Chapter I: The Wanderer
Spellcheck Proofreading Overlord: Jason Walker
IT tore into existence with a scream, so violent and full of pain, that all creatures in the forest began to run away in instant panic. IT was terrified – how strange it was to have a BODY, how bothersome to follow the RULES. And then, when the being inspected its new form, something even more horrible struck it – time. IT wasn’t used to time. Time was just another form of dimension, that makes other things grow weary and disappear. It was an agent of entropy. Every single second hit IT with immense fear and excruciating suffering. Everything was SO strange, SO new. First of all, the pain itself – IT never felt anything like it, IT pretty much never felt anything; and pain was a kaleidoscope of colors, hot red woven with icy blue lines, flowing and ebbing through ITS newfound body. It was… almost exhilarating.
In a few more seconds that were cutting ITS life away like a cruel butcher, IT found itself THINKING – another interesting experience, creating images and thoughts INSIDE, invisible to anyone and anything OUTSIDE. It was like having a Second IT, that IT could talk with to consider ITS next course of actions. One of the first thought that strike IT, that IT needs a name! How peculiar! IT never had a name before, IT never needed one – but now, IT has Life and Second IT inside, and a Name from this perspective looks much more needed than ever before. Wanderer – It will do.
After that, when Wanderer's new body tried its best to form into something possible in this reality, He – or maybe She, concept of gender still far away from this particular being – discovered a new set of tools to use: senses. Touch, smell, vision, taste, hearing… all of them so limited, so dull, so simple, yet, allowing him (or her, indeed – or maybe It should stay IT? Oh! I, yes, I am thinking while thinking – so I am allowed to think more than one thought! How useful!) to observe surrounding with great attention. Well, maybe I AM limited to this limited set of senses, but I – how IT relished in the idea of being I – could make them a little MORE than they are, couldn’t I? It spent some painful seconds testing new senses, calibrating them to hear better, to see further, to smell any scent even from a great distance only to quickly realize, that each and every second became less and less painful to IT now that IT was becoming I.
It was Exhausting. There will be no end to these new experiences – but of course, having a body means you need to maintain it. Bothersome, but necessary. The Wanderer needed sustentation – IT (yes, I will stay with IT for now) had been trying to gather pure energy from the radiating sun high above the land, but it seems that its new body could not afford such a feat. Well, THIS is a real bother, isn’t it? It sensed; however, a few quite powerful beacons of pure energy within the land – it was far away, yet so vivid, strong and… calling? Wanderer did not know a lot. In fact, Wanderer knew nothing. About anything. But Wanderer's new form had its needs.
The Wanderer begun its hunt.
* * *
It was a sunny autumn day when it happened. Everypony in the entire Equestria suddenly fell to their knees, a terrifying scream echoing in their minds, a scream full of agony and unbearable pain, but with a slight hint that the maker of such a noise would gladly share it’s suffering with anyone around. Pegasi broke their flight when smote by the sheer power of this unnatural cry, earth ponies shuddered on the ground, but it was Unicorns that got the worse of it. Being much more sensitive to the flows of magical energies, each Unicorn heard this eerie scream with all its might, easily shattering thoughts of all but two horned equines in the land. It was brief, it was short, it was frightening. Pegasi and Earth Ponies quickly recovered and started heated discussions about what had just happened, trying to figure out the event while helping strained Unicorns to stand up, some of them still lying on the ground, muscles tensed and shuddering with eyes closed hard, sweat covering their bodies.
In the same time, the God Empress of Equestria, Princess Celestia gave a gasp, as She felt a new power invading her Land. In her bedroom, the younger Princess Luna awoke with a brief scream of terror, her dreamy vision still visible before her eyes, a vision of an empty plane, so vast and void, that it was crushing and dwindling all emotions, all thoughts, everything. Luna shivered a little, when she heard a ring of the Old Bell, summoning everypony from the highest echelons to a crisis meeting.
* * *
The Wanderer’s first hunting was quite a success! Its first target wasn’t hard to catch, but the Joy of victory flowed within the Wanderer, and It enjoyed this brand new mixture of feelings. Well, that wasn’t hard, was it? IT looked with curiosity on Its prey – a branch from a tree, full of vividly green leaves. Its form quickly reshaped itself to create an apparatus that would allow the body to consume and bring nutrients to itself – an interesting note, the Wanderer did not INSTRUCT the body to did so, it simply thrived to form itself as quickly as possible to begin the feast, as if the body had some hidden set of instructions, that IT can’t control or affect in any way. It must be dealt with – a body should not be able to CONTROL the Wanderer – the very thought was simply ridiculous!
When IT was thinking all of these thoughts, the body finally spawned everything that is needed to feed itself, and IT watched ITSELF opening this new cavity in its form, a muscle sprinted out of it and touched the leaves on the broken branch. The sensation almost destroyed the Wanderer – IT was beyond description! Taste exploded within Its mind like a supernova, rendering it incapable of any, even most basic thinking process. The Wanderer outside shell shuddered violently, as It devoured the very first leaf, savoring its incredible taste. Having a body, following the rules… all of it was WORTH this very sensation alone.
The Wanderer continued its feast.
* * *
Swash suddenly woke up, chilled to the bone, his entire body aching and sweating all over –he opened his eyes slowly and saw a grim, blurry image of two large blots jumping on each other fiercely amongst dark surroundings. He realized two things – first, that it was raining. Second, that somepony shook his body violently with a lot of senseless shouting added just for the sake of it, as his hearing was currently impaired. ‘What the hay was that?!’ he thought, trying his best to quickly gather his wits. It came like lightning, a sudden scream bursting inside his mind, a scream so full of agony, that it grasped his own body and engulfed it with pain, making him fall to the ground and simply faint when it became unbearable. ‘Not a good move, considering the situation,’ his very personal mind scolded him, but heck, yes, fainting is surely NOT a good move when you’re fighting a freakishly huge manticore. His train of thoughts came to an abrupt end, when he gasped and moaned as a strong kick landed at his stomach – it worked, as he started to hear the shouting a little clearly than a second ago.
“The fuck are you doing, you moron!? Stand the fuck up this instant you frilly lady, fainting like that in the middle of a fight? How old are you for Celestia’s Sake!? GET THAT ASS UP!” – Ah! So the sweet, honeyed words spoken to him in such a volume came from Ace Flush, of course. She was such a charmer. She was also beautiful, especially in that moment, when she decided that he needed another solid kick in the soft parts to keep him focused.
“Ugh! You c-can keep yer’ lovely forehooves to yourself, Ace.” He managed, still gasping and huffing from exhaustion. “I am quite alright already.” He pulled himself up with all his strength and was able to stand upright. “You see? By the way –“ He smirked. “Thank you for your KIND help here!”
Ace Flush looked at him with anger and murderous intent in her eyes – that was a sure sign that she was calm and happy! Ahh, Ace Flush. She was like a strong drink in a pub. She looked nice and inviting, and she could even be sweet and great. But after you had too much of Her she would waste you, hit you on the floor as you fell and make you sick, left in the hope that you would never meet each other again. But then, in the very next morning you will wake up and go to the same pub, ordering your drink yet again, and the play repeat itself. She was truly a sweet little angel, if you only watched your back.
“Did I ever mention how sweet You are and how kind of soul? Nope? Well, that is good, because you are not, my dear!” He simply loved to tease her like that, to watch her vivid-red snout goes purple with fury as she was quickly gathering her wits to make a repartee. This time however, he didn’t give her any time for it. From the sounds coming from maybe a hundred yards within the dark, murky swamp, the battle was far from over. “Shh, my love! I bet Lagro could use some help from the best duelist in the entire Equestria, don’t you think? And I believe that he would not mind Your presence too!” He threw her a quick wink and quickly followed the sounds of fierce combat, telekinetically picking up his sword as his horn started glowing with a magical aura. Ace grunted and mumbled a little, but soon followed.
Both ponies entered a small field of solid ground, a rare thing in these forsaken swamps. Two monsters were fighting in the middle, exchanging blows with clawed paws, snapping at each other with huge jaws filled with long, sharp fangs. The combatants were bleeding from multiple shallow wounds and scratches, but neither looked like giving up. One of them was a manticore, a monstrous mix of a lion's body, bat's wings and scorpion’s tale – a truly nightmarish creature, able to tear a pony in a few heartbeats. The second fighter looked like some sort of a dragon with a strange frame – upper body emanated with power, long, muscular arms armed with claw-tipped hands, big, wide jaw and barrel-like chest, however its legs were much smaller, pretty much making it hard to believe how this beast could stand on them alone. It probably couldn’t, but still did so, balancing its body with a long, thick tail. For a few breaths the two monsters broke their fight to quickly check themselves up and catch a second wind, both breathing heavily, but steady.
“Hey’a Lagro!” Swash shouted with a big grin. “Need some assistance with that big boy, or do You want to have all the fun?”
The dragon-like creature did not break its focus, but simply smiled a little to itself with a quite relieved sigh. “You all right Swash? Of course you are not, otherwise you wouldn’t stand there being useless.” Lagro exclaimed with a calm, stern voice of a true stoic. “Don’t you worry – Pinion and I got this one covered from the very beginning.” He added.
“Pinion!?” Ace yelled with rage. “You LET Pinion get close to that th –“ Her outburst was interrupted by a jump from the enraged manticore, that would not be so kind to let them finish their conversation. Lagro wasn’t surprised by this course of action, and still maintaining focus on his target, he made a quick dash forward to break the manticore jump with a powerful uppercut to its soft underbelly in the midair. The monster gasped, suddenly depleted of air by the hit to its lungs, and crashed onto the ground loudly whimpering. In the very same moment a small figure jumped from a tree directly into the manticore's muzzle yelling “OOOHHHMYYYGOOOOSHHH!”. The tiny figure turned out to be a young griffon with a leather and fur jacket, who frantically tried to scratch out the manticore’s eyes – with success marked by a roar of pain and a sudden uplift from the wounded beast.
“Pinion!” Ace shouted and quickly dashed toward the kicking, infuriated monster, but Swash was faster. With a few fast jumps he was next to the body and by a simple gesture of his horn he plunged a blade directly into the manticore’s head, just a second after the small griffon jumped away from it with a perfectly executed somersault. The beast was dead.
“Don’tcha tell me that I wasn’t AWESOME!” chirped Pinion with an excited jump, only to receive a generous smack on the head from infuriated Ace.
“HOW many times MUST I tell you to never get involved, if IT ISN’T necessary!?”Ace Flush yelled at the small griffon, but in the same time Swash burst into laughter and Lagro stepped from behind and put his huge hand on the griffon’s head tousling it a little.
“Good work Little One, without your help it would take longer.” He said quietly, while he gave Ace a fierce stare of the quite mixed feelings of fury and understanding. The little Griffon called Pinion… she had a backstory to her, and not a happy one for sure. They found her running away, lost, beaten and terrified in a wild forest. It was only her luck that Swash found her there by a sheer accident, and he was too heartbroken to leave her there. Lagro kneeled and let the small griffon climb onto his back before he stood up to his natural, hunched position. He would never admit it aloud, but he liked this cheery addition to the team, and really hated how Ace Flush tried to be motherly with HIS Little Pinion.
Ace unable for the time being to focus her fury on a smaller target, quickly trotted toward the still laughing Swash and gave him a generous kick. “Stop it, foal, why are you laughing this time?” she spitted out.
“Nothing in particular.” Swash chuckled – how much he rejoiced in seeing Ace unable to release her payload on a chosen victim! “But Lagro is right, Pinion did great, so stop being all fussy about it, and…”
“And tell us, why YOU fainted back there,” said a voice from the shadow between the bushes, cold like tempered steel. The voice that was used to commanding, and wasn’t used to hearing any objections. Another pony stepped from the darkness into the murky light, a stallion with dark coat, dressed in way too much clothing for Swash personal taste – Dr. Cunning should look ridiculous, if he wasn’t scary. And by scary, Swash meant terrifying. He wore a top hat, a monocle, and a suit that looked like some form of a tuxedo that covered his Cutie Mark. To add some “dastardly touch” to the picture, he indeed had a goatee. He looked like time traveller that got lost. Swash was sure that he didn’t have a Cutie Mark – there was NOTHING “Cutie” about Dr. Cunning, and even if he had a mark like all the ponies, you simply couldn’t bear yourself to name it properly. The thing about Dr. Cunning was, well, that…
“Swash Knack, please, do focus and answer my question.” Doctor broke the awkward silence with a calm voice, while he focused his ferrite stare on Swash. It was no use lying to Doctor – he would know the very instant, the very moment a lie left someponies lips. Thanks to good ol’ doctor he became a center of attention for entire team, each of them watched him with different kind of gaze. Ace Flush with a poisonous smirk on her muzzle gave him a jester-like stare. Lagro looked seriously concerned, while Pinion simply curious. Doctor continued to drill him with his diamond-like, trademark gaze that could make a lesser pony squeak in terror.
“I heard a scream.”
* * *
The entire day! The Wanderer was shocked how fast the time could be if left unchecked. IT spent the entire day on eating. What a waste! ITS new body needed so much to simply BE! The Wanderer got used to the sense of taste, as IT ate grass, various flowers, some bark and many other different forms of flora, each one of them a rare, little discovery to his newfound sense. But it wasn’t effective enough – if IT wanted to keep ITS body maintained by this form of Sustentation, IT would spent every single second of ITS existence on this single process. There must be, by logic, other, more effective form of gathering nutrients. The Wanderer gave it a thought, and observed ITSELF trying to figure out a Solution to a Problem – another THING, that IT had never DONE before being I. While ITS mind was wondering about different routes of possibilities, ITS body continue the feast, and without any attention given to IT, the Wanderer devoured a snail.
This shook IT out of ITS thoughts, as ITS body all of the sudden felt so much more energetic than ever! The Wanderer quickly analyzed the situation from the outside of ITS shell and created a conclusion – an animal form of life, when consumed, generated way more nutrients and therefore – energy. So that is how Proteins work? Peculiar! Also, ITS sense of taste gave him a quick note, that IT liked it, and wanted more. The Wanderer shuddered, every little shiver visible on his fluid form –the body still tried to control ITS actions, but this time it looked like IT knew what IT was doing. IT needed to be redesigned – this body, this apparatus wasn't created to Hunt creatures faster than a common flower. The Wanderer's ageless will quickly commanded ITS form to adapt into a new shape, one that would be able to outrun and rapidly finish any animal in the forest. With a bass shriek, the body erupted and bulged, while IT was looking at it, and taking it anew. Yes. IT was satisfied with the result.
The Wanderer dashed into the deep forest.
* * *
“Soo, Doctor Cunning. Is he really a doctor?” asked Luna, interrupting a boring droning from one of her sister’s ministers, who was trying his best to explain to them what kind of criminal scum a stallion called Swash Knack really was.
“Err, no as far as our records could tell, my majesty.” Said minister Ivory, after he pulled himself together from such a sudden brake in his speech. “To be perfectly frank, my majesty, our Intel Bureau hasn't gathered much information considering this so called Doctor. Or Professor. Or many other different aliases. He can be, as I was informed, quite eluding.”
“Ha, the ‘Full House’ team! A name followed by a lot of stories, not so many facts, and a fistful of personas! Like in an adventure novel, isn’t it, sister?” Luna gave Celestia a quick glance full of mischief. She wouldn’t admit it, but life in Canterlot was boring, dull, and grey. THIS, on the other hoof, was getting interesting! Celestia surely had changed a lot in the last millennium – to actually THINK of hiring a group of mercenary vaudevillians? Fantastic! She dropped her fantasies and focused on yet another speech from one of the most respected ministers in the Day Palace, sir Diamondback.
“…and all in all, my highness, the council does not see the necessity of hiring any kind of bounty hunter, mercenary, or other of the kind, for we still don’t have even the slightest idea what caused the scream or even if there is any sort of being behind this. And even if it was some sort of a creature, we can’t be assured that it is still within the Equestrian borders. So, the council would advise Her Majesty to reconsider, and wait for our academics to gather more information –“
“That will be enough, kind sir, thank you.” Said Princess Celestia, with her most regal tone of voice, slightly nodding to the minister Diamondback, who was taken aback a little, but with so many years of experience in his chair, he gently bowed and sat down. Her Highness made up her Mind.
Celestia, the God Empress of Equestria and the bringer of the Sun, looked around the table, finally giving a brief smile to her sister who was brimming with barely contained excitement. “Of course your advice is wise, and I will heed towards it” she said, while hearing just the tiniest of sighs from her ministers. “But that doesn’t change the fact that I need a group of hardened veterans ready to deal with all kinds of… trouble, when faced with one. It is not for Me or my dearest Sister, of course, I put my total and unshakable trust in My Royal Guards. But it has occurred to me, that there are other ponies that should be at least considered for special treatment, and I am amazed, truly, that all of you kind ministers forgot about them” Celestia gave the faintest of smiles when she felt the change in the atmosphere. “The Bearers of the Elements of Harmony…”
“Of course.” Luna finished for her older sister with a grin.
