Heart Of Black Ice

Hope Dies (At) Last: Part II

The griffon soldiers had a mobile base with them with a small communications tower, supplies, medical kits, and reserve equipment. They treated Heavy's wounds, bound Blazing up, performed emergency procedures on Dawn, and one of them carried me on his back for most of the trip through the desert. It turns out we were much further north than we anticipated, just on the edge of the desert, and in few hours of forced march the griffons brought us to a small town with train tracks leading in and out. Fortunately, the ten Legion soldiers were used to braving the sands and had no trouble carrying three stretchers and me softly enough not to cause Dawn's wounds to get worse. With everypony aside from me either sleeping or unconscious, we entered the settlement and the soldiers unoccupied by carrying us left while the others looked for a place to stay for the night.

Location:

- Griffon Empire

- !no map entry found!

Objectives:

- N/A

Status:

- Overload 0%

- Damage 97%

- Energy balance +4%

Party:

- Self (immobilized/needs rest for tissue recovery)

- Heavy Hoof (piercing wound through the chest/treated/asleep)

- Dawn (ruptured organs/status critical/unconscious)

- Blazing Light (bound/exhausted/asleep)

Note: Ask Twilight Sparkle for a different way to store magic.

Night falls and the soldiers put Heavy into a bed, Blazing as well, although they still don't unlock the shackles on his legs, and leave Dawn on the floor with one of the soldiers in our room periodically checking her pulse. My knowledge about surgery and first aid is limited so I can't help in any way aside from seeing where the blood seeps out of the damaged organs.

Knowing is useless if you can't act upon it.

Scanning...

ID: Dawn

Skeleton undamaged. Ruptured stomach. Heavy bruising around the area. Muscle tissue not responding.

Possible solutions: Tighten the already applied bandages, stimulate muscles.

Possible results: Muscle tightening might slow the stomach leakage (16%) Death (3%)

I wish Twilight had the presence of mind to install some surgical subroutines. For now I have to work only with my general knowledge of anatomy though.

"Nameless griffon soldier number seven," I address the one keeping tabs on Dawn

"What?" he turns to me, feathers rustling.

"Dawn needs immediate medical assistance."

"We know. One of us is already looking for a doctor," he nods and taps on a piece of plastic in his ear, "Graves, how is it going in the hospital?"

My sensors catch a duplicate of the question. So, the earpiece is a radio transmitter. Wonder if I can tune in...

[Graves, how is it going in the hospital?]

Simple enough.

[Doctor found. Be back in twenty.]

Perhaps I can join in too.

"The wound is-"

Wrong output.

[The wound is getting worse, sir. Can you ask the doctor if tightening the muscle tissue around the bleeding stomach would help or not?]

[WHAT? Simmons, what the hell is this?]

[I think the robopony tapped into our comms, Graves. What about the doctor thing?]

[Switch to frequency B, Simmons. We can't let anyone listen in on us.]

Simmons turns the dial on his earpiece.

Scanning...

Radio signals found: 3

ID: Shifting Sands (easy listening)

ID: News Channel 6 (talk radio)

ID: N/A (no description)

"I'm on B, Graves.-"

[-What about the doctor thing?]

[He said it would help but just tightening the bandages wasn't localized enough and might cause even more damage. Just stay put until we arrive.]

Simmons looks at me and repeats the message. I experimentally move my hoof. Without a weight attached to it I can slowly move. That might be enough.

"Take me to her, please," I ask the griffon.

He shrugs and carries me over.

"Can you assist me?" I slide the grasping claws hidden in my hoof out. I still have one set left even after the black crystal in Twilight's lab broke the set on my other forehoof.

"What do you need?"

"Can you uncover your stomach?"

"With those claws around? Not on your life!" he steps away, ready to pounce at me.

"Please! I can precisely stimulate the muscles with localized bursts of electricity but I need to know which muscles react correctly."

He rubs his temples.

"Give me a second," he taps rhytmically on the door of the room and an another griffon enters, "Watch the robopony! If he even moves funny, shoot his head off."

The other griffon simply nods and Simmons takes his armor off and sits down.

