I am No One
War... war never changes. Somepony told me that once. Somepony old, I think, given the vagueness and wiseness of the statement. I didn't know if it was true. I wasn't a very smart pony, but it seemed to me war changed often. Long ago, ponies fought hoof to hoof or with sharpened spears. When iron was found and molded, ponies fought with blades: in their mouth, with telekinesis, or strapped to wings. Before long, we figured out how to shoot things at each other without the use of magic, and not long after magic and science were combined into balefire bombs. When the bombs finally fell, it should have been the end of war, but ponies survived long enough to fight wars after the apocalypse.
We're resourceful like that.
I stared across the vast, empty expanse and sighed. Besides killing almost everything, the balefire bombs had the unfortunate effect of turning everything brown. I’d once imagined the entirety of the Equestrian wasteland was a shit taken by a lazy god who hadn't bothered to clean it up. Either that or it was some sort of cosmic joke. The bright and colourful coats of the inhabitants contrasted the brown and dreary landscape; there was probably something profound about that. The fact that my job was to watch out for signs of an attack, which could happen at any time, was proof of the sick nature of ponies. Don't let our pretty manes fool you.
“And that’s the news. This has been DJ PON-3, bringing you the truth, no matter how bad it hurts,” the PipBuck on my foreleg boomed. I’d got it years ago from a trading caravan but could never get anything but the radio to work. The way it wrapped around my leg like some Old-World magi-tech armour made me feel almost as tough as I looked. If a would-be raider wasn't scared enough by the rifle on my battle saddle, they might just think I was the 'Wasteland Saviour' (who was known to wear a PipBuck). Yes, I looked just like a dragon slayer. Maybe a baby dragon... if it was blind and deaf.
“You still list’nin' to that?” a voice drawled behind me. “And here I was thinkin' we finally turned ya off it.” Its owner trotted toward me. Red was her coat and red was her mane, paired with the deepest green eyes I had ever seen. “He's a liar and a cunt. Ain’t no good fight but survival.” With a flick of her curly mane she grinned at me.
I pointed my rifle at her, my mouth closing into the trigger bridle. “Now you’re starting to look like a raider to me,” I said, flat as I could.
“Hon, you couldn't hit the sea if you were swimmin'. You ever shot that thing before?” Ignoring my threat, she cantered closer, stopping only to wink seductively.
“Cans behind Marefort.” In truth, I hadn't practised in months, but I’d always been a crack shot. “Smaller than your head. Further away, too.”
“Now hon, what would you do without me?” Before I could really say much of anything she was nuzzling my neck gently; I could feel my face burn. I pushed her away with both hooves and turned back to my desolate wasteland. “So you like it rough?” I turned nearly as red as her mane.
“I'm on guard.”
My guardhouse was a dilapidated shack with only two and a half walls to its name that barely stood on its cliff-side perch, built from the remains of a carriage. It had a roof though, and when the rains came, I was thankful for that.
Popping up beside me and completely ignoring my protests, she peered into the brown... brownness. “I don't think those dead trees and rocks are going anywhere.”
“I'm not watching rocks.”
“That's all that is out there, hon.”
I flushed again. Somehow she always made me feel even stupider.
“Come on. Nobody will miss you,” she purred. “It wont take long... ”
“... and you know I'm not into mares,” I didn't turn my head to look at her, ‘cause if I did I knew she'd laugh; she was forever laughing at me. “And for that matter neither are you.” For all her flirting with everything she saw, I had never known her to go beyond that. Then again, I was well known for not noticing the world around me when I wasn't at my post.
“Eh.” She shrugged, sitting on her haunches. “I'll try anything once.Or twice.” She smiled enigmatically at me.
Yeah. That was not going to happen.
“Try somewhere else. I have rocks to guard.”
A unicorn pony could use their magic to float binoculars up to their face; being an earth pony, I had to nail my pair to a rotating swivel on the north half-wall-barrier-thing that faced... uh, north. The only real travel-able road from the north was a rutted trail weaving between high hills on either side. A dangerous trek that lasted for miles, and ambush could happen at any turn. I could see it all from my shack on its perch atop the highest cliff for miles. Anypony coming from the north, or goddess forbid east or west, I would see well before they got to Marefort, and only a fool would try coming from the south.
South was where Smooth Tongue and his raiders 'The Crimson Hoof' made their base, in one of the old Stables.
“I'm bored, and Mayor Mare seems to think I'm distracting the counting girls.”
I sighed, thinking of the kind of distracting she was doing.
“Your watch isn't for another three hours.”
“I'll wait.” She nudged herself dangerously close. “You don't mind, do you?” She purred in that sultry tone that was damn near impossible to say no to. “I knew you'd see it my way.”
I wondered briefly what she'd look like riddled with holes. No, that was too gruesome. As much as I wanted to smack her, she did make the endless brown waste slightly less boring.
“You know you're the only pony that doesn't sleep through your watches, right?” I didn't bother to acknowledge her.
“Don't know why we even bother watching... ” She continued on, oblivious. I was more concerned with DJ PON-3 droning on about a toaster repair pony than I was with Wildfire's ramblings. “Only raiders that come 'round these parts are killed long before they get within ten miles of Marefort. The Crimson Hoof sees to that.”
