Ace scratched the back of her leg and winced a little. “Ah...well...I'm sorry?”
“Why?!” I sobbed at her, clutching my crushed chest. “Why would you be sorry?!” I clenched my teeth against the pain stabbing into me with each breath. Wild Card's hoof prints were still clearly visible on my battered chest.
Ace honestly looked like she didn't know what to do. Her eyes darted around the bar and she pursed her lips tightly. The troublesome mare raised her hoof to say something before the bar doors swung open with a flurry of gold and green as Cloud burst in, saddlebags full of medical equipment.
“What happened here?” The unicorn doctor shouted before trotting to my side, tutting and shaking his head. “You just got your head smashed and now you have a set of ribs to match. Hooray...” he sighed as he started to rummage through his saddlebags. He pulled out a vial of purple liquid and placed it on the floor beside me. “Now, this is going to hurt...a lot...” he set his hooves on my crooked chest. “Better be ready to drink that potion.”
I looked up at the green maned stallion, teary eyed. “What are you going to-” He shifted his hooves and I heard a loud, sickening crunch before pain bored through my entire torso. Cloud glanced at the vial just millimeters from my mouth. I grabbed it and drunk it down, and the cold purple liquid found its way down my throat and into my torso. The pain began to fade as the potion worked its magic, stitching my ribs and other injuries back together. Still, it did nothing for my mood though. Going fetal was the only thing I could manage between my sobs and throbbing pain in my abdomen.
“What the hell did you do to him?” the unicorn doctor asked Ace accusingly.
“Me?" Ace asked with a look of disgust and indignation. "It was Wild Card who almost killed him; l I saved him.”
Cloud went to my side and looked me over one more time. “Ace, this is the fourth bar brawl you've been involved in. Do you really expect me to believe that?” he asked, satisfied that I was healing properly. “I should be charging you for all the patients you're sending me. Healing is not a cheap hobby.”
“Hey, I can't help it if the stallions around here are pussies,” the beige mare replied with a shrug. She glanced at the crowd growing outside. “Anyway, we need to get him out of here... It's bad enough I had to be seen with him before he repainted the inn with his blood.”
“Agreed.” Cloud pointed at me, “Give me a hoof with this one...” They both picked up my sniveling heap of sadness, draping one of my forelegs over each of their shoulders. I couldn't be bothered trying to keep my own hoofing. I just wanted to wallow in my own tears and pain.
“Front door might not be the best option," Ace cringed, looking at the agitated crowd again. "Don’t want to parade him around town...” She glanced at the purple barmare who had composed herself and was watching intently.
“Backdoor?” the server pony suggested calmly, nodding to the other side of the room.
The two unicorns started dragging my beaten body towards the back of the saloon, trying to avoid the gazes of the ponies outside. “Pick up your hooves, not like you broke 'em,” Ace sneered as she pulled me along. Gee, thanks, bitch. You get me beat up and now you're telling me what to do?
“Ace,” Cloud said with a flat look. “Really?”
“What? He needs to toughen up if he hopes to survive out here,” the beige unicorn explained before opening the back door and peering out. “Well, all clear. Let’s get him to my place.”
I managed to lift my head and blink the tears from my eyes. “Are you kidding?”
She looked down at me. “No. I got you into this mess, I should probably try to help you out.” Oh, so now you're gonna help me?
“No thanks,” I replied flatly as I tried to free myself from her clutching hooves. “You've helped plenty.” I shoved her away and stood on my own four hooves. “I'll just...erm...” And there I was, back at square one. I now knew where I was but had no idea where to go or what to do.
The pain in my chest flared up again, causing me to start listing to one side. I was having a hard time maintaining my balance, but I was just about strong enough to stand on my own.
“Exactly," Ace said, propping me up again and keeping me from falling flat on my face. "You're just a lost baby in a big world.”
“I'm twenty-one, thank you very much,” I growled. Baby? Really?
“Whatever.” The brown maned unicorn rolled her eyes. “I'll take you back to my place so you can rest up, then figure out what you're gonna do next.”
I sighed, wincing at the pain. “Fine.” I could do with a lie down. Granted, I'd still be in the presence of the manipulative mare, but I needed time to work out what to do next, and I couldn't think of anything better to do given the Doc was probably going to start charging me for board.
All three of us trotted towards Ace's residence, managing to avoid most of the public. Those ponies we did see either laughed at me or cheered. Why would they cheer? I got my arse kicked five ways from Tuesday. Those who laughed were shut up by either Cloud or Ace glaring at them. The unicorns almost had to drag me up the front porch of Ace's residence, a small cottage with a row of empty bottles on a rickety fence.
“I still don't think he should be staying with you,” Cloud grumbled to the beige mare as she nudged open the old wooden door to her home.
Ace glanced over her shoulder. “Doc," she sighed rolling her eyes, "he'll be fine.”
“Does anypony ever listen to a doctor's orders these days?” the gold, unicorn doctor sighed, shaking his head.
“Nope,” Ace said with a smile. “I'll take it from here, doc. You go back to healing people and being ignored.”
Cloud trotted down the stairs, grumbling about something or other, while Ace walked me inside. While I was loath to spend one more second with this troublesome pony than I needed to, I had no idea where to go next. She seemed to know the area, and an abrasive guide was better than no guide at all.
“So.” She trotted over to an old armchair and sat down. “What now?”
I lay back on the old, rattan couch, fighting back the urge to cry with worthlessness. “I don't know...” I whispered meekly.
Ace slumped further into the chair. “Well ya gotta do something. Your brother was killed and you're just sitting around here.”
“I know,” I replied with a sniff. “But what can I do? Nothing is going to bring him back.” I felt a stab of sorrow inside.
Ace leaned forward. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“Since when do you care?” I asked petulantly, still staring at my hooves.
She leaned back again. “Honestly, I don't really.” Bitch... “But I've seen a lot of ponies in your situation, and quite frankly, it’s getting lame. Helping should be an interesting change of pace.”
I slowly sat up, fighting the pain in my chest. I thought healing potions were supposed to make you all better... “So...” I began hesitantly. “you're going to help me?”
Ace rolled her eyes and groaned. “That's what I said. Now get on with it.”
“Well...” I sighed. This was gonna get teary. “My brother, Shamrock, and I...we were crossing El Diablo Drylake to deliver a package to Neighgas...” Ace leaned forward a little. “Then...then I think we got jumped.”
“You think you got jumped?” she asked irritably, waving her hoof at me. “You either did or you didn't.”
“Well I dunno...” I lay back again. “I just remember waking up...bound...” My eyes started to moisten from the memories. The binds, the pyscho mare, the grave... “Then I saw my brother...being tortured.” My breath caught in my throat, but I gulped it down and continued. “Then...then he was shot.”
“Mhm...and what happened to you?”
I blinked a few tears away and felt the side of my head. “Then the murderer hit me with a shovel and buried me alive.”
Ace hissed a little. “Buried alive? That must've been fun...”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “That's not helping.”
Ace sat back again. “Yeesh, sorry. Do you know who did it?”
I went back to that horrible night, what had the pony called himself? I remembered his green coat, his black suit, and his pistol. I clenched my eyes shut in protest against the tears. I am not going to break down again. Not now.
“Me?” the green stallion chuckled, taking a long drag on his cigarette. “My name is Double Down.”
“Double Down,” I growled. I felt no pain, no sadness, only rage at his name.
The beige pony absent mindfully scratched behind her ear in thought. “Double Down, eh? Rings a bell...”
I looked over to her. “Rings a bell?" I asked cautiously. "What kind of bell? A friendly one?” I tensed up. If this mare knew him I would make her take me to him, no matter what.
She shrugged. “Don't know. Doesn't seem like someone who I’d let live though.”
“You're telling me...” I grumbled.
“Well...” Ace said with a grin. “Why don't you do something about it.”
I stared at the leather-clad mare. “What are you suggesting?” She couldn't possibly be suggesting...could she?
“What I'm getting at,” she purred, “is avenging this brother of yours.”
Revenge? This was a bad idea, I could tell.
