Dead. I should have been dead. Then why did everything hurt so fucking much? My eyes filtered opened. Light. Blinding. Something standing above me. A pony... or... I could barely see. I thought I saw wings. Maybe. And a cutie mark. I could see... two clouds. That's what it looked like. A closed sky cutie mark. Like the wasteland. Fuck, everything hurt. Wildfire... she'd save me. Dead. She was still dead.
My eye closed. When I opened them again, the pegasus had a syringe in its mouth.
“Hmm. Are you awake?”
My eyes opened and painful light filtered in. I was alive. Somehow. Starved, dehydrated and suffering from some vile poison, yet I was alive. I should have died with Wildfire, so I closed my eyes, trying. I breathed deep, and my chest stung. If only I had a gun, I would shoot myself and finish the job the wasteland started.
“Oh, stop that. Open your eyes.” A dark brown stallion with a purple and green mane was looking over me. I guessed he was a doctor. Not because he was looking over me, but because he was wearing a white lab-coat doctor-y goggles with a stethoscope.
“Who...” damn, when did my throat become a desert? Seemingly reading my mind, the doctor floated a bottle of water, and I quickly sucked it back, wishing for more and expecting nothing. It tasted like a dinner fit for kings.
“Dr Morowynd,” he said with a sweeping bow, “head physician and cybernetic expert of Watcher Caravan 54.”
“A Watcher Caravan,” he said slower.
Sighing, he face hoofed, “Starvation must have killed brain cells.” I glared at him. Starvation had nothing to do with it; I was a certified idiot. If he didn't believe me, he could very well ask Wildfire. “The Watchers are an...organization formed in the NCA, Eye Glow to be precise, whose goal it is to help every pony survive. Not for free, but we charge as little as possible to keep us going. Currently, my base is in-”
“You saved me?” I looked around the room wildly. It was a small dingy room that smelled of stale piss and mold. The white walls were chipping, and the medical equipment seemed rusty, but better than anything I'd ever seen in Marefort. My heart sank as I thought of my hometown. Had I been alone I would have cried, but weakness was not something I could afford to show. Steeling myself up, I gave him my most defiant look, praying I didn't betray it.
“No.” He stopped. “Kind of. Somepony carried you to Bridle Hope, can't say who, never did see him." No, not save me. I was dead, as dead as Wildfire. She died trying to be a hero, but heroes die. I was given a second chance, and idiot as I was, I never made the same mistake twice. If surviving was all I could do, I swore to myself on that hospital bed that I would survive. Survive. No job too low, no boundary I wouldn't cross. I...I needed to be stronger. Tougher. I promised Wildfire I'd kill the Crimson Hoof. All of them. And to do that I had to throw away any pretensions of heroics. Heroics would kill me sure as rain. I needed to survive. “What... is your name by the way.” he seemed worried.
“Hired Gun.” Who names their child Hired Gun? Idiot. Quickly I added: “Where is this place?”
“Bridle Hope Implant Center and Hospital.”
That made sense. Herbal medicine and all that, “So you sell plants.”
“Uh no. Implants.” he shuffled his hooves awkwardly, “I may have already added a neural enhancement into your frontal lobe, though it may not have been enough... You looked liked you needed it. Among other things.” Other... I tried to roll onto my front to get to a sitting position. Something was wrong. I couldn't feel one of my legs, but when I moved to roll something helped me, and something helped me onto my haunches. Hearing a slight whirling and creaking I saw... it.
“MY LEG!” Didn't exist. The one shot with Starmetal. The one that was twisted and blue. In it's place was a skeleton of metal and wires. Fuck me with the barrel of my gun, I was a fucking robot.
“Now calm do-” I pushed off the bed and tackling him to the ground, ready to shove my calm down his throat. “Pu-puhplease. Li-s.”
“What the hell did you turn me into!”
“You were dying!” He screeched, his voice shrill, as I raised my new metallic hoof over his head. A more ironic death I couldn't figure. For some reason the joint between my torso and metal leg burned. “The Poison. I-it took your leg. It was dead. Had I waited any longer... your whole body. Infected. I had to a-act.” More dangerous then I could imagine. “A single scratch from those things and the infection will take you. If the scratch is about the head neck or torso death is within hours. In the legs... it can be staved off for weeks depending on the pony, but the blood will be forever tainted. You will die, but it will take longer for Starmetal to claim you. Amputating the leg was all I could do to slow the infection... it gives you a chance. The prosthetic is free of charge, no worries about that. Please, don't do this.” I backed off him, stepping around the bed where I had been laying. The burning in my joint calmed down as he levitated a shotgun back onto the counter. He had been pointing it at my head... and I didn't notice. Shit.
“Okay.” I said sitting back on my haunches. Calm. Cool. Collected. Silver may have been hyper aggressive when threatened, but Hired Gun had to be calculating, and silent. “Where in Equestria am I?” I bent my left foreleg a bit, hearing it squeak. I suppose, being free, I couldn’t expect it to be top-of-the-line.
“Not Equestria. Bridle Hope in the-”
“What?” Not Equestria? But that was a pony I was talking to.