“The Crimson Hoof are raiders,” I said blankly. I watched a molerat fight a bloatsprite in the distance. Dimly, I wondered which one was the predator and which the prey.
She shrugged her dainty shoulders. “They protect us.”
… and in exchange we give them all the ammo in Marefort. Given it was built in an old army warehouse, we had ammo aplenty. Enough for an army bigger than any that existed. Every few years or so somepony would stumble upon a new cache, and trade would continue. With it we bought protection and food and medicine. But only from the Crimson Hoof and those the Smooth Tongue let on their lands. Without them, Marefort would be able to thrive, but with them we didn't burn. I wasn't sure if it was a fair trade, but it was close enough that nopony complained.
“And besides, without them I'd actually have to stay awake during my watches. I so enjoy my beauty sleep.”
Her beauty sleep was clearly effective. It was not for nothing she was called the hottest mare in Marefort.
“And I enjoy the radio.”
She was also the most talkative.
“What, hon, am I drowning it out? Silly me. I should just stop talkin' and let ya get on with listenin' to your propaganda.”
I rolled my eyes and shot her half a glance. I knew she was just trying to get a rise out of me, but it was difficult not to say something.
“It is not propaganda.” Once again I was not a very smart pony.
“Sure it is. Look, here he goes on 'bout how some great hero bloodied Red Eye's nose and managed to increase her radio signal. Nopony is that good. Either he's lying, or Celestia has come again. Far as I can figure he’s up to starting a revolution. A new world order where what he says goes.”
That was just stupid. Even for me. A revolution needed somepony in power to be revolted against, and there was no such pony. Every town had its leader, and most leaders bowed to some local warlord, slaver, or raider tribe. If DJ-PON-3 wanted to start a revolution he'd first need to create a large governing body to be usurped.
At least, I was pretty sure that was how revolutions worked.
“You could try arguing.” She huffed, disappointed.
“No thanks.” No doubt if I tried she'd make me seem the fool... Not that she wasn't doing that already.
“Do you really believe there's a pony out there doing good? Rescuing slaves, killing raiders, and kissing foals? That in this,” she waved a hoof towards my brown rocky wasteland, “there's a hero?” She smiled and then laughed when I didn't deign to answer. “Ain’t no heroes no more,” she said sweetly. “If there was, they'd be killed quicker then I can spit. You're better off listening to silence.”
“Are you done?”
“Why yes, hon.”
“Good.” There was no point arguing. As pretty as she was, I knew the sadness behind her eyes could not be reasoned with.
When we were just fillies, we stumbled across a cache of strange ammunition. When I looked at it, the colour shifted before my eyes like shadows dancing in candle light. First purple, then blue, always waving and changing. Mayor Mare, the first Mayor Mare anyway, called it Starmetal. When the Crimson Hoof came the Mayor refused to give up the ammo; said it was too dangerous. Smooth Tongue killed her himself. She was my mother, and he killed her. When Wildfire's father tried to step in, they killed him too. Then for good measure they took my brother as a slave and were on their way. I tried to comfort Wildfire, but she just pushed me away. She said she understood why they did what they did, survival of the fittest or some such. She’d refused to talk about it since.
Then again, I never did ask a second time.
So to her there were no heroes. Only fools and them what kill fools. This “Saviour of the Wastes” was just another fool. Couldn't say she was wrong. If half of what DJ-PON3 said was right, she was more than a bit of a fool. Then again so was I, and she had managed to do more good as a fool then I ever had. So I listened and prayed that one day she would come to Marefort. That she would kill the Crimson Hoof for what they did and give us freedom to trade and prosper.
Wildfire chatted beside me, almost completely unaware that I wasn't listening. It was gossip mostly: who as dating who, which of our scavengers hadn't come back, news about the outside world she got from traders and caravans -- things I never bothered to care about. All that mattered to me was doing my job, living, and maybe fantasizing about the Crimson Hoof's bloody demise. Schoolyard murmurs mattered little to me. Some ponies said I never paid attention to anything not two feet in front of me, and that was almost nearly true, save for the rocks I was guarding, of course.
“Marigold is sleeping with Nos. I think Nos is smitten but, well, you know how Marigold is--” She stopped and turned to me. “Are you even listening?”
She sighed heavily at that and slowly got to her feet. “You should, maybe, pay attention. You're not going to get anywhere if you never see what’s going on 'round you.”
Somehow I doubted knowing who was dating whom would ever save my life, but I kept my disbelief to myself.
“Whatever.” I saw a glint on the horizon. Lifting the binoculars to my eyes, I peered into the distance.
That piqued my companion’s interest. “Traders? Oh, how I love bartering.”
No doubt; though I wasn't so certain we'd ever get to trade with them.
“Three carts.” It seemed to me that they were a professional caravan, considering they had managed to train Bighorners to pull their waggons. I was curious as to what was inside those waggons to bring them all the way out here. “Maybe... a dozen ponies. It's hard to see... wait--” that couldn't be right, was that pony... flying? It had wings, and they even looked real.
“A pegasus.” Pulling away, I saw Wildfire squinting into the distance.
“You don't know what a pegasus is?”
I shook my head. What did she suspect? I was never very bright and cared little for history. “I thought they were just a myth. Winged earth ponies.” The thing did a barrel roll and a loop as it scanned the horizon. No doubt it saw my little shack. “It's beautiful.”
