I am No One
The words were like a hammer to my skull. Each syllable pounded harder and harder, and all I could do was squeeze my eyes tighter and hope they went away. Something smelled awful. Like dirt-stained piss, vomit, and stale beer. It was better than my dreams though. Someone once told me that you didn't dream when you passed out drunk. Someone lied. It was the usual dream. There was blood dripping, lengths of rope, hopeless situations. Only this time it accompanied with the smell of burning colt. Being awake was bad, but sleeping? There was no question.
That sound again. Like griffon claws on a chalk board... not that I had any idea what that sounded like. But it sounded bad. My stomach lurched under me. I didn't puke, though. I wanted to. I felt so icky. So very gross. And thirsty. I could have drunk The Snake dry.
“Get up. We won’t ask again.”
Fuck off. I didn't say that though. I let out a pitiful groan and rolled over onto an empty beer bottle. It prodded up into my chest where there should have been a rib. Of course I’d had that taken out a while ago... the bottle didn't hurt much though. Not compared to my head... or the rest of me. It was a nice distraction from feeling like shit. Nothing less than I des-
Everything was suddenly cold and wet.
My eye shot open. After pushing my wet mane out of my eye, I saw Flare and High Stakes standing in front of my bed, a bucket floating in front of them in a green glow. “What th-ARGGH” The light! It burned! Like someone shoved the sun into my eye hole. Oh, goddess. I grabbed my eye and fell back. “Fuckfuckfuck, fuck off!”
“Hired, get up. You're markedly less fun when you're wallowing in depression.” And High Stakes was a lot more fun without a fucking head. What did he know anyway? He was a heartless bastard. I killed a foal then lost one, and what would he know about that? Fucker needed to learn his place and leave me be.
“Fuck you.” Fuck was my new favourite word, and I didn’t give a single one. “Flare's a fucking Enclave spy, and you fucking ruined my bed with your fucking bucket of whateverthefuckitwas.” It felt like a drill was slowly boring its way into my skull. “So leave me alone. To wallow... in whatever it is I'm wallowing in.” A mix of water, vomit, and beer it seemed like.
If Wildfire were here, she'd have let me have my misery... that was a lie, but I'd like to think she'd at least understand.
“Hired.” Suddenly I was floating. Oh fuck. Fuck me sideways with a silver spoon. My good eye opened, light pounding into it, setting my brain on fire, to see I was hovering a good meter off the bed. I turned my head as I lashed out with my hooves trying to fight the green glow that surrounded me. “This is not good at all.” High Stakes said as his horn was wrapped in multiple layers of shining green light. Beams seemed to break away from it like he was having trouble holding them in. Was I really that heavy? “Mr. House has, against all logic, given you an offer of a lifetime. An offer I shall never receive. I refuse to see you fuck it up.”
In a dizzying flash of magic, I found myself tumbling head over hooves into the bathroom. I shook my head and opened my eye just to see the door slam shut. “You aren't leaving until you shower and get yourself together...” There was a slight pause. “And you already ruined your bed anyway!” I did not! I just puked on it. A little bit... a lot.
With a groan, I flopped back. And immediately cracked my skull against the bathtub. Swearing like a fucker, I grabbed the back of my head. Of course, I did it with my metal hoof. Turns out that after smacking your head against something you shouldn't kick yourself in the same spot.
Long story short, I was curled in a ball on the bathroom floor, my chest coated with vomit, and my head pounding like it never had before. So I was a pathetic piece of shit. Why did it matter? I always knew I was, I just had to be reminded every once in a while.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn't cry on the floor all day. Serenity had left, but I had to make sure she made it to The Watchers. I don't know why I even cared, but I did. It was the least I could do (quite literally) to make sure she got safely to the place I forced her to go. Yes, I still cared about her, and that was the problem. I've been keeping a running list of things I cared about and it was not looking good. I brought doom upon ponies. Doom. What a fucking stupid word.
I can't even wallow properly!
I stood. My legs wobbled under me (save for my cybernetic one), but I stood. The bathroom was small enough having all the basic amenities you'd expect. I turned slowly to the cracked mirror above the sink and shrunk back from myself.
My coat was pale, dirty, and slick with sweat, not to mention crusted with vomit in places. My mane hadn’t faired much better, and somehow looked worse the way it was plastered to my face, and was matted to the point I doubt I'd ever be able to get the knots out. And I would rather not get into the way my tail looked. I prodded idly at the makeshift eye patch over the hole in my skull. Against my better judgment I slid it off my face to see what the ruins of my eye looked like.
Urgh. You really don't want to know. Trust me. It wasn't good.
I blinked my right eyelid. Oh good, at least that still worked. It would have been a bitch to shower with water soaking into my throbbing eyehole.
I turned to the shower. I’d never seen a shower before, so I’d no idea what I was supposed to do with it. The porcelain tub was set into the far wall, with a little door facing outwards so I could walk in. I gave the room a quick scan for a bathtub and came up empty. I guess I was learning how to shower. No way could I fuck that up horribly. Who was I kidding? I could fuck anything up horribly.
First thing first. I prodded at my cybernetic for a few minutes before it came off with a hiss and plopped to the ground. Then I started to tilt. Fuck. Stop. The metal plating on my shoulder slammed into a wall sending spikes of pain through my torso. Great. More pain. That's what I needed. Everything hated me, even myself. Groaning, I hobbled forward towards the shower. It might have been easier to just buck the door down and tell High Stakes to stick it where the sun don't shine, but honestly I felt so weak I doubted I could.
Okay, so showers are weird. When I finally got in and the short door closed, I realized the faucet-nozzle-things were hanging length wise from the ceiling. Made perfect sense right? On the floor of the shower right in front of where my forehoof stood was a series of buttons? Pressure plates... things. I stepped on the one that said soap and immediately I felt a cold gel like thing fall onto my back. With another press it was followed by water. Hot, hot water.
It took a little bit of getting used to ( I nearly jumped out of my skin when water spurted from the floor. It made sense, but it was shocking), but after a little bit, it felt. Nice. The warm water soaked into my coat, and I could feel the dirt and grime of the day before washing off me. My wet mane fell into my eye, and lacking an extra hoof to brush it away, I let myself be blinded by it.
As the water streamed down my face, I did my best not to think. It didn't really work. Even with my eye closed I could still see the fire. In my mind, Post Haste was still burning, only when I pictured him, he was charcoal grey with a long green mane.
I really did kill him, didn't I? The thought left me numb inside. Like a little piece of me died with him. I’d spent weeks doing my best to protect a filly and instead killed a colt. It seemed I was a danger to foals everywhere. I either failed to save them or killed them with my own hoof. From Misfit, to Post Haste, to... her. Nopony was safe. The shower washed away my tears.
How was I supposed to go on? I had to survive, but how could I live with myself after what I’d done? How could I go on...? It was a good thing Serenity left. She would be happier without me. If it hadn’t happened in Karkhoof, it just would’ve happened later. It was better she saw me for who I was, now. It'd hurt less. Maybe she was trying to force me to be her mother, but she didn't understand why I couldn't be. It's not a thing I could have explained. I wasn't good with words. So I had to show her.
It's funny. I was so sure it was the right decision when I pulled the trigger. But I’d still spent the hours since trying to convince myself of it. As time passed, I realized that I wasn't even convincing myself. I tried to imagine that maybe if I hit my intended target. That if Serenity hadn't altered my shot, maybe it wouldn't have felt so bad. But when it came right down to, it I made a shitty choice and paid for it.
It felt good. Rivets of water washed down my face, a few dripping into my eyehole, stinging it. It felt good that I lost my eye. That I paid the price. It felt good to know that Serenity was safely back at the Watchers', away from me. Even though I made a shitty choice... I wouldn't have changed it. It needed to happen. She needed to see why...
Why it didn't matter how much I cared for her... how much I loved her... because I could never be her mother.
I couldn't. I choked up, tears still streaming down my face. I fell to the shower floor and buried my face in my foreleg. I just couldn't do it. I killed that colt because I was afraid. Afraid of getting hurt again. The water washed over me like Celestia's tears. As I sobbed, I had to wonder what it was all for. Why did I keep getting up in the morning? I was a stupid pony whose only expertise was death and destruction. I couldn't help build the world. I knew that trying to save it was useless. My mind was so utterly warped that the idea of getting close to a pony made me freak out and shoot kids. So why did I persist in charging through the wasteland with only half a brain? I... there was nothing I could offer the world so maybe it would be better if I was dead....
I let the thought sink in. It was a dangerous thing, that idea, but it didn't leave. It festered in my brain as I laid there. The option was tempting. So very tempting.
Until I heard a familiar voice in the back of my head say, “Survive.”
So I got up, dried myself off, and prepared myself for the day. I couldn't die. Not yet.
“Huh. You look... better.” Was it really that shocking, Flare? After I had showered and re-attached my leg (it fucking hurt), I did my best to brush my mane (noting how long and annoying it was getting) and tail. I also attempted to get my makeshift eye patch on but it was really difficult without magic so I gave up. Let them see my ruined eye, maybe I could scare somepony into submission.
“You still look like shit.” I rolled my eye at the blue pegasus. My bedroom was mostly the same as it was before, though the beer bottles had been taken away, and the bed stripped for cleaning. The room would have looked much better, though, if High Stakes and Flare weren't in it.
“Whoa, a joke?” Not really... “You must be hanging out with me too often. Might be I'm finally breaking your poker face. Oh! I know! We could be a touring comedian act-”
“Flare. Shut up.” He did. Good. “Does High Stakes know you're spying on me?” I asked with a raise of my eyebrow. To my surprise the tall stallion nodded.
“I have known for a while, in fact. He had described to me the extent of what he was doing and I deemed it reasonable. So long as he doesn't divulge information on Mr. House, I could care less what he tells his master...” Right, High Stakes didn't like Skyfall for whatever reason. He did like Flare though, even though Starscream didn't like him. Flare, of course, disliked the Steel Rangers and the feelings were mutual and...
I really should make a chart. I couldn't keep straight who hated who.
“Whatever.” I aimed my glare at Flare. “You're spying on what exactly? My health?” He nodded. That made perfect sense. Except that it didn't. “Nothing else?” He nodded again. I had to wonder if I knew what he was spying about if it still counted as spying... “Right. Honestly, I don't fucking care. You said he'd get another spy if I killed you?” Another nod. “Right. You can stay then. Don’t trust you none. But I'd rather you than someone from a distance.” At least with Flare I could scare him into obedience and make use of his skills.
Also, what did I care if he spied on me? I had no grand secrets or plans. So, he wants to tell some big shot about my pissing habits because said big shot thinks I was dying, why should I care? Yeah, I mean, it did hurt that he went behind my back like that, but it was my stupid fault for trusting him anyway. Besides, he was right, if I was in his position I'd do the same thing. So, even though I wanted to hate him, it would have been stupid to do so.
“Wait, seriously?” He grinned. “High Stakes, you owe me fifty caps. I told you she'd let me stay.” With a resigned sigh, and the slightest smirk, High Stakes tossed the pegasus the bag of caps. Apparently my actions were the subject of gambling now. Good to know...
I kicked him hard in the knee with my metal leg, sending him face first into the floor. Before anypony could react, I place my hoof on his head and pressed. “Flare.” I lowered my head to make sure he could hear me. “Lie to me again.” I pressed down hard enough for him to gasp in pain. “And I will kill you.” I pressed down more forcefully, “Got it?” There was no response so I pressed down harder. “Got. It.” It wasn't a question, it was a statement.
