"A Dark Sky" Chapter 4
Blitz flew along restlessly, circling the group, doing barrell rolls, and making wind noises with her mouth. As this continued to grate on Stratus's nerves, he began to grind his teeth. Finally he shouted in exasperation, "Blitz, did you kill that filly?"
Blitz rolled over to Stratus, hovering just over his head. Craning her neck to look at him upside down, she responded, "Nah. She was too cute to kill. Why? Did you think she was pretty, too?"
Stratus grunted. "We don't need the extra attention that comes with killing innocents."
As Blitz circled the group she did something she rarely ever did: she became lost in thought. She couldn't help but ponder at Stratus's aversion to killing ponies. Killing can be fun, she thought, and Stratus really enjoys fighting. I don't get why he doesn't ever finish the job. Blitz frowned as she struggled to see through Stratus's eyes. How can a pony as grouchy and scary as Stratus not see that some ponies just need to stop being alive?
Blitz thought back to the first time she had killed a pony, the day she escaped the mental institution.
Sleep. Eat. Medication. Therapy. Group time. Eat. Medication. Alone time. Eat. Medication. Sleep. Life had become numbers on a chart. Life had become a clockwork hell, predictable and boring, day in and day out. The first few days were almost fun, like a game. Blitz eagerly took the pills, played the games, talked with the other "crazy" ponies. It was all a game. But then day two was the same. And day three was the same. And day four was the same. More pills, more dull conversation with other sedated ponies, more talking to droning doctors in dull white coats. Some days were more tolerable than others. Sometimes there was some action. Every so often a pony would have an outburst and start breaking things or screaming and running around, eyes full of fear. Blitz loved when this happened. It always made her feel
alive. Less than a week before her escape Blitz had witnessed the breakdown that prompted her to decide to leave.
The day had started boring enough. Everything happened right on schedule. But during group time that changed. Just as one of the more boring ponies was beginning to drone on about how he saw ponies that weren't really there, the doors burst open. A brown colt with an hourglass cutie mark stood in the doorway, his chest heaving. His eyes were what Blitz noticed most. They weren't wild or panicky. They were full of fire, determination, life. Unlike the other ponies who went wild, this colt didn't seem frantic and scared. He wasn't running aimlessly. He was looking for a way out. After a few seconds he spoke in a rich powerful voice.
"Where is it? Where's my phone box? I need to get out of this dimension, damn it!"
He began to cross the room when the doors at the opposite end burst open. Two burly earth ponies in white coats moved towards the brown colt.
"Doc, we need you to come with us."
The brown colt lowered his head, backing way indignantly. "It's 'Doctor', not 'Doc'! I'm a Time Lord, you bloody foal!"
Two more strong earth ponies approached him from behind. Suddenly one reared up and planted his front hooves on the brown colt's flank hard enough to buckle his hind legs.
The second planted a firm hoof between his shoulders, holding him tight.
"Release me! You don't know what you're interfering with!"
From the front, a third pony approached with a needle. Blitz recognized those needles; they were full of extra strong medicine. She hated them. They made ponies so slow and quiet. Sometimes they put them to sleep altogether. The brown colt turned his eyes to Blitz. Commanding her attention, he shouted, "You! You're young, you're strong! Resist! Fight back! If you can get out, you can let all of us out! Don't take the medicine!"
With calmness and precision the burly pony jabbed the needle into the brown colt's neck and his screams of protest fell silent. The four big ponies dragged him out of the room.
The other ponies crowding around began to slowly resume their dull dispositions; the affect the needle had on the crazed Doctor seemed to spread by osmosis. The sight of such a strong brave colt being taken down seemed to crush every pony's spirit further. All except Blitz. Blitz resolved right then and there that the Doctor had the right idea, just not the right methods; Blitz thought to herself, He coulda made it out! Had he rushed those big dummies instead of backing up, he coulda made it!
That night Blitz didn't take her medicine. The next day she no longer felt sluggish, calm, carefree. For the first time in weeks she felt like flying. But she knew she wouldn't be able to pull off an escape just yet. The day crawled by, but when the medicine came around Blitz held the pill in her cheek long enough for the doctor to look away, at which point she spat it into the nearest trash bin. She did the same with her night pills.
Over the next three days Blitz continued her little routine; this was her kind of game. Cheeking pills, feigning sedation, and carefully watching the doctors, seeing which ones were faster or stronger or smarter, noting which ones came by her room more often. It all became a matter of waiting for the young meek colt to come by; not only was he physically no threat, but Blitz could tell he was afraid of her, and with good reason. In the past few days her subtle increase in energy had become completely noticeable and had put everypony on edge, including the other patients. She had finally snapped and put a swift hoof to a doctor's chin. This got her locked in her room for the next two days. She was only visited at meal and medication time by one of two doctors, a bold and assertive mare and the meek colt.
