• 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 14: Dangerous Eyes

The cold concrete stairs switched back upon each other once, leading to a shattered wooden door that was already hanging off its hinges, a huge chunk blown out from both it and parts of the plaster walls around the frame. My Pip-Buck’s soft light provided just enough illumination for me to see ahead of me as I barreled through the door into a tight corridor with a simple gray felt carpet, broken light fixtures, and doors lining either side as it stretched ahead.

Immediately I noticed the heavy smell of blood, and didn’t have to go far before I saw the corpses. Woven together with the smell of the blood was the thicker scent of sour, sickly tang of filth that identified the Raider bodies before I got a clear look at the patchwork bloodied armor, spiked like rusted bushes. The Raiders, of which I counted four as I cantered quickly down the hall, were all dead. One mare bore blackened scorch marks that burned holes through her chest and out her back, yellow eyes rolled up and glassy. Another stallion had half of his face melted away into a small pile of green goo, some of the liquified flesh pooled beneath his mouth, open in a now silent death scream. The others were dead in similar fashion, and remembering Saddlespring I recognized the work of Odessa magical energy weapons.

Whatever had been attacking the Odessa squad, then, had either been with the Raiders, or waited until after the Odessa soldiers had dealt with the Raiders to attack. It was clear now Silver Mare Studios had been a Raider nest, as glancing into some of the open doorways as I passed them revealed small, filth stained dens that indicated these Raiders had been living here for some time. Old bodies hanging from hooks, decomposed to the point where (thankfully) I couldn’t tell if they had been ponies, or just Wasteland critters, and horrifically violent and pornographic graffiti plastered the walls and ceiling. A part of me wondered if Raiders decorated their homes in this just to keep themselves reminded of what they were; as if to reinforce their special brand of crazy on a daily basis. I know I might go a little crazy if I had to wake up to rotting bodies and gore porn every morning.

I tried to ignore it all as I hurried forward. I could hear my companions behind me, the blue glow of Arcaidia’s light filling the corridor, mixing with the green light from my Pip-Buck. Binge made a small cooing sound as we passed the bodies. I also heard a small muttered curse from Arcaidia in her language. B.B, wings flapping as she hovered through the air behind me, said, “Long, slow yerself down a’ mite, could be more Raider’s ‘round here, and they like ta leave-”

I felt my leg trip something small and thin, hearing a snapping sound. I felt an impact on my back and the woosh of something over my head as I was forced to the ground. I rolled, seeing that B.B had thrown herself on me, and above us, just where my head would have been had B.B not jumped me, a steel girder swung across the hallway from one of the adjoining rooms.

“What was that?” I asked, seeing the broken wire I’d tripped over. B.B gave me a rueful look as Arcaidia and Binge caught up to us.

“Like I was sayin’, Raiders like ta leave traps, an’ Odessa peagsi’d probably floated over most o’ them. Gotta take it slow, Long, if yer takin’ the lead. Or you’ll lose yer head.”

I gave B.B a thankful nod as we both stood. I eyed the still slightly swinging steel beam warily, but also with a confused tilt of my head, “I don’t remember there being any traps like this in the school.”

Binge tittered, playfully batting at the steel beam with a hoof, “Boss Bloodtrail didn’t like us leaving our toys laying around and spanked any bad colt or filly who didn’t clean up after themselves. Friendly Fire was so sad to have to put away her bouquets.”

“Bouquets?” I asked, resuming a still quick, but somewhat cautionary trot down the hallway.

“Grenade bunches, designed ta drop on ya an’ blow in seconds,” muttered B.B, “We trip one o’ those an’ any o’ us that survive’ll be scrapin’ pieces o’ the others outta their mane’s fer days.”

Fun. I was feeling properly foolish for having rushed in here, but urgency still coursed through my limbs, tension building in my spine. I hadn’t heard another scream or gunshot since we burst down the stairs and that was bothering me. I sent a small prayer to the Ancestor spirits to let us be in time to do the Odessa squad some good, but the silence of the building was not a good sign. Living ponies, scared, and fighting for their lives, tended to make a lot of noise. Dead ponies, not so much. It didn’t help that my E.F.S wasn’t picking anything up yet.

The gratuitous amounts of Raider decor made it difficult to tell what purpose any of the rooms we passed might have once served, though from their size I guessed they couldn’t have been used for much besides habitation, maybe. When we got to the end of the hall it split into a T-junction, and I paused as I noticed a miraculously intact poster hanging from the wall before us that had avoided the worst of the Raider’s love of horrific, bloody graffiti.

The poster was of a mustard yellow pegasus mare with a striking mane and tail of multi-toned dark hues from jet black to smokey gray. She had magenta eyes, and was wearing a rugged green shirt and odd hat of a style I’d never seen, with a wide, hard brim and roundish dome top. The pegasus was shown in an arctic climate, reminding me of the scenery I’d seen in Arcaidia’s dream. She was facing, with a daring expression on her face, a large stone opening in the side of a mountain cliff, with pillars bearing strange writings on it flanking the entrance. Standing in the entrance was another mare, a blue unicorn with a curled, silver mane, violet eyes, and wearing a black military uniform of some kind. The unicorn was smirking at the pegasus, clearly blocking the path into the mountain as she reared up, brandishing a thin bladed sword.

The poster was headlined by bold orange lettering, declaring, ‘Daring Do and the Search for the Guardian’s Shrine! Coming to theaters this summer!’

Below that in smaller print ‘Starring former-Wonderbolt Fleethoof as Daring Do! And co-starring, in her first major film appearance, The Great and Powerful Trixie, as Madame Rapier!’

There were other posters lined along the wall to either side of this one, though those ones were so slathered with grime that it was hard to tell what they depicted. However I could tell they seemed to be of similar style to this mostly clean one; showing ponies in various poses and in exotic scenes and locations, usually with some kind of bold title in big eye-catching lettering. What was all this?

I gave the posters a cursory glance, but my curiosity was subdued by the knowledge pony lives were still possibly in danger, so I turned from it and started for a distant, green glowing sign I saw down the left path of the T-junction that read ‘Stairs’. Behind me I heard B.B make a small, happy exclamation as she spotted the poster.

“Ha! Not ta pop the serious mood o’ the situation, but... mine!” the pegasus declared as she snatched the poster rolled it up carefully, and tucked it into her saddlebags,“Lucky find. Didn’t think I’d ever spot ‘nother poster wit her in it, an’ in a’ movie ta boot!”

I assumed she was talking about the blue unicorn, Trixie. The same one that’d been on the poster back at her father’s tavern in Saddlespring. It occurred to me that she had mentioned that she’d taught herself those magic tricks and performance skills because that old poster had inspired her, and the poster had probably burned up with the rest of the town. That being the case I decided to cut her some slack about looting while we were in the middle of trying to rescue ponies. Wasn’t like she paused for more than a second to grab the poster, and I had to slow myself down to a canter as I kept my eyes out for more trap wires anyway. Still, my anxiousness was rising with every step. What had made the howling sound we’d heard on the roof?

“Maybe it was the cry of the dead, inviting us in to play?” whispered a voice on the back of my neck and I nearly jumped out of my own hide, spinning around to see Binge’s grinning face. The mare’s dark green coat all but blended into the shadowy surroundings, barely revealed by my Pip-Buck’s light or Arcaidia’s soft glowing horn.

