So, here's a question. At what point do you look back at your life and realize how much you fucked up? I mean, in the grand scheme of things, everypony has regrets -- things they wish they could take back, choices they wish they hadn't made -- but I think ponies like to cover up our faults. It's so easy for us to gloss over our mistakes and make excuses for ourselves. That's okay in some cases, but when you’d fucked up on as grand a scale as I had, you needed to look back and kick yourself, else you'd just keep fucking up.
I'm rambling again. Point is, I’d messed up. Maybe if it had only been Post Haste, I would have been able to get over it. But it wasn't. I, in my immense wisdom, had managed not only to have Karkhoof burned, but also the entirety of Celestia's Vision slaughtered in retribution. Of course, that wasn't all I‘d done. If we wanted to take a tally of the horrible things I’d done, we'd have to go back a ways, and I'm sure it'd take hundreds of thousands of words to properly describe. But the worst things I did, I think, were against foals.
From Foundation to Post Haste, I failed them all. Hell, not twenty minutes after raiders killed Mischief (remember him? Precocious Watcher scamp I met way back in Bridle Hope. I always wondered if he knew Serenity), I offered to work for said raider squad. The work I got involved me killing an innocent (Nanny Jane was not innocent, but at the time I had thought she was) and kidnapping another filly who I nearly sold to the same raiders that had killed Mischief. In the end I hadn't, of course, but getting that close had been bad enough. And those were not even my worst crimes.
Wildfire used to tell me I was a natural with foals. A natural killer maybe, but I'm not sure what else.
So that left me in an awkward position. Somehow, I needed to reform. Do better, be better, or hell, I'd settle for not fucking up any more. Yet I was not sure how I was supposed to go about that. Should I wander the wasteland, righting wrongs and saving ponies like The Lightbringer? Or should I stay in Dise, fighting petty crime like The Batmare? Would either of those things really be penance for my numerous crimes, or just a way to try and forget what I did? Would any number of raiders killed, or ponies saved, really make up for Post Haste? Or would it just be me trying to go out in a flame of glory, my death for a noble cause somehow washing clean my record?
These were questions for a smarter pony. A part of me longed to fix my past, but I couldn't, so I had to try and help the future. I doubted it'd ever remove the guilt or the dreams. So I decided to try and fix things here in Dise. Maybe Mr. House wasn't the best that Dise had to offer, but he was the only pony I could think of capable of uniting the city. If I could do that, somehow break the stalemate of war that captured the city and create a place where ponies could live unmolested, then maybe I could die happy.
“But I'm not sleepy.” Serenity pouted up at me.
Happiness. I probably didn't deserve this moment. “What if I read you a story?” We were still lying on the floor of the infirmary, but it was getting late. Haze had popped in a few minutes ago, saying she was going to put the other children to bed, but that Serenity could sleep in here if she wanted. Obviously, as a filly, she took offence to sleeping. Ever.
“I'm not a little foal; I don't need a bedtime story.” I raised a single eyebrow at Serenity. “But...” There was a burning in my shoulder as she levitated a book from her saddlebag, and propped it up against my outstretched leg. “I would really like one...”
I smiled down at her, but she didn't look up. I knew at least part of her still hadn't forgiven me for what had happened, but I think she was trying to move on. She was willing to give me another chance, and that was more than I was willing to give myself. Looking down at the book, I found I knew the words already.
“Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria.” I read flawlessly. It was strange, I never did have the chance to read this to Foundation. I'm sure she would have liked it though. “There were two regal sisters...”
I’m sure you know the song. There was a good sister and a bad sister, and for some reason the good sister banished the bad one to the moon because the bad one was feeling unloved.... Well, maybe stories aren't as clear cut as we wanted to believe. Maybe both sisters had good and bad, and both made bad choices that they felt were necessary.
Or maybe I was grasping at straws to bring them down to my level.
The story ended with Twilight Sparkle and her friends using the Elements of Harmony to defeat Discord, bringing peace to Equestria for another thousand years. Well, at least the book had an optimistic view on the future, even if it got a few things wrong. It was a nice story, though, with a happy ending. More than I could say about any story I knew.
When I looked down at Serenity, I realized she was flopped over my leg, her eyes closed and snoring softly. I couldn’t give her up, not after every that had happened. Not when she was like this. I had tried to force her away, tried to make her leave, because I cared about her too much.
So, I guess I could go on and on about my conflicted feelings and regrets and stuff, but I think I've made my case. I was going to try to do better by her, create a place where she could live unmolested. If she wanted to come with me... even after everything, then I wouldn't try to stop her.
In my head, she was already my daughter, despite everything... Yes, I know it doesn’t make sense! It's a deeply confusing and complicated issue, so hard to wrap my stupid head around. Truthfully, I'd seen her as my daughter ever since the tunnels... but I was scared. Can you blame me, after what had happened? So I had freaked out. That cost me an eye and a good chunk of my soul, and part of me still argued it was the right choice. Stupid brain, make sense!
See, this is why I bottle up my emotions, because when I didn't, they made no sense and conflicted with each other.
Right, I needed to pause my navel gazing to get the filly to bed. Luckily, Serenity was as sound a sleeper as ever, so it was easy to lift her up to the hospital bed and tuck her in without her even opening an eye. It was harder to look away from her sleeping form.
There were more conflicting feelings, of course; it seemed par the course recently. Mostly now it had to do with how I saw her. In my mind she was a sweet innocent pony, and for the most part that seemed true. On the other hoof, she had admitted to trying to manipulate me, even if she didn't fully understand what she was doing. So that left me... where, exactly? One of these days I'll come to a conclusion about something eventually... I swear.
“Is she asleep?” I turned my head sharply to see the blue alicorn, Platinum Haze, standing in the doorway. “You must be good. Last night it was a chore getting her to sleep, though I am sure you bear some of the blame for that.” She smiled just a little bit, but I couldn't read her intentions. “I had an easier time getting all the others under my charge asleep than that one. I don't know how you manage.”
What was it Serenity said about The Watchers? That they were nice, and kind, but never seemed to care about her. That she was just another child to them. I had no doubts about Haze's motives or ability, but would she really be able to care for Serenity the way she needed it?
“Practice,” I said.
“You must teach me someday. For all that she said about you last night, she seems to have taken you back with surprising quickness.” Because I gave her the love and attention she desired, maybe? Even if I, myself, was unsure of why I was giving it. We were, like, the most messed up family in the wasteland. We could defeat raiders with the pure force of our emotions.
“You spoke many more words to me earlier, why the brevity now?” You mean when you mind-raped me into an emotional breakdown? Yeah, that was totally normal for me. With a sarcastic roll of my eyes... eye, I pointed my head at the sleeping filly. “Oh. Perhaps we should converse in a place where we will not disturb anypony.”
“You don't say?”
She led me out of the infirmary and down the small hallway of the school structure. It really was surprising how much she and her partner had managed in such a short time. I mean, it looked mostly clean! Cleaner than any section of tunnel I'd seen, and considering how dirty all the tunnels around were, it was impressive. If I were a normal pony, I'd worry about how they planned to feed, clothe, and care for all the foals they were kidnapping... rescuing... whatever, but that hardly seemed important as Haze walked in front of me. Her hips swaying as she walked. I mean, I wasn't a fillyfooler, but I was staring so hard I thought for sure her super alicorn senses were going to notice.
Stop judging me.
“Are you feeling okay?” She asked when we were a ways down the dank hallway.
“Uh,” I said staring at a particularly large crack hastily covered up with tape. “Well. I'm a one eyed tank with crippling attachment issues. So...”
“I mean I saw you injecting yourself with a Med-X when I came in. If you are hurt, I can take a look.” Oh, did I mention I had developed a headache from all the emotional thinking-stuff, and I had taken a Med-X to release some of the pressure? It wasn't that big a deal, so I didn't think it was worth mentioning.
“It's nothing.” I couldn't see her face, so I couldn't judge her emotions, but I was just going to assume she understood. “Where are we heading?”
“To my room.” The narration will continue after I drag my head out of the gutter. “You will need a place to sleep tonight, and I don't imagine you'd like to bed with the foals.” Of course. “Since I will not be using it, you can have my bed.”
A light flickered to my right, almost causing me to jump. Lacking that whole sight thing on that side can be tricky. It felt like somepony was constantly sneaking up on me. “Uh.” Right, talking. “You don't sleep?”
“Well. It is complicated.” Don't tell me then. I wouldn't understand. Why did it seem that everything having to do with these alicorn things was complicated? “We can sleep, but it is not as necessary unless we are injured and have no radiation to heal with.” They heal... with radiation? That didn't sound very healthy to me. Of course I was not a master of health and safety, so I didn't express my disbelief. Alicorns just worked funny, I guess. They were magical and did magic stuff... with magic. That's all I needed to know. And they were pretty...
“You do not understand at all, I am going to assume. That is okay. We are strange creatures, I am sure.” Yeah, something like that. “Right this way,” she said before stepping through a doorway (she had to duck).
The room was... er, sparse. Half of the floor was covered by a giant pile of rubble (I guess when they were cleaning the school, the junk had to go somewhere), and the only furniture was a shockingly clean mattress on the floor that I wasn't even sure she could fit on. The lights that usually lined the walls in the tunnels seemed half out, too, giving the room a dark, foreboding feeling... okay that wasn't true. The dim lighting reminded me more of The Moon.
“Are you blushing?” Ack. No, I was not. I stormed in and looked away from her, but I couldn't avoid her chuckle. “It is fine; I find it cute.” Wait, what? “I mean, uh. That is not the intent I was... what I had in mind, what I meant to say was...” Socially awkward alicorns are the best alicorns.
“It's fine.” I collapsed on the bed. Somehow it felt like the Med-X had worked its way through my system already. “Slip of the tongue. Calling me cute.” I closed my eye and wished I had a pillow. It'd be so very nice, though I did not enjoy the idea of actually going to sleep. Nightmares and all that.