The day he came into her room, she was ready for him. He didn't stand a chance. As he stepped closer to her with the needle in his mouth, she made her move. A turn, a buck, and his head snapped back. The needle skittered across the floor. The other doctor outside started screaming and an alarm was raised. Blitz panicked. Her doctor was groggy but still standing. She reared and stomped on his shoulder, bringing him to the floor. His grunts of pain became sobs of fear as Blitz slammed her front hooves into his sides again and again. Finally there was a sobering crunch. The doctor whimpered and coughed a spray of red onto the white tile floor.
Blitz giggled nervously. "Oopsie."
Blitz knew the doors were no longer an option. The window didn't have a screen or bars in it. With a crash she leapt through it face first and accelerated towards a new life.
"Blitz, are you even awake?"
Blitz shook herself from thought. Apparently she and the other Shadowbolts were now closing in on the rim of south Manehatten. This is where they would meet their contact and make the exchange.
"Yup! Are we there yet?"
Starry Skies indicated the scattering of lights below. "It would seem so, dear."
The group circled in and landed just inside of the city in an open lot, presumably where a building would soon be erected. This city was considerably less innocent than Ponyville; despite the darkness a few ponies were still out. A young mare with a feather in her mane stood on a nearby corner with her tail held high and her face painted up with cheap make-up. An old stallion, probably once young and strong like Charger, stumbled out of a building across the street. He teetered on two hooves for a moment before flopping over on the ground, mumbling incoherently. A bottle rolled out of one of his saddlebags.
Nightshade surveyed the city before them. Turning to Stratus and the rest of the group she commanded, "Our contact is in that office building over there. Don't cause trouble. Nopony should bother us here; these ponies are used to bad company."
Upon entering the windowless building the group was greeted by another small group of ponies. Two large earth ponies stood in each corner of the dimly lit room. They were clearly security. A dark green unicorn mare with sky blue eyes and a spiky blue mane sat between them. She remained silent as the Shadowbolts filed into the room. When all five had entered, she stood and looked straight to Charger. He stopped cold. With his flight goggles still on it was difficult to read his emotions. Still staring him down, the unicorn spoke in a low, refined voice.
"Charger, how nice to see you again, dear. It looks like you survived Manehatten."
Charger cracked a bitter smile. "And Clopton." He gave a hollow laugh. "I almost didn't recognize you, Sharkey. It's been awhile."
Sharkey held her poker face. "That it has." She paused, smiling. "Surely you aren't still in a tiff about that little incident back home, sweetie." The final word dripped from Sharkey's lips as more of a taunt than a pet name.
Nightshade stepped forward, breaking the electric tension in the room. "Miss Sharkey, if you don't mind, I'd like to get this train rolling."
Sharkey took a step forward from her seat, her horn glowing. Starry Skies felt Stratus tense up in anticipation of trouble as she unhooked the crate of Spin Juice from Stratus's harness. She rolled it towards the center of the room. Nightshade stopped it with a hoof. Sharkey, using magic, rolled her own crate forward. She and the crate stopped about a foot away from Nightshade. At the same time, each pony shoved the crate on their side to the other pony.
Nightshade weighed up her odds. Sharkey was unarmed, technically, but unicorns could be dangerous with magic. From this distance, Nightshade wouldn't be able to respond in time if attacked. It all came down to numbers; there were five Shadowbolts versus Sharkey and two guards. Starry Skies wasn't much in a fight, but Charger, Nightshade, and Stratus had seen everything from gang brawls to all-out military assaults. And Blitz was fast and reckless enough to provide a challenge for anypony. That put four solid fighters against three. Nightshade relaxed a hair as Sharkey busied herself inspecting a bottle of Spin Juice. Mirroring her, Nightshade opened the crate on her end and pulled out the five smaller boxes inside, tossing one to each member of her team. They eagerly opened them, pulling out the contents.
Each box contained four steel shoes with leather straps. On each front shoe were two long, curved blades protruding forward from each side of the hoof. Each rear shoe had similar shorter blades on the front and a single long blade coming out of the back.
"Hoof Blades. You have no idea how much trouble I had to go through to get them here."
Blitz strapped hers on. She pawed at the air and kicked a few times, trying them out. "Ooh, cozy!"
