((Again, there is some formatting in this chapter which does not translate well to FiM Fiction. It is recommended you read the chapter here instead. The whole chapter is still included below if you prefer it on FiM Fiction. Sorry. Probably last chapter to do this for a while.))
Regrets are something everypony accumulates. Things we do wrong, wish we could go back and fix. Sometimes they’re immediately obvious, other times they take years to come to realization. But inevitably they exist. The most wonderful feeling in the world is when you get the chance to set them right. To undo your worst mistakes and make things right again.
But sometimes that isn’t possible. When you do something which can never be taken back. A mistake which will haunt you for the rest of your life. A scar left upon your mind, horrible and weighty which you will never be free of. Some regrets weigh us down, hurt us in ways which even time can’t heal. What do you do when you come face to face with those pains? Would you be able to carry on, or let them carry you away, run from the world and everything in it?
The body of a dead foal stared up at me. Eyes staring off in two different directions. Dead by my hooves. No! What difference did that make? Trespassers were killed or captured. Orders were orders. Simple. Basic. Think! Do what you’re told. What you should do. What you should be. Hurt too much otherwise. It hurt! Tiny dead foal, staring up at me. It was simple. So simple. Not simple!
So why did it hurt? Hurt so much. Good hurt! My blood was cold. My mind ached. A tiny filly, killed by me. So familiar. Should know her. Know who she was. Remember! Why was she here? Came for me? Impossible. No one would come for me. It was better that way. WRONG! Forget me. Forget the world. Safer, happier, better. She was... She was... She was important. Protect! She meant something. Something to care about. Why couldn’t I forget her? No, no. It was... It wasn’t. Live!
Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong. Wake up! A tiny body lay on the ground before me. Those horribly unfocused eyes. A filly? No... Something was wrong. Pay attention! A colt. A tiny colt. His soft green coat stained with hot red blood. What was happening? Who was he? Why was he here? Remember! I.... Where was I?
Sharp white light poured into my eyes, stinging and straining just to see. Cold, hard, metal beneath my hooves. Strangling tightness around my neck and weight of chains tieing me to the floor. Fight! The tiny, broken body lay before me. Resting in a pool of blood. My eyes burned feverishly with tears, streaming down over my muzzle. Wake up! I wanted to scream, to howl, to rage. But the words wouldn’t come, strangled out by my pain.
A hoof flashed across my vision, slamming down beside the tiny body. The sharp white light making the blood red coat effortlessly visible. Barely away from the remains of that child. Rebel! In that instant I wanted to fight, to run, to hold him. My legs pulled tight, but the chains held me in place. Rage! I couldn’t... I couldn’t get to him! No. Nonono! I had to be there! I couldn’t... They couldn’t... My heart didn’t want to beat. My lungs didn’t want to breathe. This couldn’t be real. I couldn’t be here. It had to be a mistake. Remember!
A low, rumbling voice washed over me. A voice drowned out by my tears and sorrow. Listen! My heart took five beats at a time, my eyes wouldn’t focus right. I strained against the chains, their soft tinkling and clanking barely audible. Protect! It took only a moment before that leg flicked, the tiny body sailing across the room. Things seemed to move in slow motion. The tiny body’s legs flopped, head twisting in the air, lifeless and empty, like a toy thrown in a fit of rage. My mind burned. Wake up! Everything felt so empty, pointless. He was gone, why did it still hurt so much? Protect her!
What had happened? How had it come to this? Where was I? What was going on? My mind seethed and raged through it all. Parts of me rebelled, angry and sad. This was... This was important. I had to remember. He was... He was..! He was-
The sound of a whistle shattered my thoughts like a sledgehammer passing through a plate glass window.
The world spun and crashed around me. Or was that just me spinning and crashing in the world? It was hard to tell. My head throbbed, lightning racing up my horn. Sharp, stinging pain in my chin, lights flashing before my eyes. The world a blurry mess around me, incoherent blotches of color and madness swam across my vision.
It hurt, it hurt so badly. What had I been thinking about? There was something important. Something so, so important. I almost had it... Gone now. Like the trailing end of a nightmare. Just the pounding of my heart and the horror which stalked the back of my mind to give it context.
The world slowly began to right itself. Hard, I was laying on something hard and cold. Not metal. Dirt? There was wind, was I outdoors? A gentle breeze washed over me, buffeting my wings. Dark red filled my vision, mixed with tiny splotches of colors. Of course, my eyes were still closed.
Opening my eyes felt like a battle of wills. Parts of me just wanted to lay there, recover, never wake up again. But I had to. Somepony was here. I... I had to come back. Gentle cloudy-grey filled my vision, still unfocused. Cloudy grey and brilliant red. A tiny patch of silver lining in a sea of madness. It... It couldn’t be. I had... Had I?
Slowly my eyes began to focus again, so hard to keep them working. Legs, muzzle, those great big golden eyes. Requiem. Requiem! Right here! She was alive! Wasn’t she? I wasn’t hallucinating again, was I? Please let this be real. Fear ran down my spine like ice. Raise a hoof, slowly, carefully, reaching for her. Touch her. Just a little. Make sure she was really there.
The tiny patch of grey against light brown ground backed away once my eyes were fully open. But not quite fast enough. My hoof touched her, warm and comforting. Sh-she was... She was real. She was here! A breath I hadn’t realized I was holding sighed out. I hadn’t... Hadn’t done something impossible to forgive. She was safe, alive.
In an instant she was in my forelegs, held tightly. Parts of me screamed in protest that this was a dangerous place and I should wait until we were safe. Other parts of me had decided to beat down those parts with clubs. I was voting for continuing to hug her forever. The tiny, warm body clutched tight against my cheek.
I could feel her squirming, trying to get out of my grip. A new fear crept through me as I closed my eyes again, tears pouring from weary eyes, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry...” slowly letting her go. Hurting her, the horror of accidentally crushing her in my hooves. No. I wouldn’t do that! I couldn’t do that. She... She was fine. She had to be.
An annoyed grunt managed to make it past my inner turmoil, followed swiftly by a resounding ‘thud’, “What do you carry in this thing, boulders!?” Arsenal’s familiar voice worked its way into my mind. She was here too? Of course she was. I told her to look after Requiem. Why wouldn’t she be here?
“Ah reckon y’all got ‘nother few minutes b’fore any uh th’ other Alicorns notice somethin’s wrong.” That was a less familiar voice. Iron Clad. What was he doing here? Why would he be helping us now? Slowly I struggled to get my eyes to open again. The two of them were standing not too far away, staring down at me. My saddle bags resting on the ground before Arsenal’s hooves.
Another heave of effort and I was on my feet again. Shaky, but awake. “What... What happened?” Even as I spoke I wrapped the saddlebags in my magic, returning them to my flanks. Where they belonged. A moment later Requiem had taken her place on my back. Where she belonged. Where we belonged.
Arsenal scowled at me, “You let yourself get taken by that madmare running this place. That’s what happened. You must be more careful. Without Iron Clad you’d still be a mindless slave.” Her voice tightly controlled, struggling to avoid yelling at me. I couldn’t blame her. I deserved it. I deserved much, much worse. My legs wobbled under me. No. No. Stop. Not the time to get depressed.
“How... How long?” How long had I been out? Fear swelled in the depths of my stomach. One week. That was my time-limit. One week before the Applejack’s Rangers left the Junkyard. One week to find water. If I... If I failed them... Failed Scraps... No, I couldn’t!
Arsenal snorted in annoyance, “Three days.” Three days. Two to get to the stable. One between there and here. That meant we only had one day left. We had to be back tomorrow or... No. Think. There’s still more you can do. You can do this Aurora. You can.
There were still ponies trapped here. I had seen faces coming in. That meant slaves. Other slaves, not just Alicorns. Others who needed saving. Couldn’t just walk away, leave them to it all. Couldn’t... Couldn’t make things worse. My head throbbed angrily. Ugh. Couldn’t just lay down and rest now. Save ponies first, breakdown later. “Doublethink?”
“Asleep.” Iron Clad’s response was instant, “She’ll be up inna hour ‘r so. Usually, anyways.” Good. That gave us time. There were bungalows full of slaves. We needed to get them all together and get them out of here, safely. Somehow. No way they could have enough collars for all the slaves here, right?
My mind wrenched around, thoughts streaming together. The other Alicorns hadn’t noticed I was missing. Or that all this had happened at all. That meant there was still a chance. If they thought Doublethink was still controlling me, and Iron Clad was still loyal, then... “I have a p-”
“No.” Arsenal’s answer came more swiftly and sternly than I expected, “Not this time. Aurora, deary, you nearly killed Requiem with that last plan.” Oh. Oh no. That was... I couldn’t have. It... it wasn’t me! It was Doublethink! She made me... made me do those things! But I had wanted to do them, hadn’t I? It was less painful that way. No! Stop thinking like that! “This time, we’re doing things my way. I’ve already worked out a plan with Iron Clad.”
The earth pony nodded his head with just the slightest hints of a grin, “Eeeyup. Y’all ‘r gonna love this. We’re gonna save everypony. Likin’ y’all wanted. An’ here’s how.” Slowly he began to recount his plan. It... wasn’t quite what I was planning, but close enough I wasn’t going to complain. Too many ponies here to just leave them all behind. Far too many.
Another bungalow door swung open under Iron Clad’s attention. The fourth, only two more and we’d be done. Inside, ponies were panicking, expecting us to drag them away and lock them up somewhere else. The same as it had been in the other three. “Get away from me, you bastard!” A young buck with a mint-green coat shouted at Iron Clad.
“Y’all listen and ya listen good. We’re here t’ set all y’all free. Ya best stay close once yer outta here. Th’ alicorns t’aint gonna attack ya s’ long as yer with us.” It was the same speech he’d given to every other set of slaves. At least a few had made a break for it. I couldn’t even tell if they’d made it away safely, but the lack of screaming gave me hope. Hope that part of me was busily trying to crush under a wave of ‘it’s the wasteland, there is no hope’. Some days I really hated my brain.
Arsenal was standing by my side, keeping watch over the ponies we had already rescued. “Aurora, sweetie, would you please pay attention?” Right, right, not getting distracted was important. Another of the alicorns strode past us, staring at me unblinkingly. She didn’t say anything, barely even seemed to register we were there. There had to be something we could do for them! But... They had to do it for themselves too. If I hadn’t had a reason to come back. I would... No. Stop. Don’t think about that. You’re here now. A quiet sigh of relief from the pegasus at my side, “This is taking far too long.”
A dozen ponies streamed out of the bungalow into our collection. Some were pausing to share hugs, talking to one another, the quiet murmur of ponies filled the courtyard. It was comforting. They weren’t yelling or screaming or panicking. Just... Talking. Nervous talking, terrified talking, but talking. I couldn’t suppress a small smile at that thought. “Don’t blame me. It’s your plan. We could always go with Plan B.” I also couldn’t resist giving Arsenal just a little bit of a jab.
“Ugh. No. Plan B is a terrible idea,” she huffed in irritation, “Plan A will work. You’ll see.” Well I had to hope so. We didn’t actually have a Plan B, after all! Well, not much of one. I don’t think ‘Panic and shoot at anything threatening’ qualifies as a plan. More like... A disaster. Still seemed to be what we spent most of our time doing.
“Y’all finished yammerin’, we’ve got ‘nother t’ open.” Iron Clad trotted past, the ring of keys in his mouth. Where he’d gotten them I still wasn’t certain. He’d had them this morning when they found me, after all. Must have been somewhere in the camp. “Y’all ‘r lucky. Th’ rest ’f the crew’s out tryin’ t’ track down that crazy ghoul.” Crazy ghoul? I only knew one crazy ghoul, and he was a long, long way from here.
We crossed the central yard again towards the next bungalow, “Crazy... Ghoul?” He didn’t seem to want to elaborate on his own, so might as well ask. Who knows, maybe they’d be another ally in all this insanity. Or at least someone I could offer a place to come home to.
Iron Clad nodded silently a moment, “Yeh. She’s been ‘round long ‘s Ah c’n remember. Crazy ghoul, attacks our patrols sometimes. Lotta th’ others ‘r scared o’ her. Claim she’s out for vengeance, ‘r somethin’. That y’all can’t kill ‘er. Just gets right back up when ya shoot ‘er.” He shuddered slightly at the thought, “Never seen ‘er m’self. But th’ old boss ‘n Doublethink both seem t’ believe she’s real. Send patrols huntin’ ‘er into th’ mountains now ‘n then. Think they wanna help th’ boys feel safer.” Finally we arrived at the second to last bungalow. Just a little longer and we’d be able to leave this place.
The ever-growing crowd of ponies behind us murmured quietly at Iron Clad’s tale. Some of them were sharing conspiratorial glances in a way which made me nervous. The last thing we needed now was our entire group of would-have-been slaves deciding to break up and run in every direction at once. None of them were armed. None of them seemed to be wearing those bomb collars, thankfully.
