Jokers and Rogues

by DocDelray

Chapter 1: Prologue

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“How is this my life?” Amber Shine asked herself in a huff.

Amber Shine was a young up and coming recruit of the Lunar Guard. Her fiery mane and tail for which she was named stood out brightly against her dull blue fur. Her long bat like wings were kept folded at her sides while her golden cat like eyes gave the world around her a dull stare. The body of this mare was one of taut and toned muscle that reflected a dedication to honing herself into a weapon. She was clad lightly with a simple shirt of body armor and metal horseshoes bearing the Equestrian Sun and Moon. As a yawn pushed itself free of her throat, she opened her mouth wide revealing her long pointed fangs while her tufted pointy ears fell back against her skull.

Between all the stories her father and grandfather had told her growing up, the comic books she'd read, and all the over the top recruitment posters, Amber had always thought that joining the Guard would be the adventure of a life time. She'd get to see the world, go to places that she'd only ever heard of in books and movies and live a life of excitement and intrigue... Instead, what she had was a night sitting behind a desk in the front lobby of the "greenhorn" princess's library.

With a frustrated sigh she let her forehead plop against the desktop in front of her. “This so freaking lame,” Amber grumbled out loud.

Her mind drifted back to several months ago when she had signed on with the Royal Guard. She’d thrown herself into the experience, heart and soul, pushing herself in everything she did. Some claimed she took things a bit too far but Amber believed otherwise. Yes, she’d had a few “accidents” on the job...Like the delegate from the Gryphon Empire that she’d been assigned to protect and had accidently crashed their carriage into a fountain. But that hadn’t been her fault! The route was supposed to have been cleared, and that mime had been suspicious looking. Or that cakewalk job where she was assigned to deliver an important package for Princess Celestia herself that somehow was opened and the contents eaten. She'd forgotten her coin purse at the barracks and didn't have money for lunch! What else was she supposed to eat? She had been starving! At least the Princess had been a lot more understanding than her commanding officer. But one of the biggest black marks on her still short record, the time she struck the ambassador from Saddle Arabia. Served him right with how familiar he'd gotten with her in the hallway.

While most ponies would have been thrown out on their flanks by now, Amber Shine had pleaded and begged for one, last chance. A chance that her CO reluctantly allowed the mare. He told her that this was her last chance, this one final assignment had to go without any kind of hitches or screw ups or she'd be drummed out of the Guard. It would make her the first in her line to ever be thrown out of the Royal Guard, a shame that would haunt her family for generations. It just didn't make this job any less boring.

"Would it've killed the LT to at least give me a partner for this, somepony to talk to while I'm here," Amber grumbled to the empty room. "Nope, just me, the musty tomes and princess bookworm or whatever her name is."

Amber cast an annoyed glance in the direction the alicorn in question had last been seen headed in. The thestral had tried to strike a conversation with the other mare, but the most she could seem to dislodge from her were a few to the point answers and the constant reminder of I'm afraid I have very important research to conduct. Granted, this particular mare had saved Equestria and probably the whole freaking world more than a few times, so maybe she really was working on something super important. That still did little to quell Amber's slowly growing annoyance with her less than engaging company. So instead she turned to the one bit of entertainment she'd managed to sneak in with her.

Amber slipped a hoof under her armor and fished around for a minute before pulling a comic book from under the protective layer. The cover depicted a large bipedal grey skinned creature that was littered with scars and strange tattoos clad in a simple loin cloth and hefted a big thick club upon its shoulders. Across the top of the cover page in bold stylized letters were written Krugknark the Barbarian and showed the creature known as Krugknark battling multi-headed hydra. Flipping open the illustration in her hooves, Amber settled in for what was sure to be a very long quiet night.

"Krugnark, you know how to freaking live," she moaned to herself. "Fighting monsters and evil sorcerers, never take any orders or do boring desk work."

Her supposed quiet night was brought to screeching halt when a shout rang out from deep within the aisles followed by a loud THUMP. Moving solely on instinct, Amber leapt to her hooves and made a b-line for the source of the noise. What she found though, was not what she'd been expecting.

