Heart Of Black Ice

First Mission: Super Elite Combat Unit

Current objectives: N/A

Status:

- Overload 0%

- Damage 0%

- Energy balance 0%

- Energy reserves 100%

Experiments:

- Embarrass Dawn (self)

- Develop (Twilight Sparkle)

...

...

...

Sitting in the empty room assigned to me, I realize no processes have been running for past few hours. The week of training with Heavy Hoof has been effective and my winning statistics can now reach satisfactory values of thirty-seven percent with me using overload. Without it... zero. I'm starting to think that physical ability isn't as important as I expected it to be, perhaps using the excess energy for something other than physical enhancement might be a better course of action. Not to mention that the overuse of overload mechanic leaves me way too damaged for long-term combat.

The thing is that I've been over this hundreds of times. I've watched every recording of every Heavy's practice fight and I'm sure there is nothing hidden that I could dig out anymore. I'm in a perfect physical state but I'm lacking enough varying input to make changes to anything inside. I could randomly experiment with my functions to perhaps find a better way to do things but the chances of that happening are extremely low and the possible negative results too dangerous.

In short, I'm what ponies would call bored.

Perhaps I should exercise my muscles again? No, the current tension is just right after last training and further excessive use would bring no benefits and might cause minor damage.

Emergent hoof movement

The drumming resonates within the walls of the empty room.

Perhaps princess Twilight can help me, she's back in the castle due to some unexplained things happening in the Griffon Empire. She should be in her laboratory in the dungeons unless she's talking with the other princesses about something. Perhaps she could tell me something about how to make Dawn blush in the way I've wanted to see again for a while.

Objective added: Talk to Twilight Sparkle

I pass a group of ponies, some young, some older and scarred, being led through the halls by a Royal Guard explaining them the layout of the castle. Already used to the terrified stares I sometimes still get, I greet the group just to hear few whistles and gasps. The leading guard hastily explains what little he knows about me as I go deeper into the magically protected lab.

The door opens at my touch with only the slightest resistance of the sealing spell.

"Good morning, princess Twilight," I bow slightly just like I've seen Heavy do countless times. The earthpony trainer has been extremely helpful and willing to correct my attempts at imitating pony behaviour and speech patterns.

The unicorn ascendant tears her gaze away from a small shard of black crystal on the bench in front of her and, still frowning, turns to me and her expression brightens.

"Hmmm, there's something different about you," she mumbles, running around me and tapping on various places on my armor.

"Can I help you?" I can't help asking when she slides under my belly like a carriage repairpony.

"What? Erm, no," she slides back out, blushing, "You just look... tighter than I remember."

Search: pony, change, physical, tight

Result: muscle tightening, bulking, training, physical exercise

"I have been attending sargeant Heavy Hoof's combat training on princess Luna's orders. Perhaps that might be the reason?"

Twilight's eyes go wide and her grin manic.

"Yessssssssssssssss!" she punches the air, "And it took just about three weeks!"

"Estimate of my total runtime."

"Indeed. You've grown soooooo much," she leans to my ear and breathes in heavily, "How about we make use of your more... advanced functions."

Her hoof runs over the underside of my belly.

"Three-dimensional calculus subroutine engaged. Waiting for input."

Twilight rubs her muzzle against my neck armor.

"Not this time, my little creation. This time you will be the one putting things in. Engage pleasure subroutine, authority zero."

Primary authority: self

Secondary authority: Dawn, royalty

Error: access denied, conflict with current objective

"No."

"WHAAAAAAAAAAT?!" Twilight jumps away and her wings flap erratically.

"No. Access denied. Not enough role power. Not happening. No," I explain.

"Why?" she pouts.

"I have something I need to ask you first that takes priority."

"Takes... priority? You mean you don't listen to the princesses anymore?"

"I will offer assistance whenever the request doesn't conflict with higher ranked objective, princess, which is the current case."

"And who issued the objective?"

"I did."

Twilight's jaw hits the floor, metaphorically of course.

"You did? You... as in you you."

"No yo-yo detected in the vicinity."

The grin on Twilight's face now threatens the top of her head falling off.

"Was that a joke?"

"An attempt, yes. Successful?"

"It was... a terrible pun. It was so bad it was a tiny bit good. "

My distorted sigh only seems to amuse Twilight more.