“Y-eah. G-got it.” I got off his head and shook my cybernetic leg. Huh, it felt weird. I guess it didn't matter. “Could have just asked.” Flare grunted rubbing the back of his head, “But I got it. Lying bad. Truth good. Or Hired smash.” Damn fucking straight. “Thanks for the help, ass.” Flare glared at High Stakes.
The pale green unicorn shrugged. “Have you seen her? You really expected me to help you against her? I am many things, but suicidal is not one of them.” Of course he wasn't. Yet, I had a feeling he would attack me without hesitation if he were paid to. We were the same in that respect.
“That's a shame.” I walked past them and into the living room of our Suite.
To see Starscream sleeping on my couch. Oh, for fuck’s sake, I am not that popular. Everypony needed to leave me alone.
So I kicked him in the ribs. Not very hard, but it was enough to have him jumping into the air, his metal wings humming, and him glaring at me. “Oh.” His expression softened. “I was looking for you, but was told you were showering. And well, your couch is very comfortable,” He smiled amiably at me. “Have you taken Mr. Houses offer to heart yet? He is eager to get it over with.”
“Well...” I’d spent last night getting drunk, and feeling sorry for myself. Not much time to think of his offer.
“Doesn't matter! I have spoken to him and he has agreed to give you a prototype cybernetic eye as a sweetener to his offer. Normally, he would not bother, but he needs a new test subject for his toys, and even his most loyal subjects balk at losing their eye.” His metal wings flapped and hummed and he returned to the floor. “Oh.” My shoulder burned as he pulled out an eyepatch from his saddle bag and floated it over to me, “Much better than what you had. See.” He slipped it over my eye and I... didn't see. Obviously.
“Haven't decided.” And I wouldn't until I made sure Serenity was nice and comfortable. After that... maybe. It seemed like honest enough work and was right up my alley. It would be a steady paycheque, and having my ammo paid for was a nice perk too. I supposed I should have made my decision based on his promises of utopia but really... I found his proclamations the night before a bit hard to swallow. Three cheers for scepticism!
“C'mon, Hired,” Flare zipped up beside me. “Think about it! You'd be part of the second best group in Dise. Travel the wasteland righting wrongs and assassinating political enemies. It's a dream come true.” No. And I would like it if he didn't drape his leg over my shoulders like that. “And, most importantly. You would make High Stakes really, really jealous.” Now that was tempting. “So just get the little miss and... and where is Serenity anyway?”
“Serenity le-” he cut himself off mid shout before saying a bit softer, “What did you do?” I winced and avoided eye contact. “You must have done something. That poor filly adored you...” Maybe I should have told Flare or High Stakes what happened but... fuck that noise. “You're aren't going to tell me are you? Of course not! I'm just Flare the loveable pegasus companion who is always kept out of the loop an-” Oh, for fuck’s sake. He knew more about what was going on in the world than me! He had no right to complain. Ass.
“Wow. The pegasus chump sure likes to talk, now doesn't he?” Starscream smiled. He was forever smiling. “C'mon, Miss Hired Gun, I'll give you a short tour of the facility. I know you are busy, but it will not be long.”
“Do you do this for all potential recruits?” He seemed a bit too interested in me.
“‘Course. At least for all the ponies what could be working under my tutelage.” I... er... what? “Oh? I thought you knew. The Hizai are split into three divisions. Internal handles security in the Black Salamander and Dise proper. Infiltration does... exactly what you think it does, and Operatives handle missions outside pertaining to Mr. House's yadda yadda yadda. All you need to know is: if you join you'll be working for me directly as I am the leader, for lack of a better term, of the operatives. I also handle most mercenary contracts when we are understaffed. Right, Mr. Stakes?”
“I really hate you, Starcream. I just felt it was important for me to get that off my chest.” High Stakes said blandly. The robotic alicorn just whinnied.
“Of course, you do.” Starscream shook his head. “The stories I could tell you about that one. Never trust that stallion to walk behind you.” Uh, I. Sure, whatever. He was winking at me when he said that, too, making me even more confused. “For later though, I am sure Mr. Stakes would kill me for speaking. Nice chap. Onwards and outwards I say.” Without another word, he trotted out my door into the hotel proper.
So, I followed.
“...used to live in Caledonia before the war. They had the most amazing ability to regrow lost limbs. After Mr. House procured the hotel for his purposes, he named it after them.” History lessons. I hate history lessons. It didn't help that Starscream had a lot of them.
I mean, I appreciated that he showed us through the hotel hospital thing: the first three floors were hotel rooms, the next five hospital, and the top floors were reserved for the Hizai and Mr. House himself. It is, I suppose, important to note that the Hizai were not the only ponies under Mr. Houses pay. They were simply his enforcers. It was interesting to see the cybernetics lab, but it was hard to pay attention. I just kept getting a nagging feeling in the back of my head that Serenity would have enjoyed it so much more than I.
“Here we are! The crown jewel of The Black Salamander, the casino floor!” He fluttered into the air so he could point with both hooves more dramatically as we walked out of the elevator.
I had to say, it was impressive. The room seemed to be set up with various levels sinking into the floor, kind of like an upside down pyramid. The bottom-most level seemed to be the High Rollers’ tables, given the extravagance of it. The next level seemed to be craps, followed by blackjack, then the one legged bandits, followed finally by the top level I was on that seemed to have the bars and cashier places. The entire area was decked in red carpet and gold trimming, with a fancy (and large) chandelier hanging in the centre of the room.
Of course I noticed right away that the chandelier was hanging right over the High Roller's pit, so if it was to fall a lot of rich ponies would die. That was literally the first thing I noticed. Apparently, I was becoming morbid as well. Lovely.
“Thanks, Star. We need to go now.” I’d meant to leave a while ago. I was sure Serenity was safely at the Watchers’, but I just wouldn't be satisfied until I knew for sure.
“Are you sure? There is so much more I can show you. How ab-”
“Starscream.” Flare zipped in front of him, both floating in the air. “Buddy, pal, guy... You need to learn to use your ears. It's important for living, you know? When the mare says she needs to go that means she needs to... you know, go. Ain't that hard to figure out, ya know? Now! I am sure you're a smart unicorn... thing there, but you should work on comprehension, get it?” He paused to grab Starscream's shoulders. “What she is trying to say is, leave her the fuck alone for five minutes. Dumbass.”
“Oh, my apologies,. He smiled and backed off. “I have work to attend to anyway.” And so he left the way we came. He really was a strange buck.
“Where are we going anyway?” High Stakes asked.
“Well...” I started moving around the pit. “To the Watchers. I need to make sure Serenity is safely there.”
“So, you ever going to tell us what exactly happened back at Zebra-Ville?” Flare asked as I weaved around a mare with a tray of drinks on her back. By 'weaved around' I clearly meant 'stole a drink from'. It burned going down, and I probably shouldn't have spat the glass on the ground, but fuck it. “Seriously. Hired. Stop dodging the question. You're a terrible liar an-”
“Fuck off, Flare.” Maybe I should have killed him. It would have been easier than answering questions. Questions led to memories, which lead to guilt, which lead to visions of Misfit dying. I mean Post Haste... I shook my head but he kept peppering me with questions. “Flare. Seriously.”
“Fuck off?” He shrugged, “It's actually a fair bit harder than you think, I mean without thumbs you have to use both hooves an-” Oh Celestia, I did not just hear that. Bleach, I needed it. I needed it bad.
“High Stakes, please. Make him stop.” There was a sensation of burning magic, and when I turned up to the flying pegasus he had a wad of cloth stuck in his mouth. Ahh, the peace and quiet. Okay, the casino floor was actually fairly full and not quiet at all, but you know what I mean. “Thanks. You're a pal.”
“I am here to serve... or whatever. Frankly, his constant chatter has a habit of breaking the moment. So, you were about to tell us what exactly happened when I was dismissed from the room at Karkhoof.” Oh for Celestia's sake, his glasses were shinning again. “From what I can recall, you threw me out. A few minutes later most of the town was burning, Serenity had run off, and you had lost an eye. Something important must have happened. Though what, I cannot know. Given past evidence, I am going to guess you killed somepony. Brutally.”
“High Stakes.” I gave my best 'shut the fuck up voice' but he kept talking.
“Now, I know you'd never kill a foal, but I do not think Serenity would react so hostile otherwise...” Fuck off. I stormed forward slamming through the doors of the casino into the outside.
“Shut. Up. Now.”
He didn't. “So maybe you were aiming for someone, but a foal got in the way. Or...”
“Or Maybe Serenity tried to stop you and altered your shot. Am I getting clo-”
The force of my buck sent him flying backwards into the doors of the casino. His head slammed backwards into the door so forcefully it left a dent. Slowly he slid down the door until he was resting against it, a swath of blood covering the door. Flare rushed to his aid immediately as I fumed, rage filling my ears. “High Stakes.” I seethed, as Flare fed him a healing potion. “Fuck off.”
I turned and stormed down the Dise street.
They followed me slowly but kept their distance and didn't talk. To that extent I stopped long enough to click on my Radio. Mr. New Haygas was far more interesting the fucktard duo behind me. “...refugees keep filing in from the war in the north. Despite reports that the pony known as 'The Light Bringer' defeated the Enclave, war still rages across the wasteland. Lacking space in the city-proper, many of the refugees have taken up shelter in the ruins of Eastern Celestia's Paradise, now known as Eastside. The NCA has expressed fears about the state of the refugees, stating that unless they are given food, shelter, and water there is a strong likelihood they could become desperate. They have said publicly that the last thing Dise needs is a new raider gang within minutes of the city.
Speaking of raiders, it seems a group of raiders who have traditionally kept to themselves in the border between Caledonia and Equestria have started moving south. Little is known about their motives, but the NCA plans to send an envoy asking about their intentions.
More news let us see. Mayhem has issued a boil order for all water in the city after some ponies in the slums have taken ill. According to him the issue appears to be with one particular fountain, but has requested all ponies boil their water if they can, until he can look into the issue fully.
Finally I need to end this broadcast on a sad note. It seemed that the section of Celestia's Paradise that went to Karkhoof has been wiped out,” I stopped in the middle of the street. That. That couldn't be right. They retreated what... “After the battle in Karkhoof yesterday, they were forced to retreat. Reports are still coming in but it seems the mercenaries they hired for safety fled after the fight, leaving them alone. That night their camp was beset by Zebra Assassins killing everyone inside except for the foals and Righteous Song herself. Details are still fuzzy, and we will update you when more information becomes available.”
They killed them all. Every last one. Except for the foals. Why. Why would they do that? I had thought after Celestia's Paradise left the fighting would be over. For fuck's sake. “The NCA has already condemned the attacks, as they are wont to do, and has already insisted on retribution. There is no way this won’t end up horribly... time for some music!”
Good job, Silver. You solved nothing at all. This shouldn't be a shock. Maybe that was my special talent. When things went wrong on an epic scale, things tended to turn to rubble. Perhaps that is what the rocks on my flank represented. My ability to turn victory into defeat just by existing.
I really needed to kick something, and High Stakes was too far back to reach.
I eventually did storm my way over to the Watcher's Fort in southern Dise. To my surprise, Ginger, the minotaur, was standing in between the two pony guards at the front gate making them look a bit uncomfortable. The minotaur had that effect on ponies. I think it was either the way he looked like somepony took a bunch of different animals and sewed them together or the way he stood on two legs. Mostly the two legged thing. I know griffins could walk like that (but preferred all four), and I heard that hellhounds and diamond dogs could walk like that as well, but it didn't stop it from being creepy.
The Minotaur stared down at me. “Hello, Ginger,” I said up at it. Of course, Ginger said nothing but to point with one of his fingers (digits are creepy) at one of the guards. Obviously, indicating for me to talk with one of them. It was a shame; I really wanted to hear him speak. “Right.” I turned to the guards. “Hey. Did you two work last night.”
