting detailed notes from all four of you about what you saw and did on this trip.”
A groan rose up from the four of them as they were forced to remember their school project. Granted, it was the only reason they had been given permission to miss a day or two of school. But a whole one hundred word essay about what they got to see and do off world just seemed so excessive. How were they supposed to write a whole one hundred words?
“Note taking and research can be a lot of fun if you let it kids.” Twilight cheerfully said to them. “I bet that if the four of you put your minds to it, you could make a great game out of it. In fact, I bet if you tried, you could even take more notes than me on this trip.”
Her enthusiasm was met with blank unimpressed stares. “Riiiiiiiiiight.” Casus said wryly before nudging Scootaloo’s side. “Hey, bet I can beat you guys to the front door!”
Before waiting for a response, the half human took off at a mad dash before being chased after by his Equestrian cohorts. “Hey, what happened ta ready set go!?” Applebloom called after him.
“Only got two legs; needed the handicap!” Casus retorted as he kept up his pace.
The purple mare let out an annoyed groan as the youths darted off. Completely shrugging off her praises for the ideals of learning and study. No, she wasn’t about to let rambunctious younglings get her down, not during something as important and monumental as this.
A soft violet glow encased horn as well as the object she heft from her saddle bag. The intricately pieced together cube floated into her view allowing her to examine it one last time. The body of the device was a clear glass like material, smooth and cool to the touch. Along its sides and edges was a gold hued metal that held everything together. Within the cube she could see the meticulous inner workings that radiated a soft blue glow from deep within. With Shin’ima’s help she had constructed this “holocron” and filled it with every scrap of knowledge Equestria could spare.
“Hard to believe isn’t it,” Shin’ima’s voice called her attention back to the Pantoran beside her, “something so unassuming looking could hold so much knowledge.”
“It really is.” The mare replied with a smile. “The breadth of Pony history and experience, every accomplishment to the present date, all stored on this cube. It’s almost sad how small it is.”
Shin’ima placed a hand on her shoulder. “Everything seems small when compared to the vast span of the universe around us, but even the smallest thing can affect planets light years away.”
A smile quickly returned to her face as she reminded herself, not only about the honor of being the first representative of her species to set hoof here. But also she was going to be given the chance to lay eyes upon one of the most extensive libraries in the known galaxy. Princess Celestia was counting on her to make a good impression during this exchange of knowledge.
“I just wish you’d picked somepony else to be this thing’s avatar.” She stated meekly. “It’s weird thinking about how somepony in a thousand years could turn this thing on and carry on a conversation with a holographic version of me.”
There was more on the young Unicorn’s mind than just awkwardness of her image and personality forever preserved in hologram. This trip across the stars presented her with an opportunity she very well could not turn down. Here she was in front of a Jedi temple. From she had gleamed from both Kad and Shin’ima, if any beings in the galaxy could answer her questions about the Force it would be the Jedi Order.
Twilight could feel her heart race a bit as they neared the front doors of the temple. She could feel it, the untold ages worth of knowledge just beyond these doors, the answers to her questions and maybe even ones she never thought to ask. There was something else about this place it exuded a strange sense of calm that seemed to permeate her very core. This temple was not only a place of knowledge it was a place of peace and serenity.
The closer they drew to the temple, Twilight became more aware of those tending the grounds. So many various creatures and species dressed in simplistic robes that would cause Rarity to go on a tear. She had seen quite a variety of races from other worlds since meeting the Mandalorians, though now she was starting to feel that all she had seen was a small fraction. Aliens of many different sizes and shapes milled about their tasks and greeted her with a warm smile.
Her mental trek was brought to a stop however as a small ruckus caught both her and Shin’ima’s attentions. Aaplebloom had apparently caught up Casus after his little stunt that gained him the lead and tackled him to the ground. She was quickly reminded herself of an old Ponyville adage, ‘Never cheat an Apple.’
“Force, give me strength.” Shin’ima sighed in frustration.
“It’s alright Shin’ima, I’m sure I’ll be fine on my own.” Twilight reassured her.
With a faint smile the Pantoran gave her a nod before turning her full attention and wrath towards the children. “Applebloom, young lady, you will let him out of that headlock this instant!”
Trying not to pay too much mind to the childish excuses of whose fault it truly was, Twilight approached the large wooden double doors of the temple. Waiting for her was a young woman she mistook for human until getting closer. Though human in appearance, her skin was a deep emerald green with several diamond shaped patterns etched into what skin she could see. Neatly kempt blond hair framed her youthful face, from what Twilight had learned of humanoids she ventured this one was in her late teens. Her well toned form was clad in what she was quickly learning these robes were a sort of uniform for the Jedi Order. At the young woman’s hip however was a device Twilight knew all too well, the hilt of a lightsaber. A phantom tinge of pain ghosted through her shoulder for a moment before it was squashed.
The young humanoid stepped towards Twilight and bowed her head to her. “Greetings, I am Padawan Kassaria Yumell.”
With a wide friendly smile the Unicorn lowered her head in turn in a well practiced bow. “Hello, my name is Twilight Sparkle, I am here as an envoy of the planet Gaia and a representative of the Equestrian court.”
“We’ve been expecting you Ms. Sparkle.” Yumell she stated as she lead her into the temple itself. “Welcome to the Talgear temple.”
Twilight’s eyes went wide as she saw the inside of the temple proper. For the entire trip she had fantasized over what the inside of it would look like. Imagining powerful computers and alien devices strewn about, grand halls and vast tapestries. What she hadn’t expected however was how simple everything was. Simple stone walls simple windows, simple everything, save for a few obvious things it looked almost bereft of technology. This looked more akin to an old monastery used by the ancient Unicorn monks of old.
It was a jarring shift going from intergalactic space vessel with specialized alloy plating to ancient temple with archaic stone masonry. “Not what you expected was it?” Her guide inquired.
“Oh, uhm,” Twilight had forgotten that empathic sense that both Kad and Shin’ima had displayed. She quickly fought to find the words. After all she was representing her planet as a whole, she couldn’t appear rude. “Considering all the technology and such that I’ve been exposed to over the past few months, this is a rather jarring change. I was starting to believe that all factions and races of the galaxy lived with technological marvels at their beckon call.”
Yumell gave her an amused smile. “I would think considering your own people’s technology curve, this would be a welcomed sight.” The Padawan chided her as she continued to lead her through the stone halls and corridors. “Not all Jedi cloisters are like this one. This temple in particular prefers the ‘rocky path’ in order to focus us on the Force around us rather than rely on machinery to do our bidding.”
“This is not to say that we are without necessities.” She continued. “We of course have a well up to date communications hub. Fully stocked and staffed medical ward, and…” Yumell paused for effect as her hand rested upon the electronic lock that held a fairly out of place metallic door shut. As the door slid open Twilight found her jaw landing firmly on the floor. “…One of the largest archives this side of the core systems.”
The Unicorn could not believe her eyes. She beheld rows upon rows of what appeared to be bookshelves housing lines upon lines of electronic books that gave off a soft bluish glow. Her heart began to throb as she tried to calculate the untold knowledge and history housed in each one of those devices. Twilight was far from an expert of alien tech but she had paid very close attention to Torb’s lessons on how the simplest of it worked. She knew that standard information devices could hold entire libraries of knowledge and here in front of her had to be thousands, maybe millions of them. So much to learn, so much to study, she could feel the ever dutiful student within her crying out to tear into every shelf and read every word.
“I had a feeling you would like it.” Her guide stated with no shortage of joy in her voice. “Shin’ima had told me about your job as a librarian and your love of books.”
“This is… this is amazing.” She managed to stammer out as she took a few tentative trots into the room.
“Normally, we don’t allow those outside of the Order to delve our archives.” Yumell said. “However, I don’t see any harm in letting you browse around while I place your holocron amongst the others in the vault.”
Twilight’s mind immediately snapped back to attention. This is what she’d been wanting, what she’d been counting on. All of her questions about the Force, what was it, what was its relationship to Magic? This was her chance to find the answers in the place that had never failed her, books. With an eager smile she floated the boxy device to the waiting hands of the Padawan before turning her attention to the rest of the library.
Hours had melted away as Twilight pried everything she could from every datapad and device she could get her hooves on. She learned a great deal about the seemingly endless wars between the Jedi and the Sith. She had gritted her teeth and forced herself through the atrocities of one Darth Sidious and his purging of the order. Twilight had read about heroes and villains, and the countless conflicts that had raged just beyond her night sky. However, she was no closer to learning anything about what the Force was.
She had breezed through several volumes on techniques and meditation. She had learned of a number of great figures in galactic history, from Luke Skywalker to Jedi Master Hoth. The Unicorn had learned a great deal about philosophy and other beliefs. But nothing on what this thing was, where did it come from, how was it related to magic, and how could beings who weren’t Unicorns use it?
Her search was starting to feel hopeless as she moved between the rows of bookshelves as she made for the next section of the library. Something slightly out of place brought her to a standstill however: an old wooden door that sat ajar. Slowly she inched towards it, noticing a scant casting of light from under the door. Curiosity getting the better of her judgment, Twilight nudged the door open a bit further to slip inside.
Twilight tentatively entered the mostly darkened chamber. The familiar smell of dusty pages and long burning candles wafted across the air. Her path was lit by dim candles that cast ominous shadows away from their inviting light, revealing stacks of ancient texts and scrolls. The sight of so many parchments and scrolls started to make her feel far more at home than her journey through the archives.
“So, you approve of my personal study I take it.” A gruff tired voice spoke to her from across the room.
Her eyes searched the dim light and found the one who had spoken to her. At the center of the room sat a large wooden desk laden heavily with stacks of books and scrolls, behind it sat a vaguely humanoid figure in heavy brown robes. As he leaned forward she could make out the face of a human that had been battered by time, a long white beard obscured many of his wrinkles but did little to hide his age. Deep blue eyes shone from beneath his heavy hood reflecting wisdom and knowledge obtained over decades. One worn limb motioned for her to come forward.
“You must be the young lady I heard the Padawans speaking of.” He spoke softly to her in a tired rasp as she neared. “I am Master Carso Laan, chronicler of the archives. Welcome to our temple, young one.”
Twilight dipped her head in a low bow as she addressed him. “Hello sir, my name is Twilight Sparkle. I was taking in your people’s archive when I stumbled upon this room. I apologize for intruding.”
With a chuckle, Carso rested a withered hand upon her shoulder. “Think nothing of it Ms Sparkle, you are quite welcome here. Far too many of our youthful Padawans and Knights rely on the technology of our archives these days. The breadth of our knowledge, spanning centuries and reachable by any Jedi with a holo-net connection.” His words carried a hint of annoyance that Twilight easily picked out. “They forget sometimes where our most ancient of knowledge comes from.”
“Where are my manners? Please, have a seat.” He offered her one of the few chairs not piled high with archaic information. “Company is a scant blessing for me these days and I can sense that your mind is heavy with questions.”
Twilight took the offered chair as she continued to look the room over. “To say the least, I was hoping I could learn something about the Force by coming on this trip.”
Carso stroked his beard as he leaned back against his chair. “That is not an easy question to answer, my young friend, but I will do my best to help you.”
“To understand the Force, you must first understand that it touches all life. The Force binds and connects us all throughout the galaxy.” He began as Twilight looked on eagerly. “It flows through everything, me, you, the walls of this temple, and even the very mountain it sits upon. All things in the galaxy are touched by the Force. Life creates it, surrounds us in it. We are more than these crude shells, through the Force we are all as one, the concepts of race and species are meaningless.”
His expression began to darken slightly. “However, as with all things in life, where this is light, shadows are always cast.” He motioned her attention to the ones stretching across the walls. “There is a darkness as well as a light within the Force, a dark side and there are those who would tap into this power. The dark side of the Force is one that promises power to those who touch upon it.”
Twilight watched the shadows twist and dance around the room bringing a sudden feeling of dread to her heart. “How does somepony learn to avoid this dark side?”
“How does someone avoid the night?” Carso asked with a wry grin. “We deal with the dark side of the Force everyday, Ms. Sparkle. Hate, fear, anger, these are dealt with every day by every being in the galaxy. It is when we give into them and their promise of power and personal gain that our fall to the dark side truly begins.”
Her mind suddenly leapt back several months ago, back to Gaia, back to the palace, and back to Teth. She could feel the burn of sweat in her eyes, the tearing pain the racked her entire body, and the smell of blood and burnt flesh that choked her nostrils. Twilight also felt the rush of hate and anger course through her body as she glared up at Teth from the wound she had put in his side with her own horn.
“I think I know what this Dark side is,” she said hesitatingly, “I’ve felt it, I… I’ve given in to it.”
Carso said nothing, the ancient Jedi merely sat and paid audience to the Unicorn’s soul. “During the final battle to retake Canterlot, I faced a Sith named Davian Teth. He and his soldiers had done so many terrible things, killing civilians, enslaving our people, and taking our rulers as his ‘pets’.” She said with no shortage of disgust. “When Kad Skirata and I fought him, he left himself open to me. I was hurt, tired, but most of all I was angry. I killed him, I drove my horn into his side then bucked him off the edge of the cliff. All I could think about in that moment was how much I absolutely wanted him dead.”
The old Jedi watched as tears began to form in the sides of her eyes. “You have been touched by the darkness Twilight,” Carso said as he gently guided her back to the present, “but you are not lost to it.”