It took her time to traverse the rows and rows of books that her alicorn charge had accumulated in such a short time. The span of pony knowledge was conveniently blocking Amber’s path and obstructing her ability to protect the Princess. After cutting through the history section she galloped onto the scene. A pile of knocked over books littered the floor just beneath a broken shelf. while standing at the center of it was a tall creature the stood on both of its hind legs. Its body was covered by dark clothing that hung somewhat loosely from its form with a hood and mask of bleached bone concealed his face. Beneath the dark clothing she could see hints of a toned muscular build that lacked any kind of curvature to it which made her assume this was possibly a male. At his feet was a large brown sack that contained something the was awkwardly shaped but a lock of violet mane told Amber exactly who was in that bag.

"Hold it right there, criminal scum!" Amber Shine roared at this mystery attacker.

"I don't have time to play with you, little girl," he hissed at her before grabbing the sack and swinging it like a bat.

Amber had been in mid-lunge when the bag struck her in the side with all the force its wielder could provide. She let out a pained yelp as she toppled into one of the bookshelves followed by a clatter of falling tomes and breaking wood. She was only stunned by this for a moment before her vision cleared enough to see her attacker pulling the shelf from the other side of the isle on top of her. The mare let several curses fly as she brought her forelimbs up to protect her face from the avalanche of reading material that fell upon her.

"I've heard tell that knowledge can be dangerous," the masked intruder said with a snort before turning to make his exit. He didn't make it far as a sharp pain shot through his left calf and bled into the rest of his leg. Casting his gaze downward, he saw the mare had managed to weasel her head free and sunk sharpened teeth into his leg. "Monstrous little freak!" he shouted at her before kicking the side of her head to free himself.

Amber’s mouth was awash with a mixture of both his blood and hers when the blow struck her hard. She cleared her head just in time to see him limping away, the bag slung over his shoulder and a trail of blood leaking from the hole in his leg. Amber Shine forced herself to rise back to her hooves and forcibly free herself from the book avalanche she’d been hit with. Once freed from her tomb of paper and ink, she spat out a mouth-full of blood and her fleeing opponent’s leg. With a smirk she wiped the blood from her chin and lips.

No longer hampered by the piles of written knowledge, Amber took off at a dead gallop through the darkened halls of the castle. The sharpened eyes of the thestral however could easily see where she was going and the trail of blood on the floor. Moreover, her keen sense of smell was tracking the scent of her prey while her long predatory ears scanned for his now hobbled steps.

“You can run, but you can’t hide from me,” she growled under her breath.

Luckily for her, the castle of her charge was one of the smallest and easiest to navigate, soon she could see her target just as he was making his escape. Amber watched as the masked figure touched the surface of a large ornate mirror. It began to glow and ripple like some kind of arcane pool of water and even more to her shock he was starting to move through it. Pouring every bit of speed she could find into her limbs and wings, Amber threw herself into the small of her opponent's back. He let out loud shout as the bag slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor behind them. The force of her blow was more than enough to send both of them hurtling forward through the magical mirror. Everything around her turned into a strange twisting twirling mass of color and light that blinded her until she and her enemy were spat out through another mirror. Amber's world continued to shift and wobble off kilter while she fought to keep herself on her hooves.

Her sharp eyes could see that they were in a small stone chamber that was dully light by several small braziers. Along the rough stone walls hung a number of charts and other strange drawings that depicted things beyond her current understanding. The scent of incense and other burnt offerings filled her nostrils filled her with an uneasy feeling as the more primal half of her mind began to identify what they came from.

Her attention quickly snapped to the figure beneath her as it began to stir. She turned the creature onto its back and quickly knocked the mask away so she could see its face. What she found was a mostly furless visage save for the stylized mustache just above his lip. Small blue eyes glared at her while a touch of sweat rolled down his exposed skin.

Putting the meat of her forelimb against his throat and applying just enough pressure to keep him worried she glared right back at him. "Who are you, why did you just try to kidnap one of the princesses!?"

"Because he was ordered to," a raspy weathered voice growls at her from a shadowed corner of the room.

As Amber turned to find this other culprit there is a flash of bright white light that filled her vision to a painful degree. A numbness filled her entire body and she soon found herself unable to keep her eyes from slipping shut. The last thing she felt before everything suddenly went black, was the cold uncaring embrace of the stone floor.

Next Chapter: On the other side Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 48 Minutes
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