Celestia nodded with a beautiful smile on her muzzle as she did a small, sharp movement with her neck, just to let her iridescent mane move around a little. She hated doing that, but it always made the point stick in some tough heads. Minister Diamonback only smirked to this little show, knowing already how it would end, but poor minister Ivory, still too young to know all of Her Majesty little quirks, decided to lay down some of the good old fashioned Reason with additional top layer of Consideration.
“We could, my brilliant highness, send a detachment of the Royal Guards to –“
“The same Royal Guards that will at the same time defend Us from the danger unknown, you mean?” Princess Luna interrupted him yet again, this time with a sarcastic tone and a sparkle in her eyes. “No. This would not stand. We need additional hooves in this business, and we are getting some, aren’t we, sister?” She said, turning to Princess Celestia, who just nodded still with a gentle smile.
The Poor young Ivory, he simply didn’t know when to stop. “But my royal Highnesses – “ he began, but Diamondback waved a hoof in front of him and said “Stop it, minister Ivory – our mistresses gave a clear order here, so YOU will follow it, are we clear?” He said sternly but with an understanding grimace. After that he turned his muzzle to the Princesses and winked, while he added “I would personally send royal messengers’ to seek out for this team, my Majesty, my Highness.” He gave a full bow, extremely complicated and ruled by mysterious laws of court etiquette, to each of the Royal Sisters. In a few minutes, the Chamber was empty with exception of the Royal Sisters, some silent, statue-like Royal Guards, and a few servant cleaning the place like little ghosts.
“So what do you really think Celest?” asked Luna after a minute of brief silence.
“I seriously don’t know yet. Something new invaded our Equestria, dear sister, something new and quite powerful. You heard the scream, you have seen the damage it made to the entire population! So many wounded, so many still comatose and lying in hospitals and care centers. It was a busy day, and I have a bad feeling about this.” Celestia sighed wearily while she laid her head on the huge pillows scattered across the entire room. “And It is so late, and I need my sleep!” She whined in an extremely non-royal way. Luna only giggled and said “You think this, huh, team will be of any real help? You know them? They are really that good as the stories suggest? I know you sis, you would never choose them If you didn’t know a thing or two, or even three about them!” Celestia gave her sister a mysterious smile with half closed eyes, and mumbled “You will see Luna, they are truly a gallery of oddities, they are. And I know you will LOVE to mess around with them.”
* * *
The wolf had no way out. It was horrified, ears flattened on its head, lips quivered in a snarl followed by a whimper. It shouldn’t be like this. The wolf was a predator after all, he was the one who gave a chase, who was the silent Eyes in the Shadows! Not this time. Left, no, herded away from his pack, he was being followed by a relentless creature like he had never seen before. It was constantly changing, without a smell, without a soul. It was wicked and bent to get his hide and his flesh. The forest around the wolf grew darker and darker as the creature encircled him all by itself – a feat impossible to anything less than a pack or a herd, yet this monstrosity achieved it. With no way back, the wolf tried to attack the engulfing darkness. Within a few seconds, tendrils of pure, ebon shadows hit the wolf from all directions with cracks of breaking bones and shattered sinew. And after that, there was silence and nothing more.
The Wanderer drank the blood.
* * *
It was a sunny autumn day in Ponyville, just a day after the Running of the Leaves, a local event in which ponies run around the city to shake down multicolored leaves from the trees for the incoming winter. Twilight Sparkle sighed to herself in her study, still sore a little from yesterday’s run. It was the second Running of the Leaves for her in Ponyville, this time she – and whole competition to be frank – was crushed by fantastic performance of the best athletes amongst all the local ponies: Applejack and Rainbow Dash, two very close friends of Twilight. Both foolhardy ponies learnt their lesson last time, that was quite obvious! Still, it was good entertainment and a way to get away from books and studying with a reason strong enough to bribe herself with it. Twilight sighed again while looking through the window at the park outside, where entire families of ponies were relaxing in the still hot day of the late autumn. She decided to join them and relax as well, when it happened.
A roar, a scream of immense scale rent her like a hot knife, incapacitating her body in an instant surge of excruciating pain, each limb spasming with sudden tension of each muscle in her body. She tried to yell, to vent the pain outside her body with a scream, but all she was able to do was a little, weak squeak. Then the horrible scream turned into a mind-shattering screech, like a claw scraping a blackboard in her soul, and her jaw was clenched so hard, that she could feel her teeth break. Then as suddenly as it came, it was gone, and Twilight was left lying on her library floor, strained and weaker than ever before, tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. The last thing she heard before fainting was a few rushed steps on the stairs and the muffled voice of her personal assistant, Spike.
“Twilight! Are you all righ…”
* * *
Rarity closed her boutique earlier today, when the autumn sun was still quite high on the sky. It was unusual for her, but the day was way too perfect to not use it properly. Humming happily she trotted into her luxurious bathroom, and after a few minutes, with a little moan, she plunged gently into hot, bubbly water. Rarity relaxed her entire body and let it float in the warm embrace of her bathtub and in the meantime she dreamed lightly about big, muscular and gentle stallions – oh, she knew perfectly well that she really didn’t want somepony like that, but in the dreamworld of her fantasies, well, why not? After a few blissful minutes she decided to give herself a solid scrub.
What should she do in the evening? She wanted to go out, maybe catch up with her friends and have a good time – maybe she should visit her dearest friend, Fluttershy, and have a little small-talk over a tea? Or maybe she should walk to the Ponyville Library and say her Hello to Twilight? She was quite a bookworm, sure, but the purple mare was cute and adorable with her eagerness towards the entire “Friendship" business. Rarity giggled a little, and suddenly, it came like a hit from a hammer.
A primordial scream of agony coursed through her mind like a wave, sudden spasms stiffened her body and sunk it under the warm water. Her lungs quickly filled as she opened her muzzle in a silent scream, as she could not bear the pain, gulping water that choked and gagged her. Torsion from her limbs spilled and splashed water all across the bathroom, when she fought for air, still lashed by screeches of suffering that rend her mind to numbness. Black haze started to take her vision away, sounds growing duller and flatter with each heartbeat, lungs full with water pulled her back under the surface. The last she saw was a little, final, and lonely bubble of air that left through her lips…
Chapter II - Vaudeville, is here.
Author’s note: So, this is the first chapter for a story, that is growing big as hell! First of all, congratulations and big Thank You for reading this wall of text, especially considering, that I am not a native English speaker,. So writing without mistakes, errors and terrifying grammar is a daunting task!
Chapter II: Vaudeville
Spellcheck Proofreading Tyrant: Jason Walker
After the meeting, Princess Luna couldn’t sleep. She tried, but thoughts and fantasies alike gnawed at her without too much self-resistance. She was so curious! She spent past thousand blasted years imprisoned on a huge rock that contained nothing more than ashes, rocks and even more ashes! But that wasn’t all, ha! After her return to the royal court, she found herself pretty much out of the job – to be honest, Celestia immediately began a process that would return night under Luna’s wardship, but it wasn’t as easy as everypony would have guessed. There was bureaucracy now. A truly towering monstrosity composed of hundreds of ponies that shuffled papers, took notes and did a plethora of various important tasks, which only contributed to that form of organized anarchy known to the civilized world as “administration”. Luna’s snorted and rolled over in her bed. "Now they can’t even add a single star to the firmament without filling up six different forms, creating a committee and arguing about it for like an eternity" she thought with growing impatience.
Hence, life for Princess Luna in the royal court was full of Extreme Dullness with additional Boredom Strips added on the top. ’But not anymore!’ she thought while pulling out one of her favorite books hidden below her bed. It looked rugged and cheap, with a wrinkled soft cover and washed up colors – the bold title proclaimed “The Mysterious Vagabond! Adventures with Spade and Honor.” Oh, how very BAD this book was, filled with foolish ponies making foolish decisions and speaking idiotic lines. She loved it for its unreal story that was never likely to happen. But it could now.
Her horn glowed for a second in order to rise and ring her tiny bell. Her personal maidservant, young and beautiful unicorn named Mystique Wind entered the room with her head kept low. She gave Luna a quick bow and asked politely “Yes, my Highness?”
Luna smiled at the gorgeous unicorn kindly. “Please, go to the Intel Bureau and tell them that I want to take a look at the documentation considering the Full House team – all of it, including personal folders.” Mystique bowed again, mainly to hide her expression of mild shock, and replied “Immediately, my Highness”.
* * *
Twilight awoke suddenly with a loud gasp and a moan. She had a mighty headache and the constant shouting and yelling from under the floor didn’t help it at all. Blinking a little, she tried to move, but her body was too exhausted and sore. She realized that the entire bed was wet from her sweat. ‘What was that?’ she asked herself, when realization of what had happened finally dawned in her mind. She still remember the echoes of that terrifying scream.
Somepony was coming up the stairs. Loud voices below ended a few seconds before, Twilight noticed, while she heard knocking on her door. “Twilight, you awake?” It was Rainbow Dash for sure, and she sounded concerned.
“I am.” Twilight managed meekly. “Come in Rainbow Dash, please."
The door opened with a creek, and a sky-blue mare with a rainbow-colored mane entered with a serious muzzle that didn’t suit her usually brash attitude. She tried to close the door behind her, but Spike quickly sneaked through, throwing himself beside Twilight and hugging her strongly.
“Enough Spike, enough, I am glad to see you too. Now please, give me some space. What happened?” asked the lavender unicorn after she nuzzled her baby dragon assistant and friend.
“Well” Rainbow Dash began “We thought it was you who’s are going to tell us, Twilight.” She said, raising her eyebrow. “You see, every unicorn in town suddenly collapsed, and well, they are all scared like hay, they are! Not me, of course, when it happened. Then I quickly gathered the pegasi to search for every horned pony in the town, to check up on them. Applejack and others soon joined the party Twilight.” She said with a weak smile. “And I blitzed here with, eh, Icy Cold, to check up on you, ‘cause you are my friend and all.” She added, pawing her hoof on the floor, managing to look untouched by the entire situation.
‘That’s Rainbow Dash, all right!’ thought Twilight with a smile and a chuckle that made the cyan pegasus frown and huff. “I don’t know yet, Rainbow, but I will dig into it as soon as I can.” She said, then cried suddenly. “Rarity! What about her! Tell me somepony is checking on her too!”
* * *
Rarity awoke with a cough, burning pain in her lungs, and a lot of shoving. Somepony was yelling some kind of weird litany of “Comeoncomeoncomeonbealive!” while pressing her chest hardly – with each push Rarity coughed up a lot of water with another surge of agony. She was exhausted, wrecked; her senses dulled greatly, her vision clouded and hearing impaired. But she was alive, thank Celestia. With each breath the pain withered a little, and she began to recognize the voice of a shouting pony – Applejack.
The orange earth pony stopped pressing her friend's chest and gave a huge sigh of relief. Rarity’s eyes opened slightly, and she started breathing again. The white unicorn tried to say something, but all she managed to do was a moan and a little cough. Applejack started throwing towels at her and said “Hush, Rare, hush now, don’t ya try to talk right now, eh? Ya need to sleep, ya need to strengthen up a bit, deary.” As Rarity was unable to move, Applejack did her best to dry her up, pull her gently from the wet floor, and then started to climb upstairs to Rarity’s bedroom. She dropped Rarity delicately onto her big, soft bed, yet the white unicorn still bit her lower lip in pain. Rarity was sore all over, her lungs still burning after the drowning. Applejack couldn’t contain herself any longer, and started crying again, this time with a smile on her muzzle. She stroked Rarity’s mane gently. “Shhh, sleep now missy, sleep now. Everything is okay, just catch some z’s please” she reassured, only to noticed, that her friend was already fast asleep. Applejack smiled to herself, and collapsed on the ground, breathing heavily. "Ah hope Twi is all right. Ah hope she is."
* * *
The day was hot and dry, quite unusual for this time of year. Cloudless sky, relentless sun-rays, the buzz of bumblebees and crickets in the high grass – a fantastic atmosphere to make anyone drowsy and sleepy. The entire team was therefore relaxing on a big, slow cart on its way to Phillydelphia. The cart was in possession of a travelling jewel-maker, who was more than overjoyed to have them with him – with a team like this he decided to venture through Everfree Forest rather than around it to save a few days of his travel. Swash was always perplexed by a merchant’s willingness to risk their entire fortunes to save a couple of bits, but he decided not to comment this time – a free and comfy way of traveling wasn’t a thing he wanted to lose because of his tongue.
He was lying on the top of the cart among many crates and bags full of whatever a journeyman jeweler needed, catching some sun, drowsing, and thinking: he sighed to himself lightly. To somepony from the outside, he would seem like an egocentric buffoon and a ruffian, who fixes his problems with strength rather than guile – and to be honest, he had worked for that opinion hard, so he was quite proud that he achieved it as quickly and as loudly as possible. He was a boasting braggart indeed, a marenizer, and a scoundrel – all these roles he played so well so far. And yet, while he was feeling proud of creating this fantastic persona which he used for disguise, he also felt a slight disappointment that only a few were able to see through it.
He was smart, and the very first thing a smart pony learns is never to allow anyone to find this out. Also he sniggered at the thought that someponies need to learn the skill of ‘cutie marks reading’ – they are basically there to tell you about the specialty of a pony, for Celestia’s Sake! And no one (well, almost) had ever thought over why a rogue adventurer skilled with swords had a cutie mark that showed two theater masks: he chuckled again. Oh it is a shame that the scene lost him forever, but he didn’t regret this decision – he still played his role, and this time the entire world was his scene, even if no one knew the screenplay and there was definitely no applause at the end of the show.
Because he was very smart, he had a skill behind his persona to match – he had learnt swordsmanship and fencing from true masters of these arts. His body was like a temple to him, even if this particular temple was not devoted to some old, primordial god. He tried to treat it well and work with it - and the effects were visible: he wasn’t big, but he wasn’t a shrimp either, and he was ready to take a fight against anything. Scars scattered over his grey-coated skin proved that right. Oh, and it was a true blessing that his mane and tail were bright orange from the very beginning! No need to change anything to fulfill the picture.
“Could you PLEASE stop giggling, chuckling, or simply laughing to yourself for a second there?” The polite question bristling with venom came from Ace Flush, who was sitting inside the cart, hidden from the hot sun and calculating their last reward. She was such a materialist. Swash loved her – he had to admit it to himself thousand times a day, probably because he would murder her with excessive cruelty if he stopped telling himself that he did. She wasn’t the most beautiful mare there is, but she surely was quite exotic with her blood-red coat, curly light-blue mane and tail, and huge, hypnotic yellow eyes with two little demons hidden inside, always ready for the occasional mischief. But he wasn’t into her looks as much as he was into her wonderful character – he once described her as a pit full of venomous snakes that ate too many poisonous spiders and now have a terrible stomachache. That doesn’t mean she was a bad pony, oh no – she was simply a little harsh on the outside and so very hard to get close to without being bitten.
He recalled their first encounter, when she was running away from a band of thugs that she had robbed out of all their bits. When she ran into him, within a split second she turned towards her pursuers, gave Swash a huge kiss to the cheek and yelled something along the lines of “Aha! Now you must deal with my lover, you bastards!” Then she ran away, leaving him shocked, stunned and in front of five very angry stallions.
She wasn’t expecting him to survive, so she was petrified when he entered the Saloon she was staying in. But she tried her best to play it well – and in a busy place like this, surrounded by colt and stallion admirers - why shouldn’t she? Swash was bleeding lightly from a few scratches, but he stood firmly and even gave her a smile “Oh, Darling, here you are!” he said as her eyes grew larger in disbelief. But she quickly gathered her wits and replied with a flirty tone and a batting of her eyelashes “Oh, My Love! What have happened to you!?” Well, he wasn’t expecting THAT. Swash giggled at his memory.
“I swear on Luna’s moon, if I hear you doin’ any more stupid vocals, I am going to cut your throat at night, my dear!” Ace proclaimed with a snarl from below. Yes, he loved that soulless bitch with all his heart.
* * *
The Wanderer grew weary. ITS new form suited its role perfectly, IT had no problems with gathering nutrients for ITS body now, yet IT still needed to spent almost all of ITS time hunting. It was better than being a herbivore for sure, but still wasn’t effective enough. While IT was thinking (and the Wanderer dully noted that THINKING became a habit now) a delicate movement of nearby bushes alerted all ITS senses. IT slowly crawled towards them, encircling one from every direction with extended limbs that had grown from its form, each one more of a grotesque tentacle composed of muscles and sinews than a proper hand or leg. When he pierced the shrub, something strange jumped on IT. Interesting – IT knew that IT had become an ultimate predator in the forest, yet something attacked IT! Creature looked strange indeed, with a head of some kind of a bird and rest of the body reptilian with little wings. The weird little hybrid tried to stare deeply into the eyes of the Wanderer. IT felt a surge of magical power, raw energy bombarding ITS body from the eyes of the creature!
The cockatrice realized quickly that its stare did not work at all. The bulging, ever-changing monstrosity in front of it simply watched it with… curiosity? Curiosity that ended with a spasm of all of its many limbs that crushed the cockatrice into a bloody pulp, killing it outright. The Wandered devoured it, and felt something changing within ITS form – "YES," IT thought. "YES! This is it." This is what IT was looking for – a true source of sustenance, so simple, so raw. So effective. IT quickly adjusted ITS senses and found two extremely powerful sources of magical energy in a far distance.
