Part 1: Enemy Above
Chapter VIII Loading...
Part 2: █████ ████
Part 3: █████
Part 4: █████
Complete re-post in the works, should be posted sometime within May 2012. ~ Lucky
STORY IMAGE: Annabelle Bennett, Matryoshka Suit Cover
Lucky here, with a few words:
I try to update this masterpiece once every week or two with chapters. You can reach me here for anything concerning the fic, clarification, or anything at all for that matter (and I do mean anything):
16,000 years is a lot of history to cover, and a substantial amount of chapters to go through; hang in there and thanks a million for reading! (Even if you float around in the index for hours on end.)
The new cover image is done! Joel Dash Reed, the fan artist in question, has a Deviant Art page which can be found here.
My Little Pony (Friendship is Magic), canon characters, locations, or anything that has to do with the television program is:
© Hasbro and Lauren Faust.
Cover Image © Joel Dash Reed
Author's note: Chapter revised as of 12/29/2011.
Twilight’s eyes slowly flickered open. She blinked a few times, trying to adjust to the light of the sun. Every part of her body ached, and she definitely wasn’t in her bed. She actually seemed to be outside somewhere, lying on some sort of hard surface. Concrete, probably.
Come on Twilight, pick yourself up...
Although it hurt, Twilight managed to pull herself onto all fours. She was slowly regaining clarity... What had happened last night?
She focused for a second, trying to think over her headache. There was some sort of... explosion, maybe. A flurry of fire, and then... Nothing.
How did that get me here?
Twilight looked around.
Where is here?
She appeared to be on some sort of road, although it had obviously fallen into disrepair a while ago. Other than the road, there was nothing but sand. A desert of some sort, probably. There was a fallen sign nearby, wedged sideways into a crack on the road. Twilight turned her head slightly to read it.
"Welcome to beautiful Volaré, Aerocastalia!"
There was something behind the sign. Twilight squinted, trying to get the distant objects into focus.
When they finally did, Twilight gasped. In front of her, a large city stood, glass and steel buildings taller then she had ever seen stretching into the sky. It was awe-inspiring.
She took a few steps toward the building, and accidentally kicked a pebble that was lying on the road. The clicks it made as it bounced down the road made her suddenly aware of how deathly silent it was.
Something is definitely wrong here.
Twilight glanced around. Beside the road, there was nothing but arid desert. Well, she really didn’t have much choice, did she? Either follow the road to Volaré, or die of thirst. The silence was broken by the sound of the gentle clack of hooves against stone, starting their way towards the strange settlement.
After what seemed like forever, but was probably only a few hours, Twilight came to a bridge. Underneath, vines sprawled across the concrete. Hm... If there was plant life, that meant there was...
Twilight broke into a rather clumsy gallop, desperate for a drink. The shade provided by the bridge was a welcome relief as Twilight stumbled towards the water source. Although the water wasn’t the cleanest, Twilight still drank deeply. After about a minute, with her thirst sufficiently satisfied, she examined the vines, and was pleased to notice bunches of grapes hanging off some of them.
Twilight trotted over to a bunch that was near her head level and plucked it off the vine. She sat down, eating the grapes one at a time and contemplating her situation.
Let’s see... I need to get a plan of action. I should probably try to find out where I am and how far I am from Ponyville... Celestia, what I wouldn’t give for a piece of paper right now... Anyway- Find out where I am, find out how far I need to travel to get back to Ponyville, figure out a way to get back to Ponyville, then figure out how I got here. That sounds good.
Twilight glanced out at the dessert. The sun was starting to sink below the sky, and she was still nowhere near the city. And while she could probably light her horn and make the area bright enough for her to walk, all sorts of dangerous creatures could come out at night... Teleporting would be best, but it was so far- No, she couldn’t doubt herself now.
Twilight trotted out from under the bridge and focused intently on the city in the distance. Her horn glowed brightly, which didn’t help her headache much, but she needed to get to the city to be safe...
After a few more seconds, there was a bright flash and Twilight was in the city. She slumped over, panting. That had taken a lot out of her, but she had made it.
The buildings were even larger in person. Twilight just stared at them for a few minutes before turning and scanning her surrounds. Said act was quickly stopped, however, when her eyes rested on the center of the square. There stood a statue of a pegasus wearing some sort of armor, posed in mid-flight, around forty feet tall. Twilight had never seen a statue so large or intricate before. She gazed at it in awe for a few seconds before checking the caption on the pedestal below it.
To Commemorate Sierra ‘Fireheart’ Fierro Ten Years’ Rule
Savior Of All Equusara. Chief Marshal Of Aerocastalia
On This Four Thousandth Two Hundred And Fifty Third Year, Anno Domina.
That’s odd... Twilight thought I’ve never heard of a pony with a name like that before- And, wait, that date can’t be right- And-
Twilight spun around to face the rest of the square Where is everypony! This is a huge city, bigger then I’ve ever seen before! I can’t be alone, there’s just no way...
She took a few deep breaths. I have to get to the bottom of this.
She turned around and scanned the square. Hmmm... Idealy, I would find a-
A sign cut off her train of thought.
‘olaré State Archives’
Twilight grinned and galloped over to the library. Surly, there had to be some answers contained within. She opened the doors and walked in.
The lobby of the archives was comfortably spacious. Although the furniture and the rest of the corresponding decor was faded, Twilight was just glad to see any kind of place to sleep which wasn’t a pile of rocks. The walls were painted a milky white, which lead up to a grand dome ceiling. Carved inside was a stylized globe, depicting continents and numerous seas. It definitely wasn’t a globe of Equestria, which concerned her slightly, but she could get to that later. The great majority of the room, however, was taken up by bookselves. This caused Twilight’s grin to widen.
A glowing silver book on the reception desk caught Twilight’s eye. She levitated it over to her, then made her way to comfy-looking couch and sat down.
Sitting on the couch with the book relaxed Twilight considerably. It was almost like home... Even if the book did feel odd in her hooves. She opened it, and noticed that the text was glowing on the pages. Well, that was rather odd. Still, though, it was text, and it was readable.
So, what are you going to teach me?
Launching archival environment...
Connection to CONCORD MAINFRAME: Failed.
Initializing last recorded entry: 1 out of 1.
Successfully loaded; booting display-
Author: Rupert Blake
and the countless others who sacrificed for our cause.
Before I say, or begin to explain anything at all to you about the time before the Reign dear reader, I would first like to apologize. If you are reading this, then you are a victim of my actions. Everything around you, whatever you may have learned and every last memory you hold is fabricated. I can guarantee this is the case. You see but one of many lands lying in devastation around you, the once proud nations of Aerocastalia, Equestria, and the Terranian Coalition and there is no doubt in my mind that you're curious. I fear, however, that I cannot just simply tell you the end of this log. It is absolutely imperative that all information in this book is read, and absorbed. I will try to relay the events of my involvement in this catastrophe as best I can, and interject to clarify. I am, again, sorry for being so vague. I will have you know that I am as intrigued as you are about this world, as I am about yours. I hope you come to understand how exactly this chain of events came to pass. While this log is important, you escaped, and in the end that is all that matters. I pray for whatever perfect hell you live in.
The most relevant point to begin from would be the events surrounding the small tropical island once known as Grid 3 in the Liberic Sea. It was there where the pegasus Hel, a member of the Wonderbolts finally defected after years of oppression and set everything in motion...
A pegasus rocketed through the window of the office, her force knocking out the electrical grid. A few moments later the resulting sonic boom shook the building, and her electromagnetic pulse knocked out the lights. The thermal-vision flickered on with a high pitch squeal, allowing her gaze to pierce through the thick layer of concrete dust. Seeing no immediate threats, the pegasus hastily searched for a vantage point in the dark room.
She galloped towards the door, her streamline armour permitting her movements. Her heavy breathing muffled by an oxygen mask, covered by an aerodynamic visor; and a similar metal helmet. The pilot’s eyes had a perfect view from all around. Despite that, not a single part of her was exposed to the outside world.
She activated her microphone with a crackle, but before speaking breathed a sigh of relief. This would be the last mission she flew for her race, she would make sure of that. "Hotel Echo Lima to MCOM, landed in projected quadrant of target building. Negative on OPFOR in quadrant, over."
An authoritative colt responded; "Commodore Hel, this is SOCOM Niner speaking. Your orders are as follows; you are to secure and hold the communications command console, located on the seventh story of the complex, until the conflict surrounding the island of Grid 3 has come to a close. A nearby allied commando regiment has managed to push a couple of Terry fire-teams into taking refuge inside the structure. They know we can not shell it, neutralize them if possible as a secondary objective. However, it is vital that the command console stay within our control, else the enemy learns the location of our forward munitions facility. You have been given clearance level six, your course of actions is of your discretion. Good hunting Wonderbolt, SOCOM out."
Hel listened closely for the crackle of gunfire. A series of muffled shots off in the night was all she heard, none of them were close. She thought of the fire-teams who had made the building their shelter; probably holed up somewhere near the command console with standard Terranian issue assault weaponry. Nothing she hadn't dealt with before.
Switching to night-vision, Hel cautiously made her way through the corridors of the Relay. Galloping through; Hel noticed this station had been abandoned in a hurry, everything was still neat, tidy, and in order. The battle raging outside must have scared the occupants out rather quickly.
Then, something stood out from the monotony of the hallways; blood. There was no way the ground forces had advanced into the building already, and they were rarely as violent as to decorate the walls with blood. It looked like somebody had been dragged along the wall; leading to a closed door at the end of the hallway. Hel made ready her wits, and started towards it, every muscle in her body was ready to be attacked, or to launch one. Adopting a low stance, she carefully slunk up to the door. There she saw that there was blood oozing out from underneath the entrance. She took a position at the side of the door, and readied her wrist-magnum. She pushed the door open from around the corner, as to not be blown away as soon as she touched the entrance. The door swung slowly open, Hel braced for gunfire, but no sound came from the room. She peered around the corner, her heart racing now.
Hel entered the room to get a look, there lay a Terranian soldier face first on the floor, soaking in his own blood. Hel locked the door and turned her attention to the dead pony. He was armed with four different rifles, in typical earth pony fashion. He had all the markings of an average Coalition G.I.; but there was no damage to his back armour. The attacker took this trooper head on. She turned over the lifeless soldier, and was taken aback by how many wounds this stallion had sustained. Everywhere he was decorated with cuts and bruises, and what seemed to be an impale entry point in his chest; that had broken clean through his armour. Even stranger still, was the fact that the flesh was cauterised. Hel scanned the room for evidence of what might have killed him.
Rows of tall machines lined the walls. Their lights were on, surviving the EMP. Military information storage was one of the few technologies to be deemed worthy of EMP shielding. Hel left the body behind to investigate the aisles.
"CAUTION: ENVIRONMENTAL TEMPERATURE SPIKE DETECTED. ADVISE: DO NOT REMOVE FLIGHT-GEAR IN THIS AREA." The suit blurted. The many fans that spotted the servers were stationary, it would only be a matter of time before overheating would set in and knock them out. Hel combed the paths through the heat of the server room, searching for any sign of the aggressor’s weapon. Aisle after aisle, the corridors were empty. It wasn’t until she had reached the very last row that she noticed a change. A single cable hung out of place. Turning the corner of the row, there was what seemed to be a makeshift bed, and a neatly piled stack of empty food cans. Someone had made these servers their home, at least for a short while. Other than the basics of sleeping and eating, there was nothing of interest to be found in this little "encampment".
Hel quickly made her way back to the body, giving it another once over. "And there’s no bullet wounds..." Hel trailed off while muttering to herself, there was evidence of a third party here. There was only one force that used firearms second to unconventional weapons. Activating her radio, Hel spoke quickly; "Hel to MCOM, I’ve found a Terranian casualty, one of the fire-squad it looks like. His wounds are... unusual to say the least. A large cauterised entry point, cuts on almost all exposed skin and excessive bruising. I’m not sure what to tell you guys, I’ve never seen our guys do this. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this looks like a unicorn's doing . I’m relaying the image now."
A flash emitted from Hel’s helmet. "We’ll run it by the medical personell Hel, continue on with your objective. We will inform you of what caused his death as soon as possible, SOCOM out." The radio stallion’s voice faded back into static. Suddenly sounds of gunfire erupted a few floors below, followed by the resounding thump of a grenade. BLUFOR was making their way into the building, fighting a good number of Terry along the way no doubt.
clank clank --KA-BOOM!! -- CLANK
The floor shook, and the servers turned off in an instant. Hel froze, a muffled scream haunted the outside hallway as something had crashed through the ceiling into the hallway outside.
A warped female voice jested;
"Heh... Aha- ha ha... ooh. Build a pony a fire, and he'll be warm for a day..." The distinctive whir of a petrol gauge filled the air. "Set a pony on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life."
The screaming transformed into a frantic shriek, as a terrifying noise came from the other side of the door... like a small jet engine had ignited. A bright orange light came from underneath the door. The glow faded, a series of loud clangs following shortly after. As the sound grew distant, Hel steeled her nerves.
"CRUISE MISSILES ARMED."
Bursting through the door, Hel was ready to send the enemy sky high. Instead, she was met with a hallway set ablaze. The thick smell of napalm pierced even her suit’s filter. Burning rubble was falling from a large hole in the ceiling. Whatever had come through from the floor above, it was damn heavy. However, Hel was somewhat relieved she had avoided whatever created this mess. Looking on the floor she saw the helmet of the victim, the smashed visor of standard Aerocastalian design. Hel nudged the helmet on its side, examining the back. "897th Flight Commandos". She snuffed. Whoever this was, they made a Commando beg for his life and those guys were tough as nails. Armed with a flamethrower like this, one could easily hold any room in this entire building, the armour permitting for the temperature of course. Could it have been a bouncer?
Hel decided there had been enough time wasted on 'secondary objectives', it was time to make for the command console. And fast, there was a good chance that the culprit who cooked the commando would be heading that way as well. Only a few flights of stairs remained between Hel and her target.
Hel bolted through the inferno, wasting her precious internal oxygen supply was not an option. Turning the corner out of the blaze, she propelled herself into the stairwell making full use of her wings. Suddenly a spray of bullets grazed the head of her helmet.
"Contact, further along the stairs! Light 'er up boys!"
Automatic guns riddled the stone walls around her, chipping the plaster off of it. This was too close for comfort. Hel had nearly reached the console’s floor and was not interested in taking on a bunch of goons once she got there; that would compromise the equipment. Their pursuit would have to come to a close quickly, but there was no way she could take on an entire fire-team by herself in this confined a space. As the bullets bounced off her armour Hel remembered the present she had planned for the flamethrower owner. Not enough to take out the whole squad - But it would be enough to stop them in their tracks. Galloping past one of the support pillars she chose her target.
Approaching the next floor, Hel shifted her weight; spinning around on her back leg and flung backwards up the last staircase. She took aim, the small missile presenting itself from her wrist. The first soldier was hot on her heels and had just reached the support column, right into her sights. Hel waited half a second, letting the enemy draw even closer to her target and putting just a little more distance between her and the damage the explosion would cause.
"WARNING: DANGER CLOSE. ADV-"
The missile launched off Hel’s wrist, soaring through the air for a split-second before annihilating the support beams, saturating the stairwell with fire. She flew through the door at the top floor, knocking it clean of its hinges. The flames were not a moment behind her hind hooves. Scorching the paint off her shoes. The crackle of gunfire had been replaced with the crumble of rubble.
Hel groaned as she lifted herself out of the dust and cantered down the corridor - There was no where else to go in this hallway other than to the control room. Catching her breath, Hel examined the room. The centre itself was adorned with all different types of monitors and screens, all for what seemed individual purposes. In the middle was a large situation table, which glowed a gentle orange. The console room had been protected by EMP shielding as well, although all the screens shone with static. All except one. Hel trode closer to the array of displays to get a closer look at the functioning set. The screen was too bright for her night-vision, Hel switched it off , letting her eyes adjust to the dimly lit setting. There on the monitor was an image of the server room.
"There’s that soldier-"
The click of a rifle bolt being pulled back rang through the room. "Do not move. I saw what you did out there." came a posh voice from the back of the room. Unmistakeably unicorn.
"I have seen what you are capable of, you possess the capacity to end my life." the voice continued.
"What is your business here? And for that matter, why should I allow you live? I don't want to have to make an Aerocast pig squeal."
"That clanking sound for one thing. I thought you’d have seen it on one of these cameras."
The back wall of the command centre blew outwards sending splinters of wood from desks near it. Hel acted with precision. Hovering over the command console she drew both of her magnums and turned to face the aggressors. Dust from the explosion filled the room, effectively blinding her. Suddenly, the dust turned a light grey. The electromagnetic pulse had worn off, the lights had come back online. Hel waited for shots, napalm, or any weapon to start off the shootout. But as the dust started to settle, there was only the sound of the computers in the room.
Hel’s left gun was trained on an unusual foe. An Equestrian mare, clad in brushed metal gold from head to hoof. Her visor was completely black, the horn enclosed in a metal shell. A rifle levitated perfectly still by her side, aimed at Hel’s head. The unicorn had a spear of magic hoisted, ready to launch at what came through the wall.
She shifted her gaze to the second figure. Another mare, Terranian. A towering six foot tall wall of red steel; this pony stood on two legs. The helmet was a full sheet of metal, with a jaw-plate bolted on; an enormous smile spread across it. Orange eyes glared from the suit, like two smaller visors. A slight trickle of red ran down from them. The massive upper-body counterbalanced by two sooty napalm-throwers. One for each hoof. The pre-ignitors growled to life.
All three of them looked from side to side at each other. Each of them waited for the others to make a wrong move which would leave them open for attack. The first one to move would of been gunned down so fast they wouldn’t even have had the time to regret their decision. But, the moment seem to hang, like time was standing still for this room. The only thing that could change this was some outside force.
The intercom system screeched, cutting through the intense silence. A voice familiar to the pegasus came through;
"Dear soldiers of the Eight Hundred Ninety-Seventh Flight Commandos, this is your Commandant; Samuel Avalos. I am currently transmitting on all frequencies, from Los Pegasi.
Circumstances that extend beyond the boundaries of this conflict have compromised the security of mainland Aerocastalia, and it is with great sorrow that I regret to inform you that I have deemed the operation: terminated. The Republic sends its most heartfelt regards for your unwavering support in the defence of her territory, and sovereignty. Your families have already been informed of your sacrifice for our cause. Equestria no puede tomar el cielo por nosotros... Adiós, mis soldados. Long may you soar."