It wouldn't be for much longer.
“No flag.” There was a brief flash of horror in her eyes, then acceptance. This was Crimson Hoof territory, and any trader that came through only did by their word. Those that could raised a flag showing that they had freedom to pass. If they didn't, then... I sent a warning shot echoing over the valley at the 'pegasus'. I could see the creature regarding me, and swooping in for a better look but it failed to follow through when I didn’t take another shot.
Decapitated heads on spikes marked the road, but the caravan paid no heed. An old billboard painted over with a red Hoof print. They ignored that too. They were begging to be killed.
“Celestia watch you and keep you safe,”
The sweet tone of Velvet Remedy blared from my PipBuck as a bullet shot through the pegasus' wing in a spray of blood.
“As you travel down the path you choose.”
It was one of the newer songs, but I still found myself humming along as the pegasus tried to dive-bomb the ambush. Over a dozen Crimson Hooves by my count, and more storming over the hills from where they had been hiding.
“May Luna be with you and keep you strong, “
To the pegasus’ eternal credit, it managed to take out one of its attackers before taking another hit and spiraling to the ground. It was around then that the rest of the traders took notice. Panicked, they scurried for weapons, ammo, and a place to hide.
“So your courage you will never lose. “
The traders managed to form a semi-circle barricade with the carts, as their attackers came swarming over the hills. For a second, I thought I saw a colt with the traders. I chose not to look for it further, in case it was true.
“Remain loyal, honest and brave, “
The traders’ semi-circle exploded in a wave of blood and splinters so violent I felt the shock wave hit me in the chest like a hammer. Wildfire must have felt it too by the way she turned away and winced. Missiles were an unfair advantage for raiders... and I remember Marefort selling them to the raiders not days ago.
“Forget not the ones that you save,”
Miraculously, the pegasus pony had managed to get back up. Surrounded on all sides by hostile raiders, it put on a hell of a show. I watched as it took down two with its rifle before it jammed. The pony managed to pull out a spear and continue fighting despite multiple wounds. It was an impressive last stand, and like all last stands it eventually fell. Even as the pony was stabbed and shot to death, I felt nothing, not sadness or sickness or remorse. I had seen it all before.
“And in our hearts you will do no wrong... ”
I turned away from my binoculars. I had seen enough. It was true what Wildfire said: I really could sleep through my watches. I figured they only made us hold watch so they could show off their strength on the off-chance we ever sought to rebel against them.
“Hmm.” Wildfire had taken up looking at the carnage when I moved away. “Say, what did your brother look like?” I shot her a glare that could boil water. Meadow was not a topic that was discussed.
I answered anyway, “a Silver-grey coat, with a purple mane.” I hadn't seen him since I was a filly and the damned raiders stole him from me, but I would never forget him. He was taller than most but skinny compared to my bulky frame. When we wrestled, I always let him win because he was older, though I could have beat him if I tried.
“He had a rose as a cutie mark right?” I shot my head up and turned to her. Something was not right with her questioning, even I could figure that out. I nodded slowly. Her eyes studied my saddle, and gently she placed a hoof on my neck, and lead me to the binoculars.
Looking through, I saw a silver-grey pony with a purple mane and red-rose cutie mark showing under ripped barding. My brother. He was killing a helpless trader who’d survived the explosion.
They made him do it. I was sure of it. They’d kidnapped him and were forcing him to kill ponies. DJ PON-3 was reading the latest news as my head throbbed. Resting my head on the wall, I gritted my teeth and with a single kick shattered the binoculars into tiny pieces.
“This is insane!”
I ignored her protests. The inner armoury, where we kept all our best weapons and ammo, was locked by a heavy wood door. I bucked it open in one try. I was not pretty. In fact, I was bulkier than any pony in Marefort... but when you could buck anything that bugged you straight to the moon, who needed prettiness?
“You will die.”
I nodded numbly at Wildfire's protests. My hooves searched through boxes until I found the one I wanted. Flicking it open, I came face to face with the rifle of my dreams. Near twice as large as my current rifle, it fired rounds large enough to be used as bludgeons and its slick black coat made me positively wet. Designed for earth pony snipers, it had a scope I could flip over my right eye that was twice as powerful as the binoculars I smashed. I loved this rifle so much.
“Are you even listening? This is suicide. I-”
Unlatching my battle saddle, I went to work equipping the new weapon. It was hard work without unicorn magic, but we earth ponies were known for our stubbornness. I kept at it until it was good and stuck. Smiling at my own work, I lashed the saddle back on. It was much heavier, I realized, but not enough to make a difference to a pony of my size. I did a quick lap around the room to get used to it while Wildfire screamed obscenities. Only after I was done did I bother to reply.
“Be quiet or you'll wake the whole town.”
She face-hoofed as I grabbed a nearby pistol and placed it in a holster on my leg. If I was going to storm Stable 42, I couldn't rely on a single weapon, especially not one built for long ranges. Not being a unicorn pony made it difficult to switch between weapons, so I had to stick with the two.
It had been days since I saw him. The pounding in my head retreated to a dull throb, but I couldn't ignore it any longer. I knew what I had to do. If this “Hero of the Wastes” could free slaves by herself, then by the Goddess so could I. Maybe it was stupid; maybe I would die... but at least if I died I'd die doing something right for once. I had lived too long in apathy. It was time to make a difference. Even if the difference was only that one more corpse fed the ground.
