Chapter 24 - Enemy of My Enemy
Corporal Shade flew as fast as his wings could carry him. His low altitude forced him to brush against the heads and backs of those he passed, splattering rainwater and specks of mud with each flick of his tail. It was conduct that would have normally sent the lowly corporal into a bowing, scraping frenzy for such offenses, minor as they may be. None of that mattered to him. Tucked into the bottom of his saddlebags was a pair of scrolls, the results of a twenty minute interview with the most timid and demure pony he had ever met. The pegasus' status as the daughter of his CO kept him on his best behavior, but the context and results of the conversation took every effort on his part to not immediately flee to the higher ups.
That scroll... if what was on it proved true.
"We are so bucked."
To put it bluntly, it was above him. Last night, little, quiet Fluttershy had stumbled onto something far bigger than her or him. Eyes in the dark. A pony made of shadows. A blanketing fog that swallowed more than the thickest mist...
Shade skittered to a halt in front of the Military Intelligence Center. The tent was in a perpetual state of bedlam, no matter how many times ponies saw it. Clerks filed away notes and paperwork, their contents not even glanced over by the soldier. A magi slipped another a slip of paper, which was quickly pocketed. That pony stuck out in particular. It was not whom Shade intended to find, but he would do just as well.
"Professor Incantus!" The professor in his graying blond mane, pale gray coat, and glasses did not hear him over the noise and the current conversation in which he was deeply engaged.
"Make sure the guard duty shifts don't stretch over eight hours. Magic seems to be one of the few aspects truly effective against this creature's magic, and I don't want our friends fatigue to be cause for an escape.
"Professor!" The second attempt caught his attention, divided as it may be. Hexxus's companion prepared a response, but he lifted a hoof to silence him. Shade weaved through the rows of desks filled with unicorn clerks. "I have something for you. A report involving Ms. Fluttershy."
The professor's ears flicked, betraying curiosity, but not enough to task the matter seriously. "That is not my department, corporal. Please take it to – "
"Pardon for interrupting, professor, but this is." Shade slipped the rolled up documents and handed them to Hexxus. "Trust me, if you don't know now, you will very soon."
Inside a disused supply tent temporarily commandeered for its lack of usual activity, three individuals wordlessly worried. Outside, the study hum of conversation and clopping hooves filtered through the sturdy tent, although the room itself was barren save for the three and Shade in the nearby room. The white noise, while welcome, did not assist in digesting the information they had just received from the corporal's report. The weight of what the they had just heard was as omnipresent as it was troublesome. Each granule of information, both hopeful and horrifying, froze their minds with curiosity, wonder, and fear.
Professor Hexxus stood near the center of the supply tent, quietly chewing a lip in thought. His graying hair hung over his eyes and he flicked his head back, clearing the obstruction. Captain Hawk stood immobile near the door, a wall of flesh blocking any pony desiring access. The remaining occupant, Second Lieutenant Skylar, was pacing in the corner.
Skylar had nearly demanded a blood pact to keep the corporal silent on the matter when he found out. Said corporal was in the adjacent room, yet cut off from prying ears with a Sound Silence spell from Hexxus. Hawk had been summoned as the closest liaison for Princess Luna, who had retired for the remainder of the day.
On the sixth day of March at nine-fifty p.m, Captain Barricade's daughter, Fluttershy, left Golden Oaks Library. Her intended destination was to return to her place of residence outside of town. The civilian reported feelings of intense unease. The civilian initially concluded that such feelings were the result of fear of darkness and the thunderstorm, until it felt a threat more subconscious than corporeal.
The civilian fled from the town, hoping to escape the threat, but encountered a dead end. She intended to backtrack and find an alternate route, only to discover a lantern and the entity (Dubbed here on out as Subject One) she believed was pursuing her. Subject One gave her the command: "Stay in the light" before the civilian fled the entity with the lantern. Further questioning about the identity of Subject One was inconclusive, but the civilian affirmed that the entity had cyan eyes and possessed a pony body made of "shadows".