"I need to measure the effects," I stretch one claw out an retract the rest, "Tell me if it is too much."

The griffon's muscles are amazingly well defined so it is fairly easy to guess where to start. I put a claw roughly where Dawn's wound would be and send a weak pulse.

"Nothing," he says when I look at him questioningly.

"Tickles," is his comment on my second attempt.

"OH EMPEROR!" he twitches and I hear a click of a gun from behind.

"Sorry," I raise both my front legs, "I overdid it."

Simmons shakes his head and waves at the soldier behind me.

"It's fine. The spasm just took me by surprise. Keep going."

In one minute and forty seven seconds I think I'm pretty sure I can tighten Dawn's wound, maybe... if pony and griffon muscles react in a similar way.

"One more thing," I tap Simmons' chest and note the reaction. Then I tap the same spot on Dawn, noting the reaction is much weaker. She's an earthpony so her chest muscles will always be weaker than those of somepony with wings.

Should I do it?

The doctor will be here in about fifteen minutes. My attempt might kill her. It seems unnecessary but...

I scan Dawn's stomach again to see the blood flow slowly but steadily rise. Another dose of painkillers this soon after the first one will kill both the pain and Dawn herself. That, or cause some other sort of damage. If I succeed she might get a slightly higher chance of survival. If I fail then she'll die for sure.

I can't move. Not due to damage but to all the conflicting signals I'm sending.

"I don't know whether I should do it, I need help deciding," I look at the two griffons, the... real, living creatures, "There's now a thirty seven percent chance of my help increasing Dawn's chance of survival and there's now a five percent chance of my attempt putting her beyond saving. Tell me what is right, please!"

The griffons look at one another.

"That is up to you, whatever you are. For us, the protocol is to do as much as we can on the spot and not wait for the help that might not even come. For all you know the doctor might trip on his way here and break his neck. In the end there is noone else other than you who makes the choice and has to live with it."

Well, all I have to do then is not fail, right?

Five claws, five points around the rupture. Weak pulse - no reaction. Adjusting for the difference in muscle strength between Simmons and Dawn.

Energy balance: - 13%

Do not fail!

Do not fail!

Do not fail!

Blood flow increases! That shouldn't be happening.

Waitwaitwait! Calm down, keep going. Weaken the pulses, too much pressure. Juuuust right.

Freeze!

Blood flow slows down. I need to keep the muscles tightened until the doctor comes and pray to anypony listening my analysis based on tiny scraps of information was correct.

"Out of the way!" Simmons picks me up, "The doc is here."

"Huh?"

A griffon I presume is Graves, the door guard, and the doctor take Dawn out of the room. Has it been that long? It felt like seconds.

Local time

22:38

!warning! energy reserves low

"Thank you, sir," I smile at the griffon from my place on the floor.

"No problem. We might not be friends but we are not enemies, our goals just differ."

"Good night."

"I'll be at the door. I was just here to keep watch on the wounded mare," Simmons nods and leaves, carefully shutting the door and turning the lights off.

Shutting down all unnecessary functions

...

Motor functions off

Sensory functions off

Processing capacity set to 25%

Entering safe mode

Good. Now to finish something that has bothered me from the fight with Mistake off. My database entries are painstakingly inaccurate. Twilight did what she could but the entire structure was wrong and inefficient and the content is doubtful at best. The first thing that needs to be done is removing the redundancies to clear some memory space. It would be a good idea to update the greatest current known threat to a new standard to help me get the details necessary to deal with it.

Load database entry: Mistake

...

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

update

I have a 3d model of everypony saved so there is no reason for duplicate descriptors.

Name: Mistake

Species: ascended unicorn / M

Cutie mark: img_979_whiteCircle

Standing: ally

Threat Level: deadly

Status: Nightguard

Damage type: physical(extreme), thaumic(minor), other(deadly)

Connections: Luna, Void, Heavy Hoof, Cromach, Choking Darkness

Notes: duality with Blazing Light - the same pony split into two somehow (Self), keep under observation (Twilight), father of Guiding Light (Twilight)

Considering how easily I got taken out in the fight I think I might as well leave out the damage descriptions because they say nothing. What should replace them though? I know that the magic used to fight us wasn't Mistake's but it might still help in sorting things out.

