Redemption. It’s something that everypony seeks at some point in their life. But are we truly seeking redemption, or are we looking for validation of our existence? I’d like to think that true redemption comes from within, strengthening our resolve as we atone for the wrongs we have committed. I know in my heart that for every right, there is a wrong that I have committed. The Caravan on the way to Glyphmark. New Appleloosa. Stable 33. Violet. There are two sides to each coin and as I come ever closer to Twilight’s memories, I feel each sin she committed along with each joy.
Am I seeking redemption? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. As always, I look to the past and see the atrocities committed by the ponies of that era. I briefly wonder if they too, sought to atone for their sins. Or did they simply not care, preferring to grind the world into nothing, all for the sake of a war that cost us so much?
I look at Twilight’s life, and the wrongs she did. For every wrong however, there was a right in the end of it all. Twilight sought redemption in the end, alone in the darkness. I can’t help but think that she tried her best to make up for the wrongs she had done. I knew it in my heart to be true.
So why then do I feel very unsure about it all?
“Kid, you’re a lot smarter than you look.”
I stared down at the rotting creature that was standing before us. Its eyes smoldered in the darkness, two red orbs of pure unadulterated evil. Surrounding the thing was a swirling column of pink substance. Pink Cloud. Developed by the zebras during the war, the Pink Cloud was the ultimate weapon against the Princesses. Used by zebra militants during the attack on Littlehorn, the Pink Cloud slew without mercy. The Cloud was used in the final attack on Canterlot, as zebra infiltrators smuggled the weapon into the city, releasing it while the capitol was bombarded from the outside by missiles. Once the Princesses realized what was happening however they kept the shielding over the city up, refusing to let the substance escape Canterlot and spread to the rest of the land. Thus Canterlot became a city of death, immersed in the substance that put the nail in the coffin of Equestria.
Like regular radiation however, some ponies weren’t killed outright by the Cloud. Where ponies exposed to normal balefire radiation became ghouls much like Ditzy Doo, some ponies exposed to the Pink Cloud became ghouls as well, effectively becoming known as ‘Canterlot Ghouls.’ Canterlot Ghouls were stronger, tougher, and much harder to kill than normal ghouls. And now, we were staring down at one, one that had already proven to be extremely deadly.
“Who are you? What do you want?” I asked the thing, a grimace forming on my lips as I struggled with the smell emanating from the beast.
“Gettin’ right to the point then kid? Alright then,” The thing said, its harsh voice echoing across the still clearing. “I don’t know what you did to piss off Pride, but she sure wants you bad.” I narrowed my gaze at the thing. Of course, I thought. He’s working for Pride.
“So which one are you then? I take it you take orders from Pride as well?” I said. The thing emitted a gravelly chuckle that sent shivers up my spine.
“Quick as a whip you are kid. Yes. I work for Pride. You can call me Sloth,” The beast said, its grimace even more menacing than my own. “Let’s make this easy on both of us. You want to see Pride and she wants to see you, or kill you rather. The quicker we get this done, the more I can go back to being left alone in peace and quiet.”
“I don’t think so. I’m going to find Pride on my terms, not hers. If you’d step aside, we’ll be going now,” I said angrily. Another chuckle emanated from the creature.
“Pride said you might say something like that kid. She said that she wanted you alive… or dead. Didn’t matter which,” Sloth replied casually. I thought I caught a glimpse of a grin from the rotting corpse. I couldn’t figure this thing out, it seemed like all it wanted to do was talk. I decided that if I could press some answers out of it I would.
“Hold up. Why does Pride even want me anyways?” I asked nonchalantly. “Because the last time I checked, the Goddess was dead and so was Unity. Why would she want that back?” The thing shrugged, or at least I think it did.
“I don’t question her aspirations kid. I only do what she says. It’s just better that way,” It said, a twinge of sadness in its voice. I could feel a hint of regret in the beast’s actions, like it knew it was doing something morally wrong. I shuddered at the wrongness of it. It felt like an icy chill all through my body.
“But don’t you know what will happen if she gets her way?” Violet said as her face darkened and glowed with anger. “In the end she’s just using you!”
“You think I don’t know that already?!” The beast barked. “I do what I have to. There’s no other choice for me…” The harsh voice trailed off.
“There’s always a choice!” Violet continued. She was positively livid now. I grinned internally at the fire that was certainly lit inside my marefriend’s eyes.
“Not for me, kid. Not for me. You know how long I’ve lived? Over two hundred years. In that time, you think if I had a choice, that I wouldn’t use that choice to finally die already? No… there never was a choice. Goddesses damn them all, I was damned from the get go,” Sloth said, his harsh voice cutting through the air like a knife through butter.
“You could choose to help us, instead of her,” I offered. I wasn’t sure if it would work but it was worth a shot.
“Not a chance kid. You see, Pride holds something very near and dear to me. Once I complete my task for her… she’ll give her to me. I told you before… I have no choice,” The ghoul replied. The cloud around him swirled about, even though the still air permitted no wind.
“Her?” I asked. The ghoul’s eyes widened, realizing his mistake. I knew there was something about this thing. I just knew it!
“Umm… it, yes it, that’s what I meant,” The creature stammered.
“No, I heard you clearly. You said her. What did you mean?” I asked angrily. The ghoul paused for a moment, and let out another breath of Cloud. “Well?”
“Kid... It was a long time ago. I thought… I thought she died. I was on my way to see her when it happened,” The thing finally said quietly before shaking his head. “No. It doesn’t matter now. If I bring you in, I’m done. I can finally have her again.”
“Help us and we’ll help you get her back,” Violet breathed, drawing a sigh of annoyance from the ghoul.
“It’s not that simple. Don’t you get it? If that was an option, I’d have done it a long time ago. No… the Wasteland never makes things that easy. It’s never that easy…” He replied angrily. “Enough of this. Don’t say I didn’t warn you kid. You’re nice and all, but I’ve got no choice.” He opened his mouth and more of the pink substance began to spew forth, sinking into the ground before him. He grinned slightly, the first real smile I had seen the thing crack the entire time. “You know why I chose this place to meet you? It used to be an old pony graveyard. Now then, let’s have a little… fun.”
The ground began to shake as portions of the earth crumbled. Pink goo seeped up from the holes all around us, forming into bone. A hoof shot forth from the dirt and began to scrape at the ground. The hoof slowly gave way to the skeleton of a pony. The unnatural horror pulled itself free from the embrace of the earth and stared at us with its soulless eyes… if it had any. Instead, pink goo oozed from the thing’s bones, and swirling gaseous clouds of pink made up its eyes. We stared in terror as more of the things began sprouting up all around us. My E.F.S. was being driven completely mad as numerous red blips lit it up like a Hearth’s Warming Celebration in Canterlot. The first of the creatures stopped and roared, opening its mouth and revealing a pink liquid drizzling out the sides of its blackened jaw.
“Shit,” Steeljack said, readying his rifle. He looked back at Patch, who had a look of sheer terror in her eyes. “Stay away from the stuff in their mouths! If you’re hit… you’re going to have a bad time.” I nodded as I pulled Stargazer out of its harness. If Steeljack was accurate, these things were literally breathing concentrated Pink Cloud. The substance in its gaseous form was bad enough, but when the necromantic stuff was mixed with a liquid and concentrated… it became nothing more than liquid death. One touch of the stuff would be enough to critically injure and potentially kill a pony. And each one of these fucking things was packing it. The horde of skeletons started forward, surrounding us. I snarled and dropped into E.S.A.T.S., queuing up several bursts at a few of the beasts in front of me. The spell dropped and my gun let loose, the burst rounds hitting their intended targets. For what it was worth, the things didn’t appear to move very fast as they shuffled forward. Then I realized as my rounds struck… they didn’t have to. While the burst of fire tore through bone and even knocked one of the beasts to the ground as its legs were obliterated, more of the creatures popped up in the fallen ones’ place, shuffling forward endlessly.