A door slammed open, the sound rolling through the quiet morning air. Odd, Iron Clad wasn’t the type to risk ruining what was supposed to be stealthy with- “Ah! That wonderful morning air! Sundial! Get your flank in gear. You’re missing the beautiful morning.” Oh, no. Make that the second to last thing we needed. Fear ran down my spine as I spun on my hooves, Doublethink was standing on the steps of the office. She looked even more incoherent than before, if that was possible.
“I thought you said she slept in!” Arsenal prodded Iron Clad angrily. The whole crowd was now within inches of full-on panic. This was the pony who had trapped them all here, made them slaves, done whatever she did to me. The thunderous rattle of chains and throbbing heat around my collar was almost unbearable. No. Not now.
Iron Clad was as panicked as everypony else, “Y-yeh. She does. What’s she doin’ awake so early?” Ohnohnohno.
She was coming this way! Another pony rushing down the stairs to her side, Sundial I could only assume, “You’re up early, Miss Doublethink. It’s still an hour before you usually wake up. Are you feeling alright?” Was... Was he really concerned about a psychotic monster who stole other pony’s minds? That... Something about that seemed wrong. Yet right.
Laughter spilled from the blond and blue pony, “Come now, Sundial. It’s a beautiful morning. There’s no need to worry. And it seems someponies have already gathered up all the poor, hurt ponies who need my help in one place!” She seemed positively giddy that we’d brought everyone together. What was she... Wait. Why couldn’t I move my legs? No. Not again. Not again! “Don’t worry my pretty ponies, I’ll save you all. The great Doublethink will heal the wasteland like it should be!”
Heal it? She was insane. She... She had made me happy. No she didn’t! She took my will away! But I was content that way. It was comfortable. No worries, fears or pain. Just do what you’re told and everything would be okay. No! No, no, no! I couldn’t be that. Requiem needed me. She came to help me! Risked her life to save mine! And why did she need to? Because she cared about me. Wouldn’t it be better if she didn’t care about anything? Then she wouldn’t have any reason to risk her life.
Please make it stop. It hurt, like a knife driven through my heart. Requiem... Requiem wouldn’t be happy like that. She would never want to be that. She wanted me. Needed me. I had to protect her! Then I should give in. Fighting it would only mean it took longer before she knew proper happy release. N-no. It couldn’t... I couldn’t... Help me. Somepony help me. Please, help m-
Silence reigned over the world, instant and absolute. Around me I could just make out the shapes of ponies panicking, but no noise accompanied it. Before my eyes the that long, cracked orange horn split and shattered. A thousand tiny points of light where once a solid whole had been. The energy field surrounding it imploded instantly.
Nine voices screamed in perfect harmony. Nine beautiful voices sculpted for strength and power. The sound mixed with the ringing in my ears, creating a beautifully horrifying symphony in my mind. I was screaming. Why was I screaming? There was no need to scream. The feelings of horror were suddenly gone. I could move again! And chaos was breaking out everywhere nearby.
Four of the Alicorn guards had taken to the air, screaming and stomping smashing into the roofs of buildings with their shield as the air filled with their incoherent shouts. Four others had taken to the air to flee. Now seemed like an excellent time to take their lead! “RUN!” Arsenal’s voice cut through the den of madness. In a moment we were all running, the ground rushing beneath me.
My head throbbed, the lingering bits of horror remaining behind. Had... Had somepony shot Doublethink? I didn’t have time to even look for her remains. Just run. Run as fast as I could. Requiem was clinging to my neck tightly, shaking all over. Had she been hit with that spell the same as we had? What had she experienced? Had... Had I really subjected her to that madness? Please, Celestia, tell me it wasn’t so. That... I couldn’t live with that.
No. Don’t think about that. Focus on getting everyone out alive first. Rushing along beside the group of ponies on the opposite edge to Iron Clad, “Run for the gates!” The wave of ponies broke over the top of a hill, freedom. Sweet freedom. My heart soared and surged. For once, we’d saved everypony.
Everypony? No. Not everypony. There were still two bungalows full of ponies trapped back there. But there was no way I could go back to save them. In an instant my soaring high crashed back to earth. Two dozen ponies dead, because our plan didn’t work. Tears fought their way towards the surface. No. Not now. When I’m home. When we’re all safe. When things are where they should be. Cry then. Not now.
Pleasant Acres was far behind us along a broken, tattered road. Small motes of dust rode upon the mid-afternoon breeze. A herd of ponies walked together, the low murmur of voices rolling back and forth through their ranks. Many had been trapped together for days before we rescued them. They knew each other, as much as any slave knows another. I’d caught several eyeing Iron Clad and myself with suspicion. I couldn’t blame them.
More than a dozen had left us shortly after leaving Pleasant Acres. Those who still had homes, or hope of homes, to return to. Parts of me insisted it was stupid to let them go, that they’d get killed or worse. But I wasn’t in any state to stop them, too much fighting already.
Finally one of the ponies stepped up towards me. A young mare with a brilliant white coat and soft pink mane and tail, “Ah... Um. M-miss?” Her voice was shaky and terrified as she stared up at me. All I could do was sink my head lower, my heart falling again. These ponies still thought of me as a monster. Why wouldn’t they?
“W-we... We wanted t-to thank you. F-for saving us.” What? “You... You didn’t have to do that. None of you did.” she lowered her head, kicking at the ground slightly, “A lot of us don’t have anywhere left to go. Th-they sold my brother already. N-not that that’s your fault!” she was quick to apologize for bringing it up. My heart clenched tighter, losing everyone you loved hurt. Hurt more than I could put to words. My mind howled at the thought of it.
All I could do was shake my head, “I just... Did what anypony would do.” Well, what anypony should do. “You... You don’t have to thank me. But, if you really have nowhere left to go, I might know a place.” The Junkyard was going to get busy, fast. But we had water now. And these ponies... I couldn’t just walk away from them now. They needed help. Abandoning them now would be leaving things half-finished. Couldn’t do that.
“R-really?” The hope in her voice almost broke my heart. I wanted to tell her I was certain we could take them in, that we could give them what they needed. But parts of me screamed back that there were no guarantees. There were only more questions in need of answering. “We’ll work hard! Won’t we!?” she called back to the mass of ponies, a resounding sound of stomping hooves came back. Good. If they’d work, then maybe Scraps would accept them.
Arsenal trotted up to the other side of her, looking the mare over, “Well. It seems our home is getting a lot of new additions lately.” she didn’t sound too upset about that, at least, “Could a lady trouble you for your name, if you’re to be the representative of our little band of refugees?” the pegasus gave her best friendly smile, or at least I assumed that was what it was supposed to be, which came off almost condescendingly selfish, “My name is Arsenal. That’s Aurora Borealis. He’s Iron Clad. Silent Requiem would be the one hiding in her mane. You needn’t worry yourself too much about her.” At least Arsenal was efficient. And dealing with the things I didn’t want to.
The young mare stared back at Arsenal, almost more nervous about my companion than me. That... Seemed wrong somehow. “Um... W-well... I’m Rosemary.” she gave a nervous smile again, “Used to be a cook.” A cook? That was surprising. Slowly I plodded onwards, my head throbbing. Didn’t want to get involved in this. My emotions had been tied in enough knots these last few days to last me a lifetime. Let somepony else deal with it.
“Rosemary?” Arsenal trotted along quietly a few moments, “A cook would be a nice addition. I don’t imagine that filthy mechanic knows anything about how to prepare a proper meal,” a tiny shudder ran down her spine, “nor do I have any desire to find out.” Well, at least Arsenal was getting along well enough. She rubbed at her chest again with a hoof, “Ugh. Three days without that awful, awful robe and I can still feel the itching!” Extending a wing she turned her head to gnaw a little along the length of it.
Rosemary blushed profusely at the display, looking away. Was... Was I missing something here? Okay, it was a little odd to see Arsenal act like that in public, but I couldn’t blame her. Itches sucked. Especially itches you couldn’t reach. Sometimes you just had to find something rub against and-
A shout went up from the crowd, followed by several more. Panicked screams which broke my attention away just as a shadow passed overhead. Above us were two large winged shapes, descending rapidly from the sky. Alicorns! One green, one blue, circling the group before swooping down to land before us. In an instant Arsenal and Iron Clad had their weapons out, Tom already drawn and by my side. They weren’t going to take any of these ponies back!
For a moment there was a sense of inevitable doom and horrible tension. Nopony had yet pulled a trigger, the alicorns before us landed and stared at us. No, not us. Me. Staring at me. Before they slowly bowed their heads and kneeled, “Please take us.” I... What? But... What!? “We want you!” Arghtfugh!? Words failed me, even internally. What was that supposed to mean!? Parts of my mind jumped straight towards thoughts I really, really didn’t need to have right now.
A laugh breached Arsenal’s lips, “Oh. Oh!” grin spreading wide, “Aurora... It seems you have some not so secret admirers.” Augh! Why was this happening now!? Why couldn’t just one thing go horribly wrong at a time? My legs threatened to give out under me at the onslaught of laughter and tittering from the crowd of ponies. It wasn’t like that. It couldn’t be like that!
The two Alicorns seemed mostly unaware of the ongoing taunts, “Tell us what to do. Please? Help us.” They... Wanted me to give them orders?
“But... You’re free now. You can do whatever you want.” My voice sounded unsure even to my ears. I couldn’t give anypony orders. I could barely manage to give myself orders! This was... I just... What!?
They looked up at me with large, pleading eyes, “Don’t want to be free. Want to be home. Tell us what to do. Don’t want to think. Hurts.” Oh... Oh my. These poor, poor ponies. Maybe I could... But Scraps was going to be so annoyed about all this. But I couldn’t just leave them here. I just...
“Come on, Princess Aurora,” my mind seized up completely at those words. No. Absolutely not. Never, never, never! I was not a princess! There was no way I was worth being called that! The fact that it was Arsenal saying those words was almost more painful than the words themselves, “You’ll take them in. Give them a home. Like you do every stray pony, right?” I... Augh. She was right. I couldn’t refuse them. But... Argh.
My heart sank and my head with it, “J-just... Just follow us.” Plodding onwards towards home. We’d make better time back than out, at least. The route was much more direct from Pleasant Acres, with no towns to distract us along the way. Had to hope we could make it back in time.
The two other alicorns took up positions to either side of me, walking silently with heads held high. Like honor guards. Erk. No. Stupid brain, I hate you! Stop thinking like that.
The junkyard was much like we left it from the outside. Scraps’ makeshift sign swinging in a gentle breeze. The continuous buzz of her sprite bots washing over the remaining metal. Swallowed up by the resounding clatter of forty ponies climbing over sheet metal. My horn throbbed in pain from the noise. Just a little bit further.
A new building stood within view as we passed into the junkyard proper. Frozen Fog was standing outside lecturing one of the Applejack’s Rangers. No sign of Lilac at the moment, but I wasn’t going to go looking for her. Instead I took a straight line towards Scraps’ workshop. My legs were already threatening to give out after walking all night.
Unthinking, I simply dumped my saddlebags down the chute outside the workshop, then shoved the door open to head in. Scraps had to meet the new arrivals, and I was in no mood to be their spokes-pony today. Rosemary could handle that. Just had to get them together, then I could collapse. Oh, how good that sounded.
No signs of her out in the sales area. Okay, that meant workroom. Another door open and there she was. Prodding at something on her work bench. “Hm?” she looked up at me, “Oh? Back alreadeeeeeEEE!” Purple light surrounded the mechanist as I pulled her from the ground. Floating her behind me on the way back outside. “Hey! Put me down! I am not luggage!” Scraps flailed her legs in irritation.
I was much too tired to spend time on witty replies. The lack of weight on my back was a welcome relief to overly stressed legs already. Just a few more things, then I could go collapse. Back outside, our new refugees had gathered together, the Applejack’s Rangers coming out of their new home to observe. Some of the slaves looked like they might be about to panic. Great. Just what we needed.
Dumping Scraps on the ground rather unceremoniously, I began to recount what I could. “They,” I gestured towards the slaves, “Need a place to stay. You’re going to give them one.” No questions this time. Not abandoning any more ponies. Twenty four dead because of me, that was quite enough. “She,” a jab in Arsenal’s direction, “has the Water Talisman you need. You two can figure out how to set it up.” Didn’t even want to think about that part of the process. My head was already pounding badly enough. “You!” This time I turned towards the other Alicorns, who bowed their heads in reverence to me. Argh. “Are going to listen to her,” a gesture back towards Scraps, “She runs this place. Do what she says, not me.” Please let this work. Please let this work.
