Chapter 21: Assassin
"100 caps on the little one."
What the hell was I supposed to do? I was standing before the most gorgeous looking earth pony stallion I had encountered in the wasteland. Losing my virginity to this fellow would not cause me any grief. Even if I was just one of his toys, it wouldn't be a bad life. No more wandering the wastes, getting shot at, Demi by my side. My lunatic mother... well, she was really a lost cause. Did it matter if I never found out why she had gone insane? The mares of Stable Four had Saffron to help them, and my mother for that matter. All I had to do was... sell my soul, throw away my convictions, let those in need help themselves.... OUCH!
Those were a collection of selfish fantasies. Maybe I could indulge in some physical pleasures, but would such an empty life satisfy me? No chance. Demi clearly didn't think so either, or she wouldn't have just nipped me on the butt to wake me up!
"Oh, so the shrew is not as tamed as you thought!" Bukov snickered at seeing me flinch.
"She's just taming my hormones and reactivating my brain," I responded. "I have a job to do."
Bukov laughed at that. 'I really do like you, girl! What's this job you have to do?"
In response I bowed my head, aiming my horn at him. This trick had worked on Eddie, so it was worth another go. Using my magic, I fired the deactivated suppressor ring on my horn at him as hard as I could. "Killing you," I answered. As I spoke, I heard the suppressor ring ricochet off him, and bounce down the hall, making a racket, despite the carpeted floor. Huh? I snapped my head up to see the furious stallion with a bloody hole in his chest. Through the open wound I could see... metal? He swung his hoof at me, and I dodged, though not quite fast enough, his hoof clipping me, sending me spinning into the wall. Damn, that hurt! That strike had been too powerful for a regular pony. Even one that worked out would have trouble putting that much power into such a casual swing. It was reminiscent of being hit by Saffron in power armor.
"Run!" I squeaked. "He's a cyborg!"
I heard the others scrambling towards the stairs, as I ducked under Bukov's next kick, delivering one of my own. I connected well, and it did unbalance him for a moment, but he did have considerably more body mass than I did. I wondered how many times I would need to hit him to put him out of contention. Would I still be functional by then? I dodged another kick, only to thump into the wall. Fighting in a corridor was not ideal. Bukov's next kick only just missed my head, leaving an impression in the masonry. What was I thinking? I levitated the battle axe, and swung it at Bukov. Apparently he was quite adept at this sort of fighting, because the axe left a nice mark in the wall behind where he had been standing. Jumping forward, I narrowly missed being pummeled by his fore hooves. As he was now behind me, I lashed out with a powerful buck, catching him in the shoulder. I felt my protective hoof walls break away, exposing the armor piercing edges of the duralloy cores below. Those I felt bite into the metal of Bukov's cyber frame. Unfortunately my kick wasn't as effective as when Lee had punched right through the armor of a Steel Ranger, but it was certainly something that Bukov wasn't going to forget.
"What the hell?" he bellowed, dodging my second buck. Clearly he hadn't been expecting a filly to be a serious threat to him.
I spun, wrenching the axe from the wall, and swinging it at him again. This time it connected, peeling off a slice of flesh, revealing the metal below. He was built similarly to me, but as he was an earth pony, he could not have come from Stable Lab Four. Perhaps one of the other stable labs was working on similar projects to ours? Perhaps he had been a customer of Stable Lab Four. Whatever the case, it made him very dangerous. Fortunately, he didn't appear to be equipped with the hoof blades though. One strike with those with his power and mass behind them, and I would be history!
Amidst the sounds of us fighting, I heard approaching hoof steps: the guards. That wouldn't just make my life harder, it would threaten Demi and our new friends. Fortunately we were fighting between the two groups of ponies. I glanced down in the direction Demi had gone, and could just see the tops of some heads peeping over the stairs.
"Shoot this filly!" Bukov demanded as the guards ran up. I wondered if he realized I was also a cyborg. Whatever the case, he obviously understood this was a fight to the death.
