“Shamwock!” I yelled in my foalish voice as I trotted down the old, dusty streets of the prewar town of Apple Plains, dragging Gunter along, his arm between my teeth. I had to drop him to speak and pick him back up again after, but I was a kid, what did I care about petty inconveniences? Poor bear had just been stitched up and he was already coming apart, being dragged along the ground like that. “Where are ya?”
“Lost Shamrock, have we?” an old, blue, unicorn stallion with a greying mane and moustache asked, cleaning his glasses with his magic as I passed by his general goods store.
“Yup,” I replied, dropping Gunter’s arm and sitting down on my haunches. “I wanna play.”
The older stallion glanced inside. “Well Windfall is upstairs in his room, if you’re looking for a playmate.” He looked down at me and smiled. “Want me to go fetch him?”
I shook my head violently before standing back up. “Nuh-uh. Don’t wanna play with Windfall, I wanna play with Shamwock. Have you seen him, Mr. Ledger?” The blue unicorn shook his head. “‘Kaybye.” And with that, I picked up Gunter and scampered off.
Mr. Ledger was a great stallion, I’d always admired him. Probably because he would give Shamrock and I free candy or chocolate on occasion. It was his son I didn’t like. Well, he was alright, I guess, he just didn’t know where to stop.
I remembered one time I had gotten my hooves on Mare Do Well, issue number three, and he wanted it. Sure, he asked for it and tried trading but I wouldn’t give it up. It may have been selfish of me, but Shamrock would read me a bit of it every night and try to teach me to read with it.
After I wouldn’t give it up, Windfall hit me and ran off with it. Naturally I went crying off home to dad. I guess Shamrock got his sense of humour and his general niceness from Dad, because no matter what, both could make me feel happy even in the darkest of times. I remembered finding my comic back in my room that evening, and Shamrock claiming he had no idea how it got there.
“Shamwock!” I called out once more, looking for that goofy orange and green brother of mine. Where could he have gotten to? He’d run off like lightning after breakfast. Oh! That’s right! He was gonna go see Clàrsach!
Clàrsach, the daughter of the only other pony from the Emerald Isles and the only beer brewer around. She was stunning, from her pure black coat, to her white and gold mane, and her cutie mark of a golden harp. Dad told me Clàrsach’s dad named his beer after her.
I stopped at a small crossroad and looked down each lane, chewing on Gunter’s arm in thought. Which was was Clàrsach’s house? Not many ponies out to ask...
“Dis way, Gunter!” I cheered triumphantly, briefly spitting out the bear’s leg and picking him back up again. I trotted down the street on my right. The Apple Plains was too far from any detonation sites to receive any significant damage or radiation, hence the fertile farmlands. The old, dark wood and cement buildings still stood through the two hundred years under the hot sun and wind storms.
Trotting down the street to Clàrsach’s house, I couldn’t help but hum a song to myself. I would have sung, but I was dragging my faithful companion and bestest friend ever. I hung a left just before Clàrsach’s house. It was a large, wood building, bigger than my family’s (Not jealous at all...) but not as pretty, no interesting features at all. Just drab wooden planks. I had just rounded the corner when I heard my brother weeping over my tune.
“Shamwock?” I asked, coming into view. My big brother had his back to me, hunched over a smaller, black pony. “Are you okay?”
“Hey buddy...” Shamrock said in a sad tone as I trotted up beside him. I dropped Gunter at my hooves and planted my rump on the dusty ground.
“What’s wrong with Clàrsach?” I asked, looking up at my orange and green brother. He had long, wet streaks running down his cheeks. Clàrsach’s neck was bent at an unnatural angle, the glimmer of beauty and pride in her eyes had disappeared, replaced with a cold stare.
My older brother glared at the balcony above him. “I...I told her to be careful. Not to sit on the rail...” More tears rolled down his cheeks. “Clover, you should leave...”
“Clàrsach is dead,” the green maned stallion choked.
“D-dead?” I stammered. I had never seen a dead pony before and never really had to deal with it. I didn’t have any idea what to do. I sat in silence for a few moments, waiting for Shamrock to shoo me away. “Wanna...wanna hug Gunter?” I held the teddy bear up to my brother.
Shamrock stared at Gunter for a few seconds before gently taking him and staring at him. He began to tear up and held the teddy bear close, crying into his fluff. I had no idea what to do, so I decided just to pat Shamrock on the back.
My first dead body, it was somepony I knew. Yet...somehow, I felt very little in the ways of emotion. Was I too young? Did I just not care? I don’t know, but I felt like I was the bigger brother comforting my little brother.
“Its okay...” I said, hugging my brother.
Shamrock hugged me, still staring at the body beside us. “No...no it isn’t...”
The door of Clàrsach’s house suddenly flew open and Mr. Harper, her father burst out. “Clàrsach? What did you break this-" The reddish brown stallion's voice caught in his throat as his eyes fell on the body. He stumbled forward a few steps and fell to his haunches. “W-why?" he mumbled numbly. "My...my little girl...”
“It was an accident...”
“Fuck!” Gaz, the heavy griffin, yelled, waking me from my not so blissful slumber.
I pulled an old smelling sheet off my face and found myself on a soiled mattress. My eyes adjusted to the dimly lit, concrete room and I saw three ponies, Ace and two of the spec ops ponies (a unicorn and an earth pony), sitting around a table with the giant bulk of Gaz. His face was scrunched up in frustration as he slid a pile of bottle caps over to Ace, who was smiling broadly.