Damage type:

- natural: hoof to hoof combat, telekinesis

- thaumic: physical (storm of sharp shards)

- other: fire, ice, mental

- special: movement prediction

I know it's not correct but until I have a way to distinguish between Mistake and the entity that controlled him in the desert I'll keep it like this. Wait... there was somepony who exhibited magic-like abilites that didn't register on thaumic sensors. I was confused at the time but princess Celestia bends one's mental state with just her presence.

Compare: Celestia x Mistake

Abilities:

- natural: high strength, telekinesis

- thaumic: unknown

- divine: fire (aspect of the Sun), mental (improves morale)

- special: alicorn regeneration

Abilities:

- natural: hoof to hoof combat, telekinesis

- thaumic: physical (storm of sharp shards)

- divine: fire (), ice (), mental (breaks morale)

- special: movement prediction

Still grossly insufficient but I've got nothing better now. I need to find an alicorn magic user to experiment with. Princess Luna seemed to be interested in me so it's either her or Twilight.

With nothing productive to do, I shut everything down.

Local time

07:47

!status! basic motor functions restored

Starting all services

I experimentally push with my hooves against the wooden floor. It budges, or I budge, and I stand up. Kicking my legs carefully, I note that anything other than slow walk is still far away. The sound of my hooves tapping must have woken Heavy up as he yawns, stretches out his front legs, takes a sharp breath, and rubs his chest.

"Sorry for interrupting your rest," I tell him.

"N-yaaawn-No problem. I usually rise early anyway," he looks around, "Where is Dawn?"

"The doctor took her away yesterday evening."

"I hope he's a good one then."

"The chances of her survival with proper medical assistance are high."

"Good to know," Heavy stretches again but slams his back on the bed again with nothing better to do, "What about the griffons?"

"They offered assistance but I believe we are prisoners."

A rustle from the second bed in the room tells me that Blaze is awake as well.

"Good morning," I greet him. I suppose it's a good idea to be nice to an unknown pony.

The bronze changeling-pony-whatever props himself up and looks at me, blinking and still drooling. His head turns around and when he spots Heavy-

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

-he screams.

"What?" Heavy leans back. As soon as he speaks Blaze goes silent.

"Oh, sorry," he scratches his head.

"What was that? You looked like you could see for a moment."

"Well, the truth is I can't see but back in Canterlot I felt I was completely useless after the explosion in Manehattan. It was fun having Chokey and Crom," he wraps his front legs around himself and hangs his head low, "having them lead me around on a leash for a while but I couldn't even go to the bathroom without bumping into walls, much less walk around. After all, they had their own lives to live and I was just wasting their time."

"Blazing, they loved to be around you. As ponies say - time you enjoyed wasting wasn't wasted. There's no reason to think even less of yourself than you usually do."

"Let's be blunt here, Heavy. I failed... again. Just like I always do. When princess Twilight offered me the vacation in Golden Sands I invited both Chokey and Crom as a thank you for not leaving me but... I just made them targets."

"Whose targets?"

"The Nightmare's. When me and mirror Sombra's soul fought possessed Luna in Ponyville I stole a bit of its power so I could barely stand even with Luna. It worked in the end. By the way, thank your coltfriend Cross because he stopped Luna, not me. I just gave him an opening to get to her. Chokey told me what happened after I, well, burned away."

"So the Nightmare is after you?"

"Not as such. The dark power I stole is slowly becoming mine, giving the Nightmare less and less opportunities to act. Back in Canterlot, especially after you told me not to be afraid of my own name, I felt I could actually try to work around my blindness, to make Crom and Chokey happy to be with me. I worked out a little thing to help me 'see' a little. It works similar to echolocation, from what Chokey told me, but I send magic instead of sound and it's extremely short-ranged. It also makes everypony look REALLY creepy. Imagine everything being black with white outlines but some materials work in a weird way so you basically look like a huge black pony silouhette with white strands where mane should be and gaping white holes instead of eyes. Not a good thing to see first thing in the morning. I can't recognize anypony until they speak."

