The Order of the Stick: Utterly Dwarfed
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    Default Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Sniper comes to and finds himself dressed in a tux and standing at the front door to an old-world hotel of the finest caliber. The carpet is plush and red, the tile is marble, the desk real wood, and the luggage carts made from actual brass. Yet despite the plush decor that even Rarity would approve of, everything seems off. The lights are a shade too dim. Not a soul is in sight. A grandfather clock ticks away in the corner, the only sound in the oppressive silence. The windows, including those behind him, show nothing but inky black.

    The bell rings, a pure and high note. Rem now stands behind the receptionist desk, dressed to the nines in an employee's outfit. "You must be the new reservation," she says with a playful tone, "Lt. Longshot now, is it?" She gestures to the empty lobby. "I was going to fill the place with every version of you inside your head, but it seems there's just one now. Congratulations on that."

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Longshot props a foreleg on the counter and quietly wills his bum wing back into its pristine state.

    "Thank you. Although most of the credit goes to my counselor. Maybe you've heard of her? She's about yea high." He raises a hoof to Rem's present height. "has a good smile and a great heart. And a wicked sense of humor."

    He draws the moment out before breaking away to look at his surroundings. Realization manifests as a frown.

    "It was that bad." Statement, not question.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Rem giggles. "Well, I'll have to meet her someday. She sounds like a delight." Her eyes sparkle and a warm smile appears on her face, a nice one this time. With her mane pulled back and styled into some semblance of order and a mouth full of normal teeth, she looks quite pretty. The uniform suits her well too, accentuating without flaunting her chosen form.

    "It was pretty bad," she admits with a frown, "But things are looking up now. I do still have plenty of material to work through. With that said..." She steps from behind the counter. "Would you care to follow me to your room for this evening?"

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    The question was innocuously ominous enough to spark dread in the back of his mind. But there was nowhere to go but forward. Somewhat related to which was the question of whether the others knew how bad his mind was and kept him around anyway or were altogether unaware. Well, either way, had they not done so then he probably wouldn't have started a recovery so it was ending well. It wasn't worth further consideration.

    There were also a whole new host of fears for Rem's enjoyment, one of the chief ones being his recent streak of failure. There was a growing worry that he'd have to revert back to his old ways to maintain his effectiveness on mission. But that was a discussion for another time and place.

    "Of course." Longshot smiles. "Lead on."

    He moves to follow Rem and asks: "Do you mind if I ask a question, Rem? What is it that you want out of life? Outside of the obvious like getting free of the pedestal, I mean. What are you after long term?"

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    “As you command,” Rem says with a small smile. She takes the lead, moving with long, graceful strides, almost supernaturally slow. Her hooves make no sound on the carpet, not even a swish.

    She tilts her head to the side a bit. “I don’t know,” she says, “I suppose...acceptance? I never really thought about it in terms of goals. I have a few choice words for my mother if I ever see her again, if that counts.”

    The walk to Longshot’s ‘room’ for the evening is not a long one. An old, ornate door, made of wood and beautifully lacquered, breaks up the patterned wallpaper, the number ‘13’ written in brass numbers at eye level. A brass handle in the shape of a roaring lion waits for the touch of his hoof. But despite the beauty, the light doesn't fall quite right on it. The shadows bend around each other and criss-cross at odd angles. A faint whisper fills Longshot's ears as he stares at it, voices beckoning him to enter. To 'come home'.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    The setting reminds him of something... A Hearth's Warming Carol? The only difference: this is much, much more unsettling.

    "I think I can understand both desires." Longshot comments, but adds nothing else.

    He surveys the door, working up the nerve to make a move. Then, he reaches out to open the door.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Longshot’s hoof alights on the door handle and darkness swallows him. The nightmare begins.

    He stands in front of a raging crowd of ponies. They scream insults and abuse at the top of their lungs and wave signs written in fresh blood or red paint, Sniper’s eyes can’t decide. Every single one holds the same message, “Down with the Tyrant!” There anger is not directed at Longshot, but the pony behind him. Princess Celestia stands behind a podium, trying in vain to speak and being shouted down at every turn.

    She looks far worse than Longshot has ever seen her. Her feathers are out of place, her mane has lost its shimmering colors, and her regal accoutrements are dented in places. Her wings are bunched up around the shoulders defensively and her eyes race across the crowd, looking for a friendly face. There are none.