Sharkey continued, smiling "Of course. They're fitted to the specifications Nightshade gave me." After a moment she continued, "So where are the other crates?"
Stratus's ears perked up. He slowly began to turn towards Sharkey's guards. Charger walked around to the other side of Nightshade.
"What other crates?", Nightshade asked.
Sharkey's smile left her face. "We agreed on five crates for the blades."
"No, our agreement was five cases for five sets of blades. There's five cases in that crate. We're even."
Sharkey's voice rose. As she took a more aggressive stance her guards took a step forward. "The agreement was five CRATES, Nightshade!"
"You're wrong, Sharkey!"
"I'll be keeping the payment until you've given me the product!"
Nightshade turned, her temper flaring. "Eat me, Sharkey. You have what you asked for. We're leaving."
"The hell you are, bitch!"
Sharkey darted forward, slamming the door shut with magic. Her guards moved to stop Nightshade, but were intercepted by Charger and Stratus. Charger, wearing his blades, turned and slammed both rear hooves into the face of his attacker. He reared back, blood flowing from his mangled muzzle. Before he could react Charger flew up and slammed his front hooves down on top of his head, throwing the incapacitated guard to the floor. Simultaneously, Stratus had taken down his opponent using an old Royal Guard move: a swift hind hoof to a front leg dropped his face to the floor, where Stratus shattered his jaw with a stomp. The two stallions turned to Sharkey.
Sharkey was sending blast after blast of magic at Blitz, striking the spots the pony had been just a split second before. None of the Shadowbolts could make a move with bolts of magic - and Blitz - flying around the room so quickly. Finally Blitz bounded forward and tackled Sharkey, stomping her horn and pinning her to the floor. She held a blade to her throat.
Helpless without her magic, Sharkey turned her eyes to Charger. "Charger! Please! You can't let her do this!"
Charger walked over to Sharkey. His face was blank. Blitz looked up at him, grinning. "It's your call, Charger."
Leaning down, Charger brought his face level with Sharkey's. Looking into her eyes, he hissed, "Sorry, Sharkey. It's only business."
"No, Charger! Please!"
Charger turned to leave, followed by Starry Skies, Stratus, and Nightshade. As he walked out the doorway, he said without looking back, "Do it."
Blitz leaned her weight forward. There was a wet slicing sound. Blitz raised her blood covered face, smiling. "All done!"
"A Dark Sky" Chapter 5
Charger stomped along ahead of the group, eager to get to the Shadowbolts' Fillydelphia safe house. Nightshade walked behind him, keeping a careful watch. Blitz hopped gleefully around, ostensibly oblivious to the blood on her face and mane. Bringing up the rear, Stratus pulled the large crate which now contained five cases of Spin Juice and five sets of hoof blades. Starry Skies walked along beside him. She had always enjoyed his and Charger's company most, and despite his unapproachable demeanor, he was always a bit less gruff with her. His presence was comforting to her; his strength and bravery made up for her lack thereof. Finally to break the silence, she spoke.
"Stratus, do you know what's wrong with Charger?"
"He had some history with that dealer. Not sure what kind of history exactly. He should be fine."
At that moment Blitz landed gently between the two. "Charger will be okay. He stopped crying a few blocks back."
Starry Skies was taken aback at this. "I've never seen Charger cry."
Stratus looked to Blitz, his face devoid of emotion as usual. "Blitz, why'd you kill that little mare?"
Blitz reared up and shrugged. "I dunno. Charger said to. It was fun."
Stratus gave a grunt. "I just don't get you, kid. You kill like it's nothing."
Blitz rolled over onto her back, hovering in mid air. Looking up at the night sky she responded, "It is. Death hasn't really bothered me since Mom, Dad, and Sissy died in that fire. After that, the idea of ponies dying didn't really bother me. They just stop being here. No big deal."
Up ahead, Charger's mind was elsewhere. He was entirely unaware his hooves were carrying him forward. His mind kept drifting backward to the streets of Manehatten.
Charger sat on the floor, flipping through the little book with its hard cardboard pages. The crudely scribbled ponies before him looked so happy. Their house was a pretty stone one with wood supports and a wood roof. It was nothing like Charger's brick apartment house. There weren't holes in any of their walls. The ponies in the story book didn't have to worry about rats stealing food, or about running out of it, for that matter. Their roof didn't look like it leaked. Charger looked up from the book, sighing.
"Mama, I'm hungry. Can we eat yet?"
