Waiting for the rain to end was growing rather tedious. The room we’d taken shelter in was the driest in the building, but held few comforts. A shattered bookcase slumped against one wall, its contents rotten and faded, barely identifiable as book anymore. It didn’t stop Fluster from rummaging through as soon as we’d entered the room and she’d come out successfully with an old magazine. She lay to one side, the magazine propped between her front legs with a small flashlight held in her mouth, reading contently.
Ash was busy cleaning his weapons with one of his own feathers he had plucked from his neck. He’d said something about weapons jamming and breaking if they didn’t receive maintenance and I’d briefly tried checking Broken for any such issues. It was as flawless as it had ever been, devoid of even blood and dirt. That made me wonder the origins of the weapon... but one can only think on why something is clean for so long before they get bored. I’d propped myself next to a window, staring out into the dark day. I checked my PipBuck occasionally, wondering if the sun was still even in the sky hiding behind those clouds. It was early evening, but the light level had been the same since we’d taken those first steps into the street.
Deciding to look through the files I’d accumulated on my PipBuck, I scrolled over to the menu containing my notes. I’d read most of this, copying it to my PipBuck as an afterthought each time I’d accessed whatever file it was, but I paused as I came across three I hadn’t seen. Three files that had been transferred from Sweeps’ PipBuck. I went to the oldest first, seeing that it was dated from some time before the current date. Seven years before, to be exact, which would be when she was still in the Stable. When I was still in the Stable.
Selecting the file, I pressed play and immediately I heard the voice that had told me how she had felt, not the voice promising to kill me quickly. I liked the kinder Sweeps much more.
“Oh what fun! I can record on this thing too? Hey, hey Gentle, did you know about this?”
A second voice, a mare, or I guess it was a filly, piped in with a singsong voice. “Sweepy, stop messing around with that. The Overmare will get mad if she finds out we’re playing around instead of studying. Won’t be long before we’ll be going up against everypony else, don’t want to be unprepared. I hear Crackerjack and Ripple are opening a new shop too, so that’s just more we’ll have to deal with.”
I could practically hear Sweeps blushing as my name was mentioned. “Ripple’s got a new store? What’re they selling?” I could hear the turning of pages, meaning that Sweeps was indeed studying, or at least feigning it by flipping pages.
The filly named Gentle responded to Sweeps with a snort. “Crackerjack is running the store, Ripple’s just playing at security. Making sure nopony breaks in after curfew, you know how they are. Don’t want anypony stealing anything or getting secrets that would put them at an advantage.”
“I’ll bet Ripple looks great doing that. All those muscles and those eyes.... he can guard me any day.” I heard a flutter of pages and a thud bringing a small shriek from Sweeps.
“Hey, stop fantasizing. Besides, he’s three years older than us, why would he pay attention to a filly like you? Grow up a bit.” I realized that I was blushing. The feeling of guilt for crushing Sweeps with a sign was returning as well. She hadn’t been messing with my head, she had really loved me, or at least had had a serious crush on me.
Hah! Serious crush! That's a good one.
I listened to the rest of the tape, the two fillies rambling on and getting into an argument about Sweeps’ grand plans for her and my future. How we’d get married and raise foals of our own, run a successful business and how I’d eventually be in charge of the Stable as Overstallion. How we’d die, old and surrounded by our family and friends. I decided that I couldn’t listen to this anymore and turned off the recording.
Looking up, I noticed those predatory eyes and the single gray eye looking directly at me. Ash looked solemn, Fluster just looked confused. She hadn’t been there when I’d crushed the mare from the recording and I wasn’t feeling up to explaining what I had done. I looked away from them and wondered aloud to myself, “When is this rain going to let up? We’ve got to get moving.”
I think Celestia was listening to me, because right then it did let up. The downpour turned into a drizzle in ten seconds flat.
I stood, the cast clunking lightly against the floor. Ash pulled himself up and Fluster stood as well, tucking the magazine somewhere into her robes. I lifted my PipBuck and flipped to the map. “Next point is... that way.” Pointing a hoof towards the south wall, I led the way to the door. The water level in the streets was already dropping rapidly, draining into the extensive sewer system I now knew lay beneath us. I’d wondered if water was good for my cast, but it had already been submerged a couple times and shown no ill wear. Crimson Knife had made it out of tough stuff.
Once on the street, we had been walking for only a few minutes before I heard the reports of gunfire close to our location. Pulling Broken from its holster, I looked around and checked my E.F.S. but didn’t see anything. The shots must be coming from nearby, but nopony was shooting at us, which was an improvement over the more common occurrence of my motley little band being attacked. “Ash, can you check that out?”
He smiled broadly and shot into the sky with a whoop. His demeanor had brightened substantially once we had come back to the surface. Shooting straight upwards, he cupped made a show of looking about, focusing on something to the east. Dropping down to only a few feet above the ground, he pointed down the street. “Looks like some raiders down that way. They’re shooting at a building. Want to check it out?”
I nodded up at the griffin, looking around for Fluster. I spotted her in a doorway doorway, blending into the shadows and looking out into the street for aggressors.
I took off at a quick trot, making sure that Broken was fully loaded. As I neared, the sounds of gunfire grew louder until they were just around the corner. I took a quick look and saw what I was up against. Three raiders, two with battle saddles, firing at a storefront.
“Come on out! We only want to have some fun! It gets lonely out here.” The largest of the three was shouting at the building as he fired shots into it from the hunting rifle at his side.
A smaller buck next to him was laughing and agreeing with him. “Yeah, fun! Lonely!”
The third was staying silent, holding an axe in a magical aura. Two earth ponies and a unicorn. They were obviously raiders, with that look of blood soaked spikes and filthy manes cut into bizarre shapes.
Looking up, I saw Ash at an altitude aiming down his rifle at the three, ready to begin firing as soon as I made my move. Fluster was somewhere behind me, staying low. Good mare.
Three shots rang through the air and I saw the group scatter, ducking and dodging to avoid being hit. “Shit, she’s got a gun!” The gunshots sounded oddly familiar and a sense of dread rushed through me.
I took off, sprinting around the corner and closing the distance with the raiders quickly. The smaller buck saw me first and turned towards me, aiming the shotgun on his battle saddle. A loud blast rang through the rain and the a force from the heavens hit him right between his shoulder blade, severing his spine and blowing a blossom of blood onto the ground.
I roared as I charged the group, tackling the pony with the rifle saddle. I slammed my hoof into his face, feeling teeth shatter and blood spray. I hit again and heard the sound to my left just in time to duck under the swinging axehead, narrowly avoiding decapitation or a crushed skull. The silent pony came at me as I rolled off of his friend, dodging the swings of his axe. He went for an overhead swing and I reflexively floated Broken up to counter it, fairly certain that the shotgun could take the blow. The shotgun caught the haft of the axe right beneath it’s wicked blade and stopped mid swing.
