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[Attack!] A Blow to the Heart of an Empire (Open)


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The clouds that had been advancing towards the Empire seemingly stopped just outside of the heart of the city, leaving half of the city in sunlight and the rest in shadow. The edge of the advancing cloudfront roiled in a light brown that covered everything inside, as if the sun was caught within and not allowing the rays to escape to the world beyond. It was a sight equal parts beautiful and puzzling. After all, this was the type of vision one might see at the start of the day but not one you expected to see up close and in such a huge and rolling series of concentrated clouds. It looked anything but natural and everyting that the weather teams would try to avoid making. A few looked up and wondered what they were and still others just marveled at the beauty, but nopony really looked into what it meant. Not that at this stage it would have mattered much. The decisions had already been made and the die cast.

Bright flashes from within like lightning and a booming sound that many misheard as thunder, even as weather pegasi looked at each other in alarm. A pause. Another flash, another boom. Then another. Then two. And then a barrage of sound and lights from within, finally grabbing the attention of those below. Each light struck now with a different hue but hedging towards a series of dark oranges and flashes of incomprehensible blue and white. The sound of booms, cracks, splintering of great wood, and retorts most couldn't place. Some could and guards and other knowledgeable ponies alike started to run about, adding to the confusion on the ground and in the sky. The lights and sounds continued to increase in pace and fury for a few more seconds until it was unending.

And then silence. For a few seconds there was blissful silence, long enough that a few ponies started to look down and wonder just what had been that light and sound show above. It was then that the true nature of the event started to reveal itself. Falling out of the cloudform was a large airship...from the Royal Equestrian Navy. The REN Marelia fell out of the sky in fire, giant pieces of wood falling faster and faster and cracking against buildings down below until the airship itself impacted in the lower city. It was followed by another. The REN Stalliongrad had been broken in half, the bow and stern falling separately. Down below ponies screamed and scrambled.

Then, oars pushed through the edge of the cloud. First the oars and then, broaching the edge of the clouds which started to vanish, the bow...of three viking caribou longships! With tapestries woven from the finest Whitescar materials and multi-colored clan symbol drawn shields on their sides, the longships flew gracefully and powerfully across the sky. A mighty horn blew and then two more joined in, a deep boom that rocketed out across the city and into the hearts and minds of anypony unlucky enough to hear.

The viking caribou were on the attack!



Even as the first pieces of wreckage fell onto the streets of the crystalline city, the ruling princess’s doom had already been decided. A deep rumbling shook the base of the Crystal Spire where the Crystal Heart stood and ceaselessly spun around, unmoved by the afflictions of the outside world. To Princess Cadence’s horror, magical whispers of crimson smoke materialized out of nowhere, circling around her at an ever-increasing rate. She tried to move outside of the cloud, but contact with the evil smoke resulted in a sensation of pain, causing the mare to recoil backwards. Before Cadence could formulate another escape plan, a bright flash of light enveloped her.


When the flash subsided, so did the smoke... leaving behind a blood-red crystal that completely encased Princess Cadence. Once the imprisoned alicorn realized her predicament, she immediately tried banging on the crystal wall, to no avail. Panic setting in, Cadence then tried casting a spell, only for it to be reflected backwards, punishing her with another stinging jolt. Now horrified by the prospect of no escape, the princess attempted to shout for help... at least that’s how it looked like to everypony else. Her voice rang loudly through the entrapping crystal for all to hear, but not clearly. No one could decipher her muddled screams, but that didn’t matter anyway. Not with harbingers of destruction coming right towards the Crystal Heart.


Those focused on their captive Crystal Princess would have raised their heads in alarm at the violent noises of collision swiftly coming their way. One of the caribou longships, bigger than the rest, deliberately crash landed into the main thoroughfare linking the Crystal Spire with the train station, ripping apart cobble street and light posts and booths alike. Yet like a carefully rehearsed maneuver, the dread longship skidded to a halt right next to the towering palace itself. To those unaccustomed to seeing an air vessel up close, the landed flagship appeared like a monstrosity, waiting to unleash its vicious cargo upon the hapless populace of the Empire.


And then it happened; the prow of the huge flagship opened upwards, revealing a maw of pure darkness. A magical force started levitating Cadence’s crystal towards the ship’s entrance. Out of the black came two furious red eyes, wreathed in shadow. Such terrible eyes were recognizable to any crystal pony, as they belonged to one being alone.


Their worst nightmare.....

”You cannot kill that which is already dead.” In a manner of speaking, the Dark One commanding the invasion forces “died” ages ago to achieve the unnatural power he now possessed. The power to cheat death. The world thought him gone forever, obliviated by an awesome magical power. They were all fools to no longer fear the Dark One. His return was nigh, and he would take back what was rightfully is; with fire and blood.


The Dark One was not alone on his quest for vengeance. Caribou warriors of Whitescar, eager for battle and plunder, flocked to his side en masse. Secret allies there also existed in the realms of ponydom, equines discontented with the rule of the alicorn princesses who longed for a new, more stable world order. It was these allies in the shadows who facilitated and accelerated the resurrection of the Dark One's... fortunes. They who bankrolled him. They who introduced him to the words “you cannot kill that which is already dead.”


Everything proceeded as planned. The entire invasion fleet pounced upon the jubilating crystal ponies by complete surprise. Chaos reigned in the city as caribou and other secret collaborators commenced their attack. From afar, the Dark One’s twisted magic subdued his foe Mi Amore Cadenza and locked her inside an impenetrable crystal shell. And once his flagship landed at the Crystal Spire’s very doorstep, it was he who first stepped out from the maw, flanked by heavily armored caribou wielding terrifying battle-axes.


The Dark One’s figure was unmistakable. The grey-coated body of a towering red-eyed stallion. His thick mane as dark as the starless night. Fangs protruding from his wicked smirk. A velvet robe fit for a Great Lord. The only thing missing was the curved horn, now just a stump from which evil spells still performed vile feats. But there was no mistaking the Dark One’s identity as he held Princess Cadence captive above him, and issued his first command to his equine thralls; “Kneel before your TRUE KING!”


King Sombra..... has returned.

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Why we never attend the normal events?

That what would Swift Squall would be thinking if he would be a easily startled.

Unfortunately for the invaders, he wasn't.

First two caribou that charged at the group fell lifeless when Squall cut them down them down with surprise draw attack. The third that with ax held high and roar jumped the kids. His battle song was cut short when Squall spun around, and attacker fell dead with dagger sticking from his throat.

