By Bernard Doove © 2015
Foreword: This story is a side fic for Calm Wind's Wonderverse. It takes up in the midst of the story - Piercing The Heavens, starting approximately at Chapter 86, and overlaps with some of the action therein. If you want the full background context, I recommended that you read that story first. Fair warning though - it's a really big one!
Crimson Blaze finished his warm-up exercises and paused to watch his squad-mates performing theirs. As captain of Squad Thirteen, he always took it upon himself to ensure that his fellow Wonderbolts were at their peak readiness, but today was one of the more important times. A full rehearsal of their stunt show was just as difficult and dangerous as the real thing, and unless he was satisfied that they were all one hundred percent in form, he was not going to allow it to go ahead. Their squad had been nicknamed ‘The Impossibles’ for their stage magic, but the impossible was not achieved without hard work and calculated risk. A stupid thing like a wing cramp was not an acceptable factor!
He checked out Rocky first. The son of an earth pony father and a pegasus mother, the golden-furred and brown-maned stallion was only of average pegasus size, but his earth pony heritage manifested in his exceptionally dense bones and musculature, with strength and endurance vastly belying his lean athletic stature. However, he had a tendency to take those abilities for granted, and occasionally needed prodding to keep up his discipline. Today though, he was taking things seriously enough, as he normally did when doing their special stunt show, so Crimson turned his attention to the next.
Dazzler was a mare of many deceptions. The beauty of her light blue coat and long silvery mane made her look like a fashion model rather than the skilled aerial artiste that she actually was, but it also belied her exceptional talent for sleight of hoof and misdirection. Her exercises were dedicated to loosening her up and achieving a Zen-like focus that enabled her to pull off her part with superlative timing.
Next was Sylph. She was a small and lithe mare, as graceful a pegasus as you might have ever seen. Keeping supple was not only her desire, but the root of her talent. Her pale brown fur and light green mane reminded him of a willow branch, as did the way she could contort her body to dodge and weave with elegance and finesse. What she lacked in power, she more than made up for in precision.
Crimson’s final squad-mate was Cutting Edge, a hoof-weapon specialist. If it had a blade, he was an expert in it, and he had won several fencing tournaments before he had turned his attention to joining the Wonderbolts. The black-coated thestral stallion cut a dashing figure also, and tended to draw the eyes of mares who liked the more exotic looks of the bat-ponies. Edge had completed his warm-up exercises also, and was now strapping on belts that were filled with a plethora of small throwing knives.
Crimson nodded in satisfaction and trotted over to a small yellow pegasus stallion who had been supervising the installation of various props used for this performance. “Is everything ready for us, Rivet?”
The little engineer nodded. “Everything is tested and ready for you. I don’t understand why you insist on me making this even harder for you though. It’s not as if your performances aren’t breathtaking enough already.”
Crimson grinned. “You gotta stretch yourself if you’re going to improve. We were getting too comfortable with the existing routine. Besides, just look at the rest of the squads.” He swept an arm around the arena indicating the other Wonderbolts who had gathered to watch the rehearsal. “They want to see something spectacular, and we can’t just keep giving them the same thing all the time.”
“They haven’t even figured out how you do the old version yet!” Rivet protested.
“And if I keep stepping it up, they never will,” Crimson replied with a laugh.
Rivet just shook his head in resignation and walked away.
Turning to his squad-mates, Crimson said, “Okay, Impossibles, show time! One Special Delivery coming up!”
“Aw yeah, let’s do this!” Rocky said, taking to the air, closely followed by the others.
Crimson followed suit, and they all took up their positions in the arena. He let them take in the slightly revised set-up, fixing in their minds a mental map. Each arena where the Wonderbolts held a show had differences that meant that their equipment set-up always had to be arranged to suit, so the unique lay-out had to be fully comprehended before the start of every performance. When they were ready, they each gave him a nod. He returned the nod when all the others had done so, and looked to the sidelines where a Wonderbolt from another squad was waiting with a baton in his hoof.
At this point in the show, the support staff would have selected a young filly or colt in the audience, and the MC would prompt the foal to call for help to deliver an urgent message to the Princess. Then the MC would ask, “Who can deliver this message through the dangers between us and the Princess?” Then the foal would hold up the baton and shout, “The Wonderbolts!” which was Squad Thirteen’s cue.
Today’s rehearsal though, the foal was being played by a smirking member of Squad Fifteen.
“I’m going to figure out how you do it today, Crimson Blaze!”
Crimson laughed. “You said that the last dozen times, Stratus. I still haven’t had to pay for those dinners at Rusty’s!”
Stratus held up the baton. “Always a first time!”
Rocky dived from his high vantage point to snatch the baton from Stratus’ hoof, and he hurtled into the arena. Large columns shot up from the floor with a pneumatic hiss, blocking his path, but he curled up into a ball and ricocheted from one column to the next like a billiard ball, sometimes backtracking as new columns popped up to block his new path, but still making steady progress. Rivet had programmed the columns to pop up randomly, so it was impossible to memorise a path, but Rocky still navigated them with deceptive ease. Although it seemed that he was simply bouncing off the columns, in fact each strike had to be precisely timed so that his hooves absorbed the impact and he could spring off again. Mistiming could mean as little as a failed take-off from the column, or as much as broken bones or worse. At the speed Rocky was bouncing between the columns, even his toughness would be tested.
Rocky exited from the forest of columns to pass the baton on to the next squad member. Sylph took off, but immediately ran into a storm of icicles pelting down from a dark cloud that had been parked overhead. The props department didn’t stint on the icicles, and flying through them was virtually impossible without getting struck, and yet that’s exactly what Sylph did. With the grace of a dancer, she spun and weaved her way through the ice storm without a feather being touched, and she made it look easy. Only fellow Wonderbolts knew how long it had taken her to perfect that dance, and more than once had been struck before she mastered the timing.