But is it a bad idea? a voice in the back of my mind chimed. Double Down murdered your one and only brother, your best friend, the one thing you had left in this life.
True... I thought. But if I kill him, how am I any better than him?
The voice chuckled. You would be better than him because you would be avenging your brother. He just killed to steal. Plus, he'd be dead, and you would be alive; that makes you better than him, right? Remember what Shamrock said? ‘Ask yourself What Would Shamrock Do’?
I couldn’t help but nod at my conscience.
Well, if I were Shamrock, I would have gone to avenge you. Are you going to let him down?
“Revenge...” I growled before smiling slightly. “I like that.”
Ace's grin dropped. “Alright, but if you want to do this, here's some advice. Don't let the rage get to you. Rage is good when directed at the ponies who deserve it but it will have huge consequences if innocent ponies get hurt in the process.”
“What do you mean?” I asked like a school foal.
Ace sighed. “If you let the rage get to you, it will take over and turn you into a heartless, soulless monster with more blood on his hooves than the Federation.” Eesh, sounds bad... “Normally, I would just let you go gallivanting off, but you're different.” She gave a sly smile. “Most other ponies would have protested against me putting them in a fight.” I'm a coward! How did she expect me to protest when I can barely talk to her under normal circumstances?!
“Plus, you almost beat Wild Card. Better than most ponies.” Really? “I guess you're an okay pony. Not once did you try to hit on me.” Again, bad with mares. “And a wimp.” True. “You won't survive out there so...” She took a deep breath and looked very uncomfortable. “...I'm going to...help...you...”
I rolled my eyes. “Gee, that must have been difficult,” I snickered.
“Do you want my help, or not?” Ace growled.
I waved my hooves at her. “The Great Miss Ace helping out a small farmer! I can see the headlines...” I laughed, wincing at the sudden pain in my chest. Still....it felt good to laugh. She glared at me. “Okay, okay, I'll stop.” What? She was a bitch to me, I deserve to poke fun at her.
She shook her head. “I just know this is going to bite me in the ass...”
My eyes drifted to her haunches. I hadn't noticed before, but they were so pert and looked like they had the perfect mix of firm and soft. “I might.” I giggled... Did I just say that out loud?! I went beet red.
Ace raised her eyebrow at me. “You try that, and I will geld you with a wooden spoon, 'kay?” Eep.”For now though,” She waltzed over and poked my ribs making me yipe in pain. “you need to rest.”
I waved her away. “Fine,” I nickered and made myself comfy.
Ace got up and walked past the couch, flicking my face with her tail and turned on the radio on an old shelf. “I have an idea. You just sit there and be in pain. I'll be back.” She opened the cracked door before turning to me and narrowed her eyes. “Don't touch anything,” she growled before slamming the door.
“Good morning, Ponave!" I flinched, causing a fresh wave of pain to radiate out from my barrel, when an old stallion’s voice filled the room, like silky smoke. "This is your resident radio guru, Mr. Ponave, coming to you live from the fortified walls of Iron City. I'm bringing you all the music and news you can possibly handle! Speaking of which, time for the news!"
“Good news for the Federation! The new train-line has finally been completed connecting Fort Crossroads to the rest of Federation territory despite setbacks created by the Resistance.”
“However, a Federation patrol has gone missing near Westwood. Federation officials are blaming the Resistance. Residents of Westwood are urged to come forward with any information about the whereabouts of the missing ponies.”
“The conflict in Buckwheat still rages between Resistance Separatists, under the leadership of Staff Sergeant Short Stack, and the resident gang The Blue Jackals with no sign of a ceasefire. Anypony traveling along the I-10 are urged to avoid that area.”
“Well, that was gloomy. Let’s see...” There was a crackle of papers rustling over the radio before the radio pony spoke again. “Erm...nope, no more good news, sorry. So let’s just get onto the next song, hm? Here's The Lone Wanderer with 'The Long and Winding Road'”
A slow, guitar heavy song started flowing through the old radio box, reminding me of the western films Shamrock used to take me to in the old Apple Plains cinema. I sighed with nostalgia before sorrow smacked me like a brick. Short lived as it was, the brief moment of contentment was the nicest feeling I had experienced in the past two days.
I looked out the window as the sun was still making its ascent into the sky. Why did I get the feeling life was gonna suck a lot more now?
“Where is he?” I whined, stomping my little foal hooves on the floor of my bedroom with tears rolling down my face.
“Where's who?” Shamrock asked warmly from the doorway. I continued to stomp and cry until Shamrock came in and hugged me, keeping me still. “Who are you looking for?”
I looked up at him and sniffed. “I can't find Gunter.”
The orange pony smiled. “Where was the last time you saw him?” He picked me up and set me on his back. He may have only been seven years older than me, but he was always the biggest pony I knew.
I pointed at my tiny bed. “I had him last night and this morning he was gone!” I sobbed. Shamrock trotted over and looked over the bed, checking down the sides and around the sheets. “See? Not there!”
“Calm down, little buddy. We'll find him,” he assured me with a soothing smile. Shamrock always made me feel safe. “Time for an adventure!”
“Yay!” I yelled out, flailing my forelegs and almost falling right off his back. “Clover and Shamrock in: The Great Bear Hunt!”
“Sure,” my brother laughed. “Let’s go find Gunt-”
“Wake up!” Ace yelled in my ear, making my jump about five hooves into the air and tumble onto the floor.
I cracked open my eyes and looked up at the grinning mare. “Why did you do that?” I asked irritably, my muzzle still smushed against the floor.
“Who's Gunter?” she responded gleefully, grinning beyond measure. “Your coltfriend?”
I picked myself up. “No,” I hissed at her. “I like mares, thank you very much.” I sat back down on the couch, stretching myself out. My ribs didn't hurt anymore, oddly enough.
“So who's Gunter?” the beige unicorn pressed, putting her saddlebags on the table in front of me.
I shifted uncomfortably. Should I really tell her? Well, why not? “Gunter is my...teddy bear,” I mumbled.
“He's my teddy bear...”
“Did you just say teddy bear?” the brown maned mare asked, cocking her head. I nodded. Ace fell into a fit of laughter at my expense. “You're twenty-one, and you still have a teddy bear?!” I slowly nodded again. “You're such a baby!” Am not!
“Yeah well...you smell!” I retorted. That'd show her!
Ace just laughed harder before dragging herself off the floor. “You are one big barrel of laughs!” She wiped a few tears from her eyes. “Anyhoo, I got an idea of how to help you out.”
“Oh?” That got my attention.
“Well.” Ace brought out a map of the Ponave. Westwood was situated to the south west of the Ponave, near a giant skull with 'Border Security' written under it. “I need to go to Iron City on... business. I suppose you could tag along.” She narrowed her eyes and grinned. “Hell, if the going gets tough, I could use you as cannon fodder.”
I shrunk on the couch. “Y-you...you wouldn't...” Would she?
“Maybe,” she laughed. I gulped hard. “Anyway, if anypony knows anything about this Double Down character, they would live or trade in Iron City. Biggest town around these parts and a centre for information."
I looked at the map. Apparently Iron City was all the way down the I-10. I gulped again, I-10 went past Buckwheat and Buckwheat was a big 'no-no' according to the radio. "Um, excuse me, but I don't thing this is a good idea," I cautioned. "That news buck said there was fighting going on there, and everypony should stay away."
“Psh.” She waved dismissively. “The Blue Jackals are just a bunch of pussies.”
“And what about the Resistance Separatists?” That radio chap had mentioned them fighting these Blue Jackals and I really didn't want to turn up in the middle of a crossfire.
Ace growled for a moment. “Treacherous bastards,” she hissed. “They aren't true Resistance soldiers.”
“Then what are they?” I asked, prepared to dive behind the couch.
The unicorn narrowed her eyes. “They’re anarchists. They just want to fight the Federation for shits and giggles.” She slammed her hoof on the table as if to punctuate her rage. By this point, I was already scrambling over the sofa. “They rape, pillage, and murder! Nothing but organized raiders, enemy to both the Resistance and the Federation. True Resistance never kill without reason. They target supplies and take hostages, but they don’t kill mindlessly. They don’t kill...for fun.” Sounded like Ace had a passion for the Resistance.