"They after the Heart." nobelpony proclaimed before dodging the ax smash of another invader. He couldn't fight them. Not yet. Their numbers were overwhelming and they used unfamiliar fighting style. He will have to defend and dodge until he could analyze it enough and then find any weakness in it.

"You! Beside the Spire, what's the best fortified building in this city? Take the Heart and kids there." with ponies (and non-ponies) panicking, Squall was quick to take command pointing at the crystal guard that was standing next to the magical gem.

"I guess in the end it's just as you said Moto." Swift murmured as yet another viking fell under his blade. "....He may be dead, but it doesn't mean he's unbeatable."

The suitcase that Squall carried opened up, and among the chaos he was quick to suit his legs in the pieces of armor it contained. The rest of his body was unprotected but it was still better then nothing.

"They are strong but slow and clumsy. Those are still unexperienced fighters. Avoid trying to block or parry them, dodge and then counterstrike."

His advice was soon demonstrated when he did front flip jump over caribou that was about to cleave him, only for Swift to hit his head with butterfly kick, followed with impaling through the chest.

When the biggest longboat landed, swordpony felt the familiar chill. It was that feeling of mortal danger that he always got when he had a close call with Grim Pony. The aura of enmity that radiated from Sombra was almost overwhelming. Then was heard self gratifying order.

"Hmph...what an ego." Squall said aloud before spiting. King or not, immortal or not, this warlock here earned enemy in the form of Swift long ago.

Squall looked Dark King straight into the eyes. Villain here hurt mare that was most dear to him. Noblepony never thought that he will be able to settle this score, but now it appeared to be such day. Sombra will regret what he did to Fire, one way or other.

"....Captain Shining can you extend your protective magic? I believe it would be the due time." Swift asked , while doing the back flip to fall out of the way of deadly ax swing.

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Pathetic fools! One pony dared challenge the authority of King Sombra and his host? The warlord anticipated that his foes would instigate an initial act of defiance. Clearly the lot needed a reminder of why the Crystal Empire bent the knee to Sombra all those years ago, and the King knew exactly what would make the ponies cower where they stood.

The masses may not care for their own well-being, but if their beloved, defenseless ruler was in danger? Well, they’d then think twice before offering further resistance, would they? Without delay, King Sombra made use of his dreadful magic to electrocute the crystal imprisoning Princess Cadence, causing the mare to wither in excruciating pain. While the crystal itself prevented anypony from hearing intelligible words, it proved most effective in amplifying the sounds of tortured screaming for all to discern.

“Stand down NOW!” the evil king angrily bellowed even as he kept harming Cadence with magic electricity; “Or she’ll be destroyed.” King Sombra let off a satisfied smirk; an entire line of elite caribou guards stood between the crowd and Sombra, while a select few in the rear covered him with bows and arrows. Any reasonable pony would know that there was no possible way of getting through to Sombra before he killed his captive.

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Alexandrite Tilt's eyes widened in horror at the things she witnessed. Her day had been an excellent one, a Crystal Faire to be remembered, even though she was not jousting as was the norm come fairetime. She had spoken with her sovereigns, entertained and imparted wisdom to children and also spoken with a Miss Lilac Briolette, the beautiful dancer who made her heart pound like none other and been invited to a party at said mare's home. Alexandrite had been convinced nothing could spoil her fine mood, but she was very much wrong.

When it happened the first time, when Sombra descended upon them and callously disposed of their beloved Empress, there had been no preparing for it. it had been a cruel and a sudden blow, never before imagined for any of them. To see him appear there, for a second time, however, almost felt worse. Alexa had been sure those times were all past them. He had been eradicated, after all, reduced to dust by the power of the new princess and the crystal heart. The sinking feeling that came with seeing him again, it could just not be described.

She was not in time to react to what happened to her princess, and at the sight of Sombra realized she would not be able to get to her. Her mind instead turned toward the citizens and the Heart she was sworn to protect. A pony who seemed intent to fight the viking scourge shouted out to her, telling her to move the heart and take the children. Perhaps in most situations, this would be sound advice, but here it was flawed. "The Heart's magic can only filly the empire here in the plaza. If we move it, the empire will lose its protection and be beset by harsh winds and snow. No, we must all fight to protect it at all costs!" she shouted.

"Children, Miss Lilac, I would advise you stay safely behind me. I would not want to see harm come to any of you..." she said, not taking her eyes off Sombra and the threat before them all.

Just as Alexandrite said this, Sombra spoke again, going so far as to threaten Princess Cadance's life. "You blackhearted coward, Sombra! Unhoof our princess now!" Alexandrite shouted as she kept her lance pointed ahead, but did not act, fearful for what he might do. He wondered if he would recognize her after all this time, after being resurrected and maddened by his time spent as shadows. She mostly doubted it. She was little more than an insect he had once swatted callously away.
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The pulse of the crystal heart could be felt by Shining as the immediate threat vibrated throughout the environment around them. A nice day quickly turned into a lightning storm flooding the fair with crashing airships and an invasion from a fleet and army of warrior caribou. And above them all, his darkness so easily recognizable and distinct, Sombra commanding. "No. How?" Shining whispered to himself as the sound of Sombra's voice became the darkening ambiance felt across the land. With a quick turn, he shouted at the defensless ponies to take cover, and started motioning the emergency protocols towards his guardponies. This was a code red. Shining feared soon, it may be a code black.

Cadance found herself trapped in a dark red crystal casing. "Cadance!" Shining shouted as he met the crystal casing, not sure if his princess wife could hear him inside, he could barely hear her inside over the rising sound of violent roaring and dark shadow magic. Feeling defeated, Shining knew he had to continue with his commanding his guards to assemble. No drills or exercises could have prepared them for this, but all of that was beyond debating. It was time to protect the biggest asset to the Empire.

"Assemble around the crystal heart! Don't let any of them get near!" He shouted at his infantry, most of them wearing long spears, readied. Shining himself ditched his ceremonial sword and grabbed a more appropriate battle ready sword from one of his guard ponies. He looked ahead at Sombra, who seemed ready to defile everything the Empire stood for since his vanquishing. Shining started casting a basic protection spell at the request of a pony in the background. But, just before he was able to unleash the power on Sombra, the evil undead unicorn king threatened Princess Cadance's life if he did not stand down. A short moment of thought, followed by a realization of the situation at hoof. Shining killed his magic and his horn stopped glowing. He gave in to the commands, but he would make his intentions very clear. "If you hurt her, your existence will end. I will be sure of it." Shining's anger grew to new highs, his personality and all of his empire's livelihood at stake.


