"A Dark Sky" Chapter 1
A single light hung down from the low ceiling of the darkened room. Beneath the light was a table, upon which rested a wooden case of green bottles. The dark blue sludge inside seemed to glow ominously. With his front hooves planted on the table, a lean steel-grey pegasus leaned his head into the light. His short mane was done up in slender, blunt planks, forming a choppy mohawk which wilted slightly in the humid air of the warehouse. He cleared his throat and spoke in a smooth, low voice.
"Spin Juice. Imported. Pure Poison Joke in near pure alcohol. And the best part is, I had a unicorn buddy of mine from Fillydelphia spike it with a little black magic to cause amplified senses and massive disorientation. It's ready to hit the market." Looking up at the pink pegasus adjacent to him, he added, "I'm sure it'll be a hit with your preppy friends and their money, Starry Skies."
Elegantly rising from her seated position, Starry Skies slowly stepped into the light. Her svelte, sexy figure was well framed by her flight suit, which she never seemed to take off. Tossing her airy pink mane and fluttering her sapphire eyes she responded in a lazily sensual voice, "Charger, I do believe you simply enjoy corrupting ponies; we both know with the money I bring in it isn't necessary for you to move this stuff." Stretching her wings, she circled Charger and the table slowly and deliberately, her beautiful form holding his gaze. She stopped only when a dark blue blur flung itself in front of her from across the table.
The entirely blue pegasus stood with hooves firmly planted on the floor in front of Starry Skies. Her bright pink eyes seemed to exude energy. Plastered on her face was a twitchy smile, stretched to the point where it seemed it could crack her face in half. At short and random intervals, small charges of visible electricity crackled through her spiky mane. She held her wings close to her body where they shivered as though ready to spring open at any second like feathered switchblade knives. With visible effort, she wiped the smile from her muzzle, contorting it into a pouty uncomfortable scowl. At nopony in particular, she whined in a squeaky girlish voice: "I'm booored!"
Visibly flustered, Starry Skies attempted to reign in the blue pony. "Blueball, sit still!"
Blueball Biltz blew a thick, wet raspberry at Starry Skies, causing her to growl in anger. Blueball giggled with glee at this reaction. She seemed to materialize in front of Charger. In less time than it took for him to blink in surprise, she was lying atop the table looking at him upside down. Before he could react she spoke again, drawing out her words for emphasis.
"Chargerrr, I wanna do something fuuun! Aren't you supposed to be doing something with that pretty mare friend of yours tonight?"
Charger maintained his cool and retorted, "Yeah I was, but when Nightshade calls an emergency meeting everything else takes a back seat."
Blitz resumed pouting. "Darn! I was gonna steal her from you, too." In a blink, she stood next to Charger and addressed a dark corner of the room. "Stratus, are we gonna get to hurt somepony soon?"
When no response came, Blitz darted up and hovered above the table. She took the hot steel shade of the overhead light in her mouth and shone the light in the corner to which she had spoken.
In the harsh light stood a massive pegasus. His dull white coat was crisscrossed with scars and his large frame was disjointed at places from broken bones healing improperly. His venom green eyes contracted swiftly and he turned his face away, revealing his spiky ice-blue mane. Blitz took the hint and dropped the light, becoming abnormally quiet and still. She materialized next to Starry Skies, making a point of giving Stratus a wide berth. Stepping into the light, Stratus scowled, stretching a particularly thick scar on the left side of his muzzle. He spoke in a low raspy growl.
"We may. We'll see when Nightshade gets here." He said nothing more and turned towards the wall of the warehouse where he knew a door was.
As if on cue, the door exploded open and a black wall of smoke darker than the night outside obscured the doorway. A pair of reflective gold flight goggles poked through the smoke and it swiftly dissipated. In its wake stood a mare, a fifth pegasus with a steel-grey coat and dark indigo mane. Taking a powerful commanding stance in front of the other four, she spoke in a crisp clear voice.
"Suit up, everypony. We're moving a whole crate of this stuff tonight. We're in for a fairly lengthy trip, too; we gotta get just south of this clean-cut little town called Ponyville before we can rest."
She lifted her flight goggles, revealing her gold eyes. Stratus had seen those eyes many times before, and though Nightshade's dark gaze still commanded his attention, he found his eyes subconsciously drifting to her neck. He couldn't see it, but he knew the scar was there under her flight suit. Stratus found his mind drifting back to the day he saw her get that scar, the day she almost died, the day they became friends.
The tryouts alone had had a massive turnout. After thousands had shown up, only 32 pegasi had made it to the tournament portion. Over the course of 3 grueling days those 32 ponies competed in races, flight shows, trick contests, and various other manners of competition meant to test their flying abilities. The winner would get a rather large sum of money in addition to being inducted as the newest member of the most renowned competitive flying team in Equestria: The Wonderbolts. At the end of the competition, only two very gifted pegasi remained. The first was a bright easy-going young mare with a vibrant orange coat and flame-colored mane. Her name was Spitfire, and upon reaching Pegasus Magic Velocity (sometimes called PMV for short) she could streak the sky with trails of flame. The second of the two was another young mare, a cocky and aggressive pegasus whose PMV talent was the ability to block almost any ray of light with black magic smoke. This pony was called Nightshade.
