• Published 25th Jun 2012
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Fallout Equestria x Wild Arms: Trigger to Tomorrow - thatguyvex



A young tribal pony tries to keep his moral center and ensure the survival of his friends while facing the many dangers of the Detrot Wasteland and beyond.

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Chapter 32: Healing the Scar

I didn’t know what to expect, being pulled soul-first into the mind of Binge. My senses were scattered at first, the pain from the slash across my face spreading over me along with the disorienting sensation of being spun head over hooves down a cold, swirling drain. Thankfully my senses regained their balance quickly, if harshly, as I fell face first onto a flat, dusty surface. Spitting out dirt and groaning I rolled onto my back and looked around. Then I looked up. And up. And up.

“Binge, if we survive this, we’re having a talk about your state of mind.”

I was looking upon a tower monument to crazy. It was Arbu, in a sense. Rather, I was seeing a monolithic fortress tower that was using Arbu as its basis, alongside a wide string of mad imagery. A wide, infinite and dark desert spread around me, like the Wasteland given an endless plane to grow upon. The sky loomed smoggy and gray above, lanced by flashes of sickly green balefire born flame and lightning. Before me was Arbu, but grown large and misshapen, its walls and buildings twisted together in a growing spire of interlaced architecture that quickly ceased to resemble a humble settlement and instead melded into a towering bastion. The walls were illuminated by shifting flickers of hungry orange and red light, as if fires still burned unseen inside the fortress walls. The corners of the fortress bulged out in the distorted shape of a huge grinning face painted in streaks of red blood that still dripped. I knew that leering visage with its wide and mad grin, its pupiless red eyes staring down at me.

Mr. Happy. Binge’s mind was guarded by the huge, spotlessly peering face of the bloody sock puppet Binge had kept since I’d first known her, like some grotesque yet somehow comical gargoyle.

Higher up, beyond the strangely twisted amalgam of distorted building parts, there was a single spire that went up towards the dark sky. Was that were Binge was? Would I have to climb up the entire fortress, then that spire, just to reach her? How much time did I even have, in this mental landscape?

I do not know the exact limits on your time here. said Gramzanber suddenly, nearly making me jump out of my fur. But I can estimate that roughly every twelve hundred and ninety six seconds in this mentally linked space equals one second of time passing in ‘real space’. Even so, I would suggest taking action swiftly.

“Gram, you’re here?” I looked around, then blinked as the ARM glittered into existence across my back, snug in its sheath. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, that’s one piece of good news.”

Not the only piece, as I detect another mind made the link here with us.

Before I would question what he meant by that I heard hoofsteps behind me and I turned to see Arcaidia trotting up to me, her face alight with curiosity but also stony resolve, which lit up with a clear hint of eased tension as she saw me.

“Ren solva, you are alright. I saw...” her expression darkened with fear as she shook her head. “I saw you get hurt. Tried to grab you with magic, then felt my brain head get zapped by swirly thoughts. Now I am here.” Arcadia looked at the massive, bizzare tower fortress and blinked. “Where is here?”

“Binge’s mind.” I said, gulping slightly as I looked at the imposing edifice before us. “Apparently she’s got some issues.”

Arcaidia’s eyebrow might as well have flown off her face, given how high she raised it. I managed a disarming smile, although I was more than a little daunted by the task in front of us. “Look, Gramzanber told me he could link me with Binge’s mind, and by doing so I might be able to break Scythe’s control on her. I didn’t know anypony else was going to get dragged in with me.”

“Better that I did, so somepony can keep eye on you, ren solva.” Arcaidia said, silver tail thrashing behind her as she scuffed her hooves on the ground and eyed the front of Binge’s mind fortress with a dangerous gleam. “Understand I want shivol bir to be safe too. Came with you this far, Longwalk, I not abandon you now.” She paused, a light smirk gracing her face, “Still, next time we find saner mind to jump into, maybe?”

“I’d be just as fine not having to do crazy mind shenanigans at all in the future.” I said, looking over the front of the fortress until I spotted the entrance. It was a tall, narrow gate, bent like a tree under a heavy wind. Its warped, wooden surface was painted a faded, rusty red that I suspected would more and more resemble blood the closer we got. I saw no other ponies around, or strange wraith-like apparitions, but I had the distinct and pointedly cold feeling of being watched. I didn’t think we were at all alone.

As Arcaidia and I trotted towards the fortress gate I asked Gramzanber, “Hey, Gram, can you sense anything about Binge’s mind? Any information that might make this easier?”

Arcaidia glanced at me questioningly. “You talk to ARM here too?”

When Gramzanber’s voice spoke I saw Arcaidia react to it as well, making it clear that in this mental space she could hear him too.

Hello Specialist Luminasario. Or do you prefer Arcaidia? I recall your extreme preference for formal titles during introductions and this is our first time speaking to each other.

Arcaidia blinked several times rapidly, then smiled brightly. “Arcaidia is fine. I am glad to speak with you ARM Gramzanber. You have done well in mission to protect your wielder, for which you have many of thanks.”

Protecting Longwalk has been a fulfilling if equally difficult task, Arcaidia, and I will continue to do so until my functions cease, or his do. Now, as to your question, Longwalk; I cannot tell you anything definitive concerning Binge’s mental layout. I am maintaining the connection and can communicate with you easily enough, but my senses cannot pierce deeper than your own presence. I barely sensed Arcaidia’s location, and only because she was close and approaching. What is within that tower I cannot guess. My only recommendation is to be careful of everything you see. I can verify that Arcaidia is indeed herself, her mind pulled through her magic that linked with you, but anything else you may see is suspect. Even if you see Binge do not assume it is her, or at least, the whole of her. In all likelihood her mind is fragmented here, with different aspects active. Also, be careful of using violence. Damaging any part of Binge’s mind could damage her in permanent ways. The same applies to you.

“So, just another incredibly simple situation that doesn’t put us under any pressure at all.” I chuckled despite my strained voice, “Well, I knew it was going to be rough going in. What do you say Arcaidia, you ready to save Binge’s mind?”

“No, but I’ll do it anyway.” Arcaidia said with a helpless laugh and wink, showing she was just as nervous as I was, but she was going to hang in there to the bitter end, staying by my side. Couldn’t stop myself from halting a moment to give her a big, crushing hug.

“You’re the best, you know that?”

Honestly, if I wasn’t already incredibly confused about my feelings for Binge, and if she didn’t remind me of the little sister I never had, I could easily fall in love with Arcaidia’s smug, satisfied smirk.

“It is something I could hear more of. Some other time. When not in mortal danger. Come, we save crazy friend from fortress of madness now.”

I would suggest hurrying your pace. said Gramzanber, Not only is Scythe a present threat here, but I detect multiple spirit energies here that are separate from Binge’s mind. I suspect the wraiths possessing her are also here and will be just as dangerous in this mental landscape as they are in the physical realm.

“Got it, let’s get our hooves shaking then.” I told Gramzanber, then glanced at Arcaidia, who gave me an encouraging nod as we picked up our pace and reached the massive front gates reaching up the fortress walls. I stood in front of the thick wood doors, ten times my height, and started to reach out a hoof to try pressing on them, when the twin wooden gates started to open on their own with creaking groans that almost drowned out the voices beyond them.

In a matter of a seconds a vomitous wave of gibbering voices, all in Binge’s high and strained peal, flooded out of the gates at me and Arcaidia.

“Splatter the pretty guts everywhere, heheh!”

“Eat the eyes, I want the eyes! They’re the juiciest!”

“The heart, cut it out, feel it beat and bleed, yay!”

“Smash the balls into shiny red paste and lick it up!”

And those were just the more mild quotes my ears could cherry pick out of the tide of screaming madness that came boiling out of the gates at me and Arcaidia, our eyes both equally wide and ears wilted in mutual terror at what was coming at us.

A veritable army of Binges had been waiting behind the gates in the midst of some vast, cavernous entry hall. I caught sight of bonfires within and huge, rust metal torches plastered across blood stained walls, but that was all the detail I could make out before the room beyond the gates belched forth several dozen Binges like a swarm of ants rushing from the mouth of a corpse.

They all had Binge’s basic look. The matted, heavily scarred hide that was near as much pink scar tissue as dull green fur. The wild rat’s nest mane, poofy where it wasn’t caked with filth and frizz, sporting all manner of hidden sharp objects braided in. Most of all the eyes were unmistakably Binge’s, a blue so bright it may as well be azure fire. And each set of eyes carried the wild, pinprick pupiled look of madness.

However that was where the similarities to the Binge I knew ended. These Binge’s were all clad in the classic menagerie of dead, stitched hide leather and rusted spiked metal plates of Raiders. In all styles and configurations, it was like seeing a Raider horde descend towards me, only if every blood coated, filth stained, spike wearing madmare was replaced with a version of Binge. Each one carried some sharp implement of death, mostly different knives, but a few favored spiked bats or heavier, cleaver-like weapons.

There was nothing I could do but quickly draw Gramzanber in a shining blaze of speed, rearing up onto my hind hooves to brace myself beside Arcaidia, who lacking any of her usual equipment instead lit up her horn in a cold blue flash.

The first one to fling herself at me was retching out a insane cackle while slashing with an already blood soaked butcher’s knife that judging from the wounds already covering her fetlocks I think was her own blood. I slapped that Binge aside with one hefty swing of my fore hooves, smashing her into several others like a big green bowling ball. I spun, pivoting on my hind legs as I’d been taught, evading a giggling Binge that went for the back of my legs with a hook shaped blade. Kicking that Binge across the face I felt a burning hot pain lance my side as another Binge, licking blood off her lips, had bitten me with what looked like filed down teeth.

Arcaidia had thrown a blast of freezing cold across the ground in front of her, icing up the legs of half a dozen maddened Binges, who all howled like braying wolves as their progress was halted. Other Binges surged around their frozen comrades and went for Arcaidia with deadly light in their eyes. Arcaidia refused to back down, holding her head high as she reared up for a moment, then slammed her horn towards the ground and unleashed a flowing wall of ice that scattered yet more Binges. Still, more and more of the slobbering, cackling copies of our disturbed friend came rushing from the gates, and despite my best effort to clobber and bluntly beat aside every madly laughing Binge I saw, and Arcaidia’s hefty and liberal explosions of icy prowess... we were quickly surrounded by no less than a hundred Binges, all giggling and cackling for our blood.

In moments I felt grimy hooves snaking around my hind legs, pulling me off balance. I heard Arcaidia yelp out in pain as she too was tackled off her hooves. I was yanked to the ground, pinned by rank smelling bodies, scratched by sharp hooves and knives as I was held down, spread eagle, with dozens of crazy faces leering down at me with unrestrained bloodlust. Arcaidia’s cries suggested she was in similar dire straits.

Pinned or not, I still held Gramzanber, and was about ready to trigger an Impulse right then and there, regardless of the risk of injuring myself, when a voice bellowed out.

“Bring them to me! Don’t rip them up too badly yet! I want to see their faces myself! Do it! Do it! Do it! Bring them! Hehehehe!”

It was also Binge’s voice, just like they all had, but a bit louder and more commanding, tinged with high strung tension as if this Binge was even more unhinged than the one’s holding me down, one of them with a rusty knife centimeters from my eye, although that held my attention less than the knife coldly pressed against my... er... lower parts.

Almost like a flock of disappointed foals the Binges holding me and Arcaidia all collectively groaned and with various profanity laden complaints on their lips they started to haul me and Arcaidia to our hooves, enough weapons pressed to our vulnerable pony flesh to keep both of us firmly from considering trying anything. I saw Arcaidia flash a look my way that was somewhere between fearfully worried and royally pissed off, making her eyes look like liquid silver. I don’t think either of us expected to get mobbed by an army of Binges, right off the bat.

“G-Gram, question,” I managed to grunt out while being roughly shoved and jostled by a field of pointy knives into the vast cavernous entry hall of the fortress, “What would happen if I had to kill any of these, uh, copy Binges?”

My best estimate is that the effect on her psyche would be minimal. These mental constructs, like everything else here, is representative of different aspects of her mental state. Large scale damage to key objects or beings here may cause equally large scale damage, but these ravenous, violent examples of her personality may be relatively expendable. Gramzanber said, having been taken from my grip and held aloft like a prize by one of the Binges parading me and Arcaidia through the gigantic main hall.

“Relatively?” I asked, wincing as one Binge cut her knife across my cheek and shouted at me.

“Stop talking unless we ask you to scream in that yummy voice, meat stick!”

...Relatively. Gram replied dryly. He’d been yanked from my hooves by the ravenous Binge mob, and I could see a pack of them off to the side fighting over who’d get to carry the spear. A fight that very quickly got unpleasantly bloody as one Binge used Gramzanber to skewer another in a bloody display. I would not risk yours or Arcaidia’s life on trying to keep these particular manifestations of Miss Binge’s psyche alive. If you see an opening, take it. I remain a part of you, so you can summon me to your side with a thought... but I suggest waiting for the best moment to capitalize on that fact.

Sound advice, and advice that was looking more and more viable as I took in more of our surroundings. It was as if somepony had cobbled together a creeping mold consisting of every Raider dwelling the Wasteland could spit out and spread it like congealing blood over the stone belly of the fortress. The camps of stitched hide tents were cloistered around roaring bonfires that licked the air and filled it with the thick scent of burning flesh, leaving me little to wonder about what might be roasting over those fires.

Gaggles of Binges lent their laughing, cracking voices to the air of sick madness that pervaded the space, and any glance to the left or right greeted my eyes with visions of Binges doing horrible acts of violence to themselves, as if it were all some twisted party. I could all but choke on the combined smell of blood, vomit, and feces. Clearly whatever this part of Binge was didn’t believe in anything resembling hygiene. Then again, Binge rarely displayed any interest in hygiene so no surprise there.

Still, what was this? Had Binge just taken every Raider inspired impulse she ever felt and shoved it into one place? I knew the mare I’d traveled with all this time had more to her than this madhouse display. Was this what she kept leashed inside her mind, or had Scythe’s influence pulled more of this side of her to the surface and then amplified it?

My musings were cut roughly short as the Binges slammed me down atop some sort of table, cold, metal, and coated with rust and old caked viscera. They kept me held down, two per limb, while I saw Arcaidia given similar treatment on another metal stable directly down from me. Her horn was bright with magical energy, but she hadn’t unleashed it yet, likely due to the multiple knives poised at her throat. She chanced turning her head just enough to look at me with a questioning gaze. I could only gulp and give her an encouraging nod.

Not that I had a plan yet, but I was working on it. This was a mental space, after all, not a physical one. I’d learned in my confrontation with Moa Gault that enough focused thought and will could change the nature of things in places like this. Granted we were in Binge’s mind, so her will held dominance, but in theory Arcaidia and I weren’t limited by our physical abilities here.

Still, there were a lot of violent Binges around us, so whatever we came up with needed to be big.

My thoughts on what that could be were forestalled by a ringing scrape of something large and metal and a hacking, giggling laugh that echoed from somewhere to my left, where the back of the fortress hall was.

“Hoohoohehe, its so nice to have you here squirming and so tenderly helpless bucky!”

The crowd of Binges parted ways to allow one particular Binge through. She shared little with the Binge I knew besides basic appearance, her mane so heavily worked through with blades and razors it looked like she had more metal up there than hair. Her eyes had a shaking, bloodshot quality to them, like her blood was swimming with some high octane drug. She wore a form hugging set of bloody leathers that dangled dozens of sheaths for knives of every size and description, but the largest was bouncing up and down in one of her hooves, occasionally held to scrape along a sharpening stone attached to her right shoulder.