Twilght’s lip began to quiver as she could still feel that hate and anger at the mere thought of Davian Teth. “But I took a life!” Tears began to well at the edges of her eyes as she fought to keep herself under control. “He’s dead because of what I did, because I killed him!” The sides of her face became soaked by a line of fresh tears. “I just… I just couldn’t let him live, after everything he’d done, everyone he’d hurt and would hurt, I had to stop him, but... but, oh Celestia, why did I have to kill him?”
Master Carso felt his heart sink as the girl before him began weeping her eyes out. “The tests that the Galaxy places before us can sometime be cruel and harsh.” He said sadly before placing a hand on her trembling shoulder. “I am so sorry that this has been your path, Twilight Sparkle.”
“I… I haven’t let myself think about it for months.” She sniffled out. “Like as if it never happened if I didn’t acknowledge it. I didn’t want to kill him, I hated him for what he did to us, to our people, but, I didn’t want to kill anypony. When I saw him standing over Kad, I knew he was going to kill him if I didn’t do something to stop him. I just… I just acted.”
Carso used the sleeve of his robe to dry the sobbing Unicorn’s tears as he spoke softly to her. “Twilight Sparkle, you do not hide from what you have done and you do not revel in the taking of a life, in anger or otherwise. You understand the sanctity of life. This is a rare virtue in this galaxy, and through it you are able to find your strength in the Force.”
She turned her gaze to him in slight confusion. “The Force, but, I don’t understand.”
With a kind smile the old man patted the back of her neck. “Surely you can feel it. Even for an old fogy like me, I can sense you like a beacon within the Force. Perhaps it is something that comes easily to your kind, or maybe it is as rare a gift as for the rest of the galaxy. It doesn’t matter. You have a gift Twilight Sparkle, it strengthens you and guides you, heed its advice.”
This brought a weak smile slowly came back to the Unicorn’s face as her tears came to a stop. “Thank you, Master Laan. I think you’ve really helped put a lot of things into perspective.”
The trip back to the landing pad had given Twilight a great deal of time to think on her time spent in the company of Jedi Master Carso Laan. His words still echoed through her head, most importantly was his revelation on her own presence within this seemingly alien power. Her mind drifted for a moment to that hazy morning in the woods running for her life alongside the rest of Epsilon squad. How she had made the quick connection between the Force and her own understanding of Magic. Maybe they truly were one in the same, maybe there wasn’t any kind of difference.
It was starting to make sense to her if they really were one in the same. After all, even Teth had told her he could feel her power within the Force. Her friends and even some enemies had admitted that Twilight was powerful even by Unicorn standards. That was to be expected though, having been trained by Princess Celestia herself. But if these theories were true, just how powerful were the Princesses?
Her meditation was brought to a standstill however as she neared the ship. Twilight suppressed the urge to giggle as she saw the three fillies and one boy sitting on the ramp with looks of defeat on their faces. Standing over them was Shin’ima giving them each a very critical stare with her arms crossed over her chest. From the scuffs and dirt on the children as well as their dour moods that whatever trouble they had caused, obviously didn’t result in their cutie marks.
With a smile she trotted her way up the landing ramp. “I see someponies have been up to their usual crusading.”
“It would’a worked too if Applebloom hadn’t dropped that arc spanner thingy.” Scootaloo grumbled.
“It wasn’t mah fault the dang things ain’t made fer hooves.” The tiny Earth Pony complained.
Twilight’s curious gaze fell on the young half-human sitting with the rest of the culprits. “Casus, you can’t even get a cutie mark, we’ve been over this.”
“I know, but I’m not about to miss out on an adventure. Sides, it might have been my idea to use power tools.” He said with an innocent smile.
“It was totally your idea.” Sweetie Belle reminded him completely deflating him.
“What am I going to do with you, children?” Shin’ima sighed before looking to the mare. “I trust you enjoyed your visit to the temple archives.”
A soft smile spread across Twilight’s face. “Yes, it was very enlightening, very soothing.” She cast her gaze across the temple grounds. “This whole place, it gives off an air of peace and tranquility. Like the entire galaxy is standing still all around you.”
“You would have made a good Jedi.” Shin’ima commented before turning to enter the ship. “Alright children, time to go home before you end up burning down the temple.” She playfully chided them. “And I want to see rough drafts of each of your essays before we reach the first port.”
Twilight giggled at the sounds of groans rising up from the children as they loaded onto the ship behind Shin’ima. As she ascended the ramp she couldn’t help but cast one last look upon the temple. She had to admit, something about it called to her to stay. The young mare broke her gaze away from it all as she reminded herself of everyone still counting on her, still waiting for her to return. She could not shake the feeling that there was still so much left to do before she could rest.
The planet Harkonnen was a dead husk of a once great world. Centuries ago this planet was teaming with resources and life, but the inhabitants of this orb mined these resources and expanded their reach until every inch of the planet had been turned into a sprawling metropolis as a shining beacon to their greatness. Now it was nothing more than a tomb, a planetwide grave marker floating about in the vast blackness. For a time this planet held the interests and curiosities of the archeological communities, but as time went on this broken world eventually gave up the last of its secrets.
The explorers of this world had long since left its shell behind as well as the space station they had studied their findings from before sending them out across the galaxy. For decades this former science vessel had changed hands with dozens of owners. Everyone from crime bosses, politicians, and even had even been used as a military outpost by the Galactic Alliance. Now it served as a something far simpler.
Being placed in a system on the intersection of both the Outer Rim, the Core Worlds, and Mandalorian Space, this space station had become a bit of a travel hub. Merchants from every corner of the galaxy and star jockeys from the fringes of society converged on the space station now known as Black Luster.
From the observation deck of a small transport vessel closing in on the station, several youthful eyes watched in awe as the station and multitudes of ships came into view. Sweetie Belle, Applebloom, and Scootaloo couldn’t quite put into words the sight they were beholding. A massive spinning top with long thick arms rising from a main disc at intervals, just sitting above a rust colored orb. Ships of all different shapes and sizes drifted to and from the massive platform that only got bigger and bigger as they got closer to it. How could they possibly explain this to their classmates back home?
This awestruck silence did not last as the three of them began to excitedly chatter away about all the possibilities this new location held for them. The things they might find there, the wonders it held and the multitudes of aliens no doubt calling it home, but most importantly was the fact that this, like all things, held the chance to gain their much desired cutie marks.
The excited chatter drifted out the doorway and into the ears of the passing mare levitating a mug of hot liquid. Twilight Sparkle couldn’t help but give the children an amused smile as she listened to them list off the multitudes of things they wanted to do. Shaking her head a bit at the wonders of the young mind and its imagination, the scholarly Unicorn made her way towards the cockpit.
It had only been a few hours since she and Shin’ima had both agreed to let the children go onboard the station when they stopped to fuel up. All four of them met the stipulation of completing their reports for Cheerilee. What’s more, they might even find a few more things to tell the other kids back home about.
Taking an absent minded sip of her beverage, the mage recoiled a bit in disgust as she glared down at the contents. Just as she feared, Kad was right. The more she drank this “caf” stuff, the more she hated it. Still, she couldn’t argue with its effectiveness.
Entering the cockpit, she found the mother/son team of Shin’ima and Casus Skirata making final preparations to land. Shin’ima had been doing the majority of the work while delegating a few minor but important tasks to her son. The boy happily complied as he followed his mother’s lead.
“Our VIPs are getting themselves all riled up for their next big adventure.” Twilight informed them as she settled into one of the empty seats.
Shin’ima didn’t have to look she could feel the pair of young eager eyes looking up at her. With a smile she ruffled Casus’ hair. “I’ll finish up here, why don’t you go see what your friends are up to.”
With a wide grin, Casus wasted no time in jumping away from the controls and darting off into the ship. Twilight watched the boy scurry off as quickly as his legs could carry him. It was admittedly very adorable how the young alien refused to be left out of the chaos that seemed to follow those three fillies. Those four certainly set a good example to other children about accepting somepony, alien or not.
Sipping on her cup of caf, Twilight watched as the looming station started to fill up the view from the cockpit, “Technological marvels, floating through the vastness of space with the size and scale of which nopony has ever dreamed possible. And yet this is probably an everyday thing for you.” She mused to the Pantoran woman beside her.
“Actually, I grew up at that temple back on Talgear and didn’t see space until I was a little older than the kids.” Shin’ima pointed out to Twilight before giving her a smile. “I’m still amazed at how easy it is to travel from one world to another. I hope I never lose that.”
With the ship landed and secured for refueling, Twilight and Shin’ima lead their young charges to the main elevator to see the promenade. As the metal double doors slid open the three young fillies stared out, eyes wide and mouths agape. At the Jedi Temple, they had seen a wide variety of the different species and races that populated the galaxy, even seen a number of different kinds walking around Ponyville as of late, but this was something on a far larger and less ordered scale.
Aliens of a wide array walked about the main floor of the station. Merchant stands and shops had been set up all along the walls of the wide circular room, just like the market place back home. Flashing brightly colored signs with colorful advertisements had been plastered across every empty spot on every wall with strange alien languages. The air was filled with the sounds of a thousand voices, some speaking Basic, the rest a plethora of unrecognizable words. The scent of foods and spices from other worlds filled the air and tantalized the senses and imaginations of the children.
The four children all shared an excited look before trying to bolt only to find themselves scooped up in a translucent purple aura. “Not so fast kids.” Twilight said as she floated them back to the ground between herself and Shin’ima. “Now, before we turn you four loose we have some ground rules this time.”
“Firstly, no crusading.” Shin’ima cautioned with a look in her eye that gave all four reason to pause and step back. “I don’t want you hurting yourselves or someone else while we’re here.”
“Secondly, all of you are going to stay within sight of either Shin’ima or myself.” The Unicorn added as she looked them over.
“And finally, we have one more project from Cheerilee for you all.” Shin’ima gave a pause to let them get their belly aching out of the way.
“This one I think you little ones are going to enjoy.” Twilight said with a smile as she levitated each of them a piece of currency they had come to know as credits. “Each of you are getting ten credits, you are to use this money to purchase something to remember this trip with. Just remember that when you get back to Ponyville, you’ll have to give a report to the class about what makes what you brought back so special and why it reminds you of the trip.”
“Really, that’s it?” Sweetie Belle asked as she looked over the metallic stick of gold in her hooves.
“That sounds easy!” Scootaloo happily declared.
“Least we don’t gotta write noth’in this time.” Casus stated in triumph.
“Now then,” Shin’ima continued, “hold onto those credits children and remember to spend them wisely. It has to be on something that actually holds some kind of meaning about this trip for you.”
“What was you said about this being easy?” Sweetie Belle grumbled as her eyes passed over yet another collection of trinkets and wears from worlds unknown.
“Stupid sentimental value clause…” The orange Pegasus hissed in response.
The four of them had entered this latest project with eager anticipation. The chance to bring something back to Ponyville from a whole other planet was a very exciting prospect. However, as time wore on, it was becoming clearer that this was not as simple as they’d thought it would be. It was the challenge of not only staying within their budgets, but also finding something that reminded them of this field trip that was proving to be their biggest hurdle.
They came to a stop at a food stand that was being manned by a creature of thick grayish scales and horns lining the sides of his face. What had caught their eyes were the strange looking tiny creatures that had been seared to an almost blackened crisp upon thin metal rods. The three young equestrians felt their stomachs lurch as they were quickly reminded that not every species eats strictly plants.
“Ah still can’t believe some’a ya’ll eat stuff like that.” Applebloom admitted to Casus.
“I wouldn’t recommend those without dip’in sauce.” The half-Human advised them casually as he tried to keep their column moving before one of his friends got sick.
As they started on their way, Sweetie Belle found herself bumping into something that sent her falling backwards onto her haunches. Shaking her head clear of the initial shock she found herself at eye level with a short stocky creature. Its face was flattened into a snout like appearance much like a pig, it even had tusks along the sides of his mouth and a pinkish hued skin and small beady eyes.
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to bump into you like that.” The filly quickly apologized.
With a wide grin the small creature offered her a hand up. “Not to worry ‘bout it miss, my fault completely.” He said in a friendly tone. “I’m guess’in this’s yer first time on the station young’in.”
With a wide smile she nodded happily. “Yep, me and my friends are on a really important field trip, we’re the first ponies to travel to a whole ‘nother planet.” Sweetie Belle stated with no shortage of pride.
“Sweetie Belle,” Shin’ima interrupted as she moved to stand behind the filly, “you shouldn’t stray too far from the rest of the group.”
The former Jedi’s gaze locked tightly on the small pig man causing him to shift uncomfortably away from them. “My apologies ma’am, was jus’ be’in courteous is all.” Before another word could be spoken the stocky alien scurried off to fade into the crowd.
Sweetie Belle looked from the crowd to her guardian with a look of confusion. “What was that for, he was just being nice?”
The Pantoran knelt down and placed a hand on the filly’s shoulder. “Sweetie Belle, you have to remember that this isn’t Ponyville. Not every person you meet is going to be your friend, and some of them might even try to hurt you. You need to be cautious around people you don’t know.”
All of this was clearly a lot for the young filly to process. She had been brought up around other ponies that were always friendly and ready to lend a helping hoof to one another. She knew first hoof about bullies and fully well that other cities in Equestria weren’t as nice as her little town, thanks to her father’s complaints over the morning paper. But now she was someplace where somepony might actually try to hurt her? A shiver went through her spine and her stomach turned to knots as an image of herself charred and lashed to a metal stick entered her mind.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Skirata, I promise I won’t talk to anymore strangers.” The Unicorn said in slightly shaken tone.