Stratus remembered the first time he saw her. At the time he had been working as part of the Royal Guard. A seasoned veteran, Stratus rarely had to enter the Royal City; his combat expertise served Celestia better when he was working to round up dangerous creatures and criminals in the wilderness between cities or in lawless towns outside of the more peaceful cities like Canterlot and Ponyville. However, for this particular event Stratus was brought in to guard the Princess; she was scheduled to raise the sun just as the winner of the competition was announced for dramatic effect. At the time of the sun raising his duty was to keep careful watch over Celestia, but until then he was free to watch the beginning of the event.
Stratus first saw Nightshade as she strode into place at the starting line, next to Spitfire. They were both smiling, but Nightshade had a certain quality about her. While the orange pegasus looked excited and happy, Nightshade had a particularly darker and far more powerful expression in her eyes. She looked hungry for victory. She didn't seem simply determined to win, she seemed to need to. This event was a simple race around a large elliptical track. All that mattered was speed. Nightshade looked confident, but in her eyes there was a drive, a hunger. Stratus noticed it immediately.
The race started and Stratus was moved to the pavilion area where the Princess would be raising the sun. As he glided to his post, he noticed the race heating up; the two competitors had become a swirl of grey and orange as they jockeyed for position, looking as though they would force each other off the track as they were rounding the halfway point. He turned away just a moment too soon to see the orange pony slam into the grey one. The race was far out of his line of sight when he reached his post; he didn't see the race escalate into a ramming match. All Stratus knew at the time was that after a load of cheering, a breathless pegasus brought Celestia the name of the winner. According to his account, the race was really close until the orange pegasus rocketed into the lead coming out of the shoving match. Celestia nodded and took her position. As an awe-stricken crowd watched, Celestia brought light to the entire land; at exactly the moment the sun reached its peak an announcer stepped onto the stage, taking his place beneath Celestia.
Clearing his throat, the announcer read from a card. "And the winner of the Wonderbolts' Top Flier of Equestria competition is
From his position at one side of the stage, Stratus watched the crowd cheer wildly as the young pegasus eagerly strode onto the stage to accept her trophy and the coveted title of "Newest Wonderbolt". Stratus noticed one face in the crowd wasn't smiling. As he looked closer, he noticed the expression on that particular steel-grey face was one of pure rage. Stratus blinked and looked into the crowd again, and his stomach dropped when he saw that same face flying up into the sky, higher than Celestia.
Stratus was among the first of the guards to react; always a slow flier, he lugged his bulky armor-covered frame up after the speedy pegasus as she rocketed straight up. Reaching an impossibly high point above the crowd, she turned towards the stage. Tucking her wings back, she threw her body forward and dropped like a missile. As Stratus ascended he heard her screech, "Spitfire, you bitch! That title is MINE!"
With appalling suddenness, the enraged pony reached PMV and the sky was torn asunder as darkness exploded over Celestia's sunrise. The less experienced members of the Royal Guard were forced to stop mid-flight, unable to see through the black wave of smoke which blotted out the sun; the more bold veterans, Stratus included, charged forward anyway. After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity, Celestia managed to blast away the black cloud of magic with a flare of sunlight, revealing the scene above her. Two guard pegasi under Stratus's command were on an intercept course and closing in on Nightshade. Stratus's blood ran cold. He knew from years of being on the Royal Guard that if either pegasus collided with her at that speed the impact alone could well kill her. The fact that both guards were wearing the standard issued edged armor didn't help the crazed mare's chances. In spite of all this, the most dangerous factor was the fall; from that height, if she landed wrong she ran the risk of shattering her bones.
Stratus knew he would never reach Nightshade in time. Straining his wings, he blasted toward the closer guard, shouting ahead of him, "Decelerate, you foal! You'll cut her in half at that speed!" He tossed off his armor in direct defiance of protocol. It gave him just the boost of speed he needed. Just in the nick of time, Status collided full force with the guard closer to him; he could not stop the other from grazing Nightshade with an outstretched armor-clad wing. In a flash of blood, the grey pegasus was thrown off course and plummeted to the ground. Stratus was also careening downward, dazed from impact. Relying on years of flying experience, he twisted in the air and righted himself, landing hard on his hooves. He looked to where Nightshade fell to see she wasn't so lucky.
Judging by her posture she had managed to flare her wings and skid into the dirt at the least dangerous angle possible but she still tumbled head over hooves, rolling to a stop a few dozen yards away. Stratus sprinted to her side. Just before he reached her, another guard cut him off.
"That's enough, Stratus! Step away from the criminal!"
Stratus attempted to push past him. "She's injured, you foal! Without medical attention she could die!"
The younger guard pushed back. "She's a terrorist; she'll get exactly what she deserves."
"She's a kid, damn it!" Stratus slipped to the younger guard's left and turned, slamming a massive rear hoof into his side. The younger guard's gleaming armor folded inward with a loud clank and a crunch. He toppled over with a shout of pain, his ribs cracked.
