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Ciraxis

[Age of Heroes] Laugh from Below (Open)

13 posts in this topic

"So....ya say your hide visited Hoofenheim recently?" asked one of the patrons of one of many sleazy bars that spoil the image of Manehattan.

"Aye." confirmed the other drinker. "And I tell ya, I am not getting near for the next decade!"

"Oy? What's keeping you? Looked under one skirt too many?" asked the first pony, his interest piqued.

"Naah, there is never too many of that. No I am talking about much more creepy rubbish. See, ponies dissappear in Ol' Hoof recently. Without a trace, sans empty clothing found later."

"Ya pullin my leg!"

 

At those words, a lone traveler, clad in leather duster and sitting in the corner, took his eyes from his emptying glass. Noticed by no one he shifted closer to two speakers, eavesdropping on their conversation, his gaze hidden by sunglasses and strands of emerald mane,

 

"He's not." a third pony joined the conversation "Some creepy fog rolls down on the Hoof every other day, and when present, ponies disappear, only garbs left in the morning. Fog! In the middle of the summer!"

"Aye, just like he says" confirmed pony traveling from Hoofenheim.

"Maybee weather fliers screwed up, or their factory is bused." first drinker doubted weakly.

"No way!" the second stallion protested. "My cousin one of wings working in the region, and swears to Harmony that ain't their fault. And here is the thing. They say that when the fog is present you can sometime hear the laugh. Like the one of the filly. If you hear it, it's guaranteed that somepony will be gone by the morning."

"Waaaah, cut it out! I wanna have some sleep tonight!"

 

With the conversation over, unicorn eavesdropper rose from his seat and walked to the counter.

"You glass not empty yet..." barkeeper noticed when the stallion put it down.

"And I am not finishing it. Give me a bill. I have a long road before me."

Ten minutes later, Swift Squall was on his bike, speeding towards the Hoofenheim. He got a job to do.

 

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A stallion that is a culmination of both pony and machine stood still at the side of a lake. His eyes stared out into the waters thoughtfully, though seeing nothing. To him perceptively, time was merely slowed down as his own thoughts began to accelerate. Each thought was like a little subroutine if you were, analyzing the data he had gathered, and all of the stories he had heard…. And nothing added up. The world returned to its perceptively normal state.

Typically, being involved in an investigation like this would be way out of Machina’s element. Heck, he wasn’t even known for getting involved in fights between heroes and villains! However, it has gone on for so long unsolved… not even the police could solve the problem. That’s a greater testament as a typical hero is more likely to punch something than solve a problem.

 

Still… Machina would much rather be working on one of his side projects than be out near the water. Yeah sure… the none pony parts of his body are water resistant… but that can be rendered a moot point of the water is so salty that his internal electric field is actually capable of inducing a charge and shorting out his systems. Plus… water resistant is a much different topic than water proof. He also can’t swim being as dense as… you know… metal.

Yet… still here he was. Standing there like some sort of gallant hero that will save the day and return the likely dead missing ponies to their rightful homes.

 

“Cynicism is definitely unbecoming of you, sir” a soft near emotionless voice whispered in his ear. ARID, was the owner of the voice. A limited AI that not only helped Machina operate and monitor his internal systems… but to interface with things like his power armor, or his drones that were flying about and scanning the area. Still… he was not quite sure why he allowed the AI to be able to read his thoughts like that.

“Oh yeah, among many other outstanding traits,” The pony groaned as he slowly turned around and looked down to a lone piece of clothing. He lifted a metal hoof and opened up it’s talons before picking it up. He slowly turned it about, his visor’s research scanner worked over it, but found nothing interesting.

“You know… like the love for looking into some random Sailor’s conjured up theory about a spook plucking up ponies in the middle of a fog!”

“It is not entirely illogical sir,” The AI quipped as the pony dropped the sweater and began to stalk around the bank.

“Oh really? Enlighten me on how.”