A sharp *crack* erupted from Steeljack’s rifle, striking home into several of the creature’s heads. Bone exploded around each bullet as he fired. Patch, who had no vantage point in which to snipe, pulled out a mouth grip pistol and began firing while trying her best to keep behind her coltfriend in order to provide him proper cover. Many of her shots went wide and missed, but a few got through as she put holes in bone. A blaze of silver fire joined the *crack* of the rifle as Thunder Flash let loose its payload, the operator of said weapon standing next to me as we moved back to back with our other two companions. One of the beasts moved close enough to swipe at me with a gnarled hoof, growling an impossible gurgling roar. I lifted Stargazer and blocked the strike before turning the business end on the thing’s head and letting out some aggression all over it. The skeleton slumped to the ground. I grimaced as I watched Sloth, standing in the background, mutely watching the spectacle. In retrospect, he almost looked sad that he had to do this, as he had a strange grimace all over his face. Why then? I thought. What’s so important that he has to do this? Why won’t he let us help him?
“Dammit!” I shouted as Violet spat more hot fiery death at two of the creatures, disintegrating them completely. Two more popped up in their place, continuing their endless shuffle onwards. “There’s too many of them!” I snarled and continued to fire, sending more of the abominations to the hellish earth below us. A few more of the creatures stood up from the ground, roaring and clawing at the earth with their disfigured hooves. I looked all around me, smelling rotting death everywhere. The smell was overpowering as the things pressed forward, closing in on us. Their hooves drug Pink Cloud along the ground, creating more of their number as they walked. I shuddered as I watched more skeletons emerge from the ground, pulling themselves along next to their brethren.
“They just keep on coming!” Patch yelled as one of the creatures lunged at her, meeting hot fiery death as Violet turned and fired. The thing’s head imploded in silver goo, knocking it backwards into the beast behind it. I fired up E.S.A.T.S. once more and queued up several more bursts, focusing this time on the legs of the beasts in front of me. Time fell back into place and Stargazer let out its payload, obliterating the creature’s legs out from underneath them. The skeletons roared as the creatures behind them stepped over the bones of their predecessors, pressing closer and closer. I looked around hopelessly at the monsters surrounding us. There was just too many of them. I searched my mind for an option, anything that could get us out of this. I could teleport us… but with Sloth about we could run the risk of teleporting directly into Pink Cloud. My mind latched onto a memory of Twilight’s, a very specific and heart-wrenching memory. It was of her brother, Shining Armor, protecting her from the missile strike. Why of all things is it this memory? I thought as the memory played out and I realized what I was seeing. Shining Armor’s shield spell. It was worth a shot.
I focused my energy into my horn, trying to put as much power as I could into my spell. Just as the beasts pressed into our circle I let loose, the magic flowing out of me and into the air around us. A thick purple shield appeared, pressing outwards to encompass myself and my friends. I opened my eyes briefly as I maintained the spell. It was working! The beasts were being pressed back, unable to pass through the solid barrier. I panted as I realized the disastrous results behind using this sort of spell. It was physically exhausting. I wondered briefly if this was the same kind of spell the Princesses used to try and save Canterlot. If so… then it was no wonder the two had to keep switching off to maintain the shield. I couldn’t imagine maintaining magic on such a scale if even a small version of it was draining me like this.
“We don’t have much time!” I shouted as I expanded the shield a bit. “I can’t maintain this for long. We need ideas!”
“Teleport out of here?” Steeljack shouted back. I grunted as pain took hold of my horn. Fuck this hurts like a bitch! I thought as I shook my head.
“Do you really think he’d let us get away that easily? We’d be playing right into his hooves. We’d probably teleport into Pink Cloud and die,” I grimaced. I stared through the transparent shield at the beasts trying to beat their way in. Pretty soon I wouldn’t be able to hold up the strength of the barrier and the fight would continue once more. My horn screamed with pain now, threatening to dispel the purple orb at any minute.
“We need to get to Sloth then. Can you move and maintain the spell?” Violet yelled over the roar of my magic.
“I can try!” I exclaimed as I took a step forward. One step felt like a million. I was physically drained by holding the shield by now. I nearly toppled over and dropped it right there. “It’s… It’s too hard… I can’t do it!”
“Yes you can!” Violet and Patch said as they put themselves on each side of me. Steeljack hung back and watched our back as my two friends helped me to walk. The trudge across the swampy clearing was painful as hell, and all the while I could see Sloth’s glowering red eyes as we made our way towards him. I stared at him intently as magic continued to pour from my horn into the shield.
“Sloth!” I shouted at the dark creature. “Please… let us help you! I promise, we’ll save her. Whoever she is, we’ll help her!” The ghoul grunted.
“You can’t help me kid. I told you that already! It’s too late for me,” He said, his harsh voice cutting through the air once more.
“I know you don’t want to do this, so please stop!” Violet yelled. “You think that by paying this price… by acting the part of the villain that she’s just going to hand her over to you? She won’t! She’s a real villain… and you’re not. You’re…”
“I said ENOUGH!” The ghoul shouted. “Stop trying to act like my friend! I had a good friend once. You know what happened to her? She died in Manehattan, at her silly Ministry hub. That’s what they all do… they die! And not just from the bombs. No… my friend died when she started on those damned zebra mints!”
My mind clicked for a moment. Wait… what? I thought as I processed what the ghoul had just said. Sure… there were a lot of Ministry ponies in Manehattan, but only one I knew of that was addicted to Party-Time Mintals. I knew because I had buried her.
“Wait… you knew Pinkie Pie?” I shouted over my magic woozily. My magic was beginning to wane as I noticed the bubble shrink slightly. The ghoul’s glowing red eyes widened for a moment.
“I did,” The ghoul finally said after a moment’s pause. “She was a close friend of mine, until those drugs took her from me.” I racked my mind, trying to process any of Twilight’s thoughts on this mysterious friend. The thoughts were incoherent and jumbled once more as my magic surged across them like wildfire. A stray memory floated to the forefront of Twilight talking to Pinkie Pie in her library. A mention came up of a new donkey in town that Pinkie had unsuccessfully tried to make friends with. A name came with it.
“C-C-Cranky?” I finally said as my brain returned to its normal incoherent mess. I stared at the ghoul, which I know knew to be a donkey. Strange creature, I thought. I had never actually seen a donkey before, let alone a donkey ghoul. The thing glowered at me and spoke, its harsh voice angry and hurtful.
“How do you know that name?!” He shouted. “I… I haven’t used that name in a long time!”
“It is you isn’t it… Cranky? Why then? Why would you do this? I’m a friend of Pinkie’s too… I… I buried her in Manehattan,” I cried, forcing my words out amidst budding tears and my sputtering magic. The shield finally dissipated with a soft *pop*, leaving us staring at the donkey ghoul. My horn died down and screamed with pain as I slumped to my haunches and almost to the ground entirely.
“Star!” Patch and Violet both yelled as they struggled to hold me up. The ghoul looked about for a moment and finally spoke.
“You… you buried Pinkie?” He said, his harsh and gravelly tone taking on a sad twinge to it. I nodded, staring the thing in the eyes. “I see…” He looked around and inhaled slightly. The Pink Cloud infusing the skeletons ripped out of them, leaving the hordes of mindless creatures inanimate once more as the pink substance returned to the swirling column of death surrounding the ghoul.
“She… she was trying to get clean…” I choked out, coughing heavily as I struggled to regain my composure. “She was in the middle of sending Twilight a message that she was going to a rehab center… but she was too late. The bombs dropped, and she died right there.” The ghoul was positively glowering now, an angry look on his face.
“Pinkie nearly ruined her life and the lives of everypony around her with those damned mints. How do you expect me to believe you?” He replied. I lifted my foreleg containing my PipBuck.
“I… I copied the message. It’s here… listen,” I said as I mentally sought out the audio message and hit play. Pinkie’s voice resonated across the clearing. After the message was finished, the ghoul sighed, sounding like gravel being scraped across metal.
“It doesn’t matter kid. There’s still nothing I can do,” He finally said after a moment’s pause. “Pride has my Matilda, held in stasis. She was locked into a Stable on the day the megaspells dropped. I don’t know how Pride found her, or why she was put into stasis to begin with. I thought she was long dead. I was on my way to the Stable leaving Canterlot when I was trapped inside by the shield the Princesses cast. I should have died. Matilda could have lived happy. I spent a majority of the time trying to find that Stable, while trying to keep my mind intact. I’ve lived a long time kid; all I want is to see her again.”
“We can… we can help you though,” I said, breathing hard. “Cranky please help us.” Sloth shook his head.