Sylph exited the storm and passed the baton on to Edge. Immediately, small cannons started firing spheres at him from several directions, filling the air with dozens of missiles all hurtling towards him. A broad sweep of his wings made a gust that forced several of the spheres together, and they exploded upon impact. This manoeuvre was done to demonstrate the secondary danger of the spheres to the audience; Edge’s real performance was yet to start. With each forehoof, he drew a knife from his belts and threw them with deadly precision. The targeted spheres exploded harmlessly a safe distance from him, but by this time he had already drawn more knives and thrown them at new targets. Edge’s progress was measured by a line of smoke puffs from the exploded spheres, only ending when the storm of spheres had ended, by which time he had but two knives left. Some performances he got down to only one, but on the one occasion where he had finished with none, Crimson had later berated him for cutting it too fine.
It was Crimson’s turn to take the baton, and he lined himself up with his obstacles. Several large discs on columns were set up between him and his target, and each disc had a small hole in it. Edge had come to a halt right next to the first of those discs for the purpose of the audience getting a true idea of the size of that hole. It was blatantly far too small for Crimson to go through, and he was a little bit bigger than Edge. Nevertheless he beat his deep-red wings hard and rapidly picked up speed, aiming for the hole. Despite the incredible displays of skill that his teammates had displayed, this was where they earned their nickname of The Impossibles. Without hesitation, Crimson dived for the ridiculously small hole... and passed through unscathed! His special talent that enabled him to do that could not help with the next part though. The discs were closely spaced, and the holes were eccentrically placed. Additionally, the discs rotated in their brackets so that there was no way of him knowing where the hole would be until he passed through the previous disc and sighted it. In a fraction of a second, he had to spot the hole, flick out his wings to adjust his trajectory while adding thrust, refold his wings, and make another impossible passage in a crimson blur. He did this six times before the final target.
Dazzler awaited Crimson, hovering before the final disc. This one was not rotating, but Dazzler was directly in front of the hole, waiting for him. He put on a burst of speed, not hesitating in the slightest to dive for the hole in the disc. At this point, the audience inevitably gasped as they realised that he was going to slam into the blockading pegasus mare. Then there was a cry of astonishment as Crimson seemed to pass through the mare and out the other side. Dazzler would then hold up the baton and rise triumphantly into the sky.
That manoeuvre had taken Crimson and Dazzler months to perfect. It relied heavily on her ability to misdirect and create the illusion that she was in his path. At the same time, he had to pass on the baton and complete his impossible passage. It required incredibly fine timing, and the two had been frustrated many times before they had gotten it down pat. Dazzler had been the fortunate one because she was able to wear padding as a precaution until then, whereas Crimson had only been able to use padding until they were confident that their timing was right, and they added the disc. As he could not perform his impossible passage while wearing the padding, he had to forego it. The extra time that they had spent together while working on it had resulted in one unexpected side-effect though – a quietly blossoming relationship between them.
The watching Wonderbolts burst into applause at the flawless execution of their performance, and Crimson glided down to Stratus. “So, did you figure it out?”
Stratus grimaced. “No, damn it, and I even checked out those discs to look for any tricks.” He sighed. “Usual time at Rusty’s when this security lock-down is over?”
“That’ll be fine,” Crimson replied with a smirk. “I honestly don’t know why you keep doing this to yourself, but I’m happy to keep taking advantage of the free meals.”
The rest of Squad Thirteen joined him, Edge being the last as he had paused to gather his knives first. Crimson spread his wings to gather them all together and said, “Great work, guys! I’m proud of you. We’re ready to wow the audience at the next performance. Maybe even get further up the billing.”
“If this doesn’t do that, I’ll eat my sword!” Edge declared.
“Sword-swallowing is your party trick,” Rocky pointed out.
“Then I won’t have any problem, will I?”
The others chuckled and then Crimson said, “Okay, post-rehearsal report. Anyone have any problems with the new set-up?”
“Not enough columns,” Rocky grumped.
“You always say that,” Crimson replied.
“And there’s always not enough. Too easy still.”
Crimson just rolled his eyes. The equine billiard ball was never satisfied. “Okay, I’ll ask Rivet if he can add more when he has a chance. Anypony else?”
Edge nodded and said, “I would like it if they turn down the amount of smoke that the spheres emit. I notice that in the still air inside this arena, the smoke hangs around and can obscure oncoming spheres. If weather conditions are similar at one of the shows, it could cause me to miss one. I suggest compensating with a brighter flash. It would look more impressive anyway.”
“The flashes won’t be too distracting?”
“I’m used to light reflecting off blades, so a few more flashes won’t matter.”
“Okay, that will go into the report. Sylph?”
“No problems. I enjoyed myself.”
“Good to hear. Dazzler, how about you?”
Dazzler put one hoof on Crimson’s chest and rubbed it softly. “I think I could use a bit more practice.”
“Yeah,” Edge commented with a grin. “We all know what sort of practice you want.”
Crimson blushed a little as his teammates laughed. “Not now, Daz!” he whispered urgently, fooling absolutely no one. “Alright, if you’ve had your laughs, head off to the showers!” he ordered.
“Just what I had in mind,” Dazzler said, provoking another round of chuckles.
Crimson bolted for the stallions’ change rooms before he could insert his other hoof into his mouth.
After breakfast the next morning, Crimson Blaze took his squad to the gymnasium to do a light workout, with the exception of Rocky whose physique barely noticed anything less than a full-on weights session. He was nowhere near the strongest Wonderbolt in absolute terms, but size-for-size, he ranked near the top, and he intended to keep it that way.
They were all engrossed in their workouts when the public address system unexpectedly crackled to life.
“ATTENTION ALL WONDERBOLTS!” Spitfire’s voice blared over the P.A. “THIS IS NOT A DRILL. ANY AND ALL WONDERBOLTS, REPORT TO THE LOBBY FOR IMMEDIATE DISPATCH TO INTERCEPT INCOMING HOSTILES! REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A DRILL! ALL WONDERBOLT STAFF ASIDE FROM SECURITY ARE TO REPORT TO THE BASEMENT FOR SHELTER! I WANT SQUADS NINETEEN AND TWENTY TO REMAIN IN THE COMPOUND AND HELP ME DIRECT THE STAFF IN AN ORDERLY MANNER! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!”