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The peryton's hooves met crystal as he began trotting down the road. Out in the distance was the familiar sight of the crystal tower. But when August cast his eyes further downward, he noticed various tents sprinkled throughout the area. Balloons, petting zoos, candy and jousting. How did he not realize today would be the crystal fair? Or right. He didn't care. August didn't keep track of that nonsense. What really caught his attention was the thick unnatural clouds rolling in from the distance. He caught sight of it while traveling by train and just had to get off at the next stop and check it out. He gazed up at the sky with a smirk on his face. The closer he got, the more unusual the clouds appeared. Hay, half the bucking city was painted in shadows. It's amazing all the little ponies below were so oblivious to it. That or willfully ignorant.

The clouds came alive with flashes of light and a low rumbling that rattled him deep within his chest. A storm huh? Maybe it was some kind of magical storm. Or maybe a beast straight out of tartarus was about to unleash total terror upon the citizens of the Crystal Empire. Only time would tell. One thing's for sure though. August was getting excited.

Hold up. What in the holy buck was that?

Just in the distance, the outline of a flaming airship flashed from behind the clouds just before it broke away, leaving a trail of flames and mist in it's wake. Chunks of wood rained down with a vengeance, followed by the ship itself. Buildings crumbled under it's mighty weight. The impact was like the loudest thunder he's ever heard. The entire ground rumbled under his hooves. Within seconds it became the bucking apocalypse! All the awestruck peryton could do for a moment was stand there with a wide grin on his face. Now we're talkin!

August broke into a full blown sprint towards the falling ship, dodging splinters of wood and pushing past the stampede of panicked ponies. He kept his eyes upwards. Something brought that ship down and he had to know what it was. Soon his curiosity was answered as two ships emerged from the clouds. Three deep booms from a horn echoed throughout the city. The crystal empire was under attack!

The larger ship crash landed right in front of the crystal tower, immediately marking it as August's destination. Soon enough, his agile legs had taken him to the heart of the city. August stepped under the castle, making sure to blend in among the fear stricken crowd as he observed. The massive flagship looked absolutely menacing. What he wouldn't give to get his hooves on one of those! And holy Celestia, none other than princess Cadence was trapped inside a crimson crystal. Oh ho ho ho man! They were capturing the Princess!? This was better than he expected.

One stallion in particular began cutting the caribou down with a formidable amount of brutal skill. August winced as the stallion unleashed blow after blow upon his enemies. Things were getting hairy now to say the least. He had to stay on his hooves or he was going to get his head cut off.

Better still was what happened next. Stepping from the monster ship, flanked by a couple of big horned bozos was somepony he never expected to see alive. Much less with his very own eyes. King. Bucking. Sombra.

“Kneel before your TRUE KING!”

It was admittedly foolish to put himself in such a dangerous situation for the sheer thrill of it. And incredibly stupid to smile like an idiot while the king of darkness demanded everypony to bow down but hay, it was just so bucking cool!

The stallion from earlier suggested a protection spell to Shining Armor just as he back flipped out of the way of an incoming axe. August couldn't help but scoff at the sight. Show off.

"Assemble around the crystal heart! Don't let any of them get near!" Shining armor announced as he encased everypony including him within a protection spell. August made sure to stick his tongue out at a Caribou as it tried to cut through the magical shell.

“Stand down NOW! Or she’ll be destroyed.”

Soon after the dark king made his threat, Shining had a change of heart and ended the spell. August looked back to the caribou he recently teased from behind the protection spell. It gripped it's battleaxe tighter and sent him a sinister smirk. Well, August didn't have much of a reason for retaliation. In fact, he wanted to make sure that axe wasn't going to end up in his buckin skull. So with a casual shrug, the peryton knelt before the evil king, trying his best not to grin.

He was gonna have some interesting stories to tell after this! Assuming he made it out alive of course but what the hay. Self preservation was overrated.

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As first, Pigpen was oblivious to the 'battle' going on around him, but it was his raccoon friend Rascal and his loyal swarm of flies who first alerted the shaggy, unkempt stallion to the danger and directed his attention towards the invading King Sombra and his new caribou allies. The smelly Earth Pony had known this time of danger before, during a Nightmare Night of long ago. This time, he was determined to make a real difference in the fight.

"Rascal, I love this Crystal Empire and I'm not about to surrender to this King Sombra character! Hop on my back, old pal, the first thing we need to do is get closer to the action without being spotted."

Pigpen began his trek, unknowingly, his galloping created a cloud of dirt and dust that made a natural 'cover' for his open field movements. Quickly, hiding behind pillars and posts, the shaggy, unkempt stallion started to make his stealthy journey towards the area where King Sombra and his caribou allies were attacking.

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Those eyes. Lilac had seen them before, red eyes peering out from the blackness. Every shred of happiness she had won that day felt as though it was melting out through her hooves and into the ground. She felt cold, small, and helpless. Everything was falling apart – ships burned and crashing, the Empire turning to rubble, the Spire assaulted, their new Princess swallowed by a villainous red crystal that shocked her body and set it ablaze with pain. Cadence was trying to say something, but the crystal would only let her subjects hear her screams.

And then there were those eyes. Old wounds were reopening and fear threatened to take Lilac in its horrid maw. She couldn’t pull her gaze away from Sombra, couldn’t move. She hardly registered the one foalish stallion who had already thrown himself into battle. Didn’t he know it was hopeless? Didn’t he know that Sombra’s darkness was absolute? The prima ballerina would never have said it herself, not before…but to come back after his last defeat? His power knew no bounds, it was clear…

Despair was just about to swallow the dancer, but the moment she felt her heart failing Alexandrite stepped in front of her, her countenance laced with grim determination. ‘Safely behind…?’ So she still meant to fight? Did she truly believe there was a chance? Lilac finally looked around, then, and took in the scene. Hopelessness lingered on the edges of everypony’s mind, waiting for a moment to strike: but it was held back. Ranks of the crystal guard, under Shining Armour’s command, gathered around the Heart. Even with his beloved encased in Sombra’s black magic, the Prince was not faltering. They were all ready to fight, so what was Lilac thinking, giving up so easily?

