Heart Of Black Ice

First Mission: Hurt

Location:

- Griffon Empire

- Desert north from Golden Sands

Objectives:

- Follow the trail

Status:

- Overload 14%

- Damage 3%

- Energy balance -9%

Party:

- Self

- Heavy Hoof

- Dawn

Note: Desert leaves the mind open to wander.

The trail of black ice hoofprints goes on and on. We've been following it for two days and we are fine thanks to the equipment agent Smith gave us. How the one we're following survived for this long or got this far is beyond me. Some sort of magic has to be involved.

We don't talk too much. Dawn, unused to the sand slipping over and over under her hooves, is too tired to do much more than walk and blink. Heavy is in much better state but I can see his ears twitch with every shift of sand dunes.

"Is anything wrong, Heavy?" I break the silence.

"Hm, aside from this whole thing? I'm wondering how a group of nomads managed to take an entire town down, a town with a Legion fortress and garrison."

Load Golden Sands town map.

Attack route: East

Defensive structures: Tier 3 Legion Fortress

"Surprise? Inside agent?"

"You catch on fast, Bucket. Soon you'll be a real stallion."

"Thank you."

"The entire attack seems off though. No matter what, there should be some survivors either in the fortress or griffons who managed to escape. The traces left by the bandits say that there can't have been too many of them so even if they managed to come from the desert unspotted, which is a feat in itself, they shouldn't have been able to round up everypony and lead them away."

"Perhaps the captured were too scared to run?" Dawn mumbles, "I know that feeling."

"There is always a hero who at least tries," Heavy shakes his head, "but I think you're right. Either the bandits were extremely brutal to anypony resisting or something else must have happened."

A shadow appears as we clear a sand dune. It's a small oasis, a tiny one to be precise, with just a tree, small bush, and a puddle in the middle.

And a four-legged silouhette slumped with its head in the water.

Scanning...

Species: unknown

Primary color: bronze

Secondary color: blonde

Cutie mark: img_978_blackCircle

Standing: N/A

Threat Level: minor

Name: N/A

Status: N/A

Damage type: N/A

Notes: possible target

"Somepony is there," I point to the little shady patch.

"Good eyes," Heavy picks up the pace, "perhaps a survivor?"

Walking as fast as we can, we get about halfway to the oasis when Heavy starts running recklessly towards it. He gets there and picks the figure up, checking for signs of life. When we're close enough so I can see clear details I realize why my long-range sensors gave off such strange result.

The creature is a pony in shape and, cradled in Heavy's front legs, looks not much taller than Dawn. What isn't pony-like are the bronze changeling plates where pony coat should be and the soft shimmer of almost invisible see-through wings made of fire hanging limply from the creature's back. The difference between it and a changeling is that there are no holes in its legs and its blonde mane and tail are what ponies consider normal.

Scanning: wings

...

Appearance: closest species - phoenix

Notes: corporeal form missing, ignores physical contact, no heat signature

Result: thaumic construct

"Hey, heyheyhey," Heavy whispers to the figure, "don't do this to me. I don't know what happened but I've seen you helpless way too many times. Don't give up now-"

"Unngh," the figure moans weakly, "...voices."

"Shhh," Heavy pulls a water bottle out of his bag and pours a steady stream of liquid into the pony's mouth, most of which ends up soaking into the sand, "Come ooooon."

All of a sudden the fire wings wrap around Heavy and both me and Dawn rush to him, stopping only when we notice Heavy being completely unharmed.

"...dreams ...alone."

"Shhh, it's okay," Heavy pats the pony's head, "I'm here."

"...he said I was disgusting," the pony sniffles.

"It's fine, Blaze. You've been in the sun for too long," Heavy looks at us and hisses, "Shoo, go away!"

Blaze's wings go limp again and he pushes against Heavy's chest.

"...s-sorry... I'll stop bothering you... I'll go...-"

I can see Heavy burst to tears as the unicorn tries to get out of his embrace.

"-...I'm stuck in something... sorry... I'll try harder..."

"Not you," Heavy tightens the hug, "You idiot."

"Get away from it, Heavy!" a firm voice commands.

Scanning...

