Siege on Canterlot
A battle horn's deep call resonated through the air, its daunting song filling the hearts of those that could hear it with fear and despair. The turmoil within one of the mobile first aid team had grew into a general state of panic and non-responsiveness. Ponies wearing white cross bands scoured away alongside the retreating troops, leaving a few brave hearts to stand among the injured gathered in one small spot under a willow tree at the base of Struthill.
"Fluttershy, we need to go!"
"I can't yet; we haven't even seen him. He might still be out there!"
Applejack gave her pegasus companion a pleading stare, but Fluttershy wasn't even looking away from the injured stallion next to her. She rolled a bandage around his bleeding hoof, her face locked in utmost concentration. Every spare moment she had, she would glance at the soldiers galloping past them, trying to spot a certain pony's blond mane or red coat through the armor. A couple of flashes nearby revealed two unicorns, who rushed towards the small camp.
"Last round, you two need to get out of here right now!" one of them said, wrapping a hoof around an injured pony's neck.
His partner grabbed a hold of the last of soldiers laying on the ground before teleporting away with him. "Run, damn it! We don't have enough magic to come back! Run up the hill and towards the city! Now!" the last unicorn yelled, disappearing in another flash.
"That's it, Fluttershy, we're going now!" Applejack grabbed Fluttershy and rushed her up the hill. The pegasus struggled for a while but eventually gave up. Her heart was racing from the fear that was slowly overcoming her initial bravery, but as she took one last glance at the mayhem behind, all of her reasoning switched off in an instant.
"It's him!" she yelped, breaking free of Applejack's firm grip, much to her surprise. She leaped in the stallion's direction in a mad dash.
"Fluttershy, you come back right now, ya hear?" she yelled, breaking into a chase.
Despite the fact that the wall of fire summoned by Dark Shine to protect the retreating forces was fading away with each passing second, Fluttershy somehow managed to ignore the impending threat as she rushed to a certain fallen soldier.
The stallion was not moving at all, everything pointing out that he had shared the same fate as the other lifeless bodies around. The pegasus however approached him, her heart sitting on a bed of pins.
"Mac . . ." Fluttershy whimpered, turning the body face up. Her tears began falling on his stained armor, and her hooves were trembling as they reached for the helmet. They plopped down on his chest. She simply couldn't do it.
Fluttershy pressed her head against his chest piece, sobbing over the stallion of her life. Applejack caught up with her, her hoofsteps shortening as she took in the sight of one of her best friends crying over her brother's corpse.
"Ohh no, Big Mac." She leaned over next to the large stallion, resting a hoof over his helmet. "Why did ya' have to do this, Mac?" Her tears were beginning to fall as well, while she gently removed her brother's head piece.
"Fluttershy? Thi- this isn't Big Mac!" Applejack said, her eyes widened in shock. The pegasus raised her head instantly, her eyes focusing on the dead soldier's face. Although similar to Big Mac, the earth pony's features were undoubtedly different from the ones of the apple farmer.
AJ wrapped her hooves around Fluttershy's neck, holding her as she went through the inevitable breakdown that had been waiting to happen. "Come on, Shy, we really need to go. I know this here situation is hard on ya. It's hard on me too. I'm sure Big Mac's safe; he's probably on his way to Canterlot with the rest."
In the corner of her eye however, Applejack spotted several large, green balls of fire falling towards the ground near them. She immediately ducked behind the soldier's body, pulling her friend with her. The bolts smashed against the ground, throwing searing green flames all around the impact zones. Out of them stepped several changelings, their jagged horns charged and ready to fire at the two ponies.
"Run!" AJ yelled, pulling at Fluttershy and breaking into a gallop.
Magic projectiles started whizzing past their heads, hitting the ground around them and exploding into flames. Other changeling fliers joined the others in their chase, closing in on the two mares.
"Fluttershy, fly ahead! They'll get both of us if you stay with me!" AJ managed between quick breaths, her gallop getting slower as they climbed the hill. A changeling was only a few meters away, its hiss reaching the ponies' ears.
"I . . . can't . . . leave you, Applej-"
A wrong hoofstep made the already tired pegasus lose her balance and fall down with a loud cry. Applejack stopped in her tracks, turned back and rushed to her side. Seeing the changeling about to attack them, she placed herself in front of Fluttershy and prepared to deliver a powerful buck.
Her attack was interrupted when a flame blast hit the changeling straight in the face, sending it sprawling down the hill, its head already consumed by the normal fire. The shadow of a large silhouette went over them and landed nearby. The dragon planted his feet and sprung forward, using his wings to boost himself. He smashed into two other changelings, beating one into the ground and engulfing the other in his flames.
The dragon then returned to the two ponies. Instead of the smiling hero Applejack expected, Spike was tense and enraged. He was wearing a light, yet comprehensive armor, which mainly covered his chest and belly, as well as his joints and key parts of his back. "AJ, Flutters', what are you two doing here?"
"Spike, so glad to see you!" the farm pony said, while the pegasus simply jumped at his neck, using her wings to reach it.
"You shouldn't even be here!" Spike said angrily, not wasting a moment and going up the hill while still holding Fluttershy.
"We just wanted to help out, that's all," AJ rushed to explain.
"Yeah, then why is Fluttershy in the middle of a battle when she's usually afraid of the noises coming from her own animals at night?"
The pegasus raised her face from his neck, brushing the tears away with a hoof. "It's Big Mac; I wanted to be close to him so I enlisted as a field doctor . . ."
"Fluttershy that is ridiculous! This is-"
His ear flicked at a barely audible sound coming from behind. He turned his head, took a deep breath, and spat a fireball at a group of enemies closing in on them. The blast hit two changelings, splattering burning liquid on the others nearby, making them scatter for their lives.
"You need to get as far away from this place as possible," Spike said, flames still dripping from his mouth. "Applejack, make sure you both get back to Canterlot," he added, putting Fluttershy down on her hooves and turning back, gazing at the approaching enemy troops. "Now go!"
The two ponies reluctantly left the dragon's side, making their way over the hill's top and towards the city. Spike kept his eyes on the advancing airborne armada high above him, as well as the ground forces that were beginning to cross the fiery crack that had split the battlefield into two.
