Chapter Thirty-Three: Second Horizon
At the family's homestead, everypony was trying to recover from what had happened. The family was in the living room, trying to recover from their ordeal, Marshall close by. Sterling decided to wait in Big Red's room, wanting to be alone, clearly despondent over Crystal's death. Marshall suggested guarding the door, in case he tried to make a break for it, but Elite felt it wouldn't have been necessary.
Meanwhile, in the dining room, Elite was sitting at the table, across from Detail, who had been just as distraught since discovering Crystal's body. His broken shoulder and leg were done up in a cast, his busted sunglasses on the table. Fury was watching from the side, leaning against the wall.
"I can't believe he's really gone." Detail confessed. "Killed by some thug hopped up on whatever drug made him into... that. And there I was, knocked down by one blow."
"Detail, what happened to Crystal is not your fault." Elite declared.
"Like hell it isn't." Detail scoffed. "Senator Cross was my charge. My responsibility. And now, he's dead."
"And that's horrible and all... but that snake had it coming." Fury snorted. "He and the lot of you were going to kill an innocent family so you could kill his scum brother. I say they're lucky that Lunard killed them before I could get my talons on them."
"Fury..." Elite admonished him.
"Look, I had no idea Crystal was going to have the whole family executed." Detail closed his eyes. "All Crystal told me was that he and the others were going to gas the house, take Sterling while the others were unconscious, and bring him back to Haygypt. But then Crystal went off the deep end, and did all this."
"I'm assuming this wasn't the first time he did something so awful?" Elite asked.
"Yeah." Detail nodded solemnly. "Crystal was impulsive... especially when he was angry. And when it came to his family... he was always angry. And when he was angry... he did everything in his power to make the source of that anger go away. Be it some gardener, a mail pony, or a neighbor that moved away years ago... then he would call on me to help him clean it up."
"So, you just let him do it." Fury scowled. "A textbook psychopath."
"I'm sorry, have you ever stood face to face with an angry dragon?" Detail glared at him. "Crystal hurt things that made him angry, so he wouldn't be angry anymore. And until that happened everypony around him suffered. Ever since that incident in Canterlot, Crystal was a ticking timebomb, filled with years of anger and hatred towards Sterling. If Sterling wasn't caught and dealt with, he would have gone on to hurt other ponies. Then Sterling came out of the blue and kidnapped him and threw him down the well. When we fished him out fourteen hours later... the pony we pulled out wasn't Crystal."
"And that what lead you out here to Dodge Junction?" Elite asked.
"Yes." Detail sighed. "It was my hope that once we had Sterling, that would be the end of it... but I guess I was only fooling myself. When I saw he took the family, I went after them, to try and talk some sense into him... but he didn't care. He wanted to kill everypony, including Sterling. He even beaten the crap out of me for trying to stop him... he probably would had done away with me once he was finished with them."
"Well, that's what you get for being a stooge to an asshole like him." Fury spat.
"Hey, Crystal might have been an unpleasant equine being, but he was my friend." Detail seethed. "When I was a kid, I was just this awkward, wallflower colt from a middle-class family. Nopony ever gave me the time of day. But Crystal did. He was rich, came from a influential family... yet he chose to be my friend. And I swore to protect him when I became his right-hand pony. And today, I failed to do just that..." He shook his head. "I don't know how I'm going to explain to his wife, let alone the Haygptian government how the senator ended up dead in the middle of nowhere on Equestrian soil."
"Hmm, that is a problem, isn't it?" Elite mused. "Well, then, we should do well to remedy that."
"And how do you intend to do that?" Detail asked.
"Well, for starters, you are not going to tell anypony what happened out there in the plains." Elite instructed.
"What?! Not tell anypony?!" Detail spluttered. "You honestly can't expect me-"
"Detail, let me finish." Elite urged. "Now then... me and my agents have grown quite aware of the activites your boss had partaken in, leading up to today. Don't ask us how we know, but we know. I think I speak for the both of us that it is in our best interest that ponies don't know about what Crystal Cross and his contingent of agents were doing leading up to their demises. Even if you alone had no intentions of hurting anypony, you being there makes you an accessory. And honestly, you and I wouldn't want that, right?"
"...Right." Detail nodded.
"So, here's what's going to happen." Elite declared. "I already called some of my other men to take care of Crystal and your fallen comrades' bodies, and two of them are waiting outside with your carriage. They're going to fly you back to Cairode, and when you hit the ground over there, you are going to come before the Senate, and tell them that the Senator and all of you went to Equestria for a surprise goodwill visit, and were ambushed by ne'er do wells. Despite your best efforts, the Senator and all the guards lost their lives, and you were lucky enough to barely survive."
"And you think they're going to buy that?" Detail asked.
"Not to sound insensitive, but it's not like there's nopony else to dismiss your story, is there?" Elite retorted.
"No, I suppose not..." Detail frowned. He then glared upwards, where Sterling was. "What about Sterling? What's to become of him?"
"Well, it goes without saying, but you will not tell anypony that you found him." Elite declared. "In fact, I want you to tell the Senate over there to call off the stallionhunt on him."
"You didn't answer my question." Detail frowned. "What are you going to do with him? This stallion took part in acts of terrorism with these Forefathers. I can't just up and tell Haygypt to just stop looking. Especially with all the fuss Crystal kicked up."
"I already thought of that, Detail." Elite answered. " Just tell them that the RDL will take care of Sterling, 'when' they find him, personally. I already have a friend in high places that will collaborate with your story. However, I cannot stress that you never mention what has happened here to anypony."
"And what about the family?" Detail inquired.
"They will be sworn to secrecy as well... all that matters is can you be trusted to keep your mouth shut about this?" Elite declared.
"...Yes." Detail nodded respectfully. "You have my word."
"Good." Elite smiled sadly. "Nice to know that unlike your 'friend', you have good sense about you."
"Yeah, I wouldn't go that far." Detail shook his head. "If I had any sense at all, we wouldn't have been here in the first place. And Crystal would still be alive..."
"It can be difficult to stand up to a friend." Elite sympathized. "But what's done is done. And nothing can undo it. All we can do is move forward."
"Easier said than done." Detail sighed, walking toward the kitchen door. "But I should be going anyway. I have a widow to break some unsettling news to..."
Suddenly, Detail stopped and turned back.
"Oh… before I forget… could I get the tape that Sterling has on him?"
"Tape?" Elite frowned. "What tape?"
"It was the whole reason we were out here... or so Senator Cross told me." Detail declared. "He said that Sterling recorded him admitting that he killed the late Golden Cross, and threatened to disclose it to all the news outlets if he kept looking for him. And we all know how that turned out."
"You don't say..." Elite mused.
"Anyhow, it's important I bring it back with me." Detail urged. "The last thing I want is for Crystal's reputation to be ruined. He doesn't deserve that. Neither does his wife…"
"Well, I'm sorry, Detail, but if this tape does exist, we will have to hold onto it indefinitely." Elite announced.
"But sir..." Detail protested.
"I assure you, the tape won't see the light of day.." Elite said firmly. "I promise."