“Well this may be fallacious thinking, but in this world there are a great many anomalies that we are incapable of explaining.”

“….” The pony stopped, his head tilted as he regarded the lake once more. He then sighed and shook his head. “Fair enough… Have you spotted anything with the drones?”

“Roy is still scanning it’s sector.  Gama has found nothing. Biv has found an anomaly, however it is not related to our current task.”

“I'm starting to wonder why I didn't ask Chaser to help me look into this. She's far better  equipped for this than I am.” the stallion groaned as he kicked a can.

 

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"The place looks deserted...." Squall muttered as he gazed onto mountain rage outside. He was in Hoofenheim for two days already and so far his search was proven fruitless. Not once he was able to witness this mysterious fog. And neither the was much of anypony to ask about the circumstances. Hoofenheim became almost a ghost town.

"Well this is not really surprising..." said the innkeeper in a soothing, but sad tone.

"How's so?" stallion inquired as he turned around.

His host was a pretty young mare in her peak, with a rosy tint on her cheeks and a chocolate colored coat. From their earlier conversations Squall knew that the businesses of running the inn was practiced by her family for generations, and that her name was Coca Dream.

"Those who had family or friends elsewhere left a while ago. You have a really good reason to stay. And I...."

"And you stayed because of the inn. Despite circumstances essentially killing the tourist season." Swift said, understanding.

"W-Well...yes..." she said "...'Amber Droplet' is very important to me. My mother, and my grandmother, and everpony  else before me poured so much heart into it. I-I can't just abandon it. Even if are our first guest in weeks. Not counting that other stallion who showed up, but he isn't staying in the inn so..." she said, fidgeting nervously.

"Aren't you afraid Miss Coca?" stallion pressed further "That you may be the next one?"

"Nopony who wasn't outside when the fog was up disappeared. A-and I am very careful. But thank you f-for concern." Coca gave a genuine - if little insecure - smile.

"I see." noblepony muttered, turning back to the window. What he saw outside however made him step back in surprise. From the direction of the mountains, something that could only described as a thick cloud was speeding towards the city.

"What is....?" he expressed his confusion while turning towards Coca.

"Ack!" Coca squealed, covering her mouth. "I-I-It's it! It's b-back!"

"Back? You mean...?" he asked, gazing back outside. The mist was so thick that he was able to see only a three maters ahead...at best. He couldn't even see his bike.

"Yes! It's this horrible fog!" mare answered, clearly horrified.

"So it's finally here...." swordpony mused. Without a word he headed upstairs to his rented room. When he was back at the first floor a minutes later he was in his full garb, with blade strapped to his side.

"Wait Mister Squall! You aren't....?" Coca asked, clearly surprised

"Don't worry Miss Coca. Yours and this city troubles should be over soon. But just in case....don't open the door to anyone until the fog disperses." Swift Squall instructed before walking outside, not bothering with Coca reaction, as she shouted to him.

 

He walked only a few hoofsteps outside when he heard it. A laugh. One that seemed to come from a filly. Just as he heard in bar in Manehattan.

"So...the rumors were correct." he though. Before taking a deep breath. The smell.....just as he expected. But what kind this time....? This was something that he had to find out. Noblepony sighted. He preferred to be prepared, but such luxury wasn't available today it seems.

Squall kept walking forward, towards the direction from where the creepy giggle was coming from.

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Adventivia had decided to backpack across Equestria during summer break at Sunlight Academy as part of an extended study. She wanted to learn more about the cultural differences and social norms that dotted the landscape, about why ponies from one place had different accents than ponies from a different place, and most of all she wanted to get a better understanding of morality, and what was generally considered moral and immoral.

 

She made sure to carry her Sunlight Medallion with her, as a way of proving she wasn't a roaming monster and was actually a student at the academy. So far, without fail, at every town she had visited somepony had run away screaming in terror, prompting nearby heroes to come and try fighting her while she tried her hardest to convince them she meant no harm. EveryTime.

