“Dear Princess Celestia,
“I fucked up.” I'm not sure why I spoke. Maybe it was to drown out the screaming outside, or maybe it was to keep myself thinking and awake. The pain raged through my skull worse than anything I had experienced before. Half my vision was a black and red blur. “I don't know what I was thinking.”
With all my strength, I got myself to my feet, leaning heavily on the wall. Blood poured from my eye, dripping onto the floor like macabre tears. “I was trying to show her, show her why I was a terrible mother.” I reached back but had to stop to gasp, closing my one eye tight. Fuck, it hurt so much. But I didn't allow myself to fall. I had to keep fighting. “I guess I did that.” That at least happened the way I wanted. Everything else, well, I guess you could call it temporary insanity. Or me being me.
I never should have trusted somepony named Dragonslayer. I never should have taken the job. I never should have taken the shot. I never should have set that colt on fire. In my mind, he was still burning. I doubted he'd ever go out. “So I murdered a child. To teach another a lesson. Then I killed a village. More than a village.”
I reached back and opened up my saddle bags. Sitting on top of the assortment of junk was a vial of med-x. You know, I wasn't sure where I bought it from, but there it was. Always waiting for me when I needed it. And I seemed to need it a lot. “Are you even up there, Celestia?” I doubted it. Part of me still had that foal-like belief she was watching over us, but I found it hard to believe. “Can you see me?”
I jammed the vial into my back.
The pain faded, but it didn't leave me completely. How could it? I lost my eye. Still, it was enough to keep me upright. “Do you hate me, Celestia? You should. I'm not a very good pony.” I took a few steps, as Subtlety shifted uncomfortably on my back. “I killed that colt. I saw him burn, so you should hate me. Can a goddess hate?” That's a stupid question. Of course they couldn't.
I stepped out of the room. Was the hallway always so long? I took a few more steps, my knees shaking. Dammit, I took the vial; I shouldn't be hurt. I should be strong. I knew I only had a single vial left, I don't know how I knew, but I knew. “For what it's worth, Celestia, I'm sorry.”
I stumbled into the nearest wall with a thud. Was the room spinning? Rooms shouldn't spin. So much spinning. Across the hall I thought I could see Wildfire smiling at me. She wasn't real, but I saw her. I blinked, and she was gone, but I could hear the voice in my ears. You're working yourself too hard... take a break.
No. No breaks. Ponies were dying because of me. Because I make stupid choices. I took a job to start a war, but I always took a job to end one if it started. That mattered too. “I'll try harder. I'm sorry. I've learned something important.” My leg collapsed bringing me to a knee. It shouldn't hurt so much. I was only shot once. Only once. “I learned...”
There was a figure in front of me. I could barely see. “Celestia?”
“What?” The voice. I knew that voice. “You're delusion-- Celestia's Ghost, what happened to your eye?!” High Stakes. That was it. “C'mon, there's a battle out there. If you fight, you'll die. We need to get you to safety.”
“No.” I shook my head, sending spikes of flame into my brain. “Med-X. In my bag. Healing potion. And...” And what? What was I going to say? “Ammo. Change it.” With my half-vision I could see him wince back, a look of confusion on his face. “I have a job. To do. Find Serenity, keep her safe.”
“You're going to risk your life for zebras?” Zebras I brought into this. Zebras I killed. Yes. Of course. I had a contract... and. And I had to prove to myself, and to Celestia, that I wasn't a lost cause. “You're insane.” Behind him, I could see Wildfire smiling at me. Of course I was insane. How could I be anything else? Ever since the orb, maybe before.
“Do it.” He gave me the potions and a few seconds later, the Med-X was flowing through me, and I could feel my eye stitching itself back together. Sort of. My sight didn't return though, and the look on High Stakes’ face was enough for me to realize it was a lost cause. “Thank you,” I grumbled, my mind clearer, and the visions gone.
“I'll find your daughter.” Was he mocking me, or being earnest? Being around Flare so long, I couldn't even tell the difference. I wished Flare was there. He always knew how to lighten the mood, even if at the expense of my pride. “First.” With a delicate magical touch he tore off a piece of the tapestry hanging on the hallway wall and quickly fashioned me an eye-bandage-patch-ugly-thingy. “Keep it clean. Maybe if we can find a pony with medical skill, it can be salvaged. If not, then at least you will be free from infections.”
“Thanks,” I said again, and stormed my way down the hallway.
Upon reaching the stairs I half ran, half slid down them. I was three stories up, and I needed to get to ground as fast as equinely possible. I couldn't risk not being as fast as possible. I don't know how, but I was going to stop this massacre. This battle. This battle I started.
Just as I got to the bottom step the door burst open. How long had it been since they started fighting? How had they gotten so far so fast? The pony that broke the door down was a bulky stallion in mercenary armour. Two more followed after him. Why were semi-religious protestors so well armed? It didn't make sense.
I managed to take two of them down in three consecutive shots. The third, a mare with red hair, darted off to my right, into my blind spot. Grunting in annoyance, I slid into cover behind large desk. Bullets pierced through it in a flurry of splinters as easy as a fish through water, but since she couldn’t see where I was, every shot missed. Cover didn't necessarily mean protection, but it could still save your life.
The burst of fire stopped, and I could have swore I heard the sound of a gun reloading. No time to lose. I jumped up, slamming my forelegs onto the table for stability. I must have accidentally hit a button on my pipbuck as suddenly everything whooshed.
The sounds of the battle were gone. Everything seemed so deathly still. I could see the red maned mare in front of me in perfect detail. Suddenly I was staring at... words? Amber words seemed to fill my vision.“Welcome To SATS: Stable...” I started to read, only to find to my frustration I was unable to move my lips when I read. That made things difficult. Okay. Needed to get out of the twilight sparkle zone and....
“Skip?” I said, reading an amber word near the bottom of my mind-text. Suddenly the message vanished, leaving me still very still. The mare across the room was highlighted in an eerier amber glow, and for some reason her head's glowing highlight thingy was thicker. Beside it was more glowing words. 95... and then some sort of mathy symbol I didn't recognize.
Sure, that sounded good. I guess. Off to the side, I saw a flash of words and then suddenly I was back in reality.
Subtlety fired without me even realizing. The mare's head became a red smear on the wall, and all over the room really. It was a little disappointing to see the majestic and aged carpet on the floor splattered and destroyed because of me. Of course, it'd be more disappointing if I didn't get out there and stop the fighting.
I ran through the door of the building (trying to forget my strange time standing still adventure) and into hell. Somehow the camp had caught fire almost completely, and all the ponies from it were flooding into Karkhoof like a stampede. Bloody battles seemed to be taking place in every house, but I'd no idea who was winning.
Celestia's Vision seemed to have split into various smaller, and torch-bearing, mobs. Each was headed by two ponies in heavy mercenary-style armour. The groups fanned out across the town, picking houses at random and setting fire to them, and killing any zebra that got too close. You would think this was a clear indication of who was winning, but....
A single Zebra burst out of the remains of a house, blood drenching his face. One of the mercenaries sent out a blisteringly fast burst from his automatic rifles, only to hit nothing but air. In all my life, I'd never seen anyone move so fast. The Zebra ducked and weaved, not a single bullet hitting him, and slammed his forelegs into the the pony’s head. It snapped backward with a sickening crunch. The pony fell, and the Zebra went to work on the rest of the mob. Why didn't they just do that in the first place!