The room I found myself in was spacious, with concrete walls and large windows. No sunlight came through them so I had to assume it was night. The only light in the room came from a single burning barrel in the middle of the room; though I got very little heat in my spot in the corner. The room had two doors, one of them was open with a shadowed corridor on the other side (or whatever) and the other barricaded with a numerous amount of junk.
Gaz seemed a little smaller than before, but that was probably due to the fact the armour above his waist was removed. His torso was still large, regardless of his armour, and I saw his dog-tags dangling over his neck feathers. The rest of his armour sat on a desk nearby. The other unicorn sat in front of it with some weird tools.
“That’s it, I’m out,” the giant griffin sighed, standing up.
“What? Did the mighty Ace clean you out?” my unicorn companion said, mocking the behemoth. Gaz grumbled and walked to his armour.
“Garry, how many times do I have to tell you?!” the unicorn working on his armour said.
Gaz looked confused. “Uh...refresh my memory.”
The unicorn sighed in frustration before hammering something into the armour. “Your damn shielding talisman burnt out again!” The unicorn looked up at the griffin behemoth with a scowl. “These things don’t grow on trees!”
The griffin chuckled and held up his hands. “Alright, alright, I’m sorry.”
The unicorn looked furious. “You really need to stop walking into enemy fire! Do you have any idea how hard it is to recharge these! Do you? Huh? Do you?!”
The griffin was starting to get irritated. “Look, egghead, I know it's bloody hard, but that’s why you’re on this damn team. And for the record, if I hadn’t stepped into enemy fire,” he pointed at me. “He and his friend would be toast. Butter and all.”
Ace glanced up at me and her ears drooped. “Great, that lumox woke you up.” She sighed before sliding the bottle caps into her saddlebag and trotted towards me. “I was hoping you’d sleep well into tomorrow.”
“Why?” I rasped, my throat raw from crying the day before. Earlier today? What time was it? It was dark out...
The beige mare sat on the mattress beside me, making me shuffle to the other side. “You had one hell of a day yesterday.”
“Your fault,” I grumbled, rolling over and pulling the sheet over my head.
“Yeah...I guess it was...” Ace mused. “Great learning experience, eh?”
I pulled the sheet off my face and just stared at Ace. “What?” I deadpanned. What the hell did she mean by ‘Great learning experience’?
“Well, I learnt that I should avoid underground tunnels, and you learnt how to become an ant queen.” She couldn’t help but snicker at that last bit. I guess I am an ant que- king. Ant king. But surely not any more. No way do I still smell like ant queen stuff. Isn’t that how it works?
“And I murdered ponies,” I mumbled, hiding my face once again.
Ace patted my head. “Yeah, you did,” she sighed. I whimpered. “But they were monsters, and you saved me from being raped and killed. Tell me, would you rather have killed three ponies, or have me be raped and killed?”
I pulled the sheet from my face. “Well, you were a complete bitch to me, almost got me killed more than once, and only just started showing any support after I saved your life.” I saw her frown, then her eyes widened in slight shock. Damn right I’m serious.
“I saved your life too!” she barked
“No. No you didn’t,” I growled back. “I would have never needed saving if you hadn’t come along and make me fight a giant bounty hunter, drag me down into a swarming ants’ nest, and finally make me fight through a violence infested town.” I poked her with a hoof. “And now I have absolutely no idea where I am, what time it is, or what is going on.”
Ace was gobsmacked. I doubted she would ever expect me to actually fight back. “I...uh...” She turned and saw the other ponies watching. ‘What are you looking at?” she snapped, making the ponies go back to what they were doing. She looked back at me and sighed. “I’m sorry, Daisy. I’m sorry I brought you through hell, but I can’t be seen near Federation troops, and I was really bored in Westwood. Maybe I should have done something... less life threatening?”
“Whatever...” I muttered. “What happened to ToastyBuns?”
The unicorn poked my flank. “Not toasty anymore.” She grinned and glanced from my flank, to the pile of old bandages beside the mattress. I blushed a little when I realised Ace had been hovering around my rump when she removed the bandages.
“Oh, don’t be such a pansy.” Ace laughed and nudged my shoulder with a hoof. “I didn’t take em off.”
Uh oh. “Then...who did?” A shiver shot down my spine. Ace had already seen my bits, so that wasn’t too bad, but now somepony other had? That...well, that scared me...
“Forsythe,” Ace giggled.
Wait... oh please no. “The...the griffin?!” I yelped. Those talons were that close to mini-me? I curled up into a ball.
“Yup. Odd one that griffin...” Ace muttered.
Odd or no, I’m not letting her get anywhere near my giblets again. Never ever. Speaking about my general special zone, which I rarely do, I have been a whole day without using the little colts room and I seriously needed to relieve myself.
I wriggled out of the sheet and mattress and found myself in the open with no barding. It seemed...safe-ish, so I saw no need to go looking for that horrid, tight, manky set of barding. I mean...pink... come on!
“Where’s the restroom in this... wherever we are?” I muttered to Ace.
She pointed out an open door. “Take a left and its the end of the hall,” she instructed. “Have fun, Queen Daisy,” she added with a snicker.