“Silver...” she pleaded, “don't do this...” I almost wanted to call it off when I saw her eyes, red and sore with tears streaming down them. I nearly started crying too.
“I'm going.” I said after a long moment of silence.
“Then I’m going with you.” My friend clearly read too many stories if she was going to bust out that cliche. “And don't say ‘no'. Celestia knows we're going to get ourselves killed, but I can't in good conscience let ya go alone.”
I couldn't remember a time she’d ever cared for her conscience.
“No,” I said anyway.
“It's not up for debate.”
“No,” I repeated.
She stomped her hooves. “Yes, or I'll scream an' wake up the whole damn town.”
If they knew what I was planning they would never let me leave. The town, perhaps rightfully so, cared more for peace then it did justice.
“I... ” I was at a loss for words. Not that remarkable, considering how few I used. “Fine.” I sighed and turned away. Maybe she thought that this stunt would convince me to call it off, but that was never going to happen. If I was going to save my brother like I should have done years ago, and if she wanted to risk her neck for it, I couldn't very well say no.
She kissed my cheek, and I was quite thankful the room was dark enough to hide my blush. “Now that’s a good girl.” After saving Meadow I was going to buck her into next week. Kick her, I mean! Kick.
“You know how to use a battle saddle, right?”
“You bite, and bullets come out.” A utilitarian and, ultimately, correct response. I motioned her for her to grab a saddle. When we were finally armed and armoured, I led the way into Marefort proper.
The warehouse was huge, a proclamation of earth pony ingenuity. Houses of old train cars and hammered-together shipping crates lined the walls, stacking against each other until they reached the roof of the huge building, bridges crossing between the levels. To outsiders it would seem a maze of stairs, ramps, bridges and stands that managed to fit more ponies in a small space than was seemingly possible. When I was a filly, I saw it as an endless game of tag made all the more fun by the off chance that the smallest misstep could possibly send me to my death. Today? I saw a midden heap of scared mares too frightened of their own shadows to come out of their precious warehouse and see the sunlight outside... or what counted for sunlight in the Wasteland.
I tiptoed my way around garbage and junk, doing my best to make no noise; the houses were small, barely more than a single bedroom, and their walls were thin. Eventually I crawled my way to the far side, and took my last look at Marefort. For its problems, ugliness, and crowdedness it was still my home. Home was not a thing you hear often in the Equestrian Wasteland, so it was something to remember. Even if it wasn't perfect.
Sighing, I turned back, never to see it again.
Outside the air was cool and crisp with the slightest taste of radiation. The facility had once held three massive warehouses and an office building, but all save Marefort had fallen to ruin. Surrounding everything was a large fence of chain link and wood, with guard towers every hundred meters or so. Most would be unmanned, and in those that were manned, the guards were probably asleep. Up on the high cliff overshadowing the entirety of the complex was my Guardhouse, shining a small light. They wouldn't be looking at me though. The guard house looked over the northern pass, and I was heading south.
I cast a longing glance at the ruins of the westernmost building. “That's where it happened.”
“What?” Wildfire had been uncharacteristically quiet.
“Where me and my brother found the blue bullets. Starmetal. The reason they took him. How this all started.” I didn't bother reminiscing. It'd only hurt. I’d had enough of looking at the past and wondering how I could change it. I was going to fix the future or die trying, and why not? Saviours seemed to be popping up everywhere, and I was more than strong enough to throw my metaphorical hat into the metaphorical ring.
“Well.” Wildfire trotted up to me, way too close for comfort. “It's Hero Time.”
“Sniper... ” Of course, they had a sniper.
It had taken a few hours trot to the cliffs leading to Stable 42: two high cliffs with a skinny ravine between, leading to the door, that lead to the door that lead to the old stable. A small guard house perched on top of the cliff that the stable was nestled in -- not too dissimilar to my old haunt. It overlooked the only viable path to the Crimson Hoof headquarters.
I ducked back behind a rock, Wildfire hunched beside me as, and motioned for her to stay down. She had been talking the whole trip, though thankfully in hushed tones. I really should never have brought her. She was a good shot, but never at another pony. She winced at the sight of blood, and she never much cared for anypony but herself. Why in Equestria she tagged along I'll never know.
A shot echoed. I would never get the chance to ask.
Blood. There was so much blood. I could feel my heart shatter as I hoisted Wildfire's lifeless body on my back. Celesita dammit, why did she look? Why couldn't she keep her thrice damned head DOWN!? Dammit dammit. I could hear the blood dripping from her wound onto the ground. I could smell it. Why did I take her, why was I such an idiot?
I turned to the sniper, the scope snapped up over my eye. I wouldn't give the murderer a chance to shoot again. I bit into the battle saddle so hard I thought I broke it. His head exploded into bloody chunks. I could still hear Wildfire bleeding.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
My whole body shook. I closed my eyes, blinking away tears. Maybe, just maybe, when I opened them Wildfire would be smiling at me. Laughing at me. Telling me how stupid I was and making me blush.
When I opened them her head was still bleeding, and then I was retching.