“Strange.” I turned to see Zahini standing beside me, his face grim. “You show up, and suddenly everything goes to hell. Is there some sort of secret you do not wish to tell?” Wait, was he talking in rhyme? This really wasn't the time. “I should kill you.”
“Please don't.” I grunted, a numb pain washing through me. “Trying to save you.” I ignored him; there really wasn't time to talk. Instead, I charged a nearby mob of twenty ponies.
The mercenary directing the group tilted her head at me as I charged. I could see confusion in her eyes. I guess in her mind there was no way a pony would be rushing to defend Zebras. Maybe that was true, but she hadn’t taken into account just how colossally stupid I could be. The mare got off a single shot from her pistol before I rammed her. Sticking my head between her forelegs, I lifted her up with my neck and then sent her soaring through the air.
The second mercenary in the group turned to me, firing off a shot that embedded itself into my barding. Subtlety was faster than he was, as it took off his head at the neck before he could fire a second shot. Gore splattered the mob, and I saw their collective eyes go wide. Just like that, they scattered, most running for other small groups or back towards burning camp.
“Good. Run.” In the part of my vision obscured by the eye-patch, I saw a splash of red. Wildfire was there in my blinded vision shaking her head at me. “Go away.” I said to her. “You're dead.” She didn't, so I ignored her and charged off. If I could, I would find Righteous Song, the leader of Celestia's Vision, and use her to stop this madness. This madness I caused.
Serenity would never forgive me for this, that much I was sure, but I wasn’t even sure if I could forgive myself anymore. The smell of smoke and fire burned my nostrils, but beyond it I could sense the stench of death, just beneath the surface. It was something I'd tasted before, but somehow it tasted all the worse because I was the cause of it.
Fuck, depressing thoughts. Go away, I'd ponies to save.
I took two steps when it hit me. That was, a something cracked my skull and sent me stumbling. Fuck my ability to see right! I turned and aimed Subtlety to see a striped muzzle glaring at me. Magical time stopping powers activate! Nothing. Fuck. “Wait!” The zebra ignored my call and charged me. Her hoof blow was deflected off my metal leg. “Stop it!” She turned and bucked. My neck snapped back, just dodging her hooves. Damn, she was fast. “I said.” I said as I ducked a hoof strike. “Let me!” I caught her hoof with my metal leg. “Speak!” With all my strength, I threw her into the ground. I watched her skid across the ground before saying. “Okay?”
The mare slowly got to her feet but said nothing. Unfortunately, she also didn't stay long enough to let me speak my piece and instead ran off into the din of war to find an easier target to fight. Fuck this was...
BANG BANG BANG
Bullets slammed into my legs, and chest and sent me stumbling to a knee. That's okay; I wanted to lose more blood anyway. I gritted my teeth and looked up to see one of the mercenary ponies pointing a rifle at my head. My shoulder burned as the aura around the rifle glowed.
Looking up at the barrel of the gun, I gave a grim smile. Just pull the trigger. End it. I started this battle, it was only fitting I died during it. Do it.
The pony behind the gun balked. Startled by my words. Good, I didn't want to die anyway. I batted the rifle away with my pipbuck, stumbled to my feet and blew his face off. He should have killed me. It would have been more just. But since when did the Wasteland care about justice?
I shook the thoughts out of my mind. Screams of pain came from all around. Dammit, it smelled so bad. Why did I have to do this?. I closed my eye, but all I could see was the colt burning and Wildfire's disappointed green eyes. I wasn't sure what was worse.
It didn't matter. I had to stop this. Somehow. All around me was chaos, how was I supposed to....
There was a scream.
It sounded like Serenity. I took off in the direction of the scream. A mob of ponies were in my way, so I crashed into them. And trust me, when I crashed into ponies they got the fuck out of the way or got crushed. It didn't matter to me which. That scream was imbedded in my mind, and that's all I could focus on. Was it strange I orchestrated this whole thing to make Serenity hate me but still charged in when I thought she was in danger?
In the end, it wasn't even Serenity. Instead, when I got my way through the crowd of murderous pastel ponies, I found a white pony with a long blond mane standing over. Something. “Not the children,” She said. “I told you all-”
“They killed Post Haste!” Somepony in the mob spoke, but it could have been any one. “Why should we hold bac-”
“Silence.” It was then I realized I'd found Righteous Song... and she was protecting a zebra child from harm. “Are we not better than they? You are comparing our actions to savages, so does that not make you too a savage?” The crowded quieted. “This was to be a last resort, but if we cannot stop the murder of children how can we presume to be in the right?” The mare stood, her hair blowing in the wind. “Call the Steel Hooves; tell them to retreat. We have taught the Zebras a lesson today, but we cannot continue killing foals.”
The mob stopped but did not do what was asked.
“NOW!” she screamed, and the mob scattered.
She stood protectively over the striped form. She was here to kick these Zebras out of their homes; why did she care? Her eyes snapped to me. “Who are you? I don't recognize you. What do you want?”
“You're a mother, aren't you?” I guessed. Her features softened just a little bit. I wasn't sure how I knew. It was just the way she was standing over that foal protecting him. I'd seen it before.
“You look injured, I will have the medics look after you.” She turned away. All around, the ponies were fleeing, but the Zebras didn't follow. It seemed that after the ponies they were fighting turned to run, the Zebras refused to follow. It didn't make much sense. “We need to leave, now.”
I didn't, instead I turned my eyes to the sky. I heard it before I saw it peak over the horizon. A huge black vehicle flying through the sky. A Vertibuck. I'd seen them before around Dise, but why would they be here. It made no sense. Until I realized I had told Flare to meet us here.
Well, at least he came in style.
Of course, my Med-X had to wear off then. Even as Righteous Song fled, I fell and faceplanted into the muddy dirt. Yum, dirt. I closed my eye and let myself drift into pain-fueled unconsciousness. I was not looking forward to the nightmares.
“O-once. Up on. A Time.” I took a deep breath and closed my eyes to give them rest. Not too long though, because I could feel Wildfire's stern gaze. Opening them back up, I looked down at the book and the row after row of squiggly writing. How could anypony look at this and understand? It wasn't that hard to find my spot though... I was still on the first line. “In the... mag...” I scrunched up my muzzle at the word, and tried to sound it out. “Ma-gick-a-clay”
“Magical, hon.” Wildfire's voice was soft, yet I for some reason I still felt a fool for not getting it.
“Magical,” I said a again, and tried to continue. “Land of...” What the hell was that. Words should not be that long. It was... argh. “E-que...rest...” I blinked and rubbed my eyes with my hoof. I could do this. They were just stupid words! Everypony else could read, so dammit I would too! Even if it killed me.
I looked down at the troublesome word. Yep, definitely kill me...
“Eck...west...try....eh?” I winced at what even I knew was a mangling of the word. I peeked over to Wildfire standing beside me. Turns out she was just as beautiful as the last time I looked, only her green eyes seemed sad. No, that was not the right word. Her eyes looked to be pitying me. If there was a clearer indication I got the word wrong, I didn't know.
“Silver...” I winced at her tone, “where do we live?”
I looked down at the word again. “That word doesn't look like 'Marefort'.”
She chuckled softly. “No hon, try again.” Try again? I stared at her blankly. We did live in Marefort. What else could she be saying? “Equestria.”