“No... no, I mean, you are cute, but it was improper to say it in such a nonchalant way.” She seemed to speak in an uncomfortable titter. A far cry from her attempt at pompous regality at first. Of course that all went away when she messed up that spell of hers. “I mean. You have a lovely face? Er, not counting the eye... or the ear. But I mean, I really like your... mane?” I laughed.
I knew it was a little rude, but it was hard not to. I mean, you spend your entire life putting off the advances of a mare like Wildfire (whose special talent was flirting, I swear...), and it's hard not to find her attempts just a little silly.
“I --” she stopped, “I am not very good at this, am I?”
“Not really.” I opened my eye to see her standing back, a faint blush on her cheeks. I wasn't even sure why she was trying at all. I mean, she knew I was dangerously emotionally unstable. And it wasn’t like I was exceptionally pretty... okay sure, I was the first pony she'd met in Dise who hadn’t tried to kill her. And yes, I get that she was previously part of a hive mind, and it must be jarring being alone after so long like that... okay, so, I guess it made a little bit of sense.
“I am sorry. It is uncouth of me.” Unco... I did not know what that word meant. Let’s see. 'un' made the word negative, so she was clearly not couth. And couth sounded like coo, and... yeah I was lost. “It is just... when I saw you staring at me, I'd thought that perhaps you had an interest, it does not matter, my apologies.”
“You need practice,” I said with half a smirk.
“I used to be quite practised!” I couldn't tell if she was honestly insulted or faking it. “Before Unity, that is. I had acquired many marefriends, and all praised me on my flirting skills.” It was a struggle not to laugh some more. “I... stop laughing at us!” I wasn't, really. Heh. “We are not to be mocked; this is a truth we have told.”
“I am not laughing.”
“‘Tis a lie, we can... I can hear you.” She blushed a bit but kept her eyes on me. “You shouldn't mock us... me like that.” She fidgeted awkwardly, “I am sorry for trying. I understand now you are not interested...”
“Nothing against you.” You just made me relive my ex-marefriend’s death a few hours ago, and I wasn't in the cuddling mood. “I'm not a fillyfooler.” And then she was laughing at me. Well it was more of a nicker, but it was close enough that I counted it. “What? I'm not. Really.” She kept on laughing. She knew me all of a few hours, at the very most. How could she possibly know my preferences?! I don't care what anypony says, I was not that obvious.
“If you remember, I saw you staring at me with your own eyes.” With that stupid memory spell, right. “And you are not the most convincing liar.” I was the most convincing. Ever. I'd managed to get everypony I met to buy into the whole, 'My Name Is Hired Gun,' thing, despite it being a really stupid name (though not so stupid as Dragonslayer). “I suppose after what you went through tonight it was a bit early... but... it matters not. Sorry.”
“You apologize too much.” She also seemed to pace as she talked, speak in plurals, and explain her thought process out loud. If you were wondering my opinion on her. Which you weren’t. “I...” Was not looking for a marefreind. Because I wasn't a...
You know what? Fuck it! I was a fillyfooler. There, I said it. Wrote it. Whatever. I was deeply enamoured with the cunts and asses of the female persuasion. Despite my reservations at this revelation, it was getting harder and harder to live with this charade. And while it still made me uncomfortable thinking of myself as such, it was so clearly true and obvious there was simply no point lying about it.
Even if I really, really wanted to lie. It was just so much nicer in my closet. Maybe because in my stupid mind, stallions and mares was the way it was supposed to be, and the fact I deviated from my stupid mind’s stupid rules made me question how much power I had over my life.
Are we happy now? Huge revelation over! Now if only ponies (Flare) would stop bugging me about it.
“I hadn't thought about it,” I said quietly. I mean, companionship was not something I was against, but this was a bit sudden. She was pretty, I suppose... well, mind-bogglingly beautiful, but that was... uh... my train of thought got lost somewhere. Right, just because she was good looking was not a good foundation for a relationship (A great foundation for a good lay though), and...
Mental images. Fuck.
Bad choice of words. Okay breathe, Silver.
“Are you alright?” Fine. I was fine. Just the mental images. Right, going back to not being a fillyfooler. That was fun while it lasted. “I have made this all very awkward, haven't I?”
“It's fine.” With a tired grunt, I lifted myself off the bed and trotted over to her. “I just. Need to sleep. And think.” Not that I wanted to, navel gazing was hard work. “And. It's just. Sudden.”
“In my experience, the wasteland can be quick and brutal. So much has changed in barely two weeks, it is... so many of my sisters have died, and... if one does not act quickly, than they may lose. I am sorry for being so forward.”
“No I... Don't worry about it. At least you're honest.” I gave her a half hearted smirk, but she seemed a little bit down from my rejection... thing. Stupid, cute, pouty goddesses. I was going to regret this, I knew.
I leaned up and kissed her.
She gave a murmur of surprise before a sigh of acceptance. It wasn't the best kiss I’d ever had, but it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I really needed somepony. It was comforting to have that kiss, even if it only lasted a second.
“I KNEW IT!”
My eye snapped open, and I turned my head to see Flare grinning from ear to ear at me, his eyes sparkling with what must have been a thousand jokes.
“What the hell are you doing here?!” I said, after High Stakes (who also showed up) pulled me off of Flare. I gave Flare my very best glare and scowled at him, while I secretly wondered where Haze went as I couldn’t see her. My question was answered quickly for once, when she appeared out of thin air, blushing slightly.
“Some crazy mare dressed as a bat showed up in my hotel room! We had the door locked and everything, and POOF there she is. Told us you needed us, so we come down here to see you making out with what appears to be a goddess... and let me just say, daaaamn. When you come out of the closet you come out with a bang.”
“It was just a misunderstanding...” I said, giving a glancing look over to Haze who was sitting meekly on the bed beside me.
“Oh! Did you misunderstand?” Flare flapped his way over until he was right in my face. “I saw you!” He poked my nose. “Kissing you!” He waved his other hoof at Haze who meeped and blushed, ungoddess-like. “This is like. Blackmail heaven.”
“To be perfectly clear, Mr. Flare, was it?” Haze had managed to get past her embarrassment quickly, as she was stood with her wings outstretched threateningly. Flare sunk back to the ground nodding. “I do not know who or what you think you are, but this place is meant to be a secret, and if you cannot keep secrets fully then there are other ways to make you.” It may have been my imagination, but her yellow eyes seemed to be glowing. “Are. We. Clear?”
“Uh,” Flare mumbled as High Stakes chuckled at him. “Crystal.” I like my alicorn marefriend. She wasn't my marefriend, but it just seemed like a good thing to say. “So. Are you going to explain what the fuck is going on down here? Ain't nothing good in these tunnels; they're crawling with ghouls, radscorpions, and who knows what else.”
Oh right, with the explaining. Haze explained what exactly was going on in this particular section of the Dise tunnels (the rest of the tunnels were still up for grabs) and I explained why I had told ponies about it. Or rather, told somepony to tell somepony. Mostly, it was so they knew where I was, as I had descended into the questionable depths of the Dise underground, and oftentimes that's unsafe.
“Ain't never heard of no Followers of the Apocalypse,” said Flare, who was hanging upside down in the air. “And let me compliment the name choice. It really screams, 'Saviours! Seriously, trust us'. But I did see an alicorn or two. Went on an escort missions a while back to try and open up relations with a group up there... something about an eye or something.” He smirked. Or frowned. Being upside down it confused me for a second. “Anyway the deal was a bust, but I saw one of those alicorns... come to think of it they looked a bit different than you. The ones I saw all looked like twins, but... eh, it's been a while.”
“Red Eye’s army,” High Stakes said. The name made Haze go rigid. Apparently, she knew it. “I worked for him a long time ago, but left just around the time he started contacting alicorn emissaries regularly.” His glasses shined. “I made a rule of working for whoever paid the most, but even I could see that Unity was up to no good. Considering events in Equestria recently, I can safely say I made the right choice.” I bet he actually got fired and was hiding it.
“Unity was up to good,” Haze said sharply. “Though perhaps our methods required more thought, the goal was true. Alicorns are better suited to life in the wasteland. Radiation heals us, and we are immune to taint, both of which would kill any regular pony. I fail to see how making everypony an alicorn would be a bad thing.”
“Now wait, young missy, hold it. You've gone and oversold it.” Flare landed on the ground with a thud, and pointed a hoof dramatically. With a sigh, I laid down on the mattress and closed my eye. This was a fight for smarter ponies. “I know for a fact that Unity couldn't even make male alicorns, or alicorns out of anything but unicorns... “ There was a brief pause. “What? I've read the reports... they weren't my reports, mind, and I had to steal them, but I read them!”
“We were working on ways around those issues; if we had had a little more time we...” Her voice slowly faded away as I drifted off to sleep. What? It was a really boring topic.
I... don't want to talk about my dreams. I'm just going to say they weren't suitable for foals or the elderly, and it was very nice. Don't judge me.
“...Alicorns this far south, I tell you what, ain't never thought I'd see them this far ya know? It's madness! Madness!” The over-dramatic stallion whose voice I awoke to was Flare's. As if there was ever any doubt.
I could already tell I had only slept for a few hours by how tired I still was. And sore. For some reason my head was pounding worse than from a hangover. I'd take a Med-X, but I didn't want to have to explain myself to the likes of Flare and High Stakes.
“It's not so strange. With the goddess defeated and Red Eye dead, they must go somewhere. Platinum Haze claims to be from the city before her turning, so it is logical that she would wish to return here.”
“Stop using that fancy logic thing, and let me have my emotional over-excitement!”
“Flare. You're loud.” I grumbled and my eye opened. Lazily, I scratched at my eye-patch. My eye seemed to itch when I woke up, how annoying. High Stakes was lying on the floor as Flare flapped around him. As I slowly got to my hooves, I could feel a slight burning in my shoulder. “Where did Haze go?”