Charger's mother raised her head, tossing her unkempt black mane from her purple face. Her tired sunken eyes always seemed to be brimming with tears now days. In a quiet trembling voice, she addressed her young colt. "Charger, maybe you should go outside and play for a bit. Your father will be home soon."
No sooner than the words left her mouth did a stout brown pegasus with a grey mane burst through the door. He reeked of musk and alcohol. His dark eyes scanned the near-empty room and he inhaled deeply. He turned to his wife, speaking in a rough slurry voice.
"Sunflower, the hell are you cooking? Smells awful."
Sunflower cringed a bit. "Leftovers. We don't have anything fresh."
The brown pegasus stepped forward aggressively. "What about that bushel of soft alfalfa?"
The purple pony squirmed in her seat, her voice breaking. "It's for Charger, Thunder, I got it especially for-"
Thunder cut her off, mocking, "'It's for Charger!' Ha! The little shit doesn't contribute, why should he eat? When I was his age I was already pullin' the coal carts! Make his fuckin' ass work for food like I do!"
Thunder stomped towards his wife, still yelling. From behind him he heard a small voice cry out, "Stop being mean to mom!"
Thunder halted and turned, murder in his eyes. "The hell'd you say to me, boy?" He stepped forward as he spat the last word out.
Charger stood and boldly faced his father. "Leave her alone!"
Thunder smiled daggers. "Okay then. You want me to be mean to you then, you little bastard? Huh?" Advancing on the cowering colt, he brought the edge of a hoof across his face, hard enough to sprawl him out on the floor.
"You don't talk to me like that, boy! You don't tell me shit! Your ass is mine! I fuckin' own you, boy!" The blows rained down on Charger's face, head, and back, one after another. Finally the drunken pegasus wore himself out. He stopped, coughing and hacking as his chest heaved. Without a word he walked into the kitchen and served himself.
Charger's mother wept in the corner as Charger lay immobile on the floor, sobbing and whimpering quietly.
Charger sprinted from the house. His father was too drunk to pursue. He didn't care anymore. He just wanted to be gone. He wanted to run until he hit a wall, and if it didn't kill him, he wanted to hit it again. Tears streamed from his eyes as he ran forward. Not looking where he was going, he collided with something soft. He and the pony he ran into sprawled across the dirt of the Manehatten park.
"Ow! Watch where you're going, doofus", a female voice chastised.
Charger stood and wiped the tears from his eyes. Before him stood a rather disgruntled green unicorn filly.
"Sorry", he mumbled, turning away. In a flash of light the filly was in front of him.
"It's okay", she chirped, brushing the dirt from her blue mane. She was smiling. Charger wasn't used to being smiled at. It made his stomach feel funny. This pretty filly was actually smiling at him; she wasn't yelling or hitting him. He felt his cheeks grow warm.
"My name's Charger", he blurted out, feeling stupid.
The filly giggled. "I'm Sharkey."
The two stood in silence for a moment. Suddenly, Sharkey blurted out, "Hey, I gotta go now. Wanna hang out here tomorrow?"
Charger nodded, unable to speak for the lump in his throat. A friend! I made a friend!
Sharkey giggled again. "Bye, doofus", she chirped. A thick blush rose in her face as she gave him a quick peck on the cheek and sprinted off, giggling.
Charger kicked out the fourth-story window. As he was about to leap out he turned to the filly in the bed behind him, chirping, "Later Moonshine!"
"Sunbeam", she corrected, her face falling.
At just that moment a slightly larger pegasus kicked open the door. "What the hell were you doing with my sister?!"
Charger threw himself from the window, plummeting downwards. At the last minute, just inches before his hooves would have hit the ground, he threw his weight upwards, flaring his wings and redirecting his momentum. He rocketed forward, dodging between dozens of stunned pedestrians. Making it across the street, he weaved in to an alleyway, turning to look behind him. The older brother had no chance of pursuing through that kind of traffic. Charger grinned as he took off, rocketing up alleys, throwing himself into hairpin turns. He came up on a plot of building spaced too close together for him to fly through.
At least, to close to fly through upright.
At the last second Charger rolled and held himself in the air, flying with the ground on his right and the sky on his left. The brick of the buildings whizzed by his stomach as his wingtip skimmed a puddle of water. As he exploded out of the alley he barrel-rolled across the busy street and through both open windows of the apartment on the other side. Charger's heart was pounding. He could feel the adrenaline coursing through his veins. His face hurt from smiling. As he rocketed towards the club house of his little gang of delinquents, he thought to himself, Wait till I tell Sharkey about this!
Age twenty one.