“Binge! Damnit don’t do that!” I said, blowing a hefty snort as I tried to calm my racing heart, then I paused. How did she know what I was thinking!? The Raider mare licked her lips, yellow teeth flashing in the dark.

“Don’t do what?” she asked in a sickly sweet tone. I shook my head. I swear, that mare was going out of her way to shorten my natural lifespan! Binge suddenly whinnied as she was lifted in Arcaidia’s frosty blue magic aura, the unicorn filly floating over the Raider mare. Binge smiled wide and innocently at Arcaidia.

“Shivol bir behave herself. Get in back of place of formation, guard rear,” Arcaidia punctuated her statement by blasting a frosty bit of air in Binge’s face, not harming the other mare but causing a bit of her highly tangled and unruly mane to ice up at the tips. Binge licked her lips, saluting with a expression of what might have been mock seriousness, or actual seriousness. Impossible to tell with Binge.

“Ma’am, yes ma’am! Rears shall be guarded with excessive and enthusiastic levels of violence!”

Arcaidia rolled her eyes and floated Binge to the rear of the group. I only spared the scene a quick look before focusing my attention ahead of me. Almost to the next set of stairs I almost didn’t notice the dripping of something warm and wet on the back of my neck. I froze in place and slowly looked up, raising my left foreleg to shine my Pip-Buck light towards the ceiling. The warm wetness dripped onto my face, but I didn’t wipe it away, too busy transfixed by the sight above me.

An earth pony stallion had been nailed to the ceiling with what appeared to be broken off stakes of wood, probably from some of the shattered doors nearby. He was wearing an Odessa uniform, the stark white material now soaked red in many places, and the plates of his combat armor torn off him in chunks. The uniform confused me for a moment, as I thought Odessa was a pegasi and griffin only organization... then the stallion groaned in pain, twitching in place on the stakes that impaled him. Including twitching the stubs of wings that had been torn off, little bloody nubs I hadn’t noticed earlier.

“Ancestors... Arcaidia, we need healing here!” I said, as I reared up on my hindlegs and put a hoof on the pegasus’ face. He was a dark brown coated pony, with a two-toned purple mane, mostly dark, but with a lighter streak running through it. As I touched him he cracked open light brown eyes.

“P-please… no...” he shook his head, and his eyes flicked about rapidly, dilated and delirious.

B.B had flown up first, with Arcaidia right behind. B.B had a stoney look on her face as she examined the other pegasus, hovering next to him and putting a hoof to his brow. She sucked in a sharp breath and let it out slowly.

“Fella’s got a’ stake through his gut an’, all his limbs. Pullin’ him down is gonna be risky. We could do more damage an’ end up killin’ him.”

I turned to her, “Can we do anything to lower the risk? If Arcaidia uses her healing spell?”

B.B looked pensive, “Gonna hafta do it real careful. Arc’ll need ta hit him with her spell and hold it while we hoist him down.”

I nodded, and then thought about the medical supplies she’d taken from Stable 104, “Do you have any of that Med-X stuff, to help him with the pain?”

B.B’s frown deepened, “I do. Didn’t want ta use it less I had ta. Arc, ya mind gettin’ yer spell going while I dose this fella?”

While B.B and I got into position to start pulling out the wood stakes in the Odessa soldier Arcaidia’s horn flared a brighter blue, the familiar ring of crest symbols appearing in the air around the horn as she cast her healing spell. The pegasus’ body was wrapped in blue light, causing him to instantly groan in response. B.B withdrew a Med-X needle from her saddlebag and carefully injected the pegasus stallion, which eased his twitching. With a nod exchanged between us B.B and I both started to quickly pull the stakes free. Blood flowed freely, and the pegasi grunted, but the combination of Arcaidia’s healing spell and the Med-X seemed to keep him from panicking or feeling too much pain. B.B caught the Odessa soldier before he fell. The Odessa trooper let out a pained whimper, and I felt him try to pull weakly away from my grasp, even as he shivered in my hooves. He fearfully lashed about with his limbs, trying to push away from us, but his attempts were weak as a newborn foal’s.

“No... no... NO! Lea… leave me… alone.”

His eyes were wild, terrified, and he clearly wasn’t seeing us, but something else. Some nightmare vision of whatever had done this to him. I noticed now that aside from the wounds from the stakes in his limbs and gut, and the missing wings, the stallion had been wounded in numerous other ways. Claw marks ripped along his chest and neck, or criss-crossed over his face. The claw marks were all shallow, the kind that would not be fatal, but still bleed profusely. The were wounds made to inflict suffering, not to kill.

“Did Raiders do this?” I asked, wondering at the claw marks. I’d never seen a Raider with claws, specifically, though given the imagination of Raiders I didn’t doubt one of their twisted minds could easily fashion a gauntlet of some kind out of animal claws.

Binge was actually doing as she’d been told, to my shock, and wasn’t looking at the pegasus but instead was dutifully peering into the darkness we’d come from, but she still responded, “Silent, silent, silent, too much for party ponies like me who want to hear the screams. If the pretty pegasus was a party guest, where’d the party go?”

It took me a moment to understand what she was saying. If Raider’s had done this to him, then that would’ve meant the rest of his squad were probably dead, and we’d be knee deep in Raiders right now. But it seemed like the Odessa soldiers had killed the Raiders here. Whatever had done this to this poor stallion, it’d happened after the Raiders had been dealt with.

The pegasus had only marginally calmed down, though his face wasn’t twisted up in pain anymore. Arcaidia’s healing spell had halted the bleeding from what I could see, and closed up most of the shallower wounds. However the pegasus stallion was clearly exhausted and suffering from massive blood loss, and Arcaidia’s spell hadn’t closed the deeper wounds from the stakes. I knew nothing of medicine, but even with a healing spell I was worried it was only buying him time. I looked up at B.B, the only pony in the group I knew had any kind of medical training. She was giving the soldier a strange look, one that was part ire and part sympathy.

“B.B, is he going to be okay?” I asked. She looked up at me, eyes unreadable.

“Ain’t rightly sure. Healin’ spell will keep him from dyin’ on us, short term, but I’m guessin’ this buck won’t last the night if he don’t keep gettin’ hit up the spell, pump full o’ healin’ potions, or gits to a’ proper medical facility. ‘Summing he’d even want our help. Pegasus without wings, ain’t somethin’ many take to easy. Can break a fella’s spirit, an’ this one’s lookin’ mostly gone in the brainpan already.”

I looked at pegasus stallion, trying to imagine what it might even be like to lose something so intrinsic to oneself as those wings. Maybe it’d be like losing a leg? Something about that comparison just didn’t seem apt, though.

“We’re going to do all we can for him,” I thought quickly over options, eager to try and find the rest of the Odessa squad but unwilling to leave this buck alone, “Arcaidia, Binge, do you guys mind going back to the roof with this stallion? Give him a healing potion if you can, but either way leave him under LIL-E’s guard. B.B and I will go ahead, and you two can catch up to us. Arcaidia, I’m assuming you can track my Pip-Buck with yours, so you can find us quick?”