Her protector gave her mane a teasing muss and an approving smile. “It’s quite alright dear, just remember to stay on the side of caution when dealing with people you don’t know.”
As she rejoined the rest of her friends, she found them browsing a collection of model ships that Casus had clearly talked them into stopping for. The filly stifled a giggle as the young boy practically drooled over the wide variety of ships. Not a one of the Crusaders could understand the allure of tiny plastic spaceships that you had to put together.
Sweetie Belle noticed that in her absence Applebloom and Scootaloo had both completed the challenge. Applebloom had found a scarf that shifted colors between red, yellow and green. Scootaloo had found a rather nice looking bag that she had been promised could hold over a hundred kilos. The Equestrian turned Squire had no idea how much weight that really was, but it sounded like a lot to her.
The young Unicorn’s gaze moved over the surrounding shop stalls until she spotted something that more or less called to her from the next stand over. She trotted over to the stand to behold a dull red crystal beset by a ring of dark metallic material connected to a golden chain. Her eyes went wide as she realized that this was exactly what she needed. It represented the trip as a whole perfectly, the stone was the same dusty red as the planet below them, and the dark ring was just like the station’s hull.
Waving a hoof to get the shop keeper’s attention. “Excuse me sir, I was wondering how much this necklace cost?”
Stroking a pair of long strands of facial hair, the seemingly reptilian being looked the object over. “Hmmm, this old piece’a scrap? Tell you what small fry, ten credits and it’s yours.”
Sweetie Belle beamed excitedly as she reached a hoof into the pocket of her dress. Her excitement swiftly changed to confusion, and then that gave way to worry. She felt about the inside of her dress pocket, trying to locate the ten credits she had been given earlier. In a panic she checked the other pocket as well only to find nothing.
An icy ball formed in her stomach as something came to mind. That stocky pig man, when he helped her up, he dusted her off. She couldn’t believe it, that alien who seemed so friendly, he robbed her. Tears threatened to pour from the small Unicorn’s wide eyes as this fact pressed down on her.
“Hey Sweetie Belle, are you alright?” Scootaloo’s question dragged her back to the present.
Glancing around herself, Sweetie Belle found herself surrounded by her friends, all of whom carried looks of concern. Further study revealed that thankfully their guardians were taking a moment to look over some wears that had caught their eyes. Looking back to her friends, she struggled to put to words what had just happened, her face reddening and scrunching up in frustration. “I… I… I think I was just robbed…”
All three faces took on a look of shock as this information was given to them. “What, robbed, by who?” Casus snarled as his gaze shifted about the crowd.
“It… it had to be that little pig man that bumped into me.” Sweetie Belle said as she started to break free from her sense of shock. “I should let Twilight and Mrs. Skirata know about this.”
“Wait, I got a better idea.” Casus stated with a grin. “I say we find this thief an’ get your credits back.”
“How’re we supposed to do that?” Scootaloo asked with no shortage of skepticism.
“C’mon Scootaloo, you an’ me are supposed to be Knights someday.” The young man reminded her. “Stop’in some petty thief who went an’ picked our friend’s pocket’ll be par for the course for us.”
“Well… I guess you’ve got a point there.” Scootaloo admitted.
“That’s all well an’ good,” Applebloom chimed in, “but how we gonna do that with yer ma an’ Twilight watch’in us?”
“By be’in tactical.” Casus said with a devious grin as slipped an arm around the Earth pony’s shoulder then motioned for the others to huddle up. “Okay, so here’s the plan…”
“It looks nice, but I doubt Kad’d ever wear it without a lot of browbeating.” Shin’ima commented on the jacket in front of them.
Glancing back to their young charges, Twilight found only two of the four children trying rather hard to appear casual. “Applebloom, Scootaloo, where are Sweetie Belle and Casus?”
The pair shared a look before Scootaloo spoke up. “She had to use the bathroom.”
“And why did she need my son to go with her?” Shin’ima questioned the fillies.
“She needed somepony what could read alien talk.” Applebloom quickly replied.
“That and we wanted to give you two some time to enjoy all the neat shops and stuff.” Scootaloo added with a wide smile and hopeful eyes.
Far removed from the main group, Casus and Sweetie Belle made their way through the crowds of aliens and travelers. The little Unicorn trotted close beside her humanoid counterpart as her young mind continued to make sense of all of this. How could somepony just take something that isn’t theirs?
Her parents and even her sister had always told her about how it was wrong to take other pony’s things. Stealing was wrong. She didn’t know everything about alien races and cultures, but she knew even they didn’t think taking what isn't theirs was right. Didn’t anypony ever teach that pig thing the difference between what was right and what was wrong?
Her companion however was more focused on their current mission. His eyes scanned the crowds around them over and over again as he ran Sweetie Belle’s description through his head. According to her, he was a short creature with pink skin, beady eyes, and a flat upturned nose. Casus was not about to let this guy hurt one of his friends and get away with it, not when he was on their trail.
His friend, however, was less than hopeful. “Casus, I don’t think we’re gonna find him. He’s probably long gone by now…” Sweetie Belle moaned pitifully.
Turning on his heels, the young humanoid was eye to eye with the Unicorn. His stare filled with unyielding determination. “Don’t you go an’ talk like that, Sweetie Belle. We’re gonna find that Ugnaught that went an’ robbed ya, as a Squire I’m give’in you my word on that.”
Sweetie Belle could feel a touch of red starting to push into her cheeks as the boy spoke directly to her. Finally feeling a touch of confidence as well she nodded in agreement. “Right, let’s go find that Ug-whatever!”
Their confidence bolstered and their mission resumed, Casus and Sweetie Belle both went about scanning the crowd for any signs of this Ugnaught. As time passed by in relative silence, Casus couldn’t help but try to incite some conversation. “So, what were ya gonna buy to show off for the class?”
“It was this really simple looking necklace,” Sweetie Belle replied. “It had a rusty looking crystal in the center with this dull looking border around it.”
“Huh, so what makes it so special to ya?” Casus asked with a glance over his shoulder to her.
“Oh, well, you see the gem is all rusty looking like the planet and the pendant it’s faceted to is just like the outside of this place.” Sweetie Belle happily said with a smile. “What about you?”
Casus chuckled at her question. “I was just gonna buy some new model, make up’a story ‘bout why it reminds me of the trip.”
Sweetie Belle took a moment to pick this plan apart before trotting up alongside him. “That seems a little underhoofed don’t you think? Not to mention lazy.”
Just as the young man was about to give a retort to his companion’s critique, his eye caught a glimpse of someone familiar. “Oi, Belle, that the guy ya were talk’in ‘bout?”
Casting her gaze in the direction Casus was pointing, her eyes went wide with realization. Sitting off to the side of the promenade upon an overturned crate was a small human like creature. It was short and stocky with pinkish skin, beady eyes, a pair of tusks on either side of his mouth, and a flat upturned nose like a pig. The filly could feel the urge to make a mad dash at the little pigman, to scream her head off at him for his foul actions. Biting down hard, she suppressed these urges as anger quickly moved to replace shock and dismay.
“That’s him…” She snarled out.
“Ya sure ‘bout that?” Casus asked as he looked between her and the Ugnaught down the way. “Lotta Ugnaughts work in places like this an’ I don’t wanna start a scene over the wrong guy.”
Sweetie Belle carefully picked everything about this alien’s appearance as she replayed the scene in her head over and over again. Then something in her replay rushed to the forefront of her mind. It was something she’d missed the first time she met him, only glancing over it, but it certainly set him apart from everypony else. “If it’s him, he’ll have a scar on his chin.”
With a smirk the humanoid child began the stroll through the crowds towards the stocky alien. This was something he could use to nail this guy with for sure. As he and his companion made a direct path towards their target, he slowly became aware of a number of eyes not watching him and Sweetie Belle. Through the Force he could feel their presence moving in around them as they drew closer to the Ugnaught. What’s more, as the alien’s features came fully into view, Casus caught sight of a scar right where Sweetie Belle said it would be.
The stocky porcine finally took notice as the half human and his companion approached, “Eh, what’s with this ‘ere? What d’ya kids want?”
Sweetie Belle’s heart began to race as she suddenly became very well aware of how quickly this situation was escalating. She glanced around at the quickly encroaching aliens that had them more or less surrounded. They all looked rough and ragged, like bandits from one of her story books, each one fairly well armed and dropping glares down upon her and Casus.
Her hoof tugged at Casus’ arm as she whispered to him. “Cas, I don’t think this is such a good idea anymore…”
“Relax, I can handle these guys.” He whispered back to try and calm her down. Narrowing his gaze on their target he spoke with as much authority as his small body could afford him. “Oi, I think ya might’ve picked up somethin’ that belongs to my friend, give it back.”
With a squealing chuckle the stocky pigman burst into a boisterous laughter over the bold accusations. “Hah, you call’in me’a thief boy?”
Sweetie Belle glanced around as the glares of their no doubt soon to be attackers started to deepen. Some of them even resting hands and other various appendages on their weapons. Fear snaked its way through the small filly’s body as she looked all around at the impossible odds.
Using her grip on his sleeve she continued to try and retake his attention with a growing panic as she whispered. “Casus, I really don’t think this is a good idea. Let’s just go back, please.”
Her pleas fell on deaf ears as his attention stayed riveted on the pigman. His young mind was already trying to predict everything about how this fight will go, always ending with him standing in triumph with his friend’s lost credits in hand. Granted, all of them were older, and bigger, and had more muscle mass than him. It also didn’t help that he was unarmed and all of these guys clearly were anything but. Still, he had all the skills and Force techniques he’d learned from his parents first hand, these guys didn’t stand a chance.
Not wanting to back down from a brawl, no matter the odds, Casus brought an accusing finger level with the alien. “Ya got my friend’s credits, now hand’em over an’ we’ll be on our way.”
“Casus, please, let’s just forget about it and go.” Sweetie Belle begged in a shaky tone as she latched herself tightly to the boy’s arm.
“You should listen ta yer girlfriend there, sonny.” The Ugnaught snorted at him.
Casus’ face shifted from his trademark pale to a bright crimson with this teasing remark. “S-shut up, she’s just my friend an’ ya stole somethin’ from ‘er. Now hand it over right now!”
The sounds of all the thugs laughing at the boy’s response only served to deepen his embarrassment. It was made even worse as several of them started making comments and poking fun at him about “his choice in women.” He could’ve sworn one of them even proclaimed that he thought they looked cute together. Casus tightened his firsts till the knuckles became bone white, every muscle in his body tensed as he readied himself to charge forward into the fray.
As he tried to take that first step, Sweetie Belle suddenly blocked his path. Her eyes were wide and filled with fear, and what looked to be tears started to form in the corners of her eyes. She shook slightly as her gaze begged and pleaded with him not to do this. Looking into those eyes, all the fight that had been built up inside his tiny body vanished like mist.
With a defeated sigh the boy looked past Sweetie Belle towards the Ugnaught. “My mistake sir, got ya mixed up with someone else.”
As the children turned to leave their exit was quickly shut. “You brats’ve got a lotta nerve, think ya can jus’ come’ere an’ accuse me’a steal’in like that then walk away?” The pigman bellowed from his crate. “Oh no, you younglings’re gonna pay fer this insult.”
“Excuse us gentlecolts,” a firm feminine voice spoke from beyond the crowd, “but don’t you think it’s a bit excessive to push a pair of children around like that?”
All eyes quickly fell upon the Pantoran woman and lavender Unicorn now standing behind the crowd. Casus and Sweetie Belle felt their hearts leap in joy at the sight of their guardians. Shin’ima’s hand rested upon the hilt hanging from her belt, fingers dangerously close to wrapping around the weapon and activating it. Her icy glare fixated upon the assumed leader of these misfits. Twilight’s horn glowed dangerously bright as she readied one of the many powerful spells at her disposal. She scanned the crowd over and over with a fierce glare as she watched for any kind of movement against them or the children.
The trip back to the ship had been one of lectures and browbeating as both Twilight and Shin’ima took turns pointing out what the children did and why it was wrong. Neither Casus nor Sweetie Belle uttered a single word as they took wave after wave of disappointed finger wagging.
Upon reaching the ship, Sweetie Belle sadly slinked off to the observation deck. She curled herself up upon the cushioned dais at the center of the room. Scootaloo and Applebloom had already been sent to the ship and been waiting for their fellow Crusader to return.
“Sweetie Belle,” Scootaloo eagerly called to her as she closed the distance, “so did you find him, did you make that jerk pay?”
“No,” Sweetie Belle grumbled in retort as she avoided eye contact with her friends. “He managed to get away AND get me and Casus in trouble.”
“What, but that ain’t fair.” Applebloom protested. “He can’t jus’ take some’in from somepony an’ walk away like that!”
“It doesn’t matter.” She sighed as her hoof pushed into the cushiony fabric. “We’re about to leave the station and there’s no way Twilight or Mrs. Skirata are gonna let me go back to the promenade.”
Her depressing thoughts came to a swift stop as she felt something slip around her neck from above. With a thud, a dull looking pendant bearing a rusted red gem stone at its center plopped down in front of her. Sweetie Belle quickly looked over her shoulder just in time to see Casus’ back as he walked away from the fillies and deeper into the ship without a word.