Nightshade lay in the dirt, dazed and afraid. She could feel the life leaving her. The only warmth she could feel was her own blood pooling around her head. As she drifted out of consciousness, she felt the sensation of being lifted
Nightshade awoke to bright lights. She took in her surroundings: warm blankets, peaceful room, and the beep of some form of machinery just out of her sight. She gathered she must be in the hospital. In a rush, her memory came flooding back. Everything flashed before her eyes: the race, the fight, the ceremony, Spitfire, herself creating a Nightblast in broad daylight, being hit, feeling cold
Nightshade shuddered as she remembered the feeling of her neck being sliced open. At that moment it struck her that the soreness she was feeling must be that exact wound healing. She slowly tried to crane her head to see it, when a low gruff voice stopped her.
"Don't try to turn your head yet. You'll tear your stitches and bleed out."
Nightshade fought back tears as she turned her upper half to face the massive pegasus in the corner of the room. Trying to take in everything at once, she said the only thing that came to her mind clearly.
"You're the one who saved me."
The pegasus in the corner also kept his emotions unreadable. "You would have died if I hadn't."
The silence which followed seemed to become gradually louder to Nightshade; finally she couldn't stand it anymore, and hesitantly spoke again. "Are you, you know, okay?"
Again the large white pegasus answered without emotion. "Physically, of course; I've taken hits before." He paused momentarily, shifting his weight. Looking directly at Nightshade, he continued. "I was discharged from the Royal Guard for saving your life. Of course the way they framed it was that I was 'disregarding protocol, attacking Royal Guards, and endangering, above all others, Her Highness, Princess Celestia by interfering in the apprehension of a dangerous terrorist.'" Stratus stepped closer, looking down at Nightshade. His face was now perfectly readable. "If that's justice", he spat, narrowing his eyes, "then screw justice."
Stratus turned to leave. He stopped at the door, turning back to Nightshade. With a cynical laugh he said, "Oh yeah, thought you should know this. Not only did that Spitfire get inducted into the Wonderbolts, she became a national hero for surviving your 'terrorist attack.'"
Nightshade's rage boiled over as she leapt from the hospital bed. The rest of her body felt fine, but she held her head perfectly still as not to tear her stitches. She glared back at Stratus with an intensity that impressed the veteran of the Royal Guard. Her voice quivering with fury, she stammered, "She stole that title from me. She knocked me back. She cheated and she took that title from me! That BITCH took my title, my dreams, my aspirations from me!" Nightshade poured all of her willpower into fighting back the tears forming in the corners of her eyes; she refused to look weak. She also knew if she started crying she would never be able to stop.
Stratus snorted. "Well, that's the Wonderbolts for you, I guess."
Nightshade's gaze narrowed. Hatred seeped from her eyes at a low burn. "If that's the Wonderbolts", she growled, "then screw the Wonderbolts."
Stratus met her gaze for a minute. He stood, contemplating the shattered pegasus before him. He couldn't help but see himself in her place; she was young, but strong willed. Finally he said, "I like you, kid. Get back in bed and rest up. We leave in two days."
As Nightshade began to calm down, she began thinking rationally. "I can't leave. I'm a 'terrorist', as you put it. They'll mark me as a criminal on a vengeance mission."
"That's what you are. That's what we both are now. We may as well stick together. And face it, every good criminal needs a partner."
Nightshade turned away from Stratus, considering this. "No," she said, "I'll need more than one
"A Dark Sky" Chapter 2
The Shadowbolts tore across the night sky, their black and purple flight suits providing some camouflage as they left the small urban factory town on the outskirts of Detrot. They flew in formation with Nightshade leading, keeping an eye out for trouble ahead. Starry Skies, a slower flier than the rest, hung back with Stratus, who was hauling the crate full of Spin Juice. His strong wings made him the only pony who could carry it the whole way, but it slowed him down more than Nightshade would have liked. It made them far too vulnerable and more easily spotted. She had Charger and Blitz fly a few dozen yards out to each side to help watch for any unwanted attention. As they approached the sleepy town of Ponyville, Nightshade's nerves heightened; the town was so quiet and quaint it just had to be populated with "nice" ponies. "Nice" ponies tended to be too trusting, too curious; they could cause problems if the gang was spotted. As she always did when she became nervous on missions, Nightshade mentally ran over the dossiers of her team.
She thought each of them over carefully, noting their strengths and weaknesses as they had been presented to her and as she had learned them through experience.
First came Stratus. He started off normal enough, aside from his size. He was a pegasus on the Royal Guard who made up for his clumsy and slow flying with excellence in combat and unflagging bravery. Over the years, he fought many a monster and took down many a criminal. He also lost many a comrade. As the years ticked by, Stratus's spirit darkened. He went from charismatic and outgoing to brooding, gruff, and introverted. He also gained a propensity for unnecessary violence. He would never kill a criminal but he would come quite close to it, even in cases when it wasn't necessary. After a few of these excessive incidents, he was facing dishonorable discharge as though it was a personal goal of his. It was one he attained the week he met Nightshade. Stratus never seemed to miss his military career. If anything, he poured his passions more into being a mentor to Nightshade and training her in combat. It didn't seem to bother him that the Royal Guard dismissed him for "upholding his own personal values as opposed to their own", as he liked to put it. But Stratus, though irrefutably the most valuable member of the team to Nightshade, was also only one of four other elements of the team.