At ten o'clock, the civilian encountered a pair of oddities dissimilar to Subject One. The first was a dense black fog containing solid particles. The second was a bipedal entity (Subject Two). The civilian reported Subject Two stalked her and its presence was heralded by the presence of the fog. The lantern light held the fog at bay momentarily, but it garnered enough time for her to escape Subject Two.
Further questioning deduced that Subject Two was a bipedal entity identical to the recently captured "Miner", save for a pair of eyes that glowed bright white in the darkness.
Incident Report logged by: Corporal Night Shade, 229th Aerial Division
"So is he lying to us, or is something else going on?" Skylar asked the pair.
"Shade? Lie? His fortitude is questionable, but he is not a liar," Hawk asserted.
"Not him. The alien. This... Miner."
Hexxus held a hoof to his chin in thought. "To date, the Miner hasn't spoken a word. If you are referring to him being the only of of his kind, he has yet to proclaim such a fact. Yes, we assumed he was alone, but..."
Hexxus trailed off, but Hawk finished the sentence for him, "We detected only two entities leaving the portal, so we did not anticipate more. An oversight on our part."
"There are just too many unknowns. Too many questions, and the only one with any answers is unable to talk to us." Hexxus sighed and let his eyes wander the tent.
Hexxus hopped up onto an empty chair and sat down, letting his thoughts wander aimlessly. He closed his eyes and listened to the slow, rhythmic thrumming of his heart. "This news is not our only problem now, anyway." With another sliver of magic, he opened his saddlebags and removed a crumpled note. "I just recieved this." Hawk snached it out of the air and began to read.
On 3/7/1012 at 07:00, staff sergeants Broodwing and Azazel, 106th, were on their way to report to their CO before encountering a tall entity believed to be the second escaped creature. The encounter was brief and the creature seemingly disappeared, further corroborating the evidence received by the Miner that the second creature can teleport. The pair did not have time to gather a complete description.
Continuing their journey to the surface, they discovered another fact. The Farlander Portal had been ignored by both creatures since its initial discovery, but no longer. A single spherical gemstone, iridescent green in color with an almond-shaped black tarnish, was inset in one of the bracket stones. The portal room guards were unaware of any activity, save for a small noise, but could not discern any further evidence of intrusion. As of this report, it is unknown how the creature managed the deed so silently, if it truly was the second creature at all. I recommend immediate anti-teleportation magic be deployed in the chamber and all critical areas.
Diamond Solitaire, Council of Magic
"So the creature has finally made its move," Hawk concluded.
"Completing the portal," Skylar added. "But to what end?"
"Pardon?" Hexxus asked.
"I skimmed the report given to us by Ms. Sparkle, and she brought up the same concerns. Why create a portal and enter Equestria, only to immediately create another? "
"You are assuming the purpose is to leave this place, but what if the intent is something else? What if, by chance, the Farlander Portal's true intent is to bring others to Equestria?" Hawk hummed, a deep, throaty noise that resembled a growl more than anything. Light filtered through the crack in the tent flap and onto his silver mane, giving the effect he surrounded in a halo. "But that comes with the problem: why two? Why two creatures? Are they scouts? Are the embittered enemies? Did they come willingly or were they forced?"
"What of these two new creatures? Could they have something to do with this?"
"Likely, Second Lieutenant. I do not believe the appearance of two more creatures is an accident."
"Three," Hexxus chimed in. "The Canterlot attacker was a creature never seen before."
Hawk huffed and this time truly did growl. "We are being played. I do not like being a pawn to a game I cannot even understand." In an uncharacteristic breach of character, Hawk bucked a hoof, sending an empty trash bucket into a cabinet. The bucket crumpled upon impact and twirled into a darker corner of the room. Neither Shade nor the ponies outside payed them any mind. A Sound Silence could prevent the outflow of sound, but not the inflow.