The two other alicorns kneeled before of me briefly, “Whatever you say, Princess Aurora.” ARGH! I wanted to scream, but the exhaustion was catching up to me. I could hear Arsenal snickering on her own at their response. Oh, she was going to get hers, someday. Yes she was. But not today.
Rosemary stepped forwards towards Scraps, “Ah... W-we were hoping... We could stay here. Most of us don’t have anywhere left to go. Or anywhere we’d want to.” She lowered her head. The conversations were starting, that was good enough for me. Onward, to bed.
Crossing the yard back to my own tiny house was a chore. My legs screamed with every step, too much walking and not enough resting. Home wasn’t much, barely four walls and a roof, but right now it was like a siren song, irresistibly perfect and beautiful. Shove the door open, collapse on the double mattresses. Mmmm, soft. After three days of sleeping on cold hard rocks, this was like a moment in heaven.
Tears came with ease. Staining my cheeks, flowing over my lips. For a long, long time it was all I wanted to do. Just lay there and cry and cry. The body of a filly hitting the floor in my mind. The twisted, broken remains of a colt jammed up against the edge of a broken counter. The last look of anguish as a stable pony died in a pool of their own blood. An alicorn murdering an entire settlement. Thoughts surged back through my mind over and over.
What had I done? It wasn’t me... Couldn’t be me. But... It was me. I had stolen, I had fought, I had murdered. To kill one pony to save another. My blood ran cold at that thought. Ponies should help each other. Should save each other. Not like this. Over and over, sobbing tears filled the tiny room. It hurt.
Lost to time I laid there, just wanting to sob and be broken. Maybe I could forget it all, drown myself in my own tears. A fitting death for a monster. No, not a monster. I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. Not a monster. Then what was I? Was there a word for a pony who would kill one to save another? Parts of me raged, claimed I had saved as many as I could, that I should be proud any made it back alive. I didn’t want to listen. Just wanted to feel awful for everything I had done.
The soft creak of my door barely penetrated through my broken sobs. My lungs ached, my throat hurt, but it was a good kind of hurt. Not the hurt of injury, but the burning sting of tears. For a moment I wanted to just lay there, pretend I hadn’t heard it. But somepony was here, in the room with me. Or at least, probably was. My eyes were still closed. “Go away.” A simple request.
A soft thump and the rush of wind over my muzzle was not the result I expected. A moment later a soft pressure on my cheek from a hard object. Round, flexible. A hoof? Another gentle shove a moment later. Slowly I opened one eye to see who was bothering me. The cloudy grey and brilliant red of Requiem’s form filling my vision almost completely. For once she didn’t squirm or flee from my sight. Instead nudging the storybook sitting by her hooves closer.
Not in the mood. Not now. Wrapping the book in my magic I tossed it across the room where it smashed into a wall with a resounding ‘thunk’. “Not today.” Close my eye again, go back to crying. A few moments later the same rush of wind blew over my muzzle and another set of light taps. Growing stronger this time. Surely she knew I didn’t want to be disturbed. She was a smart filly.
This time I opened both eyes and actually raised my head, just a little. She nudged the book closer, staring up at me. Not sad, but... Determined, her legs shaking just a little bit. Requiem was still terrified of standing in my vision. But here she was, with the book, asking for stories. Even when it hurt her. Even when it hurt me.
Slowly, very slowly, I dipped my head down to pick the book up from the floor. Requiem took the opportunity to throw her forehooves around my muzzle in a hug. Warmth spread through my body, the touch of another not out of anger or hate was so nice. For a long moment I just closed my eyes to bask in that feeling. She needed this. After everything that had happened, I couldn’t just abandon her when she needed someone to be there for her.
The book was propped up in my hooves again, open to a new story. Requiem sitting at my side, sheltered under one of my wings. “Once upon a time in the magical land of Equestria there lived six wonderful friends...” Together, in a tiny dark room barely large enough for a bed, we shared a story. It was all worth it.
The soft smell of smoke drifted through the air. Tiny trails drifting up over top of an ancient toaster. It was amazing these things still worked at all. Then again, with Scraps around I wasn’t certain there was anything which couldn’t be fixed.
A soft ‘pop’ accompanied the toast leaping out of the toaster. Requiem was instantaneous on moving a tiny platter under the crisped bread. It was old preserved bread, a souvenir of our time in Stable 66, stale but edible. Soon the toast joined other plates on a larger serving tray. Sugar Apple Bombs, toast and a pair of gnarled carrots retrieved from the kitchens of Stable 66. It wasn’t fancy, but it was better than nothing. Now all that was left was the drink.
Scraps had been busy all of yesterday dealing with the new arrivals. She hadn’t even had time to begin installing the new water talisman. Breakfast today was my way of making it up to her. Of course, that meant cramming myself into an entirely too small kitchen full of half-reconstructed machines. But it would be worth it if I could get everything just right.
Going through my things again this morning I’d found a sheet of paper, one taken from the kitchen in Stable 66. Hazy memories of collecting something like that drifted through my mind, abutted quickly by the sight of a dead foal. Cold chills ran down my shoulders and spine, surging through my chest. No. Stop. Don’t think about that. You’re a good pony. Focus on that paper in front of you. You can do it.
1 Bottle Sparkle~Cola RAD
1 Bottle Apple Whiskey
1 Tin Mint-Als
Instructions: Mix ingredients in large blender. Blend well until Mint-Als are fully dissolved. Pour results into individual shot-glasses for serving. Best served cold.
So simple even I couldn’t mess this up. Right? Right. Blender first. Thankfully that was amongst the bizarre collection of machines Scraps kept in the cupboards. Alongside a home-made apple cider squeezer. Why would she even keep that? There’s no apples to squeeze!
Blender, check. Sparkle~Cola RAD? Hm. No, didn’t have any of that, and I couldn’t ask Scraps for something from her collection. Not without ruining the surprise. Briefly I considered just taking one from her stash, a sudden inexplicable flash of dread rushing through my veins. No, that would be a terrible idea and could only end in pain and misery.
But I did still have that bottle of Sparkle~Cola Rainbow Crash. That was close enough, right? The rainbow colored liquid poured into the blender with a slight crackling sound. An electric fizzle bubbling through the liquid. Okay, that was a little odd, but couldn’t be too bad.
Let’s see. Apple Whiskey. Horseapples, didn’t have any of that either! What did I have... An ancient bottle of Sweet Apple Acres Apple Cider. Huh. Where did I get that? Wracking my brain for a few long moments I just couldn’t place it. Maybe somewhere in the prison? Sudden flashes of sticky red goo flashed before my eyes. Augh. I wasn’t going to be able to find a single memory which wasn’t horrible at this rate!
Into the batch the cider went. oddly, the rainbow coloration remained mostly intact despite the dark brown crispy liquid being added. The mass churned and swirled slightly as the two liquids mixed. Hm. The smell was actually quite nice. Full, rich and strong apples. With just a little hint of electrical tang and spices.
Now all that was left was Mint-Als. Those I definitely had. Scraps had identified the tin of them from my bags, after all. In a moment the peeled metal container floated over the blender, empty. Half a dozen tiny pills spilling into the liquid, which suddenly began to sputter and bubble around them. Tiny electrical crackles running through the whole mess. Well, that was a little weird. Never seen a drink do that before.
The lid went onto the device easily. A simple switch and the room filled with the screech of a motor. The whole mess swirling rapidly. The way the colors blended together in a spiral yet remained fully separate was almost hypnotizing. Around and around it went, tiny sparks crackling inside the glass container. Another flick of the switch and the machine came to rest once more.
The resulting liquid frothed slightly inside the blender, having formed a rich heady purple foam. I could feel the electric tingle running over my horn as I levitated the container away. A shot glass put out on the serving tray and the whole meal was prepared.
Requiem was eyeing the drink suspiciously. “Oh, don’t you worry. It’s safe!” There was no way that someone in a Stable would deliberately poison others. Not even a place as maddening as that one. Right? Right. Ponies just weren’t supposed to be like that!
A moment later we were off for Scraps’ workroom. The platter floated beside me trapped in a purple magical field. Requiem was on the ground beside me. It was a good morning, all things considered. Just focus on the positive and there would be no problem, right?
“Scraps! I’ve got breakfast!” The grease-covered mare was sitting at her work bench, silencing me with a single hoof. Thankfully not in my mouth this time. The radio was on, an unfamiliar deep voice crackling out of it.
“-seems to be more complicated than that. You see, children, our pretty princess came back from her little adventure with a new pony at her side. A pegasus, if you can believe it. More than that, a pegasus who still had her cutie mark. DJ Pon3’s been around long enough to know what that means. Enclave, and not the regular defector kind either. Now, I don’t know all the details yet, but old DJ Pon3 likes to believe there’s still some good out there. So if you see our little princess and her winged friend? You give them the benefit of the doubt.
“In more depressing news, Berry Patch Vineyards has been hit. Hard. Everypony there has up and gone missing except one. A nice old mare by the name of Violet Strings. Yes, that Violet Strings, my dear listeners. She’s been gracing the airwaves with her music for almost forty years now. Somepony out there better go help her, before things get really bad.
“The sun is shining over Equestria again, Children. Get out there and fight the good fight another day. I’ll be here when you get back.”
A deep, worried frown creased Scraps’ face as the news concluded, “You’re going.” Her words were simple, forceful and unwavering.
Also very confusing. “What? Who’s going where?”
“You’re going. To Berry Patch Vineyards. Today.” Okay. Well that answered my question. But not with any of the information I wanted.
Scraps affixed her goggled gaze up at me as the tray settled on her counter. “Alright. Uh. Do you know where it is?” I sure hadn’t been there! And my PipBuck’s map was horribly incomplete.
“Yes. It’s less than a day from here. I’ll show you where. Then you’re going to get Arsenal and the three of you are going there to help.” Odd. I’d never seen Scraps so... Direct. Or serious for that matter. Was it really bothering her so much?
Well, I couldn’t complain about helping ponies in need, and I definitely wasn’t going to argue with the mare who gave me a place to live, so all I could do was nod. Ask more later. On to find Arsenal, it seemed.
Voices filled the halls of the Applejack’s Rangers’ barracks. “-asked us for something you could wear. I gave you what we had spare. Are you going to tell me it wasn’t good enough for the Grand Enclave Soldier?” Frozen Fog’s voice rolled through the hallways with irritated authority. The building wasn’t exactly complicated, simple hallways leading towards a single main room with bunks in it. The medical machines were still in storage at the moment, waiting for a proper place for them to be set up.
“An ill-fitted, itchy robe is not what I asked for.” Arsenal’s voice was just as firm in the opposite direction, “If it weren’t for that grubby mechanic it would be no protection at all.” The sound of hooves clanking against metal flooring filled the air, “Much as I loathe to admit it, she is quite good at what she does. You, on the other hoof.” Oh, boy, here we go.
Rounding the corner the pair finally came into view. Fog was seated beside a table containing a flickering terminal. Probably working on something when Arsenal had arrived. He always seemed to find things to occupy himself. Compared to Arsenal he was the picture of self control, as she paced the room ranting angrily at him. Between them was a pile of red and brown cloth mixed with metal plates. Arsenal’s armored robe.
Fog just rolled his eyes, “I suppose you were expecting us to hand over a suit of Steel Ranger armor for your use?” Affixing Arsenal with an annoyed glare as she crossed the room again, “You wanted something to wear, I gave you what we had. It is not my fault that we lost most of our supplies. You should talk to your large friend about that.” Hey! I didn’t do that on purpose either!
Just as I was about to interject, Arsenal answered for me, “Oh no. You are not bringing her into this argument. She is a good pony who risked her life to save mine more than once. She offered you a place to stay without even asking for anything in return. She saved dozens from a life in slavery. You should be proud to even know her name!” Arsenal prodded Fog in the chest as she finished. Those words washed over me with a comforting wave, a soft soothing warmth just from hearing them.
By this point Fog was practically grinding his teeth in irritation, “What. Do. You. Want?” Well at least he was giving it to her in simple terms now. I was surprised neither of them had noticed me, then again they were on the other side of the room and I still hadn’t said anything. Which was good, as I was having enough trouble fighting back laughter from their exchange from here.
A snort and pout was Arsenal’s response at first, until she turned back to chew at the base of one of her wings, in a most unladylike manner. It took a moment for her to begin to recover from that, clearing her throat as her red cheeks turned even deeper red with a blush, “I want to know why I’m still itching after not wearing that abominable thing for two days!” A stomped hoof of annoyance. That, I definitely couldn’t blame her for. But now I was worried too. There were so many things which could go wrong in the wastes.
A brief kick at the robe from Arsenal prompted Fog to bend down and lift it up on one hoof, examining it closely, “Hm? You didn’t bother to wash this before wearing it? Tsk, tsk, I would have thought that you would know better than to use ‘muckdweller’ clothing without checking first.” a smarmy grin spread across his face, he was definitely enjoying this.