“No… I’m no longer Cranky. I’m Sloth now. Sometimes you have to be the villain in order to get what you want. That’s my lot in life. Even when I was just a regular ghoul, I was feared and shot at and attacked. I’m a bad donkey, didn’t you know that?” He replied, growing angrier by the minute. Something struck me as odd about his sentence, almost as if he was trying to tell us something. Regular ghoul? Did that mean that he wasn’t always this way? I pondered the meaning of this for a moment, wondering if the others… Greed, Lust, and Pride were the same way. Did they use to be regular ponies? What changed them? My thoughts once again were swimming around my head.
“You best get ready kid. I’m giving you enough time to get back on your feet. I’m just getting started,” The harsh gravelly voice of the ghoul came as he exhaled, releasing more pink substance into the air. The substance wrapped around and lifted a piece of flesh from his cart and tossed it into the air. The goo suffused the flesh, expanding it and growing it. Eventually the pink seeped completely in, revealing a large black dragon-like… thing. It was quite similar to the thing we had faced in the Fort Knowledge library.
I pushed myself up, my legs shaky but feeling a little strong as I stared at the thing. I looked down, realizing suddenly that Patch was missing. I started to call out for her when a gunshot rang out through the air, slamming through the Pink Cloud surrounding Sloth and barreling deep into his shoulder. Pink goop spewed forth from the bullet hole as he cried out in pain. I grinned.
“If there’s one thing my friends are good at, it’s surprises Cranky!” I exclaimed, using the donkey’s old name for good measure and leveling Stargazer at the massive beast in front of us. “Believe me, we want to help you… but if you’re going to attack us… we will fight back!” I let loose a few bursts of fire, striking the dragon thing in the leg. It howled and swooped down at us. Another blast of gunfire rang out from the distance, striking the side of Sloth’s cart and splintering wood everywhere. Sloth pointed at the ground with his maw, causing a few more of the skeletal ponies to appear. They fanned out and began shuffling towards us.
“Steeljack!” I shouted to the grey buck. He grinned and nodded, understanding what I meant for him to do. With Patch in a vantage point now, he could go all out. He bit down hard on his battle saddle bit, the sharp *crack* of his rifle tearing across the clearing as his shots riddled the oncoming horde with holes. More gunfire echoed in the still air as several more bullets struck the donkey ghoul, forcing him backwards a bit from his position. The dragon thing got closer as Violet and I moved out of the way, letting it swoop by us and back into the night sky. A flash of silver fire erupted from Violet’s beam rifle, narrowly missing the beast’s back leg. It roared at us and faltered in the air, turning around and letting loose a stream of pink goo. I struggled to move, my legs still weak from over-exerting myself. I felt a tug on my side and a faint glow as I saw Violet trying to pull me along with her magic. The goo struck the ground, barely missing us as it made a sizzling sound and sunk in. That’s when I felt it. A clawed hoof shot from the ground just below me and grabbed my foreleg, the pink substance driving it sliding onto my coat. I felt the skin beneath it boil and pop as I screamed in pain. I looked down to see the flesh on my foreleg sizzling and melting as the thing tried to pull itself all the way out of the earth. Then just as quickly as it had popped up the thing was gone, destroyed in a blast of silver fire. My leg was on fire as I gingerly tried to step down on it. I almost fell over as pain shot through my body.
“Star!” Violet yelled as she ran up to me, floating out a healing potion and bringing the bottle to my lips. I could barely focus on anything through the pain as the healing potion worked its magic. The beast spewed forth more pink goo, striking the ground around us. More skeletons popped up as Steeljack stepped in and began firing rapidly, issuing *crack* after *crack* of his gun. Patch let loose several shots, taking down more of the skeletal assailants. I felt a jab on my side as I saw Violet floating a syringe of Med-X away from my body. The pain began to dull almost immediately as I surveyed the damage to my leg. A nasty fleshy scar hung off my skin as it was attempting to repair itself due to the healing potion I had drunk. I groaned as the pain subsided and I was able to focus a little bit better.
“Are you alright?” The voice of my marefriend rang out, shaky and unsure. I nodded, gritting my teeth as I pushed myself up with her help. I was pissed off now. I hurt like hell and my horn felt like it was going to fall off at my given moment. I lifted Stargazer, weakly I might add, and pointed it at Sloth.
“Violet, think you can keep the big guy busy for a while?” I said. She nodded and looked at me funny. “What?”
“Are you sure you’re okay? You’re shaking,” She said, concern dripping from her voice. I sighed.
“Yes, I’m fine. Let’s end this,” I said as I rushed forward, woozily at first but clearing up as I went. I took to the sky, ejecting burst after burst of fire from Stargazer at the skeletons guarding their disgusting master. Bone clattered to the ground as the skeletons were ripped apart. I could hear and feel Violet’s silver fire erupting from Thunder Flash and the roar of the dragon thing. I swooped down, keeping wide of Sloth’s column of Pink Cloud as I dropped into E.S.A.T.S. Time went still as I studied the donkey ghoul. I thought about what he had said. Was it really so simple for him? I thought about what I would have done in his place. Would have I done any different if it was Violet and not Matilda? If the situation had called for it, would I have been the villain? I couldn’t decide as I tried to figure out where to queue my shots. The amazing thing about S.A.T.S. in general was that while you were in it, you had all the time in the world to think about things as long as you didn’t queue up any shots and use the spell’s timing up. I decided however, that it was time as I queued up shot after shot and let the spell drop. Stargazer aimed and began to spin up, firing its payload downwards at the ghoul. A hailstorm of bullets rained down on the donkey, only a few of them striking him and causing spurts of pink goo to erupt from the ghoul. The rest of my shots went wide and struck the ground nearby. I could hear screams of pain from the beast as the dragon thing in the air suddenly disappeared in a splash of pink. I could hear coughing and snarling as Sloth pulled himself from the ground, the necromantic energies that fueled his very existence already healing him.
“Had enough yet?” I shouted down at the ghoul.
“I don’t know kid, have you?” The ghoul sputtered as I landed in front of him. I was still rather shaky. I lifted Stargazer at the creature. He was bleeding pink substance, but it was slowly stopping. Canterlot ghouls were notoriously difficult to kill, and my aim here wasn’t to kill him, even with the barrage I just sent at him. I had intentionally queued up several bursts away from the donkey, only sending a few shots actually at him. I wanted to send a message to his master, and hopefully give him the chance to break free from her control. I wanted deeply in my heart to help Cranky… to show him that he could resist Pride. My heart ached for the poor donkey and the hardships that he had gone through.
“We’re done here. Run home and tell Pride she’ll have to do better next time,” I snarled as my friends slowly stepped up beside me.
“You’re just going to let me go? Why?” Sloth said, shrinking back away from me. His expression now was one of fear.
“Didn’t you hear? I save ponies, I don’t kill them. And I will save you Cranky. That’s a promise,” I said flatly, staring at the ghoul.
“Still think I can change my fate then I take it?” He replied. I nodded, causing a cracked grin to appear across his bleeding face. “I still think you’re wrong, but I know when I’m outnumbered. We’ll finish this some other time kid.” He stepped back and waved a hoof, the Pink Cloud around him collapsing in until he disappeared. I blinked for a moment. How did he…? I thought as I looked around the clearing. The bones of the fallen ponies had begun to sink back into the muck and mire. I looked at my friends, concerned looks gracing all of their faces.
“What’s…?” I started to say as I fell over and felt my world turn to black.
A familiar feeling washed over me as I opened my eyes and realized that I was back there again. The hallway with the doors and the torches. Many of the doors were now boarded up since I had already visited with those emotions. I sighed as I wondered which of the mares I would see this time. As always, the *fwoosh* and the *creak* alerted me to the door that I now sat directly next to. I took a moment to look at the door before I walked in, hoping to glean some information about what emotion I was about to meet, but there was nothing on its wooden surface. I continued forward, stepping from the endless hallway and into an office building floor. A sea of cubicles greeted my eyes as I felt drawn down to the office at the very end of the room. I stepped inside and gazed in awe across a massive cityscape just outside the window. In the center of the room sat a broken down crying purple unicorn mare. She was sobbing heavily as she sat there, staring out the dark window into the city beyond.