When I turned my head to see her hanging off my back, her head a bloody mess, I think I cried. Or vomited again. My whole body hurt so much. Why did it hurt? My eyes stung with tears as I ran to the stable. They had to have medical supplies. Something. Wildfire couldn't die. I... she couldn't. We were supposed to be heroes. Heroines couldn't die. The pipbuck on my forehoof sang a sad song, but I couldn't hear the words. Somepony was sobbing too loudly to hear anything.
I ran my way to the stable. A wooden door leading to a tunnel barred my way, so I kicked it into splinters. As I ran, half-blinded by tears, half-blinded by darkness, I could still hear the blood.
Drip. Drip. Dripping.
Thankfully, the huge gear-like door of the stable proper had long since been moved. There were guards, but I must have killed them, because they were dead by the time I eased Wildfire down to the ground.
She was breathing. Quick shallow breaths that sounded almost painful. Looking at her head I saw why. I vomited again. Half of her head had been blown apart. The whole right side of her head was a bloody mess. Chips of her skull were plastered in her blood soaked mane, and... and I could see part of her brain, oh god.
She was already dead.
I could hear her breaths, and she struggled to talk, but she was dead all the same. A bullet to the head was not something a healing potion could fix. Hell, all the goddesses' magic couldn't bring her back. I fell to the ground beside her, my whole body aching.
“Heh.” Was she laughing? Tears streamed down my face. “I... never gotta... shoot...”
“... My gun.” I finished for her. Her eyes rolled into her head and I felt my stomach tie itself into knots. “No...” She looked at me with all her strength. It was hopeless. Why did it hurt so much? My head throbbed; my body heaved. She was shot, not me, so why did it hurt so damn much?
“Love... you, hon... sorry...” I shook my head. Why the hell was she apologizing. Blood flowed down her cheeks like macabre tears, but she kept talking. She was dead, and still she talked. “Wanted... impress you... hurts... it's dark... where are...”
“Stop... just... I'm sorry... please...” I cradled her body into my chest. “D-don't. Be quiet. I'll get... something... a unicorn... fix you right up. You have to..don't talk.”
“Sorry... I... been fun... I'm cold... why is... so dark? Kill... kill them... for me.”
Dead. Her warm blood flowed over my forelegs staining my coat a deep red. I wished I could die with her. Just stay there on the floor and never move again... but...
“What the hell?” A voice to my left. A raider. Wildfire had told me to kill them; it was her dying wish. Wrenching my pistol from its holster with my mouth, my tongue pulled the trigger unleashing a fury of lead. Ten shots, but the raider was dead by the third.
As gently as I could laid Wildfire's body down. A surge of emotion took me, and gasping, I fought back tears. Leaning down, I planted a kiss on her forehead. She tasted like iron. “I'll be back... I'll bury you...” I promised her. I knew if I didn't she'd haunt me, and part of me wouldn't have minded so much.
Three doors flanked the entrance area. Not caring about which, I charged down the centre one. Ponies needed to die, and I was just the one to make it happen. A strange fury took me. I needed to hit something. To break everything I saw. Things needed to die.
A poor buck turned the corner towards me. His eyes grew wide: surprised, worried, scared? I didn't care. Spinning in place, I bucked his head into a bloody pulp. There was a second. A skinny unicorn in barely-held-together barding. My tongue clicked the trigger of the gun still in my mouth. Nothing. When did I waste my clip? No matter I swung my head and sent the pistol flying into the unicorn's face. He backed up, shrieking obscenities, giving me just enough time to aim my rifle.
More turned the corner. I heard hoof steps behind me. Of course they knew. How many had I killed? That wouldn't go unnoticed. Hell, they probably had cameras. If they had then they knew about Wildfire... they'd know I had no intention of stopping. Good. Let them come.
One popped around the corner. My gun clicked. Crap. I jammed the barrel into the pony's eye. He screamed like a filly. He dropped after I pulled it out, grabbing at his eye socket and giving me all the time in the world to crush his skull. I grabbed the gun from his mouth and shut the door. I could hear the sound of distant hooves closing in on my location.
I took a quick look at my surroundings as I scraped the raider’s brains off my hooves. A medical station by the looks. Spying a huge medical cabinet by the door I peeked inside. I grabbed a few health potions and bandages as the door slid open. I scurried quickly to the side of the cabinet and gave it a quick kick, sending the whole thing toppling on an unaware pony. My heart was pounding but I felt calm. Nothing had ever made this much sense. Kill the fuckers what killed Wildfire. Simple.
“For fuck's sake, catch the bitch,” somepony yelled on the other side of the door. Part of me wanted to stand fight and die. It'd be easier that way... but then what would be the point? A few less raiders, a voice in my head told me.
I turned tail and ran anyway. I dully realized that had once been white but was now stained yellow. Two centuries of dirt and grime builds up. I leaped over a surgery table, kicking it over. I didn't notice the skeleton on it until it clattered to the ground behind me. For a minute I wanted to figure out how it died. What happened that caused raiders to invade this stable. Pick locks, hack terminals, figure out the truth.
I realized how stupid that was. A 200 year grave needed to be let lie. Curiosity killed the molerat... or something.
I just managed to squeeze out of the medical offices' second door, which was stuck halfway open. Down the hall I heard hoofbeats but saw nothing. Stairs. Of course. Stables ran deep into the ground of course there would be stairs. Maybe I should have thought of these things before getting my best friend killed.
