"A Dark Sky" Chapter 10
Rainbow Dash and Blueshift Blaze flew along silently towards the northern end of Manehatten. The less urban countryside served as a nice change in scenery, but the lack of distractions served to make the silence awkward. The sun was already well on its way down when finally Rainbow Dash asked, "So, Blaze, where you from?"
Without looking towards her, the dark blue pony responded, "I grew up in a little farming community in Mountana." She tossed her mane, revealing her face. "After this, I went down south to Horston, out by the Gulf of Mexicolt. I had some family out there who were nice enough to take me in for a while. It was okay, but I couldn't stand how crowded it was. The heat wasn't too nice, either. I finally got sick of the place and slowly made my way back north. Recently I came back to the outskirts of Fillydelphia. I've been working as an assistant in a forge ever since."
Dash nodded. "I was born in Cloudsdale, but Ponyville's my home. Aside from Cloudsdale, I haven't left it or the surrounding area until now. I've been to Apploosa and Canterlot, but only on visits."
Blaze grunted in acknowledgement.
Rainbow had a specific question on her mind. She avoided it to be polite and instead asked, "So what's your cutie mark mean?"
Blaze looked at her flank, regarding the fiery blue orb with contempt. She snorted. "It means I've been through too much shit to develop a special talent. By some sort of prophetic irony, my PMV skill leaves a trail of blue fire." She gave an empty laugh. "Fire seems to follow me I guess."
Rainbow Dash smiled, trying to brighten the mood a bit. "Mine's PMV based too! It means I'm a born racer and pretty much THE only pony capable of creating a Sonic Rainboom." She beamed with pride.
Blaze cracked a faint smile. "So that's what last week's unexplained explosion was. I knew it was magic of some sort, but unicorns tend to leave the sky alone."
Dash grinned, basking in the praise. The silence descended upon the pair again, slowly wearing on her. Unable to keep her mind off of it, Rainbow Dash finally asked the question she had been stifling. As gently as possible she inquired, "Blaze, what happened to your face?"
Blaze stared Rainbow Dash down, her eyes dark. Her powerful gaze was full of emotions darker than simple anger. Like so many ghosts in a mirror they passed through her eyes, and the effect caused Rainbow Dash to fall silent and look away. Her voice dripping with sarcasm, Blaze responded, "I slipped and fell."
Rainbow Dash quietly responded, "I'm sorry."
As the two pegasi flew along silently, Rainbow couldn't help but analyze Blaze a bit more. Her scars, she deduced, must be related to the Shadowbolts. Rainbow absentmindedly put a hoof to her side, remembering how Blitz shattered her ribs. She had gotten lucky, she thought; couldn't help but wonder which Shadowbolt was crazy or evil enough to burn Blaze's face like that.
Similarly, Blaze analyzed Rainbow Dash silently. Looking upon the sky blue pony she couldn't help but see a bit of herself. She was so full of anger, but still so na´ve. Blaze wondered just how badly she had been hurt to carry such a grudge. Surely it would come in handy in a fight, but the long term mental and emotional damage it would cause would leave her cold and cynical, if not outright empty. Like me, Blaze thought. The poor filly's gonna end up like me.
The pair flew along without words until they crested a hill. The hill sloped gently downwards to a large building. While only two stories tall, the building had a wide sprawling courtyard out front. The courtyard consisted of a stone path lined by tall stone pillars. On either side of the path, low hedges formed a miniature labyrinth. The back and sides of the property sloped off into a cliff face, the point of the cliff jutting out to the west. The front of the building was a single story, implying that the entire structure had been that way until recently. The back had a comparatively small second story portion that covered the back right corner of the building. In the center of the flat roof of the single story portion, near the back, there was a large patch of shining glass, a skylight. Off to the far left, the wall was lined with a single strip of glass about as tall as an average pony. There were patches in the glass that were dark and reflective. These were walls between the rooms in the living quarters, presumably. There was a main area in the central part of the left wall that was all glass. It appeared to be a main commons area for the Wonderbolts. Even at this time, a couple of ponies could be seen lounging on the big leather sofa.
"This is it", Blaze muttered. Her mind was clearly elsewhere.
Rainbow Dash grinned from ear to ear. "The Wonderbolts private mansion… Wow." Her smile left her face as she added, "I wish we weren't here under these conditions." She stood up a little straighter and began to trot towards the house.
Blaze grabbed Dash by the tail. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I have to warn them that somepony's coming to kill them! I'm not gonna leave the Wonderbolts hanging!"
Blaze indicated the front door with a hoof. There were two burly earth ponies in front of it, and a unicorn above them on the shingled awning over the front door. She turned to Dash, warning, "They'd tear you apart before you had a chance to explain yourself. We can't just go barging in there. As hard as it will be, we have to wait until the action starts to slip in after the Shadowbolts. Then the real fun starts."