The concentrated beam of energy fizzled away, falling magic residue cracking and popping on the ground in front of him.
"That's it, I'm- I- I'm burned out . . ." one of the unicorns wearing heavy lead armors muttered into his helmet.
The small dials on the side of his visor were cracked from the heat, and the top of his head was burning hot as the horn glowed faintly from the overuse of magic. He took a couple of steps towards the group of other Avatar troops behind before collapsing to the ground with a heavy thud.
"Bunsen!" Quantum called out, rushing to his friend's side as fast as he could.
A few other unicorns came to help, but all they could do was place ice-packs on his helmet piece and help him up.
"He's out," a mare's voice came from behind one of the lead helmets. "Severe magic burnout, and his brain is shutting down from the temperature. He needs to be taken to Canterlot and have his gear removed as soon as possible!"
Another special tasks unicorn waved at a small group of soldiers. "He's also urgent; take him and the other three out first."
The standard unicorn troops each grabbed a hold of a fallen Avatar, one coming to pick up Bunsen as well. They then disappeared in bursts of magic, leaving the remaining six Avatars on the hill's secluded ridge.
"All right. Quantum Light, tell me you still have some juice left for that cloaking spell," the commanding stallion asked as he stared at the enemy troops passing above them.
A translucent bubble expanded from the tip of his horn, growing larger and larger. It encased the six ponies within it as it formed into a dome big enough to cover all of them.
"Don't make a sound," one of them whispered as soon as a large squad of gryphons landing nearby.
"They're falling back as expected, sir," one of the gryphons said to a larger one bearing several high-ranking marks on his bloodstained battle armor.
"Good. Maintain pursuit but let the changelings lead the way, we lost half of our troops so far. And someone tell queen Chrysalis to bring down the capital's protection barrier with her fliers as fast as possible."
"Sir, what are we going to do with their remaining troops? They are closing in from all sides. They will be here by dawn," another gryphon pointed out.
The military leader took a few steps forward. He brought his battle axe down and propped himself into it, eyeing the distant royal castle. "This changes nothing. We will pull our troops as soon as they get near, and leave the bugs and tusk-heads to fight them." He lifted his weapon and brushed it clean against the grass a couple of times. "Until then, however, I want the limping bodies of their two Princesses to hang by their necks from the highest tower in their capital. With that message sent across, they will not dare to defy our expansion anymore."
Several flashes erupted inside the cloak bubble as five unicorns teleported in. The six Avatars turned to the soldiers, desperately signaling them to remain quiet. When they laid their eyes on the enemies nearby, they also saw them looking back towards their general direction, their ears focused for the faintest of sounds.
The soldiers hurried each to a lead-armored unicorn, preparing to teleport out.
"I'll go last, need to keep this spell up," Quantum whispered to the nearest soldier.
"Go see what that was!" the gryphon army leader ordered, pointing at their direction. Several warriors began approaching the hidden group of ponies, readying their weapons.
"I can't, I'm sorry!" the soldier told Quantum, "We can only take one at a time and this was our last trip, I'm not sure we'll make it as it is."
"No, Quantum!" a mare's voice came from the armored pony next to the unicorn. "Please, you have to take my brother as well!"
"We're all drained, this is the last possible run for us. I'm so sorry, I thought there were only five of you left," he said to the disheartening of the Avatar next to him. Looking in front of them, the gryphons were getting closer and closer, now certain of a presence nearby.
"Everyone out, now!" came a hushed command.
Several flashes erupted inside the bubble, and one by one the unicorn soldiers teleported out, taking the Avatars with them.
"Lumen!" Quantum yelped, as his sister jumped at his neck, their armors clinging together loudly. "You have to go, Lumen; you have to save yourself!"
"Ma'am, we need to go now," the unicorn urged, his eyes pinned at the approaching gryphons. "I'll notify someone when we reach the camp to send back for him."
"Quantum please, don't do this! I can't leave you here!"
"I love you Lumen, tell our parents I love them too," the stallion said, pushing the mare away. "Go!" he said to the last soldier.
He nodded and touched the Avatar with his horn's tip, and they both disappeared in a bright flash. Quantum turned to the enemies just feet away, which were somewhat confused as to who was speaking in front of them. The tip from a gryphon's spear went through the cloak shield and he jumped back as soon as he noticed his weapon was half missing.
"There are unicorns in there!" one of them shouted, taking a swing with his axe at the invisible dome.
The spell broke, revealing Quantum standing alone, his energy almost completely drained. The group of gryphons immediately jumped at him, some taking flight to attack from above.
The first couple of blows struck without any resistance from the scientist pony. He was thrown to the ground from the force of the attacks, yet the heavy lead armor kept the injuries limited to bruises.
Quantum raised his head, sending in a burst of magic into one of the gryphons, blasting him away. The large pole arm of another enemy came bearing down on his neck, but stopped inches away as it hit a purple barrier of magic. The stallion looked up at the gryphon but the feathered warrior was staring at something behind the Avatar.
The protective shield expanded in front of the fallen unicorn, pushing back the gryphons. As Quantum turned to face his savior, his eyes could not stray away from the white armor encasing a purple unicorn mare.
"Are you the last Avatar here?" she asked, her voice fading in the stallion's stunned mind.
"Yeah, I am. You- you must attack that gryphon immediately!" he snapped, remembering that the enemy military leader was feet away, while his troops surrounded the two ponies. "Get him now, he's the gryphon army's commander!" Quantum urged, pointing a hoof at the feathered general.
"Him?" Twilight asked, her eyes finding the mentioned gryphon in an instant. "I- I'm here to take you back, I'm not-"
The gryphon soldiers started bashing Twilight's shield with their weapons, throwing gusts of sparks as they landed against the strong barrier.
"You need to do it!" Quantum screamed.
Twilight however just stood there, her eyes darting from the gryphon to the Avatar near her until the protection spell began to fade. She focused her magic on the stallion on the ground and zapped herself and him out of there.
The gryphon commander looked at the smoking spots on the ground, and his mouth slowly formed a devilish grin.
"I thought we had an agreement!" Blink said, circling the midnight blue stallion that came from the deepest recesses of his mind.
"An agreement?" he asked, flashing a wide grin that instantly turned to a scowl. "You think that letting me play with Luna's pet makes me your pet as well? Her will is strong and her dark side is broken by centuries of isolation. You and me on the other hand . . ."