“Oh!” I perked up and went back to the word. Now that she mentioned it, it did look a lot like Equestria. Argh, I wasn't a smart pony. Reading should be left for eggheads. Not that Wildfire would let me stop; she had ways of making me do what she wanted. Okay, next part. “Equestria, there we are two re... regl... regarl... reg...”
Fuck it! I kicked the book up and sent it flying through the air and into a wall. I looked around and glared at everything. Our house used to belong to Wildfire's father, and like most houses in Marefort it only had a single room. Ours, however, came equipped with two beds and a single table in the centre of the room. So it was a little bit cramped.
“Silver!” I winced and brought my glare to Wildfire's green eyes. Okay, I could do this. Just keep glaring. Keep. I couldn't hold up the facade and look at Wildfire too, so my expression softened and I looked away. Damn her. “You are the one who wanted to learn.”
“That was before I realized how difficult it is...” I grumbled. It was difficult. I don't know how ponies thought it was so easy. Most of those squiggly letter things looked exactly alike. In my annoyance, I kicked the nearest thing, and that was the skinny mattress on the floor that served as our bed. It wasn't really big enough though...
“Well...” She trotted around me to make sure I was looking at her. “If you want to read to Foundation, you need to learn to read.” I winced at that. Ever since we found Foundation in the ruins of her home, and started living together to take care of her, Wildfire had taken to reading a bedtime story to her every night. After a month or so, I got a little jealous. So Wildfire agreed to teach me. I was regretting my rashness a little bit, but it would be worth it if I could read Foundation that story.
“Argh.” I sat down on out mattress bed thing. “I need a break.”
“Oh.” Suddenly, her muzzle was way too close to mine. I could feel her warm breath on my neck sending a tingling sensation down my spine. “Well, hon, I know how to make you relax.”
“Stop it.” Was I blushing? Argh, I knew she did this just to make me flustered. “I don't swing that way...”
“You did last night.” I squeaked and felt myself get an even deeper shade of red. Which should have been impossible.
“I...” I flattened my ears, and looked away. “That's... it's.” I didn't like mares! Really. It was only Wildfire; she was different. Something about the way her mane flowed down her neck, or that smile she gave when she was thinking of being mischievous. It wasn't fair! “What if somepony sees us?”
“They'll pretend they didn't and walk away...” she said with a fluttering of eyelashes. I know she didn't want anything, she was just trying to get me going. “C'mon, it won’t be long.” She was so good at getting me going...
It was really hard to say no. I don't know why I didn't wanted to be thought of as a fillyfooler, but to me it just felt weird. Maybe because I wasn't one... except when Wildfire got so close and I felt warm... warm in so many places. I opened my mouth to protest.
And she kissed me.
All thoughts of abstaining vanished in my head as I touched her lips and melted into the kiss. She always tasted of raspberries, and her kisses couldn't have been sweeter. If I had it my way I would have stayed there until I grew old, and let her kiss me until we both died. It would have been a good life.
“Oh.” I opened my eyes to see a charcoal grey filly staring at us from the door, her ruby red eyes (Poetic, no?) staring up at us in confusion. “Sorry. I didn't mean to... I'll just.” She looked away and squeaked a bit, trying to hide behind her long pale-green mane (which reminded me that she needed it cut. It was so long it was reaching the floor and was a frazzled mess overall).
“It's fine,” Wildfire said, giving me the cue to scramble away. “Have you been playing with the other kids?” Her tone was hopeful, but that hope was smashed when the filly shook her head. Foundation liked to go out and watch the other foals play, but if they asked her if she wanted to join, she usually shook her head and looked away. Some of the other parents (is it strange I just thought of myself as a parent... I didn't feel like one, but there wasn't really another word to use) came to us, worried she was a mute. It was a bit shocking actually, as she had never been afraid to talk to us, but with anypony else she seemed too timid to talk.
Not that I could blame her, after what she went through.
“Sorry,” she said meekly, stepping slowly into our house. She always seemed too wary, afraid the floor was going to give way, sending her plunging down the levels of Marefort. With a slight smirk, I picked the brush off the table, reached over and hooked Foundation with my foreleg, and pulled her over to my bed. Sitting her down beside me, I started brushing the tangles out of her hair. For a filly that apparently didn't play, she had the messiest mane I'd ever seen.
“What did you do then?” Wildfire said as she trotted across the room to sit opposite us on Foundation's bed.
“Mari-” She squeaked, as I tugged a bit too hard at an aggressively tangled knot. “Marigold. She wanted you. She, um, said...” The filly looked pleadingly up at me, but I shook my head. Her hair was getting untangled, and that was the end of it. “She said Smooth Tongue. Said he agreed.”
I raised an eyebrow over to Wildfire, who looked contemplative. I tried to stay uninvolved in the politics of the town, but I knew the name Smooth Tongue well enough. How could I not know the name of our tyrant raider leader? “Agreed to what?”
“Independence,” Wildfire said softly. “We have been trying to... disassociate ourselves with the Crimson Hoof for a while. So Mayor Mare, Marigold, Nos, and I proposed a plan. A deal...” She looked at me with a smirk, “You wouldn't understand the specifics, but it seems he's... well he's let us become independent. Just trust me, it's a good thing.” I nodded at that and continued to brush Foundation’s hair. I didn't understand politics, trade, or negotiations, but I did know Smooth Tongue and hated him for what happened to my mother. Any chance to get as far away from him was a good thing in my eyes.
Everything you love is going to die.
My eyes darted around. I could have sworn I heard something.
Don't love, it hurts too much.
There it was again! Foundation and Wildfire both seemed not to notice but I could have sworn.
Let them go, it'll be easier...
I realized that I recognized the voice.
The voice was mine.
My eyes fluttered open.
Sorry, that should have been “eye”. My left one, as my right seemed to still be wrapped in that makeshift eye patch. With a groan, I started to look around the room but didn't really see much -- until a pony caught my attention. A skinny pegasus buck in pitch black armour was staring at me from across the room. His helmet showed none of his features and came equipped with creepy bug-like eyes. Behind him, I saw his tail swinging back and forth, looking more like a radscorpion’s tail than a ponies. Carved into the armour's flank was a picture of a cloud and lightning bolt.
“Like it?” What, me? Wait a second, I knew that voice. “Been a hell of a long time since I wore it. Was my grandpappy's back when he fled the skies, and it passed down to me once I came of age.” Wait a second. My eyes shot to a the pair of Grenade launchers sitting in the corner of the room. “What happened to your eye, anyway? Wait, wait, don’t tell me. Someone tried to shoot your brains and missed?”
The stallion laughed, reared up on his hind legs, and paused there as if waiting for me to take a mental picture. Yup, it had to be Flare. “Took you long enough to figure out. Can't say I'm that surprised. It is I, Flare. You did tell me to meet you here after I lost Curly Fries and the metal flank brigade.”
Something wasn't meshing with my remembering of events though. He must have brought the Vertibuck, but as far as I knew he wasn't back with the Enclave yet. Back in Dise, he had said he'd be able to join in about a week... which was about how long it had been. Huh. But then if he joined back with the Remnants, why even come back to us at all. And why would he bring that flying... thingy.