Species: ascended unicorn

Primary color: black

Secondary color: blue

Cutie mark: img_979_whiteCircle

Standing: neutral

Threat Level: deadly

Name: Mistake

Status: Nightguard

Damage type: N/A

Notes: possible target

"What?" Heavy turns his head to look at the black unicorn and jumps away, letting the body in his hooves flop limply on the sand. His eyes dart from Mistake to whoever the other 'pony' is.

"It's an impostor, Heavy," Mistake chuckles, "Unfortunately, he had way too outdated information about my looks and power."

Much like 'Blaze' this unicorn possesses a pair of magical wings but these I recognize. They are made of the black ice a piece of which Twilight had in her laboratory, the same material we've been following all the way out here.

"What's going on?" Heavy takes a step back.

"Trouble," Mistake scowls, "Get away from it before it wakes up again and I'll explain."

Heavy walks away from 'Blaze', keeping the slowly breathing body in his line of sight.

"Luna sent us to get you, Cromach, and Darky. What happened?"

"Bad stuff, Heavy. It's all over, for everyone. The Nightmare has allied with Discord and are taking out all those who successfully opposed them in the past. Cromach and Darky are dead. I had to leave them so I'd survive and spread the word. Celestia and the Elements must be warned."

"Damn," Heavy mumbles to himself and turns to us.

Mistake ruffles his wings.

Something is wrong, aside from the entire 'the world is doomed' thing. I run, breaking black ice freezing my hooves to the sand, to Heavy. A long shard of Mistake's wing aims at Heavy's neck before I can open my mouth or raise my hoof to take the first running step and...

...shatters.

Heavy, snarling and turning at lightning speed with his staff ready, breaks it into pieces that result only in few harmless cuts on his face and neck.

"I had to leave them so I'd survive... how stupid do you think I am?" Heavy screams, "Dawn, take care of Blaze! Bucket, let's deal with this thing!"

Undisturbed, Mistake smiles widely.

"Very stupid if you think your defiance matters."

The sky darkens, cold wind blows through the desert, and Mistake's wings spread wide, breaking into small levitating shards creating a maelstorm around him.

Heavy thaumic interference.

Search database: Mistake

Compare

...

Damage type: physical(high), thaumic(average), other(deadly)

...

Conflict detected

Current threats: thaumic (deadly)

My sensors don't lie.

There is no other process-bending influence like it was in Twilight's laboratory but the physical characteristics fit. That could mean either something is using his body and can't do it fully or the Mistake in front of us is somepony completely different just looking the part. That doesn't change the fact that if Heavy gets hit by the cloud of shards swirling around Mistake he'll get shredded.

Engage magic absorbing capacitors

Capacity 0%

Twilight did give me some capability to absorb magic and if I couple it with my tough armor I should be able to break Mistake's concentration.

Charge.

Status:

- Overload 48%

- Damage 37%

- Energy balance -47%

- Energy reserves 89%

- Thaumic Capacitor 100%

!WARNING! Capacitor is full

!WARNING! Balance loss

Balance restored.

"HA HA HA HA HA," Mistake's booming laugh echoes without having anything to bounce off of, "Toys..."

Some shards idly fly towards Heavy and he quickly avoids all of them. Mistake is just playing with him, that much is apparent.

Needless to say, my attempt failed. The magic dampening worked for staggering 0.03 seconds before the capacitors filled and failed. It wasn't even enough to stop the telekinetic blow that launched me away from Mistake. What's worse, the upper layers of my armor now have deep gashes in them.

I'm sure I'm the only one who can get through. Heavy will die instantly if he tries and he knows it. It's only a matter of time before Mistake gets bored of making the earthpony jump around and unleashes his magic.

Time to fill: 0.03s

Maximum thaumic field level: high

Required processing power: available (86% overload)

Hmmm...

All I have to do is hit the unicorn's horn to stop the ice storm.

Charging forward again, I get ready to immediately release the stored energy as soon as the capacitors get filled in order to create a defensive field around my body. It takes way too much processing power but I shouldn't need to do it for too long.

!ERROR! Capacitor is full

Release energy

!ERROR! Capacitor is empty

!ERROR! Capacitor is full

Release energy

!ERROR! Capacitor is empty

!ERROR! Capacitor is full

!ERROR! Damage critical

Status:

- Overload 0%

- Damage 98%

- Energy balance -0%

- Energy reserves 12%

- Thaumic Capacitor 0%

Shutting down nonessential systems

Run subsystem damage diagnostic

Hurts...