"Ah, good to know, sorry."

"You can't have known, no harm done. Well, after we got back from Manehattan my magic started freaking out somewhat. Now I know it was the Nightmare trying to get another pathway to this world. The first thing was this," Blaze opens his mouth and three long blue-black tentacles come out, one of which pokes Heavy's muzzle, "The Nightmare probably thought that when my friends found out about it they'd leave me and I would be vulnerable. Heh, it didn't count on Chokey and Crom being the biggest perverts in Canterlot."

Heavy snickers.

"I can imagine."

"Unfortunately, its second attempt was far more effective. It managed to transform me back to my changeling-ish form."

"Why is that bad?" Heavy raises both eyebrows, "I mean you looked pretty cute as Mistake but I like you a little more like this. It reminds me of when I was a recruit and you a drill sargeant. Good times, no angry gods, no evil tyrants, just me and Sharp and you and Darky."

"Why is that bad? Do you have an idea how griffons react when they see a changeling?"

"No..." Heavy leans back and shakes his head in realization. Blaze nods and smiles bitterly.

"Crom couldn't handle it. In his eyes I turned from a unicorn he wanted to buck every day for the rest of his life to a chitinous monstrosity he'd been taught to fear and hate ever since he was a little whatever young griffons are called."

"I'm gonna beat his sorry ass-"

"No, Heavy, you aren't. I know how difficult it is to ignore something that has basically been engraved into your bones so I can't blame him. With just that the Nightmare won, almost. You know I'm not the most... stable pony and I wasn't in the best shape when somepony attacked Golden Sands."

"The nomads."

"Those weren't normal nomads, their leader had to be an agent of the Nightmare. Unless hit by my power or completely dismembered they couldn't die. The strangest thing was that somepony knew the attack would happen. Somepony riled the local Legion garrison up but it wasn't enough."

"How did you end up in the desert then?"

"I was able to find Crom during the fight but my 'sight' magic is exhausting because, well, I made it and I suck at spells. I could barely make out anything more than screams and fire all around me but I recognized him being overrun, it's sort of difficult to misinterpret a tall griffon swinging a two-handed battleaxe, and I lost it."

"It was you who blew the city up?"

"What? No... I killed everypony?" Blaze's mouth hangs open.

"No, you didn't. Everypony who died died in the fight, not in the explosion. You just levelled the town. The nomads dragged all the survivors away. What happened then?"

"I have no idea. A bandit came up to me and hit me with an axe, the next thing I know I'm in the desert and with how useless the location spell is I have no clue where I am or what direction to go. With Crom and Chokey... dead..." Blaze wipes his eyes.

"They might not be," Heavy sits on the bed next to him and wraps his forelegs around his shoulders.

"Huh?"

"The griffon soldiers scoured the town and we were able to have a look at the corpses. I think Cromach and Darky were taken by the bandits."

"WHAT? We need to get out of here!"

"We are in no shape to do such thing. I can still fight but Bucket can barely move and we have no idea how Dawn's operation went. Let's just go with the Black Ops soldiers to the headquarters in the capital city and wait for us to recover. I'm pretty sure some secret service agents will sniff us out soon enough and Luna will start with diplomacy."

"Dawn and Bucket?"

"Hello!" I wave my hoof at Blazing who comes over and examines me, poking me from time to time.

"It's a husk? No, it feels different. Who or what are you?"

"Ponyficial Intelligence made by Twilight Sparkle. I think I'd rather be a who than a what."

"I can feel something from you. You definitely aren't just a thing."

"Thank you."

"I'm just stating facts."

"There's one more thing I need to know," Heavy interrupts Blazing closely looking between my armor plates, "Who was the second you that looked like Mistake in the desert?"

"Ah, heh, I tried to avoid that one. Well, the Nightmare kept blaming me for the massacre in the town and all my past... failures. It still couldn't just take me over, I had enough control for that, so it made use of my, I use the term very loosely, split personality, the one that has always kept kicking me whenever I did something wrong. Unfortunately for me, the Nightmare is a god like Discord and their power is something mages can't even imagine using so it used it to create a second body to become its avatar and it came out looking like me, well, Mistake. Unfortunately for the Nightmare, me and my other self have been on the same side for quite a while so the Nightmare literally had an empty body stemming from me. Even worse for the Nightmare," Blazing closes his eyes for a second and focuses.