All the Wonderbolts in the gym were startled for only a moment before they hastily dropped what they were doing and headed for the exit. Crimson snatched up his goggles that he had left next to his water bottle and looked for his squad members. Dazzler was already almost by his side, while Edge and Sylph pulled on their masks and putting their goggles around their necks before joining them. Speed wasn’t Rocky’s forte and he had to disengage himself from the weight machine before snatching up his goggles and finally joined them.
“Okay, Squad Thirteen, let’s move it!” Crimson ordered.
They raced as a group for the lobby, jostling with other squads who were also hastening there. They arrived at a scene of organised chaos as each squad arrived and found itself a position in the rapidly crowding area.
When it became apparent that all the squads had arrived, Soarin yelled from up front, “ALL SQUADS READY?!”
All the present Wonderbolts grabbed their goggles. “AYE!” they replied while pushing their goggles down. The large window above the doors leading into the courtyard slowly opened and small bits of glass chipped and fell from the pane that had been shattered by the new Shadowbolt that sneaked in the day before.
“ALL PONIES SET?!” Soarin continued.
“AYE!” The Wonderbolts all opened their wings.
“WONDERBOLTS! GO! GO! GO!” Soarin yelled out as he, Fleetfoot, and Air Mach all sprang up and flew through the hangar window.
One by one, the rows of Wonderbolts stepped forward and leapt up, taking flight in the full formation and emerging out over the large courtyard of the compound approach. Crimson’s squad was the seventh out, and they finally were able to see their approaching foes.
At a glance, Crimson estimated there to be four or five dozen, and he was quietly confident that the entire complement of Wonderbolts would have no trouble dealing with the situation, despite the warnings about the Shadowbolts’ new abilities. Training and discipline could overcome those liabilities. The enemy pegasi were almost upon them when the unbelievable happened. The number of Shadowbolts suddenly doubled, then doubled once more, and then again and again. Suddenly they were faced with a cloud of hundreds of their foe. Where did they all come from? Were they illusions? Crimson could not tell from this distance, but it was a discouraging sight anyway.
“STEADY!” Soarin yelled. “DON’T BACK DOWN! STAY STRONG!” he encouraged. “FULL FORMATION BURST! ON MY MARK!”
They closed in on the enormous cloud of Shadowbolts and Crimson could taste the tension of his teammates rapidly rising. They drew closer and closer, until finally Soarin at last yelled “BURST!” when they were mere yards from colliding.
The entirety of the Wonderbolts suddenly broke formation and scattered randomly, taking the Shadowbolts by surprise, exactly as was intended.
Crimson dealt his first foe a fierce uppercut that snapped her head back. He did not pause before following up with a stiff arm punch to the belly that dropped the mare. He could not wait to see if she stayed out of the action though because another two Shadowbolts were already upon him. They tried to block his flight path, but he used the same technique that enabled him to pass through the tiny hole in the discs to slip past them, and then snapped his wings open to chop them behind the neck. One was stunned, but the other rounded on him to attack, only to be met with a full-on buck from Crimson’s hoof. Although he turned his attention back to the stunned one, he was hardly able to miss it when the bucked one suddenly burst in flash of pink light. The Shadowbolt used his surprise to get in a couple of blows before Crimson recovered and blocked further attacks.
With his concentration restored, there was no way that the Shadowbolt could land a blow. Timing was the hallmark of his entire squad and Crimson’s particular talent. He had honed it to the ultimate degree, and one-on-one, no pony could get through his defences. Unfortunately it was not a one-on-one situation. Three more Shadowbolts dived at him even as he dispatched his current foe, and he had to resort to his native ability to once again slip past them and choose a foe to attack. Again it exploded in a flash of pink that had no shockwave. Crimson could tell now that he was facing soul-less doppelgangers, products of some bizarre magic. They were passionless automatons bent on the destruction of the Wonderbolts. He smiled. Good. It meant that he no longer had to worry about killing and he could use his abilities to the best degree.
“GROUP UP! SQUAD TACTICS!” he heard Soarin yell at the top of his lungs. “GROUP UP! SQUAD TACTICS!”
‘Excellent. My squad works best that way,’ he thought as he dispassionately dispatched his current opponents and cast around for his squad-mates. He found Edge first. “Edge! They’re not real, so don’t hold back!”
Edge glanced at him for confirmation and then grinned widely. Until then, Edge had been using typical hoof-to-hoof fighting techniques, but released from the concerns of murdering pegasi, he reached for his hoof knives. He was never without some kind of knife with him, but these were his favourite for battle purposes. They snapped securely around his forearms, and the blades extended a good fifteen inches past his hoof, giving him a deadly reach advantage. With a fierce scream, he dived into a group of Shadowbolts closing on them, his blades whirling in a lethal dance. In his wake there were a series of pink explosions as the clones burst. Crimson guarded his back even as he looked around for the others.
Sylph joined them, virtually dancing through a cloud of Shadowbolts. Just as with the icicle storm, none of them could lay a hoof on her. She, however, had no such problem. Long before she joined the Wonderbolts, Sylph had trained in martial arts, and was a master in more than one discipline, much to the surprise of the recruit trainers when she joined. Her party trick was breaking a brick with a wing-chop. Sylph was a deadly beauty, and Shadowbolts fell like rain around her.
“Crimson! These weird clones have a weak spot between the eyes. Try to hit them there!”
Trust Sylph to spot that. He used his timing technique to get within the guard of the next clone and dealt it a firm blow between the eyes, and was gratified to see it instantly explode. Suddenly he was shoved to one side and he had to hastily flap to recover.
“Pay attention, boss!” Rocky said as he dealt with the Shadowbolt that had almost taken Crimson in the back. The stocky pegasus had his own technique for dealing with the enemy, once again drawing on skills practiced in their stunt show. He charged at a group of Shadowbolts rolling up into a ball, and then caroming from one to another, just as he had from the pillars. The same hidden thrust from his hooves that guided his flight, also dealt each Shadowbolt a huge blow, causing most of them to blow up. The dense numbers of the enemy were actually helping him put that technique to use. ‘More pillars’ indeed!
