Diver leaped into the air, torn between fight and flight, but the bomb exploded before he could do either. A shockwave slammed him into the arena cage and knocked the breath from his lungs. [Major wound!]

"Let us out!" said the buck on the other side of the arena bars.

Diver gasped for breath and staggered over to the nearest door, where he pushed the release with both forehooves and the gate swung open.

The invaders had begun fighting in earnest: one with a lance strapped to his back, one pegasus flinging blasts of lightning, one unicorn hurling more but smaller bombs, and a blood-colored earthbound with blades strapped to every hoof and one to his tail like a scorpion. Ponies fled in panic or tried to regroup and start fighting back. "For the new queen! For Sunward Ho!" the attackers shouted.

The deer nudged Diver up. "Come on."

"Right. Kill the pegasus first?" He had the best range and plenty of stormy cloudstuff to use for ammo.


Diver flew up over the enemies, who were busy fighting people in the stands. There was plenty of resistance after that first moment of shock, and some of the slain were already running back into the room from the checkpoint crystal in the lobby, but most of the guests hadn't brought their weapons. Diver felt his wings run out of flight power. He slammed straight down, forehooves out, to bash the pegasus mage in the head. The enemy looked up just in time to take it in the face. Diver and he crashed onto the cushioned seats and rolled, brawling.

The deer called out, "Get loose!" from somewhere nearby. Diver kicked himself free. A storm of wooden darts stabbed into the evil pegasus, making him cry out. Diver pounced and beat him so hard, the enemy flickered and died. The griffin gladiator started to come into play too, against the unicorn.

Then the scorpion-pony's blades sliced into Diver from behind, seeming to sever his hindlegs.

Diver yelped in pain and blacked out. There was a moment of terror and blankness. Then he landed, intact, in the hotel lobby. Where had the enemy peggy gone? Did he save nearby? No sign of him. Diver ran back into the dome. "What the hell are you doing?" he shouted.

What the enemies were doing was systematically overpowering a bunch of equines who'd just realized there was a barrier keeping them from leaving. The lance-bearer with the flag impaled the filly who'd spun the wheel of battle traps, killing her in one hit. Then the mage-unicorn cast some sort of spell just as she died, pulling the saddlebags and axe she'd dropped into a portable hole. He did the same to the other weapons and valuables the victims had lost, in between more killing.

Several of Noctis' bodies rose as one and beat the lancer into submission, only to have him break free and get into a four-on-one duel. Diver broke in, but the blademaster guy sliced him to death, again.

This time it hurt more. Diver collapsed onto his belly and took a few seconds to stand back up. He'd lost his own saddlebags even though his deaths in the Labyrinth had only spilled their contents. That didn't matter so much as stopping this stupidity, though! He tensed to charge back into the dome, then noticed the dozen frightened equines who filled the lobby around him. They'd respawned here after being killed. "What are you doing? Get out of here."

"We can't!" said one mare, who demonstrated by trying and failing to push open the door. A pegasus showed that the cloud-walls were impenetrable now, too.

"What, they plan to just keep killing us?"

In answer, the damn scorpion guy leaped into the lobby to fight again.

Diver rocketed at his face. Foreleg blades slashed Diver across the cheek and forced him back with a minor wound. He shook off the pain and tensed to try again.

The griffin brawler appeared, squawking, and crashed onto his back by the crystal. The deer followed one second later. Everyone looked in their direction. Diver recovered first. He charged, but the villain was a storm of jagged knives and he even had gotten his tail to be prehensile. Diver flanked him while three other innocents jumped him, only to have all four of them take major slash wounds.

[Status effect: Bleeding!] read text in Diver's vision. [If untreated, you'll take a major wound soon.]

Diver thought, Blood, in Hoofland? He looked at his right side, which dripped red. Two other horses had taken the same effect and the onlookers were shocked.

The griffin menaced the red dude, buying Diver a moment to think. "You with the antlers," said Diver. "Can you parry him?"

"I'll try, on three."

Diver and the buck rushed into the fight. The griffin was holding his own and had scored a few minor hits. The deer charged headfirst and used his antlers to grapple the scorpion's forelegs and hurl him sideways to the floor. Diver kicked and stomped, and then his vision swam and he died again.