Charger rolled over onto his back, his chest heaving as he wiped the sweat from his brow. He stretched his still-rigid wings, shuddering. The figure beside him, also breathless, turned her face towards his. Her soft lips pressed against mouth . He smiled, not breaking the kiss; he'd never been so happy. As the green furred lips broke from his own, he spoke.
"I love you, Sharkey."
She simply smiled, burying her face in his neck and running gentle hooves over his lean body.
The past nine years had been easier for Charger. With the troublemaker Sharkey as a friend, everything seemed a little nicer. And one year before when he finally told her how he felt about her, things became perfect. Having gotten sucked into the underground racing crowd he found his true calling, and after only a few years he ran his own crew of street racing pegasi. They were fast enough to run the little borough of Manehatten in which he had grown up. There was really only one rival group. And they weren't worth dealing with. They were a serious bunch. Dealers. Thieves. Killers. They were run by a series of under bosses, all of whom answered to an extremely wealthy and ruthless pegasus, Rain, who'd had his eye on Charger's turf for a while. Because of his newfound prominence as a racer as well as a gang leader, Charger was untouchable; killing him could start an all-out gang war. Because of this, Rain and Charger had kept an uneasy truce, staying well away from each other to avoid conflict.
Sharkey sat up. "Oh hey, we have that meeting tonight with Derby and his buddies."
Charger rolled out of bed and stood, looking out the window. He felt Sharkey's front hooves on his shoulders as she kissed his face and neck, pressing her warm chest into his back. "Sharkey, I dunno about this race. The set up seems sketchy. Derby's always been straight with us, but I can't figure out why he'd wanna meet at that old packing plant first. We're on the same crew. Something isn't right about him not wanting to use the safe house."
Sharkey crooned into his ear, "It'll be fine, babe. I promise. And don't worry about me, but I'll be a bit late, I've gotta run some errands near Horseshoe park."
Charger tensed. "That's Rain's turf. You be careful."
"You're silly. Rain wouldn't try anything. He's too sophisticated and uppity to draw attention to himself or his crew like that."
Charger grunted in agreement as Sharkey pulled him back onto the bed, her horn glowing with excitement.
That night Charger couldn't shake the feeling of uneasiness as he entered the old packing plant. The place was so dimly lit, and the boxes stacked to the ceiling made it uncomfortably hard to tell how many ponies might be in the room. He walked to the most brightly lit area and pressed his rump against a stack of boxes. If nothing else, he'd see somepony coming. Man, I really wish Sharkey would hurry up; this place is creeping me the hell out, he thought.
Suddenly a pony stepped forward. Charger snapped his wings open, ready to bolt.
"Charger, it's just me!", Sharkey said quickly.
Charger relaxed, stepping forward. As he approached his girlfriend, he couldn't help but feel that something was still wrong. From behind a large shipping container stepped a tall grey pegasus, his short black mane swept back from his face. Charger recognized him simply by his cutie mark, a bit with a knife through it.
"Rain", Charger hissed. "What the hell are you doing here? Where's Derby?"
Rain chuckled softly. "Derby's dead, Charger. He has been for three days. You were supposed to be killed this morning, but I decided to give you an option." Rain tossed his head, giving Charger a glimpse of the scar running back from his jaw line up the side of his head. "We would make a great team, you know. Join me, Charger."
"Or what?", Charger asked, knowing the answer.
Just then, six large earth ponies entered the lit part of the room, encircling Charger.
Rain gave a cold amused laugh. "Choose wisely, my boy."
"Fuck you, Rain," Charger roared.
Rain smiled. "I told you he wouldn't come around, Sharkey," he sighed. "We better get going, dear, before we miss the train to Fillydelphia. I know you'll just love the loft I've bought us."
Charger's stomach dropped as Rain put a wing over Sharkey. She didn't resist as he craned his neck and planted his open mouth on her own.
Charger heard his tears softly hitting the floor before he realized he was crying. He never saw the first blow coming. In a flash, he was on the floor as the burly earth ponies slammed rough hooves into his face, neck, back, and stomach. There came a pause in the blows as Sharkey stepped forward.
Sharkey looked at Charger, her face blank, with only a fleeting hint of remorse.
"Sorry Charger. It's only business."
With this, Sharkey delivered the blow to the side of Charger's head that rendered him unconscious.