Crimson spotted Dazzler above them. Her image seemed to flicker and dance about, making it impossible for the Shadowbolts to lay a hoof on her. Misdirection and illusion were her forte, and she was putting it good use. However, she was not being as effective at actually dispatching them. That’s why she had a team though.
“Sylph – go help Dazzler. Edge – run interference! Rocky – let’s thin out the numbers!” Crimson called out.
With Edge in the vanguard, the squad dived into a dense knot of Shadowbolts. The thestral cleared a path while Crimson and Rocky cut down the numbers that flowed in from the sides. Dazzler distracted a number of those that got through, giving Sylph the opportunity to dispatch them with deadly precision. Squad Thirteen left a trail of pink explosions wherever they went, and Crimson was suddenly optimistic about dealing with the overwhelming numbers.
Crimson lost track of the amount of time that they spent fighting this way, but he abruptly realised that the Shadowbolt numbers had significantly depleted. He had hardly paid much attention to how the other squads had been doing, but it was obvious that they had been holding their own, as they should have as elite fighters. It looked like that the Wonderbolts were on the verge of winning this battle.
Suddenly the Shadowbolts backed off and regrouped. Crimson watched them suspiciously, wondering if they had a new plan of attack. Then he gasped as a series of pink flashes revealed yet more Shadowbolts. The flashes continued until their enemy’s numbers were restored, and Crimson’s heart sank. How could they win if the Shadowbolts kept doing that? He did not have too much time to worry about that as the Wonderbolts rallied to meet the new challenge. Then something new caught his attention. While the Shadowbolts made no move to attack, pink light started to exude from their goggles. It grew in intensity until suddenly pink beams of magic began shooting from their eyes, peppering the Wonderbolts.
Cries of pain came from everyone struck by the barrage. One struck Crimson on his chest and another on a hind leg, forcing him down. The storm of magic bolts continued, and he desperately tried to defend himself against them. He focused his magic into his hooves to harden them against the pink magic and started deflecting the beams. It stung, but nowhere near as badly as being struck elsewhere. Most of the other Wonderbolts were far worse off and they were all being forced downwards. Even Sylph was having difficulty dodging the beams, but she had nowhere else to go and was being forced down with the rest of them. Rocky was grunting at each hit, but his extraordinarily body density was scarcely affected, and he was trying to protect Dazzler whose distraction techniques were useless against the magic bolts. Edge’s glittering blades seemed to be able to deflect the bolts, and he tried to make a charge, but the Shadowbolts concentrated more on him, and overwhelmed his ability to cope, forcing him back down.
Eventually, every Wonderbolt was grounded but the merciless rain of magic continued. Their flight suits were being ripped apart, leaving stinging burns. They had nowhere to go and no defence, and things were looking hopeless. Suddenly Crimson’s attention was drawn up to the sky by a yell.
Crimson belatedly recognised the tan Wonderbolt diving from above as his enormous black-tipped wings swatted a dozen Shadowbolts out of the air. Then a dark blue stallion that was hard to spot among the Shadowbolts started taking out more of them as a very large blue Wonderbolt dropped through the hole made in the Shadowbolts’ offensive dome. He hit the ground running and used his flight speed to break through the surrounding foes.
Crimson saw Shine Struck gesturing in the opening.
“You heard the lady!” Soarin yelled as he galloped towards the escape avenue.
Crimson hastened to follow, as did the rest of the Wonderbolts, and soon they were able to take off into the air and regain a favourable position from which to resume the fight.
“GET IN YOUR FORMATIONS!” Soarin yelled out above him. “Squads one through ten – high altitude! Everypony else – low altitude! GO! GO!”
That suited Crimson and his squad because they could take advantage of poles and trees along the perimeter. He signalled his squad to take up position. “Edge! How effective are your blades against those magic blasts?”
“They were crafted to deal with unicorn horn blasts. Seems just as good against those eye blasts.”
“Great! You and I will provide cover for the others. Those eye beams aren’t as effective at short range, so we’ll get them in close to a group of Shadowbolts and take them all out at once.”
Edge frowned. “How do you expect to deflect those beams?”
Crimson held up his forehooves which glinted metallically. “Same way you will.”
“Huh? How did you do that?”
“Time for explanations later. We have company!”
Crimson turned to face an oncoming pack of Shadowbolts, mirrored by Edge. They accelerated towards their foes, almost immediately having to deflect the pink magic beams. A couple were bounced back at the Shadowbolts, causing them to explode.
“They’re not immune to their own magic,” Edge called out as he was swarmed.
“I noticed!” Crimson replied, although he wasn’t in position to do much about it.
“Comin’ through!” Rocky yelled. He barrelled into the Shadowbolts, oblivious to the eye beams, and began his usual ricochet technique, taking the strain off Crimson and Edge. Some Shadowbolts managed to get past, but they weren’t given a chance to attack from behind as Dazzler and Sylph were able to come into play, picking them off at will. Crimson steered the fighting towards a copse of trees at the perimeter. This almost totally stopped the Shadowbolts from firing upon them from a distance, but Squad Thirteen was in its element, dodging and weaving between the obstacles. More than once, pursuing Shadowbolts crashed into trees or poles as the Impossibles did their thing.
Occasionally Crimson had a moment to take in the fighting around them. He spotted Calm Wind pushing through a barrage of eye beams much like Rocky, but whereas Crimson’s squad-mate took on one at a time, Calm crashed into no less than five, taking them all out at once. There were obviously great advantages to sheer size, but there wasn’t any way that the giant pegasus could match Rocky’s agility. Other glimpses showed him that the lead team seemed to be on top of the situation, and the other squads holding their own, so Crimson returned his full attention to his squad’s immediate foes.
The fighting continued in this vein for what seemed ages before Crimson noticed growing cries of alarm and concern. At his first opportunity, he took a look around and gaped in shock. Suddenly the Wonderbolts were facing yet another threat as a few of the Shadowbolts with three pink crystals were pressing new attacks. He saw several Wonderbolts being mercilessly pounded by eye beams as they struggled in the invisible grasp of a blue stallion. A yellow stallion was peppering Wonderbolts with exploding pink spheres, and another stallion was fighting Soarin with a sword!