“Hello…?” I called out, catching the attention of the mare. She turned, stared at me for a moment and then back to the window as she continued her sobbing. I stepped forward and sat down next to her. “What’s your name?” The mare looked up at me for a moment and then back to the window. “Umm… okay then. I guess we’ll just sit here.” I sat there and looked out the window of the office, taking in the city below. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I wondered if Twilight had ever been to this city, and where it was. Even though it was dark out, activity in the streets below could be seen everywhere. The soft glow of office lights in many of the buildings dotting the city lit up the skyline. Beyond the city, a great bay of water could be seen. I sat there as still as I could, fidgeting every so often and taking a peek over at the sobbing mare next to me. She had yet to say anything as she remained ever silent while the time passed.
“What do you want?” Her voice came unexpectedly. It was low and quiet and I almost didn’t hear her through her crying. I stared down at the mare next to me.
“Excuse me?” I replied. The mare stared back up at me with cold wet eyes.
“I asked what you wanted. Nopony’s never just… sat with me before,” She said, sniffling.
“I was kind of hoping you’d tell me… usually you emotions are all so… talkative,” I said, staring out the window once more. “For once, it was kind of nice to just… sit.” The mare looked away for a moment and then back up to me.
“I’m Depression,” She said after pausing for a moment. “Sorry… I’m just a little… out of it.” I nodded lightly.
“Something wrong?” I asked casually. The mare nodded in response.
“I lost someone important to me,” She said sullenly. “I want so badly to see him again.”
“Shining Armor?” I replied. The mare’s eyes widened.
“How…?” She said. I smiled.
“You are in my head after all. I’ve seen the memories of course,” I said. “You loved your brother very much I can tell.”
“He was the best… he was my B.B.B.F.F.,” The purple mare said as she turned her attention to the window once more.
“Huh?” I said, not catching onto the acronym.
“Oh. Sorry. Big Brother Best Friend Forever,” The mare said, the sullen tone returning to her voice.
“Oh,” I said in response. That made some sort of sense at least. “It hurts doesn’t it? Losing someone you love?”
“Hurts more than you could ever know,” The lavender unicorn said. “That’s why they call me Depression after all. Deep hurt.”
“Is this what Twilight felt after he died? Depression?” I thought aloud. The mare nodded.
“For some time she did. Sometimes she felt like the pain would never stop. She was desperate to get him back in any way she knew how,” Depression said.
“Desperate enough then to create magic powerful enough to bring him back to life?” I asked point blank. The mare’s eyes widened.
“I… I don’t know anything about that. You need to ask Spark,” She said, turning away from me and back to the window. It began to rain outside, the light pattering sound smacking against the glass pane as we sat there. A flash of lightning accompanied by the roaring boom of thunder in the distance echoed through the still office.
“I tried that already,” I said, my voice growing terse as I spoke. “She won’t tell me much.”
“Sorry… I’m not allowed to say anything…” The mare said solemnly. I sighed. As much as I hated it, I believed her. Was I being too forceful about all of this? Maybe I was. Maybe I was trying to force answers instead of finding them as they came.
“Sorry,” I finally said after a few moments. “So… what was Twilight like? All this time I’ve been talking to you mares and I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten a good feeling about her.”
“Twilight? Oh… she was nice I guess. I only ever got to see her when she was feeling bad about herself. Kind of hard to judge character when all you see is the worst of her,” She said.
“Hmm… was she depressed a lot?” I asked.
“No… but she wasn’t happy a lot either. Twilight was… focused. She fully believed in what Luna was doing. She wanted to win the war at any cost, no matter what that cost was,” Depression said, sighing. I could tell that she was never this talkative.
“I see… one more question. What do you know about a book called the Black Book?” I said, intending to leave the mare alone after she answered. Her eyes widened as she looked up at me. I could smell the fear on her at this point it was so strong.
“How… how do you know about that?” She said nervously.
“I was in Unity. I saw the Destroyer bring the book to the Goddess. It was destroyed though,” I replied. “Panic said that the book was needed to finish the spell. But if it was destroyed, how was it possible for somepony to finish it? There has to be another book.”
“Rarity had the only one. Twilight obsessed about it. She wanted it so badly. Rarity would never admit to owning it,” The mare said, her tone flat and final.
“Is that why those two had problems getting along?” I asked, recalling a particularly vivid memory of Rarity and Twilight arguing over books.
“Rarity and Twilight always had some issues with each other, but there was never any doubt that they cared for each other greatly,” Depression said. I nodded as I remembered the night that Rarity spent with Twilight at the Hoofton.
“In some ways more than others,” I said with a wink. “I seem to recall a certain kiss with a white unicorn coming to play.” Depression snorted at this, her eyes having dried themselves of her tears.
“Twilight was lonely and depressed that night. She had a bad fight with one of her best friends. She was not, and I repeat not, a fillyfooler,” She replied angrily. I grinned that I had been able to coax a bit of a reaction out of the mare.
“She was a pretty good kisser though,” I said, thinking of the white mare fondly.
“Gag,” The lavender mare replied, sticking a hoof up to her mouth. “Anyways, Rarity never told Twilight the truth about the book. Then the rest you know is history. Megaspells dropped, everypony died. Well… mostly everypony.” I thought about what she said. If Twilight never got her hooves on the Black Book, then who finished the spell in the first place? I wasn’t totally sure that there wasn’t another one of those books out there somewhere. It wouldn’t surprise me if the zebras made several of them, as superstitious as they were. Why did it feel like I was missing something? It didn’t seem like Twilight could have ever gotten her hooves on it while she was inside the Goddess. Trixie would have known about it, and that was exactly why many of my sisters had roamed around Canterlot looking for it. No, that thing was locked somewhere in Canterlot until the Destroyer found it and brought it to the Goddess.
“Then… there is no other book?” I asked. The lavender mare shrugged as she turned her attention to the rain outside.
“Maybe. If there was, I don’t know where it would have gone to,” She replied. The rain began to pick up, striking the window harder as the lightning became more frequent. Thunder roared across the sky as I stared out the window next to the depressed mare. I grinned silently, hoping maybe that I could find some answers after all. The diary and the memory orbs I had collected at the library still represented a chance. Perhaps they would contain information about the Black Book and if there were others out there. I made a mental note to check out the diary as soon as I could get some free time. I continued to sit there, mulling about my thoughts until the memory went stark black.
A sharp stinging pain in the back of my mind awoke me from my slumber. I lifted my head and realized I was no longer in the dark swamp we had fought Sloth in. I was in a room, the soft light of morning sun drifting in through the window as I let my gaze linger on the ponies sleeping soundly on the floor. Violet, Patch, and Steeljack lay there. How long have they been there? I thought as I watched my friends sleep. Where is here?
I let my eyes fall upon each of my friends as I pondered where I was. Violet looked like hell. Her mane was ragged and it looked like she hadn’t slept in days. Patch looked no better as her eye patch was dirty and ragged. I rested my eyes on her flank for a moment, not so much to stare, but to realize that I had yet to ever notice what her cutie mark was. A thin silver needle with blue thread slipped through the eyelet graced her flank. I smiled. Perhaps sometime I would have to ask her what it meant and how she got it. I lifted my eyes to my third friend, Steeljack. The grey buck was sleeping close to his marefriend, his foreleg draped around her side. He looked substantially better than the other two, but he still looked pretty bad. I sighed for a moment and looked down at myself. I was filthy to say the least, my coat stained with whatever I had fallen into when I passed out. I looked down at my foreleg, the one that had been grabbed by the skeletal pony.
Oh. Ohhh… shit.
Despite the fact that my leg had begun to heal, there was now a large pink scar across my foreleg where the thing had left its Pink Cloud mark. The scar seemed to be keeping away my coat, standing proud of the purple hair on the rest of my leg. I poked at it with my other hoof. It was smooth and itched like hell the moment that I touched it. I couldn’t help myself as I started to scratch at it. I sighed in contentment, letting my tongue roll out the side of my mouth as I scratched vigorously. My scratching must have been a little too loud, as I was interrupted a moment later by a cough and a “Hmmph!” I stopped and looked up, seeing Violet standing there. She had a pretty mean look in her eye I must admit. I grinned sheepishly.
“Umm… morning?” I said, continuing my sheepish grin as she glared at me.
“You’re not supposed to scratch at it. Doctor said so,” She replied coldly, before softening up a bit. “But… I’m glad you’re awake.” I smiled as she stepped forward and gave me a light nuzzle on my neck.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Tribal town called Arlington. Its a few hours south of Chicacolt, give or take. It was the closest settlement we could find to the swampland,” Violet said, lying down next to me.
“How long?” I said, dreading the answer I knew would inevitably come.