“One of her foals wet the bed, and she had to go deal with that.” Flare nickered before gliding over to me. “Now aren't we glad Serenity don't do that? Honestly, I don't know how she plans to deal with all these kids, I mean sure she has 'Unlimited Cosmic Powers,' but that don't mean dick when you gotta deal with foals, am I right?” Totally. Kids were trouble, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Also, I spoke entirely in cliches right after waking up.
“Yeah.” I said, stifling a yawn. I should still be asleep. That would be nice.
“She seems nice enough, Hired.” High Stakes was giving me his chiding tone, so I prepared myself. “But I would advise caution if you plan on pursuing a relationship with an alicorn. They are notoriously unstable.” And I wasn’t? Not like I was slowly going crazy and hearing my dead marefriend whisper in my ear constantly or anything. “It is ultimately your decision, but I would rather you not become a splatter on a wall.”
“Right.” I stumbled off the bed. “I'm not a fillyfooler.” Okay, I was for all of five minutes... “And I wasn't going to. I barely know her.” There's a saying in the wasteland: You're going to die young, so live fast. It was by that motto that the population of the wasteland continued to be replenished despite the high death rate. Though re-population was hardly an issue in this case, the rest of it still applied. It wouldn't be fair to Haze if I accepted her clumsily made offer anyway. Not with that whole Wildfire landmine ready to explode at any given time.
Watch as I attempt to logically address my emotional issues! Because that always works.
“If you say so, but you seemed pretty invested in the kiss from where I was standing,” High Stakes said.
“Right... when I want your opinion I'll ask.”
“Hired, really?” Flare said. “Maybe you should listen to the opinions of others, ‘cause when you don't, you go crazy and shoot colts, and-” before I even had the chance to charge him High Stakes zipped in front of me with a stern glare. “Right, touchy subject. Got it. I think y’all need to get over shit like that, ya dig?”
“Flare...” I tried to warn him.
“Just hear me out for once before kicking me into next week. I mean, way I figure.” He gave me a pleasant smirk. “World we live in thrives on misery and hate and all that lovely stuff. It's trying to make all the ponies into mopey mopes... like you, so the best way to fight back is to smile. World wants to kick you down, so grin at it, because it can't take away your ability to smile and by doing so you beat the wasteland at its own game. A personal rebellion, and it works so well.” He smiled. “If the wasteland could talk, it'd be flipping its shit right now.”
High Stakes, of course, threw in his two bits. “While I am fairly sure that the wastelands lacks an anthropomorphic representation to personally try to make your life miserable, Flare is not without a point. Studies done before the war showed that smiling actually improved one’s mood.” There was a pause as I tried to comprehend that statement. “Mind you, those studies were performed by the Equestria Ministry Of Morale...” I wasn't sure what that meant. I guess it was humorous because Flare was certainly laughing.
“No thanks.” I dismissed the entire idea out of hoof on principle.
“Thanks?” Flare snickered. “That was very nearly polite, Hired, we're very worried you're losing your touch. Just be a little bit ruder. For old times’ sake. Your marefriend must be making you soft.” Going to kill him, I swear. “Oh! You fell asleep before we could give you something, so hold off on the ass-kicking. Mr. High Stakes, if you will.”
The tall stallion nodded, and at once my shoulder began to burn, and his horn glowed. Actually, my shoulder had been burning sporadically since I woke up. Hm. My mind was torn away from the mini-mystery when I saw what they had brought for me.
“SUBTLETY!” I grabbed my weapon in my forelegs and caressed it gently. I was never going to go without it again. The poor thing, I'd been neglecting it so much recently, and it really needed to be cleaned and maintained. The poor thing.
“I guess I owe you twenty caps,” the unicorn said.
“And you doubted me! Hired loves that gun more than damn near anything, I was surprised she let it go in the first place.” I could hear Flare smirk. I'm not sure how, but I just knew he was. Then there was my shoulder burning again. Right I still needed to deal with that.
“Thanks.” Two thanks in a single conversation. Maybe I was going soft... “Oh. Batmare, you can come in now.”
With a flash the dark clad mare was standing between us all, her mask glaring. Because masks can do that. “How did you...” she said before stopping. I had to turn from her to attach my gun onto my saddle, but I was totally paying attention. “I suppose this is another one of those things you do not wish to explain.” When my shoulder burns, there's magic around. Explaining didn't matter because I didn't understand.
“How long have you been listening?” High Stakes demanded, his voice unnaturally tense. I wasn't entirely sure why, but whatever bugged him was okay with me.
“Not long, I have only just returned for a matter most urgent.”
“Oh.” I turned back to see the remains of a blush on High Stakes cheeks. “Good.”
“What is it?” I turned back to The Batmare only after re-attaching my gun onto my back. Just where it belonged.
“A matter most urgent.” Right, you said that. Care to explain? “Recently there has been a rash of sickness in the slums in eastern Dise, and from my studies I have deduced the water fountains are the issue.” I heard the exact same thing on the radio the day before, I failed to see her point. “I believe it has been poisoned.” My ears perked up. Now that was something. “If it is true, the culprit might try again tonight, but I am only a single pony. The more fountains that are observed, the more likely we can find the perpetrator. I am asking for your assistance, and to fulfill your duty as my sidekick.”
“Wait, wait wait. So, Hired here is a... Super Hero In Training? She needs custom barding with that emblazoned on it!” Flare flapped in the air so he could rub his chin. “But that might be too long. Well maybe if we make an acronym of it...” What?
“Make whatever it is you wish, but it must be tonight, and now. Your companions may help if you wish... Yes.” The Batmare posed dramatically. “But we must be off! Before he can strike again!”
“What about Haze?” I said. It was impolite to leave like that.
“Write her a note or something, just hurry, Hired, we're going to be 'super heroes'.” Right, got it, Flare.
After a I wrote a short note (Sorry. Have to fight crime. Be back soon.), the four of us left Haze's room and started for the surface. I felt a bit ridiculous doing this thing, and High Stakes seemed to have his own reservations, but I had made a resolution to try and fix Dise, and letting ponies die of poison seemed to go against that entire goal. It was strange though, going off to do a job without a direct paycheck waiting for me. At least I was sure this was something Serenity would approve of.
Running sucked, and I wasn't very fast when nopony was in direct danger. Even High Stakes was about to outpace me by a few ponylengths, and that was not even getting into Flare and Batmare who had to slow down so they weren't miles ahead. On the plus side, this allowed to me to hit myself with a Med-X when they turned a corner without me. My head was still pounding, and I didn't want to explain myself and run at the same time.
The tunnels had been friendly to me lately. When I had first gone down them again, I had been sure I was going to be attacked by fifty packs of radioactive ghouls. While that was certainly still possible, it now seemed less likely. The tunnels we were in now were not only partly clean and well lit, but they even had ponies in it from time to time. Not many, but still.
Of course, we also ran past a half dozen rad scorpions too... remember that time I beat the Batmare with a bag of scorpions? That was fun.
Eventually, we reached our destination, which was, not surprisingly actually, a rickety set of stairs. What was surprising was that when we reached the top we found ourselves in a ruined shack in the middle of the eastern Dise slums. I'd been told multiple times that while the tunnels spread out across Dise like a web, all entrances in the city proper were owned by a gang, or group, or something. Yet here we were in the half ruined, shoddily re-made buildings of eastern Dise, and nopony was stopping us.
“So this is the entrance.” High Stakes said. with a smirk he looked around the small shack, before stepping thorough the door into the moonlight. “Mr House has heard rumours that an old entrance was being used by smugglers, and traffickers.”
With a flash of light, The Batmare stood before him, glaring through her mask. “If you inform anypony about this I shall consider you a agent of chaos, and all who serve evil must be culled. You do not wish me for an enemy.” I am pretty sure the Batmare would win. Her teleportation skills were just cheating. It'd be like being able to sense magic or something... oh wait.
Speaking of sensing magic, I could feel a slight burn. I made a mental note to focus on it to make sure we weren't being snuck up on.
“I would think not.” High Stakes' glasses shone in the... moon light? I guess. Not sure what else was bright enough around. Actually, I've decided to stop thinking about it. Oh, High Stakes was still talking. “I see no reason to give this information away so freely, it could be valuable... to my safety it seems.” He finished when he saw that the superhero was still glaring at him.
“Justice has its eye on you!” she shouted, far too dramatically and far too loudly, before vanishing and reappearing a few feet back.
“I like her!” Flare said. I shot him a look as he continued, “She's insane, but at least she's amusing. And if she can do half of what she says she does, then she's helping to keep the forces of evil at bay!” I sighed and nodded along. I knew he wasn't being serious, but it was far too late for me to care. So instead, I walked out of the little shanty and did my best to remember where it was. I'd need to if I wanted to see Haze again.
“Sidekick!” The Batmare flashed in front of me. “Take the insolent one to the nearest fountain due west and keep to the shadows! The winged one can cover multiple sites. I shall be off on my own. If you manage to capture a dastardly villain, merely shout my name, and I shall be there.” Why shout? Why not something more subtle? Like a searchlight shaped like a bat. No pony will notice us at all.
“Right...” Why was I doing this again? Right. Because I decided to fix Dise. Whatever that meant.
“Good! Get to work, brave soldiers of peace!”
And she was gone just like that leaving the three of us staring awkwardly at each other. “So...” I said slowly looking between the two stallions. High Stakes coughed into his hoof.
“So... guess I'll go, uh... fly.” Flare vanished in a blue blur, leaving me and the tall unicorn stallion I really never did like.
“Why exactly did we agree to this again?” Stakes asked, trotting off down a gloomy rubble filled street. “It is not like we are getting paid for this, and it seems out of your character to accept a job without so much as a second word.” Right, now I was being lectured for not being greedy enough.