“Um, hi?” I said, licking my lips. “That you, Binge, or am I just talking to another weird part of your brain?”

As casually as one flicks a card onto the playing table Binge, or rather Raider Binge as I was naming this one, tossed her large knife right between my outstretched legs, almost nicking some important parts of me down there. Before I was done staring goggle eyed at that Raider Binge was right next to the table I was held down on, running a hoof clad in sharp, bladed bracers over my stomach, giving it shallow but painful cuts.

“Am I Binge?” she mimic in a mocking tone, then hacked out another bitter laugh. “More Binge than any of the other bitches in the upper levels. They keep me down here like I’m somehow the lesser one, but the balls shrinking truth is I’m the most real Binge here! I’m the one who kept us alive all these years! I’m the one who did every sick, twisted, fucked up-” every word was punctuated with a harsh cut across some part of my body, the bladed bracer ripping bleeding cuts in my limbs, my chest, and a trio of red marks across my face, “-and necessary thing she’s ever had to do! Her survival is all thanks to me! And what do I get? Shoved down here like trash, as if anything she built up wasn’t going to have a foundation built on corpses.”

Angry mutterings rolled through the ocean of Raider Binge’s like a wave, a murmuring tide of rage. The leader seemed to soak it all up, sucking in a breath and letting out a purring growl. “We’ve always been here, bucky. Little Longykins. Did you know how often, when she looked at you, she dreamed about driving a blade into your ribs? Right here-” she touched her knife to my side, pressing the sharp, rusted point into my flesh until blood welled up. “-In and under, right until she could feel your heart squirming underneath?”

She leaned over me, teeth scraping across my throat as she continued to purr in a cold, deadly fashion. “Or how about the times she imagined ripping your throat out, just to taste the blood? After strapping you down and cutting on you for awhile.”

I took a deep breath, shuddering, but kept my voice at least a little steady. “You think I don’t know that Binge still has thoughts like that? I get it. She was a Raider, it’d be naive to assume this stuff wasn’t still in her head.”

“Not was a Raider, shitstain, is Raider!” the phantom of Binge’s Raider nature roared in my face, dragging her knife across my chest, welling up more blood. “She can’t stop being this! No matter how high she tries to build this tower, it’ll all come crashing right back down. Down to our level!”

She tittered, licking the blood from my chest. “But once we get rid of you, she won’t have anything to hold onto to. I’ll be in charge again, just like it should’ve always been. Should’ve always stayed.”

Raider Binge reared, up poising her knife to drive right down towards my stomach, but in that moment I focused my thoughts, my willpower, and forced them out into the mindscape around me. The first thing that happened was that Gramzanber vanished from where he’d been getting used as an oversized playing dart in one end of the room, being tossed at one unfortunate Binge being used as the dart board, and in a flash of light appeared in my waiting mouth. With a hard twist of my head I cut the knife right out of Raider Binge’s hoof, severing the front part of the limb right along with it.

As she howled the next thing that happened was that both metal tables Arcaidia and I were held down on shot upwards upon rising pillars of stone, similar to the pillar I’d created in my battle with Moa Gault. The Binges holding us down were scattered, tossed aside by the rising pillars. Only one remained doggedly dangling from Arcaidia’s table, but she lanced that Binge in the face with a shard of ice that sent the Binge flying off, screaming. Even though I knew she was just some mental phantom, an expression of Binge’s Raider life before meeting me, I still winced at the sight.

Arcaidia got unsteadily to her hooves, maintaining her balance atop the table as she looked at me wonderingly. “Longwalk, how you do that?”

“This isn’t real, Arcaidia! At least not, like, physical real. Our minds and souls are what matter here. We can use more than our bodies. Just, um, think and feel really hard about something and you can make it happen. Kind of.”

As I shouted to her I noticed several Binges, under the barking shrieks of the lead Raider Binge, yanking out firearms and taking aim.

“Shit, incoming!” I yelled at Arcaidia, ducking down to give as small a target as I could as bullets starting ripping through the air around me. Some smacked into the stone pillar, sending chips flying, or bounced off the metal table. I saw Arcaidia also duck down, but her horn flared, crest symbols forming, and in moments she had a bridge of ice connecting our two pillars, along with a rising barrier of frost surrounding our respective tables.

“O-Okay, that buys us some time.” I said, looking around, “Now we just got to find a way out of here.”

“Get the boomy-booms!” I heard Raider Binge shouting down below, and I found myself peeking over the ice barrier in worry.

“Boomywhat?” I grunted, which turned into a full blown groan as I spotted a group of Binges yanking the unmistakable form of explosives from stacked up crates and hauling them towards our pillars.

“Arcaidia, big problem!” I pointed out what we had coming our way and Arcaidia gave me a reassuring look and nodded. Closing her eyes, I saw Arcaidia’s brow furrow as she concentrated. Was she taking my advice and trying to manifest something from her own mind? My answer arrived when, in a series of snapping flashes, a swarm of starblasters emerged from thin air in a cluster of about twenty, hovering around Arcaidia. With a thin, lethal grin Arcaidia winked at me, then unleashed her glittering barrage of energy laden death down upon the Binges.

Silver-white streaks of starblaster beams cut into the Binges like hot embers through paper. One of the beams struck a Binge carrying some of the explosives, and whatever those explosives consisted of clearly didn’t appreciate being dropped, because they detonated in a concussive fireball that sent more Binges flying like flaming green balloons. My wince turned into a full on grimace.

“I really hope this isn’t actually hurting the real Binge.”

“Perhaps she not need all these filthy versions of herself, ren solva?” Arcaidia mused. “Like doing spring cleaning inside head.”

“Here’s hoping.” I said, looking around, and then gazing up at the ceiling. “Right, I’m going to try to open up the ceiling and move us over there. Whatever’s on the next floor has to be better than this.”

An especially accurate assessment given what is presently entering the fortress. Be quick, Longwalk. warned Gramzanber, The wraiths are here.

His words were shrilly punctuated by the undulating wail of wraiths, and I looked to see the shifting dark flood of Arbu’s restless dead boiling into the fortress. It didn’t look like they could phase through walls, here, as they all had to come in through the main gates, but that did little to reduce their speed and ferocity as they set upon the Raider Binges. However I noticed that while they could physically tear into the Binges, the wraiths themselves seemed more solid, more real, in this place. Not only did I see Raider Binges fighting back, wounding wraiths in their own jibbering ferocity, but the wraiths themselves were more defined, with recognizable features. They were like ponies cloaked in a writhing aura of shadow, rather than just dark specters, their bodies visible amid the swirling darkness that wrapped them.

And at the head of the wraiths I recognized the mare leading the charge. Binge’s mother, Heartchime, screeched unholy fury into the swarm of Raider versions of her daughter, as if their very existence offended and enraged her.

If that wasn’t enough, further chaos erupted into the vast hall as several entryways along the sides of the room exploded, a number of thick wooden doors getting literally blasted off their hinges. From these doors several dozen more Binges came pouring in, only these Binges were less dressed in modern Raider chic and largely consisted of Binges either wearing nothing at all, or... uh... very distracting pieces of clothing. I caught sight of everything from lacy socks in red or black colors, or bodices of black leather straps, even a few sporting studded collars.

These Binges were armed with an assortment of knives as well, and a few pistols or rifles. As one this group crashed into the back flank of the Raider Binges, all of them shouting into the fray.

“Save the smexy!”

“Don’t let the taut flanks of desire be taken!”

“Death to all that is not down for sexy times!”

“And booze, don’t forget the booze! Get back all of our booze!”

Well, okay, I think we just found the part of Binge’s mind that was connected to her more base wants, minus the violence. The mare was literally at war with herself, torn up on the inside between various desires, and the wraiths possessing her soul. I had to put a stop to this insanity, and the only way I could think of to do it was find Scythe and break his influence over her.

Focusing on the ceiling, I pushed out with my thoughts once more, hardening my will. There was resistance, Binge’s very mindscape pushing back against anypony interfering with it, but while her focus was scattered across many fragments and layers of her mind, all of my will was right here, in one spot. I pushed past the resistance and in moments a stairway formed from the very ceiling, reaching down to the bridge between the pillars Arcaidia and I were on.

“Arcaidia, let’s go!” I shouted, hopping onto the bridge and carefully making my way towards the stairs. Arcaidia leaped onto the bridge as well, meeting me at the bse of the stairs.

“I make stern suggestion we get shivol bir much therapy when this all done.” said Arcaidia, eyeing the Sexy Binges as they violently battled with the Raider Binges below us. “This can’t be good for healthy mind.”

“I don’t think we could find a pony in all the Wasteland who’d want to tackle this case.” I said, managing a tired chuckle, “I think Binge is going to be our special barrel of crazy to deal with.”

”Monster!” came a wailing howl, like some twisted wind force gale from below. ”Leave my daughter alone!”

The voice was coming from the pack of wraiths, from Heartchime herself. Within her cloak of deathly shadows the dead mare’s eyes blazed with literal points of white, ghostly fire as she looked up at me. Her face was wracked with such a palette of colorful rage, pain, and deep rooted despair that I could only blink at her in a dumbfounded stupor for a second, before Arcaidia grabbed me and hauled me up the stairs.

“Arcaidia, did you hear-?”

“Yes, ren solva, I hear. Binge’s mother pony is crazy like daughter, and we not stay around to chat. Run!”

Kind of hard to argue with that, but I had to wonder just why Heartchime was angry with me specifically. Did she think I was the one hurting Binge? It was Scythe doing all the damage here! Regardless, Arcaidia and I hoofed it up the stairs. We entered a small room draped in velvet curtains and a smoky haze that held a strange scent to it that made my nose wrinkle. Not taking much time to look around I turned to concentrate on the stairs I’d formed, closing them up behind us and shutting out the roaring noise of the battle in the main hall.

We’d survived getting into Binge’s inner mind... but what now?

----------

My head hurt, as if with each attempt to assert my will here was draining me. I hung my head a moment, just trying to breathe and let the pain fade. Beside me Arcaidia lit up her horn, shedding more light into the dimly lit room we were in. I glanced up blearily, taking stock of our new surroundings.

It looked like a padded room, with the walls, ceiling, and even the floor heavily covered in thick, soft pads of what felt like soft cushions. They were all in deep shades of red, and a heady scent of sweat seemed to cling to the air like a fog. Arcaidia wrinkled her nose at it, her voice quiet. “Now what place are we in?”

“I don’t know, but we can’t afford to stop moving.” I said, noticing that on one of the walls there were seams between some of the cushioned tiles that looked like a door. I started trotting towards it. “Those spirit wraiths are going to keep coming after us.”

Reaching the door, I pressed my hoof against it and gave it a firm push. The door yielded, opening with only minimal resistance. Nearly the second I got the door open my eyes got hit with a flood of light, and smooth hooves wrapped around me, yanking me out through the doorway. Binge’s bubbly voice spoke to me while my eyes were still swirling from the blinking light.

“Aww, you came to the show, my tasty chunk of fresh cut bucky! Gimme a taste!”

Before I knew it hot lips locked around my own as I was spun around in warm, strong grip. Binge was kissing me, and wasn’t being gentle about it either. Her tongue lashed into my mouth, while she all but bit down on my lips. I felt her body pressed so hard against mine I would’ve toppled over if she wasn’t also steadying me. With a belated moment of semi-clear thought I realized she had us both in a bipedal stance, and with an eyeblink clearing the flashing white haze of light blindness from my eyes I could see we were on some kind of smooth, black and white titled dance floor. White strobe lights stabbed down on us and in one corner of the room there was an entire group of Binges playing in a band, one on a piano, others using instruments I’d never seen before, but many made of brass and piping out soulful tunes.

The room was filled with other Binges as well, some dancing, others lounging around huge cushiony couches lining the walls, which were draped in thick red curtains. Drinks were being consumed en mass, usually guzzled right from the bottle, while other Binges were gorging themselves on trays of piled foods, most of it slabs of meat, some cooked... some still raw and bloody.

Then there were other Binges who were, for lack of a cleaner description, engaged in acts of self love that would’ve had me mindlessly riveted any other time than now. Seriously, I didn’t even know Binge could stretch her hind legs that far behind her, nor that a mare could produce that much, er, ‘fluid’ from down there. Before my eyes could boggle out any more, or just possibly explode across the room, the Binge in front of me spun me out in a slick dance move I could barely follow, then pulled me right back in to stare into me with piercing blue eyes radiating desire.

“So what’s you’re pleasure, Longy? With you here I can make you feel good forever and ever, and trust me...” her hoof went down towards my groin as she licked my chest with a tongue that seemed entirely too long to be Binge’s natural one. “It’ll blow your mind

“Cease pawing him at once!” shouted a dominant clarion voice, Arcaidia’s magic frosting in a pale blue around the Binge that was groping me and yanking me free of her. As that Binge was dangled in the air like a squirming, green eel Arcaidia strode boldly into the room, a nimbus of blue arcane energy swirling around her as she glared about. Her face paled a bit at some of the sights, but most of the Binges present had halted, or at least slowed, their activities to turn sharp gazes towards her.

“We are here for fixing of your dumb, stupid brain toaster!” Arcaidia declared firmly, “We are Brain Toaster Repair Ponies and you shall accept our help without debauchery! Or so help me by stars in sky above I shall start being very cross!”

“Buzzkill.” one of the Binges started to chant, and soon the whole room took it up, some of them growing menacing looks as they started crowding towards Arcaidia. “Buzzkill. Buzzkill. Buzzkill.”

“Uh-oh,” said the Binge who was still dangling upside down, “Somepony is being a party pooper. Why so angry, Frosty Blue? You can join in the fun too. You’d look so good in the right light we could just eat you up.”

Suddenly the white strobe lights snapped to flashing colors of dark red, flooding the room with crimson light. The instant that happened I could feel a hammering on my mind that was like getting it dipped in heated water, flooding me with... well very warm, intense feelings that made every Binge in the room suddenly look all the more alluring. I abruptly couldn’t get my eyes off of their curves, the way their waying rear ends drew the eye. I could feel the fire flooding down to my nethers, and knew there was an embarrassing hardness forming there, and I gulped.

“B-Binge, wait, we don’t have time for this!” I stammered, trying to control my breathing. It was getting hard to think. Several Binges surrounded me, and unlike the violent Raiders below, their touches were smooth, gentle, yet sensual. One nibbled at my ear, while another drew her thick, wet tongue down my chest. A third went under me, and a burst of hot warmth flowed around me down there with slick slurping noises that left little to imagine just what she was doing down there. At that point any words I might have had to say melted away with a whimper that was anything but pain.

I would have fallen then and there. Pain, battle, terror, I was used to that stuff. The Raiders from below had been easy enough to understand and deal with. What Binge was doing to me now destroyed my mental resistance like an armor piercing bullet tearing through paper. I collapsed under a pile of moaning, licking, slurping Binges who were doing things to my body that nopony ever had, and I certainly hadn’t even dreamed of.

Through a red haze of barely coherent thought I saw Arcaidia also getting surrounded. Her face was flushed, even under the red light I could see the deeper color to her cheeks, see the heaving of her chest as she breathed hard under the lustful strain of the room’s power. Binges were pulling at her, tongues licking across Arcaidia’s pale face, limbs, and flanks.

The dangling Binge fell as Arcaidia’s magic let her go, and that Binge laughed. It wasn’t the violent, blood craving cackle of the Raiders, but it was no less... twisted, in its way. It was a richly dark and hungry laugh. It was the laugh of a mare lost to pleasure, to excess, to consuming every scrap of personal enjoyment she could from the world around her. Far from evil, but definitely without restraint it was a maddening sound to hear, that laugh.