The two guards pulled their pistols and started firing at me. Dodging Bukov and bullets at the same time was impossible. I felt bursts of pain as I took two bullets to the flank while trying to dodge Bukov's strike. Damn. These guards were skilled! There was only one thing to do: kill them before they seriously damaged me. I leapt away from Bukov, swinging my axe at the first of the guards, aiming below his helmet and above his barding. My strike was good, and his head parted company with his body. Using my magic, I snatched his pistol as I slid past his falling body, and emptied the clip into his partner. A couple of shots penetrated his barding, and he fell. By this time Bukov was practically on me again, so I lashed out with my rear hooves, rolled out of his way, then hit him with my pushing magic. He rammed into the wall, cracking it. I took advantage of him being stunned to rush past, the intention being to put myself between him and the fillies, only to discover he hadn't been stunned at all. As his hooves hammered my head, the world went dark and I crashed to the floor.
Warmth and strength flowed through me. Darkness receded, and with it the pain in my head. How long had I been unconscious? I opened my eyes, finding my vision curiously tinted pink. I was in exactly the same place I had been when I was struck. Bukov was a couple paces away from me, approaching the fillies. Cherry Sundae had her head bowed towards me, magic streaming from her horn towards me. Oh, she was a healer! That was why I had woken so quickly. Demi was standing guard, ahead of her, her knife in her mouth. Against Bukov, she didn't stand a chance. Reaching out with my magic, I grabbed the second guard's pistol, and rapidly emptied it into Bukov's receding rump. Screaming either from pain or rage, he pivoted back towards me and leaped, knocking me flat on my back and pinning me to the floor under him. He was simply too heavy for me to squirm out from beneath him. I could try pushing him away with magic again, but so far that had only bought me brief gaps in his onslaught. Likewise levitating wouldn't be that effective, and I would be struggling with his weight. I needed to do something that would cause him permanent damage. I was feeling for the axe with my magic when I heard Demi call.
"Anne, use your magic!" That was what I was doing, wasn't it? "Use your sculpting magic!" Demi expounded. Luna, that was a good idea!
I jammed my horn into Bukov's body, and felt metal. Perfect! I let my magic run wild, severing or twisting what I could, fusing joints, shorting and cutting control lines. Bukov roared, and tried to push me away, but was already finding his body compromised. As he thumped at me, I pushed my horn into him harder, continuing my magical assault on his internal systems. The strength of his blows lessened when I welded his shoulder joints. His struggles became more uncoordinated as less and less of his body responded to his mind. I could hear more ponies approaching, so went for a killing attack, feeling around until I found his cybernetic heart. I fused it beyond functionality. Bukov went still, and I levitated him up a little and pushed him to one side. Rolling back onto my hooves, I looked closely at his body. He was no longer breathing, or even twitching, as a flesh and blood pony might as its nervous system shut down. His eyes were already taking on the dull look they did when they dried out. I took a step forward, and pressed my horn to his skull, shaping the metal , squeezing it around his brain, disfiguring his face, and just plain making him as ugly as I could.
The approaching guards were nearly here, so I scooped up my battle axe, and flung it at them, spinning, the moment they appeared. The first ducked in time, but in doing so, gave his companion no time to react, and the axe took his head straight off. I hadn't waited around for the axe to strike, already moving in. Some rapid hoof work, a pivot, and a kick saw my hoof blades do what they were designed to do, punching successively through the guard's light armor and his chest. He joined his comrades in the ever growing pile of bodies. That made it six for today, not one of my better days. I preferred body counts of zero. I collected the pistols of the two guards, then rummaged through the barding of all four, finding a spare clip on each. That gave us two loaded pistols, with two reloads each. Demi and Cherry walked up to join me, avoiding what blood they could. Bubbles was doing a pretty good job of guiding Cherry, using her rear legs and balance to steer Cheery without so much as a word, though without a word didn't mean she was being silent, because Bubbles was making her opinion of the bodies well known. I passed one pistol and its reloads to Demi, and she tucked them under her wing. The barding these fellows had been wearing was too big to be usable by any of my present party, and I didn't have time to modify it, so we would have to continue without armor. A quick hunt around the battle scene located my breakaway hoof walls. I levitated them up and stuck them to my flank. I would repair and reattach them later.