 

But, she held onto hope as she traced out her route on her map. It looked like her next stop was going to be Marelia. Or, was it Roam? 'Uh oh,' she thought, 'am I lost?' She stared at the map, turning it one way and another, trying to get her bearings straight. After struggling for far too long, she got an idea. 'It should still be morning, so all I have to do is look at the sun and I'll know which way I'm going!' She was very proud of herself for thinking about this, but when she looked up from her map to look at the sun she found herself surrounded by a thick fog that blotted out the sun. "Great," she muttered to herself, "now I really am lost."

 

She pressed forward through the fog, still unsure about just where she was headed, until she started to see the outlines of buildings, and where there were buildings there were sure to be ponies that could let her know where she was! "Hello? Anypony there?" She called, listening for some kind of response. But, what she heard wasn't an answer, just giggling. "Who's there?" She asked, to no avail. She'd come across children that laughed just like this when they were playing, so she assumed they must be playing a game too. She seemed to recall one group she'd met that played 'Hide-and-go-Seek", in which one pony had to find the others that were hiding. "Are you playing 'Hide-and-go-Seek'?" She inquired, and again heard only giggling.

 

Believing that to be a yes, Adventivia pressed on into the fog, following the laughter, stating the same line the 'Seeker' was supposed to say. "Ready or not, here I come!"

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Squall continued to make his way through the cold haze. By Tartarus, it was so thick he could barely see anything. True, he could probably use his sight....but he didn't wanted to spook his mark. Besides he could tell he was getting close, judging from laughter getting louder.

And then, unexpectedly his search came to an end. Right before him, a 'filly' stepped up from the mist with a giggle. Pigtails, white dress and huge smile - her appearance was a very picture of innocence.

"Hello Mistah! Have yoy came 'ere to play?" she asked with a glee. Perhaps too much of it. Squall didn't bothered with an answer - there was no need for one.

"Once wrong Mistah? Are you shy? Don't worry, once we start You will talk a lot more!" 'filly' added, more pushy and with a strange glint in her eye.

And once again, swordstallion said nothing. Instead one of his hooves reached towards flaps of his duster, allowing the hilt of his weapon to become visible.

 

The change of 'filly's' attitude was immediate. "You? Why?! Why You?!!" only now she realized - to her horror - with whom she was dealing with "It wasn't really that much much and....and...." she started trying to justify herself, while walking backwards. "....You have no businesses here! There was invitation! " more panicked words followed. This finally got an response from the noblepony.

"And you should know better then to accept it." he said as he drew Sin Eater. The 'filly' cried out and run back into the mist.....and Swift followed.

 

       * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

A few seconds later, a running somepony run straight into Adventivia. The 'filly' stumbled on her legs for a moment, before rising her head, trying to gauge who it was this time.

"Oh thank the Stars!" she started, realizing that this person was not with her pursuer. "There is this scary Mistah after me! Please help me!" 'filly' pledged before running behind pony-shaped plant. A seconds later the stallion, with unsheathed weapon in his magical grasp, walked out of the mist. Squall suddenly paused, faced with this new development. This was getting more complicated then it should be. It didn't took him long to regain his composure and made his next move.

"Get away from it." he said while rising the sword to point the tip right at the 'filly'.

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Adventivia kept 'seeking' through the fog for a while, until she felt something run into her. She had barely seen it coming, and apparently the filly that had run into her didn't see her either. She listened to the filly's plea before she ran behind her, and before Adventivia had a moment to react or say anything another pony came running through the fog. This one was a stallion, and pointed a sword at the filly, saying "Get away from it."