“That’s right my yummy friends. Feel it all, and let go. This is all that makes life worth it, even putting up with all the nasty bits. Mmm, just the endless pleasures you can suck out of it. This is who I am.”

“No.” Arcaidia said in a frozen tone, her eyes flashing with a terrible, enraged glint that turned the silver orbs to something burning like the sun. “This is not Binge I know. She is more than stupid animal that only want pleasure. Stop this, now!”

She closed her eyes, and not just her horn, but her whole body flared up with arctic blue light. She wasn’t just casting magic, she was doing as I’d done down below with the Raiders. She was making her own will manifest, and in seconds the room’s red lights started to shatter as ice ripped through them. Ice tore up through the floor and walls, thick sheets of rime and spikes of glacial frost rolling up over us. In moments the Binges pinning me down were coated with a thick sheet of ice, torn away from me by tendrils of deep blue frost. The heat and pleasure that had been overwhelming my senses now turned starkly chill, like I’d just been dunked in ice water. With a shocked shout I jumped to my hooves, stumbling away from... well from the orgy pile I’d just been stuck in.

The Binges around Arcaidia had been blown back by a burst of frost around her, my unicorn friend now surrounded by a curved wave of ice that looked almost like a throne for a second before she stepped down from it. Binges were either encased in ice along the floor, or plastered up against the wall. Most were completely frozen over, only the lead Binge still having her head free, as half her body, the lower half was wrapped in a thick pillar of ice.

“Oooooowwww! Heeeeey!” Sexy Binge whined, “This isn’t fair Frosty Blue! I’ve waited so long to get bucky into some hot, wet sexy time and you have to go and vag-block me!? I would’ve shared him, if you really wanted a piece!”

Arcaidia sucked in a sharp breath and let it out in a withering sigh, starring cold daggers at Sexy Binge. “He is not for sharing. Longwalk not pie. He is friend who cares about you and is wanting to save your dumb pony butt, shivol bir!”

“He is also standing right here with the worst case of blueballs in recorded history,” I muttered, shivering as I clenched my hind legs tight. “Did you have to freeze me too Arcaidia! Yikes, they might have gotten frozen off!”

Arcaidia huffed, flipping her mane and looking at me levelly, “Is improvement in this case, ren solva. You needed cooling off. Pfft,” she scoffed and looked away, cheeks bright red, “You looked to be having too much of the funs.”

I blinked, and then felt my own face ignite like a bonfire as I stammered, “I-I know I just... I haven’t ever... I mean, its the first time... look it felt good okay!? At this point I’m more used to being shot than I am to having a mare.” I took a second to catch my breath, taking a second to run my hoof through my mane before meeting Arcaidia’s eyes.

“I’m sorry, and thanks, Arcaidia. I needed you to get me out of that mess.”

“Grr, it would’ve been fun.” groused Sexy Binge, muttering, “Now we can’t have anything to enjoy while stuff burns down. Mama is really angry, and the Master up top is going to make everything hurt even more.”

Arcaidia and I exchanged puzzled looks, and I turned to Sexy Binge. “Wait, what ‘Master’, and why is you mom so damned pissed off?”

There was a shiver that ran through Sexy Binge that had nothing to do with the ice covering her. Her eyes gained an unfocused glaze, and her voice became strangely echoing, like multiple Binges were talking at once. “Master showed us what bad ponies we were. Heheh, he made us see that we shouldn’t have abandoned mama and home. Gotta fix it. Gotta keep home safe from other bad ponies. Home home home, it's where the heart gets torn out.”

She tried to lunge forward then, teeth gnashing, snarling at us with spittle flying from suddenly dry, caked lips. Arcaidia’s ice held her firm, but the insanity swimming in Sexy Binge’s eyes mirrored moments I’d seen in the real Binge. Pain, anguish, so much of it wrapped up within a tight knot.

“Stay away from mama and brother! Stay away from my home! You can’t be here!”

“Ren solva, we must go further.” said Arcaidia over the sound of Binge’s ravings. “Find root of sickness. Find this Master.”

“Scythe.” I muttered, simmering rage in my tone. He had to be here, somewhere, still controlling and tormenting Binge. I wouldn’t let him do this to her anymore! I was going to free her! And the spirits of her family! This had to end!

“Alright, let’s go Arcaidia.” I said, turning around, then paused and glanced at her with a dopey look crossing my face. “Uhh, I don’t suppose you know how to get out of this room?”

Arcaidia sighed, rubbing her forehead with a hoof, then looked to the still raving Sexy Binge. “She not much help anymore. Let’s eyeball place for exit door, yes?”

Sifting around the room we ended up finding that one of the curtains covering the wall actually concealed an archway that led out into a dark stone hallway. We left the room which I suspected was Binge’s libido, or at least her pleasure center, and explored the hallway. It had a strange chill to it, and I had an odd feeling in my gut as we trotted down it like things were moving around us that I couldn’t see. There were turn offs in the hallway, snaking paths that curved off into darkness, but each time we passed one I hesitated to turn off the main hall. It seemed to me like we could easily get lost in Binge’s mind if we kept taking side paths.

“Gram, do you have any idea if we’re going the right direction?” I asked.

I cannot tell with complete accuracy. I can detect little now that we are this deep inside Miss Binge’s mind. However I can tell that you are getting closer to her higher brain functions, so I suggest remaining on the path you currently are.

“Thanks.” I said, then flushed with embarrassment, “So, nothing you could’ve done to help out back there? Like help my mind fight off, uh, what those Sexy Binges did to me?”

Arcaidia paused in her own trot at my side, glancing at me askance, “Sexy Binges?”

“W-well, that’s just what I was naming them in my head.” I gulped, “I mean, she’s... kind of is you know? I mean, for all her bad hygiene she’s actually, um... cute?”

Arcaidia’s tail flicked, once, her silver eyes staring. Then she looked away. “Not my business.”

To answer your query, Longwalk, I was in fact trying to help, you just didn’t notice. I was attempting to shield you from the effects of Miss Binge’s sex drive, but was only minimally successful. However had I not be doing so, you may have been... more adversely affected than you were. It is fortunate Specialist Arcaidia was there to deal with the situation most admirably.

Arcaidia actually beamed under the praise, cracking another smile and trotting a tad lighter. Was she skipping? Or at least prancing, at little. I sighed, but also smiled. “Yeah, you were pretty awesome back there, Arcaidia. Thanks again.”

“Much welcomes, ren solva.”

“Speaking of help, Gram, where is that other spirit you’ve got inside you? You know that mystery mare who’s talked in my head a few times before?”

The ARM didn’t respond for a few seconds.

The spirit in question has specifically been assisting in this case by maintaining the bonds between you and Miss Binge. As I explained in the past, she is an adaptor or sorts to help facilitate my bond with you. With that bond being stretched by this melding with Miss Binge, the spirit in question must use all her own focus on keeping that bond active. She is literally keeping yours and Arcaidia’s mind from being separated from your bodies and being trapped here permanently.

“Holy shit, really!? Is she okay?” I asked.

“What spirit?” asked Arcaidia, looking at Gramzanber sharply.

She is okay, but the strain will drain her eventually. That is why we must be quick about this. And Specialist Arcaidia, I shall allow Longwalk to divulge what he will about this circumstance.

Wow, way to leave me high and dry Gram, thanks. I coughed and met Arcaidia’s question gaze. “It's a long story.”

Her eyes narrowed, “That’s it?”

I laughed nervously, “Tell you later?”

“You say this a lot, ren solva.” she noted.

“Hey, I’m not the only one who keeps a few secrets.” I said back, defensively, “You still haven’t told me everything about your mission on my planet.”

Arcaidia blinked at that, then looked away with a soft nod, “True. Very true. As you say, ren solva, some secrets we have not all shared. So be it, we focus on task, and not ask any more questions of awkwardness.”

It was lucky that the conversation was winding down, as the hallway abruptly ended in front of us. A massive archway opened up into a vast interior space that was shaped roughly like a huge dumping ground. Buildings, or parts of buildings, piled up like trash amid segments that looked as if they’d been carved by a giant scalpel out of the Wasteland. I could see the room had distant walls stretching upward, and there was one big iron staircase spiralling up from the very center of the chamber, its bottom obscured by the piles of destris that filled the room like a labyrinth.

“Great, now where are we?” I asked, not actually expecting an answer, but one appeared in the form of a Binge who popped her head out of a nearby section of the towering garbage piles. This Binge’s mane was a wild mess, more strung out and frizzy and ever before, and she had a dull look in her eyes that didn’t match the usual vibrancy I was used to seeing from Binge.

“Can’t you tell, bucky? It's the dump! It's where all the useless stuff goes to be forgotten. Hehehe, only you can’t ever actually forget, so it just sits and rots. Piles and piles of rotten memories and feelings, buried in one smelly pit!”

Arcaidia took a small step back as a wave of odors assaulted us from the dirty Binge who clambered out of the garbage pile. She was coated with sticky bits of trash, dust, and stains I couldn’t identify. I managed to hold my ground, but my nose wasn’t thanking me for my bravery and my stomach churned at the scent coming off this Binge.

“This is where Binge keeps her memories?” I asked, looking to get some clarification. I had a hard time believing all of Binge’s memories got tossed into a place like this.

Dirty Binge giggled, but just like her eyes, it was a dull and drained sound, more like a tired rattle than a real laugh. “Hah, it's funny you ask that. She didn’t even care about this place until you popped up in her life, Longwalk. C’mon, lemme show you.”

She started to trot off through the mounds of trash and debris, and after Arcaidia and I exchanged shrugging looks, we followed. At least this Binge wasn’t trying to kill us or mount us. Aside from her smell, she was thus far the least aggressive of Binge’s mental representations we’d met. I didn’t see any reason not to follow her, especially because she was leading us in the rough direction of the spiral stairs thrusting up from the center of the cavernous room.

Dirty Binge took us down a few winding paths, until we reached a particular pile of mounded debris that, upon closer inspection, looked vaguely familiar.

“Hey, Arcaidia, am I going nuts or does some of this look like it came from the old ruined school we first met Binge at?” I asked, looking at the pile of rusted playground equipment that looked a lot like what had been in that school’s courtyard, the first time I’d ever used Accelerator.

“Mmm, yes, looks very familiar.” Arcaidia said, then glanced at Dirty Binge. “Why you bring us here?”

The stained mare tittered and made a sweeping, grand gesture at the ruin of the old school. As if by her command the rubble shuddered and moved, disintegrating into wisps of dust and oily smoke that transmuted before us into a swirling scene of violence. Two ponies fighting, and I saw the image of myself and Binge in our first meeting, in desperate struggle amid the minefield outside the school. It was a disconcerting scene, Binge’s knife seeking my flesh, and my own attempts to fend off the mad Raider mare. It ended up with her atop me, but with Gramzanber pressed against her throat.

“Ooo, you gonna do it?” Binge asked, wiggling on top of me, “I think Friendly Fire was an accident, but you gonna do it to me nice and dirty like, up close and personal so you can taste the blood? Hehehehehe, do it, do it, you’ll feel so much better afterward, I promise.”

“What’s wrong with you?” I didn’t have time for this, I didn’t have time to deal with this crazy mare, but I couldn’t help it, she was nuts in a way that seemed different even for a Raider, “Do you want to die?”

“No, no, no, you silly goose. I don’t want to die because I’m already dead. Everypony in the Wasteland is dead. Dead, gone, buried, souls gone to sleep, hush now, quiet now. You’re still alive though and that’s a bad thing, because that means you’ll be hurt. So I want you to die, so you don’t have to hurt. Then you can be like me, and we can hang out, and have tea, and play games…forever!”

As the memory played out in front of us, as seemingly real as if it were happening all over again, Dirty Binge giggled and slid up next to me, leaning against my side. Her thick stink rolled over me from her mouth as she said, “Listen in bucky, listen to what she was thinking.”

Suddenly Binge’s voice echoed in a faint whisper from the memory in front of us, time seeming to slow down to allow the thoughts to play out with tar like slowness.

”Kill me. Kill me. Please be the one to kill me. You’re so close, all you have to do is cut. All over and quiet then. Why aren’t you doing it!?

As myself from the memory pushed her away, I heard Binge’s mind scream in greater desperation. ”Why won’t you do it!? Why are you looking at me like that!? Like I’m worth something. I don’t understand you. You shouldn’t look at me like that. Why? Why? Why?

As the images of memory froze, Dirty Binge whispered into my ear, “That’s how it all started, bucky. You confused her. Hurt her. She had to know why. So she followed you, tugged by the leash you wrapped around her throat without even realizing it.”

Arcaidia pursed her lips, shrewdly watching Dirty Binge with measuring eyes. “What are you? You not talk like Binge.”

“Hehehe! I’m Binge, just like the ones wanting all the sex and pleasure is Binge, and all the angry ones who want to kill are Binge. I’m the Binge who gets to deal with alllllllll the filthy memories she wants to bury so they stop hurting her!” Dirty Binge swept a forehoof around in a grand gesture at the massive piles of junk surrounding us. “There’s a lot of memories to deal with. Binge has got a good ten years on you Longykin. She’s such a cradle robber, heheh! Come on, come on! There’s more to show you!”

She literally bounced off, hopping on all fours with little springing noises, her sharp scent wafting along with her. Arcaidia and I looked at each other, Arcaidia’s face pinched with an uncomfortable look.

“I not like this, ren solva. We must find Scythe and eliminate him. Every second wasted may be most important.”

“I know. I agree, but... I don’t think we’ll find a way out of here by wandering around randomly. I think we have to follow this Binge, and see what she’s trying to show us. Maybe it’ll help.”

Arcaidia didn’t look totally convinced, but she gave me a short nod and we broke into a quick canter to catch up with the bouncing Binge. She led us deeper into the mountains of trash and rubble, until we found ourselves in a section that looked like it was made from discarded portions of a Stable, with long sterile hallways lying in tatters amid ventilation shafts, pieces of machinery, and discarded furniture from living quarters.

“She didn’t even want to bury this memory at first, so it’s pretty fresh.” said Dirty Binge, doing a hop and a skip that bounced her around so she was now walking backwards as she grinned at me and Arcaidia. With a small stamp of her hooves, Dirty Binge summoned up a memory from the rubble of the Stable... Stable 104, I now realized as the shape of my quarters there took shape before us, with an all too familiar and embarrassing scene.

Arcaidia made a little choking noise as we watched me, exhausted, flop into my bed, only to find Binge waiting for me there. The whole scene played out in front of us, Binge eagerly seeking to get me to mate with her and my own hasty and red faced attempts to ward her off. Once again I saw the hurt and confusion on Binge’s face, the way she’d looked at me when she’d finally accepted my rejection.

Dirty Binge made a ‘tut-tut’ noise and elbowed me. “So mean, bucky, pushing her away when all she wanted to do is make you feel good.”

My own face was as heated as that of my counterpart in the memory as I hastily said, “It wasn’t like I wanted to hurt you Binge, but I wasn’t ready for that. For more than a few reasons. I didn’t know how to feel about you!”

“You wanted her bucky, even a pony with their eyes dug out by rusty knives would still smell the desire on you.” taunted Dirty Binge, “And she sooooo wanted to give you that moment of release. Of contentment. You made her think that maybe, just maybe, she was worth being with... but you kept rejecting her.”

“It wasn’t... wasn’t like that.” I said, shaking my head. I felt Arcaidia’s hoof on my withers, a steady and bracing presence as she stepped forward.

“I not know all details, but Longwalk not the kind of pony to step on a mare’s heart. He’s just dumb.”