“You're not in Equestria. Or not in what WAS Equestria before the war. That's north past the cliffs. Before the war this territory was an independent state known as Caledonia. They still were ruled, technically, by Celestia, but it had it’s own governing party.”
“You were never bombed?”
“We were.” he assured me. That was good. Radiation was such a part of my world, I'd be sad to see it go. “Not as severely. The states never officially declared war against the Zebra...but there were more than Zebras and ponies in the war... Zebras fed spells to their allies, and we were bombed. Much o--” I just realized how little I cared about history.
“Okay. Bridle Hope. Whatever. I need work.”
“You still have a debt to pay.” He looked taken aback by my interruptions but must have learned not to aggravate me. Smart pony. “I...the leg was free, but other services we provided were not. Worry not. You look capable with a gun, right? I will give you some caps for a new one, and I'll need you to help me guard a supply waggon east. We are supplying purified water to the outlining villages you see, and raiders...well you know. After that, all you need do is follow me to Dise to meet my boss, and you're free to find work.”
“Dice?” Like the things gambling-type ponies rolled. I wasn't sure I was understanding.
“Dise.” Licking his lips he continued, “You've never heard of Dise?” As I shook my head I swear I hear him mutter something about another implant.
The city of lights. Sin's city. Once called Celestia's Paradise, but the sign baring the name had faded to just Dise so that's what the residents called it. Before the war it was some sort of 'getaway' where the worst of all sins were treated as common-place. According to the Doctor, and his rather sketchy sources, The Ministry Of Morale billed it as an “adult party” where veterans of the war could go to wash their fears away. Only the main strip was actually owned by Equestria; the rest of the city was independent. Apparently it survived the war. Or at least it wasn't bombed quite so much as everywhere else in the world.
There was gambling there, he said, and I agreed to go. Hell, this 'Last City In The World' might be half interesting, and the idea of gambling my caps away warmed my stomach. First, we had to deliver water, which seemed weird. According to him it'd take a week there from Dise, and a week back. Wouldn't they need water...sometime between that?
Par for the course it was just me being an idiot. The water, he explained, was for medical procedures and the like. Nothing more dangerous than pouring radiation straight into a wound. They also delivered Rad-away and Rad-X when the locals did have to drink the local supply, but the fresh water went a long way to help the small communities. Hell, if Marefort had semi-regular pure water shipments it would have reduced trade costs by a sizable percentage, due to the less Rad-Away we'd have to purchase. More over, The Watchers gave it away for bloody free. Free! Maybe they hadn't gotten the memo that the world had ended and it was fight-for-yourself time.
Still, I know I had wantonly decided to be a cold-blooded mercenary and all that, but I couldn't help but be thankful the first job Celestia sent me was from such a group. Stable 42 was just a taste of what was to come in my journeys, and I knew that, but at least working for The Watchers wouldn't make me hate myself. I already hated myself enough. And I really should have paid attention to where I was going.
Fell face first into a mailbox with a ringing sound and sharp pain through my head. My neck snapped back as I flipped onto my side groaning. Looking down at my leg I saw my stupid mechanical leg stuck in a hole. Of course if I'd had a real fucking leg, I would have felt it, but metal has no nervous system. Sighing, I stayed on the ground staring up the cloudy sky. Grey and dead, just like this town. Well, this town was actually brown and teeming with life, but just let me have my metaphors, okay?
“I need... ” I said aloud,“DJ-PON3.” Lowering my head, I pressed my pipbuck with my nose. Nothing. I pressed again. Nothing at all. That's it. I'm going to burn all technology.
“Bridle Hope General Store?” Since when did my pipbuck have a map? Apparently passing out in the Dise wasteland improves your technology. Maybe if I got myself in two more coma's my pipbuck might just come with magical limb regeneration powers. That damned implant did something with my mind; I never had this... imagination thing before. I was like some sort of idiotic daydreaming cyborg. Named Hired Gun. I really should have thought the name through.
“Hey there, Sweet Pea.” Of course, there are worse names. Above me was a slightly older mare with a thick black mane with white streaks and dirty green coat. “What'cha doin' on that there ground? Ain't never seen ya 'round these parts 'fore. Ah'm Nanny Jane, proprietor of this store. And you are...”
“Gun yes, one don't forget a name like that easily,” her grin mocked me. “You’re the one what passed out south of town, right? Or what was dragged here some say. No matter, Ah suppose. Way I hear it, you're in debt to the Watchers. Good folks them, don't be listenin' to any rumours; they’re good folks.” Repetitive and annoying. Great. If she knew me at all she'd know I didn't listen to any rumours. Nothing but bad blood there. “Now, you be wantin' some guns right? Well you come ta the right place Ah says. Just stay outta tha backroom.”
Trotting behind me, she pushed me until I got up, and walked into her store. Celestia approves aggressive marketing. “You'll be wantin' a battle saddle.” I nearly said I had one, until I remember I’d used it to crush somepony’s face. Good times. “Now this model ain’t new, but reliable. Comes with ’n auto reload function and dual .357 repeaters.” The guns were not impressive. They looked old, rusted, and ready to fall apart. Whatever, they shot bullets, and that was enough. “500 caps.” The Doc would later yell at me for getting scammed.