Shocked by this random act of kindness she looked between the doorway and the necklace now hanging from around her neck. She could barely hear Scootaloo or Applebloom trying to make sense of the seemingly random act of kindness. A touch of red once again started to fill Sweetie Belle’s cheeks as a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Smiling from ear to ear, the filly held the pendant tightly between her hooves, pressing it to her cheek blushing profusely.
Casus didn’t make it far in his trek away from his friends when he felt a pair of eyes suddenly resting on him. Glancing over his shoulder he found Twilight in the hallway leaning up against a wall, a fresh cup of caf levitating beside her. She gave the young humanoid a knowing smile as she watched him.
“I’m gonna go catch some sleep in the bunk room.” He informed her. “Lemme know when we’re home please.”
There was no response from the Unicorn, just that stare and that smile. Casus could feel himself losing the fight to keep his cheeks free and clear of the ever encroaching touch of red.
“W-what’s with the look huh?” Casus asked defensively. “She said she wanted to make to show off the necklace to our class so I thought I’d get it for’er.”
His face was starting to turn beet red as he kept fishing around for excuses. “All I did was a favor for a pal. Honestly, you ponies read way too much emotion into junk.”
In a fit of frustration and an annoyed growl the younger humanoid quickly made for the bunks as he grumbled about how stupid the whole thing was. Twilight couldn’t help but giggle at the young boy’s antics and flustered condition as he sped away from her. Taking another long sip of the hot bitter drink she made her way back to the cockpit as she decided whether or not to hand this embarrassing information over to Rainbow Dash or not. After all, she’d told her that she and the boy had a bit of a score to settle.
A beautiful autumn day had settled upon the small town of Ponyville; the warm sun and cool breeze that drifted through the trees spoke a promise the wonderful day ahead. This brought a wide smile to the face one Pegasus in particular. Her golden coat drank in the life-giving rays as she flexed her wings to tease her feathers with the wind. Long, flowing locks of bright pink drifted from her mane and tail as her soft blue eyes scanned the pristine horizon. A long, jagged scar marred the mare’s otherwise flawless face, running downward over her left eye; a mark of valor she proudly displayed.
Fluttershy happily trotted her way down the path from her quaint little cottage towards the town. Her chores finished for the day and her animal friends fed, she was free to indulge the afternoon away with her friends. As she neared the town proper, she spied something down the road that tugged her smile all the wider and quickened her pace.
Down the path, a young human sat casually upon a fence that ran along one side of the dirt road. He was in his early twenties and possessed a lithe, athletic build; he was clad in a pair of light grey pants and a pair of combat boots, a jacket of light brown material and a dull green shirt hung over his upper body. He had a head of short-kempt, bright red hair that looked to have been left to the mercy of the wind today; around his neck was a scarf made of a dull grey fabric. His green eyes lit up as the mare made her approach.
As he dismounted the fence, Fluttershy half-hovered to close the distance with a few quick flaps of her wings; she happily called out before throwing her forelimbs tightly around his neck as she let herself settle onto her hind legs. Standing upright, the mare found herself roughly the same height as the human.
“You’re early, Arkanna.” She softly cooed.
“Nothing wrong with wanting to see my favorite girl, is there?” He asked playfully as he gave the mare hanging from him a squeeze around her waist. The Mandalorian was treated to the sweet sound of her soft giggle and a flush of red entering her cheeks.
“Not at all! I mean, if you really want to, that is.” She stammered out in her soft, lilting tone.
With a predatory smirk, he inched a bit closer to her face until his nose was against her snout. Arkanna tried his best not to start snickering when her blush deepened at his advance. He could feel her heart beat punching rapidly through her breast into him.
“You should be careful, giving me free reign like that.” Arkanna said in a low, teasing growl as he held the nervous mare a bit tighter. After a few satisfying minutes of letting her stew a bit, his lips quickly found her cheek.
Fluttershy gave him a mock glare before letting her head rest against his chest. “I wish you wouldn’t tease me like that.”
“I can’t help it,” He snickered in reply, “you’re just too damned cute when ya get flustered.”
The trip into Ponyville proper was a slow and pleasant walk for the warrior and the Pegasus. Fluttershy practically beamed the entire trip as she stayed close beside Arkanna, her wing draped around his lower back. A touch of red seeped past her golden fur to paint her cheeks when she felt his fingers idly brush through her hair. Part of her was disappointed when they finally reached their destination.
With a touch of reluctance, Fluttershy removed her wing from her “coltfriend’s” back and took a seat at the open air café. Still, it felt impossible for her to lose the smile that was now plastered upon her face. She’d nearly forgotten how good it could feel to care about somepony that wasn’t one of the many critters she watched over, or just one of her friends. It was something she feared she may never feel again.
Despite how she currently felt, it had been a long road leading to where she sat now. Arkanna had been so strange in her eyes at first, not just in the way he looked, but also the ways he acted and the world he came from. He had saved both her life and the lives of her friends, sparking her curiosity. As the conflict that threatened her world and her people was brought to a close, Fluttershy had returned the favor and saved his life as well, earning her the scar resting upon her face and the affections of the young warrior.
As they continued to spend time together, she stopped seeing him for what he was and more for who he was. Arkanna Kershom was a light-hearted soul that, despite his hardships, still found every reason to smile and enjoy life. He may have been seen as a subpar warrior and soldier by the standards of many of his peers but that never stopped him from pushing himself to his limits.
He wasn’t without his faults, however. After all, no one was perfect. His sarcastic nature could easily cross the line into coming off as rather childish, and would start to wear on just about anypony’s patience. Arkanna was also anything but the most intelligent creature in the galaxy and was prone to making poorly thought-out snap decisions. But these flaws and all the others only helped to magnify his virtues.
As their emotions grew stronger, she could feel other barriers start to crumble away in their wake. She had begun to find a number of things physically attractive about the young man who now sat across from her. That bright red mane of his that always seemed to remind her of the leaves during fall was rather fetching, in her opinion. She had come to adore the feel of his arms tightly wrapped around her, as well as the touch of his fingers through her fur and mane. The strange feel of his skin against her still sent shivers down her spine as it contrasted with her fur. Most of all though, were those eyes of his. Fluttershy adored those green orbs that held a touch of a childish spark, she could spend hours simply staring into them and find contentment.
It wasn’t until the waitress repeated herself, “Ma’am, would you like to place a drink order?” That she realized she’d let herself get lost staring into those eyes a lot longer than she probably should have.
Fluttershy’s face became beet red before quickly hiding behind the long, pink strands of her mane. “Uhm, yes. A sweet tea, please…” She managed to squeak out.
With their waitress trotting away with their order, Arkanna could barely hold back a playful snicker as Fluttershy shrank into her seat. “What was that all about Mesh’la?”
A soft smile slipped past her wall of soft pink tresses, accompanied by a deep blush. “Oh, nothing,” she whispered.
It didn’t take long before she crawled her way out of her self-imposed exile as her confidence returned to her. This had become an effect he had on her, this bolstered sense of self that was eager to be alongside him. In no time at all, Fluttershy started filling the empty air with idle small talk. She began bringing Arkanna up to speed on the well-being of her beloved critter friends. A number of whom she was sad to say, had not returned to her since the Deathwatch attacked Ponyville.
Fluttershy had carried on for the better part of the next ten minutes before she noticed something. She had been dominating the majority of the conversation. While Arkanna appeared receptive to what she had to say and was responding as such, his gaze seemed to track something else. As her words slowed to a stop, she ventured a glance to find a group of aliens and even one particular dark-coated Pegasus stallion all garbed in military casual.
Before Arkanna knew it, his view was filled by a pair of sad cerulean orbs. “Is everything okay?” She asked gently.
A forced smile came to his lips as he said to her, “Yeah; everything’s fine, Shy.”
It didn’t take long under her gaze for his defenses to start cracking about their foundations. When her hooves reached out and clasped around his hand, they had turned to dust, only to be obliterated by the soft breeze of her voice. “Tell me.”
With a sigh he took her hoof in his hand, tracing about the limb in his grasp with his thumb. “It’s just that… back at the camp, I see the other soldiers coming and going from the battlefields. They talk about the fights they’ve been in and the enemies they’ve faced. But here I am, stuck on a perfect planet, with a perfect girl and I feel so useless for it.”
“Y-you don’t like it here?” She asked, with a strong hint of worry in her voice.
“No,” Arkanna quickly corrected her before clapping both hands around her forehooves and placing a kiss on them, “I love it here. Equestria is an amazing place and I’m honored to be one of the few off-worlders to be given the privilege to call it home. I love every second I’ve gotten to spend with you because of it. But…”
His voice trailed off a moment as he gave her hooves a soft squeeze. “From the time I was a little kid, I was taught to be a warrior, to defend and protect our people. Now Deathwatch is tearing into our worlds left and right, I guess it just makes me feel kinda useless in the long run.” With a grumble he ran a hand through his hair as he threw his gaze around the town square. “I know Kad’s got good reasons for staying here; he has to help bring your planet up to speed. Gotta protect this area, being the only Knight in this system, and he’s got his kid and new apprentice to train.”
Fluttershy stared sadly at him for a time. She wanted to say something, anything to break this somber mood that had settled around them. No matter how she struggled though, her voice refused to leave her throat. Words no longer willing to give her any aid, she reached her wing out to brush the soft plumage across his cheek. With a thoughtful smile, she watched as he tilted his cheek into her affection. A shiver danced along the wing and through her spine when he reached up and took the feathered limb in his hand, playfully brushing through the down.
“Yeah, I guess I’m thinking too hard on this, aren’t I?” He pointed out with a chuckle.
Ponyville’s marketplace was full of its usual hustle and bustle as Ponies went about their daily errands. In the heavily Equestrian crowd, Arkanna found himself the odd one out. He stayed close behind Fluttershy as she made her purchases and haggled the prices when necessary, though he had a feeling that the alien escorting her about may have helped get her a few bargains. His arms had been loaded down with her purchases, mostly out of his insistence, as he let her haggle with a rather abrasive mare over the price of something called cinnamon.
He made use of this time to travel back to what they had discussed at the restaurant. Here he was, on this pretty little planet in this peaceful village with a pretty girl. All the while, his people are locked in a conflict that may very well decide the future of their society. Ponyville wasn’t an unpleasant place to be stuck by any means; it was surrounded with lush and beautiful land which held wonders that he had yet to see replicated on most worlds. The citizens, while taking some time to warm up to him and his kind, were all very friendly and welcoming, several of which had made it a point to befriend him.
One of whom, the young soldier had managed to spot in the crowds. Her name was Golden Harvest, though most referred to her as Carrot Top, an Earth Pony with quite the talent as a gardener. She possessed a golden coat coupled with the bright orange curls of her hair and tail, with a pair of deep green eyes. He had met her through Fluttershy when she had called in the Pegasus’ help to remove a group of critters that had been helping themselves to her garden. The pair had gotten to talking while Fluttershy coaxed the animals to leave; they soon found they had a few things in common.
Her attention had been fixated mostly upon a collection of seeds that had been set out for display. As she caught sight of Arkanna, her eyes lit up happily as she trotted her way over to the warrior and his mare. “Arkanna,” She happily called out to him, “jeez, am I glad to see you.”
Her overly eager tone told him quite a bit about her intentions. “And I wonder why that might be.” He answered with no shortage of sarcasm.
The Earth Pony gave him a rough shove to the gut with her hoof disguised as a playful nudge. “What, I can’t be happy to see one of my favorite bucket heads?”
“You mean besides the last time you had a smile like that, you guilted me into weeding your garden for you?” Arkanna reminded her.
“Small favors between friends.” She was quick to defend herself with. “Speaking of favors though. Pretty close to lunch time and I’m running kinda short on bits, you know, what with taking care of my one mare business and trying to keep up with the new influx of demand that your camp brings in.”
He could already see where this was going. “Whoa, you want me to buy you lunch now?”
“Oh c’mon, I bought for you.” She replied pitifully.
“You said that was payment for the yard work.”
“A few bits between buddies is nothing big.” She assured him. “I’d pay for you, given the chance. Besides, I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Speak your mind, not like you ever stop anyways.” He pointed out while adding Fluttershy’s latest purchase to the growing load.
She glanced between Fluttershy and Arkanna a moment. “This is more of a private matter.” She said cautiously. “C’mon, I’ll tell you while you buy me some grub.”
“It’s okay.” Fluttershy interjected before he could reply. “I was done with my errands anyways. I’ll see you back at the cottage?” She asked him with a strong hint of hopefulness in her voice.
“Try an’ keep me away.” Arkanna replied with a cocky grin.
Golden Harvest waited patiently while he handed off the shopping bags to the soft-spoken Pegasus. She couldn’t help but grin as she watched Fluttershy snake a quick kiss from the young human’s lips. The deep lines of red that now burned through the nervous mare’s coat were nothing short of adorable in Harvest’s opinion. As cute as it was to watch the pair, she was still hungry; with a nudge, she gave Arkanna a reminder of this problem.
For the second time today, Arkanna found himself sitting across from a hungry mare who was more than happy to enjoy a lunch on his coin. The mare across from him happily helped herself to the collection of fruits and vegetables in front of her; it still struck the human as odd that the Equestrians could eat things like flowers and other plants. Those fruits looked pretty good, though.
“So, you gonna tell me what’s on your mind, or do I have to guess?” He asked with a hint of annoyance.