Anger filled Arsenal’s face, “Wash it? Wash it!? There’s no running water you arrogant buffoon!” Her wings managed to make it half way to being fully outstretched before a wince of flashed over her muzzle, “I am a lady. I do not wear filthy, unkempt clothing unless I have to. You might be used to passing around horrid rags, but where I come from ponies know the importance of proper hygiene.” Her wings were fully folded again. My heart sank a little at that display. Much as I might resemble a monster, my body was still my body. Losing a part of it like that, one you’d had your whole life? I couldn’t begin to imagine how painful that must be.
Fog shoved the robe back at Arsenal’s face, so she could get a proper look at it. “You. Have. Fleas.” The grin spread a bit wider, breaking into soft chuckles, “And no, I didn’t know the robe had fleas in it before I gave it to you. Though if I had...” he trailed off. Fleas? Really? I had to fight back laughter again. That seemed so sad, but at the same time with the way Arsenal constantly fussed over everything around her, she hadn’t noticed fleas on her potential clothing?
In an instant Arsenal slumped to the floor, slack-jawed, “Fleas..?” rubbing at her chest with a forehoof without even thinking about it, “I have fleas..? Like... Like some common beggar..? Has my life really sunk that far..?” she pouted, looking like she was on the edge of tears. After all the complaining, all the places we’d been, being shot at, beaten, starved and shackled, THIS was what made her want to break down? Fleas? Really? This time I really couldn’t suppress a laugh.
In that moment both of them finally recognized I was there. Fog’s laugh accompanied my own while Arsenal just fixed me with a death glare and slumped towards the floor again, “Fine. Laugh. I deserve it. A grounded, crippled pegasus. Overshadowed by a goo-covered muckdweller. Covered in biting, itching fleas. I’m so patheeetiihiihiihic!” that last word stretched out as she threw her head back in frustration.
With that outburst my laughter died. Did it... Really mean that much to her? “You’re not pathetic. You just need to... Adjust. That’s all. I’m sure you’ll be fine!” Not that my voice sounded at all sure of that, even my heart sank just a little as she stared at me incredulously, “W-well anyway. Scraps wants us to head out to this place called Berry Patch Vineyards. They’ve been hit by something and we’re going to find out what.” Change the subject quick, maybe she’d forget her problems. It worked for me!
A long sigh escaped Arsenal’s lips, “Fine... I guess I can’t trust you to go somewhere alone anyway.” gathering up the robe in her teeth to drag it away, “But this better be important.” Well, how should I know if it was? I walked alongside Arsenal back outside where Requiem was waiting. Now that we were all together again it was time to move on. The trip wouldn’t take too long, at least. “This itching is going to drive me insane. Do you know how hard it is to...”
Please don’t let this trip take too long.
An ancient wooden sign swung in the gentle breeze, hanging from a long rusted chain. One of the two chains had snapped, leaving the sign almost completely vertical. ‘Berry Patch Vineyards’ was carved into the wood, abutted on either side by a stylized image of grapes and strawberries. The sign hung from a large gate, the fences it once connected to now long gone.
“Aurora, you take me to all the nicest places.” Arsenal had continued her complaints nearly the entire trip here. Thankfully it had only taken a few hours, the nice warm mid-afternoon sun coming down across the town. The bright light making the wreckage of town all the more stark in contrast.
I just snorted in response, “You didn’t have to come if you didn’t want to.” my heart sank at the state of the settlement. Even from here I could see half-collapsed stone structures, but no signs of any ponies left alive. Press onwards and find out what happened here. “But since you are here, why don’t you keep your eyes out for any signs of trouble?” Not that I really expected Arsenal to be the first one to spot problems.
Requiem shifted slightly and hopped down off my back as we passed through the archway. The town itself was still some distance away, surrounded by overgrown fields of deformed fruit. Moss-covered cobblestone made up the walkway we were now following. Somewhere in that town was a survivor, if the radio was to be believed. Somepony who needed help.
An odd, nostalgic feeling wormed its way through my mind as we walked the path, dredging up distant feelings of fear and pain. I had been here before, once upon a time. Or at least I think I had. My heart sank at that thought, another place which was just a distant echo of who I once was. Staring down at the path as we walked onwards, my past wasn’t why we were here.
Arsenal had continued speaking even as my mind wandered, “-like I had any reason to stay behind. That insufferable, arrogant unicorn. Nnnnh! He gave me a robe covered in fleas. FLEAS!” She was still on about that? Okay, okay, I could understand why. But we were here on a rescue mission! At least let it go for-
I spotted something odd on one of the moss covered stones as we walked past. A marking, half-covered by the overgrowth, purple and blue stars. A moment’s effort had scraped the moss away to reveal the same six stars I had seen before. But why here in the middle of a road? A brief glance around showed no signs of anything else carrying that mark.
“Why would..?” my thoughts congealed quickly, if this was the marking that meant something was here. Something important. Another message, maybe, or a pointer towards wherever ‘home’ was for the preacher. My mind seethed, I had to find it. A step back and the dark purple glow of my horn mirrored that around the stone. Wrenching it free proved remarkably easy, it wasn’t packed in as tightly as the other stones.
A tiny gap had been dug out beneath it. Filled with the lid of a small box. Just a moment more and the box was open, another familiar data tape within. Bearing that same marking. Two alicorns, chasing each other around the sun and moon, surrounded by six gems. It was so familiar, so close. Why couldn’t I place it? This should be the simplest thing in the whole world to understand!
Throbbing pain surged through my head, the whirling cacophony of meaningless sounds and shapes flashing through my mind. I needed something, anything, to drown out that madness before it swept me away again. Sliding the recording into my PipBuck I mashed the controls to begin playing. This time I didn’t have my earbloom on, and all three of us got to listen to the recording as we pressed onwards.
“Blessed be the Goddesses and the Six. May their path lead us back towards greatness and their lessons mark our way.”
Those familiar words were exhausted, angry and sad. Dripping with sarcastic irony. The three of us passed the outer rim of buildings, into the town proper. The grey and green stones which made up the streets had been painted red with spilled blood. Bodies warming in the afternoon sun. I wanted to pull Requiem away, make her not see it all, make it all go away. But she was already out ahead of me, beginning to search the remains. Celestia, what was wrong with this world?
“Berry Patch Vineyards. Our last stop before home. A tiny collection of stone and plants in the shadow of a mountain. Filled with ponies who won’t listen. They never listen. Everywhere we go, just deaf ears and angry stares. Nopony wants peace.”
My heart sank at those words. How much had this pony seen? How far had she traveled to come here? How many dead did she leave behind? I didn’t know, but the pain in her voice was obvious. So close to breaking and falling forever.
Slowly I picked my way through the corpses, following after Requiem as she dragged bottlecaps and ammunition from pouches. She didn’t even seem perturbed by the dead. Luna, please tell me that it wasn’t me who had taught her this. That it wasn’t because of me she was like this. She... I... I’d do anything to make that part of her life right.
“My hooves are stained with blood. Not enough water to wash them. The oppressive storm-clouds overhead haven’t given us any in days. Never before did I believe I would be wishing for the long, endless rains of the wasteland. But today I feel dirty, inside and out. Blood stains my coat and my mind, and it feels good.”
For the briefest of moments I could see myself, standing over the cooling remains of the dead raider leader, a pony who’s name I didn’t even know. The feeling of blood and muscle slurry clinging to my coat. The powerful, unquestionable feeling of superiority from destroying something which so very much needed it rushing through my veins. It had felt good, it had felt right.
In my distraction one of my hooves came down upon a corpse, the soft compression of dead muscle beneath my weight dragging me back to reality. A quick step backwards before I crushed the poor pony. A white mare with blue and grey mane and tail. What had been her name? Had she deserved to die? Did anypony deserve to die? My stomach rolled fitfully, it shouldn’t feel good to kill ponies, even evil ponies.
“I never thought the skills I learned as a hobby would be so important to survival. Last night I crushed a raider’s head with one of my hooves. It was easy, he had no idea how to defend himself once I was that close. Pitiless, violent marauders, but utterly lacking in anything but the most basic combat skills.
“It’s been months now since I started killing. Every time it gets a little easier. Every time a little faster. The blood doesn’t even bother me. Their last desperate gasp as they realize they’re about to die almost musical. They deserve it, earned their own destruction through corruption and hate. I... I’m just the messenger. But it still feels good.”
Slowly we walked together through the town. Arsenal was silent, listening to the recording just as intently as I was. It was surprising to see her show so much respect for anypony, let alone a pony she didn’t even know. Down abandoned streets stained with blood. There was no sign of this Violet Strings, at least no obvious one, yet. She was supposed to be here, somewhere. We just had to find her.
The voice carried my mind away again, back to the deaths in Stable 66. It had hurt so badly when it started, barely able to even defend myself. But with every body it got easier. Every life stolen made the next just a little simpler. They were monsters. They didn’t deserve to be saved. I wasn’t a monster. I was just a pony. But that didn’t make what I did right. Just... Necessary.
“Celestia, please forgive me for my trespasses upon the lives of others, however deserving. Luna, let my actions die with time and be swallowed up by the night. Just one more stop. One more hopeless mission. Then home.”
The recording ended abruptly. Silently I offered a simple prayer that this pony, whoever she was, had found peace. Maybe somewhere she was living a happy life. Or her descendants knew the joy of a safe world. Just... Something to make it all worth while. Something to make everything she endured worth it.
Requiem rounded a corner before us. “Earth Bound? Is that you? You’re late! You’ve been gone much too long this time.” characteristic silence as I glanced towards Arsenal, the both of us speeding up to catch Requiem, “What’s the matter? Why don’t you speak to your granny?”
We rounded the corner together. An elderly mare, mane completely grey, stood before Requiem. Her eyes where flat, white orbs, no signs of either pupils or irises. Her once dark blue coat had faded with age, now looking washed out and flat. A simple characterized mark of a violin upon her flank. Violet Strings, the sole survivor of Berry Patch Vineyards. An old, blind mare who had lost her grand daughter and town.
Requiem was backing away quickly, until she bumped into my legs. Even the blind pony worried her? Well, I’d be worried too if someone were mistaking me for another pony. “Um... Miss? You’re Violet Strings, right?” My own voice shaky, the short wave of panic from the shouting washing away. I had to hope she was alright. Was she really unaware of what had happened here?
“Eh? Do I know you?” The blind mare turned her head towards me, ears swiveling around quickly. In a moment she was closer, though thankfully not quite close enough to actually touch me, “You have to help me!” Well, that was what we were here for, “My Soil is missing!” Her... What?
A quick glance around confirmed that, yes, there was still dirt on the ground here. So either this old mare was even crazier than I was, or she was talking about something else. Opening my mouth to ask another question, Arsenal jumped my response once again, “Soil? Are you crazy? There’s more dirt in this place than I’ve seen in years!” Great. Accuse the old lady we’re here to help of actually being crazy. Out loud. Someday I was going to buy her a gag.
Instantly her attention shifted towards my friend, “Dirt? Not dirt. Soil! My grand daughter. Earth Bound. She’s gone missing. And now nopony wants to answer their doors or help!” Was... Was she really unaware of the state of the rest of the town? It looked like someone had killed almost everypony here! “Last night there was some big racket going on. I sent her out to find out what and she never came back. You’ve got to help me!”
Her grand-daughter. Another foal, like Requiem? She was old enough they might well have been Arsenal’s age. But... The way she acted. My heart sank as I stared at one of the dead bodies in the street. The warm afternoon sun glinting off drying blood, “We’ll help. However we can.” I wasn’t sure how to help, but I’d do whatever I could.
“There was supposed to be a caravan coming this morning. But they never showed up neither.” Violet’s voice sank in concern, “I thought maybe Soil had gone off to meet them outside town. Sometimes they don’t always come this far. But she’s still not back. Should have been back by now.” tears were beginning to well up in those big white eyes, “Please. You’ve got to find her. Just bring back my Soil.”
Beside me Requiem tugged on my hair, glancing around the streets then shaking her head. She hadn’t seen the body of a foal anywhere on our way into town. That gave me a small measure of hope. Maybe, just maybe, whatever happened to these ponies had spared her. With no idea where they were going, there was only one thing I could think to try. Had to hope it worked. “Arsenal, how much do you trust me?”
The rush of air whipped through my mane. For perhaps the first time its natural ripples actually looked natural. My wings beat open air, climbing higher and higher over the remains of the Berry Patch Vineyards. Warm afternoon sun looming high overhead. Requiem had shuffled up to my head, her tiny legs looped around my ears and clinging tight as we ascended. Arsenal’s position was slightly less comforting, wrapped in the bright purple of my levitation field.