    Longshot’s mission is to protect her, if he can.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    This is... What? Longshot snaps into the moment, foregoing all preponderance of how they arrived at such a point. His eyes narrow as he takes in the immediate situation.

    First: Assess. Build some situational awareness. His eyes dart over the area, taking in the size and equipment of the crowd. Ringleaders. Maybe they're not designated, but every mob has a few rabble-rousers at its core whipping up the frenzy. Where are they?

    Second: Resources. What did they have on hoof to deal with this? Longshot checks his armanents as he orients himself and acclimates to the change of scenario.

    Third: Immediate objectives. Protect the Princess. One Pegasus does not make a defensive line. He feels for his comm. "Lt. Longshot to EDF. Please respond."

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    The crowd is armed only with their signs and furious anger. Their faces are contorted into snarls. A few of them seem to be bleeding from the eyes, but they don't notice. Too engrossed are they in their own hate. They have no leaders. They are a mob in the purest sense, all brought together by a singular purpose.

    Longshot's rifle is already in his hooves, though his armor is missing and he only has an ammo belt full of empty cartridges, his old trademark. There is no sign of his other gear.

    Somepony tries to respond, but static garbles whatever she says. It sounds like Star. "Longshot...others...run...they got...and Rose...Hurry!" Behind him stands a firm, unbroken line of Royal Guards, rifles at the ready and pointed at the crowd. Celestia tries to say something, but her voice is lost in the screams of the crowd.

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Alright... The immediate concern was to prevent escalation. The crowd could yell and scream as much as they wanted, but if they turned violent it would be another matter.

    Contingencies. If things did turn sour they needed an escape route. They'd need to get out of sight. Maybe through an alley or door--

    His throat goes dry. His mind stops.

    Doors.

    He'd entered this dream through a door.

    That was how...

    But, surely, Rem wouldn't...

    ...

    The blood drains from his face. Oooooh no.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    As the crowd rages and screams in front of him while the faceless members of the Royal Guard brandish their weapons behind him, Sniper realizes one, key detail that he missed. Neither the sun nor the moon were in the sky. The world is trapped in a twilight-state, neither dark nor light. Teetering on the edge.

    Off to the right, standing in the middle of the stage without a wall or anything else to accompany it, is a single door with the word 'ESCAPE' written above it.

    The crowd begins to move forward, slowly, step by step, but forward all the same.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    This was getting a bit beyond disconcerting. No sun? No moon? No time to ponder this new development, because the crowd had just changed the status quo. Longshot ran through his options. Shooting into the crowd would escalate the situation and might turn them violent faster. From the look of things, that powder keg was nearing the end of its fuse anyway.

    He retreats past the line of guards to approach the Princess.

    "Your Highness," Longshot says alongside a respectful bow of his head. "may I recommend that we find a safer venue?"

    A fearful buzz in the back of his neck is ignored.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    The line of guards advances, looming and imposing, to block the onrush of protesters. Their weapons bristle and gleam with a hellish light, hungering for the moment they’ll be used. The mob’s eyes reflect that light back tenfold.

    Celestia steps away from her lectern. “They won’t listen,” she says, “They’ve stopped listening to me. What did I...what did I do to make my little ponies desert me?” Her eyes are unfocused, distant. “Is there anyplace safe anymore?” she asks. But even so, she does not resist Longshot leading her away.

    They gallop back through the gates of Canterlot’s palace, now overgrown and choked with plants run wild. The gates creak on their hinges, cobwebs hang like curtains, and even the gold is rusting away. Longshot takes the lead and sound fades away save for the clip-clop of Longshot and Celestia’s hooves on the stone below.

    His heart-rate suddenly skyrockets. Above them, in a high window, he spots the gleam of a rifle scope looking down on them.

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Did he just hear snarky italics? Nah. Must have been his imagination.

    "I don't know what happened, your highness. I don't understand any of this." Longshot says as he tries to guide her away from the impending bloodbath. How wrong he'd been to once interpret 'little ponies' in a diminutive light.

    The castle was... He visually swept the area and felt his uneasiness increase. No sun, no moon, and a deserted castle? What had happened to cause all this? There was no time for questions. A burst of speed interposes himself between the rifle and its presumed target. He brings his own weapon into proper alignment to shoot, but momentarily holds his fire.

