“We wish to escape the barbarity of the wasteland, especially the violence and bigotry of it's pony inhabitants.”
Down in the sewers beneath Trottinaham, we were all feeling the true weight of the loss we had suffered. With May and Rottingtail, as well as the two ghouls who had been scouting the tunnels ahead, there were a total of thirty-seven of us who had survived the massacre up above. Less than a tenth of the city's population had been spared, and most of those were suffering from a variety of nasty injuries. I hoped we had the time to at least lick our wounds before we moved on.
Setting Rottingtail's limp body down next to me, May opened her saddlebags and pulled out what medical supplies she had. I was tempted to scream at how little there was, but cold understanding silenced me; I should be glad that she managed to get away with anything at all. Too many had not gotten away at all. May was going to do everything she could to make sure those that had gotten away alive stayed that way. At least the radiation levels down here were sufficient to aid in the healing process.
I felt a little ashamed that I was as unharmed as I was. My chest still ached from Emerald's spell (seriously, who in their right mind invented a heart attack spell?), but I wasn't in any mortal danger. The same could not be said for a few of the other ghouls, who May sought out first. She used the only healing potions she had to try and stabilize them. She had only three, and she had to administer only half of each to those that needed them in order to make sure everypony got some. It was just barely enough, even when coupled with May's own healing magic.
After doing what she could for those most gravely injured, May came back over to me and Rottingtail. She used the irradiated water and her mending spell to patch up his leg, and fitted it with the single medical brace she had managed to bring. Scatter was made to lay down as she plucked each piece of shrapnel stuck in her side out, bandaging each gash as she went. I remembered that treatment. There was nothing she could do for Blackhoof. If he still had his leg she might have been able to reattach it, but she couldn't just grow it back.
I sat next to the limp form of Rottingtail, watching May work as I waited for the effects of stampede (and her spell) to wear off. I already knew he must be feeling completely twisted up inside, and not just because he had lost his nephew (In fact, none of the 'younger' ghouls had survived the slaughter). He had been the Sheriff, Mayor and general hold-together-er of the Trottingham necropolis for most of a lifetime, and yet he had been unable to protect it or its inhabitants from the Steel Ranger's assault. Even the militia he trained had been decimated.
I watched as the effects of the stampede finally started to wear off on Rottingtail. His eyes no longer looked glossed over by rage, and instead began to pool with tears. May's spell had yet to wear off, so he was still immobile. “Just one thing...” he began to mutter, but stopped, his words hoarse and choked.
My ears perked up; “What thing?” I asked, motioning for him to go on. Maybe it would help him if her talked about it.
“Ah promised Braeburn'n muh sis just one thing when they left,” stated the sheriff, his voice strained. “They knew things were lookin' grim; that's why they left him with me. Thought he'd be safe out in Appleoosa, away from the cities, away from the danger, away from the war zones.”
“Apple Crumble,” I said, although it was plainly obvious that's what he was talking about.
Rottingtail nodded; “Braeburn and Silver Sand trusted me with his life, and Ah swore that Ah'd do right by them, no matter what happened to me. And now... now he's dead. Ah failed.”
I placed a hoof on Rottingtail's bad shoulder. I wasn't sure he could feel it right now, but I didn't have the strength to lift him up for a proper hug. “It's not your fault,” I said, trying to reassure the ghoul stallion. “Crumble lived a long, full life. He's probably back with his parents now.”
“How c'n you say that?” he snapped. “He'd been with me a lot longer'n either o' them. Hell, he's been with you longer'n his actual folks.”
Rottingtail's words hit me like a kick to my gut. Apple Crumble had called me his 'auntie' on more than one occasion, honorary or otherwise. In growing closer to Rottingtail, I had grown closer to the colt as well. The two of them had been the closest thing to a family of my own that I had ever experienced. In the wake of everything else that had been lost, that simple fact had eluded me. Now that Rottingtail made it clear, all I had were more tears. I laid my head down on his chest and took a turn at crying alongside him just as I had May. He however, had no tears to shed.
We couldn't stay put for very long. Although the battle was over, one of the Steel Rangers' main reasons for attacking us had been to take control of Stable Twelve. In the process of securing it, the chances of them scouring the nearby sewers for stragglers was too strong to be ignored. Even though we weren't really in any shape for a long trip, we had to go. As soon as Rottingtail became mobile again, we moved out. There would be time to grieve and rest once we were truly out of harm's way.
Blackhoof and Rottingtail brought up the rear of our group as we moved through the miles of sewer tunnels that ran beneath Trottingham. Both were hobbled by the injuries to their legs, although I think Blackhoof might have been envious that Rottingtail's leg was at least still attached. I rigged up a makeshift peg for him using the pieces of Scatter's broken grenade rifle and some wonderglue. It was crude and uncomfortable, but it allowed him to trot a little bit faster for the time being. Scatter and I led the group, being the only ones aside from Rottingtail who still had usable weapons. May slid in and out of the throng, checking on ponies and giving support to those who she had been unable to patch up completely.
I remained silent for much of the trip; there wasn't really anything to talk about. I already knew exactly what was on everypony's mind. I could hear May behind me, making small talk and taking names. Nopony seemed to be in the mood for much of the former though. Scatter lit up a cigarette and began to puff on it, presumably just to keep herself occupied briefly. The air down here was already stale and stuffy, so there really wasn't any reason for concern. The tunnels were dimly lit, and the light from her horn as she floated the smoke to and from her mouth provided a better illumination of what lay in front of us. Most of the time it was just more endless sewer tunnels.
I stopped as, for the third time since we had departed, the sounds of movement took me by surprise. And for the third time, a smattering of radroaches skittered past us. I groaned, wishing I had something like May's EFS to let me know where these things were a head of time. Of course, I couldn't ask May to come up here and keep watch; she had her own priorities and I wasn't going to keep her from them. Oddly enough, the roaches never seemed to bother us, either because we outnumbered them or because they didn't like carrion.
Before we started moving again, I saw Scatter's ears perk up. “You hear that?” she asked curiously.
A moment later, I did hear it. It was a distant sound, carried on echoes from what could have been miles of tunnel away. However, as soon as I did hear it, I recognized it immediately. “Music. A sprite-bot, I think.”
“You mean like that flying radio you saw near where we found Flam?” asked the unicorn, looking for confirmation.
“Yes,” I groused, not wanting to be reminded of that right now.
The tinny music was coming from further up ahead, although there had to be a bend somewhere, since we couldn't see the end of the passage we were in. The idea of a sprite-bot being in a sewer struck me as implausible, unless it had fallen through a ponyhole cover when it had gone down before. That led me to think there might be an opening or exit somewhere that we could use to get out. If we were truly fortunate, it would be far enough away from Trottingham that we could make a clean getaway. Running my thoughts by Scatter, she agreed, although with a bit of skepticism.