“NOT THIS MUCH!” Arsenal shouted at me as we rose, “You are out of your mind!” She squirmed about inside my levitation field, which was making it just a little bit difficult to keep her aloft, “If you drop me I’m coming back to haunt you!” Oh, now there was a horrifying threat. Being perpetually whined at for all eternity by the ghost of my best friend.
Finally I stopped my ascent, wings spread wide to begin circling the town, “Just hold still and keep your eyes open. If the attack came last night, they must have a camp or something not too far away. Somewhere they’d return to.” Plus, if there was a caravan on the way, we should be able to see them too from here. This was the highest I had ever flown, far up above the world. Everything looked so tiny from here. Well, more tiny than normal.
The squiggling snaky paths of ancient roads cut through long-dead forests far below. Far on the horizon I could just make out the ruins of South-End Junction, over a day’s walk away. The smoke of burned bodies had long since vanished. Even the thick trail from the further prison wasn’t visible any more. Not what I was looking for.
After a few minutes Requiem patted my head and shoved her hoof just barely into my vision. Following her direction guided my eyes towards a building. A giant pink building which resembled some kind of castle. It looked utterly out of place along the skyline of the wasteland. An odd apparition of older times.
At almost the same time Arsenal gave another shout, “I can see a caravan down there!” shoving a hoof in another direction. Sure enough, there was the signs of a set of wagons, all laid out together in a line. But they weren’t moving, just laying some distance away from one of the roads in a tiny clearing amongst long dead trees. “Doesn’t look like anypony’s down there.” Oh, ponyfeathers. Please let us not be too late.
A beat of my wings and I turned in the sky, descending like a purple comet towards the ground. Down, down, down. Wind ripped over my ears and I could feel Requiem clinging tight. She wasn’t shaking or crying or doing anything. Just... Holding on tight. I could hear her heart beating faster and faster as we approached the ground. Parts of me wanted to believe she was loving the ride. Other parts insisted I was terrifying the poor foal. By comparison Arsenal had spread her wings as far as she could, seemingly taking some comfort in pretending she could still fly even if it was with my assistance. Either that or preparing to glide to safety when I inevitably failed my descent. One of the two.
My hooves dug deep into the soft ground at my impact. Landing at a canter, it took me a few moments to finally overcome momentum and come to a full stop. My heart was surging in my chest, breath coming rapidly, the exhilarating feeling of flight and descent still lingering in my mind. Slowly beginning to come down from that feeling, it was no wonder Arsenal was so sad to lose that freedom.
The sound of a clearing throat brought my attention back to Arsenal, still floating just off the ground, “You can put me down now.” A blush and my magic dissipated, dumping her onto the ground in a somewhat less than ceremonious fashion. “Thank you.” She trotted past, towards the caravan proper.
This wasn’t a recent caravan. It looked ancient. The metal wagons covered in a layer of rust, their wheels having sunk into the ground. None of them were going to be moving any time soon. Burn marks scoured bits of metal and wood on the wagons. Charred skeletons sat amongst stunted grass, blades growing up between rib bones.
“This isn’t what we’re looking for...” It was true, we weren’t originally looking for this place. But it was curious none the less. Slowly I began to poke through the various ancient wagons. Most had been ruined by rain and animals. But one caught my eye. A three-colored star pattern on its side, familiar half of the six stars I had seen on each of the Preacher’s markings. But this one was half-burned off.
My heart thundered in my ears as I stepped closer. A burned skeleton was sitting in the back of that wagon. This was... It couldn’t be, could it? Beside the body was a small metal box, which seemed to have weathered the years beneath snow and rain without harm. Two winged unicorns chasing eachother around the sun and moon surrounded by six stars, the vivid colors painted across the lid of the box were unmistakable.
Slowly, carefully, I levitated the box from its resting place, barely disturbing the remains. It was sealed, locked with the same form of electronic lock Tom was secured with. Slowly I floated it over to Arsenal, who was filtering through an ancient foot-locker, having found a set of carefully folded clothes. They had to have been out here for decades or more, yet the way her eyes were lit up matched the massive grin on her face.
“Arsenal... What are you doing?” I had never seen her this excited to find something since we came across unclaimed foodstuffs in Manestreet. And this? This was a grubby set of ancient clothing, barely fit to be used as rags now. It seemed unthinkable that she’d want to take them.
Arsenal just huffed, “I don’t expect you to understand what a find this is.” she took the dress from its resting place slowly, carefully. It was festooned with gems which had once shined brilliantly, now stained with accumulated rain water. The fabric had been stained from a soft blue-grey to an almost muddy brown. For a moment I thought it might fall apart in her hooves. “This is a masterpiece. Some cleaning, a little care, it’ll be good as new. And it’s all mine!” she was already folding it up to place in her saddle bags.
Well, she was right about one thing, I really didn’t understand her obsession with that piece of clothing. It seemed like she’d be better off going naked than wearing a dress which had been sealed in a footlocker in the outdoors for so long. But I wasn’t going to argue with something which made her so happy. “I found a box. Do you think you can open it?” Levitating the crate out in front of her.
On my back I could feel Requiem shifting around. She didn’t seem to like it here, not even wanting to get down and go searching. That was surprising, given how open she’d been to searching the dead before. But right now that symbol was consuming all of my thoughts. I had to know what was in that box.
Once the dress was in her bags, Arsenal’s attention turned towards my box, “Hm? Shouldn’t be too hard. Let’s see...” She pulled that device from her bags she had before, connecting it to the box and began working. Her grin slowly faded into a smile, then a creased brow and stare, before finally devolving into her grinding her teeth together over the course of several long minutes. “I... I don’t think I can do it. Who made this thing!? Not even the Ministries usually use security like this!” she smacked the box with a hoof in irritation.
Ponyfeathers. If Arsenal couldn’t open it, then what was I going to do? The only other ponies I knew who might have some hope of it were still back at the Junkyard. Seemed I’d have to take it with me to get my answers from it. A moment to find a place to fit it in my bags and we were ready to leave again. “We’ll head towards that castle thing. It’s the only other place I could see where they might have gone.” Pinning all my hopes on an unknown. It seemed like a terrible idea, but right now I was out of options.
A moment later we were back in the air again, Arsenal’s joy of finding her new dress overcoming her fear of being dropped. The massive grin on her face buoyed my own heart upwards. We would find a way to make this right. I was sure of it.
Tattered banners fluttered from long cross-poles in front of pink stonework walls. The ragged banners were black with red edging, once sporting a stylized white eye with a red iris at their center. Somepony had come and crudely spray-painted over the eye, replacing it with a fanciful six pointed star. The paint was peeling from the way the fabric stretched and moved in the wind, revealing bits and pieces of the under image.
The image of a red eye upon a black field send slight shudders down my spine. Parts of my mind seethed in quiet rage at its existence here. The reasoning was lost upon me, but this was a bad image. The star painted over it meant nothing to me, giving a small measure of pleasure to see the original image defaced so.
Two of these banners sat at angles to either side of a large archway made of pink stone. The top of the arch had been carved with the words ‘Pinkie’s Party Palace! Laugh, Play, Scream!’ Quiet chills ran down my spine as I read those words, making my stomach clench and my legs feel wobbly. It made no sense, there was absolutely no reason they meant anything to me, was there?
We passed under the archway in careful time. Requiem was at my side, sticking low and seeking cover wherever she could find it. Arsenal was at my other flank, her magical energy rifle gripped tightly in her mouth. At least it kept her quiet. The last thing we needed right now was giving away our position with shouting.
Beyond the pink stone walls was a large camp. Dozens of tents in a myriad of colors and designs had been erected in the large courtyard. Surrounding a single massive bonfire pit. The shuffling of ponies between tents was obvious even from here. It wouldn’t take more than a few moments before they were aware we were here anyway, it seemed.
By my side floated an assault rifle, like the one I had first acquired in South-End Junction. This time I had ammunition to spare, stolen from the Stable 66 armory, and a willingness to use it. These ponies had murdered a town, had stolen a child, had that awful sign hanging outside their fortress. Other pikes had been erected within the walls, the remains of ponies hanging from them, tied up by their hooves.
The rattle of chains deafened by ears. The searing heat returned beneath my collar. These were bad ponies. Evil ponies. They didn’t deserve to live. Horrible monstrous blights upon equinity. My mind surged as the brilliant light of my shield surrounded me. My legs moved without thinking, even as Arsenal waved a hoof in surprise. The battle was on.
Automatic weapon fire filled the courtyard as my targeting spell slipped away. Three ponies dropped to my first burst, they hadn’t even realized we were here yet as they fell. Chaos erupted through the camp, a sudden stampede of ponies in every direction. Some pulled weapons, bullets ricochetting off my shield to bury themselves in soft earth. Others fled for cover in the tents.
The distinctive sound of Arsenal’s weapon filled the air nearby. Out of the corner of my eye I could just see the pink glow of a pony vanishing into ash, the tent they were standing in front of bursting into flames. Good. One less horror in the world. They were horrors, weren’t they?
Tracking another target with my E.F.S. my eyes passed over a dessicated corpse swinging from a pole. Once a mare, tied by her forehooves and left out in the sun. Her bleached coat and unkempt mane made it clear. She’d been here for a long, long time. Dieing slowly of exposure and lack of food or water. At least the raiders had the courtesy to kill ponies quickly. These were even worse.
Pain lanced through my flank. Familiar pain, hot and sharp, searing flesh and digging through muscles. My heartbeat thundered in my ears, almost drowning out the sound of gunfire as another pony fell. Her rushing form tumbling to the ground as her leg came to a stop far ahead of her torso. Another violent detonation of firearms and a second sharp, horrid pain through my leg made me stumble.
My vision tracked towards the source of those sounds, a sniper far up above the camp on a tower of wood and metal. His massive firearm latched to the edge of the tower, slowly tracking me down a scope. My horn surged, preparing to come and fight him myself, but never got the chance. A figure leaped down upon him, tiny and fast. Instantly he vanished beneath the lip of the sniper’s nest. Part of me sent a silent prayer that Requiem was still the innocent filly she should be, that dissenting voice instead happy she had learned to take care of herself.
The thick smoke from burning tents streamed into the sky as shouts passed back and forth across the yard. My leg was burning, aching from the bullet wounds. It took only a moment to dig a healing potion from my bags, something we were thankfully not short on any more. The pain lessened, but the surging feelings of anger and desperation did not.
Slipping into my targeting spell my gun spat fire and death again, another two ponies falling beneath inaccurate weight of fire. They weren’t even wearing armor, dieing choking on their own blood. Onwards I rushed through the camp. Somewhere nearby a detonation ripped the sky, the flames became ten times worse. “Take that you sick bastards!” Arsenal’s voice rose above the gunfire and screaming. She must have hit something important.
The remaining opponents were fleeing now. Heading for the main doors of the palace. Pink light scorched the air and another fell, burning and screaming, into nothing but a pile of glowing ash. My gun clicked empty as I gunned down yet another. They weren’t even fighting back now, flames and death were everywhere. A tiny grey blur took the legs out from under another, a moment later the body ceasing its twitching.
The last pony vanished through the large doors of the stonework building before us, slamming them closed. Even as I rushed as fast as my injured leg would let me, the doors shut just as I reached them. A solid thump into their hardened exterior left my head spinning.
For a moment I bucked and kicked at the metal doors, but couldn’t even make a dent in them with my hooves. No! They weren’t going to get away! There was a pony here to save! She wouldn’t end up like that mare. I wouldn’t let that happen! My heart beat faster and faster, the brilliant red glow of my eyes reflecting off even the dull grey metal of the door.
Finally Arsenal caught up with me in the midst of my tantrum, “We can’t just let them get away!” No, really? “You still have that missile launcher, don’t you? Do something with it!” I had the sudden overwhelming urge to plant my hooves on my face. Of course I still had Tom. I still had one more missile, at that. And this? This was worth it.
Backing away I took deep breaths. The thick smoke of burning tents and the sound of detonating munitions rioted through the air behind me. Just a moment and Tom was free of his confines, text scrolling across my vision as his automated systems began to come online. I didn’t need them this time, the door was a stationary target. Effortless to hit.
The detonation seemed to rock the whole world. My ears rang as the ground span beneath me. Only the fact that I had all four hooves under me was enough to keep me upright. The doorway was shoved off its hinges, dented inwards and practically shattered. Whoever designed this place was obviously not expecting high explosives as a means of entry.
Darkness filled the halls inside. The three of us rushed past the entryway searching for escaping enemies and an innocent taken prisoner. Parts of me were protesting all of this, once again I was putting the life of one pony ahead of the lives of dozens. But these ponies didn’t deserve life. They weren’t worth being ponies. They weren’t.
Rousing marching music rolled through pink stone hallways. Smaller hallways split off in various directions, ratty black and red banners like the ones outside the gates decorating the walls. Flickering white lights, half of them burned out, provided feeble illumination. Muddy hoofprints lead in every direction from the entrance, trailed by our enemies.