“Whatever, Queen Bitch,” I growled and turned out the door. I let out a breath I didn’t realise I was holding. Did I really just call Ace ‘Queen Bitch’? I mean, she was a complete bitch, the bitchiest of bitches, but did she really deserve to be called names? Sure she called me stupid, kinda hurtful nicknames, but its all in good fun. I called her that out of spite.
Just one step on the long road to being less of a filly.
And there it was. My own conscience calling me a wimp. I shouldn’t have been surprised really. I knew I was a wimp, but what else could I be? I didn’t even know there was a war out here! That ponies were killing each other over just about nothing!
And you’ll need to learn how to do that too, if you plan on surviving.
I reached the end of the hallway and creaked open the last door. It was completely dark, so instead of walking right in, I probed the wall around the door like an alcoholic fumbling for that last glass of rum he couldn’t quite reach. Finding the lightswitch, I found myself in a filthy bathroom with several blue stalls. The stench was horrific, but it was something I could bear.
I knocked on one of the stalls...and facehoofed. There was nopony in here but me. I opened the door and was met with... a broken toilet. Who ever used it last must have been passing a sledge hammer or something... there were bits of ceramic everywhere!
Turning away, I had a chance to glance over the graffiti all over the stall. ‘F+P’ in a heart, a few phone numbers, curses, all the general marks of rebellion against the authority.
My Pipbuck had picked something up. The note tab had opened and on the top of the blank list sat ‘20-45’, some of the many numbers on the wall.
“Why are you-” I’m talking to a computer...
I groaned and stamped my hooves, feeling the Pipbuck loosen from around my hoof. “I need to replace that duct tape,” I sighed, getting over my tantrum. I trotted to the next door and found the toilet was intact. I took one step and was met with a sickening crunch. My hoof was fetlock deep in a greenish mush inside a brown insectoid shell. The damn thing wriggled under my hoof.
“Ewewewewewew!” I fell on my arse and scooted back, dragging my soiled hoof across the floor, trying to get the insect’s insides off. I took several deep breaths and peered at the bug again. Yup, dead. Getting to my hooves, I took another deep breath. “I fucking hate bugs!” I growled through clenched teeth. I kicked the dead roach away and finally managed to do my satisfying business. The toilet didn’t flush...of course it didn’t flush. Why wouldn’t it flush? Because its the wasteland. That’s why it didn’t flush.
The blue door of the stall opened with a creak and I stepped out. I may have been in the wasteland, but sanitation waits for nopony. Thankfully, the water still ran in the sink, though I had no soap.I finished washing my hooves and looked at myself in the mirror. I...I looked decent, actually. Sure, my black mane and grey coat were a little dirty, but other than that, I looked good. Except for the scar along the left side of my head, just above the ear. Reaching up to touch the puckered skin, I caught a glimpse of something in the mirror. Hooray! I barely noticed something else in a filthy bathroom! It looked like...hooves. Was somepony in here after all?! I went beet red when I remembered my tantrum.
Last stall. I shuffled towards it, having to cover my nose at one point, the stench got so bad. Why did I want to know who was behind the door? Why hadn’t they said anything? “H-hello?” I asked.
There was no reply.
This is not a good idea, by the way.
My conscious called me a pussy before. Screw my conscience. I found the door to be unlocked, so I did what any good pony would do. I opened it.
“Excuse me, but I- What the fuck?!” I gasped and almost backflipped to get away. The pony...he...he was...dead. Long dead. His eyes were a milky white, and his coat a sickening, rotten yellow, the flesh barely clinging to his bones in some areas. I saw that he didn’t die from severe constipation, more the large hole in his head, and the old, black blood splat in the wall behind him. Killed while in the loo... what a way to go....
I jolted and spun back to the sink, emptying anything I had in my belly into the drain. I shuddered and looked at the corpse in his sloppy, bloody, patchwork leather armour, in the mirror again. I convulsed again but I didn’t hurl. I couldn’t hurl. I... I think I began to cry. I sniffed and looked at myself in the mirror. I didn’t look decent. I looked like hammered shit.
My mane was a mess, my face was puffy with the amount of crying I had had in the past two days, and my coat was filthy. The trail of snot dripping from my nose didn’t help, either.
“What am I doing?” I managed to choke out after a long sniff. “Crying over the dead. I barely fucking knew him and I’m crying for him...”
See? Wimp. Are you even crying over him? Or yourself for hating the way you are.
“What the fuck? Why am I insulting myself?”
I’m telling it like it is. You’re a complete wimp, now cowboy up, or die. You remember what Ace said? You pretty much have to be bad to live good out here. But you’re a ‘good pony’, so you won’t live at all.
“Yes... Yes I will...” I mumbled through teary eyes. I think I got it now... what I was trying to tell myself. “No.” I said, wiping my tears. “I am not a wimp.”
Yeah. You kinda are.
“Not any more!” I bellowed and slammed my hooves into the mirror, shattering it. “Time to grow up. I need to get my arse in gear and grow a pair!” I stared at myself in the broken shards on the ground. “I will never get my revenge if I don’t cowboy up, and get shit done.”
I stomped through the glass and left the restrooms.
The hallway seemed longer and darker than it had been before. Still all stained cement walls with the occasional destroyed poster, none of them legible, or light fixture dangling from the ceiling. I could barely make out the voices of Gaz and the unicorn discussing his power armour.