I also bought some Apple Snacks, and a bottle of Sunrise Sarsaparilla. It was a nice town I guess. A few cobbled together houses made from the remnants of a Pre-War town. Less ponies then Marefort, but a larger area. It felt open. Like I could walk for hours and still be in town. No tripping over sleeping ponies, or dodging fillies as they ran underfoot. Idiot. Stop thinking of Marefort, that pony is dead.
When did I become such a drama queen? I needed to kick something.
Sometimes the goddess' were just. As I walked down a small hill I heard shouting. “Get off my damn farm!” Pop quiz: What happens when lizards absorb too much magical radiation?
They grow and gain sharp needle-like teeth of course. Another reminder of the apocalypse. I charged headfirst down the hill and splattered a gecko's head with a resounding bang. To my left, a second climbed a white picket fence and jumped maw-first at me. Apparently my metal leg was inedible, given its whine as it chewed on it. With a single shake the beast lost it's grip and went airborne. It was the easiest thing in the world to aim and...
My joint burned and the beast’s head exploded without me firing a shot. I turned my head to see a (beautiful) white unicorn mare standing there with a smoking gun floating beside her. Her deep red mane cascaded down her head and back like a waterfall, reminding me of Wildfire's...damn, now I'm sad. And throbbing. Looking down, I saw that one of those fuckers had its teeth sunk into my leg above my pipbuck.
“Get off!” I shook my other leg this time, but the only thing that accomplished was to make it sting more. It was then I realized how much better it'd be to be a unicorn, as I couldn't aim my battle saddle at my own leg. The Gecko exploded into bloody chunks thanks to the (beautiful) unicorn mare. Turning my attention I gave a bloody grin. Three left. I bit my battle saddle reigns hearing the lovely click of a reloading gun.
“You're an idiot.” I winced a little as the (beautiful. Okay, I think I made the point clear. Feel free to add the word beautiful from now on) unicorn mare painfully cleaned my wound. “Why would you charge down the hill like that?” She had her head down so I could just barely see her radiant (it's not beautiful, shut up) purple eyes peering through her hair. Her name was Pearly, and I had said it was a lovely name because I am stupid. Apparently, idiot heroes were in season as she smiled when I said that. “You have a new leg, ya know, and have you even tested them guns yet? They could've been faulty.” Truth be told, she seemed more disturbed when I mentioned I bought my gun from Nanny Jane than at my skeletal metal leg. I didn't question it further though; rumours never helped anypony.
She had half led, half dragged me to her little shack on the other side of her meagre farm. Turns out radiated water is not the best for growing crops, but she tried. She mentioned something about a NCA farm near Dise that managed to find a way around the problem, but that really meant nothing to me. Her shack was a little on the small side, with little else besides a stained mattress and table to it's name.
“Sorry.” I said as coolly as I could. She just smirked at me making me feel half a fool. Which, since I always felt half a fool, made me feel like a full fool. Or something. I never was good at math.
She sighed deeply looking at me. “Listen, thanks. I don't have any caps to pay you for your help, but I can take a look at those guns of yours. Make'em run right... that Nanny Jane,” She made the word a curse. Why was gossip so tempting? “Don't know the butt, from the barrel.” She pressed her hoof to my forehead, checking my temperature I guessed. The flushing in my cheeks must have skewered her data though...”You feeling sick? Light headed? Dizzy?”
I shook my head.
“Weak? Like you're going to throw up?” I shook my head again and she just frowned. “Those gecko bites are poisonous... you should be sick.” Nope, wasn't. “Whatever, you're feeling fine, and that’s what matters. Hate to see you sick...” Her smile made me smile. Damn things are infectious. Come on Silver, you're supposed to be a cold hard killer. Or... something. “You don't talk much, do you, hon?” Why, oh why, did she have to use that word.
“Why not, hon? Ya got a lovely voice.”
“Nothing to say.”
“Hm. Quiet one, eh? Ya know... you don't leave till the morrow, and you look like you'd make a good poker player. That quiet hard-ass, yeah, you'll bluff like a pro.” I had no idea what that meant. “Let’s hit the casino.” A casino, as I found out later, was a large building full of colourful flashing lights. Also they sold whiskey.
Whiskey is amazing.
I woke up with a headache. Visions of the night before flickered dimly in my head. The first hour was clear. I turned out to be terrible at poker as I couldn't understand the rules, but I liked blackjack. Even an idiot can count to twenty one. Then the drinks came, and things got... less clear. There was drinking and dancing. Somepony dancing... I doubt it was me; I never danced. There were... other memories too. Nothing clear though, but I remember being warm. Very warm. I shook my head, and that made it throb more. Why did whiskey forsake me so?
Groaning, I opened my eyes rolling onto my side as my metal leg clanged loudly against something sending a spark of pain flashing through my head. It was then I realized I didn't know where I was. I had been staying at the local clinic, but this wasn't it. It was small, dirty and... what was my Battle saddle doing crumpled in the corner? Wait... this was Pearly's house. Now why was I in there?