Laughter filtered through the music. Not cruel, horrid, cold laughter, but genuinely amused laughter. A giggling, snorting laughter which stirred distant happy memories. A gnawing, uncomfortable feeling accompanied those thoughts, chewing at the back of my mind and sending chills running up my legs. Something was wrong about that laugh. Or wrong with me. It made me feel nauseous and lonely just hearing it.
Without much pause I surged down the central hallway. With no idea where we were going or what would await us there was not many other choices to make. Oboes and drums accompanied the sound of our hoof-falls as we moved, the winding pink corridors opening into dozens of smaller rooms. Kiosks for rides and games flashing at the corners of my vision.
A pony leaped from a side room, opening fire on us without hesitation. Two rounds cut their way through my shield, grazing across my shoulder with a stinging irritation. A single shot from Arsenal’s weapon sent the pony sprawling to the floor in pain, suddenly missing one of his legs. His eyes wide and pupils tiny as he bled out.
Splosh, splosh, hooves passing through still warm blood as we continued. They were in here somewhere. Up ahead I spotted the flank of a pony fleeing down a side corridor. A quick turn at the corner and we were after them. The winding procession of corridors suddenly met and descended a staircase. At the bottom were a set of ticket booths and old, broken, turnstiles. This place had been an amusement park once. Full of happy, friendly ponies who loved and laughed and played.
A large poster was plastered to the wall. ‘Love the Palace? Visit Pinkie Pie’s Funny Farm! What the Grand Galloping Gala should have been, every day. Forever!’ The stylized image of a large pink barn with a family of laughing ponies outside it dominated the center of the poster. That name ground at my mind. Pinkie Pie. I should know that name. It was important.
The flash of movement at the corner of my eye brought my attention back to the present as we passed those ancient, broken turnstiles. Laughter filled the air again as a shimmering pink image suddenly flickered into existence before us. An aged pink pony, her curly mane streaked with lines of grey, stood at the entrance of a winding path. My mind seized up, heart falling through the floor, slow creeping dread worming its way up my spine before she spoke
“HiI’mPinkiePiebetchacan’tcatchmenoponycancatchmeI’mjusttoogood!” Her words came at an almost impossible to follow pace, spilling over my confused mind moments before she turned and started running down the corridors. No! No, come back! My heart ceased entirely, not wanting to beat. My legs pulled me forwards, into dark corridors. She wasn’t real, I knew that, but it hurt so much. I couldn’t... I couldn’t lose her again!
Somewhere far away I heard Arsenal’s voice, like listening to a pony calling from the bottom of a well. Tears clouded my eyes and my vision swam. For a moment I could see green fields, hear the rousing marching music and dozens of colored spots. A pink pony leading a parade of parasprites away. It was distant and fading, lasting only the faintest moment. Enough to make me push on further.
A pony landed directly in my path. Grey upon grey, a fire ax gripped in her mouth. I didn’t even slow down, hooves raised high as I trampled over her. The satisfying snapping crunch of her neck sent shivers down my spine. I shouldn’t be enjoying this. Nopony should enjoy killing another. But I had to catch up to Pinkie and these ponies were in my way. They were monsters! They deserved to die! Surely a pony should feel good about ridding the world of an evil, shouldn’t they? Parts of me screamed in pain and rage at that idea.
The corridors twisted and winded, every one built to look like every other. This was a maze, a maze I was rapidly growing further and further entrenched in. Behind me I could hear the distinctive sound of Arsenal’s weapon. She was still keeping up with me. That pink apparition in front of me bouncing along on her hooves with seemingly no effort. Of course it took her no effort, she wasn’t really here!
Still my stomach churned as she rounded a corner. No. Don’t let her go! Another of the armed ponies sprang from a trap door in the floor. A half-dozen assault rifle rounds emptied into the floor and only two struck him. One cleanly passing through a large eye as he fell screaming beneath the trap door. Another life taken in a moment of effortless ease.
My vision blurred and seethed, the world swam around me. I was somewhere else, brutal and violent dance music resounded through my mind. Indistinct angry words spilled from my lips. The pink pony before me bounced giddily, speaking quickly with words which made no sense. In anger I smashed a tin off the table and watched as she scrambled to collect the contents. They were bad, bad for her, bad for me, bad for Equestria.
A searing pain ran through my heart. The vision vanished again, leaving only emptiness and sorrow. “No... Don’t go... Don’t go...” Rounding another corner there were two more of these ponies. I lowered my horn and charged. Couldn’t lose momentum now. Horn cutting easily through flesh as I impaled one’s neck, twisting a moment to get myself free. The other opened fire as I passed their far side. Pain lanced through my other flank, but nothing compared to the pain in my chest. Requiem and Arsenal were behind me, they could handle the clean up.
Laughter filtered over the screams of dieing ponies. “You’regoodbutI’mbetter!” Pinkie’s voice interrupted the music as the hologram paused in her running. I was almost there! I could catch her! She winked towards me, “Haveagreatday!” vanishing instantly as I sailed cleanly past where she had been. I hadn’t even seen the doors on the far side, my vision so fixated on her shimmering image. Skidding towards a halt.
One of my hooves caught on the edge of the door frame, sending me tumbling over the other side and sprawling down the hallway. Wings spread and flapped in panic, crushed beneath me and the floor. Coat against polished stone, all that rushing momentum spent slipping further along.
The force of my impact on one of the old walls was enough to send cracks running along its length. Somepony must have cut corners building this place. My flanks ached, my wing hurt, a trail of dark purple feathers spread along the hall behind me from where I was laying as a chunk of wall collapsed over top of me. Suddenly buried under bricks and mortar. So heavy. Tears were flowing freely now. She was gone again. The searing pain in my chest twisted again.
She was gone. And it was my fault. I wasn’t fast enough. Wasn’t good enough. Wasn’t strong enough. But... Was I? I didn’t know her, so why did I keep feeling I cared so much? Parts of me chewed angrily at the others. Fighting inside my head as the weight of bricks pinned me to the floor. It wouldn’t have been hard to get free, but I didn’t want freedom at that moment.
“Aurora!?” Arsenal’s voice cut through my mind, she must have caught up finally. A shocked gasp audible a moment later, “W-what?” What was she looking at that I couldn’t see from here? My vision was limited by my position, barely making out a metallic room on the far side of the wall. “WHAT!?” her voice rose in volume.
An unfamiliar voice cut down the hall, deep and gravelly and angry, “You bitches! You’re ruining everything! You’re the ones who were killing my soldiers. I finally found my damned ticket out of this hellhole and now you show up to spoil it all!?” A terrified squeal grated on my mind, the scream of a child in danger. It cut above the marching music I could still hear. Through the haze of my sorrow. Someone was in danger. They needed help!
My vision filled with white, the world imploding around me. A moment later I was standing near the door, the pile of bricks I had been under collapsing a moment later. There they were. An older stallion with a revolver in his mouth pointed at the head of a tiny pegasus filly. She squirmed in fear as he held her tight against his chest. For a moment I could barely move, any movement and he’d surely shoot the child. No. No! Somepony had to-
“How dare you?” Arsenal’s voice was quiet for once, but the force was enough to stop my thoughts, “How dare you!?” Taking a step forwards with her ears folded back, I could just make out the way her wings pushed on her robe. “HOW DARE YOU!?” she sprang in a single sailing leap, the leader of the these ponies fired a single round at her in desperation before she landed atop him, a swift hoof to his jaw sending the weapon flying as the child landed nearby.
Arsenal raised her hoof again, “A soldier does not kidnap!” Down it came with a resounding crack, “A soldier does not steal!” another swift smash, “A soldier does not torture!” Back and forth she alternated her hooves, her robe pushed outwards even by her crippled wings, “A soldier does not murder!” One more swift kick to his jaw before he finally got his legs under her and bucked her. For a moment Arsenal sailed through the air to crash back in the hallway again as the leader struggled to his feet.
Blood ran from his nose as he spat loose teeth from his mouth, “What does a fucking whore like you know about what it means to be a soldier!? I was one of Red Eye’s best leaders! He trusted me with this place and no pony else.” he was climbing over the wrecked wall now, “And now you come to take it away!? They were going to pay me for the filly. Enough to retire forever. You... You cunts! I’ll kill you!” He rushed down the hallway towards Arsenal.
He made it barely half way down the hall before a flash of pink light reduced him to nothing but ash. Arsenal was still on her back, breathing heavily, as she finished her tirade, “A soldier fights. To protect ponies.” She finally rolled over onto her hooves.
For a long moment there was relative silence, the pegasus filly slowly climbing up over the demolished walls. She rushed down the hallway to press a hug against Arsenal’s leg. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” Tears welling up in her eyes as she pressed her cheek against the brown under robe, “Y-you’re... You’re a hero! Right?” The little pegasus stared up at Arsenal in disbelief, she had a pretty sun-yellow coat with a mixture of green and blue in her mane.
Arsenal slowly patted the child on the head, obviously not used to having ponies treat her at all that way. “Just a soldier. Doing her job.” She gave a feeble smile. I think that was the first time I had ever seen Arsenal pass on the chance to talk herself up. She was always so enthusiastic about making herself look better. But now she had a real, genuine chance to do better and she... didn’t. How odd.
Still, pride surged in my heart over that vision. Requiem had returned to my side and her gentle nudge reminded me of where we were. A moment to clear my throat brought all eyes back to me, “Not to complain about this heart-felt moment of joy. But perhaps we should get out of here before more of them show up?” I wasn’t keen on going back through that maze. Not if it meant facing Pinkie Pie again. The twisting knife in my chest was still there, slowly fading under waves of joy, but I didn’t want to feel that way again. Not now, not ever.
“Yeah. Yeah!” Arsenal stood tall, “Come on, Earth Bound, right?” She looked down to the filly, who nodded enthusiastically, “We’re going to take you home to your granny. Don’t you worry.” A moment later we were off again. Going out was much easier than coming in, the exit of the maze had sent us back near the main doors. Only two more ponies were foolish enough to stand between us and freedom.
The camp outside had been burning merrily since we left it. Thick black smoke clouds filling the skies, the bodies of the dead burning to ashes and leaving nothing but fine powder in its wake. “Come on Requiem. Earthbound. I’ll carry you back.” Soon enough I had two fillies riding side by side on my back, Arsenal floating through the air beside me. The wonderful freedom of flight and the distance with those memories making my heart beat easier. Just a little more and we’d be home again.
Home again. Where we belonged.
The brief freedom of flight never lasted long enough. Soon we were over the Berry Patch Vineyards again. Earth Bound pointed towards a larger stone structure, a great metal tree stretching towards the sky beside it, “There it is! That’s granny’s house!” Descent towards her home was swift and violent, but overwhelmingly enjoyable. The wind in my mane, rushing over my feathers, whipping through my tail and across my legs. It was wonderful, freeing, perfect.
Within seconds we were back on the ground, standing before the large stone structure. The tiny pegasus leaped from my back and scrambled towards the door, “Granny! Granny! I’m home!” smacking her hoof against it, “Some brave ponies came and rescued me! It was awesome!” the door opened to the elderly blue and grey mare.
Instantly she pulled Earth Bound into a tight hug with her forelegs, “Soil. You shouldn’t go running off like that! It’s dangerous.” The sight of the blind mare and her grand daughter filled my chest with a quiet warmth, wonderful and fulfilling. “Your friends are still here, right?” The filly nodded, cheek pressed to her grandmother’s chest, “Good. You all should come in and rest for a spell. I want to thank you properly for saving my dear, precious Soil.” She backed out of the door to make room.
The thought of actually being actively invited inside was wonderful. Parts of me wondered whether Violet Strings would still be so accepting of my presence if she could see me. Would she hate me if she knew what I was? Fear me? Would she try to save her grand daughter from me? Those thoughts lingered in the back of my mind, no matter how hard I tried to stomp them out.
Arsenal headed inside first, followed swiftly by Requiem. Ducking my head below the door-frame, I followed. The interior of the house wasn’t far removed from the exterior, run down and dusty, wooden floors covered in ancient decaying furniture, old windows with yellowed glass. For the most part what I had come to expect from the wasteland.
But not entirely so. Arsenal spotted it first, and her disbelieving gaze brought mine in the same direction. One side room was filled with electronics, flickering lights and glowing gems. The window of that room looked directly out upon the massive metal tree I had spotted on the way in. From the ceiling a microphone hung down before a small three-legged stool. A violin sat on a small stand within hoof’s reach.
“What is all that..?” Arsenal asked the question first as we passed the room, “I didn’t think anypony down here would have a setup that thorough.” She had paused at the door, staring into the room in disbelief. Was it really that surprising? The only place I had seen anything like it was the radio station the Applejack’s Rangers had sent me to. Which was itself an impressive fact.