The dancer drew a deep breath and steadied herself, and just like that an anger and will the likes of which she had never known replaced the fear in her heart. Not entirely, no, but enough. It fuelled a desire to fight, to protect. She would not stand by meekly while better ponies stood at the ready to protect her home and her fellow crystal ponies.

“I’m sorry, Alexa, but I cannot simply hide behind you. I will be at your side, taking whatever action I can to help,” she said to the guardsmare as she drew close to where Shining Armour and his soldiers were protecting the Heart. She would not draw too close, so as not to interfere with their tactics or formations, but she would stand beside them. Dancers have strong legs and strong hearts, and Lilac Briolette was a prima ballerina. She would not back down. She would not hide.

The strength of the crystal ponies came from their own hearts and the Heart which kept their realm safe. It was fueled by harmony and happiness and love. Lilac caught Alexandrite’s eyes and flashed her the biggest smile she could muster. They all had to keep their spirits up. They would all get through this, and Lilac would make herself useful as best she could to see her Empire emerge from this nightmare victorious.

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In what seemed to be a flash, the clouds that were looming on the horizon were upon them. A hoarde of viking caribou lead by the evil King Sombra had overrun the faire and the Crystal Empire. Hugo was disgusted, appalled even! What a brutish display with out a hint of subtly or grace. The King took the Crystal princess and ensnared her, threatening torture. Oh no no no, Hugo could not have this, not at all. Not because he was against stealing or anything like that. That would be silly, he despised their methods, and for their methods he can only fight against them.

Bow? Did he seriously suggest that Hugo bow to him? Hugo had no investment other than image, which was important but more importantly he could never bow to a man such as that. He would rather hold his head high and be proud and stand firm. Hugo had to make a choice, stand against the king or fight the foot soldiers. "I appreciate your bravery, and it will be my honour to fight along side you. I must ask, you have faced this foe before, does he have a weakness? My abilities are at your disposal. I'm fairly adept at fencing and at stage magic, which of course includes illusions and escape arts." Hugo was being as modest as ever, as Marquis Larron, he would without a doubt be proud of his abilities and show off, but as Mssr LeBlanc, he had to stay in character, a brazen gentlemanly investor. Hugo removed his cane from his side and quickly parried a charging caribou. "I do believe our priorities are two fold. We must protect the crystal heart and save Princess Mi Amore Cadenza. I am not sure how I would fare against the king, but I would like to challenge him for his unseemly use of force on a peaceful event."

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There were times and places where the duty of a Stallion was clear. Such at time was this, for Earth Writer. He was no fighter, as were the guards, or even many of the bystanders. With a sword, the unicorn was hopeless. But with a pen, ah! With a pen, he dashed off a dispatch, not more than 250 words, with which to send the salient facts down south. When the guards ordered the foals and non-combatants behind, the reporter followed, leaning over to speak with the fastest-looking one in a hoarse whisper. "You stand the best chance of any of us as a courier. Take these pages, and make your way to the station. Find some way, any way, to get word back to Equestria about what's happening. If worst comes to worst... At least we can be avenged. Good luck."

So that was that. As for him, his part was to get the rest of the story, however terrible it might be. He'd been on the spot in the last major invasion as well; and his copy on that had elevated his ranks in the Chronicle. This would top it, though; either a tale of the common, civilized folk of all lands standing firm against an onslaught of darkness and barbarism... or the Last Stand of the Empire.

He noted all the events in his little book; the call to bow, the peryton who did, and all the rest who did not, from the Crystal Prince to a Prima Ballerina.

*We all might actually die.* No, it wasn't enough for him to just stand and watch. But what could he, no fighter, but a Bohemian, do? He looked back, to where the stage had been set up in preparation for festivities. How out-of-place it looked, a combination of all happy tools of music, from flugelhorns to-

Vinyl Scratch's Bass Cannon! Had she brought it? Could he even operate it if she did? No matter, it was hope, and heavy artillery. Neither ought to be despised in a war situation. As the pre-battle posturing lumbered to its inevitable collision, the unicorn dived backstage, hunting for the elusive secret weapon...

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Tehengu had been content to simply watch the goings on of the fair, not really in the mood to participate. That changed, however, when the fair was attacked by caribou. The griffon groaned from his spot, having fought caribou before during his time in the military. They were tough, every one of them difficult to take out. Luckily, he had brought his combat gear with him, as he had come here after looking for a job.

From his vantage point, he saw a hornless unicorn torturing what appeared to be the princess of the Crystal Empire, trapped inside a crystal prison of sorts. He sighed to himself, taking his bow off his back and drawing an arrow back, his training taking over as he aimed for the unicorn's head.

He didn't fire though, waiting for the right time before releasing his arrow. He couldn't hear anything being said, but he could see the whole scene at the Crystal Heart.

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King Sombra could feel the ponies’ anger. Their hatred. They were welcome to fume all they wanted; their collective hatred only fueled Sombra’s dark magic. And as it just so happened, the pony expressing the most fury was the one they called Shining Armor, the supposed paradigm of Equestrian chivalry who loved the weakling usurper Mi Amore Cadenza. Nonetheless, the boy knew better than to risk the safety of his beloved. As a gesture of good faith, the King ceased his electrical assault on Cadence, giving the bruised princess a vital reprieve from the torture.

“You have nothing to fear,” Sombra nonchalantly commenced his brand of aggressive negotiations; “I will return the princess you love without further harm. All I ask in return is that you first deliver to me... the Crysssstalll Hearrrrrrt.” The dark stallion visibly salivated over the prospect of reacquiring the most treasured relic of the Crystal Empire, the object that would ensure his complete and utter victory. “Give me the Heart fast enough, and I might even bring an end to the assault on this city. Tell me Prince Armor, is your defiance worth letting the rest of your subjects perish?”

Surely, Shining Armor must have enough knowledge of history to know the gruesome fate of cities who didn’t yield to caribou sieges. As he waited for a reply, King Sombra expressed his devilish amusement with a chilling laugh; “Eh eh heh ha haaaaaa.....”

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Alexandrite looked to Lilac as she spoke and came forward. She could see the little emotions running deep in her face. She had the same fear and also the same resolve about her that Alexa herself did. She supposed it would be burning in all of them of the empire in seeing this threat suddenly return. It should not truly surprise Alexandrite that even a crystal mare like Lilac would want to face whatever risks she may to protect the empire she loved. Lilac was beautiful and refined, but she was not weak of heart. Recognizing that, Alexandrite could only smile faintly her way.