Charger trudged onward, cold tears still clinging to his eyelashes. He entered the safehouse, presumably unaware of the other Shadowbolts behind him. As Stratus entered dragging the crate, Charger popped open the lid and took a bottle of Spin Juice. Without a word he popped open the bottle, drained its contents, and flopped down on the low cot in his room. The powerful concoction was working its magic; his emotions melted away, making room for a blur of warped sounds and bright colors. Feeling spitefully apathetic, he stood and spread his wings. He was going to blast through the window and fly until he dropped from the sky, to hell with everypony else. With a jolt, Charger attempted to fly forward but instead rotated forward ninety degrees and slammed face first into the floor. He lay there chuckling cynically until he fell asleep.
Nightshade addressed the group, indicating Charger's room. "He actually has the right idea. It's been a long night for all of us. Everypony kick back, get some sleep. Tomorrow's gonna be a bit more fun."
"A Dark Sky" Chapter 6
It was only a few hours past midnight when Starry Skies crept into Charger's room.
The drunken pegasus rolled over and sat up, holding his throbbing head in one hoof. As the magical drink began to wear off he felt as though he'd been hit by a freight train. Groggily he inquired, "Why're you up so late, Star?"
Gently, she knelt down beside him. "I wanted to make sure you were alright."
"Well, that's sweet of you. Any particular reason why?"
"You're my friend, dear. And in all honesty, it was a bit unsettling to see you being so emotional. I'm used to you and Stratus being personal symbols of bravery, chivalry, power." She laughed. "Ironic, isn't it? A mare from Uptown Cloudsdale finds her shining examples of bold gentlecolts in the company of ruffians like our little group?"
Charger reclined in a more comfortable position, indicating that Starry Skies could sit on the cot next to him. "You're from Uptown Cloudsdale? I didn't know that. You know, you never told me much about you, Star."
She smiled. "There's not much to tell."
The silence hung heavy on the room. Starry Skies, more perceptive than she appeared, quietly asked, "You loved her, didn't you?"
Charger sighed. He explained his history with Sharkey. When he finished he rolled over, facing away from Starry Skies. "It was a long time ago."
Starry Skies rested a gentle hoof on his shoulder. "I understand. I know how long those wounds can take to heal."
Suddenly interested, Charger faced Starry Skies again. "I never picked you as the sentimental type."
Starry Skies chuckled. "I was before all of this. Would you believe I actually saved myself for a colt I thought I was in love with?"
"No way", Charger laughed. "Really? I gotta hear this story."
Starry Skies laid her head on her crossed front hooves and started her story from its beginning, when she left her father's house.
There were two things that appealed to her from the start: material things and the idea of being the center of attention. These two things were all that Starry Skies had in mind the day she had her father arrange for her to meet with the Wonderbolts to discuss the possibility of her joining their group.
The athletic flight crew sat somewhat uncomfortably in the posh living room. Starry Skies, wearing her best dress, eagerly awaited her father's signal for her to enter the room. As the aging stallion dropped her name she glided gracefully into the room, landing silently on the expensive rug and giving a dainty bow.
"How very nice to meet you all", she said, adding the slightest hints of additional refinement to her moneyed voice.
"As you can see", her father added, "She's very graceful. She's also fairly quick in the air, and has received formal training in aerial ballet. My daughter would add to the team an element of sophistication and beauty that would no doubt draw a crowd with more selective tastes."
Doc, the captain of the team at the time, shifted in his seat. "Well, she seems to be quite the talent, sir, but we ARE first and foremost a stunt flight team. She would have to be able to fly exceptionally fast and with great coordination. She would also have to fit into the team dynamic. We can't agree to allow her to join without at least seeing an audition."
Twenty minutes later, Starry Skies breathed deeply as she began her routine over her father's lake. Speed and coordination; not exactly ballet, but I can do this!, she thought to herself.
She was wrong.
"Miss Skies", Doc said, trying to be gentle, "We simply cannot accept your application. While your determination and perseverance were
interesting, you simply lack proper coordination at higher speeds. And you never accelerated to the speeds we normally fly at. And if you were to crash into an actual crowd like that, you risk killing somepony. I encourage you to train hard, practice daily, and never give up, though; maybe one day you'll fly with us."
Doc and his team walked out, hastily pursued by Starry Skies's father.
"Mr. Doc", the stallion stammered, "You don't understand. My daughter, this is her dream-"
Doc cut him off. "Sir, we realize that. But somepony who flies as slowly as your daughter and is entirely incapable of clearing an obstacle at AVERAGE flying speed will never be a Wonderbolt."
The stallion lowered his voice, his face serious. "Listen. Your group could profit by having my daughter in it. I'm a vey powerful businesscolt, I could have you perform at the best venues, you'd get the best endorsement deals
You simply can't lose."