Speak of Nightmare Moon, and she appears. Pearly trotted into her house at that moment, a basket of shrivelled apples in her mouth. With a smile and a blush she dropped it before of me, flipping her red hair a bit before regarding me shyly. “Ah know it ain’t much, but, you know what with radiation and all, it's amazing anything grows at all.”
“You have must have a green hoof.” That was stupid; obviously her hoof was white, not green. Apparently speaking in cliches was all I was capable of. I blame the whiskey. Or that neural implant Doc installed. Both were amazing and shitty. Like my life, except without the amazing part.
I've also been rambling a lot more. Maybe the my brain is trying to get used to the new enhancements by subliminally making me think of stupid shit to work it out. Lowering my head I bit into the apples. Kinda dry, but very tasty. At least compared to the two hundred year old food I was used to eating. “They're good.” I wasn't sure if the look on her face was one of pride or of relief.
“So...about last night...” Something in my stomach tightened. Clearly, she was nervous, and about something I didn't remember. Crap. Damn you, whiskey; give me my memories back. Was she blushing? Yup blushing, and staring at the floor.
Quickly I got to my feet and nuzzled her neck. “It was good...”
Her head jolted back. Startled maybe? “Yeah, heh. good.” I wonder if there was some sort of emotion-detecting-implant. I was a cyborg already; one more couldn't hurt. Maybe then I'd understand these crazy ponies. She backed off turning quickly, ”The doctor was looking for you. You should go. He's impatient, and you should never keep a Watcher waiting...”
“Nothing. A stupid rumour.” She turned, smiling brightly with her eyes. “Want some dirt on who you'll be sharing Guard duty with?” Normally rumours were not my cup of tea, but between the headache (for once I was thankful for the overcast sky. Any brightness and my brain would have exploded. Twice) and the confusion regarding my activities the night before... well I couldn't say no.
“Now the unicorn is named Lye. She speaks softly but a lot even though most'um can't hear a word she's talkin' bout. The Pegasus is... Sail I believe. Don't know much bout him ’cept he's a mercenary from Dise or something. Seems a nice buck, but he gives the dirtiest looks.” I groaned a bit resting my head onto her table, “You feelin' alright, hon?”
I nodded groggily. My head was pounding and now I was learning things. My brain officially hated me.
She poked me with her horn, “You sure?”
After getting dressed she (kissed) waved goodbye, giving me a present (of the explosive variety) as I left. As I strolled through town, various ponies I didn't recognize smiled at me and called out. I replied curtly as I couldn’t remembering anything. One of these days I would ask Pearly what exactly happened, but then again somehow I knew that question would be awkward. Oh well, I'd just not think about. What was the likelihood I'd ever come back to this backwater town, anyway?
As I trotted my way up the hill leading to the clinic, I took a break from staring at my feet (to make sure my stupid metal leg didn't trip on anything) to notice that beside the clinic was a rather large building with flashing lights all over it. It took me half a second to realize it was the casino. When the hell did it get there? And better yet: why, if my temporary residence was mere meters away from the casino, did I stumble all the way to Pearly's home? Also who builds a den of inequity and hubris next to a medical building? It was just asking for trouble.
“Hired,” Dr Morowynd cantered up to me, “Glad to see you up and about... and so active. Normally rehabilitation takes much longer.” Rehabila-wha?
“You know, learning how to use your leg, now that its... gone.” The brown doctor perked up, and he tilted his head.
“Oh. Sorry. Didn't know I was supposed to be rehabilitated.”
“So,” He measured me closely, holding his head high so as to look at me eye-to-eye, “you didn't need rehabilitation... because you didn't know you needed rehabilitation? You truly are special.” He whinnied before trotting back to his caravan, intentionally or unintentionally whipping his green tale at me.
Four covered carriages. Eight brahmin to pull the carriages. Twelve ponies including myself. One pegasus. And more bottles of purified water than I cared to count. So at least a dozen.
“This is the pony I was talking about,” the Doc was saying to his ragtag bunch, “Hired Gun.” He really didn't have to snicker every time he said my 'name'.
Cracking my neck to the side, I regarded my company. Other than the Doctor, I recognized a bright blue pegasus in a twin battle saddle and a Black white-maned unicorn with a soft smile. The rest I hadn’t bothered to learn the names of. Hopefully they wouldn't try to talk to me.
“Introductions later,” The Doc said hastily, “We’re days behind schedule.” And thus we left.
I took one last look at Bridle Hope, realizing I had never really looked at it. A single road ran from the clinic and casino, weaving in between rows of once-identical houses that had fallen into ruin or been repaired with spare parts. The road split near the centre into a broken highway, leading north and south. To the south-west, near the bottom of a small hill, was Pearly's shack and farm. For a second, I thought I saw her staring up at me. The only other building of note was an abandoned school with a tall bell tower; notably lacking a bell.
