by Colombiaguy

Chapter 13: Chapter 13- Mission is a GO!

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Video games are a pretty good way to simulate an adventure. Skyrim was always my favorite. You had a huge land to explore, evil to vanquish, and cool dragon shouts to learn. Plus there was the rag doll physics. God rag doll physics are hilarious! The thing that games like Skyrim can't simulate is what you'd actually be feeling while you were going through those caves, battling those dragons, or trekking through the lands. Right now, I was learning about that real fast. Nervousness, doubt, apprehension, fear, just to name a few. The trip from Canterlot wasn't so bad. We had taken a sky-carriage and were heading towards the village in question. I was pretty excited during the flight. The bat-pony guards pulling our carriage were wearing similar armor to the royal guard, but their colors were much darkers and they didn't have the legionnaire plum. Instead the plum had been replaced with a leathery fin that came over the crest of the helmet. The breast plate looked more ornate as well and the central symbol was of a crescent moon rather than the Celestia Sun. I couldn't help but stare at their wing at work as we flew and take notice of how they handled turns or turbulence. I'd keep it in mind if I ever got to control a pegasus or bat-pony. Riding with me was Night Glory and Shining Armor, both were just staring ahead and had the same determined look on their faces. The carriage itself wasn't very impressive. If I had to guess this was the carriage for more casual appearances or when Celestia wanted to bring private guests to the castle in a more discrete manner.

What was bugging me the most was nopony was saying a damn thing, only the wind spoke and he was getting pretty annoying to listen to. To make matters worse, my nerves were definitely starting to get the best of me and the silence wasn't helping. I wanted to think of anything other than the events to come, or at least get my focus on something to ease my mind. I needed to break the silence, and there's only one thing you can do when there's this kind of silence. I had to yell over the wind (noisy bastard),"So. Anyone else nervous about this? Please say yes, so I don't feel like the greenhorn here."

Shining and Night both snapped out of their stoic stances and give me their focus. Shining was first to speak with a bit of a chuckle, "We're all nervous, Dante. If it makes you feel better we can go over the details again."

I gave a sheepish smile and a nod. I realize this wasn't the most complicated plan but that didn't mean I was willing to goof up a simple detail.

According to Shining Armor, Night Glory and I were going to be dropped off about a mile and a half from the village, so that the carriage couldn't be spotted. We'd walk the rest of the way and start our investigation once we arrived in the village proper. Shining assured us (mostly me) that our backup would be waiting for our signal in case things went south. He also said that, should we need to make a getaway, we were to head to the forest to the west. Hearing the plan again did set me at ease, but apparently Fire Starter's heart didn't get the memo...wait, she's still dreaming, right? I did a quick mental check on my host's thoughts and HEYO! Ohoho okay... very good dream indeed. Going to keep that far out of my mind as possible. Private dream sexytimes need to stay private. It does explain the heart rate, though. I felt Fire Starter's face burning up and I guess Shining and Night did as well. "Are you okay? Your face looks like it's about to burst into flames" I heard Night comment with full concern.

I couldn't make eye contact. It's one thing to walk in on two people doing the sideways shimmy, but this was somepony's dream (which is the most private thing you can have) and...well...let's say Fire Starter has been reading Fifty Shades of Hay. "Yeah,everythingsfinesnoneedtoworryokaythankyou." I rattled off at near rapid speed and in a pitch that I'd only heard operatic singers reach. I was really hoping they didn't-

"Are you sure? You're really blushing and your eyes look like they're about to bust out of your head." Night decided to add, making the blush feel even worse.

I felt Fire's body hit the ground and I covered her face with her hooves. "Yes, I am fine...just please...do not ask about it." I said each word carefully, slowly, and as articulately as possible. Shining seemed to get that I didn't want to talk about it....Night on the other hoof,"Are you really sure? I don't want you losing it on the mission. Might want to get it off your chest before-"

I grabbed her with a tendril and pulled her in real close to explain why I didn't want to talk about it. I finished and Night was wearing a very similar blush to mine. I promptly picked her up and placed her back in her previous position. She didn't say another word the entire trip. Shining, after seeing the display, looked like he wanted to add something but a wiser mind prevailed and he kept his comments to himself.

It didn't take us much longer for us to arrive at the drop off zone, an open field full of wild flowers. My partner and I disembarked, Shining Armor saw us off. He wished us luck and warned us to be on guard just in case.With that said the carriage took off into the night, leaving the two of us alone. With a heavy sigh, I looked to Night and gestured toward the town. She gave a quick nod and we started our trek. The night air was cool and a light breeze helped carry the night across us. Aside from the breeze, the only other sound were the crickets playing to their heart's content. Looking up I could see a full moon just starting to crest the horizon. I wasn't sure what Equestria's celestial orbit was, but damn the moon looked enormous! I had to force myself to move, because if I didn't, I would have just sat in that field and stared at that moon all night.