The easiest to analyze was Starry Skies. Born rich, she grew up an over-privileged pegasus in Cloudsdale. She was always a shining example of the term "Daddy's Little Princess". She always got what she wanted from her parents. Due to being spoiled from the beginning, she never really grew up, which affected her long term; she utterly lacked the ability to cope with not getting what she wanted. She had at one point tried to join the Wonderbolts. However, due to the fact that she had never had to lift a hoof in her life, she was a weak flyer. She flew at above average speeds, but she was uncoordinated and became easily frustrated with her own mistakes. After a pitiful audition she tried to fall back on her father's money once more, bribing the flight team a hefty sum of money. She was turned down, which shattered her spirits.
In the months that followed she hoarded as much of her father's money as she could and left to pursue a life of her own, dedicating herself to two things: irresponsible hedonism and seeking revenge on the Wonderbolts for crushing her dreams. As she was constantly exhausting her limited supply of money pursuing her chosen lifestyle, she began to use her beauty and sophistication to attract young wealthy stallions; in the end, she would always leave them penniless. But Starry Skies, insatiably greedy and horribly spoiled, always wanted more. Her drive to get more money led her to take up pick-pocketing and eventually, cat burglary. It was precisely this skill that got Nightshade's attention; Starry Skies was apprehended by Stratus trying to steal from the abandoned house which served as the hideout for Stratus and Nightshade.
She had snuck in an open window and crept quietly along the floor, avoiding making any noise. As it was nighttime and the house was abandoned, she didn't necessarily need to worry about disturbing anypony, but she knew from experience that unwanted noise brought unwanted attention. She had made it to the main room of the house which Stratus and Nightshade shared; by observing them for the previous week, she knew they'd be out at this hour. She quietly picked her way through their belongings, pocketing stacks of bits. This an easy job, she thought. She would have gotten away with all of Stratus and Nightshade's money had she not gotten cocky and used the front door. As she walked out, she walked right into Stratus. Had he not seen her leaving the building, she may well have never been caught; upon examining the house, Stratus found nothing out of place except the money in Starry Skies's saddlebags. By sweet talking her way out of being thrown - literally - out through a window, she earned a meeting with Nightshade. Upon learning of her skill at burglary and her seething hatred of the Wonderbolts, Nightshade readily accepted Starry Skies as her second partner.
The third pegasus to ally himself with Nightshade and her duo was Charger. By this point the gang had begun to call themselves the Shadowbolts. They quickly earned a reputation as a formidable street crew in the rough urban neighborhoods of east Clopton and began taking over underground businesses to bring in cash. Stratus would use his size and fighting prowess to muscle out weaker gang leaders, allowing the group to take over underground rings of gambling clubs, stolen goods smugglers, and street racing teams. Though they lacked the numbers to be a full street racing team, Nightshade participated i solo races. Nopony could out-fly her, and this flying prowess earned a comfortable living and the attention of one of the best street racers in Equestria: Charger.
Charger was a skilled flyer from a young age. He grew up on the streets of Manehatten, spending more time running around with the dropouts and chasing pretty mares than going to school or work. His flying prowess became his main source of income. While only a bit faster than everypony else in his class, he had the sharpest reflexes by a long shot. His particular skill was Extreme Low-Altitude street-racing; the premise was flying along at less than ten feet off the ground, dodging all of the obstacles in the street. Sometimes the track would be set up as a specific obstacle course. Other times, the participants would simply fly between buildings along a predetermined route and pray nopony stepped out in front of them. Charger excelled at both types of racing. As his reputation grew, so did his crew, and in only a few years' time he became the leader of the best illegal racing crew in Manehatten. Due to the size of his organization he turned to drug smuggling to help support his crew financially; the resulting increase in attention from the authorities drove him to leave Manehatten for Clopton. He excelled there too. As he had before, he soon gained a massive following, and with it, control over most of Clopton's underground. So of course when he heard about a young mare and her two friends taking over rackets in his city, he had to find out more.
An incorrigible womanizer, Charger was at first more impressed with the appearances of the two mares on the team than he was with their reputation. Being a colt of good instincts, he picked Starry Skies for a gold-digger the second he saw her. He turned his eyes to Nightshade, working his natural charm. But Nightshade was impervious. She already knew Charger's type, his motivations and aspirations. She explained her ultimate goal and the benefits of siding with her, and finally offered him a position on the team, knowing he would refuse at first. When he did she raised the stakes with a simple challenge.
"We race, you and me. One on one. You win, I join you. I win, you join us."
Charger couldn't say no.