    "Fall back! Potential hostile!"

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    "I don't...understand," Celestia mutters. She doesn't move, but the bullet, no, laser does. It passes right by Sniper's head. The world falls silent and, for a long, horrible moment, nothing happens. Then, he hears the sound of bubbling, boiling flesh and a single, pained gasp. When he glances behind him, Celestia stands there, a look of shock on her face, for ten, long seconds before she falls to the ground.

    A dark shape takes to the air and flies away as fast as it can.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    His mind tries to comprehend the incomprehensible. No, it... No...

    Not like this. It couldn't end from a random markspony's bullet. Being tricked or outsmarted by Polaris he can grasp, but failing in his core mission-- to have lost the Princess in such an anti-climactic fashion? His mind rebels at the notion.

    The Princess. Dead. No, she couldn't be dead. Not that simply. Not that subtly. Celestia couldn't be dead. Not the one to have put so much trust in him. No.

    There had to be something he could do. The assassin is forgotten. Longshot rocketed to her side and knelt over her fallen form. A chance. There has to be a chance. Come on...

    Please don't be dead.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Celestia is not dead. Her eyes are wild, roving, scared. She gasps for breath, fighting for air. Her gaze falls on Sniper. She swallows. "I thought..." she says, "I thought I could...protect you...my little ponies." A shudder passes through her. "But I...I was wrong. You're no better than I am...than he is. You've grown...grown horrible and strong, so strong."

    Her hoof reaches for Longshot's face. "Long...shot? Tell them...tell them that I...I still...love...them..." Her hoof falls down.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Longshot checks the wound, attempting to assess the damage. His mind runs wild. No medical resources. No supplies. Think There had to be some way.

    His hoof crashes against his comm.: "Celestia is down! I repeat, Celestia is down! Please respond!"

    The comm. toggle falls away as he clutches at his Princess' hoof.

    "Don't give up, your highness. We can beat this. Ponies still need you." He admits the truth. "I still need you."

    Panic struggles to escape his grasp.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    The comm crackles with static and dies. Longshot takes one look at the wound and knows that it is beyond his ability to treat, even with medicine. Precisely placed, just the way he would have done it.

    Celestia lets out a rasping cough mixed with a laugh. "You all were always so...determined. You...you never wanted to listen to me. It...will carry you far...but you won't like...where you end up." Then, with a soft, weak voice, she sings one last song.

    "I thought that I could protect you.
    But it seems I was wrong.
    Building your determination,
    You've grown horrid and strong.
    Took advantage of my kindness
    And conce-ealed the truth.
    Curse this foolish mother's blindness,
    And curse your bloodied hooves.

    "I thought that you wouldn't fit in,
    I thought that you'd be condemned!
    But it seems the truth is written...
    You're no better than them!"

    "To think that I once believed,
    That you'd ever be good.
    But in my last breaths I will grieve,
    For I now doubt you could..."
    So goodbye child I loved.
    There is blood on your hooves.
    You are no better than him."

    "So leave this place and leave it ruined.
    Stay determined, my friends.
    But don't forget the lives you've ruined.
    Don't forget how this ends!
    Leave me here behind in darkness,
    As onward you go.
    With your bold determination.
    You won't be stopped, I know..."

    "Follow blind determination...
    Since you can't resist it's call.
    Follow blind determination,
    As downward we fall..."

    "Follow blind determination,
    Since you can't resist it's call.
    I damn your determination,
    As downward I fall..."

    And then, her body goes limp. Celestia, queen of the heavens and princess of the sun, lies dead.
    Last edited by Miltonian; 2018-11-15 at 11:56 PM.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    There is no defense or justification against her accusation. There is only mounting panic as the inevitable plays out before him.

    Celestia's passing removes the last remnants of goodness from this world. The panic gives way to grief. There is no rebelling against the reality of the situation. Longshot sits silent as he grieves. To have been so foolish for so long is to his shame. As is the failure.

    And this was his failure. There was no correcting it. This was a situation he could not fix. There were but three tasks left to him now.