The Wanderer began ITS march.
* * *
Princess Luna was reading with a blush on her cheeks. Her entire bed was covered with opened folders, scripts, photos, pictures… everything about the members of the infamous Full House team. It was amazing. All of them individualists, somewhat brought together, all of them free to roam the entire Equestria in the never ending search for more and more adventures! And the stories, ha, SO much better than the lousy writing she had been used to – stories of their achievements contained much more blood and broken limbs and teeth rather than soft kisses or rewards of entire populations being grateful, just like in the books she valued so much.
Oh, it was so much better, for it was true! She giggled to herself, digging into another report about the self-proclaimed “Doctor” Cunning. It was interesting how each of them had unique stories, so different in mood and execution – it was hard to believe they were all true, but Mystique Wind assured her that Intel Bureau did not include anything unverified in their folders. So Swash Knack was a cliché adventurer, swinging on chandeliers, fencing with many opponents at once and saving somepony from another pony. It sounded lightheartedly, but descriptions were quite, well, picturesque. Like when he saved a little filly kidnapped from her rich father for ransom – Swash ended up with two broken limbs, after jumping from Way Too High, and with multiple deep wounds, after he butchered every single criminal in the building. He barely made it alive.
Luna could imagine how the little filly felt, when she saw her captors tore apart, pierced by furious slashes of the sword, blood covering everything in the entire chamber. And after that, a stallion appeared, crimson from ichor, who forcibly pulled her out of the corner to bring her to safety. The Princess of the Night shivered at the thought and cursed her imaginative mind.
Dr. Cunning was, however, an entirely different set of boots to jump into. His folder was the thinnest of them all, containing only a few blurred pictures and a couple of pages – he surely was eluding, no mistake about it! But the gathered Intel was creepy as hay, it was. Like the one about his visit in Manehattan, when he trotted inside one of the dens of a popular and well known crime-lord. How the music suddenly stopped. And how no voice, not a single squeak, got out from behind the door. After a few minutes, he emerged from the very door he had entered and trotted away like nothing happened. Then half an hour later an entire battalion of Equestrian agents stormed the place to find nothing. Cold dishes laid on tables and chairs were knocked down and that’s all. Like he simply wiped out an entire mob from the face of Equestria.
Luna shuddered again. They didn’t even knew what the so called Doctor Cunning looked like exactly. He was probably dark brown with a grey mane and always wearing something stylish and elegant and from last epoch. Two things were certain – first, that he had never revealed his Cutie Mark. Second - that his eyes were pure gold and, as one of the agents described it - “Colder than gates to the Abyss, pardon this comparison," Oh, the excitement!
“Well, I told you, dear Sister, that they are quite interesting.”
Luna jumped in terror and squeaked startled, but quickly gathered her thoughts and snapped “How long have YOU been here!?”.
Celestia chuckled a little with a mischievous smile, and replied “Long enough, I suppose. Getting a little excited I see! You want to meet them in person, I believe.” That wasn’t a question, as Luna noticed before she nodded.
“Yes, and why not?” she said with a grin. “I am bored, Sister, bored to the bones! and this, well, I don’t want to lie to you, this is an opportunity! I can go and help them out, surely I can!” She jumped, agitated, and began prancing around the chamber “Think about it! Adventure, and a real one – danger, travel, um, romance…” she blushed fiercely under Celestia’s soft gaze, but yet again quickly regained her royal composure. “Don’t even try to tell me that I can’t go!”
“I didn’t meant to from the beginning, dear Sister." The Sun Princess said calmly.
“No, I can do whatev- What? You will allow me to do this?!” said Luna, shocked and standing still for a while with eyes opened wide. Then she frowned and asked “Why?”.
“This is your life my sister, it will be your decision to make” Celestia said simply before she embraced her sister’s head with her neck in a pony-hug. “Just try not to be disappointed when they do not agree.” She added.
“Wha- What?” asked Luna, breaking free from the hug and with a confused look on her muzzle.
“Well, even if you want to go, they must still accept you to their team, don’t they? And to be perfectly honest, I do not see that happening, dear sister, and before you speak” Celestia added quickly, when she saw anger building on her younger sister snout, “It is not because you are weak, foolish or not skilled enough, not at all. I believe you could be a great addition with your powers, but there is more than skills needed to form a good team – trust, for example, trust built within years of mutual adventures and misadventures.”
Luna sighed heavily. Her sister was right, of course, she always was right, damn it. But this would not stop her from trying, nevertheless.
* * *
Twilight was doing research, still in her bed, since Spike pretty much forced her to stay in it to - as he put it, “get better." Silly him, she was feeling quite well, the psychic trauma long gone already and her entire body in much better condition, thanks to a long, steady sleep. She obeyed Spike’s “commands” simply because she didn’t want to hurt him, and he was obviously dead serious and greatly concerned about her well-being. Probably he felt guilty for what happened to her, even if he couldn’t do anything about that – she figured out that his overacting may be a way to vent it out.
But she insisted on starting her research on the subject, and with a lot of grunting, mumbling, and whining Spike provided books she wanted to check. So far all her efforts had been useless – it was a shame, but her vast collection of books did not have any titled “Mysterious Psychic Screams, and How to Work Around Them” or anything even close to that topic. During the day she quickly read dozens of different books, trying her best to pinpoint any useful tidbits of information, but the results were less than satisfying. She sent urgent notes to her friends in the morning, asking all of them to gather in Carousel Boutique to discuss the matter. Usually that sort of meeting were held in her library, but poor Rarity was still too weak to walk by herself.
Twilight was proud of the citizens of Ponyville. When the crisis struck, earth ponies and pegasi quickly checked over every unicorn in the entire town to make sure they were all right. A few unicorns were saved from death by this rapid action, like Rarity for example. Dragged out of bathtubs or taken out of smoke-filled kitchens… it could have been tragic. It probably was, Twilight thought, even if not in Ponyville. There were bigger cities in Equestria filled with unicorns that had no one to help them. She shed a single tear that went down her cheek before she sighed and called for Spike.
The small dragon entered her bedroom after a quick dash upstairs and asked “Yes Twi, what do you need?” Twilight broke into a smile as she got up from her bed. “You shouldn’t get up yet, you know…” Spike frowned and crossed his arms.
“Well, how otherwise am I going to attend our meeting? The meeting, that I initiated?” she pointed out, slowly trotting downstairs to the main hall of her precious library. Spike sighed, defeated, and went behind her “Well, did you at least found somethi –“ he stopped, his cheeks puffed greatly and he belched with green fire and smoke.
“Oh! It MUST be from Princess Celestia. To be honest I wondered if she is all right, but I can see she is, fortunately!” said Twilight, a little surprised, but nonetheless happy to see the royal seal of her Highness. Spike broke the seal, read a first line to himself, and handed it over to the lavender unicorn.
“It says here its private and for your eyes only Twilight. It must be important."
Twilight became graven for a second and caught the scroll with her magic to quickly read the ominous letter. Spike observed how her muzzle jumped through entire range of emotions, ending with bewilderment. Twilight nodded to herself while rolling up the scroll.
“Yes, Spike. It is important.”
* * *
The ride through Everfree Forest was uneventful , probably thanks to Lagro's presence – it seemed that predators of the wild shared the common pony's willingness to know him. When their cart freed itself from the shadows of the grim forest, a beautiful sun eagerly poured over them with warm beams yet again. Three days of travel started to make them all bored and exhausted. Well, Swash was bored, that was sure. Ace was dangerously silence, and that only meant that she was brewing inside – never a good thing in her case. Doctor, the hay with him. Swash was unable to decipher his muzzle, his pose… Cunning gave no give-aways – not a single change of his face, not the tiniest of frowns or even raise of his brows. He was either a living mannequin or a souless zombie, and Swash decided that there was a solid chance for a hybrid of both. But good ol’ Doc wasn’t bored, or at least didn’t looked like it, being currently occupied by a discussion with the jewel-maker about some “interesting” aspects of “diagonal diamond cut”, whatever that meant.
Doctor Cunning. Swash didn’t meet him like the others, somewhere on the road by sheer accident. In fact, it was Doctor that looked for HIM. Swash still remembered this cold, rainy day in Canterlot, five year ago. It was a good day – after their latest successful bounty, he and Ace were partying hard and spending their bits frantically on entertainment. He smiled to this memory of youthful idiotism – he didn’t spend his earnings now like that for sure, but well, that was five years ago. He remembered the steely gaze that pierced him and instantly evaporated every drop on alcohol in his blood.
Doctor Cunning surely knew how to made an entrance. He simply walked towards them. He didn’t push away any of the hangers, he didn’t need to, since they made way for him, driven by the instinct of survival. Drunken Swash just tried to focus on the strange stallion with ridiculous clothing, but even in his state he could feel the change in the atmosphere – he knew that feeling perfectly well, a feeling that somepony extremely respected and well known just entered the premises. And guess what, ponies like that rather don’t get that much respect for being very polite to elderly and donating to charity.
Then he met the gaze of the strange stallion. Swash, however inexperienced and young, already had fought his deal with various enemies – from the wild beasts of the wilds, through hired thugs to crazed psychopaths. Each of them had something unusual in their eyes, either primordial rage or simple indifference to suffering of others. The stallion in front of him had golden eyes that were pretty much telling him that Swash was a speck in the history, a little dot in one of the multitude of tomes called Life, and that he didn’t matter at all. The strange stallion was watching him like a regular pony would watch a hammer or a mug – “there is an object, and I observed it”. End of story.
Swash cleared his throat unnervingly and asked sternly, blinking “Yeah? You need somethin’ from me?” Oh, why the hay had Ace left him alone in his boasting and bragging to nap somewhere? She would know how to react – she probably would spit venom like a cobra at these eyes, she would!
The dark-brown pony just sat down, took his top hat off and raised his hoof to his right eye, placing a monocle there. With his grey goatee, simple but well preserved mane in the same color, black coat that covered his cutie mark, and cream collar - he should look hilarious. He didn’t.
“My name is Cunning. Doctor Cunning, to be exact. I am a specialist, and I am willing to greatly improve the capabilities of your duo, Mr. Knack, by making it a trio.” he said quietly with a serious snout. Swash was shocked by this claim, and asked with a distant voice the first thing that burst into his mind “What kind of specialist, exactly, Mr. Cunning?”
“Doctor.” The brown stallion reminded gently “and what kind of specialist do you seek for? Because I am all of them.” It wasn’t boasting – Swash knew boasting by heart, and this was a simple declaration of a fact.
“But we don’t even have a team!” Swash said, still dazzled. But Doctor simply flashed him a fast grin and said. “You have now.”
The Full House team was born then. He never learnt why Doctor wanted to join them in the first place. Ace was furious with Swash for a few days that he added some stranger and made their duo a trio without first discussing it with her, but she quickly got over it after a few tasks and bounties. Doctor proved to be more than useful in many situations – he was a brainiac, he was precise and he knew everything about anything. Being creepy as hell was a bonus feature.
Something landed heavily on Swash, hitting him badly in the stomach and promptly shaking him out of his memories. He yelped and opened his eyes to see a beak and pair of brilliantly emerald, ever curious eyes in front of his muzzle. Pinion sat on him with a smile and asked with her chirpy voice “What’cha doin’ Swashy?”. Swash rolled his eyes, but smiled nonetheless – it was hard for him to be mad at the little griffon “Well, I was relaxing and recalling a bit, until someone dropped on me like a ton of bricks, that is!” he replied and ruffled her roughly. She tilted her head in a very bird-like gesture “Recallin’ what?” she asked again.
“How we all got together.” He answered after a moment of solemn silence. Pinion dropped her smile and lowered her eyes. “Oh” was all she managed to say.
“Oh, Indeed, Pinion” He said with his good humor fleeting away as he patted her on her head before giving her a hug. “Oh, Indeed”.
* * *
The Wanderer came to a halt in the middle of the forest. IT made many miles in a span of a single day, but like always, there must be more effective ways to move around. Also, when IT came closer and closer to ITS target, IT began to feel confused. It was so unusual, that the Wanderer decided to stop and THINK about it, to figure out why ITS mind was not in agreement with itself. The energies –the two most powerful on this plane, bright and alluring from afar – were moving: and changing. This meant that this energies were contained in a living creatures, and therefore able to use it, quite possibly to a great extent. So, Wanderer thought again, this is Logic. A way to take different pieces of data and assemble them together to create a “wider perspective." Interesting.
IT could not hunt them now. IT was powerful, but ITS form was not. The meal of a strange creature contained some raw energy that made ITS body buzz with different reactions, but IT wasn’t nearly enough to allow IT to deny even the most basic rules of this plane. The Wanderer needed more of it to free ITSELF from at least some of the constraints. Fortunately for IT, there were plenty of smaller energies nearby the two biggest one, like moths flying around two big fires. IT would feed on them as good start. This was a plan. It felt good to have a plan.
The Wanderer left the wilds and began its crawl towards Canterlot, shrouded by night.
* * *
Twilight Sparkle entered the Carousel Boutique with a ring of the doorbell and smiled to everypony inside. Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Applejack and Rarity were there already, and welcomed her with a choir of “Hi!”, “Hello!” and “Good yal’right!”. Only poor Rarity didn’t jump to welcome her, as she was lying on a big cushion, still too wrecked to move much. It was painful to see her in such state, but she was alive and that was the most important bit. Twilight stepped towards the white unicorn and gently nuzzled her cheek.
“Glad to see you are all right, Rarity. I hope you get well soon” she said softly.
“Thank you, Darling. I will not exaggerate if I say I am here with all of you thanks to Applejack,” said Rarity with a sincere and wide smile. Applejack blushed and looked like she wanted to say something, but Rarity didn’t allow it “Hush there, dear, it is true. Don’t be modest about it for I am forever thankful. I am glad to see all of you, truly, but Twilight surely gathered us here for a reason. It would be very sweet of you, Twilight, to tell us this reason now.” She finished, and nodded to the purple unicorn.
“Yeah, spill it Twi!” said Rainbow Dash, landing on the ground.
Twlight looked around at the trustful gazes of her closest friends, each awaiting for her to lay some knowledge on them that would make the matter clear and manageable. She took a heavy breath and began. “I got a letter from Princess Celestia about this entire situation. It seems that everypony in the entire Equestria heard this unearthly scream in their heads. Pegasi and earth ponies took it lightly in comparison to Unicorns everywhere, as we know from our own…” she shivered “experiences." Scholars in Canterlot still don’t know what could have made such a psychic backlash around the land. They are not even sure if there is anything or anyone behind it, to be honest. But the Princess is positive that if there is a scream, there must be someone behind it – and she fears for our safety.”
“Wait, what now?” Rainbow Dash interrupted. “We are not a bunch of little fillies, we can take care of ourselves!”
“Um…” Every muzzle turned to yellow-coated Pegasus. Fluttershy lowered her head and tried again. “Um, but, well, why she, I mean Princess is worried about us?”
“Because we still hold the elements of harmony, silly!” shouted Pinkie Pie, bouncing in excitement.
“Yes. That is correct Pinkie, thank you.” Twilight glanced over to Applejack nuzzling Rarity, and cleared her throat to gently pick up their attention. Both ponies raised their heads and blushed a little with awkward smiles. “As we are, indeed, hosts for the elements, the Princess decided that we need extra consideration. Don’t frown like that Rainbow, I don’t like the idea of someponies watching us practically everywhere, but it is for our safety, I assure you. We still don’t know anything about the nature of the being that caused all of this mess, but are you willing to take any risks?”
“The hay I am!” Rainbow dash proclaimed, stepping into an heroic pose. “I don’t want any of these royal guards around me, they are no fun at all!"
Twilight smiled to herself. “The Royal Guard will not bodyguard us Rainbow. Princess Celestia decided to hire a group of well-known adventurers and mercenaries to do this job. The Princess herself wrote that they are professionals and they will do their best not to hinder us in any way, and I trust her. They are called “The Full House” If I recall it properly."
Rainbow Dash gasped and extended her wings in excitement. “THE Full House team!?”
Chapter III - Arrival, is here.
Author’s note: Hello again, dear reader! So, the second chapter is done, and withing it a few things happens - first of all, I began writing backgrounds for my little Ruffians Team ;). Also, i am getting into the Mane Six and Princess Luna is just adorkable - I love to write with her.
Chapter III: Arrival
Proofreaderus Ultimatus: Jason Walker
Luna knew perfectly that it was stupid. She - the Princess of the Night, bringer of the Moon - was playing dress-up, and to be frank, she was too old for this. Yet, she couldn’t stop it now. She trusted her personal maidservant with her little secret, but she would simply die from embarrassment if her older sister learnt about her nighttime hobby.
“You look dashing, my Grace!” exclaimed Mystique Wind, her beautiful personal attendee said with unhidden excitement. At first she treated Luna’s quirky dress-up with concerned pity, but after a few “sessions” she began to enjoy it. At the moment, Princess Luna wore a perfectly robust and baroque royal dress made of dark blue silk with endless sapphires knitted into it. It looked like the sky at night, and it cost more than Mystique annual income, for sure.