“I suppose you should know the Remnants were hired by House to bring you back once you finish his task...” I knew Flare well enough to know he was smirking at me, “Considering what I saw outside, I am guessing we're just about done here. Didn't take you long at all did it?” No. It didn't. Apparently starting a war was as easy as shooting a kid. Post Haste, I reminded myself. It was important to remember his name.
“What happened...” my throat felt scratchy.
“Funny. I was about to ask you the same thing...” he whipped his scorpion tail back and forth. “Not that you ever know. From what I hear, somehow both sides say the other shot first. There was fighting until Celestia's Vision retreated. Then, according to Aghna, the Steel Hoof mercenary company broke its contract with Righteous Song forcing her to take her cult back to Dise or risk being slaughtered in the inevitable Zebra counter attack. Congratulations, whatever you did got the two sides to leave each other alone.” At the price of how many lives? I didn't feel all that victorious. “Cheer up, mopey. They were going to fight no matter what. All you did was make'em fight sooner.”
Maybe that was true, but I couldn't get the memory of Post Haste burning. Even if the two sides did fight, without me here Post Haste wouldn't have burned.
“Great, I make my triumphant return to find my travelling buddies are depressed.” He shook his head, and used his forehooves to pry off his helmet. Yup, it was definitely Flare under that armour. I think he looked more badass without the helmet on, because it made me realize it was in fact Flare I was talking to. And the contrast from what Flare was like when I met him and what he was like now was so strong it was hard not to be wowed.
“Serenity...” Right. Last time I saw her, she watched me murder a colt. Fuck. She was going to hate me... I know that's what I wanted! It didn't make me feel any better about it though! She needed to hate me so she could learn how not to act, but, still, it hurt.
“Last time I saw her, she was sitting in a corner replacing Scootaborg's tail with wires.” Right, not creepy at all. I rolled off the bed (oh, I was lying in a bed, I guess that was important) and moved to the door. “Really? You're leaving. And here I thought you missed me. Such a shame. Shouldn't you, like, ask about what happened? Or! How about where you are? These are important things.”
Shut up, Serenity was more important.
Besides, looking around the room I could see it was the centre building in Karkhoof. This obviously meant there had been enough survivors that they could afford to give me medical attention, and that they believed I was on their side because of my actions during the battle. Meaning they were stupid for not realizing what I did.
“C'mon.” Flare gave a weary sigh, and followed me into the hallway. Apparently I was getting smarter, because as soon as I entered, I could tell what floor I was on. You see, one of the tapestries hanging on the wall was ripped, meaning it was probably the tapestry used to make my eye patch, meaning I was on the third floor. Across the hall, I could see a small zebra stare at me with shock before quickly scurrying out of view.
We didn't make it two steps before High Stakes appeared out of a side room. Wait, was he smiling at me? That couldn't be right. “I see you got her to wake up.” Hey! Don't talk around me.
“She's a heavy sleeper,” Flare said with a shrug. “Might have something to do with losing an eye, I hear that saps the energy right out of ya.” Tell me about it. The fact half my vision was obscured didn't help anything at all. Fighting was going to be a pain in the flank.
“Mr. House will be glad to see you are up and running. Once you are done with... whatever it is you are doing, we should leave; it is not wise to keep him waiting.” Why did it even matter? After he learned how I bungled this job, I wasn't going to get a job with him. “Though first, I should ask what you did when you kicked me ou-”
“Fuck off.” I stormed past him, shoving him into a wall with my shoulder.
Behind me I could hear Flare say: “Don't mind her. She's surly in the mornings... and afternoon. Evenings as well, and it's best not to speak to her at night either.” Argh, why did I miss Flare again? It certainly wasn't his wit. I hated his wit.
I got to the end of the hall when I realized I didn't actually know where Serenity was. I suppose that would have been a problem if I wasn't blessed the ability to burn around magic. Or. Something. Basically I could feel the tingling sensation in my shoulder that let me knew magic was nearby (more specifically, Serenity's magic) and I followed it. Second door on the right, and there she was.
I found her sitting in the room from which I had shot Post Haste, sitting on the same boxes where I had made her watch. I wasn't even sure she was aware. She was just half leaning out the window staring at the setting sun while she brushed Scootaborg's tail (I should mention the tail had, in fact, been replaced by a series of thin wires). For a second I didn't think she heard me walk in.
“Why?” she asked, not turning around. Maybe she was afraid to see me. I couldn't blame her. Between my lack of ear, lack of eye, and lack of soul, I was not a pretty sight. “Why did you...” She choked up. It didn't take an egghead to realize she was crying. This was the sort of thing I was trying to avoid...
“I...” Didn't mean to shoot the child, is what I wanted to say. It felt hollow though. I was deluding myself if I thought the battle wasn't going to kill children. Maybe it was better if she saw me shoot him. Let her know who I really was. “I...” I couldn't think of anything to say. I did a horrible thing. I deserved to be hated. “I'm sorry.”
“You're a monster.”
I couldn't argue with that.
“I hate you.”
I turned and walked away.
Mission accomplished. This is what I wanted wasn't it? I wanted her to hate me, to fear me, to think I was a monster. She had to see me as I truly was. How else was she going to stop idolizing me? How else was she going to learn to be a better pony? But, if everything had gone according to plan. How come I couldn't stop crying?
“Are you sure there is nothing else we can do for you?” Aghna, the zebra elder, said as she followed us out of the centre building. Serenity reluctantly came out as well, though she stayed as far away from me as possible.
“No... you've done enough.” I'd done enough. At least five of the homes in Karkhoof were nothing more than smoking rubble heaps, and three more of the ones I saw were burned badly enough to be unusable. The air stank of death and smoke, making it hard to breathe. In the centre of the town, the black veritbuck stayed parked, attended to by no less than five black-armoured pegasi. Throughout the town zebras zipped back and forth. Carrying corpses. Fixing up broken buildings. Moving wreckage. But the Zebras made sure not to get close to the pegasi, and the pegasi made sure to avoid the zebras.
“Are you sure?” The old zebra seemed honest, and almost eager. A long shot from the way she was when we first met. “I saw you out there. Were it not for you convincing that bitch to leave...” Did she really think that was what I’d done? She had made the choice on her own, all I did was watch. That wasn't even my plan, I was just going to shoot her until she got them to surrender.
“No...” Out of the corner of my good eye I saw two zebra's carrying a corpse away. “It was nothing. Nothing at all.”
“Are you sure you do not wish for a potion? They are zebra secrets, but for what you did... perhaps a bon-”
“NO!” I quickly clamped my mouth shut, and looked away. I shouldn't have yelled. I growled low as I could. “Sorry. I mean no. It has been a long day.” I looked up at the setting sun. A long day indeed. Had we really only been here for a single day? It felt like so much longer. “So many died today...”
The mare looked down, but nodded. “They shall be returned to their ancestors. We have lost many, but this is nothing new. We will survive. It is what we have always done.” She looked so very tired. “But if you must, please go on your way. Some of my clan do not much care for ponies... it is not hard to see why.” Not at all.
“We will go... sorry.”
“It is not your fault, child.” I tried to open my mouth to say something, but the words refused to come. So instead, I walked past her and towards the Vertibuck. Flare flapped ahead of me, and gave me something of a stern look under his helmet.
“Will You Be Okay To Fly?” Huh. Something about his voice sounded weird. I chalked it up to the helmet. “Because Last Time You Flew You Nearly Wet Yourself, And This Trip Will Be Long... You Should Go To The Bath-” I cut him off by pushing past and stepping into the flying machine. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit nervous. And I may have been shaking. Just a little.