Cautiously, we began moving again, guided by the sound of the sprite-bot's music. As we drew closer, the music grew loud enough that everypony could hear it clearly. I could also hear whispers among the ghouls behind me, ranging from hope to worry about what we might find at the end of the tunnel. Of her own volition, May joined Scatter and I at the front, kicking on her EFS and watching for signs of movement other than radroaches and ourselves. Thanks to her, we were actually able to pick up the pace, since we would know about any other potential threats before they were on top of us.
As we rounded one last bend, the dim light of late evening flooded over us. We had reached the end of the tunnel, and it opened up into a wide open area of wasteland in front of us. I could see the sprite-bot now; it was hovering dutifully in front of the tunnel opening, almost as though it had stayed there specifically to guide us here. I thought of the strange voice that had helped me back in the MoM facility, but the sprite-bot, apparently having noticed us, decided to move on right then and there. Was somepony out there watching us?
Moving up to the edge of the tunnel, which was thankfully clear of anything else, I looked out into the region of wasteland the sewer exited onto. We were standing at the edge of a lake, the rancid water of the Trottingham sewers and beyond drizzling out of the pipe into the waters of the lake. On the far side of the small lake, I could see what I presumed to be a water treatment plant. There wasn't anything else left standing in my field of vision.
“So, we gonna go for a swim then?” nickered Scatter.
May raised a curious eyebrow; “Actually, a dip in concentrated radioactive water might help with some of the lighter injuries.”
I hadn't gone swimming since before the apocalypse. I had never been very good at it anyways. “Where do we go from here?” I asked, hoping May might have a better plan than 'wander around until we find something'. My lazy eye rolled back to the water treatment plant. I directed May's attention to it. “That building might be a good place to rest, and Goddesses know we need it.”
“How are we going to get there though?” May asked incredulously.
Looking over the edge of the pipe, I could see what she meant. The tunnel we were in was poking out of a hillside at least thirty feet down into a rocky rivulet that carried the sewer water to the lake. “I might be able to fl-”
Before I could finish, we were all blinded by an explosion in our midst.
Everypony screamed. Really, considering the brilliant flash of light and loud popping noise, it was hard to blame them. However, that which burst into our midst was not an explosion. Many ghouls fled down the tunnel we had just come from, while most simply stood and stared in awe. Not having anywhere to flee to, I was among the latter. The brilliance of the flash did not diminish after the sound ended, and I had been forced to shield my eyes. As it adjusted to the new intense source of light, my lazy eye rolled up over my shielding hoof and fell upon the source of the illumination. I gasped in shock.
The luminescent being that stood in our midst was a pony. Moreover, it was a ghoul pony! In spite of the brilliance of the light coming off of her (I think it was a her anyways, the light made it hard to be sure), I could still see the decayed flesh and lack of hair that our kind all possessed. The corona of light bleeding off of this ghoul was pure, unfettered radiation, and it was not just May's Pipbuck screaming that told me this. From the moment she had appeared I had suddenly felt invigorated and energetic, and the ache in my chest had dulled considerably. Even my sprained wing felt mended. My lazy eye wandered, showing me that the rest of those who had not fled were feeling a similar effect.
“Oh dear,” said the glowing ghoul, turning to look down the tunnel at those who fled. Her voice carried an otherworldly echo that was not caused by the tunnel walls around her. “Had I known my sudden appearance would cause such alarm, I would have teleported in further away and approached on hoof.”
May and I simply gaped at her; unsure of what to think. This was unlike anything we had ever experienced before. May was the first to get over her initial shock; “What... are you?”
I would have asked 'who' are you, but May's inquisitive nature drove her to try and understand the phenomenon we were witnessing. The glowing ghoul did not turn to address her right away, instead calling out to the ghouls who had fled. “Fear not my fellow forsaken brethren, I mean you no harm. Please, come back; I have news that concerns you all.”
For reasons I wasn't entirely sure of, the glowing ghoul's voice had a reassuring quality to it. I felt at ease when she spoke, even though I knew nothing about her. Was that caused by the radiation she was shedding, or was she just that charismatic? The effect was felt by the others ghouls as well, who slowly but steadily returned to the herd. Curious whispers ran through the crowd.
May seemed to have been momentarily caught up in staring at the glowing ghoul's flanks, but she shook her head and asked her question once again; “Who are you?” Perhaps she figured asking differently would get the response she wanted.
It did, but not until the rest of the Trottingham survivors had returned. “Greetings to all of you,” stated the glowing one, her voice still echoing. She turned around on the spot as she spoke, addressing all of us. “My name is Bright Light (seriously?), and I have come here with wonderful news. I have been travelling around Equestria to find other children of the megaspells so that I might deliver unto them tidings of our salvation.”
I just stared at Bright. A ghoul who is literally glowing with radiation pops in on us out of nowhere with a message of some sort of 'salvation'? There were so many questions that raised. It was Rottingtail who asked them; “What the hell are you on about?”
The glowing one looked to Rottingtail; I couldn't tell what the look on her face was, but she was at least trying to sound compassionate. “Forgive me if my cryptic speech was difficult to decipher. I merely meant to say that-”
“That ain't what Ah asked,” snapped the ghoul sheriff, his rage peaking again. “Ah wanna know how in the hell some random ghoul we ain't never seen before, who's lit up like a fuckin' balefire bomb, magically knew we were all here. You been spyin' on us or somthin'?”
I wasn't sure somepony as conspicuous as this ghoul could spy on anypony without being noticed. “Most assuredly not,” claimed Bright. “Your presence here was foretold to me.”
Rottingtail only sounded madder; “Foretold? Like, seein' th' future?”
“After a fashion;” the enlightened ghoul did not seem to comprehend Rottingtail's mounting fury. “My precognition-”
That was it; Rottintail exploded. I heard his battle saddle reload as he stomped forward, inches from Bright. “You mean t'tell me, that yer lookin' to HELP other ghouls, can see into the future, and have enough radiation bleedin' off o' ya to kill anythin' what's not already dead. WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOU THIS MORNING?!”
“Lone Star!” I bellowed, glaring daggers at Rottingtail. I knew he was upset, but so were all the rest of us. He had no right to take it out on this ghoul, whoever she was. “That. Is. Enough.”
Rottingtail rounded on me, apparently no longer caring who he vented his rage at; “Don't call me that! That pony is DEAD! He died with his nephew. Ah'm-”
Rottingtail was cut off as a flash of light behind me sent a small mote of magical energy flying at him, causing him to keel over the second it hit him. May walked up next to me, the glow from her horn fading; “Somepony needs to cool off,” she stated. This was the same spell, I realized, that she had used when he was hyped on stampede earlier. “You're not the only one who lost somepony today. You-”
I placed a hoof on May's shoulder and shook my head; Rottingtail needed to be left alone for now. Saying anything to him might aggravate him further, and I wasn't about to lose another friend because he couldn't keep his anger in check. I spoke to Bright; “I'm very sorry; today has not been... today has been difficult for all of us. We lost our home, and so many friends. He has not taken it well.”