Arcaidia nodded, “Yes, easy find. Mistake, though, breaking group. Enemy soldier not worth risk. Why do this?”

I took a deep breath and let it out, trying keep my own anger in check. I really didn’t want to argue about this. Especially because Arcaidia had a perfectly logical point; it was stupid to split up in a dangerous situation to help a soldier who was part of an organization that was hunting us. But we were already here to help the Odessa troops, so no point splitting hairs over the risks of doing so, now that we were in the thick of it.

“Because I’m asking you, Arcaidia, to do this for me,” I said, “Please.”

Arcaidia gave me a hard look but dipped her head in a nod and floated up the Odessa pegasus in her magical field, “Do not go far, ren solva. No dumb risks while I gone!”

“Icydeath’s right, no having too much fun while we’re playing doctor with the yummy soldier buck! No shaking hooves with Mr. Death until we get back!” said Binge firmly, her poofy tail flicking back and forth, with a knife dancing in its grip. How did she do that with her tail anyway? It was a neat trick.

“B.B and I will be careful,” I assured them and turned to B.B, “Right?”

She snorted, crossing her hooves over her barrel as she flew beside me with short hovering beats of her wings, “I know I’ll be all sorts o’ careful like. Ain’t me they’re worried ‘bout, its yer reckless flank. No worries Arc, I’ll reign in our thick-headed white knight so he don’t git himself dead.”

Arcaidia nodded, “Good. Trust you much, bruhir. Watch back of ren solva. I return soon with shivol bir, if she behave and not make me turn her into block of ice.”

The two quickly departed, heading back the way we came. I didn’t imagine they’d take more than a couple of minutes to get the soldier to LIL-E, who could at least keep an eye on him until we found the rest of his squad, dead or alive as the case may be. That’s why I didn’t want to wait for Arcaidia and Binge to get back; we’d used up too much time as it was and I had a sinking feeling about what we’d find further in.

With B.B flying just behind me we carefully moved down the hallway to the next set of stairs, gingerly avoiding another trip wire. This one was connected to a large cinderblock filled with rebar spikes attached to a swinging chain, which was in turn wrapped in barbed wire. The cinderblock had a smiling face painted on it with what I had an unsettling suspicion wasn’t mud or chocolate.

I shined my Pip-Buck light down the stairwell, the door hanging open, its knob melted away. Looking down at the bottom of the stairs I saw another set of dead Raiders. That along with the burns and bullet marks along the walls I got the impression of an intense firefight here. Amid the Raider bodies most bore wounds from magical energy weapons, but at least one poor mare looked like she’d had her throat torn out by what I could only assume was either a knife or a large claw.

As we passed the bodies I paused, the dots floating around my vision changing as the Eyes Forward Sparkle on my Pip-Buck finally started picking things up. Four dots appeared ahead of me and a little to the left. I understood the E.F.S designated hostiles and non-hostiles somehow, with green meaning more or less friendly, and red meaning I could expect violence. I was understandably confused then as these four dots kept flickering back and forth between green and red, never staying on one color for very long.

“I think we’ve found our ponies,” I said, B.B flying up next to me, her guns aimed out the door to the next floor, “Not sure if they’re going to shoot us or not. My Pip-Buck apparently can’t decide.”

“They better keep their mouths offa them trigger bits,” B.B said grimly, “Don’t screw ‘round Long, they shoot, ya ain’t stoppin’ me from shootin’ back.”

“I know,” I told her, jaw tightening, “I won’t ask you to not defend yourself, just... just give me a chance to talk it out, and don’t spook them. An injured gecko will bite even its own kind.”

She gave me an odd look but said nothing as we exited the body strewn stairwell and moved into the third floor. We exited out into what looked to be a break room. Old round metal tables, some still standing, others overturned, covered a wide room with a few ripped up couches shoved up in one corner. The smell of the bodies in the stairwell mixed with the smell of two century old junk food, though judging from the growths on some of the tables ‘food’ was not really an applicable term anymore. I saw a couple of doors to the right, both next to each other, and bearing on them odd signs that looked like ponies; one wearing a dress, another not.

“Restrooms,” B.B explained to me as she saw where I was looking, “Ain’t likely ta find much in ‘em, though sometimes ye’ll luck out an’ there’ll be a first aid kit in there.”

There seemed to be something odd to me about putting medical supplies in the same place ponies did their business, but I was the uncivilized tribal pony, so what did I know? Turning from the restrooms I looked across to the only other door out, and blinked. Not only was the door gone, but a good portion of the wall had been completely ripped apart, as if something huge had just torn through the plaster and wood like it was little more than paper.

I trotted forward, carefully poking my head through the massive hole in the wall. The moment I did I nearly jumped out of my own hide as the eerily quiet building was filled with a thunderously loud gunshot. I instinctively ducked, and angled Gramzanber like a shield to cover part of my body, but it was unneeded as another gunshot echoed loudly from nearby, but nothing hit me, or even nearby me.

“Ain’t comin’ at us,” B.B said as she poked her guns out the hole and peeked around the corner, “It’s comin’ from down here.”

She was aiming to the right down a hallway that was partially blocked by a collapse in the ceiling from the floor above. Just after the gunshots I heard a few lighter snapping hisses that sounded like a magical energy gun, and faint cursing. I picked myself up and started galloping towards the sounds. Behind me B.B shouted, “Dang it Long, wait up!”

I slowed down, heeding B.B’s words, though every instinct in me told me to get to the sound of fighting as fast as possible so I could help protect lives. But B.B was right, if I just rushed in I was likely to get shot. Forcing my pace to slow I worked my way around the debris from the collapsed ceiling, B.B right on my tail. I heard her sniffing and glanced back at her. B.B’s nose was twitching and she sniffed the air, and I saw her face tighten in sudden worry. Like I’d noticed several times before there seemed to be a slight red hue to the rims of her eyes.

“Long,” she said as her nose twitched again, “I know this smell.”

The gunfire intensified, then I heard a high pitched scream ahead, a pony crying out in pain. I could tell B.B was scared, her eyes wide, but that scream, filled with terror and despair, washed away any notion I had that I was about to turn back.

“No time B.B, we got to move!” I said, not breaking into a full gallop, but trotting as fast as I dared as we went down the hallway and rounding a corner. Just as we did so I heard B.B speaking, voice tight with fear.

“Long, we gotta run! Its the-”

Around the turn in the hallway I saw it. This hallway went past several doors on either end, one of which had been torn to pieces, much like the wall behind us had been. An Odessa soldier clad head to tail in thick white armor, the same kind of sleek demonic looking suits with the scorpion-like tails I’d seen before, was standing in the hallway and was blazing away with two energy guns that fired pulses of red light. Beside the Odessa pegasus was a griffin, male, wearing a suit of white armor made of ceramic plates that covered his chest and legs, along with a round sturdy looking combat helmet that covered one of his eyes with a glowing piece of glass. This griffin blasted away with a large shotgun with a drum clip as large and some pony’s heads.

What they were shooting at was a nightmare I remembered.

“-Hellhound,” B.B finished past clenched teeth.