I sighed, rolling my eyes slightly. “Gee, thanks.”

“Quiet, ren solva.” Arcaidia cleared her throat, her eyes flicking to the memory scene of me and Binge, with me pressed up against the Stable wall, Binge right in my face, but with that injured expression of confusion on her scarred features. “Longwalk not know his own feelings, so how can he give to Binge what he doesn’t know he has? Is Binge such a dumb pony too that she not see she confuses Longwalk same as he does her?”

Dirty Binge laughed, noxious fumes billowing from her mouth that hit us with a wave of nausea. “Hah! Longy was confused by us!? We were being totally clear on what we wanted! He was the one playing hard to get! And what do you call this!?”

The rubble pile shook like a minor earthquake, and the memory of me and Binge in the Stable was washed away like a cloud of fumes and was quickly replaced by bits of rubble that formed into the shape of the showers from the Skull Guild. Binge and I were there under the roaring water from the showers, and I had her pinned down, scrubbing her with soap while going on my tirade about wanting to get her clean.

I gulped, face blazing to dark crimson shades. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but I’d all but mounted Binge, back then. I’d been solely focused on cleaning her off, but to my utter mortification, I’d also be... hard, and pretty much scant inches from turning that shower scene into something else altogether.

Dirty Binge gave me a flat look. “Maybe bucky just didn’t realize how badly he was sending mixed signals of his own?”

“I, w-well, I mean... she was all soaked by the shower and, uh... I didn’t notice just what I was doing there. Look, I was trying to get across to you that I think underneath all that grime you’re not a bad pony and that I cared. As, you know, a friend.” My voice came out in a choked stammer, my eyes glued to the memory of those few minutes in the shower. I remembered the kiss Binge had given me, and while it had taken me off guard and I’d tried to brush it off... it wasn’t a bad memory at all. But did that mean anything more than my hormones getting the better of me?

Arcaidia had a look on her face as unreadable as a sheet of ice, but her tone wasn’t without a certain level of understanding sympathy, albeit tinged with a mix of surprise and embarrassment. “I not know, ren solva. The way you talk sometimes sound not like ‘just friend’ talk where Binge is subject.”

“H-hey, whose side are you on here!?”

She coughed politely and looked at me evenly, “Side that gets ponies I care about out of danger. You and Binge both in big danger, and can’t work out feelings is big problem for that.”

“Oh, heheh, I can simplify it for you Frosty if you want.” said Dirty Binge, licking her dust covered lips, “Bucky hasn’t seen sooooo much of ol’ Binge. She might wanna help him, but she can’t because everything she touches dies messily, eventually. So let’s cure this confusion boner he’s got going and show him some nastier memories.”

This time the trash piles behind us all but exploded outward, forming a wave of debris that rushed in behind us and swept us up like a filthy tide. Arcaidia and I clung together, her horn lighting up with magic that formed a protective cocoon of ice around us. Even then, it was a rough ride, with Dirty Binge riding a blood spattered slab of concrete like a surfboard along the flow of trash as it jettisoned us out into a wider clearing amid the garbage heaps. Arcaidia and I rolled around inside her ice cocoon, which softened our rough landing only slightly as the ice slid away and let us flop out onto the ground. Shaking my dazed head I saw we weren’t far now from the spiral staircase reaching upwards, its rusty iron from wrapping around until it vanished into the darkness above.

Dirty Binge skipped off towards the center of the clearing, shouting happily, “You got all these wrong thoughts about us, bucky. We’re not a bad pony? You really think you can clean us of all the stains covering us, soaked past the skin. She may still have a tiny shred of hope that you had the gall to plant in her, but I’ve been dealing with all her garbage memories for so long, I know better!”

She turned to face us in a harsh pirouette of motion, with the clear light of madness shining in her baby blue eyes, like a slick of oil coating the surface of an otherwise clean pool. Her mouth turned into a rotted, rictus grin as she laughed and shouted, “Look at the Binge you’re trying to save, the things she’s done, and keep telling us we’re worth saving, let alone loving.”

The garbage heaps of debris around the clear stirred like from the shaking of an earthquake and then erupted around us. Within the span of mere seconds memories formed across the clearing in a haphazard patchwork of horror that left my blood running cold and my mouth hanging open.

In one memory I saw Binge mounting an earth pony stallion whose skin was already half flayed off, her hips bucking as fast as she worked her knife across his skin as he howled in agony.

In another an old mare babbled in nearly incoherent pleas as a younger mare was dragged out of a hovel by Binge’s teeth around her throat, giggling the whole way as she carved shallow lines into the helpless mare with a straight razor.

I saw Binge happily capering around a fire pit, the roasted forms of ponies spinning on spits while other Raiders howled in glee with her at the coming feast.

My eyes started to fill up with tears as I watched scenes of caravans being slaughtered, Binge dancing like a blood soaked phantom amid the carnage, cutting throats and slitting open bellies with wild glee and abandon.

Dozens of memories, played out across what had to have been near two decades of bloody history living as a Raider. There wasn’t any detail being spared in the memories, no horrible thing that Binge didn’t do, laughing and smiling the whole time. As I tried to look away, Dirty Binge was there in a flash, her hooves clamping around my face so hard it made my teeth cut into my gums.

”Look at it, you stupid fuck. Did you think she didn’t do things like this!? Did you think she hadn’t murdered for fun, tortured for pleasure, and fucked bucks younger than you while peeling their damn skin off!? What the fuck is wrong with you!? Did you think she’d forgotten, because I can’t forget, Longwalk! She’s buried every single fucking memory right here in this dump and made me deal with all of it. And now you get to watch it all!”

She threw me with tremendous strength out into the middle of it all. I landed not two paces from a memory of Binge straddling a middle-aged mare, slowly cutting lines into the sobbing mare’s cheeks with a rusty knife, while the mare pleaded.

“P-please, don’t-” the mare cried as Binge kept cutting.

“Hehehe! Don't’ do what pretty filly? I don’t wanna hurt you too much, just take a little off the top. I wanna save you for later so we can play some games. Have you ever tried Twister with barbed wire? It’s super fun! I’ll show you. Oh, and later Mr. Happy will wanna try telling you some stories. He’s really lonely.”

The bleeding mare, eyes wild, managed to shake her head and say, “I-I don’t care what you do to me, just don’t hurt my foals.”

Binge tilted her head, “Oh? Ya got some tiny tykes around here? The rest of the fam hasn’t found ‘em yet, huh? You got ‘em stashed nearby?”

“...please...” the mare begged, and the image in the memory shifted just enough that I could see this was happening in some old shack, with a stained bed nearby. Binge and the mare were on the floor, and as Binge turned her head she could see two little foals, perhaps aged not much more than five or six years, hidden under the bed.

Something passed through Binge’s eyes, like a tiny flicker of light, and she laughed, more like a sigh than a giggle, and said, “Let’s play a game little foals. Hide and seek. Find a better spot to hide than the bed, and I’ll seek somewhere else to be.”

The foals just looked terrified, but the mare just stared at Binge in hopeful confusion. Binge rolled off the mare, licking her bloody knife, “Our games aren’t for teensy ponies, pretty mare. I’m gonna go for a leak and be back soon. There’s nowhere for you to hide, but there’s tiny holes a little filly or colt could never be found in. Hide them, so when my pals find you, they don’t find them. That’s the game we’re playing now, understand?”

As that one memory faded away, the terrified mare desperately coaxing her foals into a new hiding spot while Binge trotted away, I couldn’t help but notice that in several of the other horrific memories playing out around me there was one commonality. Binge never touched a foal. The few times foals were in the memories, they were either being hidden by Binge or let go, or in one memory she outright jabbed one of her knives through the skull of a fellow Raider who tried to touch a captured foal.

Even lost as you were, you still had that one last little shred of light, hanging on in the dark.

It didn’t necessarily make the terrible things I was seeing any less wrong, any less unforgivable by any common standards of right and wrong. But as shocking as it was for me to watch these memories play out, I’d already known that this had been part of Binge’s life ever since she’d fled the destruction of Arbu as a filly. I understood that the kind of stains this left on a pony didn’t ever just go away, and the crimes being committed here by all accounts deserved punishment.

But I was not a judge, a jury, nor an executioner. Other ponies might take up those mantles, but they didn’t fit me. The only task I ever wanted for myself was to save others. Especially my friends.

Seeing these memories hurt, but they didn’t change two important things; Binge was still my friend, and I was going to do everything in my power to save her.

I stood up amid the bloody chaos of Binge’s memories of life as a Raider, and strode through them with determined steps towards Dirty Binge, who glared at me with crazed eyes.

“What!? Are you gonna tell me it's all okay, that this isn’t me anymore!? That’s horseshit, bucky. This is all still a part of her. Me. Us. Arrrrgh, she can’t pretend its not here. She knows! If she’s near something, it just turns to garbage. And ponies can’t fall in love with trash. There’s no cleaning up this kind of filth, so you might as well just fucking turn your ass around and lea-”

I bonked her on the head. “Binge, whichever Binge you want to be, just shut up and let me help you.”

“Are you fucking blind!? Can’t you see what’s around you? How the flying horsefuck do you think you can help this hot mess!? All she deserves is a bullet through the skull, a blade through the throat, and some radroaches to pick her damn corpse clean. There’s your damned cleaning up, the bone’s that are left will be as clean as it gets.”

I bonked her again, earning a growl from Dirty Binge, who pounced on me with a ferocious snarl. I’d seen her coming and managed to hook her tackle into a body throw that had us both on the ground, me atop her with my forehooves pinning hers. We were snout to snout, her stink rolling up my nostrils, but I didn’t care as I stared into her crazed eyes.

Binge, listen to me! I. Am not. Giving up. On you. No matter what you show me, no matter how much you try to hurt me, I’m not stopping until I make you see what I see.”

“What the fuck do you see, huh? A good pony? Horseshit.”

I shook my head, “What I see is you, Binge. The bad, and the good, and all the messy crap in between. And I accept all of it! The terrible things you’ve done. And the good things you’ve done.”

“What...good things.”

“The foals, Binge. You never let them get hurt. Not if you could stop it.” I said, looking at her body, at all of the scars covering it. “You didn’t get all of those fighting caravaners and settlers. You got them from other Raiders, didn’t you?”

Dirty Binge grit her teeth and sneered, but she also looked away from me, and the memories playing out amid the clearing shifted. Now each scene of Binge’s brutality as a Raider instead showed scenes of foals, victims of the Raider's attacks, and Binge standing between her fellow Raiders and the young ponies.

Sometimes she’d just have to kill one or two of her own to get the point across that the foals were to be left alone, but in more than a few memories I saw Binge having to fight off entire gangs of Raiders. She’d fight ten times more vicious against them than she had against her Wastelander victims, taking horrific wounds in trade for buying the escape of the foals.

“Never mattered...” Dirty Binge croaked, voice scratchy and weak, “Didn’t matter that I saved them. Still killed their parents. Still ruined their lives. Wasn’t mercy. Just being weak. Couldn’t ever forget... home. Watching it burn. Foals shouldn’t have to play games like that. Not fun. And every time I just ended up with another gang. Its where I belong, with the rest of the world’s trash.”

I pulled Dirty Binge into a tight hug, ignoring the smell, not even caring about it anymore as I said, “Not anymore. Now you belong with us. Your friends.”

The chuckle that escaped her was a small, tired thing. “That’s the bucky that she’s in love with. The stupid one who just won’t ever seem to stop caring about her...”

Dirty Binge looked at me with a light of real fear entering her eyes. “Do you love her, Longwalk?”

It was a question I’d been trying hard to find an answer to, almost as much as I’d been trying to pretend it didn’t exist. I gave Dirty Binge my most honest answer. “I don’t know yet, but I care enough to want to find out. Will you help me save her. Save yourself?”

“I’m just a fragment, bucky. A dirty piece of her mind, left behind to mind the garbage. But...” Dirty Binge gestured, and the memories faded to inert debris. The pile of garbage on the far side of the clearing moved aside, revealing a clear path to the spiral stairway of iron leading upwards. “Go. Go quick. There’s more memories up above. Things she couldn’t just dump down here. Then past that, you’ll probably find the core of her. The part the Master controls. You better gallop, bucky, because mamma and the family are here too, and closing in.”

As if her words had been a summons the wails of wraiths filled the air with a chilling chorus. Heartchime and the wrathful spirits of Arbu were catching up with us. I gave Dirty Binge a worried look, “Are you going to be alright?”

She just shoved me towards the stairwell with a snorting giggle, “Even if I got torn to bitty, bloody pieces it won’t matter if you don’t save our core. So quit that cute pouty worrying and go!”

Arcaidia pulled me along, and we both ended up breaking into a gallop for the tall, twisted spine of iron that was the jagged stairwell leading up towards the ceiling from the center of the memory dump. The wraiths’ chilling wails reached after us like a murderous wind, and I didn’t dare let myself look behind me as I bent my head down and pounded my hooves to reach the stairs, Arcaidia running right alongside me.

We hit the stairs at full speed and started the long, awkward climb up. The iron steps, grated so we could see through them, groaned and creaked as we went up. The whole spiraling stairway shook and swayed under our movements, making progress even slower, but Arcaidia and I poured on the speed as we clambered higher and higher. I chanced a glance down, only long enough to see the wave of dark wraiths crashing through the garbage dunes like a oily tidal wave. Heartchime was clearer than ever at their head, the darkness surrounding her soul like a flickering cloak of dark flames, showing more of the mare beneath. Her spirit still bore the headshot wound that had ended her life, a deep red hole in her forehead dripping ghastly blood and brain matter, yet her wraith eyes shined with fierce, wrathful blue light.

Beside her was another, slightly shorter wraith, whose form was still mostly cloaked in darkness but I could still pick out bits and pieces of his form... with the dark green coat similar to Binge’s but a shock of wild blue mane very much like my own. Binge’s brother Mug charging alongside his mother in their pursuit of us. A part of me felt a spike of anger, seeing those poor dead souls tied to Scythe’s will, being manipulated to serve his ends. They deserved to rest.

I made a silent vow as I rushed up the stairwell’s seemingly hundreds of steps that I’d see them all lain to rest.

The wraiths were slowed by the garbage piles in the memory dump shifting to form walls in front of them. In this mental space, where nothing was physical, the wraiths couldn’t bypass barriers like they could in the real world. Still, they were barely slowed down by the blocking piles of debris, flowing over them or around them with only seconds of delay. But it was enough. Dirty Binge was buying me and Arcaidia enough time to get up the stairs.

I could see the top above us now, the ceiling like a curved stone dome with a single well-like hole the stairs led up into. The wraiths wails reached up below us in haunting echoes, and another glance showed me that they were almost to the bottom of the stairwell, but Arcaidia and I had just reached the hole in the ceiling at that point.

Arcaidia paused within the threshold, turning to focus her horn and seal up the stairs with a solid wall of meter thick blue ice. I felt the air grow cold from her efforts, and Arcaidia let out a hefty sigh and rubbed her head once she was done.

“What I not give for restoring potion right now.” she breathed and teetered for a moment. I was at her side in an instant, steadying her. Arcaidia gave me a sidelong, grateful smile, then took another deep breath and nodded. “I’m good, ren solva. We cannot afford to slow.”