Bright Light rounded to face me, looking abashed (at least, I think she was; the glow of radiation surrounding her made it difficult to look at her straight). “No,” she stated, sounding forlorn, “it is I who should apologize to all of you. My premonitions have always guided me to save my fellow children of the megaspells. Would that I had received this one sooner. As well, I have never been the most adept at sensing the frustrations of others. I beg your forgiveness, and his as well.”
Rottingtail simply snorted in response, unable to do much more. May however, found her curiosity rearing itself again; “These premonitions you keep mentioning, can you tell me more about them?”
Bright nodded; “As you can undoubtedly see, I am quite different from other chil- ghouls. In my many years of travel, I have never encountered another like me. At first I thought it a curse, but then the whispers of things yet to come began to slip into my dreams. I believe them to be a blessing from the Goddess; a way of making up for the wretched fate that befell our world.”
Scatter spoke up, her own curiosity abound; “The Goddess? Do you mean Celestia or Luna?”
Bright gave a shrug; “It is difficult for me to tell sometimes whether the whispers come from Celestia, Luna, or both, but they do come from the Goddesses, of that much I am sure.”
Before any of us could ask any more questions, the glow around Bright momentarily intensified. In that moment, her voice grew louder, the echo increased tenfold. “When the sanctuary of the forsaken is crushed beneath the hoof of steel, the time of salvation will be upon you. Seek she whose eyes look past what they see, for she holds the key to the lands beyond.”
May and I exchanged odd glances; I had no idea what to make of that, although it did sound eerily similar to what had transpired. “What does that mean exactly?” asked May.
The glow around Bright dimmed back to the level it had been at before. “I was repeating the words that came to me not two days ago in my meditation. I am saddened that I only learned after the destruction of Trottingham what the first part meant.”
“How did you learn about that exactly?” I asked.
“The herald on the radio,” said Bright. DJ P0N-3. He had always sympathized with the plight of ghouls. Of course he would know. “Once I heard, I came to this area, hoping that there were still those who could be saved.”
“You've said that a few times now,” I noted. “What is this salvation you're talking about?”
Bright turned to face me directly, causing me to look away. My lazy eye rolled back towards her, drawn to the radiation like a magnet. Before answering, she glanced to my sides. Was she looking at my wings? I couldn't really blame her; a pegasus ghoul was probably as rare a sight as... whatever she was. She looked back to my eyes, her own widening. “Of course!” she exclaimed, catching me off guard. “Of course she would be a pegasus.” Now I was just confused.
“What are you talking about?” May asked, clearly as perplexed as I was.
Bright kept her eyes on me when she answered; “You are the key that my premonition foretold!”
What? “I think you're mistaken,” I said flatly. “I'm not any-”
“How many of you are there?” demanded Bright, cutting me off.
“Thirty-Seven,” May answered quickly, “but why do you-”
Bright had forsaken her previous cryptic mannerisms for sheer excitement. “It will be easier for me to explain if I can show you. One moment!”
With a flash, she was gone, leaving a burning after image on my eyes that refused to go away. She could teleport; I had seen Twilight Sparkle use that same magical ability a few times in the past. I heard murmurs sounding from throughout the throng of ghouls, most of them sounding just as confused as I felt. I really hoped we would get some kind of explanation when Bright returned.
There was another brilliant flash and a pop as Bright returned to our midst ten minutes later. She was a sight to behold, or would have been if any of us could look at her. She was glowing even more brightly than she had been before, and might have blinded those who dared to look at her for more than a few seconds. Magical energy bled off her, making the air itself taste and feel charged with power. As well, if May's Pipbuck was any indication, she was shedding even more radiation as well. Before I could ask what possible purpose this served, her horn lit up with magic, further intensifying her glow. Then, we were all gone.
I had never travelled by teleportation before, so it was safe to say that I had a bit of a panic attack. When we rematerialized, I immediately started hyperventilating, confused by the sudden change in our surroundings. May placed a comforting hoof on my shoulder as I heaved. I was quite certain I never wanted to do that again. It took a few minutes for the panic to subside, after which I took the opportunity to observe our new surroundings.
As far as I could tell, we were miles and miles from where we had been. May's Pipbuck map confirmed this, stating that we were now a few miles outside Stalliongrad; a trip that would have taken most of a week on hoof. Looking around, the extent of the feat that Bright had pulled off became evident. She had, on her own, transported every single one of the Trottingham survivors, as well as herself, to this new location. Looking to Bright, I could see that the glow of radiation around her had diminished significantly. Had she used the excess energy to fuel that mass teleport spell?
Bright swayed a bit, apparently drained by the efforts. May ran over to her and propped her up on one side. “Thank you,” she said, smiling weakly.
May nodded; “How did you do that?”
“We children of the megaspells do not simply heal in the bask of the energies that created us,” Bright explained. “Enough exposure can change us and strengthen us. I found that I can use that raw magical energy to empower my own spells.”
I was tempted to snicker as May floated her journal out of her saddlebags and began taking notes. “And where exactly did you get that kind of radiation exposure so quickly?”
“The Splendid Valley crater,” stated Bright, shying away from May as she attempted to carry her own weight again.
Before answering any more questions, Bright motioned for us to start moving again, following her lead. At first I thought she would be leading us towards Stalliongrad, but instead she directed us away from the city, where I could see what looked like a twisted mass of black metal about half a mile's trot distant. As we began to move towards the structure, Bright held back. Her horn lit up, wrapping Rottingtail's still limp form in the glow of levitation. She did so without any difficulty, unlike May who seemed to strain herself when trying to lift an entire pony. The power of radiation at work again.
As we walked, Bright became a lot more talkative now that we were heading towards the source of her 'salvation'. “I became like this back at Splendid Valley,” she claimed, answering May's question about her origins. “I used to work for the Ministry of Arcane Sciences, and was working out of the Maripony facility at the time of the megaspells.”
May nodded; “Bunch of gem mines, right?”
Bright shook her head; “Originally yes, but we were using it for storage and some other new projects by that time. Not that it really matters this long after. I was in the housing complex attached to the facility, outside the safe rooms when the megaspell detonated. The very fact that I survived at all was nothing short of miraculous, especially when I was the only one who did.”
“What about the ponies in the safe rooms?” I asked tentatively; “Wouldn't they have survived?”
“Alas, I never found out,” Bright said, looking a bit ashamed. “From the moment the flash of the megaspell ended, I was aglow with radiation. I knew that, even if there were survivors other than myself, my very presence would be lethal to them. Instead, I chose to depart, hoping that somepony else would come along to save them where I could not. Twilight Sparkle was on the facility that day as well, so perhaps she managed to get them out. She was always the best at magic short of Princesses Celestia and Luna.”
The mention of Twilight Sparkle struck a melancholy chord in my heart. Like the other Ministry Mares, I had known her from her time in Ponyville. I found myself wondering what had happened to them all in the end. “I still go back to the crater to bask in the radiation and meditate when I need to,” concluded Bright. “I find that the voice of the Goddesses is always strongest there.”