“Things change.” I shrugged before stepping over a sleeping drunk. “Besides. Poison water effects everypony. I drink too. It's in my best interest.” And maybe, just maybe, this pony had an ulterior motive. If there was a crazy pony poisoning water I wanted to know who hired him. And somepony did hire him. This was Dise after all, nothing happens on accident.
“Really, poison?” There was a hint of amusement in his voice. “Not sure why you'd care about a thing like that.” I did not comprehend. Not that it mattered we had arrived at out destination. A small square shaped like a circle (Or. Something. A clearing place where ponies buy and sell stuff) with a small water fountain well thingy in the centre. No ponies were there now, but the water was still flowing.
“Over here.” I said. There was a small unused stand off to the side of the square... circle thing. I guess that during the day it was used to display a large quantity of questionable merchandise, but for now, it would serve as a hiding spot as we would be able to fit between it and the house wall it was up against (though the wall had a window on it, I was sure nopony would look out to see us).We couldn't really see the fountain behind it, but we would hear if anypony was nearby. Or if a unicorn had a silence spell (like Serenity), I would be able to feel their presence. After we settled I finally said. “What did you mean about poison?”
“Do you remember the land sharks?” The skyscraper-sized worms that tried to eat me? I forgot all about them. Idiot. I nodded to keep him talking. “Their poison is one of the most deadly ever researched in the wasteland.” This I knew also after what happened to Back Up. “You were bit by one.” Oh. Okay, that I actually forgot. I was bit wasn't I? It wasn't one of the things that got extra attention during Haze's spell, but I remember seeing something like that. Or it was my own fuzzy memory of the event.
“You're not dead,” he said, laying down beside me. He was uncomfortably close, but it was the only way for the both of us to fit in the hiding spot.
“I....” I looked down and moved my hoof around. “Nope. Not dead. So?” I'm sure he had a point somewhere in there, but I wasn't sure where.
“You should be dead. Nopony had ever survived a bite from them until you.” Okay? So? I was a very lucky pony what was the point. “There is a high likelihood you are immune to poison.” That didn't seem uh... possible.
“I'm not.” I said, putting my head down. I could feel a slight burning in my shoulder not coming from High Stakes. It was far enough away I didn't worry about it. “I got drunk last night.” He raised an eyebrow at me. “I threw up. Alcohol poison. Means I can't be immune.”
There was a second of shocked silence before he said. “Good point. I did not consider that... perhaps you are only immune to particular poisons or... uh... I don't suppose you'd agree to undergo some testing?”
“Oh. Acceptable, I suppose. And I'd thought I was being clever and everything. Not that it would matter if you were poisoned anyway. According to Sky Fall.” He spat. Really. He actually spat at the name. Way to be dramatic. “You are dying as it is. What's dying a few months earlier.” He gave me a smirk. Was that supposed to be a joke? I certainly hope not.
Besides I wasn't dying. I had seen ponies die of sickness before and they always seemed... sick. I was healthy, and strong, and not coughing or anything. There is no way Sky Fall was right. Star Metal or no, I'd plans to live for long after he expected me to drop dead. He was just trying to bug me or something. Pegasi were always trying to play pranks like that...
Another few seconds of awkward silence passed.
“So. Should we tell Serenity we know she's there?” I said. “Or should we wait a few minutes until she realizes?” The unicorn stallion tilted his head at me. I guess he didn't know. She had been following us since we left the school. She was trying to be sneaky by using her spell... I guess she figured if she was far enough away, I wouldn't be able to sense it.
Less than a second later I felt something land on my head.
“How did you know?!” Serenity said loudly into my ear. She’d evidently been hiding in the window above us.
“Magic.” I rolled my eyes. “You should be asleep.” She just giggled.
“Couldn't sleep, Haze was being loud. Think she knocked something over.” That wasn't very surprising. She tried very hard but was not nearly as graceful as you'd imagine a goddess to be.
“I too am curious on how you were able to locate Serenity following us. I neither heard nor saw anything of the foal.” Did I really have to explain my special powers to everypony? Couldn't I just be awesome and not have to give exposition all the time? It was stupid. To that extent I didn't explain and let Serenity do all the talking.
“Hired's leg burns around magic,” Serenity said with confidence. Only to amend her statement when she saw him staring at my flesh and blood leg curiously. “The other leg silly... not the leg, like the neural connection port thing.” She waved a hoof at my shoulder plate thingy. “She says it burns when somepony around her uses magic, an' I think she can tell who’s usin' it and how far away they are.”
He stared blankly at me, no doubt wondering if we set this whole thing up to mess with him. I kind of wished we had because it would make more sense that way. “How can...” High Stakes paused and face hoofed. “I suppose it matters not. No doubt you two have no idea the implications of what you just sa-” his mouth kept moving but his voice was cut off. I gave a slight chuckle at the pink glow around his head. Serenity's magic had so many uses.
Unfortunately, High Stakes still had more to say. His horn began to glow as well, sending out rays of green light against the wall of pink. There was a brief, tense moment as the two beams fought against each other, but it only lasted a second before the spike of light shattered through, lighting the area in a green glow. As soon as that happened, the battle of wills was over, and the pink aura dissipated into mist.
“Impressive.” There was a faint smile on High Stakes lips. “You held that longer than I expected, you are talented for your age it seems.”
“I'm basically in the top ten most best unicorns in Dise.” She giggled. Clearly not sleeping made her hyper. To think I read her that story for nothing... “Morowynd taught it to me, and it's like the only spell I know 'sides telekinesis a ‘course, but I'm good at it.”
“That's the only spell he taught you.” She nodded. There was a look of confusion on his face, that slowly faded. “Right. Whatever. You two are very confusing, if you weren't aware.”
“You're following us,” Serenity said, right before jumping on top of the stand we were hiding behind and breaking her cover. “You don't gotta, I mean. You work for House, right? So you never had to come here at all. So if we're confusing, you're even more confusing for following confusing ponies into confusing places.”
High Stakes stared up at Serenity as his brain tried to process the information. “Your filly is far too logical. I hope you realize this.” Naw, shit? “You two couldn't be more different.”
“Sure we could.” I mentally prepared myself for more impeccable logic. “Hired could be a Hellhound, or a Minotaur, or a Griffin, or a Discord.” Yes I suppose those things would be fairly different. I'm not sure I'd want to be any of them either. I mean between being bipedal, winged, or a chaos god thing. I'd still rather be an earth pony. It just made more sense.
“Discord is not a species,” High Stakes pointed out. He was helpful like that. I was starting to think he and The Batmare should be the ones teaming up. He was Captain Obvious after all. “He is... or was a draconequus. Hired could never be a discord... It's not important.”
You don't say?
Serenity giggled and did her very best to stifle a yawn. “You're silly. I like you.”
That can't be good. Last time she liked a pony I had to drag them around everywhere... Okay, Flare has saved my ass once or twice, but still. Actually never mind. Flare may have been spying on me (and I wasn't quite forgiving him) but overall he'd been okay. At least he was amusing, and reliable when he wasn't spying.
“Er.” High Stakes looked away before continuing, “I am glad I could please you then.”
“Soooo.” Serenity said leaning over the edge of her stand towards High Stakes. “Can you teach me any cool magic tricks?” The stallion groaned, but Serenity seemed not to hear. “Like, a moustache one! Can you teach me? Flare would look so handsome with one, don't'cha think?”
The night dragged on at an astoundingly slow pace. Yet no matter how long we waited, no pony besides the three of us entered the square. Maybe there was no poisoning pony, or maybe he was going to a different fountain, or perhaps we scared him away with all our chatter. And by our, I clearly meant Serenity's. I was content with listening and brooding over my mistakes. I won't go into that though, for I am sure you are sick of it.
Eventually though our (Serenity's) chatter died down. The little filly was valiantly fighting her sleepiness, but it was just too late for her. Still with a stifled yawn, and irritated twitch of her leg Serenity jumped off my back and away from our little hiding place. “So bored,” she said, turning the corner.
“Serenity.” I said. The stupid stallion to my left just chuckled and shook his head. “Serenity, get back here.” There was once again no response. “Seren-”
“Don't worry.” Came the response. Because that was going to happen.
With a sullen sigh I stood up, my body towering over the stand that was our cover. It probably did a horrible job. Serenity was balancing on the rim of the water fountain, waving her forelegs on occasion as she tried to keep from falling. “Don't worry.” She said licking her lip in concentration as she teetered on the thin lip.
“Well, Serenity.” High Stakes stood beside me. He looked a little exhausted, and I couldn't really blame him. “We are supposed to be keeping watch for a... er, bad pony, who is trying to hurt other ponies.” I was going to venture Stakes wasn't really good with kids.
Serenity managed to slowly lift her forelegs off the lip and balance just on her back ones. I was a little bit impressed. “The poisoner pony, Ah'm not stupid, stupid.” She giggled. “'sides. We've been waiting here forever, and ain't nopony showed up. What's the chance of-” Why was my shoulder burning.
There was a sudden bright flash.
The light burned my eye, and I had to close it, but I could still hear the sound of splashing. When I opened it again I saw Serenity flailing around in the fetlock-deep fountain, as The Batmare watched on with what I assumed was an frown on her face. After shaking her head, Serenity sat in the water, her mane dripping and her eyes glaring at the superheroine.
“What are you doing in the open?” The Batmare scolded me, ignoring the glaring and wet filly climbing out of the fountain behind her. “That is counterproductive to the mission. You are jepord-”
“You just. Teleported here. In a flash of light.” I helpfully pointed out. “Stealth doesn't seem to be the goal.”
“What is she eve-it matters not!” She posed herself dramatically as a wind blew out of seemingly nowhere to ruffle her cape. “I have to address a matter most urgent! It seems there is a commotion in the very place the water is purified! The water purification centre!” You don't say?
“So?” I said.