It was a Hellhound, the very same hulking dark monstrosity that we had encountered in the Wasteland during the fight with the radscorpions. Its thick black hide was taking the shotgun blasts and energy weapon shots with indifference. What little damage the weapons were doing didn’t seem to bother the creature. The massive bipedal, vaguely canine creature took up most of the hallway, its hide blending in with the shadows and making it hard to make out even amid the flashing lights of gunfire. Its glowing eyes glared at the Odessa soldier’s shooting it, but was ignoring them in favor of what it held in one of its claws.

In its claws another Odessa pony struggled in vain to get free. He was a young buck, small in frame, with a yellow coat and short red mane. He wasn’t wearing the same heavy armor as his compatriots, instead wearing a less bulky white uniform that was more lined with belts storing what looked like medical supplies; a medic? The Odessa medic was crying and screaming, beating at the Hellhound with his hooves. I saw a broken energy rifle on the ground by the hellhound’s feet.

“H-help me!” the medic cried as the Hellhound’s grip on him tightened, claws digging past his barding and into his flesh, red seeping into the white uniform. The Hellhound could have just ripped the pony apart, yet seemed to be taking its time, slowly putting pressure on, and I could see in the creature's bestial features that it was watching both the Odessa medic and his comrades... and was it smiling?

That’s when it hit me. The Odessa soldier from the top floor had been left for dead after being cut up by dozens of claw wounds, none of them fatal, but put there to inflict pain. The Hellhound wasn’t trying to kill the Odessa medic; yet. He was trying to make it slow. He was enjoying watching. This creature could tear through walls, but had let the Odessa squad barricade themselves in a room, thinking they were safe.

This Hellhound wasn’t hunting just to kill, or for food.

It was trying to hurt its prey. It was trying to maximize their fear and suffering, not just kill them.

Anger flared to life inside me, pushing back my initial shock at seeing the Hellhound and the instinctive fear such a beast seemed to naturally inspire. Without saying a word or wasting another moment I surged forward. I barreled past the two still standing Odessa soldiers, careful to duck my head low and maneuver between their lines of fire. I heard exclamations from both of them at my sudden appearance, and both halted firing for just a moment out of surprise. The Hellhound itself turned its gaze on me as I charged it, its head cocking slightly at me, as if more curious than threatened.

I didn’t care if the Hellhound considered me a threat or not, all of my attention focused on striking. I dove in, jumping the last of the distance and landing right in front of the Hellhound, and I tore my head upwards, aiming Gramzanber’s serrated upper edge at the join of the elbow of the Hellhound’s arm that was holding the Odessa medic.

My jaw was jarred as the ARM was stopped in its tracks by a backhand from the Hellhound’s other arm that was so fast I barely saw more than a dark blur. I was flung back like a toy tossed by an angry foal. I kept my mouth gripped on Gramzanber, and rolled with the fall, dizzied and bruised, but on my hooves again quickly. However the Hellhound hadn’t stayed put. Using the Odessa soldier's surprise and the time I needed to recover from being flung, it retreated with remarkable speed into the darkness of the hallway, dragging the crying medic with it into the shadows.

“Suture!” shouted the Odessa pegasus in the scorpion-tail armor, flapping his wings and rising into the air as if to give chase, but the griffin moved over and gripped his comrade’s leg with one talon.

“Corporal, you go after him and that thing will pick you off too!”

“I don’t care! We’ve lost too many! Not one more! Let go of me Bernard!”

The griffin, Bernard, narrowed golden eyes and his beak moved into a hard scowl with more dexterity than I would have imagined something like a beak could twist with. I could see pain in the griffin’s eyes, however, even as he spoke.

“Can’t do that, Glint. You got to keep it together,” Bernard said, then glanced at me, and B.B who flew up next to me, “Besides we got another problem.”

Another voice called from inside the room with the smashed door, a female voice, “G-guys!? Everypony alive out there!? Sh-shit, did it get Suture?”

“Spring, stay in there!” said the pegasus, corporal Glint I was assuming, then he glared at me. Or, well, I guess I couldn’t tell if he was glaring or not. That helmet covered his face with a glowering visage that was somehow both insect-like and demonic, with two huge glowing orange bug eyes. I couldn’t see the pony underneath, but the helmet gave an intimidating impression.

He looked over my weapon, then me, then at B.B, “Did you two come because of my transmission?”

I nodded, though my eyes kept looking down the hallway where the Hellhound had dragged the medic, Suture, “We did. Let’s skip intros though, we need to save your friend.”

Glint made a sound that was like a sudden sharp intake of breath before saying, “I hate it, but Bernard’s right. Suture is as good as dead. Every time that fucking thing has taken one of my squad it just... it just stays one step ahead of us, never letting us engage, as it takes its time killing them. Let’s us hear every scream, but runs off every time we try to give chase!”

Even as he said that I heard an echoing scream from down the hallway, Suture crying, begging, “Pl-please... help! Aaaargh!”

I shuddered, and next to me B.B growled, “I knew Hellhounds could be downright nasty, but this things a’ piece o’ work.”

My anger was only growing, though it was joined by a little shock as I looked at Gramzanber’s blade. The spot where the Hellhound had deflected it was scored slightly by faint claw marks. Claw. Marks. I’d deflected energy weapons with this thing, and had cut through metal with it! What were that Hellhound’s claws made out of that they could damage Gramzanber!? I shook off my surprise. It didn’t matter how fast or deadly the Hellhound was, I had to stop it!

Controlling my breathing and shoving down my fear I turned away from the Odessa soldiers and started down the hallway. The Hellhound wasn’t showing up on my E.F.S, but Suture’s position was marked by a flickering green dot.

“I came here to help, and that means getting everypony out that I can. I’m going after your friend. Help or don’t.”

Glint and Bernard looked at each other, and after a second another pony poked her head out into the hallway from the ripped open doorway. She was also an Odessa soldier, a pegasus mare wearing the standard combat armor I’d seen in Saddlespring, her coat white and little wisps of a sand colored mane sticking out from under her helmet. Her eyes were a familiar sharp green and I recognized her the moment she recognized me.

“You!” she shouted, bringing up a tube covered magical plasma rifle, her eyes flashing with anger, “Glint, its him! It’s the ARM user that’s with Target 02! The ones that killed Summer!”

B.B had her hooves up and her revolvers aimed, and both Glint and Bernard tensed, the griffin slightly raising his shotgun but not quite pointing it at us, while Glint turned his helmet towards me and the scorpion tail of his armor twitched.

I slowly raised one placating hoof, speaking without dropping Gramzanber, slightly angling it so the large flat of the blade was between me and the energy weapons pointed at me.

“Okay everypony, and, uh, griffin, let’s not get all trigger happy. My friends and I came because you folk called for help. Any issues we got with each other can wait until after we don’t have a murderous nine foot tall monster trying to kill us, sound good?”

“Like hell!” snarled the Odessa mare, “We can’t trust you! You’re working with the enemy, and we lost dozens of our own because of you, including my... my sister...”

I’d figured as much. She bore a clear resemblance to the pony that had chased B.B and I after we’d fled the Saddlespring Ruins, and B.B had been forced to kill. This mare had the same green eyes, now slightly wet with unshed tears as she aimed a plasma gun at me, mouth just barely keeping from biting down on the trigger bit.

“Missy, I tell ya now if yer teeth bite that bit it’s gonna be the last thing ya ever bite down on,” warned B.B, her eyes narrow, her mane and tail bristling. The mare turned her glare from me to B.B, and was about to speak but Glint held up an armored hoof.