We walked for a while before Night Glory added her voice to the sounds of the night, "I...uh...I'm sorry for prying earlier." She finished as her ears splayed back against her head. She sounded sincere and I couldn't fault her too much. She didn't know I could see thoughts or dreams. I waved a hoof dismissively at her, "Don't sweat it." I rubbed the back of Fire's neck just above where I was nestled. "I probably could have handled that a bit better. It was the first time I caught sight of someone else's dream while I was in control, and the first time I caught...that kind of dream."

Night looked me quizzically, "So, you can perceive thoughts and dreams? You don't really give your host a lot of privacy do you?"

I shrugged, "It kind of works both ways. With dreams, it seems like they're less aware of my thoughts and I'm less aware of my host's. So far, Fire Starter hasn't even noticed what I've been doing. I'm honestly not trying to draw too much attention. I'd rather not have her yelling at me while this is going on. I feel bad enough using her body without her consent. I'd rather not have her make it worse."

Night's quizzical look turned to a more confused one, "You really feel bad for her? Even after what she did? Why?"

I went to say something but the words died on the way up. Why did I feel bad for her? Shining said she was apologetic after a night in jail, but hell anyone would be. The prospect of banishment to the sun or moon is enough to make anyone change their tune. But for some reason, it didn't feel right. I wanted to at least be a bit peeved with her. I mean it's Princess Celestia, she had the voice of a mother and could make you feel at ease no matter what. She wasn't a tyrant, she wasn't harsh, and she wasn't cruel. She was a bit of a troll, but that's forgivable (after a bit of revenge). But according Shining Armor, Fire Starter had accused Celestia of killing her husband. That's way out of character for Celestia. Something wasn't adding up. I believe she would do anything for her husband (based on her dreams), but...something was just out of place. I couldn't figure out what, but I didn't have all the pieces I needed. I returned to my conversation with Night Glory, "I...don't know. Just....you ever feel like something was off, but you couldn't pinpoint what it was?"

Night tapped her chin in thought and mulled over my question. "Once or twice, I guess. But that's just a gut feeling. You don't have proof."

I had to concede to that, "Yeah, but think about it. Fire Starter claimed Princess Celestia killed her husband, then the next day she's remorseful. If she was really on a love fueled vengeance mission, wouldn't she still have been pissed the next day? And why oust her conspirators? Why not stay quiet and wait for them to try again? Then there's the biggest issue of all, why would her horseshoes be enchanted with a sleep spell, instead of something to help her break out or to ensure she could kill Celestia? There are just too many holes."

Night continued to mull over my words, she looked like she was trying to think of some counterpoints but was coming up short. Eventually she let out a sigh, and conceded to my logic, "Okay, okay, you've got some decent points. You sound like you could have been a decent lawyer."

I felt my pride swell a bit. Good to know some of that law school critical thinking was still useful for something. I let a sullen smile creep across my host's face, "Yeah, maybe I could have." I took a deep breath, and let it flow out. "Hopefully, we can get some answers at this village." Night gave an affirmative nod and the two of us continued on our way into the night.

It took us a couple more minutes to arrive at the outskirts of the village, but we could see it fully now. It was really small. From what I could see the layout was built in a circle. The village square was the center of the entire town with about eight homes built around it. Four of the homes looked to be two story buildings and the other four were simple one story buildings. Their design was very simple wooden houses with glass windows and wooden roofs. However, it was easy to tell something bad had happened here. Several of the buildings had large parts of their roofs missing or gone completely. The sides of some of the houses had large gashes slashed out of their sides in multiple places. Even the center of town was in a dilapidated state, the impressions of large paw prints were still evident and there were small mounds of displaced dirt scattered all around. I shuddered to think what the residents had gone through. I took those thoughts and shoved them out of my mind for the time being. I told Night that I was going to do a quick scan with my aura sight before we entered the village proper. She gave a nod and I went to work. With a bit of focus, I felt my host's eyes shift. A quick glance at Night, who now had a baby blue over glow, confirmed I had entered aura sight. I turned back to the town and looked at each individual building. After a careful scan, I saw nothing. The town was dead, with nary a soul in sight. I relayed the info to Night and we both made our way into the center of town. We started with the house to our left, a light blue two story building with most of the roof missing. The front door was mostly missing so it wasn't too hard to get in. The inside was still furnished with the basics: a couch, a few wooden chairs around the fireplace, and a carpet. Picture frames lined the walls, but they had at least an inch of dust covering them. There was a staircase leading upstairs and two doorways on the main floor. We decided to split up to check the house, I took the ground floor while Night took the second floor.