The unicorn had a surprised look on his face as I swung around and put a single kick into his muzzle, obliterating his face and spreading his head across the ground behind him. The axe dropped to the ground just as Ash landed next to me before reaching down and slicing the beaten pony’s neck with a claw to put him out of his misery. I holstered Broken, having not actually used it for its intended purpose and floated the axe up and into my bag. It was in decent shape.
Turning towards the building, I shouted over the rain. “Hey in there! You can come out, you’re safe!”
Ash hadn’t put away his weapon and had it at the ready, just in case whoever was in the building decided to start something with us. If I was right about those gunshots though, and I hoped dearly that I was, we would not be having any issues with hostility.
I saw a pair of eyes poke out from behind a shattered window, that stunning combination of blue and violet. She was up and through the window in a flash, running across the muddy ground between us. The feeling of hooves around my neck was something I had desperately missed. She was crying into what was left of my mane again.
I heard Ash sling the rifle over his back and the soft rustle of Fluster’s robes as she approached. I waited for about a minute before I pushed Shade away from me softly. “What are you doing out here? You shouldn’t have followed us.” I was confusingly happy, mad, and terrified all at once. The mare I wanted to see more than any other had followed me into the wasteland, abandoning the safe haven I’d left her in to make her way into a ruined hellhole filled with raiders, slavers, ghouls, and who knew what other horrors.
I had to be mad at her right now. “You were safe in Blank! We would have come back!”
She looked as though I had struck her and spoke softly. “I... I woke and found that you had left. I didn’t get to say goodbye.” Oh please tell me she hadn’t followed me to properly see me off. “You need me out here. What if your weapons break? I can fix them.”
She had a point, but we were already carrying one pony that couldn’t fight around with us. Fluster was barely noticeable, not a trait I’d seen in Shade. In combat, I’d only seen Shade ever actually hit one target she’d been firing at and that had been more of an inconvenience than a boon. Still...
The thought of walking her back to Blank like a scolded filly sounded massively insulting to both her and us. She’d escaped Neighwhere and made her way all the way to where I was, as well as travelling across the wastes and into Hornsmith all on her own. Between myself and Ash, we could tackle anything that the city had thrown at us, save for one example, but Cinder had had all of the deck stacked in her favor. I wasn’t counting that one.
“Okay. You can come with, but I’ll need you to promise me that you’ll stay behind Ash and myself. I don’t want you getting in the way.” Or getting hurt. Or killed. She nodded slowly and her eyes travelled past me to the robed mare. Her eyes darted back to me and I thought for a second that I saw jealousy. Really? This pony was crazy.
“Shade, this is Fluster. She’s a trader we’ve got a deal with. Fluster, this is Shade. She’s... uh...” I couldn’t actually think of what she was other than an escaped slave and a pony with what was starting to seem like an unhealthy attachment to me.
“She’s Ripple’s marefriend.” If I could have made Ash burst into flames, I would have.
I stammered a little, unsure of what exactly Shade was to me, but she stepped forward and shyly introduced herself to the robed mare. “I’m his mechanic.”
Okay, sure. Why not.
“So we’re not going to question how she happened to be in the same area as us after we spent that time underground?” Ash posed the question and I paused to think about it. Perhaps this was the break I’d asked Celestia for. I hadn’t thought much about it since it had gone through my concussed brain, but delivering Shade unharmed from a raider attack in the middle of this ruined city sure seemed like providence to me. Maybe Celestia really was up there watching me somewhere. Perhaps this was the first step towards my forgiveness for what I’d done in the past.
I shrugged to the griffin in reply as Shade leaned against me, taking in my warmth as we stood in the light rain. The voice in my head was gone, instead of just always at the corners, taunting me. Ash shook his head, chuckling, as he saw the stupid grin that had plastered across my face. Fluster’s eye looked between myself and the blue mare leaning against my side, a look of mild confusion on her shadow obscured face.
I let Shade rest like that for a bit before I pulled away, pointing my body towards the next point on the map. “Well, we’d better get moving, it’s going to be dark before too long.” Ash and Fluster nodded in agreement and Shade looked just a little disappointed that I’d moved away from her. The four of us began trotting down the street towards the south, keeping an eye out for any more raiders.
As we walked, Ash moved ahead of us and Fluster drifted behind a bit, as I’d noticed she had a tendency to do. This left Shade and myself in the middle of the group, the mare still sticking very close to me. I looked down at her, at the contented smile on her face.
“How did you find us?”
She tripped a little but composed herself quickly, looking back up at me. Seeing I was looking for an answer right now, she sighed and looked at the pavement passing beneath us.
“When... when I copied Sweeps’ PipBuck to yours, I took a peek at the map. I know Hornsmith, I knew where you’d be heading. I tried catching up, but by the time I reached the MoP headquarters, the two of you were long gone... the whole building was on fire. I didn’t want to think that you’d died, so I made my way towards the second point.”
I’d forgotten what her voice had sounded like. She was always such a quiet pony and this was a strange departure for her.
“I ran into those raiders and they chased me. Then you found me.” Smiling widely at me, she let out a loving sigh.
“O...kay.” So she was much more resourceful than I’d given her credit for. If she’d managed all of that off of a glance at a PipBuck, perhaps she was nowhere near as helpless as she’d seemed. The pistol she’d shot at me all that time ago was still in it’s place at her side, so at least she had been armed while she walked through the ruins looking for us. I didn’t want to think of what would have happened if those raiders had come across her unarmed.
“Well, we’re headed...” I checked my map again and pointed. “That way. Need to get going, that fight might have attracted attention.” Three nods of agreement and we made our way off down the road towards the next destination on the list.
We had been walking for quite some time, nothing changing in the environment other than how each building had crumbled into the street. Signs of raider activity was everywhere, but we saw no actual raiders about. Bodies nailed to walls and horrific signs scrawled on walls were everywhere, but no sign of who had put them there.
Turning a corner, I spotted Ash peaking around a wall. He’d moved on ahead of the group a few minutes back and we’d just been following behind him. Looking back at us, he held a single claw to his beak and beckoned us over with another. Shade followed me as I tried moving as quietly as I could. Fluster appeared at my side, nearly making me jump. She’d been all but invisible for so long I’d almost forgotten she was there.
“What is it?” Whispering low as I reached the griffin, he indicated I should take a look. I stuck my head slowly around the corner and saw what he was trying to show me.
It had once been a... stadium of some kind. There had been a wide open field surrounding it for a couple blocks worth of space. It could have been beautiful once, but right now it was surrounded by high walls of rusty metal and razor wire. I spotted several filthy looking ponies standing guard over a large gate, sniper rifles on battle saddles as they watched the approach.
I pulled my head back and sighed dejectedly. “That’s the second point, isn’t it?”
The griffin nodded.