The transmission cut to the Aerocastalian anthem. Hel knew exactly what was to follow a message like that. She took a deep breath, and switched to her open microphone. She hoped it was in the best interest of these ponies to live.
"Look, if you two want to live, you’ll listen carefully. In a couple of minutes there’s going to be nothing left of this island, nothing but a smouldering crater. Command’s going to wipe it off the face of Equusara. By some miracle, we haven’t shot each other yet. I'd say that's progress wouldn't you?" Hel glanced at the two parties, they weren't budging. "But when I land, I expect not to die got it?" Hel retracted her wings, landing on all fours with a clack. "...and lower the guns already, we don’t have time for that." Slowly, the two lowered their firearms, as Hel began to trod over to the unicorn, "You, can you teleport?"
"Of course." she replied.
"Far enough to get us to the mainland?"
She thought for a moment. "Perhaps, but why should I bring you two with me?"
"Because we’re your only hope of surviving the 'pig Aerocast' once we get there. Unless you’re interested in being dissected in some underground lab; you’d better stick with us," Hel shot a look at the adjacent earth pony, "That’s assuming you’re coming along too?"
"You betcha." The electronic voice said.
"Then what can you offer?" asked Hel.
"I can be scary, and I didn't roast ya." the mask's smile seemed to widen.
"Well you’ve got that down..."
It was then that Hel noticed the gunfire outside had stopped. The hole the Terranian left in the command centre’s wall had made some of the room open to the outside night. A yellow glow illuminated the opening. Hel’s heart skipped a beat. She wheeled around to face the unicorn.
"Get us out of here!" Hel yelled.
"Where do you-?"
"Get us out of here! Now damnit!"
The Unicorn’s horn began to glow, "Get close..." An audible rumbling shook the foundations of the building. In a flicker of reality, the three disappeared.
A moment later, the structure was no more.
The three lay in a jungle clearing, dazed by their sudden apparition. The night was cool, but the humid air of the rain forest hung deep in their throats immediately. Encased in metal shells, two of them rose decorated in tens of multicoloured lights.
Hel stumbled to her hooves wearing blue colours, and her flight-suit while significantly damaged from combat, glimmered in the soft light. She hastily examined her surroundings noticing the unicorn was unconscious on the ground, breathing sharp and fast. For a brief minute, the two able minded ponies stared into each others helmets, unsure what course of action to take. They were as much strangers to themselves, as to this jungle.
As the earth pony rose, she stood on two legs. The Crimson wall once again presented itself to Hel, the eyes glowed a softer golden colour and the red trickle had disapeared. Tearing her gaze off of the heavily armoured earth pony, Hel rushed over towards the unconscious unicorn, the silence was broken.
"Come on! Get up you idiot! What’s wrong with you!? I don’t want to have to drag you to the hospital, snap out of it!" she shook the unicorn forcefully.
The earth pony pitched in, her face hidden by the menacing helmet, "I hope you realize we'll be rounded up and slaughtered like pigs if we head to your hospitals, pegasus." The voice still sounded unnatural filtered through her microphone.
Pretending to ignore the comment, Hel tried to hoist the unicorn over her back; but the armour proved too heavy for her frame. The earth pony raised a hoof in Hel direction. "Especially if we bring the likes of her along. Besides, how am I supposed to trust someone I don't even know the name of?"
"I didn't kill you. Shouldn't that be trustworthy enough?" She retorted frantically. "Now look, we can talk this out once we get some treatment... but we have to trust each other!" Hel nudged the incapacitated unicorn urgently again. "Hey, come on. Wake up!" The prodding yielded no success.
In her frustration, Hel slammed a metal hoof into the earth. She sat back on the dirt closing her eyes tightly, trying her best to keep the recent events from flooding her mind's eye. The three of them had escaped the Communications Relay. Only just. The flight sergeant's briefing echoed in in her brain;
"There will be Fourteen Thousand of the Commandant's
finest deployed to Grid 3. One of you does not exist."
Fourteen thousand on her side alone, countless more on the other. Every last one, incinerated by that malevolent flash. She shuddered painfully, the shock of the situation was setting in, and the thought of the entire mission brought her to the verge of tears. This shouldn't have bothered her.
"Well, It's a good thing I don't exist." she shakily whimpered.
The earth pony walked towards Hel detaching her shoe with a twist, as the pneumatic locks gave way. She placed an unarmoured hoof on the distraught pegasus' shoulder.
"Look on the bright side, at least you didn't end up one of them. You're still breathing. Focus on that."
If there was one thing Hel was doing a lot of, it was breathing. She took in one long drawn breath. Calming herself, Hel felt obliged to let some information pass to her ally,
"Thank you... the names Hel by the way."
The earth pony cocked her head to the side a little,
"That's an odd name... but, a name is a name I guess. I'm Annabelle, Annabelle Bennett."
Annabelle picked up her shoe, and placed it back on with a clank.
"You got a last name?"
"Yeah, Olivera." Hel motioned her head in the direction of the unicorn, "Just check up on the sparkler, I need a minute..."
Annabelle turned her attention away from Hel, kneeling down to scan the Unicorn, A single laser shot down from her helmet onto the wounded unicorn's forehead. Tiny letters filled her visor, Annabelle relayed them. "The scans tellin' me she's just really low on energy, needs some rest is all. There won't be a need for that trip to the hospital."
Annabelle knew that the unicorn was armed with more than just her horn. The rifle lay next to her. Annabelle gave the weapon a good hard knock, the clip loosened. Drawing a small knife, she made a series of quick incisions into the rifle. Shortly after, the clip came out with ease. Examining the clip, Annabelle came to a conclusion; "A sparkler weapon... useless to us." She put the clip in a small satchel on her side. Hel turned to face the Equestrian. She twisted the Unicorn's mask off, revealing pale white skin and a mane of icy blue, white streaks accentuated her hair’s details .
A soft light emitted from the unicorn’s eyes, which were emblazoned with stylized looking dye. "Why are her eyes glowing?" Hel said noting the glow.
Annabelle scrolled through the information her suit had provided her. "I don't have the slightest idea, and neither would the scanner."
Hel sat down in the dirt impatiently, it would have been a bonus had the Equestrian been awake, but with her like this, their mobility would be reduced to a crawl. Hel quickly removed her helmet, placing it on a nearby rock. Her navy and white mane glowed a small bit in the moonlight. Revealing her dark coat matching her mane underneath.
"Well, if we're gonna spend the night here, I'd think a fire'd be nice..." Annabelle suggested.
"It doesn't seem like we have much choi-"
Hel's ear twitched, a frequency just within hearing range tickled her mind. She thought she had heard that sound before...
"Do you hear that?" Hel asked quietly.
"...Hear what?" Annabelle was preparing to light a small patch of earth ablaze.
Hel listened harder, the high-pitched squeal was turning into a whine, a sound with which she was all too familiar. Jets.
Hel scrambled off the ground, rushing towards Annabelle. She propelled herself with her wings,
Hel tackled Annabelle to the forest floor with a resounding thud. Not a moment later, a deafening scream flooded through the trees. A dozen shadowy figures fast as lightning darted over the canopy, the trees swaying with the force of their velocity. A storm of scared birds bolted away into the night. It took a minute for the sound to dissipate, but eventually the silence of the forest resumed. Hel was on top of the confused earth pony,
"Now that was close. Too close for my likin'." Annabelle whispered.
"They were looking for us.... must have seen the teleport's flash. There has to be a settlement nearby." Hel looked at the sky. "...and had you lit that fire, we would have been up to our necks in pegasus ordnance right about now." She raised herself onto all fours. "You have to be more careful. If the feds found out I'm alive after that little op we just went through, I'm dead for sure. I can't even imagine what they'd do to a Terranian..."
"Nothing I can't handle, flygirl." chuckling, Annabelle sat back up "I've dished out my fair share of pain." Annabelle trode over to where the unicorn lay, and sat with her back against one of the many thick tree trunks. She tinkered with her wrist-controls for a moment, and a glowing rod presented itself from the device. A light source.
"Now come on over here, I wanna show you something."
Perplexed, Hel picked up her helmet between her teeth and walked over to the tree.
"This is a better spot for the light, the leaves on the this tree are thick enough to cover the light source. We won't be seen from the sky."
Placing the glowstick on the ground, Annabelle moved over a ways to make room for the pegasus to sit. Hel took her place next to her ally, and moved her emerald eyes from the canopy to Annabelle. "Now what did you want to sh- What the..-!?"
Annabelle's smooth mask had been transformed. The eyes were a laser-red, and blood flowed out of them down her helmet's cheeks. Her jawplate once again had a huge smile, the teeth were serraded and they resembled large steak-knives. It was the scariest thing Hel had ever seen, and it was not a foot away from her face. A demon's voice escaped the metal monster's lips,
Hel yelped and flung herself from Annabelle back into the darkness, determined to get away from that hellish expression. A metallic click and a soft giggle came shortly after.
"Oh suga' the look on your face was priceless!"
A sweet accent replaced the daemonic voice that was present a moment ago. An Applasian accent. Annabelle sounded like she'd come fresh from the Terranian countryside.
Hel turned her head to face it, and instead of that horrible metal visage, there was a pony rolling in laughter kicking up small clouds of dirt; utterly helmetless. Annabelle's orange skin, curly blond hair, and deep-set cobalt eyes came together to make the most harmless looking equine Hel had ever seen. Annabelle's snorting laughter subsided, and she patted the ground next to her, inviting the startled pegasus to sit once again.
"Come on now, I don't bite hun," Hel was reluctant to move. Annabelle moved her helmet to the side of the tree. "I promise not to do it again... now take a seat!"
Hel cautiously took her original position, still shaken by Annabelle's 'joke'. "How... o-or why did you do that?" Hel stammered.
"Well I did say that I dish out my fair share of pain didn't I? Half of it's physical.... and the other half is the psychological. The "boogie-pony" part I like to call it."
Annabelle picked up Hel's helmet, and begun examining it.
"and I can tell you about that, but first I wanna hear about you; what's your story, hun?"
Hel sighed sullenly and shook her head, "It isn't a happy story really, but I'll tell you if you want."
Annabelle continued to rotate the helmet, "I'm all ears." Hel made herself comfortable, took a single deep breath, and began;
"My father and I used to run a bakery on the west coast, a couple hours flight south from Volaré. It's a little place called Bambaleo, it has perfect weather, and we were right on the beach too. The west coast of Aerocastalia is simply too beautiful for words. Just a little red house. We woke up, sold our stuff, went flying... it was pretty easy living. Then..."
"Then you got invited to a hush-puppy, big shot, special operations unit?"
Hel stopped herself, "How did you know I wa-"
Annabelle pointed to an insignia on the back of the flight-helmet, a winged bolt. "From baker... to Wonderbolt?" Annabelle smiled slyly. "You're good. Care to share your secret?"
Hel rubbed her eyes, preparing to convey the rest of her story,
"Well, it was a couple of years back when the commandant sent out the occupation reassignment letters. One day we got one in the mail, said dad would be working in a munitions production plant indefinitely."
Annabelle grew silent.
"A couple of days later, civil defense shows up to take him away. I was on the doorstep watching the officers take him away. It was that moment... that I realized I was never going to see his face again. He was going to die at that plant. I had to do something..." Hel was close to tears now, only just holding them back.
"So I attacked the two of them... I took one by suprise and slammed his face into the hood of their transport, shattered his helmet too. I turned around to fight the next guy, then he pulled a gun and just..."
Hel's body was still, and all of her focus was being spent on preventing an outburst of emotion. She stared at the ground.
"Just what?" Annabelle's smirk faded to concern.
"Just murdered him." Hel remained adamant. "The bastard didn't even look at my father when he took his life." Hel's anguish quickly transitioned into a building anger. "The lack of respect..."
"I'm sorry... If ther-"
Hel faced Annabelle, "I'm not finished." she whiped a watery eye, and cleared her throat. "After that, the officer I took out restrained me from behind, I was thrown into the back of the cruiser and taken away. They just left him there, on the curb."
Hel spat, "Cerdos..." her anger dissipating. "After I was arrested I was taken in for a week at the Cadena Bloc waiting to be sentenced, all the while being treated like a regular piece of trash. My trial was anything but routine though. I pleaded guilty... and then I brought up my father's murder, let my last name slip. They didn't have a name on file for me, and I refused to give it to them. So they just branded me with my criminal code."
"What's your code then?" Annabelle asked.
Hel spoke aloud "Left shoulder carapace, disengage." Her armour hissed and whined as the pneumatic grips on her metal suit loosened. Hel popped the shoulderpiece off with a flex of her arm, exposing her white skin. Annabelle examined closely. Printed on Hel's shoulder was her criminal code;
Annabelle put a hoof to her chin, "Then what IS your real first name?" Hel half heartedly smiled, and looked up at the canopy of the tree.
"It's not important, I live a different life now than I did with my older name. I am a completely changed person, that's why I choose not to use it. The judge wasn't buying it though. He turned the court into an interrogation room to try and force my first name out of me. I didn't give it to them, I'd have died before that. Then... he did something extremely odd. Originally I was sentenced to life in prison, but after that unsuccessful interrogation, he re-sentenced me to 20 years service in the Air Force, Los Pegasi division. At the Capital AFB, right in the heart of the military." Hel chuckled, "That was the biggest mistake of his life. I knew that from the moment I stepped off that prison plane, I was going to turn my training against the government someday. The fact that I'm sitting next to you right now Annabelle, is a manifestation of that. It wasn't easy at the base though, I had a lot of things against me. The other cadets, and my 'duties' were always more strenuous than everyone else's. But most of all, one commanding officer had it out for me. He tried to frame me for escaping my sentence, assigned more extra hours of training than I can count, and I'm convinced he was trying to kill me the entire time."
"What kind of training exactly?"
"I was assigned for a new kind of unit, "Thunderbirds" they called us. Our job was to fly at mach speeds, and charge into enemy ranks of the ground. We killed what needed to be killed, and then we got out just as fast as we entered; 'First in, first out.' was our motto."
Hel held up her armoured hooves, "We got the nickname probably because of these,"
A couple of large blades shot out of the armour, pulsing with electricity. "Turns out I was really good at ramming into things at eight times the speed of sound; good enough to get through Sarge's trials, and land top spot in my class. After that I was invited to be one of their elite. I’ve spent the entire time thinking of a way to plot against them, but I've never had the means to carry out anything."
Hel retracted the weapons, "I am a Wonderbolt Shocktrooper.... or, was until about an hour ago. I flew a few missions for them, and got assigned to this operation."
"Where you met up with me, and what's her face over there. I gotta say, for someone who's supposed to be up in the blue yonder, you look like you could pick a mean ground fight flygirl." Hel adjusted her backs position on the tree trunk and let out a sigh,
"And that's my story so far, but enough about me Annabelle, your turn to start talking."
Annabelle spoke in a light-hearted manner, ignoring the subject matter.. "I never knew my parents first of all, got dropped off at an orphanage when I was a youngin' up Bloomberg County way, if that wasn't obvious. I was raised workin' for the food harvestin' industry, much like yourself... except I got the workhorse part of it. Turn the clock back 3 years, the apple harvesting facility gets closed down because of resource allocation-" Annabelle shook her head.
"But it wasn't that simple suga'. Come the last day on the job, I snapped." Annabelle picked up her helmet, and looked into its eyes "There's somethin' you should know about me before I continue on with that, ever heard of a Bouncer before?"
Hel was intrigued now, "Yes of course I have, nothing but myths of ... bleeding eyes, serra-" Hel shot her comrade an astonished expression, to which Annabelle answered with a quaint smile. "Y-you're a bouncer? You? But how? Doesn't that mean you're..-?!"
Annabelle rolled her eyes, "Do I look like that to you? Let me finish before you go on blabberin' about falsities Hel, I'm not done either. Last day on the job, I took the place hostage; all of it. I'd put the whole thing out of comission, and I took out a few members of Federal Police along with it. The funny thing is, I don't uh... recall a thing about it, I just woke up on the assembly floor, surrounded by important lookin' special operations. Instead of just killin' me outright, they offered me a place among their ranks. And I do use that term loosely."
"But why did you hold up the facility? Most ponies would have just found a new job."
"I'm crazy." Annabelle rubbed the disturbing smile on the helmet, "A special kind of crazy. The right kind of crazy for the job at least."
Hel chuckled, "Yeah, you and me both."
“Spike, take a note. I have discovered that there are unrecorded locations unknown to Equestrian kind. I need you to look up ‘Aerocastalia’, and I need... you... to- ”
Twilight suddenly realized there was no grumbly dragon at her side, and that she was utterly alone in the library’s study.
“One moment please...”
Twilight jumped, the book just spoke to her.
"Aerocastalia: The Paradise Continent. The Traditional home of the Aerius Coballus and Vigratus Furtivus, or Pegasus and Zebra races of equine. As of the 4255 Republic Census it is home to 4,498,169,217 ponies. It is mostly consisted of a jungle environment, although the western coast contains a large desert expanse. The Continental Capital is Los Pegasi, also commonly known as the 'Causeway'. Do you want any more specific information?" It then continued the new information spreading out on the page before her.
Twilight thought about it. "A talking book..."
"Do you want any more specific information?"
"Uh... no, thank you." Twilight answered.
How does a pony talk to a book?
"Thank you for using the look up system. Returning to previous page."
Twilight thought about what just happened for a second.
I could use this to look up any information I want, like that date out there.
"What is the Date?"
The book remained silent. Twilight thought what she had done differently this time compared with the last one. The last thing the book said to her went through her head.
Thank you for using the look up system
"Look up, Date."
"The Current Date is 12th Day. Second Quarter. The year Fifteen thousand and thirty one." The screen didn't change at all, stating the date without changing a single word on the page.
"That statue...this place...it is 10,000 years old? How long has this place been abandoned?"
Twilight thought of any other information she might want.
"Look up, 'Terranian'."
"A resident of Terranian Coalition jurisdiction. The term refers specifically to the Fortis Coballus genus of equine, commonly called 'Earth ponies'. Do you want any more information?"
Puzzled to a small degree, Twilight thought it best to continue on with the recording before asking any more questions.
"Thank you for using the look up system. Returning to previous page."