I checked around the foyer looking for anything out of place. The fireplace yielded nothing and despite my hopes for a secret button on the mantle, I found nothing. The furniture yielded nothing as well. A check of a kitchen showed little more than some really rotten fruit along with other spoiled food. The other doorway led to a small spare bedroom, the bed was still made and the pillows looked like they were still waiting for a head to fall on them. I did a quick check under the bed and a look at the around the room. Again, nothing. I returned to the foyer just in time to meet up with Night, she had had as much luck as I did. We did a final sweep around the building for a cellar, when we didn't find one we moved to the next building.

We encountered the same in the next building, a light green one story building. Part of the front of the home was missing but the supports seemed to still be intact. We gave the house the same treatment as the one before and came up with nothing. Besides the fact, that each house looked like it was vacated in a hurry there wasn't much to discover. As a matter of fact, in the next five buildings we found next to nothing. The last home was also our last hope. It was a simple one story building without a cellar. Night went to check the rooms while I check the foyer. Fireplace, nothing. Furniture, nothing. Kitchen, nothing. I was beside myself. My big chance to prove my worth and we'd come up short. I was frustrated to say the least. I was about to call for Night when I heard something that got my attention. I was in the center of the foyer on top of the carpet, when I heard the sound. I took a step back. *clop* Then I took a step forward. *Clop* A hollow spot? I jumped off the carpet,bent down, and yanked the carpet off its resting place. Sure enough, right in the middle of the floor was a hatch. Now, we had something. I called for Night and she quickly met up with me. Her eyes practically lit up when she saw the hatch. With a bit of magic the hatch came up and I was about to make my way down, when Night stopped me with her wing, "Wait!" She whispered. "Check with your other sight first. We don't know what's down there."

I could have slapped myself. I was about to walk into God knows what without checking for possible threats. Real smart, Dante. I swapped to Aura sight and did my check. I caught a glimpse of several auras, but something was off about them. Normally, an aura was as large as their owners, these were barely flickers. Like the last light of a dying flame, they were barely there. Then, there were two other auras, but these were much stronger. But there was something off about them too. They were both a vibrant neon green. That was new. I'd never seen two auras look alike. Maybe they were twins? Either way, we were going to encounter something. I warned Night of what I saw. She took a moment to think, she concluded it might be a good idea for her to go first. I didn't argue, she went down and I followed right behind her.

We made our way into the tunnel beneath the home. By the looks of things, it had been carved out by hoof and lead down to some unknown location. We were fortunate that the way was lined with lanterns, freshly lit lanterns. I kept my aura sight up as I followed behind Night. I was actually pretty grateful to be behind Night, I had been nervous when we had arrived. Now, I was sweating bullets. There was a group of ponies down here and our interaction was going to go down one of two ways: with Night and I getting in with these guys, or having to call in the cavalry. The only thing that was keeping me moving forward was Night leading the way. She was on high alert, while my sorry ass was jumping at every sound and shadow. The only problem was my jitteriness was annoying Night. After my umpteenth mini spook attack, she slapped me with her tail. Which, by the way, has some crazy power behind it. She rounded on me and held my host's head close to hers with her hooves. I was forced to look her dead in her eyes. Night addressed me in a calm even tone, "Look, I get you're nervous, but you need to calm down. If you keep freaking out like this, who ever is down here is gonna hear us and we're going to be in real trouble. I need you to trust that I can do my job. Okay?"

She definitely got me to focus, and her tone put me at ease for sure. That last part though really struck me. Her job was to protect me. Why was I so nervous anyway? Oh yeah, not my body. I'd prefer to return it in the same condition I got it in. But Night has a point, if I keep spazzing out I doubt that'll be possible. Time to put on my big boy britches and man the fuck up. I took a couple of deep breaths and leveled my gaze with Night's, "Ok, I trust you. Let's do this." Night released me and gave me a calm smile before turning and proceeding down the tunnel, with me behind her.

The tunnel went on for what seemed like forever. We had been walking for some time when Night stopped me. Her ears were pivoting like crazy, twitching left, then right, then both straight forward (rinse repeat). Now that I was paying attention I could see the auras from before minus the two neon green ones. Ok, that could be bad. However, something was still bugging me, there were about five auras ahead of us, but they were so small. Now that we were closer they only seemed about as big as basketballs. What had they been doing? I warned Night about the missing auras and we moved forward to the next bend in the tunnel. She told me to hold back while she checked ahead.