It couldn’t have been as easy as I’d hoped. We’d gotten lucky with the headquarters, the door had been open. Now there was a veritable army of raiders between us and whatever Hate wanted. I just hoped that he didn’t have it yet.
“So.... how do we get in there?”
Shrugging, Ash looked at the building around us. “We wait and watch. Wouldn’t want to pull anything until we know what we’re dealing with.”
“Couldn’t you just drop me in? It’s getting dark, I could blend in.”
He pointed around the corner. “See that? Razor wire covering the whole thing. They don’t want fliers just coming in.”
Well fuck. Fine.
“So... we wait and watch.”
He grinned at me as I dropped my shoulders. “Great idea Kick.”
There was a filthy, hole filled sheet between us and the Stadium. This room had once been a bedroom of some kind, though Ash had said that it provided the best spot for us to hide. He’d pointed out that the subtle movement of the sheet in the wind would provide perfect cover for us this close to the building, the snipers having gotten used to it’s movement. We’d be able to safely survey from there without drawing the attention of the guards.
Ash and I lay down at the edge, Shade and Fluster in the room behind us. The griffin had detached the scope from his rifle and was looking through it at the wall in front of us. “It’s a damned fortress.... fairly new too, wasn’t here the last time I was in this area... that was months ago though, plenty of time for that to get built.”
I spotted movement in the clear area in front of the gate and nudged the griffin, pointing it out. It looked like three ponies approaching the gate. They stood there for a few minutes and we could just barely make out shouting between them and the guard ponies on the wall. There was a pause and the gates opened, allowing entrance. Now if only we had a way of hearing what they were saying without being seen.
I turned, my eyes resting on the robed pony in the corner rummaging through an overturned desk. “Hey Fluster, how’d you feel about a quick walk?”
She hadn’t been thrilled at the idea, but with Ash’s assurance that he wouldn’t let anypony hurt her if she got spotted, she grudgingly accepted the task we’d given her. With the next group of ponies to come near the gate, she’d tail them and listen in on what they were saying. It was better than nothing and with the failing light I was sure she’d be like a ghost. I could barely see her in the daytime, and I knew what to look for. The darkness was her best friend.
Ash had reacquainted his rifle with his scope and was shredding the rotten mattress in the room. “To hide the barrel” he’d said. Swaddling the weapon in shredded mattress, he slipped its end through a gap in our cover sheet and lay down, watching the high metal wall and also trying to keep an eye out for the little mare we’d just sent out into the street.
I could barely see her from my position, a small dark shape underneath a bench. We waited. Before long, I could hear raucous laughter coming from the street next to our little hideaway. Two large ponies, both clearly raiders from their spiked barding and visible lack of hygiene, passed into the open area and paused in awe of the structure that greeted them. I could just barely make out what one said to the other. “Sure that’s the place?”
A nod confirmed it.
The two began their walk, moving much more warily than they had before. Passing by the bench hiding our stealthy little mare, I watched as the two picked up an extra shadow moving from cover to cover, darkness moving through darkness. The Stadium had begun lighting up, crude torches being the primary light source. There was a large bonfire directly over the gate and two guard ponies watched the pair approached through their scopes.
Hearing the shouting again, I noticed that it sounded like they were being asked the same thing. Another wait and the gate opened, allowing entry. The two ponies walked through and the gate slammed shut again.
Several minutes later, Fluster stood in the doorway, her gray eye glinting in the shadows. “They were raiders from up north. Apparently there’s a call going out for good pay to any raiders that show up and say ‘Massacre sent for me.’ They said that and the gate opened.”
Well, we had a way in now.
Ash was looking at me, shaking his head. “You’re going to go in, aren’t you? They’ll know you in an instant.”
I shook my head, a brilliant idea passing through my head. “Not if I don’t look like me. Fluster, you have any raider barding?”
Rummaging through her robes, she pulled out a few ragged strips of leather covered with chunks of metal. Perfect. “I’ll also need something to stain myself with.” When she produced a jar of something dark and viscous, I grinned widely.
Looking me in the eye, all she could say was “You’re paying for these.” I nodded and began removing my barding. I removed my bandages as well, the burn scar giving me a more dangerous look. I looked the part of a raider, but it was the details that would really give me the pass in that I was looking for.
I began floating the raider barding towards me when i felt a small tug on one of my rear legs. Looking back, I saw that Shade was working on one of my hoof guns. Right. Two Kick Rip, wielder of the ballistic hooves. They were as iconic to me as Broken from what I’d gathered. I sighed and helped her, twisting and pulling on each to pop them off of the notches carved into my rear hooves. When she had both, she put them in her bag immediately, probably to keep something of mine close.
For once fully unarmed and without armor, I felt more vulnerable than I thought possible. I noticed Ash was looking at me strangely and titled my head at him. “What?”
He made an audible sniff as he looked at me. “How many raiders do you think have taken a shower in the last day?”
That hadn’t occurred to me. I was actually clean. Well, clean for the wasteland. I knew just how to get messy though. Using my magic, I pulled a chunk of glass from the window frame just beyond the sheet and drifted it over to me. Before Shade could even let out a gasp, I slashed it along one of my legs, opening a shallow but heavily bleeding cut. Dropping the glass, I began smearing the blood over my coat and through my mane.
I was starting to look like old Two Kick, the raider. Once I was thoroughly bloodied, we waited for it to dry before taking whatever was in the jar Fluster had opened and began rubbing it in. It had an odd smell, but helped along with the blood to give me a well worn look. “What is this?” It was turning my coat a patchy brown, which was much less noticeable than my natural white.
Fluster just shrugged, an amused look in her eye. Perhaps I didn’t want to know.
Once the barding came on, I took to finishing the disguise. Pulling some of the shredded mattress to me and wrapping it around my legs, I covered both the cast and the PipBuck. I padded the cast leg good, to get around the bump sound it had been making, thinking it might give me a bit of a limp to go along with the image. I grabbed another shard of glass. Using it as a quick mirror, I took in our handiwork. Yep, I looked like a murdering, raping monster. Just the kind of pony I’d been once and had sworn to kill since. I sighed, part of me deeply disappointed, another part breaking through just briefly to laugh in joy
The discerning predatory eyes of the griffin looked me over. He nodded his approval, clacking his beak in thought. “Yep, Kick. I sorta want to shoot you, so the disguise works. Now you got a plan other than to walk through the front door?”
I shrugged. “I’ll improvise.”
“Hope what you come up with is better than that.” He then unhooked the belt and holster from around his waist and handed it to me. “You’ll need a weapon. Bring it back or I’ll find you.” He grinned as I took it and strapped it around me, counting the bullets in their place s along the belt. I had quite a few shots, hopefully I wouldn’t need them. I floated the revolver out, testing the weight and aim on it before holstering it and nodding.
I was ready.