I peeked out from behind the old couch. “So are we avoiding Buckwheat or...” Ace glanced at me, turning my blood ice cold. Please don't hurt me, please don't hurt me, please don't hurt me...
“Why not?” the beige caster asked with an obnoxious smile. “Anypony who gets in my way gets a shotgun to the face and a machete to the groin.” She whipped out her machete and pointed it at me. “And that includes you.”
I gulped again, instinctively moving my hooves to protect my stallionhood. “N-noted...”
Ace perked up again. “So! I'm heading to Iron City. You in or out?” Head to Iron City? It was a long way away... Stop being lazy, dammit!
I hopped over the couch again. “Sure. Why not. What's the worse that could happen?”
“Well.” Ace sheathed her machete. “You could get shot, stabbed, dismembered, maimed, disemboweled, sliced up, eaten, buried alive... again oh and possibly raped...but probably not all at once and not necessarily in that order. Now if we encounter something out of the ordinary, there is-”
I shoved my hoof in her mouth. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?!” Hell no, I'm not going anywhere!
She shoved me away and proceeded to spit and splutter. “Eugh! Are you trying to make me throw up?!” She finished making a spectacle of herself and stood up straight again. “Anyhow, I won't let you get yourself killed.” I breathed a sigh of relief. “Unless you get in my way... or irritate me... or if I get bored. Besides, I might need you to be my meat-shield if things get hairy.” I gulped again.
“So it’s settled,” she cheered, putting the map away. “We leave after lunch!” She trotted into what I assumed was the kitchen.
Finally! Something to eat! “I’m pretty hungry,” I said as I stretched out again.
She poked her head around the doorway again. “Oh, I guess you could have something too...” Bitch. She levitated out two sandwiches, dropping one beside me. I picked it up between hooves and started to devour it.
It was a delicious blend of...stuff. “Where did you get this stuff?” I asked, my mouth full of bread and vegetables.
“Well...” Ace said with her mouth full. Not very pleasant. “The fuckin' Feds own most of the farmland, but I only get my produce from the Iron City farms.” I nodded dumbly. How could I forget? I worked on a Federation supported ranch! We had everything ranging from wheat to apples.
We ate in silence for about another ten minutes before Ace let rip the nastiest belch I had heard in a while. “Time to go.” She purred as she patted her belly and pulled on her saddlebags. I got up and noticed something rather convenient: I was stark naked without any form of protection from the sun, and more importantly, bullets.
“Erm...I, uh...” I stammered.
Ace rolled her eyes and let out an explosive sigh. “What now?” She turned to me and pouted. “Gotta go potty? Need me to hold your hoof so you don't get scared?””
“Nah, its not that, its...erm...” Just feckin' say it. “Well, I'm bollock naked.”
The leather-clad mare giggled slightly. “That you are.” She rummaged around in her packs and pulled out set of hot pink barding. “Here, you can have my old barding for now.” She levitated it over to me.
I took the barding in my hooves and looked at it, back to her, and back to the barding. “Its...”
“Its...pink...” I raised my eyebrow. “You expect me to wear pink.”
She looked offended. “What's wrong with pink?”
I dropped the barding. “Stallions don't wear pink.” No way, no how.
The mare just shook her head and huffed. “Grow up. That barding might end up being the thin line between a live...who ever you are, and a corpse. What's your name again?”
“Clover,” I sighed, trying to squeeze on the barding. It was a size too small, at least. “I thought I told you.”
“Your new name is Miss Daisy,” the rage inducing mare snickered.
“No,” I responded flatly. “My name is Clover.”
She turned to the door. “Come along, Miss Daisy.”
“Hold it,” the large griffin sheriff grinned as he landed in front of as we left Ace's house. “Y'all ain't going nowhere.”
“What do you want, Bull?” Ace sighed. “I've got business to attend to.”
The griffin huffed in amusement. “I've got no issues with you. Y'all can get goin'. It’s Pinkie here I need to talk with.”
Ace turned to me and grinned. She wouldn't. “Oh, Miss Daisy?” She would. “What's the problem? You interested in him?”
“No," Bull bristled. "He owes Westwood for the damages in this morning's fight.” Damn it. He was right, I did agree to paying for damages if I lost. I did lose. My mind drifted back to the morning's fight. Owie...
Ace looked over to me, and back to the looming griffin. “Daisy ain't got nothing to pay with.”
“Well then.” Bull smiled. “He'll have to stay here and work off his debt.” Do what now? He looked me over. “Maybe a dancing girl?”
I looked pleadingly at Ace. I had no idea what to do. No surprise there.
Ace bushed up beside the griffin. “Bull, darling. I'm taking this nice stallion into the scorching Ponave desert which will probably kill him.” Please don't say those things. “Hows about you let us toddle off, and I won't tell anyone about what you get up to with your deputy.”
That made the griffin stand down. “You wouldn't.”
“I would.” Ace grinned mischievously. “I will drag you out of your little closet along with all the pretty dresses you might own.”
Bull shuffled uncomfortably before spreading his wings. “Fine. Go.”
I watched the griffin take off before turning to Ace. “Do you have a problem with...erm...”
“Coltcuddlers?” she chuckled before trotting down the stairs. “I don't have any problems with gay ponies or straight ponies... or griffins for that matter.”
“Then why so harsh?” I asked as I followed. My new barding was really tight around me, it being a size too small, and probably the fact it was not made for a stallion. Plus, I hate pink. Its a mare's colour.
“Well.” Ace started up the road towards the entrance to Westwood. “He was gonna make you pay for the damages caused this morning and, quite frankly, I don't think you deserve being forced to work. That's Fed shit.”
“Wait.” I stopped in my tracks. “You're doing something nice for me?”
“Don't get used to it,” she nickered back at me. “Now let’s get moving, Daisy.” Still a bitch...
“Just curious as to why you were so harsh on that griffin. Thought you might have something against them.”
“Nah.” Ace shook her head. “Why would I have a problem with them? I'm bi after all...” wait, what?
I stopped again. “Y-you're b...b...”
“Bi. Yes. I go both ways. What's it to you?” She narrowed her eyes at me.
“Nothing. Nothing at all.” The barding was starting to get a little too tight. The thought of this mare with...with another mare... my brain may have short circuited...
She rolled her eyes at me. “Don't get any ideas. I don't date wimps. ” That stung, but hey, what did I expect? “Now come on, already!” She flicked her tail in my face before walking off. Could this barding get any tighter?
I gawked for a few more moments before composing myself. Ace was waiting under the Westwood town sign at its entrance, tapping her hoof impatiently.
“Are you always this slow?” she asked when I caught up. “Or am I gonna have to leave you in the desert?”
I had enough. “Is that really the way you treat a mourner?” Did I have to break down in front of her to prove my point? I certainly felt like it. I tried something that I thought I could never achieve, I tried to look angry. I narrowed my eyes and shook my head slightly. Okay, maybe not the most intimidating, but I was new at this...
The unicorn sighed. “Okay, I'm sorry. Better?” I nodded. “Now let’s get moving, I want to be at least half way there by sundown.” She started trotting down the old, hard packed dirt road. I shifted the tight barding a little before making off after her.
I took my first steps into the Ponave on a whole new adventure, but this time instead of for my job, I was starting my journey for revenge. I still had to get my head around this whole revenge thing. I had always been taught to shrug off anyone that did me wrong, show that I was stronger. But that was back when the other kids on the Plains would take my toys, or hit me, I would just shrug them off and they would always just return the toys later that day, or apologize for hitting me. Come to think about it, Shamrock would always disappear for a while before they came to their senses...
But this was different. It wasn’t just a toy, or a bit of childish abuse, this was murder of family. The spilling of blood, smearing the name of justice. I couldn’t just shrug this off, I needed to act on it. I promised myself I would make Double Down taste the bitterness of my revenge or die in the attempt. I would avenge Shamrock. I would not let him down. I would be resolute, and I would take from Double Down everything he took from me when he tortured and killed the only family I had.
