© 2004 Stratadrake/Draconus of TWZ
(Original Draft: 2-10-2004)
Merely a few seconds after Cloud, Lockheart, and Berett had begun swinging down from the Seventh District pillar control station, the platform exploded. Chains of embedded explosives buried into the pillar exploded in sequence as they flew over buildings and the upper Seventh District began to sag. All lights of the upper Seventh District, both above and on its underside, fizzled and went out as the Seventh District plate snapped free of its power conduits, catwalks and other metal scraps breaking off from its underside amid ear-splitting metal-against-metal scraping sounds ringing out. Its secondary supports stretched, a wave of sparks erupted from the contours of the upper Seventh District as they buckled and snapped. Then the Seventh District tore loose from its neighboring districts, and everything was silent.
Cloud, Lockheart, and Berett came to a rather rough landing next to the old Sixth District playground as the Seventh District began descending, tearing away the railroads connecting the upper and lower levels of Midnight City in the process. Despite that the playground itself would remain untouched by the falling District, Cloud, Berett, and Lockheart knew they would be in danger from other falling debris. They scattered to the south and east, looking for any safe place to wait out the disaster.
As the plate approached, a strong gust of wind kicked up in the area, blowing all lighter away and out of the Seventh District. Lightweight metal scraps turned into high-speed missiles, impaling themselves in the ground, other piles of scrap, and nearby buildings. Then, the ground shook with such unimaginable force as the plate, in a singular act stamped out all life from the Seventh District Slumps.
It was impossible to hear anything for the next several minutes, nor see anything due to the immense cloud of dust forced out into neighboring districts.
"Is... everyone . . . okay???"
Cloud picked himself out of a pile of thrown debris and looked around. Most of the structures in the old playground had been pincushioned by debris and overturned by the blast. "Berett... Lockheart... where are you!?"
Berett was not too far off, standing next to a large slab of metal blocking what previously was the gate to the Seventh District Slumps, silent but tensed. There was a rustling noise to Cloud's side as Lockheart unburied herself from another pile of scrap.
Cloud sighed in relief. "Good, at least we're okay...."
"I don't know," Lockheart replied. "What about Berett?"
Cloud walked over to Berett. "Hey, Berett...."
"Biggs.... Wedge...," Berett growled. "Jess...."
"Berett?" Cloud asked.
"LEAVE ME ALONE!" Berett snapped back, whirling around and kicking Cloud aside. "WHY!? Why the hell did the Rin Sha have to do that!? ...Jess...."
"Berett," Lockheart volunteered, trying to calm him down. "Let's go see Pearline...."
Suddenly it occured to her, that she may have said something unwise. Berett stopped for a momemt. "...Pearline? NO! NOT HER TOO!! PEARLINE--!!" Berett screamed at, then began kicking the junk.
"Berett--?" Lockheart shouted, standing a safe distance away herself.
"DAMN YOU RIN SHA!!" Berett yelled, kicking the metal slab in front of him. "Taking Jess, Biggs, Wedge... but no, you CAN'T TAKE PEARLINE TOO!!!" Berett unsheathed his laser and began firing supercharged bursts into the junk.
"Berett, stop!" Cloud asked.
"DAMN IT!!" Berett shook out, soon depleting his laser of its current charge and then resorting to kicking to junk again.
"Please, Berett, before you hurt yourself!" Lockheart tried saying, but Berett wasn't listening.
"What the hell difference does it make?!?!" Berett exploded back, almost in tears. "Damn murderers!! Destroy an entire District just to get to us?!? Why?? P-E-A-R-L-I-N-E-!-!"
"Shut UP!!" Lockheart yelled back at Berett. "Listen! I think Pearline's still alive!"
"Wha...?" Berett huffed, pausing.
"I asked Aeris if she could get Pearline somewhere safe..."
"Air-who? Was that the yunie the Rin Sha got their damn hands on?!?"
Lockheart nodded. "But before they left, she said something about 'Don't worry, she's safe'. I believe she was referring to Pearline...."
"P-pearline's alive...?" Berett gasped. "...Really?"
"Yeah, I think so," Lockheart said. "Right, Cloud?"
Lockheart looked around but didn't see Cloud anywhere. "Cloud??"
Lockheart and Berett ran to the south towards the ruined inter-district highway and caught up with Cloud in no time. "Cloud, where are you going?"
Cloud stopped and looked back at them. "...I'm going to Aeris's house. Her mom... has got to be worried about her by now."
"You know where she lives??" Lockheart asked. "I bet Pearline's there! Lead the way!"
Cloud led them back through the maze of the broken highway towards the Fifth District Slumps and Aeris's house. Mira greeted Cloud as they approached the front door. "Cloud, ...right?"