Enemy spotted!

A dark-grey unicorn with blue mane and pink eyes comes out of the floor and smiles at Heavy, "I am the thief of magic."

"And now I'm in stereo."

"And now I'm in stereo."

Both Mistake and Blazing snicker.

Heavy doesn't lose his cool and just grins.

"Now you can give the black unicorn one to Cromach and the bronze changeling one to Darky, not to mention some really freaky tentacle foursomes."

Both Blazing's selves look at Heavy, mouths agape and eyes wide.

"Now that's a comment I would have expected from either of them, not you."

"Oh pleeeeease," Heavy waves his hoof dismissively, "MY coltfriend is a hybrid of a changeling and every other species living in Equestria. You think a foursome with yourself is weird? Next time you take a dragon cock in the ass while flying a mile above Canterlot overdosed on changeling love-venom we can talk about it."

"I give up," Mistake chuckles and disappears again.

"You win," Blazing covers his muzzle with a hoof, "Are we waiting for the griffons then?"

"We can't do anything without knowing how Dawn is. Let's rest as much as we can."

"I'm all for it. It's too early in the morning for me anyway."

It's not as if there's anything better to do.

Local time

11:08

Sharp scent of menthol fills the room and a pair of griffons bring a stretcher with Dawn lying on it, breathing unsteadily but smiling weakly at us.

"Are you okay?" Heavy asks, rising from the bed.

"Never been better," Dawn croaks weakly.

The griffons I recognize as Simmons and the door guard put the stretcher on the floor and leave, locking us up.

Analysis: Dawn

Self-dissolving stitches in the stomach wall

Self-dissolving stitches on the belly

Well, I'm quite obviously not a doctor.

"Stop looking at me as if it was my funeral, guys," Dawn breathes heavily, every word draining her, "The doc did a good job, I think. It doesn't even hurt that much."

"Sorry about that," Blazing mumbles.

"Ah, help! It's the bad guy," Dawn giggles, "Don't worry about it. I heard some scars make even mares sexy and if I tell somepony I got it while fighting an evil unicorn wizard they'll at least buy me a drink."

"Just have a rest, Dawn," Heavy butts in, "As much as I trust princess Luna I hate all that diplomatic nonsense that might get us stuck here in the Empire for months. I'd prefer getting out of here by ourselves."

A thud and a groan from behind the door make all of us turn heads.

"I'd prefer getting a ton of money and free tickets on Changeling Invasion On Ice: Volume Two?" Heavy tests his possible luck again.

"Open the door, Skully," comes a familiar voice from the outside.

*CRACK* *CRACK* *BOOM*

The door shatters into bits of wood.

"I MEANT SEARCH THE GUARDS FOR THE DAMN KEY!" Icy Gaze yells at a tall minotaur brandishing a two-handed warhammer, "Great, now everypony will be on our asses. Holy, some shields, please! Five, guard the stairs!"

"What's going on?" Blazing asks, aiming his horn at Icy Gaze.

"Rescue party, motherlovers!" Icy grins, "We saved the citizens of Golden Sands, all unimportant details aside, and now we're coming for you which is totally planned."

My falsehood sense is off the charts but I'm not complaining and get up. Heavy jumps up first though.

"THIS ONE'S GETTING BACK UP!" screams a voice from somewhere that makes Blazing rush to the door.

"Holy!" Icy yells back, "Help her with the zombies or whatever the hay they are."

"We have a wounded here who needs careful transportation!" Heavy says firmly to Icy who looks behind him and finally notices Dawn and me.

"Oh for Celestia's sake!" Icy facehoofs, "How did you two goofballs get involved?"

"Youuuu!" Dawn groans, tries to push herself up from the stretcher and falls back on her back.

"No time for that, girl," Icy cuts her off and yells back to the hall, "Cromach! Come help Skullbreaker with the stretcher. CAREFULLY!"