The sun was fully down now and the Stadium was glowing as though on fire. I stood at the edge of the open area, taking it in. I was mostly imitating the raiders I’d seen coming through today, a couple more having made the trip since that group Fluster had spied on. They all stopped here. I’d been staring at the building for a while, so it had lost most of its initial moment of awe.
Trotting across the field towards the gate, I looked up at the snipers pointing their over-sized weapons at me. I was tough, but I doubted I would survive a hit from one of those. I really hoped this would work.
When I got to the gate, I stopped where all the others had. I could hear the two talking above me, but not what they were saying. They looked down at me, judging me.
“What’s your business here?!” The voice shouted down to me with a none too subtle hint of malice. Looking up at them, down twin barrels, I spoke the words I hoped would get me through the gate.
“Massacre sent for me.”
Saying the word sent a shiver down my spine. Massacre. Something just seemed wrong with saying it. I waited for the bullets meant to end my life to rip into my head, but they never came. I heard a low groan and the gate slowly swung open, giving me my first view into the compound within. “You’re good, head on in.”
I nodded and made my way into the lair of the beast.
I was immediately struck with how many ponies there were in this place. I’d gotten used to the near desolate ruins of Hornsmith, seen the sparsely populated Blank and had felt that the streets of Underhoof would hold the most ponies I’d see in one place. This compound must have had hundreds of raiders. The combined smell was quite powerful, but a part of my mind felt that it was right, that this was how an army of unwashed psychopaths should smell.
Inside the metal walls, a crudely constructed town sat in the space leading to the stone walls of the Stadium. I spotted blacksmith ponies banging chunks of metal into weapons, bars filled with drunk and disorderly raiders, rows and rows of cots housing those that could sleep through the noise. I’d never really wondered what an army would look like, but now I knew. Either Hate was gathering an army here, or I’d just walked into the worst place that I could think of on a hunch.
Hate had to be gathering an army here, I’d seen no attempts of attack on the fortress, which I was sure would have had a couple of Paragons tearing down the walls if it had been hostile to the goals of that most hated of ponies. Now, I just had to find why this location was on Sweeps’ PipBuck.
I trotted through, looking for something I hoped would clue me in as to where I should go to look for whatever it was I was here for. Pony with a plan, that’s me. Then I felt a jab at my flank. Turning, I spotted a stringy little unicorn looking up at me. “You just came through? You gotta head into the field, get your orientation.”
I glared down at him and he responded with a bored expression. I guess that having to welcome every raider to walk through the gate would have inured this pony to pretty much any response at this point. I just nodded and began walking in the direction he had pointed me. The stadium was the same color as the rest of Hornsmith, even on the inside. That continuous dull gray.
The field, however, was a completely different world. Bodies decorated most surfaces, entrails and blood making up the majority of the decoration. Jagged metal and spikes rounded out the rest of the motif, making this legitimately the most disturbed place I’d ever recall having been.
In the middle of the field, a cluster of raiders lazed about, waiting for something. I recognized several of the raiders we’d seen come in while scouting the place out and trotted slowly towards them. Didn’t want to get to close to anypony, just in case my fame managed to get around my efforts at disguise.
Once I reached the area of the milling raiders, I noticed him. I’d missed him at first, sitting up there amidst the bodies. A huge pony, larger than myself. It was impossible to make out what color he had once been, it was currently the combination of colors one gets from soaking in blood and never cleaning it off. Reds, browns and blacks smudged together, the very color of violence. He was staring down at us, sitting on the dead body of a mare. Glancing away from him, I noticed that the raiders were blissfully unaware of his presence, laughing and joking amongst themselves.
I felt suddenly that my noticing him was the cue he was waiting for. Standing to his hooves, he jumped down into the field and began approaching us. Eyes as yellow as I could imagine stared at us as he grew closer. The raiders noticed him and instinctively backed away from him. I’d only felt this predatory feeling from Ash before, an instinctive drive as old as time itself to get away.
“About fucking time one of you pathetic fucks noticed me!” His voice slammed into us as he practically barked, throwing the last puzzle piece into my mind. The color of this pony, his eyes, that stench, the propensity for corpse decorations. That name. Massacre. This was Massacre.
A Paragon. I knew him.
He got to the nearest pony, a wretched little mare, ribs slatted and eyes jaundiced. Looking down at her, he lifted one hoof and placed it next to her face in a stroking manner. He stared into her eyes for a little bit, her gaze breaking and shying away from him. With a speed not fitting his size, he drove her head into the ground at his feet, dazing her and making the rest of us step back.
He slammed her face into the field repeatedly until there was a sickening crack and she died, one hoof kicking at the air futilely. “Nope. Fucking weakling.” He trotted to the next and went through the same routine. The buck he chose was still staring at the twitching corpse on the ground at his feet, bleeding from her eyes and ears. “Fucking look at me!” Massacre screamed into his face, foam forming at the edge of his mouth.
The buck did and stared into the stallion’s eyes nervously, preparing himself to be murdered. Massacre looked at the buck like a predator sizing up a meal. “Spineless, but strong. Hauling detail!” He jerked his head to the side dismissively, sending the smaller buck towards one of the paths out of the killing field.
Moving through the group, he killed about every fourth pony, sending the rest to either Hauling, Digging or the occasional shout of Guard. A few tried to run, regretting their decision to make their way here, to join this "army". Those didn't get very far, Massacre chasing and slaughtering. The few that slipped past ran into armed ponies at the exits, meeting fates much more merciful than those handed out by the mad stallion.
Then he came to me, the last in the group, the two of us standing alone in the field, amidst corpses and blood.
He towered over me, staring his insane stare down into my eyes. I stared back, not wavering.
“Last fucking option, don’t let me down. I’m feeling stompy.” He placed his hoof on the side of my head, as he’d done for every pony before me. It was dripping with blood and cerebral fluid, smearing into the filth I was already coated in.
Looking over me, he nodded. “You’re strong, unless all this is for fucking show. You’re also the fuck that saw me first. You got eyes in your head. Remind me a bit of somepony I knew. Good pony, died like a bitch. Survey!”
I hadn’t heard this option yet and waited for him to indicate where to go. He just stood there, staring at me. Then I heard the soft sound of hooves approaching and the small unicorn buck that had dismissed me so easily when I’d entered was at Massacre’s side. I realized that his name must be Survey.
“Survey, get this fuck over to recon. I want him in the tunnels looking for the item.” With that, Massacre turned and leaned down to clamp his teeth onto the nearest corpse before beginning to drag it back into the stands with him. As I followed Survey from the field, the thought struck me that Massacre was doing Equestria a favor with each raider he murdered and used as furniture.
Gotta use what you’ve got.
The voice was back. Again. He really waited for any chance to get a word in and now that I wasn’t near Shade, the intensity of his voice was back to it’s full volume instead of the vague whispers I would occasionally get in the vicinity of the blue mare.