I would stay strong.
Shamrock and I trotted out of my room. The house I had grown up in wasn't anything special, and needed patching up occasionally, but it was home. The hallway outside felt so long as a child, but yet so short now that I think about it. The Great Bear Hunt had begun.
“So where do you think Gunter is?” Shamrock asked, smiling at me on his back. I shook my head, sending my mane sprawling over my face. I smoothed it back as I thought about it. If I was a teddy bear, where would I be?
“Euweka!” I piped up. “A cave!”
Shamrock chuckled, reached up and tussled my mane, making it flop down in front of my eyes again. “A cave? Where are we gonna find a cave?”
I merely shrugged. “I dunno.” I thought for a few moments before coming up with my next bright idea. “I know! Let’s ask Papa!”
We started to walk down the hall to the stairs. “And so,” Shamrock started, as if narrating. “our intrepid adventurers traveled far and wide to meet the wise old man, in search of the mighty bear cave!” That was Shamrock for you, always making our games that much better.
The hallway was decorated with pictures, some of the family, some of friends I was too young to remember. I could only remember two pictures though, one of my father, mother, and Shamrock standing around a crib with newborn me inside. Everypony wore a look of pride in that picture.
The second one was of a pony I did not know. My father said she was once one of the most powerful ponies in all of Equestria, 'The pony with the biggest brain' he used to call her. I don't think I will ever forget that purple unicorn with her pink streaks. Mostly because her caring but determined smile was the first thing I saw as I left my room each morning.
We started our short hop, skip and jump down the old, chipped wood stairs, two or three at a time, much to my amusement as I let out a squeal of laughter with each step. We stopped five steps up, and Shamrock glanced over his shoulder and grinned. I returned the grin and held on tight right before he leaped into the air, landing several hooves from the last step with enough momentum to send me flying into the living room couch.
I pulled my face out from between the cushions and squealed with delight. “That was awesome!” I jumped down and trotted to my brother's side as he cantered into the room.
“Our heroes begin their search for the old hermit in the deep dark lagoon...” he said, crouching down to my height.
“Who you calling old?” a white pony with a graying black mane asked as he cantered out from the study. Why did we have a study? I had no idea...
Shamrock bowed his head and snickered. “Oh, wise and old gentelcolt, we come requesting knowledge!” I giggled and copied my older brother.
The older pony scratched his rough beard, wondering what we were up to. He finally shrugged and winked. “Oh, noble travelers, what needeth thee?”
“We come seeking the whereabouts of the Great Bear Cave,” Shamrock said, standing back up again.
Dad chuckled a little. “I will tell you when you answer me these questions three!”
“Oh! Oh! I know this one!” I yelled, jumping up and down before sitting on my haunches, looking at my hooves. My face scrunched up in strenuous thought, my tongue hanging out of the corner of my mouth. “Free is...” I held up my forehooves and my left hind leg, “This many!” I wobbled a little before falling backwards with a small 'oof'.
My father rolled his eyes and chuckled before flourishing. “Well done, young one! You have passed the first task! Now, the last test...” he bent down low to me and Shamrock. “What is your favorite colour?”
I jumped up again. “Oh! Uh...blue! No, red! No, Brown! No! Uh...” I looked to Shamrock and his coat. “Orange! Hey, wait a second, that’s only two questions!” I pouted.
My father laughed heartily. “And realising that was the the real last test!”
He scooped me up and put me on his back. “Well done! You have passed my tests!” I grinned with triumph. “But there is one secret you must know about the Great Bear Cave...” he whispered. His horn lit up with the same purple as the liquid in the conical flask on his flank. “The bear...” he narrowed his eyes, and I felt something brush up against my mane and turned to see Gunter just inches from my snout. “...is gonna getcha!”
Gunter was sent flying into my face, knocking me onto my back. I grabbed the teddy bear and hugged it close to my chest, squeezing him tightly. I finally let go of him and looked him over. The old brown bear had several new patches and his eye had been sewn back on! Yay!
I rolled off my dad's back and hugged him with all my might, before trotting to Shamrock, dragging Gunter along behind me. “We win!” I shouted before hugging him too. I loved my brother and father.
“Clover! Wake up, dammit!” Ace shouted and waved a hoof in front of me. “Stop daydreaming!”
"Huh?" My attention shifted back to reality as we walked down the old cracked highway, stretching miles into the desert prairie. The sun baked dirt and sand of the Ponave rose into large hills and mounds around the highway, covered in dead shrubs and cacti. I could barely make out a medium sized town in the distance. I hoped it wasn’t Buckwheat.
“Fine,” I grumbled, shifting my hair from my face. I needed a manecut...
Ace glared at me and smiled. “I think you should do something about that mane of yours. You look like a mess.” She rummaged through her saddlebags before levitating out a small pocket mirror. “See for yourself.” She levitated it out in front of me.
Sheesh, she was right! My was a complete mess, falling all over the place and tussled something fierce. “Got a comb or something?” I asked, blowing a few strands of hair out of my eyes.
“Thought you'd never ask!” the leather-clad mare replied with glee before pulling out a comb with less teeth than I had hooves.
I gripped the comb between my fetlock and ran it through my hair, smoothing it back into its regular shape. I smiled under the sunglasses I had received from Cloud. Damn, I'm handsome... “Better?” I asked, giving Ace back the comb.
“Keep it.” She nodded. “And yes, now you look less messy.” She poked my pink barding, “And more pretty, Miss Daisy.”
I sighed deeply before stopping. “Could you seriously stop calling me that?” It was going a little too far in my books. “My name's Clover, not Miss Daisy.” I stomped my hoof for emphasis.
The unicorn mare sighed and waltzed up to me, brushing against my ear. What was happening? My eyes darted from side to side nervously under my sunglasses and I felt beads of sweat drip down my face. I gulped as she started to whisper something softly into my ear. “Nope.”
I collapsed to my haunches and looked up at her. “That was just plain evil.” I mumbled before burying my face in my hooves. Why did I agree to follow her? Oh yeah, that whole revenge thing, she was gonna help me get info on Double Down. Just stay strong and she will be out of my mane in just a few days.
“I know,” Ace giggled before helping me up. “It may be because you're a Fed.”
I dusted of my pink (ew!) barding and smoothed my hair back again before retorting. “Like I said, not like I wanted to be. I don't care about the Federation or what they are involved with, just as long as they keep buying our produce. Even told that to the recruiting sergeant who came to the Apple Plains.”
Ace started walking down the dirt path before the highway. “So you didn't sign up? Tell me about it.”
“Because I'm bored, and it will pass the time.”
So does daydreaming... “It’s a boring story, not much to tell...”
“Then sing it to me.”
Wait, what? “S-sing? Why?” I stopped again.
“I told you, I'm bored. Entertain me.” She looked back at me. “You can sing, right?” Nope.
Well, not sober at least. I could vaguely remember Shamrock and I standing on a table, a mug of beer in our hooves singing about something or other. Probably something about the Emerald Isles.
Could I sing? “I...I could try...” Ace grinned in anticipation. I could almost read her mind, 'This should be a laugh.'
I let out a long sigh. “And here I go about to make a fool of myself...again. Well, here goes.” I took a deep breath, setting a tempo in my mind.
“As I was walking down the road
A feeling fine and larky oh
A recruiting sergeant came up to me
Says he, you'd look fine in khaki oh
For the Federation is in need of men
Come read this proclamation oh
A life in Ponave for you then
Would be a fine vacation oh”
I trotted a little faster, getting a little caught up in the song.
“'That may be so' says I to him
'But tell me sergeant dearie-oh
If I had a pack stuck upon my back
Would I look fine and cheerie oh
For they'd have you train and drill until
They had you one of the enemies oh
It may be cool in the Ponave
But it's scorching in the trenches oh”
I grinned at the smirking mare.