"First things first," Blazing stops in front of Icy, "The soldiers here are under the Nightmare's influence?"

"Is that how it's called? Yeah, you can be pretty sure that every griffon in uniform will get back up. Can you grab a sword and start cutting?"

"That will not be necessary," Blaze focuses and Mistake appears from the floor, making everypony jump. The blackfrost wings flare and a shard impales each of the door guards, "You are safe now, guys. Find peace in death."

A green-eyed white griffon pushes Icy away and stops, staring at Blazing and Mistake who both, as much as the word can be used in 'their' special situation, stare back.

"I-" he begins.

Blazing's eyes stop at him for a moment and he hesitantly raises a hoof to step forward.

"No time, lovebirds," Icy breaks the frozen moment, "Get Dawn and there are other soldiers outside who need to be stopped."

Mistake and Blazing run out as one, not that they have a choice, leaving Cromach blankly staring into the room. Heavy doesn't wait and punches the griffon hard.

"That's just the first one you deserve, you pile of crap! Now grab the other end of the stretcher," he points at where Dawn is lying and Skullbreaker is waiting, "and pull your head out of your ass. If a minotaur thinks faster than you I wonder how you're still alive."

With that he runs out, fuming. I can't really run but I follow as fast as I can.

The brown hall on the second floor is slick with gore but there's nopony who seems intent on hurting us here anymore. The stretcher is being carried right behind me and Icy is covering our backs. The sound of breaking furniture and glass is coming from downstairs. When I get down as well there's a changeling-like creature currently slamming the head of a griffon soldier into the bar counter repeatedly.

"Hey, dad!" he yells out cheerily when Mistake bursts through the main door into the streets.

"Hey, dad?" he grins again when he spots Blazing slowly walking through the large room and stops brutalizing the griffon, scratching his head tilted to the side.

"Which one are you?" Blazing smiles.

"The Crystal Empire one! Why is there two of you?"

"More of me to love, little guy."

"WOHOO!" the changeling's hoof gleams green and an appearing sharp blade cuts the griffon's head off. There don't seem to be any civilians left, only armored griffons, dead armored griffons.

The street outside is clear. Everpony is hiding and waiting for some sort of soldiers or police force. A shadow is cast over the closest buildings by a strangely shaped airship hovering just above them.

When everypony leaves the tavern Icy Gaze taps a device very similar to what the griffons had.

"Ivan, send two pegasi down here to get a stretcher. We'll be climbing up in a second."

[Sure thing, kid. Are you using the griffon frequency?]

"Yeah, I don't know how to set this thing up, I just grabbed one of a dead soldier."

[Then I'm pretty sure the local garrison will be on our rumps in few minutes.]

"You don't say! Get the pegasi here ASAP."

[Well, I'm not worried about the soldiers. There's something big coming in from the south really fast.]

Two strong-looking pegasi split from the ship above us and get the stretcher.

"I can't climb due to internal damage," I say and Cromach, giving the stretcher to the pegasi, picks me up with one arm and puts me on his back.

In less than a minute everypony is lying or sitting around on a wooden floor marking the upper deck of the airship.

"Ivan, get us out of here!" Icy yells to the griffon soldier headset.

[Look south, kid...]

The airship starts humming loudly as Icy scowls and turns his head.

"How the heck should I know where... south... is..."

He recovers and screams.

"GET US OUT OF HERE!" he taps the earpiece again and looks at everpony around, "TO THE CANNONS, RIGHT NOW!"

There is fifteen small stations consisting of some sort of artillery on a turning plate and a metal shield with small hole through which the operator can look. Cromach immediately slips into the closest one, Heavy takes a position himself, and Icy jumps to me.

"You, robothing, are you a good judge of distance? Most of my crew are just normal ponies who have no experience actually shooting the things."

"Yes."

"On each cannon there's timer. You set the timer, aim, push the red button. A timed charge flies out and detonates when the timer runs out. Get shooting!"

I nod and stumble towards a free station. The controls are extremely simple.

Target acquired

Collision course

Analysis...

Closest species: dragon

Divine influence detected

Thaumic influence detected

Calculating progress...