The setup of the race was vastly complex, as Nightshade expected it to be. Charger was playing to his strengths. Tight quarters, sharp turns, and only two straight stretches of track. If Nightshade was to win the race, she would have to do it there. The second the race began Nightshade rocketed ahead, going through the obstacles as swiftly as she could, swerving, dodging, braking, and flaring her wings at the last second to catch a hairpin turn time and time again. Even on this short obstacle course Nightshade's wings grew tired; she was far more accustomed to flying in open air. About halfway through the course, a few turns before the first straightway, Charger blew past Nightshade as though he had flown the frustrating track every day of his life. Nightshade scrambled to the open straightway and rocketed forward, taking the lead again. However, as she turned the last few obstacles before the final straightway, Charger passed her once more, bumping her into a bale of hay. Nightshade wasted precious seconds righting herself. By the time she got to the straightway, Charger was almost halfway across. Nightshade blasted forward at breakneck speeds. Her goggles pressed hard on her eyes. As she accelerated as fast as she could, she felt herself reaching a critical point; all at once black smoke exploded around her as she overtook Charger. Blinded, Charger crashed and slid over the finish line two full seconds after Nightshade.
While he was furious that he had lost, Charger was vastly impressed that Nightshade had reached PMV on such a short straightway. He readily joined the talented pony and her team, eager to expand his business and get into all kinds of trouble with his new friends.
The final and most recent addition to the team was Blueball Blitz. Blitz was a different breed. She was smaller and lighter than the other Shadowbolts, more than likely due to the fact that she was younger than all of them; she had hardly reached adulthood when she joined. She had an unbelievable amount of raw talent as a racer, but never had the patience or discipline to participate in more than a couple of scattered street races every other week or so. She also displayed heavy signs of mental instability from a young age. She seemed to have an inability to assess or acknowledge any form of risk; while this meant that she had to be supervised almost constantly, it also helped her become a virtuoso flyer and stuntmare. Due to having no fear of death, Blitz was able to fly faster, brake later, turn sharper, and dive longer than any other pegasus would ever dare to. This lack of fear also earned her a job as a vent clearer for one of Cloudsdale's Storm Cloud factories. After the clouds were made they needed to be passed through a vent to a high-energy conductor which charged them with lightning. At times clouds would get stuck on the way through. It was Blitz's job to fly into the vent and kick the clouds through so the machinery wouldn't back up. This job paid extremely well, but was also extremely high risk. Every time Blitz went into the vent she had a chance of being pushed into the conductor by an incoming cloud. And one fateful day that was exactly what happened.
Blitz had gone in to clear a particularly large cloud, which wouldn't budge. She slammed into it with her entire body. When it broke free, she fell in after it. She turned to dart away and ran right into another cloud which pushed her into the conductor. All her coworkers could do was watch in horror as the bubbly blue pony was hit with thousands of volts of electricity, enough to kill most pegasi. After about a minute, she came out on the other end of the conveyor belt unconscious and still crackling with electricity. In only a few weeks she recovered fully, but seemed to become even less mentally stable. She began to display violent tendencies, attacking her own doctors. The day she fled medical supervision was the day the blue pony discovered the skill that would make her one of the greatest assets to the Shadowbolts.
Blitz had trampled one of her supervising doctors, and authorities were on their way to the medical facility to take her away. She couldn't comprehend why; she just wanted the doctor to go away. "If I wanted to kill him, I would have stomped on his stupid head, not his body, you dumb doctors", she muttered to herself as she lazily bound through the glass window of her room. Wiping the blood from the cuts on her face, she accelerated to escape the mental hospital as quickly as possible, making wind noises with her mouth as she flew. As Blitz tore through the sky away from the medical facility she felt the electricity surging through her. Her whole body felt as if it were vibrating. The air around her began to crackle. She accelerated even harder. Bolts of lightning began to shoot past her. The electricity in her body present since her accident seemed to agitate, and small currents of electricity jumped off of her body, joining the lighting all around her. With one final push, she reached PMV and her mind shut down. She stopped thinking and began to feel. Time slowed to a crawl. A lightning bolt floated lazily past Blitz, and a sudden urge struck her. Almost involuntarily she grabbed onto it, laying her body along it; energy surged through her, and it became all that mattered. She pulled and the lightning bolt moved with her. By guiding it she was able to make it turn with her body, making it an extension of herself. She flew this way for a few minutes, past a group of other pegasi. She couldn't help but giggle at how slowly they were flying; they looked immobile. She waved and giggled loudly as she passed them. After a while, the lightning began to flicker; Blitz felt herself tiring. She guided the lightning to the ground at an angle, flared her wings, and braked, skidding to a stop. As her senses returned to normal, she realized her ears were filled with ringing. She was breathless. Her whole body felt sore. Her hooves felt as though they were on fire. Looking back at the patch of open grass where she landed, she saw a scorched patch of earth with deep charred skid marks leading to where she stood. The realization struck her that she had literally ridden the lightning. Her luminous pink eyes widened.
"Cool!" Blitz grinned from ear to ear, her mane now buzzing with electrical charges.
"Very cool indeed", called a crisp voice from behind her. Blitz turned to see the group of ponies she had passed earlier. She couldn't help but notice the pink one, how well her flight suit fit, the way she stood. Blitz was immediately entranced by her big blue eyes. She zipped over to the pegasi and skidded to a stop in front of Starry Skies.
"Hey there," chirped Blitz. "What's your name? My name's Blueball Blitz. You can call me Blitz for short!" Still grinning, Blitz began to blush.
Before Starry Skies could respond, Nightshade stepped in between them. "You rode lightning. I've never seen a pegasus do that until now.