I knew she was right. The wraiths wouldn’t be stopped by her ice forever. Nodding to her, we both turned and continued going up the stair, which now spiraled up through a circular shaft of stone for what felt like at least another hundred feet. When the stairs finally ended they led us up into a wide, mostly open stone chamber. Most of the walls were bare concrete, with only one side containing open windows, or rather just slits in the stone wall, that showed the dark mindscape outside in all its clouded expanse. The rest of the walls, even the floor and ceiling, were covered in graffiti; but not the maddening and gorey graffiti of the Raiders on the first floor, but rather the foal-like drawings of a young, if still disturbed, mind. Drawn in chalk or old faded paint, the pictures etched all over the chamber’s various surfaces were simplistic and often chaotic, and I couldn’t make much sense of them at first glance as Arcaidia and I stepped further into the room.

There was a loud grinding noise behind us as the entrance to the stairwell was closed shut by a sliding slab of concrete, sealing us inside. I’d have been more worried, but I could see a large metal door on one side of the room, bolted with various chains, but still a possible way out.

“You came.” said a young, high pitched voice, and Arcaidia and I both looked across the room, where a old mattress was piled in one corner amid a bunch of old plastic and cardboard boxes, dirty pillows, all arranged in a foal’s play fort. Old dusty tarps completed the roof of the fort, and from the front entrance a little green filly with wide blue eyes that somehow carried a heavy weight inside them peered out at us.

“I didn’t know if you’d come.” Filly Binge said with a voice that held the wear and tear of many more years than her tiny body. She showed us a sad smile, “Was actually scared you would. It’d have been easier to let me go, Longwalk. Easier for us both.”

“I...” a soft sigh escaped me as I just shook my head and smiled helplessly, “I don’t really do easy.”

Filly Binge giggled, and crawled out of her little fort, small form looking thin to the point I could see the poking form of her ribs along her barrel. “Guess that’s part of why I like you. A lot of other ponies would’ve given up by now.”

She cast her eyes downward, as if seeing something me and Arcaidia couldn’t. “Momma’s going to be here soon with Mug and the rest of the family, but we’ve got time. Time for me to show you why, the real reason why, Binge is so eager to just... go to sleep forever and leave this living business to the rest of you too stupid to know better.”

My mouth felt dry as I stepped forward, gulping, “Yeah, I’ve figured out Binge has a bit of a death wish. Losing Arbu, all the things she did as a Raider, it's the kind of weight I can’t really fathom... but I still want to help her face all of it. Can you help us? Me and Arcaidia aren’t giving up until we get Binge free from Scythe.”

A pained and tired smile that was far too old to belong on so young a face crossed Filly Binge’s expression as she gestured at all the foal drawings around us, “All I can do is show you the colors that got stained on Binge’s soul, both bright and dark. The pictures that make up those colors, and all that they meant to her. She keeps them here, preserved with me, instead of burying them down below. You’re the only exception, Longwalk. Her memories of you are in both places, because she doesn’t know where you belong in her heart; as another stain of bitterness and pain, or a bright piece of color that reminds her of why life didn’t always hurt.”

She led us over to a part of the wall beside one of the tall, open windows, where she dusted off a picture of Binge’s foalhood self playing with an older colt, Mug, with a much older pony stallion watching them, one whom I recognized as Heartchime’s father. As I looked at the foalish, chalk drawings they started to come to life, bouncing around and moving on the wall like living pieces of color. I could hear the drawings as well, as if they were standing real and lifelike in front of me.

“Catch me Mug! Catch me!” the young Binge squealed as she ran around, her brother chasing her as he laughed. Binge looked only about four or five years old, her big brother about as many years ahead of her.

“C’mere you little scavenger and gimme back my knife! You're too young to be running around with it!” Mug shouted, although he was still laughing as he did so, and I saw that indeed the picture of Binge’s foalhood self had a tiny knife clutched in her mouth.

As their grandfather watched on, he moved with surprising deftness for his age, and caught Binge as she passed by him. She gave a little squeal of surprise but also general happiness at the game, even as the elderly stallion took the knife away from her.

“Aww,” she pouted, “I wanna play with the shapry!”

“No.” said the grandfather, setting her down and ruffling her mane as Mug caught up and halted beside her, “Now both of you go play somewhere else. Leave an old stallion to his thoughts.”

“Can I get my knife back first, Grandpa Rattle?” asked Mug, “Mom said I’d need to for today.”

The grandfather, Rattle, gave a visible shudder, “Already? She’s taking you out to hunt already? You’re barely ten years old...”

Mug just shrugged, smiling with obvious pride, “I’m big for my age. And we need all the hunters we can get. Food’s scarce, Grandpa, you know that.”

“I do know that,” Rattle said with a pained look, his mouth twitching in a scowl he was clearly trying to keep under control, “Do you know what your mother might make you hunt, yet?”

The young colt’s head tilted, and I saw his eyes take on a guarded sheen. “Mom told me last year, Grandpa. I ain’t a little foal any more. I can take care of our family, make sure we’re all fed, even if... there’s some things I got to hunt I don’t really want to.”

“I keep trying to tell your mother there’s another way-”

“Stop it Grandpa. You shouldn’t keep doubting mom like that. I’ve seen her cry sometimes, after you two fight.” Mug said, taking his knife back from Rattle and sheathing it in a leather holster at his shoulder, “You should just make up with her, and join the family properly. Anyway, I got to go. You okay to look after Binge?”

“Yaay, playing with Grandpa!” Binge shouted, giving the old stallion a hug, and oblivious to the larger conversation going on. Rattle looked at the little filly with the pain in his eyes only intensifying as he grit his teeth and nodded. Mug glanced at the two one last time before trotting off, leaving Binge to hop up and down on Rattle’s knee.

“I want to play chase some more! Can you chase me Grandpa?” Binge asked, but her filly eyes grew concerned as she saw the look on Rattle’s face. “What’s wrong Grandpa?”

“It’s... nothing. Nothing a foal need worry about. I’m just... so dang old, and your mother and I don’t see eye to eye on certain things.”

Binge’s foal face just smiled as she hugged him again, “Momma loves you. So don’t be sad.”

Rattle wiped at his eyes, and set Binge on the ground, “I know, little one, but there’s some things that just can’t be solved so easily. But no matter, let’s play...”

The picture went still then, and Filly Binge looked at me, eyes heavy with old pains. “It was so simple for me back then. Playing with my brother, exploring around our little home of Arbu. I couldn’t grasp what was going on between my grandfather and mother. I didn’t understand the knifepoint our home balanced on.”

She turned and gestured for us to follow her to another picture, this one up towards the corner between the wall and ceiling, and drawn larger than many of the other pictures around it. “I didn’t see what was happening to Grandpa Rattle, as the years wore on, and the feelings inside him began to twist him up, turning worse and worse... or that the same thing was happening to the rest of us.”

The jagged chalk outlines of color for the picture I now looked at had taken on a sour and faded look. I saw a mare I recognized as the merchant mare from years ago, Chancy, facing off with Heartchime and several other Arbu ponies, all with guns drawn and pointed at each other. Binge, a little older in this picture but still very much a foal, was standing near Chancy, the chalk outlines of her form showing tears. Beside her was a fallen sack with what looked like bits of cured meat inside it. Chancy’s gun was pointed at Binge, the rifle barrel inches from the filly’s face.

“Step away from my daughter, Chancy.” said Heartchime, “This doesn't have to end with bloodshed.”

“You expect me to believe you’re just gonna let me walk now that I know your town’s dirty little secret?” Chancy spat back, “Not a chance. The filly’s coming with me as insurance. Once I’m far enough away from you cannibalizing fucks, I’ll let the filly go. Only after I’m in the clear, got it!?”

The picture of Binge was crying, the Filly Binge cried along with her, mouthing the words that echoed from the picture. “I’m sorry momma, I didn’t mean to make Chancy mad. I just wanted to give her a gift for being so nice. I thought the meat was good.”

“Not your fault, Binge.” Heartchime said, eyes narrowing to chalk slits as she stared down the merchant mare holding her daughter hostage, “My father told you about us, didn’t he?”

Chancy’s expression darkened, “Thought the old stallion was rambling some crazy talk, until I took a closer look at the meat your kid brought me. Too damned tender to be from radgators. Also the leg bone was kind of a giveaway. How the fuck could you eat your own? Feed your own to your foals?”

“We only kill and eat what’s left of the bandits and Raiders that threaten our town. The rest we scavenge from the Wasteland. Chancy, I don’t expect you to understand why we live the way we do, but I don’t want to hurt you.” Heartchime said, words filled with growing, cold desperation, “Just forget what you learned here, and walk away. But you’re not taking my Binge anywhere.”

“No way. She’s coming with me. Get up filly, we’re moving!” Chancy prodded Binge with the rifle, causing the filly to cry.

“Momma, I’m scarred!”

Heartchime raised her own rifle, face scowling but also filled with fear. “Chancy, I’m begging you, don’t make me do this!”

Chancy, herself clearly filled with fear, snarled and tried to pull Binge close to her, maybe to use as a shield, maybe just to make Heartchime hesitate. It had the opposite effect. In surreal slow motion the colored chalk pictures moved in almost playful swirls, the sounds echoing faintly. A tiny blast of light and flame, the bullet moving in slow motion in the way only a child’s imagination might make it move. I saw the spray of red chalk in a gushing circle explode from Chancy’s head, and her body drop with almost comical Xs filling in for her eyes.

Binge screamed and cried, even as her mother went to her and comforted her, making small hushing sounds. Moments later one of the other Arbu ponies said, “Shit, Chancy was kind of a big deal in Friendship City. Others might come looking for her.”

“We need to hide the body.” said another, and Heartchime let out a long sigh as she kept holding Binge.

“Put the body in the basement.”

“You sure, Heart?” asked one of the other Arbu ponies.

“We... might as well not let the meat go to waste. I...” Heartchime sniffed, wiping at her own eyes for a second, “I figure it’ll remove the evidence as well as anything else. Binge, come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

“B-but Chancy she...” Filly Binge sniffed, “It’s my fault.”

“Shh, no baby, no, it's not your fault at all. Bad things just happen sometimes. Momma will clean it up.”

Filly Binge, the one standing beside us and not the picture, sighed and shook her head. “Momma did keep trying to clean things up. Chancy wasn’t the only one, just the first. Others, over time, would stumble across our secret. Or they might be seen as threats for other reasons. Grandpa Rattle kept trying to warn folk away from Arbu. Making things worse, but in his own head I guess he thought he was protecting the young ones, like me and Mug.”

She ran a hoof over a drawing nearer to the floor, where me and Arcaidia had to kneel down to get a good look at it. I saw Binge’s filly self, close to the age I knew when Arbu was burned down, hiding behind a the side of a door into a bedroom, where Heartchime and Rattle were arguing.

“Dad, why do you keep doing this!? Don’t you understand you're just getting those ponies killed?” Heartchime said, near to tears and her voice filled with bitterness and anger, “How many more have to die before you give up?”

Grandpa Rattle’s voice was as bitter as his daughter’s, and far more tired and dried out. “How many more will you kill before you realize what you’re doing is wrong? Years now you’ve soiled yourself with eating pony flesh, is there anything left of my daughter in there to save?”

Heartchime looked as if his words were cutting right into her, even as she hardened her face and voice, “Anything left? I’m not a monster, dad. I’m just trying to keep us all alive out here. To keep our home safe. Why can’t you accept that?”

“Because what you’re doing is still wrong, and I... I can’t stand to look at you anymore. None of you. You’re all... not even ponies.” Rattle said, looking away from Heartchime. “Why don’t you just kill me and be done with it?”

That question alone seemed to hit Heartchime the hardest, her expression one of just mute shock. “How could you ask me that? I’d... I’d never hurt you, dad. I’d never let anypony in town hurt you, no matter how stupid and stubborn you’re being.”

“You might as well let the others do what I keep hearing them whisper about.” he said with a dessicated chuckle, “I know some of the others want me dead, so why hold them back? You know I’m just going to keep warning ponies off this town. I have to. I can’t let them be butchered by you.”

“I’m not butchering anypony! I’m protecting my family!” Heartchime cried, “That includes you, whether you like it or not.”

She stormed away, barely keeping her tears in check, and moving past where Binge had hidden herself up against the wall without seeing the young filly. Binge then entered the room just as Rattle was settling back into an old, worn out rocking chair.

“Grandpa Rattle?”

The old stallion blinked, “Goddesses, child, I... you heard all of that?”

“Uh-huh. I don’t get it. Why are you and momma always fighting?” Binge gave a nervous shuffle on her hooves, “Is it because we eat ponies?”

Rattle’s form sagged into the chair, eyes haunted. “You already know that? How old are you, little Binge?”

“Uhhhh...” Binge’s eyes screwed up as she thought about her age. Then she tapped her hoof about eight times. “That many? Maybe. I’m not good at counting.”

Rattle closed his eyes, face pained. “C’mere girl.” He patted knee, and Binge trotted up, looking curious. Rattle ruffled her mane once she was up close, and he sighed. “Ponies aren’t supposed to eat other ponies. It's just... against all the rules that were supposed to matter. Can’t even pretend to be civilized if our own flesh is on the menu. But your mom, my little Heartchime, she’s...she’s sick. Everypony in this damned, cursed, twisted up town is sick. In the head, you see? Like a rot on the soul that just eats away at you. I can’t make your mom or anypony else see how sick they are. So all I can do is warn other ponies about it, so they can maybe get away without being hurt.”

Filly Binge’s head tilted in youthful thought. “If ponies are sick can’t we get a doctor pony to come fix us up?”

Rattle’s laugh was utterly devoid of humor, “They’d just end up eating him, little Bingey. Nah, this ain’t the kind of sickness that a doctor can fix up. Its worse than that.”

“But if momma and everyonpy is sick we have to make them better!” Filly Binge said with the conviction of a child knowing that all in the world could be made right. She blinked, “Am I sick too?”

“No, little one, not yet anyway.”

“But I’ll get sick? Oh, and big brother Mug will too!? Just from eating pony noms? Then you gotta make momma listen and find other things to nom on! Or maybe find other ponies who are good at talking. Yes, there’s all sorts of ponies who come by, and some of them are super good talkers. They can help momma! And then you and her can make up and be happy again!”

While the young Binge’s eyes were bright and enthusiastic, Rattle’s eyes grew hard, distant, and thoughtful. “Maybe you got something there, little one. Instead of warning ponies away, if the right group of ponies showed up, the right hints could lead them to...mmph, if I can’t save my daughter, I can save the young. Have to be careful about it, wait for the right group...ones who’ll look after the foals, not just lump them in with the rest. Goddesses, Heartchime... forgive me.”

He trailed off, dark contemplations shadowing his features. The picture froze there, and Filly Binge looked at the still frame of colored chalk outlines with sadness weighing down her whole, tiny frame until I thought she might sink into the ground. Her voice was a small, exhausted whisper.

“He thought he was saving me and Arbu’s other foals. He might never have gotten the idea if I hadn’t talked to him. What happened after that is my fault.”

The scent of smoke hit me first, before the heat did. Arcaidia and I both turned to see the ceiling was now criss crossed by flickering tongues of scorching flame. Not every part of the ceiling was covered, however, and as I looked at the fires consuming the ceiling I also saw that the drawings up there were now moving and alive, and showing a scene of horror I knew.

Echoes of screams and gunfire, and the enraged shouts of a wrathful mare bled from the scene. The drawings of Arbu’s residents being slaughtered one after another by a small gray mare who looked hellish in the light of the fire burning across the ceiling. I once more saw Heartchime fall to a bullet through her head, her blood splashing across a young Binge. I saw Mug, older now, perhaps just a few years younger than me, try to protect his little sister even as bullets tore through him.

I saw Binge’s past self once more slip away from her brother's dying hooves and flee through their small secret way out through the town wall. I watched Binge’s filly form flee into the darkness as the town of her birth was consumed by fire.