"Your resolve is as inspiring as it is impressive, Miss Lilac," she said, nodding. "Seeing it now, I know there is no pony I would rather have at my side through this."

Her eyes went past Lilac to the face of the unscrupulous griffon who had accosted the royals and Lilac. Apparently even this unsavory character intended to fight in defense of the Heart and the empire. Was he perhaps more respectable than he appeared, or would it be all for show? Seeing him parry a strike with nothing more than a cane had her wondering it wasn't the former.

"His power is very real," said Alexa in response to the griffon's words. "Both times when he has been beaten now, it has taken a greater power still, first your royal sisters and then the Crystal Princess with the Heart. When we went up against him before, though our rebellion was meticulously planned and organized, we with our arms and armor were as if powerless against his wicked magic... but even so... we cannot lose faith!"

As Sombra gave his next ultimatum to the prince, Alexandrite looked to him. He knew the prince would love his wife above all else, but he hoped his sense would not be blinded to the point where he would start to consider obliging the fiend tyrant. "Your Majesty, we cannot give him the Heart! To do so would be the same as presenting him with the very empire itself! Without its magic, we are all lost! Everything would become as it was before!"
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Snips listened as Shining Armor described what it was like to be a Prince. To be honest, it didn't sound like a whole lot of fun to the colt. I mean, protecting ponies was great, but trying to protect an entire Empire of ponies? It sounded like a lot of work... He was much more enthusiastic when the Prince confirmed that, yes, he was Princess Twilight's brother. "Wow... so you, like, both got to be royalty? That's really cool!"

"Yep, me and my buddy Snails are both from Ponyville!" he said next, in answer to Shining's question. "We heard about the Crystal Fair from Spike, and got our parents to bring us!" He paused, taking an appraising look at the stallion. "So, do you, like, get to become an alicorn too?" he asked. "I mean, you're already a Prince and all." Becoming more animated, he asked, "What was it like growing up with Princess Twilight??"

Meanwhile, Snails was still frozen. He had never understood Snips' crush on Princess Twilight. Yeah, she was, like the world's greatest magic user, and Snails looked up to her a lot. She was very cool, but he just didn't like her that way. Now, looking upon Princess Cadance, he understood more. The pink alicorn before him was as close to perfect as any pony he'd ever seen.

When Cadance spoke to him, Snails felt like he was melting. Some part of his brain then realized that he was still staring. and he dropped down to his foreknee and bowed his head. "Um... I... I'm really sorry, yer Highness. It's an, uh, honor to meet you." he stuttered out. At a loss at what to say next, Snails stammered out, "I... yer mane... I mean your Empire!... is really pretty..."


Before either the prince or princess could respond, the sky over the city suddenly darkened. Both Snips and Snails stared upward as two airships suddenly fell out of the sky! While neither of them was particularly interested in the military, there was something about airships that just drew the attention of young colts. "Uh, Prince Shining, aren't those Equestrian ships??" Snips asked in shock, his eyes fixed on the falling debris.

Snails stared up as well, until the he felt something strange under his hooves. He looked back at the Princess to see her being encased in crystal!! The colt saw the panic on Cadance's face, and started banging his hooves on the unyielding song. "Princess? Princess!!" he shouted in vain.

Just then, a weird airship with oars appeared. The crystal entrapping Princess Cadance began levitating, and floated toward the ship. When a malevolent presence floated out of the airship, Snips reacted. "Snails!" he shouted. "Duck and cover! Grab the filly!"

Though reluctant to leave the Princess, Snails obeyed. If growing up in Ponyville taught you anything, it was how to act in weird emergencies! The two colts grabbed the little crown-thief filly, one of them under each of her forelegs, and ran away from the airship. The open plaza under the palace didn't offer a lot places to hide, but there were a few crystal benches set up for ponies to view the Heart. The pair dove behind one, pulling the filly with them.

The two then stared at the scene through the slats of the bench. A creepy looking dark unicorn had appeared out of the fog, flanked by some huge guys with antlers!

Staring, Snails asked "Who is that?!"

Frightened, Snips answered, "I... I think that's King Sombra!"

Just as scared, Snails replied "But... but King Sombra is gone, right?? Spike and Twilight and everyone said he was gone!"

They watched as crystal guards, including Alexandrite and Lilac both moved to protect the Crystal Heart, while Shining Armor confronted Sombra.

"Who are the guys with him?" Snips asked. "Moose?"

"No, I think they are Caribou!" Snails answered. Snips looked at him in surprise, and the taller colt said, "What? I know some stuff. There was a book on them in the library, next to a guide on identifying insects!"

In horror, they watched as Shining Armor dimmed his horn when Sombra threatened the Princess. Snails looked to his friend, and said, "What do we do now??"

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The first thing that popped up in the young mare’s mind was to immediately charge into the fray and start smacking her hooves on the strange cage that had formed itself around the princess of the Crystal Kingdom. But what sort of creature had managed to do such a thing? It was those black shadows again, just the sight of the inky darkness caused her body to freeze up in fear. Her bravery vanished, and instead a desire to flee and hide filled her very soul, but she could not! She felt her sister brush up against her as the chaos was unleashed. She was not alone this time. She could not abandon her sister, nor could she leave her stallion’s side. She would stay and fight, and defend the honor of the R.E.A! But first she needed to get her sister to safety.

“Please Miss Belle.”, during these situations, she found it wise to never call out one’s military or social ranking when the enemy was near, even in a whisper, which she spoke, “Please, get yourself to safety and take Wind with you.”, while a formidable spell-caster as the Duchess would be useful in such a situation, Fire Walker knew that both she and Swift Squall would be better suited against such foes. The older mare would be an ideal pony to help lead evacuations instead, and Fire trusted her oldest friend's mother a good deal.

“I can fight!”, the filly yelped as she was scooted towards Silver Belle, but was quickly hushed by her older sister. "I know you can, but you're better of helping getting others to safety.". She hated to see anypony in danger, especially the younger ones, as there were a good deal of kids in the area.

Once the foals and those unable to fight were taken to safety, Fire Walker was now ready to follow Captain Shining Armor’s orders and stood by the heart. She felt naked without her armor or trusty disarming daggers at her side, “Swifty, do you have anything I can use?”. Things were not going well. Sombra could easily destroy the princess, but if he got the heart, he could do far worse to the Crystal Kingdom, and even the Equestria itself. The First Lieutenant stood by and waited for further orders.