 

Adventivia took offense to this, believing he was talking to the filly. "Excuse me," she said, a little irritated, "but I'm not an 'it'. My name's Adventivia, and I'm a hero. Well, in training anyway." mumbling the last part. She revealed her Sunlight Medallion from within her vines, hoping to prove that she wasn't evil. Though, now that she thought about it........she supposed nopony here was playing hide-and-go-seek, huh? And what was it that filly said about this pony being after her? 'Oh!she thought, 'They must be playing 'tag' instead!'

 

With a smile, she said to the adult "I'm sorry for interrupting your game of 'tag'. I got a little lost and was wondering if you could show me where we are on the map. Maybe even point me in the right direction? It'd be a big help..........." She paused, a blank looking coming over her face. She thought again, 'Wait.......who plays tag with a sword?It was starting to click for Adventivia, but she still knew so little of pony culture. Maybe it was how they played here? "Why are you chasing this filly with that sword?" She asked quizzically.

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"You misunderstood." swordpony muttered. The revelation of the medallion made Swift pause for a moment. So far kept his distance from student or the graduates of the Academy - he doubted that they wouldn't understand what he's doing. This time he didn't had such luxury. His mark was too dangerous for him to back down.

 

Squall gaze lighted up with a emerald fire for a moment. The 'filly' appearance in aeather spectrum was not surprise but this other female. Pure, but with heavy misdeeds born from obliviousness and naivete. But by Lords of Tartarus, wat could she be?! She...she appeared to be living and self-aware, with a nexus of the ley-lines as it's life-force! It was akin to being face to face with a very soul of Unyasi jungle, with all it's flora present before him. How in the world such being could come to be?!

 

As mystifying it was, noblpony couldn't allow himself to be distracted by the questions that this newcomer presented with her sheer presence. He had important task to do.

 

"In training or not..." Swift begun as his eyes returned to normal "You have no idea what you getting yourself into. Now MOVE!" he demanded.

Seeing Squall's distraction, the 'filly' sized the opportunity. Fleeing in exact direction that would put Adventivia between herself and his pursuer.

"No!" Squall cried up, and made a might leap over plant-pony, his sword readied to make a shish kabob from the running away 'filly'.

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Adventivia watched as the pony's eyes lit up, eyeing her intently. It kinda freaked her out, especially because they were on fire, but more importantly it told her that this wasn't a normal pony. Or, at least, she hadn't come across any other ponies whose eyes turned green. As his eyes lost their green flame, he told her she didn't know what she was getting into, and demanded that she move. 'What does he mean I don't know what I'm getting into?' She pondered, 'Isn't it just a game of tag?'

 

However, she wouldn't have long to ponder before the filly that had hidden behind her began to run, causing the swordpony to shout "No!" and jump over Adventivia, sword at the ready. The way he held his sword with his magic caused memories to hit her. She remembered the swordpony that had first cut her down, and how his stance had been roughly the same, ready to strike. She knew what he was about to do.

 

"Whoa!" She yelled, snapping into action at the memory. Leaping straight into the air, Adventivia tackled Squall, sending them both to the ground with a thud. Getting up a little dizzy from the fall, Adventivia took a step back steadying herself and exclaimed "That's not tag! You were about to hurt her!" She stamped her hoof on the ground angrily, finally having regained her balance. "Heroes don't hurt innocent ponies." Lowering herself for combat with a scowl on her face, she added "And if you aren't a hero, I guess that makes you a villain!"  She waited for the swordpony to ready himself. She'd learned it the academy it was the 'honorable' thing to do. It all added up for Adventivia, and she was ready.

 

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"%^##!@" Squall cursed when he was hit in mid-air. To say that Swift didn't expected that would be an understatement.

 

But as much as surprised Squall was, he jumped back to his hooves immediately after hitting the ground. Despite starting to get really angry, noblepony couldn't help but snort at mare's (Well, not really. But the shape matched and it was easier thinking that way) silly statement. "Of course it's not tag, nincompoop!" he snapped at her.

 

Even Swift rising agitation couldn't prepare him for what Adventivia said next. Swift froze for a moment with completely to dumbfounded expression on his face.