Golden Harvest rolled her eyes at his comment while she finished her salad off. “A hard working mare like me needs her strength, Arkanna.” She scolded him before taking another deliberate bite of food. “Besides, haven’t known you to do anything on an empty stomach either. Speaking of,” she continued, “very glad you decided to take me up on lunch. I really enjoy these moments, ya know.”
Arkanna’s attention for the most part was less on the conversation and more on his dwindling credit supply. “Uh huh.”
The Earth mare took a moment to glance around the café while his attention was off on the distance. She cursed herself under her breath, but she needed to do this. With a deep breath she steeled her resolve before making her move.
“I really do appreciate it,” she said in a low tone, “with the hours I work, well, I get so few chances to spend time with the opposite sex.”
Something about the way she said that set off a few alarms in Arkanna’s head, snapping him out of his bored fog. “Huh?”
Before he had any real inkling of what was happening, her back hoof beneath the table began tracing up the side of his leg. One of her fore hooves rested upon his hand atop the table. When he met her gaze, the young human was met with the softly lilting, half lidded eyes of the mare across from him.
“Carrot Top, what do you think you’re doing?” He asked cautiously as her eyes picked him apart.
She gave him a hungry smile as she continued run her hoof along the back of his hand. “Arkanna, I know how this might sound to you, but, I’ve been rather envious of Fluttershy since she managed to catch one of you off-worlders.”
Golden Harvest leaned in a bit closer to him as she continued to trace his forearm. “Fluttershy is such a sweet thing, but, I can see how she strings you along, you poor boy.” She brought herself barely an inch from his face. “I know how to treat a stallion, how to give you everything you want.”
A firm hand came against her chest and pushed her back into her seat. Harvest found herself now staring into the surprisingly stern eyes of the young soldier. “Gold, I don’t know what kinda game you’re trying to play here, but it stops right now, you copy?”
“If you don’t like this one, I’ve got other ways we can play.” She said with bedroom eyes.
“Okay, I think I’m just gonna go.” He said while dropping a few credits on the table as he started to take his leave. “Enjoy the lunch.”
Her sultry look was quickly replaced with a look of satisfaction. “Oh, thank Celestia.” She breathed out in relief. “Sorry about stringing you on like that, bucket head, but I had to make sure.”
“Wha- what do you mean, be sure?” He asked with a strong tint of annoyance in his voice.
“Your intentions with Fluttershy,” She replied casually while popping a piece of fruit into her mouth. As she glanced up at him, she caught the look of confusion still dominating his gaze. “Look, Fluttershy’s been through a lot before you got here; worst of all was that last worthless jerk she ended up with.”
“Fluttershy had another guy in her life?” He asked cautiously as he returned to his seat.
Golden Harvest rolled her eyes at his response. “Yes, well, believe it or not, we all had lives long before any of you showed up. Heck, I would assume you’ve had marefriends before meeting Fluttershy.”
“Well… yeah, okay, I see your point.” He admitted in a defeated tone. After a short pause he couldn’t help but ask what was burrowing under his skin now. “So what happened with this shabuir?”
She glanced up at him from her meal while trying to carefully pick out her next words. “A few years back, Fluttershy had met a rather handsome stallion who seemed to always have the right things to say.” Harvest pushed the food on her plate around as she sifted through the memories. “A lot of us who knew her were all really happy for her. At first, anyways.”
With a sigh she kept her story going. “It’s my fault, really; I knew something was up when I saw him ogling Rose and chatting her up like he was. But I didn’t say or do anything, just told myself it wasn’t my business and that Fluttershy had friends that’d take care of it. When I heard about you two, well, I’m so sorry, but I had to make sure it wasn’t going to happen again.”
“So what is it that happened?” Arkanna asked her anxiously.
“Well, he seemed alright at first. Was nice enough to get through her shell, after all.” She continued to recount the experience. “As time went on though, I started noticing the ‘little things’. He would walk all over her, talk down to her and find just about any reason to argue with her. All the while he’d be eyeing other mares. That was just the stuff I saw as a bystander though, anything else I could tell you is just rumors and the like. Whatever he did to her, left her in tears for months.”
Looking up from her plate she caught the dangerous glint in the Mandalorian’s eyes. She gave his shoulder a rough nudge while holding his gaze. “Don’t, I know what’s going through that head of yours, just don’t.”
“What, I wasn’t gonna…” He slowed to a stop as her sharp green eyes tore his excuse apart. “Okay, maybe I was considering burrowing that disruptor cannon the sergeant left to the Commander and taking a little road trip. ‘Sides, hunting his sheb down’d give me something to do besides drills and target practice.”
“Do you really think killing somepony would make Fluttershy happy?” Her blunt question clearly threw him off his vengeful track. “Besides, bucket head, you’ve got plenty to take care of already. You should hurry home and make her happy.”
The walk back to Fluttershy’s cottage gave Arkanna plenty of time to think on everything that Golden Harvest had told him. Who was this guy that’d been with her before Arkanna had met Fluttershy, what had he done to hurt her? The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to hunt whoever it was down and tear his organs out through his mouth then choke him to death with them.
Do you really think killing somepony would make Fluttershy happy? Harvest’s words echoed in his mind and derailed his vengeful train of thought. He hated admitting it, but she had a good point. She was uncomfortable with him carrying a weapon as it is, it was one of the reasons he didn’t carry a sidearm around her. The last thing he would want is to see the look of pain and horror on her face if he went and slaughtered some waste of food.
When he reached the front door of the cottage, he was made to pause when he heard her voice on the other side of the door. “Oh, no, no, no, Angel, I told you that wasn’t for you.” She said sadly.
With no warning, the lower half of the two-stack doorway flew open and a tiny white blur sped between Arkanna’s legs. Before he could react, a pink and gold ball of fur and feathers slammed into his stomach and knocked him to the ground, knocking the air out of his lungs. As his vision started to clear he caught sight of the poorly-labeled bunny rabbit giving him a rude gesture before vanishing into the underbrush.
“I hate that rabbit.” He muttered under his breath before trying to sit up.
The weight on his chest moved with him as he sat up, bringing a pair of cerulean eyes with his. Fluttershy quickly righted herself as deep crimson pushed into her cheeks and she pulled herself away from him. “I’m sorry, I was- I was fixing something for later tonight-“ She stammered nervously while trying to avoid his gaze. “And, well, Angel kind of got into my ingredients and-“
He watched the mare in front of him stammer and try to explain her situation to him for a moment. Her hooves fumbled nervously while she hid herself behind a curtain of pink tresses and a wall of golden feathers. Despite it all, Arkanna could feel the growing questions he had about her past hanging on his tongue but something held them at bay. Make her happy, Golden Harvest’s parting words rang out in his head.
His hand ventured past her defenses and pushed the long locks out of her face before bringing her eyes back to his. Fluttershy’s words fell silent as she stared into him. The feel of his hand against her cheek sent a soothing wave through her body that made her relax against his palm. A warm smile moved over his features while he held her gaze. His thumb absently stroked along her cheek bone as Arkanna rested his forehead against hers, all the while swimming through the warm seas of her eyes.
Fluttershy smiled dreamily as she stared into him, her heart throbbing in her chest as the seconds ticked by. “W-we should probably get off the front lawn.” She pointed out to him, her pet’s rebellious action now a distant memory.
With a teasing smirk, he quickly snaked his arms around the timid mare’s body and pulled her close to his chest. She let out a surprised squeak as he got to his feet, holding her tightly as her forelimbs instinctively wrapped around his neck.
“Yeah, I suppose the couch’d be a lot more comfy than the ground, anyways.” Arkanna replied gleefully. “Though, I kinda like giving your neighbors something to talk about.”
With a giggle she batted her hoof against his chest before snuggling herself into him with a content sigh. She allowed her eyes to drift closed while reveling in the warmth of his embrace. A few grunts from him caught her attention; peering over her shoulder, she saw he was having a bit of trouble opening the door and holding her at the same time. Snickering a bit, she tried hard not to laugh too much at her coltfriend’s troubles. She reached her wing out to open the door for him before wrapping the feathered appendage around his form.
This feeling of happiness and contentment that began to swell up inside the young warrior’s breast refused to quell. Despite all the uncertainty he felt earlier and the overwhelming anxiety over the current conflicts, he could feel a new spark kindle. No, this wasn’t new, he’d felt it around her before; but now, it was gaining strength and was burning him from the inside. The longer he spent with her, the stronger it became.
Arkanna was starting to understand, he did have a purpose on this planet, a reason and focus: making Fluttershy happy. The past didn’t matter, not here, not now. He couldn’t begin to give a damn about the one that hurt her so long ago, not when her arms were wrapped around him. This would be his revenge, his payback; making her feel happy and content every day he could until she couldn’t even recall the worthless core slug.
In a bright flash, the image of Rainbow Dash came to life as she stared with wide-eyed curiosity into the lens. She poked the side of the recording device while leaning in close until her left eye took up the majority of the picture. “Are you sure this thing is working, Cap?”
“Is the red light on the side lit?” A voice from outside the shot asked.
She examined the area in front of her for a moment before answering. “Yeah, it’s lit.”
“Then it should be recordin’.” He replied with a chuckle. “Now back up ad’ika, ya’re gonna have nothin’ but a close up shot sittin’ that close.”
Blue fur tinted red as Dash quickly sat back on her haunches, bringing her full image into view. “Okay, so, all I gotta do is hit that button there any time I wanna record something, then?”
“Aye,” Kad assured her as he stepped into the picture before mussing her mane. “Now you’re getting’ the hang’a it.”
Holo-recoring entry two
Rainbow Dash stood before the camera once again, looking more than a little bored. “Okay, so, Twilight seems to think I need to start talking to somepony about what I’ve been going through since Canterlot.”
Rolling her eyes, she sat back on her haunches with an annoyed sigh. “She seems to think I’m holding back something since all that chaos, just because I didn’t have a good cry or somber moment when the fighting stopped. It’s not my fault I’m a tougher pony than most.”
She tapped her hoof against her crossed forelimb. “She was going on about how I should try and write some kinda journal about how I’m doing. Honestly, I think this whole thing is just a big waste of time. Ever since she went an’ met those Jedi guys she’s been acting really weird.”
“So, at first she was all, “You should start writing a journal about your thoughts and feelings Rainbow Dash,”” she said in her best Twilight impression, “but that would be lame. So I’m gonna do something that’s obviously cooler than that. I’m gonna make use of my new toy here an’ record that kinda junk. Not like anypony else is EVER gonna see this stuff, but if they do, at least now I’ll have proof that there is nothing wrong with me.”
Leaning into the camera she stared dead into the lens. “There is nothing wrong with me.”
Holo-recording entry three
Rainbow Dash shifted uncomfortably in front of the camera. “Okay, so, something kinda, maybe, sorta happened today.”
With a groan she forced herself to settle down. “So, Twilight an’ I were going through the marketplace this afternoon, ya know, go and pay AJ a visit at ‘er stand. Well, while we were walkin’ along, something caught me by surprise.”
She bit down on her lip and her brow furrowed in contemplation. “It was a blaster. Some… some idiot, was showing a bunch of teens how his blaster worked. Scaring half to town to death! I mean, it’s only been a month since Deathwatch attacked and he thinks it’s a good idea to fire a FREAKING BLASTER near the markets.”
Taking a deep breath, she fought to control the frustration that had been growing in her voice. “But that’s only the start of it.” Worry and unease began to drip from her words. “See, while everypony else was grabbing dirt or flinching in confusion, Twilight an’ I took the nearest piece of cover we could find. Heh, it was like a switch got flipped back on for both of us. Making ourselves smaller targets, scanning the area for any signs of trouble or where the shot came from, all the stuff that Kad an’ the others taught us to do.”
Dash’s eyes became a bit distant as she shot a glance at the item strapped to her front left leg. “While Twilight was looking around for the target, I’d already drawn my vibro-knife. I was ready to kill somepony, especially if it was Deathwatch back for another round. It wasn’t until that red haze was gone that I realized the look that Twilight and so many other ponies were giving me.”
She paused a moment as she stared down at sheathed knife strapped to her forelimb. “It’s weird. Ever since that last big fight, I haven’t been able to go anywhere without this knife here.” She raised her hoof to give the camera a better look at the weapon. “When it’s not with me, I feel kind of on edge, like I’m in the middle of an open field and I just know somepony is about to do something to me.”
Unsheathing the blade, she took a moment to examine it, turning it over in her hoof. “I really like this blade; heck I love this knife. Not just because it’s a well-made knife, not that I would know the difference. I love this weapon because I earned it.”
With a deep, calming breath she returned the blade to its sheath. “Kad showed up on the scene, furious of course and tore the soldier a new one and everypony went back to minding their own business. But Twilight was still staring at me.”
“I don’t know why I’m telling anypony about this. Just thought I’d get it off my chest, I guess…”
Holo-recording entry four
Dash forced a weak smile as she sat before the camera. “Okay, so, I was watching my last recording, think I might’ve been a tad bit too dramatic.”
“I think I’ll probably go back and delete that one.” She said with an embarrassed blush.
Holo-recording entry five
“Hey, me again,” She started out as the recording kicked in. “So, I sat in on one of Kad’s lessons for the Squirt an’ his kid. I still can’t believe a Pegasus pony like Scootaloo can use that weird magic of theirs.”