"...Well, I guess since you're turning a blind eye to all the other stuff, I guess there's no point arguing." Detail sighed, "... should get back to Cairode. I need to inform Mrs. Cross of her husband's passing..."
Detail sadly departed through the kitchen door.
"I thought that clown would never leave." Fury scowled, "Though I wish we weren't letting him off the hook."
"Fury..." Elite frowned disapprovingly.
"He helped Crystal get away with murdering all those ponies. He may not have done it himself, but somepony has to pay for what he did!" Fury seethed.
"Do they?" Elite asked, "Crystal is dead. As well as some of his agents. Detail will probably spend the rest of his life, living with the failure of not being able to protect him, as well as the guilt for helping him do those awful things. I believe that is punishment enough."
"Well, that's your opinion, I guess." Fury rolled his eyes.
"I guess it is." Elite declared, as he got up, "Now then… I believe the time has come for me to discuss matters with Sterling."
"Then let's do it." Fury scoffed, no longer leaning on the wall, "I wanna hear what bullcrap sob story he has waiting for us."
"No offense, Fury, but I wish to do this alone." Elite held up his metal hoof, giving a firm stare, "I think it would be best if Sterling not have to contend with your sorely lacking of empathy. Is that alright with you?"
"...Yeah, sure." Fury sighed, acknowledging his superior's tone, "I'm still a little nettled at that dirtbag. Probably for the best."
"Good." Elite nodded, "How about you wait outside? Hopefully, my and Sterling's talk shouldn't take too long."
"Sounds good to me." Fury shrugged.
Both Elite and Fury passed through the living room, barely acknowledging the family, most of whom were too shell-shocked to notice. Eclipse, however, took note of the older griffon, while Big Red and Marshall took note of Elite as they approached him.
"Yer gonna be talkin' tah Sterling now, ain'tchya?" Big Red asked Elite.
"That's right." Elite nodded, as Fury continued outside, "Hopefully, Sterling will not put up any resistance for when we take him in."
"Jeez, I was afraid of that…" Big Red sighed, "Please… try to go easy on 'im. Ah know he's made mistakes, but he's a good stallion, deep down. He don't deserve tah rot in jail fer the rest of his life."
"'Go easy on him'?" Marshall scowled. "Red, he nearly got you all killed! Dragged you into him and his brother's twisted family feud! Not to mention that Eclipse's pa of all creatures came in and try to do the same thing! If you ask me, jail would be a mercy!"
"Well, nopony asked you!" Big Red snarled. "Mr. Everest, Ah'm beggin' ya-"
"And I'm telling you-" Marshall started.
"Enough." Elite cut them both off firmly, "I will decide for myself whether or Mr Cross is deserving of mercy. Whatever my decision is, I don't wish to hear any guff about it from either of you, alright?"
"Yes, Director Everest." Marshall said respectfully.
"Ah suppose Ah can't ask fer anythin' more than that..." Big Red muttered.
"Good." Elite nodded.
Elite made his way upstairs. Meanwhile, Big Red and Marshall glanced at each other, then turned away.
Meanwhile, Fury sat on the porch, and looked out over the homestead.
"Nice place..." He muttered. "Looks peaceful... and boring. Then again, I guess it's better that way."
"Hey... Fury, was it?" A voice called out.
Fury perked up, as he turned to see Eclipse, having come out the door.
"What are you doin' out here, kid?" Fury asked. "Shouldn't you be with your family?"
"They'll be fine." Eclipse frowned, "We've all been through worse…"
"I'm sure you have…" Fury murmured. He glanced at the young griffon, his eyes showing… sadness, "Still, I'm sorry you had to go through all that. To have crossbows pointed in your face…" He then scowled. "Because some dumb asshole had to go and piss off his psycho brother."
"Hey, I wasn't thrilled about it either, but it wasn't all his fault." Eclipse reasoned… before lowering his head, "Besides… it was my dad that ended up doing most of the killing anyways…"
"Yeah…" Fury grimaced, "...Look, I get that he was your dad, but-"
"It's fine." Eclipse shook his head, "...That griffon that was out there, who murdered those guys and almost killed me… he wasn't my dad."
"You really see it that way?" Fury asked. "The guy really meant nothing to you?"
"...Mostly." Eclipse shrugged. "I hated the way he treated, but I guess I always hoped we could settle things one day... but now that day will never come. I know it wasn't very likely, but I wouldn't have minded the chance to make peace with him, at least so we wouldn't have to worry about him attacking us..."
"That would have been nice." Fury admitted. "Even if that featherbrain would never have gone for it."
"Fury… there's something I wanted to ask you…" Eclipse frowned, "About what you said when you first saw my dad out there."
Fury simply closed his eyes. He felt that he knew what Eclipse was going to ask him about…
"I might've misheard you, you know, because I was almost strangled…" Eclipse murmured, before glancing at the older griffon, "But I heard you say 'did you believe I'd forget what you did to Dawn'..."
"No… you heard right. That is what I said." Fury admitted, "...What of it?"
"...Dawn was my mom's name…" Eclipse rubbed his arm, "My dad killed her when I was still an egg… but not a lot of creatures knew that… I didn't even knew that till a couple of years back."
"...And?" Fury asked pointlessly, knowing he was going with this.
"I'm not a idiot, Fury." Eclipse scowled, "You just so happened to come out of nowhere to save us, mad as all hell at my dad for what he did to 'Dawn', which happens to be the name of my mother. You and I share the same feather and fur colorations. It would be rather stupid to write all that off as some dumb coincidence!"
"Stranger things have happened." Fury shrugged. "You don't seem nearly so surprised that I can control wind, and produce spears from out of nowhere."
"So you have powers." Eclipse snorted. "Big deal."
"Not the kind of reaction I'm used to hearing." Fury said flippantly.
"I want answers." Eclipse demanded, "Who are you… and how do you know my parents?"
"You really wanna know?" Fury glanced at Eclipse.
"Yes… please." Eclipse urged.
"..Okay, then." Fury sighed, glancing out into the plains, "The truth is… the Dawn I spoke of… she was my sister. Somecreature that I loved with every fiber of my being. The only family I had left in the world… until Lunard came into our lives." He closed his eyes, clenching his talons, "He took her away from me… leaving behind only an egg…" He then glanced at Eclipse, "...That egg was you, Eclipse."
"Wait… if I was that egg… that means my mom was your sister... " Eclipse murmured, before lighting up in realization, "But… but that would make you-"
"Your uncle." Fury nodded, "Surprise."
Eclipse stared at Fury, trying to digest the information.
"Okay… I don't know if it's the fact that I nearly died today…" Eclipse declared, his expression hard to discern between shock and disbelief, "But this… this is something I'm… I'm struggling to grasp right now."
"That is understandable..." Fury agreed… before frowning, "And I also understand that you might be a little angry…"
"A little angry?!" Eclipse repeated, his shock giving away to agitation, "I-I don't even know how I'm feeling! I mean, all this time I had an uncle?! My dad spent almost my entire life lying to me about my mom leaving us! Not once did he ever mention you!"