“Private Spring Breeze, stand down,” he said in an authoritative tone. She shot him a look, eyes wide.

“Glint!? You can’t be serious! You’re going to trust them!? We lost half our platoon because of them! Summer Breeze-”

“I know damned well what happened to Summer!” snapped Glint, but his tone quickly softened “Spring, I miss her too. I miss a lot of ponies we lost. I don’t trust these two either. But they’re here, to help, just like I called for. Right here, right now, I need to get my squad out of this death trap. I’d take help from Discord himself, if that’s what it took.”

Spring Breeze took in a few shaky breaths, clearly torn between following her superior’s orders and wanting to turn me and B.B into puddles of goo. After a heaving breath she lowered her weapon and stood at ease, “Yes sir.”

Bernard lowered his shotgun, his feathers along his head ruffling, “Right, so now that we’re not shooting each other, now what? We making a break for it?”

Echoing off the walls the distant screaming of Suture could still be heard, and I bristled imagining what the Hellhound must have been doing to the Odessa medic, remembering all too clearly the way the soldier we’d rescued on the top floor had been impaled on the ceiling. Arcaidia and Binge ought to have delivered that wounded soldier to LIL-E on the roof and should have been on their way back by now.

“I have friends that should be here soon,” I told Glint, looking square into his helmet’s orange insect-like eyes, “We found one of your squad alive on the floor above us. Brown coat, purple mane. He’s still alive.”

The griffin make a quick, halting and choking sound, his gold eyes going wide, “Nosedive is alive!? Where is he!?”

“I had my friends take him to the roof to treat his wounds and keep him safe. I got another friend up there guarding the roof as our escape route,” I explained, “Anyway, my point is when my friends catch up with us, we’ll have this thing outnumbered seven to one. We have to at least try to get your other squadmate back.”

Bernard’s talons gripped the handle of his combat shotgun tightly and the griffin looked at Glint, “Corporal, forget what I just said; if Nosedive survived, and these ponies saved him, then maybe we got a shot at getting Suture back.”

“Did a one-eighty real quick there, didn’t you?” asked Glint, but I heard a smile in it, even behind the helmet, which he turned towards me, “I can’t guarantee what happens after we leave this building, but as long as we’re in here and you stay true in trying to help my squad, then I’ll forget who you are and who you’re with. Work for you?”

I nodded firmly, “Works for me.”

B.B lowered her guns, though she remained tense, and her nose twitched repeatedly. I was hoping her sense of smell was a sharp as I suspected, because I intended to rely on it to track the Hellhound. Between her nose and my Pip-Buck, I had confidence we’d be able to find it, no matter how hard it tried to hide.

The soft echo of hoofbeats reached our ears and a pale blue light shone from the hallway, pushing back the shadows and illuminating the forms of Arcaidia and Binge as they worked their way around the rubble strewn hall and joined us. Arcaidia immediately narrowed her silver eyes coldly at the Odessa soldiers, but to her credit she did not aim her starblaster at them, merely approached me with a curt, proud manner that reminded me, oddly enough, of the Odessa soldiers military manner.

“Pegasus pony still breaths,” she said to me, “LIL-E watch, but not happy on roof. Says should be with us.”

Upon seeing her the Odessa squad all tensed, Spring Breeze giving Glint a sidelong look as she whispered, not all that quietly, “Target 02”

“Say that a little louder, Spring, don’t think they heard you,” muttered Bernard with a roll of his eyes. Spring gave him a sharp look and stuck her tongue out at him. Glint sighed, his wings fluttering. They were encased in his armor the same as the rest of him, and I found it fascinating to watch how the many faceted metal plating moved so fluidly with the wings. What kind of magic and technology went into a suit like that? I sort of wondered if the spider ponies back at Stable 104 could make something similar?

“For now, we’re ignoring her,” Glint said, gesturing at Arcaidia.

I felt a tug on my tail and glanced back to see Binge giving me a welcoming, if crooked smile of yellow teeth, “Are we eating chicken tonight?”

I blinked at her, then rapidly shook my head, “No! They’re friendlies. For the moment. I think.”

She giggled at me, her dilated blue eyes looking at Bernard in a way that made the griffin shift uncomfortably and adjust how he was holding his shotgun so that it was vaguely pointed in her direction. I stamped my hoof to get everyone’s attention and cleared my throat, “We’re going after the Hellhound. B.B, can you still smell it?”

A brief shadow passed over her features, but she nodded, her brown tail twitching, “Sure can, an’ the poor buck it’s got. Lot of blood in the air, ain’t sure how long we got ‘fore the fella kicks it from blood loss alone.”

“Our best chance is to box the Hellhound in,” I said, thinking back to my tribe’s hunting tactics. Being able to surround the prey and cut off its escape was important, because you usually only had one shot at taking it down. With this Hellhound, we’d need to surround it and limit its movement to have a chance. A part of me was wondering, though, did I intend to kill the Hellhound, if I could? It was clearly intelligent. It was also pretty damned clearly malevolent. Like I’d decided after my talk with LIL-E, I’d just have to focus on saving Suture, and kill only if I saw no other choice. Maybe, once it lost its own prey, and was wounded badly enough, the Hellhound would flee?

“How are we going to ‘box it in’?” asked Spring Breeze, still giving me the stink-eye, “It can burrow through walls, or the floor, and is faster than any of us.”

“Waitasec,” said B.B, “If it can go through walls why’d ya’ll barricade yerselves in a room? Wouldn’t that have been kinda pointless?”

“We tried to get to the roof, but that’s where it killed three of my squad. I knew it was trying to keep us in here, so I decided holing up and calling for help was our only remaining option,” said Glint, a tightness entering his tone, “I thought the walls would at least slow it down.”

“To answer the question though,” I said, looking at Spring, feeling uncomfortable meeting her eyes but unwilling to look away from the hate an accusation burning in those green orbs, “We split into two groups and try to catch it between us. B.B can smell it, and I can track Suture with my Pip-Buck, so we’ll take the lead, any objections?”

“None,” said Glint, cutting off Spring before she could voice what was a clear objection from her frown, “I’ll go with you and Target 02, and Bernard and Spring with your other two friends. Agreed?”

I cocked my head at the Odessa soldier, wishing I could see his face behind that expressionless helmet. I wondered why he chose that set up? He was putting himself at a disadvantage by coming with me and Arcaidia by himself. We could easily team up against him, if we needed to. Maybe that was the point? He was trying to show me some trust? That blank, demonic helmet was giving me no answers, though, so I just nodded.

“Agreed.”

We got moving, following B.B’s lead at first until we reached a turn off in the hallway, one leading to the right, the other continuing on ahead. Checking my Pip-Buck’s local map feature I could see the hallways wrapped around several sets of rooms, and it looked like there was a single large room taking up the entire second half of this floor past that. B.B’s nose sniffed the air and she looked to me, nodding down the hallway past the turn off.

“It went thatta way, but I’m catchin’ a whiff o’ it strong ‘nought ta I’m sure it ain’t off this floor yet.”