"That was some fight, Anne," Cherry commented over the noises Bubbles was making. "Are you still injured?"
"A little," I admitted, "but thank you for getting me back on my hooves before."
"It had to be done," Cherry said, again aiming her healing magic at me, "and I wouldn't say my intentions weren't in some ways selfish. It isn't like I could have fought, and you were protecting us."
"True, true," I admitted, "but that goes for all of us, doesn't it? Our motivations are always at least a little selfish. You are being a little too honest. Whatever the reasons, you helped, and I am grateful. Nothing more needs be said."
"Okay, you're welcome," Cherry said.
"Well put!" I responded. What a strange pony she was. I could get to like someone as honest as her. Thinking about it, I really only liked honest ponies. If I ever caught one lying to me, my opinion of them plummeted. Finding out that it was Demi's parents were the ones lying about her, and not Demi herself had been such a relief. I could see I was setting myself up for grief though, hoping for perfection from my companions.
"Oh," Cherry said. "I can hear other ponies coming. It sounds like some of his crippled fillies."
"Not good. Let's get moving," I suggested. I really didn't want to have to contend with more brainwashed ponies today, well, not with any more than I had to. Getting out of here without encountering some of them would be impossible.
"Which way?" Demi asked. "We really want the fastest way out of here."
"It isn't as easy as that," I responded, thinking back to my trip here earlier in the day. "There are snipers covering outside."
"Let's start by getting away from here," Demi suggested. "Those fillies sound awfully close."
I took a moment to clean my coat and prosthetic with my magic. Walking around with blood on me was as good as announcing I was the killer. Quickly we returned the way we had come, heading back towards the lower floor. We had only partly descended the staircase when the fillies discovered the body of Bukov. Their squeals and screams of anguish showed the effectiveness of the education program, and reminded me that I really didn't want to meet any of them. While they hadn't seen me kill him, I was a stranger, and would be among the first ponies they blamed, along with Demi, and probably Cherry Sundae, despite her blindness.
"I wonder how many crippled fillies that sicko had," I pondered as I continued down the stairs. We were heading back towards the kitchen and utility areas. From there, I hoped there was a back way we could sneak out, but I suspected it would be just as well guarded as the front.
"Too many," Cherry replied. "Any is too many."
"Agreed," Demi added. "And I wonder what is going to happen here now, with the head of their serpent cut off. Will this place fall apart, or will another bastard step into the void?"
"I would hope the slaves would organize themselves into a community," I responded. "Depending on how conditioned they have been, they may be too compliant. It could only take one rotten pony to steer them in the wrong direction. Leaving them like this could produce an even worse hell, but I can't solve everything, can I?"
"They could learn something from the Stable Four mares, couldn't they?" Demi suggested.
"I thought the same thing, but I don't think I want to mix the two groups, even if this place could support them all," I commented. "The Stable Four ponies have a beauty and an innocence that this place is sorely lacking. I don't want to taint them with Bukov's filth."
We had long since reached the bottom of the stairs, and were walking past the kitchen door. The screams and yells of the fillies on the floor above could even be heard down here, and it sounded like more of them had congregated around Bukov's corpse. I wondered how long it would be before they exploded in all directions looking for a culprit.
"Hey, you, filly, whatever you name is. What's the racket all about?" one of the kitchen staff called out. I looked towards them, and they were quite clearly staring at me. Damn.
"It would seem that Bukov has died," I responded. There was no need to say how he died, was there?
"You don't seem that upset," the green pony commented.
"Should I be? Today is my first day here. I only met him twice," I commented, "although I have to admit he was a looker."
"Count yourself lucky then," the pony stated, then turned back to his cooking. "If I was smart, I'd take this opportunity to leave, but I'm not smart, am I? I've been here too long."
"Good luck then," I said, leading my entourage away from the open door.