"Are you real?" he asked after hearing her words. What these were teaching in Academy these days?!! This...this female was completely green! Both literally and figuratively. How could you let someone so naive hit the streets?! What classes she attended to? Or rather, how many of them she missed?

 

Squall shook his head to dismiss the unneeded questions. His mark was getting away! If he allow this to happen, things in Hoofenheim will get even worse! The sense of urgency, combined with his rising anger overshadowed any ideas that would help rein resolving the issue in logical way.

"I don't have time for this!" unicorn said impatiently "You from Academy, so I am saying this again. Move, or be moved!" he warned while brandishing his blade.

After a moment of silence, and a defiant look from Adventivia he spoke again.

"Fine. Hard way it is." Swift growled angrily. His body shifted into battle stance, and a hint of flames was visible in his eyes once more.

 

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This was it. Adventivia's first real battle since her time at the academy. She still wasn't sure if she was ready, but she could tell that she'd grown since her first day, else she wouldn't still be holding her ground. Even as she looked into the fiery eyes of her opponent, she could feel something creeping up on her: fear. It made her quiver. She could tell just by the way he was standing that he was ready to end her. It carried the same weight the instructors at the academy had, but this was no class. Taking a deep breath, she reflected on what she'd learned. Particularly, she reflected on what it meant to be brave, reminding herself 'Bravery is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of that fear.'

 

She calmed her quivering as best she could and began trying to think about how she could win as quickly, and safely, as possible. 'I could always drain him,' she thought, 'but can I even get close enough to grab him?' She knew she didn't have much time, and that making the first strike was usually the best move to make. She had to think fast! Then, it came to her. She remembered that not all fighting had to be direct. She had to think of a way to distract this pony, quickly, but how?

 

"So, I just have to ask, what's up with the fiery green eyes?" She managed to get out, standing back up like nothing had just happened. "Like, doesn't that hurt? How'd that even happen anyway? Is that some kind of secret Unicorn spell? I think I remember learning that Changelings use green fire magic. Are you a Changeling?" Adventivia hoped she was being convincing, especially since she didn't handle pressure well, and boy was there pressure! If she had the ability to sweat, she'd be able to fill a bathtub with the stuff!

 

While trying to make idle conversation a stall any actual fighting, Adventivia was testing the ground beneath her hooves with a couple vines, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the soil beneath her was very soft. Slowly and carefully, she began wriggling her vines beneath the dirt towards Squall, hoping that the fog would hide both the shifting dirt and her slowly diminishing mass. At the very least if he did decide to charge her right now she could still entangle him with the vines when he reached however far they'd gone. It seemed like a win-win situation. 'At least that innocent filly's getting away.'

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Despite his hard words Squall wasn't moving just yet. Was she...shaking?

It could be the key! Maybe if he scares Adventivia enough, it will dissuade her from barring his way. He wouldn't have to trash her that much, and he will save time!

 

"They allow me to see You. ALL of You." Squall explained while dropping his gaze to the ground, indicating that, yes, he could see Adventivia 'hidden' tentacles.

Suddenly he moved, sprinting towards the plant-mare. Not straight forward, but in an crescent arc, away from her burrowing appendages.

"Pain is an old friend you dolt. I will introduce you to it!" Swift dropped some more threatening words, upping the intimidation factor. After blitzing two-thirds of the distance, he unexpectedly thrown his sword at novice heroine!

Adventivia dodged, but swordstallion already closed the distance in the gained time. With a magical grasp he lifted her by the neck.....

 

Only to drop her down, with a powerful chokeslam! Strong enough to shake the vey ground.

Any other creature would be left struggling for breath after something like this....but of course Adventivia - being what she was - lacked lungs. Unfazed by unicorn's technique she sent three more tentacles surging from her mass towards her opponent. Swift leaped back to gain some distance, but it only delayed what was approaching. Just as the plan-mare's appendages were to grab him, Squall's Sin Eater materialized out of thin air. With a mighty swing, noblepony bat away writhing green mass, using flat side of his blade to do so. Noblepony paused to catch his breath....