I did it. I got close enough to punch Mistake. With how overcharged I was the blow should have broken his horn or, if I missed somehow, shattered any bone it hit. The cloud of shard disappeared and then...

...pain.

Restoring optical sensor link

I'm lying in a pool of something, barely able to move my head to look at the fight.

Heavy is swinging his staff much faster than I remember him doing during our training but Mistake is still dancing circles around him. Whenever the blow seems to connect it somehow just ruffles the unicorn's fur and gets Heavy in range of counterattack.

Restoring aural sensor link

"Heh, the worthless unicorn saw you as a much bigger threat than you really are. Are you perhaps holding back?" Mistake grins sadistically, "I don't even have to use my own magic. His combat skill is more than enough for both you and the toy soldier. Well, time to end-URK!"

Heavy blocked a blow with his staff, let it quite unceremoniously drop on the sand and punched Mistake's face. With the second of inattentiveness Heavy spun around and...

"Sorry for this."

...bucked Mistake with both hind legs up in the balls.

The lack of effect becomes noticeable right as a thick shard of black ice from Mistake's wing pierces Heavy's chest and pins him to the sand.

"SIR!" Dawn yells, stops attending to Blaze, and rushes to Heavy.

Judgement error

Vocalize

"No," I groan weakly.

Damage report completed

Replay

The small crystals in the structure of my muscle cables weren't able to cope with the repeating cycle of absorbing and forcefully ejecting magic energy and shattered. The damage is beyond repair.

Right now all I can do is watch.

Watch as Dawn blocks the next blow aimed at Heavy with her wooden staff that breaks immediately. Watch as Mistake laughs again and punches her, still standing on her hind legs, in the stomach. Watch as she throws up blood and collapses on the sand.

Heavy, eyes wide and panting, wiggles the shard pinning him down out from the sand and pushes it out of himself with a hoof. Spitting out blood, he picks his staff up and stands back upright.

"Well, so much for the rescue attempt. Don't worry though, your bodies will serve me well. Too bad you won't see the end of the world for yourselves. I so love seeing you poor ponies break down as the chilling touch of fear finally takes over," one of Mistake's wings breaks into shards that spin and slice Heavy's staff into pieces, "I must admit I've had fun."

Heavy's legs fail him and he falls flat on his rump.

"I won't give you the pleasure of screaming," he growls.

"Oh, you will," Mistake's wing reassembles, spreads, and...

... violently shatters, ice turning into vapor mid-air.

A golden-red flame dispels the magical darkness and the sun pierces the black clouds again.

"Hmph," Mistake grunts and the remaining wing disappears, leaving only magical influence in the air.

"Beaten you twice... will get you again..." Blaze croaks, taking wobbling steps towards Mistake.

"In that shape? I doubt it," Mistake grins, "Let's get rid of the interruptions and we'll have enough time to talk about how those you loved despise you now."

Blaze shudders and looks at the sand for a second. The blazing flames of his phoenix wings fade slightly.

"You know what they say... hope dies last. And when it does," Blaze's fire wings go darker and darker until the fire turns black, tipped with purple, and eventually even that hisses out and solidifies into black ice, "Only despair remains."

"Good, now give up and let me take over," Mistake smiles, a little forced this time.

"No... you WILL fail, your agents WILL fall, and you WILL die. Even gods die," Blaze stomps his hoof and Mistake's body freezes and breaks into pieces that dissolve into nothingness.

Seconds later, a thud hits the sand as he falls over, no wings visible, no unnatural presence to be sensed.

I just lie there.

The sand dunes burst on the horizon, revealing griffon soldiers hidden under yellow blankets. They quickly close the distance, check the wounded, and pick everypony up. One of them taps at the mouthpiece he's wearing.

"Squad alpha to agent Smith. Targets secured. Over."

Signal acquired

Tuning in

...

Success

"Good job. We lost contact with squad beta so get them prepped for evac immediately. We have a witness now and the HQ will want to interrogate her. Will meet you at northern evac point. Over."

"Leave nothing here," says the commanding griffon, "We're heading home."

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