A bit of time had passed in the night. Hel and Annabelle had finished telling each other about their pasts. At least as much as they were willing to share with someone they didn't fully trust yet. Looking over at the still unconscious unicorn, Annabelle leaned on the tree trunk; letting out a yawn. "I expected that sparkler to be awake by now." She plucked out a black cloth out of one of her pouches and pulled forward her detached flamethrowers. "Might as well give little ol' Firecracker some shine."
Despite being slightly disturbed that Annabelle had actually named her weapon; she continued watching her clean and polish the sooty metal. "I'm guessing those things aren't standard issue."
"Of course Firecracker isn't standard issue!" Annabelle snapped. "She's special;" her offended demeanor fading as she turned her attention to the chemical weapon; pressing a cheeky smile against her pride and joy. "Aren't you? Don't listen to her." she had already removed most of the soot from the end of one of the nozzles. "If you do want to talk regular guns, us bouncers normally get a napalm thrower - but none of them are as special as Firecracker here. Standard issue for us is half my baby and this thing." Annabelle produced a monster of a syringe, attached to her arm.
Hel reeled back in shock. "Do you have a name for that too?"
"Nah, it's just a syringe. Other than that I've got a boom-stick back there...and you've already seen my explosives. How about you? Got anything else up them sleeves?" Annabelle gestured to the Carapace on the floor while she continued to polish.
"Apart from the blades, wrist magnums, and cruise missiles - That's all I got." Hel picked the piece of armour back up and re-attached it to the flight suit. "We can be fit with a lot of different gadgets, but we can't hold them all at once, unlike some ponies."
"How hard is it to go around with one of those branded on your arm anyway? You mentioned how much trouble we're gonna to have on the mainland - and I don't think the locals'll take too kindly to them prisoner marks." Annabelle commented.
"Of course, but if I'm wearing this suit - no one is going to think about what's under it. As long as I keep out of the way of anyone in command. I'll just look like a special forces scout. Ponies tend to avoid causing trouble when there is lone soldiers about. It usually means that they're investigating something, and if they find anything, they'll send more." Hel Looked down at the marks from the flames and shots not even an hour old. "But looking at the state I am in now - I wouldn't be surprised if someone reported my damages, especially this far into the continent."
Annabelle had finished cleaning off the flamethrower, setting it aside.
Suddenly the light source disappeared, and the three were plunged into pitch darkness again. "Oh look, Firecracker killed Glowy."
"Whoops, sorry 'bout that. Just let me fetch another one here..." Annabelle reached for a second stick, but fumbled for it in the dark. "Come on where are y-" her coaxing was cut short by a peculiar shuffling noise. They froze, thinking for sure that someone had come to investigate the clearing. The sound of a bolt clicking into place proved otherwise. Someone was very close, and they were armed.
Whoever had snuck up on them had to be very highly trained, they thought. Before a white glow revealed the unicorn now awake...violet eyes stared angrily down the barrel. The rifle was floating in front of her, trained onto Annabelle's vulnerable temple.
"You kidnapped the wrong princess!"
The rifle bolt slammed forward, but no bullet came out. Annabelle smiled, close to bursting into laughter. "Excuse me, Princess? Who do you think you are?" chuckling, she drew the rifle clip. "I'm glad I disarmed you sugar, I myself am also a bit trigger happy when waking up in a strange place... nice to meet you too."
The unicorn scanned the two sitting ponies, recognizing their armour from before. Her expression changed to a stern look and barely hiding her embarrassment, she lowered her rifle. "Oh, right..."
Standing up Annabelle cracked the elusive glow-stick, lighting the scene once more.
Hel was feeling like she was losing it. She didn't even have any weapons armed at the moment. The fact she had survived another mission was eating at her, she should be dead. Again. She had to focus, get her wings back in the air and take control of the situation. All three of them were up now and luckily for her, they weren't going to kill each other. "Right, now that you are awake. I think it's a good time for me to explain to you what we have just survived. But first, seriously, what's your name - Princess?"
"Matilda." She snapped back.
"And what's your last name?"
"My title is Celestia."
Annabelle snorted, "Yeah, and I'm the fuckin' prophet."
"Please. You are no where near as gifted as that psychopath Snowden." Matilda chided.
"Well I'm not goin' to believe that you're royalty just 'cause you're some unicorn, got any proof, hun?" Annabelle replied stating the facts of the situation.
Matilda's horn started to glow and she pulled a necklace out of her armour. "This is my signet, and official seal of the Imperio Equestrius. Recognized and empowered on the date of my birth, the 7th day of the 4th Quarter; 4218 anno domina by the High Cantor's Court. The 16,932nd member of the Celestia bloodline, and first in line for the throne. Enough proof for you, hun?"
Matilda dangled the necklace in front of the earth pony. Ignoring the attack on her accent, Annabelle began to examine the hovering signet. With a sense of urgency Hel stood and walked right up into Matilda's face. "Now this is important. You're going to tell us why you were on that island, and you're going to tell us everything. That includes exactly what a royal like you is outside of Equestria. You shouldn't be out on pegasus territory, you should be executing undesirables." Hel asked.
Averting her gaze from Hel's eyes, Matilda spoke quietly "I do not have a good history with my mother. I stopped affiliating myself with the crown long ago. I was present on that island for personal reasons."
Growing impatient, Hel raised her voice. "That's bullshit! I didn't risk my life to get a half-assed story out of you."
Matilda gave up fighting them. "Fine, I guess it is the least you deserve. I was hiding out, gathering intelligence to sell on the black market in that deserted relay. Then the Aerocast and Terranian special forces decided to have a nice little quarrel right outside the front door. I decided to get as much information as I could and get out at the last second. But one of your friends," She gestured towards Annabelle. "busted into the server room while I was in the middle of downloading the bulk of the data."
Annabelle commented handing the necklace back to the princess. "Not my friends. On my side, but not my friends. And Hel, this necklace seems like the real deal"
"Hel, that is an unusual name...What is your name, darlin'?" Matilda butted in, still trying to get a reaction out of the earth pony.
"Bennett, Annabelle Bennett." she said with a snide smile.
"Now what were you saying about what we just survived before you rudely attacked me?" Matilda said getting back to the matter at hand.
Hel stood up, "Right...I will but thinking about it - I think we should get moving. I will explain on the way there." Looking down at her GPS. "Looks like there is a small village nearby, 'La Mina', I think it'll be small enough not to gather any attention, and the locals probably won't pipe up given their numbers. Give the princess her clip back just in case that search party finds us."
All of them stood up and put on their helmets in sync with each other - like they had been working together for years. Annabelle threw Matilda her clip which she magically loaded it into her rifle in mid air. Annabelle then picked up Firecracker and the three started to follow Hel towards La Mina.
Hel opened her external microphone and continued. "As I was saying. What we just survived was a nuclear bomb."
Starting to stomp through the undergrowth Matilda commented. "How on Equusara's sweet ground did you weaponize nuclear power?"
Leading the way Hel continued. "Do you really expect me to know that? I'm not a physicist; I've only dropped one of those things. Granted, I wasn't expected to survive the blast. But from what I know it was the fifth one launched and the first one launched actually in the course of war. Everyone within two clicks would be dead instantly - either vapourised by the explosion - or blasted to a pulp by the shock wave which followed. The ones outside of the 2 clicks had it worse. They've spent the last two hours slowly being cooked from the inside. Any armor they were wearing would only intensify the effects."
"Talk about overkill...and that's me talking. Wait a minute...You dropped one of these things?" Annabelle said a little doubtingly.
Pushing some branches out of their way Hel carried on. "First mission with the Wonderbolts - It was meant to be my last. No one expected me to outrun the shock wave. But I was out of the incineration zone before the bomb even landed. The spotters were not so lucky."
"Wait a second...you are a Wonderbolt? The 'wild sky yonder' ponies? How did that happen?" said Matilda.
"Well we both know some of your history...Might as well tell you mine - Annabelle already got familiar with it before you woke up." Hel started to retell her story.
"A special kind of crazy. The right kind of crazy for the job at least." Annabelle finished her story just as they came out of the jungle to the edge of some overgrown farm land facing a small worn country road. Morning light was just beginning to peek out over the horizon.
Matilda chuckled, "Yeah, you and me both. But I think Hel's story was more interesting." As they stepped out they noticed something was wrong about La Mina. There were no lights on - no idling vehicles, no glowing farm houses, no combine harvesters out tending to the early morning farming work. "This is slightly...unnerving. Where are the residents?"
Hel looked for a while longer, searching for any signs of life amongst the seemingly deserted town. "Actually, I don't have any idea where they we-"
Annabelle nudged Hel, pointing towards the main road. "Looks like they didn't want to go wherever they went." The central entrance to the town was littered with sandbags and barbed wire. An overturned vehicle lay behind the makeshift defenses.
Hel squinted at the barricaded entrance, "But why would they hole themselves up like that? Who were they trying to keep out?"
"Well there's only one way to find out." Annabelle left the cover of the foliage and began to follow the dusty road.
"Hopefully we don't have to worry about hiding from the locals while we are here." Matilda removed herself from the jungle in a single swift motion, heading in Annabelle's direction.
Trailing behind, Hel added "It doesn't look like we'll have to, but this is unusual. Keep your weapon drawn." With a nod, the unicorn loosened the rifle's strap on her side, and lifted the gun out. Ahead of them, Annabelle skipped happily down the path kicking up dust as she went along.
"Come on , pick up the slack girls!" she cooed, her voice underlined by a gentle sound.
clak-- clak-- clak--
After a brief walk, the three arrived at the barricaded entrance of La Mina. All around them were spent shells, emptied guns, and pieces of discarded armour. There had been resistance here for sure, Hel thought. But why hadn't the government come to stake their claim to this small town? Why would they let it be overrun by an opposing force? Past the rusted vehicles and various encampments, the main street lay, possessing the answer.
A horrific sight graced the older architecture of the quaint town, lit aglow by the creamy morning sun. Scores of dead pegasi littered the street, sorted in their place like playthings. Shattered glass peppered the ground around the rotunda of shops and burnt out interiors. All underlined by a pale rubble. In the quiet chaos, there was one constant. For each door, there was a simple yellow paper nailed.
"By order of The Republic of Aerocastalia Bureau of Resources, all citizens of 'La Mina' constituency are hereby re-purposed. Resistance will be met with deadly force. Report for attendance mid-day: 47th day of 2nd Quarter, Harrow Street."
The group was at a loss for words, rendered immobile from astonishment. Hel sluggishly shook off the shock to try and comprehend what she was witnessing. Glancing at the corpses; Hel reluctantly came to the realization and circumstances of this slaughter. These ponies were unarmed.
"Civilians. What- why would the Aerocast do this?" Hel stammered in disbelief. As she struggled to find a way to articulate herself her focus drifted to a small figure, caked in blood and half hidden by a bullet-riddled dumpster. There was no occupation identifier on the exposed flank. A child.
The three of them stood - masks facing the devastation in front of them. Each of them going through their own emotions and thought process. "I have bided my time for too long. I have held my tongue for too long. I've stayed silent during all the training, the beatings, the suicide missions, all so I can live, all so I can fight them when the time is right. I've allowed this to happen. Samuel isn't going to get away with this one," Hel couldn't help but vent a little.
Matilda was silently shocked she stared at the corpse of the child in front of her - but neither of her companions could see the tears forming in her eyes through the blacked out visor. She had never seen anything so brutal, so savage. She thought back to her training in Kensan; 'If it was not for the pain in the world, It would be impossible to experience joy. A master's job isn't to ask why did it happen, but to think what can I do.' Even the reassuring words of her teachers were overshadowed by these circumstances.
Looking at the eyes of the ponies in disgust around her, Annabelle thought back to all the soldiers she'd thoughtlessly killed. What fun it was, cooking some scum. Conflict was supposed to be glorious and pretty. This just ruins the ride.
"Hey, I'm all for taking the Aerocast down a peg or two. But do you have to have some plan to not end up like this town? We're just three ponies-"
Hel flew up face to face with Annabelle. "Shut up you dirt eater. I've been trying to think up a way to get back at those dogs for years. Whatever plans I had went out the window last night. I'm back at square one! No contacts, no plan, and no action!"
Annabelle's eyes flashed red in anger for a second. "Get a hold of yourself. We're not dead, and the last thing we want to do is start the name callin'. We can still do some damage. Now come on, there must be something we can do."
"No. We can do nothing. I screwed up, end of story." Hel snarled.
"...I know some ponies we can start with." Calmly Matilda's voice cut into the argument forcing the other two to be silent and turn to her. "I have some 'underworld' contacts in Djobi who are not too pleased with the pegasus leadership. I think I will be able to convince them to help us. They have been repressed for years, like yourself, and are no doubt itching for a chance."
"And how do they know you?" Annabelle inquired.
"Everyone knows me. Do you think I would be wandering around Aerocastalia if I did not have the right connections? You saw the dyed coat on my face - did you think they were some Equestrian status symbol? No, they are my proof of my residence in Kensan and, well, a fair number of people respect me for that. As far as defected Equestrians go, I am somewhat famous."
Gathering herself Hel murmured, "Djobi? As in Las Basuras?" she glanced at her GPS. "It's a 3 day's walk from here to that part of the desert, not counting food, and the civil defense to worry about."
"Now hang on a minute, where is this Djobi place exactly? I ain't exactly an expert on pegasus geography." Annabelle asked.
"It's a district in Las Basuras, right next to Alegria Camino. You know, 'Neon Valley'? It's on the Causeway." Matilda informed.
"Well I say we should find our way there... and once we arrive, the story of La Mina has to be told. This will be great leverage, the people aren't going to be happy when they find out about this." Hel looked at the scene once more, shaking her head. "Maybe even motivated. But first, we have to prove the feds aren't invincible somehow..."
"Let's cross that bridge when we get to it eh flygirl?" Annabelle let out a small half-reverberating chuckle, "You change attitudes on a dime," standing up on two legs, she started down the street "kinda reminds me of myself. Now let's get a move on, we should get as much ground covered as possible before midday."
"Right, but what of this town? There must be something we can do." Matilda was solemn. Hel stopped following Annabelle to face the unicorn.
"The dead are dead Matilda. The best we can do is keep moving through here before we see more things we'd rather avoid. Pay your respects, if you have any, and then we're leaving." turning away, she then continued her course down the street.
Matilda bent down concentrating magically on creating a symbol out of respect. She placed the small metallic object delicately on the ground and followed her allies out of town. She wasn't one for speeches.
Meanwhile in Equestria...
Dear Princess Celestia,
I am writing to inform you of some most terrible news. Our beloved friend and your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle has passed on. An explosion completely destroyed The Ponyville Library yesterday, and Twilight seemingly with it. I am sure you have been notified of the disturbance the explosion caused itself, but the Guard was unable to find any sign of Twilight anywhere whatsoever. Despite the delivery method of the letter I am glad to inform you that Spike, and nopony else was harmed by the explosion - But obviously with the loss of Twilight he is unable to perform his usual duties.
I know Twilight was writing reports to you on what she has learned and I felt it would be appropriate, in the memory of our dear friend, for me to use this letter as a report. Spike has holed himself up in one of Fluttershy's rooms after seeing the destruction which had befallen his home. Fluttershy is trying to console him but he does not wish to have contact with anypony.
Pinkie Pie and Applejack have been busy organizing a wake for Twilight, gathering the town for a celebration of how much she has helped everypony. Rainbow Dash hasn't stopped searching the area, deeming the search parties quitters. I have a feeling that she will never yield her efforts. As for myself, I have been writing these letters to friends, family, and acquaintances alike.
I wish the best to you in this time of sorrow your majesty, may Twilight Sparkle's legacy be remembered as long as the stars shine.
Your loyal subject,
Celestia finished reading the letter. "Thank you for delivering this, kind mail mare...I need to be alone now."
The delivery pegasus saluted the princess respectively before turning around and flying out of one of the palace windows back into the afternoon sunlight. Celestia watched her leave and then motioned her honour guard out of the throne room. Princess Luna walked up to her sister's side, and was quiet.
Celestia looked up sternly from the parchment, "Dear sister, there has been a complication with the experiment. We need to initiate protocol A-1-21."
"I will prepare the student's reports immediately, dear sister." Luna said coldly. They then walked into a back room silently, not for a moment did their eyes meet one another.
Twilight looked up from her book. An other worldly glow outside the large windows took her attention away from the text. "Wow, time just flew didn't it?" Night had passed over Volaré, and the intense heat of the desert had dissipated. She realised that nights here must be like this - a cloudless sky always cooled the earth down quickly. Once she had read a weather manual that belonged to Rainbow Dash, dealing with specifics on clouds. Twilight recalled Rainbow's jaded reaction to her interest in the manual.
"What are you doing reading a book about weather wrangling!? You don't even have wings!"
Twilight chuckled, and then let out a sigh as she remembered where she was. As she looked out of the window she noticed that the faint glow was being reflected from all of the buildings. Perplexed, Twilight decided to investigate the light. She rolled off the couch on to all fours, and shook the tiredness from her body. Twilight walked up to the entrance way, and was forced to squint at the sudden change in lighting. After a moment, she saw the streetlamps that were left standing had lit themselves up. The same was true for the statue, which was lit from underneath. All of the lights were a soft white hue.
Lamps without fire?
For a moment Twilight thought she might go outside to investigate these lights further, but decided it best to continue her study of the book, and with another brief shake she turned around starting towards the sofa.
Twilight slunk back into her original position, and levitated the book into her grasp. Thinking for a moment about what she had just been reading, she decided to look a few things up. The Equestria mentioned in this book sounded nothing like her home. The 'ancestors' of her beloved teacher were in power, but nothing else seemed right to her...
Las Basuras; a neon oasis situated in the centre of the desert. A haven for the rich, a hell for the rest. Regardless of which category you fell in, there was a place for everyone in that town. When the night swept over Las Basuras, it's glitter encrusted towers bathed the surrounding wastes in it's unnatural glow. Thousands of dots passed over the area, with more ponies leaving and entering in streams every moment; the fly-ways were always packed. It was as true for this city as it was for most pegasus settlements, it never slept.
Two cloaked ponies walked the palm tree lined highway in the cool dusk. It lead to the lesser, worse off part of the city. Djobi was their destination. But despite the roars of the passing vehicles and the circumstances under which they traveled, had started to converse.