Search: pony, pleasure, suffering of others

Result: sadist

Add note: Twilight Sparkle; sadist

"I guess it's time to relearn my pundamentals."

"Heavens, stop! Okay okay, why did you come here then?"

"I wanted to ask some details about my overarching objective - self-development."

"Ask away."

"How do I fulfill said goal?"

"By becoming the best you can get," she says with a stone face, only one corner of her mouth twitching slightly. As the silence of me evaluating my potential effectivity growth goes on for too long, she laughs to herself, "I was just kidding. There is no limit to developing, some philosophers say that the road is more important than the goal in this case. I wouldn't worry about it too much. I used to think the world was all books, knowledge, information, data, but I've been through so much that I now believe the world is about change. I met new friends, changed my dusty views, dealt with danger, begged for help when I wasn't strong enough... all that makes you change and grow, my little creation. It will come naturally if you don't fight it and if you do... it will come anyway."

Her inward smile makes her seem more similar to the royal sisters now. Perhaps it was like this before but I just wasn't able to see it. Maybe my perception of her will change in strange ways as I go further and further. I smile.

I can't wait.

Objective completed: Talk to Twilight Sparkle

Experimental objective removed: Develop

There is so much I don't know. Perhaps moving myself on top of the command structure wasn't as good as it seemed at the time. Maybe Twilight could use a temporary override and embarrassing Dawn can wait.

"Thank you, princess," I bow again, "I am ready to fulfill your command now."

Twilight scratches her head.

"Huh? I don't even remember what I wanted."

"Access to advanced not math-related functions."

"Heh, nevermind that. You'te too amazing to be wasted as a clopb- leisure assistant. Do you need anything else from me? I don't want to kick you out but I'm sort of busy here," she points to the black crystal on the bench, "I have no clue what this damn thing is aside from it being dangerous."

I come closer to look at the shard lying on the workbench. On the first glance it doesn't seem to be doing anything but if it worries Twilight then there has to be a reason. Pulling out the claws hidden in my hoof, I pick it up.

"WAIT! You can't just-huh?" Twilight looks at me as I grab the shard without a problem and turn it around, "It didn't hurt you?"

"No. Should it?"

"YES!" she points to the workbench. The steel surface is cracked and covered in black ice where the shard was lying, "The agent who brought this from the Empire had to use armored horseshoes to pick it up and they broke after that. That was not the real problem though, the thing seems to radiate and generate cold."

"That is against the laws of thermodynamics."

"I know. It could be explainable by magic but the shard seems to completely disperse any magical effect near it, so no dice."

Scanning...

Chemical compound: Unknown

Thaumic origin: Unknown

Heat signature: None

Closest similarity: Unknown

Chances of successful identification: 0%

Error: Unexplained drop in processing efficiency

Damage taken:

- type (unknown)

- affected systems (armor, analytic routines)

- mental interference

Status:

- Overload 75%

- Damage 29%

- Energy balance -37%

- Energy reserves 94%

nochancenohopenofuturehollowhuskemptybucketjustaclopbotpointlessexistenceemotionlesstrash

Recommendation: DIE!

I drop the shard.

Status:

- Overload 3%

- Damage 2%

- Energy balance +12%

- Energy reserves 92%

Analysis: Interference causing action probability miscalculations.

"The crystal is of room temperature," I stutter out, buzzing way more than I should and shaking for some reason, "and causes failures of judgement."

"Not just judgement," she points at my hoof with the claws used to hold the crystal missing, shattered on the floor, "This seems pretty real."

"The crystal emits an interference causing underestimation of chances of success and overestimation of negative consequences," I conclude from the... experience, "No sensors pick up thaumic of thermal trace. The crystal isn't magical and it isn't cold, objectively."

Twilight looks at the frost forming on the floor around the shard and vaporizing.

"I made your sensors myself and I sure as hay know they work. What you're saying then is that this is some sort of force that causes mental state to take form and affect the physical world in a way that IS NOT magic."

"Am I?"

"Yes. I think I have an idea what it is then."

"Can you tell me? For research purposes only."

"It's simple," Twilight slips back to half mumbling to herself, "If one is around princess Celestia they feel calmer and... warmer. Which means this could be the opposite but which alicorn might have a directly reverse effect and enough power to make it manifest so strongly? Luna? No, this seems... evil. Void? Possibly but after meeting him I think he's more similar to Celestia than he'd ever admit and he felt warm, I hate saying such inaccurate term, as well. Damn, I need to tell the princesses. Thanks..."