Of course nothing is easy. The kitchen staff didn't seem to care for Bukov. They were probably just regular slaves, free of the special education reserved for Bukov's sex toys. Those sex toys however were very single minded in their devotion to the pony, either alive or dead it would seem.
"The killer went this way!" I heard the shrill yell from the corridor above. "Follow her hoof prints!"
Her? Hoof prints? How did they know? Looking behind me, I saw my mistake - a trail of filly sized hoof marks left in the floor, courtesy of my exposed hoof blades. "Damn, I just derped!" I muttered. "Expect angry company any moment. Demi, see if you can get the others to a safe place."
If it had just been crippled fillies attacking, we may have been okay, but unfortunately they brought guards with them, and with the guards came guns. Our escape route was blocked off too, as more guards came from that direction. I was surprised at how many guards I was seeing now, compared to our uninterrupted trip into the area in the first place. I guess it was just plain good luck that had let me find Bukov so easily. I'm not one to believe in karma, but some would say it was simply balancing out.
A veritable hail of bullets was fired at us from both sides. They hadn't even called for us to stop or surrender, or to even check who we were; they just opened fire. They weren't thinking that clearly either, because with us in the middle, I'm sure some of their missed shots hit some of their own, and that only served to infuriate them more, thinking we had fired at them. Admittedly I was trying to do exactly that.
I was hit several times, but it was Demi who was the first to fall. My mind screamed with anguish as I watched the light go out of her eyes as she collapsed into a heap on the floor. I couldn't tell if she was just unconscious or dead. Cherry went over a moment later, as she was reaching out with her healing magic towards Demi, multiple bullet wounds visible on her hide. Bubbles fell clear, no longer held on Cherry's back by her magic. The small blue pony did what she was best at, and curled into a ball again. That was probably the most intelligent thing she could have done, actually.
And that was it. Enough. No more. I lost it. I wasn't putting up with this any more. I couldn't handle it. Try to help somepony, and another gets pissed off, or thwarts your efforts for their own selfish reasons. Try to share, and some prick will take it all, or rob those you assisted. Whatever. It was always the same. I was so sick of it. If Demi was dead, the wasteland wouldn't know what hit it, and I was starting with this particular patch of wasteland. The guards were already pushing towards me, kicking and stepping on the fallen as they approached. I forcibly wrenched one guard's pistols from his mouth using my magic, promptly, firing it down his throat. There were only two more bullets in that gun, so when it was empty I flung it at my nearest foe. I reached for the next nearest pistol, only to find it had just been emptied. Most likely its bullets had all been fired at me. In fact, some ponies were still firing, although I wasn't noticing the impacts as much. That suggested I had already been stripped down to bare metal in areas that would be considered vital in an ordinary pony. Throwing the empty gun back at them, I pulled my own pistol and emptied all three of my clips at my enemies. As even more bullets hit, I noticed that even the crippled fillies had armed themselves now, probably with weapons taken from some of the fallen guards. That made them enemies, and I killed my enemies. Any sympathy I had for them was gone. Damn, this was taking too long. I needed to get to Demi and Cherry to see if they could be saved.
There were too many guns. I was a fool; I was standing apart from my attackers, giving them clear shots. I leaped into the midst of them, kicking and biting. Wow this one tasted great! I realized what was happening as my cybernetics dealt with my blood loss again by draining the blood from the filly I had bitten. As my tubules withdrew from her body, I threw her aside and bit the next nearest pony, a guard this time. He tasted foul, so I released him, spun around and bucked him so hard my hoof blades went right through him. As his collapsing body pulled me to the floor with it, I bit onto the leg of a pony that was trying to kick me. She didn't taste right either, so I twisted my head, breaking her leg before using my magic to throw her at the others. Another pony moved in to strike...