Dash lay down, never taking her eyes off the complex. After a while, she muttered, "Those pillars could be useful in a fight. Great for traps or surprise attacks." Blaze only nodded in response. Dash soon became restless. She turned to Blaze and asked, "So what exactly are we waiting for?"
No sooner than the words left her mouth, Blaze spotted movement along the tree line north of the house, near the main living quarters. She only had time to point in that general direction with a hoof before two blurs shot from the forest. One skimmed right behind the two main guards. Much to Rainbow Dash's horror, their necks jerked to one side and their heads slowly lolled forward. Blood poured out from their necks. The two ponies collapsed noiselessly onto the stone walkway. A second blur darted from the forest, performing a similar maneuver on the unicorn lookout. He tumbled from the awning, his severed head landing with a dull splat beside him. The second attacker curved around and threw a small box-shaped object at the front door before taking off.
"Oh Celestia", Rainbow Dash murmured into her hooves, "What have I gotten myself into?"
Mere seconds later, Blaze and Dash were rocked backwards by a powerful explosion. The night became bright as day. The front of the mansion was obliterated in a plume of fire. Bricks and stones rained down like so much molten rock from a volcanic eruption. Two of the large pillars near the front of the house tumbled outward, shattering.
Blaze peered through the smoke. Walking into the house in formation she saw Nightshade, the leader; Stratus, her second in command; Charger, the racer; Starry Skies, the thief; and out to the far right, Blueball Blitz, the psychopath.
Blaze snapped her wings open, galloping down the hill. "Dash, on me!"
Rainbow Dash galloped down the hill after Blaze. Remembering something, she turned her head up and called out, "Blaze, take whoever you want, but Blitz is mine!"
Blaze didn't look back. Either she hadn't heard or hadn't cared.
Rainbow Dash spread her wings and glided in low and fast, coming to a smooth stop at the end of the walkway. Blaze landed just ahead of her, galloping forward toward the flaming remains of the front of the Wonderbolts' mansion.
Starry Skies had galloped off to the main living quarters with full saddlebags; a glimpse of wire hinted that they contained bombs. Charger had shot off towards the second story, murder in his eyes. Stratus and Nightshade were already making their way towards the back of the house. Blitz lingered at the front, making sure each guard was dead. This task proved to be rather simple, as all three bodies had been torn apart by the explosion. Blitz giggled and began to follow the others into the mansion, when she was stopped. Stepping through the dust and rubble, Blaze shouted ahead of her, "Blueball Blitz!"
Blitz turned to see Blaze with Dash standing beside her. For the first time in as long as any of them could remember, Blitz's face filled with two foreign and rare emotions. The first was rage. The second was fear.
Blitz spread her hooves, planting herself firmly. Her mane crackled to life as her pink eyes darkened. The bubbly grin was gone, replaced with a hateful glare. Rainbow Dash summoned all of her courage to mirror the stance. Blaze was unable to add her own bravado to the standoff. She was quaking with fury. Blitz issued a squeaky growl which ran into a shout of rage.
Blaze gave a hollow laugh. "Surprised to see me?"
Blitz began to twitch as charges of electricity leapt from her. "I already killed you, Sissy!"
Dash reeled back in horror. "That MONSTER is your SISTER?!"
Without warning, Blitz charged, hooves outstretched. The cold blades gleamed in the light of the fire. Blaze rolled to the side, holding her wings in. The very un-pegasus-like move threw Blitz off and she instead turned on Rainbow Dash. Dash held her ground, sweat beading on her brow. Blitz drew within range, expecting a last second attempt at a dodge. Rainbow Dash had something else in mind.
A split second before Blitz would have torn her in half, Rainbow Dash blasted forward like a bullet, slamming a front hoof into Blitz's cheek. The Shadowbolt spun off course, skidding across the dirt. Blaze and Dash stood at the ready as she rose, spitting blood onto the ground. Blitz smiled daggers at Rainbow Dash.
"You wanna play rough this time, cutie pie?"
Dash deflected, "Bring it, nutcase."
Blitz rocketed forward, prompting Dash to take off in reverse. Flying backwards was one of the skills she honed to an art form while training with Applejack. She threw herself backwards, barreling towards the hill. Blitz was gaining on her quickly. At the last second, Dash redirected herself, shooting straight up. The quick change in direction gave her a slight lead on Blitz, which she used to lead Blitz towards the ground.