“Two days,” She said softly. My eyes widened. Again?! I thought as I cursed Twilight’s memories and emotions. Why can’t they just let me pass out for a few hours or something sometime? I snorted.
“Great. I trust that there haven’t been any issues since I’ve been out?” I said.
“Well… we did run into a radhog nest coming out of the swamp. Nothing we couldn’t handle though. You’re lucky I’m getting strong enough to carry you with telekinesis,” Violet replied. “Still… nothing else though. No sign of our new friend either.”
“I don’t think we’ll be seeing Cranky for a while,” I said, staring dreamily at the window. The morning sun had fully risen and light was now pouring into the window across the room. “I think we’ve given him enough to think about. Hopefully he changes his mind and decides to help us with Pride.”
“Do you really think he can change?” My love asked, looking up at me with hopeful eyes. I nodded.
“Everypony deserves a second chance,” I replied. Violet giggled a bit.
“Star, when did you get so wise?” She said, smiling. I looked down at her for a moment and paused. She had a point. When did I start to think this way? I realized that lately I had been thinking more clearly than I ever had before. My thoughts were interrupted by a set of yawns as my other two friends arose from the floor. Patch wiped the sleep out of her good eye and looked up at us, smiling.
“Morning guys,” She said, trotting up next to the bed. Steeljack grunted as he began to pack up the bed roll. I could tell he wasn’t quite awake just yet. I grinned and snorted at him. He chuckled as he acknowledged that I was awake and doing fine. Patch sat on the floor next to the bed and began to chat animatedly about what happened after she disappeared on us. She had managed to position herself up in a tree, using the opportunity of us speaking with Cranky to slip away unnoticed.
“How did you…?” I asked, clearly confused.
“How did I what? Get away?” The mare said, smiling brightly.
“No… how in the hell did you snipe from a tree? Isn’t that… a little heavy?” I replied. Patch giggled.
“Silly. Earth pony ingenuity. A lot of the Ironshod sniper rifles were made from very lightweight but durable material. It was like carrying a feather!” She said, sticking her hoof up for dramatic effect. Steeljack interjected, as he was listening in while he was packing up our things.
“Due to the fact that a lot of mares wanted to sign up to be in the Equestrian Army, Ironshod and other manufacturers developed firearms that were light and useable by anypony. Every little filly wanted to be like the Ministry Mares I suppose and do their part,” He said as he packed up the last of our bags. I decided to test myself and hopped out of bed, gingerly resting my weight on my foreleg. It felt stable enough at least as I took a few steps.
“Well…? We ready to go?” I asked, grinning. The others nodded as we stepped out of the room. The room was apparently connected to a small clinic where a white unicorn mare bearing a needle cutie mark waited at the front desk. She gave us a smile as we walked up.
“You’re awake. And looking good it seems,” She said. “I’m Nurse Emergency Care, I run this place.”
“Thank you for helping us,” I said. “It’s nice to see ponies helping out other ponies for a change.”
“I can’t really turn down an injured pony now can I?” She replied. “That being said, there is the issue of your payment. You see, we could use a little bit of help. If you want to that is… I mean you don’t have to since you already technically paid the caps… I was just hoping… well…” The mare began to visibly shake as her speech trailed off. I smiled and put a hoof on her shoulder.
“Whoah there. It’s alright. What do you need help with?” I said.
“Well you see… there’s a group of raiders just east of us. They’ve been in holding up in an old Ministry of Peace hospital. There could be valuable medicine or anything there worth salvaging, if the filthy beasts haven’t already pillaged it to death. We’re just a small tribal town, we barely get by defending our own,” She began. She brought out a map of the area, showing Chicacolt to our immediate north and the hospital circled in an area to the east. “We’re running quite low on supplies as is.”
“Can we borrow this?” I asked. She nodded. I slipped the map into my saddlebags and stared at the mare, grinning. “I think we can come to an arrangement. We’ll take a looksie out there and see if we can’t clear those raiders out for you.” Care’s eyes lit up with excitement as she grabbed my foreleg (my good one) and hugged me.
“Oh thank you thank you thank you!” She said animatedly. I giggled a bit and looked at my companions.
“You guys up for it?” I asked. Patch nodded, a grin forming on her face. Violet and Steeljack nodded as well as I turned back to Nurse Care.
“Looks like that’s affirmative,” I said. “We’ll head out that way now.” The mare’s eyes switched to concerned doctor mode.
“Are you sure? You should rest for a bit longer. You were really out of it when they brought you in,” She asked.
“I’ll be fine. Two days is long enough for me to be in bed,” I said with a grin. We thanked the unicorn again for her help and stepped outside into the morning sun. The town of Arlington was truly a tribal town. Even though it had buildings and such, there were plenty of makeshift huts strewn about the small town. What really surprised me were the local townsfolk. Besides ponies, I noticed several zebra, griffons, and even minotaurs milling about the main square. As we walked through the square, several of the locals waved at us.
A few moments later we arrived at the eastern gate of the tribal town, waved out by two very bored looking earth pony guards. I chuckled at the thought of it. It would be nice to be boring, I thought as we made our way onto the road. The sun was high in the sky now, and a chill wind blew across the Wasteland while we walked. I decided to click on my PipBuck radio, hoping and praying that DJ-PON3 would reach all the way up here. A few tweaks of the receiver and I dialed in to the radio station I had found before we met Sloth. A chunky beat erupted from my radio as the music led into a rough and tough voice of the DJ. I noticed immediately that it wasn’t DJ-PON3.
“Yeeeeeeeeeeehaawwww. It’s time again kiddies for the Morning Moo Madhouse right here on K-COLT 101! I’m your host… The ONE. The ONLY! The MINOTAUR!
Yes, that’s right kiddies. I am the Minotaur. Your host with the most, bringing you all the hits and news in the Chicacolt area. What’s that you say? You live in Filliet? Well, you big trash mountain tribal, get your honkin’ ass on down to the big city! It’s much nicer than that pile of junk you live in anyways.
Today kids we’ve got some news for you. Big things happening in the city. Gang violence everywhere folks! There’s a gang war in the south side of the city. If you’re living anywhere near there get out while you can. If you need assistance, there’s always a helping hoof in the NCR… the Nude Chickens Republic! Hahaha!”
The DJ cut off and some voices in the background chimed in.
“Oh shaddup, whaddya you know? Anyways, a representative from the Cult of Iron Will contacted K-COLT a few days ago and wanted to pass on some messages. Here’s what he had to say:”
“When somepony tries to block, [take them to a gay bar]!”
“Sounds amusing there folks. Anyways. We’ve got some time for some callers. So if you’ve got a working transmitter out there, and you’re not dead yet because Steel Rangers want it. Give us a call on 141.7! Oh, looks like we’ve got one now!”
The caller came on the line and the DJ got quiet.
“Minotaur, this is Star Paladin Cotton Candy of the Chicacolt Steel Ranger Union. We hate your show and are going to force you off the air soon you son of a whore.” The caller said.
“Hey! That’s not fair, my mother wasn’t a whore!” The DJ replied, laughing heavily as he did. “Oh well, looks like we lost that caller. *click* Didn’t wanna talk to you anwyays, you son of a bitch! Anyways kiddies, that’s all we’ve got for right now. Now onto the music! We’re playing all the hits from two centuries in the making! Coming up, we’ve got a hit from The Ponies, enjoy!”
The rough and tough DJ voice gave way to a throaty guitar riff that led into a fast and furious drum beat. I bopped my head along as we walked. The Minotaur, eh? I thought as the town of Arlington got further away behind us and the road stretched along. The music drifted into the background as we approached the area marked on the map that belonged to the Ministry of Peace hospital.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck! My thoughts couldn’t think anything but the word as I stared down the hill at the supposed raider encampment. The hospital itself was surrounded by a large iron wall. Instead of the usual raider fare however, the walls were painted with a familiar symbol. One of gears and iron. It was the symbol of the Ministry of Wartime Technology. Furthermore, it was the symbol of the Steel Rangers.