"Bucket."

"Thanks, Buck- who gave you that name?"

"I chose it for its deeper meaning."

"I think I'm in love," Twilight mumbles and rushes out of the laboratory, leaving the crystal on the floor.

I pull out the claws on my other front leg to pick the shard up and put it back on the workbench... and stop. Leaving it just lying there is against all of my desire to keep things sorted and accessible but for some reason I REALLY don't want to touch it again, not to avoid the physical damage but the process distortion. In fact, no matter what knowledge the thing can bring I never want to touch it again, ever.

Search: reluctance, worry, avoidance

Result: fear

"Hmmmmm."

With that I just leave the shard there and return to my room where I stay until the practice session with Heavy so I could feel... safe.

It might be just something working on a level impossible to detect with sensors but as soon as I see Heavy running around in the snow to keep warm the unknown dread disappears and I'm as ready as I could ever be for some beatdown. When Dawn joins us the odd feeling disappears completely and I can think clearly.

Objective added: Explore fear

"Welcome to the next episode of 'Dawn gets smashed'," Heavy grins, "starring Bucky, the intelligent clopbot.-"

"Good afternoon, sargeant," I smile at his nonsense, it helps to keep me from thinking about... that.

"-aaaand our main hero Dawn, the destroyer of worlds!"

"You're in a good mood, sir," Dawn scratches her head and giggles, "Got laid recently?"

Input: coughing; Heavy Hoof

Action: ensure free breathing

"AAAAH! Stop hitting me!" Heavy yells as I smack his back over and over.

"Blockage cleared successfully."

"Ehm, quite, yes," Heavy rubs the bruised spot, blushing like a schoolfilly, "As a matter of fact there have been some positive developments in my personal life, one might say."

"Good for you, sir," Dawn nods, "Wish I had somepony other than Bucket here."

"Don't worry about it," Heavy's nervous smile grows even wider as he steps into a known area, "I've got just what you need to get your mind off things."

"What is it, sir?" Dawn steps right into the trap.

"A hundred pushups and a quick run around the castle. Get on it!"

Dawn groans but starts pumping up and down at a slow pace. Joining her, I go over our usual training schedule and find an interesting fact. In exactly the opposite way I felt when I picked up the crystal I know I WANT this to continue, to attend this routine day after day with these two ponies.

Rubbing my muzzle against Dawn after the exercise, I help her up from the ground.

"Come on. Last one back here is a stuck clockwork."

"You're on!"

There is no chance for her to win but she just keeps going and so I keep the pace just fast enough to be challenging but not exhausting. Somehow she can choose to disregard all probability of victory and simply... keep trying over and over.

I remember Twilight's words of wisdom.

There is no need to rush. I will understand eventually.

Smiling to myself, I slow down to a trot to let Dawn get ahead and run at a pace comfortable for her. When our designated training place is back in sight I notice Heavy isn't waiting for us alone.

"Heeey, the screw and the screw-up," princess Luna chuckles but her expression hides something serious.

"Good afternoon, princess."

"Good afternoon, your Highness."

We bow to the lunar princess who turns back to Heavy who... doesn't look as happy as he did when the practice started.

"They are missing. Solid Steel and his unit went to investigate the Golden Sands resort and returned with the information that it had been attacked over a week before they arrived. Survivors say that it was a group of nomads which doesn't really tell us anything. Southern parts of the Empire are so fractured that it could have been anypony."

"Survivors?" Heavy chokes as he says that.

"Yes," Luna looks at the snow around and bites her lip, "They say the raiders weren't too interested in searching the place for valuables but were looking for slaves. No ransom demand has been sent yet so we have no idea who is behind the attack or what the reason was. Solid is currently travelling through the desert and observing the little city states and bandit camps but I offer you a chance to look into it yourself. After all, you know them the best and you might spot something."

"Do you believe it was a coincidence they were there at the time of the raid?"

"Not even a little. They have an amazing ability to attract trouble and I think the attack was set up to capture them which is why I believe they are still alive. That and," Luna's horn glows and the black crystal from Twilight's laboratory appears suspended in mid-air, "this. Looks familiar?"

Heavy touches the shard, shakes, and smiles bitterly.