Now that we were drawing closer to the mass of black metal, I could see that it was much less of a wreck than I thought it was. It was a large structure, and most of the clutter I saw was akin to a shanty town that had been built around it. As we approached, a number of ghouls wielding magical energy weapons trained them on us, as well as a pair of automated turrets, presumably of the magical variety as well. Upon seeing Bright leading us, the ghouls lowered their weapons and disabled the turrets.
I could hear Rottingtail grumbling something from Bright's telekinetic grasp. I imagine he was frustrated; the magical energy weapons these ghouls were packing would have been more more effective against the Steel Rangers than our own conventional munitions. Bright looked abashed, and this time I was able to make out her expression more clearly because the glow around her had faded since the mass teleport. Yet, she was still shedding enough radiation to make me feel pleasantly warm.
Turning around to face the rest of the survivors from Trottingham, Bright had an announcement. “Now my fellow children, it is time for you to learn the truth of our salvation. Here it lies, right in front of you.” She gestured towards the black metal structure behind her.
“What are we looking at exactly?” I asked. It was Scatter, who had formerly been in the Equestrian Armed Forces, who answered me.
The unicorn ghoul let out an impressed whistle; “That's a Raptor, isn't it?” She asked, looking to Bright.
I looked at her, confused. Bright nodded at her, smiling. “It is indeed. This was and is a former Equestrian Military Raptor-Class flying battleship. It was flying near here when the megaspell that hit Stalliongrad knocked it out of the sky. My premonitions from the Goddess guided me and my followers to it, so that we might use it. I have been shown visions of a land beyond Equestria, wiped free of life in the great cataclysm. There will be there none there to persecute us, hate us or fear us. We will be able to live freely and safely for as long as we choose. This old machine of war will be our ticket to that peace.”
Wow. That was absurdly ambitious. However, the idea of a land free from the hardships that ghouls faced here in Equestria was incredibly appealing. I wondered just how many 'children of the megaspells' she had following her. Considering the size of the flying battleship, there could easily be several hundred ghouls inside. However, the very fact that it was an eighty year old flying battleship cast a serious shadow over the possibility of it being used.
“This was originally a pegasus ship, right?” I asked, suspecting as much. “How do you plan to fly it?”
Bright looked understanding, but also undeterred. “Ever since first discovering this ship, my followers and I have scoured the Equestrian Wasteland to find the means with which to make her fly again. Pegasus vehicles like this often relied on clouds as part of their inner workings, and finding a way to circumvent this was the most difficult task we ever had. However, thanks to guidance from my premonitions and the tireless effort of my followers, we have nearly finished.”
I could hear some impressed sounds coming from the crowd behind me. Even I was enthralled by the idea. “You said something earlier about a 'key', then you looked at me funny,” I noted, recalling that she had gotten rather excited upon seeing me.
Bright smiled broadly, showing me that even her gums were aglow with the radiation her body generated. “Indeed. For, at the apex of this machine, there lies a hardened room that was spared even the fury of the megaspell that destroyed the rest of the ship and killed its crew. That room is sealed by the last piece of cloud-made technology in the ship, which only a pegasus can touch. I believe that the Goddess led me to you so that you might open this door for us.”
“What's behind it?” I asked. My voice had a mix of excitement and worry in it. It would be wonderful to be able to help these ghouls, but what if I couldn't?
“The command deck,” replied Bright. “We know this from schematics we have found elsewhere in the ship. Said schematics are also what allowed us to make the extensive repairs we have already. Once we can get in and repair the controls, we will be ready to make our journey.”
The prospect of having a new home where they would be safe from the sorts of persecution that led to the destruction of Trottingham was amazingly beneficial to the morale of the survivors or Trottingham. It was the first time since the battle had ended that any of us had anything more than despair looming over us. This was a new hope, a chance to start over. I could see why so many of our number jumped at the opportunity almost immediately. Even for those more skeptical, the armoured battleship would be a perfect place to get rest and take some much needed time to lick our wounds.
Our group was welcomed graciously by Bright's followers, who had all heard about what happened to Trottingham from DJ P0N-3's broadcast. I could hear a radio somewhere playing his music. The ghouls living in the raptor were wonderfully sympathetic, offering to share anything we needed. As well, the ghouls all seemed to give a deference to Bright as we approached the ship. Between her natural charisma and the radiation she was shedding, it wasn't hard to see why. Most of our group simply wanted a place to rest and mourn, and were led away by a few of Bright's followers.
As Bright led those of us that remained with her inside the ship, I could see that the tireless efforts she spoke of were still ongoing. All around us the innards of the ship were on display as various ghouls tinkered with them. I could see a number of them feeding wires, changing spark batteries and welding pieces of panelling into place. I couldn't help but be impressed; the prospect of this old war machine flying again was looking very real.
“Excuse me miss Bright,” May cut in, after taking a few moments to marvel at the ship itself, “but is the medical bay of this ship operational? The radiation exposure from you has done wonders, but a few of the Trottingham survivors still need proper treatment.”
Bright nodded warmly; “Of course. The medical center is on the third level, just outside the lift over there.” The glowing unicorn pointed to an elevator that looked like it had only recently been rebuilt.
May nodded graciously and moved towards the lift. As she went, she took the still limp form of Rottingtail from Bright's telekinetic grasp. All but one of the ghouls who had come inside with us followed her. The one that remained was Clank, who started ambling about the ghouls working on the ship. She began to ask them about the various parts they were working on, and if there was anything she could do to help. She had always been in her element around machines.
I was tempted to follow May to the medical bay to keeping Rottingtail and the others company, but Bright placed a hoof on my shoulder. “I do not mean to keep you from your friends, but I wish to ask for your aid. I promise it won't take long.”
I nodded, remembering Bright's mention of a cloud-made terminal. “It's okay, I can take care of it for you now and then get back to my friends.”
“It will still be several days before the ship is fully operational, even once we have access to the command center,” Bright explained. “You and the others from Trottingham will be more than welcome to stay in our care for that time. Once the raptor is ready, we can all make the great journey together.”
I had to make an effort to keep my expression neutral. While the prospect of Bright's salvation was not without appeal, I still wasn't sure how I felt about it. Equestria was my home, and had been for over a hundred years now. On the other hoof, with the destruction of Trottingham, I had now lost three homes here in Equestria, and oh so many friends. Perhaps the opportunity to start over in a new home with new friends where the fear of losing them was absent wouldn't be so bad. I would have to talk to May and Rottingtail about it at the very least.
Bright led me deeper into the ship, which was mostly more of the same. Most of the ghouls stopped to greet Bright as we passed, and a few even cast curious glances at me, presumably having never seen a pegasus ghoul before. When whispers began to spread amongst those working nearby, the glowing ghoul told her followers to keep her last premonition in mind. However, she asked them to remain quiet until after I had tried my hoof at the command center. She was pleased to give her followers hope, but didn't want to jump the gun on such an important step forward in their journey.