The Steel Rangers were a group that existed during the war that operated under the M.W.T. After the megaspells dropped however, the Rangers transformed into a pseudo knight order with a focus on hoarding technology for themselves. These days, it was a rare sight to see Steel Rangers operating alone like this. Applejack’s Rangers had all but quelled the old vision the original order had. Instead of hoarding technology for nopony else, the Rangers transformed into a force of good in the Wasteland, actually helping ponies in times of need. This… this was no Applejack’s Rangers compound. The Applejack’s Rangers would have helped the town of Arlington by now, and provided the necessary medicines to the ponies in need there. This was a bona-fide Steel Ranger camp. I groaned as I stared down the hill, counting the number of power-armor clad Rangers that lined the walls of the compound. Rangers were notorious for their arrogance and thug-like nature. An olden Steel Ranger might help a pony, only to kill that pony afterwards to take their PipBuck.
“So… what do we do?” Patch asked quietly. I sighed.
“Well we’re not going in guns’ blazing that’s for sure,” Steeljack said in response. He was right there. This would not end well if we went at this forcefully. The grey buck looked at me. “Any ideas?”
“Well, only one thing we can do. We’re going to have to talk to them, see if we can convince them to give up the medicinal supplies and go from there,” I said in a low voice. “But I want everypony to be ready in case something bad happens.” Nods from around me indicated my friends’ willingness to partake in this suicidal mission. I grinned. I couldn’t ask for better companions sometimes.
The trip down the hill was a silent one. We made sure that our weapons were readily accessible in case anything went sour. I knew the instant we made it to the bottom of the hill that we had been sighted.
“Halt! Stay where you are!” A voice called out across the clearing. We had barely made it within twenty feet of the wall. The door to the massive gate opened up, revealing several Steel Rangers in power armor. The leader of the group, a massive pink unicorn buck, stepped out of the gate and began trotting down the lane towards us. We held up our hooves, hoping to indicate that we were friendly. The unicorn stopped ten feet in front of us and held up his hoof back in greeting. “State your business here!”
“Hello there!” I called out, trying to be friendly. “My name is Radiant Star and these are my friends. We’re with the Followers of the Apocalypse. Perhaps you’ve heard of us?”
“Maybe. Why the fuck would I care? What do you want?” The gruff unicorn replied. Great, I thought. A Steel Ranger with an anger management problem. Just what I needed.
“Err… we’re here on the behalf of the town of Arlington sir…?” I began, catching the eye of the buck.
“Cotton. Star Paladin Cotton Candy,” The unicorn replied. Oh this was just even better! This was the buck from the radio call! I groaned internally at my luck. Furthermore, what sort of fucking name was Cotton Candy? Steel Rangers always had the silliest names.
“Star Paladin Candy, we’re here because the town of Arlington just west of here is in dire need of some medical supplies that you have here in this hospital,” I said, trying to maintain a straight face.
“And your point is?” Candy said. “Look. I’m trying to run an operation here. If you’re just going to waste my time, I suggest you leave before I force you to.”
“My point is, you could be out there helping them instead of keeping yourself holed up here,” I said angrily. “You’re a Steel Ranger for Applejack’s sake!” Cotton Candy snorted in response to this.
“While my brethren in the south are of the mind that the ultimate goal of the Rangers is to help other ponies, us in the Chicacolt chapter could give two shits about what happens to anypony else. We’re doing just fine right here. Now, remove yourself from our property,” The buck replied, raising his voice in anger at me. I gritted my teeth as I tried to resist the urge to wrench his head from his suit with a flick of my horn. This buck really rubbed me the wrong way. Too bad we’d be dead before I got my horn to even glow properly. I stared up at the guns lining the wall and sighed.
“Okay then… what about a deal?” Violet said suddenly. I looked down at her and smiled. The mare knew how to barter well after all. Cotton Candy’s eyes narrowed at my marefriend.
“What kind of deal?” He asked. Violet grinned.
“Oh, come on. You’re Steel Rangers. There must be some prewar tech you guys want that isn’t here,” Violet said. “The deal stands though, that you have to take a number of the medical supplies to the town of Arlington.”
“Intriguing,” The buck replied. “There is something that we have been looking for. Are you familiar with a certain DJ known as the Minotaur?” We nodded and the unicorn smiled widely. “Excellent. You see, this DJ has a piece of prewar tech that I would very much like to get my hooves on. As you by now have heard, he likes to openly mock the Steel Rangers on his radio show.”
“Let me guess, you want us to get what he has for you?” I asked flatly. The buck grinned for a moment and nodded. “Can you at least tell us what it is?”
“It’s a transponder unit that interfaces with a PipBuck. It’s essentially a wide-range transmitter / signal location device. With such a device, we’d be able to determine the location of all the prewar technology within the city of Chicacolt,” Candy said. I groaned internally again. A device that would help these guys locate more prewar tech? Possibly even worse things? I didn’t like the sound of it. I certainly hoped Violet had a plan for this. I looked at her while she stared at the buck.
“I assume that means we’d be taking the Minotaur off the air?” Violet said, prompting a nod from the unicorn.
“You’d be doing a favor to the city to be honest. That filthy loudmouth has been spewing his junk on the radio for quite some time now. You’ve heard him and how he acts,” Cotton Candy said, turning deadly serious.
“I dunno, I thought he was kind of funny,” Patch suddenly chimed in, earning a glare from both Candy and Violet. She grinned sheepishly. “Umm… sorry!” Violet returned to her negotiations.
“Here’s the deal then. You give us the medicine and we will take it to Arlington. We have to stop back by there before we continue on into the city,” She said. “We’ll acquire this transponder and bring it to you.”
“Sounds fair enough little mare. May I propose an addendum to this deal of ours?” Candy asked.
“What do you want?” I asked, glaring at the buck.
“We’ll let you take the medicine, but if you renege on your end of the bargain… we’ll make sure that nopony can even find the town of Arlington ever again,” The pink hued unicorn replied. I snarled at myself. Of course he would, I thought angrily. Probably had this planned from the moment we proposed a deal. At this point in time I really really really wanted to pop this buck’s head off at the neck.
“Fine,” Violet said in response. I stared at her. What are you doing Violet? You’re going to get those townsfolk killed! We’re not just giving him the transponder are we?
“Excellent. Then we have an accord. Please, follow me and I will provide you with the supplies,” Cotton Candy said, motioning with a hoof to follow him.
“Excuse me. Steeljack, Patch: could you please go with the Star Paladin and acquire what we need? I’d like to stick around out here and talk to Violet for a second,” I interjected. Steeljack nodded at me. Violet looked at me blankly.
“You sure?” He said. I glared at him with death ray eyes. He nodded again and motioned for Patch to follow him. The three trotted to the gate and disappeared behind it. I looked back at Violet, whose eyes suddenly got very wide.
“I… I screwed this one up didn’t I?” She said quietly. I smiled softly at the realization that she hadn’t meant for it to end this way.
“What do you think we’re going to do now? Those tribal ponies couldn’t protect themselves against regular raiders, let alone Steel Rangers. Are we really going to take down a radio personality, one who at least seems to be letting ponies know what’s going on in the city, just to hand these pricks a very massive piece of prewar tech?” I asked. Violet sighed and sat down on her haunches.
“I expected him to say something like that, I just didn’t figure he would actually do it,” She said. “We’re going to need to play this one by ear Star. I won’t let those ponies down. They did a lot for us in fixing you up. We owe them.” I nodded and sat down next to her.
“It’s alright. We’ll figure it out together,” I said quietly before getting very irritated. “Fuck I hate Steel Rangers.” Violet chuckled a bit.
Several minutes later, our other two friends emerged from the Steel Ranger compound. Their saddlebags were laden down with numerous healing potions, packages of Med-X, RadAway, Rad-X, and even large amounts of medical bandages. The hospital had been stacked with the stuff. I was pretty amazed. Cotton Candy explained that the building wasn’t actually an active hospital even before the war, and had been mostly used for supplies and technological devices from the Ministry of Peace.
As we made our way down the road, Steeljack and Patch brought up the elephant in the room of what we were actually going to do about the Minotaur. I looked at Violet and sighed. We were still trying to figure out how we were going to keep the townsfolk of Arlington safe. We put them in this position after all, I thought somberly.
“I suppose, we’re going to need to have a chat with him,” I said as we walked. “I’m sure he’s a reasonable fellow.”
“Yes, we’re going to waltz up to him and say ‘Hey Mr Minotaur, we’d like your transponder thingy that lets you broadcast all over the city!’” Patch chattered animatedly. Steeljack laughed a bit at his marefriend’s silliness. I stifled a chuckle myself at this.