“EDGE!” Crimson yelled to get his attention. As soon as he looked, Crimson pointed towards the action. “Can you help Soarin with the sword-guy?”
Edge nodded and started toward the fight, only to be brought to a stop again as the melee with the yellow stallion encroached on their area, and suddenly they were dodging exploding pink balls also. With their opposition virtually doubled, helping Soarin suddenly became a moot point, and they struggled to deal with the new situation. Unfortunately, Dazzler was at a disadvantage with the new addition because misdirection and illusion had no effect on the spheres, and she dodged frantically.
Crimson fought to get between Dazzler and the oncoming barrage to stop them with his hooves, only to have them concentrate on him. Even with his exquisite timing and reflexes, two finally managed to get past him, one exploding on his left shoulder, but the other striking him on the temple. His head felt as if it had exploded too and he blacked out. Crimson’s body fluttered lifelessly to the ground.
“I’ve found one!” someone yelled.
The Wonderbolts searching for victims hastened up to their fallen comrade, only to stop and stare in shock. Certainly that was a Wonderbolt uniform, but the person wearing it was not anything like what they expected to find. A gleaming reddish-brown carapace, holey legs, red insectile wings and crest, a notched horn, and fangs showed without a doubt that this was not a pegasus.
“Is that… a changeling?” one asked.
“If it is, it’s not like the ones we fought at the royal wedding a while back.”
“What do we do with it then?”
“It’s wearing our uniform, so until we know more, for now we treat it as a victim, but take it to a secure room and have it guarded. I’ll inform the lead team of this. They can figure out if we have an imposter or infiltrator in our midst.”
With consciousness came a splitting headache. ‘At least it means I’m not dead,’ Crimson Blaze thought. He seemed to be lying on his stomach on some soft surface, which was a lot better than the hard ground of the compound. With considerable effort, he forced open his eyes. The first thing he noticed were his legs stretched out in front of him. Changeling legs with their distinctive holes. ‘Oh, crap!’ He immediately tried to change back to pony form, but he was shocked when the magic refused to come. He tried again, but only succeeded in exacerbating his headache. He tried to lift a hoof to his head to rub it, but his leg quickly was halted. Only then did he really notice the straps around both legs, completely restraining him to the cot upon which he was lying. “What the hell?” he said aloud.
“So you’re awake at last,” a familiar voice said from one side.
Crimson looked to his right to see Sky Bolt sitting nearby, sternly regarding him. “Bolt! What’s going on here?” he asked with a little trepidation considering his unmasked state.
“Shut up, changeling.”
“Bolt, I’m Crimson Blaze…”
“I said shut up! I don’t care who you claim to be. We don’t know why you’re here and if you replaced the real Crimson Blaze, but until Command says otherwise, you’re going to remain under restraint.”
“If you won’t be quiet, I’ll shut you up!” Bolt said with a scowl.
Crimson remembered Bolt’s surly attitude now, and decided not to test his threat for the moment. Minutes stretched out into an eternity though, and he decided to risk it. “What happened to the battle with the Shadowbolts?”
For a long moment Bolt was silent, but his expression grew thunderous. “Midnight was killed,” he whispered hoarsely.
Crimson was shocked. Midnight was dead? She was in Bolt’s squad; maybe he and she had some sort of relationship? “I’m sorry….”
Bolt was up in his face in a second, and he screamed, “If I find out that you had anything to do with that, you’re not going to leave this room alive!”
“Sky Bolt, that’s enough!” came a stern voice as a restraining hoof was put over Bolt’s shoulder. “You’re relieved.”
Bolt glared at the newcomer, snorted, and pulled away. Without a word, he exited the room.
Crimson looked at the new Wonderbolt. “Thanks, Stratus.”
“Don’t thank me yet. You’re still a changeling in a hostile situation, and until your status is determined, you’re a prisoner.”
“You know who I am, don’t you?”
“I know who you supposedly are. After the battle, we took roll call, and Crimson Blaze was the only pony unaccounted for.”
Crimson didn’t miss the emphasis on the word ‘pony’. “Stratus, despite how I look now, I am Crimson Blaze. I always have been.”
Stratus sat down, folded his arms, and regarded Crimson with a mixture of caution and curiosity. “How are we supposed to know that? All we know is that you were found in a Wonderbolt uniform and Crimson is missing. That’s it. For all we know, you replaced him in the confusion.”
“Oh, come on! I’m supposed to have sneaked into a pitched battle, taken out a Wonderbolt, and replaced him? Did I also get myself nearly killed and expose my base form just to confuse you?”
Stratus shrugged. “Doesn’t seem likely, I admit, but that doesn’t eliminate you replacing him a lot sooner.”
Crimson sighed. “There is no him – there’s only me. I am and always have been Crimson Blaze.”
“And how do you intend to prove it?”
“How long have you been trying to figure out my disc dive?”
Stratus frowned. “Crimson started that over a year ago.”
“You know why you could never figure it out? Because I can do what a pegasus can’t. I can shape-change. My red fur and blazing trail conceal my red magic as I make my body a lot thinner, but I hold my wings out at my normal width until the last fraction of a second before snapping them hard against my skinny form. Then when I make my course corrections, the wings again conceal my body. At the end of the run, I resume my normal body form, and everyone is left amazed at the impossibility of what I’ve done.”
Stratus shook his head in chagrin. “I would never have figured that out.”
“You still owe me a dinner,” Crimson pointed out.
Stratus chuckled. “Yeah, whatever else happens, I’ll pay up on that.” He sighed. “Okay, you have me convinced that you’re the Crimson that I’ve known for at least a couple of years, but you gotta realise that there’s still no way of us knowing if you’re the original or that you replaced the real Crimson at some time, or what your motive for joining the Wonderbolts was.”
“Motive? Stratus, I wanted to be Wonderbolt with all my heart, just like you did. Just because I’m a changeling doesn’t change that.”