Bright eventually led me to an elevator that looked like it had been operational for longer than the one May had taken. She raised a hoof and pressed the call button for the lift. “I just want you to know,” she said, turning to face me, “that I am truly sorry about what happened to you and your fellows in Trottingham. I wish I could have done more to help.”
I shook my head, placing a hoof on her shoulder. “It's not your fault. You've been kind enough to take us in after that tragedy.” I smiled as warmly as I could manage; “Honestly, I'm barely holding together myself.” A few tears leaked from my eyes; “I'm very thankful for your kindness; we all are. I'm happy to try and do what I can in return.”
It was Bright's turn to shake her head; “You should not see this as a repayment of hospitality or kindness. You should see this for what it truly is: an opportunity.” Bright was interrupted by the arrival of the elevator, which she guided me onto. She resumed speaking after we were inside, heading up through towards the apex of the ship. “I did not come to find your group simply to use you to our advantage. I wanted to bring as many of my fellow children of the megaspells to salvation as I could. That you are the key to that salvation is merely icing on the cake, as it were.” She smiled broadly.
I nodded, letting out a sigh of gratitude. “This means a lot. To all of us. Thank you.”
When the lift reached the top of its ascent, the doors opened to reveal a short, crowded hallway. Much like the other parts of the ship, the hallway leading to the command deck was in a state of reassembly. However, the one key difference was at the end of the hallway, where I could see the soft, silvery form of a cloud construct. Standing next to it was a ghoul armed with two magical energy rifles built into a battle saddle. From the scorch marks I could see at the edge of the door, it looked like they had tried and failed to force their way into the fortified room. It made sense that they had failed; this little area had weathered a megaspell, a crash landing and eighty years of time.
I trotted up to the cloud terminal slowly, aware that the eyes of all the other ghouls in that hall were now on me. They looked to Bright, the expressions of hope at my approach unmistakable. I really hoped I could actually pull this off. I raised a hoof and tapped at the console, which hummed to life before my eyes. It felt a little weird; I hadn't actually touched a cloud in a long time. I watched as text flowed down the screen as the terminal booted itself up. It finally came to a stop after a few moments. It asked me for a password. Fuck.
I could feel my heart breaking; after everything that had happened today, all of the hopes of Bright and her followers would be shattered because the terminal that only I could touch was locked. I turned to face Bright, the expression of melancholy on my face blatantly evident. “It needs a password...”
To my surprise, Bright started to laugh. Empowered by the unnatural echoing of her voice, it was a rich, almost mystical sound. It took her a few minutes to stop laughing, and she actually had to clutch at her aching sides with a hoof. “Oh by the mercy of the Goddess,” she said, still chortling. I cocked an eyebrow and gave her a look. She finally stopped laughing long enough to explain; “I'm sorry, I did not mean to offend, but by the look you were giving me made me think the problem was something we wouldn't be able to solve.”
“But I don't know what the password is,” I retorted. “And I'm not good enough with arcano-technology to-”
Bright smiled warmly and placed a reassuring hoof on my shoulder. “You don't need to be. I am more than proficient enough with the arcane sciences to guide you through. Now, just do exactly as I say...”
At Bright instruction, I typed a seemingly random sequence of characters into the terminal. I went slowly, not wanting my own lack of experience to botch this attempt. After entering the sequence, the terminal spewed a bunch of lines of technical jargon that I couldn't parse for the life of me. Eventually the screen filled with rows and rows of lines of text, buried within which were a number of actual words. According to Bright, one of these would be the password. I did not envy anypony who did this on a regular basis; even acting as a proxy in the process was making my head hurt.
After a dozen attempts and several instances of having to back out due to my own clumsiness with terminals, I finally managed to get the password. For those who care to know, it was 'shadowbolts'. Once I entered the password, the terminal bleeped happily and bared its contents to me. Most of what it contained were logs of which crew members were on duty. I left all of those alone except for the last one, which revealed that those who had been working on the command deck at the time of the crash were Colonel Strafe, Lieutenant Highwind and Admiral Spitfire.
Beneath the list of entire was a command to open the door. I pressed it, then stepped back to watch. The door gave a groan protest from years of disuse, but slid open with a hiss. I was about to step into the command deck, but stopped after a quick look around revealed three forms, standing almost stock still inside. They were all enclosed completely in the black, insectoid magical armour that I had previously seen worn by Enclave pegasi. They were all staring at the newly opened door. I would have thought them dead on their hooves if I couldn't hear soft breathing coming from them. The question was, were they ghouls, or zombies.
A loud snarling growl from the lead armoured pegasus quickly made that clear. I flew upwards as the three of them charged me, only to be reminded that they could fly too. There wasn't much room to manoeuvre in the enclosed room, so it was all I could do to drop back down quickly while I tried to get my rifle off my back. The lead pegasus zombie collided with the wall above the door and fell to the floor. The other two turned around in mid flight and came at me again. I was very thankful that they weren't lucid enough to use their weapons; the magical energy battle saddles built into their armour did not look pleasant.
After a few moments of ducking and diving, I managed to unsling Stronghoof's rifle and brought it up to my mouth. I didn't have to to line up a proper shot as one of the pegasi charged me. I tongued the trigger, and was thrown back through the air by the kick of the unbraced weapon. My shot tore into the armoured wing of the pegasus zombie, causing it to crash roughly. I dropped back to the floor to avoid the other one and approached the one I had grounded. Two shots through the back of its helmet was enough to kill it. Evidently this armour was not as strong as the stuff worn by Steel Rangers. Considering that pegasus ponies prided themselves on speed and agility, light more mobile armour made sense.
Now that I was on the ground, I was able to properly brace my rifle and line up a shot on the remaining pegasus zombie. As it dove towards me, I brought the compound eye visor into my cross-hairs and unloaded my remaining two shots. The pegasus crashed hard and skidded to a halt beside me. As I turned my attention to the one who had collided with the door earlier, I saw that the ghoul with the magical energy rifles had taken care of it; melting through its helmet and most of its head. Judging by the gold filigree on that one's armour, I suspected it might have been the admiral.
Bright, allowed to pass by the armed ghoul once he deemed it all clear, ran over to me. “Are you alright? I thought that all of the crew had perished between the blast and the crash.”
I looked back at the now dead pegasus zombies. “Considering this was the most fortified part of the ship, I guess they survived. Almost.” I felt my heart sinking; after all the ghouls that had been killed this morning, I had just done in three more. Even though they were feral, it still felt terrible.
“We shall give them the same treatment as the rest of the ship's crew,” said Bright, bowing her head to each of the dead zombies in turn. “A funeral pyre shall be made for them before we begin our work here.”
This had been one of the most exhausting and emotionally wrenching days of my life. All I really wanted to do was find a bed and sleep for a good couple of days. However, before I could do that, I needed to talk with my friends once more. Leaving Bright and her followers to tend to the dead commanding officers and start looking over the command deck, I made my way back to the lift. I pressed the button and descended to the third level of this ship, where Bright had said the medical bay was.