Blitz wasn't through. She shot downward after Dash and swiped with her blades; Rainbow Dash felt the back edge of the cold steel brush against her rump. She glanced back over her shoulder to find she only had about four inches of her tail left. Blitz took advantage of this momentary lapse in concentration and shot past Rainbow Dash, swiping at her face. The tip of a blade sliced the bridge of Rainbow's muzzle; blood sprayed into her eyes, causing her to drop to the ground at a gallop, crying out in pain. Dash wiped the blood from her face and turned to see Blitz setting up another charge. She turned towards the edge of the cliff, calling to Blaze, "Watch me and get ready!"
Rainbow shot far out over the water. Blitz took the bait, hoping to drop her opponent into the sea. At a glance from Rainbow Dash, Blaze knowingly positioned herself at the front of the house along side the pillars lining the walkway. Rainbow Dash let Blitz gain on her just enough so that when she curved around the Shadowbolt would be right behind her. Now came the hard part.
Rainbow Dash visualized the life she could well lose. She shot forward, ignoring the blood running into her eyes. Her thoughts skimmed over all of Ponyville before coming to rest on a certain orange earth pony.
I promised I'd come back to my friends, she thought. One more push and her mane pulled straight back. She felt an elastic pressure against her hooves. Had her tail still been there, it would have been pulled straight back, too. She was still a ways off from the cliff. She pushed harder. Her face burned. Her side was throbbing. The pressure on her hooves was enormous. She chanced a look backwards.
Rainbow Dash's stomach dropped. Blitz was already flashing with electricity. She was considerably closer to PMV. Rainbow Dash threw herself forward. In an instant, the sky exploded outwards around her. Just as this happened, she heard a thunder crack. She turned to see Blitz flying behind her astride a lightning bolt, slowly gaining.
Time moved in slow motion. Dash passed the first pillar and began a tight slalom between the rest. Just as planned, Blitz followed in suit. In anticipation of a kill, she stuck one of her blades into the lightning, letting the immense heat and energy bring the blade to an orange glow. She was gaining on Rainbow Dash inch by inch. As Dash passed the third pillar she heard fire roar to life behind her. Looking back she saw Blaze, a ball of blue flames, keeping pace with Blitz.
Blaze timed Blitz's slalom, flying along side the pillars. She knew if she weren't rocketing forward in a straight line she'd never catch her sister. Finally as they passed the eighth pillar Blaze threw herself sideways into Blitz, using her momentum to hold the electric pegasus in place as she shot straight at a pillar. Blaze became a conduit for Blitz's energy; her eyes rolled back into her head as she was hit with wave after wave of electricity. Nonetheless, the plan worked; Blitz spun out of control and slammed into the pillar sideways. The remaining lightning shattered the stone structure and both pegasi and the remnants of the pillar came crashing down.
Dash curved back around, gliding to the crumbled remains. She flapped her wings hard, trying to clear some of the dust. Peering through it, she saw Blaze rising up on wobbly legs, standing over Blitz. The Shadowbolt was sticking out from under a large chunk of stone, her back half crushed. Blaze knelt beside her.
Dash stepped forward, her eyes oozing contempt. "Are you going to finish her?"
Blitz looked up into Blaze's eyes; something was different in her face, something fragile. As she spoke, blood bubbled from her mouth. "Sissy", she whimpered, "I'm cold…"
Blaze took Blitz's head in her hooves, gently cooing, "It's okay. It's over now, Blu."
Tears ran from Blitz's eyes as they began to cloud over. Coughing, she stammered, "Do you think Mom and Dad will be mad at me?"
"Not anymore, Blu. I promise." Blaze kissed her sister on the forehead and closed her eyes. The last charges of electricity left Blitz's mane. Blaze gently laid the dead filly's head down.
Slowly, Blaze rose. She wasn't crying. Her eyes were devoid of tears. Rainbow Dash noticed that they seemed devoid of everything, even life itself. The scarred pegasus looked hollow. Blaze turned to Dash. "I just killed the last living family I had. She and I shared a bed as fillies."
Dash stepped forward, tears in her eyes. "Blaze, I'm so sorry. I never meant for this to happen. I didn't know, I re-"
Blaze cut her off. "It's okay." She looked back to Blitz. "She's at peace now. She's free. She'll find more peace in death than she ever could have in life. There's nothing more anypony can do for her…" Blaze turned back to Dash. "But there is a way you can help me."
Rainbow raised her head. "Anything."
"Help me move this pillar. I want to give my baby sister a proper burial. Then…" She looked away. "Then, I don't know what. I guess I'll have to find somewhere to hide out after all this."
"You could come back to Ponyville with me", Dash offered. "It's full of really nice ponies." After a moment, she added, "It helps to be around friends when you're going through a tough time."
Blaze cracked a feeble smile. "I may do that. Hell, Rainbow Dash, you're the first friend I've made in quite a while." Hoisting Blitz across her back, she turned away from the mansion. "Come on. We're done here. The rest isn't our business."