Luna smiled weakly. She looked great, no doubt about it, but she probably would never wear it in public. That was the main reason why she liked dressing up – because it was a game. In front of her trusty mirror she could be all those mares that she wasn’t in reality. Her smile grew more confident, while she batted her eyelashes in a flirty way and said with honeyed tone “You really think so, darling?”. Mystique Wind blushed. ‘Gotch’ya!’ thought Luna and burst into a chuckle.
“How long will it take for our messengers to find them and bring them here?” Luna asked, getting out of her dress and trying something much more extravagant for a royal princess.
“Um, hard to say, my Majesty. Week? Maybe less with some luck. Um.” Mystique wasn’t easy to shock, but Princess new dress was quite… unfitting. She looked like a heroine from some kind of fantasy novel, with high boots from dark leather, white stallion shirt with puffed sleeves and a hat with huge brim and long, red feather.
“You should see your Muzzle, Mystique!” Luna smirked. “You know what this costume is lacking?” she added and answered herself without giving her maid a second “A sword!”. Mystique Wind gasped, as Princess Luna focused her stern gaze on her. Before Luna could order her to bring a weapon, she opted to sudden change of a topic “Why would you like to go with them, my Princess, if I may ask?”. Luna lowered her gaze and blushed all of the sudden.
“You wouldn’t understand.” She said shyly after a moment of silence. But Mystique was a professional and she couldn’t bear to see her mistress in such a bad humor . “I’ll try my best to understand, my Grace.” She said with a calm voice. Princess Luna looked at her, and in her dark eyes there was a spark of something… malevolent?
“Luna," said the princess of the night.
“Excuse me, my Majesty?”, replied Mystique with bewilderment.
“Please. Call me Luna. Just Luna, without any grace’ing, majesty’ing and especially not My-Highnessing. It make you feel distant, and you are the closest thing to a friend I have ever had. You already know a few of my secrets! I want you to be my friend, and not just ‘somewhat of a friend’”. Luna looked upon unmoving figure of her personal maidservant, when she asked with a serious muzzle.
“Is this an Order, my Princess?”
“No. It’s a request.” Replied Luna with a sad look.
Mystique Wind nodded with still dead-serious grimace.
“Then I must say that this is really not a costume for you, Luna”.
Luna blinked a few times and exploded with laughter, quickly trying to stifle it in fear that this loud outburst would attract guards or even worse – Celestia herself.
* * *
“Phillydelphia on the horizon!” exclaimed the jewel-maker cheerily, happy for an uneventful journey. The rest of the team also sighed with relief, boredom from bothersome traveling wore off instantly at the sight of a big city. Swash took a deep breath and smiled – at last, time for action, for moments he lived his life. He looked upon his friends and noticed that Pinion was still sullen from their last, quick conversation. His good spirits dropped as quickly as they raised, as he blamed himself for her poor humor. The past was a dangerous and ominous place for some. He probably would always feel surge of rage and hatred from this particular memory - how the little griffon joined their vagabond team.
It was one of those bad nights, long ago. Dark skies were covered by a thick blanket of almost black storm clouds, rain was cutting mercilessly through the thicket and quickly changed paths in the forest into a muddy nightmare. Absolutely horrid weather, but they had a mission – a well-paid mission, commissioned to them by grieving ponies of Cloppenburg. There was something in the wilds that made it dangerous. Three kids got lost there and never were found again. Dr. Cunning did oppose to taking the job, having not the slightest clue to follow, but something made Swash take it. So they searched the forest, scattered to maximize the amount of ground they could cover in a single day.
So far, Swash found nothing. The forest was so regular of a forest that it could be used as an example forest in some kind of weird “How to Recognize a Forest from a Far Distance” book. Nothing indicated any kind of monster lived here. “I hate you, stupid thicket.” He mumbled to himself. “I hate you with all my might.” He looked towards the grim skies with a grimace, “And when we return to the city, I will have a word with local pegasi for sure – they will feel my hoof, oh they will feel it!” He continued his heavy walk in the mud, grumbling and cursing under his muzzle.
Suddenly, he stood up with shock, his ears flipping around madly – did he just heard someone yelling? It was faint, but it surely was real. It couldn’t be any of them – Ace didn’t shout in terror, she simply got mad. Nothing in the entire forest could scare Lagro and Dr.Cunning made others scream. So…
He gathered his strength and dashed towards the sound. He could hear a few additional screams for help, each getting fainter and fainter as they broke into loud sobbing. Swash jumped through the trees and found himself in a circular field of high grass. In the middle there was a small, shivering lump of feathers and fur, currently crying and having trouble with breathing. Swash closed the distance carefully and reached a hoof toward the creature, but a harsh command stopped him.
“Do not touch it. It is ours.” A big, bruised stallion with many tiny scratches all over his body stepped up from the shadows. He wasn’t muscular, but he still looked burly with stubble and a look of someone who do not care at all for his apparel. Next to him was a rather small colt with huge teeth and with enough fidgeting in him to spare for an entire class of difficult foals. “It is ours. It escaped. Now we found it. Not your business.” Exclaimed the big one. “Yeah! Not yer’ business guv!” the smaller one added quickly. Swash raised his eyebrows, and focused on the little figure.
It was a griffon, very young one. It looked terrified, it shivered all over its mangled body, and it looked bad, like it was just beaten mercilessly. However, there was a feature that was even harder to miss – it had only a single wing, and where the second wing should be, there was only a little stub. When the big stallion make a step toward the circle, the little griffon crawled in panic away from him. Swash quickly added one to one, and he really didn’t liked the sum he had got. His horn glowed rapidly as he unsheathed his sword and pointed it towards a couple of rugged ponies.
“One more step and you will be full of holes, my friend.” He said coldly. They stopped, of course, but both gave him very angry looks. The griffon watched the scene with bewilderment beyond measure. The big stallion broke into a false smile and laughed lightheartedly.
“Com’on boss, tis’ really not yer business, its’a family issue, if ya get me well!” he exclaimed while scratching his head. “Ya see, she was quite a bad girl, and we need to punish’er a little, but then she ran away, foolish thing! In tis weather, you keen! It’s called su-icide, it is. That’s why we ran after her, yes, to see that no ’arm happen to her. Innit, Rowdy?” he added while giving a kick to the little colt, who quickly added with furious nodding “Yeap, yeap!”.
Swash didn’t move an inch. He looked at the little griffon. She met his gaze and instantly broke it, quickly lowering her head and whimpering. He knew what that meant – he had seen it in his life a few times. There were ways to turn someone into this – it was worse than stealing, it was worse than murder. Stripping a person of his dignity and willpower by any means possible. He felt a sudden need for bloodshed, but he contained it within him. However, it added an edge to his tone when he spoke “You. Both. Leave now.” Two ponies shuddered with anger, but his sword was enough to keep them at bay. “I will not repeat myself” he added as he turned his blade for a striking position. The stallion and colt snarled, but quickly dashed into the shadows of the wild. Swash waited a few seconds, listening to the rain. He then turned towards the griffon, who instantly shrank from his attention.
He took off his scarf and covered her with it. She started crying yet again. “What is your name?” The little griffon looked at him with glassy eyes, big drops of her tears mixed with relentless rain, as she replied meekly with a broken voice after what seemed like a thousand years of silence. “I have no name.” He nodded as he expected it – slaves don’t have names, as they do not matter enough to gain one. “Do you want to have a name?” The little griffon looked shocked by the question, but nodded slowly. Swash smiled kindly and said “Pinion. How do you like Pinion, little one?”
“Pinion…” she repeated her new name a few times, and then nodded yet again, much more vigorously. “I like it.”
A few hours later everyone met again in their gathering place, where Lagro started a campfire. The rain finally stopped, but the skies were still ready to pour some more. They all looked at Swash with questioning stares, but no one said a thing. The little griffon named Pinion was asleep from exhaustion on his back. He let her off him gently with his magic, and laid her on a sleeping bag near the fire. Dr. Cunning, without a word, came closer and examined her. After a few minutes of perfect silence he stood up and began whispering to Swash with a serious muzzle.
“Bruises all over, new and old. Very old. She has been constantly beaten, and not with a the tender hoof of a father. Blunt instruments were used, too. I didn’t want to check her that thoroughly, but I am afraid she may have been… used. I know you know what I mean by it. But there is one more thing,” he added quickly as he saw Swash's snout changing into a mask of fury. “Her wings, she had two. I mean, this particular griffon was born with a pair of wings. She didn’t loosest in a fight or because it was broken. It was amputated. Cut off.” Swash nodded slowly, gave a the sleeping griffon a quick glance and then spoke aloud. “Lagro, you are staying here. Keep an eye on her, that is first thing. Second – any luck with our little task?” Everyone shook their heads, but Ace added “I found a dirty old hamlet, about four hundred yards away from here, north-east. I checked it out, but it was empty – somepony lives there for sure, but not a sign of anything that would assist our mission, so I left”.
"Good. Now It will be so much easier" Swash thought to himself, but he nodded to them and exclaimed calmly “Please, do continue, I am sure we will find something. I, however, have something to be done. I will return shortly.” He finished, and rapidly headed north-east, as Ace said. After he took only a few steps, Dr. Cunning said “I know what you are after. Just do it quick Swash.” Swash nodded. He would be quick.
It took him half an hour to find the hamlet Ace spoke about. He was tired from the constant gallop, but he couldn’t let them slip away. It was his lucky day, as he heard racket coming from inside. So they returned and probably were packing to leave. Maybe. Or not. It really didn’t matter now. He pulled his sword free and slowly paced towards the building. It was a shack, no doubt – poorly maintained to not fall down on resident inside, and that’s all. ‘Funny, how I always noticed such stupid things in moments like this’ he thought hastily. He opened the door with a kick – two stallions, one big and burly and one young, small and with big teeth looked at him with terror. Swash did it quickly.
When Swash returned to the camp, Pinion was already awake, trying her best to hide below Lagro's scarf and sleeping bag. Lagro had that effect on kids. Dr. Cunning and Ace returned from their escapades and now focused their firm looks on him, he was still covered in drying blood. "Stupid rain never fall when you needed it," Swash gave all of them a stern gaze and proclaimed, still with an icy cold voice “This -” he pointed the little griffon with his forehoof “- is Pinion. She will be travelling with us from now on. Be nice, and say Hi to Pinion.” Everyone said their variants of “Hi.' Pinion emerged slowly from below the scarf, still pretty terrified. “Now, Pinion, I know you are afraid…” he began, but the little griffon interrupted him with a bold “I am not afraid!”. She instantly curled and began shivering with closed eyes, ready for a hit that would never come. After a few silent seconds, she opened one eye in disbelief, only to see a soft smile and kind stare from Swash. “That’s good Pinion. That will do for now."
Swash returned from his memories and sighed painfully. It took time for her to open up, and when she did, everyone tried their best, for a band of rugged ruffians, to console her. After she told them all how she was thrown away from the mountain, how those creatures that looked like ponies found her, how they made her do… a lot of different things. How they cut her wing to make her unable to fly away, and more. Much more. Swash was furious with himself – it shouldn’t have been quick. He should make them suffer – but then it would not be justice. It would be murder. That thought didn’t make him feel any better. However, when Pinion told them all every little terrifying detail of her young and unfortunate life, she changed, practically in a single day. She became energetic, curious, eager to learn, maybe even happy. It was hard to tell, but it surely was good to see her that way. She quickly became somewhat of a mascot for the team, and he loved her like a younger sister.
“Oh don’t be so gloomy Pin!” he tried. “I promise that I’ll buy you something nice in the city! How about that?”. She instantly raised her head while a smile blossomed on her beak “I want a hat!” she said with excitement. Well, she was still a kid after all.
* * *
Twilight grumbled under her nose and wriggled a little. She usually was very patient with, well, pretty much everything, but she wasn’t used to Rainbow Dash taking her time. Twilight rolled her eyes and sighed, while meaningless chit-chat flew around her as her friends relaxed a little. After the cyan pegasus heard the name of the mercenary team she got extremely excited and even more hot-headed than usual. Without any sensible explanation she dashed out of the Carousel Boutique to bring something that, as she said – “Gonna’ explain everything, really!” Whatever that was, Dash obviously couldn’t find it in her sky-palace, or she would be back in a minute or so. Twilight made a decision and instantly stood up.
“Excuse me, girls, it was lovely to see you all and to see that Rarity is getting well, but I must write to Princess Celestia immediately and attend to some, uhm, tasks. You know how it is,” she tried with a smile. She got their attention and the room went quiet, but not for long – Rarity broke into a wide smile and began “Well, of course Twi..-“ but was interrupted by Applejack “Ah’m sorry Twilight, but don’t cha want to see what Rainbow wanna’ show us?” Oh, A.J. had this special way of asking questions that sounded all plain and innocent, but had way different meaning, easily readable to anyone – and this one meant ‘Rainbow Dash feelings will be hurt, if you don’t stay’. Twilight was saved from answering, however, as the door opened with a loud bang and Rainbow Dash entered with a wild grin, all sweaty from fast flying.
“Got It!” she exclaimed, while catching a breath. “That…” Huff. “Cold…” Breath. “Icy…”
“Calm down, Dashie and take a deeeep breath, silly filly!” said Pinkie Pie, suddenly appearing behind the cyan pegasus and mimicking her deep intakes of air. Rainbow threw her a dangerous look and snapped “Huh, I mean, Icy Cold, yeah? The snow pegasus? She borrowed these from me and I flew to her house, but she was sleeping, so I tried to wake her up, but she is kind of a stone-cold sleeper, yeah, so I broke her doors, and she awoke to that! But she was quite angry, and she yelled, and well… I shouted a little too, and we had a little fight, as we always do, and then I explained that I need my books. And that’s all!”. Everypony looked at her with confusion.
“Could you, eh, maybe repeat that a little slower, darling?” asked Rarity meekly.
Rainbow dash growled and simply took a bunch of tattered, thin books from her saddlebag and threw them on the floor rather carelessly. Twilight winced a little at such disrespect towards written words, but she quickly get over it when she saw what kind of literature these books represented.
“Trashy bit-books?” she said it aloud with sincere bewilderment and quickly put a forehoof to her mouth with a blush. “Sorry! Sorry. I mean, these could be a fun read and all...”
Rainbow Dash simply burst into laughter. “Chill out, Twilight! I know these aren’t anything serious, but the hey, I am not into reading myself, yet, I enjoy reading novels like this you know?”
Rarity smiled to herself, as she could relate with Rainbow a passion for, let’s put it delicately, a cheap form of literature.
“But those there are a series about The Full House team! They always write at the back that all the stories inside are based on real events and such, but you know – nopony takes it seriously!” Dash continued with a cheery humor. “But! If the team is real, maybe some of these stories are real too! That would be so awesome!” she added, prancing around the room with closed eyes.
“Really?” asked Fluttershy sheepishly. “What are these stories about, for example, um, if I may ask?”
“Yeah! Are they good guys or whatnot?” A.J. added her question.
Dash stopped in place and tapped her chin with a forehoof. “Well, hard to say. Depends on the story, to be true! They fight monsters, save fillies from oppression, use swords and tricks and explosions and stuff. Pretty cool, innit?” She exclaimed with excitement.
Twilight rolled her eyes yet again, this time at the naivety of her friend. ‘Stories from a trashy adventure novel… sheesh, really?’ She thought, but the others were much more excited. Rarity, for example, already took one of the books and started to flick through it, so did Fluttershy. Pinkie sat eerily still for her, thinking hard on something. Applejack was the only one except Twilight who really didn’t share the excitement – and she was observing Twilight with a guessing stare. Applejack stepped towards the lavender unicorn and told her privately “Stories be stories, but somepony must have her hoofs on solid ground, eh? Glad Ah’m not alone this time. We really shouldn’t get excited, I reckon, we should get careful. I don’t like this, Twi, and I see it bothers ya too.” She glanced over to the rest of her friends, currently occupied by exchanging sentences from the books that they found interesting. Applejack sighed with a smile and nudged the silent Twilight “Its’a’good that they have us around.” Twillight nodded and looked up, ready to speak, but a sudden yelp from Pinkie Pie broke her concentration.
“A PARTY! Newcomers in Ponyville! We need to throw them a party!” She exclaimed while bouncing around. “A party, a party! I love parties. Well, this will be a great party, and they’ll enjoy it for sure!” She stopped, and with an uncertainty in her tone she asked “This is a good idea, isn't it? I mean, a party. A party is always nice.”
“Indeed Pinkie Pie! It is a fantastic idea,” said Twilight with a mischievous smile on her snout. “We don’t know yet when they are going to arrive, so I am going home to write to Princess Celestia – I will ask her about it for sure, don’t you worry!” she added and quickly stand up.
“Bye girls! Nice seeing you all, have a good night!” she said and dashed out of the Carousel Boutique. It happened so fast, that nopony even was able to reply before she was gone.
“What was that all about?” asked Rainbow Dash.