“Then you better be able to convince Command about that.”
“Yeah. I suppose First Captain Spitfire will want to grill me next.”
“The Captain and the rest of the lead team are too busy at the moment. Captain Fire Streak has been assigned to follow up on you when he has the time. In the meantime, other squad members have been given shifts watching over you, at least those of us who are up to it.”
“What do you mean by that? What happened in the battle? Last I recall, we were getting pummelled by several extra powerful Shadowbolts.”
Stratus snorted angrily. “Pummelled is right. We were losing, but we had our plots saved by the Renegades.”
“The who what now?” Crimson asked with a puzzled frown.
“You know those Shadowbolts that have been taunting us for a while? Turns out that they’re actually a breakaway group that claims to represent the true values of the Shadowbolts, while those magic-users have been corrupted by those pink crystals of theirs. They called themselves the Renegades, and believe it or not, some of them are retired Wonderbolts.”
“You’re kidding?” Crimson said incredulously.
“Nope. Flashwind and Blazetail are just two them.”
“Whoa! That’s amazing! Why were these Renegades protecting us though?”
“Part has to do with them trying to get the Shadowbolts back to the way they were and stopping the plans of whoever is controlling them, and part is a deal with Princess Luna.”
“The princess is involved? This just keeps getting more complicated.”
“You want to know the craziest part?” Stratus asked. “The Renegades are led by Descent.”
“The pony who tried to kill Soarin? That’s less believable than anything that you’ve come up with about me.”
“I know. Damn weird, but he’s our ally now, and we’d probably be all dead if it wasn’t for the Renegades.”
“Well, if they can trust him, maybe there’s hope for me too.”
“We’ll see about that,” came a new voice from the doorway.
Crimson looked around to see Fire Streak standing there, apparently listening to their conversation. He stepped into the room, and Crimson was shocked to see the Squad Thirteen members follow him in. Each of the four looked at him with a range of emotions that he could taste, from fear to concern. Edge looked stern, but the thestral was not the type to be put off by a mere changeling. Rocky had a spike of fear and anger upon seeing Crimson, but was hiding it well. Sylph was a sea of calm, and apparently receptive to whatever was going to happen. It was Dazzler though who made his heart ache. She had such a roiling mixture of concern, doubt, and anxiety, and she looked at him with such confusion. Crimson hated that she had to see him like this. He turned his attention to Fire Streak.
“My apologies for not getting up and saluting, Third Captain.”
“Forgiven, under the circumstances,” Fire Streak replied. “Sky Bolt informed me that you were conscious, and it’s time we cleared up the mystery of the changeling in a Wonderbolt uniform.”
“With all due respect, sir, did you have to bring my squad-mates here to see me like this?”
“Those squad-mates know Crimson Blaze best, so I wanted them here to help me determine who and what you are.”
“Beg pardon, sir,” Stratus interjected, “But he’s convinced me that he’s the Crimson Blaze who has been my friend for at least the past couple of years.”
Fire Streak regarded Stratus for a long moment before nodding. “I hope he is indeed your friend. You can stay also.”
Crimson said, “Do you think that you can take these straps off my legs? I think six Wonderbolts to one changeling are pretty safe odds.”
Fire nodded and indicated to Stratus to release Crimson’s bonds.
Crimson sighed with relief – he had been developing quite a cramp. He stretched and winced as his left shoulder throbbed, and he remembered the explosive pink ball that had hit it a moment before another had knocked him out. He felt a few more aches and bruises probably incurred after falling to the ground which mercifully had not been too far away. His head was still the worst though. “Anyone got an aspirin? I’ve got a killer headache.” He coughed hoarsely, making his head pound even worse. “Or even just a glass of water. My throat is as dry as the San Palomino Desert.”
There was a jug of water in the room, and Crimson was allowed to have a long drink.
While Crimson slaked his thirst, Fire asked Stratus, “Why are you so convinced that this is your friend?”
Stratus shuffled nervously. “Well, mainly because he explained how he did his disc-dive stunt. I’ve been betting him I could figure out how he did it, and he just explained it to me.”
“Shape-shifted, I would guess,” Fire said.
“Er… yes, sir.”
“Squad Thirteen first performed that stunt fifteen months ago. Throw in some time for training and perfecting it, and you have the best part of two years. So that pretty much confirms that he’s been with us for at least that long.” Fire turned back to Crimson. “However, it still doesn’t eliminate the possibilities of espionage and/or replacing the original Crimson Blaze.”
“Captain,” Crimson said urgently, “Changelings don’t do that. Or at least with the exception perhaps of Queen Chrysalis and the Blue Changelings, but she’s insane and has corrupted her hive. If you were to contact Princess Twilight Sparkle and ask her, you would find out that she has been learning about the other Equestrian hives since discovering others of our kind.”
“I’m afraid that’s not an option at the moment. We’re in a state of war with the Shadowbolts, and we’re in complete security lockdown. Better convince me some other way.”
Crimson groaned. Twilight Sparkle had been his best hope of exonerating himself. “How am I supposed to do that?”
“Tell us everything about yourself and why you are here. We’ll see what happens next.”
Crimson nodded. “I am an Emotion Harvester from the Red Hive. My hive has always gravitated to roles in law enforcement, security, and military. Like all Harvesters, I was trained in various subjects that would help me find a role in Equestrian society.”
“You trained to become a Wonderbolt?” Fire asked sceptically.
“No, sir. I took up a job as a rookie cop in Baltimare. And before you ask, I did not replace a pony to do that. One of the things that we perfect before starting our careers as Harvesters is an alter ego, usually a pony, but it could be a griffin or some other sapient being. I created Crimson Blaze. No, I became Crimson Blaze. Everything that you know about Crimson Blaze is not an act; it is me. Every like and dislike, every quirk of temperament…” He looked at Stratus. “Every friendship…” He turned to Dazzler and said even more earnestly, “Every feeling… is mine. In this respect, Crimson Blaze is just as much a real pegasus as you all are. Crimson Blaze is, and always has been, only me.”