"In fairness, I wasn't exactly his favorite Griffon." Fury admitted. "And he wasn't mine..." He added, growling.
"So he just pretended like you didn't exist?" Eclipse asked.
"Sounds like it." Fury nodded.
"So… if you are my uncle…" Eclipse scowled, "Then where the hell have you been all this time?! Running around with these RDL guys?!"
"...Not exactly." Fury said shiftily.
"So you were just not around when my dad killed my mom?!" Eclipse snarled.
"It wasn't like that, kid." Fury shook his head. There was clearly pain in his eyes. "I… I couldn't stop Lunard from killing your mother. Believe me… if I were able to, I would had done it… but I couldn't save her…" He turned to Eclipse, "...But I was able to save you."
"Save me?" Eclipse's anger softened, "What do you mean?"
"That feathered filth you call your father? He was more than ready to crush your egg between his cold murdering talons." Fury snarled, "And he would had done it too… had I not put the fear of Faust in him."
"Hold on…" Eclipse lit up, recognizing his father's words back when he learned about what happened to his mother, "You mean… you were the one who threatened him into keeping me?"
"You're damn right I was." Fury said proudly and fiercely, "Took just about every ounce of control in my body to not kill him where he stood. I made him swear to take care of you, and to make sure he didn't go back on his word…"
He held up his talon, as wisps appear around his eyes. "I imprinted a bit of my essence on your egg using my dark magic. If you were ever in mortal danger, I would know about it, and how to find you…"
"You did all that... for me?" Eclipse asked.
"Of course…" Fury nodded, giving a small smile, "You're my nephew. The only piece of Dawn I had left in this world… I would do anything to keep you safe… you mean so much to me…"
"Is that right?" Eclipse frowned. "...If I meant so much to you… then why did you leave me with my dad in the first place?"
"Well, uh…" Fury's smile faded, as he glanced away, "...I thought you'd be better off with your father than with somecreature like me..."
"You thought I'd be… are you serious?" Eclipse seethed, "He'd just murdered my mom! Your sister! And he would've killed me if you hadn't stepped in! He clearly didn't care about me! What made you think I'd be better off with him, than with you?!"
"Look, it's complicated." Fury grunted, "I can't begin to explain my reasoning, but the bottom line is, you and your father could have had a life. You and me? Not so much…"
"I guess we'll never know, will we?" Eclipse glared, "Being 'raised' by that monster was a living nightmare! Did you have any ideas how badly he hurt me?!"
"I realize that…" Fury admitted shamefully, "Trust me, had there been any other way, I wouldn't even let Lunard live another moment, let alone let him hurt you…"
"But there wasn't another way." Eclipse scowled. "At least, not any you could see..."
"I didn't think I had a choice." Fury sighed. "I thought it was the only decent option there was."
"And because of what you thought, I spent my childhood getting pushed around, yelled at, beaten, and used as an accessory in my dad's criminal ways." Eclipse said coldly.
"But you made it through alright, didn't ya?" Fury asked, "You found two brothers to love, didn't you?"
"Yeah, but-" Eclipse nodded.
"And you ended up with a nice home in the end, right?" Fury prompted, "With parents who actually love you. And now, your dad is dead. All in all, everything worked out fine."
"You're missing the point!" Eclipse growled, "Yes, I do have a good life now. But it took a lot of hardship to get here… not that you'd know about any of that, now would you?"
"That's where you're wrong, Eclipse." Fury declared coldly, Eclipse's remark striking a nerve, "You think my life was any better after I lost your mother and sent you off with that piece of scum? It wasn't. My life has been nothing but hardships, even when I discovered my powers. So I do know. Faust damn, do I know."
"Was it really that bad?" Eclipse asked contemptuously.
"You got no idea, kid." Fury retorted. "At least you had a father, no matter how abusive, and later, two brothers. Me? I was alone, hated just for what I am. I went for years without having a friend in the world, only enemies. Not the best time of my life..."
"Oh..." Eclipse frowned. "...Sorry. I didn't know."
"That's okay, kid." Fury accepted his apology.
The two sat in silence for a moment.
"...So… where do we go from here?" Eclipse frowned.
"'We' go nowhere." Fury shook his head. He then stepped off the porch, making his way towards the carriage, "If we're lucky, and your foster dad doesn't take in another criminal, we probably won't see each other again after today…"
"What…" Eclipse murmured, "What do you mean 'we won't see each other again'? You come into my life, tell me you're my uncle, and now you're just going to disappear again?!"
"It's better this way, kid." Fury sighed, "You have a good family here. You don't need an uncle, especially one who has been a no-show your entire life."
"But you're my uncle." Eclipse protested, stepping forth, "I have so many questions, about you, about my mom, about-"
"Trust me, those questions are best left unanswered." Fury said bluntly. "I can't be a part of your life, Eclipse." He added firmly, but sadly. "I've already done enough damage to it already."
"But-" Eclipse started.
"I'm sorry for everything you've been through." Fury apologized. "And I'm sorry for not being able to protect your mother, but there's nothing I can do to make up for any of that. And if I'm a part of your life, I'll only bring you more pain. "So it's best that I get out of it as soon as possible."
"You... you can't just leave..." Eclipse said weakly.
"I don't have a choice." Fury declared. "It's for the best."
"Sure it is..." Eclipse turned around, trying to hide his tears, as he went back inside.
Fury, deeply saddened himself, bowed his head in regret.
'Sometimes, doing the right thing really feels wrong...' He thought.
Back in the living room, the family sat there in silence, as Globe still held Bolero in his hooves…
"You know, now that we have a moment to ourselves, I realized we have yet to talk about this puppy that came out of nowhere to protect Globe." Cherry frowned.
"Oh… yeah." Globe murmured.
"Yer right, Cherry." Big Red nodded, as he glanced at the St. Bernard pup, "Where'd this li'l guy come from, Globe?"
"Well, I… I found him wandering around all alone a few months back, during opera season." Globe confessed. "He look so sad and lonely, not to mention hungry, so I gave him some food I had on me. Then I gave him more the next day. And the day after that... Before I know it, he took a shine to me."
"To all of us." Huckleberry added.
"You all knew about him?" Cherry asked. "And you didn't tell us?"
"We're sorry." Globe apologized. "I wanted to tell you both sooner, but I was afraid you wouldn't let us keep him, and you were gonna send him away. I mean, we all know Pa doesn't really like dogs."
"Sez who?" Big Red asked.
"Pa, Marshall told us how you found one hundred and twenty one ways to kill a Timberwolf." Huckleberry deadpanned.
"First off, it's one hundred and twenty two." Big Red corrected, "And secondly, just cuz I have problems with varmints like Timberwolves and those pesky Cactus Coyotes, doesn't mean Ah don't like dogs. Dogs are sumthin' different entirely!"
"No, they're not." Marshall scoffed, stepping in, "Dogs and wolves are pretty much kissin' cousins."