“Oh, you know Twilight. She probably just got an idea, and she ran to check it immediately. I know how it is, so I can’t blame her” replied Rarity with a wave of a hoof. She couldn’t know how right she was.
* * *
Swash hated cities like Phillydelphia. It’s all about size – big cities developed so rapidly that rest of Equestria seemed backward in comparison in every aspect of life. With his sword and a look of a rebellious scallywag he didn’t fit into the big cities, with their modern “way of life." He preferred little towns with a single inn made out of wood with a huge fireplace – places that fitted his persona. But, well, beggars can’t be choosers. He and his team sat idly in the inn, chit-chatting and relaxing before they would go out to find another job that threw them into another grim forest, black pit or murky marsh in search for another monstrosity – be it real or totally phantasmagoric.
“So, what now Swash?” said Lagro with his tubular, low voice. Oh, he always attracted attention, no matter how civilized and cultured a place they attended – even in Canterlot he was constantly followed by stares of genuine interest from curious ponies. Well, he sort of stood out.
Swash staring into a flame of an oil lamp, that stood on their table recalled how he met his huge companion.
It was hilarious – now. Back then it was quite chilly. It was their first assignment as a newborn team, maybe a month after Dr. Cunning joined Swash and Ace – and it was their first serious task, with a profitable reward as a perspective to be taken into account. In the distant west of Equestria laid Appleloosa, a still fresh settler-city full of ponies that thirsted for freedom; so it attracted primarily the worst kind – thieves, troublemakers, mares with negotiable affect, card sharks, and shady merchants. It was the place of their mission that attracted Swash – he believed that he would fit the Wild West quite well. Also, Ace was the most terrifying card player he ever saw, so even if they couldn’t fulfill their mission, they will still grab some profit out of the trip.
The assignment was simple – find and kill a monster that hides somewhere in the badlands surrounding the town. Why? Well, why add some reason other than the fact of being a monster? But back then Swash didn’t bother with overthinking things, and his newfound brain by the name of Dr. Cunning didn’t oppose to the task, so he took it. The reward promised by sheriff Silverhoof was big – suspiciously big for monster hunting, but the sheriff clarified this with a single sentence: “Nopony ever came back.” Swash asked how many had tried before him and his team. Eight. Eight hardened bounty hunters from all around the Equestria failed at this task – that was the reason hiding behind a huge lump sum of bits.
They still took it.
They worked with a plan, and it was a good one. Ace Flush stayed in the local saloon, earning their stay in it and a few bits on the side. After a few days she became popular among young colts and hated amongst veteran gamblers, for they couldn’t win against her in any possible way. Swash and Doctor decided to scout the mountains and valleys around the Appleloosa to find any trace of the monster. And They didn’t find a single clue or track or anything in days. Time passed, and new players joined the game. More bounty hunters and simple thugs tried to find their reward by slaying the eluding prey, and that only irked Doctor, who hated working in crowds.
He even suggested to “trim the competition”, and Swash laughed, as he thought that Cunning was joking. He didn’t know him back then.
Days passed, and Swash was getting hopeless – if the creature was there, it could hide forever within the never ending and vast complex of lairs and tunnels that covered entire ochre-red mountains and cliffs of this land. Only a stroke of luck stopped them from leaving – Doctor found a mound, a big pile of rock that he described as “not created by nature”. They dug into it until skeletons and bodies rolled out of it – eight, to be precise. It was a burial mound for the hunters that tried to hunt a predator.
Swash remember how Doctor carefully and with attention examined each of the eight bodies. Mutilated, he said. Tore apart, he said. Whatever they were fighting, it was big. Strong. Armed with long claws or huge fangs or probably both. Not a single one of them were eaten or even nibbled on. Also, the burial mound – monsters did not build graves for the fallen, and did not let a good source of food go to waste. There was no monster in Appleloosa – there was something worse than any monster could be.
Swash called it a day, and returned with Doctor to the saloon to break the news to Ace, and to decide, if they should continue. They surely earned a lot so far, thanks to Ace Flush's skill with the cards, and nopony would even notice their departure. Doctor opted for leaving, arguing, that whatever killed all of these unfortunate ponies probably left long ago – nothing implied otherwise-- especially now that they knew it wasn’t a mindless creature that would stay within its territory. Ace was undecided – she preferred to stay, but not for the big reward. As she put it back then, she “Still have a plenty of suckers to dry off their bits”. And so they stayed – Swash decided that he must meet this creature. Fight it. Defeat it. Only to prove himself in his very own eyes.
‘I was quite a fool.’ He thought, still staring the flame of the lamp.
The next day in the dawn, they heard a distant, yet still powerful boom of an explosion. Dynamite – somepony used dynamite in the mountains, and the reason for it was as plain as the sun in the blue sky. If the monster didn’t want to get out of the safe shades of the caves, they will make him came out. With a bang. Swash and Doctor were galloping toward the following explosions and soon they reached quite a group of different ponies, observing a gang of five armed stallions prepping another dynamite roll. One of the group, a bright yellow pony with a huge moustache that covered his muzzle entirely came to them and said “Sorry, guys, but the rewards will be ours here. We gonna’ smoke out that bastard and kill ’im right and proppa’. No ‘ard feeling, but business is business, aye?”. When he finished, another powerful explosion tore the sky with a roar, and a part of the mountain collapsed, raising a cloud of red ash that covered everything. Swash was still with buzzing in the ears when he saw the shadow of a big silhouette appear in the entrance of the former cave.
“Idiots.” Said a creature with a low growl. “Days of careful hunting, days of silent observing, hours of perfect stillness wasted,” it added with a snarl. The creature was quite hulky, and reminded a young dragon in form – brown scales covered its massive body, muscles flexed behind its skin, a big jaw adorned a bulky head with tiny, beady eyes, and small but muscular legs kept the creature barely upright in a hunched position, entire balance kept by a long and thick tail. The dragonling was more than twice the size of any stallion and was quite intimidating. Also, it wore a dirty poncho and flat, black hat with wide brim.
“Big Moustache” just nodded to his companions, and said “Indeed! Your hunting is over, monster. You will pay for those whom you have slain” just before he jumped with his gang into action. The dragonling was taken by surprise and managed just a few blinks before a pair of ponies plunged their blades deep into its chest. Everything stopped and went still, and after a few second the only sound heard was the sound of a blood drops hitting the soft sand beneath the creature. The beast just raised its head and with a stoic tone proclaimed “Now, well, now you managed to get me angry”. With a rapid strike of a clawed hand, one of the assailant was torn into two halves with a gush of blood and a loud noise of breaking spine. The fury of the sudden strike instantly withered from the group, who quickly stepped back to regroup in shock – the creature still had two long blades in its chest, dripping with blood. Nevertheless, it managed to kill in a single strike with unerring speed for something that should already be dead. Swash hardened his magic grip on the sword, but didn’t move a muscle.
The creature smiled and said “I am not the one who you are looking for” but now it doesn't matter. The four ponies, enraged by the death of their companions pressed another attack, and they were good, very good to be honest – professionals, acting in perfect unison. While one was forwarding with a thrust or lunge, two others flanked the creature with their blades to keep him out of retaliation. It worked well, as the trio managed to cut the creature multiple times, enraging the dragonling and dyeing the sand crimson with its dark blood. The unicorn stood out of the fight himself, accumulating magical energies into a powerful blast. Swash, being a unicorn himself, felt a powerful change in aura – whatever the spell could do, it would be devastating.
As if on command, the trio jumped away from the wounded creature to let the unicorn hit it with the magical bolt – with a loud hum white lightning hit the ground where a second ago the dragonling stood. The unicorn missed. The creature was in mid-air as it lunged itself into a fierce jump towards the swordstallion trio, easily dodging the lightning bolt. The three ponies were in deep bewilderment – how could anything pierced with two blades be able to jump like that? – but their shock died away with them, when the creature landed between them, scattered them aside like toys and roared “I am not! The one! Whom you are looking for!" After that, before giving his opponents time to react, he put them out with mighty blows.
Swash gulped and decided that it was time to enter the fray. With a quick dash he tried to get close to the beast. Adrenaline pumped into his bloodstream, time slowed in his perception, everything became a hazy in-motion panorama. He saw how another streak of energy sent from the last standing unicorn hit the creature this time, right in the chest. He saw how the dragonling fell to its knees with a low scream fueled by excruciating pain. He saw how the unicorn prepared himself for another, final spell. He saw how the unicorn's horn glowed and got brighter and brighter, how sparks began to fall off the tip, how another surge of pure energy flew off it towards its target. He especially he saw how his very own blade turned hot and bright orange when it met the lightning on its way – he would always remember the sound of his trusty sword breaking on the impact with such powerful magic. The unicorn, like his fallen companions, wasn’t immune to being shocked by the flow of events. He realized, a second to late, that the still red half of the blade was flying towards him. He gave almost no sound when it plunged deeply into his chest with a smoke of burning flesh.
Swash dropped his destroyed weapon and turned his head toward the kneeled beast. A beast that looked at him with suspicion in its beady, reptilian eyes.
“I… wonder.” The creature said, coughing blood. “Did you do that to claim the reward for my body? Or to save my life?” Swash didn’t answer, but with a glow on his horn he telekinetically drew both blades from the chest of the dragonling. Blood gushed from the wounds and the beast sagged with a moan. Swash gave both swords a very critical look, before he dropped one of them into the sand and sheathed the second. After that, he looked over the monster.
“You didn’t kill those ponies before them.” It wasn’t a question, but the beast nodded nevertheless.
“You made them a grave. What killed them?” Swash asked.
“I… hrkk… It matters not now. The true killer is either buried in the caves or it left the mountains now. These explosion –“ another attack of coughing, more blood decorated the sand “-destroyed my work. I was so close to killing the monster.” Creature smiled weakly. “Ironic, isn’t it? Hunting monsters for a living, die as one. Pretty neat, If you… think about it.”
Swash stood there for a few second in stillness, and he dropped his stare after something wet touched his hooves. Blood. The puddle of blood was getting bigger and bigger.
“My name is Swash. Swash Knack. And you will not die here…?” he let the question hang in the air.
“Lagro...” the creature said, before drifting away into darkness.
Swash looked into the flame of the oil lamp. Someone started to nudge him, and after that, he awoke from his memories.
“Wha- What!? I don’t want any!” he blurted.
Ace looked at him like he was some kind of a circus freak. “Nopony is offering you anything, dimwit. You were starin’ at the freakin’ fire for a couple of minutes now like a creep or something. Lagro asked a question, and it was a question we want answered too! What now!?” she said with another nudge to his flank.
“I don’t know! What am I, some kind of a scrying orb or whatnot? Like always, we’ll stumble on to an occasion and we will take it. Simple as that.” He said while scratching his eyes. He shouldn’t drift into the past like that, it wasn’t healthy for sure. Ace rolled her eyes in anger, but said nothing as she satisfied herself with an under the muzzle litany of curses.
“Well, that is a quite simple, yet effective philosophy of life, isn’t it?”
Every member of the team rapidly turned their heads toward the voice of a hooded pony that walked towards their table. She – and it was definitely a She, Swash could tell from the velvet voice and the fluid trot – was escorted by a pair of Royal Guards; the fiercest and most disciplined warriors Equestria could offer. The mare revealed herself to a gasp from Swash and Ace alike – she was a young filly unicorn with a silver coat and a crystalline, transparent mane. The mare was practically glittering in the light. The young unicorn, visibly encouraged from the attention, said with a commanding tone.
“My name is Vexing Sun, and I am fulfilling a duty as a Royal Messenger of Equestria. You said-" she nodded to the hypnotized Swash “-that you are willing to take an opportunity. That is fantastic, because here is one. Her most serene Highness, Princess Celestia of Equestria, alongside her royal sister, the most benevolent grace, Princess Luna, request your entire team's presence in Canterlot''s Alabaster Palace, immediately. Of course, if you are willing to heed this request.” She finished with a smirk.
Swash, with mild bewilderment, looked at his comrades and saw all of them nodding. He then faced the iridescent beauty of the Vexing Sun and said “We very much are. Don’t waste time then, please, lead the way." He began to trot towards the exit of the inn, but one of the Guards stood in his path, while Vexing Sun chuckled.
“I know a faster way of travelling, mister Swash. Allow me,” she said with a flirty voice that made his body shiver with electricity. Her horn glowed with a bright light that exploded soundlessly in a flare, so white that everyone's eyes closed in self-defense. A sudden sensation of movement, a quick *zzap* and Swash felt his hooves landing on… marble? Swash opened his eyes to a panorama of tall, slim towers covered with golden spires, aiming towards the twilight sky. .
“Welcome to Canterlot!” exclaimed Vexing Sun, prancing a little in place. “We hope your stay will be pleasant.”
Chapter IV - Showtime in the shadows is here!
Author’s note: So, some mixture of feelings here - first, I tried my best to made you all WAFF inside with Luna scene, than I want to make your blood course faster through your veins with Pinion and Lagro’s backstory. Believe it or not, this chapter had more than 30 pages at first, before I decided to “trim it” for the sake of my Dear Readers ;) So please, do excuse me if these backgrounds would feel a little... rushed!
Chapter IV: Showtime in the shadows
Spellcheckuc Proofreadius Magickus: Jason Walker
Luna opened one eye and mumbled “It’s too early to be early…”. Her personal attendee and friend, Mystique Wind, nudged her gently with a smile on her muzzle and sparks in her eyes. It was midday – streaks of sunbeams shot through heavy curtains that covered high windows in her chamber. Luna blinked, yawned, grumbled under her snout, and with a tired voice asked “What’s is so damn important? I am tired! I need my beauty sleep, you know – they can arrive today or tomorrow, and I want to look my best, you know…” she mumbled, letting her eyes close again.
Mystique Wind giggled.
Luna rapidly opened her eyes and stood up instantly with sudden realization. “They are here, aren’t they!?” she shouted, and her maidservant nodded with a wide smile. Luna gasped and shrieked “Don’t just stand here with a foalish grin! Help me get ready!” she jumped off the bed and in a rush attempted to brush her mane and coat, put on her regalia, paint her eyes with some shade and choose a perfume – she failed at everything with growing frustration.
Mystique quickly attended her mistress taking care of the brushing “Calm, Princess, calm!” she said cheekily. “They are a band of vagabond ruffians and you are a Royalty of the highest sort.” She added while tending gently to Luna’s tail. “Composure!” she finished with a the commanding tone of a teacher.
“You’re right. Right,” said the Midnight Princess with a sigh “But I am so…” she waved her forehoof randomly in the air, looking for the right word. “You know!” she huffed.
“Excited?” Mystique tried the obvious answer.
“Yes, yes, that too,” replied Luna, painting her eyelashes “But I am afraid too. I don’t know, maybe I am afraid of my own expectations meeting with reality”. She glanced with a little smirk over her muzzle towards her friend “You know, it’s not that I lately met a lot of ponies.”
Mystique laughed heartily, and Luna’s joined her with her own chuckle.
“I have, well, a personal request for Lord Edgewing” Mystique stared at Luna in mild bewilderment. What kind of request could she want from the commander of the Royal Guard? Princess drew closer to Mystique Wind and whispered her orders in confidence. The white unicorn stiffened and her face was a mask of bewilderment after Luna finished with a confident, serious look.
“You sure, Luna? It’s kind of harsh trea-“ she stopped, as her friend… Her Princess’ gaze grew stern and sharper than a diamond drill.
“Do it.” Princess Luna said with a tone that knew no objections.
Mystique Wind shivered – there was something new in Luna’s eyes – nevertheless, she bowed low and answered.
“Yes, My Highness”
* * *
Twilight hated this part, but she reasoned with herself that it is necessary for her plan to work. She already felt guilt for even thinking of doing something like this to her friends, but in the bigger picture, she was doing it for their own good. When she trotted into her library Spike was already long asleep. She wrote a quick letter to princess Celestia with many, many questions and rapidly got to her alchemy lab to set her plan in motion. She spent almost the entire night brewing, distilling, and observing with extreme caution condensation on strangely shaped flasks. She finished with six little ampules filled with orange liquid just when the first beams of the morning sun began to shoot out of the horizon. She smiled at the result and yawned, tired from so much work done in such a short time.
Exhausted, she picked up the pills and trotted slowly towards the kitchen to make herself some light breakfast, before she hit the bed to catch some sleep. While she was eating a fast snack, she gulped one of the ampules and wrote a note to Spike
Don’t wake me up. I worked all night. Clean the Alchemy Lab, Please. Love, Twilight.
She hung the note on the kitchen doors and walked upstairs to catch some sleep. Applejack was correct – her friends were truly lucky that she was around to plan things for them.
* * *
They walked slowly under escort of confident, beautiful mare and her two guards towards the colossal form of the Alabaster Palace, the most famous piece of architecture in entire the Equestria, mainly for being a home to the God-Empress of the entire land, the omni-benevolent Princess Celestia. But not only that – it was a magnificent structure, monumental and enormous, built from white, silky marble with gold and silver décor. Uncountable spires, thin and built in a way that seemed impossible by law of simple physics, scraped the sky with their sharp roofs. It was built to make everyone silent, suffocated with its glorious majesty – like it was saying “Yes, we can live in something THAT magnificent and glorious – kneel now and stay quiet, and maybe we will allow you to exist in peace”. It worked. Not on Pinion, however. She was still too young to get the subtle hints.