"How does this sound? Good enough...?" Annabelle practiced concealing her accent. The sidewalk was deserted, so there was room to speak freely for a short while.
Hel gave the earth pony a glance from underneath her shroud, "It's not perfect, but I don't think you'll have a problem convincing the officers... so long as they don't check for wings. Hell, at least you don't have to ride in the cart." She gestured at the load Annabelle had been pulling behind her, a mining cart covered by a large tarp. The un-greased wheels squealed against the dusty road, rattling the suits of armour contained inside. A bump rocked the cart.
"Oof-! I'm usually not one to complain, but this is exceptionally uncomfortable. Do try to exercise some more caution." A muffled voice came from within the cargo.
"Look Matilda it would be near impossible to talk a unicorn past customs. In fact, there wouldn't be any talking at all, we would be dead. Don't worry, we'll let you know when the coast is clear." Hel replied reassuringly. Annabelle let out a little chuckle. Hel shot her cloaked counterpart a stern look, affirming that their situation was not a joke.
Annabelle compensated for her lapse, "Well just tough it out just a little while longer sug', we're almost at the gates." The entrance way to Djobi was only a small distance away now. Three days of dodging authorities and traveling in secrecy all rode on what would happen at this security checkpoint. Time for one last check.
"Let's run through this one more time; I'm Isabella, a traveling scrap merchant passing through the district on my way to Volaré."
"And I'm Marie, a mover being paid to haul these parts you sell around."
"Right, and who are you Matilda?" The cart remained silent. "That's right. You're not there." The three came to the final crosswalk before the checkpoint, which lay directly across the road. Walls rose up that guarded the city at ground level, the only entrance was through the checkpoint which acted as a giant funnel for all traffic heading inside. Waiting for the light to change, Annabelle's gaze fell on the glamorous skyscrapers. "I wonder if we'll ever get to see that ritzy part of town?" she asked.
"I'm sure we will sooner or later." Hel replied. The traffic light turned green, and they briskly crossed the road. Approaching one of the pedestrian booths they mustered up their best fake smiles. A stallion called out from the small room.
"Next!" The two walked up to the window, a large steel door kept them from the inside. "Alright, identify yourselves." he said somewhat lazily.
Hel cleared her throat, and being careful to add an extra pinch of coastal accent, spoke; "I'm Isabella, and this is my paid mover Marie, I'm from Bambaleo."
"...and I am from Atu Vera." Annabelle said quietly. The customs officer yawned and leaned back in his chair whilst he began to polish his sidearm, barely giving them the once over. The guise was working.
"What's the nature of your stay in the Basuras area?"
"We're staying in Djobi over night, heading for Volaré tomorrow after a quick rest. Maybe we'll try and scrounge up some business here seeing as I'm a scrap dealer."
"Sounds good. Anything to declare ladies?"
"Just the scrap in the cart, and a few dollars to get us by. Other than that, nothin'."
"Yes that's fine... but did you really think you could sneak something like this past me?" He leaned out the window a small ways. "Do I look like I'm blind?!" the officer exploded. Hel's heart was in her throat now. The officer strapped the firearm to his wrist, his expression had shifted into one of extreme aggravation. He pulled the bolt back on the weapon.
"Your cart's knot is loose!" Hel and Annabelle were frozen with suspense. A huge smile had spread across the stallion's face; he was choking with laughter. "Y-you should see the look on your faces! Hah! Priceless! That was funny..." the two relaxed, albeit somewhat shaken. After a moment his amusement subsided, "Carry on then, you're clean." He tipped his hat, and fiddled with the gate controls. "Viva Las Basuras, girls!"
The locks on the door unhinged themselves, and the entire frame slid to the side. The sights and sounds of Djobi flooded their senses immediately, furthering their daze. The streets were packed with pegasus ponies, with the intermittent flash of black and white denoting the occasional zebra amidst the multi-coloured locals. They all quickly made their way around each other through the many neon littered paths, and the traffic had been reduced to a crawl. Hel snapped to attention, spotting a large clearing set aside for parking. She shook her partner, "Let's get over there, out of the way so you can fix your knot." Annabelle brought herself out of her mild daze, nodding in agreement. They quickly weaved their way through heavy flow of pedestrians, making their way to the side of the bustling street. Parking the cart in a clear spot Annabelle unhooked herself from her load to examine the harness. Hel walked up behind the cart, giving the metal a knock; "Any idea of what we should be looking for here?"
"Search for a neon sign with a capital 'M' and a lower case 'c', that should lead you to a contact location. They're always next to 'shady' looking places." Matilda instructed.
"We should be a might careful about that, check this bunch out." Annabelle nodded her head in the direction of the entrance. A significant number of Civil Defense zebra were stationed outside of the checkpoint's administration stall, armed with full assault kits.
"Something must have really spooked the CD into bringing their bipeds out. We don't want to draw any attention, we should get moving. Annabelle, keep a look out for any sign of more law enforcement, we're moving out."
Giving the rope a taught tug, Annabelle hinged herself to the cart once more, and started down the avenue with her ally. During her journey down the many superficial streets and boulevards, Hel let the events of the past few days sink in. They had escaped a nuclear explosion, evaded tens of patrols and checkpoints, and "conned" their way through customs. It had been one narrow escape after another. And now, to top things off, their chances for survival rode on the word of a supposed princess she had just met, and the slight chance her contacts might exist.
Hel had grown accustomed to these kinds of situations in her occupation, but not immune to the emotions that it brought with it. It sent a shiver down her spine, she never got used to that. Every pony she passed on the street quickened her heartbeat, a potential threat. It had been a long time since she had felt nervousness like this. She looked at a lax Annabelle, who gently smiled in response. A thin piece of clothe was the only thing keeping her away from execution in this hostile environment, and yet she was at peace; happy even. Not once had that smile left her face during their time together. Hel wondered; did she feel fear? Understand it?
After a while of wandering thought and fruitless results, Hel vented,"It's difficult finding a 'shady place' when the whole district fits the description..." Exhausted from traveling, it was becoming harder to focus. Hel closed her eyes and tried to remember if they had passed any especially dodgy looking areas the past few blocks. A tap came on her shoulder.
"Uh, Hel? I think we may have been looking just a little too hard." A dimly lit corridor, devoid of neon presented itself between the buildings; complete with dumpsters and obligatory rodents. Hel rubbed her eyes, and sure enough, there was the indicator they had been searching for. A white 'Mc' sign hung above the alley.
"Well it's about time. Get ready to hop out of there Matilda, you're going to have some smooth talking to do." Hel motioned Annabelle into the gap. As soon as they entered, the dull roar of Djobi's street life disappeared almost entirely. The squeak of the wheels and ominous dripping of condensation were the only real audible sounds aside from the light clop clop of hooves on the unkempt concrete below. A light came from underneath a rusted metal door at the end of the small street. Drawing nearer, a sign that looked like it was once sleek and stylish sat neglected, poised above the doorway. 'The Suicidewinder Saloon'. "Sounds like a lovely establishment. Matilda, poke your head out. Is this the place?" Hel asked.
A flurry of metal clangs came from inside the cart, and a small horn formed tent appeared from under the tarp. A pair of violet eyes peered out from inside the veil,"Yes, this is certainly the location. Let us proceed, I'm growing weary of this confinement. And another thing, once you enter, do not make any sudden movements." the unicorn whispered.
Hel turned her attention away from the cart, and faced the door. "Yeah, estoy listo..." she murmured grimly, nudging the door open.
"Halt!" Two pegasus stallions boomed in unison from the opposing end of the dingy hallway. Wings outstretched, and armed to the teeth, they were guarding a much heavier door than the entrance. Hel wasn't a step in the door before she had examined them fully. Sub-sonic sidewinder missiles, dual torque magnums, somewhat outdated CQC carapace armour and a nasty demeanor. Typical organized crime.
"Who the fuck are you?" one of them continued. Before Hel could open her mouth to defend herself, Matilda cast the tarp off with a flick of her magic. Climbing out of the cart, she cleared her throat, and began to make her way down the corridor. The sight of a unicorn visibly shocked the guards, the fact that Matilda was tattooed only furthered their bewilderment. Stopping a few feet in front of the sentinels, she calmly brushed her mane back over her horn and straightened her posture.
"The papers." Matilda replied.
The two looked at each other, furling their wings and disengaging their weapons. "Yeah that's correct... head on in." the stallion who spoke averted his eyes from the unicorn. "Leave the cargo Terranian, we'll send someone to secure it." Hel jumped for a moment, how did they know Annabelle's race? She wheeled around just in time to see the orange pony toss her cloak into the cart outside the doors.
"Sure thing boys! The stuff in the cart is worth somethin' fierce though, don't be leaving it out here too long!" Annabelle yelled back at the guards, slipping back into her regular accent.
"Of course. Anything else miss?" the other stallion asked. Hel trailed Matilda taking the final steps up to the door. The unicorn smiled at the sentinels.
"Do not pretend to not know my identity. You know damn well who I am." She playfully brushed her tail off the snout of the stallions in one quick motion.
"Yes, Matilda..." they replied in unison.
The bar resembled the outside streets of Basuras, although somewhat more retro. And like the streets, pegasi and zebra lined the stools and tables. Some were in deep discussion, others were laughing the night away, and of course the regular sobs who bit the bottle every now and then. A small group of rough looking Terranians were leaning against the chipping drywall next to an old beat up jukebox, singing what sounded like folk song; a rare sight. Any Terranian on Pegasus soil was a rarity in itself. One thing was consistent about this crowd though, almost all of the patrons were equipped with some kind of firearm.
After a moment of thinking about how they managed to get into a major metropolitan area, Hel noticed the drop in activity. The entire bar had stopped dead, all the chatter and banter had ceased, and only the crackling sound of the jukebox remained. All the ponies had their eyes fixed on Hel and her party. She looked back into their eyes. Jaded, frustrated, fearful, relaxed, and drunk were some of the expressions to be found. Hel checked on her partners. Matilda took the mood of the room level headed, whilst Annabelle threw a big grin; tilting her head in hospitality. It looked like things were about to get really ugly, as half of the room had their weapons readied.
Then, a flamboyant voice cut through the tension, "Matilda, darling! It's you!" A zebra beckoned from behind the bar, he looked extremely happy to see them. His mane had a fringe which was dyed purple, and a few gold bands decorated the arm he was waving with. It didn't take long for him to notice the issue at hand. He smiled slyly, and turned to face the disgruntled guests. "A free round for the return of my fabulous unicorn, Matilda!"
"Dah! Free ...drink?! Now this is deal I will deal with...- Ura-...!" One of the Terranians slurred. He gave a brief salute before promptly passing out.
"Yes that's right Ivan, free drinks!" The enthusiasm of the bartender seemed to jump-start the room, and the guests went back to their previous engagements momentarily. He turned his eyes back to the three, "And you've brought friends too eh? Well come on girls take a seat." Hel undid her cloak, hanging up on the entrance's coat hangar. She navigated the tables up to the bar, it was like the patrons had not noticed they were there in the first place, like the last five minutes hadn't happened. As they took their seats, the zebra swept over to greet them.
He leaned over the bar table "So where've you been darling?" Matilda motioned her hoof towards Hel and Annabelle.
"Are you not forgetting something?"
"Oh, where are my manners? I, am Juan Roxo," he stood up and began sorting through the rows of alcohol on the shelf behind him. One, in the position of Hel and her companions, may have taken this moment to observe the finely toned muscular structure of his back, and the taught, surprisingly firm, nature of the area below. One may even have noticed the glorious sheen of his coat, and how the stripes that rounded his midriff and lower well accented his flank. Yes, to be sure, he was well endowed with a body many might swoon over. It was almost teasing.... no, it was teasing, agonizingly so, how those stripes twisted in a direction towards his underside, drawing the eye lower and lower...
...Of course, these thoughts probably didn’t cross their minds, as he quickly turned back around and shot a grin at the three of them. "But I haven't seen you two around here before, what's your name Terry? Where are you from?"
"I'm Annabelle Bennett, a pleasure makin' your acquaintance Juan. Bloomberg County's where I'm from." she smiled softly.
"Ah, you sure do sound like you're right from the thick of Applasia. Have I got the drink for you..." Juan knocked an orange bottle off the rack, catching it between his teeth. He poured the clear liquid into a large glass. Setting the bottle aside, he grasped an apple slice and stuck it to the rim of the drink, sliding it to Annabelle.
"Wow... how'd you know I wanted Buckcider?" Annabelle eyed the drink, her smile grew.
"Hon, when you've been serving firewater as long as I have, you just know. Now be careful with that stuff, it's seventy five percent alco-" Annabelle had downed the drink in a matter of seconds, sitting back in satisfaction. "Never mind," Juan concluded. He looked at Hel giving her the once over, "You've got the darkest coat I think I've ever seen, who are you?"
"The name's Hel Olivera, I come from Bambaleo." Hel replied.
"From the coast... I feel for you." Juan put his hoof to his chin. "But what do you girls do?" he leaned farther over the table, to get a look at their occupational marks. After a moment he returned to his original position, forcing a laugh. "So you're a top-gun, throttle jockey, hotshot Wonderbolt. And a convict. You don't want anything to drink." Larger groups of patrons were starting to make their way out of the bar, even Ivan was hauled out by his group. Juan dragged a stool up to the counter, easing himself. "Now that introductions are out of the way, what brings you to Las Basuras Matilda? It's been quite some time since Neighasaki. I haven't seen you at all since you started all that freelance stuff."
"I was gathering intelligence in the southwest keys of Cantaré, a small communications outpost of pegasus allegiance. I miscalculated the worth the Aerocast and and the Terranians had placed on that misbegotten island, I thought it was near worthless. Both belligerents had placed significant value on the island and had sent occupational forces to exert sovereignty over the relay whilst I was still stationed inside, I was forced to use some self protection. Once they found out a unicorn was on site, the Aerocast annihilated the station and surrounding island with an experimental bomb. Had it not been for my two acquaintances I would have surely perished there." Hel paused for a brief moment in reflection. "After a warp to the mainland, we began to make our way to the nearest organization we could trust."
"And there's something else..." Hel interrupted, "I've seen my higher ups do some terrible things while I was under their command, and I have experienced some of it myself. I'm sure you've seen that here in Basuras, but they've taken their brutality to a new extreme. On our way here, we came across a small village, La Mina. The entire populace had been slaughtered because of resistance to relocate to the munitions factories."
"It was downright barbaric." added Annabelle.
A concerned expression spread across Juan's face. Hel could tell that this worried him deeply, no amount of sly disposition could soften that blow. "And here I was thinking things were bad. I knew Avalos was stepping up the relocation but... damn. I didn't think even he was capable of that. Why, that's borderline-"
"Equestrian?" Matilda finished her friend's sentence, stopping his anger from growing any further. "I cannot really say I was expecting it either. It is along the course of action that my mother would take." Looking down at the bar table, she sighed, "It pains me to think the rest of Equusara is stepping down to her level."
"Last call." Juan said somewhat sullenly. "I hope you're not right in that respect Matilda. The last thing we need is another Catherine Celestia, but it looks like we might get one the way Aerocastalia is headed. Since Fireheart died, the country has been in the drain. The resource allocation, police... hell even the transportation system is garbage. I'm glad I landed a position here, thanks to Benito. In one of these safe-havens." He began to clean the inside of a large mug with a cloth covered hoof. Setting it aside the light returned to Juan's eyes. "Now there's someone you should talk to! Benito, what a wiseguy! I'm sure he'd just love to hear from you three. He's a great listener." His mood had returned to normal.
"Wait a minute, who is this Benito exactly?" Hel propped her elbows on to the counter, giving Juan a questionable look. The stunned zebra covered his mouth taken aback by her statement, as if he'd witnessed some once in a lifetime event.
"Wh- When did y- How do you not know who Benito is!? You must be absolutely n-"
"They are not, and have never been affiliated with 'Corporations', Juan. This is one of the reasons we came to this bar. You know, the sign you have out front?"
"Ah! Well I just assumed they knew darling. I could tell you all about it, but why do that when you could talk to Mr. Machiavelli himself?"
Matilda's eye twitched, this was something she had not expected. "You mean, Benito is here on premises?"
"Well it is his..." he leaned closer to them, whispering "base of operations."
"What happened to the old HQ? Was it compromised?" Matilda, somewhat flabbergasted replied in the same manner.
Turning his chair towards the liquor cabinet, Juan threw up his arms. "I don't know the whole story there girls, I'll just ring you in okay? Ben', he's a nice guy, I'm sure he'll be a lot better at explaining his company than I can. He runs it after all." He ducked underneath the back counter, hoisting a large phone to the top of it. With a grunt, he placed the heavy metal object down. He picked up the receiver, pinning it between his head and his shoulder; placing his hoof into the large round hole in the center of the device. It sputtered to life.
"Neurological Identity: Valid. Autodialing..." Juan stood on two legs and rested his shoulders against the back counter. After a few barely audible rings, the receiver clicked.
"It's Roxo. Three mares, neopolitan. They were screened, nothing unusual... unless you take into account that we have royalty in our presence. Uh huh. Yes of course it's her! Do you want to- oh, immediately? Right away sir. Yes. Yeah the bar is empty. Alrighty! Affirmative, Benny! See ya later." Setting the phone back in it's place, Juan smiled. "It looks like you girls are getting the works. He wants to see you in his private office! He hardly talks to anyone in there, and this late into the night? He must be really itching to speak to you girls." He bent down rummaging underneath the front counter this time, his voice was dampened through the mahogany. "He has your cargo. The elevator is on the far side of the room. Now I wouldn't keep him waiting ladies, he's a very busy person."
The three dismounted their bar-stools, perking themselves up. "I guess that means we'll be seeing you later then Juan? … Thanks for the hospitality by the way, it's something I seldom see that's for sure." Hel began walking towards the entrance, feeling somehow refreshed from the zebra's demeanor.
"An' fanks for te' drink!" Annabelle managed to form words through her chewing of the complimentary apple slice.