"Shut up and go back from where you came from!" Blink ordered, magic charging up all around him.
"Or what?" the unarmored Nightmare asked spitefully.
Blink disappeared in a cloud of smoke and re-appeared inches away from his darker self, swinging a hoof surrounded by a blue glow at him. The Nightmare ducked in time, jumping out of Blink's range.
"You think that fighting me will work? You will fail as soon as you realize that I am you, and then I will finally be able to spread the darkness this place deserves! Who knows, maybe I'll take Nightmare Moon out to join me."
"You think I would let you do that?" Blink shouted, casting a spell and summoning two swords by his side.
He charged at the Nightmare, swinging his swords in a desperate attempt to end his existence. All of his attacks missed, as the stallion disappeared in puffs of smoke, his laughter only managing to taunt Blink. With a last dash and a preemptive swing of a sword, Blink finally managed to land a hit, slashing the left side of his chest, right next to the shoulder.
"You made a huge mistake coming out," Blink stated, turning back at the Nightmare while cleaning the blood off the sword against his armor. "How long do you expect to last, huh?"
"I would ask you the same thing. You still don't get it, don't you? I. Am. You."
Blink stared at his darker self as he stressed every of those last three words, trying to understand. The longer he tried to wrap his head around that notion, the more he was getting angrier that something as evil as the look-alike stallion in front of him was actually part of his soul.
The sound of the approaching army behind told Blink that the enemies had crossed the flaming crevice in the ground, and were now making their way to the capital city up ahead. Blink took a step forward, readying his katanas in his magic grasp, but immediately felt a sharp pain underneath his unscathed armor.
The Nightmare smiled at him, and Blink dropped his eyes to his chest. A dripping stream of blood was filtering out through the seams of black hydra leather, falling onto the green grass below.
"No . . ."
"But yes. And here is an intricate dilemma we are facing, my dear, innocent Alex."
Blink's eyes widened at his words, his mouth trying to voice the avalanche of thoughts, but to no avail.
"Aww, did we forget who we once were? I bet you felt so happy when we bit the dust and ended up all the way in sweet, lovely Equestria. Save the day, travel around a bit, and get the girl in the end. That was our plan, right?"
His sadistic smile suddenly turned to an angry frown. "Wrong. When you came here, you took your greed with you, your lies and your thirst for destructive knowledge. You took me along for the ride, and with this Deathbearer thing going on, we just couldn't stay the same. Now back to our dilemma: you managed to cut me. But since we are one and the same, you now suffer the same injury. I guess you're now reassessing that plan to get rid of me the ol' fashion way, aren't you?" he asked, tone dripping with sarcasm and superiority, his hoof reaching for his chest, a blue aura closing up the wound.
"Enough!" Blink spat, "If you think that this gets you a free pass to this world, you're wrong. I will get rid of you, and I will do it even if it kills me," he stated, his magic working underneath his armor to close his own open wound across the chest.
"Of course you will!" the Nightmare barked with a laugh. "That's because you're a selfish prick that wants to be the hero every time. You would happily plunge that sword into my heart and die knowing that the entire nation will praise and admire your sacrifice after your untimely death."
"I'll do it because I know very well what you could do to this world," Blink growled, despising the fact that some of his Nightmare's words carried bits of truth.
"But I know you won't actually kill me; well, us, to be more specific. You care too much about who you would leave behind if you die. Just think of it: poor, innocent Twilight, a widow before her own wedding. That's a rather sad thought, isn't it?" he asked, feigning concern.
The sound of charging enemies from behind came to Blink's attention a bit too late, and was forced to teleport away just as he was about to be speared by a minotaur. The laughter of his Nightmare rang in his head as he traversed the space between Struthill and Canterlot in just a moment.
He reappeared on the top of Struthill, amidst a frenzy of ponies, soldiers and medical staff alike. His ears picked up the odd sound of an incoming chopper and his eyes could barely believe what was descending on a clearing near the camp: a huge tortoise holding a pegasus centurion by the back of her armor landed on the violently waving grass. He put the flier down on the ground, as the blades coming from a small device on the top of its shell retracted.
A distant hoot signaled the approach of an owl. The bird landed on one of Tank's blades, and tilted her head at the pegasus in front. Rainbow Dash got up from the ground, holding her broken wing straight from the pain.
"Dash!" Blink teleported next to her, startling the pegasus. "Relax, it's me."
"Blink? What's that thing on you?"
"Let's just say that Rarity has outdone herself-"
"Wait, are you bleeding?" Dash cut him off, her eyes spotting his blood-stained armor.
"I'm fine. Now listen: we don't have enough time before he might come, this whole place should have been deserted by now," Blink said nervously, looking at the chaotic scene around the field hospital and command post.
"Who are you talking abou-"
"Dash, you need to get out of here. Retreat to the capital. You can take one of those troops transporters," he said, pointing at a line of large carriages being loaded with injured ponies and equipment. "I don't have time to explain; I need to find Iron Hooves. Just remember not to trust anyone that looks like me from now on, you got it?"
"What do you mean not to trust anyone that looks like you? Blink, what's happening?"
"No time, Dash! Now go, please!"
Blink then broke into a gallop among the sea of swarming ponies, eventually reaching a secluded area with a large table covered with maps and surrounded by higher ups relaying last second orders.
"I need to find Iron Hooves! Anyone seen him?" he blurted, getting the attention of the military strategists around the table.
"He's still on the field where you should be as well. Weren't you the great unicorn that bared death on his foes?" the ever so condescending voice belonging to Dark Shine came from amidst the commanders.
Blink stifled a retort, taking a quick, deep breath instead. "We have a huge issue on our hooves, Dark Shine."
"Just one? The enemy ground troops are just about to reach us, and changelings and gryphons will fly about our heads at any time. What is it that you want?" he demanded sharply.
"My darker self . . . he's-"
Dark Shine teleported right next to him, his stern look turning into an even colder one as he eyed the black-armored stallion. "Don't tell me you used his powers," he growled.
"I cast the spell from my own magic pool, but it involved splitting myself into four clones. He just hijacked one of them, I didn't-"
"In two minutes I want this place emptied, just as planned," the Archmage ordered, turning to the commanders behind him. "The city gates are to close as soon as the last pony enters the capital, no later than ten minutes from now."