Got to keep my mind on the task at hand. Survey and I left the field and back into the Stadium proper. Instead of continuing into the scrap town surrounding it, we turned down a small side corridor leading down into the underbelly of the large building. “Scouting?” All I managed to get out before the unicorn snapped his head around and glared at me.
“Don’t talk. Just follow.” His voice had that same bored tone as before.
Pretty bossy for somepony I could probably kill with a single kick. Underneath the field was apparently a labyrinth of locker rooms, offices, and maintenance tunnels. I spotted several ponies hauling chunks of metal and rock up one passage and figured out that there was probably a major excavation going on down here. That would explain the fortress and the call for willing labor.
Survey stopped in front of a door and pointed at it with a hoof. “In there. Figure it out.” Then he turned and left. Rather impatient, he was.
I opened the door and walked in, finding a tired looking green mare laying on a decrepit couch against one wall. “What? Massacre finally decide to kill me?”
What? “Uh... no. I was sent down here to be part of scouting?” Her eyes stared at me for a while, green like the rest of her. Sighing, she rolled off of the couch and onto her hooves in one clean motion, walking across the room to a cluttered desk, beckoning me to join her. Closing the door I approached her cautiously.
“Scouting. Been a while since we’ve gotten one of you down here. Scouting requires skills that most of the rabble from the wastes just don’t have.” Looking closer, she did seem quite out of place around here. None of the scars, rotten teeth, jaundice, or any of the other physical signs that came with life in the wastes. Eyeing me curiously, she answered this unspoken question.
“I’m not one of you, no. I lived down here before those fucks moved in and invited all of the rabble. Was a nice place once. Families and commerce. Then one day Hate and Two Kick and Massacre walked in... Place was never the same.” She sighed as I fought to keep from reacting.
I’d done this. Celestia did I hate who I had been.
“Anyways, ponies gotta eat. Follow me.” We left the room and went back into the labyrinth of tunnels. Now that I knew to look, I did see signs of previous habitation. The ponies that had lived here sure hadn’t stayed it seemed, other than the mare guiding me. I would have noticed children, unless they were hidden away or had been taken off. Or slaughtered.
“Hey... what’s your name?” I wanted to know so that I could apologize later for what I had done.
“Jackleg. Don’t ask, it’s a type of drill. You got a name or should I just call you Raider Fuckhead?”
Oh crap. Hadn’t thought of a name. Uh....
She snorted a laugh and looked back at me, at the giant dark scar puckering the flesh around my left eye. “Badeye. You know you were selected for having good eyes, right? Dumb name.”
Sure beat telling her my name was Two Kick Rip, one of the ponies that ended the town that had once been here and was responsible for her situation. Whatever it was, I still couldn’t tell if she was a slave or what. She walked around like she owned the place, barking orders at anypony that got in her way as we navigated the subterranean maze. Finally, we came to a closed door which slid into the ceiling upon Jackleg flipping a switch on the wall.
Inside, it was dark. Not pitch black, but dark, with only very minor lighting. She stepped in and I followed her, the door closing behind us. My eyes adjusted to the gloom and I noticed that there were three other ponies in the room.
“Red Dogs, this is Badeye. Last minute addition. Play nice.”
The door opened and the light from the tunnel streamed in, outlining Jackleg as she stopped in the doorway. “I’ll see you ponies in the morning. Play nice.” The door closed and the room plunged back into darkness.
“So... new meat.” The pony shape to the left spoke, a deep voice echoing slightly around the room.
“Wonder if he’ll last longer than the last one. Really though, Badeye?” A mare, higher pitched voice in the middle.
“I d-d-don’t know. Looks b-b-b-big enough to fill the gap. Ya know... the one I b-b-blew in that wall. Heheheheh.” A buck from the sound of it, a stutter making him sound a little more manic than he’d have been able to pull of with just the voice.
My eyes were adjusting to the dark and I saw them now. It was too dark for colors, but I could see their eyes and where they were in the room. All three were laying on cots, looking up at me. They’d been sleeping when I’d come in.
The one with the deep voice spoke up again. “So... Badeye. Welcome to the Red Dogs. When the digging and the hauling are done, we’re the first to go in. Highest mortality rate in Stadium. Name’s Bone Black. This is my sister Ivory.” Gesturing towards the mare in the middle, who nodded towards me. “The twitchy pony is Crossed Wires.” I saw now that Crossed Wires was a unicorn, while Bone Black and Ivory were both earth ponies.
“Now get some sleep. We’re heading into the tunnels early. We’ll decide if you’re a good fit if you don’t die.”
With that, the three lay down in silence. I trotted to a bed pushed against one wall and pulled myself up onto it, laying down. As I stared at the ceiling, I couldn’t stop thinking about Shade, Ash, and Fluster. They were waiting for me outside, but this position I’d fallen into seemed to be the best way for me to figure out what was going on.
I did miss them though. Didn’t feel right falling asleep in here while they hid in a building.
I heard a trio of snores and took it as my queue to allow sleep to grab me. Still felt odd going to sleep, I’d gotten so used to head injuries and unconsciousness.
“Hey Bone Black! Ivory!” A banging on the door woke me up and I could just make out Jackleg yelling on the other side of the door. “Rise and shine! Tunnel 17 is open and ready. Have fun.”
I heard Bone Black groan as he rolled off of his cot and Ivory yawned loudly, before standing and kicking one leg into the bed holding Crossed Wires, jerking him out of his dead sleep. It was still as dark in here as when I’d fallen asleep, but I could see much more clearly.
Crossed Wires was rubbing at his eyes before he pulled a pair of goggles on. Bone Black was pulling on barding and checking a gun while Ivory combed her hair. Looking over at me, she tossed something my way. It was a pair of goggles.
“Put these on, don’t want any of that bothersome light to ruin your night vision. Won’t be much where we’re going.” Sliding the goggles on, I noticed how much light they blocked. Now I couldn’t see anything. I nudged them up with a hoof to right above my eyes, ready for when I needed them.
“Goggles on. Lets go.” Bone Black trotted to the door and rested a hoof on the lever next to it as he spoke. Flipping the goggles down over my eyes, I waited for him to open the door. It opened with a soft hiss and I was immediately glad for the protection. It was bright in the tunnel outside, but the darkened glass between myself and the light kept me from losing the edge I’d been building.
Bone Black led the way, Ivory close behind him. I kept pace and could hear Crossed Wires behind me, a strange scuffling sound. Looking back, I noticed that we had a rather odd way of walking, almost like he was stuttering. It fit.
Everypony in the tunnels stayed out of our way, grizzled raider and beaten slave alike. On one wall we passed I saw a large 17 scrawled crudely in white paint. “So. I have to ask what we’re looking for.”