The Batmare gave me a very hard stare (I assume. Once again, that damn mask.) while High Stakes chuckled. Eventually the would-be hero said, “If you were trying to poison the denizens of Dise, could you think of a better place to do it?” Oh wait, yeah I guess that made sense. “Flare spotted flashes of lights he claimed were most certainly explosions. We must be swift!” And she was off running.
“Wait, I do-.” She turned the corner. “Fuck.” I quickly ran over to Serenity and threw her on my back before giving chase. Damn fast Batmare. I turned the corner to see a long empty street. Broken buildings rose on either side, their facades masked in the shadows of the night. Not that poetry helped me any.
“Do you even know where the water purification plant is located?” High Stakes asked, standing beside me with a slight smirk. My silence seemed to be all the answer he needed. “Follow me.” This time, when he took off I followed right away. I really need to get a map of the city. It'd save me so much time and effort.
We exited the Dise slums and started down the eastern road that lead to the city centre. Serenity tugged on my ear as I ran, and she said into it. “Is this a good idea?” You mean running towards explosions? Probably not. But if the Batmare was right, this pony needed an asskicking, and I was in the mood to grant him that. Besides, poisoned water does not generally cause a stable society
“Not at all.” I admitted.
I cut her off. “Somepony has to. I'm free.” I guess the answer worked, as she didn't question it further.
When we reached the fountain in the centre of the city, I found The Batmare perched on the top of the pony statue in the centre. Also there was a small crowd of drunken ponies crowded around watching her. “How did she get up there...” I heard one pony ask. There was a murmur of questioning as the Hero stood perfectly still staring down at me.
“Sidekick!” she called when I got close, causing the whole crowd to turn my direction. Fuck. “What is taking you so long?” I needed something to hide behind. Dammit, they were all staring at me. What I wouldn't give for the ability to teleport right about now. “Well, say something!”
They were still staring at me. I hate crowds. I mumbled something at the ground, and did my best to keep from blushing. “uh...” I coughed into my hoof as one of the drunken ponies cheered. Great. “I was... caught up. Thought I saw a robbery?” Yeah that was it. I had to go and justice or something.
“Yes. Justice waits for nopony!” With a flash and burning sensation, she appeared in front of me. A ragged cheer went up from the small crowd, and I thought I heard a few ponies stomping their hooves in approval. “For now, we must be off. Follow me!” She took off again, this time travelling down the south road. Leaving the bewildered crowd behind me, I took off after her as Serenity giggled on my back.
High Stakes was nice enough to slow down enough to keep pace with me. “Why must we always run?” He sounded more than a little bit tired. It was a good question though. This Batmare seemed to always want to run everywhere. I'm sure it helped her super-heroing, but I was getting tired of it. Oh well, keep running.
As we ran, we passed a series of increasingly bewildered ponies. Hopefully none of them would recognize me. I really didn't want to be associated with the wackjob of a superhero. Eventually, we moved past the two apartment buildings (one of which served as the Enclave home base) and even south past the Watcher camp. Not long after, we came upon a clearing and a split in the road.
To my left, down a short, straight road, was a huge domed building that seemed to emit an eerily green light that shone up the side of the Dise wall it was built against. To my right was a huge compound of buildings surrounded by a large and imposing metal fence. Complete with barbed wire on top. The Batmare went right so I followed.
As we closed in the facility I could clearly see three ponies standing in front of the large entrance gate, and one on the other side. They seemed to be conversing casually until they saw us running up. “Hey!” a green earth pony shouted. “You aren't allowed in he-”
The Batmare vanished.
She reappeared a split-second later, landing on the stallions face with a resounding smack, hind legs first. She pushed off his head, sending him into the dirt, and flipped through the air. She landed with an impressive kick to a second pony's side. The second pony grunted, but kept her hooves, at the same time bringing her pistol around with magic. The bullets hit nothing but air.
A series of flashes later and the second pony was lying on the ground with most of her teeth cracked in. All this in mere seconds, while the third and the fourth ponies yelled loudly into their radios. The Batmare flashed behind the fence smashing the fourth pony's head against a console. An action that made the metal gate start to slide open. A second later, the fourth pony was thrown through the now-open gate directly into the third pony.
With both of them crumpled over each other, the hero wasted no time appearing on top of them. With a few sharp cracks, they lay motionless. Maybe dead, but I wasn't sure. At this point, the first green stallion was starting to get back up. Luckily for me, I'd just gotten close enough. He turned his head towards The Batmare. It was so easy just to buck him. The impact shook up my legs and sent the poor buck flying through the open gate and sliding through the dirt.
The Batmare gave me an appreciative nod as a roar ripped through the air, coming from inside the facility. It was enough to send her off running again. I stood there a second as the ponies groaned in pain around me. It really was a good thing that mare was on my side. Sure, I managed to fight her to a draw, but I'd had an advantage. Any other pony didn't stand a chance. Even I just happened to get luck. Another explosion.
“Hiiired.” Serenity said jumping on my head. “Shouldn't we go...?”
Right. It was hero time.
The hallway was bright, cleaned, and completely empty. I wasn't sure where Batmare ran off to, so me and High Stakes decided to go to the largest building and try to find the source of the commotion and (more importantly) find Flare who had went to check it out ahead of us. Normally, he would have met us at the entrance, or we would at least be able to hear him talking or something.
I started down the hallway, the only sound was our collective (Serenity had decided to walk and had apparently brought the gun I gave her at Karkhoof [I'd forgotten about it in all the commotion...]) hoof steps. We passed a few empty offices but didn't have the time to explore. Empty...
Why was everything empty?
A better question might have been was why was my shoulder burning if everything was empty? My two unicorn companions were not using magic, yet I could feel something... even worse, it was something familiar.
“Ever been in here?” I asked of nopony in particular as we walked down the long hall. Off at the end of the grey hall, I could see a set of double doors which seemed to be the best bet of where to look. It didn't help my gut that the closer we got, the more my shoulder burned.
High Stakes spoke up, “No. The Mustangs have always been very protective over this facility...” And yet where was everypony? There should have been more than four guards... something very strange was going on here, and if Mayhem didn't know now, he would soon. I'd hope not to be here when that happened. “I think I should have stayed home; there is no way this will end well. I have a terrible feeling about this.” Way to jinx it.
“Maybe they all went to bed?” Serenity said with half a yawn. I could see her watching the empty offices as we passed, just itching to go exploring.
“You don't believe that...” I stated plainly. We were already reaching the end of the hallway.
“I'm just tryin'a be optimistic. You two look grim.” She snorted. “Making the same face 'an everything.”
“I'll be fine, Serenity, we just need to find Flare and leave this place. What happens here has little to do with us,” High Stakes said.
“Or.” I said reaching the door. “We could stop whatever is going on.” I pushed the doors open slowly, “You know. Do the right thing for a change.” High Stakes could only smirk as I stepped through the door into a huge room.
The large room stretched out impressively, but it had a noticeable lack of substance besides a low ceiling and some overhanging lights. This was because most of the room was a giant vat of water, save for a walkway around the edge of the room. Moving over to the edge of the walkway and leaning over the railings I could see a huge pool of water. Bubbling steaming water. Oh! And there was a rickety catwalk above the bubbling pool with two ponies on it. I guess I should have mentioned that first.
“Flare!” High Stakes started running towards the catwalk. Idiot.
I looked at the catwalk again and saw why. Flare was being held over the bubbling lake by his neck by a Minotaur wearing what looked like a blue uniform. That was easy enough, I just had to scope Subtlety and... fucking hell! In my rush to be reconnected with my favourite gun I accidentally mounted it on the right side. I couldn't scope with a missing eye, and I couldn't shoot from the shoulder with Flare so close. So I had to start running too. I reached the rickety catwalk just as Flare looked over at us, and grinned.
“About time!” Flare yelled over at us. “I've been stalling to show yo-” Flare was shut up when the minotaur punched at him. The blue pegasus ducked the blow and slammed his hoof against the Minotaurs uniform, leaving something with a blinking light sticking to it. “you this!” With a flap of his wings, the pegasus detached himself from the monstrous beast and zoomed away. At the same time, the minotaur desperately clawed at his shirt. He managed to tear it off and throw it down the catwalk when...
The explosion shook the walkway sending me stumbling to a knee. High Stakes behind me fell too, and Serenity I was sure felt it. As smoke started to rise I waved a hoof at High Stakes. “The catwalk is too small for two. Get Serenity! I'll deal wi-” He was already gone when I looked and talking to Flare with a look of relief on his face. So I guess it was “Ignore the leader” day.
I turned back to the minotaur and got myself a good long look as he slowly struggled to his hooves after being knocked over from the blast. Unlike Ginger, his coat was a deep blue, and he didn't seem nearly as buff as The Watchers pet minotaur. In addition his horns spiked straight up, as opposed to the curled ones on Ginger, and how the fuck did he get in here without anypony noticing? As he stood to his true, impressive, and bipedal height, he didn't seem to be that stealthy. That was until his hand glanced a device on his waist. With a crackling fizzle he vanished from sight, and my shoulder started to burn.
“You can use magic!” I spurted out. There was barking laugh but no answer. It didn't matter, fuck minotaurs, Silver Charge!
He may have been able to turn invisible, but that didn't mean shit to me. I was able to turn and buck exactly where he was. My hind legs connected with his chest, turning his laugh into a hacking cough. I couldn't see him, but I could feel the burning fade slightly as he backed up. Booyah, my super powers were improving. It was just enough I could close in, rear, and kick him, much to his surprise.
“How can you see me, pony?!” I heard a disembodied voice growl. Then the burning shifted suddenly sideways as if he had jumped off. But down there was boiling water and steam, and that would be suicidal and... the burning was behind me. I tried to turn, but in the narrow corridor I couldn't manage it quick enough.