Fire Streak nodded gravely, but Crimson could tell that he was impressed.
“Go on,” Fire said.
Crimson continued a bit more confidently. “I had been with the police for a couple of years when a Wonderbolts show came to town. They had come there before, but I was on duty at the time, and this was my first opportunity to check one out. Let me just say that I was instantly hooked. As soon as the next recruiting drive came along, I applied. Until then, I worked my guts out to train myself up and work out some techniques that could utilise my changeling abilities to give me an edge. You wanted to know why I am here? I’m not here to spy on you. I’m not here harm you. I’m not even here to harvest emotion energy for the hive, although that’s something that I do anyway. No, I’m here because I wanted to be a bucking Wonderbolt! The proudest moment of my life was when I made the grade and got my uniform. I damn well cried when I put it on for the first time and looked at myself in the mirror.”
Crimson paused as he realised just how excited his speech had gotten, and continued a bit more calmly. “I developed my timing technique and used my changeling abilities wherever I could to accomplish as much as possible to work up the ranks. I was so proud to be appointed squad captain, and try to pass on some of my skills to my squad-mates, and of course also try to learn from them. Some things I can’t, like the way I deflected the magic bolts with my hooves.”
“So that’s how you did that,” Edge spoke up. “You changed your hooves to be reflective.”
“Exactly,” Crimson confirmed. “But my best accomplishment has been bonding us as a team. That’s something that ponies and changelings have in common – we work best when we work together.”
There was a long silence as everyone took in what Crimson had told them. Fire mulled it over for a while before asking, “Are there any other changelings in the Wonderbolts?”
Crimson shook his head. “I’m the only one. In fact, as far as I know, I might even be the first. It isn’t easy getting a place in the Wonderbolts. But, sir, even if there were others, I would not tell you who they were. I wouldn’t have the right to reveal them that way.”
“And I wouldn’t particularly trust anyone who would do so.”
“Loyalty is the Red Changelings’ greatest trait. We prefer the taste of it over that of love. To betray someone would be sickening to me. I am absolutely loyal to the Wonderbolts, but that same loyalty would not let me reveal another changeling to you even if you commanded it because I know that they are not threats to the Wonderbolts.”
“Stop! You’ve convinced me of that.” He sighed. “In fact you have me almost totally convinced of everything that you’ve told me.”
“But you have no hard proof,” Crimson said glumly. “If only you could contact Princess Twilight Sparkle.”
“What about Luna?” Sylph asked.
Crimson shrugged. “I believe that Twilight was keeping Celestia and Luna apprised of the situation, but if we can’t contact any of them at the moment, that point is moot.”
Stratus grinned. “Except that Princess Luna is here with us now.”
Crimson eyes widened in surprise. “What?! Why?”
“Long story,” Fire replied. “You were unconscious for a long time, and much has happened since then. Stratus, go find the Princess and inform her about this situation. Ask her to come here to confirm what we’ve been told.”
“Yes, sir!” Stratus saluted and shot out the door.
Crimson’s eyes looked upwards. “I presume you have a magic suppressor on my horn?”
“Correct, and no, I’m not taking it off until we hear from Princess Luna.”
“I understand,” Crimson said sadly. “I don’t know of anything more that I can tell you to help my case, so how about filling me in on what’s happened while I was unconscious.”
Fire Streak continued from where Stratus had left off, telling how the Shadowbolts had returned the next day, and the Renegades had met the threat. That is until the Shadowbolts’ flying fortress had appeared on the scene and nearly wiped them all out in one fell hit from their gigantic magic crystal cannon. Only the intervention of Princess Luna with the support of Soarin had saved the day.
Crimson was still trying to take it all in when Stratus came back with Luna. He was surprised to see her decked out in battle armour, but it should have been obvious in retrospect. She also looked remarkably weary.
Luna regarded Crimson with a long stare. “Who is thy queen, changeling?”
“Queen Carpacia, Your Highness.”
“We are familiar with her and thy hive. We have discovered some of her Harvesters amidst our Royal Guard. Their loyalty has been confirmed.” Luna turned to Fire. “Captain Fire Streak, from what Stratus has told us, this changeling’s words are consistent with the Red Hive’s normal mode of behaviour. We recommend taking this one’s word, but we leave the final decision to thee.”
Fire nodded. “Thank you, Princess.” He turned to Crimson and reached up to his horn, removing the magic suppressor.
Crimson heaved a sigh of relief as he felt his magic return. He immediately shape-changed back to his pegasus form. Because his flight-suit had been ruined, he had been without it since waking, but illusion supplied a new uniform anyway. “Phew! I feel much better now. Thank you, sir.”
“Too soon for thanks, Crimson Blaze. Everyone will know that you’re a changeling now, and that means dealing with all sorts of different attitudes. Don’t forget that some Wonderbolts had friends or family hurt or even killed in the changeling invasion, and even though you had nothing to do with it, many ponies aren’t going to see it that way.”
Crimson nodded. “I know that all too well, sir.”
“I expect that you and the Lead Squad will have a long chat when they finally get the opportunity, but I will recommend in my report that you be fully reinstated.” He got up to leave. “Good luck, Crimson.”
Crimson came to attention and saluted. “Thank you, sir.”
Fire and Luna left together.
Stratus grinned at him. “Glad to find out my buddy is my buddy. I gotta admit I never suspected that you were a changeling. We’ve gotta talk about that sometime.” He glanced at Crimson’s squad members. “But I think you have some more explaining to do with them first. Catch you later!”
Stratus then left, leaving Crimson with only his four teammates.
Rocky barely waited for Stratus to shut the door behind him before stepping up practically nose to nose with Crimson. “What’s the matter with you?” he asked angrily. “Don’t you trust us? Years we’ve been a squad, doing everything together, helping each other, but you couldn’t trust us with your precious secret?”
Crimson was taken aback by Rocky’s hostility, but before he could think of a reply, Edge spoke up.
“Cut him some slack, Rocky. Thestrals like me aren’t exactly greeted with open arms everywhere, so I can imagine how much worse it would be for him if everypony knew he was a changeling.”