Rainbow Dash practically beamed as she went on. “I always knew that kid was gonna go on to some pretty big things. But being one of those Knight guys, from what I’ve heard that’s one heck of an important job.”
“From what I’ve been told by the other Mandos, Mandalorian Knights are these magic users that protect their worlds and people.” She recalled, scratching her chin in thought. “They can all use that magic they keep calling the Force and they’re supposed to be some kind of group of super soldiers. And the Squirt’s gonna be one. That is so exciting!”
“She’s getting really good at it, too. I was nearly floored when I saw her lift a stone without touching it!” She declared with pride. “Well, at least, I would’ve been floored if my jaw wasn’t already in the way.”
“Kad’s boy, Casus, he isn’t that bad either.” She added. “He can be a bit of a little punk, but he’s an alright kid. He doesn’t hesitate to help Scoots when she can’t figure something out that he’s already gotten. They make a good team.”
“Casus is pretty lucky, he couldn’t have asked for a better group’a kids to fall in with than Scootaloo an’ ‘er gang.” A wry smile slipped across her face. “Hey, all they need is two more and they could be the next Elements of Harmony.”
Holo-recording entry six
Dash stared into the camera, a deadpan look on her face. “So… it’s been a while since we talked. I guess I just didn’t have anything important to say. Well, until now anyways.”
The recording shook a bit as she picked up the device and transferred it to a new location. Her bed was now in plain view as well as a small collection of objects that sat on the mattress. Climbing onto it, Dash adjusted her posture and location to get the picture just right.
“Okay, so, something showed up in the mail today that I honestly wasn’t expecting.” She said lifting a piece of parchment off the bed. “Something I’ve waited and hoped for my entire life.”
Moving a bit closer she showed off the seal adorned on the letterhead. “It’s a recruitment letter, from the Wonderbolts.” She said before sitting back on the mattress. “This is something I’ve dreamed of getting for years, a chance to be one of the greatest fliers in all of Equestria, maybe all of the world. Only a hoofful of Pegasi ever get glanced at, let alone get a chance to try out, even fewer than that become Wonderbolts. I should be jumping up and down for joy, flying circles around Ponyville singing at the top of my lungs and then living it up at Sugarcube Corner with all my friends to celebrate. So why do I feel so empty about this?”
Setting the letter aside, she lifted up a small flat metal case. Positioning it for the camera, she showed an insignia pin of polished metal. “See, somepony else asked me to join their team. Kad gave me this after the fight in Canterlot, he told me he wanted me to join his squad.”
She took a moment to contemplate the simple piece of metal in her hooves. “Mandalorian Knights take on some the worst threats to their people and their worlds. They only recruit the best to back them up, they have to. The Cap wouldn’t just give this to me so he could be nice, he really believes in me an’ what I can do.”
“What makes this whole thing stink is I know why I got that letter from the Wonderbolts.” She growled while her eyes brimmed with tears. “I know what happened to them at Canterlot, how they were among some of the first on the scene when Teth invaded Canterlot. They were decimated, the best fliers in all of Equestria and only three of them survived. I bet the only reason they even picked up my last application was so they could fill the empty slots!”
She paused for a time, surprised by her own outburst. Leaning in close, she had her hoof hovering over the button to end the recording. “I’ve got some thinking to do.”
Rainbow Dash nervously rubbed the back of her neck as she shifted in front of the camera with a light grey jumpsuit on. Sitting on the ground behind her was a thickly packed duffle bag. “Uhm, okay, so, uh, I might have made a bit of a snap decision last night. Not sure if it was the right thing to do yet bu-”
“Final boarding for shuttle thirty seven to Concordia,” A voice boomed from overhead.
Dash winced in annoyance. “Horseapples, that’s my flight!” She said in a slight panic before scooping up the duffle bag and cutting off the recording.
Dash sat on her duffle bag as she fiddled with the camera to get it sitting just right. “Okay, so, like I was trying to say a few minutes ago. I, uh, might have made a somewhat, sorta, kinda, small life-changing choice last night.”
Running a hoof in her mane, she looked off-camera as she fought to find a way to explain things. “Well, the simplest way to put it, I’m joining the Cap’s team.” She said with a wide smile. “See, I talked to Kad, and he said that all I had to do was go through some basic training with the Neo Protectors and he’d take me on as his conscript.”
Her smile began to waver a bit. “Also, I uh, might have left without telling anypony where I was going beyond Fluttershy and the Cap. I was afraid that if I told somepony that they’d try and stop me.” Sighing, she finally returned her gaze to the camera. “I need to do this. I can’t explain why, but I need this.”
A tired and disheveled Rainbow Dash plopped herself down in front of the camera. Her mane had clearly been cut short, her face and uniform had been stained with sweat and dirt. She sat in front of the camera for a minute as she struggled to get her breath back under control.
“Okay so, tip number one, do NOT take a Drill Instructor up on his challenge when he asks the group if anypony thinks they can take him.” Dash said between breaths. “Secondly, pushups are hard with a fully grown and armored human on your back. Every inch of my body is in pain right now and in the back of my head I want to just run back to the safety of Ponyville. But ya know what I say to all of that?” A wry grin slipped across her muzzle. “Bring it Mando-boys, Rainbow Dash can take anything you can throw at ‘er.”
Dash sat in front of the camera with still wet mane and fur, a towel hung around her shoulders and a simple white tank top and grey shorts adorned her. “So, I’m starting to really get into the routine around here.”
“I won’t lie, things are pretty tough here, they push us hard, and I mean really hard. Right about now, every muscle in my body is aching, but that’s what it takes to be the best. Right now, we’re all, what was that word again… evaar’verd, new warriors. Some of ‘em call us shinies, either way it all means the same thing.”
“It’s a little hard bein’ one of the only ponies in my squad, they want us to get used to working with everypony else.” She continued. “But, there is one upside to it all. Take a guess who we got as our squad leader.”
A wide, excited smile pulled at the corners of her lips. “Freaking Spitfire,” She squealed. A small collection of annoyed voices off camera chastised her for waking them up, bringing a bright red glow to her cheeks. “Sorry guys.” Dash called out to them.
Lowering her head a bit she dropped to a whisper. “Yeah, I know, Spitfire herself, THE Captain of the Wonderbolts. Well, I guess former Captain, now. But still, one of Equestria’s best fliers is in charge of our team, this is sooooooooooooo cool.”
“Dash, go to bed or I will beat you unconscious!” A gruff feminine voice yelled at her.
“Yes Squad Lead.” She quickly chirped. Leaning in close to the camera she squealed in a low whisper. “You hear that? So cool.”
Rainbow Dash adjusted the camera until she was satisfied that it was set up in a good spot. “So, I’ve noticed something of a trend with the other ponies around this place. Most of the time when we hit up the mess hall, they all seem to congregate to one section to eat together. Probably that old herd mentality thing we all got deep down. Just about everypony seems to do this on instinct.”
A touch of red entered the mare’s cheeks looking rather embarrassed. “And I probably would’ve done the same thing if not for Spitfire.”
“There I was, on my way towards the little corner of the room where all the other Equestrians were sitting when I heard someone call me out. I looked over my shoulder and there was Spitfire with our entire squad motioning me over to their table.”
A sheepish grin inched across her face. “Is it weird that I felt like I was back in high school and being called over to the cool kid’s table? ‘Cause that is exactly how it felt.”
“At first I was sure she was talking to somepony else. Yeah I know, like there’s really another Rainbow Dash. So I go over there, take a seat and all eyes are on me. To make things even worse, no one is talking, either. I was ready to just get back up and head over to the pony table. Then, out of nowhere one of my squadmates slaps me on the back and tells me I did a good job today at the shooting range.”
A wide smile tugged at the edges of her lips. “Just like that, everypony at the table starts talking and laughing like as if I’d been sitting there the entire time.”
“I don’t think I’m going to miss sitting at that table in the corner of the room anymore.”
Dash held the camera up in front of her with a devious grin on her face. “I’m Rainbow Dash, and this is Narl’s new wake up call.”
The image shook a bit when she shifted the recording away from herself and aimed it forwards. As quietly as she could, the Pegasus made her way through the barracks where the majority of her comrades were already sitting up in their bunks in eager anticipation. Stealthily, she slipped up alongside one bed in particular.
Snickering to herself she focused in on the sleeping human sprawled out on the small mattress. He was pale skinned with a fairly moderate build that seemed to suit most of his species. Deep brown hair covered the top of his head while a dull white tank top and shorts covered the rest of his body. The man slept soundly as his would-be attacker loomed over him, completely oblivious of might be coming.
Still trying hard not to burst into laughter, she lifted a canister marked sneezing powder into view. She skillfully poured a healthy dose of the offensive dust into the young soldier’s upturned palm. With that in place, her wing gently moved to brush along the front of his nose. His face twitched as the feather tickled him. Without any thought, his hand swiftly flew to his face in hopes of smashing whatever insect was pestering him. What he got instead was a face full of novelty sneezing powder.
His eyes shot open in shock as he was quickly wracked with a fit of sneezing. Once dark brown eyes had quickly become red, tears swelled up at their edges. Sitting upright in his bed, the human continued to sneeze uncontrollably, over and over again. Soon he noticed the chortling Pegasus beside him and the entirety of the barracks having a good laugh as well.
As the fits finally died down, he shot a murderous glare towards host of this video prank. “Freakin’… c’mon, Dash, really!?”
Dash held the camera up in the air with a wide smile on her face. In the background were the excited voices of her squad mates. “Hey there, Dash here with some awesome news.” She brought the camera a bit closer with an even wider grin. “Final exam is in two days and we get the next twenty four hours off-duty!” At this the rest of the room cheered and hollered after being reminded.
She gave the camera a swing around the barracks showing off the rest of her fellow warriors in training as they went about suiting up in civilian garb. “Thanks to the efforts of our beloved leader, Spitfire,” Dash stopped a moment on the Pegasus in question for a moment to give emphasis, “we all got a night pass to go into town and live it up.”
Dash brought the camera back around to herself with a playful grin. “I haven’t had a drop of anything harder than caf for the past six months-“
“Ullic makes it pretty damned strong though.” One of her comrades called out off screen, prompting her to roll her eyes.
“Anyways, this is gonna be freaking awesome, a chance to finally stretch my wings and let loose.” She said with a snicker. “Party time, baby!”
A disheveled Rainbow Dash sat in front of the camera, heavy bags hung under her bloodshot eyes and her mane hung bedraggled about her head. “Okay, so… uh, kinda partied a bit toooooo hard last night.”
She groaned as she tried to rub the sleep from her eyes. “Oh Celestia… where to begin…”
Dash sat back in her seat, her face scrunched up in thought. “Well, I think things really went to hell when I had that third shot of Corellian whiskey.”
“According to the rumor mill and a police report, I got a bit carried away after getting plastered.” She recounted with a groan. “Let’s see, apparently I sexually assaulted the bus boy. Made a public nuisance of myself and tried to pick a fight with a speeder full of large, burly men. Won the fight from what I hear. Uuuuuuuuuh, kinda sorta stole that speeder after winning the fight, took it on a slight joy ride across town which ended in me crashing it into a lake. Blacked out and woke up in a hotel room with that bus boy from earlier cuffed to the headboard… naked…”
With a pained groan, Dash began rubbing her temples furiously. “Ooooooh Celestia, I really hope he wasn’t as young as he looked. I don’t know how to gauge Human age by looks and I really don’t need something like THAT added to my suddenly growing record…”
“That wasn’t the most awkward part of this morning though, oh no.” She grumbled. “No, the award for that goes to the weirdo with the bushy mustache that come out of the bathroom soaking wet and asking me if the kid was ready for round 4.” Burying her face in her hooves she let out an embarrassed groan. “I got my clothes and flew out the window as quickly as I could. I am soooo sorry for leaving you like that, random bus boy.”
Leaning forwards she looked in the camera lens, the bags under her eyes had become very visible now. “I really need to get a massive mug of caf to deal with all of this…”
Dash stared into the lens of the camera, a look of determination and rage on her face. “They told us what our final exam is; we’re being dropped onto the frontlines of some world that’s being contested.”
She paused for a moment as the words were turned over in her head. “I’m not worried, I’m not scared. The shinies, the ones who haven’t seen real combat yet, they are. I can feel it. Me, I’m looking forward to it.” Rainbow Dash snarled leaning closer to the camera. “You wanna know why? Because we’re gonna be facing Deathwatch.”
A gleam began to shine in her eyes as her mouth twisted into a hungry grin. “I’m gonna make every last one of those hut’uun aruetii pay for what they started. Not just for what they did to Ponyville or Canterlot, but for all the others they hurt with their civil war.”
Holo-recordings taken from helmet cam #3325: Private Rainbow Dash, assigned to Misfit Squad
As the recording came to life, the image of a number of humanoids and a handful of ponies all clad in full body armor. They had all been packed into the belly of a dropship, the craft shuddering occasionally with turbulence. The image shifted about to find the reflective metallic side of a conduit cover. The pony in control of the camera was clad in a form-fitting suit of dull green armor and a body sleeve that still showed a touch of her feminine curves. Her face was concealed by a full covering helmet brought together with the legendary T visor made famous by Mandalorian armor. The pony’s body was concealed from head to hoof by this protective shell, save for a bright, rainbow-streaked tail.
“Celestia, I make this look so good.” Rainbow Dash commented just low enough not to be heard by those around her.