"Now don't ya go an' put images like that in mah head." Big Red cringed. "Mah point is, we don't have tah worry much about dogs tearin' ya hoof from hoof. 'Specially not a cute li'l guy like that."
"So… does that mean we can keep him?" Globe smiled.
"Well, if y'all wanted a dog, you could have just asked." Big Red smirked, "From the look of this little feller, ya been takin' good care of him. Would be pretty mean to jest turn 'im away. Especially after he tried to help us." He turned to his wife. "Right, Cherry?"
"Of course." Cherry patted Bolero on the head. "Welcome to the family, little one."
The little pup let out a happy pant.
"Thanks, ma!" Globe smiled. "Thanks, pa!"
"Still, could ya try to go easy on all the secret-keeping?" Big Red urged. "Ah think we've all had enough of those fer a while..."
"Like you can talk. You both knew about Sterling bein' one of those Forefathers guys." Huckleberry frowned. "Y'know, those bad guys in the news?"
"That... that wuz different." Big Red said awkwardly.
"Really?" Huckleberry snorted.
"Of course." Cherry declared. "That secret kept you safe."
"Sure it did..." Huckleberry scoffed.
At that point, a saddened Eclipse coming in.
"What's wrong, Eek?" Big Red asked. "Ya look like a fox with no henhouse."
"Well, it's kinda like this..." Eclipse began.
Sterling was seated at the bedside table in Big Red's room, having been so even since getting back.
'I can't believe things turned out this way.' He thought. 'Lunard went rogue, the RDL tracked me down... And Crystal's... Gone. Just like that...'
The bedroom's door opened, snapping Sterling out of his thoughts. He glanced up and frowned, as Elite entered the room, taking a seat at the table across from him.
"Sterling Cross. We meet again." Elite declared.
"Hmph." Sterling scowled.
"Surely you recall who I am, right?" Elite asked, "We did have the pleasure of seeing each other back in Canterlot atop a giant mechanical monstrosity over a correct ago, correct?"
"Of course… Elite Price Everest." Sterling nodded, "Director of the Royal Defense Legion, and head of Taskforce Omega, enemy of the Forefathers. I am more than aware of you and your little posse. We all are."
"Glad to hear it." Elite smirked, "I have to say, Sterling, you were one hard stallion to find. Took us all month to finally catch up with you… and to think we almost didn't…"
Sterling cringed silently.
"Surely, you are aware of how much trouble you're in, right?" Elite asked.
Sterling remained silent, and didn't bother to face him.
"You have many criminal charges laid against you." Elite explained, his smirk fading into coldness, "Theft, assault, acts of terrorism, treason, fraud..." Sterling's frown deepened, "...And that's only a fraction of the crimes you committed in the name of the Forefathers. And then, there is now, where you endangered the lives in everypony in this household."
"It wasn't supposed to happen that way!" Sterling yelled. "I didn't think Crystal would- that he would-"
"But he did. And he almost succeeded." Elite frowned, "Your brother hated you so much that he was willing to do anything to see you dead. And you went and dropped him in a well. It was to my understanding that you would be smarter than to do that."
Sterling gave a small huff, not bothering to retort.
"...I spoke with Detail, and he told me that you had blackmail material about you." Elite declared, as he glanced over at Sterling's jacket, which was set on the bed, seeing a tape recorder sticking out of one of the pockets. "And here it is… mind if I-"
"Knock yourself out." Sterling grunted.
Elite went over and grabbed the tape recorder, and set it down on table. Sterling glanced away, unable to look at it.
"There's no doubt in my mind that this recorder helped feed into the psychotic break your brother had. At the very least, it gave him an excuse to give to Detail and his men to go after you, jurisdiction and international incidents be damned. I can't help but wonder what was on here, that he was willing to kill for..."
Elite tapped the play button on the tape recorder. The room was filled with the sound of static. Sterling's face became more guilt-ridden, as Elite raised a brow in intrigue.
"Nothing…" Elite switched the recorder. "Absolutely nothing. You never recorded your conversation with your brother in your brief time in Cairode, did you?"
"No... no, I didn't." Sterling nodded.
"So, that means Crystal Cross and his agents were out there, trying to retrieve blackmail that didn't exist... and he died, because he got between you and the Forefathers... and everypony nearly paid for it." Elite summarized.
Sterling's hooves clenched, but he made no attempt to argue the point.
"...Why would you threaten Crystal with blackmail you didn't have?" Elite asked.
"It was supposed to scare him." Sterling answered sadly. "I only went to Cairode to find closure for myself, and getting him to admit he killed our little brother was a big part of it. When I learned he was looking for me, I thought if I got him to believe that I recorded him confessing to killing Gold, then he would back off. That he would leave me be. That he wouldn't risk everything just so he could get rid of me, just like he did Gold."
"...Then why didn't you actually record it?" Elite asked. "I figured after everything he did to you and your little brother... you would want to do everything in your power to destroy him."
"Then you figured wrong." Sterling retorted. "Despite everything he did to me, everything he did to Gold... he was still my brother. And as much as he ruined my life, and how much he hurt me, I never wanted to return the favor, and I sure as Tartarus didn't want him dead." He finished sadly.
"Is that so?" Elite mused, "Even though he, along with your abusive mother and your feeble father, were all responsible for driving you down the path that led you to the Forefathers?"
"And here we go." Sterling rolled his eyes, anger in his voice, "This is the part where you tell me how I was lured in by the Forefathers' rhetorics, and tricked into fighting their fights and doing their biddings. That I let myself be a pawn in some big, convoluted scheme thought by Father. Am I right?"
"If the horseshoe fits, yes." Elite nodded, "You were but only a young colt when you joined the organization."
"Well, I didn't really have any other options." Sterling growled, his temper flaring, "I was in juvie, coming off a botched attempt to kill my brother, because no pony gave a crap about what I had to said. My whole family was going to have me tried as an adult and sent to prison. When I had nothing left, the Forefathers came and gave me a chance at a new life..."
"And made you into a criminal and a terrorist." Elite glared, "Some life."
"Look, I can't expect you to understand, but I believed the Forefathers would be the family I'd never had." Sterling glared back, "They believed in me. They supported me. Made me feel like I mattered…" His glare softened, as he lowered his head, "...But in the end, I was wrong. And I didn't realize that until after I had saw the pain and grief I caused two ponies who actually cared about me…"
"I know how it feels to need a place to belong." Elite said sympathetically. "But you still hurt a lot of ponies, and he committed a lot of terrible crimes."
"So did Black Knight." Sterling declared. "From what I heard, that didn't stop you from cutting him a break."
"Black was a special case." Elite declared. "More than you can imagine..."
"Director, I know there's nothing I can say or do that justifies a single thing I have done. And I don't intend to try." Sterling declared fiercely, "I know what I did, and I did it all of my own free will. I didn't have a crossbow to my head. I wasn't brainwashed. I truly believed everything I did was for the greater good, but they weren't. And by returning to them, I broke out the griffon that killed my scumbag of a brother. And there is absolutely nothing I can do to take any of it back."
He then held out his hooves.