    He strips off his comm. and hurls it to the distance. Then, as reverently as possible given the difficulty of the task, Longshot picks up his Princess' lifeless body and carries it into the castle.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Windows shattered, walls cracked, ceiling collapsed, the castle is in rough shape. Nonetheless, Sniper picks his way through the ruin and to the Court of the Sun and Moon, where Celestia and Luna have ruled since time immemorial. Their throne lies broken, the back sheered off, but the seat is still in place. The ragged remains of a red carpet lead up to it, showing Longshot the way.

    A shadow snakes out from behind the throne, pony-shaped but adorned with wicked, devil wings and a mouth obscenely full or razor sharp teeth. With movements so slow they are almost contemptuous, it draws out a long-barreled laser rifle and begins to swing it towards Longshot's face.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Longshot gently deposits his precious cargo upon the ground. Then, he turns to face this assassin-- his gaze hard and his heart stone.

    Visually, he tracks the creature's subtle movements. Mentally, he counts the seconds until that creature fires thereby knowing when to sidestep/dodge. Physically, steady and measured steps carry him toward the throne.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    The rifle comes up but never fires. The shadow’s eyes meet his and its smile fades. As Longshot walks towards it, he sees it turn away from him. The rifle clatters to the ground. Eyes on the remains of one of the stained glass windows, it speaks.

    “Who am I, Longshot?”

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    "You're the part of me that wanted to chase after the assassin and leave Princess Celestia to die alone. You're the part of me that wanted to go back to the city and start shooting up ponies after she died. You're the part of me that hates this world for cursing me with a knack for killing and despises the fact that I'm living on borrowed time. You're the part of me that wants to lash out this world.

    "I'm you. You're me. Sniper Scope."

    His words are resolved and straightforward, just as his approach to the throne.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    "Close enough." The shadow's eyes turn back to him and regard his approach with cool disdain. When it speaks again, there are two voices there. One, Longshot knows all too well. It is his own voice. The second is a mare's, haughty and proud. "If you do this," it says, "You go on alone. My power will not be there to protect you, my chosen disciple. Will you really cast me off? Will you destroy me utterly? I, who gave you everything you are?"

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    "Explain." Longshot commands, not asks.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    “Right to the point then? Fine. From here on out, you’ve got nothing and no one left you can blame,” the shadow continues in that odd double-voice, “No more ‘if only my cutie-mark were different’. No more ‘it’s my personality’. No more ‘if only my mother had hugged me more’. And no more ‘everyone expects me to, so why not?’”

    The shadow billows and moves out from behind the throne, wings dark as a starless night and growing taller with each step. “Now you know you can be good. You can be better. And there’s the sticking point, isn’t it? You can be, but you won’t. You’ll fail. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you will. Someone will die because of you, someone you love. Didn’t I warn you that was a dangerous thing?”

    The shadow comes to a stop, tall and proud. “The curtain’s been pulled back. I was your self-deception, Longshot. I deflected, gave you a convenient scapegoat. I allowed you not to feel. Once I am gone, you will be naked before the horrors you have wrought and will continue to wreak. Can you live in like that? You’ll have to, because you’re about to drive me away forever.”

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    The foundations of his resolved crack beneath the weight of those words. He falls back as the shadow grows and looms over him. Fear begins to take hold the enormity of pending change is revealed.

    He flounders, searching for something to save him. Duty? Expectation? Friendship? His mind clicks through contingencies, desperately trying to find some answer, some defense, to save him. Nothing does. Each has been tried in the past and each has failed... because he didn't allow them to succeed.

    He resolutely plants, not strikes or slams, his hooves in the ground and rises-- rises to nevermore bow before this creature of shadows.

    He stands there resolute.

    "Out."

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    The shadow nods and spreads its wings. Longshot's voice disappears entirely, leaving only the shadow behind. Tall as an alicorn now, it turns towards a shattered window. "Then I'll leave you here with your failure." She glances over her shoulder and smiles. "Now, the real nightmare begins."

    Silently, she glides off into the darkness and leaves only a slimmer of pale, sickly moonlight behind.

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    Default Re: Celestia's Finest: House of the Setting Sun

    Deep breath.

    Rubicon: crossed.

    Resolve in place.

    That checklist complete, Longshot turns to retrieve the body. Hopefully, it hasn't disappeared in the interim. He needs to find some form of wrappings, do what little he can to make it presentable and bury it away from any ponies that would do it harm.

    The entire situation had him on edge. Until he knew what was transpiring and what he'd done, he couldn't take any chances.

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