The battle seemed to last an eternity, each second passing reducing my chances of saving my wounded companions, assuming they weren't already dead. Biting onto the neck of the last guard standing, I reared, lifting his head, and gutted him with my left hind hoof. He didn't taste bad, so I maintained my grip as he fell, releasing him when I had my fill of his blood. I wondered how long it would be before I needed to kill another for their blood, with all these weeping bullet wounds in my body. I was surprised I hadn't exploded this time, but perhaps my feeding off my victims had staved off imminent death enough for the cursed survival instinct not to kick in. Who was I kidding? The vampire like draining of the fallen and falling was such a survival instinct. The magic explosion was just a last resort.
I looked about at the carnage, then back at my tattered hide. A first aid box would be convenient, but glancing around I was unable to locate one, despite the frequency with which they had been installed. A couple of quivering blood covered fillies backed away from me with wide eyes. I noticed both were missing a foreleg, the pale yellow one from the knee down, the pastel blue one from the shoulder. They were old wounds, not something I had inflicted. Apart from myself, they were the only ponies standing. A glance at my E.F.S. indicated they were no longer hostile, mostly because they were too scared to be a threat.
"First aid. Where?" I demanded, glaring at them.
"K-k-kitchen," the pale blue one managed, shaking even harder.
Of course, the kitchen. With all those cutting tools used in food preparation, a first aid box would be essential. I purposefully walked the short distance to the room. My E.F.S. indicated there were no hostiles inside. Most of the markers were clustered together to one side. Entering the room, I found the slaves had congregated in the most shielded part of the kitchen: the pantry, with the exception of the old green unicorn I had spoken to earlier. He was levitating a super restoration potion in my direction, the top already removed. I nodded my thanks, promptly downing the whole contents, shuddering in almost orgasmic delight as I felt all the holes in my hide closing. He offered me another, which I took.
"Thank you. How many more of these do you have? There are more wounded," I managed.
"I have a few regular healing potions, but no more of those," he said. Damn!
"Bring them and follow me please!" I beseeched, turning to leave, Demi foremost on my mind.
"What about the killer? Is it safe out there?" he asked.
"Safe? I think so. I'm the killer," I admitted.
"Oh. Good for you," he muttered. I didn't quite get what he meant by that, but as he followed behind me I didn't complain.
Again wading through the bodies and gore, I found the floor slick with blood. My front hooves slipped a little as I hurried, but the rear hoof blades bit into the floor and provided me with some stability. Nothing appeared to have changed since I last looked in this direction. Demi and Cherry Sundae were both still where they had fallen, and Bubbles had not uncurled.
I knelt next to Demi, relieved to see the slight movement of her chest as she breathed. Thank Celestia for that. The wasteland had just bought itself a reprieve. I was about to administer the super restoration potion to her when I noticed the faint pink glow that was moving over her like the fading wisps of vanishing morning mist. Magic. Healing magic! Cherry Sunday was trying to heal her, despite being severely wounded herself. I pivoted to face the blood soaked pink pony, and gently levitated her head, holding the potion bottle to her lips. She managed a weak sip, then went limp for a few moments, but the faint glow of her magic remained.
"You, green unicorn, please give the white pony a healing potion," I requested, as I again lifted the bottle to Cherry's lips. She managed two stronger sips this time, no doubt bolstered by the healing magic from the potion itself.
I watched as the green kitchen slave levitated Demi's head and gently helped her to drink the healing potion. Meanwhile Cherry Sundae had recovered enough to drink about quarter of the bottle I was holding for her. The green unicorn pulled out two more healing potions, feeding one to Demi, then levitating the other towards me. I went to object, but he held it to my lips and started to pour it, so I had no choice but to drink it, feeling grateful that he had left me no choice. By the time its magic had relieved the nagging of my scabbed coat, Cherry was well enough to finish off the remainder of the potion in one go. Quickly, before they were sealed inside, I used my magic to reach into her and carefully pull the bullets from her wounds. Some I had to pull the bullets from slowly, using my magic to hold the path out open, while the magic in the potion healed the area behind the slug as I withdrew it. As soon as I had the last slug, I gently lowered her back to the floor, and turned my attention to the center of my universe.