Sighing, I followed behind the last cart, walking slowly to as not trip. On the other side of the hill that held the clinic was a small dirt road that twisted down and east for a ways before turning north into the hill lands. Raider territory.
“What brings you here?”
A pony named Smooth Tongue, you? Sighing, I backed away. NCA guard station, the blue pegasus, Sail, told me, I really could have guessed that. They were decked to the nines in large battle saddles with dual rifles, armoured barding with the letters 'N.C.A' embroidered on the side like a target, and full helmets that made them basically the faceless representation of their entire government. “Governments” Sail corrected flipping in the air to land to my left, “New Caledonian Alliance.”
“Cale-what?” This seemed like one of the things I should have known. Maybe if the Crimson Hoof allowed free trade we may have gotten some traders from the south, and you know, information of the world besides the small section we were permitted to trade with. I used the word trade three times in that last sentence, if my idioticness needed any clarification.
“Caledonian. It's like the country what was here 'fore everypony blew up.” He jumped into the air flapping beside me. Maybe if I hit him he'd stay still. “The NCA is actually a coalition of five cities who formed an alliance so as to deal with outsiders more unifinededly.” Even I knew that wasn't a word. “Truth is the five of'em fight amongst themselves more then they make deals without outsiders. Their for-ray into the Dise wasteland is their first real attempt at diplomacy,” Well, they're doing a fantastic job. Random under-staffed highway checks near raider territory certain wouldn't end in wholesale slaughter. Also, this Sail seemed to be able to read my mind. “It's for appearance. They want the locals to think they care.”
“Hell if I know. Do I look like that government-y type to you?”
“You're Enclave.” I knew that 'cause he kept mentioning it.
“True Enclave! Don't let them assholes closing up the sky tell you any different,” Mentally I reminded myself to try and care, “We left on purpose, we did. And we'll show them one day. We'll show'em why we're the True Enclave.” Sounded like a blast.
“You are working for the Watchers?”
“Yeah, what’s wrong with that?” He crossed his forelegs flying backwards facing me.
“Huh? Cause they hired me? What're ya dumb?” Yup. Still his explanation didn't seem to touch on the real point, and that was why the Enclave, these superior government Pegasus types, would hire themselves out for caps. Pearly called them 'Enclave Remnants' which obviously meant some sort of separate breakaway group not at all associated with those what closed off the sky (Pearly had explained who the Enclave were earlier, and I’d pretended to care). “Hmph. Don't matter. These NCA types ain’t gunna stay. They expect Dise to bow to their superior tech and fancy uniforms. Ain’t gunna happen. Dise answers to no pony.”
“Whatever.” I watched as the Doctor spoke with the two NCA officers. The ramshackle hotel that served as their headquarters loomed behind them. The stallions, actually one stallion and one mare, spoke to the doctor from behind a newly-erected fence. Any pony could easily have walked around their guardpost, but our carriages wouldn't have made it up the steep hills that flanked us. The only other option was taking the time to go around one of the hills and hoping there wasn't another guard station there.
“How much looooonger?” a voice said below me. A green colt pouted up at me shaking his grey mane.
“Soon, Mischief.” That really was a bad name to give a colt. He was… somepony's son. Or an orphan who worked for The Watchers. I forgot. The cutie-markless colt prided himself as the group’s mascot. Maybe we needed a flag with him on it.
“They should hurry uuuuuup. I'm bored. We're The Watchers, you know,” I know, “And nobody messes with The Watchers. We give water to all the ponies, so they should just let us through!” I tried to respond, but Mischief sped away kicking dirt in my face.
I coughed. “Kids.”
“He's right though. If the NCA wanna gain the trust'o the ponies, they'd best learn not to impede The Watchers.” I could have nodded. But the fact that the two NCAers opened their gates and let us pass without any further difficulty proved that point.
As we marched past their little operation, I took the chance to steal a look at their weapons. Semi-automatic rifles with recoil suppressors attached to their saddles, and what looked like a special ammo changing mechanism activated by the pull of a lever. Nice. One the of NCAers (I needed a better name for NCA grunts) disagreed and glared beneath their helm, growling. Matching the glare, I kept my eyes on him till we passed by.
“Is it always like this?”
“Yes...” a soft voice said beside. Lye, The unicorn mare Pearly had told me about had somehow appeared beside me, and I hadn’t noticed. She looked absolutely ridiculous with that huge gun attached to her tiny frame. “In the east, NCA guardposts are as prevalent as the raiders are resilient. You'll find Steel Ranger outposts too but less often, and they move frequently to avoid the NCA. Closer to Dise you'll be stopped constantly by one of the major gangs sending out patrols to keep undesirables from getting close to the city. Most will leave you alone, or at most filch some caps from you. In the west... don't go west.” I had to literally stretch my ears up even to hear her.
She sighed. “You'll know them when you see them.” I've always said ponies need to be more vague.
I did know them when I saw them.