On the third level it wasn't difficult to find my way to the medical center; Bright's followers were more than happy to point me in the right direction. Upon reaching it, I stopped before opening the door. I took a deep breath, knowing that I had to steel myself in case Rottingtail was still being aggressive. I stepped forward, and the door opened automatically with a hiss. Inside, I could see a number of medical beds, most of which were occupied by the ghouls May had brought here for treatment. Most of them were either asleep or sedated, and I could see May trotting around the beds, checking on her patients.
Rottingtail was laying on the bed nearest the entrance. As soon as I entered the medical bay, he raised his head to look at me, looking rather dejected himself. That he was moving at all told me that May's spell had worn off since I'd left them. His bad hoof was stretched out in front of him in a sling, and was wrapped shoulder to hoof in bandages. He looked away from me as I tried to lock eyes with him. My lazy eye rolled to follow his downturned gaze.
I trotted slowly up to Rottingtail's bed, stopping next to his good shoulder. He didn't want to look at me. “Listen, Lone Star...” I began, raising a hoof to his shoulder.
He nudged my hoof away with his. “Ah know what yer gonna say Ditzy,” he said without turning his head to look at me. “An' yer right. Ah haven't been right at all today, but that's no excuse.”
I had originally been expecting that I would have to confront Rottingtail about his earlier behaviour. My feelings melted into sympathy as I place my hoof back on his shoulder. “It's been hard for all of us.”
“Ah know, but Ah want ya t'understand;” said Rottingtail, still not looking at me. “Apple Crumble was th' only kin Ah had left after the holocaust. Ah promised muhself Ah'd never let anythin' happen to him. Not jus' fer me, but fer Braeburn, Silver Sand, and all th' other's Ah'd lost. Not only that, but all of Trottingham was muh responsibility. Ah failed to protect the city and its ponies, Ah failed to protect Crumble, and Ah failed to protect you even after all that. Ah'm a failure, plain'n simple.”
“It's not your fault,” I said. “I'm the one who wanted to try and talk. I could have been setting up an evacuation or-”
Rottingtail pressed his good hoof to my muzzle to quiet me. He finally turned his head to look at me. “Don't talk like that. Ya'll were only tryin' to keep things from goin' t'hell. Ah'm the one who shoulda done more. Trottingham was muh responsibility, and now Ah'm the one who's gotta take the responsibility. Ah won't have the mare Ah care about takin' none o' the blame fer muh mistakes.”
Under any other circumstances I might have flushed at that comment, but I was too exhausted to do anything other than press on with what I had to say. “I know it hurts, and I know it feels like you have a lot to make up for, but it's not your fault. When I spoke to Emerald it became quite clear that she had no intention of backing down no matter what.” I started to cry for her, in spite of my words. “There's not much we can do in the face of that kind of hatred.”
Rottingtail looked at me wearily. “Well then, Ah guess Ah'd better apologize to miss Bright. Maybe Ah couldn't do anythin' fer Trottingham, but maybe I c'n do somethin' fer these ghouls.”
I nodded thankfully, not really having the energy left to do much else. The medical bed next to Rottingtail's was empty, so I climbed onto it. It was comfortable, if a bit smaller than I might have liked. I laid down, very glad for the opportunity to rest. At some point, I fell asleep.
I spent the entire day following the Trottingham massacre asleep. From what I heard from Bright later on, most of the rest of the survivors did as well. Even May took some sleep after she had mended the rest of her patients. Between the radiation from Bright, May's magic and the supplies stocked in the Raptor's medical bay, all except Rottingtail and Blackhoof made full recoveries. Rottingtail was fine, considering he had lived with that same bad leg for eighty years. Blackhoof on the other hoof was able to benefit from a proper prosthetic hoof to make up for the one he lost.
The days that followed were some of the busiest I'd had in a long time. While the ghouls following Bright had developed means of circumventing the cloud based components, doing so had taken them years to accomplish, and attempting to do the same on the command deck could have taken ages. If they didn't have a pegasus ghoul helping them that is. I was able to fly up to the bottom of the cloud layer and bring back small pieces of cloud for use in the ship, but had to be coached in their installation and shaping. Just like with the terminal, my own lack of proficiency with such advanced arcano-technology made things more difficult, but not insurmountable.
Flying up to the cloud ceiling reminded me of the one time I had crossed above it before. Considering how they had reacted to me coming up there with a small wagon and a few passengers, I dreaded to think what they would do if a pre-war battleship suddenly appeared in their midst. My concerns were abated by Bright's chief mechanic, who along with Clank had determined that without its cloud components, the ship wouldn't be able to get more than fifty feet of altitude. It was both a relief and a bit of a disappointment, considering how impressive the changes made to allow for flight without clouds had been.
During the time I spent helping repair the command deck of the old ship, Rottingtail and May undertook their own projects helping Bright and her followers. Rottingtail spent his time assisting Bright's followers in getting the raptor's magical energy cannons working again. He argued that, in spite of Bright's premonition that the land they were intending to travel to was free of equine life, there might still be other threats there that they would need to be able to defend themselves against. To be honest, I think part of it was him trying to overcompensate for what he perceived as his failures in protecting Trottingham.
For the same reason, May went on scavenging mission with Bright's followers to retrieve as many medical supplies as they could find. At the same time, Bright travelled around Equestria, each time coming back with small groups of ghouls who had decided to join her and her followers in their journey to 'salvation'. She was working to bring as many as she could fit into the raptor. May almost always headed to the same place as Bright. Considering her inherent curiosity, I imagined she spent as much time studying Bright's condition as she did scavenging.
After almost a week, the work finally drew to a close. The last few panels were welded back into place, all the previously unused generators were activated, and the shanty town that had grown around the crashed warship was dismantled as the ghouls living there moved their belongings into their lodgings on board the ship. In all, there were going to be over three hundred ghouls making the journey along with Bright, including May, Rottingtail and I.
Over the days since the Trottingham massacre, the ghouls following Bright had been a great support to all of us. After many discussions with Bright's followers, we found that many of those who had chosen to come along with her had done so because they felt the land of Equestria had little left for them, and savoured the chance to start over in a new land with new friends and, in a few cases, family. With the loss of Trottingham, the three of us had all lost the last vestige of a home we had in Equestria. There wasn't a single ghoul who had survived Trottingham that chose to stay behind.
Night was falling on the day before the journey, and all of the ghouls were outside the ship, save for a few who were making last minute adjustments and running tests on the ship before it took off. All the rest were gathered in a single, large crowd before a scrap metal stage upon which Bright now stood. May, Rottingtail and I stood together at the head of the Trottingham refugees, awaiting the glowing ghoul's address.