Dash nodded. For once, the Wonderbolts didn't seem to be the most important thing in life.
"A Dark Sky" Chapter 11
While Dash and Blaze were battling Blitz outside the mansion, the other four Shadowbolts had gotten straight to work inside. Immediately, Starry Skies split from the group to take out as many Wonderbolts as possible with the bombs. Charger zipped through the elegant main hallway and up the stairs, looking for Rain's office. Nightshade and Stratus stalked straight forward, keeping their eyes peeled for Spitfire.
In the wake of the first explosion servants, personal friends, and the Wonderbolts themselves had scattered. A few of the less important team members were sprinting through the halls. At times they seemed completely oblivious to the black-and-purple suited ponies walking the halls like a pair of grim reapers, harbingers of death with bladed hooves. At one point a low-rank Wonderbolt, part of the background performance crew, barreled right into Nightshade. She responded by sinking both blades on her left hoof into his chest. He dropped to his knees and crashed to the ground. Stratus looked down at the body, discomfort on his face.
"I remember when that was difficult for you."
Nightshade scoffed. "It's work, nothing more. Keep moving."
Across the mansion, Starry Skies was moving towards the main living quarters. A few live-in servants crossed her path, but none dared to stop her. She not only was well armed but also carried with her a fair sized bomb. The state of the place was chaotic to say the least. The situation only seemed to worsen when three explosions were heard outside. The powerful blasts of magic came in rapid succession, signaling an intense aerial dogfight between multiple pegasi.
Blueball should be able to take care of it, Starry Skies told herself. She couldn't help but worry about the little blue pegasus; something in the pit of her stomach told her that she might not see her again. Starry Skies brushed away these thoughts, focusing on her objective. She moved onward through the artfully crafted building. She couldn't help but notice how strangely familiar it felt to be in such a place of sophistication. This was truly her territory. She crossed a large foyer area which led to the next wing of the house, the living quarters. Upon reaching the large double doors to the main commons, she found them locked. She banged on the doors. No answer came.
Starry Skies dropped her refined demeanor; it served no purpose here. "Open the door, or I'll blow this entire wing sky high!"
Muffled voices could be heard from within. To increase her negotiating powers, Starry Skies withdrew a rigged bomb from one of her saddlebags. The door popped open and an old stallion, Doc, stepped forward, stammering, "Now look, you don't need to do anything drastic."
Starry Skies silently walked to the center of the room, placing the explosive on the floor between the couch and table. She noticed that there were six other ponies in the room. She made a point of being calm and collected; to show fear was to be overtaken, overpowered, and possibly even killed. She began arming the explosive.
Doc continued his pleading. "Please! I know you, child! I know your father! He wouldn't want you to do this!"
Starry Skies turned on the old pegasus. "My desires were of no concern to you so many years ago. Why should yours matter to me now?" A beep indicated that the timer had started. Starry Skies made her way towards the doors but was pushed back by Doc. Two other Wonderbolts slammed the doors shut, locking them again.
Starry Skies began to panic. "What are you doing? I command you to open those doors!"
Doc looked to his companions and back to Star. "Kill us if you must, but you're coming with us."
Starry Skies felt her stomach drop. "No…"
The timer hit five seconds.
In a flash, Starry Skies leapt over the couch, kicking the bomb back towards the doors. It slid under the couch and across the floor, coming to rest a couple of feet from the far door. It wasn't far enough; the explosive was designed to obliterate the entire room. Adrenaline kicked in and time halted as Star looked for a way out. She blasted towards the windows, colliding full force with the glass wall. It cracked but did not shatter.
She slammed her hooves into the glass, breaking away small shards of it. "NO NO NO!"
In a brilliant flash, Starry Skies was hit with a concussive blast that flung her slender body through the damaged window. Flames engulfed the room behind her. The blast threw Wonderbolts in all directions and blasted the doors to the main house right out of their frame. Starry Skies tumbled head over hooves across the grass. She felt a pop in her side, followed by an intense wave of pain that told her she had snapped a wing. Finally she rolled to a stop. Her vision was blurry and dark. Her ears were filled with a high piercing ringing. Blood dripped from small cuts all over her body. Her fur was singed in places where her flight suit had been burnt away. Her legs quaked furiously as she tried to stand; she rose halfway before collapsing onto her side. Pain and shock overtook her as she lost consciousness.
Meanwhile, Charger was trotting towards Rain's office. He had found the main stairway, a walled-in hallway that lead upwards into the floor of the office. A security measure, no doubt. The tight hallway acted as a funnel, bringing any intruder up a very predictable path; any guard or Rain himself could be waiting at the top, and Charger wouldn't be able to see them without them seeing him. He tensed, anticipating combat.