Inside the Vertibuck's seating area was a single pale yellow pegasus with a pure white mane, and two clouds for a cutie-mark. “Hired Gun, I presume,” he said in a strangely commanding voice. “I am Sky Fall, as Captain Flare has taken the duty of helping to fly us, I will be accompanying you back to Dise.”
“Wait... this thing is powered by pegasus?” The pegasus nodded once. “That seems... strange.”
“It is best not to question pre-war technology. Often, the answers you get merely raise more questions.” Right. Whatever. He must have seen me looking around nervously. “Do not fret, we are safe. This machine has never broken down on accident, and if it did, the pegasus powering it would be able to glide us safely to the ground.” Unless we were attacked. But who would attack us?
Well, the Steel Rangers for a start. Molly and her gang, if she survived that explosion (which she probably had if she had sent an assassin after me). Not to mention Granny Dynamite if she realized I went behind her back to kill Roy... well three factions wasn't so bad. I might be exaggerating my infamy a bit, anyway. But it made me feel good to think so many ponies wanted me dead, even if it wasn't entirely true.
“Right.” I took a seat as High Stakes and Serenity followed in behind. For reasons I could not explain High Stakes took the time to glare at Sky Fall before sitting as far away from him as possible. Serenity took a seat beside me, but kept just far enough away for me to know she didn't want me around. She didn't even look around, just sullenly sat there staring at Scootaborg.
So. This was going to be the most awkward flight in Remnant history.
Then the Vertibuck lurched beneath me. I felt the urge to vomit rise in my stomach. A few seconds later I could feel the machine start to speed up. We were flying. Fuck, we were flying. High up in the air. With nothing but a few pieces of metal, and the trust of a few unknown pegasi keeping me from falling a thousand feet. I hate flying.
Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Don't think about it.
“Stop being a wimp.” Serenity sneered. I did not like applying that action to Serenity, but it was unfortunately correct. She didn't even bother to look up at me when she said it; I think it made it easier for her.
“Your daughter seems upset, Miss Gun.” Sky Fall said after politely coughing in his hoof. Nopony had talked since we left Karkhoof, and I could see he was eager to break the silence.
“She's not my mother.” I winced. Despite everything I thought I knew, I found that blow hurting more than any other I've taken since I left Bridle Hope. This made no sense! This is what I wanted. I wanted her to hate me, right? That's what this whole thing was about. I couldn't be her mother, I wasn't ready for that. Not again. So, what? Why did I feel so sorry for myself when she said I wasn't? Was I really so selfish I wanted her to think of me as her mother but without me having to think of her as a daughter? I'm even more horrible than I had anticipated.
“So. Miss Gun. Where are you from?” Sky Fall said. I noticed that unlike the three of us, he sat so still he could have been carved from stone.
“May I ask where?” He gave the slightest hint of a smile.
“No.” He stared blankly at me. Right. I guess talking to mysterious pegasi was better than silently contemplating every single way the vertibuck could break down sending me plummeting to my death. “Who... are you?”
“Ah, I was wondering when you would ask. I am Colonel Sky Fall. Second-In-Command of the Grand Pegasus Enclave.”
“Remnants.” High Stakes countered. He seemed oddly scowlly with Sky Fall. “Didn't you get the memo? The Grand Pegasus Enclave is losing. The sky has been cleared, the Light Bringer defeated their armies, and you and your little breakaway is next. You're little more than sixty year old rotting pus from a newly dead corpse that hasn't had the good manners to flush yourself down the drain. The wasteland would be better off if you laid down arms.” I may have been going out on a limb, but I am guessing High Stakes didn't like Sky Fall.
“Do I know you?” Sky Fall didn't reacted to the verbal onslaught at all. It was actually creepy.
“No, but I know you.” Today was cryptic reply day. First pony to hit fifteen cryptic replies first wins! So far I was leading with four, but High Stakes was catching up quickly.
“Have I insulted you? Your family? Your... glasses?” As if on cue somehow his spectacles caught just enough light to shine ominously. High Stakes did not seem ready to answer the question, which was strangely out of character. Or in character. I'd no idea what his character was like. Whatever his character, was it was making my flight more awkward than I would have liked.
So, to make sure everypony is on the same page, the count was: One sulking filly, one statuesque pegasus, one cryptically pissed of unicorn, and one earth pony mare (who totally was not afraid of heights). Basically, it sucked. A lot. It didn't help that the trip seemed to be hours of us just staring blankly at each other.
I hated flying.
“So... You're a colonel.” It was up to me to save the trip. Sky Fall nodded with an enigmatic smile. “Then. Why go on a random contract?”
“To see you, of course.” Great, that's what I wanted to hear. “You caused quite a stir, killing Roy, and I wanted to see what the fuss was about.” It didn't take an impressive specimen to shoot a pony. Though I suppose it did take guts to kill a pony like him. “And the Watchers seemed very excited about your... condition.” I raised an eyebrow. “The Starmetal of course.” Right of course. How could I forget. “It seems the Caledonian Military did extensive research on the material before the bombs fell. Very interesting stuff.” I'm sure. “Of course as a side effect, you'll find bits and pieces across the Dise Wasteland. Even a little scratch in the wrong area can kill a pony, yet you live. According to the Watchers it was a combination of dumb luck and quantity.” I wasn't so sure on the 'luck' part, but I'd 'dumb' going for me.
“So I was curious. I am in a position of considerable authority, it is in my best interest to know the dangers I send my ponies out to face. Starmetal is not a huge danger, as it was a rare and costly thing, but it is dangerous enough to warrant care.” He smiled at me. His teeth were perfect and white. For some reason that made me hate him. Either that or I was just in a hatey mood.
“So I am. A specimen?” I honestly didn't see what the big deal was. Which is not a surprise I suppose.
“Yes.” Well, at least he was honest. “You are remarkably healthy for one who is dying.”
I was dying? I don't think I was. I didn't feel like I was dying. You'd think it'd be one of those things you'd know for sure.
“Dying?” Serenity asked, surprisingly soft. Even High Stakes had the courtesy to look shocked at this sudden proclamation.
“According to all research I have gathered Starmetal is al-”
“I'm not dying.” I cast my glare at him and met his eyes. He had green eyes, and I hated green eyes. They always made me feel uncomfortable. “I don't know your game. I'm not dying. Stop... looking at me like that. I don't know why you came. Doesn't matter. But I'm not your lab rat. And I'm not going to die. Not anytime soon. Whatever angle you're pulling, stop it.”
He didn't react but to give a sad smile.
Just then the Vertibuck slammed down into the something. My badass glare was cut off by a moment of panic as I thought we were crashing. We weren't. A few seconds later and the door lifted open revealing a black-clad pegasus.
“And we're here, hope it wasn't too boring.” The pegasus made a show of sniffing the inside of the vertibuck. “Smells good, so I assume Hired didn't find it too scary.” I had guessed it was Flare, and that confirmed it. What an ass.
I followed him out of the Vertibuck and onto the roof. Off the edges of the roof I could see hints of buildings, and streets far below. Off in the distance I could see the three barrel shaped buildings of the Ale House, and right across the street, rising high into the sky, was the huge tower that topped the Clips and Clops Casino. Even from where I stood, high above most of Dise, the pony head as the top of the tower looked ominous and imposing. How could anypony build something so high?