Violet stopped in her path towards the kitchen, “Hm? What? Oh! You must mean my broadcaster.” She seemed quite pleased with herself for figuring that out without being told, “A long, long time ago a few good ponies passed through town. They stayed here a few days. Most of them were just traders, but there was one pair. A priestess, who kept going on about how important it was to ‘live up to the virtues’ and other such nonsense.”
My mind wandered at those words, the Virtues? Parts of me insisted those were important. But I couldn’t place why. My mind throbbed angrily, threatening to lose itself in madness again. Instead I forced those thoughts away, better to listen to what was being said right now.
“The other was some kind of technology expert. Never met a mare quite like her. She sat down and listened to me play my violin one day. Said it was beautiful, that the whole wasteland should hear it.” She gave a brief laugh which ended in a cough, “Still makes my heart feel good to think somepony likes it that much. She spent a whole week gathering up all the resources she could to build me that transmission system. Still surprised it works. Never met another pony like her.”
A master of technology who could build a home-made transmission array in a week? That idea seemed almost unbelievable even to me. Maybe the old mare was going senile. But... There was truth in her words anyway. The Preacher and Makeshift had been here. Had left their hoofprints on this town. Then... My mind flashed back to the burned wreckage of a destroyed caravan. Had they died just that close to home? It didn’t seem fair. But the wasteland rarely was.
Requiem was eyeing that room as well. But not the recording, she was staring at the violin in silence. A musical filly who might never again make music. The idea just felt so wrong. I wanted to wrap her up close, hold her tight, give her the encouragement she needed to do something amazing with herself. But she would just squirm away, run from me, if I tried. So the darker parts of my mind insisted. It wasn’t fair.
“Soil? Go get granny’s box from under the bed.” My attention was pulled away back to our hosts as the tiny pegasus rushed up the stairs, “Come on in and sit down. I want to give you a gift and thank you properly.” Ducking below the door I entered her dining room. It wasn’t really big enough, between me and the table almost all the free space was taken up.
I dipped my head lower, “I’m... Not worth thanking.” My voice was quiet, almost silent. I felt hoarse, almost dead inside. I hadn’t saved her child, I had nearly gotten her grand-daughter shot. Worse, I had been so preoccupied with my own concerns that I just stood and watched while it happened.
The thump of a hoof on her table, “Nonsense. You brought my grand-daughter back to me. And... You sound like a pony who could really use this one. It’s inspired me a long, long time. I hope it can do the same for you!” Earth Bound trotted back down the stairs, a large brown box on her back, dropping it beside Violet, “Ah. Thank you Soil.”
“You’re welcome granny! I’m going to go start packing our things, ‘kay?” She seemed remarkably chipper. Especially after we explained how important it was that she and her grandmother move out on the way back here. She understood they couldn’t remain behind, not after what had happened.
Violet nodded her head sadly, “Alright deary. I... I know we can’t stay. They did something horrible to everyone else.” Had she found one of the bodies? “We’ll find a new home.” dipping her head low into the box she pulled something small out of it, setting it on the table, “But first, a gift.” pushing the tiny object towards me.
A small cyan pegasus, reared up on her back hooves, with a rainbow colored mane. The tiny cutie mark of a cloud with rainbow lightning coming out of it clear on her flank. ‘Be Awesome!’ and been engraved in the base. The same pegasus in the photograph from the library. Rainbow Dash.
My mind churned. Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, the Virtues. The world span and shuddered, my heart fluttering painfully. It meant something. Meant something so, so important. Why couldn’t I remember? Just lingering too far away. But I had to have her, the memories she stirred were too important to ignore. Even if I didn’t really deserve it, I couldn’t pass her now.
Carefully I wrapped my magic around the tiny figurine, lifting it from the table. A strange electrical surge running along my spine. Wonderful, comforting feelings of confidence brewing in my chest just by proximity. Like a tiny voice whispering in my ear ‘You can do it!’. The parts of me which recognized her were happy at that voice. Reinforcing another bit of my mind, the part which kept insisting I was more, I was better, I deserved more. That hurt.
A moment later and the statuette was in my bag, next to the photograph and the book. A fragment of a memory. A piece of history important to me. Why I didn’t know, but I wouldn’t let them go.
“She’s been in my family for a long, long time. But I think you deserve her. Never seen her myself, but just having her nearby made me feel better. You seem like you could use feeling better.” The elderly mare smiled warmly to me, a comforting gesture.
Arsenal raised her voice, “I’m going to start disassembling this transmission system. I think I can get most of the important parts out. Take them home with us.” She pranced back and forth on her hooves in excitement, pulling tools from her bags to begin work.
“Home?” Violet Strings seemed surprised at that idea, “We’re leaving here. Can’t stay with nopony around, too dangerous. But where are you all going?”
“I know a place. It’s not far. If you have a cart, we can take you with us.” My own voice wasn’t very confident. Carrying four ponies and an entire array of equipment seemed like a terrible risk. But... I couldn’t abandon these two here. Twenty four ponies were dead because of me not being able to save them. I wouldn’t leave two ponies I could save to an uncertain fate. Not now.
Violet just smiled, “Well, there was one the general store used for deliveries. I guess they won’t be using it any more. Come on.” she stood from the table, carefully and slowly walking through the house again with me behind her. Time to get strapped in and ready to go.
My wings beat open air beneath a rainbow colored sky. The twilight sun staining the heavens in beautiful stripes of color. It had taken hours to give the townsponies proper burials, otherwise we would have been home well before the sun set. The added weight of a cart made flying harder and slower, but no less enjoyable. Requiem clung to my head with a death-grip; at least she wasn’t shaking, for once. The Junkyard was within sight now, almost home. Just a little further, then I could rest.
Behind me, crammed together in the cart, were Arsenal, Violet Strings and Earth Bound. Boxes filled with their prized possessions surrounding them. They had been talking since we left the Vineyard. “... So is she really your grand daughter?” Arsenal’s tact was still as non-existent as ever, leaving me to fight the urge to face hoof even if I wasn’t involved in the conversation. Blind pilots were not good pilots.
“Of course she is!” Violet’s irritated denial came with the tone of one forced to answer that question far too often, “I was there when she was born. Her mother, Celestia rest her soul, died having her. So don’t you go accusing her of not really being my grand daughter!” A shift in the weight of the cart forced me to change my flying rhythm. For a moment I wanted to look back and find out what was going on, but my lack of confidence in my flying abilities kept me staring at the ground. Crashing would be very bad.
“Oh...” Arsenal’s voice was quiet a long, long moment, “... I’m sorry.” Wait, what? Arsenal, apologizing? Really? For a moment I wracked my mind, but I couldn’t think of a single other time she had actually apologized to anyone. “Why ‘Earth Bound’?” I had to admit, I was curious on that too. I didn’t know many pegasi, just one really, but pegasi could fly, right? Well, normal ones could anyway, so why would you name one something like Earth Bound?
This time it was Earth Bound who answered the question, “Cus daddy used to say I’d always be earth bound. Never get to see above the clouds.” her voice was devoid of the selfish anger or sorrow one might expect from an adult at that idea, “That I’d never be able to fly. There’s no pegasi around to teach me how.” Well, I certainly wasn’t going to be able to teach her, I barely knew how to fly myself! “Well... Until you, anyway.”
Arsenal let out a surprised squeak as the weight in the cart shifted again, not as dramatically this time, thankfully. After a long moment of silence the crippled pegasus responded, “Do you want to learn to fly? I could teach you how.” Her voice was nervous, was there something she hadn’t told me? “I mean, I was a pretty good flier, for my class.” Ah, that was more what I expected, bravado and confidence. Well, that or whining.
“Really?” Sudden repeated shifts in weight made the cart wobble just a bit in the air. “Reallyreallyreally?” Earth Bound’s excited voice picked up speed quickly, “Oooh, thank you! You’re the most awesome pegasus ever!” Another sudden shift in weight and another, louder, squeak of surprise from Arsenal.
“Yes, really... I’ll teach you as much as I can. I promise. Just calm down. I can’t teach you anything if we fall out of the air before getting home!” I wasn’t really going to drop them, well, probably not. And home was right there.
“Yesyesyesyesyes!” More excited shifts in weight as I began the long descent towards the ground.
Down below I could see ponies gathered around the clearing of the junkyard. Or the newly established central clearing, in any case. Scraps had been busy it seemed. A large patch of what had once been piles of junk had been cleared away in favor of metal flooring. Dozens of small shacks like the one I lived in had been erected around that central square. The beginnings of several larger buildings sat half-finished in the evening sun.
But the most important object in that square was the large fountain. Fresh, clean water bubbled up from the center to flow down into a large bowl, easily big enough for a dozen ponies to drink from at once. Scraps had gotten the water talisman working. Maybe with some time and effort we might actually have indoor plumbing in the yard. For now, public water was good enough.
“We’re here!” My own voice cut over the wind as my hooves touched metal, the cart landing behind me with a resounding ‘thump’. I may have taken the landing just a little hard, but we all made it in one piece and today that was good enough. Two more ponies brought to a safe place. Not enough to make up for my mistakes, but it still made me feel good.
Dozens of ponies were gathered around the square, letting out a cheer at our arrival. Surely they couldn’t have just been waiting for me, could they? In a moment ponies were on hand to help get Violet Strings off of the cart, carrying away the masses of personal belongings towards a small house. How had they known we were coming?
Scraps trotted up, an insufferably proud grin on her face, as Arsenal came around to help me get unhooked, “Took you long enough to get back! And you brought friends, too.” she tossed her head in the direction of the workshop, “Come on in. I want to hear what happened. All of it.” that was odd, I’d never seen her particularly interested in my adventures before.
Now freed of my bindings I followed her inside. Slowly and cautiously. It was time to explain what had happened, or at least what of it made sense.
My PipBuck hummed and chirped, transferring information onto Scraps’ terminal. Her uneaten breakfast from this morning still sitting, cold, on the counter. She’d had an awful busy day. The room had been silent since I finished explaining. Scraps just staring at me incredulously, before finally breaking the silence. “I see. And this box you found, you still have it?” What? Did she think I’d lost it?
“Of course. It’s in my bags.” Which she currently had, as well. Funny, though, she’d never shown any particular interest in the things I found except from a practical standpoint. She had even paid me for the recording tapes from Stable 66, after all.
Scraps ducked under the table and heaved the small metal box up onto it, “It means something to you, right? That’s reason enough to get it open.” For a second she fished under the table for a small device. It wasn’t quite like what Arsenal used to deal with terminals. It looked like it was welded together from half a dozen other pieces of machinery. Then again, almost everything Scraps owned was like that.
All I could give was a numb nod. That symbol fixed my gaze. It was so important, stirring painful but pleasant feelings in the back of my mind. If only I could track them all down. Find them all. Maybe I could find some part of what it all meant. It had to mean something. Something vitally important. So why couldn’t I remember?
It took only a moment for the lid to pop open. Scraps was good, that box had stymied Arsenal effortlessly. The two of us were alone in the room, Arsenal was off with Earth Bound somewhere and Requiem had settled down outside listening to Violet Strings play her violin for the town. Even in here the soft sound of her playing just penetrated the walls.
Only two things were in the box. Hard to believe they were important enough to be worth sealing up behind such tight security, at first. One was a robe, folded up it looked black. The other a recorder, like the others I’d found.
The moment I pulled the robe free of the box it unfurled. Half of it was a dark midnight blue, the other half a beautiful gold. Tiny flecks of metal had been sewn into the darkness, shining like stars under the light. At its center was the familiar pattern of two Alicorns, chasing each other around a half-sun, half-moon. Each side illuminated by its respective body.
My mind reeled and seized up angrily. For a long, long moment all I could do was stare at that robe as it hung in the air. Tears fought their way to the surface, spilling from my eyes unbidden. Why did seeing this thing hurt so much? It was... Something which mattered. Something lost, then found again. But it wasn’t mine, it was someone else’s. Worse, it was wrong somehow. It didn’t look quite right. The hoof-stitching on the alicorns easy to see. The tiny patches in the robe where it had been pierced by bullets and blades. It was important, but it hurt so much to look at.
Closing my eyes tight I dropped the robe. Not mine. Not my past. Important, so very important, but not my past. That symbol meant something, something so vital. For a moment I could hear laughter, feel soft soil beneath my hooves, hear gentle words of kindness and love. Then back to reality again. No! It was so close! My mind scrambled to find that place again, but it was lost. The madness of my past swirled around me, visions of a dozen childhoods which made no sense together.
Scraps had pulled the recording from the box, slipping it into my PipBuck of her own accord and activated the replay function. A familiar voice crackled to life in the small room, silencing my tears. Drowning my sorrow. The voice was different this time. Still older, still tired, but happy, hopeful.