As he put his hoof on the first stair up to the second floor, a blast of magic split the wood beneath him. A unicorn, no doubt Rain's personal guard, was sending powerful bolts of magic at him. Charger threw himself sideways and redirected upwards, staying just ahead of the projectiles. As he closed the space between himself and the unicorn, he moved in straight lines around the tight hallway, going up the walls and across the ceiling and floor. At the last second, the unicorn turned to run and Charger tackled him, driving his blades into the guard's back. The guard jerked and fell limp, rolling down the stairs. His opponent down, Charger turned to the heavy wooden door. He wasted no time with ceremony or class; turning, he bucked the door inward and cautiously ascended the last few steps into the office.
The elegant office seemed, at first, entirely innocent and businesslike. As Charger took in his surroundings, he soon saw that this office was actually that of a very accomplished and very dangerous mob boss. In a corner lay a folded combat harness with padded sides. On top of it rested a set of hoof blades. Behind the desk in the center was a wall of bookshelves; along the horizontal board of one shelf a katana was mounted at about head height. On the desk was a knife, long and sharp. Next to the knife was a pile of green powder which had been finely chopped and set into lines. Behind the desk sat the most dangerous thing in the room: Rain.
Upon seeing Charger, he cracked a grin. Seemingly oblivious to Charger's presence, he lowered his face to the desk and pressed one nostril shut. He swiftly moved his face from left to right, snorting a line of the green powder. As the last of the dust entered his nose, he reeled back. His eyes were glowing. When Rain spoke to Charger, there was something different in his voice, something dark and mystical.
"Ground unicorn horn, my boy. It's a helluva drug." Rain flapped his wings twice, going airborne. "I finally got some use outta Sharkey after all", he sneered.
"You're a damn monster", Charger growled.
Rain laughed, his glowing eyes widening. "You killed her, boy! You condemned her to death!"
Charger took off his blades. It would have given him great satisfaction to shred Rain, but he wanted to end him with his own hooves. "And now I'm gonna kill you!"
Charger shot forward. In a blink Rain spun in mid air, bringing a back hoof across Charger's face. The stunned Shadowbolt spun to the floor, catching himself on the windowsill. He turned in time to see Rain barreling into him. The two tumbled out the window onto the roof of the mansion in a blur of wings and hooves.
The night air was hot with fire. Pegasi were zipping about in front of the mansion leaving various trails of pegasus magic. Blitz looks like she's having trouble, Charger thought briefly. The two combatants hit the roof hard. Rain rolled and kicked Charger into the air. Charger spun and shot back down towards him, pinning him to the roof.
"You know", Charger hissed, "There's a real irony in this situation. Had you not tried to kill me all those years ago in Manehatten, I wouldn't be trying to kill you now. You should have just left me and Sharkey alone!"
Rain squirmed, freeing his back legs. He brought a back hoof up and used it to pry Charger from his body. "What I should have done is killed you myself! Sharkey couldn't do anything right!" Rain stood, preparing for the next attack. "Sharkey was a whore, Charger! I did you a favor by taking her from you!" He grinned, his voice dripping with venom. "The only place she was any good was the bedroom."
Charger bounded forward, weaving to throw Rain off guard. "You ruined my life!" Throwing his full body weight forward, Charger tackled Rain through the skylight.
While Charger and Rain were rolling about on the roof, Nightshade and Stratus were closing in on their targets. Nightshade had gone on slightly ahead of Stratus and found the massive double doors to the back room of the mansion. The entire back end of the massive complex turned out to be an elegant ballroom, reminiscent of something one might expect to see at the Grand Galloping Gala. The marble floor gleamed beautifully under the low lights. The rear wall of the room was one massive stained glass window overlooking the last few dozen yards of the cliff and the sea below. The room was empty except for two pegasi. The first was Soarin, the brave second captain; behind him stood Spitfire. Upon seeing Nightshade, Soarin took a defensive stance. Nightshade trotted forward.
"Just leave! No one needs to get hurt!", Soarin warned.
Nightshade started what might have been the beginning of a contemptuous chuckle when she was tackled to the ground by an earth pony. A guard who had been waiting in the shadows, no doubt. Nightshade cursed her carelessness; she should have been ready for roaming personal guards. The amateur mistake could very well cost her the mission if not her life now. The guard was considerably larger than she was; using only his weight, he pinned her to the floor.
"The enforcers have been called; they're sending a responder unit." He turned his head towards Soarin and Spitfire. "You two just stay back and wait for help to come."
Without warning, the guard's head jerked to the side. He fell limp on top of Nightshade. He was alive but unconscious. Something rolled the big earth pony to the side. Stratus.
Nightshade rose, brushing herself off with her wings.
"You have impeccable timing, Stratus."
Stratus grunted. He turned towards Soarin and Spitfire. "Well. This is it."