The ponies scattered, joining the last of the troops and personal to retreat from the set-up command post on top of Struthill.
"And you," Dark Shine said, turning back to Blink. "Care to explain how your Nightmare managed to escape?"
"H- How do you know about that?"
"Princess Luna told me about the condition the two of you share. I've been advised to keep an eye on you because of that, but I see you've managed to mess it up all by yourself just fine."
"What are you two still doing here?" Iron Hooves' voice came from a distance.
The earth stallion general was rushing towards them, his helmet gone and the rest of his body armor dented and even pierced in a couple of places.
"Luna's little prodigy dropped the reins on his Nightmare in the middle of Equestria's greatest battle."
"Get off his saddle, Archmage. We've been told that this might happen, but our primary focus right now is the capital defense. I want both of you to retreat out of here as fast as possible," he said, looking up in the sky at the enemy forces passing over their heads.
"I wouldn't say your main concerns are in the city, gentlecolts."
Blink winced at those words, turning to the left and seeing his unarmored look-alike casually walking towards them.
"I will handle this," Dark Shine muttered, but was immediately shoved aside by the massive earth pony general.
He grasped the large sword on his back and drew it, holding the weapon with this front hooves, its tip scraping the ground as he advanced towards the blue unicorn. "I said, get back to the capital! Now!" Iron Hooves barked at Dark Shine and Blink behind him. He then turned back to the grinning blue stallion, lifting his weapon and reading it for a strike.
"Iron Hooves, don't do that!" Blink yelled as a white field of magic surrounded him and the Archmage. A loud crackle filled his ears and he winced as the powerful light was too much even for his armor's tinted visor.
After the ringing in his ears stopped, he opened his eyes to find himself at the city's entrance. Next to him, Dark Shine was already busy giving orders to the troops that were arriving from Struthill. Blink sat down. His heart was on pins as he waited, staring with empty eyes into the ground.
"Iron Hooves is . . . dead," Blink simply told the Archmage.
He looked back at the black armored stallion. "We know what happens if we hurt either of you. General Hooves would have tried to hold him off as much as possible."
Blink got up, taking a moment to look around. Soldiers, medics and wounded ponies began pouring through the capital's large main gate, as ripples of magic surged across the shield that covered the capital. In the distance, two zeppelins were passing through the barrier, the spell allowing the ships access into the city's protected airspace. Following them, thousands of pegasi also entered through the force field, stopping on building rooftops across the capital, resting after several hours of fighting.
"Hey, don't just stand there! Get ready for the siege," Dark Shine urged the distracted stallion.
"Where's Twilight? Have you seen her anywhere?" Blink suddenly blurted, remembering he couldn't find her earlier that morning.
"She's fine," the Archmage told him, his voice harboring less loath than normally expected. "She helped treating casualties in the field hospital during the battle. Last I heard, she was rescuing a stranded Special Troops unicorn. The gates will soon close. Be ready for what's coming."
A pegasus with strands of fiery mane coming out her helmet landed before them. She removed her helmet and addressed the unicorn general. "Dark Shine, we need to form up the defense right away. Do you know where Iron Hooves is?"
"He's trying to delay what Princess Luna told us about him," Dark Shine answered, nodding towards Blink.
Spitfire gave the stallion covered in black armor the once-over, her expression remaining unfazed. "You're Midnight Blink?"
"Yeah, that's me."
"Heard impressive things about you from the Princess. But if your issue will become a threat in any way to the safety of our troops or civilians, I hope you know what to do, because if not, I will do it myself if I have to."
"I understand," Blink said, the grim statement coming from the General of the pegasi sending chills down his spine.
Dark Shine began casting another teleportation spell, his magic channeling around him. "The changelings will begin their assault on the shield dome soon enough. I need to advise with Princess Celestia regarding the protection spell. General Spitfire, you'll have to pick up whatever's left of your air troops and prepare for the worst. As for you," the Archmage continued, turning towards Blink. "You'll organize the first line of defense at these gates. Try not to mess that up as well."
Dark Shine then disappeared in a flash of white, leaving a burnt patch on the ground. Spitfire lingered for a few more moments, before putting her helmet back on and taking flight, giving Blink one last glance once she was in the air.
The stallion looked around, his eyes lost in the sea of ponies coming through the main gates. A couple of wing beats followed by the sound of hooves hitting the ground caught his attention; as he turned, he couldn't help but smile as he recognized the Captain armor he would have worn if it weren't for Rarity's idea of a new set.
"Chase', I see my old armor fits you well."
"That's Captain Chase, soldier, or did ya already forget?" he retorted with a grin.
"How could I? Now what are you even doing here? Thought I left you back at the castle to protect Luna."
"I heard about what happened out there, so I formed up whatever I could find in this city and came up with a couple thousand mixed forces, royal guards, and some of the conscripted civilians that remained here."
"That's good, we'll need every last one of them."
Behind the pegasus more and more royal guards were landing, their shiny armors and weapons having not passed through battle yet, but worn and held eager in their grasps.
A silver-armored soldier broke from the swarm of ponies and stopped in front of Chaser and Blink, catching their attention with the tall black and white Mohawk sticking out through the top of the helmet. Removing it, he revealed himself as one of zebras from the contingency that came to their help at Struthill.
"I am in search of the high commander of your forces. Would that be you, black magic wielder?" he asked with a thick accent, looking at Midnight Blink.
"Those would be the three generals representing each pony race. Two of them just left, one is still at Struthill. I'm just responsible to handle the front gates defenses."
"Those that still stand amongst our own will continue the fight," the zebra commander said, reaching for his double headed blade and resting it on one of its tips in front of him. "I will await and follow your strategy, magic wielder; use my warriors as you would make use of yours."
"Wow, are you guys normally that tall?" Chaser asked, studying the large zebra warrior and drawing an under the brow look from him.
"Shut up Chase', we got a lot of things to do," Blink shushed his friend while staring at the archway near the main gates that allowed passage for several train tracks.
The giant tortoise landed in front of the auditorium, his blades slowing to a halt. Dash slid down his carapace and let out a breath of relief after having spent the past twenty minutes between Tank's shell and the fast spinning blades, holding on to the enchanted rotor encasement strapped onto him.