“The sergeant smiled and winked his eye
His smile was most provoking oh
He twiddled and twirled his wee mustache
Says he, 'I know you're only joking oh
For the sandbags are so cool and high
The sun you won't feel scorching oh
Well I winked at a pony passing by
Says I, 'what if it's burning oh'”
“Come rain or sun or wind or snow
I'm not going out to the Ponave oh
There's work on the Plains to be done
Let your sergeants and your commanders go
Let Feds fight Federation wars
It's nearly time they started oh
I saluted the sergeant a very good night
And there and then we parted oh”
I ended with a flourish before tripping and falling flat on my face, giving Ace the chance to burst out laughing. I smiled sheepishly and picked myself up again.
“That was terrible!” she laughed before wiping a tear from her eye. “And it's a blatant lie.”
“Lie?” I asked. As far as I knew, that was the truth...
“Yes,” Ace said, losing her grin. “You said you had work to do on the Apple Plains, and yet here you are in the sunny paradise of the Ponave.” She poked my neck with a hoof before frowning, her body suddenly becoming coldly still. Still but tense. “There's something you're not telling me.” She unsheathed her machete. “You are a Fed spy, aren't you?!”
“No!” I shouted, before tripping and scootching back, cowering. “I'm just a courier!”
“Lies!” Ace screamed before jumping on me and putting the blade to my neck. “I thought you were a farmer!”
I was shaking beyond measure, trying not the gulp in case I accidentally get my neck sliced. “N-not anymore!”
“Shamrock and I lost the farm after Dad died!” I cried out. “My brother and I became couriers right after, and now he's dead and I don't want to be! Please don't do it!” I think I was damn close to wetting myself. This really was not what I had in mind at all when I decided to follow Ace, I always thought she might get me killed, not kill me herself!
Ace growled before drawing the blade lightly across my throat, cutting a tiny scratch in my neck. This is it, this is how I die. I thought to myself before she sheathed the blade and took her hooves off me.
“I'm watching you, farmer boy...” she hissed before cantering down the highway. I lay there, blinking and feeling the cut on my neck. I just brushed with death and I did not like it. Or...am I just over thinking it...?
I scrambled to my hooves and watch Ace keep walking. This was really not a good idea. I sat on the cracked asphalt of the highway. Was the information about Double Down really worth risking my life by following this mare? One more outburst and I would be a dead pony.
I got to my hooves and galloped after Ace, who had stopped up the road, waiting for me to catch up. I was going to get that info on Double Down and Ace could just try to kill me, but I was not letting Shamrock down. He told me to stay strong and damn it, I was going to.
I reached Ace and saw she wasn't waiting for me, she was watching a group of ponies approaching from up the road. I could see from the scowl on her face that told me these ponies were not a welcome sight.
I could make out their matching khaki fatigues and armour, the assault rifles each carried, and the distinct look of dignity and respect each had. These ponies were Federation troopers, probably a patrol.
“Thank the goddesses,” I sighed before walking up to them. “I'm sure they'll help a citizen of the Fed-ERK!”
I felt Ace grab my tail and drag me towards one of the large mounds and hills that had lined the road for a while at top speed, how she managed to pull a full grown pony down so fast was beyond me.
“Hey!” I yelled as I dug my hooves into the ground, trying to stop, It did nothing but slow her down as we got to the mound. “What are you doing?!”
I spied a large hole in the mound right before Ace dragged us both into it. “I'm getting us away from those Feds!” she hissed after spitting out my tail and holding me down, hoof over my mouth. She peeked over the top of the hole before growling. “Don't think they saw us, but we'd better not go back out there.”
I struggled and finally pulled her hoof from my mouth. “What?! They could have helped me!” I struggled some more to get free but the smaller, but much stronger, pony slammed me back down again, pinning me.
“Listen you,” she hissed, “They won't help you. They'll imprison you or hang you!”
“W-why?” I asked, no longer trying to get free, resistance was futile. “I'm a c-citizen of the Federation, of course they'll help me!”
Ace smiled a little. “Oh, sugarcube, they'll definitely hang you!” WHAT?! “Seeing as you'd be branded a traitor.”
“No way!” I barked. “I've done nothing wrong!”
“Let’s just let them pass,” Ace whispered, looking out of the hole.
“Why should we?!” I shouted, writhing under her hooves.
Ace pouted and gave me the puppydog eyes. “Please?” she purred.
I froze completely. How could a mare so tough and rugged look so adorable. “Again, why should we?” I said, calmly, not wanting the machete to my throat again.
Ace hopped off me and smiled, “The Feds and I, we've had a few misunderstandings in the past, and that patrol ain't the people I should explain it to. They're the 'Shoot First, Ask Questions Later' types.”
Misunderstandings? Bullshit. I crawled to my hooves and shook my head free of...whatever it was lining this hole. “What have you gotten me into?!” I shouted at the top of my lungs before climbing out of the hole. “Help!” I called out from the rim before being dragged back down.
“Shut up!” Ace growled, slapping her hoof over my mouth. “You'll wake the-”
There was a loud rustling coming from nearby accompanied by a low hiss.
“Now you've done it...”
“What the fuck was that?!” I squealed from behind Ace. I was cowering.
Ace smiled at the giant, yellow, insectoid corpse she had just blown away with her smoking pump action shotgun in her levitation field. “That,” she replied, kicking the body, “was an ant.”
I crawled out from behind Ace and looked at the insect carcass. “An ant?” I shuffled over to it and poked its hard exoskeleton. No way was it an ant.
“Yes. An ant.” Ace smirked.
The beige mare raised an eyebrow at me, as of I was crazy or stupid; probably the latter. “...an, ant...” she replied, saying each word slowly, as if she were speaking to a foal.
I looked at the giant ant, back to Ace, and back to the ant. “Antsshouldnotbethisbig!!” I hollered, stamping all of my hooves, wildly. I sat down hard and held my now aching head. “This must be what its like to be insane...” I mumbled.
Ace slung the shotgun back over her back and hauled me back to my hooves. “You're not going insane.” she glanced back at the large yellowish insect. “Giant ants tend to nest in the hills around here. They don't bother ponies unless threatened.” She prodded my pink barding. “And you pissed 'em off.”
“Me?!” I asked, maybe a little louder than I should have. “How did I piss them off? You're the one who dragged me into this hole!”
Ace shoved her hoof into my mouth again and levitated out a roll of duct tape from her saddlebags. “Shut up, dammit, or I'll tape your mouth shut!” She retracted it and wiped my slobber off on my barding. “I brought us into this hole to get away from the patrol...” She peeked over the rim again, making sure my yelling hadn’t attracted the Feds. “Who have set up shop outside.” She sighed and looked further into the hole, which I now realized was a tunnel. “Looks like we're gonna have to find a new way out before they find out where we scurried."
I peered into the darkness of the cramped tunnel and took off my sunglasses. I hadn't noticed I was still wearing them. “Urm...no.” I poked at Ace this time. “I'm not going into a tiny tunnel infested with massive bugs.”
The unicorn sighed in frustration. “I have a shotgun and machete. Nothing is going to get you. Now you can go down the tunnel and survive, or go out there, be arrested and probably hung.”
“I won't be hung or executed!” I whined, rubbing my aching temples. “This is all too much...” Giant ants? Fuck that, no way is that even possible. Surely they would be crushed under their exoskeletons or something!
Ace pulled out a syringe of med-x. “They probably will, nopony could miss that pink barding. As for being insane, you're not. You're perfectly fine, albeit a coward.” She held the syringe out to me and I scrambled away.
“Get that thing away from me!” I shrieked, flinching away from the horrid device. I had been trifled of fuking needles for as long as I could remember. I wriggled further into the tunnel as Ace grinned and advanced with the needle. “Fuck off!”
“What?” Ace purred. “Don't like needles?”
I kept wriggling down the tunnel before I fell through the dirt floor and slammed into a rocky surface. I opened my eyes and, as soon as the room stopped spinning, saw how far I had dropped, from what I could tell it must have been about six meters.
Ace dropped down beside me, put away the needle (thank Celestia) and handed me some painkillers in pill form. I sat up, holding my head and gulped down the pills before running my new comb through my mane.