Finally getting to the door, I peered in. The Spec Ops ponies all had resumed their game, minus Ace, Gaz, and the unicorn engineer. Where was the vertibuck? I would have to ask somepony about that. But the only pony I knew here was Ace and I didn’t want to talk to her. She was lying on my mattress, staring at the ceiling. I tried figuring out what she was thinking, but settled on just plain boredom. I sneered at the very room. I either didn’t like or know anypony in there.
“I should at least find out where I am,” I muttered to myself and looked at my Pipbuck. The closest location my Pipbuck could name was ‘Communication Station Fox’. When I zoomed in, I saw that I was sitting in a large black triangle. Apparently, we were only a short hop, skip and jump from Foxtrot.
The hallway went on until it veered to the right and into more darkness. Fuck that. No way was I going into complete darkness. I did spy another door however. The new, wooden door was further down the hall than the room I had woken up in, and on the other side of the corridor. Shuffling my way towards it, voices started to emerge, and two white ticks flashed on my EFS. Friendlies! But who were they?
I nosed the door open and looked inside. Rubble lay everywhere, the roof had been blown off and only parts of the walls survived. The sky above me was beautiful, the stars twinkling, the moon full, the-
“Get down, civy,” a voice whispered. I snapped out of my stupor and saw a pony on her belly, looking through binoculars, peering out of the building beside the remains of a wall.
A griffin with an oversized sniper sat in the corner, sitting against the wall, peering through the scope over the adjoining ruined wall.
Following their sights, I saw what they were watching. A fairly large building, about ten blocks away, stood, illuminated by floodlights inside a chain link fence, a giant antenna sticking, proudly into the air from on the roof.
I hid behind one of the remaining walls, beside the pony on the floor. Wait a second, this was a pegasus. The pegasus that had saved my arse yesterday, to be exact. I couldn’t quite make out her features in the darkness though.
The griffin sat like a statue in the corner beside the mare, aiming down her sniper rifle. She was using some sort of stand to keep it steady on the wall. Bipod, that’s what it was called.
“What are you looking at?” I whispered to the mare.
She looked up at me. She wasn’t wearing her helmet, but she was still wearing her balaclava. She took her eyes away from the binoculars and stared at me with her big, midnight-blue eyes and then I thought she smiled. The balaclava really didn’t help, as it covered her whole face.
“You shouldn’t be up here," the orange flier whispered, "but I’ll allow it. After all, your friend did volunteer the both of you to help. She really was persistent,” She moved over, gesturing me to look through the binoculars.
I rolled my eyes. “Did she seriously sign me up for another life threatening adventure?” I whined, sliding down onto the ground and shuffling to the binoculars.
“You can back out if you want," the mare replied in a friendly tone. "I’d be more than happy to show you the direction back to the highway.”
“No. I’m fine.” I seethed at my conscience, but it was right. Grow a pair or die. Several large shell casings were strewn across the ground beside me; probably from an equally large gun. The old rounds were long and gold. They had words scratched in them. ‘Revenge’, ‘Redemption’, and ‘Regret’. Was this a sign? “Are these yours?” I asked the mare.
“Nah, those are .308 rounds. We use .50,” the pegasus replied. “Probably somepony who was hunting raiders in this area. This whole region was a raider camp a while back. Then all of a sudden, no more raiders.” I guess I know how toilet pony died...
“What am I looking at?” I asked, changing the subject. I was looking directly at the big building now. There were a few ponies standing in the windows, watching the road and courtyard of the big building, and several others just going about their business.
The pegasus mare hunkered down beside me, sending a shiver up my spine. She was pretty attractive, which made me a little nervous, to be honest. “Communications Station Foxtrot. Everypony says its busted beyond repair, but Short Stack doesn’t think so...”
“Who?” I asked.
“He’s one of the leaders of the Separatists," the mare whispered, her proximity letting the warm breath stroke my ear, sending another chill down my spine and making me tense up. Pretty mares getting this close to me. Not exactly something I tend to handle well. "He’s in there somewhere and the Resistance Brass want him gone.”
“Oh hell...” the griffin grumbled, not even moving from her statuesque position, looking over the building through her scope. “Boss, you’d better take a look at this.”
The pegasus got up from beside me and slunk to the griffin in the corner. The griffin moved from her sniper and let the pegasus look through it. I saw them as little more than silhouettes in the dark. I looked through the binoculars again.
“Far right,” the griffin whispered. I looked through the window the griffin had indicated. From my position, I had a clear view of the room. It had green wallpaper and red carpets, with a desk perpendicular to the window and a bunch of chairs scattered about. Leaning back in one of the chairs was a really weird looking pony.
His snout looked weird and he had large floppy ears. He wore the patch work, separatist barding, but with a heavy vest and collar over it. A black hat, and an eyepatch hid most of his face. Red splotches covered his clothing. He seemed to be passed out with a bottle balanced perfectly on his belly. Beside him lay a strange looking saddle with two large revolver-looking contraptions.
“Is that Happy Jack?” the pegasus asked, a slight hint of surprise in her voice. “I thought he was killed in the Fed raid on Outpost Romeo.”
“We all did,” the griffin replied with a tinge of fear in her voice. “Seems the survivors linked up with Short Stack. Good as dead, if you ask me.”