One of the guard ponies with a long red mane nodded.
“Did you see a filly come by?”
She shook her head. I felt something in my stomach twist.
“Are you sure?”
“Yep,” The guard said. “Worked all night. Ain't no one came at all last night, certainly not no filly.” Okay. Calm, Silver. Serenity could have just snuck past them. She was a sneaky pony with her magic and everything.
“I need to talk to Clean Cutt.”
“I...” The guard looked abashed before muttering something into the device on her foreleg. It looked sort of like a pipbuck, but different. I couldn't exactly hear what she was saying, but I was sure the number six came up once or twice as she spoke. “He will be one minute. Please wait right here.”
I waited. Flare and High Stakes got up the nerve to come sit beside me too, so that was good. I didn't really mean to kick High Stakes that hard... he was just pissing me off. So I apologized for kicking him so hard. A bit out of character for me, but I felt it was important. Maybe I was actually learning, but I doubted that.
Eventually the leader of the Watchers did show himself. Clean Cutt always mildly creeped my out, mostly due to his pitch black eyes. Still, he was nice for the most part so I ignored it. “Ah, Hired Gun. It has been a while. How is Serenity?” Oh, fuck.
“You... don't know?”
The blue buck stared blankly at me with his dark eyes and shook his head. “I... No. You lost Serenity?” There was a tone in his voice that I really didn't like. “Did you really? In the city?”
“Well. I had thought she'd come here.” That was not only the truth of it; that was the plan. Where else could she have possibly gone?! This was not good, not good at all.
“Hired Gun,” he said, his tone harsh, “you must find her. There have been a rash of kidnappings in the city recently. Orphans have gone missing, and nopony has been able to find them... if Serenity is with them. It is vital you find her.”
Missing. Kidnapped. No no no no. This was not the plan at all! She was supposed to be safe! Healthy. Not trapped Celestia knows where. I stood up forcefully, my heart in my throat and my stomach twisting so much it hurt. I needed to find her. Before... no I couldn't think of that. I just needed to find her.
Okay. Calm, Silver. Calm.
“Hired, calm down, if you keep pacing like that you're liable to make somepony dizzy.” Fuck off, Flare. Okay, he was mostly right. I stopped and took a deep breath. I hadn't gotten fifteen feet from the Watcher fort before completely flipping out. Serenity was gone. Vanished. Poof. Just like that. No combination of that could ever be a good thing. Ever. I had to find her. I caused this. Again. I couldn't let it happen again. Whoever was kidnapping orphaned foals had to be up to no good. I was going to find them and use their body parts to decorate my suite, I swear to Celestia.
I shut my eye. Calm, Silver. Think about something calming. Lengths of rope are not calming, stop that. Even with my eye closed I thought I could see a spark of red. I wasn't deliriously in pain, she shouldn't be here. Wildfire just sighed at me.
My eye snapped open. Okay. Freaking out and going insane. There was nothing good about this. Calm Silver. “Okay.” I stopped pacing. “Need to think of a plan. Need to. Find her.”
Flare flapped into the air and flipped upside down so his frown looked like a smile. “Didn't you want her away anyway? I mean this was your plan, wasn't it? Obviously I'm lacking in details, but if High Stakes guessed right, why do you even care?” Because she's still my filly! I wanted her away from me because I cared about her, because I knew if she stayed with me something horrible would happen to her!
Seemed I was too late in that regard. My bad luck had already spread, and now she was kidnapped by Celestia knows who. “Flare. Shut up. It's not the time.”
“I have spoken in depth to Clean Cutt.” High Stakes said making me nearly jump out of my skin. Fucking ponies sneaking up on my blind spot. I hadn't even realized he wasn't with us, shows how much I pay attention. “He seems to have little information on the disappearance. Though he claims Mayhem might know something.” How woul- “from what he said a new recruit of Mayhem vanished, and he never lets things like that go uncovered.”
“Mayhem. Got it.” I needed to go there then. Back to the Moon. Apparently, it was still mostly standing after the attack, though I doubted Mayhem would be using Roy's penthouse. If I remembered correctly most of the glass was blown out in Molly's attack, and who knows what else got destroyed. Besides, it didn't seem to be Mayhem's style.
Because I knew all about style.
“I have a question!” I looked up at Flare who was still hanging upside down. “Does your eye hurt or something? You've been strangely quiet about it.” I've had better things to think about.
“Yes.” It hurt constantly. Despite still feeling the effects of my hangover (I have kindly left most of them out of the narrative to avoid being repetitive about how shitty I felt), my eye throbbed constantly. It was like a knife was stuck in there and just kept twisting. To that end I’d taken a Med-X to help make it less, pain-y. “A lot.”
“Oh goodie. I've always wondered what it'd be like losing a body part. After seeing you I changed my mind. It clearly does nothing for looks, or brains.” He was getting one step closer to losing a body part with every word, I swear.
So I turned and walked down the street.
I hated Dise on principle, but it was amazing. Sure, most of the buildings were falling into rubble but for the most part many were still intact. More amazingly was that ponies walked back and forth without fear of being, you know, randomly killed. No Steel Rangers to confiscate technology. No land sharks to rise from the ground. No raiders or pirates, or little wars. Sure, sometimes you could get killed in a gang war, but compared to outside the wall, it was, for the most part, peaceful. Though a city of vice and suckitude, it was hard to find a place safer.
I spent most of the walk trying my best not to think. Thinking led to bad thoughts. Thoughts like 'Seriously what the fuck, Silver? You let her get kidnapped! Who knows where she is, or what the pervert who kidnapped her is doing? You fucking fucktard why would you think it would be a good idea to let her off on her own, ever? Seriously. What the hell?’ And there I go again. Lovely.
I think Flare was talking as we walked, but I wasn't really paying attention. Partly because I was still pissed at him, but mostly because I just couldn't concentrate. Whine whine moan. I know! But my filly was missing! How else was I supposed to react? Why couldn't she do this one thing? I just wanted her to be safe, I just...
I stopped to wipe the tears from my eye and continued on my way.
“Hey. Hey, Hired.” Huh. I shook my head and turned to see Flare flying in my blindspot. “Hey, are you alright? You seem more out of it than normal...” No, I was not alright! “Okay, I guess that was a stupid question. Listen, I'm sure Serenity will be fine, okay? And she'll forgive you for whatever happened at Karkhoof, so don't worry. It'll all work out.” I didn't want her to forgive me. I wanted her to hate me from a safe distance. “Seriously. C'mon, insult me or something. This mopey Hired is getting hard to take. Do ya wanna kick me?”
I smiled, just a little bit, at that. “Sure. Stand still.”
Flare laughed but flew away. Right. I needed to work on this not being mopey thing. How about stressing out? Is that mopey. Calm Silver. Just breathe. You can do this.
I gritted my teeth and stormed into The Moon. I could do this. Flare was right. I'd find Serenity. Kick the ass of whoever thought it was a good idea to touch my filly, and deposit her back with the Watchers where she belonged. I could do this.
“I'm sorry, baby. You're gunna have to leave the gun here.” I stopped at the entrance and stared at the suited stallion at the front desk. He was not a pony I recognized. That was strange mostly because I knew every freaking pony who worked at the Moon. Or I did. I guess I had been gone for a while, and with Mayhem running the show...
“You can't have Subtlety.” I could not stress that part enough.
“Baby, now I ain't askin. See this is how it rolls in the Moon: you give us your weapons, or you get the fuck out.” Who the fuck was this guy? I was going to give him my gun alright, right after I give him my- Suddenly, Subtlety was floating off my back, and my shoulder burned. “High Stakes!” I turned and glared at the chuckling unicorn.
“Hired, I'd rather you not get us shot. I know how hard that is for you, but you could at least make an attempt.” Oh, now he was going to mock me, too! Fuck stallions. And not in that way. “For now let us meet this Mayhem and get the answers you seek.” Stop being right; I hate you so much.
“It's all good, baby.” The door greeter stallion welcoming guy said as he carefully put Subtlety and Bunker Buster away. “We'll take good care of them. Don't you worry your pretty little head off. They'll be safe and sound till you need to leave. Not sure why you'd ever want to.” That's because you're an idiot. Big surprise there. A stallion with shit for brains.
I stormed past, my two shit-headed stallions following behind. The Moon was looking pretty good considering. There was a section in the far back wall that had to be boarded up (no doubt where the Baises decided it'd be fun to blow it up), but beyond that there was little sign of physical damage. The debris were cleared and cleaned, and it was business as usual. Though the dancer on the stage wasn't Mayflower... a bit of a shame she was such a lovely mare. Instead it was a new mare I’d never seen. I was sensing a pattern here.
“Ah, The Moon. How I missed you. The smells. The views. The alcohol, th-”
“Really, Flare?” High Stakes chuckled, and I could almost hear his glasses shine. “I suppose it is to be expected. But I was hoping you had more refined tastes than... here. I feel sullied just by stepping into this place.” Try being a tad more arrogant. Might help your image.
“Don't be like that! This place is like the heaven of sin and debauchery.” Flare fluttered up just so he could spread his forelegs out and spin dramatically.
“You mean hell,” High Stakes offered helpfully, only to gain a spiteful look from Flare.
At least my companions made themselves useful by distracting me from my panic attack. “You're no fun at all, you know that?” Flare groaned, still floating. “A stallion just wants to have a little fun, and you 'tut tut' all over it. Well I, for one, refuse to bow down to your 'tut tutting'.”
“I never said ‘tut tut’ I just sai-” High Stakes was cut off by a furious round of 'tut tutting' by Flare. It was difficult not to smile at that, but I was well-practised at not smiling.
It did occur to me as I walked, that I didn't know where I was going. I mean, I knew The Moon like the back of my hoof (insert “I never saw that before” joke here) but I didn't know where Mayhem was. He clearly wasn't going to take up Roy's shattered suite. So where would Mayhem set up shop? I guess he must have had an office back when he was Roy's right hoof stallion, but I never did find it.
So that left me... where exactly.
“Hired Gun?” Blinking, I turned. There, standing before the fake bathroom door that really led to a secret elevator, was the old bartender. Only now he was decked out in a battle saddle and fancy suit. I really should have gotten around to remembering his name. “We'll I'll be a minotaur’s uncle. I heard you got killed!” Wait, really? “How have ya been, girl? Where's your filly anyway? Heck, soon as I saw ya I immediately started thinking that I should grab you some sparkle-colas.” The unicorn chuckled. “Good to see you well... well, mostly well. Nice eyepatch, real sporting.”
“Hired Gun has friends,” High Stakes remarked, half-shocked, “I must be dreaming.”
“Ignore him.” I waved my metal hoof at the annoying green unicorn. “I need to see Mayhem.”
“Mayhem is a busy stallion, but I'll see what I can do. He was mighty upset when he heard you died and has been dying ta talk with ya. Can't tell you why, but hey, give me a second.” The unicorn backed off and spoke into his hoof. Seemed to be a common thing for ponies to do these days.
A few minutes of hushed chatter later and he came walking back up. “Says you're okay for a chat.”
“Where is he?”
“Why, The Room of course.” Only Mayhem would make an interrogation room his personal office. I stepped towards the door, “Now wait just a tick. Only you can go, not your friends. Ya dig?” I blinked. “Listen, he doesn't really trust you. Can you blame him? So just you, your friends are welcome to the many amenities The Moon has to offer as they wait. I have some vouchers for free drinks and dances if they want.”
“Whatever.” I turned to Flare and Stakes. “Don't get too drunk without me.”