"Great landing, champ! Really improved yourself on those," Dash said, rubbing a hoof under her pet's chin.
The tortoise returned the gesture by pressing his head fondly into the pegasus, almost knocking her to the ground.
"Easy there, Tank. Now that medic mare said Twilight would be here. I'll go inside and look for her, you stay and wait for me here, okay?"
Dash rushed into the large building, sparing a fleeting moment to gaze at the large magic dome protecting the city. When she got inside the auditorium's large foyer, however, her face fell from the sight. Hundreds of ponies walked about, mostly bandaged soldiers making their way out. Everyone's eyes drifted to their less fortunate comrades as they passed rows upon rows of body bags lined up to the edges of the foyer.
Nurses and medics rushed past them, pushing carts of supplies or carrying gurneys with injured ponies on them. Dash was left without words, only advancing through the crowd while searching for any familiar face. As she was about to enter the main hall of the auditorium, she spotted a familiar looking tail coming out of a white armored pony. Seeing the stars recently embedded on the hind parts of the armor, Dash rushed to her, calling after her.
The armored pony's ears twitched and she turned right in time to have two hooves wrapped around her neck in a tight hug.
"Dash?" Twilight asked, spotting the multicolored strands of mane coming through the pegasus's helmet.
"I'm so happy to see you, Twilight! It's been . . . It's been horrible out there-"
"Your wing, what happened to it?" Twilight asked as soon as she saw Dash holding her left wing limp to the side.
The pegasus paused for a moment, her mind flooding with images of the fight she had with her oldest friend less than an hour before.
"Gilda was there. We fought against each other and . . . I was certain I would die right then and there," Dash said, remembering the gryphon's last words which cut a deep hole in her heart.
"Let me secure that," Twilight said, immediately beginning to tend to Dash's broken wing. After a moment of fiddling with her back armor, the unicorn noticed something was missing. "Rainbow, where's your flight assistant gear?"
"Oh, that. Well, I didn't take it with me this morning. Made me too heavy and-"
"Dash, what the hay? All the pegasi I've seen that survived air battles and serious wing injuries were still alive just because of that thing! How did you even made it to safety without it?"
"That's the awesome part. Tank just came out of nowhere and saved me before I was about to hit the ground!" Dash stated with excitement, despite Twilight very serious look. "I've also seen your pet owl at that medical camp where Tank took me. And then Blink showed up in a full body black-"
"Blink? Was- was he okay?" Twilight interrupted her, her entire attention shifting from the pegasus's wing to her words.
"He was fine, I guess; he did sound kinda scared and didn't make any sense, telling me to not trust him if I see him again or something like that- Aaaahh!" Dash yelped, her eyes instantly filling with tears while her legs buckled from the sudden pain.
"Hold still, I just managed to put it in a cast," Twilight advised, her magic solidifying a white paste she had applied on Dash's broken wing. After her magic worked on the cast for a few more seconds, she started dressing the entire area around the broken bone in bandages. "Was he injured?"
"Couldn't tell. He was wearing this thick, black hide stitched together as armor; there was some blood on his chest but he told me not to worry about it. What about the rest of the gang? Have you seen anyone else?"
Twilight took a deep breath, trying to stay focused on tending Dash's injury. "I don't know exactly. Rarity should still be at the royal blacksmiths. Last time I heard, Pinkie was still managing ration production. She's been working nonstop for days, but at least she's safe. Applejack and Fluttershy however . . . I met them when the retreat started. They went through some close calls, but eventually made it back to the camp on top of the hill and then back to Canterlot; they are helping out the other nurses and doctors inside the main hall," she told Dash, pointing down the vast foyer. "There, that should do for now."
With Twilight's magic releasing the wing, Dash moved it up a down. "That . . . wow that feels so much better."
"I just secured the fracture, you're lucky it remained internal. I don't think I need to tell you that you won't be flying anytime soon, right? And it will still need some proper medical attention but that will have to wait for now."
"Thanks egghead, I owe you one."
"Told you not to call me that- wait, what are you doing?"
Rainbow triggered her hoof blade and inspected the weapon for any damages. Finding it in a satisfying condition, she retracted it and began walking out. "Broken wing doesn't mean I can't fight anymore."
"Dash you can't go back like that. Are you insane?!"
The pegasus kept walking however, picking up a centurion helmet off the ground and trying it for size. "I need to get in touch with my squad, I'm still their commander. Catch ya later!"
Before Twilight could catch up with her, Tank was already taking off in front of the auditorium. Dash waved a hoof at her friend, holding onto the side of her pet's shell by the straps of his flying mechanism.
A powerful beam of light shot out towards the sky from behind Twilight, impacting the protective dome. Waves of energy spread from the impacted area, doubling the magic shield. A deep, low echo of the spell persisted for a while after the beam faded away, as the fresh waves of magic traveled across the surface of the dome.
Twilight turned to the source of the spell, and found her alicorn mentor standing right outside the building. "Princess!" she called, rushing to Celestia.
"Twilight, I'm so glad you're safe." The tall alicorn draped a hoof over Twilight in a quick hug then checked to see if she was harmed.
"Princess, it was horrible out there, we lost so many ponies, I don't-"
"I know Twilight, but you have to keep calm and focused in moments like these. Remember what we talked about back at the castle this morning?"
"I- I do, it's just that I didn't expect it to be this bad . . ."
"No one was prepared for this, Twilight."
"Princess Celestia," came Dark Shine's voice from behind them. "I re-iterate that you have to return to the castle at once. If what that unicorn said is correct, they will do whatever they can to reach you and your sister."
Celestia turned to the unicorn General, taking a moment to consider her next action. "I'm going back as soon as the enemy troops will pose a threat against the ponies around me. Until then, there are a lot of injured soldiers that require my attention. Twilight, if you wish, I could use your help with that."
The purple mare followed her mentor as Celestia made her way back into the auditorium building, leaving the Archmage outside. "The shield won't last forever, Princess! We'll have to face our enemies very soon!" Dark Shine huffed, and with a flash of magic, he teleported away.
The sparks of his spell fell hastily on the War Room's floor. He approached the younger royal sister, which was studying a magical holograph of Canterlot among a few other military ponies.