“Ooooh! Look, how sparkly!”
“Aaaah! And this is sweeeet!”
“Omigosh, look at those towers over there!”
She jumped and bounced all over the place, trembling with excitement, her emerald eyes wide opened and filled with sparks. The royal guards didn’t notice or tried their best not to, but Vexing Sun smiled with pride at all the praise for her city, even when it came from a kid.
The rest of the team was a little less excited. To be honest, they weren’t excited at all. Doctor Cunning looked troubled and dead serious, looking all around himself, like he expected an entire horde of cops, agents or an army jump from the nearby gardens to get him. He was calm, he always was, but he couldn’t contain his paranoia. Ace Flush’s snout got sourer and sourer with every step – she hated the frou-frou atmosphere of the royal palace and she surely hated being unable to unload hey fury on somepony for so much time – Swash gulped, because he knew he would be the generous receiver of her next outburst. Lagro was stoical as ever, and maybe even glad that this time nopony gave him more than a glance when their made their way towards the inner palace – times had changed, and ministers, workers, and nobility of the Canterlot got used to seeing every species known to Equestria and beyond. And Pinion, well, Pinion was enjoying herself quite well – as for her, she suddenly stopped in her tracks and turned her head towards Swash, gave him this terrifying look that only griffons could do with sudden shrink of her pupils.
“You promised!” she said with her lovely, chirpy voice.
Swash stood still in bewilderment “Err. Could you remind me what exactly I promised?” he said with an awkward smile while scratching his head. Pinion huffed in disappointment and jumped to face him.
“A hat! You tol’ me that you buy me hat in Phillydelphia!” she screeched. “I still want a hat...” she added with a whisper, her eyes going glassy. She knew how to make Swash do whatever she wanted, he was such a softie after all. As expected, Swash sighed and patted her on the head.
“Right. Right! After the meeting, if it’s okay with you, pipsqueak!” he said. Pinion flashed him a fast smile and dashed away to recon nearby bushes and fountains with a happy, clear laugh.
Vexing Sun was observing the entire scene with visible curiosity. She saw that Swash stared at her and cleared her throat. “Isn’t she a little too young for your…” she tinkered for a few second than finished “Well, your line of work, so to speak?”. Swash smiled kindly and nodded.
“She surely is. But we had no choice but to take care of her. And so she stayed with us.” He saw that Vexing Sun opened her mouth to ask the question, but he didn’t let her. “Don’t” he said seriously and quietly. “Just don’t. It’s how it is and how it will be. End of story for now.” the silver coated mare closed her mouth and gave a barely visible nod. Swash changed the subject to release the tension.
“Please, do tell me, her Majesty will want to see us, like now? This instant?”
The perfect mare shook her head, letting her crystalline mane flew around her like a cloud. Swash could walk with her all the day long, just to observe her fluid movement and sparkling visage.
“Of course not. Her Highness, Princess Celestia, wishes for you to relax and reinvigorate from your journeys. Her Grace will meet you tomorrow just after the sunrise in a private breakfast. Until then, you are Her personal guests, and will be treated with utmost respect as such – feel free to ask and do anything you will.
Ace snorted with a diabolical grin, but said nothing, earning a curious glance from Vexing Sun. After a short while entire group entered the main hall of the Alabaster Palace – it was bustling with activity, dozens of different ponies trotting with stacks of papers, maids cladded in white and black uniforms dusted, ran along with plates, and worked whatever tasks they had ahead of them and in front of each of eight monumental pillars stood an unshakable silhouette of a Royal Guard pegasi.
The iridescent young unicorn stood in place and presented an older, well clothed, elegant stallion with a light grey coat and a slick and cut short black mane and tail. His cutie mark was quite unusual, representing a single fully opened eye.
“This is Serving Duty, the chief butler of the Alabaster Palace and caretaker of Her Highness' personal guests – like you are now. Don’t worry, he will provide whatever you need in a jiffy!” she finished, giving Serving Duty a huge wink that he didn’t respond to even with the tiniest twitch of a single muscle. Instead, he bowed a complicated bow ruled by obscure rules of court etiquette, and said with a snobby, well-practiced tone.
“Welcome to the Alabaster Palace, esteemed guests. As Vexing Sun already told, I bear the honor of the Chief Butler here, and I am here to serve all of you at your every whim.”
He bowed again, and the magic started – it wasn’t unicorn magic, as the Chief Butler was an earth pony, but his words worked like a spell. Suddenly, the entire team was surrounded by smiling maids that split them up skillfully and offered to show each of them their rooms. It probably worked every single time but this one. Old habits never cease to work.
Doctor was asked to give his cape and top hat away. He didn’t yell or react in any rude way to this question. He simple stared deep into the poor maid mare's eyes and said coldly “No”. The poor filly stood in front of him, petrified and unable to react or break the eye contact that bore into her with malice, causing her to shudder all over. She was quickly swapped with another maidservant, and needed an entire day of rest to calm down. Two other servant assisted Doctor Cunning to his chamber in silence.
Lagro was left out, as always – even the most loyal and bravest of maids were resistant to approaching his huge, rugged frame. Swash understood their fears, even if it was without ground – only under stern gaze of their boss, Serving Duty, two tiny – in comparison – fillies shakily walked towards the dragonling and with hushed voices asked him to walk with them towards his room.
Ace on the other hand entered a Full Dominatrix Mode. She quickly adapted her pose and trot to that of the snobbiest and snottiest nobility, she practically watched the world now with her nostrils with her head craned up and she threw a dozen of different “requests” towards the servants, that were bustling around her trying their best to fully accommodate her “needs." Swash shook his head at such a shameful display, but there really was nothing he could do.
Then he heard the crash of something very delicate being shattered into a million pieces. He tried to look over the crowd only to notice two mares trying their best to contain the energy filled contraption that was Pinion, who reached her maximum excitement level and couldn’t stop herself from jumping around being careless. Due to her extreme acrobatic abilities, two maidservants would hardly be enough to catch her. Ever.
Swash looked at Serving Duty with an awkward smile while brushing his mane, trying his best to look carefree and apologetic at the same time – not an easy task to achieve. But, the Chief Butler looked as stoic as ever, not even a single brow raised, not even a twitch on his muzzle.
“Excuse me for that” said Swash, meaning the broken vase “It was expensive, wasn’t it?”
“Invaluable indeed, sir” replied the earth pony with the same unshakable tone he used while introducing himself “But of course it matters not, for it was only a five centuries old vase from Relief Period. We still have a few of those, fortunately, and we can’t blame the young lady for her… eagerness, can we?” He said with a nod, and with this nod two neat and smiling mares in maid uniforms approached Swash. Oh, he is going to enjoy this for sure.
* * *
The sun was setting on the horizon and first stars began to shine on the purple sky. The air was still brimming with the coppery after storm scent that he enjoyed so much. Ol Stooge was old indeed, and he was sitting in his rocking chair on terrace of his wooden house, smoking the terrible pipe that his daughter hated so. He smiled at the very thought of his offspring, a living embodiment of his lovely wife, let her rest in peace – his daughter, Glittering Sky, had the very same lavender coat and almost identical, goldish mane. Also, she was an unicorn, just like her mom. From him, she received a stubborn nature and eyes filled with endless curiosity towards the world. Ol Stooge sighed while blowing a circle of blue smoke. It was getting late, Glittery should
be home by now.
In that moment, somewhere deep in the nearby pine forest, on the background of the cricket's concerto and night bird's songs, he heard the faintest of screams. It was so weak and distant that he believed for a second that his age mixed with the wind is playing tricks on his imagination. But then, he heard it again. And again, stronger this time. Glittery was in this forest. He was old and far from good form, but he never ran as fast in his entire life.
After a quick gallop he found her. She was lying on the grass, like she was sleeping. He felt the change in the forest – there were no sounds, no chirpy voices of the birds, nor the playful orchestra of insects in the high grass. It was silent, and he knew that silence well – something was on the hunt in the thicket. He gulped and slowly trotted toward Glittering Sun.
“Are you all right, Glitty? Come on, we need to go!” he shoved her gently with a forehoof and turned her head towards him. When he saw her eyes he jumped back with a gasp of terror. His daughter's eyes were empty – once emerald irises were now light grey, almost white. He began to shudder, and whisper under his snout “No. No. No no no no…”, he slowly pulled his head to her chest – Praise Celestia! She was breathing and the heart was working fine. Slow, yes, very slow. But fine all the same. He sighed heavily with relief, he tried to wake Glittery up, but she didn’t respond to anything. And then, when he lifted her body from the ground he noticed something that made him speechless.
Her cutie mark was gone.
* * *
The Wanderer hid himself in a cavern, far away from the… place of occurrence. IT was correct from the very beginning – how could IT ever think that ITS new form needed to follow the same rules as any other being occupying this strange, vivid and chaotic plane? Fortunately for IT, IT found the source of pure energy easy to consume and manipulate, allowing IT to break the bindings of the Laws. ITS form was now a mere tool for ITS will to shape. However, the miniscule energy drained from this four legged creature wasn’t even nearly enough – IT needed more, much more. The Wanderer could sense hundreds of energies swirling around two very powerful ones in the distance. No. IT must be Patient. Patience was hard to acquire when time lashed at IT with unreasoned cruelty, but IT understood that ITS existence could be easily wiped out by bearers of such potent energies. However, IT scanned and felt six less powerful, but still quite indomitable sources of raw magic – closer than the big two, and much easier to deal with. Yes. IT made a decision.
The Wanderer flew into the night, a wingless blur of shadow passing through the sky.
* * *
A knife hit the wood with a loud *thunk* sound and stood, vibrating, in the bread-board. Dr. Cunning then took it out and repeated the throw, plunging it yet again into the tortured piece of wood with another *thunk*. The entire team was sitting in one of the palace kitchens in darkness enlightened by two small candles. Ace was drunk, or nearly drunk, as she had been drinking wine for the entire day, ravaging the royal cellars of some rare and very expensive annuals. Pinion slept on Lagro’s back, and the big lizard himself was sitting in silence sharpening his monstrous, blackened hunting carver. Swash was the only one smiling – he enjoyed the room service greatly. He already had the addresses to two lovely mares, and it was only half of a day! *thunk* A throwing knife landed in front of Swash.
“I would kill for your thought, Knack.” Said Doctor solemnly.
“He’s’a… He is’… Ssss!” Ace slurred and hit the table hard with her forehead. Yet, she managed to say “He’s thinkin’ abbot rumps! Justya look’em him, smilin’ nuts!” She hiccupped.
Swash smiled evilly.
“Oh, and I believed that the green on your lovely snout was from all the alcohol you poured into yourself, my dear! But now I see that you are simply jealous!”
Ace waved a hoof uncoordinatedly in his general direction without even attempting to raise her head from the table, and snarled.
“Just come’ere, you dirthy weas- weasley, so’ah could kill you.”
Swash laughed for a few moments, but then turned his head towards the still not amused Cunning and said.
“To be serious, I am thinking about what exactly we are going to do. I mean, what kind of, ha, request, could someone with position and power like Princess Celestia could want?” Swash picked up the throwing knife and began juggling it mindlessly with a sigh. He stood up, still playing with the blade and said “We should catch some sleep while we can. Tomorrow everything will be cleared, eh? Doctor could you help Ace? You know she would hurt me badly in her current state.” Doctor simply nodded and without too much care he just got the slurring, mumbling, grunting, and shoving red mare on his back. Lagro left without a word still carrying little dozing griffon. Swash was left alone in the kitchen. He looked around, and noticed a big painting of some stuffy, snobby elderly mare – he looked at it and with a rapid yet sparing move he threw a blade right between the eyes of the old hag.
He smiled to himself and left the room.
* * *
Luna was watching them in the kitchen. It was a proper palace after all, filled with secret corridors and rooms designed for the protection of the inhabitants and for this – spying on the guests. Mystique Wind stood next to her, extremely polite and nice as usual, but nevertheless, guilt gnawed at Luna’s consciousness without remorse. She bit her lip – she tried her best to be more of a friend than an employer, but it was so hard for her to change habits she learnt thousand years ago. She frowned, and still observing the team with the eyes of a big painting hanging in the kitchen, she said quietly.
“Sorry Mystique, for earlier.”
Mystique gave her a quizzical look. “I beg your pardon?”
“Oh come on. You know! For ordering you around and the harsh treatment with the special request? You must be mad – friends don’t do that. I am sorry. Really.”
“Luna. You may be my friend and that’s all right. But you’re also my employer, and that is all right too. My fault, really – I am in no position to question your orders” said the white unicorn with a shrug and a faint smile.
Luna sighed and said under her muzzle “But you are. I need advices, even if I do not follow them”. A loud laugh came from behind the wall, and Luna pressed towards the eye slits to watch what happened. The blood-red mare, Ace Flush if she recalled well, was dead drunk and the rugged grey coated unicorn with the bright orange mane and tail laughed from his heart at her clumsy attempts to do something to him. Luna had never been so excited in her entire long life. They looked exactly how she imagined all of them.
Swash Knack, the leader of the group was an epitome of an adventure novel hero. He was muscular and rugged, his body marked with tens if not hundreds of scratches and scars. He also maintained a certain style in his clothing and mannerism – like a handsome buccaneer or a rich pirate. Luna was observing him from the very first step he made in the palace, and was quite astounded how very different the voices he could use – from the stern, harsh tone of command to slithery, velvet sounds of a poet. She giggled in her hooves quietly. Ah, it would be just fantastic to meet him tete-a-tete, to listen to his stories!
Mystique shook her head with a defeated grim, as she saw Luna’s eyes go glassy and unfocused when she entered the state of fantasy, drifting in her head from reality.
Suddenly splinters of wood hit her and the Princess in the snouts, the sound of ripped canvas hung in the air while four inches of solid, white steel touched Luna’s forehead, right between her eyes. A single drop of red ichor emerged at the tip of the blade and slowly slid down the edge. Mystique couldn’t move a muscle, she was simply struck with terror. The princess, after a second that seemed to last forever, dropped backward and hit the wall behind her. She was breathing heavily, her stare focused on the glistening piece of metal. With a shaky hoof she reached her head and touched the tiny wound. A single smear of carmine colored her midnight blue coat. She gulped – maybe her sister was right after all. She wouldn’t fit with them.
Mystique shook herself off and quickly dashed towards the lying Princess, with her horn aglow and ready to mend the wound. She kneeled over to Luna with tears in her eyes.
“All you all right? You all right?” She quickly mended the tiny scratch and stood upright, shaking from anger “They could kill you! They need to be punished! I will go there right now and tell them my mind.” She snarled, turning back, ready to gallop across the halfway to make her words come true.
Mystique stopped and turned back to see Princess – no. To see Luna, her friend, looking at her with desperation.
“No. Please, don’t. It’s my fault. He didn’t know who was standing behind the portrait” she said, but her mind had entirely different thoughts, like "How could he EVEN know that there was ANYPONY behind the portrait? And that knife. He could… How could he throw a blade like this?" and so on. Mystique helped her stand up, as Luna was still shuddering all over. The pristine unicorn huffed.
“Well, at least I changed my mind about your idea Luna. From before. HE deserves that.” she said, still nearly bursting from anger, “and I bet they are ready to commence.”
Luna nodded. But she began to believe that her little request would end in something too much to handle – but she would see it through.
* * *
Swash opened his eyes in a split second and, with a move faster than anypony could blink, raised a thin knife to a throat of a shady silhouette standing beside his bed. It was built in within him, a compulsory reaction that didn’t ask his brain for permission to happen – he blinked, yawned and smiled awkwardly to a shocked, sweating maid, a nice young mare with sweet, but now terrified eyes.
“Excuse me for that” he hid the blade under the pillow “Built in reaction, hard to turn off, believe me.” He winked, getting up. “So!” he added with vigor, putting his white shirt on “Who request my presence in this blasted hour?”.
The maid mare was even more shocked than before. With eyes opened wide, huge like a pair of platters she asked, stammering in disbelief “H-how c-c-ould you k-know?” and after a second she blushed a little and added “Sir?”. He laughed a single note and with a dashing smile replied.
“First of all – experience. Second of all, I am no ‘sir’, my dear. In fact, I am as far away from ‘sir’ as it is possible, I believe.” He chuckled, seeing the mare smiling weakly and relaxing a little. “Lead the way then. It is always a pleasure to follow a beautiful filly around.” He said with a huge wink, watching her blush getting bigger and redder.