Doc shook his head, tossing his graying mane. "Sir. No amount of money can buy your daughter the skill she needs to join. Good day."
The team turned and left, taking the few aspirations young Starry Skies had with them.
For the next day or so she wouldn't leave her room. She hardly ate or slept. For the first time in her life, simply being part of the Cloudsdale aristocracy was not enough. It shattered her. A couple of over-dramatic, half hearted suicide attempts later she emerged from her depression a bit wiser and considerably darker. Despite being horribly spoiled, Starry Skies realized she had no future if she couldn't learn to solve problems without relying on her father to solve them for her. However, this change was not entirely positive. With it came a sort of moral apathy; Starry Skies was reborn with enough drive and determination to get what she wanted by her own means, but no qualms about using dishonest means to get it. After a couple of months of selfishly hoarding her father's money she left to pursue her own life with two things in mind. One was finding a steady source of income. The other was somehow, sometime, destroying the Wonderbolts for crushing her dreams.
The days seemed to swirl by as a boring grey blur. Starry Skies had bought a small apartment which she used as a base of operations as she mulled over possible jobs and ponies to rob blind. Finally she took a job as an office worker. The monotonous hell of pushing papers, crunching numbers, and pretending to care about the faceless corporation she stole items and money from daily was only broken when a few of her office friends took her clubbing.
Having been raised as a sophisticated socialite, Starry Skies had never attended a party that did not require formal wear. The food she was used to was small portions of elegantly prepared vegetables fashionable among the aristocracy, not heaping plates of hay fries or platters full of sweets. She had tasted alcohol, but only champagne, and never enough to get her drunk. She had danced, but always in a ballroom setting or as a ballerina, never in a hot, bouncing club where the mares gyrated and grinded upon each other like wild animals. She had never seen so many beautifully liberated ponies, all letting loose and succumbing to such primal urges until now.
And she liked it.
From that first night, which ended around eight the next morning with Starry Skies enjoying a stolen breakfast in the unfamiliar apartment she woke up in, Starry Skies had found her calling in life; hedonism. Every night and every pay check thereafter was spent in a club, drinking, eating, and reveling in the attention paid to her model's figure by the colts and mares. But eventually her father's money began to run out, and her meager pay check couldn't support her refined tastes and horribly unrefined spending habits. Starry Skies found that if she danced a little closer to certain colts or mares, they'd buy her drinks. She took in every little subtle hint of body language she could, using it to earn her more attention. The ponies she danced with, they wanted her. And they were willing to buy her drinks, and food, and give her a ride home when she was too drunk to fly, all just to be near her. All she had to do was pay attention to them, be flirty and fun and use her appearance to her advantage, and they were putty in her hooves. Some nights she would go out and have the time of her life and not spend a single bit. But the ponies she leeched off of wanted more.
She was lucky enough to get away with a dance here, a kiss there, for the first few months. But eventually colts started to hint at the thing Starry Skies refused to give up: sex. Despite her behavior Starry Skies had maintained one last shred of innocence. And she utterly refused to let go of it. The thought of it made her feel unclean. It wasn't that she wished to abstain forever. Far from it. Starry Skies was previously oblivious to dating and the concept of love thanks to her over-protective father. She saw love as it was depicted in the stuffy old ballet stories. She felt she could only achieve true love if she met a beautiful colt willing to give up everything for her in exchange for her innocence and hoof in marriage. That sacrifice was the only way she could ever find a happily ever after.
One night, Starry Skies stumbled upon her prince charming. He was a lean earth pony by the name of Quickstep. His flowing, chestnut colored mane was clinging to his muzzle from perspiration as he glided across the dance floor. He was easily the best dancer in the place. His glistening white coat reflected the lights of the club in a way that made him look like a glowing marble statue. He was confident, good looking, and rich. A perfect target for Starry Skies. She moved in for the kill, drawing him in with a wink. But when he came over and sat next to her he did the last thing she expected: he started an intelligent conversation. No cheesy pick-up lines, no sob-stories, not even the straight-forward, 'Can I buy you a drink?' line. He began to talk to her about the music, which led to a very civilized and engaging discussion about musical theory that brought Starry Skies back to her formal education days.
Starry Skies was so thrown out of her own element that she agreed to see him the next night. And the next. And the next.
Four months later, Starry Skies was head-over-hooves in love. Quickstep was perfect. He was fun and witty. He was a gentlecolt. He was sophisticated, but not stuffy. He was rich, but not opulent or greedy. And most of all, he had no problem supporting her. He truly was her Prince Charming. Finally after weeks of her dropping hints, he asked her to marry him.