Nightshade did not respond. She moved like a shark, going forward with purpose and hunger. At the last minute, Soarin stepped in front of her, shouting, "If you wanna hurt Spitfire, you have to get through me!"
Nightshade almost apathetically pawed at Soarin's side, opening up a long gash from his front leg to his middle torso. The blue colt's eyes went wide with fear and shock. He toppled over. He was still alive and showed no signs of dying soon, but he would bleed out if given enough time, Nightshade had no doubt of that.
Spitfire reeled back in horror. "Oh Celestia, no!"
Tension thickened in the air as Nightshade stared Spitfire down. She stood silently, letting the hate build. She felt incredibly powerful watching the mare that destroyed her dreams cower in fear. As Nightshade was preparing to strike, the skylight shattered and two pegasi slammed into the hard marble floor in a shower of glass.
Charger and Rain rolled across the floor in a blur of hooves. Charger landed a powerful right hoof on the side of Rain's head, stunning him. He pinned him to the floor and planted a hoof on his neck, choking him out. Rain turned his head, trying to slip free of the choke hold, but this only prompted Charger to press harder. Rain began to panic as he frantically squirmed to get free. Straining, he turned his head enough to grab a long shard of broken glass, and with lightning speed he swiveled his neck, bringing it across Charger's face. Blood flashed from Charger's muzzle as a line of red streaked from over his right eye down to the left side of his mouth. With a cry of rage and pain, Charger stomped at Rain's face, shattering the glass. While this left Rain unarmed, it also threw Charger off balance, giving Rain just enough mobility to slip away.
"Get back here, you fucking coward!", Charger roared.
Rain scrambled to get away, but in a flash Charger had leapt onto his back, throwing him to the floor again. Charger pressed the back of Rain's head to one side, bringing his muzzle upwards with the other hoof. Both pegasi were screaming with rage when Charger threw his weight downward. A loud crack told everyone that Rain's neck had been snapped. Charger sat immobile atop the fallen pegasus for a moment, his chest heaving. After a moment, he got up and turned to Stratus.
Stratus turned towards the main house. "Dunno. The bomb went off, but I haven't seen her yet. You should probably go check on her."
Charger nodded. "And Blitz?"
Stratus turned to Nightshade. "I'll go find Blitz."
Nightshade gestured towards the door. "You two go clean up. I'll keep our guest of honor company until you get back." Nightshade turned to Spitfire with a toxic stare as she added, "Then we can all watch our hard work come to fruition."
"A Dark Sky" Chapter 12
Stratus trudged back through the main hall. The rest of the mansion seemed to be catching fire now. It was of no concern to him. Watching the spotless furniture, pretty pictures, and beautiful rooms all go up in smoke gave him a sense of satisfaction. It was the first time in recent years that he truly felt he had completed something. All that remained was killing Spitfire.
Stratus's stomach turned at the thought. Did she really deserve to die? After all these years, is it really worth it to kill her?
He pushed these thoughts out of his mind as he exited the inferno that was the front of the mansion. Even beyond the wreckage of the initial explosion, it was clear that a battle had taken place. Trails of blue fire streaked the courtyard. Chunks of stone were blackened from the heat of a lightning strike. Places in the grass were smeared with blood. Stratus looked around. No sign of Blitz. He began to walk further from the mansion.
As he reached the base of the hill, he saw two shapes off in the distance. One he immediately recognized as the sky blue filly Blitz had attacked back in Ponyville.
"She flew all the way out here just to kill Blitz? All by herself?"
Stratus squinted, peering into the night. The second shape seemed to be not one pony, but two. The first pony he did not recognize. She was a blue pegasus of average height; her long black mane obscured the rest of her features. The second pony was Blitz. The youngest Shadowbolt hung limply across the other pony's back. Her mane was not crackling with electricity.
"Blitz… Damn it…"
Stratus felt a brief pang of sadness. While he had grown accustomed to seeing comrades die, the death of somepony so young was something he could not adjust to. He was briefly reminded of Spacey. He shut his eyes tight, pressing the images from his mind. The old pegasus sighed deeply, turning back towards the mansion.
Meanwhile, Charger was entering the living commons. The entire room was ablaze. He felt his stomach drop; the shapes of many pony bodies were visible on the floor. None of them were moving. Some were burnt beyond recognition.
Frantically, he darted about the room. None of the burnt bodies seemed lean enough to be Starry Skies. The more recognizable ones he instantly dismissed as Wonderbolts. He flew out the side of the mansion. The charred remains of the building covered the lush grass. In the middle of all the debris was a pegasus with a distinctly feminine figure. Charger rushed to her side. "Star!"
The pink pegasus remained immobile.
Charger shook her by the shoulders. "Star! Come on, wake up!"