"Oh, but before you all head on in to see the big cheese, I'm required to say something before you enter. It's just 'protocol' or whatever security calls it now." Juan stood, brandishing a monster of a weapon. Hel recognized it immediately; a Siege-Gun Type 61 Rifle Variant. Sixty One calibers of pride and joy for any Terranian support infantry. Manufactured in Stalliongrad, it weighed 44 pounds, held one thousand rounds and fired them at fifty rounds per second. That gun would tear them to shreds if it were to land a hit, even if armoured. Truly a firearm only fit to be held by an earth-born. The zebra jostled the gun. Chuckling, he pulled the bolt back, unloading the cartridge onto the bar. "Welcome to the Machiavelli Corporation, Las Basuras branch. You are hereby permitted access to the headquarters. We hope you enjoy your stay." he said authoritatively.
A moment later Juan realized the special forces in the room were on the tips of their hooves, ready to spring into action. He blushed slightly, and set the gun down with a thud. "Oh... uh don't worry.. it's just for self-defense. I have to maintain it after the bar closes." He brushed his brightly hued mane and sat down beginning to check over the parts of the weapon. "...But I felt like such a badass though!" it was like he was reminiscing.
Annabelle broke the tension, choking out a piece of her apple in surprise.
Juan snapped his gaze to his company, "Shoo! He's waiting on you! Oh, and come back any time; drinks are on the house for you guys. Buh bye now!" He waved to his last patrons as they headed through the back doorway.
Matilda stopped herself at the elevator entrance, looking back at her longtime friend, she turned around to face him once more. "Thanks for everything Juan. Your aid means more than you know." With an upwards tilt of her head, she gave Juan the unicorns' salute. "Goodnight." Matilda spoke in a respectful tone. She nuzzled the door open, following closely behind her friends.
As they descended, the first thing that struck Hel was how well maintained the elevator was. It was as clean as it was sturdy. One thing was for certain, this was not the mafia rumours spoke of. But for the first time in a while, Hel relaxed. She had been admitted to a seemingly safe place, by a very hospitable staff member. The only thing left to resolve was to speak with Benito Machiavelli, CEO of a 'company' that didn't specialize in anything. Even after being briefed about the mafia countless times before flights, Hel had never heard of the Machiavelli Corporation. However obscure this group was, the bar had proven to be an elaborate front to cover up their HQ, and it probably brought in a fair amount of profit as well. But arming the bartender with an HMG? Something told her their guests weren't always friendly.
The door dials flickered each floor the elevator passed. 13...12...11...
A drawn out yawn came from beside Hel, Annabelle had stood up and was leaning against the back of the elevator. "Is something wrong, Annabelle?" Matilda inquired.
"Nah, just a little tired is all...-" she yawned again, covering her mouth with a free hoof.
Hel thought she would add on, "Yeah, sleeping in a bed would be nice. I hope we get at least that out of this meeting."
Annabelle gave her tired eyes a quick rub, and brought herself back down on to all fours. Taking the little time she had left before they reached their destination, Hel flexed her wings. It seemed like an eternity since she had flown last, her wings ached for the sky. Matilda fixed her mane with a glimmer of magic, and cleared her throat. "Let us make a good first impression, shall we?"
Blowing some strands of blond mane out of her face, Annabelle smirked, "First impressions are my specialty."
The steel doors slid smoothly open, they stepped out into a roomy office; with design reminiscent of classical pegasus architecture. Mahogany bookcases filled with shelf upon shelf of historical works, among them Hel managed to catch one particular title; 'El Manifesto de Aerocastille'. Masterfully crafted marble pillars, and gold encrusted olive vines decorated the walls, whilst the floor was a spotless white tile. An enormous aquarium was set on the opposing wall filled with a plentiful amount of exotic tropical fish. There were three beige-leather chairs set in front of a grand cherry desk, the centerpiece of the room. It was emblazoned with the ancient Pegasus tribe's insignia, the mirroring feathers. Above this was hung a large painting depicting a battered pegasus standing on top of a downed unicorn, hoisting a blue flag.
Hidden in plain sight was a pegasus occupying the desk, hunched over a book, completely motionless. Lost in thought it seemed. He blended in so well with his surroundings, it had taken Hel a good minute to actually notice his presence. His coat was a deep shade of carbon, accentuated by a salt and pepper mane which had been greased back. Although, a single black streak of hair remained out of place, resting just above his eyes. He wore expensive business attire, which completed his image.
His orange eyes flicked open, he smiled gently, "Well this is certainly a momentous occasion." Benito roused himself with an inward breath, his expression faded to something more grim. "Princess Celestia, in the flesh? Your reputation precedes you. Hardly one I expected to see at my doorstep. Please, have a seat. My apologies for not being able to see you earlier." he folded his hooves patiently. The three ponies took their places in the comfortable seats. For what was supposed to be a ruthless criminal he was well mannered, maybe even mild. And judging from his small library, quite educated as well. He leaned back in his large chair. "I am Benito, Chief Executive Officer and head strategist of this establishment. I do not see people often here unless it is of the utmost importance. It is not every day we receive guests who can call themselves mechanized infantry without immediately opening fire." He closed the book, and straightened himself. "Commodore Olivera, of the 897th Flight Commandos, and Annabelle 'B2' Bennett. It's a pleasure meeting you both."
"Hey, how did you figure that-" Hel began, being promptly interrupted.
"We screen every single piece of cargo that enters the compound to see if it is safe to bring inside. We identified you from the armour you dragged in. No need to worry, we did not tamper with it in any way." Benito chuckled, "I must say though, they are some magnificent machines of war. I do not think I have ever seen anything quite like your 'fear doctrine' suit Ms. Bennett." He moved his gaze to Matilda, and sighed. "As much as I would like to discuss military hardware with you, there are more pressing issues at the moment. For example, why would an urban legend show herself to me? And why she is traveling with enemy races?"
"Why should I tell you that? You would probably just sell us out for a quick cash grab." Matilda said sternly.
Benito shook his head, "This is no longer my father's company your majesty. Had it been the case, you and your party would have been drugged and interrogated. Whatever you have been told of the corporation no longer holds proverbial water. Let me be the first to tell you that we are no longer involved in criminal activities, however illegal this organization may be in the eyes of the government. We are a different kind of 'criminal'."
"But, you seem more of a patriot than a criminal Benito. How can this be?" Hel gestured to the space around her. "You even have the Manifesto on your shelf... I'm confused-" Raising a hoof, Benito eased out of his chair, walking over to the bookcase.
"I am not my father." he seemed almost agitated to utter the words. "When I was a foal, the most powerful pegasus in organized crime would give me lectures on how he thought ponies behaved. How the world worked. He told me of a place where the weak were taken advantage of, exploited, or enslaved is how he put it. How to assure your own survival at the expense of others. He believed in the capacity to perform evil in an equines heart as it was his main source of profit. I will admit to taking part in some of these horrendous actions and there will never be justification for that." he picked up the book between his teeth, bringing it back to his desk, taking his seat once more. "Then 8 years ago, our evil was replaced with something far worse. The Aerocast... they cracked down on every single drug cartel, backroom deal, and anything mafia related. With Arthur gone, the 'threat' that was organized crime was no more, and Vito Machiavelli was running us into the ground. I decided it was time things changed for the Machiavelli Corporation. So I removed Vito, with the help and consent of his closest allies." Benito propped the Manifesto right side up, presenting the cover to his guests. "I changed the direction of the company, instead of profiting off of a people who had nothing, we started legitimate businesses. I realized we had as much capacity to do beneficial acts as we did detrimental acts. The Suicidewinder Saloon is but one of many such establishments dedicated to our cause of helping Aerocastalia 'recover' from it's leadership decisions. You see Hel, we are not organized crime, we are an organized relief effort."
"In a place where it is illegal to help people." Matilda added coldly.
"Exactly. In short, we support the ideals of the Manifesto, and Pegasus himself. But being a relief effort is a double edged sword-"
Annabelle punched her hooves together with a loud clop, and ground them. "It means you gotta kick some ass!"
"Yes, Annabelle... in a sense." He wheeled his chair around, admiring the painting. "Every day I say a silent prayer that the Second Revolution will one day be upon us. Right now, it seems almost childish to think that will ever come to fruition."
"You ignored my comments on La Mina then did you?" Hel felt a spark of hope ignite, she was smiling now. Benito half turned his chair towards her, readjusting his ear inquisitively. "I forgot to tell Juan something about that village. Even though the whole settlement was killed, everywhere there was overturned vehicles, barricades, guns and spent shells. This elusive patriotism you think is restricted to hundreds of years past is happening right now Benito. They knew they wouldn't stand a chance against the Air Force, but that didn't stop them from trying their damnedest. I think things are changing faster than you know."
The chair rotated the rest of the way, and Benito was facing them once more. His eyes were closed, he was deep in thought again. "I think it is going to take a little more than some rural hovel to get a message across... If we are to convince the regular 'castalian to die for us, we need to have leverage. This leads into my proposition. Originally I was going to invite Matilda to resolve some issues with the Kensanese, but that is trivial compared to what I have planned now." He leaned closer, over the edge of the desk, "You all would not be here if you did not want to make a difference. Do you want to be part of the solution? To be part of something truly worthwhile?"
"You want us to fight 'sug? Now I'm always up for a good scrap, but alone? That sounds positively deadly."
"Of course not! The Corporation has a large civilian section undergoing a rigorous combat training programme as we speak, and we have many defected military and civil defence officers on standby. We have a significant force made up of four races. You need not be worried, we have you covered Ms. Bennett. Never would you go in alone unless you decided otherwise. On top of that we also have full residential suites, and a Civil Defence level armoury to accompany and equip those trainees."
"Where are you getting the funding for all these guns?" Matilda asked.
"Vito's earnings, and the fronts we run across the continent, though I hope I can eventually persuade some contractors to side with us. See, we are fully prepared to wage a private war against Civil Defence, and armed well enough to make a dent in the Air Force. So what will it be? I think the choice is quite clear."
"I like the sound of this, an' I ain't exactly have things to lose now do I? Count me in."
"I trust in your foresight Benito, it is sound. I concur."
"Que es un trato, you just earned yourself a Commodore Mr. Machiavelli."
"Fluidez en Aerocastalian también? Excellent! You will be briefed on our next mission tomorrow, in the meantime you should get some rest. You all must be palpably exhausted. Your accommodations are on the first floor, back through the elevator. Now now, not another word, I want to speak with you when you are fully alert. Rest well."
Hel despised this office. It wasn't the white curtains. It wasn't the marble corridors. It wasn't the beautiful gold chandelier, or the lavish paintings. It wasn’t the sickening red carpet that felt like molded cheese beneath her hooves that pissed her off. It wasn’t even the annoyingly flawless mahogany desk that adorned the center of the office. No, it was the person who occupied the snug seat of power. However, it was for the time vacant; the puppet master was performing his grand show just outside the doors. His lies were muffled. It was a good thing too, Hel would have been sick had she heard the words clearly. Eventually, the enthusiastic speech came to a close, and was met with thunderous applause from its eager listeners. Hel had been standing patiently at attention in this room, she was as decorated as the setting was. Her various medals and commendations shone proudly in the soft light of the chandelier, another was about to find a place on her chest. One more reward for the betrayal of her conscience.
A patriotic melody began on the other side of the great wooden doors. Soon after, they swung open. Hel had suppressed her heated anticipation a few minutes past, and her agitated mind days before. But no amount of self preparation could have readied her for the moment her eyes met his. The sound of the band from the hall now unbridled by the walls, flooded the office.
Hel brought her right hoof to her temple, out of shallow respect. Advancing through the entrance was the pony responsible, a true criminal mastermind. A sky coloured coat, silvery disheveled mane and a deep pair of deep blue eyes made up his natural appearance. He wore his cobalt, platinum encrusted flight-suit with a sense of smug dignity. The legendary golden olive branch rested atop his head; an insult to all who had bore it before him. He flaunted it like a badge of honour. Stopping a short distance before Hel, the confident stallion let the doors close behind him. His famous smirk exposed itself, as if he had just gotten away with stealing something of small value.
"Saludo, Commandant Avalos." she could not hide a tinge of disgust from slipping into her words.
"At ease, Wing Captain." Samuel said cooley. The commandant spoke as if he was in a friend's company. "It's a rare thing.... meeting someone as brave and resolute as you. Where most would have fled, or... perished, you not only succeeded, but excelled." Samuel began to make his way towards the desk, "You remind me a bit of myself when I was standing precisely where you are. Receiving the same honour as you in fact, serving under Commandant Maximilian. Ever at the ready a Wonderbolt is, even in the presence of the highest, most trusted authority." He took his seat in the chair, folding his hooves. "But there is a more momentous nature to this meeting than just a simple medal and pat on the back. You have done something far greater, Olivera. Nuclear power is the way of the future and our trump card against the scum that is Terrania, and Equestria. To put it simply, you have paved the way for the use of this energy. You understand the power of the atom now even more than the scientists who split it. It was you who faced it's judgement for the sake of Aerocastalia... and survived."
Every word that left his deceitful lips only served to fuel Hel's quiet anger. Here was her single ultimate foe, the sole reason she had received all her commendations and training; all that came with being the elite of his ranks. He blabbed for a while on about what was right and wrong, pretending himself some wise sage preaching some form of higher understanding. Hel could care less it was all bullshit. Samuel may have called himself 'Commandant', but to Hel he was one thing above all else; a murderer. With the thought of that word, memories of a life stolen begin fill her mind's eye, visions of that little red house on the beach... Matteo...
Suddenly, Samuel was directly in front of her. It took a moment for Hel to start listening again, barely maintaining her level headed demeanor. "...as Commandant of the Aeropolis of Aerocastalia, I present the Feathered Bolt to Hel Olivera. Her acts of heroism and valour are a shining example of the core values that manifest themselves in the Pegasus race. Long may she soar." he pinned the small symbolic badge above her other medals. Samuel was brimming, "Hel Olivera is also hereby elevated to the rank of Air Commodore Wonderbolt, by order of the Sapphire Court. Long may she soar."
These honours did little to stave off the emotions eating away at Hel's brain. Never before in her life had she truly wanted to kill someone. Every moment that she spent not trying to take his life pained her. But as Samuel smiled at her expense, she harnessed her anger and frustration. She smiled back, and with a tinge of amazement, shook his hoof. Hel had beat the puppet master at his own game. Something she was not sure to be particularly proud of. The next time she met this pony she thought, she would be the one giving him exactly what he deserved. Hel would wipe that smile from his stupid face, if it was the last thing she did.
The scene faded away into Hel's subconscious...
It was with little effort that Hel let her eyes flutter slowly open. As her room faded into view, and the feeling of that disgusting carpet slowly melded into the soft silken mattress she lay on in sleep. For the first time in a while, despite her less than desirable dream, she had finally rested half decently. To celebrate, Hel decided to roll over to face the other side of the suite
"Was it as good for you sugarcube?" Annabelle lay next to a startled Hel, she wore a wicked grin.
"Wha-?!" with one quick motion of her wings, Hel launched herself off the bed, soaring across the room landing on her back with a thud. Soon after, laughter erupted from the bedside.
"Wel- Well that sure woke ya up now didn't it?!" Annabelle was lost in her amusement. Hel scrambled back onto her hooves, attempting to look as unshaken as possible.
"Annabelle, why are you in my room? More importantly, in my... bed?"
"Ohoho-... that. Well I thought I'd come down and bid ya good mornin', but you had slept right through your alarm. Sooo I thought it best to wake you up nice and quick like. But you see, just shakin' ponies awake isn't my style. I thought I'd just climb in this here bed and scare the livin' daylights out of you!"
"Ugh, it worked alright... but you didn't actually..."
"Oh of course not," Annabelle fixed her bedhead, letting out her last chuckles, "You're definitely not my type." She walked to the wardrobe area's mirror, and placed a white beret over her mane. "Ben gave us a choice of head-wear earlier this morning, I'm sure he has something waiting for you... but this is a slick lookin' beret if I ever did see one. Yeah... wait until you see Matilda's..." She continued to check her reflection for any imperfections.
Hel noticed that a certain unicorn was absent from the suite, "What about Matilda? Where is she?" Hel asked.
Annabelle turned her attention away from the mirror, "She's off giving some lecture to the recruits in the mess hall, something to do about that 'dark matter' mumbo jumbo. Boss wants us down at the armoury in a few minutes though, wearin' our combats. We apparently have a little speech of our own to give."
"What's the nature of it?"
"All I know is that it has somethin' to do with the first mission he's got lined up for us." Annabelle tore herself from the storage compartment, and walked towards the steel door. "And on that note, I have to go put on the boogie-pony outfit. I'll see ya down there alright?" With a press of the locking controls, the door slid open with a small pneumatic squeal. She shot a subtler smile than usual back at Hel, "And don't be late now, word is we get to play with the pretty toys down there. I'd hate for you to miss out on even one bit of that party. I'll see ya there flygirl!" The door retracted, and the room fell silent.
Hel had not really noticed the night before, but this was an extremely well furnished chamber. Hardwood floors, soft orange fluorescent lighting, and incredibly comfortable beds. Although it was small, and maybe even cramped to some, cozy was the word that came to mind. She could get used to this. Shaking the remnants of sleep from her head, Hel walked over to the compartment. She had a job to do, this was something she was going to have to earn. She pressed a small panel on the bottom shelf of the wardrobe, and it slid out place. Inside lay a sparkling array of armour, the different parts of the flight-suit spread out in a neat and orderly fashion. Something was off though, it all looked brand new. The paint had been restored, visor of the helmet refitted, joints of the wings refurbished, and even the chest fan had been polished. But more-so than that was a small amount of white on the jaw-plate that had been made to look like a toothy smile.
While Hel admired the expertise of the staff that had tended to her suit, she was still on a time frame. With haste she picked up the front and back shoes and stepped into them, Each one firmly enclosing around the contour of her hooves. She nuzzled her head through the chest-piece, it slid down her neck coming to a rest at her shoulders. Lastly, she fastened the helmet.
With the correct pieces in place on her body, the automation of the suit assembly could begin. Hel stood straight and still, closing her wings to her sides.
"Primary reactor, engage."
The fans whirred to life. Sheets of blue metal shot out from each of the fixated pieces, hissing and whining as they molded to Hel's frame. They worked their way way around her until she was completely encased in metal. With one final hiss, the ambient noise of the room became muffled. The UI flickered on,
"Airlock sealed. Pneumatic pressure equalized. All systems at 100% functionality and combat efficiency. Greetings, Commodore Olivera."