"The population would be greatly at risk if we give away half the city, I simply cannot do such a thing, Gregor."
"But your Highness, we will not be able to keep our defenses up along the entire perimeter," the gryphon in question repeated.
"I bet your fellow griffins would like to get half the capital without lifting a claw, wouldn't they?" a stallion from the other side of the table said. Gregor focused his gaze on him, his claws that were resting on the table forming into a fist.
"There will be no such accusations in this room," Luna ordered loudly, turning to the stallion. "Must I be the one to remind you, Fast Hoof, that Captain Gregor here has been wearing the Equestrian armor far longer than thou have? We have over fifty gryphons and several minotaurs fighting today side by side with ponies for our cause. I won't allow such outbreaks to tarnish their sacrifice."
"I apologize, your Highness . . ."
Luna then noticed Dark Shine as he stepped forward and joined the rest of the military personnel around the table. "General Shine, I'm glad to see you've return unscarred from the battle. I assume you're here with news."
"Indeed I am; our remaining troops have returned to the capital and the main gates should be closing as we speak. Your sister has reinforced the shield over Canterlot, but I can tell that she is exhausting her magic quite fast. Also, she doesn't want to come to the castle until the very last moment. Lastly, General Spitfire is organizing our air defense but General Iron Hooves remained on Struthill to delay Midnight Blinks uhh- issue."
Luna's eyes widened slightly and her face dropped, more so that before. "Where is he now?"
"I've left him to organize the first line of defense at our gates for the moment, and I was planning on returning there myself, unless you can make use of me somewhere else."
"No, I want you to stay with him. Make sure that whenever he appears, you're there to help in any possible way. What about Twilight Sparkle?"
"She's fine as well, helping out your sister as we speak."
Luna's gaze returned to the holographic map of the city, spinning it with her magic so that the gates came into focus in front of them. "What are we to do with this?" she asked, pointing a hoof at the railway bridge coming out of a small archway near the gate. "I want you to make sure this won't be an issue."
"Will do, Princess. Now, may I return?"
"Please do so. A word of caution however: our reinforcements are still a few hours away so we cannot rely on them to defends the city until then."
Dark Shine nodded, before disappearing in a magic flash. Luna returned her attention to the map; small, black dots were slowly approaching the city's dome as the second and last zeppelin made its way inside the protected airspace.
"The fuel pipes broke, we're leaking like a hose in a wild rose bush," the large unicorn stallion shouted back into the airship, after which he closed the metal door to the side.
"Deal with it Tiny, we need that left engine!" Pearl shouted, grabbing the radio. "Celestia's Pearl here, we made it inside Canterlot. That whole dome however digs into the mountain at the back of the city so we can't go over it and dock inside the Iron Hangars."
"Central Command receiving, you are instructed to remain under the protection of the dome and prepare to defend against enemy fliers."
"Are you crazy? We're barely crawling over here! There's just two zepps left in the air including us and we don't even have any more ammo left for that fancy gun, or fragmented cannon balls for the artillery!"
A few seconds of radio static later, the voice from the other end came back. "We're looking into organizing a quick run to supply and service your airship. Park your zeppelin over a flat rooftop near the city's center and await further instructions."
Pearl slammed the radio mic back into the panel. "You'd better," he muttered. The captain began turning the helm of the ship while gently pulling down the altitude lever at the same time.
"That building over there looks good," Silver, who was next to him, pointed out from under his binoculars. "Hopefully they'll give us some ammo for our muskets, we're all out and those damn bugs got way too close on our way back."
"Get every fragment cannonball we have ready and re-load the cannons with them! If that there magic shield will collapse, we'll have a whole lotta' fliers swarming us in no time."
"To all remaining airships, resupplies are en route to your locations," a voice from the radio announced.
Out on the basket's window, Pearl and Silver could see a large group of pegasi approaching the zeppelin, with a few of them pulling a small chariot behind them.
"Take the helm, anchor her here," Pearl told Silver while leaving the basket through the metal door.
"Sir!" one of the pegasi saluted him on the building's roof, while his team immediately began checking on the airship. "We got you guys some cannonballs, right out of the oven." He pried open a box in the small carriage they brought, and gently patted the ammunition that laid in a bed of hay. "Careful with these though, highly explosive, will burst into magic on impact. Their core is pretty much the charcoal you get in those muskets."
"Tiny, Green Horn, get your hinds over here and help this gentlecolt with these fine cannonballs; and don't drop em'!" Pearl yelled behind him, and the two stallions in question jumped onto the roof from the zeppelin and began carrying the crates inside.
"How was it out there?" the pegasus technician asked the white captain while he gazed at the shield above their heads.
"Bad enough. And it won't be getting any better soon, I'll tell ya that. Me and me hearties barely made it through the whole thing and that's because luck smiled at us today. Hey, no magic rocks for our muskets?" Pearl asked, as the last crates were carried into his airship.
"There's a couple of larger wooden boxes among the ones your crew brought in. You'll find in them some magic charcoals for the muskets and a few ammo belts for the automatic gun. Sorry we couldn't bring more, but all the gunpowder supplies and bullets remaining at the assembly factory were just requisitioned by some high ranking pegasus guard."
Pearl gave the maintenance pony a long stare. "What in the hay are they gonna use gunpowder and bullets for if not for cannons or those guns?"
The train wheels let out a deafening screech as it came out of a curb, setting itself on one of the two lines that lead out of Canterlot. Chaser cursed the makers of those tracks as he held onto whatever he could find in the locomotive booth.
Once the train was on straight tracks, he pulled the main lever even more, and turned a pressure valve to dangerously high levels. Indicators from various dials across the panel began rising well into the red markings. They began bursting one by one, sending glass everywhere in the booth. The steam engine in front of the locomotive went into overdrive, sending hot steam into the pistons driving the wheels.
The train sped through a pathway built into the city's thick wall, coming out on a wide stone bridge alongside the mountain. Chaser wasted no moment and grabbed the edges of the locomotive's booth entrance, bucked the main control lever, snapping it off, and then jumped out of the train. He opened his wings and began putting some distance between him and the train while drawing a musket from over his back.