So here I was again. Dise. Hadn’t I just escaped this damn city? So why was I back here again? This place took my hopes and dreams, chewed them up, and spit them out, and then pissed on them. It was a horrible, miserable city, made all the worse that it was one of the safest places in the wastes, and that if it were not for this stupid, fucking city I wouldn't have been holding 6000 caps in my saddle bags. I hated Dise, and it had made me rich. It seemed like all roads lead to Dise. So I had to get used to it.
“Molly, Granny Dynamite, Roy Mustang, Mayhem, Clean Cutt, Photo Finish, Elder Chunky Soup, Righteous Song, Sky Fall, and now Mr. House.” I turned to Flare, who had taken off his Enclave Helmet. “I've lived in this city since I was a foal and only met three of those, until I met you. For a pony that claims not to like talking, you sure do get around. What's your secret?”
“Alcohol.” I said dryly. “And being strong.” He raised an eyebrow. “Well. Way I see it. Ponies in charge think they're smart. Smart ponies in charge like to have dumb ponies to follow their orders. I make a good dumb muscle.”
“I'm sure Roy Mustang would agree.”
I tried out one of those enigmatic smirks that seemed so popular. “Exactly.”
“Did you really kill him? Forgive my disbelief, I have heard it said, and yet...” Ack! Who! I turned my head to see High Stakes standing beside me. Right. Half my vision was black. This was going to be hard to get used to. Could be worse I suppose. At least I had most of my limbs.
“She killed'em all right. Saw it myself too, it was a classy move. Though it would have been nice if some of us were in on the plan before you did it.” I turned my head to see Flare hanging upside down grinning at me. I would have smiled had Serenity not spoken up, her tone dark.
“Let’s just go already.” A pink thing darted past us, and into the waiting darkness of the rest of the rooftop. Eventually we were going to have a talk, a real one, and my gut was already tearing itself apart in anticipation.
“Oh.” A voice behind me. Fuck all these ponies! I remembered a time when I actually got some peace and quiet to be over-emotional.
I turned to see Sky Fall waving at me as the Vertibuck started to ascend. “Take care of Captain Flare for me, and try not to die too soon.” I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. Also, it turns out I cannot, in fact, make ponies' heads explode with my thoughts.
The red buck with a royal blue mane smiled at me. “What gave it away?” He flapped his robotic wings a little. “Is it because I'm an alicorn?” He wasn't, not really. I mean it was pretty cool that he was a unicorn that got augmented with wings, but that didn't make him an alicorn. They were something special. I'd met him once before, right after I killed Roy. We didn't have the chance to talk much, as I had to run for my life, but I knew he worked for Mr. House. Honestly, I was a bit surprised to find him here. “Ah, High Stakes, you have returned. Perhaps you’ve reconsidered Mr. House’s offer?”
“Not likely. As much as I appreciate it, I prefer to keep my body as is.” He shook his head. “And no, I am not listening to Celestia's Vision's swill, I merely want to keep my body my own.” Starscream was obviously preparing a rebuttal before High Stakes cut him off. “Yes, I know it need not be anything big. A tail, an eye, or dermal armour -- I am not interested.”
“Ah, well, it was worth a shot. Mr. House is very interested in your considerable talent.” He turned back to me. “And yours. Though it seems you hit a rough patch, since we last spoke. You seem to have lost an eye.” I gave a weak smile. “Your cybernetics are more than enough to be admitted as a Hizai, but we can arrange a new eye for you as well. If House agrees, and if you agree to his proposal.”
“What?” Flare smirked. “Don't we get to talk about it at all? Discuss? Seems like the thing to do. I'm well versed in bart-”
“Captain Flare, right? You’re lucky House is allowing an Enclave rat like you in his presence. He may employ your service, but he knows who you and your kin really are.” He said it so sweetly, I almost forgot just what he was saying. It was a rare talent indeed. “But I can assure you there will be no bargaining. House will tell you what the deal will be, and you will accept or not. He does not negotiate; if he is feeling generous he will allow time to think.” The cybernetic alicorn kept on smiling. “Also, I should be clear any deal he makes will be for you, Hired Gun, not your companions, and especially not the Enclave rat.”
“Can we go in? It's cold.” I suppose I should have mentioned that we were still standing on the roof, right in front of the entrance to The Black Salamander Hotel Casino And Whateverelse. It seemed that ever since the clouds had fled, the nights had been getting cooler. I blamed magic.
“Oh,” Starscream said from the open doorway. “Right this way.” It was at that moment I realized I was leading Serenity into what could only be considered Cybernetic heaven, and she didn't react. She just stared at the floor. It was... kind of depressing. Like everything else that happened today. I was sensing a pattern.
The Casino, hospital, thing. From now on I am calling it the BS, because it lacks a pithy name. Anyway, the BS was fairly clean and very well lit. The other casinos I'd been in were lit well enough so that I could see, but it seemed Mr. House was obsessed with keeping every light on at all times. I could only imagine it was just another dick-waving manoeuvre: same as why he only fully employed cyborgs.
The actual style of the BS left much to be desired. It wasn't bad, but it didn't give me anything to latch onto. The Moon left me feeling dark and dirty (as was intended), and The Alehouse looked like a mix of class and debauchery, while the Clips and Clops made me want to eat a lot of cake. But as I walked through the halls of the BS, I didn't get any impression at all. Maybe that was on purpose. It just felt so bland, and sterile.
Evidently, I should have gotten a cutie mark in interior decorating, the way I was analyzing the hotel.
Starscream eventually led us to what could only be Mr. House’s meeting chamber (I made sure to put on my shades before entering. It's always good to make an impression). It had to be, because it was a huge semi-circular room with giant windows that faced Dise covering the entirety of a section of wall. Directly in front of a an array of computer terminals was by a giant monitor that looked to be ten times larger than was necessary. The rest of the room, however, seemed pretty fancy as well. Expensive looking couches, lamps, and what looked like a door on the right side that lead to a personal bedroom. Though that was only a guess. In terms of extravagance, it was slightly below Roy's huge penthouse suite, but above the offices of the other gang leaders I met.
“hello,” The computer said.
Wait a second. I stepped forward and let my companions file in behind me (if you are keeping track: Starscream was standing by the door, High Stakes to my left, Flare to my right, and Serenity far behind me glumly looking at Scootaborg [could Scootaborg become a Hizai?], not saying much) and watched the computer screen.
On it was the picture of a classy looking stallion with a pencil moustache. For reasons I couldn't explain, the screen was rather static-y, and the voice fuzzy. You'd think he'd have gotten an upgrade. “i am mr. house. i have been wa-”
“This is such bullshit!” I turned my startled gaze to Serenity after her outburst, to find her glaring at the screen. “You can't just talk to us from a screen! Do you have any idea what we went through to do your stupid job? At least talk'ta us face-to-face, stupid.”
“heh. you are a smart filly.” Was the computer laughing? “most take hours before they ask. yes I will show myself.”
So he wasn't just a voice or something? That was slightly disappointing. The door on the right side of the room cracked open. If you guessed that was where he was hiding, give yourself a cookie now.