I ripped my battle-saddle off. It hung heavy in my jaw, but I hardly had time to reload my weapons, and didn't have the advantage of magic to make it go faster. So I ran to the stairs, saddle limp in my mouth. A pony with a pink spiked mane was running up the stairs at me.
I swung my head and let go. I didn't see the rifle and saddle connect, but I heard the sickening crunch and the dull thuds as he crashed back down the steps. Looking down, I saw him tangled up in my saddle, his rump sticking up in the air. What kind of cutie mark was a pistol anyway?
I dove off the stairs and skidded past him stopping only long enough to rip the spear from his unconscious mouth. Funny, given his cutie mark, I would have expected a gun. At the bottom of the stairs was a short hallway with a glowing sign hanging from the ceiling. “Atrium?” I said, though with the spear in my mouth it sounded more like “Ariuh.”
I wasn't sure what an 'Atrium' was, but it seemed I was about to find out. Crashing though the door, I found myself in a large room. The floor I was on acted as a second floor balcony encircling the large open area below. Doors lined the sides of the balcony leading to several different rooms and hallways. Across the gap from the door I’d entered was a huge round window looking into an office.
On the other side of the window was an olive unicorn with a thick grey mane. I knew that pony. From where? I stared at him for a long time until I realized. It was him. He took the blue bullets; he killed my mother. I found him. Smooth Tongue. The leader of the Crimson Hooves. With all my strength I sent the spear flying across the gap. My laughter echoed in through the large room but died off.
Had the glass not been there the spear would have skewered the bastard like a stuck molerat instead of bouncing away harmlessly.
And now I was without a weapon, in an enemy fortification, having just announced my presence to everypony with functioning ears. Well fuck me sideways with a spear. The first pony to come scrambling through a door to my left would have happily obliged, had I not already been on him.
He was an earth pony with a thick brown coat and a pistol in his mouth. Frankly, mouth based firearms were wildly inaccurate at closer ranges so it was easy enough to smash his head in with my forehoof. This whole incursion made me glad I was so large, worth the teasing I got as a filly.
A searing pain ripped through my flank and I bucked my legs out wildly. I hit something -- the kick vibrated through my legs -- and I heard a scream and crash in the room below. I knew whoever it was was no longer a threat.. Another pain shot through me at my back knee. Gritting, my teeth I turned and struck out with my foreleg, my PipBuck smashing into the face of somepony.
They came swarming now. I could hear the stomping of hooves and a few pops but no gunshots. That struck me as odd, but I pushed through anyway, until something struck my neck, sending pain roaring up into my ears. Crying out, I reared.
I bit the closet pony in the neck. Kicked another. Bucked a third off my back. Another arc of pain soared through my chest. The world was spinning. Stables shouldn't spin. My whole body felt weary. My eyes dropped. Still, when I saw the eyes of a raider I headbutted him, sending him sprawling. More piled on me. I tried to shake them off. Tried.
There were too many. Dammit. I just needed to rest. I could kill them all. For Wildfire. If I could just rest.
“Oh, you're awake.” I heard a voice call out as soon as my eyes fluttered open. I should be dead. I'd been shot, and tackled, and stabbed too, I guess. Hay. I was on hay. Looking up, I saw Smooth Tongue staring down at me with large red eyes. “I know you must feel like you've had a string of bad luck that'd make a slave cringe, but trust me kiddo, the dice have been loaded since 'fore you stepped into my stable.” He smiled leaning on the desk on the other side of the room. “I am nice though, so I kept you alive despite it all.”
I tried to charge but fell. Chains jangled around my legs. “I am, however, not an idiot. You killed half a dozen good ponies, I am not about to let you walk about unabated.” I glowered at him, wishing I could set him on fire with my eyes. “Do you really hate me that much?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but my tongue felt thick and heavy. “Yeth.” I finally managed to slobber.
He chuckled. “Don't try to do to much. You're tough, though, I'll give you that.” He waved a hoof at a small dart on the desk beside him. “Two of these took down a Hellhound... you were shot with six. Heh. Summer Silk, grab our guest a drink.” A few seconds later a mysterious pony in full armour laid a bottle of sparkle-cola before me.
I wanted nothing more then to buck it at his face... but I found myself so parched I drank it up anyway. It was luke-warm and carroty but also quenching. “Why?” I managed to say, my tongue feeling looser.
“You are stronger than any pony I have ever seen... not too bright, I'll admit. Charging head-first into blazing guns like the bloody Hero of the Wastes? But you are strong. I am not a pony to throw away talent, so I had a mind to recruit you.”
“Pleasant. At least hear my offer.” His voice was smooth, charming and graceful. If he hadn't of killed my mother, maybe I would have listened.
“That's... not what I asked.” I didn't care why he kept me alive. “Why... why did you kill my mother? ”
“Hmm.” He studied me carefully. “Yes. Yes, I see it now. I thought you might be her. It was such a shame what happened that day. Such. I really had no choice.” Other then murder. I wanted to laugh, but it hurt too much.. “My hold on the Crimson Hoof was tenuous. The former leader had come down with a severe case of broken neck earlier that week, and I was in charge. You have no idea what those bullets were do you? Starmetal?”
I shook my head. They were blue, and purple. I remembered that much, but ‘starmetal’ meant nothing to me.