Blitz quickly looked back to the scorch she left on the earth, as though to make sure it was still there. "Neither have I! The doctors say I shouldn't fly like that because they say it may be a sort of mental trigger or something, but I don't really know what that means so I don't listen to them because they're boring, which is why sometimes I have to attack them so they go away and stop boring me so much so I can get out and have some fun!"
Nightshade blinked and continued. "Miss
Blitz, was it? How would you like to be a part of my team? You'd get to fly as fast as you wanted on certain missions, and on others you'd get to attack whoever you wanted. How's that sound?"
Blitz's mane stood on end and began to crackle violently. "That sounds SO AWESOME!" She shook hooves with Nightshade, causing Nightshade's mane to stand on end too. Blitz giggled at this. And so the fifth Shadowbolt was born.
Nightshade withdrew herself from thought. It seemed they made it over the town okay. They were approaching the edge of a forest. they were totally safe once they were over it. Nothing had gone wrong.
"Hey, Nightshade!" Charger called. "We got company!"
Nightshade's stomach turned. She stopped and spun around to see a sky blue pony with a rainbow colored mane racing towards the gang.
Nightshade sighed to herself. "I really didn't wanna have to go through this tonight", she muttered. Turning to her team, she called out, "Charger! Blitz! Take care of her!"
"A Dark Sky" Chapter 3
Rainbow Dash had been doing one of the things she does best when she happened to see something interesting. She was just perfecting her slalom using the trees at the edge of the Everfree forest when she looked up and saw a group of pegasi she had never seen before. Leading the group was a dark grey one with a blue mane; out to either side of her was another, a slightly darker grey colt with a mohawk on one side and a blue pony who looked to be about Rainbow's age if not younger out on the other side. In back of the group was a lean sexy pink pegasus who was flying with a massive white stallion lugging a crate. The thing Rainbow Dash noticed most about these pegasi was that they all had matching flight suits. She was instantly jealous; she had to find out where to get one. She raced towards the group, eager to find out where this flashy group of fliers got their gear.
"Hey, you guys! Wait up!" she called, ascending to their height. The lead pegasus shouted something to the ones out to each side. They turned around and started flying towards Rainbow Dash, much to her delight. The dark grey colt flew up to her; the blue mare stayed a few yards back. Now that she was closer, Rainbow Dash noticed that her mane and tail seemed to have electricity flashing through them.
"Whoa", she murmured to herself.
The grey colt came within a few feet of Rainbow Dash and spoke to her in a smooth but firm tone. "There's nothin' to see here, sweetheart. You should go home."
Rainbow Dash was undeterred. "But I just wanna know where you got those cool fli-"
Charger cut her off by placing a hoof over her mouth, and speaking even more smoothly. "Come on now gorgeous, be a good girl and go on home. This is a dangerous place for a pretty mare like you", he crooned.
The plan backfired. Rainbow Dash became angry, swatting away Charger's hooves. "Back off, dude! I don't even roll that way!"
The grey pegasus hovered, thinking. He turned to his comrade. "Blitz, keep an eye on me. You'll know when to make this interesting."
Rainbow Dash's anger continued mounting; she became aggressive, bringing her face near Charger's as she shouted, "Make WHAT interesting, chump?"
Before Rainbow Dash had a chance to react, Charger brought the edge of a hoof across her face, snapping her head to the side. He darted away from her, shouting behind him, "Come get me, girly!"
Rainbow Dash rocketed after him, yelling ahead, "You're toast, you jerk!" Charger stopped just short of the forest, letting Rainbow Dash charge at him full speed. At the last second, he rolled out of the way causing her to careen past him, straight at a wall of trees. She flared her wings hard and managed to turn just in time. The very tips of tree branches whizzed past her stomach as she turned around and stopped, facing away from the forest. She looked around to see the grey pegasus coming at her like a freight train. She readied herself, drawing back a hoof; the second he got close enough, she'd knock his lights out. Just as Charger was closing in, Rainbow Dash threw her hoof forward with all her might, spinning herself around. At the last second, the colt turned straight up and flew over Rainbow Dash at perfect ninety degree angles, something she didn't believe possible.
From her position over the trees, Blitz giggled and cheered. "Woo! Go Charger!"
Rainbow Dash looked into the forest. Hovering in a clearing in the trees, smiling devilishly, was Charger. Rainbow Dash darted in after him, feeling confident. "I've been flying this stretch of forest for years now; there's no way he can out maneuver me here", she thought to herself.
As it turned out, she was wrong. She chased Charger high and low, left and right, through the tightest clusters of branches that allowed room to fly through. He was deliberately avoiding open space and with good reason. Any time he went longer than a few seconds without turning, Rainbow Dash would catch up to him, only to lose him again at a hairpin turn. A few times he even went so far as to do a loop and end up behind her, which infuriated her to no end. Finally it became so frustrating that Rainbow Dash had to think of a way to outsmart this agile flier. She cut a hard right and exited the forest, gliding along the tree line. Upon catching sight of Charger she anticipated his flight path and rushed ahead, darting in on an intercept course. For a moment it seemed like she would tackle Charger right out of the air. At the last second he caught sight of her and dropped extra low. His belly brushed the ground as Rainbow Dash whizzed over him. Despite evading the attack, Charger was not happy. He didn't like close calls that he didn't set up on purpose, and that was as close as he was about to let any call get. He turned his head skyward as Rainbow Dash curved around for another charge.