The Alabaster Palace lost nothing of its majesty during the night. Hundreds of blue lamps casted a soft, almost eerie light in the tall hallways – the only difference Swash noticed was the loud clicking sound of his own hooves on the marble, that was easily heard now without all of the day hassle around. He followed the filly through many chambers and probably an entire mile of stairs, to finally reach a huge, bah, monumental doors casted in dark iron, looking more like an entrance to a lair of some demonic overlord rather than a…
“Her royal Highness, Princess Luna of the Night and Moon will see to you right now” Rather than a door to a private chamber of the younger royal princesses, so it seems! The maid mare that he followed here gave a full bow in front of an absolutely stunning white unicorn filly with a cascading snow-like mane. Swash caught her eyes and he tensed and instantly got serious – for reasons currently unknown to him this particular mare hated him. She was acting politely with proper etiquette and composure, but no one can hide their true feelings behind their eyes. This particular lady hated him with all her might, her gaze almost scorching his coat.
“My name is Mystique Wind. I am a personal attendee of her Majesty, Princess Luna. Her Grace would like to see YOU-” she practically snarled that piece “-immediately.” Then the doors swung open just enough to let him slip inside a gloomy chamber, filled with black and purple draperies lightened by a single lamp hanging from the ceiling. On a chaise lounge lied a midnight blue alicorn, adorned with regalia made of pure silver and topazes, her blue, starry mane flew around her like it was constantly caressed by the tender wind. The doors closed noiselessly behind him, and the Princess gave him just a glance. She was of course regal and spare with her movements, but he saw it – in her eyes there was just a tiny speckle of fright. Swash wasn’t an idiot, and he began to put pieces of the puzzle together. And so he smiled villainously to himself.
He entered the center of the room and gave her Majesty the perfect court bow, still smiling madly. He didn’t raise his head, waiting for the order to do so.
Luna was getting uncomfortable. He knew. She didn’t know how, but he knew for sure – his creepy yet dashing smile was a confirmation. She gulped and decided to go for it.
“You may rise in my presence, Swash Knack.”
And so he did, just to catch her giving the tiniest of nod that wasn’t aimed at him. Learnt, no, burned into his very core, reactions took over him. He heard the click of an armor behind and slightly left to him, so he jumped to the front with a clumsy yet effective somersault, in the meantime, unsheathing his sword with a magical grip. He cussed to himself when he saw the two muscular forms of stoical Royal Guards going after him. They weren’t armed with traditional weapons – as they were pegasi, they had no magic to use more sophisticated tools – but they were strong, and their wings could break a bone, so the Royal Guards wore sharpened edges around their wings, acting like blades to cut down enemies in combat. So each of them practically carried two mighty blades, and Swash in a second was surrounded by a furious flurry of blows and slashes. He barely kept up to it with a single blade – Royal Guards were trained to a perfection, and he began to trot backwards from their assault.
Funny, how somepony must play a little trick to get out of situations like this. Swash closed his eyes for a fraction of a second and let out a bright flare from the tip of his horn, instantly blinding the guards. He seized the initiative and hit one of them with the bell of his sword – the sound of cracking bone and broken teeth were his rewards for doing so. The second guardpony quickly dashed backwards to shake the effect. Swash couldn’t allow that. He jumped over first of his fallen opponents to quickly engage the second in a swordfight. They were trained well, but in a duel he knew his skills and trusted them. A little too much, so it seemed, as the guard easily parried his strike and with a rapid plunge cut him quite deeply into the right cheek. Swash was furious now, but he didn’t let it slip in a fight – he flew his blade ahead of the pegasus and stroked hard downwards, to force him to parry it with crossed blades of his wings. He promptly did so, opening himself for a mighty buck of Swash's hind legs.
The entire fight lasted maybe half a minute. Probably less. Swash was sweating and breathing heavily for a moment, but he regained his composure, sheathed his blade and turned towards Princess Luna with a serious muzzle. She didn’t move a muscle during the fight, and now had an entertained look on her royal snout. Shocked and entertained. He slowly began to work towards her and stopped next to a moaning Royal Guard, the one who received a generous blow in the jaw from his pommel. He looked down than he gazed directly into Luna’s eyes – without taking his stare down, he kicked the laying stallion hard in the teeth, blood splattering all around the marble floor and dark cloths. He heard her gasp and he enjoyed her pained look.
“That… That wasn’t necessary.” She said with a trembling voice.
“That is true, My Highness. It wasn’t.”
Luna huffed and was set aback by this proclamation, and with a spark of anger awoke in her she snarled.
“I meant the kick! You won, why kicking him while he laid defeated!?”
“Well, for starters, I can’t kick my employer in the muzzle. I quite often want to, but it simply doesn't work that way. But what would stop me from doing so to someone that attacked me without a reason?” he asked, and rose his forehoof for another kick.
Luna instantly stood up and unfolded her wings to the full span, her horn began to glow and Swash felt a surge of extreme magical powers surrounding and changing Princess Luna’s aura.
“Stop right now! LEAVE!” she said with a stern voice.
Swash, still with a serious muzzle bowed down and trotted towards the big, black door. He opened them and turned his head back.
“Oh. And in the future, my Royal Highness, if you want to spy on somepony, hire a professional. I am at your service.” He bowed again, and left the room with a loud bang of the doors. He waited outside for the roar of fury. It didn’t came – all he heard after a minute from the chamber behind him was quiet sobbing. He hung his head low and sighed, trotting slowly towards his room, blood dripping from his wound on the cheek. He cleared the cut and saw himself, cussing like hay and sweating even more from pain, and finally, when he laid his head on the pillow he thought about lessons learnt the hard way.
Chapter V - Circus is coming to town is here!
Author’s note: Sheesh, at least, time for some action! A lot of stuff is happening here - Wanderer get the grip on ITS first pony prey, delighted with the raw magical energies to consume from unicorns, Swash x Luna is on its way (yes, shipping will be... inevitable!) and some guardponies gets some bruises all over for following stupid orders. Its dangerous life, the life in the court! Next? The Gweat and Adowable Trixie appears! Why? You will see for yourselves!
Chapter V: Circus is coming to town
Spellchecking and Proofreading done by: Jason Walker, the Magical Pony
The silence was awkward.
Her majesties, Princess Celestia of the Sun and Princess Luna of the Moon sat in robust, baroque throne-like chaise lounges and were quietly sipping their teas from cups made of porcelain so fine they were thin like paper. While Celestia was at ease, with a calm look on her royal snout, her younger sister was far from calm – she gazed intensely at Swash's cheek, still red and swollen where the blade of a pegasi guard drew blood.
The entire team was sitting with the Royal Sisters and consumed breakfast with different levels of dignity. Doctor Cunning was calm and cold as always, his etiquette perfect at every single, tiniest detail. Ace also did her best, and because she was a great actor she had no problems when she turned on her Noble Lady façade. Pinion was excused for her lack of proper manners with her young age – she devoured delicacies from the table like a hungry dragon and without too much use of silverware. Swash try to apologize for her, but her Majesty dropped it off with a gentle chuckle. Lagro didn’t eat anything at all, he simply sat there, trying his best to look as small as possible. Talking, like always, was left for Swash to pick up and use as he wanted – he had a hard time with the conversation, and he was furious with himself for this, but hay, this was not another talk to a standard employer, eh?
Princess Celestia glanced briefly at her sister and said with a smile.
“Oh, mister Knack, maybe you don’t know yet, but my sister is quite a fan of you and your team.”
Luna gasped in terror and choked on the biscuit – she tried to cover it with a rather unladylike slurp of her tea. Celestia raised her brow.
“I don’t know personally how truthful the books about your adventures are, but still, I am amazed that she refrained from raining you with questions for so long!”
“Oh, we had a little chat last night, my Majesty,” said Swash with a cruel smile dancing on his lips. “Princess Luna really hit me hard with her questions! I barely could defend myself, so to speak!” he added with a little laugh.
While Celestia replied with a gentle giggle, Luna gave Swash a pleading, defeated look. He winked at her and she closed her eyes in horror of what would happen next. Celestia nudged her kindly.
“Luna, don’t sit here and stare like a Cockatrice ready to turn somepony into stone! You wanted to meet them, didn't you? Be a polite host!”
Luna frowned in panic as she couldn’t manage to say a word. Help came from the unexpected direction of a grim stallion, Mr. Cunning.
“I do not want to break this charming chit-chat short, my Graces, but our time is quite spare and I would be rejoiced to hear what our purpose is here. Please, do tell us.” He said, punctuating his words with the loud clink of his cup put down on the saucer.
Luna sighed happily when her sister nodded and exclaimed. “Of course! But, do excuse me, dear Doctor, for asking all of you a question – what do you know about the Elements of Harmony?”
The team looked at each other with different states of confusion on their faces while Ace tried “Some old magical artifacts with the power to defeat all evil?” Doctor shot her a stare that shut her up and said “The Elements of Harmony – six powerful sources of raw magic that focus around one particular emotion or gesture of goodwill: kindness, generosity, loyalty, honesty, laughter, and one that binds them all – magic. Each is extremely powerful on its own, yet due to its nature it can’t be used in any harmful or offensive way. They are epitomes of so called white magic, pure and untarnished. Magic is the only exception here, as a binder for the elements it has… more freedom in its form, able to either bring peace or wreak havoc. As our history teaches us-“ he snarled at Ace, who turned purple with fury “-our beloved Princess-“ he nodded towards the pristine form of Celestia “-used these elements to bani-“
“Indeed!” said Swash loudly and rapidly. “Thank you, doctor, for the quick lesson about primordial magic, but that is enough already.” He gave him a worried and stern glance and smiled awkwardly towards the Princesses. “You see, my Majesties, we have at last one pony who knows the stuff – and the matter with these Harmonical Elements-“
“Elements of Harmony!” Doctor Cunning whispered with the corner of his mouth.
“-the elements of good stuff, yes, is what exactly?” Swash finished smoothly.
Celestia glanced on Luna as she noticed her younger sister getting more and more red and sad at the unspoken mention of her banishment – she was trembling with mixtures of embarrassment, fury and guilt. Well, it was hardly going in the right direction, the entire breakfast business.
“The Elements of Harmony have chosen their bearers. Six young fillies that are now hosts to these powerful forces. And your task is fairly simple – you are to offer protection to the bearers for as long as it is needed. Do you accept this task, mister Knack?”
Swash sat idly for some time under the stern gazes of everyone around him, including both Princesses – one calm, genteel, pristine, perfect and currently smiling lightly, and second trembling, red, sweating, and on the verge of breakdown, currently smiling crazily. He shook his head rapidly to make his spine crack and said coldly “Let me just repeat that to make things clear, my Highness – We, the entire team of monster hunters and ruthless hired swords, are going to sit with six young fillies somewhere for an uncertain duration of time, to ‘protect’ them from danger unknown and unspecified? Correct so far?”
Princess Celestia nodded. Swash sighed.
“A question then, if I may – do you know, my most benevolent princess, WHAT or WHO caused this mind-shattering, psyche-wrecking, pain inducing scream a few day ago yet?”
Princess Celestia shook her head.
“I see. then our answer is Yes. We are taking this job, my Grace” he said, standing up from the table and bowing. “I will never say that time spent in your radiant presence is a waste of time, my Majesty, but as good Doctor would say, time is of essence and we shouldn’t spent it on frivolities. Point us the way, and we will be on our way immediately.” Like on command, rest of the team stood up and bowed towards both Princesses, ready to depart on the spot.
Princess Celestia blinked a few times than burst into laughter. Luna was watching them with eyes opened wide, still unable to speak.
“You see Luna? How eager! How thirsty for another adventure to write down in their journals! Unknown dangers, unknown places, yet, they still take it with such contempt.” Celestia smirked and wave her forehoof invitingly “But please, do sit down and finish our meal properly – we waste no time here, as Vexing Sun will teleport all of your to your destination within seconds, so no need to rush. Also, there is one tiny detail I want you to follow.”
* * *
“The Multiverse is a term used to describe a vivid state of chaos in which never-ending variables emerge within an illusionary pattern (see: Illusionary Particles, Illusionary Planes, ind.) – these patterns may be illusionary, m. they exist only for a very brief duration of time (see: Timeline, T.F. Theory, chronoparaplexes, ind.), but this particular duration may be enough to form a plane as we understood by the term, a place, a microverse – solid and static for its duration. The question is – What IS before in the “space” before chaos spawns a new plane? A Void is impossible by logic and reason – if there is Void, t.i. a “space” that contain nothing, it is therefore not a space and cannot be described in any way, as it does not exist and never existed. And therefore, it can’t be.
So, by this logic, t.i. some source – matter, energy, primordial mana, spirit – that fills the emptiness in the chaos between current Illusionary Planes and more static and solid Universal Planes (see: Universal Planes, constant universe observance theory, ind.). Calling this state a “Void” is invalid – however name we choose for it, it is not an epitome of nothingness but a sea of boiling source – it even may be a Metaplane, a most basic form of plane, vast and ruled by different set of universal laws. As a doctor of advanced particle magic, Mr. Onebrow Snippet proved in his last article, “The Source of Everything”, a primordial plane could explain most controve-“
Twilight yawned and looked at the clock hanging from the wall of her bedroom. She spent the entire day reading and studying – again. Spike entered her room a few times to ask her if she maybe, possibly didn’t want to come out and have some fun – again. From time to time she simply couldn’t resist the urge to be alone with her books, and this time she had a perfect explanation, as she was trying her best to research the strange happening with the vibrant psychic scream.
She yawned again, exhausted, when she heard someone running upstairs – and an impatient knocking on her doors followed soon.
“Twilight, a letter from Princess Celestia! It has the Urgent and Personal seal on it!” said Spike with trembling and excited voice from behind the doors.
The little baby-dragon opened the door with a kick and dashed towards her with a sealed scroll in his claws. While he gave her the message, he glanced at the books she has been digging into for the entire day. “Multiverse”, “Great Strings Theory”, “Advances Laws of Magic”, “Primordial Particles” and “Beings from Beyond – Life outside the Planar Scape”.
“Heavy stuff.” he mumbled to himself, while Twilight broke the seal and began reading:
“My faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.
The Full House team is currently on its way towards Ponyville. They should arrive tomorrow evening. Please, be kind to them and welcome them properly.
I do not want their arrival to stir the serenity and calmness of Ponyville, and they would surely induce fear and panic if they’ll arrive under arms – that is why they will arrive under cover of travelling vaudeville with a famous illusionist to assist them in this task.
Twilight smiled. Tomorrow evening? Perfect – a lot of time to set her plan in motion, to prepare everything. She snickered and turned to Spike, still digging in the piles of books.
“It’s party time!”
* * *
“That is a good joke indeed. I laugh – look: Ha Ha. Now, get out of here and let’s move into this blasted town, hm?” said Doctor Cunning solemnly, still looking at a rather big cart in front of him.
“Come on Doc!” Swash said with a weak tone “It’s not so bad! See, it is… No, it’s more like… Nah, I want to say it is plainly…” Swash waved his hoofs around trying to find proper words. “Ace, you tell him!”
“It’s a circus wagon,” observed Lagro stoically.
“Well of course it is, silly!” said Vexing Sun, entering the royal stable, this time without the assistance of the royal guards. She looked gorgeous as ever, her crystalline mane dancing to the slightest breeze in the air. “You all heard her Majesty, Princess Celestia – covert operation, travelling as an entertainment ponies. Much less obnoxious than entering the calm, little town under arms, right? And the cart is a gift! It is big, comfy, nice-“ Ace Flush snorted loudly “-and matches your cover perfectly!”
Well, the beautiful mare was right. The cart was huge, six wheeled and made from thick wood. It was painted in every color you could imagine – it had purple sides, a green roof, yellow wheels, red doors and it was filled with details that loudly proclaimed “Be aware! Freaks travelling inside!” – clown masks were sculpted on the sides. Glass stones and sequins were evident everywhere, like somepony with huge buckets of both simply threw them at the cart to see what happens. It was kitschy, but nopony would doubt its purpose – it was a circus wagon, all right.
“I would rather die than enter this monstrosity,” said Cunning after a moment of brief silence. Vexing Sun grunted.
“We are not a circus band, my lady.”
“You are now!” the pristine unicorn exclaimed with a winning smile.
“Enough,” said Swash and he nodded to Vexing Sun. “We are ready – the plan?” he asked, only to see her smile at him and bat her long eyelashes seductively. He worked his entire life to practice the art of not blushing in situations like this.
“Jump into the cart and I will teleport you in close proximity of Ponyville. In the Everfree Forest you will find another wagon – a close relative to yours – and a journeypony illusionist. You will join her and together you will enter Ponyville as a troupe de vaudeville. That’s all – plain and simple.”
Swash sighed heavily. ‘Plain and simple if you don’t have a maniacal psychopath, a hyperactive little brat, a furious charlatan and a monster as companions’ he thought, but he kept it to himself. He simply nodded again to the perfect mare and said.
“Let’s do this.”
* * *
Princess Luna was walking circles in her chambers frantically, biting her lower lip and thinking hard. The Full House team departed a second ago, she felt the powerful surge of magic as Vexing Sun used her signature mass teleportation spell, and after that feral night she couldn’t bear herself to talk to any of them even for a minute. Bah, she wasn’t able to speak a word! “Coward!” she yelled to her own reflection in a big mirror. Now they are gone, on the way towards Ponyville. All she managed was to make their leader furious – a great start for a relationship of any kind, and even better if your plan was to ask him to let her join for an adventure. She jumped on her bed and covered her head with a pillow, ripping it as her horn pierced it easily. Luna grunted and cursed under her snout.