The very real looking flames scorched the ceiling black, and bits of ash began to fall from it, like motes of dark snow. Filly Binge’s tears mixed in with that ash. “That’s why coming back here hurt so much. Being close to home, reminded me that its gone because of me.”

I looked at Arcaidia, who looked almost as lost as I felt. We both turned to Filly Binge then, coming up on either side of her, and we hugged her tight together.

“No, Binge. That wasn’t your fault.”

“Ren solva is right. Badness not because of you. Nopony make good choices there. Many faults, but not yours.”

Filly Binge sniffed, squirming in our grasp, but not really trying ot get away. Her struggles were halfhearted at best. “You guys don’t have to treat me like a little filly. I may look like this, but I’m actually the most mature part of Binge’s mind.”

“What, her sense of guilt?” I asked, ruffling Filly Binge’s head. She stuck her tongue out at me, while wiping at her tears.

“No, dummy, I’m what’s left of her sense of responsibility. Only thing keeping her in check sometimes. And, yeah, guilt, bucky. Lots and lots of guilt.” She shuddered in our hooves, her voice growing more childlike for a moment, “How can you say it wasn’t my fault, anyway? You heard that talk I had with Grandpa. He didn’t think about leading other ponies, ponies with guns, to Arbu’s secret until I gave it to him.”

Arcaidia snorted, bopping Filly Binge on the head, “I hear different conversation then. All I hear was nice filly worrying about family, and grandpa making own choices. Choices he likely make no matter what you say to him.”

Filly Binge blew out a snort, “Yeah, and don’t you think he was right? You hate what my family became, Frosty. It disgusts you, doesn’t it?”

Arcaidia held Filly Binge closer, hugging her more tightly. “That not matter. Maybe I no different than mare who burn home, maybe if put in same place I do similar thing, but that not mean I blame you for what happened. Still not your fault, all this horribleness. I think your grand parent right that your mother and family were sick in heads, but... not happy what happened to them. If Veruni were in charge, they have medicine to fix head sickness. And much good food besides. This world need Veruni.”

Filly Binge managed a ghost of a smile, “If your alien pals ever take over the world, do you think I could drive a flying saucer? I always wanted to.”

However the smile faded away just as swift as it had appeared. “I know you both believe what you say. It's what friends would say. But this weight, it can’t just go away with words. Binge has carried this pain for so long, I don’t know it can ever just go away.”

I turned Filly Binge’s face towards my own, wiping some of the ash away that was falling upon her young, yet tired face. “The pain, the weight, doesn’t have to go away. All Binge has to do is realize we’re here to share it. She doesn’t have to do this, face all this, alone.”

Tears broke out in Filly Binge’s tiny, exhausted eyes, and she buried her ash streaked face into my chest, sobbing quietly. Arcaidia and I held her tight, Arcaidia resting her head on my shoulder and mine on hers as we held the crying feeling between us.

The moment was broken by the sound of something ramming into the stone hatchway that we’d come through, followed by the muted sounds of the wailing wraiths. And just like that the moment ended and Filly Binge squirmed away from us, wiping her eyes and her face going serious once more.

“Times up. I’ve shown you what I can. The real fight is up above, where the center of Binge’s mind is... and the Master. You either get through to her and get past him, or he’ll kill you both. Destroy your minds, and do as he pleases with Binge’s.”

Arcaidia and I exchanged equally resolved looks and I nodded ot Filly Binge, “We’re not letting that happen. Can you buy us as much time as you can?”

Filly Binge smiled in a wane, sardonic manner. “Momma’s not in a listening mood, but maybe big brother will listen better. He’s not as angry as she is. I’ll... slow them down.”

The iron door leading out of the room shuddered, the chains around it snapping away. With a bellowing yawn of grating metal the door swung open, revealing a path upward that was forged of rickety looking wood and sheet metal planks. Filly Binge gave us a quick little head-tilt, telling us to go without saying another word as she faced the stone hatchway where the banging and wailing continued to emanate.

With a mirrored pair of deep breaths, Arcaidia and I went out the door. We found ourselves on a haphazardly built walkway of squealing planks and uneven steps, all circling a rising tower that went up into the dark, storm lit sky of Binge’s troubled mind. Together I scaled the walkway with Arcaidia, the young mare at my side a confident comfort as I took strength from Arcaidia’s determined hoofsteps as much as she seemed to take strength from my own.

Strange. I thought about my life before meeting Arcaidia, and wondered how I seemed to be missing so many things without noticing it. Trailblaze was, and always would be, my best friend. I loved her, but I was over the fact that that love would always be that of my dearest friend, no matter how far apart our lives strayed.

Arcaidia had become the sister I’d never known I needed in my life, and I loved her for it just as much as Trailblaze. She was a source of strength from day one of this mad adventure, always pushing me forward, always reminding me of what both patience and resolve looked like.

And Binge...?

Binge was...

I was about to find out.

The apex of the tower, the center of Binge’s mind, hadn’t been what I was expecting to see. Despite the darkness of a brewing storm above, there was a faded light, pale and gray, falling up the scene.

It was a garden. Torn and beaten by harsh weather, but grass still grew in a wet carpet, and tiny clusters of worn flowers grew in soft colors, some wilting, some seemingly dying, but others still fought on to grow. It was not a pristine place, or expertly grown, but the random and chaotic bursts of colorful placement of the flowers reminded me of Binge, of the bursts of laughter and bizarre joy she was capable of despite all that had happened to beat her down.

Despite it all, Binge had kept this small place inside her, at her core. And most telling of all, beyond the garden itself, was that at the center of it was a headstone. A tall, polished stone of granite that had a single mournful word carved into it.

Arbu.

Binge was chained to that headstone, forehooves pulled high, her body seeming more thin than I’d ever seen it, her mane hanging in a limp, ragged mass. She cracked open her eyes, their blue light looking pained and washed with exhaustion, and she still managed a small smile at the sight of us, a phantom of her familiar giggle filling the air.

“Hehehe... I can’t get away from you, can I bucky? You never stop. You either, Scary Blue. Tried to kill you both, and you still come after me.”

“Not going to call it quits on a friend just because they try to kill me.” I said, “I mean, c’mon, what’s a little homicide between friends?”

Arcaidia huffed out a snort, head held high, “I just need keep Longwalk from getting himself dead. Is full time job. The rest takes care of itself.”

Binge hung her head, “But you both shouldn't be here. He’s gonna make you both bleed. Heheh, he’s inside every thought. I can’t keep him out. Whispering the feelings of blood and viscera in my soul.” A wild look flashed through her eyes as she looked back up at us, thrashing against her chains, “Kill ‘em, is what has to be. Kill the ones who hurt momma and Mug and all my family! I can’t not do it Longy! I can’t! The blood sings and dances! He whispers and calls, and the blood calls back! Have to kill! Pleeease make it stooooop! Bucky, Longwalk, make it stop!”

She was crying, anguish in her voice. I surged forward. “Binge!”

Arcaidia leaped forward, yanking me back, “Ren solva, wait!”

She’d been just in time, pulling me back just before the scything blade of Azrael cut through the space my neck had occupied a moment ago. The scythe, glittering deadly silver, sat embedded in the garden floor for a moment before it was lifted away and floated to a point above the headstone Binge was chained to. There the air shimmered, and Scythe appeared, his dark brown form and blonde mane taking shape amid a haze like a waver of heat off metal. He smiled with gleaming white fangs at us, all power and confidence as his body was coated in a blood red glow of magic.

“I’m actually kind of glad you both are here. I figured the defenses I set on you inside this broken mare’s mind wouldn’t stop you. You’ve proven stupidly resilient. Still, just means I can get my own hooves dirty, and Blood Bloom always taught me the best kills are the ones that get the blood on yourself.”

The crimson light that played over his body like writhing vines of blood extended out in a smoky cloud to take the shape of multiple solid copies of Azrael, nearly a score of the lethal scythes hovering in the air now as Scythe himself smirked. “And in this place I’d say my blood magic gives me a distinct advantage.”

The scythes darted in, swirling in murderous arcs. Arcaidia and I moved as one, our minds both conjuring defenses that we pushed out into the mental garden around us. For Arcaidia her trademark ice sprang up in a thick, powerful wall before her. For me it was stone, shooting up in front of me in a shield as I drew Gramzanber from his sheath. The Azreal copies smashed into our barriers, rocking my mind with heavy blows. However things looked, this was a battle of minds and wills. Scythe’s killing intent smashed into Arcaidia’s and my own mental defenses, and in the next breath we went on the attack.

My experience battling Moa Gault in a similar situation helped me immensely with the ease and speed of my actions. I smoothed out the stone barrier I’d created into a ramp, speeding up it at a full gallop. Arcaidia rose on a pillar of ice, already conjuring dozens of sharp, pointed shards in a cloud around her wrathful form.

Scythe seemed faintly surprised we hadn’t be shredded by his initial attack, but in the next instant he grinned broadly and leaped upwards. He clearly knew his way around a mental battleground, because wings, wide and black like a bat’s, spread from his back and he took to the air with seeming ease, dozens of more scythes popping into existence around him.

I didn’t think I could pull off the same flight, confident or not, but I trusted Arcaidia to cover me while I put my will towards shaping a rising stone pathway that took my galloping form straight towards Scythe. With a contemptuous gesture he sent his conjured Azrael's towards me, and Arcaidia, just as I knew I could trust her to, leapt to my defense. Her spears of ice flew past me in a storm, smashing into the incoming scythes in a clamour of echoing crashes. Bits of ice pelted me as scythes fell to either side of my rising stone ramp, and Scythe himself snarled in frustration even as I got close enough to him to make a flying leap, Gramzanber swinging in my hooves.

Scythe had kept the original Azrael close to him, and with his horn glowing he swirled the weapon to meet Gramzanber. The two ARMs clashed, and in the instant they did my mind was filled with a flash of several images.

I saw a family of ponies hanging from the dead branches of an ancient tree, most of them dead with nooses around their necks. Only a mare bearing Scythe’s blonde hair and dark brown coat was still alive, a look of frozen pain on her face.

Another image showed me an view of a dark room of stone, with an open door blocked by a mare I barely recognized as B.B. She looked the same physically, but her eyes were devoid of the warmth and steady companionship I was used to seeing, but instead were flat and cold as a void. Her smile was cruel, displaying wicked fangs.

The last flashing image showed me bleeding hooves, the same color as Scythe’s coat. Was this from his perspective? He was drawing symbols with his own blood on a bare stone floor, while B.B... Blood Bloom, watched him from nearby, carrying a curved knife that dripped crimson.

The images had come and gone in an instant as Scythe had parried me in mid-air. I recovered fast from my disorientation, enough to adjust my grip on Gramzanber to block Scythe's brutal counter swing, which struck hard enough to knock me back like a pinball.

“You don’t get to see that!” Scythe roared, sounding genuinely enraged. “Filth like you is not allowed inside my memories!”

I fell the short distance to the garden floor, rolling with the fall and coming up with minimal damage from the oft impact. My brain tried to piece together what I’d just seen, even as Arcaidia unleashed her fury upon Scythe, conjuring images of her starblaster and firing a barrage of silver beams at him. In response Scythe summoned barriers of magical red symbols, absorbing the streaking white blasts in their multitude.

Meanwhile I wondered about what I’d seen. That family hanging from the tree, all dead save that last mare, who looked so much like Scythe. Then a confined room, a prison, with B.B as the jailer. Finally, Scythe, a young Scythe, learning blood magic under B.B’s teaching...

“She killed them,” I breathed, “Didn’t she? Blood Bloom killed your family.”

Scythe, surrounding himself with a blood red shield as Arcaidia hammered at him with a giant spike of ice, hissed, “She saved me from the mediocrity of my pointless life. The ponies that died that day weren't my family. I only have one Family!”

“You were forced to join that Family, just like B.B was!”

“No, I was uplifted, enlightened, just like Blood Bloom was! She showed me so many beautiful things, and erased the dull, worthless pony I was before that!” Scythe spat, voice edged with a streak of blood red madness as he dove towards me, smashing through another barrage of Arcaidia’s ice.

“Longwalk!” Arcaidia shouted in warning, even as I noticed Scythe’s descending from flicker and vanish, an illusion to distract me as he appeared behind me, Azrael raised.

I swiftly spun and barely managed to get Gramzanber in the way, but even then the deflected blow caught the edge of my shoulder, drawing a spray of blood. More images from Scythe flashed through me then. I saw him covered in blood, suckling on the neck of a freshly dead pony barely older than a foal, with Blood Bloom nearby feasting upon an older pony. They shared a red faced smile with each other before the image faded to another one, this of Scythe and Blood Bloom fighting creatures I recognized as Hell Hounds, both back to back and laughing into the rain of blood they exacted from the creatures with deadly curved blades.

The last image was of both of them sharing an embrace upon a bed in a dark room, alone and entwined, and I finally understood.

“You love her.”

Scythe snarled into my face as he pushed his blade against mine, sparks flashing between them. “I worship her! I will have her back, no matter the cost! I’ll bring her back home where she belongs! With me.”

I growled, deep in my throat, and pushed back hard, forcing Azrael up just enough for me to have an opening to take a hoof off Gramzanber and smash it into Scythe’s face. The blow rocked my arm, but sent him sprawling backwards, bleeding from a cracked lip. He sprang to his hooves in an eyeblink, however, and with a feral snarl he slammed his own hooves down on the ground and I felt a tremor as he conjured a mental wave of raw, punishing crimson energy that blasted into me like a runaway Vertibuck.

I felt everything tumble and spin, but was quickly grasped by Arcaidia’s magic which straightened me out and plopped me back down next to her as Arcaidia stared with deathly intent at Scythe.

“B.B not belong anywhere but where B.B want to belong!” Arcaidia hissed, far more vehemently than I had ever heard her before, her face frighteningly enraged. “You not care about her, only about what you get out of her.”

Scythe bristled, his smooth expression turning murderous. There was a bone chilling hiss in the air as Azeal hovered at his side and became engulfed in a thick aura of burning red flame. I didn’t think he was doing that bit consciously, just that his anger was taking shape in this mental battle as those blood red flames, the heat of which I could feel like a scalding wind on my face.

“You spend a few weeks with her and you think you know Blood Bloom? You think her act as a good little pony is the real her? You know nothing! I know who she really is, the beauty of her mercilessness, the genius of her violence. Seeing her deny herself is sickening, and worse to think she’s doing it for ponies who don’t even know her beyond the mask she’s wearing.”

He eyed Arcaidia, and a cruel look entered his eyes, “Oh, I think I see now. You care about her more than just a little bit, do you my frosty friend? Should I tell you things about her that you’re no doubt curious about? Like where she likes to be touched? The best way to make her sigh and shudder? We’ve shared a bed many times-”

Arcaidia’s eyes flashed with killing intent, and an explosion of ice, like a massive glacier, roared out of the ground at her hooves at Scythe. He responded with equal fury, swinging Azrael as it too explode with a giant wave of scorching red fire. The ice and flames collided, the personification of Arcaidia and Scythe’s equal rage warring in a eruption of steam.

Not about to remain idle, I hefted Gramzanber and focused my will upon the ARM. I immediately felt Gramzanber respond, more than eager to add his will to my own. The silver spear blazed to life with luminous azure light, vibrating in my hooves as I poured my strength into the spear and felt Gramzanber resonate with me.

Impulse

Gramzanber’s energy reached a fevered peak and the blue light flaring from it turned brilliantly bright, and I hurled the ARM. The spear streaked into the fray between Arcaidia’s ice and Scythe’s flames, and impacted into the middle of it. The will of my attack joined with Arcaidia’s, and as the Impulse attack exploded with a sphere of destructive blue force, the ice joined it in a swirling blizzard of ice shards.