As daylight waned in the sky (I assumed by the dimming light, but when the sun is perpetually hidden, it’s hard to say) they came rumbling out from behind brown rocks that looked eerily similar to my cutie-mark. Four of them trotted slowly to us completely unafraid of our superior numbers. I didn't blame them. Each was dressed from nose to tail in thick metal armour that I don't think all our guns combined could pierce. Their flash-light eyes glowed eerily as their huge laser weapons unfolded on their backs and pointed at us. I was positive a single one could have wiped the floor with us with one fore-hoof, and fight off all of the Crimson Hoof with the other. But, even in all their armour, I was still larger than any one of them.
“We can take’em. We can-” Quickly I lifted Mischief up by the mane and threw him on my back. “What! Put me down! I wo-” I turned my head around and shot him a glare that could shatter glass.
“Who leads here?”
Doctor Morowynd stepped forward his head held high.
“‘Chief,” I said to the rambunctious colt, “stay back. “ or else. He got the picture, hopped off my back and galloped away as I took my place beside the Doc.
The Steel Ranger who’d spoken took off his helm and shook his-- oops, her white mane out before walking up. The yellow pony seemed smaller and younger without the ferocious mask, but completely in control. This was routine for her. “I am Blackwater. Name. How many in your party. Destination.”
“Doctor Morowynd, thirteen and a colt, to the villages of Maring, Stafford, and Wendin to deliver water.”
“Humph.” She looked the doctor over a few times, her eyes as cold as ice. “Water?”
“Aye. On behalf of The Watchers.” There was a faint smile on her muzzle.
“No doubt. Do you know how often I hear that? Somepony is providing weapons to the Raiders around the hills... the other day a patrol was hit by a rocket launcher. Can never be too careful.” Her head half tilted to the silent Ranger behind her. “Search their things. How many guards?”
“Kill anypony with a weapon who is not a guard.” She finished almost impassively. Was this really them trying to impress the locals and gain support? At least the NCA threats of bloody murder were subtle instead of overt. “You.” It just made no sense, “You!” Huh? I blinked realizing Blackwater was staring at me. “Are you slow?”
My response was a dead stare so she continued. “Who are you?”
“Hired Gun.” I matched her cold tone.
“Oh? And where are you from Hired Gun?”
“North is large and expansive, be more specific.”
Sighing she tried another line of questioning. “What happened to your leg.” She eyed my metal leg greedily as I heard shouts and complaints behind me. Steel Rangers were not tactful and not subtle. No wonder so many disliked them.
“How?” She stamped her hoof, obviously impatient.
Thinly held back rage flashed across her face as thinly veiled amusement flashed across mine. “You know. If I had reason to believe you were helping raiders or affiliated with a raider gang, I could have you arrested and strip that leg out from under you. Do not treat this as a game.”
She laughed a bit. “I like you.” She turned away from, finally. “Tattle, Backlight. Report.”
“Nothing.” Both said in unison as they trotted up to her, the final not far behind.
“Well.” Blackwater said magically placing her helmet back on. “You're clean. Thank you for your cooperation.” They stood aside and let us pass. It wasn't until we were a ways away before they left their spot. Clearly they wanted to keep where they were going a secret, and their checkpoints random. Their strategy was clearly more effective, if more hostile.
Blood. So much blood. It soaked through my coat, painting it bright red. I tried to save her. I did. She was shot. Killed. I tried to avenge her, I did. I killed the fucker what killed her, and then his blood soaked me too. I ran, and kept running. One pony with a spear in his mouth, and gun on his flank blocked my way so he died too. My brother stood in front of me laughing, and I had to kill him. So much blood. I ran and ran until I could run no more.
Then I found the mirror hanging from the ceiling from a length of rope. I saw myself. Dripping in blood. I shook my head. No. I was under that blood. Silver Storm. Silver coat, white and pink mane, lavender eyes. I was there. I had to see myself. There was only blood; in the mirror even my eyes were red. Above the mirror was two words floating in air. “Hired Gun”. Gasping I stepped back.
The pony in the mirror reached out and touched me.
I did not wake up by jumping out of bed.
That never happens to anypony. If you thought that was going to happen, you’ve read too many stories and should be ashamed. I awoke slowly, my eyes filtering open. Firelight blinded my vision for a second, making my head pound. Blinking away the light, I strained to see. The waggons had been put at a perimeter around our little camp, and the fire made everything outside the circle nothing but blackness.
Groaning, I rolled onto my feet nearly falling when before I realized my metal limb didn't react. Looking down at the metal thing as I leaned heavily on my good right leg I noticed it wasn't glowing. Had it been before? There was supposed to be a light or something... I really should have asked about its operation.
“Battery must have died... ”
I quickly turned leaning forward and going to bite for my bridle-trigger...which was not there. Because I was sleeping. And nopony sleeps with weapons on them.
From the darkness around the camp emerged the Doctor. “Just me, taking a piss. Sail is flying around, says the light round here makes it too hard to see.” He nickered at me, “Did you not think to ask how it works?”
“I assumed Science.”
“I... ” he stopped. I wasn't sure if he was going to laugh or cry, “That's the gist of it.” I the middle of the night, he launched into a near hour long lecture about proper cybernetic maintenance. The most important parts I'll summarize for the sake of being laconic, First: Recharge or change the battery every three days, second: Don't wear it while swimming, third: cover it up when it is raining, fourth: clean it regularly to make sure it does not rust, and finally: do not wear it if it is sparking. He also gave me instructions on how to actually remove the leg should I need to.
