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6. BivouacThe little-used passing loop was almost overgrown; tall grass hid the tracks. A small makeshift train sat on the siding, concealed from possible eyes in the night sky by overhanging tree canopies. Under the foliage, a very few gas lamps and alicorn glows cast a minimal light for tasks that couldn’t—or shouldn’t—be put off until morning.
Physically and emotionally exhausted ponies sat or lay on the uphill embankment on the outside edge of the loop, between the track and the nearest trees. Some slept. Some murmured or whispered to each other. Guardsponies cleaned their rifle barrels of corrosive and obstructive black-powder fouling. A few who already had finished stood watch. A couple of trainponies did what they could to sweep out the shards of window glass, shattered by stray musket shots, covering the decks and benches of passenger cars. The engineer and her assistant inspected the little switcher loco
5. StandWith the possible exception of the Guard company, it was the first clear look anypony had at the mysterious enemy. The huge figures thundered along the road like the oversize gorillas their slate-gray bodies loosely resembled, maintaining an astonishing pace through sheer size. White ruffs of fur around their collars and along their otherwise whippetlike tails streamed in the wind of their passage; long dark faces seemed utterly impassive. Darker still were their belted coverall uniforms, reinforced with jacks and spaulders featuring the peculiar blue insigne of mirrored lightning bolts, and covered with crossed bandoliers of pouches for caps, powder, and bullets. The muzzle-loading rifled muskets they carried—many still slung, some being readied—were built to the same massive scale, crude but powerful.
They bore no banners and held no formation, instead rushing en masse toward the lines of ponies awaiting t
4. LegendsJust within the edge of the tangled forest, three equine forms lay on the reverse slope of a broad hill and peeked over the crest. Cuts and scrapes covered them; manes and tails were tangled and ragged. Even their coats, smudged and roughened, lacked the usual sleek luster of civilized ponies. A faint reek of stale sweat clung to their bodies, spiced with a whiff of smokeless powder on the pegasus mare. The Everfree Forest had not treated them kindly, though the two unicorns had insisted stoutly they got off lightly.
They spared scarcely a glance for the magnificent alpine panorama before them to the north, hazy with distance and heavy with evening shadows, the western ramparts of the mountain chain cleft by Canterlot’s pass. Instead their singular attention focused on the long narrow valley below that stretched east and west.
In a large clearing on the valley f
3. EverfreeThis chapter contains references to scenes from the Spring Breakdown trailer shown at SDCC 2018.
By the time a gingerly moving Rose found them again, Cook and Sunset had trampled down a spot out on the meadow and cobbled together a pup tent from the somewhat mismatched shelter halves found tied to the older pair’s transformed packs.
“How’re you feeling?” Sunset circled the tent—almost the only one visible amidst the tall wild grass—and eyed the limping pegasus solicitously.
“The doc said I’ll live, but I’m not thrilled about these . . . mud packs.” Rose looked down at her chest and opened her good wing, showing small splotches of a drying spackle-like substance covering her quill wounds.
“Don’t tell me, let me gues
2. FlightSunset squinted in concentration, her nose and the tip of her glowing alicorn nearly pressed against the all-but-opaque green glass; the latch inside the closed window fell and locked with a clunk. Her companions already were lifting their packs from the pile on the grass at the back of the tower, lobbed out the ground-floor window before the three of them followed.
Rose peered suspiciously and grumbled, “I suppose this is more of the portal’s doing.” Load vest and pack had become a harness bearing satchels in fore-and-aft pairs designed to rest against shoulders and haunches, leaving barrel and wings unobstructed; tie-downs held rolled gear along the spine and an extra pouch was clipped to the chest strap.
Cook glanced over as he worked his shoulders and hips. “That’s current Guard issue. State of the art for Equestria. You should be fla
1. PreparationsAn actinic glare abruptly flooded the expansive library from a flat upright ellipse, which then rippled and ejected first a small avalanche of packs and straps, then three flailing bodies, one after another, to bounce and slide across the polished-stone floor. With an oddly truncated whoosh the harsh light winked out, leaving the echoing room dim and quiet. For a long moment the only sounds were strained breathing and muffled grunts.
A pair of softer glows sputtered to life. “Sunset? Captain Brass?” Cook’s slightly breathless voice called out.
“Yeah,” Sunset called back. “It’s . . . darker in here than I expected.”
Rose’s contribution was a vigorous and inventive string of curses. “You didn’t tell me I’d need motocross ar
0. The graduate, the charge, and the captain“Sunset, slow down,” the masculine baritone interrupted firmly with a mix of exasperation and concern. “Now. Take a deep breath. Start at the beginning and go step by step, okay?”
The voice didn’t break in again through the ensuing explanation, but when the flood of words finally trickled into silence, a sigh was audible. “You’re right; that doesn’t sound good.” After a moment the speaker added with a glint of his normal humor, “You did the right thing getting ahold of me—but then, who else could you call about something like this? Listen, I need to fire off a flash alert and grab a few things, but after that I’ll head right down and meet you there.”
It took Sunset Shimmer’s trembling hand two tries to hit the disconnect button on her phone’s screen; the recipient number and legend Cookie Pusher disappeared. The young woman