“Ten minutes till drop.” A voice overhead rang out across the speakers.
“You heard the man, Misfits!” All eyes including Dash’s POV shifted to a mare clad in blue and gold armor. “Check that gear and get ready to hit the ground running.”
Every single being around her began giving their equipment a quick once over, Dash being no exception. She gave the retractable blasters mounted on her forelimbs a quick test to make sure they would function on their optic commands, another quick sift through the menus told her how much ammo each one held. A quick flick of her foreleg brought a sliding blade out of hiding on one of her hoof-mounted gauntlets. Checking her sides, the armor that rested over where her wings should be shifted to her back, letting her wings slip out from their hiding place and flex a bit. As she finished her final checks, the dropship was suddenly wracked with a momentary, violent shudder.
“Got heavy fire coming from the dropzone.” The pilot informed them. “You lot are gonna have to grab the skies.”
On either side of the dropship, the doors cracked and slid open, bringing with it the rush of wind and the loud rumble of the engines. A deeply alien orange sky greeted Dash, punctuated intermediately by bursts of black smoke. In the distance she could see other dropships weaving through the anti aircraft fire as well. Streaks of red tore into the back of one of the vessels, igniting it in a violent explosion before it fell to the ground.
Shifting her POV outside the ship, Rainbow Dash found a pair of star fighters trying to pick their way through the dropships. “Fierfek,” she snarled. “This is already off to a great start.”
As she complained, a stray blaster bolt struck the side of her ship, causing her to lose balance. Cursing loudly, Dash found herself tumbling out of the doors into the open sky. The sounds of rushing air and exploding sky around her drowned out the gruff female voice yelling at her over the comlink. With a few flaps of her wings, Dash was able to regain her balance and take control of her freefall. She had little time to do much else before she found herself on the nose of the attacking fighter.
Not wasting any time, the blaster mounted on her forelimb gauntlet slid forward before being leveled with the extremely surprised looking pilot. The traitor at the controls uselessly raised his arms in a feeble defense against the hail of blaster bolts she let loose through his canopy. The body went limp against the stick, sending the fighter into a steep dive that Rainbow Dash rode towards the ground. Her wings spread wide before she launched herself off the vessel, using its speed to propel herself forwards over the blackened, gnarled branches of the forest below her. The sound of an explosion could be heard off camera coupled with her own shouts of elation as she continued to zoom along just out of reach of the wilderness.
“Whoooooooooooooo!” She cried out over the rumbling air. “That was freaking awesome!”
“Rainbow Dash, respond blast it!” Spitfire’s voice rang in her ears. “If you aren’t dead Private, I’m gonna make you wish you were if you do not respond.”
“I’m still kicking boss!” Dash responded while trying unsuccessfully to keep her tone neutral.
“Good, then get your flank to point Theta.” Her voice carried a restrained tone of relief with it. “Try not to get into anymore trouble while you’re at it, will ya?”
*video skip: 0:13:38 since mission start*
Dash ducked and glided her way through and around the clawed grasps of the twisted growths that one had to assume were an example of trees on this planet. Her HUD fed the Pegasus warrior a constantly updated tactical read out of her surroundings and the progress of her comrades. A flashing marker far off in the distance guided her movements as she cut the fastest route she could through the safe cover of the thick trees. Even with the weight of her armor and gear, the young flyer-turned-fighter was able to move at an alarming pace as the distance indicator ticked down.
“Narl, sharpshooter on the ridge!” The voices of her comrades continued to filter in through her comlink and drive her all the further towards her destination.
“I got’em.” Her comrade commented with a chuckle.
“Anypony else feel those tremors?” A softer male voice questioned. “They’re making my fur stand on end.”
“Spread out and stay close to cover.” Spitfire ordered them. “Whatever that is, I don’t want it catching us bunched up.”
“Oh osik…” The voice was breathless and full of dread. “Heavy walker incoming!”
“Cover, get to cover!” Spitfire yelled out over the com. “Somepony patch me through to the Nightmare, I want a firing solution on that thing!”
“No good,” another teammate replied, “the ion cannon fire is too intense for any of the ships to get near the planet and our fly boys are wrapped up with the local air support!”
“Not all of our flyers.” Rainbow Dash growled to herself before picking her speed up.
As the trees cleared away, Dash’s POV was filled with the sight a massive, hulking metal beast. It lumbered on four long legs towering over the landscape. A weapon-filled head drifted back and forth on a thick, stubby neck as barrages of powerful blaster bolts pelted the ground around her fleeing comrades.
“Oh Celestia, this has gotta be one my dumbest ideas…” She grumbled to herself.
“Private Dash, what the hay are you doing!?” Spitfire yelled at her over the com as she went into a steep climb.
Aiming herself downwards, the armored Pegasus went into a sharp dive. The rushing air around her body drowned out the words that Spitfire shouted at her. Her speed began to climb faster and faster as she rocketed towards the ground. Her dive began to slowly pull up to aim her right at the metal juggernaut that was terrorizing her squad, the image shuddering with her armor from the turbulence.
“Please work, please work, please work,” Rainbow Dash chanted to herself as she glided towards the legs of the armored monstrosity.
As she passed between the front two legs of that walker, the world around her seemed to break. There was an explosion of light and a deafening roar before her speed drastically increased tenfold. She soared between the legs of the metal monster before zipping up into the clouds again, the sounds of cheering drawing her attention towards the ground where a rainbow trail and the still-expanding corona of her latest offense against the sound barrier. The front legs of the walker bent outwards at awkward angles as it toppled forwards into the ground.
“That was too freaking awesome!” She cheered herself on before coming back around towards her squad.
As she touched down, the fearless flyer was quickly embraced by her comrades who swarmed her with cheers and praises. Through the crowd, the blue and gold clad mare pushed forwards to find the daredevil and pulled her visor to visor.
“Private Dash,” Spitfire snarled, “you ever do that again and I will shoot you myself!” There was an angry silence between them before she lightly head-butted the other mare. “But you saved our flanks Dash, good on ya.”
Before anyone else could sing her praises a blaster bolt barely missed her as it singed past Dash’s cheek. “Oh right, we’re still on a battlefield guys.” One female Mandalorian sarcastically pointed out.
*video skip: 1:40:26 since mission start*
“Incoming Deathwatch!” A male voice called out over the comlink.
“Misfits, we need to hold this point until our main force catches up!” Spitfire’s voice sternly reminded her team through the coms.
Through a hail of chaos, Dash’s helmet cam bounced and jostled as she and several others rushed to take cover behind a thick wall of dirt. Bolts of crimson and gold energy filled the air around them, striking the ground around them and kicking up thick clouds of dirt. Hugging the earthen wall tightly, Dash looked to the comrades to her left and right as they all nodded silent confirmations. All at once they brought their weapons to bear and unleashed a volley of kinetic energy upon the enemies down range from them.
“C’mon, you wanna get some!” She shouted over the sounds of her forelimb mounted weapon. “Line up boys, I got something for everypony!”
From the distance a burning ball of energy came screaming out of the debris cloud. “Oh osik, INCOMING! Hit the deck!” Dash shouted before taking cover as quickly as she could before everything became a tumbling world of chaos.
*video damaged: skipping ahead 2.5 seconds*
The image had become grainy as Dash’s view had become dominated with dirt and grime. “Riesa, Hallven, status….” Dash coughed out as she forced herself to pull up from the ground on shaky hooves. Several of her attempts to stand were quickly met with her legs giving way and her body slamming into the ground again.
Lifting herself up from the dirt, Rainbow managed to catch sight of a figure in full body black and blue armor. She could clearly see the deep red insignia of the Deathwatch’s mark adorning the humanoid’s shoulder. Dash was also able to make out the craftsmanship of the enemy warrior’s rifle butt as it cracked against her visor.
*video damaged: skipping ahead 1.14 seconds*
The video tumbled and rolled about for a moment till it came to a stop upside down. Still recording, it captured the image of a new, helmetless Rainbow Dash locked with her attacker. Her forelimbs were wrapped around his rifle as she struggled to wrench it from his grip. Rainbow Dash’s back legs kicked out to rip the weapon from his hands and knock him back a few steps. Not taking this lightly, his fist quickly connected with the side of her face.
Her attacker lunged forwards with another blow, this time however she was ready to face him. Rainbow’s forelimb quickly grabbed hold of his arm and braced against her. With the limb hyper extended, her free hoof quickly smashed into his elbow with a sickening crack and pained howl. He stumbled away from her, holding his arm that now bent at a horribly awkward angle. Dash, unfortunately, clearly had no intentions of letting him retreat.
The blade mounted in her gauntlet sprang forwards just before she did with a defiant yell. Tackling him off screen, her limb lifted up at a downwards angle before plunging downwards. This motion repeated itself several times as flecks of crimson splattered the ground and began coating her hoof.
Rainbow Dash’s assault was brought to a sudden and violent halt as another trooper tackled her. The pair rolled back into view of the helmet-cam with Rainbow finding herself on her back with this fresh Deathwatch trooper over top of her. His arms rained a volley of blows down on the Pegasus as she brought her forelimbs up to absorb the majority of them and guard her face.
Snarling in frustration, she swung her gauntlet mounted blade at her attacker only to have the attack miss. The Deathwatch trooper sitting atop her stomach used her own momentum to slam the weapon into a thick chunk of stone. A loud clang rang out as the blade struck the rock, shattering it and disarming the Pegasus.
Dash’s wings flared outwards in a flash of sky blue plumage at a small gap between the blows. With her foe distracted, Rainbow Dash quickly drew the dagger hooked to her side and jammed into his now-open side. As the body over her went limp, she forced him off of her before trying to pull herself back onto her hooves.
Hobbling back to her helmet, the battered and bruised flier lifted the discarded piece of armor up and returned it to her head. Proper point of view restored, she franticly looked about until she found a pair of humanoids in scorched armor laying some distance away from her. Forcing herself to limp towards them, the closer she drew she began to notice the faint signs of life from both of them.
“I need a medic over here!” She shouted over her comlink before bringing herself beside them.
Several bolts of energy zipped past her head from the far distance, forcing her to hold close to her wounded comrades. Her hoof looped around into the closest one’s hand letting them squeeze it tightly. “Hold on, alright, help’s coming, you’re gonna be okay.” She repeated over and over again as the wounded trooper held tightly onto her forelimb grumbling in pain. “You’re gonna be okay.” She kept reminding them.
*video skip: 3:48:25 since mission start*
The image shook with every labored step the Pegasus took. The recording was now at the rather strange angle of being pressed to her side. From the corners of the recording, one could make out the tell tale signs of sky blue plumage keeping the helmet cam steady beside her. Every step still came accompanied with a pained grunt as she limped her way through the opening of a tent into the waning daylight.
All around her, armored males and females of various races and genetic designs went about their tasks. Overhead the engines of dropships and transport vessels roared and drowned out the voices of her fellow Mandalorians. She paid very little attention to all activity around her though, moving in a tired haze through the crowds.
“Private Rainbow Dash, front and center.” The voice brought her to a halt as a spark of realization glimmered in her eyes.
A wide smile stretched across her face as she wheeled around to find the one speaker to her. Kad Skirata, clad in scarred and dented dark blue and gold Mandalorian armor, bearing a few personal additions of a kama skirt and shoulder armor. Dash crashed herself into the Mandalorian Knight, wrapping her forelimbs around him in a tight hug that nearly knocked him off his feet.
Kad pried the mare’s limbs off him muttering in Mando’a. “C’mon Private, knock that off. I’m your superior officer.” He grumbled as he forced her away. “But it’s good ta see ya again, kiddo.”
Rainbow Dash beamed with pride at her superior’s words. “Sorry ‘bout that, Cap.”
“Ya know that ain’t my rank anymore.”
“Yeah, but it’s a good nickname, rolls off the tongue.”
Kad shook his head, chuckling to himself before looking the Pegasus up and down. “Look at you, Dash, from takin’ licks from that hydra to a Mando’verd.” He stated proudly before mussing her mane. “A warrior of Mandalore, an’ more importantly, I’m proud ta call ya my little sister, my vod’ika.”
The sun had just begun to crest over the mountains, drenching the valley in its warm rays. The sounds of birds filled the air as a warm breeze pushed its way around the mountainside and brushed through the young Unicorn’s mane. Twilight Sparkle once again found herself on the intoxicatingly peaceful world of Talgear. Her body was clad in a set of simplistic brown robes that hung loosely around her form despite the tailor droid’s best efforts. She was thankful for the machine’s attempts to accommodate her, though secretly she wished that Rarity had not left on her spur of the moment trip, she would have had these robes fitting perfectly.
Not far ahead of her the slightly hunched form of Jedi Master Carso Laan made his way down the carved steps in the side of the mountain. She found it rather odd how easily he seemed to move, even managing to stay ahead of her despite looking so ancient and frail.
For a moment her mind drifted back to Canterlot Castle, far across the sea of stars and the light years that now separated her from it. She remembered the look of pride in her beloved monarch and teacher’s face when she had asked permission to pursue her study of the Force. How Celestia had embraced her tightly and wished all the luck and blessings she could when she told her she was going to become a Jedi.
This also brought back to mind the heartache she felt when she boarded that shuttlecraft all alone. The tearful goodbyes she shared with her friends, her family and especially her number one assistant. It hurt the most to have to leave Spike behind, especially after all that they’d been through. But as Shin’ima had told her, this was a path she could only walk on her own. At least the little dragon would be safely surrounded by loved ones and kept busy running the library in Twilight’s absence. The introduction of long-range intergalactic communication would also certainly help the mare keep tabs on her beloved friend.