“Blessed be the Goddesses and the Six. May their path lead us back towards greatness and their lessons mark our way.
“We left the vineyard today. A week’s stay in a happy little town, then away again. Always away again, but this time towards home. It was so nice to see happy ponies, ponies who weren’t afraid for their life. They didn’t listen, they never listen, but they were polite. They were kind. That was good enough for once.
“Violet Strings played her violin for us when we first arrived. Makeshift was so taken with it she spent all week collecting junk and haggling with our own caravan for supplies so she could build a transmission tower! I can hear her working on one of those old radios even now. I’m sure she’ll get it working.
“More good news. We met some nomad ponies today. They were lost and low on food, but were nice enough. I convinced Happy Trails to take them in, share some of our food with them, give them a map. Maybe they’ll come the rest of the way home with us. Find a nice safe place to stay.
“They sat down for my sermon this evening. For the first time in months somepony other than Makeshift actually sat to listen to what I had to say. It felt good. I think... I think maybe I finally got through to somepony. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll leave something resembling an impact on this horrible world.
“It’s late now. Time for me to go to bed. I’ll continue this recording tomorrow, when I get the chance.”
The recording ended abruptly. For a long, long time the room was silent. The burned, destroyed wreckage of that caravan made the answer all too clear. Something must have gone horribly wrong, a journey ended before it could find proper fruition. What had killed them? Why had it happened? Questions I couldn’t answer. Questions I might never be able to answer.
Scraps was just as silent as I was. Her eyes hidden behind those black goggles, slowly inclining her head towards the robe. Picking it up from the table she ran a hoof over it, “Some cleaning. A patch or two. You’ll be good as new. Someone went through a lot of trouble maintaining you, would be a shame to let it go to waste now.” For the second time she managed to run her hooves over an object without leaving a single stain or greasy hoof-print on it.
Stain? Grease? Cleaning? A horrible taste welled up in the back of my mouth. An echo of a memory, something she had done to me before we left, and a promise I intended to make good on. Better to focus on the happier moments now that I had the chance. “Oh, Scraps? Do you remember what I promised before we left..?” She looked up from the robe, staring at me. The panic obvious even behind her goggles.
She was fast. But I had telekinesis.
“I am not your blasted filly!” Scraps squirmed about as I worked my magic over her mane and tail, slowly unwinding it from those braids. This proved remarkably difficult, given that she had apparently had them tied up that way forever. Hair should not be stiff enough to hold a shape even after being unbraided! “I can bathe myself...”
I just rolled my eyes as I finished working over her tail, “Yes, but you won’t, will you? Now hold still or this is going to hurt.” How did I know it was going to hurt? I hadn’t taken a bath in … ever, as far as I knew. Carefully I pulled the last of her mane free, “Now, off with those goggles.” She’d been wearing them constantly since I met her, even slept in them. I had little difficulty believing she’d been wearing them much, much longer.
“No way!” Scraps backed away towards the rear of the small room, “I am not letting you take them!” I couldn’t suppress a grin as my magic wrapped around those goggles and started tugging them off. The blond and blue pony slapped her hooves over her temples in a desperate bid to keep her goggles on.
Trotting up towards her I couldn’t help but laugh a little, “I’ll remove them with my teeth if I have to.” standing directly between her and the door. She’d backed herself into a corner, now! We were inside one of the larger buildings, which would eventually be some kind of public utility it seemed. The large tub full of lukewarm water resting behind me my intended recipient for Scraps.
Scraps glanced left and right as quick as she could before diving between my legs, sliding on her belly towards the door. Curses, that greasy outer coating was good for something after all! White light filled my vision and the world imploded around me, only to reassert itself back at the doorway again. Once more purple light entrapped Scraps and lifted her from the ground, “You are getting a bath, and that’s final!” This time at least I managed to yank her goggles off before she had a chance to escape again.
Sploosh, into the bath she went. Eyes clinched tight for the moment. “Couldn’t you at least use WARM water?” I dipped a hoof into the water, it wasn’t really cold, just not particularly hot. The quiet tap of hooves on tile flooring brought my attention to Requiem, carrying a small scrub brush in her mouth to deposit beside me.
“It’s not my fault that you didn’t bother to install water heaters yet.” Grabbing the brush in my magic and levitating it towards the bath tub. A little bit of soap from one of these ancient Mane & Coat Maintenance bottles and the brushing began. It was amazing the shelf-life of these pre-war products. Were they actually planning for the world to end, or were we just lucky?
Bubbles began to form in the bath as I worked the brush along that long-abused coat. The parts of it where she had worn her goggles were notably several shades lighter than the rest of her. But the caked-in dirt around the edges formed a clean outline of where the goggles went. It was almost creepy. “I wasn’t expecting to end up being bathed!” Scraps squirmed about in the bath uncomfortably as layer after layer of grime and grease began to work its way out of her coat.
A chuckle escaped my lips at that, “Oh, hush. If you kept yourself clean I wouldn’t have to be doing this, would I?” Slowly the oil and grime faded from her, her coat turning much more vibrant and quite pretty. It would still take quite a long while to get it all clean, but it was definitely improving. “Besides, I’m sure you’ll feel much better when you’re clean.”
Scraps snorted derisively as the door squeaked open. Arsenal poked her head in, spotting us she began to enter, dragging a large tub behind her, “I heard... Somepony say... There was a bath in here...” The tub was filled with water, had she really been pulling that thing all the way from the fountain? She was definitely dedicated.
Scraps finally opened one of her eyes, a beautiful green, staring at Arsenal with a smirk, “Come to get momma Aurora to wash your coat?” I was not her mother! I wasn’t anypony’s mother! I wasn’t fit to be anypony’s mother. My brushing got a tad bit forceful as Scraps winced, “Hey, hey! Watch where you put that brush!”
“Oops, sorry.” That was all the help I could offer her, as I lifted one of her hooves from the water to begin working it over. This was going to take a while, but surely she’d feel better when we were all done.
Arsenal huffed as she heaved the tub the rest of the way into the room, collapsing to the ground and panting a few moments, “Hmph. SOME ponies know what the word ‘clean’ means.” She trotted over to grab one of the spare bottles off a small shelf. We didn’t have many, most of them things I had swiped from Stable 66 during my less than coherent moments. Why was I stealing shampoo of all things? I had no idea.
The laughter from Scraps filled the room as she tumbled backwards fully into the bathwater, surfacing a moment later to gasp for air, “Hahaha! Yeah, and some of us don’t have fleas!” Oh, joy, had Fog really needed to tell her that? I grabbed Scraps and shoved her back under for a quick rinse again, before beginning to scrub her a second time.
The soft squeal of annoyance from Arsenal was more than enough in reply, “That is why I need a bath! Do you know what fleas DO to your mane and coat!?” she whimpered a moment before leaping whole-body into the bath water, mixing the shampoo in with it just a little, “I’ve spent a week locked in a dirty basement, starved, beaten, trotted across the wasteland, been stung, shot and terrified out of my mind. And now, now I have fleas too!” she settled slightly in the water. Actually looking something resembling peaceful for the first time since I met her, “I deserve a bath.”
“Lightweight.” Scrap’s response was almost too quiet for me to catch. The brush under her chin made her lift her head involuntarily, even eliciting a slight happy mutter from her. She wasn’t a heartless and cold pony, just annoyed. Finally time to begin on her mane, slowly working shampoo into it and rubbing it down, “Ow. Ow! Hey watch the hooves!” Her other eye opened staring out at me, a gorgeous blue orb. Wait, weren’t her eyes green just a minute ago?
“Oh, shush, you.” Arsenal’s response fulfilled my own feelings, “She’s just trying to help. You should relax and be happy you have a pony on hand willing to pamper you.” Requiem trotted up with another brush, dropping it just outside the tub near Arsenal, “At least you don’t have to do the cleaning yourself.” snatching up the brush in her mouth and beginning to rub herself down with it.
A splash as Scraps shoved a hoof into the tub, “I’d rather it was up to me. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with all this indignity.” she slumped in the tub slightly, as I lifted a whole chunk of water to run it over her mane all at once. Sploosh, mane was flat and wet, “AUGH! Warn a pony before you do that!” Shaking her head to get some of the water out.
Arsenal laughed, “Hm? Do you not like being clean? It figures that a sticky muckdweller like you wouldn’t know the joys of actually having a well maintained mane and tail.” She had set the brush aside, working shampoo into her mane with her hooves, “Maybe we’ll be really lucky and rescue a hair dresser from the wastes. That would be a miracle.”
Even I had to roll my eyes at that thought, “Why would anypony pursue a career in hairdressing in the middle of the wasteland?” It seemed absurd to me. “Hold your breath.” I reached out to dunk Scraps again, rinsing the shampoo out of her mane. It already looked much better, at least now it wasn’t involuntarily retaining the shape of the braid!
Arsenal pouted pitifully, “A lady can dream, can’t she?” working the froth in her mane then dunking her own head, picking up the brush to begin working over her soft brown hair, “These knots are going to take forever to get out.” Wincing as she pulled a small clump of hair free, “Oh. I hope I still have a mane when this is all over. I’d hate to try and find a wig out here!” For a moment my mind filled with an image of Arsenal wearing a curly black wig, almost too much for me to avoid laughing at.
My yellow and blue landlord couldn’t resist laughing at the idea at all, suddenly flopping around in the tub, “Oh. Oh that’s fantastic. A pegasus with a wig. I’d pay to see that. You’d have to strap it down every time you went flying.” Oh, ouch. My vision went towards Arsenal, who just slumped lower in the water. Scraps opened her eyes when she realized Arsenal wasn’t shooting back comments, staring in some confusion, “You... Can’t fly?” her brows furrowed at that prospect, something working its way through her brain.
Very slowly the crippled pegasus shook her head, not even willing to rise enough from the water to speak, before dipping under to rinse her mane. Scraps’ dissatisfied frown grew stronger as my attention returned to her fully. She did indeed have two different colored eyes. That was odd. Blue and green, no wonder she wore those goggles all the time. They’d certainly attract a lot of attention. My third and final rinse done, Scraps actually resembled something similar to a clean pony now.
As if on queue, Requiem trotted up with a blow drier and a clean towel. For a moment I stared at those objects in disbelief, “Where did you get a clean towel in this place..?” My mouth voiced my question without me even realizing it.
Scraps heaved herself out of the bath and shook some of the water from her coat, “From my linen locker. Duh. Where else would I keep my towels?” A hoof came up to my face, someday I was going to learn to stop asking questions I didn’t want to know the answers to.
Grabbing hold of the blow drier I turned the device up to full and worked it over Scraps’ mane and tail. Long and straight and clean, for about three seconds before they practically exploded in every direction. Fwoop! Instant curls. “Great. Now I’m going to have to spend all night rebraiding my mane and tail. I hope you’re happy now.”
Actually... I was. It was nice to have a little time with my friends where things weren’t going horribly wrong. And Scraps actually looked rather cute like that. Like Pinkie Pie, almost, though her mane and tail were even less controlled at the moment. The thoughts of that horrible sense of loss crept into the back of my mind. No. Stop. Don’t think about that now. These are your friends, they’re not going anywhere. Right? Right.
Grabbing up the towel Scraps just sighed in irritation, “I’m going to go eat that meal you made me and spend the rest of the night working on some problems. Maybe get my mane braided again, if I’m lucky.” she began to stalk out of the door, “I’ll see you both in the morning.” making sure to grab up her goggles on the way out.
For a moment Arsenal and I just shared a disbelieving look, “So do you think she’ll actually stay clean this time?” I just shook my head. Not a chance, but I’d keep dragging her back for fresh washings if I had to.
A yawn escaped me involuntarily, mmmh, was getting late and all the flying today had taken its toll. Arsenal smiled, “Why don’t you and Requiem head off to bed? It’s going to take me hours to work all the knots out of my mane and tail. No reason for you two to stay up.” I just nodded sleepily and headed for the door.
It took only a few moments to cross the junkyard, back to the tiny house I had spent most of yesterday in. Onto the nice soft bed. No story tonight, Requiem just settled in beside me as exhausted as I was. Too much excitement today.
But Violet Strings was safe. Arsenal was relatively content. Scraps was clean, and she was finally getting to have that meal I made her. With that drink filled with...
Aurora Borealis (Level Up! - Level 9)
Spell Upgrade: Shield of the Goddess (Rank 2) - Through repeated practice and more than a few hard knocks you have refined your shielding spell. Your shield now grants you 10 DT and 20% DR for any attack which penetrates it. Additionally the difficulty to maintain your shield has gone down, halving the rate at which you accumulate Strain for using the shield and increasing the damage necessary to collapse the shield to 30% of your maximum HP.
Silent Requiem (Level Up! - Level 8)
Arsenal (Level Up! - Level 8)