"So, just cuff me and get it over with!" Sterling demanded.
Elite stared at the irate stallion, and at his hooves… before shaking his head.
"You know, normally, in this kind of scenario, I would do just that." Elite admitted, "...But this isn't a normal kind of scenario, and you are no normal stallion…"
"Excuse me?" Sterling frowned.
"You see, Sterling, me and the RDL have been looking for you… but it is not to have you arrested." Elite revealed, "I am actually here to make you a offer."
"Offer?" Sterling repeated, "...I don't follow."
"Well, allow me to explain." Elite announced, "After Black's untimely demise, me and my good friend had decided to build a new special taskforce, to co-exist with Taskforce Omega, one that Fury and three others are currently a part of. A taskforce that operates outside of normal jurisdiction, in order to bring down those who seek to harm the world. Be they the Forefathers or anypony else… and I want you on this taskforce."
"...What?" Sterling frowned, not sure whether to gape in shock or to snort in derision, "You want me, a member of the Forefathers, to defect over to your little ragtag group that's been nothing but a pain in their sides? You realize how crazy you sound, right?"
"I figured you would say that… but it is to my understanding that you are no longer affiliated with the Forefathers, is that right?" Elite challenged.
"...Yes." Sterling declared firmly, "...But I don't understand… after everything I've done, you, of all ponies, want me on your team? I can't help but wonder why."
"Because we have researched you, Sterling." Elite smiled. "Learned everything we can about you..."
"That doesn't sound disturbing at all..." Sterling snarked.
"I'm serious, Sterling." Elite declared, "According to your files, you happen to be a former cadet of the military school in Deerbai, with off-the-charts hoof/eye co-ordination, determination, intelligence... and a pony that dared to leave the Forefathers. I find a stallion like that rather… interesting."
Sterling gave an impassive gaze, feeling as if he heard this before.
"I believe that a stallion with the skills you possess and the knowledge you know of the Forefathers could be of great use." Elite explained. "Not just to us, but to the world."
"I find that hard to believe." Sterling snorted, "I'm a rogue maverick with a ledger full of red. On top of being a criminal and a terrorist, in case you forgotten."
"You made a lot of bad decisions, there's no denying that." Elite countered, "But that doesn't change the kind of pony I know you to be: somepony who wishes to be a better pony, one who strives to do the right thing, and that's what counts. There is good in you, Sterling, I know it."
"And why should I believe you?" Sterling challenged.
"You shouldn't." Elite admitted, "After all, I am the head of the taskforce who is trying to take down the organization you used to work for. You have no reason to believe anything I say… that is why you should believe, not in me, in Echo and Sunset."
"...Echo and Sunset?" Sterling frowned, taken aback by the mention of their names.
"That's right." Elite smiled, "You may not know this, Sterling, but they still believe in you. They still have hope that you can do good in this world."
"They… do?" Sterling murmured, "Even Echo?"
"Yes. He even went as far as to defend you against your older brother." Elite smirked, "They never gave up on you, because they know you to be a good pony… now, are you really going to make them into liars?"
"I don't know..." Sterling shrugged. "Maybe they're seeing something that isn't even there anymore..."
"Well, Sterling, the choice is yours." Elite explained, "You can simply say no. We will make sure the Forefathers won't get to you, and you can spend the rest of your life in hiding, blaming yourself for things that can't be undone… or you can take my offer, and make up for them by saving ponies and protecting this country."
Sterling tilted his head, not being completely convinced. But even so, his ears twitched, eager to hear more.
"It won't be easy, I know." Elite declared with a nod, "You will more than likely face opposition around you. Everything you've done in the past and everything you do from here on will come under close scrutiny. There may be times where you fail. But I wouldn't be making this offer to you if I didn't think you can do it… what do you say, Sterling?"
Sterling was silent, staring at the director, an unreadable expression on his face…
"...I won't lie, Director…" Sterling murmured, "This is quite a bit to take in… I don't really know want to say…"
"How about I give you a few minutes to deliberate?" Elite stood up, "I will be outside… and do think hard on what I say…"
Elite left the room. The second the door closed, Sterling sat there, all Elite had said to him being on his mind.
'He actually wants me to join them?' He thought, having been caught off-guard by Elite's offer. 'Me, a member of the RDL, after everything they've done to the Forefathers? It's because of them that Dysley is dead. And Pike, too...' He frowned. 'Then again, the Forefathers aren't going to be too friendly, either. Mostly...'
Sterling went over to his jacket. grabbing his mirror from its inner pocket…
"...I can't believe I'm doing this… but I have to." Sterling whispered.
Using his inner magic, Sterling activated the mirror…
Over at the Infinity, a mirror sitting on a empty workbench began to shiver. Almost immediately, the mirror was picked up by Loveless, a look of worry (for bad news) on his face as he answered it.
"Hello?" He asked.
"Loveless, is that you?" Sterling's voice ranged out.
"Sterling?!" Loveless gasped, letting out a loud sigh of relief, "Oh, thank Faust! It is so good to hear your voice again!"
"You too, old friend." Sterling smiled.
"You really should have called me before now." Loveless declared. "I've been worried sick about you!"
"...I'm sorry, Loveless." Sterling bowed his head in guilt, "I didn't mean to leave you and the others like I did… but Solmon-"
"I'm not talking about that, Sterling." Loveless shook his head, "You see, I had ponies looking for you all month. But when somepony finally found you, I heard Lunard went rogue, and came after you to kill you!"
"Hmm, well that explains why Lunard was out there to begin with…" Sterling murmured.
"What do you mean? Are you okay? Did Lunard do anything to you?" Loveless fretted.
"I'm fine, Loveless." Sterling said in a half-truth, "The same can't be said for Lunard…"
"Wait, Lunard is dead?" Loveless frowned, surprised, "Did you-"
"Not me." Sterling shrugged. "As luck would have it, some other Griffon with an ax to grind with him did the deed… saved my flanks."
"Well, good riddance, I'll say." Loveless huffed, "That griffon was nothing but trouble the moment he came into our lives…"
"Yeah… he was." Sterling closed his eyes, mostly in hidden defamation.
"Enough about him." Loveless smiled once more, "I'm so glad that you're okay. Ricochet and the others were all beginning to think that you weren't going to be coming back…"
Sterling winced, as if the words were thorns.
"Loveless, I…" Sterling began.
"But here you are, calling us. That means you're ready to come back. To be perfectly honest, I was beginning to worry, what with the month almost being over…"
"Loveless." Sterling urged.
"With you back here, everything will be back to how it should be. Even better with Solomon gone." Loveless grinned. "We can work together, train together, go on missions together. And to celebrate your homecoming, I-"
"Loveless, I'm not coming back!" Sterling confessed, much louder than he intended to.
The old stallion stopped mid-sentence, as color drained from his face.
"W-what…" Loveless murmured. Sterling felt a jab in his chest, watching Loveless's face become crestfallen, "What do you mean you're not… but you're calling…"
"I know, Loveless…" Sterling admitted, "But… I had to speak with you."