Having already lost one leg, and not wanting to lose the same one twice, I actually listened. I shock myself sometimes.
After I changed the battery, for the curious a small pack that could be removed from the leg near my shoulder with a small green light when charged, there were rocks to guard. Mine was the last shift, so after standing and looking at darkness I was treated to a long hike through the dreary brown wasteland. Then the Raiders came.
The rockets overhead deafened me.
In truth, I should have seen it coming. Things were going far too well for me. I’d survived the hell of Stable 42, met some ponies that didn't hate me, got my lost leg back, and even started building a new life for myself. Obviously, it was not to be.
Sail fell first. We’d been trudging along in the unbearable heat when he called out a warning. I looked up just in time to see a bullet burst through his wing in a spray of blood. He crashed too far away to save, and that's when they came. Quickly barking orders, I’d managed to form our waggons into a circular defensive barrier, but the wood walls were weak, and the raiders had the high ground. Even though everypony had managed to get in the circle of (except for Mischief, the poor colt... ) three more of our group had fallen, and Morowynd was dying.
“Here,” I felt my mouth say, but my ears were still ringing too loud to hear anything. Pouring the last of the medical potions down Morowynd's throat he coughed up most of it. These supplies were supposed to go to needy villages, but fuck them. “Drink.”
“Heh...” The brown pony spat out the rest as my hearing returned treating my senses to a flurry of gunshots. “No...dying...” The idiot had tried to save Mischief. Ran out into open fire to the colt’s corpse and got shot for his trouble. Blood was flowing down his chest when Sail somehow recovered from his crash and managed to draw all the fire on him. The distraction was enough for me to drag the Doc back into the 'safety zone', but it was for naught. Sail gave his life in an impressive last stand for a pony what was going to die anyway.
Dammit, is it too much to ask to save a single life sometime?
Of course, a voice in my head told me: heroes are dead; survive.
Bullets pierced the bottom of the tipped-over cart I was leaning behind making me near jump out of my skin. Leaving the dying doctor to rest, I inched my way over to the side of the barricade in the gap between waggons and peaked out. I fell back gagging. The colt. Mischief. Half eaten by carrion crows and half torn by the explosion that wracked his body. I wouldn't look. I couldn't. No thinking. Grieve later, it was time to kill. Leaning out I saw a target.
The second shot wasn't mine. Something pounded into one of my guns throwing me off balance. Almost falling I instead rolled so I was behind the opposite barrier from before. Breathing heavy I swore. A lot. My rightmost gun was a bent and battered mess. My new fucking gun!
“Wont be long...” Lye said beside me. Damn, how did she do that. Turning her small green frame, she regarded me slightly. “They think we have something of theirs, else they would’ve used that launcher directly. They're biding their time, hoping we'll surrender...” Awww hell! Why didn't we just do that? “So they'll have an easier time killing us, after plundering whatever they're after.”
“At least,” I grunted as bullets rained down at our barricades, “They're efficient.” And cautious. Even the Crimson Hoof would have just swarmed us and got it over with. These guys were worried about causalities. So either they were running low on murderers or were the most brotherly of all raiders. I hoped the former. Turning to Lye, I notice her barding had ripped, revealing an eye-shaped cutie mark. Hmm.
“Seeing.” She explained when she noticed my staring, “My magic allows me to see through walls and buildings and the like,” It didn't make her soft voice any easier to hear over the din, “Why?” Pulling the two grenades Pearly had given me as a present when I left her shack I looked to Lye. Her expressionless face threatened to smile. My shoulder burned as her horn and eyes glowed. Turning my back to where she was looking, her hoof motions directed me.
At a count of three, she tossed the first grenade behind me, and I bucked it as hard as I could. Seconds later an explosion echoed across the dusty hill lands making the remaining ponies huddled around the barricade jump. Useless, the whole lot of them. Only two had attempted to take up weapons, even after the raiders killed their family. One just kept muttering, “Watcher sees, Watcher sees, Watcher sees,” over and over, and the rest sobbed or stayed deathly quiet. I was better off alone, or with Lye. Trying to save them was going to get me killed. “To the right, and not so hard,” Lye instructed.
The second explosion was followed by a hail of screams, so I knew I did that one right. Lying low, I crawled over to Lye who had just turned her sight off. “They're useless.” I motioned to huddled mass behind her. Only six, but that was all that was left of the caravan save me, Lye and the Doc. Shit. Turning swiftly I remembered leaving the Doc lying in blood. Inching over to his bloody body I touched the brown stallions head...dead. Shit.
“Of course they are.” Lye had followed. Damn she was quiet. “Their leader is dead. They've never held a gun in their life. They know we are going to die.” Heh. Dying was not in my game plan. I had already died once and it totally sucked.
She raised an eyebrow at me, “In the face of such overwhelming odds, what would you propose?”
“Make them regret killing us.”