Mr. House came out of the door. He was not exactly what I had been expecting. He was a short-statured earth pony, wearing a classy suit and hat. Surprisingly, from what I could see, he had exactly zero cybernetics. Considering his pretense of making all his employees be cyborgs, I couldn't help but feel cheated. Oh. And he was a ghoul. It was the easiest way to survive 200 years.
“I,” he said, trotting in front of of his giant computer screen, “am Mr. House.” He gave us a mocking bow. “You are Hired Gun; do not bother with introductions. I know all about you. Yes. It is not every day a cyborg wanders into Dise and kills a gang leader, and, let me just say, you are horrible.” I... what? “You made a sloppy mess of your schemes. Your killing of Roy, while not a bad idea, was executed, if you’ll pardon the pun, poorly enough that anypony with a sufficient information network could have deduced you were the pony who did it. Dozens of better mercs walk into Dise every year, and most don't get half of the chance you are getting now.
“I am not hiring you because you are anything special; you are not. I am not hiring you because of whatever the starmetal has done to your insides; it does not matter. I am not hiring you because you are smart, or talented, or good at your job; you are not. I am hiring you because, for good or ill, you have become known in my city. What is more, known as a cyborg. I am the the cybernetic paragon in this city, and I do not like cyborgs getting loose and sullying the name of my industry. For this reason, I plan to claim you. Hopefully by you agreeing, I can teach you how not to fuck up an assassination.”
He paced when he talked, and it was hard not to stand up straighter as he criticized me. He was clearly a pony that was used to being in charge. Oh, and he kept. Talking.
“On the other hoof, I thoroughly enjoyed you throwing a wrench into Molly's schemes. She is a transparent ass, excuse me, and I had plans to stop her before she got too far, but seeing an idiot throw her for a loop? Well, that was juicy. I assume she must have insulted you something fierce for you to go so far out of your way to mess up her plans and incriminate her in the death of Roy as well.” he grinned with his stained yellow teeth. It was interesting. Unlike other ghouls I had known, his voice lacked that cracked, gravelly feeling. Maybe he had a voice synthesizer cybernetic? “Now that that is over. High Stakes, your report?”
“Yes.” High stakes seemed to stand straighter out of the corner of my eye. “Well, she appears to be an idiot.” Yay. A glowing review. “However, she is an honest one. From what I have seen and the reports I have gathered, she is very, very strict when it comes to upholding her contract. Her lack of planning skills is made up by a strength that is at times frightening.”
“And the child?”
“A liability,” he admitted, “though a small one. It seems few ponies last long after threatening her.”
Mr. House seemed unimpressed. I was okay with that. “Your recommendation?”
“Important but non-critical missions. Preferably outside of the city, where you may disassociate her if she goes off the rails, and where she can cause as much carnage as possible.” Mr. House seemed to think about that for too long, so High Stakes continued. “She is not, as you can imagine, suited for infiltration or subterfuge.”
Now that part confused me. If House tried to hire all the cybernetics, it'd be assumed that anypony with cybernetics was working for him (in fact Molly assumed I was at one point) so how could they spy? After a few minutes of rumination I realized not all cybernetics were as obvious as a metal leg. Like organ transplants, dermal armour, maybe an inner ear implant? I'd need to ask Serenity... oh wait, she hated me. Fuck.
“Though.” Oh. Turns out High Stakes was still talking. That's all these important-type ponies did. Talk, and talk, and talk until their tongues fell off. “I would not put her on guard duty either. She is strong, but not perceptive, and prone to boredom. “ I was not.... Nopony believes that, do you? Fuck. “Still, send her against something that needs to die messily, and they will die come hell or high water. Is that sufficient?” House nodded. “Now, can I ask why I am the one to give this report, rather than, say, an actual Hizai?”
Mr. House chuckled. “I appreciate your outside view.” he turned back to me, bits of skin flaking from his face. “So, Hired Gun, considering your glowing recommendation, I will give you a deal. Five hundred caps a month, plus expenses. Of course, this includes a room here at the Black Salamander, as well as any meals you have while staying here. You still have to pay for chits if you want to gamble. I'll have Starscream draw up a formal contract. Obviously, it will includes things like not ever taking a contract which could go against my interests bu-”
“Wait.” He did. His mouth slammed shut, and his eyes shot me a glare that could melt a mirror. Not shatter, melt. “Why should I take the contract?” That is right. I just asked for details before blindly agreeing to the first contract I got. Karkhoof taught me that maybe I should ask questions before pledging my life on completely the mission. Make no mistake, I still would perform every contract I agreed to without question, but I decided to think before I agreed.
“Why? You mean other than the fact you've spurned every major gang to the point they'd rather kill you than look at you? That other than me, your choices are putting on a uniform, putting on a dress, or learning to be a doctor?” He adjusted his hat with a hoof. “Or more specifically. Do you expect me to monologue like a villain?”
“Well, at least you are honest. You want to work with me because I hold the only chance Dise has. War is coming, make no mistake about it. And when it comes, it will come with a fury the world hasn't seen in two hundred years. What do you think will happen to Dise? We are fractured and weak. We are the last city, a bastion to the resurgence of Old Caledonia, a hallmark of engineering and enterprise. But when an army comes to our doorstep, do you imagine we, splintered as we are, have a chance? Dise will fall either to tyranny or to the bullet. What we need is a united front, and I am the only pony that can provide it. The other gangs hold onto their power and horde, only I have created more. I turned Cybernetics into an art form, and have started not only business, but business’s essential counterpart: competition. Only I have survived two hundred years of in-fighting and gang wars. The others rise and fall, but I have been steady as the rocks the city was built on. I plan to rule Dise, and make it a centre of industry and progress. Make no mistake, I don't need you to work for me, but I am offering you the chance to have your hoof in the door.
“Still, I am sure it is a tough decision. If you would like, I can give you two days to decide. In the meantime, I have had a room prepared for you. If you choose not to accept there will be no repercussions, but if you do accept I can assure you that it will be worth it. I am very influential, and may be able to do something about the bounty on your head.” I gulped, as he smiled and walked away. So that was Mr. House. When you invite him to monologue, he really gave it his one hundred and twenty percent.
I take it back.
The BS was not plain at all. At least my room wasn't. I was given huge suite with three separate bedrooms, a living area, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. I know! It could have fit my house from Marefort inside it ten times over. The beds themselves were huge even for me, and the blankets smelled clean! Like, cleaned and everything. I thought I was hallucinating (which, actually, wouldn't have been that shocking). Damn. I knew this was a not-so-subtle manipulation by Mr. House, but damn.
“What's this?” Off in the corner of the living room was a rather large box, with a letter strapped to it.
“Oh.” Starscream smiled at the box and flapped his metal wings. “Apparently some kid out west sent you a package. Mayhem seemed pissed he had to catalogue your mail.” Mail? What, really?
I stepped up to it, and opened the letter. “Let’s see. Dear Hired Gun, First of all, ‘Hired Gun’? I’m thousands of kilometres away, and even I know that’s a fake name.” Ouch, that hurt random stranger guy. “Something something, didn't take a job. Oh. Beer. That's good... Who the fuck is Clover?” I shook my head and crumpled the letter up, then turned to Flare who had followed me to my room. “When did I turn down a job?”
Flare looked contemplative before answering, “When you lost that rib.” Oh, yeah. Fucker hurt. “Some idiot came down asking you to take a job in some random desert. I turned him away for you.”