“More valuable then you can imagine, and more dangerous. I was new, and your mother denied me. In front of my herd no less. A herd that was still getting used to my power. Had I backed down they would have turned on me like dogs, tearing for bits of flesh. I regret what had to be done, but had I cowed, the Crimson Hoof and all the towns under its control would burn.” Towns? I had thought only Marefort was ruled by them. “One life, or hundreds, it was not a tough choice... but it was a hard one. I regret what I did, but it was needed. 'Nopony who seeks to rule can hope to keep their hooves clean of blood.' Luna said that once, and she knows more then anypony.”
“Often, and with great pleasure.” He smiled brightly and started to walk around his desk. “I rule thirteen towns, the largest of which is Marefort. I have secured trade lines with New Appleloosa, Fillydelphia, the Finders of Hoofington, and am currently working on a deal with Tenpony Tower once I can convince them I am no raider. Since I have taken control of the Crimson Hoof, everywhere my ponies go there has been peace.” My mind recalled the brutal slaughter of a caravan not days ago.
“You're raiders,” I said sharply, my hoof smashing the remains of the sparkle-cola bottle for emphasis. “You kill, pillage and rape.”
“Not I.” His eyes sparkled in the dull light, “I tend to wolves as well as sheep, and my flock is far from innocent. I try to root out the weeds, but I cannot remove them all. Too many. As much as I despise what they do, I need them. I have too much land and too few ponies.” I glared at him still. “Disbelieve? I care not.” He trotted up to the window and looked down at the Atrium. “Even if I was as you say, raping and pillaging is bad for me as well. I can control villages through fear, but it only takes one murder to send somepony like you off the deep end.”
“You have guards,” I pointed out. “They stopped me; they could stop anypony else.”
“I have some. Even still,” he knocked on the glass, “had this been broken, or not there, or had I been in the Atrium eating, I would be dead. No. Fear is good, but I need respect too. Most ponies see that, despite what they think of me, I am necessary. So I continue to be necessary, so that all can thrive,” he smiled at me, “I apologize, you must think me some old serials villain, gloating at his great works before I have you killed. That is not the plan.”
I struggled to my feet, the tranquilizers already wearing off. “What are you going to do with me then?”
“As I said before: If a pony resists you, you must feed them lead and fire. However, if they bend the knee, you must help them back up, else nopony will ever bend. I am giving you a choice, and I am telling you WHY you must need take it.” His eyes glimmered with... something. Hope, maybe. Whether it was hope for the future or hope I was fool enough to trust him I could not rightly say.
“You are scum.”
“All ponies have their place. I am sure you'd like to smash me. Beat me until my face was as unrecognizable as your friend's.” I charged at him again, and again the chains sent me falling to my knees. “Worry not, she will get a funeral.”
“Thank you,” I said bitterly, but with a touch of relief. If I could not complete her final request, I was glad she would have rest at least. “For Wildfire's sake and nothing else.”
“As I was saying, you could kill me. But then Marefort would burn.” I tugged at the chains again to no result. I could hear them straining to contain me. Creaking and groaning against my inequine strength. “I have appointed no single second in command. I have five, in fact. They hate each other. Should I die by an assassin’s... spear, they would fight. Marefort would be attacked, ravaged and sacked. It has enough ammo for a war, after all. Tell me, do you still wish me dead, knowing this?”
“Yes,” I said instantly.
He sighed heavily, turning to me. “Really? You hate me that much?”
“You kill ponies.”
“So do you.” I shied away. Something about that hurt more then it had any right too. “Tell me, where do you think I get the stallions to defend my land... do you know where my army comes from?” I shook my head, and he facehoofed. “Idiot. How many bucks live in Marefort?” I stopped. There was Grey Wind... but he was just a colt. Old Redwyne was so old he couldn't walk anymore. Bright Flame was maimed and only had one leg, and a few other colts whose names I could not remember. Was that truly all there was? I opened my mouth and shut it.
“Do you get it?”
It came. Slowly. So few stallions at Marefort (funny, I never realized what the name meant before). So many Crimson Hooves. My brother taken. I dropped my head low. It throbbed as the horrid realization came to me. “You spent last night killing the brothers, fathers and sons of the ponies you grew up with. Of your friends. Even if I let you go, they wouldn't accept you back.”
My body seethed. All my muscles tensed, and the only thing I could think of was splattering his brains. I moved, slowly at first. The chains binding my legs to the floor creaked as I pressed. The stress burned my legs, but I inched forward despite it all ignoring the sharp pain. Then, with a resounding crack, the chains shattered. Smooth Tongue turned, his eyes wide.
Only for that damnable, quiet guard Summer Silk to tackle me. Was he a fool? I snapped chains like small ponies snapped twigs, I was not to be messed with. Wrestling him off, I rammed him up against the office wall, my head bashing against his helmet. Bad idea. I recoiled and backed up as my forehead throbbed.
He moved forward at me again, mores the pity. With an almost lazy blow I cracked my PipBuck against his head sending him sprawling to the floor. I spat blood, moving forward as his helmet rolled off. I reared up ready for the kill. And stopped.
A pony with a silver-grey coat and purple mane stared up at me. Somehow I knew beneath his armoured-barding there would be a rose cutie mark. “Meadow... ” I gasped. It couldn't be. My brother. Why... why did he strike me? I was going to save him... I.
“Silver Storm,” he replied coolly.