On the wall above the large gates, Blink and a few other stallions stood watching as the steam-shooting locomotive accelerated down the bridge. Minotaurs and changeling were already marching up the railway path, but began backing off frantically as they noticed the train heading their way.
"That's gonna leave a mark," a soldier said with a sly smirk, watching as the advancing enemy troops threw each other off the bridge in their desperate attempt to get out of the train's path. The train started plowing through the hordes of enemies, either crushing them under the heavy wheels or forcing them to jump off the railway bridge.
A green bolt erupted from Chaser's gun shooting straight into one of the train's front carriages. A split second later, a powerful explosion rocked the mountain, quickly followed by a fast traveling wave that carried the sound of the blast. Thousands of projectiles and fragments flew in every direction, impacting the mountain, dust rising where they hit. Flaming cannonballs shot through the explosion's fireball, landing among the enemy troops, the mountain or some even into the magic shield, sending powerful ripples across the dome.
The explosion rocked the mountain's very core, leaving a huge gap where the railroad bridge once was. Chaser returned, and after going through the shield that allowed the passage of ponies, landed near Blink, taking his helmet off.
"Are you okay?" Blink worryingly asked his friend.
Chaser shook his head a couple of times. "Yeah, I'm just-" he stammered, rubbing his head and ear with a hoof, "-that was bloody loud. Whoa . . ."
His eyes fell on the side of his armor, where several pieces of shrapnel were imbedded. He reached for one of them with his teeth and pulled it out gently. "Well, lucky me none of them actually went through. Cheers mate, your fancy captain armor saved my life."
"Well that's probably the only good outcome of me naming you Captain of the Royal Guard."
Chaser pulled another fragment from a shin guard, but the tip of the metal shrapnel was red. Blink's response was a rather serious stare.
"It's all right, don't worry; it just scratched me."
"Get it checked by a medic anyway."
Blink then turned to the formation of soldiers standing around the capital's main gates. The look in the eyes of most ponies was filled with fear and nervousness. Some of them had just came back from the first battle ever, and the rest were the remaining drafted civilians left to protect the city.
The black armored stallion opened his mouth to address them, but his attention was caught by the unusual sight above. The light outside began to dim, the sun's rays becoming obscured by a thick swarm of changeling fliers. They traveled across the lower edge of the city and up across the dome in a snake-like formation.
The changelings started smashing against the shield, and the whole capital echoed with the sounds of the assault on the magic barrier. White sparks fell down from the all impact points, creating a surreal image of a darkened city sprinkled by magic residue, as if they were all trapped in a grim winter globe.
"They're coming!" a shout came from the top of the wall.
The ground began trembling. Blink teleported on the wall, and his eyes bared witness of the approaching menace. Hundreds of large changeling monsters like the one he took down at Struthill charged towards the gates, followed by the remaining minotaurs and several other thousand changelings.
"Archers and other ranged fighters, get up on the walls now! The rest of you hold the gates!"
A flash of magic erupted next to Blink, and Dark Shine emerged from it. "You blew up the railroad bridge with all our remaining ammunition?" he yelled at Blink as soon as he spotted him, wasting no time at all. "You're very lucky that actually helped us, otherwise-"
"We got worst things on our hooves now," Blink shot back, pointing over the wall, through the shield barrier.
The front wave of changelings crashed against the gates, pushing them back under the fierce strength of the massive creatures. The ponies surrounding it braced the gateway, while unicorns floated large beams, propping them against the entrance. Archers and musketeers fired through the arrow slits in the wall, but neither the small tips of the arrows nor the powerful blasts from the magic guns managed to penetrate the thick carapaces of the tank bugs.
Behind the walls across the inner square, a massive cannon was slowly crossing through the crowds of soldiers. Blink caught sight of it not because of the size of the artillery piece, but because of a familiar looking tail and mane popping from under a simple armor set.
He teleported near the artillery piece and tapped a certain pony that pushing it amongst others. Blink levitated her helmet off, revealing the messy, yet still bright pink mane and a pair of half apologetic, half tired eyes.
"Pinkie, what the actual fuck," Blink asked her, gesturing at the large cannon.
"Ohh Blinkie, is that you? I just want to help drive out those mean hgmm hmmff-" Pinkie tried to speak, yet Blink's hoof across her mouth prevented any reply from the mare.
His horn glowed and a shadow clone materialized next to him, grabbing Pinkie with its front hooves.
"I know you want to help, but this is the last place I want you to be right now, okay? Last I've heard you've been up all day for days." His horn glowed again, as he slowly approached her. Giving the cannon next to them a look, he said one last thing before tapping his horn against her mane gently: "Thanks for the party cannon, Pinkie."
A tiny blue jolt of magic shot through her head, sending the mare in a deep, well-deserved sleep.
"Take her back to the castle where she can sleep somewhere safe," Blink ordered his clone. With a nod, it sunk into a dark pool of magic underneath, taking the mare with him.
"Ohh Pinkie, where the hell did you even get this thing?" Blink muttered, scrubbing the dust off a golden plate on the cannon. "Royal special-issued 68 pounder point artillery," the stallion read from it. "All right, listen up! I want four ponies to operate this! Open fire at the first thing that goes through those gates!" Blinked shouted at a group of soldiers nearby. They gave the odd-looking black armored stallion a weird look, but began carrying out the command nonetheless.
Meanwhile, the main gates buckled under the constant pounding of the enemy troops. The thick wood began cracking, and the metal reinforcement strips bent under the assault.
"Get ready for the breach!" Dark Shine's voice echoed from above the wall.
Chaser landed next to Blink, in the first line of soldiers that were dreadfully awaiting for the gates to fall. A few rows of powerful stallions pushed against them, holding the invaders out for as long as possible. Above them, the dome still rained sparks of magic under the assault of the changeling fliers. A light blue beam of magic which Blink recognized as being Luna's hit the dome in its center, strengthening the spell.
"Ready for this?" Blink asked his friend, as the stallions holding the gates scattered before the imminent breach.
The soldiers in the front lines raised their shields and weapons, waiting for the enemy. Chaser readied his bow and drew an arrow from the quiver with his wing, aiming his weapon through a couple of shields. "As I'll ever be, mate."
A powerful crack split through the air, and the top hinges of the gates burst out. The tank bugs smashed the remaining pieces out of their way, crawling through the debris.