A sharp pain in my back sent me face-first into the steel grating. Pain flared up my back from another hit. Before I could try to crawl back up, I was lifted into the air by my hind legs! Flailing my forehooves around, I tried to kick something, anything, but I couldn't connect. I could feel him staring at me, but I was looking at thin air. Actually I was looking at the end of the catwalk as Serenity and High Stakes watched on. They could have shot him at any moment, but no doubt were afraid of hitting me. Thanks.
“You ponies are an annoyance,” the voice growled. “I am trying to do my job not deal with-” Feather! Flare slammed into the minotaur. I hoped it was enough to distract him. I started swinging. Back and forth. Back in Marefort, I could trapeze my way around like no other, and I still knew how. My forehooves connected to the beast’s invisible chest, and he dropped me. On my head.
After crying out in pain, I rolled onto my hooves, rubbing the back of my head. The burning sensation was moving again, but this time I saw a flicker as his device weakened. It was just enough for me to see him swinging along the outside of the safety bars with his stupid hands. They must have been so useful... So I saw where his hand was, raised my hooves, and stepped on it, inciting a cry of pain from the minotaur and a creak from the catwalk.
“You stupid little pony!” Something grabbed me.
The beast tugged at me with its scarily strong arms and pulled me over. Turning, I managed to hook my cybernetic leg on the edge of the railing. This still left me dangling over a vat of boiling water. The steam it was releasing was making me hot, and sweaty, and slick. I could almost feel myself starting to slip.
“Stupid pony.” The field of magical whatever faded leaving me staring over the railing at a pissed-off blue minotaur holding a mangled hand with his good one. “Just trying to do my job.” The monster grabbed my metal hoof. “So piss of-”
A splash of blood came out of the creature’s already-injured arm, and off to the side I could see High Stakes lining up another shot. He didn't get the chance though, as while the minotaur backed up down the walkway I felt something pushing me up from behind.
“You're... too fat,” Flare grunted, before dumping me on the grate. “Go kick his ass already!” Right. Got it. I scrambled to my hooves feeling catwalk shift under my hooves. That explosion of Flare's must have done a number on it, and this fighting wasn't helping.
“Stupid pony,” the minotaur grunted, holding at his arm, but doing little to stop the blood flowing down it and dripping into the water underneath the grate. “Don't make me hurt you.” He took a step forward. “Leave now.”
“You work here?” I asked. He kept saying he had a job. I wasn't sure if it was working here or sabotaging the facility, but I had to try to ask. “Is that I-” I shut my mouth as he lowered his head and started charging! Lowering myself I lifted up my metal leg.
With a smash, and a shriek from Serenity behind me, his horns pierced through my leg, but stopped centimetres from my face.
Their points were a bit too sharp and a bit too right in my face. With a grunt I lowered myself more. “Stay.” I lashed out with all my strength. “Back!” The horns ripped through my leg in a shower of sparks and wires, but he was sent into the air. He landed with a crack on his back, grunting and gasping for air.
“Now.” I said with a stomp of my hoof. “Do you work he-” The catwalk shifted. With a echoing crack the whole platform started tilting down sending us both sliding down towards the boiling water. Shit shit shit! Flailing over to the side, I managed to hook a leg on a railing, leaving me dangling on a catwalk that was only getting steeper by the second.
With my hind legs dangling, I looked further down to see the minotaur barely holding onto the grate with his one good arm. With a grunt he tried to climb up, but between me and High Stakes his other arm was useless. I really didn't want to him to die. I have no idea why! I must have been getting soft.
“Stay still, I think I can carry you!” Flare said, his wings beating fast. “Just.” He started groping at me. I could feel my leg slipping from the steam, but I shook my head.
“Grab the minotaur.” I said with a grunt. The pegasus looked like he was about to a laugh. “Seriously! He might know what's going on.” There was more confusion on his face. Idiot. It wasn't like we were the only ponies here. “High Stakes, levitate me up.”
“He did just try to murder me. That sorta thing doesn't lend well to my heroic instincts.” The catwalk cracked and shifted nearly making me lose my grip. “And he's heavy, I ain't that strong and if he struggled he might-”
“FLARE!” My voice brokered no argument. “Just do it!”
“Fine, fine, but if we all die, I refuse to take the blame!” He floated down and grabbed at the blue beast with his two forelegs. “Now hold on tight, and no more choking me.” The beast nodded it's bull-like head, and held on as tight as he could with his good hand. Slowly Flare managed to drag him up through the air, but only by flapping his wings as fast as they could go. Good.
“High Stakes!” He lifted me back in the BS, so he should be able to do it again. The stallion nodded and I felt myself go weightless as his horn started to glow a pale green. More layers of light were added to his horn as I was slowly lifted up. I could see sweat forming at his brow, and he grit his teeth. Apparently telekinesis was not his forte, but he still managed to lift me close.
That was until I dropped.
My heart fell into my chest. I was falling. I slammed into the metal catwalk with enough force to snap it. Fuck, it was falling! Flailing my hooves, around I prayed to Celestia I'd grow wings. The metal catwalk hit the water with a splash of scalding liquid. I covered my face. This was going to suck.
Nothing. I stopped.
Opening my eyes I saw myself centimetres from the water with a green and pink bubble surrounding me. With my heart in my throat and steam on my face, I was slowly, much too slowly, levitated up and deposited beside my very tired-looking friends. High Stakes was sweating and looked drained, while Serenity just laid on the ground with her eyes closed. She’d done good.
“So.” Flare dropped the Minotaur a meter on the ground. The creature landed with a thud, and grunted. “Are you going to explain why you almost got yourself killed for the sake of a... thing that tried to kill us?”
Right. I stood slowly to my hooves... and fell over as my metal leg gave out. Landing nose first into the concrete, I swore as loud as I could. Before I could do anything else Serenity was standing beside me, her eyes wide as she looked at my leg. “Noooo, look what you did to it!” she yelled, glaring at the minotaur. “Argh!” She dug strips of metal and wires from her bag, as well as a series of tools I really didn't know how to describe.
“Can you fix it?” I asked. Yeah, I know Flare had asked a question, but this was more important. And he seemed busy talking to High Stakes anyway. Serenity frowned at me, sighed, and went back to work on my leg.
“No, but I can make it work well enough till we can get better supplies.” She licked her lip and started laying out some wires from her bag.
“Right.” I looked up at Flare, and the minotaur (who was sitting pleasantly on the ground with his arms crossed), “Can somepony... er someone explain to me what is going on.”
The minotaur looked at me blankly as if I was already supposed to know. Clearly what we had here was a failure to communicate. “You attacked us.” The beast said, “How can you not know?”
“Attacked you!” Flare spoke up. “We're in Dise not... where ever you are from! Somepony was exploding open locked doors or some shit so I went to investigate and saw you!” he pointed his hoof dramatically. “You're lucky I didn't kill you outright! After what your people have been doing, you're lucky we don't kill you, you lying liar who lies!” Wait, what?
“Stupid ponies.” He fidgeted at the device on his belt. “I work here. You should not be seeing me,” He fidgeted some more. “We are not supposed to be seen. You are not with them, are you?” I shook my head. “This is not good then, not good at all.” He slowly got to his hooves. “My name is Unbreakable Will. My clan has agreed to work with the group you know as 'The Mustangs' in exchange for clean water and information. We are better suited to perform the tasks needed to keep the facility operational.” Right. Hands sure seemed like they'd be useful.
“Wait.” High Stakes had a devious smirk on his tired face. “You are saying that Mayhem has hired Minotaurs? As in the same Minotaurs currently camped across canyon ridge bridge with a huge army? The ones that sacked Hoof Town a year back and painted the river red with blood?” He winced a little bit at the accusation but didn't say no. At the mention of Hoof Town, Serenity, for a reason I didn't understand, took Scootaborg out of her saddle bag and let her watch. “Do you have any idea how much this information is worth?!” He laughed bitterly. “Oh don't worry, I won’t sell this little tidbit. I'm keeping this for a rainy day.”
“We were not meant to be seen for this reason...” He sighed. “It doesn't matter now. My clan members have gone-dark as was instructed. Most have gone to inform Mayhem, but I am not sure we have the time. The white faced pony came, and his ponies overpowered the guards silently. I fear it may have been an inside job; he seemed to know when and where to hit, and all the alarms were deactivated beforehand. “ That couldn't be good.
“White-faced one?” I asked.
“Maybe the Laughing Stallion?” Flare said flapping into the air a little annoyed he fought a minotaur for nothing. “I heard he paints his face white or something.” Creepy, I guess. “Kind of a strange coincidence if it was him though. Just happening to be involved in this and his arch nemesis being the one to find out about it first. I mean...” Coincidence. Was it?
“This... Laughing Stallion. Does anypony know who he is?” I asked to the shaking of heads. Even Serenity took time out from fiddling with my leg to shake her head at me. “Who showed up first, him or The Batmare?” I remember hearing something on the radio a while back. New Haygas claimed the two spent a lot of time fighting each other, much to the chagrin of Dise residents. By herself, The Batmare could do a lot of good, but if she spent all her time against one pony, and never resolving it.... Well, that would sour the city to her, wouldn't it?
“The Batmare.” High Stakes answered first. “She has been working here for a while. The Laughing Stallion came a few months back, and it was him that caused her to become a feature on the radio.” Just a coincidence. “Why?”
“Nothing.” I shook my head. “Serenity?”
“Five more minutes.” She pouted up at me. “It's criminal what you did to it! It'll never be as good as it was. A classic piece of cybernetics ruined.” With a huff she nudged Scootaborg closer, almost asking her to watch, “You'll be able to walk, but don't try running or kicking 'till I can fix'em right, got it?”
“Sorry...” I turned back to the minotaur. I mean, Unbreakable Will. He was a monstrous creature, but monsters don't have names so it was important to remember. “Will, did you see where he went?”