The pegasus mare grumbled. “He was a damn good demo donkey.” She looked away from the sniper to me, then back to the griffin. “Alright, we got what we need. Take the civvie...uh...Clover back to the rest. I’ll catch up in a sec.”
The griffin walked towards me silently and prodded my side with a talon. Sharp talons.... It didn’t hurt, but it was enough to send a shiver up my spine. “C’mon, lets get going,” she whispered. I pulled away from the binoculars, which the griffin picked up behind me. I slid to the door, creaked it open, and found myself back in the hallway. The griffin followed.
In the dim light of the hall, I finally got a good look at the griffin. It was Forsythe. I went bright red at the sniper griffin who had taken the bandages off my flank while I was out. “I...uh...hi?” I stammered.
I didn’t get a good look at Forsythe before. She wore the same desert camouflaged light armour the rest of the group had, except fitted for griffins, naturally, and matching boonie hat. She had a bandolier of .50 cal sniper magazines slung across her chest, and a few magazines for her pistols strapped around her waist
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked with a chuckle. “Ya look like a beetroot.”
“I, uh, um...” I guess its not just mares I have troubles with, but griffins too... great... “...uh...”
“Uh, um, ah, oh, err,” Forsythe said, imitating my voice before laughing. “Spit it out, pony.”
“You... were the one to t-take off my b-bandages,” I mumbled, shifting uncomfortably. The griffin nodded. “W-why?”
The griffin huffed in amusement. “Because your friend didn’t want to do it.” That made sense. She leaned in close to whisper into my ear. “And you’re kinda cute.” ...What...?
I gulped heavily and started shaking. “I... I thought that... that...” I was starting to feel light headed.
“That grffins don't like ponies and vice versa?” Forsythe finished my sentence for me. “It happens. I personally prefer ponies because griffins are a little too rough for me.” She grinned. She was... interested in me? Oh hell no. Not with those talons.
Forsythe rolled her eyes. “You’re a civilian. I think you’re cute, but I don’t even know you.” She raised a brow. “I do like you, just not in the romantic way, silly.” Could this get more awkward? “Why? You want some griffin lovin’?” she snickered. I thought I was going to pass out.
“What’s going on out here, hmm?” a voice sounded from the door we just left. “Fraternising with civilians again, Forsythe?” I turned and saw the orange pegasus. What was her name again... Adrenaline Rush, wasn’t it?
Forsythe chuckled, taking off her hat and smoothing back her purple tipped feathers. “Maybe...” She put her hat back on and stood at attention.
Adrenaline chortled. “At ease, soldier.” The orange coated pegasus pulled the sniper rifle off her back and threw it at Forsythe, who caught it and slung it over her back.
The pegasus was a real looker when she took off her balaclava. I was standing between a griffin who thinks I’m cute, and a beautiful mare. I was struggling to keep my brain from popping.
“Miss... Miss R-Rush...” I stammered, trying to be polite. When will this torment end?
“You can call me Dare, Mr. Clover,” she replied, echoing my politeness. “So. Shall we?” she asked, glancing at the door to the rest of the squad.
I couldn’t agree more. I scampered through the door and skidded to a halt. Everypony was staring at me.
“That was a long trip," Ace snickered. "Needed to ‘blow off some steam’, eh?” I frowned and raised an eyebrow. I had no idea what she meant. “Never mind...” she sighed, rolling her eyes.
Adrenaline Rush, sorry, ‘Dare’ trotted into the room behind me. “Fillies and Gentlecolts!” she announced. “I think we have a plan!”
“Let’s hear it then,” Gaz rumbled through his helmet. While I was in the restroom, it appeared that he had put his armour back on. He seemed like a nice bloke, but...fuck, he was scary!
Dare waltzed up to the table Gaz’s armour had been on, and laid out an old, slightly faded map from a nearby saddlebag. “Right, we’ve identified that the biggest enemy concentration is here.” She pointed to a point on the largest square, which I assumed was the comm station. “Here, and here.”
“Sounds easy,” Gaz chuckled, hefting his minigun onto his back. “Get me close enough, and I’ll mow through em.”
“Not that simple, Garry,” Forsythe sighed in slight disappointment. “Happy Jack is with them.”
“..Shit...” Garry seemed to deflate. I guess that suit of armour does fuck all against explosives. “Close quarters, isn’t it...”
“Yup,” the engineer unicorn answered, slinging her machine gun over her back. “Guess we’ll have to draw him out?”
“Exactly,” Dare said. “But we need bait. Some of the ponies over there must have seen us at one point, so it can’t be us.” But that only left... oh hell no. Dare looked from me, to Ace, who was now standing between the earth pony sharpshooters. “It’s going to have to be one of you.”
“Are there any alternatives?” I whined, cutting off Ace before she could say anything. “There must be. I don’t want to put my life in danger again. Ever.”
“Wimp,” Ace whispered softly, but just enough that I would hear it.
Dare thought for a moment. “Well... we could shake down the building with the vertibuck... but ammo doesn’t come cheap for those cannons...”
“Not worth it,” one of the earth ponies said. “Using the vertibuck might end up destroying what they found in there, plus we can’t risk it getting damaged. We only have four, and you yourself know we can’t get any more from the Enclave.”
“Enclave?” Ace asked.