An ear-shattering blast raised dust in the air around the entire square, as the massive cannon spat its ordinance at the first changeling heavy troop. The insect exploded into bits, sending blood and pieces of chitin flying everywhere. The cannon's first blast was followed by a barrage of magic projectiles from the spear muskets and the mages, eviscerating three other tank bugs. Their rock-hard armored body parts were no match to the wave of initial firepower, bursting and cracking from the sheer force of the hundreds of magic projectiles of various kinds.
Dark Shine channeled his magic above the entrance, and a tornado of fire formed among the swarm of changelings pouring inside the capital, engulfing the enemies and setting them ablaze. The ones that made it out of the fire haze kept advancing towards the equestrian front row shields, but fell to the ground struck by arrows.
The haunting sight of screaming changelings and minotaurs charging towards them while set on fire made even the toughest of stallions take an instinctive step backwards. They held the shields strapped to their front hooves close to them and grasped the spears and swords tight with the other front hoof.
Chaser released arrow after arrow, striking the enemies in their heads and necks, or any other weak spots he could spot. "They keep coming, Blink! Did you take a vacation back there at Struthill or something?"
"What are you even looking for damn it, kill something!" Chaser urged him, noticing his unicorn friend was darting his eyes everywhere, looking for something.
"I messed up at Struthill, Chaser. I lost control of him and now he's out there somewhere!"
The pegasus released another arrow, felling a minotaur to his knees, while others finished him off. "That thing inside of you that you were telling me about?"
"Yeah, the one that you were saying it's all in my head. Well, not anymore." Blink grunted, snorting air at nothing in particular. "Damn it, not now . . ."
"You all right? Blink, you need to start killing these things before they overwhelm us!"
"It's just- ughh, damn burns, I'm starting to feel them. But it's okay, I got it."
Before Chaser could ask him anything else, Blink broke out from the front lines and engaged the changelings, using blasts of magic to send them flying back. Meanwhile, the fire tornado had dissipated, but Archmage Dark Shine began casting powerful lightning strikes at the enemies.
A chain launched at a minotaur that was just about to clash with the soldiers that formed a wide but tight inner circle around the city's entrance; it wrapped itself around the warrior's neck and was then pulled back with such a force that the sound of the spine snapping was heard all the way back to Blink, who was in the middle of the enemies. He stopped the spell and the chain turned to smoke, all while summoning a sword and a shield in front of him.
The cries coming from the bugs were sharp and eerie. The creatures desperately plunged themselves at the waiting equestrian forces, shooting bolts of magic from their jagged horns before ultimately succumbing to the arrows and musket blasts. Their never-ending waves quickly surrounded Blink as he held his ground, striking any enemy that passed near him.
A green fireball from above smashed into a group of insects, and a distinct flap of wings filled Blink's ears. He continued to hold his position right in front of the broken gates, while feeling something behind him smashing and burning the enemy troops.
"I'm glad to see you," Blink shouted between strikes, however not looking back at all, focusing on keeping his blows effective and his defense intact. A series of green bolts hit him in the head and chest, but the hydra leather absorbed the attacks, which only sent him sprawling on his flank. He got up in an instant and shot a blast of air so powerful towards his attackers, that it shattered their bodies and bodies; a cone-shaped ditch formed where the attack had passed by, while dirt that was settled under the road scattered in the air for the first time since it was laid.
"I knew that was you Blink," Spike said from behind after spitting a row of flames at some nearby troops. "Nice armor."
Blink took a quick moment to check on his friend; the dragon was tired and worn out, a streak of blood was coming down his neck from a cut underneath his jaw and his armor was dented and smashed. Even so, he fought on, spitting flames and cutting deep into the changeling troops with his sharp claws.
"Go back now, they're too many!" Blink yelled, and the dragon flew away, a couple of bolts of magic hitting him in the back. Luckily for him, his scales, much like Blink's armor, were magic resistant and the attacks only left a few dark, smoking spots on his back.
The changelings' advance continued relentless, waves after waves of insects pouring through the smashed gates and running over their own troops' carcasses to get inside the city. The exchange of arrows and magic bolts was still intense, and the enemies had begun reaching the first line of soldiers that were waiting with their shields up.
Blink teleported to the rooftop of a building near the wall from where he took a moment to watch the raging battle below. All the enemy troops were funneling through the city's main entrance, the shield -which had taken a blue hue from Luna's magic- still holding against the constant battering of the numerous fliers.
As the stallion scouted the city behind him, he saw thousands of pegasi resting on buildings across the capital, all their eyes pointing up at the dome, waiting for the imminent breach. Some of them had been there in the exact same situation many years before, when the changelings invaded Canterlot during the royal wedding.
Back at the entrance, the lines were holding strong, enemies being decimated one after the other. Blink caught sight of Chaser sending arrows in the troops below from a building roof across the square, while Spike rested behind the formation on the ground, catching his breath. But then he saw something that froze the blood in his veins.
His Nightmare was preached atop the wall above the gates, staring right at him. The strongest of chills ran down Blink's spine as he realized what his darker ego was carrying. In one of his hooves, the Nightmare held a stallion's head by the mane, while blood was dripping from the severed neck. Even from the rooftop of a building across the city's entrance square, Blink could still see the opened, glossy eyes of the decapitated head belonging to Iron Hooves.
The Nightmare's evil smirk dripped with death.
"Cannons loaded with the new ordinance, sir!" a voice came from the back of the zeppelin's basket.
"Good, get them ready, they're gonna be-"
A loud snap filled the air, the echoes resembling the sounds of a frozen lake's surface cracking in the early spring. Captain Pearl peered upwards through the windshield, but could see very little above them because of the balloon's front side. Through the rain of magic sparks falling from the impacted shield however, he witnessed the forming of a visible crack across it. A piece of the dome the size of a house dislodged, fizzling away as it fell down from the magic dome.
The changeling swarm formation immediately started heading towards the opening, slithering towards it like a gigantic, hungry snake. An alarmed voice filled the radio coms as enemies began pouring into the city from above. The entire crew stared at the radio, while Pearl and Silver looked out the front of the basket.
"The shield has been breached! They're going through, I repeat, Canterlot's protected airspace has been breached, changelings are flying into the dome!"
End of Chapter 27