I set the timer to nine seconds, aim, an easy thing considering the dragon shrouded in black mist is headed straight for us, and fire. The results are not impressive.

Zoom in

No damage sustained

Minor physical influence exerted

Vocalize

"The black smoke around the dragon shields it from all damage but the explosive charges still make it stumble and slow down!" I shout.

"Ivan, how fast can this thing go?" Icy mumbles to himself.

[Compared to the thing going straight for us? Not enough.]

"We can slow it down temporarily."

[Then do that! If it doesn't run out of steam eventually then we're boned.]

Icy grunts and runs from cannon to cannon, improving every shooter's technique.

Analysis complete...

Divine influence shielding a living core.

Core is a real red dragon, unconscious.

Thaumic influence fading as a result of getting closer to Blazing Light.

Recommendation:

The dragon will have to use his wings to fly instead of magic soon.

Use explosions to overheat air and disrupt the flight pattern.

"Everypony focus fire right under the dragon's left wing!"

"LISTEN TO HIM!" Icy supports my recommendation and all cannons turn a little.

"Four second timer. Fire!"

The chain explosion throws the dragon into a spiral and we gain some precious distance.

Divine influence shifting.

Frontal shield maintained.

Flight pattern too smooth again. Protection sacrificed for uninterruptable flight.

"It's not working anymore!" somepony yells out. Icy looks at me.

"Any more good ideas?"

"We cannot interrupt the flight anymore and it's moving faster than before. The protective field is restricted to a frontal shield though."

Icy understands immediately.

"Shoot a charge exploding behind the dragon! Bucket will give you the timer."

...got you...

I can feel the hissing voice in my head without my sensors getting anything.

"Two point five seconds. Fire!"

It was a good idea aside from one detail - the dragon was too close.

To commend all the shooters, most of the charges really exploded behind the dragon or next to him. What I failed to think of was that the explosion gave the unnaturally propelled creature just more speed.

The shadows around the shape shift again and turn into tendrils that pierce the airship's deck and make the shadow dragon's legs crack the wooden floor as it lands. The dragon roars. Ponies run away from the cannons and to the stairs leading down on the lower deck. The dragon rears on his hind legs and SCREECHES.

[What was that, Icy? Icy? Icy?]

The mercenary just stands there, legs shaking, mutely staring up at the mouth full of sharp teeth grinning at him.

Divine power detected

An orange beam of light strikes the dragon that screeches again and reels back. The shadow shroud disappears around the stricken spot and the scales of a limp red dragon become visible.

Blazing Light is standing there, bronze armor plates shimmering with reflection of his fire wings, and blonde mane slightly singed by the flames.

And so the champion himself stands up.

The massive taloned arm of the dragon moves with unexpected speed to squash the unicorn who doesn't seem to notice. He must be having vision problems up here.

"Swipe from the left!" I shout.

A long shard of black ice drops from above and pins the arm to the deck, ruining even more of the airship.

"Thank you for the sentiment," yells a shadow from above, "but it's unnecessary."

Mistake bombards the shadow dragon with a shower of ice. The dragon roars again and raises a wing, each icicle causing him to budge a little lower.

It's a trap though. With the dragon protecting himself from the assault from above, Blazing charges his horn again and blasts the wing as well. The shadows disperse.

Seeing his chance, a white unicorn with blonde mane takes his place next to Blazing and his sword glows with golden aura. Making few practice swings in the air, the unicorn's horn glows, the sword seems to lengthen, and in a shower of golden sparks cuts the dragon's wing clean off.

"WOOO, BRO POWER, ACTIVATE!" cheers Choking Darkness hiding behind one of the cannon shields.

Mistake lands next to the white unicorn and looks at him questioningly.

"Searing?" he tilts his head and leans closer, "You do look like Searing Light."

"Wrong!" the unicorn grins, "Holy Light's the name. I think there's a more pressing matter at hoof, right?"

Both Mistake and Blazing aim their horns at the dragon. Holy Light's sword glows again...

...and stabs Mistake cleanly through.