“You're one of a kind.”
I clopped my metal hoof on her shoulder, “Two.” Her mouth opened as if to speak, but instead her eyes glowed, and she looked to the hill wherein the raiders were camped. “Wh-” -at is it? I had meant to ask. Screaming answered.
Four of the six scrambled towards me. All would have been dead if Lye hadn't chose that moment to stand up and lay some cover fire. I scrambled the past the herd to find the pony what had been muttering 'Watcher sees' missing a sizable chunk of his forehead. A purple mare with purple and pink hair wept over his body. “Come’on.” I tried to touch her but she shrugged me off almost violently.
“No. Don't die. Please.” I growled trying to tug on her tail, but she didn't notice, “Everything. I gave you.” Her tears fell mixing with the blood on the ground. My stomach wrenched for her, but I kept pulling. Dying wasn't going to bring him back. “Please. We were going to have a child. You can't. Watcher sees. He wouldn-”
A shot rang through my ears.
Her body fell on top of him as the last of her tears hit the dirt.
I dropped beside them as more bullets rang overhead. Our 'barriers' had been shot to hell, looking more like swiss cheese than a barricade. They’d lasted longer than I had expected, in truth. Peeking over their bodies to the other side of the circle Lye stared at me, the remaining ponies huddled behind her small frame. With her huge gun hovering with magic above her head she spoke. I couldn't hear her words, but I could read her lips. “They come.” Taking a deep breath... I nearly gagged from the smell of death.
Gritting my teeth, the rumble of raiders running down from their hill drowned out all noise. Turning my back to them I used all of my (considerable) strength to buck the remains of the waggon at them. There was a sickening crunch and a satisfying scream. Facing the horde I shot the first thing I saw: A yellow unicorn with a pink mane. His head exploded into the faces of his comrades. Taste that raiders? That's death. You'll get your fill soon enough.
More came streaming over and I could hear the blasts of Lye's gun to my left. I didn't look. No time. Shooting again, I dropped a pony charging me to her knees. The second shot entered her neck. She probably died, but I never bothered to check. Running and jumping over her, I careened into another. Before I had a chance to think, he managed to wrestle me to my back. My battle shrunk to the two of us.
His hoof pressed into my forehead pushing it hard to the ground. Involuntarily grunting in pain, I managed to untangle my metal leg. I rolled my eyes to see a serrated knife in his red maw. Fuck. My heart kept pounding. His knife moved closer. My metal hoof cracked against his skull, and the knife fell from his grip. I struck again and he fell off me. I found myself on top of him. His face was purpling. Why. Oh. My metal leg was pressed into his neck. Blood bubbled around where the metal bit into him, and he gave one last wheeze for air before dying.
The screams and scent blood hit me. Turning I saw Lye backed into a corner by six ponies as the last of the survivors died nosily. Walk away, Hired Gun told me. Saving her would just get me killed. All around me ponies were dead and dying, one more body wouldn't change that. Walk away when nopony’s looking. Survive.
Her gun clicked. Empty. I charged. I took the first one from behind, lifting her up with my head and throwing her to the ground. Shots rang. Biting into me. Even as blood ran down my body, I didn't care. I shot until I ran out of bullets. Killing some. Wounding others. I bashed the head of one who still had their gun magically pointed at Lye. My joint burned. I was too late.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Lye's head exploded into bloody chunks.
Now I was dead. Too many. I should have ran. Survive.
I backed up. The Raiders were dark, dirty, and covered in blood. The way they circled me, guns bristling, made it seem like they were one body. A single raider entity that encompassed all the separate dirty parts until one of them broke the circle.
A single earth buck. His mane and coat were a uniform brown, save for a single streak of black in his mane and tail. Green eyes regarded me warily a frown dancing on his lips as his tail whisked back and forth behind him. “You.”
“Me.” I agreed.
I did so love it when raiders glared at me. He wore no armoured barding, showing his grey chain cutie mark proudly. On his back was a battle saddle with a single scoped rifle. The urge to kill rose suddenly. I had to dig my hooves into the ground so as not to strike out. Sail. Doctor Morowynd. Mischief. Lye. He killed them all. My friends, or almost.
“You have caused me a lot of trouble,” he measured his words behind carefully concealed rage, “And now you stand here. Drenched in the blood of my men. Surrounded. Any last words?” All I could think about was the smell of blood. So many ponies had died here, and for what? Was I just to stand here and let him win? I couldn't fight them all. My body was weak, and my wounds seeping blood. If only I could rest I could fight.
The voice in my head screamed, Survive!
I asked, “You hiring?”
Footnote: Level Up!
New Implant!: Intelligence Implant, Intl +1
New perk!: Dash Speed Reload: All your weapons reload 20% faster.
Quest perk!: Legless: Strength +1 DT +1 Unarmed + 10.
S.P.E.C.I.A.L note: Your strength is jacked up to 11!
Skill Notes: Unarmed 50
(A/N: A special thanks to Kkat for building an awesome world. This chapter was brought to you by my awesome editor theBSDude(who is awesome), and the TVTrope ‘infodumping’. )