"Sterling, I don't… I don't understand." Loveless shook his head, "Is this about Titanfall? Solomon used all of us, but he's gone-"
"Loveless, this isn't about Solomon. It isn't about anypony." Sterling corrected, "If anything, it's me."
"What do you mean? Why are you doing this?" Loveless asked.
"Because, Loveless… I don't belong there anymore." Sterling sighed.
"Of course you do!" Loveless insisted.
"No, I don't." Sterling shook his head, "I'm sorry, Loveless, but I can't be a part of the Forefathers, and serve them to fulfill a mission that I have lost all faith in…"
"What are you talking about, Sterling?" Loveless frowned.
"I'm talking about bring peace and order to Equestria." Sterling scowled, "Our very reason for being the Forefathers. But look at what we have done in order to try and accomplish that: Gridlock and Harlhooves tried to cause a viral outbreak that would wipe out all the weak ponies. Black Thorn tried to usurp the throne and rule Haygypt with a iron hoof. Solomon tried to destroy nobility, and Nalik… that racist piece of garbage was willing to commit worldwide genocide!"
"Sterling…" Loveless whispered.
"I kept my mouth shut, because I thought that maybe there was something to their projects: 'killed or be killed', 'sink or swim', 'the ends justifies the mean'..." Sterling glared, "But no, these weren't missions for the greater good. These were just Freudian excuses to do away with anypony that they want gone. And you want to know the worst part? Father knew they were doing this. He knew, and he approved of them. He knew what they were going to do… yet he didn't do a thing to stop them!"
"I... I'm sure he had his reasons." Loveless spluttered.
"And none that I can think of paint him in a very good light." Sterling scowled, "I wanted to believe there was a reason… but I just watched my other brother die right in front of me today."
"Other brother… wait, you mean Crystal?" Loveless frowned, "What was he doing in Dodge Junction?"
"It's a long story… but he's dead now." Sterling shook his head, "Killed by Lunard, the latest in a long line of monsters that were allowed into our ranks…"
"That isn't fair, Sterling. You can't judge us by the actions of a few agents." Loveless pleaded, "Besides, Lunard is gone now. As are the others. What to say things won't get better?"
"I want nothing more than to believe that, Loveless." Sterling gave a sad smile, "But sooner or later, there will be another Solomon. Another Nalik. Hell, Scalphunter of all ponies might find a way into the Coils. And then, we'll have projects like Titanfall, and more ponies will die, and we'll just find ourselves back where we started."
"Sterling… I don't know what you want me to say." Loveless protested, "I know me and Ricochet played a role in Solomon's plans but…"
"Loveless, I don't blame you." Sterling sighed, "I don't blame Ricochet either. You two were only doing what was asked of you. And if I'm being honest, I sound pretty hypocritical right now. After all, Project: Maelstrom ended up accomplishing nothing but killing a lot of ponies, and bucking up lives of others… and I feel if I go back now, I don't know if I would be able to live with myself..."
"Could we at least talk about this?" Loveless asked, "I have your location. Just give me a hour and you and I can-"
"I wouldn't recommend that." Sterling cut him off, "You know that Griffon who killed Lunard? ...He was part of the Taskforce."
"Taskforce?" Loveless repeated, "Wait, you mean…"
"Yeah. The RDL found me." Sterling explained, "Or rather, that griffon and the Director himself. The Griffon's got some anger issues, but he took down Lunard, so I owe him that much. And the Director and I had some words. He made me an offer, to join his Taskforce... and I'm going to take it."
"What?!" Loveless gasped, shocked. "You can't be serious!"
"...I am truly sorry, Loveless." Sterling confessed. His eyes were starting to grow misty, "It's nothing personal. I'm not out to save my skin, and I'm not betraying you so I'll feel better about himself. ...I need to find out who I am, without the Forefathers..."
Loveless remained silent.
"The truth is, Loveless, I called you because…" Sterling gave a small sniffle, trying his best in keep in his tears, "I didn't want to leave you the way Jetstream left us. Without so much as a goodbye. Out of all the ponies who came and went from my life, you're the only pony who stuck by me through everything… and it buckin' kills me, because by betraying the Forefathers, I'm betraying you… you mean so damn much to me, I… I..."
Sterling couldn't bring himself to continue.
"Sterling… I understand." Loveless began.
"Y-you do?" Sterling murmured.
"Of course." Loveless nodded solemnly, "From the very day we met, I have always believed you were meant for something more. Somepony who would one day do great things. I watched you grow from that colt who'd all but given up on life in juvie to a stallion who believed in doing what was right…"
Loveless shook his head, as his eyes began to grow misty.
"But I also knew, deep down, that one day, your path would would part ways from that of the Forefathers. And I tried so hard telling myself that it wouldn't happen, that you wouldn't leave us, that I could stop you from leaving… but now, I realize I can't… and I'm okay with that…"
"You are?" Sterling whispered.
"Yes… you're a better stallion than me, Sterling. Better than anypony else I had ever known." Loveless declared, "And there's no words to express how proud I am, how much I care about you… you were never just a student to me, Sterling… you are a son. A son I loved so much…"
"Loveless..." Sterling whispered, tears falling from his eyes.
"And no matter what happens, that's never going to change." Loveless pledged, "Even if there comes a day when the Forefathers come crumbling down, and I go down with them. Either way, I can die happy knowing that you live to become the stallion I knew you could be…"
"...No, I won't let that happen." Sterling growled, "I don't know how, but I'll come back for you. I'll find a way to save you. And we'll be together again, without the Forefathers. I already lost Gold and Jetstream, I'm not going to lose you too."
"I appreciate the sentiment, Sterling… but it's too late for me." Loveless admitted, "Find other ponies who care about you. Like Echo and Sunset. Go forth and start a new life and forget about me… you understand?"
"But Loveless-" Sterling started.
"...And don't you worry about Ward." Loveless smiled, clearly hiding the emotional pain. "I'll take good care of him."
"Let... let him know I miss him." Sterling choked back some tears.
"I will." Loveless nodded. "And rest assured, I shall miss you too."
"Thank you... for everything." Sterling sniffed.
"No, thank you." Loveless declared. "Meeting you changed my life for the better. And I'll forever be grateful for that… goodbye, Sterling…"
"...Goodbye…" Sterling fought back the tears, as the mirror image then faded to nothing...
Sterling crushed the mirror in his strong hoof, causing it to shatter into nothingness, and began to silently cry to himself.
Meanwhile, over in the workshop, Loveless was trying his best to keep a straight face… only to collapse on his workbench, crying his heart out. After a few moments of tears, he looked up, and saw a package nearby.
A few minutes later, Elite re-entered the bedroom.
"Well, Sterling, time is up." He announced, "...Have you thought about my offer?"
"You know… I have." Sterling began, as he turned to face him. He wasn't crying anymore, his sorrow gone, replaced with a firm glare, "And I have a demand."
"A demand?" Elite frowned, confused.
"That's right." Sterling glared, "I have one condition. And you have to agree to it. No haggles. No compromises. You want me on your taskforce, you better say yes. If not, then you might as well throw me into the deepest hole you have, because you won't get anything from me."