“What the fuck!” I screeched. Behind, I could hear Smooth Tongue chuckling. “... I came to save you! Wildfire! She... ” The words caught in my throat, and I would have cried all over again but my anger burned away the tears.
He brought himself to his his feet and glared. “I don't need rescuing,” he said his voice like a whip, “you fucking idiot.” Those words hurt more then any wound I had suffered. “I am here by choice. You heard Smooth... this is the best way. We have peace, and you're trying to fuck it up!”
“You're a raider.” I refused to believe. My brother. I... he was always so kind to me. When the other ponies hated me and made fun, he comforted me. This pony... he couldn't be the same one. No.
“A Crimson Hoof,” the silver-grey pony countered.
“The same thing.”
“No. We protect ponies. Dammit Silver, why can't you just se-”
“I saw.” My voice was a hoarse whisper. “I saw you kill traders. Murder them. I saw the blood on your smiling face. I wanted to think that they forced you... that... that it wasn't you who I saw. Just who they made you become. A shadow. That you only did it to survive. I was wrong... about so many things.” Every muscle in my body felt so tense, like they were about to snap. “I... ”
I looked at him. He was still my brother, I realized at last. Same as before. Only he was wrong. He was excusing himself; he had become a monster. Or... either that or I was the monster trying to break peace. But... how could I accept peace at this cost! Why can't anything be clear?! All I wanted was to save my brother! To be a hero! What the fuck happened to good and evil? When did everything become so confused? Why... why...
I stomped my hoof leaving a bloody indent in the floor.
Smooth Tongue touched me. Trying to comfort me? I bucked him. Behind, I heard the glass window strain and shatter. A half-second later, a deep thud.
My brother. No. He wasn't, not anymore. He stood in front of me, shocked.
He reached for his pistol so I charged through him. I bucked the office door open and escaped. To where, I didn't know.
A blinding pain shot up my left foreleg. Looking down I saw a hole and blood. Shot. I was shot. By who?
It didn't matter. I ran. Anypony was welcome to come and try to stop me.
I don't know how I managed to get out. But I did. Hours later, or perhaps days, I stopped and laid down atop a cliff. I had just managed to get the bullet out of my leg. It hurt more coming out. I may have screamed.
Dropping the fragment beside me, I looked at it closely: twisted metal shards dyed deep red with my blood. Beneath that was something else. A deep purple colour that seemed to burn through the blood. Or was it blue? I turned my head, and the colours shifted and twisted until I realized what it was.
Starmetal bullet. More dangerous than I knew, Smooth Tongue had told me. Yet when I drank a healing potion and wrapped my leg up tightly with the bandages I scavenged from Stable 42, it didn't feel any different then a normal gunshot. Exhausted, I closed my eyes and rested.
When I awoke my leg was stiff, but that was good considering I’d been shot. Getting up slowly, I started walking. I didn't know where I was going. Smooth was right about one thing: Marefort would never have me back. So I walked south, away from the Stable. The only way I knew I wouldn't be seen.
The first few days I managed with the supplies I had. Thankfully, the Hooves never took my saddlebags when they captured me, and I’d prepared enough supplies for two. I didn't feel thankful though. Each step was a test. Each time I moved forward, I fought the urge to lay down and never move again. I deserved it. I’d sacrificed the life of my best friend and-- all for a dream and a voice on the radio.
Even the upbeat tunes of my PipBuck couldn't keep me happy. I may have cried. I just kept walking. After a few days my leg got stiffer and stiffer. When I unwrapped the bandages I smelled decay. My leg. The coat had fallen off and the skin was deathly purple. Starmetal.
I kept walking. My leg got worse. It smelled like death, and soon I could not move it all. I ran out of supplies, too. I kept walking. The sun filtered by the ever-present cloud layer beat down on me. But I had to walk. I dragged my leg. I hoped to find somepony, anypony to take me in.
I spat out dirt, but I didn't have the strength to get up. I had eaten my food, drank my water. I was going to die. With all my massive strength I tried to move, but my body roared in protest, and I fell back down. I closed my eyes. My whole body hurt. My stomach rumbled and growled and stung. My throat was parched to the point I tried to drink the dirt. I was nothing. I managed to look back at my body. Once strong, now feeble. Between the barding and saddle packs I saw my cutie mark.
Three rocks. Maybe that was my destiny. To become part of the wasteland, to feed the rocks with my body. My soul had already died with Wildfire, and it was all I had left. The wasteland took everything I had to give and wanted more, like a greedy foal. It would take my cutie mark too if it could. I didn't deserve it. I didn't deserve life. I failed at everything I’d ever done, because I was too stupid to see. If only.
War never changes. I never understood it, not until that moment. Methods change. Ponies change. Organizations change. But in the end war takes everything from you and leaves only a shell. That part... that part never changed.
I hadn’t lasted a week when all was said and done. The last thing I heard was my PipBuck relaying the static-y news. “Arbu is dead. Reports have reached me that every pony in the town, over two dozen, have been killed. And listen children, I don’t know how to say this… but…
“But it looks like it was the Stable Dweller who was responsible. “
There was no such thing as heroes.
(A/N: First I would like to give props to Kkat for creating a world so enthralling it basically begged to be written in. credit goes to theBSDude for editing and making the thing awesome. ~No One~ )