“My fellow children of the megaspells,” Bright called out over the crowd, the magical echo of her voice making her sound almost regal. “The time for which we have all laboured and struggled is finally upon us. Soon we shall depart for a new land, one free of those who would persecute, fear or even pity us. I give my thanks to the Goddesses, who have blessed me with the visions of this land, and their guidance that led me to be able to share it with all of you.”
There was a thunderous roar of hooves stamping in applause. Bright waited for the crowd to quiet before continuing. “Let us look forward to this new land with a sense of hope, but let us also not forget that which we are leaving behind. Though the land of Equestria no longer nurtures us as it once did, it still gave us life in the times before war and darkness. Though we now leave to make our own new home, let us not forget the one in which we were raised.
“Lastly, let us not forget those who could not join us on this journey of salvation.” The crowd fell into a hush at the solemn tone struck by the glowing one. “The citizens of Trottingham, who only wanted to live in peace, were torn from their home and killed unjustly for something beyond their control. Many of those among us come from similar tragedies, borne of ignorance and fear. And still there are also those who could not evade the cruel fate of succumbing to their feral urges. Let us bear their memory forward to our new home, that we might not let such tragedy occur again.
“And so, in the honour of our homes and friends, both old and new, and those who could not be with us today, I hereby declare that our journey shall begin on the morrow, and thusly dub our vessel.”
Bright turned away from the crowd, facing the now flight worthy raptor. Her horn lit up with an intense glow and a stream of concentrated magical energy burst forth. The beam struck a larger sheet of metal that had been welded to the hull. The glowing ghoul moved her horn, using the magical energies to burn a name into that sheet. When she was finished, her glow had dimmed, having used the radiation to permanently sear the ship's new name onto its side. Renewal.
Bright turned to face the crowd once more; “Now, I bid all of my fellow children to come aboard the Renewal, and rest this night. Though we may not need it as we once did, it shall still be a boon to us before our journey. As you rest, I shall be restoring my reserves of energy in preparation for the journey so that you might all share in the blessing of the glow that was bestowed upon me.”
I awoke from my rest with a jolt. Within the small quarters I had been assigned along with a few other ghouls, Rottingtail included, I could see that all of them had awoken suddenly as well. Rottingtail, who I had slept with the night before, was notably absent. Through the walls of the Renewal's interior I could hear the engines of the former warship grinding and roaring to life. At first I thought I had overslept, but a glance at the clock on the wall told me that it was still nearly two hours before Bright had told us we would be departing on the journey.
Had something gone wrong? Or was this perhaps just a last minute test of the engines, making sure the ship could properly fly with all its passengers aboard. A quick glance at the others told me they were none the wiser, and the lot of us quickly got out of our beds. We scrambled out into the hallway, looking around at other ghouls who had done the same. There were mutterings both frantic and confused as everypony tried to figure out what was going on.
From the end of the hall, May's magically amplified voice boomed. “Everypony, please remain calm.” The scurrying stopped and the hall fell silent as everypony turned to look at May. Two of Bright's magical energy weapon carrying followers flanked her. With everypony's attention focused on her, she cut off her spell. “Somepony has broken into the command deck and commandeered the Renewal. We are currently trying to discern the details of who and for what reason.”
Hushed whispers of worry ran through the crowd. My lazy eye rolled back into the room I had just come from, landing on the bed Rottingtail and I had shared. I trotted back into the room, checking the footlocker at the end of the bed. Rottingtail's battle saddle, hat and armoured barding were all absent. A wave of panic hit me; surely he hadn't...
There was a crackle of static over the Renewal's internal speaker system that only served to confirm my fears. “Sorry about the turbulence folks,” came the voice of the ghoul sheriff, “but Ah ain't exactly experienced at flyin' this fancy kerjigger. Don't none o' ya'll fret now, Ah ain't fixin' to do anythin' t'get in the way of our little 'salvation' trip, but Ah felt there was a necessary detour we had to take first.”
I felt myself pressed towards the floor lightly as the ship began to ascend. Without stopping to think, I threw myself into the air, thankful that there was enough clearance for me to actually fly inside. I guess I had the fact that it was a pegasus ship to thank for that. I dashed out of the hall and over the crowd, with more than enough room to soar cleanly over top of them. I could hear May shouting for me, but I passed her by along with the others, heading straight for the lift to the command deck.
I slowed down as I felt a tingling sensation wrap around my body. I stopped in midair, turning around to see May galloping up behind me, her horn glowing. The two ghoul guards that had been with her ran up behind her moments later. “What... is going... on?” She asked, panting between words.
Strangely, I found that I knew the answer. Or at least, could make a reasonable guess. “Rottingtail was gone when I woke up. I think he's heading towards Trottingham.”
“What?” barked May, sounding more hoarse that usual. “Why would he-”
“We're in a flying battleship,” I replied before May could finish asking. I wanted to keep moving and get to Rottingtail before something bad happened to him, or anypony else for that matter. “What else would he do with it?”
I heard May gulp audibly as I turned away from her and flew through the corridors of the Renewal. I could hear the galloping hoofsteps of May and her escorts as they tried to follow me, but other crowds of ghouls milling about in the confusion slowed them down. As I sped through the bowels of the ship, my mind was strangely blank. I wanted everything to be okay, I wanted nothing bad to have happened to anypony. I knew it was naive to think so, but I really hoped otherwise. At the very least, I wanted to be the first one to reach the command deck so I could at least try talking to Rottingtail. When I reached the lift to the command deck, there was nopony else around. That was either very good, or very bad.
The lift seemed to take forever to come down to my level, and an eternity going back up. I would have flown up the shaft if I thought it would get me there faster. My mind was trying to put pieces into place during the ride up. Rottingtail had seemed to be getting better over the week as he worked with Bright's followers. Had it all been an act so he could try and get his revenge against the Steel Rangers? Had he been planning this the entire time?
The door opened onto the narrow hallway leading to the command deck, and I was met with the sight of two of Bright's armed followers, both hunched over on their knees. They were alive, but seemed to be struggling to breathe. I galloped to them and helped them get to their hooves. Both of them were sporting multiple, heavy bruises on their chests. My lazy eye rolled to the floor, catching a glimpse of expended rubber bullets. I instantly swelled with a small bit of relief that Rottingtail hadn't killed any of the other ghouls.
Before I could say anything to question to two, there was a brilliant flash behind me. I turned to find Bright standing before me. It surprised me that she appeared to be worried rather than infuriated. She looked at me, speaking calmly but firmly. “Ditzy Doo, can you explain this?”
I had to shake my head; “I don't know what brought this on. He was with me last night and he seemed to be doing better lately and-”
Bright raised a hoof to my muzzle, quieting me. She stepped past me to the guards, the radiation shedding off of her causing their bruises to fade incredibly quickly. “What happened here?”
The ghoul to my left, a unicorn mare, answered her. “We were keeping watch over the entrance to the command deck when he came up through the lift. At first we were wary because he was armed, but he just started talking.”
The other ghoul, this one an earth pony stallion, continued; “He was fast. He was in the middle of a sentence when he fired at us. Three rubber rounds each into the chest before we could react. He stepped over us and sealed the door.”