Finally, the fallen Shadowbolt gave a weak cough. As she gasped for air, her coughs grew in strength. Clearing her lungs of smoke, she inhaled deeply, sitting up.
"Charger… You came back for me."
Charger laughed, indicating Starry Skies's wing. "If you didn't wanna fly down to Mexicolt with me, you coulda just told me. You didn't have to go and break a wing to get your point across."
Starry Skies chuckled softly. Flexing her good wing, she asked, "Where are the others?"
"Nightshade's waiting for us to attend her little execution ceremony." Charger looked back towards the burning house. "I'm not sure I wanna go. We'll just wait out back." Putting his head under Star's chin, he helped her rise to her hooves. She leaned against him for support as they walked around the rear of the mansion to the cliff's edge.
Stratus had made his way back inside the house. The fire was spreading with surprising quickness. The hallway to the main ballroom was already filling with smoke. Stratus entered the room, coughing slightly. Nightshade turned towards him, a cold smile painted on her face.
"I'm so glad you're back, I was considering starting without you." She looked behind him. Seeing nopony, she inquired, "Where are Star and Charger?"
Stratus grunted. "Not sure. Guess they didn't wanna come."
Nightshade shrugged. "And Blitz?"
Stratus shook his head. The tacit signal told Nightshade that Blitz was no more.
Nightshade's eyes drifted downward briefly. "I see. How disappointing. I know she would have thoroughly enjoyed this." Nightshade turned to Spitfire. "Shall we begin?"
Spitfire stood firmly. Despite her tears, she refused to back down. "You're insane. You're a complete monster!", the orange pegasus growled.
Nightshade exploded. "SHUT UP, BITCH!"
Spitfire took a step back, still staring Nightshade down. Nightshade continued. "Surely you know why I'm here?"
"Because you lost that ra-"
"Because you screwed me out of my dreams, my only aspirations, my whole LIFE!" Nightshade began to pace, her fury manifesting itself like an itch spreading over her whole body. She stopped in front of Spitfire, her eyes wild with fury. "Screw waiting. This is it. Any last words?"
Nightshade stood frozen. Spitfire had her eyes pressed shut, quaking in fear and anticipating death. She hadn't spoken. Slowly, Nightshade turned to Stratus.
"Would you like to do the honors, Stratus?"
Stratus stepped forward, looking from Nighshade to Spitfire. "No." He stepped between the two fillies, slightly off to the side. "And you shouldn't, either. Just let it go, Nightshade."
Nightshade recoiled in shock. "WHAT?! Have you lost your mind? Damn it, Stratus, this is NOT the time to be sentimental! She needs to die!"
Stratus slammed a front hoof into the ground. "Nightshade, killing her won't change anything! The past is dead, it doesn't need to take parts of the present with it!"
"She's the whole reason we're here, Stratus!"
Stratus sighed. "I know, and I'm sorry I led you to believe this was the right way. It's not, Nightshade. I refuse to have her blood on my hooves."
Nightshade looked away. "I see your point. You don't have to do this." She began to turn away. "But I do!" In a flash, Nightshade leapt at Spitfire.
All three ponies collided, sliding across the marble floor.
Slowly, one by one, they all began to move. The first to rise was Spitfire. She slowly got to her hooves. Her front left leg quaked. Looking down, she saw it had been slashed. Blood ran from the wound. It was in no way fatal, but the pain brought her to her knees.
Stratus began to rise next. Blood smeared his neck. Spitfire gasped. Stratus turned his head, craning his neck to see. This action revealed that there was no tear in his flight suit. The blood was not his own. He and Spitfire looked to Nightshade. Spitfire gasped again. Stratus shut his eyes tight, turning his head away.
Nightshade lay on the cold marble floor, bleeding profusely. Along her neck was a long and deep gash. By a twist of cruel fate, her neck had been sliced open along the scar she received the day she and Stratus had met. Fear filled her clouding eyes. She looked up to Stratus. A gurgling noise came from her throat. With visible effort she began to force out words.
Stratus forced himself to look down. For the first time in many years tears came to his eyes as he gazed upon Nightshade's face. "Yeah kid?"
Nightshade weakly gurgled out, "I'm sorry."
Stratus could not respond. He poured the full extent of his will power into fighting back tears. He reached down and closed Nightshade's eyes.
Stratus stood immobile and silent for a moment. Exhaling deeply, he turned to Spitfire, indicating Soarin. "Take him outside. This place will be engulfed in flames pretty soon. Put pressure on his wound. He should be alright. The responders will be here soon enough." With this, Stratus kicked out the massive stained-glass window, letting the first glint of dawn shine into the ballroom. He turned to Nightshade, intending to pick her body up and bring her with him. He found he could not; approaching the body made him feel fragile, as though the mangled form may shatter him like glass. Feeling hollow, he walked out the back of the building to meet Charger and Starry Skies.