Ivory looked back at me, flipping her hair out of her eyes. “Old rumor is that there’s a secret underneath Stadium. Grew up hearing the tales. The boss guy moved in when he heard the story and left us with Massacre and a wall of steel. Now we’ve got this, digging around and looking for that secret.” That surprised me a bit. I’d thought that perhaps Jackleg had been one of the only original residents left, but here Bone Black and Ivory, brother and sister, grew up here. I couldn’t imagine seeing your childhood home turned into a raider fortress.
Then I remembered that when I got to Neighwhere, I’d have to live that experience.
I could remember bits of my childhood, I had that at least. I remembered the Stable, but everything from what I guessed was just before I got my cutie mark, which I still had not given much thought to the meaning of, was a sieve.
The echo of gunshots rang through the tunnels, pulling me back to the here and now. I tensed and gripped Ash’s revolver with my telekinesis, ready for action. As we rounded a corner, I found where the commotion had been coming from. A trio of dead ghouls, gnashers from the look of them, lay just inside a hastily torn down wall. They had come from a tunnel only barely lit with emergency lighting. The tunnel that I assumed it was now our job to check out.
There were two larger bucks standing near the hole with assault rifles on their battle saddles, covering the gap. Bone Black edged past them and we followed suit, the sentries unmoving. We headed into the darkness a ways before Bone Black stopped and took off his goggles. We all removed our goggles and looking into the gloom before us.
I recognized this. We were in a sewer tunnel, much like the ones around Underhoof. This one was rather more unused though, the hoof tracks from the two ghouls visible in the accumulated dust of two centuries. “Okay. Keep an eye out for gnashers and dead falls.” I felt that Bone Black was saying this more for my benefit than for our companions’, they were experienced at this specific task. Sure, I’d been through my share of tunnels, but never in the dark.
We walked the tunnels, keeping our eyes out for anything of interest. What exactly we were really looking for was unknown to me, but I was down here for my own purposes. If I saw the three butterflies, I’d know where I needed to be. Get in, grab whatever it was Hate wanted, and get out. Nice. Easy.
In practice, I had no idea if we were even where I wanted to be. This was the 17th tunnel they’d dealt with in this exact manner and had found nothing but an increasing mortality rate. There was a chance I’d be doing this for much longer than I’d thought. Shade would be waiting for me, unsure of what had happened. Unsure if I was dead, alive, captured.
I was beginning to sweat despite the cool underground air. The more I thought about it, the more I questioned why Ash hadn’t stopped me. This was a terrible plan. He wouldn’t be able to swoop in and save the day when the shit hits the fan. The griffin, my friend, was outside watching over the two mares that had come to be travelling with us. Protecting them.
I’d gotten used to having a friend there to help me out. The thought of not having that honestly frightened me.
“Hey, calm down. Do everything right and you won’t die.” I hadn’t noticed Ivory falling back until she was trotting right next to me. She must have noticed how nervous I was getting. I nodded slightly, trying to get my game face on. The mare smiled lightly at me in the darkness, a soothing smile.
This was going to work. It had to.
I practically ran over Bone Black before I noticed he’d stopped. We’d come to a crossroads; down one direction I could clearly make out a collapse, rubble and earth filling the passage. The stallion stood at the crossroads for some time, looking down the two paths we had before us. “Badeye. You’re the new guy, which direction would you say we should go?”
Taking my place at his side, I took a look down each path. I sniffed the air a bit, recalling everything I’d taken in while I’d been following Fluster towards the gnasher den during my first trip into the underground. Looking down, I made note of the faint tracks left by the passage of gnashers. I pointed a hoof down the way that they led. “That way. The other way is undisturbed and smells. Probably a break in a sewer line down there.”
Bone Black looked down the path I suggested and nodded. “Well, you go first then. See if you’re right.”
Nodding slowly, I set the pace for the group down the tunnel. All I could hear were our four sets of hooves echoing down the tunnel and I could only see about ten feet in front of me with any real clarity.
I heard the fifth set of hooves a second before the gnasher charged me straight on, flying out of the darkness in a frenzy of teeth and hooves. I had just enough time to raise the leg that had the cast on it, the gnasher’s rotting teeth biting deep into the dense material. Using my greater strength, I slammed the gnasher’s head into the wall, pinning him between my cast and the unmoving surface. Using a move I felt that Ash would approve of, I pressed on, cracking the rotting ghouls’ jaw before shattering it entirely. The creature dropped to the ground, it’s gaping mouth oozing blood, teeth, and spittle. It looked up at me visciously before I turned and gave it a strong kick in the head, crushing it against the wall with a satisfying crunch.
Looking back, I saw Bone Black holstering his gun while Ivory and Crossed Wires peaked around the larger stallion’s flank. I grinned and started walking again. That would at least perhaps get them to stop thinking that I was mere seconds away from death at all times. I could handle myself down here, they were only gnashers.
Further down the tunnel, it opened into a much larger avenue running in a different direction with amber lighting giving the whole thing an otherworldly feel. Immediately to the right was a large unmoving metal grate, thoroughly blocking the path with built up debris forming an efficient dam. Light trickles of water came through small gaps and I had the feeling that most of this would be underwater right now if not for the blockage. To the left, however, I could make out a door a bit further down. Smiling to myself, hoping that my luck was still keeping up, I trotted towards it.
Three butterflies. I could have shouted in victory, but I held it down and let out a small chuckle. Bone Black and Ivory appeared at my sides, looking up at the butterflies. “What did you say you were looking for again?” Neither of them answered me, clearly still stunned at the sight of the large metal door. Looking to the side, I saw that Crossed Wires was activating a terminal set into the wall, the green glow giving him a sickly color.
“Wires, what does it say?” I had to know.
“Uh.... Ministry of P-p-p-peace emergency passage. An escape t-t-t-tunnel. Sounds p-p-promising.” He went back to tapping at the keys with his magic. There seemed to be no method to what he was doing and we stood there for a little bit. Bone Black and Ivory took a short walk down the tunnel to check for any other doors while I sat there with the twitchy buck.
Seeing a good chance to ask questions without raising suspicion, I muttered low so that only Wires would be able to hear me. “So... Wires, what’s the pay for all this? Jackleg didn’t quite say and I wasn’t going to ask Massacre.”
Glancing sidelong at me, he snickered. “It’s f-f-food, shelter, entertainment. Anyone that shines g-g-gets to be in Neighwhere’s army. Red Dogs just g-g-get in faster.” More aimless tapping.
“There. D-d-damn, was hoping I’d get to b-b-blow the door.” He twitched his head to the side as he spoke, a loud clang following shortly. Bone Black and Ivory made it back in time for the door to begin opening. Inside was a familiar design, a tunnel very much like the one down which Ash and I had fled from Cinder into the sewers. Instead of a portal into a water pipe though, this one ended in the door we’d just opened.