Bright nodded her understanding; “The room is sealed and warded; that explains why I was not able to simply transport myself inside.” She turned to face me; “Ditzy, you are closest to him, and I know you would not wish to see any harm come to him. Nor do I wish to cause it to my fellow ghoul. Do you think you can talk him out of this fool's errand?”
“I'll try,” I said, hoping that I could. I turned away from Bright and trotted up to the cloud terminal. As I suspected, it was untouched, and still unlocked. I told the terminal to open the door, and stepped inside.
Rottingtail was easy to find inside the now pristine looking command center. He stood silent and still, looking out the window as the ship began to move forward. The ship was not really all that fast, and even at its top speed, it would probably have taken a few days to reach Trottingham. He turned around as I entered, not seeming surprised in the slightest. He turned away and kept looking out the window, his gaze fixed on where Trottingham lay beyond the horizon.
I took to the air, flying through the bridge and landing a short distance behind him. He didn't move, keeping his gaze locked forward. “You know...” I said, trying to come up with something to say. I drew a blank.
“This ain't revenge,” the ghoul sheriff said calmly, evenly. “It's justice.”
“What?” was all I could manage to say. I looked behind me, but Bright remained behind the open doorway, holding her guards back. She was going to let me handle this, thankfully.
“Justice in the wasteland comes in a bit o' a different flavour from when Ah was just a small town sheriff in Appleoosa,” he claimed, still refusing to look at me. “But Ah still know what it is and what it isn't.”
“This isn't right,” I protested. “After everything Bright and her followers did for us, to do this is-”
Rottingtail shook his head; “Ah got every bit o' appreciation fer what she and her folk did fer us, but that ain't the point. The Steel Rangers came in and slaughtered more'n five hundred innocent ghouls. If anypony else in the wasteland did somethin' like that, somepony would surely step up and put a stop to it. Th' only thing stoppin' anypony from givin' the Rangers their just deserts is that there ain't nopony with proper ordinance what c'n stop'em. Why do y'think Ah was so insistent on gettin' this ship ready fer a fight?”
“This wouldn't be a fight,” I countered, “it would be a slaughter.”
“It's no more'n they deserve,” spat Rottingtail, his composure slipping.
“And what about you?” I asked earnestly. “Slaughtering them would make you no better than they are if you're not trying to protect anypony.”
“Ah know,” claimed Rottingtail to my surprise. He seemed to be trying hard to steel his resolve. “Which is why Ah acted alone. Ah was responsible fer Trottingham, and now Ah'm gonna make sure they get what's comin' to 'em with nopony else takin' the fall fer me again. Them Steel Rangers gotta be shown, even if Equestria is twisted and blackened, that bullshit like what they pulled will not stand. Even if it's just fer show at this point, it still needs to be done.”
“Will it be enough for you?” I demanded. A part of me really wanted to be mad at Rottingtail for what he was pulling, but I knew that he was as torn up about everything as I was. If I could just get him to step down... “Will killing the Steel Rangers who destroyed our home be enough for you?”
“No,” he said flatly. “If it were up to me, Ah'd take this thing all 'round and scorch every last one of them Ranger bastards off the face of Equestria. But that ain't muh responsibility; just Trottingham.”
Nothing I was saying seemed to be swaying Rottingtail. There had to be some way to make him see that this was a mistake. “What about... Applejack?”
Rottingtail stiffened noticably. He actually turned to face me, his face looking on the verge of bursting into any number of emotions. “Or for that matter, any of the Apple Family?” I pressed. “Would Silver Sand, Braeburn, Applejack or Apple Crumble want this?”
Rottingtail snapped; “What the hell do you think you know?!”
That stung, but I shook my head and sighed; “I don't know. They were your family. I only knew Apple Crumble for half as long as you did, so I'm counting on you to know what he, or any of them really, would want.”
Rottingtail's face contorted, seeming to twist through a plethora of emotions all at once. His lower lip trembled and, finally, he broke into wretched sobs. He hadn't cried since the massacre at Trottingham, and all of that pent up sadness flowed out all at once. He collapsed to the floor, his bad leg shaking so hard that it couldn't support him. I laid down next to him, folding a wing over him and pulling his head into my breast. He just lay there, crying. He went on for almost a full half hour before stopping, and I laid there, holding him the entire time.
By the time he had finally stopped crying, May had arrived, and she, Bright, and the two guards had entered the command deck. As the four of them approached as, I helped Rottingtail stand up. He looked up at Bright and her guards, then down to the floor. He didn't have anything to say. May looked like she was torn between anger and sympathy towards our friend, and in the end, sympathy won out. She trotted over to us and pulled both of us into a hug.
After the hug was released, Bright stepped forward towards Rottingtail. He didn't look up, unwilling to face her. “Sheriff Rottingtail, what have you to say for yourself?”
“Ain't nothin' to say,” he replied, his voice hoarser than usual. “Ah dun made one mistake too many, and Ah got no right t' try'n evade the consequences now.”
Bright shook her head, her echoing voice sad more than anything; “I will do no harm upon you, but this act cannot go without reprimand. You have shown yourself to aggressive, vengeful and forceful, traits that I do not wish to come with us to the land of salvation. Thusly, I cannot permit you to take the journey with us. You will remain here in Equestria for the rest of your days.”
Rottingtail said nothing, apparently more than willing to accept this. Frankly I was a little surprised that Bright was so lenient. Then again, considering her beliefs, denying him the 'salvation' may well have been, in her mind at least, a sentence worse than any other. I stepped forward; “I'm staying too.”
Bright looked at me, her expression changing to shock; “But Miss Ditzy Doo, without you the journey to salvation would not even be possible. If anything, you are the one who deserves this gift from the Goddesses the most.”
I shook my head; “I'm really nothing that special. Besides, I've already given you all the help I can. He needs me now more than you do.”
Bright let out a sigh, but seemed to accept this. “If that is your wish, then I shall not begrudge it to you.” She turned to look at May; “Will you be staying as well?”
May didn't hesitate; “Of course. I'm not about to abandon my oldest friends. Besides, there's still lots of other ghouls here that need my talents.”
Bright nodded; “Very well. I shall tell the other children what transpired here. Hopefully they will not see it as a desertion or betrayal. If you've no objections, I can send you back to Stalliongrad. They may or may not be willing to accept you there, but from my previous interactions with them, I know that at least they will not shun you indiscriminately.”
I looked to May and Rottingtail, and the three of us nodded in unison. Bright stepped forward, her horn glowing with magical light fuelled by the radiation in her body. The glow wrapped around the three of us, and with another brilliant flash, we were gone.
Footnote: Status Update!
Current Status: Non-Feral Ghoul; Mildly Irradiated.
Ghoul Tip: Don't forget their faces – Hold on to the memories of your friends and family as long as you can. Even if they're no longer with you, their spirits may help you find solace in the blasted ruins of Equestria.