“Pegasus militaristic government back across the Great Dividing range,” Dare answered before turning to the earth pony. “We don’t talk about them around civilians,” she growled. “Got that?” The earth pony nodded. “You are right though. We risk too much using the vertibuck. Guess we have to think of something else.”
“I’ll be the bait,” Ace said. “No time to waste.”
“No,” I said, flatly. “Ace, they need your shotgun and your skills.” Stay strong. “I’ll do it.”
Ace just looked at me with a blank stare. “You?” She blinked a few times. “...you?!” The leather clad mare seemed close to bursting out laughing, but thankfully, given the present company, she didn’t.
“Yes,” I responded. “I will play the bait while you get the job done.” I gulped hard as the group stared at me. “What?”
They stared in silence for what seemed like an eternity. “Marvelous,” Dare said, finally breaking the silence. “Okay, Mr. Clover. We’ll need you to lure them out, and-”
"Lure them out?" I asked “How the fuck do I do that? Might as well just trot up with a big bullseye painted on my forehead.”
“I thought you’d have reservations on the matter, but remember, these ponies were once Resistance. There is something we both hate, the Federation. If you tell them you have valuable evidence on their troop movements or something, you might get Short Stack to come out of hiding.” Dare dug into her saddlebag, pulling out a sheet of paper. “Fabricated intel. Should work.”
I took the sheet of paper and looked it over. “Seems... legitimate...” I poked at the sheet. “Got the official stamps and markings. Should work.”
“You’ve seen Fed files?” Dare asked, eyebrow raised. Ace facehoofed.
I started trembling. “Well, mostly... mostly on agricultural reports and other farming documents. I was a farmer on the Apple Plains...”
Gaz stomped towards me and pulled me up to eye level by throat, choking me. “We’ve got a fucking Fed in our presence, boys!” he boomed. I squirmed and beat at his giant griffin hands. I could help but think ‘this is how I die, isn’t it.’
“Drop him,” Ace instructed. “I’ve been over this a hundred times with him. He doesn’t support the Feds and didn’t want to be one. I almost killed him over it twice.”
I nodded furiously. Gaz opened up his hand and I fell on my rump with a dull thud. I clutched my throat as Gaz walked away. “Glad it’s not one of ours going into the hornet’s nest,” he rumbled. Great, now the giant griffin hated me.
“This doesn’t change anything!” Dare announced. “He may be a Fed, but he’s here now and helping us. That should be enough.”
“And if things go sideways?” Forsythe asked.
“If things go sideways...” Dare frowned at me. “You’re on your own and we find a new plan.” I gulped hard, but nodded. “We good to go?” she asked the team. All the ponies had their gear on and nodded. Dare looked back to me. “You’d better get ready while I brief the team on positions.”
I nodded and shuffled away, looking for my pink barding. Bleh, pink.
“You won’t get very far wearing that!” the orange, pegasus mare shouted after me. “You’ll be shot on sight!”
I turned and looked back. Most of the crowd was amused by my pink armour. Dare rolled her eyes and moved to a larger duffle bag. She dug through it and pulled out a set of light grey barding.
“Old riot barding. Not the sturdiest, but probably better than the piece of junk you were using before,” she said, placing it before me. “Just don’t lose it. I might ask for it back.”
It took a while, but I finally figured it out. I had to say, I looked fairly good. If only I had a trench coat, or a set of sunglasses, I would look awesome. The barding was pretty light, and the armoured plates seemed really thin, but Dare informed me that they would stop small arms fire. The barding covered almost all of my body, only leaving room for my tail to poke out the end and stopped just below my head. I wish I could have kept it.
“Everyone have their objectives and gear?” Dare shouted over the group. They all snapped to attention. “Good.” She turned to us. “How about you civies.”
I looked myself over and smiled. “Cowboy up.”
It was cold that night, even in my new barding. I guess that’s just it, warm as fuck in the day, chilly at night. Then again, the shivers running down my spine might have been because I could be lying in a pool of my own blood in a few brief minutes. That was honestly not a preferable option.
“Wanna go over the plan one more time?” Dare asked as we crept towards the comm station. It was dark, but I could still make out her midnight-blue eyes under her balaclava. Her desert camouflaged helmet and barding might have blended with the dunes and prairies of the Ponave, but not the ruins around the comm center.
According to Dare, this whole area used to be a Coalition outpost. The Coalition being the government in the Ponave, built up of donkeys, mules, griffins, ponies, and any other species that chose to live in this fucking desert; before Equestria annexed everything between the great dividing range and the western coast. Of course, this base had probably been picked clean a long time ago.
“I think I got it. Just tell them I have vital intel for Short Stack and that I need to see him personally. Yep. Got it,” I replied, followed by a tiny whimper. I would essentially be flying blind. No fancy Pipbuck, no contact with the team. Nothing.
Dare stopped and peeked over a low wall. “That’s the jist of it. And if our timing is right...” I glanced over the wall and just managed to catch a glimpse of the dark silhouettes of two earth ponies and a griffin sneaking across the rooftop nearby. “...then everypony should be in position.”
“So, you’ve still got my back? Even after you found out that I’m a Federation citizen?”
“You offered to help,” the fiery red maned pegasus stated, looking back at me. “Any resentment or suspicion can wait until after the operation.” She put a hoof on my shoulder. “Until then, you’re part of my team for this op and I will treat you as such, comprende?” I nodded. “We’ve got your back. All you need to do is get Short Stack out in the open.”