"Yes. Is a little pony named Pearline here?"
Mira nodded. "Yes. Come on in...," Mira answered, welcoming them in. Cloud and Lockheart sat down in the front room of the house.
"Where's Pearline??" Berett insisted.
"She's upstairs, sleeping," Mira answered. Berett immediately rushed past her and up the stairs. When it was quiet again, they could almost hear something like crying from upstairs.
"So, you've come because of Aeris, right?" Mira asked.
Cloud nodded. "The Rin Sha have her."
"Yes," Mira said. "I know. A little while ago she dropped by with that younger pony. She wanted to leave again, then Tsing found her."
"Tsing. He's in charge of the Rin Sha Lurks."
"I see...," Cloud mused, leaning back. "Tell me one thing. They kept calling her an 'ancient' pony. Do you have any idea what--"
"Yes, I do," Mira interrupted. "Aeris is a member of the ancient pony tribes. The last member."
"But, if that's so," Lockheart inquired. "You're her mother, right? Aren't you an ancient pony too, then?"
"Great rainbow, no," Mira laughed. "It's been about fifteen years since that day... my husband was in a Rin Sha military unit, away on assignment. I received a letter from him saying he would be coming home on leave, so I waited at the station to greet him. But he never came. Day after day, I hoped to see him arriving from the train, but it never happened. I would wonder, did something happen to him? No, they probably just cancelled his leave again.
"But then... one night, after the last train had come, I saw this unicorn lying at the station with a very young pony next to her. She was bleeding pretty badly. When she saw me, she asked me to take her young child -- Aeris, and to keep her safe.
"They say that sort of thing happened often during the Rin Sha's wars. But I agreed to help her; my husband wasn't coming back, and we had no children of our own. And you know, Aeris loved to talk. I couldn't shut her up one bit. She would talk about things like laboratories and snow, and that her had.... how did she put it...? Yes. Her mother had reunited with the Land, or something, and she didn't miss her that much."
"And what next?" Lockheart asked.
"We became close very quickly. Then one day, out of the blue, she said that my husband had... reunited with the Land too, and that I shouldn't cry over it. I didn't have any idea what she was talking about. She was pretty mysterious at times. But the day after, when I was sorting through the mail, I found a letter from the Rin Sha military. My husband... he had been killed in one of their battles. He would never be coming home again."
"About then I realized Aeris was something special. But it wasn't until years later, when Tsing of the Lurks came knocking, that I discovered why. He insisted that I hand 'the Ancient pony' over to them, because she of some special blood and they needed her to locate something called a Promised Land.
"You should have seen it," Mira chuckled. "When they tried taking her by force, 'poof!' -- she just winked out of there. The look of surprise on Tsing's face . . . he had his guards search the entire house, and they found not a trace. Wherever Aeris winked to, she did a good job of it."
"And they haven't been able to catch her until now...?" Cloud asked.
Mira nodded. "Yes. The Lurks ambushed her just as she was leaving a little while ago. He bound her in metal cuffs and a leash, just in case she might try escaping again. They knew it was the only way they could guarantee to capture a unicorn."
"Tired?" Mira asked.
"A little," Cloud answered. "It's been a long day."
"Why don't you stay the night? It's getting pretty late...."
"Thanks!" Lockheart answered. "We used to live in the Seventh District, and it's not there anymore."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Mira said. "But there's plenty of room upstairs. Get some rest."
The ancient Ponies... yes. The rightful heirs to this Land...
You're pretty worn out; get some rest. You'll need your strength tomorrow.
"What do you care?"
Don't worry about me. But hasn't it been a while since you've slept in a bed like this?
"Well, I guess...."
Yeah, ever since that time. You remember that time, don't you?
That's right. You were leaving for the City. She was so worried....
"But I knew I was going to be okay."
Did you? There are so many dangers in a large City; she hoped you could find a girlfriend. One who could help and take care of you....
"But I didn't need one. Not then, not now. I can take care of myself, you know."
Someone like Aeris....
Just get some rest. Sunrise is in a few more hours.
"Yo Cloud!" Berett announced, shaking Cloud out of slumber.
"Hhuh?" Cloud murmured.
"Time to get up!" Berett said. "We've got a big plan for today, no time to lose! So shake a hoof and hop out of bed, why don'cha?"
Cloud shook his head, then stood up and stretched. "Plan?"
"Yeah. Tell y'all about it downstairs. Now git!"
Cloud bustled out of the room and down the stairs, followed by Berett. Lockheart and Pearline were sitting down next to the fireplace, and Mira was cooking some breakfast.