No. She wouldn’t let it pass like that! It was a once in a lifetime opportunity! Hardly! Luna wasn’t even shocked that the voice of reason that thundered in her mind sounded like Celestia. You are immortal – a hundred years is like the blink of an eye to us. There will be millions of opportunities like that. Let it go. You will find your adventure in the future. No. NO! She squeaked in her pillow when she heard somepony entered her chamber.
Mystique Wind was standing next to her bed – she wore a cape and a hood and laid another black coat on Luna’s bed.
“Are you going Luna?” she asked.
“Wha- What? Oh. OH! Yes. How did you-?”
“I simply know my Princess well” explained Mystique Wind with a smirk. “We should hurry – we know where they are going to land, but they will be on the move from the very beginning, so let's waste no time!”
Luna nodded, put on her black hood and covered her body with a long, dark coat. With a single burst of purple energy the Princess of the Night and her personal attendee were gone.
Princess Celestia smiled to herself as she felt the spell resonate within the walls of the palace.
* * *
When Twilight entered Sugarcube Corner she instantly felt a little sick. The scent was just too much to bear without feeling dizzy – the deep smell of chocolate was mixed with sweet aromas of way too much sugar and the fruity, sizzling smell of differently flavored syrups. It was an intoxicating explanation for Pinkie Pie's hyperactivity and random behaviors – or so Twilight believed. The pink earth pony was standing behind a counter and making dough for the next batch of sugary delicacies, but when she saw Twilight her muzzle broke into wide grin.
“Hello Twilight! What are you doing here? Haa! You are for a treat, aren’t you? Have some cupcakes, I made them myself, and they’re super-duper taste’a’licious! With strawberries and additional strawberries – I really don’t know how I manage to put so many strawberries inside, really!” Pinkie exclaimed rapidly, and stopped only to intake a breath and to shove a red cupcake in front of Twilight. “Eat, eat!”
Twilight took the treat slowly and said “Thank you, Pinkie, but I have a request to ask you”.
Pinkie's mouth turned into a wide ‘O’ before she began bouncing around Twilight yelling “Do tell, do tell, do tell, do tell!” and so on.
Twilight sighed and put a forehoof on the muzzle of her friend rapidly to stop her from both jumping like crazy and to shut her up for a moment. “The Full House team – the one we were talking about last night – is coming to town tomorrow evening. And guess what we need to welcome them?” she said with a smile?
“BP PRBLTTT!” Pinkie tried to say with Twilight's hoof still covering her mouth.
“Yes Pinkie!” said Twilight, removing her forehoof “Time to prepare a party for them – something nice, nothing big, just a little Welcome to Ponyville stuff. And you know what!?” she was terrible at acting, but Pinkie was to focused on the incoming party and was buzzing from high sugar levels in her blood to notice Twilight false smile and sweating.
“What, what!?” pink pony exclaimed, with a goofy smile and wide eyes.
“I am going to help you with cooking!”
Pinkie Pie jumped high in the air with an exaggerated yell of joy than she landed next to Twilight and embrace her with a neck snapping hug.
“We are going to have SO much FUN together Twi! A hanging out cooking party prep mission – it is on!”
“Yeah, ha ha” said Twilight when her hoof impulsively checked her saddlebag for the five pills waiting there. “Let’s make some muffins!”.
* * *
A flash, a sensation of movement and the feeling of grass touching his hoofs. In a few seconds Swash's vision returned and he saw a grim, thick forest in front of him and a silver-coated unicorn swelling with pride next to him. He smiled.
“Well. Thank you kindly for your assistance, miss. We can take it from here.” He said with a bow. She blushed unexpectedly and replied “Oh, yes, no need to thank me, it’s my job. And you can call me Vexy – all friends call me that.” She said with a smile and then added “Wish you luck – you will probably need it. I hope we meet again Swash.” She nodded and disappear in a bright flash.
Ace snorted and exclaimed trying – with success – to parody the voice and tone of Vexing Sun “You can call me Vexy! All friend call me that! Why don’t we make love here and now?” she kicked him roughly and snarled “I swear I don’t know how easily these foolish mares are falling for your trick. Don’t stand there like idiot and let’s move.”
“No” Swash replied calmly, looking around.
Ace gave him a doubting look “No? What do you mean by ‘no’?”
“I mean no by saying ‘no’. We are waiting. Within a maximum of half an hour, somepony will arrive here somewhere nearby. I need to deal with it, and if I am staying, you are staying. You know the drill, darling”. He said while he walked towards the flowers that were growing nearby and began to pluck them out.
Ace Flush looked at him quizzically and shrugged with a grunt. Soon the entire team camped near their new wagon, Lagro sneezing, Ace arranging inside of the cart, and Pinion trying to create a name for their vehicle. Cunning was just observing Swash picking flowers and making a bouquet out of them.
“You are a stallion of many talents, Swash” he said sarcastically.
“I am, aren’t I?” Swash replied cheerily, ignoring the tone.
“You know how I hate wasting time – who are we waiting for?” asked Cunning with an edge in his voice that demanded answers. It worked like a spell! A blue orb of magical energy suddenly burst next to them and turned into two ponies standing in shock.
“Aah, here she is! And with a new bodyguard this time!” exclaimed Swash, trotting towards the new arrivals. Both ponies were hooded, but Swash bowed deeply with flowers held in the air by a telekinetic grip and said “Nice to see you again, Princess Luna.”
The entire team looked intensely at the pair.
Princess Luna was dumbstruck – she fought a reaction to teleport back instantly, what sense and how much good could that do? They were waiting for HER! How? How could he anticipate this? She didn’t make a single move or speak a single word that would make any of them believe she wanted to go with them! She gulped and looked around in a desperate search to find a way to get away from this situation. Luna looked at Mystique Wind next to her, but she was dumbstruck too. Luna decided to play with open hoofs. She pulled her hood down and said quietly.
“I don’t know how you do that, mister Knack, but it’s quite a skill.” She managed to say it without a tremble in her tone.
“Well, it is a knack my dear Princess. Please, do accept this little gift for I am sorry about the little accident last night and I don’t want to be on your bad side, my Majesty. Also, if I may be bold enough, I would gladly say that you look dashing in that dark cape. It’s suits you well, my Grace.” He said with a smirk while he flew the bouquet in front of the bewildered Princess.
She looked at the flowers and accepted them with a timid whisper of “Thank you”.
Silence covered the field like a warm duvet.
“Well!” shouted Swash after a minute of silence, startling everyone. “I am glad we figured this out. But we need to get movin’! Team, let’s get rollin’, we have a task ahead of us!” he said and turned his back.
“Wha- Hey, What? WAIT!” yelled Luna red on her snout. “I mean, um, I need to ask you something!”
Swash turned his head back and chuckled “Sorry, madame, I am taken!”
Mystique Wind inhaled and broke from her shock with a furious snarl “Show some respect toward your Princess!”, but her outburst lacked the effect as Princess Luna’s cheeks were red like roses and she moved her lips trying to speak, but no words came out. Mystique nudged her gently with a whisper “Got a grip on yourself, Luna!”. Luna nodded weakly, but managed to speak again.
“No, I, um, no it is not like this. It wasn’t, um, the question I was going to ask, uh. Urr. Um. I mean… What I tried to say. Well.” Luna gulped, contained the trembling that took over her body, stood upright and with a steady tone she said “I want to join you in this task.”
Swash stared at her for the longest minute in her life. His friends weren’t looking at her at all – they were waiting for his reaction patiently. Swash smiled villainously, turned back and said aloud “I have no time for this nonsense. Doctor, deal with it please – explain to our Grace why she couldn’t join us.” And he trotted away inside the forest, the rest of the team – with exception of a grim stallion - followed.
“Stop!” Mystique yelled “How could you…”
“Silence.” Said Doctor Cunning that stepped in front of them. Mystique practically choked on words stuck in her throat. The brown stallion nodded in the direction of Princess and said. “Attack me.”
“Excuse me?” asked Luna, still watching Swash walking away and paying no attention to his friend or his words.
“Attack me. Kill me. Draw blood from me. Come on. Here” he repeat calmly and threw two knifes that hit the ground just inches ahead of Luna and Mystique. This surely got her attention. “Come on. Do it.” He repeated himself again.
“Why?” asked Mystique with a trembling voice.
“Because if you don’t do this, I will” he replied coldly.
“You wouldn’t dare!”
Doctor Cunning didn’t move an inch and didn’t answer to the last question. Suddenly, he dashed towards them and within two short jumps he hit Mystique Wind hard with his mass, throwing her over. Luna shrieked in terror and jumped away from his way, but he didn’t pay any attention to the Princess. Mystique Wind was pinned to the ground by one of his forehooves and with a blade attached to his second limb he pointed towards her jugular. He didn’t even change his facial expression and didn’t look at Luna when he said “You have simple choice now – you will attack and kill me or I will cut her throat. And no magic attacks – pick a knife. I see a single spark from any of you and I will cut her throat so wide, that she would faster die from drowning than from loss of blood.”
Mystique was so terrified that she could even cry. She felt the tip of the sharp, silvery blade touch her throat – she was too scared to swallow, she looked at Luna with glassy eyes, and the Princess was shaking all over, not knowing what to do. She practically trotted in place, shooting glances everywhere trying to figure out the situation.
“I don’t have all day” said the Doctor and pressed his blade a little closer, cutting Mystique shallowly to allow a single streak of crimson blood to stain her white coat.
“Stop it!” shouted Luna with a tone backed by a tint of primordial fury. With a fast glow from her horn she picked up both knifes and threw them with a magical spasm at the brown stallion. He didn’t flinch an inch while both blades missed him and hit the trees behind him. Dr. Cunning smiled, hid his blade and released the white unicorn from under his hoofs. She quickly crawled back from him, but he pay her no attention at all, still smiling sadly at shaking Princess.
“That is why you can’t come with us. You missed on purpose – you controlled both blades with a magic grip, so the only way to miss is on purpose. You couldn’t hurt me even with the life of your friend were on the line. You, my Highness, is not made for this line of work. Scarce ponies are. Go home Princess – we have no use for ponies unable to fight. Unable to spill blood, when it is needed.” He bowed, and trotted away slowly.
Luna had enough of this treatment. She growled and began to amass magical energies. Her horn began to emit purple light, her aura grew denser and denser. And he didn’t even turn back to see what she was up to! He will pay!
“Luna! Stop it!” shouted Mystique. Luna turned her gaze towards her friend and she saw her with tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Stop it. Don’t do it. It’s not you!”
‘What does that little filly mean that it is not me!?’ she thought and then she gasped as she looked at herself – her coat became black, her mane blue and made from pure magic. Nightmare Moon. ‘No!’ she let all the gathered magic to disperse from her in a form of a strong wind and she return back to her regular self. She was breathing heavily, fighting tears.
Why did all her attempts to get close to them end like that?
* * *
“You were cruel, weren’t you?” asked Swash glumly, when he saw Doctor emerging from the nearby bushes. They were deep in the Everfree Forest trying to catch up with the traveling illusionist – they followed two heavy rails of mud, clearly made by a cart like their own. Speaking about carts – this one was clearly magical, as it was moving without anyone pulling or pushing it. It had a simple steer inside and a few levers and the only one who quickly grasped how to use them was Pinion. So she took control of the wagon and enjoyed it greatly.
Doctor managed to look offended. “I am never cruel. I am effective – you asked me to deal with them. I did. End of topic.”
Swash sighed with a heavy heart. He didn’t want to deal with Princess like that, but he really had no choice. They didn’t need anyone to be a burden in their job and he really had no time to explain her royal highness why he didn’t want her walking around, prying and “trying to do her best” as she would say for sure. Doctor dealt with things fast and effectively – he hoped that the Princess wouldn’t hate him eternally for this outcome. His train of thoughts were stopped by Lagro.
“A wagon ahead of us. Not so far. It must be the magician.”
So there was a big stagecoach clearly in possession of a journeying showpony. It had the same details like their own, but it was also plastered with posters that proclaimed “Be Amazed by the Great and Powerful Trixie, the most fantastic Unicorn in the Equestria!” and so on, everything in the same tone. Posters had pictures of a young blue mare with light cyan mane and ridiculous purple costume of a hat and a cape with stars all over them.
“Great and Amazing Trixie?” said Ace Flush with doubtful tone in her voice.
“Yes? Who is there?” said a nice but impatient female voice from the top of the wagon, soon followed by a head of a blue filly with purple eyes. She looked at all of them with a frown.
“Who the hay are you?”
They looked at each other with a mild bewilderment. It was her tone – the blue unicorn spoke like she owned the forest and she was surprised and moderately angry that someone entered her land without authorization. At least it sounded like that. Ace Flush smirked devilishly and decide to work on the background a little from the start.
“Oh, but we are just a pack of travelling performers, aren’t we?” said Ace with the cheery voice of pure-hearted liar and charlatan.
“Are we?” Swash asked her with the very corner of his mouth, Ace not even giving him a quick glance, but surely giving him a solid kick with her hind leg.
Trixie looked at them with a perplexed muzzle. “Oh, really? What kind of performers, hm?”
“Well but of course the entire variety! A true fistful of cards, aren’t we?” Ace continued her little game, enjoying it way too much. She pranced and trotted around the cart with a snout raised proudly, mimicking the gentle way of strolling nobility. “You see my dear, I am a singer, a trickster, a dancer and a charmer.” She said with a playful wink and quick batting of her long eyelashes – Swash gulped. He almost forgot how charming Ace could be if she wasn’t trying to kill him. “And this one –“ she pointed at him with a forehoof “- is our jester! Oh, You WOULD NOT believe the stories and jokes he knows by heart! Isn’t that right, Jacko?” Yes, this, Good Ol’Flushie, she knows how to drop a bucket load of cold water on him. “Indeed.” He managed weakly.
Ace was in the zone! She quickly trotted toward the huge frame of Lagro and pointed him out. “And I don’t think I need to tell you, my dear, what is THIS specimen's specialty!” she said with a huge wink. Lagro played his role well, and simply grunted while tensing his forearms, so that his powerful muscles swam below his skin like angry whales. Ace muzzle was covered with well calculated blush as she tapped Lagro’s biceps with her hoof. “Quite a show for the mares, You can say!” Swash rolled his eyes then glanced to Doctor – he knew him for a long time, and even if he looked calm like a puddle, he was ready to cut someone's throat in a flash. Ace noticed this tension, and with a venomous smile hopped towards the grim stallion. “And this is Mister Pepper, our very own Clown!” She announced with a cheer and a whistle. Doctor gave her a glance of his gold-like eyes that would instantly evaporate a lesser pony. "His cover may be grim, my dear, but he is lots'of'fun, he is!" Said Ace, pointing at the stoic statue that was Dr. Cunning.
Trixie looked taken aback, but said meekly "He doesn't look like a clown at all."
Dr. Cunning raised his brow, while Ace said in the false sincerity of a natural born liar "Oh, it is because for him, comedy is a serious business".
"DEAD serious", said Dr. Cunning vide Mister Pepper solemnly.
Trixie felt a shiver run down her spine.
“Do not forget about me!” a chirpy little shout came from the back of Lagro, as a small griffon jumped high with a corkscrew and landed on one extended foreclaw with perfect balance. Trixie gasped amazed, that was quite spectacular, especially for such a young griffon that didn’t use wings for the stunt. The little Griffion shot her a smile and jumped with excitement. Ace smiled to herself, glad to know that someone felt the spirit of this play. “And here is our little mascot, and as yourself saw, an Acrobat Supreme, Pinion!” she exclaimed. Pinion suddenly sagged a little, sighed a heavy sigh and looked disappointed. “Why don’t I get a fancy circus nickname, Flushie?” she whispered towards Ace with sad look. Ace Flushe rolled her eyes with a grunt. It’s hard sometimes too pull a big one if your team does not cooperate as well as you wished for it.
But it worked on Trixie. She looked at each of them again and shrugged with a smile.
“Well. It looks that we are going in the same direction, and since we share the line of work, ha, I don’t see why we can’t travel together! It’s not that I am afraid of the forest, it’s not the case! But the more, the merrier, they say, hm?” she said with a smirk. “Where to, if I my ask, after you leave the forest?”
“Ponyville.” Said Swash coldly, still mad at Ace for his stupid name. Jacko, for Celestia’s sake.
“Oh, that is simply GREAT!” proclaimed excited Trixie. “It is my stay too! We can perform together, if you like – you would all be a great distraction for the crowds when I have break in my spectacular performance!”
Doctor rolled his eyes and Ace tried not to chuckle.
“Off we go then! To Ponyville!”
Chapter VI - Spreading Light is currently in progress
Author’s note: Woah, believe it or not, but I am proud - of course not from the story, that would be narcisstic, but from the sheer amount of writing. Its the biggest text I wrote since I finished my education! 51 pages, almost 30 thousand words! Not bad, considering, this is not even half of the story. And this one is packed with some action - and Trixie? Who don’t like Trixie, eh?