“Right. I owe you a beer.” I looked down at the box. I wasn't sure what Golden Harp was, but it sounded delicious. Unfortunately, drinking was going to have to wait.
Flare and I needed to have a little talk, and there was no way it was going to be good for anypony involved.
I looked around the room and sighed in relief. Serenity was off exploring our suite, Starscream seemed to have vanished, and High Stakes seemed to have left for his own personal room. It was just me and Flare left in the living room. “When did you join the Enclave again?”
His smile faded. “When did I-”
“You heard the question,” I snapped. It had not been a good day. I was worn out, tired, grumpy and more than a little depressed. “Don't answer. Let me guess. Since I got you detoxed, right?”
“Four days after...” He admitted. That fucker. Four days after was when I was working for Roy, before I’d even infiltrated Molly's Casino. “Guess there's no point lying about-”
“You were spying on me-”
“Of course I was!” Flare laughed, but he didn't seem that jolly. “Fuck, Hired. I like you; you know that. It's nothing personal. You're a fun pony to drink with, and you've saved my ass. Hell, I'd call you a friend, but family comes first. Sky Fall told me I could get back in so long as I kept my eyes on you...” He shook out his mane. “It's not personal, really. It wasn't even your actions, he just wanted to know stupid shit. What time you got up. If you ever got sick. How pale you look. Signs of demonic possession. You know, the usual!”
“You spied on me!”
“The world is not about you, Hired,” he said softly. “Hard to believe, right? You're a good pony, really. But if you thought for one second I would throw away my family, my home, and the only life I've ever known for you, you are stupider than I ever could have imagined. You... hell, you cleaned me up and gave me a chance to get my life back, and now you’re shocked when I took that opportunity? I didn’t want to do it, but what choice did I have?”
Spied on me. My friend spied on me. My filly hated me. I never should have cared. It was easier when I didn't. Everything was going wrong, right when it should have been going right. Fuck Flare. Fuck his smarmy attitude. Fuck everything. I shouldn't have cared about him; he was always unreliable. Why was I shaking? He was just Flare.
“Hired, listen. I promise I ain't been giving no secrets. The stuff he wants to know... it doesn't matter. He still wants somepony spying on you, and it's better me to your face than somepony watching from a dis-”
He jumped back. I shouldn't have shouted. I knew I shouldn’t have shouted. Everything was just getting too much to handle. There was nothing I could rely on, and things just kept getting worse. I was dying, and nopony cared. Flare needed to leave, because if he kept talking I was going to shut him up for good.
“I-” He started to talk but lowered his head, his ears drooping. “Sorry,” he murmured before turning and slowly leaving my room. The razor tail of his enclave armour swung back and forth as he walked, cutting up the door frame. He was gone, so what now? I needed a fucking drink.
So I walked over to the box of Golden Harp and pried it open. A few seconds later the first bottle was open, and in my mouth. I barely got a drop before I saw Serenity staring at me from the corner of my eye. With a heavy sigh, I put the bottle back down.
I really didn't want to talk to her.
“Why did you do it?” she asked, her voice so quiet. It was scary. There was something behind her words, something that hurt. A lot. “Why did you shoot him...”
“I...” I gritted my teeth together. “Because I... I was paid to.” It was a weak excuse. Of course it was, but it was the truth. “I wasn't aiming for him.” Yet he died. What did intent matter when the result was the death of foals? I couldn't agree with my own arguments. “I... didn't.”
“You killed him!” I winced. She was crying again. Of course, she was. I was built up as an idol. Something to praise, and now I took that out from under her. Her idol couldn't even make up a proper excuse. Her sad grey eyes seemed to ask: how could I ever want this monster to be my mother?
“It was an accident.”
“You don't even care.” If only she knew how wrong she was. “I thought... I thought you were different! You were supposed to be,” she sobbed back up at me. I did this to her. I made her see me for who I was. Part of me knew it was better for her to face the truth now, but the rest of me wanted to kick myself for hurting her. “I... you saved me... so how could you kill him?”
I bit the bridle, pulled the trigger, let the bullet fly. How? Easily. Killing ponies is the easy part, it's the living with yourself after that is tricky.
“I'm not a good pony...” I looked away. “You had to see. You deserve better...”
“But I wanted you! You didn't have to kill him! You didn't have to take the job. You could have said no. You should have said no. You would have said no. You... you only did it to teach me a lesson! That's not... it's not fair!” No... it wasn't fair. She may have been right. Maybe I did take the job just to show her I was horrible. Somehow that made me so much worse. “You're... how...”
She sniffled before wiping her nose with her foreleg. “You were supposed to my Momma.”
“Is that all you care about?” Stop talking, Silver. Let it go. Don't get angry. Stop it! The words came out anyway. “You say I don't care, yet it doesn't matter to you who I am. You just want me to protect you, and who gives a fuck about my opinion on the matter? You're so desperate for family you're trying to create one where it doesn't belong, and then whenever we fail to live up to your ideals you pout and cry until we do what you want.” She's just a filly; shut up, Silver. Why couldn't I just let it go. It didn't matter. And yet... “You've been manipulating me since I saved you. I care, but you're trying to force me into a role I'm not ready for. That ain't right, and you know it. I... I can't do this Serenity! And you're not making it any easier!”
I looked down at her. My mind was swimming, my whole body ached, and I was so mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted I just felt like falling over and never getting up. However, when I looked at her face it made everything that much worse. It was twisted in a grimace, that looked like she was trying to process fifty emotions all at once. She was looking at me, and for the first time she saw me for who I really was.
So when she started to cry and fled the room, I didn't bother to chase her. I just stared blankly at where she had been. My mind tried to process the things I had just said to her. I tried to see how she must have felt. I really was a monster. “Dear Princess Celestia,” I mumbled, still in complete shock at what I'd said, “I fucked up.”
“I'm back in the city I hate.” I stormed over and grabbed the still open bottle of Golden Harp. I chugged it in a single go, not even bothering to taste it. “My soon-to-be-employer knows I'm an idiot.” I looked down at the open box. The bottles of beer stood ready for me. My own personal army. “My friends spy on me.” I grabbed the entire box in my teeth.
The largest bedroom was only a few feet away, through a door. So I stormed in there and threw the box over the large bed. Bottles spilled out, covering it, but not a single one broke. “And my filly?” I flopped on the bed and grabbed another bottle in my mouth. “She ran away. Back to the Watchers probably.” I downed the bottle.
Fuck, everything hurt so much. I just wanted to stick a Med-X in my eye and make all the pain go away.
I dropped the empty bottle, flopping back into the bed. I may have been crying, but it didn't matter. None of it mattered. “Serenity hates me. I made her hate me. I said horrible things to her because I'm horrible.”
I drank another bottle. And then another. Maybe if I drank enough, I could die, and this would all go away.
Footnote: Level Up...
Something: You can’t really remember what perk you took, but it was probably a stupid one...
((A/N: I would like once again to thank kkat for creating this world I so lovingly defiled, and to heap praise upon my editors theBSDude, ErrantIndy, and Julep, without whom this story would be a mess of improper commas and run on sentences. Oh, and don't forget to check out my Asksilverstorm blog!))
((Oh, you’re still reading. The chapter’s done, but if you want some more Fallout Equestria goodness you could always check out these stories: Operation Flankorage, Tales Of A Courier Reloaded, Heroes With Wings, and Guise Of Chaos ))