“My point is, I think we should at least talk to him. He may have a way for us to get around these Steel Rangers and keep Arlington safe,” I replied. Violet nodded.
“I agree. Once we get into the city, our first priority should be to find this Minotaur. He might also know where we can find Pride,” She said. “After all, being the city’s radio DJ, he’s gotta have connections. I’m sure he’s hopefully at least heard of her before.”
Our exodus from the medical center was brief, and soon we had arrived back into the small tribal town. The guards waved us in and we made a beeline directly to the clinic. We were greeted once more by the warm smile of Nurse Care. The white mare was sitting at her desk like normal. Her eyes lit up at the sight of us.
“You’re back. Did you get them?” She asked excitedly. We opened up our bags and I floated out the supplies, setting them out on a nearby table for her.
“Here’s what we could get… but I’ve got some bad news for you,” I said. “Those ‘raiders’ you thought were out there weren’t raiders. They were Steel Rangers.”
“Steel Rangers? What? What are they doing all the way up here? I thought they were all part of the Applejack’s Rangers now,” The nurse said, suddenly appearing very concerned. I explained about Cotton Candy and the Chicacolt chapter of the Rangers. I also mentioned the Minotaur and she nodded, having said she listened occasionally to his broadcasts but didn’t know anything more about the radio personality. When I got to the part about the deal, the mare’s eyes were widened in panic.
“So let me get this straight. You made a deal with these fucks for this stuff? In return for this thing… and if you don’t get it the Rangers are going to come and rain death all over our small town?” She said after a moment of pause. We looked at each other and nodded.
“Eyup,” Steeljack simply replied. The mare groaned in frustration.
“We’ve got enough problems to worry about! We could have dealt with a few raiders if they came too close, but Steel Rangers? No one would survive that sort of an attack!” She cried out in anger. I sighed and put a hoof on her shoulder to try and calm her down.
“Listen here,” I said, staring at her coldly. “I’m not. I repeat. I am not going to let that happen. We’re going to make sure of that. You’re going to have to trust me.” The mare sighed and slumped down into her chair. After a few moments, she looked up at me and nodded. I smiled.
“Okay. Sorry, I’m just under a lot of stress lately. The town is getting bigger and too many need medical attention on a regular basis that I’m not sleeping well. I trust you. I asked you to go out there in the first place… if anything this is my fault,” She replied.
“You didn’t know there were Steel Rangers out there,” Violet offered. “Those pricks will do anything to get their hooves on prewar tech.”
“I know… I appreciate you picking up these supplies still. They’ll really help us out,” Nurse Care said, smiling. “Well… you’re welcome to stay with us if you’d like for a bit. I know we can’t offer much, but there is an old saloon down the ways that’s been up and running for a few weeks now.” I chuckled a bit nervously at this. I was well aware of the way I acted when I got drunk, or even when my lips touched the exquisite sin of alcohol.
“We could use some rest,” Steeljack offered. Violet nodded.
“Umm… you guys go on ahead then, I think I’ll just take it easy here and lie down,” I said. My marefriend giggled at this.
“Alright sweetie,” She said nuzzling my neck for a moment before whispering in my ear. “We won’t tell anypony you can’t hold your liquor.” I blushed profusely at this, most likely giving the wrong idea to every other pony in the room.
“Ah… ah… right right, yes. Okay then, well have fun!” I stammered out as I ran into the nearest room, hearing Violet’s laughter and an exclamation of confusion from Nurse Care. I breathed a sigh of relief as I moved into the middle of the room and lay on the bed. It was dirty and so was I, but I didn’t mind. It felt good to just lay there with a little peace and quiet.
After a few moments of silence, I picked up my saddlebags and opened them up with a flick of my horn. I pulled out the memory orbs that I had acquired until now with my hooves, laying them out on the floor next to my bed. I carefully set aside the ones that I had already viewed, leaving only seven orbs: The five from the library, Twilight’s orb from the six, and another orb that came from Twilight’s room at the Hoofton Hotel. I regarded Twilight’s orb for a moment, before thinking better of it and setting it aside as well. Whatever had happened with that orb I still was unable to remember, and I didn’t want to risk anything bad happening. Instead I looked at the orb that I had found next to the statue of Rarity. Seeing as we were in the care of good ponies, I decided that now was a good time to view it.
A glimmer in the light caught my eye before I could latch onto the orb. I looked at my bags and levitated out the tiara. It was dull as ever, but one of the gems had a faint sheen to it that could only barely be seen. I sighed and set it aside too. It was another piece of the larger puzzle that I had yet to figure out. Beyond where the tiara had sat was the diary, still dusty from the years it must have spent inside that hidden library room. I pulled it out too and opened it up. Many of the pages were grimy and dirty, but it appeared this diary started with a series of letters. I looked down the page of one of the first ones and began to read.
“Dear Princess Celestia,
My friend Applejack is the best friend a pony could ever have, and she’s always there to help anypony. The only trouble is, when she needs help she finds it hard to accept it. So while friendship is about giving of ourselves to friends, it’s also about accepting what our friends have to offer.
Your faithful student,
I blinked for a moment. This was really Twilight’s writing? What were these? As I read on, I began to sense a theme in the writing. The majority of what I knew about Twilight was from during the war, but these… these almost seem like they started before the war. Before things got bad. Twilight was just a young mare it seemed. The letters were interspersed with journal entries describing incredible adventures that she and her friends had. Twilight’s journal explained that at a young age the mare was sent to Ponyville to make friends in lieu of a threat from the wicked Nightmare Moon. Eventually, Twilight’s connection with her friends is what saved Equestria from night eternal. As I moved forward in the diary, the change in the letters shifted as I realized the writers themselves shifted. The writers became Twilight’s friends, each writing their own letters to Princess Celestia about their adventures in friendship. There were even letters from a Spike, which I gathered to be a dragon based on his writings and Twilight’s recollections of their adventures.
The further I got into the diary however, the one of the entire thing changed. There were no more letters to Celestia, only diary entries of a battered and broken mare. Twilight’s view on life had completely shifted, starting from the moment she became a Ministry Mare. That entry was particularly interesting, considering the excitement that the mare had shown so publicly just to find out that she secretly hated herself for taking part in Luna’s Ministries. As I neared the end of the diary, I found one last letter to the Princess.
“Dear Princess Celestia,
I haven’t written to you for some time, and for that I apologize. I fear that my studies in friendship are finally at an end. I’ve come to one simple brutal conclusion:
There is no such thing. Friendship in Equestria is dead. It died when this war began.
My friends are all isolated now. Pinkie Pie spends her time hopped up on Party-Time Mintals, Rarity is too busy remaking the image of Equestria, Applejack has her new beau, I don’t even know what’s going on with Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy is working on some new big project. This war has driven all of us insane.
The simple fact is that the fate of Equestria no longer rests on making friends. This conflict, this bloody war needs to end.
I’m sorry, I wish there was another way. But I will not let the deaths of innocent ponies, like the death of my brother, stand for nothing.
This will be my last letter. I’m sorry for everything.
Always your faithful student,
I sighed as I closed the diary. I nearly began to cry. I hadn’t really known too much about Twilight’s life in general. Granted, there wasn’t anything in the diary that had anything to do with this spell that Twilight had been working on, but surprisingly, I didn’t care. The emotional impact of the letters and Twilight’s progression from young mare into grizzled veteran of a long and hate-filled war drained me physically and mentally.
I looked down at the memory orb in between my hooves. There was really no choice now but to view it. I looked at the window and the sun was beginning to set. My friends would be arriving back at any time. I looked downwards again, and latched onto the orb with my magic and allowed myself to be drawn into the memory.
This was a familiar body. I remembered Rarity’s body well as she looked about the large penthouse room she was in. Lithely she trotted along until she stopped in front of a tall mirror sitting in the corner of the room. The beauty that the mare graced the reflective surface with was bar none. She was dressed in a light blue dress with lace trimming. A thin blue veil covered her face. She smiled as she looked herself over in the mirror, almost like it was a normal day.
“Right then. You can do this darling, you’ll have her like putty in your hooves,” She said to the mirror, smiling. I felt confused for a moment. She was… talking to herself? I watched from her eyes, content to wonder what would happen next. The mare stared intently at the mirror for a moment.
“If by some chance I do not have the strength to do this, this memory orb will keep the record of my confession,” She said aloud. She looked around for a few moments before turning her attention back to the mirror.