She then remembered the apprehension she felt when the ship left Gaia and began the long journey to this remote world. There was a touch of fear when she stood before the assembled masters of the temple while they evaluated her. And then, the way her heart soared when Master Laan stepped forth and declared that he would begin her training.
And now, here she was, so far from friends, family and anything she knew and held dear. Yet in this place there was a calmness that seemed to constantly wash over her. Setting her mind and heart at ease and making her feel like everything was going to be alright. Maybe it was the tranquil setting or Master Laan’s confidence in her, either way Twilight felt as though she was exactly where she belonged.
“Come along Padawan Sparkle,” Laan called back to her. “We don’t have much further to go.”
“Master, where exactly are we going anyways?” the Unicorn asked.
“Ah, right here!” the old man happily declared when they reached the valley floor.
Before them was a large jagged cut in the side of the mountain. Peering inside Twilight found that she could barely see a few inches into the darkened interior. An oppressive blackness seemed to almost force even the rays of daylight out of it.
“What is this place?” she asked him.
“This is your first trial as a Jedi,” he told her. “You must walk from this entrance to the other side of the cave. There you will find the exit.”
“That’s it?” Twilight asked. “I’m sorry master it’s just that, when you said I would be receiving advanced training from you I thought that I’d be doing something closer related to using the Force.”
Laan merely cracked a smile and began to make his way around the foot of the mountain. “All things in time Padawan, now then, you might want to hurry. We have the sun now, but it will not wait for you forever. We don’t want to be out here after dark after all.”
Twilight gave the entrance to the cave one final stare. She could feel something, like it was staring back at her daring her to enter. “Master, what will I find in the cave?”
“Only what you take with you,” Laan called back to her as he continued his own trek.
Looking back to the open maw of the cavern, she steeled herself before taking those first few cautious steps inside. The moment Twilight entered the cave she could feel the darkness around her reaching out and pawing at her. Like invisible hands of vapor that clawed away at her hide. She shivered at the thought of it and focused her magic into the tip of her horn. Obeying its master’s command, a ball of light formed around the pointy appendage and sprayed a dull white light around the area. Yet, even this seemed to barely push back the inky blackness that sought to smother her.
“Okay Twilight, this is some kind of Jedi test,” she mused aloud. “That means there’s gotta be some kind of over arching lesson to be learned from all of this. But what am I supposed to learn from walking in the dark?”
It was then that a dull orange flickering light caught her attention. Far off in the distance, deep within the bowels of the cave was another light source. Something in the back of her mind told her to ignore it. This tiny voice begged her to just keep walking forward and ignore this mystery. But curiosity had always been a weakness of Twilight’s. Cautious of the uneven ground beneath her hooves, she made her way through the darkness to find the source of the light.
Soon she came to an open stretch of ground. Ahead of her a robed figure sat huddled next to a small fire that seemed to keep the darkness at bay. She slowly approached the robed figure, uncertainty gripping at her heart and soul urging her to turn back. When the thick hood of the figure turned towards her, she felt her heart stop.
“Ah, company,” it said in a soft welcoming tone. “Please, come and share my fire traveler.”
Surprised by the warm welcome, Twilight made her way to the other side of the fire and took a seat on her haunches. “Thank you, I wasn’t aware that anypony else would be in this cave.”
“I’ve actually been here for quite some time,” the robed man told her. “One tends to lose track of time here in the dark.”
Twilight watched the figure across from her very carefully. His form was hidden deep beneath the robes though and gave her no hints beyond him not being a pony. Beyond that, there was a strangely cold aura that seemed to seep from him despite the fire.
“Soooooooooo, I don’t suppose you know the way out of these caves,” she asked with an uneasy smile.
“A way out,” the mysterious man asked with a chuckle. “I’m afraid I’ve been having a hard time finding that myself. The dark makes it hard to find the path after you’ve left it.”
In a panic Twilight turned her gaze back towards the direction she’d came from only to find pitch black and the faintest hints of what might lay within. Her eyes desperately searched against the oppressive shadows but she couldn’t even see the entrance to the caves anymore. Fear and dread began to seep into her heart as she continued to scan the emptiness.
“Your fear is quite palpable Padawan,” the robed man said with a snicker. “It reminds me of the last time we met.”
Ice filled her veins and poured into her stomach at his words. With a great deal of reluctance she turned her gaze back towards him in time to see him slip off the robes. Before her stood something that should be impossible. Davian Teth, the deceased commander of the Deathwatch forces that invaded her home world, was standing before her. It was him though. She could never forget that thin gaunt face, his thinning blonde hair or those cold icy blue eyes. She quickly backpedaled away from the man in front of her until her backside pressed into a rocky outcrop.
“Why, Twilight Sparkle, you don’t look very happy to see me,” Teth said with a sneer. “What’s it been, a year, maybe two? And how’s the shoulder? I hear you never quite get the feeling back in certain joints.”
“You,” she hissed at him while still keeping as much distance as she could. “You can’t be here, it’s not possible!”
Teth took the saber hilt from his belt and ignited it with a loud familiar hiss that sent phantom pains through Twilight’s shoulder. The area around him became illuminated by the purple glow of the energy blade. “And yet, here I am. Tell me Sparkle, do you think you can manage to kill me for good this time?”
As Teth lunged at her, saber ready to run her through again, panic guided the Unicorn’s actions. On reflex, Twilight quickly forced a spell to be cast which engulfed her body in a burst of purple energy. The dead Deathwatch Commander’s laser sword stabbed harmlessly into the rock she had been pressed against.
Deep within the caves, Twilight Sparkle sparked into existence with a burst of magical energy. Adrenalin still burned through her entire body, numbing her and driving her to keep moving. Meanwhile, her analytical mind tried desperately to make sense of what she’d just seen. Davian Teth was dead; she’d seen him die herself and she had been the one to kill him. There was no way he could be here Talgear in the caverns beneath the Jedi temple!
In her heightened state, she’d nearly missed yet another figure in the dark. The moment she bumped into something that didn’t feel like stone and reacted to her presence, she leapt backwards and brightened the glow in her horn. Twilight quickly brought to mind a number of offensive spells that she’d kept on the back burner as she prepared herself for another murderous ghost.
What she found was a rather tall broad shouldered man. His physique and build spoke highly of a very active and physically demanding life. He had a strong squared jaw, a head of brown and grayed hair and deep brown eyes. The man wore what looked to be a kind of armored robe that seemed out of place compared to anything she’d seem from Mandalore.
“Be at peace, Padawan,” his deep voice was filled with a soothing aura that managed to cut through Twilight’s guard.
“W-who are you?” she quickly demanded.
“I am a guide here in the darkness, for those who are willing to listen,” he assured her. “You have left the path and stumbled into the darkness, I can help you, if you are willing.”
She was hesitant at first since the last person she’d met down here had not been so friendly. But still, her own growing desperation forced her to admit that she couldn’t do this all by herself. Twilight sighed in defeat and nodded her head.
“Okay, I’ll take whatever help I can get, but we need to be quick,” she cautioned. “There’s a dangerous man down here with us, Davian Teth, he’s a Force user.”
“Be at ease Padawan, you are only in danger if you allow yourself to be.”
Twilight stared at the man in confusion. “Uhm, okay. But we should get moving all the same.”
“I cannot go with you,” he told her.
“But you said you’d help me.”
“I told you that I am a guide, and guide you I will. The way back to the path is a simple one,” he assured her. “You must rely less on these,” he pointed towards her eyes. “And rely more on this,” he pointed towards her chest. “Your eyes can deceive you, they can convince you that there are dangers when there are none and clear paths that lead only to certain doom. You must put trust in your instincts, let go of your perceptions and let the Force guide you. It will lead you to where you need to go.”
“No, there is one more lesson I can impart to you. If you truly wish to become a Jedi, you must learn to let go.”
“What do you mean let go?”
“Simply that,” he told her. “Let go of your hate, fear and anger, or they will drag you deeper into the darkness as they did me.”
She stared at the man in confusion for a time while she turned his advice over in her head. This wasn’t the first time she’d been told to just give in and take a leap of faith. But the last time she could at least see the hydra when it was bearing down on her. Teth was somewhere out there in the darkness waiting for her. Glancing over her shoulder at the rest of the cave, she scanned the darkness for any sign of her enemy. When she looked back though, he was gone.
His words remained in her mind though. Let go and trust in the Force to guide her. If it worked then she’d make it out of the cave, if not then Teth would find her and kill her. Then again this was why she came to Talgear, to learn about the Force and immerse herself in it.
She took a deep breath and cleared her mind, she thought of nothing but this moment in time. She could feel something rising up around her and slipping through her mind and body. Like a strand connecting her and the direction she needed to go.
Carefully, Twilight navigated her way through the blackness. Somehow she could simply feel the cave around her, every stone and crack suddenly became clear as day. The Unicorn followed her instincts, feeling the world around her through the strange yet familiar energy that spread from everything around her. She knew what this was, it was the same energy that filled her whenever she cast her spells but somehow it was more noticeable now.
In her journey she felt something calling out to her, guiding her further along. Almost like a song that filled her heart and soul rather than her ears. It called out to her and brought her to a small green gem embedded in a rock. It seemed so insignificant at first, but something about this gem told her that she should take it with her. With a touch of magic, she lifted the gemstone from the rock and slipped it into her robe pocket.
Far in the distance she could see it, a single point of daylight piercing the blackness. Twilight’s heart sang and her legs quickly kicked into a gallop as she made her mad dash towards the exit. Just when she felt she was home free, a single blade of purple energy blocked her path and brought her tumbling to a stop.
“Leaving without saying goodbye, Sparkle?” Teth chastised her. “You have such terrible manners.”
Twilight quickly ducked and rolled away from her opponent as he cut and slashed the air around her. She could feel the heat from the blade and her ears rang with the loud humming hiss of the weapon. Panic was starting to build within her yet again, but something caused her to pause and reconsider things.
Your eyes can deceive you.
Was any of this really happening?
Only what you take with you.
Teth died in Canterlot, she watched them burn the body. Logic says that this can’t possibly be happening. No, it was deeper than that. Twilight stopped her running and finally faced Teth. She had a stern look of resolve upon her face as she looked him dead in the eyes and stood her ground.
“Giving up already,” Teth asked with no shortage of disappointment. “And here I thought you’d at least make this more challenging for me.”
“There’s no challenge to be had, Teth,” Twilight said in a calm even tone. “The fact of the matter is, you aren’t even here. You died on Gaia when you fell from Canterlot Castle, none of this is real.”
“Perhaps,” Teth mused casually before readying his blade. “But are you willing to stake your life on this theory of yours? I didn’t hesitate to stab you once before, or have you forgotten the pain of my saber already?”
“I’m not afraid of shadows, Teth,” Twilight said boldly.
Twilight stood her ground and stared Teth dead in the eyes as she made no attempt to escape. She didn’t flinch or shy away as he raised his saber over his head and she didn’t even move out of the way as it came down across her neck. The energy blade passed through her with ease and left no mark.
“I’m sorry that you died,” Twilight told him. “I’m sorry that I killed you and I forgive you for what you did. But now, I need to move on and close that chapter of my life. I cannot focus on the past, I need to focus on the now.”
In a wash of shadows, Teth’s form began to waver, guttering away like a flame breathing its last. Soon, Twilight was left standing all alone in the dark cave with the exit finally in sight. With a content smile on her face, Twilight strode proudly towards her destination. She brought a hoof up to shield her eyes as she washed over by the sunlight and her lungs nearly burst at the taste of fresh air that finally filled them.
“Padawan Sparkle, you’ve finally made it to the other side,” Master Laan happily greeted. “And just before sunset too.”
“Thank you Master, it was a little tough at first but…“ Her words fell short when she looked back into the cave. From the exit she could see the entrance just a few yards away. “I… I don’t understand. I was lost in a huge cave.”
“Correction, Padawn, you don’t understand yet,” Laan pointed out. “But, in time, you will.”
Twilight gave the cave one last look before she caught the sound of Master Laan’s footsteps on the path up the mountain. She had walked through a deep and endless darkness not but a few minutes ago. She had been terrorized by the phantom of the man she’d killed. All of it was gone now though, only a short straight path from one end to the next. Was she wandering around in madness, or maybe…
“Was this the work of the Force?” she asked herself looking down at her hooves.
“Padawan,” Master Laan called back to her. “Come along or we’ll be late for supper.”
Forcing herself to walk away from the entrance of the cave, she could swear she’d seen something in the corner of her eye, a man, strong and noble looking with a warm proud smile upon his face. Taking one last second to look back yet again, all she could see was the very short and straight path from one end of the cavern to the next. Putting the thoughts out of her mind, Twilight quickly galloped after the old Jedi ahead of her. But a lingering feeling her breast still brought a calming sense of confidence to her at the thought of what she may have seen.
Today I learned quite a lot about the Force and what it means to be Jedi. I learned that I must put faith in myself to find the right way to go and the virtue of letting go. Old hatreds, fear, and anger can blind somepony and leave them wandering around in the darkness. But when we let go of them and put our trust in our own ability to find the right path, that’s when we find our way back into the sunshine. Sincerely,
Your faithful Padawan (that’s the term the Jedi use!)