"Blitz, eyes on me!"
Charger blasted off in a straight line, trying to put as much distance between himself and Rainbow Dash as possible. Rainbow Dash blasted forward, accelerating as fast as she dared to accelerate this low to the ground. She was gaining on him, but he had a massive lead.
Meanwhile, Blueball Blitz watched intensely from above. She made her way over to a more strategic position, deeper in the forest. With the tree line on Charger's left, Blitz knew she'd be less visible if she were to stay to his right. She bolted ahead of them both, settled down in the shadow of a tree, and waited patiently. When she saw the two ponies approach, she blasted upwards.
Charger poured all of his strength into accelerating forward, but Rainbow Dash kept gaining on him. Finally, she felt as though with one more push she just might reach him. She pushed forward a little more, reaching dangerously high speeds for her current altitude. Suddenly, she was forced to throw her hooves into the dirt and flare her wings, skidding to a very hard stop. A lightning bolt had cut her off, shooting across her path completely horizontally. Rainbow Dash followed it with her eyes. It arced up high into the sky like a firework, but instead of exploding, it curved high over her head and suddenly blasted straight towards her. Before she could move, it struck the ground to her right.
Rainbow Dash never had a chance to react to the dark blue pegasus skidding towards her; she drew back her rear hooves and slammed them into Rainbow Dash's side. The fierce elctric buck sent Rainbow Dash sprawling across the ground with a loud crack. She felt a popping sensation in her side as she rolled along the ground, somehow managing to hold her wings to her body to prevent them from being snapped. She rolled to a stop just outside the treeline. Her body twitched and jerked; she tried to scream in pain, but the muscles in her throat were still seizing up. As the electric current subsided, Rainbow Dash began to regain a degree of control. She weakly voiced the only thought she had.
Rainbow Dash tried to stand, but the explosive pain in her side caused her legs to buckle. Her breathing became quick and shallow; it hurt to inhale. She knew she wasn't in immediate danger of dying, but she had to fight to keep from passing out from the pain. Her vision blurred. A grey blob suddenly hovered over her. A crisp voice said to nopony she could see, "What a shame. The Shadowbolts could have used a flier like that." She heard the clop of hooves trotting away. The sound of hooves grew again as somepony stepped into Rainbow Dash's fading line of sight. It was the blue pegasus. She had removed her flight goggles and Rainbow Dash had the privilege of looking into her bright pink eyes. The contracted irises acted as funnels for the insanity pouring out of them. She was grinning from ear to ear.
Blueball Blitz leaned close to the sky blue pony and spoke in a bubbly voice, barely audible over the violent crackling of her mane. "Bye-bye, cutie-pie! Sleep tight!" She giggled and kissed Rainbow Dash on the forehead before turning and popping her right in the mouth with a swift hind hoof. Rainbow Dash's head snapped back, and she succumbed to her injuries, fading out of consciousness.
Apple Jack ambled gently along in the cool night breeze. Having worked hard all day, she felt that she needed to do something to help her relax. She just happened to be out for a peaceful night walk when she saw the bolt of lightning strike the edge of the Everfree Forest. She thought nothing of it until that same bolt of lightning left the forest at a horizontal angle, arced upward in a massive circle, and struck again.
"Now what in tarnation was THAT?"
Worried somepony may be in danger, Apple Jack began to walk towards the forest. As she got nearer, she saw a troupe of pegasi flying away. One of them was carrying a large crate. Something stirred in Apple Jack's stomach. Her blood ran cold. She became stricken with worry, then fear, then all out panic as she sprinted to the edge of the forest. She felt, she knew, something about those pegasi spelled trouble. As she crested the slight hill leading to the treeline, she saw a crumpled shape in the moonlight. She would have missed it had it not been bright blue. Apple Jack's heart began to race as she ran towards the blue shape; upon getting closer, her suspicions were confirmed. It had a rainbow colored mane and tail. It wasn't moving.
Rainbow Dash awoke to the sound of hooves and her name being called. Her immediate first reaction was to scream in pain; her ribs felt as though they were being pried from her body. As she began to gain a bit of control, she spat out a mouthful of blood. She was relieved to find that it came from a severely split lip as opposed to a punctured lung. Craning her neck, she looked around and saw an orange earth pony trotting mercifully towards her. No longer in a state of total panic, Rainbow Dash let tears of pain, frustration, and shame flow freely from her eyes. Apple Jack began to run upon hearing Rainbow Dash sob, and when she reached her friend, she couldn't help but gasp.
Rainbow Dash's side had swollen up where her ribs were clearly cracked if not broken altogether. Her mouth was red and swollen from where she had gotten kicked. Apple Jack quickly put her muzzle under Rainbow Dash's head and began to help her up.
"Now don't you fret none, sugar cube", Apple Jack said nervously, scarcely concealing the trembling in her rushed voice. "You're gonna be alright. We're gonna get you to Nurse Redheart right away, ya hear?"