The sterile white hallway that led to The Room was just as I remembered it. Back during those days when I worked for the Mustangs I had walked the same walk many times. Though then, I was in a position of power. Now, though, I was gunless and mostly in Mayhem's power. I licked my lips and kept walking. The lights above were outrageously bright, and made the whole hallway shiny. Did it really have to be so long though? I could feel my heart pounding harder with every step. Something between a combination of being worried for Serenity, nervous about what Mayhem wanted me for, and frustrated with everything that had happened.
You know what? Fuck that. If Mayhem tried anything, I'd kill him like I killed Roy.
I stormed past the two guards standing right outside the door and entered The Room. It wasn't exactly as I remembered. It was still obscenely white, but the single table had a large terminal on it now, and was mostly covered in documents. Mayhem, who was sitting on a cushion, looked up from the computer screen at me. Sighing, he flicked the monitor off. “Hired Gun. It seems the rumours of your demise are unfounded.”
I...” The door clicked behind me. It locked from the outside. “I suppose so.”
“Considering I started them, it is not a surprise.” I... wait what? “I was hoping Molly would have killed you. It'd make waving away Roy's death that much easier.” He wasn't making much sense. “Some think I hired you to kill him, so it would be easier if you were dead... and yes I know it was you. It's the worst kept secret in Dise. For the time, anyway.”
“How do you-”
“Spies. And then spies watching the spies. Any gang leader worth their salt has an extensive network watching everypony else's business.” The red stallion smirked. “So, of course, Roy had none. It took me a couple days to modify my existing network, but the first word I heard was about a large mare seen near the scene with a huge gun. You, of course. Still you did get one thing right. No pony has any idea why you killed him.”
“Let's keep it that way.”
“Of course.” He stood up. For some reason he seemed a bit thinner than I last remembered him. Still large, just not as much. And his... woah! From around his left knee down was replaced with metal. It wasn't skeletal like my leg, but instead rounded and more like an actual ponies leg, only, you know, cybernetic.
“That's my style.” I said plainly as he started to pace.
“Hah, well too bad. The thing is new too.” He stretched it. “Waited too long to take a healing potion. By the time I tried, most of my leg was too fucked up. Didn't need to amputate but limping would just incite someone to usurp me. So I hired a Watcher doctor and Cerberus cybernetic tech to come in and do it. Bitch is hard to get used to, and it burns sometimes, but apparently that's normal.”
“The other cybernetic company.” He smirked. “Couldn't very well have my rival work on my leg could I? Hear the Cerberus clowns came from some stable up in Equestria. The one I talked to was a new recruit but apparently the founders were all earth ponies, and had a different tech design. More efficient than house could ever dream of.” He smirked. “Stables, apparently they did one thing right.” He laughed bitterly. “Sorry. They have me on painkillers. Apparently they have a side effect of making me a jabbering idiot.” Strange, Med-x never did that for me. “What exactly is it that you wanted?”
The pleasure of your company, of course. “I heard you know something.”
“Know lots of things.”
“About the vanishing foals.” He raised and eyebrow before smirking.
“So they got Serenity.” I winced. “Now how did you let her go? Normally, you are so protective.” There was a smirk on his face I didn't like. “Maybe I know something about her...” He started circling the table. Slowly and methodically. “Maybe I could help you find her. Maybe. Then again, you did kill my boss...”
“You mean,” I corrected, my voice expressing my barely contained rage. “I gave you your job.”
“Aye. That you did.” He kept circling until he started walking around me. I knew the tactic well enough so I didn't bother following his path, and instead stared at the papers on his desk. Imagine that, sensitive information just waiting for me to read. I idly wondered how much of it was planted information. I was stupid, but I wasn't stupid enough to think he'd leave vital information on his desk like that. Mayhem looked like a large tub of stupid, but he was annoyingly smart. “But you still killed Roy. You have upset some important ponies. I could sell you to Molly a-”
“No. If you tried, I'd smash your head in. Besides.” I rested my head on the table. I was not in the mood for these stupid games he always felt like playing. Serenity was somewhere and I had to banter words with this fuck-head. “You wouldn't sell me to your enemy.”
“And how do-”
“Molly still wants The Moon. You aren't going to give her anything. Stop fucking around.” I grit my teeth and tried to calm my tightening muscles. Every fibre in my being was telling me to beat him. “You won’t sell me. Not to the Baises. Not to House. Not to the Galicians. Not to the NCA. All of them hate you more than me. I'm a fly. You're a poisonous snake. I can be ignored, but to them, your gifts would be tainted.” Great, now I was giving animal metaphors like Molly. “Just tell me what you want. What price. I'll pay it. I need your information.”
Mayhem made a tut tutting noise at me. “You know how this room works. Interrogation, beatings, ruin ponies’ sense or worth and entitlement.” There was a smirk behind me before he started walking around some more. “The rules still apply. Don't make me have to break you. This room has met tougher opponents and won, ya dig?”
“Maybe.” I shrugged. “There is a difference.” I lifted my head up. “Something you had before, that you don't have now. Something that let you get what you wanted. Something that could break ponies.” He raised an eyebrow, begging me to continue. “You had me.”
“Aye. I need a new stupid mare to scare folk. So what is it you wanted again?” Fucking fucker mother fuck fuck. I played your game of words, now just tell me what I wanted to know. “Right the missing foals. Well I got a new shipment of foals two days ago.” I winced. “Don't worry. They'll be trained to be guards and given freedom. Roy had some fillies in the sex trade but... well, I may be a horrible evil bastard, but I would never go that far.” Right. No killing Mayhem for child slavery. Not yet anyway. “I had them running drills in the alley outside. And by drills I mean tag.” Huh. Tag? “It teaches foals many important skills. Strength, speed, agility, teamwork, that sort of thing. Blind Spot went missing, and some kids reported seeing a flash.”
Was that it? How long had I spent down here for that little tidbit of shit! Really! Fucking really! Serenity was missing, and that's all the information. I... calm. Silver. Just calm down. Don't rush headlong. Calm for fuck's sake.
“Is that it?” Okay. I did not sound calm. And maybe I was shaking. Just a little bit. I don't think he noticed.
“No...” Tell me. Tell me. Tell me! “But. Information is not cheap. If you want me to tell you, well I need something in return. A promise. A contract. That someday, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a year, you'll help me. No questions asked. No matter what it is.”
I slammed my hooves down so hard they cracked the table. “Even I am not that stupid.” My rage bubbled to the surface, and I had to bite my lip to keep my voice down. “I won’t agree to that. I. You could make me do. Anything! At any time. I am not that stupid. It's too vague. I-”
“Hired.” He smirked at me, leaning against the wall non-nonchalantly. “You and I both know you will take the deal. Because Serenity is on the line.” My metal hoof cracked down slamming through his table. Not to show my defiance, but because he was right. I was going to take the offer. Serenity was out there... somewhere, with someone. I choked back tears. I had to be strong. Until I found her. Just a little bit longer.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “Yeah. Fuck you.”
“I just knew you'd see it my way.” He walked over to his table and tut tutted at the hole I put through it before swiping the fake documents away. “Now, I suppose I could make you sign a contract, but well, you have been getting a reputation for always following the word of the contract. Just the word though. Do you know how to combat that?” I shrugged. “Be really vague or really specific. If you agree to this, you are agreeing to accept a single job from me without question in the future.” I nodded. “Good.”
“Now tell me.” I barked. Well. I didn't really bark, but it is the closest approximation to the sound of my voice at that point in time. “What. Do. You. Know.”
“Patience. Well, after one of my foals vanished I had to find out who took him. And no, he did not just escape.” I wasn't thinking that.... “They came to me slaves, I let them play tag and gave them food. Moving on. I am nothing if not thorough. So I sent my little ponies out to investigate. It seems to have started a few nights ago. Vanishing colts and fillies, sometimes flashes of lights. Only orphans or slaves though... not sure how your daughter was mistaken.”
“Get. To the point.” I was tired of trying to match wits with him, so I just glared.
“You know there are ponies living under Dise right.” I blinked. “For serious? Fuck.” Wait. That sounded familiar. I was sure I heard something like that before. “I hate having to explain this shit, look. Way back before the world blew up some crazy ass idiot created a huge series of tunnels under Dise. Supposed to be large enough to hold the entire city at it's peak, but it didn't work. I mean, it withstood the blast partially but wasn't much protection against radiation. Ya dig? Ponies died, yadda yadda, but more importantly is a lot of the facilities still work. So there are a lot of tribes and villages down there that trade with the surface.” But the tunnels I was in didn’t seem... livable. Also, it was full of crazy. “Some feral ghoul attacks, but safer than the surface. Entrances are sprinkled throughout the city, but all of them in Dise are held by an important faction so ponies don't use it to smuggle.” Talk more; you're not boring at all. “Fact of the matter is some of the villages have been... talking.”
“Shut up. I'm trying to help you.” No. You are just telling me so you can blackmail me in the future. “Strange occurrences and these flashes of light. Same thing as before, ya dig? This tells me that something is down there. Something that is kidnapping these foals.”
That was. Something. I felt a spark of hope rise in my chest. It was a lead. It was something I could latch onto. I had to follow this until the end. Somehow I knew it was the only lead I was going to get, and I wasn't going to let it go.
“I... thank you.” I backed away from the table, and turned to walk away.
“I am not done.” I tilted my head back. The red stallion seemed to be enjoying himself way to much. “Here.” On the table he pushed over a map with some notes scrawled on it. “Directions to the village that saw the flash. Clues, maybe.” He smirked as I rolled it up and stuffed the map in my saddle bags. “And this.” He pressed something under the table.
And the wall started moving.
Wait, what? The white wall he was standing in front of cracked, and slowly stated to rise into the air. As the door rose slowly, dust and paint chips falling off it, I could see a small room on the other side with a staircase. At first I thought it made no sense, but then I used my head. I knew Wallkirk built the tunnels to save ponies (even if he failed hilariously), and I knew that at least one other hotel had a secret exit (The Ale House, of course), and I also knew that the major factions personally controlled the entrances to the tunnels. So seeing this one here in The Room, which I knew was underground, shouldn't have been a surprise. I should have expected. Then again, I was not a clever pony (if you don't believe me ask Post Haste).
“Well. That's convenient.”
“If Molly ever attacks again, it most certainly will be.” Mayhem grinned deviously at me. Somehow I knew I played exactly into his hoof, but I didn't know how.
Nodding, I started forward to the hidden stairs. “Mayhem. Do me a favour. My companions will miss me. Tell them. Also. Make sure they don't get too drunk without me.” he nodded.
So, I took a deep breath, closed me eye, and descend back into the tunnels. Already I could hear the winds whispering in my ears. I never asked for this... for either of us...
Silver. I heard a voice whisper in my ear.
Just calm down. Oh. I was just thinking to myself. Yes. Calm, Silver. Just because you were in a tunnel didn't make it the tunnels. Look at the differences.
Right. First of all was the fact that the tunnel I was in actually had working lights strung up on the walls. This gave me the lovely ability to see without making shadows dance around me. Secondly, would be the fact that there was no mysterious wind, and when I closed my eye I wasn't transported into an inescapable dream. Right. Just think about this rationally. Which was all well in good if I was a rational pony.
Of course, I wasn't. So every three seconds I snapped my head to the right, making sure nopony was sneaking up on my blind sport, and every minute or so I needed to take a deep breath. If I’d a choice, I would never go underground again. Never ever. But... well, something under here stole Serenity. Nothing under Dise was good, so I was going to find it and kick its ass. Even if the tunnels made me a tad nervous. I just needed to get over it.