B.B led her team down the turn off, Bernard having moved up next to her, while Spring Breeze hung back alongside Binge. The Odessa mare looked nervously over Binge, who just gave Spring that giant crescent grin of hers. As they went down the hallway turn off and I proceeded forward past the turn off, light shining down the gloomy corridor from flashlights mounted on the Odessa trooper’s helmets, I whispered a silent prayer to the Ancestor spirits they would be okay. Next to me, Glint gave me an look, tilting his head.

“What was that?”

“Huh?”

“What did you just whisper?”

“Oh, just a quick prayer. Asking my Ancestors for a little luck and protection,” I explained.

Glint continued to look at me a moment longer before shaking his head and then trotted on in silence. Arcaidia was projecting her horn’s light in front of us, completely illuminating the hallway ahead. I picked up on the trail of dark blood droplets that were no doubt from Suture being dragged this way. The sounds of the Odessa medic’s cries had stopped, but that didn’t mean he was dead. It was possible the Hellhound could hear us coming and was keeping Suture quiet... in fact, it didn’t have to keep holding onto the pegasus. The Hellhound could have easily stashed him in any of the rooms on this floor, knowing we’d at the very least be able to follow the blood trail...

Which would mean we’d be walking right into a trap.

I stopped, throwing my hoof out to halt Glint. Doing so was the only thing that ended up saving the pegasus soldier’s life as a Hellhound claw smashed through the wall to our right, slashing through the air right where Glint’s head would have been if I hadn’t stopped him trotting forward.

Things began to happen quickly. I tried to slash at the Hellhound’s extended arm, but had to duck away to avoid getting gutted by the Hellhound’s second claw that came bursting through the wall, showering me with plaster and wood chips. Glint swore and flew back, firing pulses of red magical energy at the claws, to little effect. Arcaidia said something sharply in her own language and her horn came alive with crest symbols forming around it as she cast a spell.

The Hellhound finished what it started and came ripping through the wall, growling with a rumbling noise that vibrated in my very bones. I turned to get Gramzanber lined up a thrust at the creature’s chest, but it was far faster than anything its size had a right to be. Before I knew it I felt a snap of pain in my chest as the Hellhound bunched one claw into a fist and slammed me so hard in the guy that it lifted me off the floor and sent me smashing into the ceiling. As I fell, stunned, part of my brain wondered; why had it used a fist on me instead of its claws? It could have skewered me, easily, in that instant.

I hit the floor, coughing, and heard the familiar buzz of magic as Arcaidia unleashed a torrent of ice shards at the Hellhound. The conical spears of ice smashed into the Hellhound’s dark, thick hide, icing over some of the creature’s skin but failing to penetrate. The beast fixed Arcaidia with a glare of glowing eyes and snorted, seemingly unimpressed.

Then Arcaidia shot it with her starblaster.

That impressed it more.

The Hellhound recoiled from the brilliant lance of silver light fired by the starblaster, a part of its hide burned from the bright beam. I was just getting back to my hooves and was shocked. Arcaidia’s starblaster had never failed to turn what it hit into a pile of char. It had hurt the Hellhound, but that was it. Arcaidia herself seemed surprised, looking at her starblaster as if it had betrayed her. Unfortunately the Hellhound took advantage of that surprise bursting forward with that same shocking speed it’d hit me with.

“Arcaidia!” I cried out, surging forward myself, wanting to activate Accelerator to intercept the Hellhound. However I was more aware of the nature of the pressure I felt in my head that signified my connection to Gramzanber; and knew the pressure hadn’t built enough quite yet for me to use that power. I was stuck relying on my own speed, and it wasn’t enough to reach Arcaidia in time. Whatever was holding the Hellhound back when it hit me apparently didn’t apply to Arcaidia as I saw the creature’s claws descend towards the unicorn filly, who was trying to backpedal away from the incoming deathblow.

Suddenly Glint was there, having flown right by Arcaidia in a low flying maneuver that had him skimming upside down along the floor, his twin beam guns blazing away. The red beams stitched a path from the Hellhound’s head all the way down to its crotch as Glint flew between the Hellhound’s legs, landing on his back as he did so and skidding a few meters before flipping to his hooves. The Hellhound roared, I think more from the indignity of having its groin shot, rather than any real damage the magical beams managed to do.

Glint’s stunt bought me enough time to get to the Hellhound and slash at it with a huge sideways swing. The Hellhound twisted away from the blow, but I felt Gramzanber pull along the creature’s side and saw the blade lash a light cut past that seemingly impenetrable hide. My sense of accomplishment was short lived, however, as the Hellhound bunched one claw into a fist again and with a distinctly annoyed snort smashed the fist into my back. Tight corridors were just not good for dodging, or at least that’s how I was going to explain things to B.B when she inevitably would chew me out for getting injured so much again. I smacked into the floor, the air knocked clean out of my lungs, and a pain in my spine that heavily suggested I’d bruised it.

“Matta esru dol shivate!” Arcaidia snarled, a new series of crests appearing around her horn. The crest flared and instead of an ice attack, I instead noticed an incandescent light blue shimmer appear around her body, Glint’s, and my own. The Hellhound seemed confused for a moment, but then kicked me as I tried standing again.

I couldn’t dodge and took the Hellhound’s clawed foot in the gut, but was surprised when, while I was still hurled backwards, the pain was significantly less than I’d expected. The shimmering blue field around me had seemed to flare and absorb a large chunk of the blow.

Landing on my feet, I looked at myself, then at Arcaidia, who grinned at me.

“New Crest Graphs found in place of spider ponies. I not one-trick pony!”

The Hellhound looked between us all for a second, a look of intelligence and contemplation on its face that contrasted sharply with its bestial features. Then it smiled, lips pulled back to reveal its rows of razor teeth. It reached its claws up and sunk them into the ceiling. For a moment I was confused as to what it was doing, but that quickly became obvious as it tore at the ceiling, pulling out and around with its claws. The entire ceiling groaned as it’s supports were torn apart and in seconds the entire thing started to come down.

Arcaidia was on the other side of the Hellhound from me and I saw her throw herself back the way we’d come, running away from the collapsing ceiling. Without thinking about it I tried to rush towards her, but I felt hooves dragging me back and a voice shouting in my ear.

“Run!”

It was Glint, pulling me away from the collapsing ceiling. I was reluctant, but I had to trust that Arcaidia would get clear. I’d be doing her no favors by getting crushed. So with a growl of frustration I turned and ran with the Odessa pegasus away from the falling debris. I had no doubt the Hellhound wouldn’t even be slowed by the collapse, as it seemed to treat this entire building like one giant playground it could move through with impunity.

By the time the noise and dust settled Glint and I were catching our breath against the wall of another T-junction, the hallway behind us now blocked off by the fallen ceiling. We did not have long to recover, as the rubble before us shifted and then blasted outward in a shower of plaster dust. When the dust cleared we saw the Hellhound filled the hallway, its baleful glowing eyes glaring at us as it let out heavy, growling breaths.

“Buck me,” said Glint, “What does it take to kill one of these things?”

I let out a grimacing sigh, “I’d just be happy to get us all out of here alive.”

“I think our friend here has other ideas about that,” Glint replied, and though I couldn’t see it behind his helmet, I could hear the exasperation that was masking fear and frustration.