Rainbow Dash whimpered in pain as she forced herself to her feet. She leaned her uninjured side against Apple Jack as they began the slow painful walk to the Ponyville Hospital.
Luckily, Nurse Redheart was awake, tending to a pony with a stomach virus. Upon seeing Rainbow Dash, she also gasped. Nurse Redheart helped her into a bed, gave her a mild sedative, and started her on an IV to restore hydration. When Rainbow Dash complained that she couldn't sit comfortably Nurse Redheart also administered a mild painkiller which helped to calm Rainbow Dash down considerably. She dimmed the lights as she walked out with Apple Jack in tow. Outside of her room, Nurse Redheart interrogated Apple Jack about Raibow Dash's condition.
"Apple Jack, what happened to that poor pony? No mere flying accident could crack her ribs like that. And she looks like she took a hoof to the mouth!"
"Ah couldn't tell ya exactly what went on, Nurse Redheart. Ah'm not too sure mahself. All Ah know is Ah saw this crazy bolt of lightning strike the Everfree Forest and then shoot back up in the sky and strike it again. Ah rushed over to see what all the commotion was, and Ah saw these five nasty looking pegasus ponies flyin' away. Ah'd never seen 'em before, but from what Ah can gather, they messed up Rainbow real bad."
Nurse Redheart was shocked; violence was never a problem in Ponyville. "Do you know if she's made any enemies recently?"
"Well, she can be a mite hard to get along with at times, but Ah can't think'a any reason anypony would haul off n' wail on poor Rainbow Dash like that."
Nurse Redheart nodded. She made some quick notes on Rainbow Dash's chart and moved to walk away when something stopped her.
From the room a scratchy voice called weakly. "AJ
Apple Jack's face was stricken with worry. "Ah'm comin, sugar cube."
Apple Jack stood by Rainbow Dash's side as she tried to explain the events of the evening. "They call themselves the Shadowbolts. They're a group of pegasi. Criminals or something. They had a big box with them." She coughed, causing her to wince in pain
Apple Jack could tell her friend was struggling. Gently she coaxed, "Take yer time, sugar cube. Nopony's rushin' you."
Rainbow Dash continued, dazed from her injuries and the painkillers. "There was one named Charger, and one named Blitz. Blitz was the one who hit me. She's got some weird power. She can ride a lightning bolt."
"That musta been what Ah saw", Apple Jack muttered to Nurse Redheart.
Rainbow Dash finished. "I tried to catch them, but they were too fast." Tears came to her eyes as she said this. She looked up at Apple Jack. Her voice cracked as she spoke. "It's a good thing you came along when you did. Otherwise I might have had to tell everypony I won the fight", she laughed weakly, wincing once more. Apple Jack wrapped her front legs around her friend's neck, resting her chin on her head.
Nurse Redheart moved toward the door, softly saying, "I'll give you two some time."
Rainbow Dash was silent for a moment, but Apple Jack could feel her tears on the base of her neck. Rainbow Dash spoke again in a whisper. "I was so scared, AJ."
"Ah was too, sugar cube. For a minute, Ah thought you were
" Apple Jack's lips trembled furiously; she couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence. Tears flowed freely from her emerald eyes. She kept Rainbow Dash wrapped in her forelegs for a few minutes longer, pressing her face into Rainbow Dash's mane; she feebly returned the hug with one foreleg, crying softly into Apple Jack's neck. Finally, as she began to calm down, Rainbow Dash spoke again.
"If you tell anypony you saw me cry, I'll buck your teeth out."
Apple Jack laughed weakly, wiping her eyes. As she gazed upon the fragile face of the blue pony before her, she was again moved with emotion, and an urge struck her; she moved her face towards Rainbow Dash's. She stopped only when she remembered her painfully swollen mouth; hesitating, she raised her lips and lovingly kissed her friend on the forehead, hoping she hadn't sent the wrong message to her. She hadn't, judging by the weak smile of understanding and appreciation on Rainbow Dash's battered face. Though she said nothing, Rainbow Dash felt her heart flutter; the gesture was nicer and was much more welcome coming from kind beautiful Apple Jack, her dearest friend, than from murderous wild-eyed Blueball Blitz, the psychopath who nearly ended her life. Rainbow Dash pulled from the hug, wincing in pain, and spoke again.
"We've got to get Twilight to tell Celestia about the Shadowbolts. Those pegasi are a dangerous bunch."
Apple Jack nodded in agreement. "It sure is a dark sky that that bunch flies in. Ah'm just glad yer alright."
"Me too. I'm gonna get some rest, AJ. Come see me in the morning." The final sentence seemed to be more of a plea than a command. Apple Jack nodded and ran a gentle hoof over Rainbow Dash's ear and mane before she walked out. Each pony prayed her blush would not be noticeable to the other.
As Rainbow Dash sat in the dark quiet room, her thoughts turned back to the Shadowbolts, specifically Blitz. Those insane eyes were burned into her mind forever. As Rainbow Dash sat wincing in pain every time she inhaled, she found a new resolution to work towards once she was fully healed.
Rainbow Dash vowed to take down the Shadowbolts by any means necessary.