I led the way still, a pony on a mission. If I was right, what I was waiting for would be right through this door...
I opened the blast door at the end and pushed it open into the research chamber. This was not like Project Greenhoof. Not at all. Instead of plant life overgrowing everything, there were several large chambers of metal and glass, most of them broken but a few still in good shape. Large machines fed tubes and wires into each. The machines all ran into a pedestal in the middle, obscured by wires and metal.
“What... is this?” Ivory spoke aloud as she entered the chamber, Wires and Bone Black close on her hooves. I didn’t answer as I made my way towards the middle of the room, hoping to find what I was looking for on top of the pedestal. It was covered with wires, which I pushed out of the way to find...
That it wasn’t there. No black cube. No reason for me to be here. Fuck.
My shoulders slumped and I turned away, looking for side doors. The layout was almost identical to the one that had been at Project Greenhoof and I located what I believed was the head researchers office. Weaving my way between the various odds and ends littering the room, I made my way to one wall and approached the door. The power was off and the door didn’t open upon my approach.
Looking back, I saw that Bone Black and his sister were rummaging through desks, looking for anything good for them to take back to Stadium. Wires was looking around nervously and when I called his name he jumped. “Wires, can you find a way to get some power in here?”
He nodded excitedly and began frantically searching for something in the room, pulling panels off of walls and checking doors. I sat down in front of the office door, dejected. I really was wasting my time, there was no cube here.
Ivory appeared at my side and sat down, watching the manic little buck as well. “You’re looking for something here. I can tell. Who are you really? You’re not some random raider, much too nice for that.”
I sighed. There really was no point in keeping up the charade with Ivory or Bone Black. They weren’t raiders, they were doing this because they really had nowhere else to go. Wires, though, was a raider and I had every intention of keeping him in the dark. “There was supposed to be something here. Something old, from before the war. The Paragons want it and I want to keep it away from them.”
She smiled and watched the buck disappear down a hatch in the floor. “Vendetta against Hate? I can understand that. Bone Black and I lived here our whole lives. Jackleg and a few others are from that time too. We had a nice little deal going, trading scrap and relics for food and weapons with traders. We were in the tunnels, Bone Black and I, when the Paragons showed up and killed anyone who objected to them. By the time we surfaced, most were dead or enslaved, and we were cut a deal. Work for our freedom by making trips into the underground. Dangerous work but it beats being given to Massacre.” She shuddered as she said that. How many of the ponies in the field had she known?
“Why haven’t you just left? You’re not under guard while you’re down here.” Looking around quickly, she lowered her voice to a rushed whisper. “Hornsmith is filled with raiders. Nearest town is controlled by the Paragons. Where would we go?”
I began opening my mouth to tell her about Underhoof but I stopped as I felt a slight humming come from the ground. “Put on your goggles.” I flipped mine down and Ivory did the same. Bone Black heard me as well and put them on right as the lights flickered from their low glow to full brilliance, filling the room with bright light.
I saw the color of the two for the first time then. Bone Black was a charcoal black, fitting of his name. Ivory was likewise appropriately named, an off white. Both of their cutie marks were of what looked to be paint jars. The door behind us hissed open and I pushed myself to my hooves.
As I walked through the open door, I had a flashback to the pain of having my chest burst open. Stumbling, I hit a shelf filled with rotting books. Taking a few deep breaths, I heard Ivory’s voice asking if I was all right. I shook the memory of the pain off and nodded back at her before continuing inwards.
There were no skeletons here. No sign of horrors unleashed. Just a terminal on a desk. Pulling myself in front of it, I tapped a key when I saw what was on the screen.
>>Project Endless - Sleep Mode
The screen blinked and scrolled through a long stream of gibberish at the touch, warming up after so long displaying a single screen. After a few seconds, it settled, a new screen telling me all I needed to know.
>>Operational Status: Specimen Transferred to Maremack Facility
The same layout as Greenhoof’s terminal, but I knew now that what had happened to Ivory’s home, all those slaughtered ponies, had been for nothing. The cube wasn’t here. It hadn’t been here when the war had started. They’d been holding material mid transit in that MoAS storeroom, so why would they have left everything else where it had been.
This facility probably would have been decommissioned before too long if not for the end of the world.
“There’s nothing here.” I sighed and Ivory stepped around the desk to look at the terminal screen.
The green glow reflected on her eyes as she read the screen, running across it several times to make sure she'd read it right. “Project Endless? Is that what we’ve been looking for all this time?”
I nodded. “It’s not here. I don’t think you’ll be wanting to take this back to Massacre, he doesn’t seem like the type to take bad news very well.”
Ivory’s eyes began filling with tears. Bone Black walked into the room and froze as he saw his sister crying. He pulled the gun and pointed it at me. “What did you do?” He was quite adept at speaking around a gun.
I held up a hoof and backed away from the crying mare. “Nothing. I didn’t do anything.”
“He didn’t Black... we just can’t go back home anymore.” Ivory’s voice cracked a bit as she spoke. The pistol went back into it’s holster at his side and the large black stallion looked quizzically at the white mare. “Can’t go back?”
I answered this one. “What you’ve been looking for, all this time down in these tunnels? It’s not here. It’s at Maremack.” He understood, nodding. “Well, that’s just not good news.”
The three of us stood there for a little bit before I spoke. “I know a place you two can go, if you want.” They looked at me, skeptical that there really was anyplace they could go. I felt that if need be they’d just make a life down here with the gnashers and the rats. Underhoof would be preferable to that as far as I was concerned and these two seemed like good ponies.
“There’s a town in the tunnels a ways from Stadium. Underhoof. Runs on scavenging, sort of like how you described old Stadium. You two would probably be welcomed there, I’ve got a few connections.”
Ivory smiled and looked at her brother, nodding at him. He frowned, running the idea over in his head, looking for any reason not to give it a try. The stoic stallion eventually nodded at me and smiled at his sister. “Sounds good Badeye.”
“It’s Ripple actually.”
“Ripple... and I thought Badeye was a bad name....that just takes the cake.” Ivory snorted and started laughing. Bone Black and myself caught in and before long we were all roaring with laughter. It took a few minutes to stop and eventually I wiped a tear from my eye before looking around.
The three of us were here and the lights had been on for a while. The fourth member of the Red Dogs was still absent. “Shouldn’t Wires be back? Where is he?”
Ivory and Bone Black looked around as well and we left the office, entering the main chamber again. There he was, standing near the door we’d originally come through.He was looking right at us and held something with his telekinesis, a small box floating in the air next to him.
“I’ve b-b-been waiting for this, you know. Finding this d-d-damned chamber.” He grinned straight at Ivory. “It’s a shame too, I was working up the c-c-courage to try tapping that pretty flank of yours.”