Moving her limbs, she felt the power of the machine behind her, helping along her muscles. Everything seemed to be in order. Hel examined herself through the orange visor. The mouthpiece covered her snout, her expression half concealed. The painted on smile completed that for her, but then a a major detail came to her attention. The lightning ringlets around her hooves, the bolt pattern leading down her chest towards her underside. This was the Wonderwing's design, oldschool. She looked like she had just walked out of a recruitment poster in her current state. Extending her wings in a flash, they created a metal whine that was clearly audible even through the heavily plated helmet. Hel fluttered them for a moment, letting the steel feathers dance against each other. How she wished she could just be a simple entertainer.
"Priority Objective: Meet with Commanding Officer in the Armoury Wing."
While Hel adored this flight-suit, there were far more important matters to tend to. She casually looked away from the mirror, the paint would just wear away eventually. Walking towards the door she thought of retracting her visor. The suit read her brain's chemical balance, and the mask pulled into the jaw plate. Hel wanted to face the residents of the Machiavelli Corporation, not hide from them. These were her friends after all. Tapping the door panel, she followed in the direction Annabelle had gone and merged into the pedestrian traffic.
The halls of the Corporation were decorated as a regular inn would have been. Concrete floors, fluorescent lighting, and a basic cool colour scheme painted the corridors a light hue of blue. The residents themselves however looked completely removed from where they would normally be. Hel passed by a rainbow of soldiers entering and exiting the stream of ponies as she briskly walked down the hall, each one traveling with a small number of their own corresponding outfit. More than anything else Hel noticed how diverse the occupants were. Benito had told her about that significant force of four races, but she hadn't imagined it would be like this. Terranian mechanics, defected Pegasus patrols, zebra infiltrators, and even the odd Unicorn line infantry could all be spotted.
"Howdy, welcome to the Corporation! Nice suit..."
"It is an honour, Hel."
"Nzuri asubuhi, Commodore."
"Good Morning, miss Hel. I hope we find you well."
A flurry of languages greeted Hel, it seemed every second pony wanted to wish her well on her way. It was an odd feeling, she had barely met these people and yet they already extended their generosity. For the most part, it was all sunshine and smiles from this crowd. Hel was speechless, this did not happen.The setting was almost alien, it baffled her. Nowhere were the races of Equusara this friendly to each other. All she felt necessary to do was tip her head in acknowledgement, and a little wonderment as she passed alongside her new allies.
Hel had been following the signs that lead to the Armoury Hall for a while now. This complex seemed to be larger and more extensive than the night before. She attributed that to sleep deprivation. Lining the halls were the many rooms and offices of the Corporation, and Hel had taken to peering inside them as she walked through the halls. Some of these spaces were nothing more than empty rows of desks, but more often than not they were filled with studious ponies. The topics would vary. In one, a teacher would be going over the basics of dog-fighting, and in another it would be the assembly of a rifle. She couldn't hear them however, the noise of the hallway drowned their lectures out.
Then there was a hall completely filled with students. The lights were dimmed on the audience, and on the stage was a very sizable blackboard; saturated with elegant chalk scribbles. On the left hand side of the stage, almost hidden by shadow, was a pony sitting peacefully on a pillow. She wore a dark robe, and a large brown pointed hat emblazoned with embroidered stars. The style of an era long past. The mare stood up slowly, and calmly made her way towards the centre of the platform. Suddenly her hat levitated off of her head, coming to a rest next to her tatooed face. Matilda spoke from the other side of the glass, pointing to the floating hat, and then to the rest of the chalkboard. She directed the lecture with her hoof, and placed the hat back on with her magic. Smiling, she paused opening her mouth one last time. The class shifted out of their seats, and were motioning towards the exit.
After a minute, the classroom was empty; leaving Matilda alone to gather her belongings. Hel entered, closing the door behind her. The space was silent, save for some rustling of Matilda's bag, and the lights were still low. Hel knew exactly what this was.
"Giving the magic lecture eh?!" Hel cooed, giving the light switch a flick. The classroom flooded with white light, Matilda peered out from under her headwear.
"Oh, why, yes I was Hel. I volunteered for it this morning. Once the word got out I would be giving the class this time around, there were students lining up to get inside by the time I arrived."
"Yeah? And what did you tell them, that the horn's aura is stardust?" Hel chuckled and deepened her voice mockingly, "A gift from the gods themselves?"
Matilda became slightly cross at the notion, "You may think it is humorous, but there are billions of unicorns who swallow that lie every day." She slung the pack over her shoulder, "I used to be one of them. Of course I did not tell them that, I would have been laughed off the stage." Clearing her throat, she descended from the stage, and made her way towards Hel. "You can thank the stars for one thing though, this is not the Imperium."
"Alright, so what did you tell them?" Hel had been through these talks more than a few times, she wondered what royalty would have to say.
Matilda stopped in front of her, adjusting her cloak and posture. "I told them that the first step to understanding magic, is learning that it is anything but. I told them that 'magic' does not exist, and that it is a misconception of the conversion of dark materials into usable energy by the unicorn's horn. I then instructed them on proper self defense against the three schools, and showed them a few things extra to make the experience a little more interesting."
Hel was curious, she had never seen anything 'extra' when she had her classes. "Extras? Like what exactly?" Matilda hadn't moved a muscle, but the blinds on the windows to the hall had closed, and the room was pitch black. Her eyes flashed to life with white light, pulsating slightly with her heartbeat.
"Like when the conversion happens at an accelerated rate, the bio luminescent side effect that is normally seen as an aura around the horn can spread to the eyes and sometimes larger parts of the circulatory system. This is because the horn is a part of the unicorn's central nervous system." The lights flickered back on, and the blinds returned to their original position. Matilda smirked, "Intriguing is it not?" she began to open the door, but Hel had a couple more questions on her mind.
She put her hoof to her mouthpiece, Matilda looked strangely at home in her attire, "What's with the getup though?"
Sighing, Matilda pushed the door open further, "I will educate you while we walk, we will be late for the briefing if we remain any longer... Shall we?" Nodding, Hel stepped through the door Matilda had been holding open for her and into the hall. Matilda followed soon after, and together they swiftly entered the flow of ponies. Whenever Matilda was about to explain something, Hel noticed that she straightened her frame, and cleared her throat every single time. Seemingly in an attempt to make herself appear more important. She didn't just feel it necessary to be formal, she thoroughly enjoyed it. And whenever she spoke with her exceptionally posh voice, Hel could tell she loved the sound of it; but not to the point of narcissism. This unicorn had a reputation to uphold.
"This 'getup' represents more than just fashion Hel. It is the dress code of a discontinued branch of Equestrian justice. The Jesters they were called. At one point, they were entertainers of the nobility and royalty in Equestria, but then decided that because their interaction with the monarchs was often on a personal level, that they would be a watchdog group for the citizens of the Imperium. And because of their use of advanced materialization for pure spectacle, they were often thought to be 'great and powerful' to the common unicorn."
"So... you're 'the great and powerful Matilda' then?" Hel snickered, "That's funny..."
Matilda shot her partner an annoyed look, "I do not hold their title. I only represent the duty they once had, and the one I share with them. To protect the citizenry, and to promote prosperity. This is another reason I do not reside in my homeland, you see, I cannot perform my duty there. Yet. I can do a lot more good outside of Equestria alive, than inside of it dead. Anything else?" They were drawing near to the armoury now, a couple minutes walk.
"Yes.... there's been something eating at me. I've never had the chance to ask a unicorn this before but, what does it feel like? Magic?" Hel asked. Matilda tilted her head, letting her gaze drift off in thought for a moment. She had never seen Matilda be confused about something before, very rarely did she break her 'professional' air.
"I- I cannot say I have ever had to answer that question... and I have not actually thought about it. The most simple way I can put it is this; it is as natural as breathing, almost effortless. However... I could ask you the same thing Hel, on the experience of flight. I assume you would have a response along the same lines as mine would you not? That feeling of the air currents beneath your feathers cruising high above the earth... it is not so different I imagine. A sort of serenity that only comes from fulfilling a role you are truly born into."
"Wow, I think you hit it right on the head there... better than I could have explained it anyways-"
Turning the last corner, a familiar voice could be heard over the bustle of the hall. "Hey! Girls! Come stand next to Juan, right here!" The enthusiastic zebra waved frantically over the heads of the other ponies. He was standing a small ways away from the main entrance to the Armoury, next to a smaller door. The two merged out of the traffic heading into the Armoury to greet him.
"Oh, hello Juan, what's the matter?" asked Hel.
"Benny sent me to flag you guys down out here, we need you backstage in prep for the demonstrations." An uproar of laughter flooded the hall, coming from the armoury entrance. "Annabelle's already out there, keeping the crowd happy until all the soldiers arrive. Looks like she's a hit." Juan pushed the door open, motioning his friends in with a free hoof. "He's waiting for us back here. He wants to give you guys a little talk before you head out on stage, you're the stars of the show after all!"
A star? It was a word Hel didn't associate herself with, she was not proud of what she did. However, if it meant sending a positive message to her new found allies at the Machiavelli Corporation, then a star she would be. Even if only temporarily.
"Alright, now I'm lost." Twilight had left the confines of the Archives in search of a food source in the early morning hours, navigating the city centre of Volare. It was now midday, and a sandstorm had swept over the city, painting the streets vampire red and shrouding the edge of her vision. She had no idea where she exactly was now, or how far she had ventured from the Archives. She had lost all bearing, the endless cityscape filled her with a sense of helplessness, but at the same time it instilled curiosity. Twilight wanted to continue reading, but searching for a meal had to come first, a proper one. As she turned the corner of yet another wide street, Twilight realized something. She had thought about the book and it's contents, and had learned to deal with the shock it brought with every word. Everything she had come to know was being undone, but she would not let it cloud her judgement as it had before. Twilight deemed her earlier behaviour childish, unnecessary. The thought that she was truly beginning to understand her surroundings kept her moving on through the alien landscape. But increasingly so, it was slowly becoming more familiar.
Twilight took cover from the gusts of sand in a pothole on the side of the street, resting her tired legs for a moment. She took a peek into the saddlebag she had been carrying with her, the book was still aglow. Sighing with relief, Twilight looked up at the skyscrapers. She couldn't see past the third or fourth floor, everything was a fine red haze beyond that. The sun's intensity had been reduced by the storm, and for the first time she looked directly at it without having to shield her eyes. Bizarre, she thought.
After a few minutes rest, Twilight lifted herself back into the gale. She immediately froze. Just within her line of sight, a small figure waddled across a crosswalk. It was assistant size.
It can't be.
Twilight was unsure of herself, was she imagining this? She was about to burst into joyous celebration... but she had to be sure. Keeping a low stance, she cautiously approached the crosswalk. The figure continued it's advance, looking all around itself, not seeming to take any notice of her. She stopped once again. It was considerably closer now, and Twilight could no longer contain herself.
"Spike...? I-Is that you?"
The baby dragon turned to face Twilight, it looked just like him except it was brown bodied; sandy coloured. It blended in quite well with the sandstorm. A pair of emerald lizard eyes flashed through the haze. The dragon cocked it's head to the side, and then back to it's regular position. A barely audible squeal filled the air. An instant later, the infant scampered off into the storm.
That wasn't Spike, who was that? What kind of baby drag-...
A deafening roar thundered through the city's walls, interrupting Twilight's thoughts, the vibrations shaking the concrete. Everything rattled, the noise had come from farther down the street. Twilight's heart nearly stopped. She knew this sound, it petrified her. The book sputtered to life from her saddlebag,
"Massive biological signature detected. Advise: Evacuate Civil Sector."
Twilight took a shaky step backwards, swallowing her fear. The ground shook once more. An enormous beige claw shot out of the dust, embedding itself into the centre of the intersection. Another followed a moment later, pulverising the concrete. The massive head of the fully mature dragon presented itself, bending down to street level. Growling deeply, it bore it's teeth; a mouthful of steak knives. Paralyzed, all she could do was take the sight of the beast in, Twilight's mind was numbed. She just stared for a moment.
In her examination of the dragon, Twilight noticed that a small amount of smoke was passing through the it's teeth. A few sparks danced out of the mighty jaws. Suddenly, adrenalin brought Twilight back to her senses, the realization that she would be incinerated in a few seconds lest she think quickly took hold. Snapping her head to the right, she became aware of an opening in one of the destroyed shops, not a perfect place to hide but...- A flash of orange caught the corner of her eye, and she felt the preliminary heat not far away. As if it were a reflex, Twilight instinctively vanished out of existence, aiming for the smallest crack in the stone wall.
Materializing, Twilight frantically searched for a light source in the pitch black environment. A single mouse hole sized gap let the red light of the street through. Clambering over the invisible objects in the room, she galloped towards it. Pressing her face against the cavity, Twilight got a glimpse of the place she had been standing a few moments before. The entire street had been scorched to black, Twilight gasped to herself, the pavement was ablaze. Shifting her position she directed her gaze to the dragon, whom was still hunched over. It seemed to search the flames momentarily. Licking the flaming liquid from it's teeth, the dragon relaxed, raising it's body a short ways. The baby dragon briskly walked out from underneath the stomach, to the snout of it's elder. It let out a pathetic roar directed at it's larger counterpart. The much larger sound of the adult dragon shook the building, although muffled from the concrete walls. Climbing the dragon, the baby found a place among the fins on it's back. Standing, the sandstorm concealed the top half of the monster. With a few thunderous steps, it wandered off down the opposing street, completely disappearing from view.
Removing her eye from the peephole, Twilight slunk herself down the wall, sitting in the darkness. She rubbed her temples, setting the bags aside.
It must have been protecting it's young. I'm an idiot.
Twilight shook her head, time for some light. Concentrating on the tip of her horn, a purple glow sputtered to life, illuminating the space she had landed in. There were rows of steel tables, each with overhanging bulbs and lamp-heads. On those tables, plentiful amounts of miniature vines, adorned with delicious olives. She rested her head against the back of the wall, what luck.
Bringing her head forward, she undid the bag's buckle. Hoisting the metal book out of the sack, Twilight cleared her throat. What was a dragon doing out here anyway?
"Look up, Dragon."
The book's screen turned itself on to investigate the query. An exclamation point popped up on the surface.
"No entries found for submitted 'Look Up'. Searching similar questions... Related Entry Located: Playing."
The page flickered to an image of an ornate story book. "Draconis Equestrius, a fictional creature in Pre-Celestian Equestrian mythology. Commonly represented as a monstrously sized reptile, with the ability to breath fire, and sometimes flight. Sent as 'dares' of the star gods for unicorns who thought themselves worthy of divine power to prove their might against. If said unicorn was successful and managed to defeat one, they were thought to be elevated to the plane of the gods, and given their own star as a reward for their strength.
Many ponies also claimed they were the communicators of the gods, delivering words of wisdom, and occasionally relaying the will of the divines themselves. There was and still isn't any scientific evidence to support the theory that these beings ever existed, that did not stop numerous Equestrian monarchs and barons from searching their entire lives just for a chance to see a Draconis. Their searches were fruitless however, as they never found anything but ancient folklore and malformed myths."
That dragon didn't seem very fictional at all. And 'star gods'?
Before Twilight could elaborate, a small portion of text flashed beneath the picture of the book. 'Suggested Search' it read.
"Suggested search?" The words blinked, revealing more information underneath.
"Author Highlighted: Suggested search; Fireheart." It was the pony's name on the statue plaque, and the only name that seemed 'correct' to Twilight. Why hadn't she thought of looking this up before?
"Look up, Fireheart."
"Notice: This article is out of date, and may be somewhat irrelevant to more recent entries. This entry has had information cropped from it for more streamlined summarization. Playing...- Sierra Fierro, the Fireheart. Indisputably the most famous equine to have ever lived. In the final days of Commandant Maximilian's rule, the observatories at Atu Vera Atoll claimed they had conclusive evidence that a meteor 8 miles in diameter was hurtling towards Equusara, and would arrive within a years time. The Terranians, and Equestrians while reluctant to believe anything the Pegasi had to say, could not ignore the facts. The scientific prowess of the entire planet had been fixated on finding a solution, and it was the first collaborative venture between nations in thousands of years. Destroying the meteor would require breaking it into smaller parts, and dealing with those chunks. To split it, there would have to be an object moving at mach 17 to fire at it. The research was then divided into 3 parts; The Equestrians would forge the exoskeleton out of a magic metal alloy, the Terranians would find a way to make that a habitable environment, and the Aerocastalians would locate and train the fastest flier of all time.
A year later, Impact Day arrived. Sierra, knowing full well she was going to perish, was successful in breaking the meteor. Upon descent, the remaining pieces were blown to smithereens by the races. After the failure to recover her corpse the races of Equusara went right back to hating each other. She is hailed as the greatest pony of all time the world over, and almost every single Pegasi would say she's a national icon for Aerocastalia. The morning after Impact Day, Maximilian resigned from office and Commandant status; appointing Avalos to take charge at the Aeropolis, Los Pegasi. Suggestion: Continue Log."
Twilight plucked one of the grapes from it's loom, and popped it into her mouth. Shifting to make herself comfortable, she smiled. She was up for another chapter or two.
From the backstage of the grand meeting hall, one could peak out and look out across the thousands of seats, and the corresponding sea of audience members. There was a large room hidden from the audience's view, covered by blue velvet curtains. In that room there was a single sandbag, dangling from the ceiling high above it's floor for some unknown purpose. Everything in the corporation followed a basic visual theme, a clean white with colour coded halls for different parts of the facility. This hall was no exception, blue stripes decorated the white walls.
Leaning on the podium, Annabelle was keeping everyone entertained. Complete with with her red combat gear, although her helmet had been replaced by that white beret and was nowhere to be seen. If it wasn't for her clothing, she could have been easily mistaken for a showpony.
"So- so he says to me" Annabelle's own laughter booming through the auditorium, "'Zapisʹsidr ? Ty s uma soshel tovarishch? Ya by skoryee umeretʹmedlennoĭ i ochenʹ muchitelʹnoĭ smertʹyu , chem pitʹ vodu!'. You heard right...- Ya see the regular Terry would take freezin' his ass off instead of torchin' the cider. Choosin' death over havin' to drink water! And any of you earthies who ain't laughing out there, you're kiddin' yourselves. You would do exactly the same thing! Deep down that rings right true don't it?" the laughter started up through the audience, of course it had never really stopped since she had arrived.