Blazing screams in shared pain as Holy twists the weapon. Mistake's bones crack when Holy slams the unsuspecting unicorn with a shield fastened to his leg. Holy's blade continues in a fluid curve and shatters Mistake's wing. The blackfrost unicorn slams into the steel railings of the airship and slowly, too slowly, keels over into the clouds.

Blazing turns his head in utter disbelief towards Holy Light. A fatal mistake as the dragon pounces and slams Blazing into the floor with his hand.

"What are you doing, Holy?" Icy yells.

"Told you I had agents everywhere," the dragon laughs and the destroyed wing grows back.

"Don't tell me even you believed that bullshit lost brother story?" Holy snickers, "The smart mercenary though he could talk me into helping him basically for free by pretending he knew something about my 'long lost brother'. You were so easy to manipulate yourself. All I had to do was drop the name Blazing Light and you jumped at the oportunity to lie to me. Your changeling pet didn't trust me that fast but it was sooo much fun to listen to the idiotic batpony mare pour her heart out about Blazing."

Heavy charges Holy Light but a telekinetic blow sends him sliding back.

"You were a problem though, mudpony. Everypony was easy enough to fool but you wouldn't even entertain the though your friend was a corrupted monstrosity. Damn, the griffon was easier than you. Well, too late."

The dragon's talons squeeze Blazing and throw him into the air where the fire wings form a shield which stops the dragon's teeth... for a moment. In the next second the mouth slams shut just to stop again, this time much closer to Blazing's body.

"Stop struggling," Holy snorts, "Your death is long time coming."

"NO!" Cromach howls louder than the dragon roared and rushes at Holy who, lack of interest in his face, just conjures a shield around him. His amused expression turns to shock as Cromach roars again, swipes with his arm, breaks the barrier, and rips Holy's head clean off.

The dragon's mouth drops open, leaving Blazing hanging between his teeth.

"Nice try," Holy's head smacks its lips and the body kicks Cromach in the crotch. Stumbling around for a second, the body picks the head up and screws it effortlessly back, "Gonna need to take a bath to clean the mess up."

"What?" Cromach groans and looks at Blazing hanging limply in the dragon's mouth, fire wings flopping around and fading. Blazing catches his gaze and smiles.

"Sorry... that I wasn't strong enough... that I couldn't change back into the pony you... wanted."

"Touching," Holy kicks Cromach and the dragon finally bites down, "I forgot to thank you for your role in all this. Suffice to say, it wouldn't have been possible without you. It was so easy considering how you proclaimed your undying love over and over, pfff. All I had to do was to play your griffon instincts a bit."

"You... bastard," Cromach tries to get up but gets kicked again.

"Shhh, I have some parting words for all of you," Holy Light looks around at everypony hiding behind things or lying stunned on the deck, "So, I'm not one for long speeches but I have to practice my evil monologuing. Well, here it goes."

Holy clears his throat.

"Your champion is dead and your world will soon follow-"

"You're full of shit," Cromach struggles to get up again, "The princesses will-"

"The princesses can kiss my corrupted ass. Why do you think nopony cares about your little alicorn sisters? Luna has served the Nightmare and we know her every weakness, Celestia is too soft-hearted. On top of that her power can't even scratch a god. The only two capable of doing so were Void, whose power is returning quickly but that means his mere presence is killing the world, and your unicorn friend."

"Why Mistake... Blaze?" Cromach looks at the grinning dragon.

"You had no idea? You HONESTLY had no idea? That's rich! He had the potential to become the alicorn of Hope, too bad you managed to dash it just by yourself, griffon. I know hope doesn't sound too scary but when all hope dies, despair comes, and despair prevents even the slightest chance of success, bearing similar effects to Void's power."

Holy clears his throat again.

"So, mortals, let's try again. Your champion is dead and your world will soon follow. The Nightmare thrives on fear though so I'll let you go now so you have enough time to tremble, cower, and turn against each other," Holy Light jumps on the dragon's back, "The Element Bearers are weak, the hero is dead, and our time is coming. Thank you, Cromach, you've been wery helpful."

Laughing at our lack of power, the dragon carries Holy Light off into the distance.

"Ivan, we're going home," Icy whispers.

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