The other two Shadowbolts had shed their uniforms and were watching the sun rise. Stratus stood along side them. Charger inquired without looking up, "How'd it go?"
Stratus said flatly, "Spitfire and Soarin are alive. Nightshade's dead."
Charger scoffed. "After all this…"
The three stood in silence for a moment. Starry Skies finally asked, "Where's Blitz?"
Stratus added, "She's dead too."
More silence. Stratus turned to Charger. "So you finally killed Rain. Feel better?"
Charger responded darkly, "I feel empty. My past is what filled me up for all these years. Now that it's dead and gone, I feel hollow. When Sharkey died, I felt like I got some closure, but all it did was redirect all of that hate, that pain, towards Rain. And now he's dead, and I feel like nothing changed. It's like everything just left me."
"Death tends to take more with it than the pony who died", Stratus noted.
Silence descended upon them again. Charger broke it by looking up to Stratus. "Did you kill Nightshade?"
Stratus finally let a tear fall. "Yeah…"
Charger added, "Feel better?"
Stratus gave a bitter, hollow laugh. To nopony in particular he said, "I think I'll go visit my cousin's family."
"Where do they live?", Starry Skies inquired.
"Well, they're mostly dead, Star. Buried not too far from here. My cousin Spacey, he's been dead a little over thirty years now. His father died of cancer about ten years later. His mother's still kicking from what I hear."
Stratus lapsed into spoken thought, adding, "I heard she had a filly a couple years after Spacey's death. I never got to meet her, I had gotten shipped off on Royal Guard duty by then. She never sent me any pictures, either." The old pegasus gave a laugh. "That's just like Cloudy Night, too. Always working too hard to remember family." He sighed, taking a seat.
Charger looked from Starry Skies to Stratus. He stood, helping Starry Skies up with him. "Well Strat, I guess this is good bye. I'm headed south, and I'm dragging Star with me."
Stratus cocked an eyebrow at Charger. "Are you two…?"
Starry Skies interjected, "Oh, heavens no." Smiling, she added, "But I do need a good drinking buddy."
Charger gave a short laugh of approval. "You're also gonna need help getting around without that wing. Come on, blue-eyes, it's a long walk to Mexicolt." With this, the two set off, leaving Stratus gazing into the rising sun.
Many miles away, Blueshift Blaze and Rainbow Dash were digging up the last few shovels of dirt for a grave. Blaze dropped her shovel and wiped her face. "That's about as good as it's gonna get." She turned to Blitz and began to tug her purple and black flight suit off of her.
Blaze looked up, traces of sorrow in her eyes. "This isn't my sister. This suit, this life, this is somepony taking advantage of her mental state. I refuse to let her remain this way for all of eternity. Help me take it off."
Reluctantly, Rainbow gingerly tugged at a leg of Blitz's suit, leaving the indigo filly bare.
Blaze smiled sadly. "That's my sister." Gently, she laid the dead filly in the grave. She began to shovel dirt on top of her. When the hole was filled, Blaze took a large stone and pressed it into the soft earth. It was lightly smeared with mud, spelling out the word "Blitz".
Dash put a wing over Blaze. "I'll have Twilight come mark it properly when we get back to Ponyville."
Blaze laid her head on Rainbow's neck. "Thanks kid."
The two arrived in Ponyville just after noon. A few ponies who were meandering about town square began to cheer upon Rainbow Dash's arrival but were quickly reduced to frightened muttering by the newcomer. The small crowd that had gathered was soon parted by Rainbow Dash's best friends. The group trotted forward happily but stopped a few yards away. The only pony to come forward was Applejack. Without a word, she planted a swift and friendly kiss on Rainbow's lips. Upon seeing the wound on her face and the choppy remnant of her tail, Applejack inquired, "Dash, sugarcube, you okay?"
Smiling feebly, Dash responded, "I'll be alright."
Applejack nervously looked to Blaze. "Who's yer friend?"
Dash responded brightly, addressing the entire crowd. "Everypony, this is Blueshift Blaze. She'll be staying with me here in Ponyville. Everypony make her feel at home." Blaze smiled shyly at the introduction, unused to being spoken so highly of.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash went off by themselves. Applejack gently prodded, "So how did everything go? Are all the Shadowbolts, ya know… dead?"
"Dunno. After we killed Blaze's sister, Blitz, we left."
Applejack did her best to smile. "Well, at least things look a little brighter."
Rainbow Dash looked Applejack in the eye and for the first time Applejack noticed that Rainbow's eyes looked completely hollow. Empty.
Rainbow Dash responded flatly, "No they don't."