“Why would you do that?” I whimpered, checking to see if the metal plate in my head was dented. It was not. “I hate needles.”
Ace levitated out her shotgun again, scanning the large chamber we had fallen into. “Noted.” She glared at me and then grinned. “Great motivational device.”
I stood up and dusted off my tight barding while adjusting it in an attempt to stop the irritation it was causing as it bit into my skin. I took a look around the large cavern and whistled. “Where are we?”
“The hive,” Ace muttered before jumping down the rocky mound we had found ourselves on. “Well, less of a hive, more of an ant's nest.”
I facehoofed. A giant ant's nest. Bloody brilliant. “How do we get out? I don't want to be ant chow.” I jumped down after her, botching the landing and slamming my face into the ground. “Ow,” I nickered and pulled myself to my hooves.
“Simple.” Ace turned and grinned at me. “We keep going till we find a way out.”
“And what of the ants?”
She levitated up her shotgun and kissed the barrel. “We blow 'em away,” she giggled, turned, and trotted further into the tunnel. I noticed that her armoured leggings seemed to amplify the beauty of her flank.
I sighed and walked after her. Sure, she was hot but I could never get a mare like that; or any mare for that matter. I hung my head a little and just accepted the facts. I was a coward and a wuss. I stayed in my little pit of self-pity long enough to not notice the ants that were slowly starting to trickle into the large chamber.
“Uh...oh...” I whispered. We were completely surrounded by giant, hideous, yellow ants. “What do we do now?”
Ace winked and pulled out her machete while loading her shotgun.
“What I meant to say is, what do I do? I don't think you've noticed, but I don't have a weapon,” I nickered, watching the ants click and whine around us, waiting to make their move.
The beige mare aimed at the nearest ant with her shotgun, while whirling the machete in the air, ready to strike down any of the buggy bastards that came too close. “You got your legs. Better use 'em.” She fired, and an ant's head exploded. It probably wasn't the best idea, seeing that rest of the ants started flailing and creeping forward.
I bucked the nearest ant with as much force I could muster, crushing its head clean in. I felt the slight rush, that I think I had felt fighting Wild Card. I liked it. I reared up and smashed another, oblivious to Ace cutting a long path through the aggressive ants, hacking and slashing, shot after shot.
“Come on!” Ace shouted before cackling, evilly. “I can't take all the fun!”
I felt the rush of adrenaline flare through my veins as I jumped, landed on an ant, smashing its head, and bucking the nearest one around. I think I may have laughed before galloping after Ace. Fighting these ants was easier than I thought, their heads made a satisfying crack as my rear hooves smashed into them, spraying the ant's viscous yellow blood everywhere, turning parts of my barding from pink to a murky brown.
I was actually having fun until one got too close. I had just finished another successful smash when I was tackled by one, slightly bigger than the others. I gasped as it sunk its mandibles into my abdominal barding, not penetrating it enough to land a lethal blow but just just enough to rip through my hide and well into my muscle. I shrieked and kicked at the thing, causing it to tear its mandibles out roughly.
I finally knocked it free and clutched at my bleeding sides, screaming bloody murder as the wounds burned. I had never received more than a scratch over on the Apple Plains, bar the skull smash. Was this what it was like to be stabbed? “It fucking hurts!”
“No fucking duh.” a voice, my conscience I think, told me. Really helpful, thanks, me.
“Get up!” Ace shouted before dragging me away from the horde. It must have been the adrenaline, but I managed to get to my hooves and run against the pain in my bleeding sides. We dove through a small tunnel, too small for the ants to get into but just big enough for a pony such as myself.
We only just managed to get in before one of the larger ants' head slammed into the tunnel entrance, swiping its mandibles at us, dripping a disgusting gray drool. Ace took the opportunity to hack off its' head with her machete, clogging the entrance.
I groaned as I peeled off the punctured barding, finally letting my body breathe now that it was out of the oppressive pink leather. I whimpered when I saw the long disgusting cuts in my sides. Ace handed me a vial of purple liquid, the same liquid Doc Cloud had given me for my ribs.
I guzzled it down and watched as the gashes slowly stitched together. The feeling was the weirdest thing I had ever felt, like an odd...wriggling. Like a group of caterpillars crawling across my coat. I hissed as the pain spiked before subsiding.
I shook my head. “Feckin' magic.” Dad had been a unicorn, and even then I could never get my head around how magic works. Then again, I didn't need to, I was an earth pony. “Now what?” I ask picking myself up.
Ace looked down the new tunnel. “Well, that cavern might have been the center of this whole tunnel network.” She pointed down the tunnel. “Which means that all tunnels from said cavern must lead out.” I slung the barding over my back. I couldn't take the tightness any more. It may not have been tight enough to chafe or cut into my skin, but it was just too uncomfortable.
“Put that back on,” Ace said with a tone of annoyance. “If it wasn't for that, you’d be in a lot more pain and probably a lot more dead.”
“I'll be fine,” I grunted and started down the tunnel. “I can take these ants, that big fecker just surprised me is all.”
“Your funeral.” Ace shrugged before following me, wiping her machete on my barding. “And I ain’t paying for it.”
“How long is this tunnel?” I whined. “Are we there yet?” We had been walking through the darkness with nothing but Ace's horn to guide the way. “This barding is getting heavy, and I'm tired!”
“How the hell should I know?” Ace groaned. This was not the first time I had asked. “Quit your bitching.”
“I told you we shouldn't have come down here! I knew it would be trouble, and now we're lost with no food or water!”
Ace stopped and growled at me. “I know!” she finally shouted. “I am aware of this fucking mistake, now shut up about it before I kill you and eat you myself!”
I stumbled back a few steps. “You're a c-c-cannibal?!” I whimpered. She had both the weapons and probably the willpower to eat me.
“No,” Ace sighed, “but I might have to be if I'm gonna make it out of here.” She glared at my horrified, terrified look before cracking up. “You should see your face!” She stumbled over and slapped my back. “I'm not going to eat you! You're all skin and bones!” She wiped a tear from her eye and composed herself. “Besides, a good traveler always packs for all occasions.”
She opened up her saddlebags and pulled out a small box. “Pinkie's Pies” was sprawled across the front. She opened it and levitated a disk-shaped pie to me and found one for herself. She sat down and started eating. I sniffed at the pie before taking a nibble. It didn't take long before I was nose deep in delicious pie.
“I am serious about this being a mistake though,” she eventually groaned. “I didn't expect to get this lost. I just can't get involved with Fed patrols.”
I looked up at Ace, bits of pastry falling from my muzzle. Was she genuinely sorry? Was there... was there an actual pony in that bitch? “It's...well, it's not okay,” I replied frankly. “I want to say it’s okay, but I just can't. Why did you bring me into this mess?”
The unicorn looked up at me, I couldn't tell what she was feeling, possibly a whole mix of things, by the look on her face. She opened her mouth to speak but quickly snapped it shut, dropping what was left of her pie and levitating her shotgun.
“How long have we been followed?” she whispered, staring at me. She pumped the shotgun and pointed it at me. “Don't...move...”
I went wide eyed. “Please don't shoot me...” I begged softly. She was going to go through with it. I detected the slightest hint of a feeling pony and now I'm going to get my head blown off for it. Ace was absolutely crazy, why did I follow here?! Oh right, I was kidnapped...
“Just...don't...move...” Ace hissed. I froze stiff as a board, I couldn't see anything in the dim light of her horn but then I felt it. Something was crawling over my back. I bit my lower lip in fear as the thing popped up over my shoulder.
A vile, disgusting, giant ant head poked out from beside mine. This one was different from the others though. I noticed as it silently crawled over me that it had more of a reddish tinge to it and was a little smaller than the others. It felt oddly warm...
It finally crawled off me and turned, staring at me. “What do we do now?” I asked Ace but she was concentrated on the smaller red ant. It was the weirdest thing I had seen all day, its movements were smooth, silent and filled with some alien intent. In fact the whole thing was silent, I thought it would be screaming in agony because of a knife hilt-deep in its abdomen.