“Yes.” There was a long pause. Maybe he didn't know if he could trust us with the information? “The main pumping building.” I uh, didn't understand. The silence was so absolute the only sound was the boiling water in the large vat. “The water at this plant is taken from a large underground reservoir, beneath even the deepest tunnels. From there, the supply goes through a series of purification rooms. Boiling is supposed to rid the water of minute traces of radiation.” I had to wonder how much fire it’d take to boil all this water. Maybe that's why Roy attacked the power station.... Power stations make fire right? The minotaur continued. “If they seek to poison the water than they have gone to the wrong place. The purification process is thorough enough to clean away anything.”
“Why poison?” Flare said. At some point I realized he was flying upside down, but he did it so often I didn't even care. “If I were them, I'd blow the whole thing up.” Really Flare? Your first reaction would be to explode things, who would have thought. “Seriously. What better way to poison the populace than make them all drink irradiated water by blowing up the purification place... thing.” Wait... fuck. That made sense.
I jumped to my hooves.
“It's not ready!” Serenity said getting up as well.
“We need to go, now,” I said, before quickly adding to cut off Serenity's complaints. “We don't have time.”
“Go,” Unbreakable Will said. “My clan will watch, but we cannot interfere. I will be punished for talking to you.” Huh? “We swore to remain unseen or kill those who see us. I cannot kill you, and you have seen me. It is a great dishonour to my clan.” Err, sure.
“How do you even get in here? I mean, Dise.” Flare said as he landed beside me. “I mean, ain't like you could walk through the front door.”
“The tunnels,” he said simply. Of course. I guess minotaurs were just one more danger in the tunnels.
“Where did The Batmare get to?” Flare asked as we left the building. Unbreakable Will gave us instructions to get to the main pumping building, and we left in the hurry.
“I for one haven't the slightest clue. She ran off as soon as we got close.” High Stakes said in a low voice. Who knew who was watching. Well, given the burning in my shoulder I had an idea. I wondered how many minotaurs were watching us right now.
“Maybe we'll get lucky and she'll already have defeated the bad guy!” I smiled down at Serenity as I limped my way along. It was a nice thought, but not very likely. That would imply we had good luck.
The complex itself was annoyingly... uh, complex. Sure, there were walkways between the various buildings, but it still felt maze like with so many different buildings, and that's not to mention the astronomical amount of pipes. It felt like a world away from Dise. What did a plant like this need all these buildings for? I didn't stay on that train of thought long though, as there was no way I'd be able to understand went on in this facility. The only thing I needed to know was that explosions equal bad.
“Just in case, shouldn't we like, hurry?” Flare seemed to be flapping his wings in an exaggeratedly slow pace. Given he was flying to my right, I had to turn my whole head to see him though.
“No way!” Serenity jumped up, grabbed his wing, and dragged him back to earth. “Her leg is stuck together with tape and chewing gum right now, if we move too fast, it'll break!”
“We could go ahead, it seems Hired would not be of use even if we all get there together.” Haughty Stakes. I mean High Stakes said. “Best not wear her out. Flare and I can handle any trouble there.”
“Like you handled the minotaur?” I replied with a smirk, trying to ignore the way my leg creaked with every step.
“That was...” He scrunched up his muzzle to the left of me. “I had little option. I did not risk a shot at first for fear of hitting Flare, and after with you two fighting I could not see him. I am not a melee fighter.”
“Neither is Flare.” I continued the chain of thought. “So if you two go alone. And get jumped. You lose, everything goes boom?” He gave me a long hard glare. “It's better to go together.”
“You aren't fighting with that leg!” Serenity was insistent. Apparently the destruction of possibly the last functioning water purification plant on earth was less important than me breaking my leg. That was just... exactly what I expected from Serenity. I really should have left her back with Haze.
Wait. I did do that. And then she followed me. I guess I should have scolded her, but I was on thin enough ice as it was, so I didn't want to risk it.
We did eventually find the main pumping station to discover it was a fairly small building with four large pipes coming out of it, one from each side of the building. The entrance was a simple metal door that was strangely malformed, a black ring of burnt stuff encircling what was probably a lock and handle once. There was no question that somepony had entered recently. And not with permission.
“Serenity.” I said in a low whisper. “Your soundy magic, can you... make it so we can talk normally, without other ponies hearing us.”
“I... I'll try.” My shoulder burned as her horn started to glow a dull pink. Slowly a small bubble of glowing magical stuff surrounded us. “Can't hold it for long...,” she grunted, adding another layer of magic to her horn.
“Impressive.” High Stakes said, his glasses shining because... that was just what they did. I’d stopped trying to make sense if it. “A double wrapped sound barrier that blocks sound from both sides, but allows us to talk freely. It's technically the same spell but such a clever adaptation of it.” Serenity beamed in pride but had to add another layer of magic to hold the spell.
“Here's the plan.” I said. “We go in. Shoot everything. If they have a bomb, we get Flare to deactivate it.”
“That's it? Charge in and hope we don't die?” High Stakes sure loved to complain. I guess I could have pointed out nopony even invited him along, he just sort of followed, and thus didn't get a say. “We should try to sneak in, and attack from a flanking position.” Blah blah blah.
“There's only one entrance. The building is small. Can't be more than one room.” With a resigned sigh, he nodded. There wasn't a point questioning it. Let's go, charge. “Serenity. Stay behind me. If things turn ugly run and hide.” The little filly nodded. She looked so tired, and was trying so hard to be strong, even as sweat beaded down her head and around her glowing horn. “Lets go.”
The magical field faded around us. I charged over and bucked the door open with a crash, and stormed as fast as I could into the room.
I made it two steps before I was staring down the barrel of a gun.
“Hehehahahahah!” The gun was a mouth-held shotgun pointed by a stallion who could apparently laugh and bite down at the same time. “You should see the looks on your faces! Priceless~” The stallion’s coat with a murky red, and his mane was long and yellow, but his face was, as stated, painted white with a stupid red smile. I could see why he kept his face like that, it helped to partially hide the fact that half his face was cybernetics.
“Hey... “I heard Flare mutter behind me. “We were just passing through and thought you'd like some help an-”
A bullet slammed against concrete and I heard Flare gulp. Behind the demented stallion, one of his nearly dozen lackeys (all wearing white masks) had a smoking gun in their mouth. All of them were earth ponies. Out of the corner of my eye I could see one of them saunter behind us, and close the door.
“Let's play a little game~” The Laughing Stallion clicked his back hooves together in glee. “It's called, who dies first? Will it be you? The filly? Oooooor, who knows!” He chuckled loudly to himself. “Or I’ll tie you all up and let you go BOOM!” The room was small and crowded by ponies and rusty pipes.
My shoulder started to burn and my eyes shot to the ceiling. On the ceiling was a small grate that let in moonlight...
“Really? You're kidding, right?” I said. He tilted his head at me, still chuckling. “I mean. Painted face? Laughing? What the hell are you doing?”
“Why, I’m giving the ponies a show! Ponies love shows, and they love to be entertained. What is more entertaining than two heroes locked in an epic duel?! Oh yes. Sure, we destroy a lot, but it's all part of the game.” There was a sadistic grin on his face, but it felt wrong. Something about this felt wrong. Too easy. He showed up just to fight the Batmare, but why? His story didn't add up. His character didn't add up. It felt too forced. I'd met actual crazy ponies, this guy felt like an actor trying too hard. “Too bad Batsy isn't here for the fun, but you'll have to do.” He chuckled. “An earth pony, a pegasus, a filly, and a unicorn. We really have a full house, so Miss Hero, any last words?”
I looked back up at the grate, and thought I saw a flash of a purple cape.
“Yeah.” I smirked. “Duck.”
For half a second his act dropped. “Wha-” He turned his head. There was a flash of light, tink of something hitting the ground, and suddenly smoke filled the room. I cracked my metal hoof against his face. My Metal leg shuddered but kept together. And he went sprawling into the growing smoke.
Gunfire filled the room.
“Serenity!” She was faster than I was, and I could feel her magic off in a corner. Good. I charged in after the Laughing Stallion trying to kick at him. Too bad smoke was everywhere.
It was chaotic. Muzzle flashes and Batmare's magic came from every direction. I tripped over a pipe into an earth pony that I promptly kicked in the face. A second came from beside me, mistaking me for a friend. So I turned and bucked him into a wall. I don't know how Batmare thought these smoke grenades were a good idea! It was crazy.
A bullet tinged a pipe right in front of me. Water sprayed at my face, making me sputter and take a step back. Right into a pony. I tripped and fell on my rump over somepony. It was lucky though as I saw the dim outline of a pony diving at where I was a second ago. I felt some pony walk into me. So I grabbed their leg, and threw them down.
“Hey! Hey!” Flare?
“Sorry.” I let him go. “Can't see shit.”
“You're half blind anyway!” Flare barked laughter. “I like it like this! Been so long since I've been in a proper confusing fight.” I smacked him lightly. “Fine!” He yelled over the gun fire. “Watch this.” I heard him flap into the air and a few seconds of furious flapping and all the smoke was pushed to a side of the room giving me a better view of the battle ground.
I saw the two ponies I knocked out groaning and struggling to their hooves, while the one I'd tripped over stayed dead from the bullet in her brain. At least five more lackeys had bullets lodged in their heads too courtesy of High Stakes, who was doing astounding well with his rifle. He had backed up in a corner, and a score of bodies laid out in front of him. How had he been able to see in the smoke? The glasses maybe? The Batmare herself was flashing around the room giving, kicks at random. Not enough to kill, but hurt and confuse. As I looked around, I saw a lot of bodies and spurting water, but no Laughing Stallion.
“Hired!” I turned to Serenity's hiding spot to see her and the villain standing face to face. A drop of blood sliding down the side of his face. How did he know where she was! Could everypony see in smoke but me? No time to think, fuck him!
I dove at him.
Time seemed to slow as I stretched my legs out in a tackle. He turned his head, shotgun still ready.