It felt like time had passed. Diver woke up screaming, seemingly on fire. The worst of it passed in moments but he struggled to stand. The scorpion guy was gone, finally dead, but there were still sounds of battle in the dome beyond.

The deer helped him up again. "Sorry I didn't help you in time. Here." He touched Diver with his antlers and made them glow. The pain ebbed again. His voice was quiet over the overdriven electric guitar that still wailed through the inn.

"Thank you. What's going on?" Three of the scorpion's blades lay where their owner had fallen.

The griffin said, "They said 'a new queen'. Coup against Queen Harvest Moon?"

"All hail Harvest Moon!" said some of the bystanders.

Diver said, "Wherever these guys are respawning, it's not here. Let's finish killing them and maybe that'll break the seal on this building."

Together he and four others re-entered the dome. Or what was left of it. The ceiling had shredded and opened to the moonlight in several places, not that it seemed to let anyone escape, and the central cage had been slagged. The last enemy standing was the armored lancer, whose solar flag was torn but still standing high above his back. He bore obvious wounds that looked like cauterized gashes visible through his white coat and damaged plate armor. Nimbus was trying to kill him but not accomplishing much more than screaming obscenities from the air.

"Need somebody else to fight?" Diver called out, and flew. The griffin joined him in the air with much greater speed and power, and the deer summoned another storm of arrows. Their enemy ran under the three of them, barely dodged Diver's attempt to drop on him, swung a sword in his mouth, and struck the deer along both left legs. The buck toppled to the stands and crashed into the ruined cage.

Diver and the griffin double-teamed the warrior, coming at him from every direction. It was the griffin who got in the important hit. The enemy flashed, and Diver feared there'd be some kind of wicked last-second counter, but all the guy accomplished was to teleport a few feet away. A pendant around his neck sparked and broke. The escape didn't save him; the griffin was on him again and grappling him by the neck. "Any last dramatic words?"

"Considerate of you," the stallion choked out. "Sure. In the name of Queen Sunward Ho of the East, check out your palace."

The griffin swiped him across the muzzle and he died, vanishing. The sun banner toppled to the floor along with a pile of items. A spell visibly popped around the ruined battle dome.

Diver checked on the deer, then flew warily out through the broken cloud-ceiling. "Guys, the palace is burning!" He tore down a section of the wall to make an exit there and give everyone a clear view. Noctis Castle's roofs were on fire, burning a bright purple even as pegasi pushed clouds into place and kicked rain out of them.

A furious Nimbus flapped over to Diver. "The bastards broke my arena! Magic-proof solid nopium I had to mine in a lava cave and now it's ruined!" She laid eyes on the castle, and screeched loud enough to hurt Diver's ears. "Duty calls. Coming?"

A note from Snow Quill

I just realized that in a different story, Nimbus (Sonia) likes being able to unexpectedly tell people "Nope!"

How do you handle death penalties within a game world? The rule in Talespace seems to be that if you die or get maimed you respawn at your last checkpoint with a temporary stat penalty... but as an uploader/native AI you also get pain, worse if you've died repeatedly in the last few minutes. I did a different story once, where the hero is upset by an extremely creepy player and kills him over and over to torture him. But if it's a game environment managed by an AI, then there are hard limits on how much you can do that, and non-uploader players have an advantage because they're not pained at all. Kind of ties in with how games use cues like a HUD to compensate for the fact that players have a severely limited vision angle. You could do interesting things with food and drink to affect uploaders' senses and energy.

And if anyone else is wondering: no, we're not doing any sex scenes. I don't want to write details of that.

Support "Thousand Tales: Learning To Fly"

About the author

Snow Quill

Bio: I'm a writer with several books up on Amazon. Many of these are in a setting called "Thousand Tales", where a virtual game world offers immortality under the rule of a friendly AI whose ambitions extend far beyond the game.

See for a larger gallery of stories, and check out novels such as "Virtual Horizon" or "Crafter's Passion" for my published fiction!

Log in to comment
Log In