Fear was all well and good, but I was better than that. Just keep moving forward, stupid. You're just worked up over Serenity vanishing. The tunnels don't scare you. I mean, I disliked them, but they weren't scary. Just needed to calm myself down. Fuck the tunnels. If they got in my way, I would kick them the fuck down.
So I stormed through the quiet tunnels. I would have felt better with Subtlety on my back (and my right eye in my socket), but I had to go with what I had. My hooves clacked loudly against the metal grate, and somewhere I could hear dripping water. It wasn't as creepy as the darkness of that tunnel, but it had its own charm. For example, it had a subtle mildew scent that never seemed to leave. Almost as if it was following me, and every once in a while something would drip on my head making me almost jump.
The walls were still creepy. Whatever tunnel I was in had the metal grate that served as a floor cleaned, but the walls told the truth. It was lined with centuries old stains of indeterminable origins. The moldy brown sometimes nearly wrote words, but were so faded it was hard to see. However, there were some words carved into the stone that I could see. “Celestia, help me.” wrote one. “We're dying, save us” wrote another. “The tunnels were never meant to save anypony” yet a third carved note said. The final will of ponies who have been long dead, forever immortalized in stone.
Apparently, tunnels made me thoughtful and morose... very thoughtful, considering I just used morose in a sentence. If only Serenity were here to hear me be so verbose. Oh! There, I did it again.
Right. Apparently being nervous turned my intelligence chip into overdrive. Or perhaps thinking about Serenity made me subconsciously remember some of the more impressive words she used... or I just got lucky twice in a row. Or maybe I was getting off topic.
Just to make sure I knew where I was going I pulled out the map from one of the pockets in my barding, and rolled it out on the floor. Right, so If I started at this 'X' and walked... how many doors did I pass? I was. Somewhere. I looked around, then back at my map, then around again. Well... I guess this was a good time to realize that I didn't know how to read maps. I mean, I thought it was easy. Look at map. Instantly gain knowledge. Apparently there was a part where you had to decipher the map and stuff.
Well, this can't be too hard. So, after I packed up my map, I kept walking. I mean I was looking for, what? A little underground village of surface hating ponies. Or... something. Either way, it shouldn't be that hard to find my way to it. All I had to do was follow the screams.
Fucking screams. It seemed in my worried daze I completely missed the fact that somepony was screaming!
I dashed down the hall, following my ears. Quickly, I turned right, slamming through a wooden door with my head (What? Not like it could damage my brain anymore), and into a small hallway. That shrill scream sounded again, further down the hall way. One more doorway, and I seemed to have found the voice.
She was standing in the middle of a rather large, empty, dirty brown room. I didn't get much of a look at her as I was paying more attention to the swarm of radscorpians. Right, it was Hero ti-
There was a flash so bright I had to close my eye and cut off my epic rescue. When I opened my eye again the rad scorpions were suddenly tied up in a giant net hanging from the ceiling. Standing smugly before them was a black suited pony with a mask covering her entire face. “Have no fear, Citizen. I am here to help.” The Batmare said, turning to the mare who had been attacked.
The brown mare didn't answer though as she was pointing a frightened hoof in my direction. Wait. She didn't think I was a bad guy o-
A sudden kick to the head sent me staggering to the side. My shoulder flared in protest, but when I turned to see what hit me it was gone. Dammit, The Batmare was using her fancy teleporting tricks and... my shoulder was burning again. I tried to turn, but for some reason my leg faltered, reacting slower than it should have.
Argh, there was a sudden weight on my back, and something mashed into the top of my skull. Reeling in pain I tried to buck her off of me, but she was surprisingly strong. “Surrender now, evil doer, and face justice!” Take your justice and shove it up your ass. With a growl I dropped and rolled and the mare vanished off, making my shoulder sting.
Batmare's hoof just nicked my forehead as I managed to pull back just in time. I noticed that my shoulder started to burn right before she appeared. Heh. There is no way she'd be expecting that from an earth pony. As The Batmare tried for another kick, I stepped away and tried to give her one of my own, only for her to, predictably, disappear.
Her foot slammed hard into the stone floor, missing me completely. Before she had a chance to realize I could predict her attacks, I turned and slammed my back legs into her with a powerful KRUNCH!
She flew through the air but vanished before hitting the wall. Only to reappear in nearly the same spot she vanished, just standing upright. “You are no amateur villain. Tell me who you work for! Is it the Laughing Stallion? The Cat Walker? Mr. House? Or are you alone, here to spread vileness and evil for your own mysterious purpose. It matters not, for I Am The Batmare!”
And she was gone again.
I ducked just in time to dodge the blow. Gritting my teeth I turned to my right to face her, but she started circling me. Trying to stay in my blind side no doubt. For fuck's sake, I didn't even want to fight this whack--”Fuck” I cried out stumbling to the side as she bucked me hard in the ribs. “Will you stop. I'm not a-” She flashed her horn and vanished again. Argh, this was getting irritating.
Ignoring the burning in my shoulder as she appeared behind me, I charged forward. The bag of rad scorpions was hanging from the ceiling. Leaping up I grabbed the rope holding them up, and snapped it. As I slammed into the ground I twirled my head around, swinging the bag of poisonous creatures like a flail.
My shoulder burned. I don't know how, but I could always tell where the magic was coming from. So when she appeared to my right I was ready. I slammed my improvised weapon into her, and let go. The force sent her tumbling to the ground, smothered in writhing giant insects.
She laid dazed just long enough for me to say, “Stop that. I am not your enemy. And.” I pointed around the empty room. “That other pony left already.”
Another flash. Oh for fuck's sake.
Except instead she flashed infront of me, far enough away that she clearly wasn't trying to hurt. “Gone you say? Hah, my apologies.” Hey! What happened to the epic voice of truth and justice? “It is necessary to keep up my facade long enough for them to leave, I did not think you were a threat, but it is about appearance. She thought you were scary, so I fought you.”
“Now tell me,” She said beneath her mask, “What are you doing down here? You are clearly not known. If you are a criminal vagabond, I shall be forced to continue my righteous beat down.” Beat down? I was winning there! I mean sure I got kicked hard a few times, but... shut up. She cheated with her stupid unicorn powers. And I still was making a come back... with my own mysterious magic like powers.
“I am looking for...” I furrowed my brow. How was I supposed to explain what Serenity was to me. I don't suppose 'random orphan I picked up and subsequently scared away by killing another kid' would work for Ms. Truth and Justice. So I gave the response you're all waiting for, “my daughter.”
Was she smirking? I couldn't tell under her mask. “Yes, another taken by the dastardly child snatcher.” She started to pace, pausing briefly time to time so she could pose. “I have heard tales. The most innocent and helpless of orphans stolen by this evil creature. They say he is ten feet tall and shoots lightning from his eyes. Few have gotten a good look, but many have traced him to this very tunnel! I am getting close. I have an inkling that the Laughing Stallion might be behind these abductions, but I cannot be sure. If you wish to help me, please leave. This is no job for amateurs.” Ama-what? I'll show you amateur.
“I'm not a-” I stopped speaking when she winked away. Unicorns, bah.
Still, when I felt a dull burning in my shoulder I followed it. Stupid superheros weren't allowed to insult me and get away with it. I slammed though a nearby door, and into another dimly light dirt hallway. Followed by another one, bringing me into one of the large hallways.
Batmare stood there, staring blankly at me. Obviously, she must not have figured out my super special, and not suspicious at all, powers. “How did you find me so quickly?”
“Magic. Listen. I'm coming with you. Serenity is missing. I am going to find her.”
“You are truly a pony with honesty and justice in your heart! I shall gladly take you on as a sidekick for this mission.”
The tunnels were endless. They sprawled along in every direction, stretching out in patterns I could barely understand. It was like a giant maze, made all the more confusing by the numerous cave ins and passages rendered impassable by debris. How the Batmare knew where she was going at all confused me, but somehow she kept walking, so I followed. The wanna-be super hero was not one for chit-chat, and I wasn't sure that was a good thing.
Eventually, she did say something. “You are a good fighter. Well, tough at least. It was lucky I recognized you from before. Twas the leg, an uncommon make even in Dise. Otherwise I would have laid you flat instead of taking it easy.” I had to roll my eyes at that statement. Sure she was going to try to save face even after I smacked her upside the head with a bag full of rad scorpions. I made a mental note to never forget that.
“You believe me not? A shame. Perhaps I should change my mind about you being my sidekick.” Please do.
“What are you?” She stopped and turned her masked face to me. So I continued, even though she was tapping her foot against the metal grate in annoyance. “The costume. The act. That stupid, stupid voice. I don't understand.”
“If you must know.” Sure, why not. I love backstories. She continued on walking, so I followed. “I was inspired during my travels across equestria. In manehatten I found long forgotten stories of somepony known as 'Mare Do Well.'” That was a stupid name. “When times were tense, and ponies troubled, she came as a beacon of justice. She fought evil, thwarted zebra plots, and saved innocent ponies. When I finally reached this city I looked upon it and saw a swarming, pus-filled shit hole so full of crime that law itself was outlawed. So I became a law unto myself. Following Mare Do Well, I struck back at the evil. A beacon of hope for this beleaguered city. I am here to give the citizens that hope.”
“So...” We turned a corner. If I’d been paying attention to where I was walking I wouldn't have stumbled on a shattered statue lying in front of a wooden door. Looking down, I kicked at it in annoyance before looking up at the door. There was a centuries old plaque on the door that said 'Wall'. Right, apparently the door had multiple personality disorder.
“So...” I continued, having briefly forgotten that I was talking. “Your parents didn't die and drive you crazy or anything?” I mean the whole 'inspiration' thing was dandy, if a tad strange, but it was the wasteland. Her story wasn't nearly tragic enough.
“Well, yes,” she admitted, “but that is hardly relevant.” Honestly, the dead parents story seemed far more interesting. If Flare was here he'd tell the story right. And then, I don't know, report my reactions to Sky Fall. Apparently.
Though I could have brought him and High Stakes with me. I mean, they were waiting upstairs in the casino, so it wouldn't have been much to convince Mayhem... why didn't I think of that?! I mean I know I was a stupid pony, but that was just ridiculous. With their combined, uh, talents it would have been that much easier to find Serenity.
I sighed. Serenity. Somewhere down in these cold, dank tunnels. Taken by somepony. I was trying my best not to think about, not to worry, but... well I was bad at that. Each step seemed to twist my stomach more and more. There was a pounding in the back of my head as I thought about it, warning me of who might have taken her. Reminding me that it was my fault for letting her go... for forcing her to go. I meant for her to be safe, but I fucked that up.
Urgh, whining wasn't going to get me anywhere. Just needed to calm down.
“You seem troubled.” The costumed crusader said, not bothering to look back at me.
“This thing. Whoever has been... foalnapping. Do you know what it is?” I doubted she did, but the sound of talking would distract me from the omnipresence of my failure.
“I cannot truly say,” she said after a moment of silence. “Whatever it is, it is magical. It started three days ago. Orphans mostly, but I have heard talk of slaves being freed.” Yes, one of Mayhem's was taken. That made no sense to me. If somepony was trying to do something horrible, it made sense to take orphans. Who would miss them? But slaves, that seemed odd. If they went missing somepony would notice. Maybe I was overthinking this.
“In either case,” The Batmare continued, “The figure what took them has been seen but rarely. Descriptions vary but two things are known for certain. Firstly: whatever it is, it is of a monstrous size. Comparisons have been made to being at least as tall as a minotaur. Secondly: whatever it is, flashes of light are always seen nearby when it shows up.”
“Thirdly, it's in these tunnels?” I asked.