My cybernetic leg took the shot and turned to scrap. I slammed into him with my other leg. We rolled through the ground. He got another shot off but barely scraped my barding. My head slammed against the floor. My sight blurred in pain. Before I could react, he was standing above me, shotgun pointed at my face.
“Soooo strong, and yet. Do you feel happy with this life? Do you fancy yourself a hero?” I grit my teeth. “Tell me.” Somehow the metal half of his face twisted into a grimace. “What is the nature of a hero?”
“Pain?” I guessed. Something to keep him talking so I could get ready to kick him.
“Failure. Hehehehe, get it?” he kept talking. “Heroes fail. They try and they fail. If a hero doesn't fail, they aren't doing it right. So congratulations, you succeeded in being a hero, by being a failure. Riddle time is over, now please di-”
A shot rang out.
A bullet hit his shot gun, tearing it from his mouth, and showering my face with shotgun remains. A second bullet ripped through the stallions leg. At once his facade faded. “Fuckityfuck. Dragon doesn't pay me enough to... fuck.” He turned and ran, taking another bullet in the flank before running through the door disappearing in the night.
Dragon... he said Dragon. Could he mean Dragonslayer? I groaned and rested my head on the floor. This sucked.
“Hired!” Serenity was standing above me, her pistol floating in her magical grasp. “Your leg! It's ruined!”
Flare was standing above me now too. “I deactivated the bomb. Thanks for the help, by the way.”
High Stakes was there too. “Your plan almost got us killed. Luckily I was there to save you...”
The Batmare flashed above my too, a scowl on her mask. “You let the Laughing Stallion get away!”
Failure. If that was the nature of a hero, there was nopony more heroic.
I limped my way out of the building. Serenity had wanted to fix up all the leaking pipes, but we really didn't have time. I was sure invisible minotaurs were watching us, and Mayhem was going to arrive at any moment. I think she was still upset about the loss of my leg. I kind of was, too. It had been with me since Bridle Hope, and even though I preferred my real leg, my cybernetic one was good too. She even went through the trouble of collecting the larger pieces, as well as the stump still connected to my shoulder.
“High Stakes.” I said to him as he exited behind me. He seemed slightly bemused at my three-legged limping. “Tell... Starscream or House or whoever I accept their offer, so long as I get that damn cyber eye... and a replacement leg.”
“House doesn't usually bargain... but considering the circumstances....” He nodded at my stump. “A Hizai is far more useful with four legs. I will tell him... tonight I am guessing. Where will you be?”
“Thanks. The School.” I needed the rest, even though it was getting scarily close to morning. “Take Flare.” Please.
“What!' Flare flapped in front of me, “Don't I get a say in this at all?” I shook my head.
“No.” I turned my head to The Batmare. “Can I ask something of you?” She tilted her head. “Teleport me to the alicorn school orphanage... place... thingy. With Serenity.” Serenity looked half asleep. As we stood there, I saw her closer her eyes, start to fall over, only to snap them open and straighten up at the last second. I really shouldn't take her on these wild excursions, but she... well she was invaluable help. And with her help, we had stopped a crazy pony from blowing up the city’s water supply. I'd have to give her some candy later.
“I can...” She sounded tired, too. “For your help here today, but after this I must request you stop asking requests of me. I am neither a taxi nor a messenger.”
“Sorry...” I mumbled shaking the sleep out of my eye. “Here.” I nudged Serenity beside The Batmare as the hero's horn started to glow. High Stakes and Flare stood across from us in the darkened water complex. All around I could hear the sounds of pipes rushing water around. “Thanks, you two...” I was being polite tonight. “Tell me.” The Batmare's horn started to glow brighter. “What is the nature of a hero?”
“Stupidity,” High Stakes said with a snort, as if the question was beneath him.
“Defiance.” Flare shot High Stakes a dirty look. “A hero needs to balk at the established order. Why?”
We winked away into light.
The sensation was hard to describe. It was like all the cells in my body were pulled away and dissipated, sending a burning light (sort of like the feeling in my shoulder around magic) throughout my very soul. It didn't last long, as soon enough I could feel myself being pushed back together. The whole feeling lasted less than a second, but it was something I would never be able to forget. To think that the Batmare did it daily and so rapidly was mind boggling.
My eye shot open revealing the door I'd used to first enter Haze's orphanage thingy. My hair felt a little... singed, but other than that I was all there in however many pieces I came in.
“You are here,” the Batmare said. Not sure why she said it, I still had my eyes... er, eye. “Faithful sidekick, you and your daughter.” I winced, and could see Serenity shuffle awkwardly out of the corner of my eye. I'd forgot to explain the situation to her, didn't I? “Have served my cause well tonight. I thank you for your valiant efforts in foiling that dastardly devil, and saving the city’s water supply.
Was it really in danger? We took long enough getting to the Laughing Stallion. He could have blown it up at anytime, yet seemed to wait for me... or rather the Batmare. Like he was trying to make it close... and dramatic. The whole situation seemed too easy. Too coincidental. I knew there was something I was missing, but I just couldn't see it. At least I knew about Mayhem and the minotaurs now. That was something simple and easy to understand, and gave me a certain amount of leverage.... Of course since Flare and High Stakes both knew, the Remnants and House were going to learn soon.
I needed more friends who didn't work around me....
“Hired...” Huh? “Hiiired.” I looked down at Serenity. “Batlady left...” I looked around. Apparently she had, and I was exhausted.
“Right.” I limped towards the door. “You did good tonight, Serenity.” She grinned, as if she already knew that. “But... if you're still mad at me... why?” She had said as much early that night (It really was the same day wasn’t it? So much had happened I had lost track of time.)
“I...” She ran ahead of me and spun back. “I don't know. I don't like what you did, but inside you're still a good pony, I'm sure of it! So... I'm giving you a second chance. I'll try to be better this time though! I promise. I just... want to be with you; you don't have to be my mother or anything, I just. Please? We'll both do better this time, I know it!”
I leaned down and gave her cheek a warm nuzzle. She giggled, and pushed me away just a little. “Yes, Serenity, we'll do better.... Thank you.” For giving me another chance. After all that had happened. I didn't deserve it, but I was going to take it as it came. If I was going to build a better world for her, I had to start by giving her a better future. Even if I couldn't be all that she wanted, I could be what she needed. And what she seemed to need more than anything, was a pony to care for her. For so long she had been alone, and I could give her that.
“Run off to bed. It's late.”
She didn't even argue with me. She just nodded, said, “Goodnight, Hired.... Thanks...,” and ran off down the hall and leaving me alone. I wasn't sure what to do at this point. I really just wanted to make sure Serenity got back alright.
I wasn't sure where we stood. It was... different than before, but... better, I think. At least we were being more honest, and that could only be good. I wasn't excited with her following me around again, but it was her choice and I knew she needed it. Hopefully this time I would avoid freaking out and shooting foals...
I limped my way over to Platinum Haze's room.
Opening the door with my skull, I limped inside to see the beautiful blue alicorn resting on her mattress. Her eyes were closed so I assumed she was asleep and collapsed on the bed beside her. With a groan I shut my eyes and let myself be comforted by the radiant warmth of her body. I didn't know if I was ready for a relationship yet, but she was too warm to pass up.
One of her wings lifted up and draped over me.
I felt myself blush. “I thought you were asleep.”
“We do... I do not need sleep in this form.” She shuffled closer to me. I didn't complain. “I was worried when you left suddenly.... What happened?”
“Fought a super villain. Nearly died in a vat of boiling water. The usual.” I said with a yawn. I don't think she believed me. “Really. Ask the Batmare.”
“You mean that mare who assaulted me when we first met?” Right, that's the one! I chuckled a bit, and lifted my head up so I could rest it on her side. “I am not sure how I feel about that, but at least you are safe. Mostly safe. Serenity vanished as well, I assume with you.”
“She followed me.”
“See. I knew you two would make up.” Her feathers tickled a little bit. “I'm glad you're safe.... I am sorry about earlier.”
“It's just that I shouldn't have come on to you. Considering the circumstances, I understand your hesitation, and reluctance, and it was not wise of me to act the way I did. I-” Oh for Celestia's sake. I leaned up and kissed her cheek. There was slight pause before she started stammering and blushing. “I... er... why did...”
“Stop that....” I rested my head on her again. “Stop over thinking.” I was the master of not over thinking. And not thinking. “Just... be glad for what you have. And let me rest.” I gave her a shy smile and she stuttered something before composing herself.
“I... right. Sorry. It's just.” I felt her kiss the top of my head. Now I was blushing too. Great... I'm not a fillyfooler, she was just comfortable. Shut up. “Thanks...”
“Haze...” She hmm’ed at me. “What is the nature of a hero?”
“Uh...” Clearly that was not the question she was expecting. “Humility.” That took The Batmare out of the equation. “I think a hero has to do what they do because it is what is required, and not for fame. Velvet Remedy is a good example. She followed the Destroyer silently and let her get all the fame. Velvet did the right thing for the right reasons. If anypony was ever a hero, then it was she.”
“Mhmm.” Was all I could say in reply. She was so very warm. So hard to stay awake. It was strange. I barely knew her... but after the memory thing, and everything that happened, I really needed that moment. I think she needed it too.
“It's a riddle.” I yawned. “I hate riddles.”
New Perk: Violent Vigilante: You are a force of justice and do not take kindly to corruption or violence in the city you’ve claimed as your own. Against sleazy Dise gangs and disorganized criminals you do +15% damage and have a bonus to hit in SATS. Not that you use SATS...
Quest Perk: Sidekick!: Sometimes, just when your enemies think they have the upper hand, The Batmare appears in a flash to save the day! However, this perk is only active in and around Dise, and keeping this perk active means you must occasionally drop everything you are doing and go fight in the name of Justice!
((A/N: A big thanks to the lovely Kkat for creating FOE so I can dick around with it. And a huge thanks to my editors theBSDude, ErrantIndy, Mint Julep, and Menti without whom my story would suck. Seriously.))