Scythe’s fire was torn apart, and the unicorn himself impacted by the combined force of my and Arcaidia’s attack so that he was thrown bodily off the top of the tower, shouting in wordless rage and pain as he went.

I didn’t dare let myself believe that was the end of it, but perhaps we’d bought ourselves a minute or two to free Binge.

“C’mon!” I told Arcaidia, who was still panting from barely restrained anger, her face colored with streaks of hot rose. She nodded, snorting under her breath, and followed me to the headstone where Binge was chained up.

The chains crossed her body in multiple places, a mish-mash of iron that bound her tight to the stone in an awkward standing position. Both her hindlegs and forelegs were equally bound, almost stretching her taut over the cold stone. Up close Binge looked even more drained and haggard than before, her fur matted and drained of its vibrant green color to appear sickly muted. She seemed even more rail thin than usual, ribs pressing against her strained hide. Her face was gaunt and her eyes sunken as she looked at me. I saw the pain and despair inside her, and it wrenched at me. Her voice matched her eyes.

“Longy... hey. Will you do me a solid, and kill me? Just, nice and quick like? You have your big shiny spear, right?”

I barely had to think about Gramzanber for the spear to appear back at my side, but I didn’t so much as reach for the shaft as I put a hoof on Binge’s chains and started trying to tug them loose.

“Binge, shut up. I’m not doing anything other than save you. Period.”

Her face screwed up and she let out a choking sound, almost a sob as she hung in the chains, “Please bucky. I’m so, so tired. I’ve been trying to fight him, but I can’t. He’s got me, Longwalk. He’s got me, and my family, and he’ll use them and me to do really bad things to you and other ponies. I... I don’t want to do it. I’ve done so many terrible things, played terrible games, danced in all that blood. Maybe I even liked it. But I’m just... done. I’d rather go to sleep forever than hurt you Longy.”

“Then help me Binge!” I said, my throat catching with a lump of emotions I could barely get out, “Me and Arcaidia aren’t abandoning you. We can beat Scythe, but not if you’re giving up. C’mon, where’s that mare who giggles at every crazy, dangerous thing we’ve done and keeps on bouncing for more? I know you Binge, more than I ever thought I could, and you do not just sag there and let yourself fade. When you die, Binge, it’s going to be swinging and laughing, and... and I plan to be beside you, going down too. Because I won’t let you die any other way except with me.”

The words were spilling out of my mouth without me having much control of them. I’d gone beyond thinking things through, or wondering how I felt. I just needed Binge. If we were minutes from dying, I still wasn’t going anywhere without her.

There must have been something more in my voice than there ever had been before, because Binge looked at me as if really seeing me for the first time. Her sunken eyes blinked, and a sheen of brightness flashed through them, just a spark of something, but it was enough.

“You wanna die together?”

I touched her face with my hoof, “How about we live together? Leave dying for tomorrow.”

A few small tears crawled their way down her stained, scarred face, “Why, Longwalk? Why do so much for little ol’, dirty, tainted, crazy me? Bad things always bounce along behind me, like the Wasteland’s own poison. It killed my family, and I drank deep of all that filth. I’ve made so many others bleed, and giggled all the while. I’m scared, bucky. I don’t want it to happen to you.”

“It won’t. Binge, you’re better than you think, and no matter how bad your past has been, your future doesn’t have to be the same. You got friends, and you got me.”

A funny look entered her eyes, vulnerable yet utterly serious.

“I’ve got you? Does that mean...?”

She left the question hanging, and there was no avoiding the simple, direct query that was suspended there between us like a glittering knife that could cut either way. What did I say to that question, other than the truth I’d been wrestling with, half-denying, or just simply scared of for some time now. Strange as it was, when it came time to just say it, it was a lot simpler than I ever imagined.

I leaned in and put my forehead to hers, voice just a whisper as Arcaidia stood back a step to give us a bit of space.

“Means I love you, you crazy-ass mare.”

A sound halfway between a joyous laugh and a relieved gasp burst from her lips, and she thrust herself forward to kiss me with the desperation of a drowning pony. I returned fully in kind, feeling my whole body heat up.

She broke the kiss just long enough to whisper, “Love you too, my silly Longy. No fair telling me when I’m all tight and bound, and can’t jump you.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll make it up to you once we get you free.” I said, yanking once more on her chains, “Uh, speaking of which, Arcaidia, any ideas?”

Arcaidia had been pointedly examining the sky and not watching me and Binge in a politely affected air of disinterest, but now she looked at me levelly and nodded at Gramzanber. I blinked, then slapped my forehead. “Right. Obvious.”

I hefted Gramzanber and glanced at Binge, “Um, just lean left, Binge.”

Actually Longwalk I should point out that- Gramzanber began to say, but I was already bringing the ARMs heavy edge down on the chains. The spear hit the iron bands, and to my surprise bounced right off in a flash of mystic red light that wafted up from the chains like a miasma.

“The hell!?” I said, almost losing my balance from the ricochet.

As I was just trying to say, those chains are formed from metaphysical constraints enforced by what I believe to be Scythe’s blood magic. I cannot simply sever them. Scythe must either be defeated, or another means of disrupting his magic enacted.

“Ugh, great. Just need to crush in Scythe’s skull some more. I’m remarkably okay with that, all things considered. He’s got a seriously creepy love-hate complex going on with B.B.”

“I not let him harm her ever!” Arcaidia said firmly, stamping a hoof, from which a patch of frost formed along the garden floor.

“I don’t think he wants to hurt the birdy, Blue.” said Binge, “Least not in the way you’re thinking.”

Arcaidia rolled her eyes, “Not everything be about sex, Binge!”

“I’m going to contest that soon as I’m not tied up.”

I gulped, hefting Gramzanber over my shoulder, “That aside, where’s Scythe? I mean, we knocked his butt off the tower, but figured dude’s got wings, he should’ve been back trying to tear our throats out by now.”

If I may suggest a theory? I believe he has gone to get reinforcements. said Gramzanber.

“Reinforcements?” I asked, “From wher-” I blinked in sudden, frightened realization. “Oh, shit.”

Scythe may as well have been waiting for his cue, judging by the fact that he chose that moment to arrive, flying high on his conjured bat wings. And in his wake, like a boiling dark cloud, were the wraiths. In all their wailing horror, the wraiths of Arbu rose like a horrifying wall of ink black shadows. The rushed around the garden in a wave, their haunting cries scratching at our ears. Within mere seconds we were surrounded, a tide of screaming, twisted phantoms pressing in towards me, Acaidia, and Binge. I held Gramzanber out, point ready to skewer the first wraith that got close enough. Arcaidia had conjured multiple starblasters around her, horn lit up as motes of frost creeped down her body.

Binge went quiet, staring with unblinking eyes at the faces of her long dead home.

“Momma? Mug?” Binge breathed with guilt laden pain that was only matched by the yearning in her voice. The two wraiths in question were right in front of us at the head of the pack, enough of the encroaching shadows of their wraith forms pulled back so that their faces were at least partially visible. Neither offered a response to Binge’s words, although I thought I saw a flinch cross Heartchime’s features, if only for an instant.

“They can’t hear you.” Scythe said as he landed amid the wraiths, who parted for him without being told to do so. They continued to part from his path as he strode towards us, all smug smiles once more. “They’re mine. As are you, you piece of gutter trash.”

His horn lit up red, and the chains around Binge glowed with an identical bloody glow, constricting around Binge’s body. She grit her teeth, holding back an obvious cry of pain. I saw her eyes flash with the same red light as Scythe’s horn as she growled, her voice strained, “I’m not... your... puppet!”

“Are you not? Your body will do as these vengeful souls demand.” Scythe said, making a grand gesture at the wraiths around him, “And they do as I bid. Speaking of which; destroy these two, now. Make it slow and painful, preferably.”

He nodded at Arcaidia and I, and the wraiths boiled up like froth from a cauldron, surging towards us. Arcaidia’s starblasters fired in a blinding silver storm, streaking into the onrushing horde. Formed from her mind’s will, the starblaster bolts impacted the wraiths solidly, forcing several back, yet more rushed on. With no other choice, I met them head on, Gramzanber springing into my hooves as I got in front of Arcaidia, standing on my hind hooves.

The first wraith to reach me leapt forward with yawning jaws, howling so loud I thought my head would burst. It was met with the tip of Gramzanber, impaling through the wraith. It felt as if it had solid mass here, the soul given physical form in this mental landscape. I winced as the wraith screamed, not so much bleeding as disgorging trails of white and black fire from its wound as I pitched it over my head. I had no time to wonder what damage I was doing to these poor ponies souls, and could only pray I wasn’t doing permanent harm as I tried to defend myself and Arcaidia. I pivoted on my hooves, my lessons with Applegate fresh in my mind, as I spun Gramzanber around in blazing arcs that cut into the wraiths trying to surround us.

Arcaidia covered my back, as I covered hers. Ice shot up in harsh spikes around us while other shards of crystal blue frost rained down like arrows, all conjured by Arcaidia’s will added to her magical might. The ice skewered wraiths as easily as they did real ponies, here, and her magic kept the horde from overwhelming us for a few moments.

I kept moving, not daring to let my hooves stop, spinning left and right with swift pivots that sent wraiths trailing by me as I cut into them, but I wasn’t escaping unscathed. Several times a wraiths jaws or striking hooves would touch much, and the black shadows covering them would feel as if they were freezing me to my core, wracking me with pain. Yet I didn’t let the pain distract me, and focused on staying alive. Gramzanber spun about me in shining silver arcs, but much like with the Raider Binges down at the bottom of this mind fortress, numbers were starting to tell.

I heard Arcaidia let out a pained yelp behind me, and I glanced to see a wraith had broken through her forest of ice shards to bowl into her, its shadows seeming to claw at her like living things. I shouted a wordless cry and turned, thrusting Gramzanber into the wraith and knocking it off Arcaidia, but my own distraction cost me as another wraith came in behind me and barreled into me at a full gallop. I felt icy pain piercing me, lifting me off the ground and then slamming me down at the foot of the headstone Binge was chained to.

The cold pain searched through me as the snarling wraith turned me over, keeping me pinned to the floor, and I found myself face to face with Heartchime’s twisted, snarling visage. Shadows clung to her face, yet her eyes burned clearly at me as she howled, “Leave my family alone! You won’t take my daughter from me!”

Her shadow clad hooves pressed down on me. Gramzanber was laying dropped beside us, just out of reach. Not far away Arcaidia was in a similar situation, barely getting her hooves under her before a wraith had emerged from the horde to pin her to the ground... one I recognized as Mug. Arcaidia, despite the pain she was clearly feeling from her twisted features, still growled at Mug and summoned one of her starblasters to appear in the air beside her, aiming it at his head.

“NO!”

Binge’s shout held more than just volume to it. It hit us all with the raw, hammer blow of pure desperate will behind it. Even the chains binding her shuddered at the force behind that one word, and for a moment all was silent. The wraiths had halted in their tracks, their shadowed faces all looking at the battered, chained mare who was one of their own. Binge, however, was looking right at her mother. Heartchime’s own confused, anger filled eyes looked up at Binge as if unsure what she was seeing, me temporarily forgotten under her hooves.

Binge took a shaking breath, and looked Heartchime in the eyes.

“Mama, no. No more.” Binge sobbed, but her eyes seemed too tired to give tears. “No more pain. Please... I had to watch you and everything else I loved go into flames and death. I don’t want to see you hurting anymore.”

She hung her head, sagging against her chains. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for any of it. Not Grandpa bringing the angel of fire upon us, or to become such a bad pony like the kind you hated. I... I just wanted to be with my family. But...”

Her head raised again, and a strong light had awoken in her pure blue eyes, her voice growing stronger, fuller. “Longwalk is my family now. He’s mine and I’m his, mama, and you will leave him alone. He’s family. Your family too. Will you keep hurting your family!?”

Heartchime remained completely still, yet her eyes displayed a battle of wills that left me equally frozen in place. I could see the hate boiling inside Heartchime, hate for the long suffering of herself and her home. Hate for all the trials and harsh blows life had dealt her and her kin. Hate for the killers of Arbu, and even hate for me, who’d dared create any turmoil inside her daughter. And fighting this hate was something else, something fierce and strong.

Sometimes I heard people sneer and laugh in chortling mockery at the idea of the ‘power of love’. For some it's a ridiculous concept, fit only for jokes.

I’ve seen the strength of love firsthoof, however, and I don’t mock it.

It was love that warred with hate inside Heartchime. Blood magic might have bound her soul to Scythe and hatred fueled her rampage, but the love she held for her family, especially of her tortured daughter who sat chained and pleading before her, was rising up in challenge to the forces seeking to control her. It kept her from finishing me, and the rest of the wraiths from moving in on me and Arcaidia.

Scythe let out a long, harsh hiss from his clenched teeth. “I’m impressed. Even for such hopeless ponies, who died useless deaths, the bonds of a mother to her children are strong. Yet this resistance cannot last. My blood magic binds these souls to me, and soon enough even your mother’s love for you won’t stop her from tearing the soul of this idiot colt apart!”

I could see he was speaking truth. As hard as Heartchime was fighting against the will of Scythe, for all the strength her feelings for her daughter gave her, she couldn’t keep it up forever. I saw flashing, spectral chains of blood red leading from Scythe to all the wraiths around him, pulsing with angry crimson light. The other wraiths, the citizens of Arbu who weren’t as strongly connected to Binge as Heartchime or Mug, started to slowly move towards us again, even as Binge’s mother and brother remained still.

Then, with a feral howl, Mug spun and hurled himself into the other wraiths, ripping against his own chains. Heartchime did the same, bowling into the wraiths coming in from the other side. Scythe growled and his eyes and horn both lit up red, pouring energy into the chains binding the two rebellious wraiths, and both collapsed in unimaginable screeches of agony. Yet their brief moment or resistance had cleared the way between Scythe and the other wraiths.

And it gave me my opening to get at Scythe.

I reached out, stretching my hoof, and grabbed Gramzanber.

Accelerator

Even in the mindscape, everything turned to pure azure blue. I leaped to my hooves, ARM in my mouth this time. I needed to be able to gallop on all fours, to reach Scythe as fast as possible. I saw him, amid the parted ranks of the wraiths. He had a bemused, frowning look on his face, as if he wasn’t sure what was happening.

I rushed forward, crossing the distance between us in moments. Even with Accelerator’s speed, Scythe responded with equal speed, like a crimson glowing wraith himself. Azrael cleaved in a gleaming arc just as I slashed in a blazing silver strike with Gramzanber. Both ARM’s clashed for a single, crystalline moment. This was no physical matter, no question of muscle and bone, blood and skill... it was just mine and Gramzanber’s will versus Scythe and Azrael's will, in one final moment to decide it all.

And just as before, I saw into Scythe’s soul. This image, this scene, was more vivid, visceral, and real than the others. I felt everything Scythe felt and thought with the same clarity of the blue, sunlit sky.

”Mistress, I’m begging you, let me bring her back!” Scythe pleaded, his head bowed to the cold stone floor, his whole body trembling. “I swear to you I will return Blood Bloom to us. I will make her see she belongs with us! You needn't order her death!”

A voice like the cold edge of a knife giggled, and spoke with a tone that somehow commanded infinite force while sounding as soft as a whisper.

“Oh do stop your groveling Scythe, it is unseemly. Raise your head.”