"Perhaps we are looking at this the wrong way," Skylar offered. He had ceased his pacing. Hexxus breathed a sigh of relief; the sound of his clanking plate mail was starting to get on his nerves. "We keep returning to the initial pair. Let's turn this on its head. What about these two new players?"
'Celestia damn it,' Hexxus thought. Skylar had started pacing again and continued. "There was one creature pursuing Ms. Fluttershy, right after a creature comes to her at the exact time she acquires something to fight off the threat. Light. 'Stay in the light' it said. It knew the creature, directly or indirectly, and was passively helping a pony resist it."
"You believe they are enemies?" Hawk asked. It was a novel thought, enough to give him pause.
"I believe so. Perhaps the Miner and the Farlander are pawns themselves in a game by these two new players."
"Now now, we are forgetting one important fact: Ms. Fluttershy's testimony. We are coming up with theories under the impression that her retelling is without flaw. I have read her personal file; she is shy to the point of agoraphobia and prone to experience irrational fear." Hexxus furled his brow in thought. It was quite the puzzle indeed, especially due to the lack of verifiable truth.
"And an Element of Harmony and one of the diarach's most trusted confidants," Hawk added. "I, too, question the exact accuracy of events, but I believe we can take her words at face value."
"I'm still not sure..." Hexxus closed his eyes and sighed, trying to subdue the migraine creeping up on his consciousness. Shoving the dull throbbing to the back on his mind, he continued with the conversation. "Back on topic... these other two entities, what can we make of them?"
"One threatened Ms. Fluttershy, while the other helped her. That suggests the two are enemies," Skylar started.
"No sign of their presence has been recorded since or before this incident," Hawk added.
"Meaning that this was an act and a counterstroke. The shadow pony, knowing of the biped's motives, made a preemptive move," Hexxus concluded.
The trio were silent for the longest time. The quiet breathing in the other room was almost drowned out by the thundering sky and equally thunderous hooves outside. A flash of lightning, and a flash of inspiration.
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
Hexxus and Hawk turned to the Second Lieutenant. The non sequitur threw them both for a momentary loop, but they understood quick enough to catch the gist of what was running through the soldier's head.
Hawk vocalized the sentiment. "That's some dangerous thinking. We cannot even begin to fathom what these two are scheming."
Hexxus reinforced Hawk's claim. "Agreed. While the shadow pony may have assisted Ms. Fluttershy, his or her reasons for doing so have a high chance of being selfish. Why not ask us for help? Why skulk around in the shadows and play an equally insidious game?"
"Can you honestly say that the idea does not appeal to you?" Skylar stomped a hoof in emphasis. "I don't know about you, but I am tired of being in the dark, blindly scrambling for ideas. Canterlot was attacked. A creature is completing a portal for Celestia knows what reason. I have half a mind to march right into that biped's containment chamber and drag along a couple of inquisitors. That creature fell through the same portal. The same reason the second creature came to this world still applies to him. He even gave us a physical description of the creature to work with. Can you not say that he may not be as innocent as we believe? He may not be innocent, and even if he is, we can't talk to him. This shadow pony is the only one that we can talk to that know what is actually going on. It might be able to help us."
The thought, as aggressive and brutal as it may have been, gave them pause. "The Miner has indeed been a little too cooperative for a metaphorical fish out of water," Hexxus thought.
"That's going too far." Hawk puffed out his chest. "An inquiry is beyond a plausible course of action at the moment. Princess Luna must be warned, as does Captain Barricade and the Archmage. We have a possible ally, but that is all. We can make no further assumptions based on the data currently presented to us. The princess must decide if we petition this shadow pony for aid, and do so without somehow garnering the attention of Subject Two."
Despite the assertion, Skylar and Hexxus did not look convinced, but they dropped the subject. That did not vanquish such sinister thoughts. As strong as logic and commands may be, an idea was as infectious as the most virulent plague.
An idea was very hard to kill...
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Edited by: Maverick Frond