“Maybe.” That felt like a buck to the chest. What have I been doing these past few hours if she wasn't actually near by! I had to be sure, each second we wasted she could be... “But there is a good chance. Many have spoken of flashes of lights, though no children from the villages have been taken.” Right, villages. I have heard ponies lived in these tunnels, but apart from The Batmare and that one pony we saved, I’d seen none. Of course the tunnels were designed to hold everypony in Celestia’s Paradise at it's peak, so it wasn't that shocking. That was a lot of space for so few.
“Well... what if it was you?”
She stopped in the middle of a T shaped intersection and shook her head. Either that or she was deciding which way to go. “No, I rarely go down here.” Yet she knew her way well. “And when I do, I rarely teleport, save for instances of battle.” I guess that made sense. Magic couldn't have been easy so she would want to conserve her... magic, swirly glowing... energy... stuff. “This way.” She turned right.
I followed after. The tunnels were getting dirtier I noticed. The ceiling above looked to be caked with... something, and every few steps I would splash into something really gross. If nothing else it was proof that destiny did not want me to bathe as it always sent me into dirty places right after I did so.
“Are you sure it’s-” I stopped. My shoulder was burning. It was light, but it was still there. “Yes. We're going the right way.”
“How would you know?” The Batmare questioned.
“Magic.” I closed my eyes, and focused on my shoulder. The tingling of the scar tissue under the metal plate felt so real, so alive. It didn't burn, but I could feel something. I had never felt residual magic like this before. Even under the tunnels I didn't sense the magic until I was close to the orb. Whatever made this was really powerful, or really careless. “I can feel it.” My heart was beating more and more. Something ludicrously powerful had taken Serenity, and I wasn't sure I could stop them.
I banished the thought from my head. I couldn't... remembering would just hurt. I could do it this time. There was no other option. But my mind kept going back to what Elder Chunky Soup told me. “There is a darkness under Dise. Something black and squirming and begging to be let free.”
I opened my eye. Sweat drenched my chest at the thought. I don't know what Elder Soup was talking about, but a highly powerful magical thing stealing children seemed black and squirming to me.
“We need to hurry.” I ran.
I let my instincts guide me as the dirty tunnel flashed by in a blur. Somehow, I knew Batmare was following, but I couldn't care less. When I turned, slammed through a door, and fell thirty feet onto the rubble of what used to be a staircase, I barely even stopped. I knew they had come this way. So I kept running. I think I was bleeding, but I wasn't sure. There was a sudden spike of fire through my shoulder making me stop, as The Batmare appeared beside me.
“Don't do that!” I said too loud. Though I barely heard my words over my pounding heart.
“What? Why not, it is the only way I can keep up.” I looked around. The lights were still on at this level, but more and more were broken. The walls were so dirty they seemed almost black, and there was an overpowering smell that I could not place.
“The magic is faint. Your magic cancels it. Makes me lose the...” The what? The burn? The signal? The feed? I was not a smart enough pony to even figure out where the burning came from, never mind use proper words to describe it. It seemed to be enough, though, as she nodded. Saying no more, I took off down the dark hallway.
It got darker as I ran. This was not a good thing. I no longer liked dark hallways much, but I kept running. How could I not? Serenity's life was in danger by something presumably black and squirming. Dammit, and it was all my fault. I could only pray to Celestia that I wasn't too late.
I slammed through a door, ran three steps, then stopped.
The dank hallway vanished, and suddenly everything was... clean. The walls all looked freshly scrubbed, and every light was glowing. My shoulder was burning fully too, and I knew that Batmare beside me wasn't using any of her magic. So I stopped running, and spoke in a hushed whisper. “We are close.”
We inched past doors, most closed. The one that was open went into a room with a series of small beds laid out in a row. My heart started pounding more and more as I inched closer in the complex.
A solid wooden door. I could feel, something. I inched closer and stuck my ear up to -- quickly realized I used my stubby ear -- I turned my head around and used the other. Muffled voices spoke on the other side. Whatever took Serenity. Right behind this door. I licked my lips.
“On three.” I said to Batmare. “One.” My heart pounded against the door. “Two.” Another heart beat, I took a breath. “Th-” There was a familiar burning sensation. Wait. I knew that feeling.
The door shattered into splinters as I charged, then skidded to a stop. Standing in front of me was a... I wasn't sure. She was taller than any pony I’d ever seen, but thin and majestic. Her deep blue coat seemed to shimmer, and her hair was strange. It seemed to flow in waves of toxic purple and green. Her horn too, seemed too large even for her size, and her wings... wait, wings? Holy shit I was staring face to face at an alicorn. I was so stunned by her beauty I couldn't even completely my attack. “Celestia.” The Alicorn took a step back when I heard.
I turned my head so hard my neck almost snapped. Rows of foals sitting at a table, but they didn't matter. Only Serenity, who was staring at me, tears forming in her large grey eyes. Slowly I turned back to the alicorn, who seemed to be glaring, and then to the wall she was standing in front of. It was a strange green board with strange jumbled symbols filling it. Was this alicorn teaching Serenity some sort of evil, alicorn magic stuff!? I had to stop her and sa-
My thought process was cut off by a soft popping sound.
Suddenly smoke filled the room. Dimly I could hear the sounds of coughing children as I rubbed my eye, trying to see. Everything was a grey mist. Then there was a quick purple flash, a sound of a kick. Batmare, she was fighting, no wai-
Pain. The burning sensation in my shoulder exploded so violently I cried out.
Something slammed into me and I fell. The Batmare was on top of me groaning. That was a bad place to be.
As quickly as the smoke came it twirled away with another burst of pain to my shoulder. The Batmare winked away leaving me lying on the floor, the cat like eyes of an alicorn glaring down at me, her horn glowing ominously. Fuck. I was so fucked. I had to save Serenity, I had to get up, but when I tried her heavy hoof pushed me down. I was stronger, I could overpower her! I...
“No!” Serenity cried. I could hear hoofsteps before I saw her beside me. “Don't hurt her! Please, she's my... don't...” Why was she crying? I was here to save her; she should be happy.
“...math?” I repeated. The giant alicorn nodded once again. After the incident, the alicorn bundled me up in her magic and took me to a small (I had to assume) infirmary. Guessing by the number of boxes with three butterflies on them and the white cot I was lying on anyway. Turns out the fall earlier had cracked the bone on my left back leg. Thankfully I got a healing potion before the injury could set.
“Yes.” the alicorn said. “Long division to be exact.” She had a haunting voice that seemed to reverberate through the room. And I'm not even sure what that means.
“Never heard of it.” The Batmare probably knew what long division was, but she vanished after her failed attempt at fighting... fighting... whatever her name was. “What's your name?”
“I am...” She paused, her muzzle scrunching up for a second. “Platinum Haze. Yes. You must forgive me. It is a new name, and sometimes I struggle to remember it.” Err, what?
“How is the name new?” Was it a made up name like Hired Gun? Was she running from something too?
“It... well, it is not.” She looked puzzled. “But it is. Alicorns are different. Were different. It was my name before I joined the song of Unity, and it has become my name once more.” Did that make sense to anypony? Ever? “Now, though, you must tell me your name in exchange, and why you have smashed your way into my home.”
“I...” Argh, my stupid eyeball was throbbing. The one that was torn up, anyway. “I am Hired Gun. You stole my filly. So I came for her.”
“Yes,” She smiled just a bit. “This I already have knowledge of. I found her upon the street last night, crying and cold. So I took her unto my care, and she spoke of you with some heat. Though after a time she softened.” Great, I am sure she told this child loving alicorn about Post Haste. No doubt I was about to get a beating. Oh well, I could take her. “Tell me,” Haze continued, “Why did you do it?”
“It was a job.”
“I do not believe you.” She shook her head (her mane didn't shake like a normal mane due to the wavvy-ness). “For when I spoke to Serenity, she did not believe you. There is a test, if you will, to verify the validity of this statement.” I what.
“Listen. I know what I did. And why. I am a bad pony. Bad ponies need caps. I took a job for caps. Piss off.” I don't care if she was some beautiful demi-goddess. She was bothering me and my delicate sensibilities.
“I promised your filly I would try. She is determined you are not at all what you try to be, and thusly, to ease her mind, I promised. It is a simple test. A memory spell, to let me see what you saw as you saw it. It takes but a second.” No. No way was I letting a strange alicorn into my mind. Never. “Though to be truthful, she did not expect you to search for her. Not at first. She seemed positive you did not care, but from the stories she told I knew you would come... perhaps not in that manner, but such is the way of things.”
“Of course I would come,” I said softly looking away. “Fine.” I sighed, and rested my head upon the bed. Idly, I wondered if this counted under the 'Silver does something stupid and gets captured' rule. “How does this work? I tell you something. You magic up if it's the truth? Or... it doesn't matter.” I sat up on the bed. “I want to ask you some questions first.”
Platinum Haze looked down at me with a smile. Her eyes were very... something. I wasn't sure if they frightened me, or if they were just really pretty. Perhaps a little bit of both. “Of course, whatever to put you at ease. I know you must have had a rough day.” No. You really couldn't know that. But thanks for pretending.
“Who... no sorry. What are you? Why are you here? What the fuck is going on down here?”
“I am an alicorn,” She said simply. Right, because I couldn't tell that. But that really made no sense, I mean as far as I knew only goddesses were alicorns (unless you counted Starscream). “It is... difficult to explain. I was not always as you see me. There was... a spell, and magic, and a song. It is... fuzzy but I was turned into this and joined Unity.”
“Yes, that is what I said.” Was she mocking me? Given the regal way she spoke I wasn't quite sure. “It was... a collective of minds. With... it matters not. We were all one, once and now we are separate. It is hard to get used to, but it is better to not dwell.”
“So what happened?” I regretted asking. Turns out I didn't actually care. She could at least try to make the story interesting.
“The Goddess exploded.” Wait, Celestia? She exploded? But she's a... a goddess. Those can't die as far as I knew (though since they can't die I imagined they could explode twice). “Unity was broken and I remembered...” She scrunched up her muzzle. “Things. It matters not. Confused, I joined... a different pony who promised us we would be able to find mates.” Mates? As in male alicorns or... what? Actually, I don't want to know.
“He was killed by the same pony that killed the goddess.” I am sensing a pattern. Whoever that pony was she sure liked fucking super powerful goddess type beings around. “We learned. So we sided with a friend of the Destroyer. A mare named Velvet Remedy. She was not like The Destroyer. She promised to help us find mates and bring in a new wasteland. We are called the Followers Of The Apocalypse.” There was a hint of a smirk at that. “Velvet wanted to get a start at building a new world. At least preparations. It was my idea to bring a wing here, it was my home once and I thought it would be a good place to start... Velvet agreed, though I wish she hadn't.”
“So. You came here and stole orphans.”
“Rescued. We were given many caps and have the skills to acquire more. We attempted to enter the city legally but were shot on sight...” She sighed. “Diamond Sky and I survived and found our way through the tunnels. We found the remains of a schooling area and are refurbishing it to our needs. We have tried to speak with adults of this city, but most scream, shoot or... bite. So we have taken to gathering foals who are more open and teaching them. It is not exactly what Velvet wanted, but it is hard in this city.”
“That's stupid.” And I knew stupid. “Go into cities, teach them. I mean...” I understood the intent, I suppose. The sky was clear, let’s rebuild, but... whoever thought of the plan must have been naive. “Whatever...”
She laughed prettily, before turning to make sure the door was locked. I took the time to get a good look at her, trying to get a sense of what she was, but for some reason my eyes kept falling on her rump... oh fuck, not this again. Feeling my cheeks heat up, I turned my sight away. This was not the time or place to crush on majestic, otherworldly, beautiful... stop that. Not a fillyfooler. Bad Silver. I needed to take a cold shower.