He did so, fear clogging his heart, not for himself, but for Blood Bloom. After so many long years of not knowing where his beloved was, they’d finally found her, and the idea that the Mistress would send others to retrieve Blood Bloom’s head, or worse go for it herself, filled Scythe with utter terror. He couldn’t allow it to happen! He had to save Blood Bloom, no matter the cost!

The Mistress sat upon her tall throne of red velvet and gilded gold, at the end of the vast mansion hall that was the Family’s home. Dressed in flowing silks of red and black, the young mare with the voluminous mane of gold curls was in sharp contrast to her pure white coat and eyes that glittered red as fresh arterial blood from a severed neck. She looked down upon Scythe with amusement, but he knew well it was a mask to hide the wrath, the horrible, terrible wrath that sat beneath her childish exterior.

“You beg for Blood Bloom's life. You say you can return her to the fold. Do you honestly believe that, my child? She has been gone so very, very long. Do you think if she held any affection for us that she would not have returned of her own accord by now? I imagine, instead of embracing you, she’d likely rather put a bullet through you, as her new ‘father’ has taught her.”

Anger boiled up inside Scythe beside his fear, “No! That will not happen, my Mistress! I swear to you on my own blood I can get through to Blood Bloom. That old stallion has clouded her mind, taken advantage of a momentary weakness, nothing more! Once I remind her of who she is, she will come back to us. Please... I would give my own life for hers. I won’t return empty hooved.”

Scythe didn’t see the Mistress move. There was just a gust of wind and suddenly she was not on the throne, but standing beside him, lowering her hoof to his chin to tilt his head up to look her in the eyes. Her eyes bored into him, her sweet smile as sickly as the promise of death itself.

“You sweet, smitten boy. Your love for our lost sister will be your death, I think, but I cannot deny such charming devotion. I grant you your chance, and only one chance, to bring Blood Bloom back to the Family. Fail, and both you and her will still be together, in a death that all will tremble to remember for centuries to come.”

Scythe trembled, his entire body shaking, both in absolute fear, but also determination to retrieve Blood Bloom in any way he possibly could. He didn’t care at all for his own fate, but he would never allow his beloved to die. He would bring her back from the clutches of her false mortal life and return her to where she belonged... by his side.

The memory shattered like glass, even as both our own ARMs shattered against each other. Scythe’s devotion was no less than my own, his love no less than my own. Yet there was one, small difference. He was fighting for someone he wasn’t certain shared his feelings for him any longer, while I knew the pony I fought for needed me as much as I needed her. That along may have been why, even cracked down the center, Granzanber still broke through Azrael and cut a bloody swath along Scythe’s side, spraying blood through the air.

He staggered back, roaring in pain and defiance, but Azrael's mental representation was broken along the center of its blade, and blood poured from the deep wound I’d given him, and he sagged, barely standing.

I didn’t know if wounding his body here weakened his blood magic or not, but it clearly did something, because I saw the red spectral chains tied to the wraiths flicker unsteadily. Heartchime and Mug both responded to this by roaring to their hooves from where they’d been curled in anguish moments ago. Both tore and tugged at their chains, ripping them apart with loud snapping sounds that echoed over the tower roof. This seemed to galvanize the other wraiths, and the whole herd went mad, ripping and tugging at their chains.

Scythe grit his teeth and growled, struggling to pull on the chains, to channel more magic into them to maintain control, but I was right there and I rushed forward, turning to buck him across the face. He went sprawling, and more wraiths freed themselves, chains snapping with clarion rings.

Eyes wide, Scythe rose again, glaring about as the wraiths he’d been controlling a minute ago now started to turn towards him, and their eyes were no more friendly towards him now than they had been towards me and my friends.

Even Binge’s chains weakened, slacking and allowing the exhausted mare to fall free of the headstone.

Scythe’s eyes turned towards me, filled with hate as he spat. “This isn’t done. Blood Bloom will come home with me, no matter what.”

With that, his form flickered and vanished in a red mist, wafting into the air, and then nothing. I stood there, struggling to catch my breath, legs shaking, and sat on my haunches.

“Gramzanber, where’d he go?”

He’s fled Binge’s mind. I believe he’s forcibly broken the connection, now that his blood magic has been weakened and the wraiths regaining control of themselves. I hazard to guess, but he may either choose to flee the scene in the physical world, or seek to attack us while we remain here. I suggest ending this mental connection ourselves as soon as possible. Even with the time dilation here, we may only have ten or twenty minutes, respectively speaking, before we are in danger again.

“Alright,” I said, shuddering and forcing myself to my hooves once more as I turned, “Arcaidia, Binge, we got to wake up from dreamland now, before...uh...” I blinked.

Binge was sitting on the ground, sobbing her eyes out. Heartchime, the flickering shadows of her wraith form barely visible now, held her daughter in the tightest of hugs, head buried in Binge’s mane.

“I’m sorry mama, I’m sorry...” Binge kept saying, “I tried to be a good filly, but I couldn’t... I just couldn’t. It hurt too much...”

“Shhh, it’s okay baby, it's okay.” Heartchime whispered, stroking her foal’s mane, “We were all hurt. There’s no shame. Nothing to be sorry for.”

“But Grandpa Rattle-”

“Hush now, Binge, don’t think on it. Your Grandpa did what he thought was right, just like I did what I thought was right...” Heartchime let out her own, small sob as tears made their way down her own cheek, “Maybe we were both wrong. All I ever wanted to do was look after my family. To make a home for us to live safely in. I think... I forgot what kind of home I wanted to make, and forgot what safe really meant. I’m sorry, Binge. I’m sorry for building a home out of... corpses. None of it would have happened if I hadn’t gone so far... can you forgive me?”

“Mama, I can’t ever hate you. I can’t forgive anything, because I never blamed you for anything.” Binge sniffed, hugging Heartchime tightly, then glanced over at her brother Mug, and the other citizens of Arbu, who all stood around, still and silent as shadows.

“Everypony... I love you all. I’m sorry. I don’t want to let any of you go.”

Mug, half of his face still obscured by wraith shadow, still managed a coltish smile for his sister. “I don’t get what’s going on, sis, but stop crying. You know I can’t stand to see you cry.” He glanced at me, “All I can see is that you seem to got some fine ponies looking after you, so maybe you ought to just try living for them, instead of bawling over us.”

I could only stare back at the wraith and give him my most sincere nod, “Nothing I want more right now than to keep her safe. Which means we can’t stay here long.”

“I know.” said Heartchime, holding Binge out at hooves length and gently wiping her daughter’s eyes clear of teras. “It's time for all of us to go.”

Already I saw some of the wraiths of Arbu were starting to vanish, their forms seeming to curl away like smoke drifting on a swift breeze. Many of their forms were still obscured by shadow, but what few faces of ponies I could see were wearing contented expressions, restful and accepting, now that their wrath was drained out of them. As Heartchime and Mug’s own forms started to fade, Mug came up to join his mother in giving Binge one final embrace.

“Goodbye mama, brother...”

“Goodbye, my little Binge.”

“Take care, sis.”

As their spirits drifted away, their souls no longer forcibly tied to Binge’s mind, Heartchime looked over Binge’s shoulder, right at me. She didn’t say a word. She didn’t have to. Her eyes said it all. All the pain, hardship, and regret of her life, none of it tied Heartchime down anymore, but she was leaving behind one final seed of what had been good in Arbu and was entrusting me to look after it. To look after her daughter.

I looked back at Heartchime’s fading soul, my own words equally unneeded to convey the determination and love with which I’d fulfill that charge.

When Heartchime and Mug were gone, Binge wasn’t alone, for Arcaidia and I went to her and held her close.

“Gramzanber, take us back.” I said.

The ARM didn’t respond with words, it simply glowed with soft silver light, and even as I held Binge close, I felt our minds drift away from each other. Yet even so... I felt that our souls would always be connected.

----------

When we awoke back in the underground chapel of Arbu, Scythe was gone.

LIl-E had been watching over the scene, and told us that no more than a minute had passed since we’d fallen unconscious. My face burned with unbelievable pain and I couldn’t see out of my right eye due to the blood clogging it. LIL-E assured me the eye was still there, but there was going to be a scar right down my face from the top of my brow to the bottom of my snout that would mark me for life, even with Arcaidia’s healing magic.

I didn’t care. Binge was safe. She’d awoken the same time me and Arcaidia did, and while she was quiet, the very first thing she did when she looked at me was grin with that lopsided smile I knew so well, giggled, and all but threw herself on me. She’d have kissed me longer if the pain from my wound wasn’t so horrific and Arcaidia pulled her off with telekinesis.

It took us a bit of time to collect ourselves as Arcaidia applied healing magic to all of us.

“I’d have shot that rat bastard through his sick skull, but I had no idea if that would have had some kind of backlash for the rest of you.” explained LIL-E, “So I waited, hoping to catch him when you all woke up. Problem is the cowardly sonuvabitch grabbed his scythe and teleported himself clear the second his eyes opened.” LIl-E extended a small robotic claw-arm to point at a smoking bullet hole in the floor. “Still tried to shoot him. Sorry I missed.”

“Don’t worry about it.” I said while wincing, the pain in my face burning even as Arcaidia’s healing magic washed over it.

Binge sat nearby, her tail wagging as she looked at me. “Bucky is so handsome, he’s now got a real nice face scar to show off!”

Arcaidia grunted, “It is very... distinguishing.” she said diplomatically. I think that just meant it was extremely deep and noticeable. I had gotten a brief look at it via my reflection in Gramzanber’s blade. It wasn’t a pretty scar. It nearly split my snout down the middle in a rough, ugly furrow. I wasn’t sure I’d ever pull off my feminine “Blueberry” disguise quite so well ever again.

“I’ll live. We’ll all live.” I said with a sigh, “That’s what matters.”

I looked to Binge, “Are you alright? Any... aftereffects of Scythe’s magic?”

Binge cocked her head at me, blinking. “Don’t know. Don’t care. He’s gone. You’re not. I’m...” she paused, as if unsure of the words herself, “I’m feeling very awake.”

She licked her lips as she looked at me, eyes burning. “And hungry.

“We get food later when all safe back at hotel.” said Arcaidia firmly, but I rather gathered Binge wasn’t talking about food. My face burned hot as I coughed and glanced away, much to Binge’s giggles.

I then noticed the bones of Scythe’s magic circle, still arranged on the chapel floor. A frown crossed my face, despite the pain it caused, and I stood, “We have one last thing that needs doing, before we leave.”

It took a bit of doing, perhaps an hour or two. Arcaidia’s telekinesis helped a lot. We gathered in the courtyard area of Arbu, once a prison, once a settlement, burned both times. We’d collected every single bone we could find. Every single remnant of the citizens of Arbu that Scythe had exhumed for his vile ritual. It probably wasn’t all of their remains, but it was enough for what I had in mind.

The unnatural fog Scythe had conjured was long gone, and Arbu’s ruined shell lay under the dusky cast of growing evening. In the center of the courtyard, using wood taken from Arbu’s prison walls, we’d constructed a pyre. Upon that pyre were gently and reverently placed the final mortal remains of Binge’s family and friends. Behind the pyre stood a column of concrete I’d cut free from Arbu’s walls, placed up by Arcaidia’s magic, and inscribed using Gramzanber’s edge.

’Here rest the souls of Arbu.

Whatever their sins, love knows no judgment

May they find peace, and watch over their loved ones who remain.’

Old sawdust had been gathered along with smaller bits of kindling beneath the pyre so it could be lit. We were able to scavenge a lighter from the prison ruin and fashion a makeshift torch, which was now lit and held in one of Binge’s hooves as we looked upon the waiting pyre. Arcaidia stood a respectful distance away, while LIL-E floated further back still, having been very silent during this whole process. I imagined the robot was still having trouble reconciling the memories of the mare who killed Arbu, versus the thought of laying its ghosts to rest.

I stood beside Binge, placing a comforting hoof on her withers as she lowered the torch to the pyre, and set it to burning.

We both stood back from the flames as they crawled high into the clear evening sky, the kind of deep, welcoming blue that Arbu had never gotten a chance to see when it had been a home. Now its residents, so long forgotten, were laid to rest by one of its surviving daughters, and their spirits could rise into the restful heavens and be at peace at long last.

Beside me, Binge spoke in a small whisper. “Tell me bucky, these Ancestor Spirits of yours, do you believe in them?”

I nodded, holding her close as I felt her own hoof go around mine. “I do. I might not have once, but now I really do believe they’re watching over us. Your Ancestors and mine, together.”

“I’m not even a part of your tribe, silly bucky, why would your Ancestor Spirits look over me?”

I gulped, face reddening once more, “W-well, you... you could be part of my tribe, if you want.”

“Mmm,” she sighed contentedly, leaning against me, “That sounds like an invitation.”

I felt her tail lash against mine, wagging, and I returned the gesture, my own tail wrapping hers. “It is. I meant what I said, Binge. That I-”

She put a hoof on my mouth, “Shh, later. I wanna hear you say it later.”

“Later?” I asked, and glanced at her as she turned a mischievous grin plastered on her gaunt features.

“I wanna hear you scream it.” she said, all but breathing it into my ear, “Tonight.”

At my flabbergasted look she let out a joyous laugh, tears beading in her eyes. Not tears of so much regret and sadness, but simple released happiness. “Longwalk, you saved me from a madpony who enslaved the souls of my family, and freed them to find peaceful rest, while being by my side as I faced all the ugliness and pain inside me, and then just asked me to be part of your tribe while wearing the most beautiful scar I’ve ever seen carved into pony flesh.”

Her blue eyes shone like the sky above, but her voice was husky.

“I’m so wet for you right now I’m literally gonna burst, bucky. If you don’t take me somewhere with a bed, or other suitable flat surface, and mount me until I can’t walk straight, tonight, there is going to be murder involved.”

I blinked at her, fairly certain my whole body had just turned about as red as the setting sun.

“You’re crazy and a half.”

Her smirk was to die for. “And you love it.”

I could only smile back, because it was true.

We spent some time after that leaning against each other, watching the pyre burn, carrying the souls of Arbu off to final, welcome rest.

----------

Footnote - 50% to next Level Up!

Companion Perk Added - "Love is a Crazy Thing" Binge's feelings for you and yours for her have extra benefits besides the obvious. While Binge is in your party you both gain a 10% damage bonus on enemies you're both targeting, and as long as you are adjacent to each other in combat you can split the damage being taken by enemy attacks between you. Furthermore, whenever you "rest" with Binge in the party you gain 15% bonus to your total HP for the next twelve hours. The bite and scratch marks gained from said "rest" have no mechanical benefit, they just make other ponies stare.

Author's Note:

What can I say about this chapter other than man, did it take me a long time to get this one out, and at the same time has it been quite the hurdle to cross. Binge's backstory and her connections to Arbu were things I'd been planning to tackle since practically the day I put her in the party, so I'm glad to have finally gotten to these past couple of chapters. At the same time they have been rather hard to write, because Arbu is a touchy subject in general and giving it a fleshed out story that doesn't strictly contradict the original FoE's events isn't easy. But I'm happy to have gotten this far in Trigger, and not only get Binge and Longwalk to the point where she's putting her past and family to proper rest, but also she and Longwalk are moving forward together.

Not that their relationship is done developing. Its got lots of room to grow, and rough patches to come.

Scythe remains at large, and I'm hoping by now his own relationship with B.B makes more sense, and why he's going so far in trying to get her to return to the Family with him. We certainly haven't seen the last of that guy.

With this sort of mini-arc with Binge wrapping up we're moving into the next half of the NCR story-arc, which I'm thinking may go a bit faster. Fingers crossed on that. For those of you still reading along, my sincerest thanks and hope you guys continue to enjoy the story. 'Till next time!

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