Night slowly inched forward to the bend in the tunnel and peaked around the corner. I heard an audible gasp, that caused me to investigate myself. I was stunned by what I saw. It was huge chamber, it had several small outcoves that were dimly lit by candle light. It reminded me of the chamber from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom minus the lava pit. What really got my attention were the six bodies in the center of the room: Two unicorns, a pegasus, two earth ponies, and one griffin. They all looked...emaciated. Like they had just been left to starve. What the hell is going on here? I thought this was rebellion to overthrow a monarchy, why do these guys look like they're half dead? Night did a quick check around the room, before she moved to check on the unfortunate souls. I wasn't to far behind her, mostly because that one lone griffin looked mighty familiar. Oddly enough, even with my aura sight active I couldn't see an aura on him. Did griffins not have magic? Guess not if they used runes, but are the runes magic? Eh, more questions, with no immediate answers. Regardless, this was the same griffin from the day of the assassination attempt, I'm sure of it...but he was in bad shape. He was looking old and worn before, but now...he was breathing raggedly and he looked like he was barely clinging onto consciousness. What muscle mass he may have had before had all but atrophied. Whether or not he orchestrated the assassination or not, I don't think he was gonna last much longer...unless.

"Night, I need a favor. I might be able to save this guy."

Night looked up from the pegasis she was checking on, before looking at the griffin, her eyes went wide, "Dante, you know who that is right?!"

I shook my head, much to my chagrin, I had never caught the griffin dignitary's name,"We never swapped pleasantries. I know he and Celestia were chatting the day of the assassination attempt. He's a big wig or something right?"

Night face hoofed, "Understatement of the century, dingus! That's Grif Steelwing! He's the dignitary who brokered peace between Dragons and Griffins! If it wasn't for him the Griffins and Dragons would still be going at it!"

Ok, my turn to be shocked. A dignitary who managed to bring peace between two warring nations. That's a big deal...but he may have been involved in the assassination attempt. I need to try and get him talking. "Ok, he's a very important griffin. Doesn't matter right now. He's on his last leg. I need you to watch Fire Starter's body. I'm gonna try and heal him."

My comment startled the bat-pony a bit, "What?! How? Do you know healing magic?"

"Nope, but I can do one better. I can give my host an advanced healing factor. It might be able to heal him or at least get some info from him"

Night looked impressed, "Well, hurry up these ponies aren't in as bad a shape as him. I'll keep an eye on Fire Starter."

I gave a final nod and I positioned Fire Starter's body on the ground before I slithered my way onto the griffin. The second I made a connection I could tell he was in bad shape. His heart rate was slow and every attempt to move was virtually futile. His muscles were so atrophied that he was literally not strong enough to move. As far as I could tell, he wasn't in pain, but he was extremely weak. His thoughts seemed to be focused on another griffin female, at least I'm sure she's female. Maybe it's his wife? Agh, whatever, I need answers! "Hey! Griff Steelwing, right?"

He spoke openly, but the words sounded weak and forced, "Ugh...yes...who *wheeze* are you? Where...are you?"

"I'm on the back of your head. I'm a Symbio, it's a thing we do. Listen, a few days ago you had a meeting with Princess Celestia. During that meeting, an orange mare tried to kill her with an anti-magic bolt. Were you a part of that? Did you help her?" I'll admit I probably shouldn't have channeled my inner Batman with my questioning, but damn it I've got too many questions and not a single answer.

Griff's thoughts shifted, more images of that female griffin, talk of hostages, and a plot. This didn't feel made up there were too many fine details. He was recalling the events that lead to this. What does this all mean? "Tricked...all of us..." He had to take a few deep breaths before continuing. "Yes...I...regret what I did,but...it does not...excuse my actions. They tricked us. Looked like...lovers or family...made us think...Celestia...was corrupt....harming others...made us believe...made us act. *Wheeze* Kept us so..They... could feed...off us." He was really struggling to breath now. Why wasn't he getting better? Was I doing something ... wait, did he say they were feeding off of them? Impersonating loved ones, possible mind control/manipulation, and feeding off the victims....Oh, fuck me sideways. If this is what I think this is...

"Listen, I'm trying to heal you but I don't think it's working. I want to help you, but you need to tell me something first. Who or what did this to you?"

He took a few breaths and swallowed before he confirmed what I suspected, "Change...lings"

Author's Notes:

OOOOOOOOO SNAP! It's about to get real! Whelp, still got some free time...let's go get working on that next chapter.

Next Chapter: Chapter 14- It just got real. Estimated time remaining: 6 Hours, 14 Minutes
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