Hel was trying her best to remain serious, but a giggle or two had escaped her efforts. Annabelle certainly did have an overwhelming aura of hospitality... when she wasn't trying to set you ablaze. Juan approached Hel from the preparation area, he shook his head. "She just walks right up there like she runs the place. It's like she lives in a spotlight, snug as a bug." A jaded snuff came from a nearby pile of boxes, Matilda was distastefully blowing mane out of her eyes.
"This situation isn't a game. We are supposed to look professional, and well composed in front of our hosts. I sincerely hope Ms. Bennett realizes that she might be crossing the line." Hel was taken aback a little. That was the first time she had ever heard Matilda use a contraction in her speech, she was not overly amused.
"Aw come on, of course she takes it seriously.... in her own way. While it may be unconventional, she gets the job done."
"Well if this is her business 'side' then I would rather not see what she is like slacking off."
Juan pretended to be sympathetic. He walked towards Matilda, and rested his hoof softly on her shoulder, "Aww, I think someone's a little upset they couldn't bring their fancy hat and cape on stage..." It was true, to show the audience what the three of them were going to look like on assignment, they had to don their respective combats. In her rebellious mood, she had purposefully left her helmet in the prep area.
"Enough-" she half-hissed, brushing the hoof off, "there are much more important things to worry about than that... attire." Matilda's annoyance dissipated as she glanced over her shoulder towards the preparation area entrance. "Where is Benito anyways? I could have sworn this was a brie-" laughter interrupted her, "that this was a briefing."
"I'm sure he's been told you three are all ready to go. I wouldn't be surprised if he's just about done in the prep room right now." The door swung open, revealing the pegasus, sharply dressed in white business wear. He was adjusting a small microphone on his breast. He smiled respectively at his guests of honour. "See? Juan just knows." the zebra said hushedly.
"Ah, Roxo, always a pleasure. Your sense of timing has always been spot on hasn't it? Would you check on the sandbag one more time? It would be greatly appreciated, apparently there was quite the struggle to get it up there earlier this morning."
"Yes sir! I'll catch up with you guys later, good luck with the crowd and all!" Juan scampered off behind the blue curtains.
Shifting his gaze back to the two, Benito straightened his posture. His eyes widened a small ways. "I must say, that flight-suit really is a beautiful piece of machinery. Yes, the wonderwing design really does live up to its reputation... Mechanized division did an excellent job. Anyways, I assume you two are ready to be introduced? I see Ms. Bennett doesn't require one, quite the charismatic type."
The visor quickly sealed over Hel's face, "I'm good. What about you your majesty?"
"I will follow your lead." the unicorn righted herself.
Benito began to make his way towards the lit stage, "Excellent, let us not waste any time then."
"And then I said, 'porridge!? Are you insa-" Annabelle froze, taking notice of her CO walking onto the stage. After a moment of ponies rustling into their seats, the entire auditorium grew silent, ending the laughter immediately. Quickly, Annabelle dismounted the podium, allowing the host to take his place seemingly... embarrassed. He shot a stern look at his employees, it looked like he was about to explode. But then he chuckled,
"Lets give Ms. Bennett a round of applause shall we? It was sure better than just looking at curtains wasn't it?" The forceful sound of hooves meeting concrete swept through the room, among numerous whistles and other signs of gratitude. Patiently waiting for the cheering to cease, Benito cleared his throat and adopted his regular tone, "But she is not here alone. I am certain all of you have heard the rumors that we had new VIPs enter the premises last night. Let me tell you that is indeed the case. They have made it clear that they will aid us in our cause, and without further procrastination, I would like to formally introduce your newest allies." Averting his eyes from the crowd, he motioned Hel and Matilda to come onto the stage. Before they were visible to the audience there was already a low rumble of applause, but as soon as the stage lights hit them the crowd went wild. Annabelle had joined them, and together they formed a line on the platform. "Let us welcome into the Machiavelli Corporations' ranks; Commodore Hel Olivera, Phantom Annabelle Bennett, and Matilda Celestia the first!"
Hel smiled and waved with her comrades. As she looked out over all the brimming faces, she felt an ambitious energy charge the room. For all of her actions, she finally felt like she was being recognized for who she truly was. Her counterparts were just as at home on the stage, no longer were they living lies. Hoping with all her heart, Hel wished this was a glimpse of the future; the people of Equusara living in perfect harmony.
"While the arrival of this trifecta is joyous, we cannot ignore why we are all really here. We are not supposed to be underneath the glorious metropolis of Las Basuras, no. We are destined to walk those streets someday, but there are immense obstacles standing in our way. This is not new, but things are getting worse. Last night I learned that the small agricultural township of La Mina was completely decimated by it's own police force. Executed for refusing to relocate to the pointless munitions complexes. This is a tragedy, but it brings another point to attention. Finally it would seem the citizens of Aerocastalia are remembering how their nation was born! They are almost ready to rebel against the abusive Aerocast, just as they did with the Equestrians and their so called 'immaculate empire'. All we need to do is give them something to get behind, and attaining that goal begins with this mission."
An enormous screen descended from the top of the stage, covering the blue curtains. With a click, the lights dimmed further, and the display lit.
"Our first order of business is the issue of the Civil Defense in Djobi. Recently there has been a large influx of officers and armour deployed to the district from Alegria Camino, even going as far as bringing the bi-pedal zebra units for added security at checkpoints. This is an odd allocation of police resources as Djobi has reached an all time low in crime rates. There has also been reports of government hired mercenaries frequenting our district. We do not know if it is because they suspect our resistance movement, or purely a scare tactic. However, we must know for sure as it is vital for our survival. I will not see us defeated before we begin."
The screen transitioned into an image of a bland, blocky looking structure, the Civil Defense insignia hanging above it's entrance.
"This is the Police Records Management building, Las Basuras branch. It rests on the north gates that lead into Alegria. It is where the Civil Defense stores all their intelligence and intellectual property for the Basuras region. Whatever they have planned for the city, it will be held there. Now of course this being a government run complex, it will be heavily guarded. Most of the participants in Operation Flashlight will not be infiltrating the location, you will be diverting attention away from it. In a sense, stirring shit up. As to what exactly you will be doing in that respect, your assigned CO will fill you in. The same goes for those of you actually assaulting the records building."
The screen flickered again, this time three emblems were presented; a winged lightning bolt, four pointed spark, and two red roses. Benito pointed at the three, "But before your specific briefings, you should be informed of what our newest members do while on active duty. You will be fighting alongside them quite often." A glaring spotlight shone on the stage, illuminating their multi-coloured armour. "Each one of them is highly proficient and conditioned in their respective schools of combat."
The light focused on Matilda, leaving Hel and Annabelle in the dark. "Matilda is a master of manipulation, highly skilled with many Equestrian rifling and melee techniques. She specializes specifically in stealth, from her time with in Kensan. Alongside that, Matilda makes warp magic an art form. The armour she wears is an enhanced version of the psi powered Royal Line PL-4 Standard Carapace." Matilda tilted her head at the audience as the light shifted again, this time resting on Hel. "Hel is a veteran member of the Wonderbolts, a Shocktrooper to be exact. Cruising at heights of 30,000 feet at speeds well past the sound barrier, she crashes headlong into targets, and utilizes the close quarters setting and the enemy's bewilderment to her advantage. Torque magnums, winder missiles, an EMP field and electrically charged blades are among the tools she employs. The machine she utilizes for her role is the F-32 Spitfire, modelled after Fireheart's design."
The spotlight moved back to Benito, and the screen lifted back into the ceiling. Hel was confused, what about Annabelle? Even she was curious as to what the earth pony did. It was then that she realized Annabelle had disappeared from her side.
"However, Ms Bennett is the one you will have to be wary of. If you were attentive you may have noticed her armour is like nothing you have ever seen. She is what you would call a 'bouncer', yes she is afflicted with catalytic schizophrenia." The hall filled with hushed murmurs from the audience exchanging bits of scattered information. "I cannot really describe how she goes about her duty, so instead of going that route, I thought I would let her show you."
Was he insane? On the job, a catalytic wasn't just someone you let loose in a room full of unarmed blufor. Hel thought a regular catalytic would tear a vulnerable pony to shreds given the chance... The curtains covering the room with the hanging sandbag began to raise themselves, Matilda and Hel ran to the side of the stage. This was a show Hel didn't want to miss one bit of. There was a door at the back of the demonstration space. The hall grew silent with the anticipation of witnessing a near mythical bouncer.
"I would keep your wits about you Hel, there is no telling what she will do." Matilda whispered hastily. She didn't need to be told that, while she was curious, Hel would not be caught off her game. The demonstration room's floodlights flashed on, illuminating the perfectly white walls along with the dangling target. Then, a muffled noise was slowly becoming more audible. Hel noticed some of the audience were becoming somewhat discomforted, as the sound drew nearer.
clank... clank... clank... CLANK-
The door flew off it's hinges at a breakneck speed. As soon as it stopped sliding a fair ways into the room, the lights sputtered out of commission. Instinctively Hel switched to her night vision. Sure enough, standing in the doorway was Annabelle; that horrific mask smiling at the blinded spectators. She wasted no time in living up to her nickname, and started hopping towards the center of the room beneath the bag.
clank- clank- clank...-
Quickly she stood on her hind legs, shooting what seemed to be darts at random points in the hall. Soon, her twisted electronic voice was conveyed from the munitions that she had embedded into the wall.
"Hehe, it'd be a damn shame if I were to just.... crash your little get togetha'. Why, it was all smiles and sunshine not a moment ago... looks like I beat myself to the punch. Oopsie." Maniacal laughter surrounded the patrons. "You're no fun!" The small speakers exploded, sending a shockwave of surprise through the hall. A robotic shriek furthered the tension. Annabelle shot the sandbag from below with... something. Hel wasn't exactly sure what, but the thermal was picking it up. Planting a small box shaped object on the ground, she somehow silently sprinted towards the right wall. The box shape's top burst behind her, smoke was being projected from it.
So there were tactics involved... it was all about the spectacle, distractions, ruses, making ponies fear the dark. Annabelle had begun scaling the wall, when the sandbag was set ablaze. By the time it fell to the floor, she was on the ceiling, making her way towards the chain that the bag had been attached to. Every single pony in the room had their eyes fixed on the smouldering target, stunned to a degree. They were buying right into Annabelle's clever show, and not into her. It was the strangest employment of unconventional warfare she had ever seen, but it was working exceptionally well on a crowd of trained, and for the most part, battle hardened soldiers. Everyone witnessing this display was on the tips of their shaking hooves. Annabelle wasn't about to leave them without doing something completely over the top, that wasn't her style. 'The right crazy for the job' she definitely was.
Hanging upside down, Annabelle wrapped her hoof in the limp chain. Hidden from the audience and orange glow of the fire below her, she hung hidden in the smoke. She poked her head out of the dark haze. The eyes in her visor turned laser red, and bled. The light from her visor illuminated the rest of her helmet to the viewers. They let forth an audible gasp.
"What's the problem, it's only pretend!"
Suddenly, Hel's night vision turned completely white. Instantly she turned it off, and noticed the hall was once again lit by it's fluorescent lights. The fire had been put out... hissing. Annabelle was standing next to a bewildered Benito at the podium, her helmet gone. As innocently as possible she moved her head to the microphone on Benito's chest. "And uh... I guess that's what I do... heh, yeah..." She trode down the steps of the elevated speaker's platform, taking her original spot on the main stage, tilting her head and smiling quaintly at the scores of shocked ponies.
"W-well I think that sums Ms Bennett's role up quite well d-doesn't it? If she goes in 'primed', then... avoid contact. She will find it a bit difficult to separate friend from foe." Benito was still visibly shaken.
Someone from the stands broke their silence, "That was awesome!"
"How did she even get up there?!"
"Oi! Right fuckin' scary that was!"
Soon the auditorium was filled with excitement again, dissolving into another uproarious wave of applause. Hel was impressed, Annabelle would indeed be a great asset in the field, and ever a celebrity for the Machiavelli Corporation. She smiled smugly, facing Matilda as they walked back on stage, "See? I don't think we have a thing to worry about."
"I must say I was not expecting that... quite the performance." Matilda replied blankly.
Benito raised his hoof to settle the audience, glancing at the three, and then back at the crowd. "Well, I think that about does it for our meeting, now that you are fully acquainted. You will all be given your priority specific briefings for Operation Flashlight in three days, right before the mission. Lastly, I would like to thank our newest inductees for their presence here today, and of course the rest of my employees for standing with the corporation... I bid you all a good day."
The final cheers and shouts of the crowd overshadowed their previous ones.
Hel turned to her right to face the earth pony, "Annabelle, I caught it all on low lighting. You're something else, a real showpony."
Annabelle laughed at the notion, "Well I did tell you I could be scary didn't I?"
"Operation: Flashlight (I)"
"KENSAN UNIFIED! Rupert Blake Reports: After almost two millennia of perpetual warfare, the island nation, and third 'lance' of the Terranian Coalition has finally been brought under one rule, the Sakai Dynasty and Emperor Izo Sakai reign supreme in Neighasaki.
There is no official word on what the rest of the Crimson Curtain thinks of this political shift, although this reporter has a pretty good hunch that Viktor Tetrakov is probably not the happiest Prefect around. Terrania and Applasia have both been supplying the materials for war in their sister region and have been taking advantage of the conflicts there for generations, this unification shakes much of the Coalition's economy to it's foundation.
Another unforeseen consequence of the giving of these materials is the ability for the Kensanese to wage international war, they now have a very substantial, modernized military force... that is heavily indoctrinated. Many fear the Kensanese may even have a more advanced army than that of the rest of the Coalition, rumors of 'walking tanks' are not uncommon.
Whatever tech they have, it is a safe bet that they have their war machine set on Equestria; and for those unfamiliar, Kensan had an intense and particularly violent feudal rivalry with the Unicorns during the Colonial Age, one they definitely haven't forgotten.
A statement is expected from Tetrakova Prefecture within the week, but until then, this is all the information I have for my clients.
Rupert Blake, a free unicorn in Stalliongrad, Terrania.
2nd Quarter, 60th Day, 4242. 08:15 TST."
"CCOM to Hotel Echo Lima. Reading the news at 30,000 feet? Don't get too caught up in that, you're approaching minimum subsonic descent distance. You're not up there for a little cruise. Command's call sign for Flashlight is Maverick, you'll be addressing me as such from here on out."
Hel wasn't able to read the report earlier in the vehicle bay, too many earth ponies were crowded around the display. She had been driven an hour away from Las Basuras, to prep for the 'shock' of the target structure. At this point, she didn't care, she was flying again. That thirst for weightlessness was finally being quenched. It was quite the view as well, the desert sunset was a deep set orange, making it's way under the horizon. A gentle cloudless evening. The city in the distance was catching the light, and the evening hues sparkled along the skyline. It wouldn't be long before the buildings would flaunt their neon glow.
"Hotel to Maverick, any idea of what I can expect in the Management complex?"
"Because of the disturbances we've created in Djobi, not much. Probably cops who think they've landed cushy desk jobs. With the Civil Defense occupied, the heaviest you'd face is a 12 gauge wrist mount, and even that's a stretch for these guys." This Coms supervisor sounded a lot less pretentious than that of the her previous mission, while it was still pompous it was 'casual' Equestrian. An accent Hel didn't know existed. "I've been informed that your two allies are still scheduled to be on premises, more or less. 'Queenie' will be providing wink-sniper support from the neighboring rooftops, 'Joker' is waiting in the storage receiving area and will be searching the lower portion of the building. Once you shock and begin to search the top fifteen floors, Joker will spring into action and the mission is a go. Remember, the less collateral the better. We don't know where the intelligence is kept exactly so we cannot afford to damage any part of the building severely... that goes for you too Joker. I know you're tuned in."
The radio crackled with a small bit of static, "Aw... shoot. Collateral is so much fun though!" Annabelle snorted.
"You didn't bring Firecracker along did you...?" Hel asked.
"Of course not! He's one hundred and ten percent made for collateral... I had to settle for Whiskey Pete instead, shotty style."
"Whiskey Pete? Now you've named your shotgun too?"
"Nah, it's slang for white phosphorus rounds; almost as fun as napalm... almost." a slight tinge of disappointment made its way into Annabelle's sigh. "Still has one hell of a nasty bite though." Sarcasm with her was hit and miss at best.
"Alright ladies enough chit-chat, we've got to get this show on the road. Patching Queenie through for final green light. Confirmation?"
"Four rifles set and loaded at adjacent rooftops, wink way-points are set. I have a three hundred and sixty degree view of target structure... the streets and flyways are empty. You have my consent." Matilda's tone was colder than usual, if it were possible to sound more important than she did normally she had succeeded.
A drawn out yawn came over the channel, "Yeah....- give 'er the go ahead command. I'm sittin' pretty."
With one last flex of her wings, Hel activated the suit's reactor in preparation for her descent. "I'm up, skies are clear."
The sound of switches flicking and levels being pulled filled the radio, "Oi Lorey...! The op has confirmation! Is engagement authorised, or are the command loons not done bickering yet? It is? Well it's about bloody time; affirmative! Joker, Queenie, shut down all electronics for the shock, the last thing we need is stranded special forces personnel with defunct gear. Contact Maverick if any information is discovered, or if any unforeseen circumstances arise. And Hotel? Don't miss. Maverick out."
Hel loosened her muscles, the quickest way to tear your ligaments to shreds was by tensing up during a shock. She had read these familiar alerts on her visor hundreds of times, all the feelings, and the mood of going into combat sank in and steeled her nerves. There was no room for doubt in warfare, just debate. It was like putting on an old worn in shoe, a sour nostalgia.
"Optimum Altitude/Distance reached for drop. Running Final Diagnostics for Fighter-32: Spitfire. Primary Reactor Ignition: Online. Electromagnetic Pulse Field: Online. Kinetic Dampeners: Online. Weapons Loadout at 100% Combat Readiness and Efficiency. Displaying Gyroscopic Measurements, initializing image of target."
The management building was 32 stories, but something Hel hadn't accounted for was that the building had an all glass on the exterior, no doubt bulletproof. The sonic-boom following her entry had a chance to shatter all of those windows, which would in turn alert every single police officer in the district of her presence there. Especially those residing inside. Small riots and disturbances happened all the time in the lesser districts of most Pegasus cities, attacking a government building was a much more serious offence. She would have to go through the roof... somehow slowing down in time to not destroy the top of the structure, but still knock out the electrical grid. The propulsion systems would have to be stalled before impact.