 

 

...only to notice that his duster started smoldering in places.

"Hah....hah....I guess..." he started, as emerald flames erupted around his hooves  "...I guess I can't hold this back anymore, huh?...." Squall mused to himself, as his mane and tail ignited as well. With a piercing scream, unicorn was consumed by the wide column of green fire, shooting from the ground high into the sky. Stallions cry soon died out, replaced by crackling of flames and embers. But before Adventivia could process that her opponent was apparently incinerated alive (provided she did not freak out over such large amounts of fire), a dark silhouette appeared among the flames.

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Adventivia was beside herself, figuratively speaking, out of confusion of what her next move should be and because her soul might as well have jumped from her body as soon as the Unicorn began screeching. She could hardly believe it. He'd seen her sneak attack coming a mile away! And what exactly did he mean when he said he could see all of her? Like, he could see through the ground? Those questions, however, were as likely to get asked as Adventivia's chance of winning this fight. "Just what kind of villain is he?" 

 

She hadn't even managed to grab hold of him while he was right in front of her! To make matters worse, there was far from enough energy for her to absorb from other sources to even the playing field. 'Sometimes it is wiser to run than to fight, but always remain calm, not just for yourself, but for those around you as well.' a teacher's lesson echoed in her head, unfortunately drowned out by her fear. She...........she didn't have a choice! She had to run! She looked around frantically, but where could she go?! He was so fast, no matter where she went he'd catch her! She fell to the ground, covering her face in hopelessness. There wasn't anything she could do, but she had to get away from this.........this '......monster......'

 

Was he like she'd been? Surely she couldn't have been the first, or the last, who misunderstood the difference between good and evil when they first started out. Could she even talk any sense into someone that looked like......that? She certainly wouldn't have when she was in a rage, but this seemed like her only hope right now. Still cowering, she began to speak. "Wh-why do you have to be evil?" She cried, "You don't have to be evil! I used to be bad too! Ma-maybe we're not so different! You can be good too! It's not as hard as it seems! We can be good together! W-w-w-we....." She began to babble. She had nothing left.

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While Adventivia was gripping with herself, the dark silhouette emerged from fiery pillar. The change that occurred to unicorn was astounding. Noblepony looked more like a living armor wrapped in black leather cloak then the pony. Now Squall looked like he was covered by a onyx plate, adorned with a 'bone' motifs - like ribs 'hugging' his midsection. Gone were most features on his now bald head. The only remaining ones were outline of his ears, the horn, now glowing venomous green. Swift's eye were now a monochromatic, the same green color of the flames behind him. Complementing the visage were the chains wrapped around his waist and front legs. Careful observation showed that they moved slightly, despite the fact that Squall was now standing still.

 

 

"What are you talking about child?" swordstallion spoke in inedibly low, reverberating voice. His weapon - now also transformed - was planted in the ground beside him. The flames around the weapon and behind him started to die out.  "It is YOU that had aided a great evil today!" Squall announced while pointing his hoof at the mare in accusative gesture.

 

"I am Blade Runner. The Spirit of Punishment and Hunter of the Damned. There are times when the condemned souls escape from shackles of their deserved punishment, or malevolent beings from other, dark planes of existence intrude on this realm. When that happens, it is I who is sent to deal with the issue, by the will of Lord's of Tartarus." Runner introduced himself. Blade Runner.....they were rumors among the students of the Academy. And urban legends about supernatural being that arrives on a flaming bike when dark arts are involved.

"I was hunting one of such demonic beings, one wearing mask of youth and innocence when you decided to get involved. Now it is loose once again, prolonging the horror that it inflicted upon this town." Spirit of Punishment explained, revealing the whole extend of what kind of situation Adventivia got herself into.

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