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When Shining was blasted with Sombra's sinister demand for the crystal heart, Shining didn't think for a moment of letting him get to the heart. To do so would eliminate any chance for defense against the evil undead king. Alexandrite would point it out. Shining nodded to her and all in agreement, seeing all the ponies and griffons standing side by side to honor the defense of the Empire. It was brought together not by command of the prince, but by their love for each other and their community. The heart, despite the attack, continued it's radiant spin. "You think we're foolish enough to deal with a dark unicorn king whose corruption is brought on by his own lack of tolerance of harmony? The heart is ours, and we will let it shine. We will not let you take it so you can cover its magic you cannot overcome!"

Shining turned around and looked at all the ponies, many of them now holding weapons, ready for a fight. "I don't think Sombra can touch us. As long as heart spins, the love we have that shines within keeps him at a distance. But these vikings are immune to the effects of the defense grid. We cannot let them infiltrate the crystal heart's pedestal and steal it. Defend it!" Shining shouted as Sombra's dark spirit brought a chilling wind around the ponies. "Defend it with your lives!"


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When Sombra started torturing Candace Swift Squall paused. What options did he had? He couldn't keep fighting in such condition - well Swift could always bluff that he didn't cared about her fate. Or better, threaten to destroy the Crystal Heart. The was a problem however that neither he knew if his blade could do it, and if it didn't Sombra could already know answer for that. Not to mention that it would be just an act of spite - essentially putting both sides in the losing situation. Seeing no alternative for now swordpony lowered his sword.

It was then when he was approached by Fire, who requested some weapon. Squall recalled that he indeed happened to have one.

"Here, your favorite." he said as he levitated a pair of punch daggers. As she grabbed them, the crimson mare could see that electrical discharges run around the length the bladed parts. That was some high quality stuff right there.

At this moment however, Dark King stopped his lighting torture. Only now noblepony noticed some movement at edge of his vision. His eyesight cough the glimpse of moving Pigpen, but thankfully his sunglasses hidden on what he was focusing.

Swift Squall once again weighted the options. What this Earth Pony hoped, or rather could do? Still, at the moment it was more or less the stalemate. Even if Sombra would...do the worst, he probably couldn't penetrate Shining magical defenses. At least not easily. There was also a possibility - one that Squall placed his hopes with - that some reinforcements could arrive. Either from outside or from other parts of the Empire. That brought the question, where was Princess Twilight? Count knew that she possessed exceptional mastery of the arcane. Could the worst happen during initial assault? Squall opted to not share those suspicions with others. Captain Armor spirits were already tattered as it is, and it wouldn't do good for other either. Regardless what was needed now was distraction and bidding for time. And he had an idea how to earn it.

Squall risen his now stained blade and pointed it at Sombra.

"Fearless or not poor choice in allies you made Sorcerer. I traveled far around the world and pawns you enlisted don't make for impressive display."

The tip of the sword moved away from the corrupt unicorn and started to run along the line of caribou.

"Is these the fear inspiring denizens of the Whitescar that have such fearsome reputation? The famous raiders who know no terror? I seen kittens who put more of the fight." swordpony turned his head towards lifeless bodies of invaders he dealt with.

"Or perhaps...one amongst you ranks would feel daring enough to prove me wrong?" Swift said what more or less was making a challenge.

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Well, aside from some dead caribou, the situation still seemed to be a bit of a stalemate. At least that dark pony had stopped his assault on the princess. Neither side seemed to be doing anything at this point aside from talking, and Tehengu didn't want to start anything off if it wasn't necessary. The griffon kept his bow drawn, the aim locked on the dark pony's head as he seemed to be talking with the defenders. There was nothing to be done but wait as he watched the events unfold. It was rather hard to know what was happening when he couldn't hear any of the words, but this dark pony and the caribou were attacking, and that was something that needed to stop.

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Hugo was told of the enemy and it was as bad as he feared, still he had to do something. If not the king... perhaps the heart? He had an idea but it probably would not be well received, well at least he didn't think so. After all, as much as it was a magic trick, it was also a trick he used to steal items by... A little bit of illusion and a little bit of imagination went a long way. Sombra would probably know better but the Caribou would not....

"You are indeed correct, he must not get the heart! And if what you say is true it is likely none of us have a chance against him directly... but..." Hugo paused for a moment "I may have a way I can be of assistance in protecting the heart without a fight... A little stage magic can go a long way," Hugo said with a wink. "Miss guard, I may need your help in relaying to those protecting the heart, what I am planning will require time and stealth, but the end result will be most disorienting to the enemy. With a few reflective gems I can make the heart seem to disappear. But naturally Mademoiselle it will remain. I shall be back to fight by your side again." Hugo said as he threw a small pellet to the ground that created a rather large cloud of smoke. When it cleared he was nowhere to be seen. Moving by the crystals that would hide him from the vision of the caribou he began to collect the most reflective crystals he could find. With those, he could pull off his greatest trick, making the most powerful artifact in the empire disappear in front of everypony's and every caribou's very eyes.

When he had what was necessary he threw another smoke bomb near the heart and quickly slipped through the caribou and ponies alike. He set up the crystals in such a way to reflect the light on the outside to make it appear as though the spinning gem of the empire was no longer there. He hoped that would be enough to deter the caribou for at least a while. Naturally he knew the ponies whom were protecting the gem would be thrown off at first as well, but hoped that the crystal ponies would know whether or not the gem was really still there or not. As quickly as he went in before the smoke cleared he made his way the same way he went in to return to the guard and rejoin the fight.

"My apologies Mlle. Guard and Mlle Briolette. The deed has been done and the crystal heart is no longer in view, once the smoke clears." Hugo once again took out his cane and assumed the typical en guard stance. He hoped that his actions to hide the heart in plain sight would not be ill met.

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The insolence of these miserable cretins! Brave, yes... but on the whole stupid. Unfortunately for King Sombra, his own dark magics were indeed subdued in close proximity to a charged Crystal Heart. He never would be relying so heavily on the viking caribou otherwise. But in turn, Sombra’s very presence also weakened the Heart’s own strength. Even now, the arctic winds that were normally kept at bay now begun to penetrate through the Empire’s barrier here and there. And on the borders of the city, ice irrevocably crept inwards.