The Hellhound took a single, menacing step forward, saliva dripping from its snarling jaws, and I and the Odessa pegasus exchanged a look.

“Run?” I asked

“Run!” Glint confirmed.

We proceeded to haul proverbial flank down the hall to our right, heading for where theoretically B.B, Binge, and Glint’s two squad members would have ended up if they’d continued on their path. I could confirm this with my E.F.S, seeing the four green dots clustered together somewhere to my right. There was also the fifth green dot, indicating Suture, somewhere directly ahead. So the Hellhound had stashed him somewhere to come ambush us.

It was small comfort, as the Hellhound let loose a hair tingling howl and I could hear it ripping up the floor as it tore after me and Glint. Glint was flapping his wings, able to fly faster than gallop, and I was barely keeping pace. Neither of us chanced a look back. There was no need to; the sound of floor being torn apart and the steady, growling breaths of the Hellhound was more than enough to let us know how fast death was approaching behind us.

C’mon, c’mon, I could really use that speed boost right about now! I thought frantically, mentally probing that sensation of pressure from Granzanber. Still not at the point where I could use Accelerator. Close, but not quite.

Glint and I saw a door ahead, with no turn offs or other directions we could go. I was worried having to stop and open the door would take too much time, but Glint had a simple solution to that as the Odessa pegasus fired away with his magic beam guns, the red pulsing lights burning into the door’s wood and its metal knob. The knob turned bright red and melted, and Glint shouted, “Break through!”

I didn’t argue, and we both hit the door at the same time, shattering the weakened wood. Splinters dug at my face and I had to close my eyes to protect them, but I made it through. Beyond the door was a large, rectangular room that looked like it ran the length of the building. What little light my Pip-Buck generated illuminated cubicles with small desks and old terminals, lined in neat rows before us. The far wall held a number of boarded up windows, and above the tall ceiling a few old fans lazily hung, covered in dust.

We didn’t have time to take in more than that as the Hellhound burst through the door behind us. Glint, taking advantage of being winged, went up towards the ceiling and darted off into the darkness. I instead dove into the lines of cubicles, scrambling away from one very pissed off Hellhound. The creature tore through the neck high cubicle walls and intervening desks like they were made from sand. I rolled away from one overturned desk and ran past an old water cooler, the contents of which had ceased looking much like water a long time ago.

I paused a second as my E.F.S showed me Suture’s blinking dot rapidly shift to the left in my vision; not due to any movement on his part I imagined, but my own. I must have been close enough that his marker was shifting position quickly. On top of that, I noticed Glint’s dot meet up with a cluster of others at the far end of the room and in the shrouded gloom could pick out several lights, some from Odessa helmet lights, the other Arcaidia’s frosty blue horn light. I breathed a sigh of relief, glad she’d gotten away from the collapse and linked up with the others.

My relief was short lived as I heard a grunt behind me and turned just in time to see the Hellhound heft the water cooler I passed by and chuck it at me. The water cooler hit me in the side full force, bursting apart and splashing me with mucked up water and knocking the air clean out of me as I was propelled by the force of the blow into, and through, another set of cubicles. I felt the impact, but it seemed subdued, not nearly as painful as it should have been, I suspected because of the spell Arcaidia had cast over me.

I heard a deep, throaty series of grunts, and while trying to recall how to breath I looked up to see the Hellhound’s shoulders shaking as it looked at me. It was laughing at me! Despite my daze, I gave it a gesture with my forehooves I hoped was universal in its meaning. Given the way the Hellhound stopped laughing and snorted, returning a similar gesture with one of its hands, it understood me just fine.

Wiping blood from my nose, which had apparently taken a bit of blow when I smashed through the cubicle, I heard a soft whimper to my right. I glanced over to see Suture’s battered, bloody yellow form huddled in another neighboring cubicle. His left wing had been pinned to the floor by a length of sharp wood that looked like it’d once been a chair leg. The pegasus looked terrified, brown eyes wide as he looked at me.

I gave him my most reassuring smile, “Don’t worry, we got everything under contro-”

My sentence was cut short as the Hellhound surged forward, gripped my tail, and lifted me into the air. I kept from yelping and dropping Gramzanber, instead trying to get the spear around to slash at the Hellhound’s legs, but it was having none of that. The moment I twisted to attack, it gripped my tail tighter and spun me around once, twice, then thrice time before releasing and sending me flying across the lengthwise of the room. I had a brief moment of enjoying the feeling of being airborne, perhaps the pegasus part of my bloodline liking the feeling of air over my coat, and I even got a look at my companions as I flew by them, managed a brief wave at a very confused looking B.B and a worried Arcaidia, before my flight was rudely interrupted by a wall. Arcaidia’s shield spell seemed to have trouble subduing that particular impact.

While I was trying to remember who I was and what I was doing and why my head seemed to be implanted in a wall I felt grimy hooves wrap around my flanks and a muffled female voice say.

“Come now my little fun times bucky, this is no time to be making kissy face with walls. You should at least take it out on a date first before being so forward.”

Yup, that was Binge. The earth pony mare showed remarkable strength as she got a solid grip on my and yanked my head free of the wall, my entire face and mane plastered with dust and wood chips. My head was still ringing as I looked up at Binge’s smiling visage, the mare helping me up with a hoof and steadying me before I fell over. I heard gunshots, both the heavy physical roars of B.B’s revolvers and the water boiling hisses of energy weapons and glanced to see the others were laying down an entire hurricane worth of fire downrange at the advancing Hellhound. The Hellhound had picked up a desk and was using it as an impromptu shield as it slowly pushed its way down the length of the room, despite the storm of bullets and energy blasts pelting it.

Binge patted my head and held up Granzanber for me. I must have dropped the large silver spear when I’d hit the wall. I gave her a grateful nod and took the spear, though as I did so Binge leaned down and whispered, “Your blood tastes like cinnamon.”

With that she gave my nose a lick, my still bleeding profusely nose, and danced away with a giggle on her lips. I would never understand that mare. Shaking my head to clear the proverbial cobwebs I rushed to join the others.

B.B, Spring Breeze, and Glint were all airborne, their weapons firing non-stop, save for brief pauses to reload. Glint’s red beams and Spring’s green plasma balls gave contrasting illumination to the room alongside Arcaidia’s blue magical light. My unicorn filly companion was at the very center of the group, standing atop one of the cubicle desks, her horn a beacon the others seemed to rally around. Her starblaster was out and she seemed focused more on using it than throwing ice magic downrange, which made sense given her ice had seemed less effective against this Hellhound before. Her starblaster’s silvery lances of light were the only things the Hellhound was putting effort into dodging, the beastly form sidestepping with its incredible speed and reflexes from the silver bars of light the starblaster sent its way. From the deep frown on Arcaidia’s face I could tell she was frustrated with her inability to land a hit.

On the ground, Bernard had propped his combat shotgun on top of a terminal and was laying into the Hellhound full bore, seeming to focus his fire on the desk the Hellhound had grabbed as a shield. The griffin gave me a look as I came up next to him.

“Shit, you’re still breathing after getting smashed into a wall? Dirt ponies are made out of some stern stuff. You see Suture over there before getting tossed?”

I was still a little mind-fogged, but answered “He’s over under one of the cubicles. Thing pinned his wing to the floor.”