Rocky rounded on Edge. “I’m not talking about telling everypony! I’m talking about us! The ponies who have worked, sweated, played, practiced, got beaten up, got drunk, and been every bit family as our own brothers and sisters. We’re even closer than that because we have to be able to trust each other totally in some of our routines, but he didn't trust us with his stupid secret!”
Crimson said, “I’m truly sorry, Rocky. I’ve been meaning to tell you, but preserving the secrecy of the hive...”
“Buck your bucking hive! Your stupid hive doesn’t care half as much as we do! You work for them, but you work with us, but you seem to have forgotten that. You know what, you can forget this too!” Rocky turned around and stormed out of the room.
Edge said, “Give him time, Crimson. He was worried sick that a changeling had taken you away. Realising that you are the changeling was a bit of a shock to all of us. He’s just taken it worse.”
“What about you, Edge? How do you feel about me?”
“I meant what I said about understanding your concerns, but Rocky was right – you could have told us. I’ll stick by your side all the way in spite of that.”
“Thanks, Edge.” He looked to the mares in the squad. “Ladies?”
Sylph frowned. “My uncle was hurt defending my aunt against the changelings in the invasion.”
Crimson sagged in disappointment. “I’m sorry….”
Sylph cut him off. “I’ve told you in the past how my mother works at Canterlot castle as a researcher. She’s done a lot for Princess Twilight Sparkle, and much of it lately has been changeling related. She even asked me about any known instances in the Wonderbolts, and I told her that I knew of none. She explained how most hives peacefully co-exist with us.” She poked a hoof sharply in Crimson’s chest, thumping it as she made her point. “So don’t you dare assume that we can’t understand your position just because something bad happened to us.” She then stood aside and sat down, folding her arms.
Crimson could taste her anger, but it was tempered with relief and concern. He judged that she would cool off and things would be back to normal soon enough.
The same could never be said about Dazzler though. She wasn’t even looking at him, but he could see the tears welling in her eyes. He could still taste the hurt and the uncertainty pouring from her. How could he blame her? He had begun to have strong feelings for her, too. Being a Wonderbolt took up a huge amount of their time, but those precious moments that they had found to be together just for themselves had been wonderful. He had even dared that perhaps she would fall in love with him eventually. Him – a changeling who ate love – had the presumption that she could give him so much that he couldn’t eat it anymore, and then would actually be able to experience true love for the first time. What a fool he was! She could never love him now.
“Daz… I… I’m…”
Dazzler suddenly threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and bawling her eyes out. “I thought you were dead!”
Crimson was taken aback at the suddenness of the emotional outpouring, and was left floundering for a moment. Sylph then glared at him and inclined her head towards Dazzler. He took the hint and drew Dazzler into a deeply emotional hug. “I’m sorry, Daz. I hate that I worried you so much, but I’m okay. We’re both okay, aren’t we?”
Dazzler looked up with a face sodden with tears, then she reached up and pulled his head down and kissed him.
Crimson didn’t let surprise stop him from kissing her back, long and passionately. When they finally drew apart, he softly said, “I’ll take that as a yes.”
Dazzler giggled as she wiped the tears from her face with a hoof. “Idiot.”
Crimson drew a deep breath and let it out in a loud huff. “I’ve had enough of this room. Let’s go.”
Crimson headed to the door with one wing about Dazzler, with Edge and Sylph following. Upon stepping out into the hallway, he spotted Rocky sitting on his plot, leaning against a wall and staring into space. Crimson stopped in front of him and said, “I’m sorry – you were right. I promise that there won’t be any more secrets.”
Rocky nodded without looking at Crimson. Without a word, he got up and they all continued on. The anger was still there, but Crimson would work through that with him, just as he would work through the issues with the others. He knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but what mattered was that they were still a team, or perhaps more accurately, a family. And you never give up on family – ever.
The next twenty-four hours had been rough. Crimson had spent a lot of time in the barracks just talking with his squad-mates about anything and everything they wanted to know. Sometimes the mood lightened as he discussed things that intrigued them. Sometimes though, it had been very uncomfortable, but with Dazzler by his side all the time, he felt confident that he was doing the right thing. When he heard nothing from Spitfire, he assumed that Fire Streak’s report and recommendations had been accepted with no further action for now, although he was sure that he would be having a long talk with the lead captain once things returned to normal. As expected, some of the Wonderbolts weren’t keen on the idea of a changeling among them, but under the present circumstances, Crimson was the least of their worries.
However, all of that was nothing compared to what they were facing now. The Shadowbolts were returning with their flying fortress, and things looked very grim.
The remaining Wonderbolt elites who were fit to fly, and the former-Wonderbolt Renegades were all gathered in the lobby, ready to begin a desperate defence of the compound.
“ALL SQUADS READY?!” Spitfire yelled. All the Wonderbolts, current and Renegade alike, fell in line, reaching up and pushing their goggles down.
“AYE!” they all replied in unison.
“ALL PONIES SET?!” Spitfire continued.
“AYE!” the Wonderbolts replied while all opening their wings, causing a loud FLAP noise to echo around the lobby.
Spitfire stole a brief glance at Blazetail and Flashwind, who both gave a nod in return. “WONDERBOLTS! GO!” Spitfire yelled out as she, Air Mach, Blazetail, and Flashwind all took off.
“HOO-RAH!” the rest yelled as they all broke into a canter, taking off row by row while staying in formation.
As it came to Crimson’s turn, he yelled, “Okay, Squad Thirteen, let’s show those Shadowbolts the impossible!”
“YEAH!” they replied in unison.
Crimson never felt prouder as they took off together as a team to fight for their home.
Equestria, canon MLP characters, and other My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic elements are © 2015 Hasbro.
Original characters Crimson Blaze, Edge, Dazzler, Rocky & Sylph created by Bernard Doove.
Wonderverse OC's created by Calm Wind.
Story copyright © 2015 Bernard Doove.
Art is © 2015 Backlash91, Kat Miller and Baron Engel.
Return to the main stories page.
Return to the Chakat's DenTM main page.