“Whatever is the matter?” She asked so simply, but I blushed more and kept looking away. Is it gay if it's with a goddess?
Okay, that was a stupid question. “Nothing.” I lied. This wasn't the time. At all. I found Serenity. She was safe, and soon I needed to get back to wallowing in self pity. “Do your memory thing.”
“Don't thou wish to learn how the spell works? It is fairly tricky an-”
“Just.” I turned my head back to her, doing my best to glare. “Do it.” Haze looked concerned for a moment before nodding. In seconds her horn became engulfed in a brilliant blue glow. Slowly, she lowered her (very large [not in that way]) horn and touched my forehead. There was a shocking sense of pain in my shoulder before everything went black.
There was no sound in the blackness. No light. Just an endless void leaving me engulfed and restricted. A rising sense of terror took over me as I realized how trapped I was. Even when I tried to struggle it was as if I’d no body... because I didn't.
Do not panic.
A voice said in the darkness, reverberating through the inky blackness of my world.
This will not hurt. Relax, and let me see
I relaxed but not before regretting going into this stupid magical world. There was a white spot in the distance. Ever so slowly the white spot grew and grew until it engulfed me. Because it was me. A few minutes ago staring at Haze's...
Oh Fuck. Was she laughing at me? Stop laughing at me, goddess alicorn magical voice thing! Damnit. Time reversed again, and suddenly I was back fighting The Batmare. My senses were all there, but my thoughts at the time were missing, and all my feelings were dulled. Especially the burning in my shoulder, which seemed to have vanished completely.
A whoosh and I was back in the showering feeling miserable. I felt myself standing up and shaking the water off before walking out. Huh... I didn't quite remember taking a Med-X then.
Suddenly, my soul was torn from my body, and time reversed again, flashing back even further to when I was talking to Mr. House. Back again to the Vertibuck ride. Back, and back, and back until I was standing in the room back in Karkhoof.
Subtlety hung dully on my back, and I was scanning the the camp again. This memory. How I hated it. I could feel my mouth moving, but once again there were no words attached. The world was soundless but I knew the words by heart. I felt myself leaning down to bite the bridle of my battle saddle. Then I felt the strangest things. Tears in my eyes. I didn't remember crying, but I was. Even before I had shot I had already hated myself. I am not sure what that proved.
I bit the bridle, the shot swayed by Serenity's weight, and the foal died. I had replayed this memory too many times. A few tears changed none of this.
So she was right, The voice boomed as the memory played, she did affect the shot.
No. No no no no, she did not! I wasn't sure if she could hear me, but my mind screamed out to her, trying to explain it wasn't Serenity's fault the shot moved. It was mine. Did she really set this up just to prove it wasn't my fault... or did she... did she feel guilty for what happened? That made no sense. This was.
I am sorry for tricking you. She had to be sure... and she can be very convincing.
What was going on. The time was flashing back again to the battle with the land sharks. I could see Dragonslayer (note to self: you still need to kill him) glaring at me again. What the hell was going on?
I... this has never happened before. The voice said. I can fix this. Give me a minute
Had she even done this before?
O-only once. Reverberating voices shouldn't stutter! My magical abilities were quite limited in Unity. These spells are tricky, and I have had little time to learn an-
We flashed back again. Fix it! Fix it already!
She didn't and stopped speaking. We kept going back and back, living out minutes at a time. There was Elder Chunky Soup talking cryptically. There was the soccer game. The tunnels. The Batmare. Roy Mustang’s death. Time kept spiralling backwards, and I seemed powerless to stop it even as I screamed out with my voice.
As we moved back, I realized, with resounding horror, that if she didn't stop soon we were going to go past my time in Dise. Back to Marefort. To Stable 42. No. I saw an image of the swimming through murky water trying to save Serenity, and then we flashed back again. No, we were getting too close I had to end it. If she went back to Wildfire's death... I don't think I could take it.
Or worse... if she flashed back to... no. I couldn't think of it. I had to stop this fucking magic gone awry.
No. There I was waking up in Bridle Hope. Damnit, no. Stop. We moved back again, past Smooth Tongue, and to...
I was cradling her in my arms again, rocking her softly. She was saying something as she bled from the horrible wounds in her head, but my eyes were so blurry from tears I couldn't see. Why can't you just stay dead?! Wildfire. Just. Stop coming back. It's hard enough living without you, so why did you keep coming back to haunt me? Just... just stay dead. It's hard enough to live with myself and... and I couldn't bear knowing I could be living with you.
We flashed back again.
I'm... I'm so sorry.
And again. And again. Time moved back until I was in the hospital listening to the radio. And again to the cliff. No... no I had to end this. Get out.
Get out. Get out. Get out. Get out. GET OUT!
I was back in the bed in the tunnels under Dise. Looking down I realized the magic must have made me vomit. I felt...
So sick. So tense. Like there was this heavy pressure in my head that was just about to break and send everything out. Tears. I could feel them already. I’d been crying so much lately.
“I... I didn't think. I-I am sorry.” She stuttered. “I thought I could control... I could hear everything.” Of course. She took away my senses but kept them herself. “Wildfire, I a-”
A second later I had her pinned to the floor, my metal hoof pressing against her neck. “Never.” I hissed. “Never say that name.” Tears fell, splashing onto her cheeks. “Never... you can't. She has to...” She had to stay dead. I couldn't think about it. I had to be Hired Gun, not Silver Storm. Silver died, she died with Wildfire. It was the only way I could survive.
I was sobbing again. Damnit. I needed to be tough. The wasteland was hard; I needed to be harder. I couldn't cry. Nopony likes someone who cries. But it was so hard. My metal leg felt weak and slipped from her neck. The next thing I knew I was sobbing into Platinum Haze's chest. Why did she have to bring the memories back. I had almost got rid of them. I was so close...
But I kept crying and hoped she understood.
What happened next was sort of fuzzy.
I know there was crying involved. Deep heartfelt moments of talking and more crying. I spoke more than I ever had before, and she just sat there and listened as I spilled my heart out. Why? I’d no idea. It made no sense, but I couldn't stop myself. I told her about Wildfire, about Serenity, about my feelings. I...
I didn't tell her about Foundation. I could never go that far... but I told her more than I should have.
She just listened to me though. Even though I talked about the stupidest things. It was her fault anyway. Messing up the spell. Making me go back so far but, thankfully, not as far as she could have.
With a heavy sigh I rested my head on her neck, my eyes too dry to cry anymore, and my heart so numb I could barely think. I guess I should mention that we were cuddled up on the floor, and she had a wing over me, but it hardly seemed important. I know ponies would get the wrong impression (or the right one...) if they saw us, but I was so emotionally exhausted I really didn't care. I just needed somepony to be close. Even if it was a stupid fuck-up alicorn that I was only close to because she read my memories wrong.
“I really am sorry,” She said slowly.
“I know... you said that. Fifteen times.”
“I counted. It's enough.” I closed my eye. “It's okay. I never should have let you do it. Never trusted magic.” She squirmed for a second, but I didn't bother opening my eye. She was so warm I could sleep right there.
“It is just very confusing. The world. Ever since I broke apart from Unity things have been moving so fast. It is a challenge keeping up.” I felt her chest move as she sighed. “With Sea Breeze dead, and Diamond Sky gone to rescue the remains of Celestia's Vision--” I would like to pause to remark on the irony of Celestia's Vision being rescued by an alicorn. “I am supposed to be teaching the children we have gathered... I am not doing a good job at this moment.” I thought she was doing a wonderful job being warm.
“I guess... where are the children?”
“Playing, I assume. The ages vary, but we have tried to contact those orphans who would not shoot us on sight. The older ones take good care of the younger and...” I peeked open my eye to see a look of stern concentration on her face. “Whoever made this school under the ground equipped it with a playground.” Wallkirk, no doubt. That mysterious (OoooOooo) buck who built the tunnels thought of everything. Except, of course, how to make the tunnels radiation-proof.
“Makes sense. Must have toys too.” She nodded a bit, and I closed my eye again.
“... I really am sorry.” Oh, c'mon. Just let it go. “All those things. I...” She shuddered. “It could not have been easy. If I had known... I did not intend to make you cry. Your filly was just so sure...” She didn't make me cry. It was a long time coming, I suppose. She did help. I guess. At least it gave me someone to angst to.
“It's fine. And she is not mine.”
“And why not?” She seemed very indignant. Wait, that's not the right word. Haughty maybe? Well, she seemed very something at any rate.
“I... I'm dangerous.” That was true at least. “I bring bad luck. Ponies around me die.” Why would she even ask? She just saw the truth of that for herself. Sure, maybe she didn't see as far back as she could have but she saw enough to know the truth of it. “She needs to be safe. Not around me. So she's not mine. She can be the Watchers’. Much safer.”
“Huh.” She stood up, depriving me of her warmth, a fact I was a little bit upset about... get your mind out of the gutter. So I wanted some comfort after the past few days of horrible stupidness and extreme emotions... It didn't make me a fillyfooler or anything. Seriously. And I wasn't staring at her ass!
Right, she was talking. Pay attention. “Strange that you would think the Watchers would be safer for her,” she said walking to the door of the infirmary and peeking out. “She had told me much when I found her, and I remember distinctly it was the Watchers’ fault she was enslaved.” Oh yeah... “And were it not for you, she still would be. If anything, I would think that would give you reason to protect her directly.” But... I mean. So the Watchers lost her.
Then failed to save her. I mean they must have tried, right?
“Safer than with me.” I got to my feet as well because the floor was cold and stuff... “Since we met, she was nearly drowned. Hit by shrapnel, stabbed, and almost shot. Not to mention being captured. Many, many times.”
“But.” She retorted as her wings flared out. Stretching them I think, but it did do a good job making her more menacing. “You saved her each time, did you not?” Well, yes, but. I tried to speak but she cut me off. “This is the world we live in. It is dangerous and life threatening. I was chosen for this city because I had lived here in my previous life, and I know the hostility of Dise and the surrounding wasteland. As long as she is young, she is in danger, so tell me what would be better protection for her. An organization that cares but cannot commit resources to save a filly from harm, or a single mare with the strength, fortitude and ability to bring her through even the most dangerous places relatively unharmed.” Stop being so reasonable! “I believe you when you say you don't think she should be with you, but you can't continue to lie to yourself an-”
“Fuck off. What do you know?” She looked visibly shocked by my outburst. Good. “I can't protect her. I couldn't before; I can't now. So I got lucky a few times. Fixed my mistakes. In the end, I can't. Just. Let it go.”
“You have said you want her safe. An admirable goal, but you have offered no real solutions to achieve it. I will not attempt to convince you of your own qualifications, but you can't seriously think the group that failed to protect her once is right.” Well I. I grit my teeth and looked very sternly at the ground. Why couldn't she do it then? “And yes, perhaps she could stay with me. I have sworn to protect my charges, but to be frank... you are the first adult pony who has not tried to kill me on sight.” I what, really? Why would anypony try to attack her. She was like a beautiful goddess... thing. “So if we were found out, then who knows. Perhaps Diamond Sky could teleport us to safety.”
“Why wouldn't you?” I assumed Diamond Sky was another Alicorn.
“That spell is beyond my ability. You see each alicorn was created with...” Eyes glazing over. “...just, I can't. But even if we were found here her safety couldn't be guaranteed.” She sighed. “I understand you wish her safety, but nowhere is safe. Not even here.”