That night, Starry Skies made a decision. It was time for happily ever after. She anxiously waited in the bed for Quickstep to return with wine. The smile on his face put her at ease, but at his touch the butterflies in her stomach returned. Doing her best to avoid seeming nervous Starry Skies gave the most important part of herself, her innocence and purity, to the colt of her dreams, her true love.
The next day she woke up late; the clock read nearly noon. She sat up, groggy and still sore. Rubbing her eyes, she realized she had a pounding headache and that her body felt considerably sorer than she was ever told it would. I must have had more wine than I thought last night, she thought, because I feel like we made love a million times and hardly remember anything. She turned over in bed. Quickstep wasn't there next to her.
Starry Skies felt her stomach drop. He's probably in the shower or cooking breakfast, she assured herself.
She looked in the bathroom and kitchen. No Quickstep. She began to frantically scour the entire apartment. Upon opening her closet she found that the shoebox containing her savings was gone. So was her jewelry. So were her most expensive outfits. As she sprinted through the front room, something caught her eye. A note. It read simply, "Sorry kid, you're nice, but I'm not about to settle down. Love, Q. P.S., if you feel really queasy and lightheaded, you may wanna call poison control about a medication overdose."
At that moment, something in Starry Skies's heart broke irreparably. She felt so used, so unclean, so filthy and worthless. The room spun. She fell to the ground, unable to stand. She gagged. She vomited. She wept. It took roughly twelve hours to recover from the uncontrollable sobbing, dry heaves, and sickness due to a slight sedative overdose. When she did recover, she found she was incapable of caring. The little part of her that broke opened a gate to purely apathetic hedonism. She now had no reservations about sleeping with anypony; she wanted to embrace physical pleasure, the only kind that couldn't be taken away. Emotional pleasure was a lie. Sex was real. Alcohol was real. Physical pleasure was real. This, and destroying the Wonderbolts, and Quickstep if ever she saw him again, became all that mattered.
Charger looked pensively at Starry Skies. "Star, I had no idea. I'm so sorry."
She gave a half-smile. "We all have our baggage, Charger."
"Yeah, but the past is the past, we can live with that." He sat up. "You know what really scares me? The future."
Starry Skies blinked. "You know, I never thought about that. What are you gonna do after this deal with Nightshade is over?"
Charger stood, looking out the window. "I dunno. Maybe spend the rest of my days chasing tequila with spicy food and good music down in Mexicolt City." He turned back to Starry Skies. "Hell, maybe you could come with me. Keep me company."
Starry Skies smiled. "Maybe."
The next morning Nightshade had everypony up bright and early. She stood in front of a cork board full of extraneous papers hastily tacked to it. On the table in front of it was a stack of binders. In the crate next to her were everypony's hoof blades. In a larger crate on the other side of her were rolled up maps, new padded flight suits, and all of the materials required for makeshift explosives.
When Nightshade spoke, her crisp clear voice was considerably darker. Her words were charged, muddied with hate.
"Alright. This is it. We begin training today. Combat, armed and unarmed. Trick flying and aerial attacks. Stealth operations to avoid security. Mixing, assembling, wiring, setting, triggering, and even disarming small explosives. And most importantly of all", she added, sliding a binder to each pony, "We're gonna know our enemy."
Each pony began to flip through the dossiers of the Wonderbolts. First came Soarin', the athletic but loveably stupid second captain. Next came Blue Blazer, Doc, Smokey Trails and a few others, old or unrecognized due to being outshined by the more prominent members. Next came the page that made Nightshade quake with hatred, Spitfire's page. She was now the captain of the team as well as the star of every show. After the Wonderbolts themselves were a few pages on their security teams, tech teams, and various other unimportant ponies. Standard business. The last page featured their newest manager, a tall grey pegasus with a short black mane and a knife through a bit as his cutie mark.
Simultaneously, Charger and Stratus blurted, "Rain!"
Charger turned to Stratus. "How do you know him?"
"Back in my days as an enforcer in Manehatten, he was my first real case. We tried to take down his little racket, but nothing ever stuck to the bastard; he dropped off the radar. How about you?"
Charger made brief eye contact with Starry Skies. "We have history."
Nightshade stepped forward. "History or not, we need to be prepared to face every pony in this book." Her voice dropped, dripping with malice. "We need to be prepared to kill every pony in this book." Silently, she thought to herself, And oh how prepared I am to kill you, Spitfire...