Removing the bullets from Demi was a little harder, as I had to stretch open several mostly healed wounds to get the slugs out. She cried out several times, but was trying not to struggle. I had to turn her over to get several slugs from her other side as well, unlike Cherry who had taken all of her wounds to one side. Finally free of slugs, I let her lie there, recovering thanks to both the magic from the healing potion and Cherry's healing magic, which was now growing stronger. I took advantage of the moment levitate the blue ball that was Bubbles to myself, and gently hug her.
"You are all yucky!" the blue ball announced. I took a moment to actually look at myself, and Bubbles was right. I was covered head to hoof in blood, gore and stray pony hair.
"I'm so sorry," I apologized, gently placing Bubbles on a relatively clean patch of floor, something which was hard to find, I might add, then brought up my cleaning spell, and carefully preened myself. I still had too many healing wounds to risk one of my usual "instant" transformations. I then took the time to blast a clean patch on the floor, on which I sat myself. I reattached my break-away hoof walls and fused them into place, turning me back into a pony instead of a killing machine with sharp edges. Only then did I levitate Bubbles again, giving her a quick clean before returning to hugging her. "Better?" I asked.
"Yes, thank you," the blue ball answered.
"You can uncurl now, you know," I told her.
"No. I don't want to see all of the horrible things," she insisted.
"You are a smart pony," I responded. "We will leave here as soon as Cherry and Demi are well enough to walk."
"They will get better?" Bubbles asked.
"I think so. I hope so. They are a lot better than they were before," I stated.
A noise attracted my attention, and I turned towards it. The two surviving harem ponies had risked taking a step away from me. Seeing me looking at them, they froze, shivering in fear.
"You can go if you want," I told them, "or you can stay. Maybe you can go over to the education wing and let out the last pony there. She's in one of the cells."
"Y-you aren't going to k-kill us?" the blue one stammered.
"No, I don't plan on it," I answered.
"Then why did you kill everypony else?" the other screamed, suddenly breaking her silence.
"Do you think I like killing ponies? Do you think I like seeing my friends get shot? Do you think I like all of this blood and guts everywhere?" I screamed back. I felt Bubbles curl herself up even tighter.
"Then why did you do it?" the filly yelled. "Don't you feel anything?"
"Of course I feel something. I feel a lot. I feel the huge burden of so many lives lost, both because I had to kill them, or because I didn't save them when I should have killed an evil pony and left them alive. All I wanted was to help, to make life better for a few ponies. Tell me, what would you do if some bastard stole your best friend and tried to turn her into a fuck toy? So I try to get her back, and what happens? I get shot to pieces, kicked and bashed. My friends nearly get killed. The ponies I am trying to help get shot full of holes..." It all become too much for me, and I burst into tears. Again. The little blue ball I was hugging uncurled, and nuzzled me.
"Somebody had to kill Bukov, and none of you would do it," Cherry said quietly. "Don't blame Anne for doing what is right. Don't blame Anne for defending herself, when you were all trying to kill us."
"Who are you anyway?" the more forward of the fillies grumbled at Cherry.
"I am one of the ponies Bukov had locked up in his 'education' wing. I had been there for weeks while others came and went, even killed themselves. Did you not ever feel the pain, the fear? Did you not wish somepony would come and rescue you too?" Cherry paused. "I certainly wished somepony would come and rescue me. And one did. I don't know if your brainwashed minds can understand it, but you never loved Bukov. You were only made to think you did. Wake up for crying out loud! See the truth."
An awkward silence fell as the two three legged fillies crept away. I don't know why they crept. Perhaps it was the truth they were trying to hide from. Shortly, coming from the same direction in which they had left came footsteps, not hoofsteps. Paws and claws? Oh, shit, griffins, Bukov's snipers, and by the sounds of the movement, a male or a female devoid of feminine grace. I stifled my sniveling, and sat waiting in silence. I was done fighting for the moment. If the griffin dared to attack, it may be different, but at the moment I wasn't moving. I glanced at my Eyes Forward Sparkle, and noticed that his position was marked with an amber light, indicating he wasn't hostile. It was not long before he appeared. He was well built, rivaling Bukov for size, and was dressed light but functional armor. An array of weapons from a sniper rifle through to a combat knife hung from his armor. He stopped, and surveyed the scene, taking in the pile of bodies, their wounds, the survivors and their condition. I looked away again, concentrating on Bubbles, Demi and Cherry. Would he turn hostile? Would these poor fillies all get wounded again, or worse yet, killed? Finally he spoke.