“Ace,” I whispered, trying to get her attention. “What do I do-”
The ant lunged at me, flying with a silent grace at my face (hey, that rhymed!). I only just managed to duck and dive out of the way before it could hit me, I slamming into Ace just as the little bugger turned. “Kill it, kill it, kill it!” Ace's shotgun moved back to the ant but froze. “What are you doing?” I asked, cowering behind her. “Do it!”
“Wait...this one is different,” Ace whispered. “I've never seen it before...” the little thing silently watched us, its mandibles silently twitching. “Still, looks harmle-”
A silent stream of flame flew from the ant's mouth and just over our heads. “Maybe not!” Ace yelled as we turned and ran. Why she didn't shoot it was beyond me, but the damn thing followed us. I was starting to regret leaving the barding on my back and not putting it on. Then again, the best foods are usually packaged...
The tunnel split into several new ones suddenly, Ace dove left while I kept going straight. I screeched to a halt and turned to follow, but the ant was hot on my heels. I turned and kept running until I was in complete darkness. I stopped and turned again, listening for the little blighter, but I couldn't hear anything but my ragged breathing and thundering heartbeat. I fell to my haunches and breathed a sigh of relief before realizing that I was all alone in a deep dark tunnel in Luna knows where...
“Shit...” I whimpered, starting to panic. I looked all around but I couldn't see or hear anything. Was this what it was like to be dead? I sat down and started to sob in panic, I was never too fond of the dark or tight spaces yet here we were.
I clamped my eyes shut as I started rocking back and forth, hoping I was still unconscious at Doc Cloud's or sleeping on Ace's couch. I slowly opened one eye and saw a dull orange glow illuminating the tunnel around me.
“Ace?” I whispered with a sniff. “I-I wasn't crying. I was....I...was panicking.” Silence. “Ace?” I asked again, looking around. “Ace, you're scaring me.” I looked up and saw it.
The red ant was fucking glowing. Glowing. It's bug eyes were fixed on me as it opened its mouth. I could see something building up inside it and instinctively started running. Lucky too, as a silent plume of fire flew out from behind me, singing the end of my tail.
I started to push myself as my legs began to ache, but no matter how fast I ran, the bastard glow still followed me, ready to roast me. I tripped over an errant rock and rolled to a complete stop on my face. Why always the face? I didn't know.
I rolled over to see the red bastard right above, I could almost see it grin at me. It dropped down and tried to claw at me, my hooves just long enough to hold it away. “Help!” I called out, but I knew nopony would come, Ace was probably out by now and nopony else was down here. I began to cry and scream as the disgusting, silent monster attacked me.
This was it, this was definitely the end of cowardly Clover. I was going to die in a hole deep underground to an ant. To a fecking ant! My legs started to give way and I could feel the mandibles just stroking against my face.
A dull glow started to come down the hall behind us, more fire ants I bet. This was it.
“Get off!” Ace yelled as she slammed it with her shotgun, sending the silent, monster flying. She dragged me to my hooves, put the pink barding back over my back and pulled me along. “Come on!” she yelled. My hooves finally got the message as they started to gallop away.
Just keep running, just keep running, just keep running, the only thing I could do was keep running from the silent bastard that was following us. I mean seriously, an ant that breathes fire? What is this shit?
I rammed into Ace as she came to a halt before a ledge and we both fell over, landing on something soft. I opened my eyes just as I started to slide off, falling into something gooey with a crack and a splash.
“Eugh!” I spat out a glob of the foul tasting goo and pulled myself out of the slimy mess. I started shaking the goop off me before trying to figure out what it was. I had landed in a patch of oval shaped objects with hard outer shells with a slimy, gooey center. “Are these...eggs?” I asked Ace who was standing on the thing we had landed on and I had slid off of.
“Yup,” she said looking into the distance. I cantered around the side of the thing and saw its giant legs around a thorax.
I stumbled back into the egg patch, almost falling onto another one. “Ace, get off of it!” The giant thing remained still as Ace jumped up and down on it.
“Relax, Daisy.” she smirked. There's that name again... “It's dead.” She continued to jump and prance around on it before disappearing over the other side.
“How can you tell?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
Her head popped back up over the side. “Because,” She levitated up her machete, covered in fresh, yellow ant blood. “It hasn't killed us yet. That and there's a big ol' hole in it. Explosives methinks.”
“What?” I trotted around the other side, and saw the giant hole in the beast's side. I stopped and stared at the pile of black bones nearby, detonator still in it's teeth.
I shuffled towards the charred bone pile and looked over it. There wasn't much left of it other than some blue and yellow shreds of whatever it was wearing before it was fried, and a strange device on its foreleg.
I poked at the cylindrical device with my hoof before turning to Ace. “Hey, Ace, do you know what this is?” I picked up the device with my hooves and held it up above my head.
She levitated it up and over to herself and looked it over. “It’s a Pipbuck,” she answered with a whistle. “Good condition too, 'cept for the clasp, bust as hell.” She turned it over and the cylinder opened and hung loose. “You want it?”
Why not. “Sure. If you don't want it.”
She levitated it back over to me. “And stand out even more? No thanks, standing out is your job, Miss Daisy.” She grinned but quickly frowned. “Hey, where's your pretty pink barding?”
I looked over my back but the barding must have fallen off somewhere. “Is it up there?” I asked the unicorn on top of the slain beast. She shook her head as I trotted back round to the egg patch, pipbuck slung over my neck for now. I spotted a hint of pink under the grayish blue goo. I gulped and picked it out.
Now, us earth ponies don't have magic or wings to pick things up, we have our teeth and our hooves but there was no way I could get a grip with my hooves given the slimy shit all over them. Let’s just say the barding tasted better before we entered the tunnels and leave it at that. I slung the gooey barding over my back and trotted back up to the beast. Ace was doing something up there, but what exactly was a mystery.
“What are you doing?” I asked, listening to the slicing and splashing coming from out of sight on the beast.
Ace's head popped up again, this time with a few splotches of ant blood. “Remember how that one patrol went missing?” I nodded, remembering how that radio guy said that one had gone missing around Westwood. “Well,” she threw a helmet over the side of the beast. “Found 'em.”
I picked up the dented helmet and read the patch, “Thunderhaze Pineapple.” I sighed and dropped the helmet, glad I didn't have to see the body.
“Besides,” Ace grunted. “This here is queen ant.” so? “Which means that it eats a lot.” Again, so? “Which means that those ponies might have had some supplies or valuables on them when they were eaten.” She grumbled in frustration before sliding down the side of the dead queen. “But this is a bust. Let’s get out of here before that fire dude comes back.” She started trotting away before stopping suddenly. “Unless you, uh, want to stay here.”
I was taken a little aback by that. “Wait, you said 'Let's get out of here' without threatening me.” I grinned at her. “You turning soft? The almighty queen bitch Ace starting to slip from her throne?”
Okay, maybe that was a bad idea seeing as she now had the knife levitated at me neck again. “Shut. Up,” she seethed. “Now come on, before I tie you up and leave you for the fire fucker.”
“Fine,” I whimpered, making a motion across my mouth with a hoof, imitating a zipper. I immediately broke that 'zipper' when I glanced at the pipbuck lying on my neck. “Can I borrow that duct tape?”
She looked at me as if I was insane before looking at the pipbuck. Getting the picture she levitated out the tape and passed it to me.
With a little magical assistance, I managed to tape the pipbuck shut around my foreleg. It bleeped once before coming to life. We both watched as the screen fuzzed and then revealing a happy-go-lucky scamp grinning at us. The screen fuzzed as numbers and letters scrolled across the screen then stopped. The words “Male” and “Earthpony” displayed proudly as the little pony winked.
After it prompted me to type in my name and all that other administrative jazz it finally came to a rest on a menu. I flipped through them, much to the chagrin of an impatient Ace. There was one for the status of my limbs, one for notes, one for inventory, one for-
“Clover!” Ace yelled with a stomp. “Fuck it, you can stay here with your new toy while I leave.” I got up and trotted after her. “So you are coming? Figure-” She was silenced by the glowing eyes of the red ant, mandibles silently twitching, the area around the knife in its back glowing.