No. Of course not. Ever since I got into Dise ponies had been telling me how it was on the edge. That the forces vying for control were one step away from destroying themselves, and I was finding that easier to believe. With the minotaurs to the west, the NCA to the south, Steel Rangers and Zebra clans hanging out east. Not to mention the four gangs of Dise, The Watchers, The Finishers, Celestia's Vision, and Remnants. Everpony wanted a piece, but Dise wasn't that big.
And ever since I met Dragonslayer I had been getting this sinking feeling that somepony was trying to make the balance break down. Maybe it was Dragonslayer himself (if that was his real name) or maybe it was whoever he was working for.
So what then. Dise wasn't safe, so I had to take Serenity further away, but to where? South to the NCA wasn't a bad idea, but I wasn't sure how to get there. Or maybe to Equestria but that would mean travelling near Crimson Hoof territory, (not happening) and I’d heard there was still fighting up there. Besides, if the NCA lost control of Dise, what would happen? There just wasn't a simple answer. The world had ended, and it was up to me to keep a single filly alive in the madness.
“It doesn't matter.” I said simply. “She hates me.” As she should. “I can't protect her anymore. She wouldn't let me.”
“Do not be so sure...” She looked to the door. “I have been gone too long, and Serenity will want to have words with you. I shall retrieve her. Please, just think about what I said. You aren't perfect, but when you're not trying to be horrible, you are the best she’s had.” It was hard for me to contradict her when she just saw the short form of my life since I left Marefort. Stupid unicorn magic. Alicorn. Whatever.
With that, she left the room and closed the door behind her. Only for her magically flowing hair to get stuck, causing her to gasp in pain. I grinned just a little at her, as she sheepishly opened the door and blushed at me before closing it again. It must have sucked for her. She was so large everything must have seemed small to her (I could feel for her on that, though she managed to be larger) and her flowing uncontrollable mane and tail couldn't help.
I looked around the infirmary for a few minutes (It was white and boring. Medical equipment seemed strewn about haphazardly, and I may have looked through the medical boxes to see what they had) before I called out: “Batmare, she's gone.”
With a sharp burning sensation The Batmare appeared to my left. “I know better than to question how you knew,” she said simply. “I trust the alicorn not. Anypony that takes up the visage of the Goddess is not to be trusted.” I rolled my eyes. Eye. Sorry, that was going to take some getting used to. “But... it seems for the nonce she is harmless. I have studied her facilities and watched the children. In such a short time, she has accomplished a lot. I do not trust her, but see no reason to dispense justice upon her.”
Thanks. I guess. If she went and slaughtered Haze it would just have been another weight on my already guilty conscience. “So you are leaving?”
“My work here is done. I have figured out the mystery, and deemed her no threat at the moment.” She paused. “Your daughter is here, correct?” I winced but nodded. “For your sake, I shall tell nopony what I have seen.”
“...mind telling two ponies?” The superhero turned her head to me, I could only assume in curiosity as her face was a mask. “Do me a favour. I need to let my... friend. Know where I am. If you could sho-”
“Do I look like a servant?” No. She looked like a... bat? I suppose.
“How about I give you the description of a known, er, evildoer.” She liked to fight them right? Well, I’d just give her Dragonslayer's information, and maybe she'd take him out for me. If nothing else, it'd be a thorn in his side if he ever came to Dise.
Reluctantly, I got her to agree. After giving her a detailed description of the asshole who shot out my eye, as well as what Flare (turns out they met before) and High Stakes looked like (as well as where they would most likely be). With a flash of magic she vanished again, leaving my shoulder feeling slightly burn-y.
My head hurt. Everything was happening faster than I liked, and you know, getting mind raped made my brain ache. Not to mention my emotional breakdown after having to relive Wildfire's death... seriously. Don't mention it. Ever.
To the extent of my emotional exhaustion and pain I scavenged through the medical boxes again, took out a med-x and jabbed myself with it. The pain faded immediately. If I was going to have yet another serious talk with Serenity, I needed to be in my best health. I kind of blew it last time because I was in pain, and grumpy. Now I was emotinally exhausted, but mostly good, and my pain had been soothed. I could do it. Just one more heart felt conversation...
Fuck. I was going to fuck this up.
Okay. First things first, stop pacing. Good. Stand still. Now smile. No, a real smile. Urgh, okay don't smile. My smiles reminded ponies they needed to throw up, not good for reconciliation. Okay. Maybe I should offer her a gift like a-
The door creaked open and I felt my heart jump into my throat.
“Serenity...” The filly walked in, her eyes staring intently at the ground. “Serenity I-” She looked up. Her grey eyes were even sadder than usual, and the words caught in my throat.
“Your leg.” My what? Before I had the chance to say anything she stormed over, and with a flurry of pink magic unattached my leg before stomping her way into a corner to look at it. I hopped on my three legs to get a look at her, but she didn't bother looking my direction. “You got it wet.” I did? Oh yeah! When Flare and High Stakes woke me up, I forgot about it.
“Serenity.” She kept tinkering with it, not even looking back at me. “Serenity... just look at me. I-”
“I'm sorry.” No. Stop that. In order for a pony to be sorry they must first do something wrong. That didn’t happen so she could not be sorry. “I... I shouldn't have interfered. If I didn't, then-”
“Is that was Haze told you?” She shook her head.
“I...” Why couldn't she just look at me? “I knew. From the start. I-I shouldn't have blamed you, you were just do-” No. This is what I wanted to avoid!
“No, Serenity. You should have.” I sighed taking a seat facing her. The Med-X wasn't enough to stop my head from pounding again. “I was wrong. The job I... I shouldn't have taken it. Shouldn't have showed you. I was... trying to prove. Something.” I sighed. “It made sense before. But now... I was wrong. I killed him.”
“I helped.” She sniffled, and I could hear tears dripping. “I... I messed up your shot and... and I kept bugging you 'bout being my mommy, an I shouldn't have... but I thought if I kept asking... that maybe. I thought that maybe you were testing me. Trying to see if I really wanted you to... so. I shouldn't have, though. ‘Cause whenever I asked, you looked so hurt but I didn't know why, and I really wanted... needed somepony and-” She sobbed.
“I- I'm sorry.” What else could I say. I felt like there was a barrier between us. An invisible wall of emotions I wouldn't be able to break or get through without telling her about Foundation but... but I just couldn't. Just the name sent shivers up my spine and if I thought about it... it was too much, but I knew it was what was needed. I couldn't figure out what was worse. Argh. “I... I was afraid. That something would happen to you. So I... tried to show you who I was. I fucked up.”
“Yeah...” We at least we could agree with that. “But. I'm not mad at that... well I am. Sort of. But it was my fault, and it was an accident, and I'm really mad. I don't know!” She slammed her hoof against my good leg. “I'm so... I hate you for what you did and myself for helping, and not realizing that everything has gone all wonky and... and I don't know what I want and...” More tears. “And I still want you to be my momma, but I don't. And you're horrible but amazing and... and I don't know.”
“Serenity. I don't know either.”
“Why! Why can't you... couldn't you be my momma?” She turned her head halfway to me, tears streaming down her face.
“I...” I couldn't break down that wall, not yet. But I could at least try to explain it. “I had a daughter once.” This was surprising enough that her eyes lit up. “But. Things didn't end...” I could feel myself going back there. To that place. It felt like my body was slipping away, as if I was in that time spell again. I couldn't go back. I wasn't ready.
I slammed my hoof so hard against the floor the concrete cracked, and Serenity jumped. “I can't. I just. It's hard. I can't. Just trust me. If I could, I would. But I got scared and... and did something stupid.” It shouldn't have been so hard. It was only the past... but it was a past I’d spent so much time pushing away and pretending didn't happen that even acknowledging it was hard. “I want you to be safe,” I said softly, barely above a whisper.
“Mo-Hired. I don't... I don't know. I want to forgive you, but...”
“I thought the Watchers would be safe. I was wrong. Clearly...” Dise wasn't safe. It was Safer, but it was not good enough. “When I asked and found you gone. When I went looking. Nopony was surprised. Annoyed yes, but foalnapping wasn't a shock.” Foals went missing, and no pony was surprised. It was normal. Sure, maybe this time they went here. But what about next time. More slavers? Murders? Crazy scientists? Who the fuck knew, but it'd be normal in this city. In the wasteland. Who could save her if something like that happened and I wasn't around? This city was too broken, too...
“I've decided.” I stood up on my three legs. “I am going to fix it.”
“The city. Dise.” Despite everything, Serenity started smiling so wide it seemed like she was holding in hysterical laughter. “I'm serious. I'm going to join House. Help him fix the city. Bring it together. One ruler instead of eight. So that... so you'll be able to grow up. Without fear.”
“Hired...” She stood slowly, my metal leg slipping away from her. “You can't fix the city... it's always been like this. I... I don' even know... if I forgive you. You still killed Post Haste, and I don't know -- how can you say this all of a sudden!”
“No place is safe. Not with me. Not with the Watchers. Not here.” I gritted my teeth. I was determined to give her safety. To let her know peace. “If I can’t put you someplace safe, I will make it.” I could hear Flare now. Telling me how stupid I was. How it's ridiculous for me to claim I wasn't her mother, and then immediately proclaim to change an entire region for her, but fuck it. I'm stupid! I needed to do this. It would be my purpose, and I would fail in the end, because I always did, but I would give it my everything.
The wasteland needed a place where fillies didn't have to worry about slavers, wars, or gunfights. I wasn't the pony to do it. I was a horrible foal killer, a monster, and a Hired Gun. But I was going to give it my all, because somepony had to try, even if it killed me. I didn't deserve to live. I should have died so many times, but somehow I hung on. Better ponies than me had died in my wake, yet I survived. But survival wasn't enough anymore. I had to survive for something. Giving Serenity the peace she deserved... I couldn’t think of a better reason to live.
Even if I couldn't be her mother (not yet). Even if she hated me (and she should). I would do this thing. Because it needed to be done, and I was the only pony stupid enough to try.
“Hired...” She walked up to me and hugged my good leg. “I'm sorry... I shouldn't have manipulated you... I... I am sorry.” Stop being sorry, I'm the one who was wrong! “I... I don't know if I forgive you. Because... I...” She sniffled.
I laid down on the floor so I could wrap my leg around her. “It's fine. I don't forgive me either.” I guess we made up. I wasn't even sure. It seemed just as bad as ever. Now not only did she hate me for killing Post Haste, but she hated herself because of her part. I... I could tell it tore her up inside more than she wanted to admit.
So where were we? I wasn't sure. But I think for the first time we were honest with each other. From there whatever we were could grow, even if she hated me. Or herself. We could move forward. Or apart, whatever she wanted. But in either case I’d made my choice.
I held her closer. Her eyes were closed, but she was not smiling. Her muzzle scrunched up tight and she let out a soft sigh. She wasn't going to forgive me soon, if ever. But for now, that didn't matter.
Perk Remembered: Cherchez La Filly: It seems in your drunken fit last night you accidentally bucked down your closet door! No, you can't change your perk now, and it doesn't matter because everypony already knows! Yes, it was just that obvious, so you might as well admit it to yourself because you get +10% damage to the same sex and unique dialogue options with certain ponies! ... No. You can't get rid of the perk. Stop asking.
((A/N: Hi, and welcome again to the authors notes. I’d like to thank kkat for doing the world building for me, and my editors theBSDude, Mint Julep, and Errant Indy, as well as substitute editor editor Menti. They require all of your praise.))
((Also, if you’re looking for more FOE goodness, try these stories. Fallout Equestria: Salvage, Fallout Equestria: Misfits, Fallout Equestria: The Ditzy Doo Chronicles, and Fallout Equestria: Best Served Cold.))
((Don't forget to check out the final instalment of Heroes With Wings!))