"Al'right...." Berett said. "Those damn suits upstairs almost smashed us yesterday. It's high time we strike back, and this time we're goin' for the big one!"
"What?" Cloud inquired.
"The Rin Sha are tryin' to cover it up by sayin' we blew up the pillar. Damn liars to the end. Them evil ponies done nothin' but drain the Land and fill their pockets with silver in the time. But last night was the last straw! We ain't taking no more o' this CRAP!"
"None o' the trains are working todays, because Seventh District took out half the tracks on its way down. But if we're lucky, we might jus' find some way to climb up. Might even make it as far as their HQ. And then -- we're taking them down!"
"What next?" Cloud asked. "Assuming there is a way to climb up there, once we reach the top, how do we get in? What do we do once we're inside? We're more likely to get caught than anything else...."
"Well... truth is, I haven't really thought about it that far," Berett said. "But we can fix that later! We can't jus' stand around waitin' for their next disaster to happen. By then it might be too late! We gotta act, and we gotta act now!"
"Which means you're leaving?" Mira interjected as she set some bowls of hot cereal down on the table for everyone. "What about Pearline?"
"I hate ta ask ya to do this, but could you look after her for awhiles? Damn I hate leavin' her. But ya gotta understand, we can't just sit aside while the Rin Sha kill off this Land. Gotta go do somethin' about it, we gotta keep fightin'."
"I understand," Mira answered. "My husband used to say something like that all the time when he had to leave. It's not a problem. I can look after her for awhile."
"Right. Cloud you wanna get Aeris back, me I wanna kick the Rin Sha off of their Plate for good. So are we all ready?"
"You know, Daddy," Pearline began. "Aeris was really cool. She was asking me all about Cloud last night. I think she likes him!"
"Whatever," Cloud shrugged. "It's time to get back at the Rin Sha, isn't it?"
After finishing their breakfast and bidding good-bye to Aeris and Pearline, Cloud led the way through the Fifth District Slumps, the winding path through the broken inter-district highway, and to the Sixth District playground. Berett could hardly stand seeing the destruction again. He looked up at the piles of junk. "Too high. Ain't no way we can climb up here...."
Cloud noticed some commotion over to the northeast. "Looks like something's going on in Wall Mart. Let's check it out."
The three of them followed the noise. A small group of kids were chattering wildly amongst themselves, about something really cool by the Seventh District. They practically pulled their parents northwards through the streets of Wall Mart to go show them; Cloud, Lockheart and Berett followed behind curiously.
At the northern edge of Wall Mart they found a large pile of debris from Seventh District where Baron von Borneo's manor once stood, and about half a dozen ponies were standing outside, just viewing the destruction. It couldn't be said whether the Baron was in the manor when it was crushed, although both Cloud and Lockheart hoped he was. A long metal cable hung down from one steep slope of metal junk, and a few ponies could be seen about twenty feet upwards on some blocks of debris.
"How high up do you think that goes?" Berett asked.
"I don't know. Look at the way it fell," Cloud answered, pointing to broken train-cars and railroad tracks mixed into the upper portions of debris. "It might just lead to the top..."
"...and the Rin Sha HQ!" Berett said. "That looks like a wire of hope to me!"
Cloud and Lockheart both stared at Berett as if he had just said he was going to join the Rin Sha Stallions or something.
"Okay, so I'm no good at analogies," Berett admitted. "But it'll get us up there, right?"
"Then let's go," Cloud volunteered, leading the way through the group of bystanders towards the wall. Cloud grabbed ahold of the wire and began climbing up the slope. Berett and Lockheart both followed behind.
In a minute they arrived at the top of the cable and could see the devastation. What was once the Upper Seventh District was now in no better shape than the Slumps it had fallen upon. Every building was shattered. All vehicles smashed. Out-of-control fires raged sparsely across it. Underneath all lay a subtle smell of death. There must have been hundreds of Ponies on both sides of the Seventh District when it fell.
To the right was a torn railroad track, hanging at a steep angle, to such a point where it could be considered a ladder. Cloud took careful foothold as he led their way upwards to its top. From here, Cloud could see many fallen metal beams forming a loose bridge to the other side, and one at a time they crossed carefully. They arrived at another set of bent and torn railroad tracks leading farther up, and scaled it.
By now, as they paused to catch their breath, they discovered an unparalelled view of the devastated Seventh District. One could almost see where its streets once stopped and buildings began, were it not for all the smoke mingling with Midnight City's usual layer of pollution.
After a few minutes of rest they continued their ascent through the broken railroad tracks and other metal debris. Soon they would arrive at the front doorsteps of the towering Rin Sha Headquarters. And there would be no turning back.