Bone Black and I both drew our weapons and pointed them at the buck. This was quickly turning into a bad situation. Wires, who I now saw was a dark orange tinted black at the edges, shook his head at us. “Look around. Got the place rigged. Wouldn’t d-d-do that.”
I glanced around and noticed there were now several devices scattered around the room. I’d heard mention of Wires’ penchant for explosives but hadn’t thought he’d been carrying this much on him. This looked like enough to level this room and kill everypony in it.
“Massacre told me... he said t-t-t-o look for a room like this. If there was nothing here... b-b-blow it all up. If there was a little cube here... b-b-blow up the room after taking the cube. Kill everypony that’s not me. Got a spot on the P-p-paragons if I do so.”
I snorted at that. “The Paragons don’t recruit. They all grew up together.”
Looking at me strangely, he twitched slightly at that news. “How would you know? You’re just some raider scum. I’m a d-d-demolitions genius. I can wire and blow up anything.”
I pointed at my face. “See this scar? Before I got this I was a Paragon. Two Kick Rip. Ever heard of me?”
The blood drained from the buck’s face and he backed further away from me. I felt Bone Black and Ivory step away from me as well. “I was Hate’s number two pony and he shot me in the face and left me for dead when I’d served my purpose. I’d been his friend my whole life. You’re just some shit from the wastes, what makes you think he’d even keep you around? You’re as dead as the rest of us if you do this.”
He shook his head, uncertain for a few seconds before his eyes hardened and he glared at us, shaking the detonator menacingly at us. “You’re lying! P-p-paragons d-d-don’t d-d-die. They live like gods! I’ll kill you all and collect my reward!” He was backing towards the open blast door, ready to flee into the tunnel and set off his explosives to kill us all. I fired a shot at him, the bullet smacking into the door next to his head.
He stumbled, falling but catching himself before throwing himself through the door and slamming it behind him. Fuck. I was a terrible shot at range. Why did I keep forgetting this?
A flash of black and Bone Black was in front of me, kicking at both myself and Ivory. The impacts caused us to fly through the door as the world exploded, propelling us into the wall above the desk. Everything went dark as I hit.
Had I mentioned I hate this?
If I could get a couple of caps for every time I woke up like this, I was sure I’d become a rich pony in only a few months. The smell of burning metal filled my nostrils and my whole world was cracked when I opened my eyes. I nudged the broken goggles from my view with a hoof and rolled over, slowly checking myself for injuries. This was second nature by now and I found I was just bruised and burnt a little. My scars all hurt, an annoying burning sensation covering the large on on my back.
There was nothing broken that I could feel, and I was sure Crimson Knife would kill me if anything had been. I had difficulty moving my rear legs though and I panicked briefly before I checked them visually. Ivory was draped across my legs unceremoniously, pinning me down. I couldn’t see Bone Black, but the desk I lay behind was obscuring most of the room from me. Pulling my legs gently from underneath the white mare, I bent over her to check for life signs. Her breathing was fine and I couldn’t see any major cuts. That ran about the extent of my medical knowledge.
“Hey, hey wake up.” I was having flashbacks to when I went through this with Shade and briefly wondered if saving her would have another mare obsessed with me. I hoped not. It was turning out to be quite inconvenient in the long run.
Her eyes opened slowly and as they focused on me I saw for the first time that they were magenta. Her goggles had been knocked off in the blast but it was dark enough in this room that it shouldn’t be hurting her eyes. I wasn’t sure how frequently Red Dogs saw bright lights, but it seemed like they spent much of their lives in darkness. The only light I could see in the room past the desk was a flickering orange, probably fire from the sound of crackling flames.
I sat back from her as she lifted herself up. She looked at me once and her eyes got wide. “Bone Black!” She jumped to her hooves, wobbling slightly as she went around the desk looking for her brother. I followed, unsure if it was really safe to walk around a room that had just blown up. I heard her shriek and she suddenly went out of view. Assuming she had fallen through the floor, I vaulted the desk and found where she had gone
Bone Black was laying on the other side of the desk, burnt and broken. In saving the two of us from the blast, he had put himself right in the path of destruction. Most of his hair had been burnt off and he bled from dozens of wounds. One eye was gone, a bleeding hole where it had been. He coughed a mist of blood as Ivory hugged him close. I’d barely survived a much less intense blast in my time, and I knew as much as he did that he was a goner.
I stood there awkwardly as they shared a final moment together before he took a last breath and slumped in her grip. She cried into his charred mane for a while before I pulled at her shoulder. “We need to move, this place could be unstable.” Slowly, she stood and we left her brother’s body laying in that office room. I was taking it for granted that the layout of this facility was similar to the one underneath the headquarters building and headed for the hall that should contain the elevator.
The room was demolished, the explosives having taken out much of the equipment and even some of the walls, letting what was held back spill into the room. Dirt had piled into the room in areas and water leaks were putting out some of the fires, but chunks of the room still blazed away. The elevator was destroyed but there was a door down a side hall with a picture of stairs stenciled on. Pushing the door open, we entered the staircase and began moving up.
Ivory was moving with purpose, despite the tears cutting clean lines into her dirty face. I recognized that face. I’d worn it while carrying Shade’s body while I was filled with nails. She was ready to do anything. Most likely at the top of the list was to rip the head off of Crossed Wires with her bare hooves. A sentiment I shared.
That pony was going to die. Painfully.
Arriving on the main floor, we found nothing. This building had been cleared out a couple hundred years ago and the front door was heavily locked. We kept going up and went out through an exit in the roof before scaling down a building conveniently collapsed across the street, forming a ramp of rubble and debris. The sun was somewhere above us behind the constant cloud cover and I figured it to be somewhere in the middle of the morning.
Most of my disguise had been burnt or blown off and my PipBuck was exposed, now that I looked down at my leg instinctively. Checking the map to find out where we were, I discovered that we were a ways from Stadium but I could still make out the top edge of the large building through a gap in the wall to my left. Outside of the range of the snipers but close enough that we risked detection by raiders making the trip in, looking for steady work in an army of killers.
I cautiously led the mare through the streets, heading for the building that I had left my companions in. It was slow going, as raider traffic had been steadily increasing over the last few days and we had to avoid three groups of heavily armed pony scum. The army in Stadium was growing more and more by the hour, kept in check only by Massacre’s discerning eye and crushing hoof.
It took an hour by my count before we reached the building. It looked just as it had when I’d first seen it and opened the back door we’d used to get in. Leading the way upstairs, I rounded the last corner and opened the door to the bedroom where I’d last seen them watching me leave to take action on my plan.
Ash’s grinning beak, Fluster’s shy gray eye. The dual colored eyes of Shade and a loving hug.
None of these were in the room.
There was nothing.
They were gone.
Of course they were.
Thanks to Kkat for creating FoE, an amazing piece fiction as well as a setting.
Took me longer to write than I expected, let me know what you think, and as always fav/track/comment/rate at your leisure.