“Twilight. I’m going to leave this orb in your care,” My host said confidently. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for some time, but never quite managed to get up the courage to do so. I know what you’re thinking… me not having the courage for this. Hah!”
My host chuckled a bit at this. She was obviously nervous. I could see it in her eyes. When she spoke next it was like a different mare took her place. Her voice was soft and caring.
“Ever… ever since that night that I spent with you at the hotel… I’ve felt something was missing in my life Twilight. I’ve tried to push it away, but I can’t hide it any longer,” She started to say, blushing profusely as she got closer to her confession. I admit I already had an idea of what the white mare was going to say. Her voice got low and it squeaked out from her.
“I… love you Twilight. I don’t know why or how but I do. And I’m going to tell you today. You made an appointment with me, about what I don’t know. But I’m going to tell you, I have to tell you,” Rarity said, pleading now with the mirror. Her eyes were streaming with tears.
“I can’t take this anymore Twilight. I feel so much for you. I know what you’re going through right now is hard… and I wish I could be there to help take it all away. Your brother… he was a lovely stallion, and an amazing older brother… I just wish I could help… and that you wouldn’t push us away like you’re doing now,” She said, tears flowing freely now. I couldn’t help but feel bad for the mare.
“I meant what I said before… I never want to drift apart from my friends. If what I’m working on comes to fruition… I hope I will never have to. But most of all… most of all I don’t want to drift away from you Twilight,” My host continued, as she began wiping the tears from her eyes. She looked down at herself and sighed.
“Great... now I’ve gone and ruined my makeup. Looks like I’ll have to fix myself up again before we meet in an hour. Alright Rarity, you can do this. You can…” She said, trailing off. She looked intently at the mirror. “I will do this.” A knock at the door interrupted my host. She looked up and called out.
“Yes? Who is it?”
“Lady Rarity, your car is here to take you to your offices. We’ll be waiting downstairs for you,” A familiar male unicorn called out from behind the door.
“Alright dear Snips. Thank you for letting me know. I will be down shortly darling,” My host replied before turning to the mirror.
“See you soon darling. If by some chance that I don’t get to make this confession before you, at the very least you will be able to see it somehow,” She said with a wink at the mirror before she turned and began to head down the hall as the memory faded to white.
I awoke in darkness once more, grinning as I felt a familiar nuzzle on my neck. I looked down to see Violet lying next to me, snuggled in close. Across the room, Steeljack and Patch lay sleeping as well. I smiled softly as I leaned into her snuggles and kissed my marefriend softly on the head. She made a sighing noise and I smiled once more.
I lay there for the rest of the night and morning, looking out at the window while my friends slept around me. For some reason I couldn’t sleep even though I felt rather tired. I kept thinking about all I had seen and read. Rarity’s confession had been sweet, but it also gave me chills. She deathly cared for her friend and wanted nothing more than to be with her. Twilight’s diary unnerved me more. That final letter to the Princess was the words of a mare who was finished. Twilight had given up on her friends, given up trying to promote peace and friendship. She was committed. I shuddered at the thought of it. I looked around the room at my friends. Is that what I’m turning into? A mare who shunned friendship? I thought. I don’t want that. I love my friends.
The morning came without any interruption, my thoughts continuing well until the sun had filtered fully into our room and my friends began to awaken from their slumber. I stayed rather quiet as we packed up our things. Violet looked at me a little funny, but a quick smile reassured her that I was okay. We exited our room and thanked Nurse Care for her hospitality, promising to return as soon as we could. I advised her that if the Steel Rangers came poking around to take the villagers and evacuate them as quickly and quietly as possible. She nodded with a fearful look on her face as we left the clinic.
The morning sun hit our eyes as we made our way out of the clinic and out into the town. The main drag of the small tribal village led us due north until we reached the edge of the small town. Beyond that the Wasteland stretched out before us. As we walked, I fiddled with my PipBuck radio some more, trying to keep the Minotaur’s station picked up so that we could glean any information about where the DJ was broadcasting from. In the back of my mind, all I could think about was the small town we had just left, the memories I delved into there, and the dilemma we now faced. If it came down to it, I would certainly fight the Steel Rangers if they attacked the small town. I silently hoped it wouldn’t come to that, that we could convince the Rangers to help the tribal villagers instead. Knowing Cotton Candy’s response to the whole thing however, I held out very little hope for this.
We walked quietly and quickly, hoping to make it to our destination by the end of the day at least. The road itself was broken, pieces of rubble and cart vehicles strewn about all over. It appeared like it was some sort of highway. Eventually we came upon a large open train station. A large subway style train sat on one of the nearby tracks. Violet pulled out the old book containing information about Chicacolt, explaining that the city was one of the last few cities that had elevated train systems as opposed to the monorail used in bigger cities like Manehattan. Unfortunately, it looked like the whole thing wasn’t working. At the very least there were a few Sparkle Cola machines in the train station lobby that yielded some bottles. The rest of the place appeared to have been picked clean.
We continued on, following the train line. The notes on my PipBuck indicated that the line ran north. The further we continued forward, the more stable and less ruined the ground beneath us became. Wasteland solidified into solid road as we stepped out onto a massive highway that had once been full of pull-carts. Now there was only dust and ash. The sun was beginning to wane by the time we made it over the next large hill and then suddenly… there it was.
I stared down the hill at the ruined city and had a stark realization that I had actually seen this city before. My thoughts flittered back to the chat I had with Depression. It was the same city, albeit broken now. Further past the city sat a great lake that looked completely green with magical radiation. It appeared in a sense to be hugging the northern side of the city. In the center of the city arose a large black tower, completely unscathed from the damages of time. Several large skyscrapers surrounded it, but none were as massive or as tall as this one was. To the east of the city, a massive stadium and museum building could be seen. The ceiling of the museum appeared to be caved in from our vantage point at the top of the hill. An iron wall surrounded the stadium. The city stood there, lifeless but at the same time unscathed. It stood strong and proud. The train line continued down into the metropolis and eventually disappeared below ground into the subway system.
I looked around at my friends, who merely nodded. I grinned and turned down towards the ruined city of Chicacolt. We were ready. We had come too far to turn back now. We had our reasons for being here and we were not going to abandon them: Pride, The Minotaur, Cranky, and Arlington.
Chicacolt here we come.
Radiant Star: Level Up!
New Perk! Smile Smile Smile: You excel at trying to talk your way out of hostile situations. You gain +20% to your Speech skill while in combat.
Spell Upgrade! Shield of the Alicorn (Rank 2): Your prowess with your alicorn shield has improved greatly. You can now expand and contract the shield at the cost of 2 AP. Maintaining this shield past 10 rounds of combat however begins to damage you at 5 points of damage per round.
Violet Iris: Level Up!
New Perk! Extreme Bartering: You are skilled in the art of trading stuff for caps, even with enemies. You gain +20% to your Barter skill when dealing with potentially hostile targets.
Steeljack: Level Up!
Patch: Level Up!
This chapter was immensely fun to write, the majority of it being that Sloth was fun to write. Obviously by now, you know that he is Cranky Doodle. It was so much fun generating his character and who he is. The fight scene was also a ton of fun to write.
The Minotaur is based off of a popular radio personality known in Chicago as Mancow. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mancow The radio broadcast from him was highly amusing to write, and I tried to work in some of the “Mancow’s Morning Madhouse” running jokes into it.
Why do Steel Rangers always have the silliest names?
And now we’re on to Chicacolt!
Anyways, there are a lot of people to thank here. I’d like to take the opportunity to welcome on Cadmium as one of my new pre-readers. He’s a boss. Totally. Thanks again to Wirepony for providing assistance, encouragement, and laughter. He also does brushies, which is awesome.
Big thanks to the folks on the IRC and the Gdocs. Sources of encouragement include Ilushia (who is awesome, totally awesome), Melonhunter, and Swimming Eagle.
Shameless plugging! I have actually gotten a few good questions at my tumblr, http://askradiantstar.tumblr.com Please continue to send Star your thoughts and questions! She will definitely answer them! I am also still on the lookout for any fanart people may be willing to share with me, I would totally love you if you did something!!
My story plug of the week is for Swimming Eagle’s story “Fallout Equestria: Dark Shores”. As some of you may or may not know, Eagle is the seapony guy. Totally true this is. Shoo be doo Eagle!