"So who is the assassin?"
I looked up at him with my tear streaked face. "That would be me," I admitted.
"Hmm. You were a bit sloppy, weren't you. Your target should have been the only corpse, and you should have been long gone," he commented.
"So I'm out of practice. This was my first assassination in fifteen years. Shit, it was my first, period," I commented.
"First kill? You seem little too good at killing for me to believe that," the griffin countered.
"First assassination," I clarified. "I've killed more than my share in regular combat."
"So who paid you? Who was your client, and why did they want Bukov dead?"
"Me. I am the client. The bastard stole my Demi," I muttered. "That is why I couldn't simply slip away."
"Your what?" the griffin asked.
"Her Demi," a soft voice spoke. "That would be me." Demi! She was well enough to speak again. Thank you Cherry for healing her!
"Oh, so it was personal," the big fellow said. "I've got to hand it to you girl, I didn't think anyone could take down that bruiser in hoof to hoof combat, not even a cyborg."
"So what are you going to do to us now?" I asked the burning question. "Now that Bukov is dead, what are you going to do? Revenge? What?"
"Absolutely nothing, my girl. You've cost me my job. Bukov isn't around to pay for my services any more. Same goes for all the griffins here. We'll just be packing up and moving on now. As for his pony guard, you've dispensed with all but one of them, and I found him hiding in a closet pissing himself. I left him a reminder of his cowardice." The griffin mimed slicing the guard's face with his talons. "But that was out of professional pride. You, girl, are no coward. You have my respect."
I simply nodded. Killing all of these ponies was not something I wanted to be respected for, even if the griffin was really referring to me staying to fight against the odds. The griffin walked past me, pausing when he saw the small fore-legless blue filly.
"Oh, you survived," the griffin said. "Bukov was pretty peeved when the two lowlife slavers brought her in. Deliberately cutting off her legs was so unacceptable . Bukov had them driven off without payment, then had me take a few shots at them as they left. Played cat and mouse with them for a few hours, shooting at them whenever they tried to move. Nicked them once or twice, but eventually let them go. Bukov wanted the message getting out there that butchery was not on. Anyway, best of luck, and I hope it was worth it."
With that the griffin continued on his way past my fallen friends, and towards the education wing. I guess there was an exit down that way after all.
The grey daylight penetrated the room, and eventually my eyelids, and I gradually woke to find I was pleasantly warm and comfortable. Demi's wing was wrapped around me, as it had been the two previous mornings I had woken in this room. We were staying here while my party slowly recovered from our recent misadventures. It was one of Bukov's nicer guest rooms, tastefully decorated and clean, like the rest of his mansion. The green unicorn from the kitchen, appropriately named 'Cook', had told us as guests, the place was pretty much ours to do with as we pleased. The head of the power structure was gone, as was his 'army' of guards and so far no one else was prepared to step up and fill the power vacuum, not even Mable. I had to admit I wasn't too happy about that. The last thing I wanted was to become overmare here. Mind you, despite my feelings against it, this place could be made to work for the Stable Four mares, if they were amenable to it.