“And... and if I can’t?” Always the possibility of this going south...
Dare stared at me. “Like I said, we make a new plan.” I gulped down the lump forming in my throat.
We continued moving in silence before reaching the outskirts of the courtyard. I poked my head over a ruined chariot at my objective. I shuffled a little to get a better look and something clinked against my hoof. ‘Redemption’, ‘Regret’. More of those bullets. I picked one up in a hoof and looked it over. It looked... shiny. I slipped it into one of the small ammo pouches on the riot barding.
“I guess this is it...” I muttered, gulping hard.
“Good luck. Don’t worry, we have you covered,” Dare reassured me while prodding me forward. “Now get going.”
I took a deep breath, had a small whimper to myself, and trotted out. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. Putting my life in danger for some rebels, for what? To prove to myself that I’m not a wimp? This was... stupid. So, so stupid. I should have just turned around and ran.
“Too late now...” I muttered, shuffling towards the building.
The building got larger and larger. The building full of gun toting anarchists, a demo donkey and something that could bring down a vertibuck. I was a complete idiot. “No, fuck this, I’m out.” I turned to run.
“Hey!” a gruff voice yelled out from the building. “Hold it right there.” I froze completely.
Stay and maybe survive, or run and most likely be shot? Looked like I only had one choice. I slowly turned. Three ponies were staring at me, all ready to shoot. “T-top of the morning, lads,” I managed to stammer out in a broad Emerald Isle accent.
“Who the fuck are you, and why the fuck shouldn’t we shoot you right now?” one of them asked, before pulling the firing bit back into his mouth.
Time to grow a pair. Stay strong. “Well then, boys. Y’won’t be getting yer hands on any Federation intel.” I pulled out the paper. “Troop movements all over the north.”
“Bullshit,” one of the ponies spat. “Why would you, ya scrawny rat, have Federation intel?”
“I have my sources.” I tried to give my surest smile. I didn’t know if it worked.
One of the Separatists, a rose unicorn, narrowed his eyes and slowly walked towards me, keeping his gun sights on me at all times. “Oh really?” he asked. The buck was snout to snout with me now. The adrenaline starting to pump into my veins... was magical.
“Really,” I replied, gaining some confidence in the adrenaline. “But I bet a shitehawk like you isn’t in charge here. Get yer boss down here now.”
The Separatist snorted. “Or I could just shoot you and take it.”
Alright, that was a new... time to lie, I guess. “You shoot me and I bleed all over the paper. Doubt you’ll be able to read it after that.” Please be as stupid as I think you are...
The buck stopped and seemed to think. That’s right, let the hamster turn that little wheel in your head...
“Fine,” the stallion finally responded. I bet that hamster was exhausted. “We’ll go get him.” He turned to the others. “Get the sarge!” he barked.
“Thank you,” I said, picking up the sheet and putting it back in my barding.
I waited in silence for a few minutes before two other ponies came back. The pony watching me stomped towards them and started conversing in a hush hush conversation. They finally broke their huddle and trotted toward me, and surrounded me. Fuck.
“The boss wants to see you,” the buck said, a sly grin across his face. “Lets go.”
Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, no, no. Not good. If I go in there, I have nothing, I’m fucked, done for, dead.
“Uh...I would rather see him out here. In the open. Here,” I said. I may have panicked.
The buck huffed in amusement. “Just as I thought. You’re a spy.” He reared up and slammed his hind hooves into my face, sending me flying. I landed and held my now bleeding nose. “Get him up and get him inside.”
The other two Separatist ponies trotted towards me about bound up my hooves. They started to drag me into the building.
“Let me go!” I shouted. “Do you treat all your informants like this?!”
They stopped and the stallion came into view and grinned in my face. “Not all our informants want the boss outside to get picked off by a sniper or some shit.” Fuck, maybe he did have a spark of intelligence.
“Snipers? I have no idea wha-”
I clutched my bound hooves to my belly, where the pony had dug his hooves into me. “Liar!” he shouted. “You expect us to believe that you’re alone? Out here? In the middle of the night? Just to give us some intel?” he roared in my face, spraying spittle in every direction. He looked up to a new pony in heavier armour. “Raise the alarm, we’re going into lock-down.”
The door behind us slammed shut as we entered, and a huge metal shield started to slide down over it. I twisted and turned to get a better view, but a burlap sack was thrown over my face.
Bound up and helpless.
I...I don't wanna die...
Okay, where was I?
I remembered having a sack thrown over me, then smelling something sweet and kinda sickening before finding myself sitting on something and restrained. Lets put two and two and two together here.
We were gassed, you dodo.
And now my consciousness was insulting me again. Why do I hate myself? So I was gassed, and now I was tied up. Excellent.
I heard a door open nearby and I tried turning my head in the direction but it was stuck. The next thing I heard was the sound of hooves clicking against ceramic tiles.
“So,” a deep, gruff voice said. “Who are you, and why are you here?”
I tried to move, but I couldn’t. Not a muscle. “I can’t see shit,” I grunted, abandoning my accent.
The burlap sack whisked off my face and I was showered in bright, white light. It took a while to adjust, but when I did, I saw a wooden table in front of me. I was bound to a chair in the middle of a pure white room with something clamped to my head. Across the table stood a yellow unicorn in patchwork, Separatist armour. He wore a thick, black beard and a small blue officer’s cap.