"Yeah, it's him. It looks just the way it did in Manehattan, no idea why it changed from fire to frost in the first place. If that wasn't enough it definitely... feels like him, if it makes sense."

"Not really," Luna shrugs, "but commander Darkness described to me the events in the underworld and in Manehattan in great detail so it was not a difficult guess. Also, when I tried using my magic to locate them my tracking spells got destroyed. I doubt griffons have the ability to do such a thing and hiring a unicorn, or even a group of unicorns, wouldn't help against me. Considering whose side you were on during the Manehattan event I'm not asking or ordering you to go, I'm just telling you what's going on."

"I... was wrong, princess. I shouldn't have been swayed by my memories so easily," Heavy hangs his head, "If I was on the right side from the beginning then the death of everypony in the Order headquarters could have been prevented. I won't make the same mistake again but, to be honest, I can't afford to go to the Griffon Empire and stay there for an extended period of time."

"As a secret government rescue force you will recieve a mission budget."

"Do I have to go by myself?"

"No, but the faster you leave the higher the chance of you succeeding will be. I'll have the administrative issues sorted out by tonight, just give me a list of what you'll need."

"Yes, your Highness."

"And bring all three of them back safely if possible."

"Yes, your Highness."

"And take the shiny pony with you. Twilight will be happy to see how he fares under desert conditions."

"Bucket?"

"Can I go too? Pleeeeeeeease!"

"Am I the subject of the conversation now?"

"I'll leave you to your preparations," Luna grins and walks away, "mister leader."

That, unfortunately for Heavy, leaves Dawn giving him the puppy eyes.

"No!"

"Pleeeeeeeease!"

"No!"

"Why?"

Her attempt to embarrass Heavy by having him explain falls flat on its face.

"Because you are too young, too inexperienced, and too unskilled. Enough?"

"What does age have to do with anything?" Dawn decides to ignore the two more important points and settles for the one she can win.

"You told me how you felt at the bar when you thought the unicorn wanted to kill you. Now imagine being surrounded by armed griffons who REALLY do want to kill you. Nopony around you aside from us will be a friend and anypony might stab you in the back the second you look away. Do you know why the Royal Guard is so heavily understaffed at the moment we have only three combat trainers for both Royals and the Nightguard? The Nightguard remained mostly untouched, props to batponies for their courage and dedication, but the Royal Guard was full of foals who thought uniform would give them a little respect they didn't have. Those idiots went face to face with Sombra's fanatics who cut them to pieces. You know what's worse than a dead soldier, Dawn? A fleeing soldier giving the others hope that running away would save them. Those broke our ranks during the second invasion, those gave Sombra Canterlot and betrayed their princesses. I was a year old recruit when Chrysalis' changeling invasion came and I was one of the lucky ones whom princess Luna's constant intervention in their coming nightmares saved from going insane or killing themselves. I might be twenty-two, Dawn, but I've seen enough dead foals to last a lifetime. I don't want to pointlessly see even one more."

"I still want to go," Dawn squeaks after a while of thinking.

Heavy facehoofs.

"FINE! You can go IF you prove you can beat Bucket in combat. That would mean you can take care of yourself," he rolls his eyes.

"What? That's impossible!" Dawn scowls.

"Then I guess you'll be staying home then," Heavy grins.

Dawn growls.

"Give me that," she kicks the practice weapon crate and pulls out a staff, "Come at me, Bucky!"

Combat engaged

Enemy: Dawn

Chances of success: 100%

Result of victory: Me and Heavy travelling to the Griffon Empire

Result of defeat: Me, Heavy, and Dawn travelling to the Griffon Empire

With that clear in mind Dawn's focused strike hits me straight in the chest and her staff falls out of her grip as she hits the hard armor.

Damage: 0%

There is only one thing to do here. It's very simple, actually.

I fall to the ground, hooves wrapped around my chest.

"ERROR: CRITICAL DAMAGE SUSTAINED! BEEP BOOP. MEDIC. I SEE STARS. Daisies, daisies... blargh!"

Dawn blushes but smiles triumphantly at Heavy who just stares at me, mouth open.

Objective completed: Embarrass Dawn

"CELESTIA'S INFINITELY PLUMP ASS PROTECT ME," Heavy raises his hooves to the grey sky, "Okay, I'm done. But if you die I'll kill you!"

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