All the same, there were mysteries this place had yet to divulge. The left wing of the building remained sealed. Investigating the doors and windows had shown that they were not merely locked, but actually impervious to all attempts at entry. There was a small antechamber we had access too. Apparently this room was taboo to all but Bukov so how he opened the door beyond was unknown. Much hunting around had revealed a relatively well disguised mechanism housing a single lens, but nothing we had tried had any affect on it. Even my magic was unable to penetrate the sealed structure, a warding spell keeping it quite secure. It was so secure we were beginning to suspect it was a vault for Bukov's wealth, as clearly he'd had plenty of available funds. What we hadn't worked out was its true purpose, and we suspected that was sinister. Every time Bukov tired of one his crippled fillies, she would be brought down to the antechamber, and would never be seen again. The brainwashed fillies all claimed that he assured them he had taken these ponies to a better place. Images of fairy tales popped into my mind, of rooms lined with corpses hanging from the walls, their throats slit. A much as my mental image of Bukov was of an evil stallion, this didn't sit with his actions towards those that had crippled Bubbles. Another thing that was becoming apparent was that he liked is fillies fresh, but of age. Foals and filly foals like Bubbles were usually of no interest to him.
"Anne, I've had an idea," a muffled voice said from pillow beside me.
"I think I know how to open that door... It's horrible, but I think we can still do it."
"Go on, Demi," I requested.
"I think lens thing by the door is meant to scan Bukov's eye," she suggested.
"Yuck, but yes, that is the first thing that has made sense," I agreed, "So who is going to dig the bastard up?"
"Um. We are," Demi said. "No one else would volunteer to have their beloved pulled from his grave, would they?"
She was right. At the moment, the only ponies left here were the kitchen staff, servants and low level administration, the two surviving three legged fillies who were doing their best to avoid us, and their new companion, the hornless unicorn filly from the education wing. After a lot of quiet discussion out of the range of Bubble's hearing, Demi and I realized it would be the two of us sneaking out in the dark of the night. So that night, blessed with a decent downpour camouflaging our activities, we visited the grave site. They'd buried him, cyborg or not. We didn't dig the whole grave up. Instead I used my magic to feel around until I located his head, then we dug a much smaller hole, allowing me to use my magic to extract his cybernetic eyes. With those in our possession, we sneaked back to our room like a couple of naughty fillies who had been up to no good, pausing only long enough for me to use my cleaning spell on the water and grime on our coats. We were glad to climb back into the nice warm bed. I could get so used to this!
Our midnight activities left us a little tired, so we slept in longer than we usually would have. Cherry Sundae and Bubbles were already up, and were not in the room. They enjoyed each other's company, and their symbiotic relationship was working well. After eating a late breakfast prepared and delivered by Cook himself, Demi and I slipped out and made our way down to the entry to the sealed wing. I didn't know what horrors we would find, and wasn't too keen on Demi being exposed to them, but she had been outside the night before helping me grave-rob; she'd seen the horrors of the battle; she'd been seriously wounded; there was so much horror that she had experienced first hoof already. I really needed to understand that she was maturing very quickly. She was no longer the sullen, hateful filly we had found. She had experienced almost as much action as I had in the last couple of weeks. It was time I concentrated more on enjoying her company than trying to protect her. We should be doing things together, side by side, always sharing. Wouldn't a romantic partner like that be fantastic? Well, I guessed that would never happen, for me at least. Demi would probably want her own colt friend one day.
Once inside the antechamber, we pulled out Bukov's eyeballs, and I levitated each in turn to the lens. Much to our disappointment, nothing happened.
"Damn," I cursed.
"Do you have the eye the right way up?" Demi inquired.
Now that was a point! Slowly I rotated the first eye. I was surprised when almost immediately the outer door to the antechamber slid shut. Something rustled, invisibly crawling across our coats, as if seeking to clean us. Moments later the door in front of us lifted into the ceiling.
We stepped through into paradise. The sun was shining, and its touch was pleasantly warming but not hot. Grass, rich and thick carpeted the ground. The sky was a vibrant blue, and just a hint of wind tugged at my mane. Not far from us, a three legged mare walked past, a healthy and perfectly formed foal trotting behind her. A little further away, I could see some other crippled mares congregating, discussing whatever passed as current affairs in here. Behind them their perfect colts and fillies romped, enjoying the morning sun.
It was all so beautiful, too beautiful.
What had I done?
Footnote: Level Up. Perk: Mother's rage. You gain 25% damage resistance and do 25% more damage as long as your children are in mortal danger.