“Better?” he grunted.
“Much,” I sighed. “Where am I?”
“You’re in Comm Station Foxtrot, son,” the black bearded pony said, calmly. “The main question is why are you here? Most ponies just hightail it when they see us.”
“I’m here to deliver Federation intel,” I lied. “That’s it.”
“Who sent you?”
Great, can’t tell him who actually sent me. I seriously hoped this worked. “The mole.”
“Who the fuck is ‘The Mole’.” Okay, I’m fucked. Lets just go along with this.
“That’s all he told me. He claimed to be ‘The Mole’ in the Federation. That’s it!”
The pony facehoofed. “You’re a dumbass,” he groaned. “He’s a mole in the Federation, not ‘The Mole’. Who the fuck calls themselves ‘The Mole’?”
I put on my most shocked face. “But...wait...” Is this working? “You’re kidding.”
“No, you retard. Where was he stationed?” Oh fuck. I have no idea about any of the Federation activities in the Ponave. Think Clover, think!
“Fort Crossroads,” I said, remembering what the radio pony said.
The yellow coated pony chuckled. “Fort Crossroads...” He got up and trotted around the table and into my blind spot, my head still stuck in the vice thingie. “Our mole there was hung last week,” he whispered into my ear.
My chair turned violently, and fell over. I was now on my side and staring at his hooves. “You’re a liar and should be killed.” Shit shit shit. “But why go through all this bother just to get in here?”
“I...I was sent here to-”
A bullet tore through the chair, right between my legs, missing mini-me by inches.
“No. More. Lies!” the bearded pony roared in my face. “Why are you-”
The door behind him swung open and a a blue pony, in a cap similar to the bearded one’s, stumbled in, panting. “Sir, the camera feeds in basement level two are down.”
The bearded pony pivoted and narrowed his eyes at the new pony. “Then fix it, you idiot. Can’t you see I’m in the middle of an interrogation?!”
The blue pony stood, shocked for a moment, before nodding, saluting, and sprinting back the way he came, slamming the door behind him. The yellow stallion turned his attention back to me. “Alright, are you going to tell me the truth?”
I nodded, well, tried to nod. “Yes,” I managed to choke out. I had to get out of here, but how? Think, Clover, think!
“So why are you here?” the pony asked again, his revolver levitated by his side.
I need to buy more time. Maybe I should appeal to his loyal side? “I want to join the Separat-”
That shot was dangerously closer to my family jewels.
“Lies! If you wanted to join, you wouldn’t be waving that document around.” He pulled back the revolver’s hammer in his magic. “Last chance, Private Twinkle Hooves, tell me the damn truth, or you’re going to be singing soprano for the rest of your life.”
Fuck it. I’m a dead pony anyway. Not like the Resistance can kill me if I told this pony the truth. “Okay! I met a Resistance Spec Ops team and I volunteered to-”
I screamed in agony as the bullet tore through my left hind leg, right above the knee. Blood started pouring out and onto the floor, staining the white tiles. I was almost blinded by the agony.
“I don’t miss twice,” the black bearded pony growled, pressing the gun right between my eyes.
The pain in my leg was horrifying. I had never been shot before, and now I had a revolver round go straight through my hind leg. I couldn’t help but cry out in pain, tears pouring down my face. Why do ponies do this to each other? This is barbaric! The amount of blood coming from my leg now... I was going to die.
“I am telling the truth!” I screamed through the pain. “The Resistance sent me here to lure out Short Stack!” I was starting to feel a little light headed. I think shock was starting to set in.
The hammer on the revolver pulled back. “You’re lying again. If you were Resistance, you’d have a bomb, not a document. Like they would hand over precious intel like that...”
I clamped my eyes shut. This was it. I was going to die right then and there. A bullet to the brain seemed a lot better than slowly bleeding out. Much faster. I’m coming, Shamrock. If you didn’t save me a good seat, I will kick your orange ass...
Both of us looked at the door. What was that? It was bloody loud! We started to hear muffled shouts and more thumps. Something was going on outside. Apparently the guard was just as confused as I was because he lowered the gun from my face..
“What the hell is go-”
The door swung open again, this time with blood splattered against it. The blue stallion fell through the doorway, a large hole blown through his face. A figure stood in the doorway, he wore a long, brown coat over a dark suit with a desperado hat covering his eyes and hiding his face in shadow. His dark yellow hooves and horn looked cracked and worn, and the parts of his hide I could see seemed to be peeling right off him.
“Oh shi-” the bearded pony tried to bring up his revolver to shoot at the new figure, but was too slow as the shadowy pony blew a hole through the interrogator’s head. The Separatist fell to the floor beside me, lifeless.
I stopped crying, more shocked at the new figure, and the gaping hole in my leg, still pouring blood.
The new pony glanced over its shoulder and cantering into the room, towards me. His eyes were still covered by his hat, but the shadow on his face had dissipated. His muzzle was rotten and dilapidated, not to the point where I could see bone, but I could see raw muscle. Miraculously, an impressive handlebar moustache had survived the decay and been maintained to perfection.
This buck... was a dead pony walking. This pony was Death.
Footnote: no level up.
Special thanks to Kashin, Errantindy, Kal, Menti, 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.
This chapter has been split pending new ToaC:R policy.