If the Aerocast learned of a traitor directly assaulting them, they would without a doubt bring in the Air Force. But if they discovered Annabelle or Matilda... Hel shuddered. Pushing the thought out of her mind, she focused her attention on the city. They wouldn't dare. The picture of the Records complex faded to a series of guidance visuals and measurements. It was finally time to start making a difference, the thought of fighting for a cause of justice filled her with a sense of purpose she had lost long ago. Hel was fighting by her own accord now.
"Shock initiated, maintain speed."
Stretching her hooves in front of herself, Hel aimed for the illuminated building on her visor. With each flap of her wings, her speed seemed to double with the machine's assistance. The engine started it's familiar roar. Then the jolt of gravitational force as the engine kicked in, the city and surrounding landscape became a blur.
Annabelle was having trouble keeping her eyes open. Storage areas were boring, but wow... this was beyond lame. She rested in a little nook among the one of the many piles of cardboard boxes, hidden in shadow. They were all filled with documents about boring stuff. She closed her eyes, and tried to imagine all the rows of this room ablaze. Twiddling her hooves, she hadn't been more uninterested about anything in her entire life. An interesting venture; Annabelle thought about all the times she had been legitimately bored, but couldn't think of a single time where she had almost fallen asleep. She had tried everything to ward it off; whistling a tune, shifting position, reloading her shotgun... all to no avail. Forty minutes was just too much time to not be doing anything at all. Oh but that gun, the nerve. The armoury ponies had made her put a silencer on it! Annabelle stared the infernal suppressor down through her visors, there was no fun in being silent. And that was another thing, this room with it's lack of windows, washed out lights, stupid paper, and endlessly entertaining boxes was too damn quiet.
The building shook and the lights went, Annabelle finally worked up the excitement to smile. In the darkness she stood, and stretched herself out with a sigh of relief. The flygirl had done her job, time to roll out. Her suit's machinery whirred to life, and her heads up display greeted her. The radio came online.
"Call-sign Joker, do you read Maverick?"
"Copy. Maverick here. Do you read Joker?"
"Yeah I read ya, sug'. It's about time you guys got your act together, I've had to sit here with all this paper, drivin' me crazy!"
"...Right. We've got some good news and some not so good news. The bad news is you have to keep a low profile, else you get discovered and reported to Aerocastalian SOCOM; in which case the entire mission would be a bust. The good news is that shouldn't be too hard, the power is out along with all the security and communications systems thanks to Hotel. As far as the officers above you are concerned, the protesters around the district knocked out a power grid."
"Oh! Does that mean I can surprise them?"
"Yes that means you have cleara- wait what..? Never mind, as long as they don't escape with the knowledge you were there you can do whatever you want to them, so long as it doesn't compromise the retrieval of the objective intelligence. Now I suggest you stay tuned into this channel for further updates on the situation outside of the management complex. Got it?"
Annabelle had already started to walk towards the exit door, "Yeah, yeah stay hidden and don't blow too much stuff up. Don't worry, I got this." She was itching to get going. With a mighty clang the earth pony kicked the door clean off it's hinges with little effort, the lobby lay on the other side. Stepping out of storage, the mask contorted into it's regular wicked grin. "Showtime..." she whispered to herself.
The sun had set, and the light from Alegria's skyscrapers set the marble entrance area aglow with faint neon hues through tall windows, the storage room lay opposite to the main entrance. Grand stairways led to the second floor from there. The destroyed door had landed in front of the rotating entrance. Annabelle cocked the shotgun, placing it on her back as she lowered herself on to all fours, keeping close to the ground.
She noticed a sharp breathing sound coming from the reception desk around the corner. A flashlight illuminated the floor surrounding the annihilated door. "Who's there?!" a shrill, shaky voice trying it's best to sound confident called out. Soon after the guard galloped over to the metal object. He examined it, a look of exasperation and bewilderment on his face. Annabelle remained frozen, half out of the doorway. This was not in his job description. In a couple of quick movements, she scaled the wall adjacent to her, and flattened herself against the second floor. The guard wheeled around to face the noise of steel on marble. "If you don't show yourself right now I will shoot to kill! You hear me!?"
"Oh I hear you just fine... and I see you too... why don't you come over here?" Annabelle boomed through speaker. He was going to fall for it.
A split second later the pegasus had launched himself at the storage area door, "Freeze!" he aimed his armed wrist into the darkened room. He poked his head through the entrance as she made her way back down the wall. "Police Headquarters this is Archive-1, requesting immediate support on breaking and entering on site! HQ? Damnit!"
In a flash Annabelle jumped down from the second floor, and had subdued the guard, digging an armoured knee into his back and bracing his neck tightly. He struggled intensely, but was no match for the earth pony's augmented strength. With a free hoof she disarmed the aggressor, tossing his firearm to the side. She laughed in his ear, letting the voice modulation growl menacingly. "You're gonna tell me where you keep the big secrets around here, and you're gonna tell me real soon." She turned his head so that his muzzle was a breaths distance away from her jawplate. "We wouldn't want relations to turn sour..."
His demeanor changed surprisingly from one of fear to anger. He spat, "Terranian...? As if I would tell a dirt munching bitch like you. I'd rather die in honour than serve a farm animal. You don't deserve my-!" Annabelle tightened her grip on the defiant officer, her giant needle presenting itself. She rested the weapon at his neck, a few glistening drops of the fluid dripped from the tip and trickled down his badge. Enough games.
"Is that right? See, I'd love to oblige... but that would be such a bore. So, either you spill the beans lickety split, or you learn what it feels like to be... me. You may not be afraid of me, but you would fear yourself more than anything."
The entrance rotunda was completely silent, save for the low growl of the suit. The officer's eyes were wide, his pupils dilated at the sight of the monstrous syringe. His lips were weakly moving, trying to form words. She had called his bluff, this guard was no martyr after all. The thought of losing his sanity drove any vestige of blind courage from his mind. Panicking, he managed to stammer in short spurts, "T- the- there's a keep, b-below the c-complex... separate f-f-from the rest compound- They- the civil defense hold ev... everything there... clearance level s-six. The building- i-it's a cover up... t-that's all I know..!"
The needle sheathed itself back into the armour, Annabelle felt the officer relax a trifle. She giggled, did he really think he was going to walk away from this? "Well, you went above and beyond the call of duty this time didn't ya? Thanks pal, it was a pleasure meeting you... and if it comforts you any; I'm sure they'll award you a nice shiny medal for this."
"You'll nev-!" The guard's chest jolted forward, he was unable to finish his sentence due to the fact that his chest cavity had produced a sizable, cauterised hole of sizzling flesh. Annabelle was impressed, even with the white phosphorus the suppressor had managed to almost completely silence the firing of the shotgun. He began to fall limp in her arms, and deeming him useless, Annabelle shoved the guard into the darkness of the storage room leaving him to his final moments. She pumped her weapon, snuffing with disappointment. That encounter was a little too serious for her taste, not enough catchy lines. A slight ring in the air caught her attention.
Annabelle spun around to face the noise, a more heavily outfitted pegasus lay not a foot behind her. He had been shot clean through his helmet. From the rooftop outside the main entrance, there was a tiny glint of glass visible just above the large feather insignia hanging over the entrance. Matilda's aim was true.
"Maybe you should stop screwing around down there, Joker. We're here for intelligence, not to turn CD management into a bloody haunted house. If you did your job correctly, I would not have to save you." she was trying her very best to remain composed, unable to keep a little frustration from trickling into her tone.
"Well actually, I got a little more than just your precious intel, sug'. Maverick, Hotel, are y'all listening?" The radio screeched in response as Hel and command joined the channel.
"Maverick is patched through, reading you loud and clear."
"What's up? A-...Any new developments?" Hel was almost out of breath. "There was a few more officers in the top two floors... than I thought... I had to neutralize them. I'd love to hear good news on your end Joker, I could use some." Getting down on all fours, Annabelle waved to the sniper and proceeded to briskly ascend the marble staircase.
"A piece of the regular trash let me in on some info, apparently there's some kinda' facility underneath the complex here. He wasn't very clear on what it's purpose is, or where the entrance is located, but according to him the building is a big diversion; a mask for somethin' bigger. Looks like we stumbled on a little ol' goldmine of the Aerocast here Maverick." The radio remained silent for short while.
"Hmmm..." The unicorn communicator sighed painfully, unsure of his next decision. After another exhale, he spoke grimly. "Alright, I'm patching high command through; in light of recent events, it is no longer my discretion on your next course of action....- Lorey! There's been a change in directives, get HQ on the line!" Annabelle though, with big words like 'high command' and 'directives', this had to be important. A deep and especially imposing northern accent broke the short silence.
"Da, Atu Vera Atoll; Captain Vsevolod speaking." Coming to a stairwell, Annabelle swiftly bucked the door and began to gallop up it, leaving the entrance rotunda behind. "What seems to be problem?" he asked somewhat slowly.
"We have enemy acknowledgement of a bunker underneath the police records complex in Las Basuras; discovered during Operation Flashlight. While our main objective is to find out why there's an increased police presence in Djobi, we might also have a shot at retrieving some Aerocastalian military grade tech through this underground 'facility'. I am requesting that we prolong the protests in the streets, to keep the civil defense off our trail, we need more time to properly investiga-"
Blah blah blah, regular radio chat. Annabelle turned off her radio, she couldn't stand all that super formal jargon that Matilda adored, and all those lame 'rules of engagement'. With a smug snuff, she began to happily skip up the concrete flights of stairs. She had never followed those rules before, and she wouldn't need them now... it reminded her of a truly insidious word; 'clearance'. Annabelle shuddered, what a pointless word that was. If you're going to kill something, kill it. Don't argue about it, what a waste of time! She was going to find that entrance sooner or later, might as well have some fun doing it. Maybe she would stick around in the channel longer if that fabulous zebra were there to spice things up. And maybe she would enjoy this dull building more if it was on fire. Come to think of it, everything was better on fire.
She continued to hop playfully up the stairs for a while, each one only cementing the boredom gnawing at her. She thought she might go see what Hel was up to on the upper floors, she sounded pretty rough over the radio... but counting these floors was like counting sheep.
12... 13... 14-
"....Aye, this damned power outage, even the coms are gone. I can't believe they let those protesters get to the power grid!"
Annabelle froze in place, a voice echoed through the well originating from the door one flight up.
"Yes. it's good to see the police really have their act together tonight, how much do you want to bet they haven't caught a single one of the arsonists that started that mess?
"The protests I can deal with, but our gear is not suited for CQC. We're so lightly armoured, you'd think we'd be mistaken for sparklers! Anyway look, I've got the door amigo, go check the floor above; see if the other guys on detail up there are alright and up to speed..."
"That's why you've got this big gun here...Well, I hope you aren't afraid of the bogeypony! Night vision won't save you! Hah! Si... si, I'll be back down shortly..."
A bright light came from underneath the door, and the earth pony laid down flat against the stairs, hiding herself from view. A few seconds later, a curious guard nuzzled it open. He examined the stairwell, the side-mounted flashlight, illuminating the path in front of him. Keeping an indifferent demeanor and seeming none the wiser, he hung a right towards the ascending stairway determined to check on his comrades. As soon as the door clicked shut, a blur took him by surprise from above. Face first into the rock, a soft gurgle was the only thing to be heard in the well. Hel was on his back, metal wings unfurled. An electric blade had been freshly plunged into the back of the officer's skull. The faint sound of boiling blood faded as she stepped off the corpse, retracting the white-hot weapon.
"Shoot, that was textbook flygirl!" Annabelle whispered.
The pegasus jumped, not a millisecond later she was hovering a short ways above the ground; wrist magnums readied. Through her visor, she looked very stern. Annabelle threw her ally a metal smile. Getting a closer look, she realized that Hel was pretty banged up. That nice shiny blue paint on her armour was chipped almost everywhere, and there was a few bullet holes here and there. Hel relaxed herself, lowering the firearm and landing softly. She tapped her helmet expectantly.
Oh, right. The radio was off.
"Joker, did you even listen to the captain at all?"
"Nah, he was being really slow like. And he talk in accent like this, da? I assume he gave us clearance though, right?"
Hel dusted herself off, keeping low she carefully crept towards Annabelle. She shook her head. "No, we didn't. Apparently that would risk an Air Force intervention, and this Vsevolod isn't interested in ticking off the main branch of the military. He wants to keep this operation on a municipal level. Matilda got reassigned, she sounded pretty fumed about it too."
"Is that gonna stop you, 'hun?"
"I'll be damned if it does, we have a chance to do some serious damage to the intelligence sector in Basuras, and a fair chunk of Cantaré's provincial network for that matter. I'm not going to pass this up, even if I am a little... rough around the edges. Our ends will justify our means, Command can go fuck itself. We'll make sure Samuel feels this one."
"Now that's the pegasus spirit right there! First we gotta get in though..." Annabelle gestured at Hel's suit damages. "None of those officers were stationed at a suspicious entrance or anything? How many of those goons were there anyways?"
"There was eight of them, they all came up to the top floors check the power outage.. caught me off guard. I just finished clearing the floor above us. None of them were stationed though."Annabelle shifted her position on the stairs, peering underneath the door.
"This guy is." Annabelle motioned Hel to take a spot beside her. The pegasus squinted with her earth pony friend, analyzing the hall on the other side. Sure enough a colt in medium armour was guarding an elevator door, there was no other doors or corridors in this hall, the only other entrance was the lift's doors. Why would he be guarding an elevator when the power is out? A soft glow pulsated on their night vision providing the answer. A small pedestal was illuminated next to him, a biological identifier.
Hel snorted in disdain, he had a clear shot the whole way down the hall with a mighty cannon mounted on his side. "He's got a pulse cannon? Damn, this guy has to be spec-ops... you need at least a year's ground training before you're even allowed to look at one of those things. And only the Wonderbolts give that caliber of energy weapon out... something's not right here. How can we deal with him...?"
"I think I have an idea, but it's a little crazy..." Annabelle pointed at the downed officer, "Pass me the flashlight."
Hel obliged. Rousing herself, she walked over to the body. She grasped wrestled the lit flashlight from his side, grasping it with her forehooves. Tossing it to Annabelle, she cocked her head to the side in slight confusion. "What are you going to do with that?"
Hel was going to be one impressed pony after this stunt, Annabelle thought. Granted it would work, anyways. She fastened the light to her side in the same position the guard had on his person, and twist her helmet off. Shaking her head, she quickly righted her blond mane into it's natural position. "Watch this for me would ya?" Annabelle mouthed, giving Hel her mask. "Hoo boy, this is gonna be good..." she quietly snickered.
Pushing the door open, Annabelle made sure to aim the flashlight a little bit higher than usual, right at the guard's face. She began to advance, walking confidently.
"Agh! Back so soon-? Fernando, please don't point that thing in my eyes, I still have the night vision on!"
She needed to be close, so very close to this colt. And he needed to be blind.
"Come on quit it! This isn't a time to be playing with the gear, how are the ponies upstairs doing?"
This had to be the craziest thing she’d ever done. Exciting, she corrected herself. It was going to be exciting. It didn’t matter, the two were pretty much synonymous in her head anyway. Annabelle's heart was racing... half way there.
"Now I mean it! Cut that shit out right now!"
Just a little closer, almost... she licked her lips in anticipation.
Suddenly, he was able to see who she was. "Stop! Wait a second! Who the hell are y-Mmmmfff!”
To say that the guard didn’t expect what came next would have been a gross understatement. His eyes widened in shock and he attempted to gasp as he looked down his muzzle, almost going cross eyed. Of course, he couldn’t gasp, or really take in any amount of air at all. In fact all he could make was a pathetic soft humming sound as Annabelle’s lips locked themselves around his own. He attempted to recoil slightly, but Annabelle followed his movement, deepening the kiss and wrestling her nimble tongue past his lips, and through the barricade of his teeth. He halted his escape when he felt her soft wetness pressing against his own within his mouth. Confusion reigned for but a second only, and all his other senses were lost to the kiss.
This was the moment Annabelle had been waiting for. Reaching up a hoof, she stroked his cheek, feeling his muscles relax. Yup, there it went, she thought. She noted the small trembling in his knees when she turned her head to the side and their tongues danced a small tango that lasted mere moments. This was where she could finally....
Nah, not yet. She was enjoying this. Why stop for anything? She brought both forelegs up now, wrapping them ‘round his neck. A soft sigh escaped her nose, and she smiled inwardly. Yeah, this was nice. She could sit here for a while. As the two stood there, locked in a passionate kiss, she slid his night-vision goggles off. She saw that his eyes had slowly closed, finally having given in.
But all good things come to an end. After a few seconds, she noticed an acrid burning taste racing across her tongue, and she broke the connection. The guard stayed in that position, his head back and his lips puckered, as though he were still in the midst of the kiss. His eyes slowly opened and he looked back at her. Smiling, she gave a small laugh, and held his head with both forehooves, one on each cheek.
“Thanks,” she said. “For doin’ this...”
With a shove, she slammed his face into the biological identification mechanism. He gasped, sharply this time. There was a bright light as the small panel scanned his retinas, produced a small beep, and announced with a metallic voice that access had indeed been granted. The door behind the guard slid open, revealing the elevator compartment within.
Annabelle hauled the guard up to look him in the eyes. She smirked, cocking her head and staring at him.
“Next time,” she chided, “Don’t have a smoke before you do that to a girl.”
He showed just a moment more of confusion before Annabelle pulled a hoof back and brought it forward at his chin. A combination of her own innate strength and the power granted to her by her suit drove her punch fast enough to snap his head back and, with an audible crack!, break his neck. She mused at his dead form for a moment, examining the eyes which had rolled back and only displayed whites now. She thought to kiss him once more. After all, he wasn’t going to struggle again, and his mouth did have this really nice shape to it....
...ah, but that taste. Bleah. Like burning paper and acid. It wasn’t worth it. She threw his limp form to the side. He hadn’t been a very good kisser anyways.
Hel nonchalantly trode down the hall, shifting her gaze to the lifeless pegasus on the floor... then back to Annabelle.... then back to the corpse.“I don’t know what’s scarier; the fact that that worked, or the fact that I wasn’t surprised you did it.”
Annabelle laughed. "Like I always say 'sug, sometimes it just takes a silver tongue."
Sorry about the wait readers, the new image is worth it, is it not?