"I see." Elite nodded, a bit intrigued, "And what exactly is it that you want?"
"...There's a pony, back with the Forefathers, that I have left behind." Sterling explained, "If and when we do face the Forefathers,you have to do everything in your powers to grant him amnesty and immunity for all his crimes."
"Hmm, that is a tall order coming from you." Elite mused, "Who is this pony that you want to save so badly?"
"You might know him." Sterling declared, "His name is Loveless Irons."
"Irons? As in the stallion who made the giant metal spider that attacked Canterlot? One of the Forefathers' elite?" Elite frowned.
"That's right." Sterling nodded. "Trust me. If anypony there deserves a free pass, it's him."
"Really?" Elite frowned. "Because I am well aware of the machines of destruction Loveless has created in service of the Forefathers."
"I know, but I don't care. Loveless is my friend." Sterling scowled, "And if you want me, you'll help him. Or else, this conversation is over. So, do we have a deal?"
"...Very well." Elite sighed, "Should the time come, I will help Mr. Irons. On my title as director, I swear."
"...Good." Sterling's scowl faded into a smile, "Then, I'm in."
"Excellent." Elite smiled in return, as he held out his non-metal hoof, "Welcome aboard, Sterling Cross."
The two then shook hooves.
"Now then, I should point out that you'll be operating in secrecy." Elite announced. "Meaning that as far as others are concerned, you're still a criminal, so we'll have to publically 'arrest' you."
"Well, I guess that's fair." Sterling shrugged, "...You're not going to cuff me, are you?"
"Weren't you the one that wanted me to 'cuff you and get it over with'?" Elite snarked.
"Hmph, pretty funny, Director." Sterling gave a smirk.
"Please, call me Elite." Elite smiled, "Now, shall we?"
"Ain't no time like the present, I guess." Sterling nodded, as he grabbed his old jacket, "Let's go…"
Together, Sterling and Elite made their way downstairs.
"There ya are." Big Red looked at Sterling.
"What's going on?" Cherry asked.
"Is Sterling in trouble?" Globe asked.
"Are we in trouble?" Huckleberry inquired.
"Are you RDL guys going now?" Eclipse scowled, still sore at his conversation with Fury.
"Yes, and Sterling will be coming with us." Elite declared.
"Now hold on there!" Big Red yelled. "Ah don't care who ya are, Ah'm not gonna let you arrest-!"
"It's okay, Red." Sterling stopped him. "I decided to come quietly. I have to own up to what I did."
"And rest assured, for your cooperation, you won't have to fear any legal consequences." Elite declared, "...But it is for your safety that you do not speak of what happened here today."
"Mah lips are sealed." Big Red nodded.
"Pretending this day never happened is perfectly fine with me." Cherry nodded.
"Like anypony would believe me." Eclipse nodded.
"I won't say anything." Huckleberry added.
"i can barely even think about it." Globe shuddered.
"I probably won't be filing this anyway." Marshall nodded.
"Your co-operation is appreciated." Elite declared. "Come along, Sterling."
Sterling and Elite made their way to the front door.
"Wait… before I go…" Sterling turned to the family, "I want to thank you all for letting me stay here, and treating me like a part of your family. It is more than what I deserved. I won't forget any of you… or your kindness."
"...Will we ever see you again?" Globe frowned, his eyes shiny with tears.
Sterling shared a glance with Elite, who gave a slight nod... and then looked back at Globe.
"Yeah, we will… someday." He smiled, looking over at Bolero, "Besides, I wouldn't mind seeing that little nipper again."
"Well, we're gonna miss ya, Sterling." Big Red sighed, "I wish ya the best of luck..."
"You were certainly one of our more memorable house guests." Cherry admitted.
"It was quite a few weeks, that's for sure." Eclipse added.
"And then some." Huckleberry admitted.
"Well, I for one say good riddance." Marshall growled, "With you finally gone and out of our collective manes, things may calm down around here. And we won't have to contend with any more of your Forefather friends!"
"Marshall..." Big Red glared.
"It's fine, Red. I had that coming." Sterling said begrudgingly, "Look, I know you probably hate me right now… but could you do me just one last favor?"
"Oh, what now?" Marshall scoffed.
"I want you to tell Shooting that I won't be able to make it to that date. That I had to leave. And I'm sorry." Sterling sighed.
"Wait, you were going to go on a-" Marshall began… before shaking his head, "Why should I do that?"
"Because I won't be able to tell her myself, and she deserves to know, so she won't waste her time waiting for me." Sterling admitted sadly, "You can even tell her who I truly am and why I'm gone if you want. Just tell her. That's all I ask…"
"...Fine." Marshall let out a huff, "I'll tell her that you had to leave and you're sorry. There's no point in breaking her heart any more than it already will be…"
"Thank you." Sterling nodded.
"Come along, Sterling." Elite declared. "Time is wasting."
"Sure." Sterling nodded. He turned to look at the family one last time. "Goodbye, everyone."
As they made their way outside, Elite saw Fury still at the fence.
"Fury, we're leaving." He instructed.
"Took you two long enough." Fury scoffed, as he then noticed Sterling, scowling at him, "So, did our new crook for hire here buy your spiel about patriotism or some crap?"
"Not how I would word it, but yes." Elite smirked, "Sterling here will be joining us for the long haul. So you best learn to get used to him."
"Oh, joy… from three flappers to four." Fury grumbled.
"I can already tell you're going to be real fun to work with." Sterling sneered.
"Please just try to get along." Elite sighed. "You all have the same goals now, after all."
"Believe it or not, that didn't always work for the Forefathers." Sterling pointed out. "But I guess it's worth a shot."
"Just keep your distance, pal." Fury scoffed.
"Better than nothing..." Elite sighed. "Let's go."
As Fury made to follow Elite and Sterling, Big Red emerged from the house.
"Hold on a moment." Big Red called out, "I wanna talk to Mr. Xaldin for a moment."
"Hmm?" Elite frowned, as he turned to the griffon, "Fury?"
"Aw, crap… you go on ahead with mister defector over here." Fury sighed, "This won't take long."
Elite and Sterling shared odd looks, but silently nodded, as they did just that, leaving just the farmer stallion and Fury.
"So… Eclipse told me about you… you're really his uncle, huh?" Big Red asked.
"That's right." Fury nodded, "Look, if you're worried about custody, don't be. I'm not looking to take Eclipse away or anything."
"Well, that's reassurin' and all, but I ain't here to talk about that." Big Red frowned, "I'm here cuz' you kinda left 'im near in tears."
"Oh…" Fury lowered his head, "Of course…"
"Ah not gonna pretend that Ah know yer life or anythin', but why wouldn't ya want to be a part of Eclipse's?" Big Red asked, understandably not happy, "That boy been through a lot in his life. He lost his mama, his pa despised him ta the point of wantin' him dead, and now ya tell 'im you want nothin' to do with him?"
"It's not about what I want." Fury retorted. "Eclipse doesn't need me in his life."