Despite suffering reduced strength, a warlock of evil heart could still be very dangerous to contend with. King Sombra might not be able to advance any further personally without losing nearly all of his abilities, but the dark unicorn was very much capable of wielding his spellpower on his foes from afar. And the Evil King still retained one last bargaining chip encased in crystal, which as it so happened, just outlived its usefulness.

“If you will not submit,” growled Sombra; “Then you will all be DESTROYYYYYYED!!!” Without further delay, the King recommenced his electrocution of Mi Amore Cadenza, and this time he held nothing back. Sombra channeled all his hatred towards the imprisoning crystal, Tartarus-bent on adding the title “Princess-slayer” to his storied list of achievements. Hearing the shrieks of their tortured prisoner, the caribou warriors in the vanguard knew the order waiting for them.

King Sombra did not disappoint his host;
“Troops; ATTACK!” The chessboard was set, and the pawns of darkness initiated their first move. Each warrior in the vanguard has trained and fought nearly their entire lives in preparation for the imminent battle. They’ve all mastered the art of their weapons to perfection, knew how to counter the magical advantages held by ponies, and strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. Thus with a deafening warcry so loud it obscured the pained shrieks of an alicorn on the absolute brink, the caribou charged straight toward the equine defenders. Sombra expected that all resistance would collapse in the face of a full-scale frontal assault.

In the event that the ponies lasted for more than one minute, Sombra still had every reasonable confidence that he could permanently remove the usurper alicorn from his misery before someone could reach him in time. No force on earth now could save Princess Cadence, save that of Love’s Fury. For the King of Evil stood no hope of ever comprehending the deep magic powered by one’s Love for another.....

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Tehengu watched as another griffon did something with smoke and mirrors, literally in the case of smoke and almost so for mirrors, to make the heart vanish from sight. That was a neat trick there, but what was more important was that the dark unicorn had continued shocking the trapped alicorn, sending his troops in to attack the defenders. Well, it had started, now to do his part. Take out the leadership first. Tehengu took a moment to make sure his aim was true before releasing the arrow, sending it hurtling towards the dark unicorn's skull.

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Looked like he was in the clear. Now all he had to do was sit back and watch. August stood among the crowd, trying to look a least a little concerned. Everypony ceased their rebellion once the princess was being zapped by magic electricity. August couldn't lie. That looked like it hurt, and he couldn't help but feel a bit of sympathy for the captive. But what the hay could he do about it? He was just an observer, watching the events untold like the audience to a play. A bucking dangerous play, but one hay of an entertaining one as well. He hasn't seen danger and conflict like this in quite a while. Much less completely unprovoked by him.

Sombra promised to return Cadence if they surrendered the "Crysssstalll Hearrrrrrt." As he put it. While drooling in the process. Ew. Say it don't spray it. Didn't his mother teach him proper etiquette? Wow.... did this thing even have parents? Either way, it sounded like a good deal to him. They're differently going to surrender the heart. It's the only logical choice...

Oh. Everyone's standing together and refusing the dark king's offer. Shining Armor even gave a speech that's sure to get the guy's blood boiling.

"I don't think Sombra can touch us. As long as heart spins, the love we have that shines within keeps him at a distance. But these vikings are immune to the effects of the defense grid. We cannot let them infiltrate the crystal heart's pedestal and steal it. Defend it! Defend it with your lives!"

A battle cry rang out like a dragon's roar. Wow ho nelly. That sent Sombra into full attack mode. The red crystal zapped the princess harder than ever and the army caribou charged forward without relent. before he knew it, a battle axe swiped just inches away from his face.

"Woah there big guy. I'm not- whoa!" He dodged just in time to miss another swing. August backed up as the warrior edged closer. "Okay, I see you're not a listener..." His eyes darted around before he pointed behind the caribou. "Holy Tartarus! Better hope that dragon's on your side!" August bolted without looking back, feeling like his brilliant diversion served it's purpose. Luckily for the peryton, these caribou guys were relatively slow, and he was relatively fast. "Psh. I can see where I'm not welcomed." He said with a playful scoff.

August frolicked in the direction of the broken down ship that had previously fallen from the sky. Might be a good hideout location. Or it might have some shiny souvenirs waiting to be looted. Either way it was currently the place to go.


Everything happened so fast. It left Momo in a daze. Things went from getting better to getting a whole lot worse. The filly could hardly believe it was true. A ship fell from the sky and crashed into the city, and she could only watch in terror as Cadence was trapped in a red crystal. Then a red eyed stallion emerged from the ship. His very appearance sent chills down her spine.

Before she could fully collect her thoughts, Momo was being picked up and carried off. She initially struggled, thinking one of those big antler guys were kidnapping her. That was until she realized it was the two colts from earlier. They carried her away from the tower and dove under a bench. Momo could hardly believe what was happening. That scary pony was hurting the princess! What was going on?

She listened as the two colts went back and forth, learning that the scary pony's name was King Sombra.

"What do we do now??" The yellow colt asked.

Momo looked back to the poor princess trapped in that awful crystal. She couldn't just sit by and do nothing, could she?

“Troops; ATTACK!”

The caribou flooded the spire. All Momo could do was gasp as a battle unfolded before her eyes. Just minutes ago she there was a festival. Now it was an invasion! "What could we do?" She said. "Does Sombra have any weaknesses?"

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The Bass cannon itself was, in fact, rather easy to find. Woofers the size of wheelbarrows, with subwoofers even larger, are not easily concealed. What was more difficult was trying to figure out what wire connected with which magical energy storage crystal. Without Vinyl to help him, Earth Writer had to do the best he could. Fortunately, everything was color-coded for convenience.

After all the heavy lifting, it was finished. The unicorn mounted the turntables, taking bearings one last time to make sure that the speakers were aimed towards the Crystal Prison. Not that precision mattered so much, but it was best to maximize effectiveness.

His was one of only many plans, each of which was uncoordinated with each other. The Caribou might laugh at such as the charged... but first they'd have to stem the bleeding from their ears! Slipping the headphones over his ears, he selected a record at random marked with DJ-PON3's stage name. "And the Bass comes down... NOW!"

Immediately, the air was filled with wubs. The reporter's inexpert hooves played over the frequency adjusters, watching the Crystal Prison anxiously. It hurt vicariously to see Cadence tortured like that; he could only imagine what Shining Armor must feel like right now. But, he had to focus; his was one of the many defenses of the Crystal Hear-

"What, hang on, where did it go!?" He missed the illusion set-up, and the sight of the empty pedestal shook him. He had no idea what he was doing, really. Where was Vinyl!? He needed her help right now!