It crawled down and watched me, both Ace and I froze solid, unsure why it wasn't attacking. It crawled up beside me and seemed to sniff at me, its feelers dancing over my body.
“What is it doing?” I choked out, still not moving.
“I don't know. It should be mauling you like it was earlier, not giving you a feeler reach-around. What's changed since...” Her face puffed up as she only just managed to hold in a laugh. “The eggs.”
“What about them?” I whispered, feeling the feelers flutter along my neck.
The leather-clad unicorn was trying rather hard to not laugh. “It...it thinks you're the new queen...” I could see tears well up in her eyes. “Q...Queen Daisy!” She fell over laughing, rolling around and slamming her hooves into the rocky ground.
The ant seemed satisfied and crawled in front of me, glaring at Ace. She stopped laughing and stood up, a little woozy. “Come on, Queen Daisy. We’ve got to get out of here.” She took a step towards me, and the ant seemed to hunker down as if...as if it was protecting me.
“Move it, buggy.” Ace smirked at the ant, taking another step. The ant snapped at her and began heating up. “Oh shit,” she nickered before a jet of flame shot from the ant, almost turning her head into a barbeque. She managed to roll away unscathed but the ant as bent on protecting me. I was its new queen. Yeah, fuck that.
I walked around the thing and in front of Ace. The ant seemed confused for a moment before trying to get around me.
“Let’s go...” I whispered to Ace and backed up into the nearest tunnel, the ant followed. “This is getting creepy...”
“Queen Daisy get a dog?” she asked. I sped up and 'accidentally' rammed into her. “Okay, okay, sheesh. Ready to run?” she asked, catching onto the seriousness of the situation.
”Now!” I yelled before sprinting down the tunnel, right behind Ace. The ant sprinted after us, intent on following its new leader and destroy the interloper. Granted, that second thought did sound a wee bit appealing, but I found myself questioning what Shamrock would have done. The mare would live another day.
I could feel the dirt and rock beneath my hooves move and shift before a jet of fire erupted from the ground below us, singing my tail. “Is that any way to treat your qu-king?!” I shouted back. The knife-ant stopped and blasted the hole with fire, roasting the one who had singed my tail. “Hot damn...” I whispered, galloping as fast as I could.
“Clover!” Ace called back over her shoulder. “Check the note section on that pipbuck. Look for a map or something!”
I galloped on three hooves, bringing one of my forehooves to my nose, I stumbled a few steps but I managed. I frantically scrolled through the different tabs, trying to find a damn map. Oh, there it was, under 'local maps'. Luckily for us, the previous owner had come down this way.
“Make a right up ahead!” I called to Ace up ahead. She blasted another fire ant before it could fry her and turned into the next passage. Running, giving directions, and not getting fried by fire while only on three hooves is a bloody annoyance in the best of times, let alone whilst being in mortal danger. Well, Ace was, I dunno about me, seeing as I was these ants' new king apparently.
Left, left, right, left, right, right, the tunnels seemed endless and my legs were starting to fail me. Both Ace and I started to slow down, and Ace was running out of ammo. The ants were mere meters from us, me being the only barrier between their fire and her.
I glanced at my map and my heart soared. The entrance was less than two hundred meters from us, I could almost feel the fresh air.
“Almost there!” I called up to the unicorn mare. I could barely see her eyes narrow, but her whole body seemed to flatten out, streamlining herself. She was showing a level of determination I had never seen before in my life. It was like she would charge a rhino if it was standing between her and freedom.
One last corner and the ants were on our heels. I could feel their feelers brushing past my mane, I could hear the evil clicking and clacking of all of them but the knife one. Why was he so silent?! I glanced back to see him directly behind us.
Light. Glorious light! I could see the end of the tunnel! It was so close I could almost feel it! One of the ants had other plans as it got impatient and let out a blast of searing hot flame, burning my hind quarters like it was a barbeque. The pain was so intense I blacked out for a second, yet I was still running. I felt like something else was driving me forward as I screamed and hollered down the narrow tunnel. I can't be sure, but I think knife ant destroyed the one who burned me, as they had slowed down behind me.
Ace sprang out of the hole in front of us and had already begun closing the hole with a giant rock, I only managed to dive out before Ace's strained magic failed and the rock fell with a dull thump into place over the hole. Fire exploded from the cracks around it, followed by the smells of burnt meat, I almost felt sorry for the knife ant. Then again, that smell could be coming from my flank, which had been burnt severely. I was rolling around In pain, crying and clutching my rump.
“Eesh...” Ace hissed, trotting up to my writhing form. She looked at the boulder and back to me, satisfied that the ants weren't going to be bothering us soon, before picking me and my barding up and trudging into the town we had burst into. I assumed it was the one we had seen from the road. Its tightly packed, wooden buildings loomed in close and the streets were empty and abandoned, baking in the burning sun. But for the moment, the only burning thing on my mind was my poor ass.
She dragged me to the nearest house and trotted inside, locking the door. I continued to cry and writhe as I was carried me up the old, dusty stairs and put me down gently on the wooden floor, causing a flare of pain in my backside making me shout in agony. I could just barely hear something in the distance and hoped the ants hadn’t gotten out.
The unicorn started rummaging through her saddlebags and pulled out another vial of the purple liquid, a roll of bandages and...and...a fucking needle. I swung at the needle, trying to knock it out of Ace's levitation field, but to no avail, she just kept bobbing it out of reach.
“Get...that away...from me!” I gasped against the sobbing and the pain. I clamped my eyes shut and flailed.
Ace shook her head. She wasn't doing this just to get to me, she was actually being serious. “No, you need this, now stop squirming and let me inject this painkiller. You won't even feel it going in over the pain of your burns.”
“How would you know?!” I screamed, still flailing.
“Because it's already done.” I opened my eyes to see Ace waving a now empty syringe in front of my nose, I couldn't help but try and make myself smaller. I fucking hated needles.
The pain started to lessen as she levitated one of those weird healing drinks to my lips and I drank it down. The healing caterpillars began to do their wiggling dance all across my ass. Goddesses it felt weird!
I closed my eyes in relief at the subsiding pain and I let out a long sigh. I finally opened them a moment later and saw that Ace...was down near my nether regions, wrapping the bandages around my healing rump.
“Eh, uh, oh, urm,” I stammered, feeling very awkward about having a mare down that end of me.
“Don't worry about it,” Ace muttered. “Not like your gonna poke an eye out any time soon.” She winked at me and my head hit the ground with an embarrassed moan. “Hey, don't feel bad,” the mare said, finishing up her work. “I've seen smaller.” Gee thanks... hey, wait, was she trying to be nice?
“Thanks, appreciate it,” I muttered before sitting up, which was a terrible idea as my rump was still healing. I immediately rolled back onto my back, covering myself up with the pink barding that was now extremely filthy.
“Now that that little peep show is over,” Ace snickered. “Let’s find out where we are, hmm?” She trotted over to one of the small building's windows and peered out, looking around a little before diving to the ground beside me.
The wall exploded into a cascade of rubble and splinters. I covered my head with my hooves to stop the ringing before opening up my eyes again and got to my hooves. Ace was standing by the blasted wall, looking out over an urban battlefield.
“Where are we?” I whimpered, shuffling up next to Ace.
The unicorn mare sighed. “Welcome to Buckwheat.”
Footnote: Level Up!
"You Laugh At Me, I Wrath At You."
Bonus Hoof to Hoof Damage-Your visceral glee when in combat has given you the edge when it comes to damage. You cause +2 points of damage with hoof-to-hoof and melee attacks for each level of this Perk.
Ace: The rough, tough, lean, mean machine. From her leather barding to her armoured stockings, she is not to be messed with.
New Companion Perk!
“Dead Mare's Hoof”
Your luck score increses by 3 point whenever you are below 25% health
Special thanks to Kashin, Errantindy, Kal, and Julep for editing and art.
Thanks are in order for the great and all powerful Kkat for creating the FoE Universe that I implanted my work into.