"Yer his uncle." Big Red pointed out. "His family. Of course he needs you."
"You wouldn't say that if you knew me." Fury said bluntly. "Trust me, it's better for the kid if I stay as far from him as possible."
"Izzat so?" Big Red frowned. "'Cuz Ah knew what Sterling did, and Ah didn't mind him bein' around Eclipse."
"It's not just what I did, but what I am." Fury declared. "My life is way too complicated for Eclipse to suffer through. Take it from me."
"If ya say so..." Big Red mused.
"Look… all I ask is that you continue to take care of him." Fury declared, "You've given that nephew of mine a good life… and that's all I've ever really wanted for him."
"Ya don't have tah worry about that." Big Red nodded firmly. "...But Ah still say what yer doin' ain't right. As of right now, yer the only blood kin Eclipse has left in the world."
"I know." Fury nodded. "But like I said, it's better this way. My life is pretty dangerous. If Eclipse doesn't know me, then he can't miss me all that much if the worst happens."
"Ah can't say Ah agree with that." Big Red frowned. "But Ah respect yer decision. An' know that Eclipse will be here if ya ever change yer mind."
"Thanks." Fury said sadly as he walked away. "But don't hold your breath..."
Fury joined Sterling and Elite, as he got into the RDL carriage.
"Do you mind telling me what was that all about?" Elite frowned.
"Actually, I do mind." Fury growled, "So, if we could just go already, I would appreciate it, okay?"
"...Very well." Elite grimaced, as he turned to Sterling, "Are you ready, Sterling?"
Sterling silently took a look at the homestead… and to his surprise, he saw the vision of Jetstream as he stood on the porch. The orange pegasus appeared stoic at first… before giving him that cocky grin that Sterling remembered him for…
Right next to him, appeared the unmistakable vision of his little brother, Gold, as he was before his death. He glanced at him with the same warm smile that he always had...
The two then faded away, with Sterling giving his own sad smile.
"Okay, let's go." He said quietly.
"You heard our new comrade." Elite told the stallions in front. "Let's go."
"Yes, sir!" The stallions said in unison.
In an instant, they pulled the carriage, taking off from the homestead, and through the plains, leaving Dodge Junction behind in their wake…
Back at the Infinity, Father was ruminating in his chamber.
"Hello, Father Epoch suddenly joined him. "Is this a bad time?"
"Yes, actually." Father said bluntly. "Sterling has parted way from us forever."
"He has?" Epoch frowned. "How can you be sure?"
"He just said goodbye to Loveless." Father announced. "He wouldn't have done that if he hadn't meant it."
"Oh... I'm sorry." Epoch apologized. "This must be difficult for you."
"Knowing that Sterling is forever lost to us is a bitter pill to swallow..." Father admitted. "...But life must goes on. There is still much work to be done. The loss of one Ouroboros doesn't change."
"I expected no less from you." Epoch nodded. "Let us hope Sterling doesn't regret hs departure."
"If nothing else, he would do well to stay out of our way." Father declared. "Especially in the near future..."
Meanwhile, Ricochet was sitting at a canteen in the lower levels, drinking. He was visibly distraught, due to Sterling's long-term absence.
"Another day, another Sterling no-show." He said aloud, drinking from another bottle.
At that point, two other agents walked by.
"Did you hear about Sterling?" One asked.
"No, why?" The other replied.
Ricochet glanced over in their direction.
"I just heard he defected to the RDL." The first agent announced.
"No!" The second gasped.
"Yes." The first nodded, as he and his friend started walking out of earshot. "Who'd've thought he'd turn out to be a traitor..."
Ricochet sat still for a moment. Then, with an angry growl, he threw his bottle at a wall, causing it to shatter.
A few hours passed since the RDL carriage had left Dodge Junction, as they were making their way through a mountain pass, as the two stallions and griffon sat in silence.
"Where exactly is it we're going, if you don't mind my asking?" Sterling asked.
"Wey're heading to Quanticolt." Elite announced. "I should warn you to expect some initial inspections when we arrive. You will have to undergo a fair bit of interrogation before you are officially welcomed to the team."
"Oh, is that all?" Sterling joked.
"I never said it would simple, did I?" Elite pointed out.
"Would've been nice if that were part of your big speech." Sterling shrugged.
Suddenly, there was a loud thud, something hitting the top of the carriage.
"What the-?!" Elite yelped, as the carriage screeched to a halt, "What was that?!
"Did you have something to do with this?" Fury glared at Sterling.
"No, I didn't!" Sterling shot back. "I swear!"
"Hey, what happened?" Elite stuck his head out, yelling towards the carriage pullers.
"I don't know, sir." A puller frowned, "There was this weird looking bird that appeared out of nowhere."
"Yeah." The other added. "And it went and took a big dump right on top of us."
"A dump?" Elite grimaced, "What bird was this? A roc?! Let me get a look at this!"
Elite stepped out of the carriage, and climbed up on top to investigate… seconds later, Elite came back down… and in his hooves was a slightly long package.
"What is it?" Fury frowned.
"I'm not sure." Elite admitted, "But I think it's for Sterling. It has his name on it."
"My name?" Sterling took the package, confused, "Who would know where to find me, let alone send me mail?"
"Oh, crap, what if it's a bomb?" Fury growled, "Elite, we oughta get out-"
"If it was a bomb, Fury, it would had blowed up when it hit the carriage." Elite rolled his eyes, "...Considering it didn't, I don't think we have to worry." He turned to Sterling, "Open it up and let's see."
Sterling gave a nod, as he slowly tore open the package…
"What the…" Sterling gaped.
Inside the package was a sword of some kind. It didn't look like a typical sword though, as where the handle was, there was some sort of machinery attached, separating the blade. On the side of it was something like a trigger that one would find on a crossbow, except bigger.
But what really caught his eyes was the blade. It was clear steel, with a color of shiny silver. However, it clearly wasn't new, as there were scratches all over it, just like the one he found in Brayzil all those years ago…
"What the hell is it?" Fury asked.
"Hmm… I think I might have an inkling." Elite nodded, "But we'll find out when we get back to base." He then yelled out, "Now, let's get moving!"
As the carriage resumed movement, Sterling only stared at the blade… and smiled.
Back at the Infinity, Loveless was sitting in Sterling's room, Ward laying forlornly on his lap, whimpering in sorrow.
"I know, boy." Loveless sighed. "I'll miss him too..."
Ward whined plaintively, as Loveless patted his head.
'Good luck, Sterling.' Loveless thought. 'Wherever this new life of yours may take you...'
Back in the skies, Sterling looked out of the carriage as they neared their destination.
Since leaving Canterlot, his life had gone through many ups and downs. He had faced his past, faced his greatest fears, found new friends, and even found new love.
And now, he was on his way to writing a new chapter in his life. A chapter of uncertainty, a chapter where anything could happen. A chapter he looked forward to experiencing.
'Whatever comes next… it's got to be better than what's behind me…' He thought.
(My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and all associated characters are the property of Hasbro.)