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This was bad... The caribou had them all surrounded, and Sombra was hitting Princess Cadance with some kind of spell! Snails' nerves seemed to be on fire. He wanted, more than anything, to run to the Princess, to aid her in some way! But still, he stayed in place. He concentrated on the marks on his flanks. They represented not only his love for mollusks, insects, and arachnids, but also his ability to think things through before acting. Granted, he didn't always live up to that part, but after Nightmare Moon, the ursa, Discord, and Tirek, he'd learned the hard way to not act rashly in situations like this.

Snips was also frozen, watching the drama play out before him. He'd managed to avoid Tirek's rampage simply by hiding beneath the barber shop, but there was no convenient cellar to run to here. The only thing that snapped him out of it was the filly's voice.

"Does Sombra have any weaknesses?"

"W-well..." he started, trying to remember the tale he'd heard. "The last time, the Crystal Heart beat him when Spike and Princess Cadance put the Crystal Heart back in its place. B-but he's standing right next the the Heart now!"

Snails stuck his tongue out of the side of his mouth, deep in thought. "Maybe... maybe he's not as powerful as he looks," he said, slowly, trying to work things out. "I mean, last time he almost took over all by himself, right? Now, all he's done is capture the Princess. He's not even fightin'!"

Snips then saw something odd out of the corner of his eye. Back near the heart, a sudden cloud of smoke had appeared, right near where the crystal mares they had met were standing. A familiar smell also met his nose. "Snails, look over there! Doesn't that look like one of our smoke bombs?"

"Hey, yeah!" Snails agreed. "Where'd that come from?" Both of the amateur magicians had used the bombs as distractions before. They were meant to draw attention, which meant that you had to look elsewhere to see was was being hidden. Their practiced eyes still only caught a few flashes of white, and some odd reflections. When the smoke cleared, a white griffon stood near the guards again, and the Heart... the Heart was gone!

In spite of everything, Snips couldn't help but be impressed. "That guy is good... I don't think Sombra saw anything!"

The two colts slipped down further behind the bench. "Ok, what kinda supplies we have?" Snips asked the other foals.

While neither colt had on full saddle bags, they did have smaller bit bags to buy things at the faire. Snails emptied his out, saying, "I've got... two smoke bombs, and some gum..."

Snips did likewise, announcing, "I've got a couple bottle rockets, my scissors, and a pack of cards." The scissors levitated up easily. Snips had an easier time using them in his magic than anything else.

Snails stuck his tongue out again, squeezing his eyes closed for a moment, before an idea came to mind. It was stupid. It was reckless. It was going to be awesome. He turned to the filly and asked, "You've still got that fishing pole from before, right?"

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Well, so much for buying more time. Apparently Sombra was as much no-nonsense as both Squall heard, and the little book now hidden in his duster presented him.

"Compensating for something?" noblepony snarked at Dark King hammy words but it wasn't time for too much sense of humor.

Recognizing the threat he presented - and perhaps trying to make up for their wounded pride - unicorn was ganged up by four of the caribou at once.

Just for their initial movements Swift could tell that they were better, more skilled, disciplined. Swordpony switched his style, eye feeding acrobatics would not help him much now, he needed to focus more on the hoofwork, maneuvering his foes in such way so he wouldn't need to deal with more then one at the time. Indeed he needed to conserve his energy for those more demanding opponents.

To those who had time to observe Squall movements appeared almost dancelike. Jabs, parries and small cuts - so much different then his previous attacks.

Moving around the columns, overturned food carts, and bodies of already perished Squall managed to hold them off. Their large bodies and weapons that required a much space to use also worked in his favor - unlike him, they had to be wary to not strike each other.

"You know Moto..." stallion said as his sword intercepted the trajectory of an ax swing, and changed it in such way it disarmed the other viking.

"I planned resort vacation for us in Gallopocus. But taking this into consideration and knowing our luck...." unicorn sidestepped another, vertical smash. "...It would be attacked by south seas pirates, kraken or other unpleasantness." he finished.

Too bad! Swift Squall immersed himself in small talk too much and as such a first solid hit was scored on him. An armored caribou hoof smashed him straight into face, and count was send flying.

Unicorn slowly gathered himself up - invaders physical strength was so impressive that this direct blow to the head made him stunned for a moment. Luckily it also made much distance between him and the quartet that he was engaging.

"I am....fine. I am fine." Squall assured his no doubt worried sweetheart, while discarding his now broken sunglasses. "I just got sloppy. Now I see that I was neglecting my training." he confessed to Fire while wiping his now bleeding temple. At the same time he started to take off his duster. It provided zero protection, and getting rid of it denied his foes a grabbing point.

Speaking of foes one of the four decided it was delighted time to finish Squall off. He got face full of trench coat for his greedy effort, when unicorn thrown his now discarded clothing straight at his head, blinding him. Ax missed and struck floor just next to them.

"Now!" noblepony growled. Fire favorite punch daggers - the weapon she specialized with - were ideal for parring and disarming. Right now winged mare pinned down viking still stuck weapon, leaving him open. Squall didn't wasted any time. He reached with his magic and unmistakable crunch was heard, and the invader fell down with broken neck.

Unicorn shook off his dizziness and grabbed his weapon, along with the other sword laying on the floor. Speeding to once again clash with the remaining trio, Swift heard something about the dragon. The three caribou turned their heads towards the direction shout was coming from. Seeing the moment of weakness, Squall knocked them down with telekinetic push and leaped away. Viking that peryton tricked was distracted for one second too many, and Swift wasn't shy in taking a cheap shot.

Dual swords moved around his neck in scissor like maneuver and the viking was deallocated.

As he take a sharp turn, ready to reengage the three remaining vikings who were after him, Squall and August eyes met.

Time seemed to slow down as unicorn shot the peryton an extremely distasteful glare. He did recognize him as the one who bowed to the Sombra. Right now however as much as swordpony wanted to deck this slimy rat out there was other things to worry about. Namely the caribou that now were much more careful, and started to push Swift to defensive again - despite the dual blades - in coordinated assault. Squall was out of shape and he started to tire out.

"Go, Captain Armor! Only you can do it!" called out the struggling swordpony, as he did his best to provide the clear path.

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