Bernard made an angry squawking sound, beak twisting in what I figured was a griffin’s version of a scowl as he shouted towards the Hellhound, “Monster! You don’t fuck with a flier’s wings!”

If he thought Suture having a wing pinned was bad, wait until he saw the other soldier, Nosedive’s, entire lack of wings. I decided it was best not to say anything right then, though. The griffin seemed pissed off enough already.

The Hellhound had gotten within ten meters of our position and I saw Glint and Spring seem to pass a look between them, some kind of understanding of action, and I saw the two split off, flying to either side of the Hellhound. B.B, seeing the move, took off as well, flying directly above the Hellhound, all but hugging the ceiling.

The three fliers, despite one of their number not being from the same group, moved with almost instinctive precision. The Hellhound’s shield became quickly useless as each pegasus flew a rapid circling pattern all around and above it, sending shots into the beast from all angles. B.B had stopped using her foreleg revolvers and had drawn her .44 magnum in her mouth, sending accurate shots into the Hellhound’s head. Shockingly even that wasn’t enough, the Hellhound growling in annoyance but its skull deflecting the heavy slugs. Glint and Spring’s energy weapons were scoring little black marks on the Hellhound’s already dark hide, but it occurred to me, that despite the skill of their maneuvers, they just weren’t doing enough damage.

“Binge, we’re going in!” I told the Raider mare, “Go for the legs.”

Binge gave me a very eager grin and wagged her tail about happily, and I noticed the sharp gleam of the wide bladed kitchen knife that she’d called a ‘Cosmic Knife’ while she gripped in her mouth the other weapon she’d gained from Stable 104; the strange motorized knife with the chain saw teeth.

As we charged in I saw the Hellhound snort and throw the shattered remains of its desk into Glint, catching the Odessa soldier mid-air and sending him crashing into a filing cabinet along the inner wall. Spring cursed and tried to fly to his aid but had to bank away to avoid the Hellhound’s slashing claws. B.B, spotted me and Binge as we rushed the beast, and gave us cover fire, rapidly letting lose another six shots from her .44 and keeping the Hellhound’s attention on her darting form.

That distraction allowed Binge and I to get close, and I whipped my head in a slash at the back of the Hellhound’s legs. At the same moment Binge dove past the Hellhound’s front, her tail flicking about with the Cosmic Knife in its grip, a metallic streak in the darkness. Her mouth gripped the handle of the strange knife with the chain-link teeth, and it hummed as the teeth spun, Binge slashing with the weapon at the same time she struck with the Cosmic Knife, going for the Hellhound’s legs. Both our attacks struck home and I saw blood spurt from the thick hide of the Hellhound. The creature howled as Binge and I passed each other in a cross pattern and rushed to get distance before the Hellhound could counterattack. B.B’s distraction had worked well enough, we’d gotten in and out before it had a chance to respond.

Turning, I saw the Hellhound had gone down to one knee and was glaring at me and Binge with baleful glowing eyes. To my shock, despite the wounds we’d just inflicted on its legs, the Hellhound stood back up, and almost instantly crossed the distance to where Binge and I stood with a single powerful leap. How could it do that after we’d cut the tendons in its legs!? I didn’t have time to question, having to angle Gramzanber before me like a shield as one claw flashed down and skidded along the ARM in a shower of silver sparks. The Hellhound certainly hadn’t held anything back with that blow! Even blocking the force nearly crushed me to my knees and I heard wood splinter and crack under me, the ancient floor of the building stressing under the impact.

I heard a gasp of pain to my left and glanced to see Binge had thrown herself away from the Hellhound’s other claw, but had taken a nasty trio of gashes along her right flank, the Hellhound’s claws parting through her security barding like it wasn’t even there. The Raider mare hobbled back, her tail flicking again like a living thing, a poofy green serpent, and the Cosmic Knife cut a reprisal slash across the Hellhound’s hand.

“You okay Binge!?” I asked as I parried the Hellhound’s follow up swing, jaw aching from the force of the blow, and was a little too slow on my own counter slash, the Hellhound nimbly bounding backwards from Gramzanber’s edge.

“Toasty!” she replied, which if I wasn’t in a deadly battle with a mutated monster capable of cutting me in half I would have given her my best ‘Huh?’ look.

The Hellhound crouched, ready to charge me, or so I thought, but it was suddenly thrown off its legs by a spike of ice that jutted up from the ground underneath it, sending the Hellhound tumbling. Arcaidia, standing well back, smiled in satisfaction as she pelted the Hellhound with a follow up barrage of ice shards conjured above her head. The damage the ice did was minimal, but Arcaidia was just using the ice to throw the Hellhound off its game before lining up a shot with her starblaster. The little beam weapon spewed another line of brilliant light at the beast, hitting its shoulder and making the thing roar in pain.

I felt a surge of hope that we had the Hellhound on the ropes.

I saw Suture, his wing torn loose from the wood that’d kept him pinned, shakily get to his hooves and stagger from the cubicle the Hellhound had stashed him in. The yellow coated, small buck looked pale and confused as he looked around, and I saw the Hellhound surge to its feet right in front of the Odessa medic. The Hellhound’s teeth were pulled back in a full snarl, its eyes containing rage. That rage was directed at Suture and I saw the Hellhound raise a claw, bringing it down at the injured pegasus.

“Suture!” I heard a voice yell and a brown form surge past, rustling my mane with the wind of his wingbeats. Bernard flew forward faster than I’d have given the large griffin credit for and shoved his comrade aside.

The blow meant for Suture instead hit Bernard. The Hellhound’s claws cut through Bernard’s combat armor and split the griffin straight down the center of his back, a gout of gore and blood coating the broken cubicles all around.

I’d been moving forward myself, intent to throw Gramzanber, but Bernard had moved faster. I hadn’t thought fast enough to use Accelerator, even though at that moment I realized I’d just reached enough pressure to use it. Too late. Too damned late. Bernard had a look of mild surprise on his face as one half of him went forward, while the other half didn’t. His front half skidded to a sloppy stop, the griffin, in his last seconds before his brain caught up to the message that he was dead, turned around and fired a last shot from his combat shotgun at the Hellhound. Then he simply went limp, eyes going empty.

Suture raised his head from where he’d been shoved to the ground and looked over at his comrade, eyes wide, lips trembling. He mouthed something but I couldn’t hear it. My own ears were roaring with blood from my suddenly blazing heartbeat. I noticed B.B hovering near me, reloading her .44, slapping rounds in with a speed loader and snapping the cylinder closed with practiced ease. She was saying something, frantic, but I couldn’t hear, even when she started firing.

Accelerator

My vision turned cobalt blue, throwing the dark room into bright contrast. Gramzanber felt alive in my mouth, a heated extension of my body, and my emotions. I thought, maybe, I understood a little of what LIL-E meant when she talked about the fury she felt when she first killed Raiders. It was a hot, blinding thing, that called for blood. My moral mind didn’t want to kill the Hellhound. My heart, on the other hoof, wanted to skewer it’s head on my spear. I figured cutting its arms off would be a suitable compromise. It couldn’t complain, if it was just going to go around killing and torturing others. It didn’t need those arms.

I get grumpy when things kill people I’m trying to protect.

Its not a positive quality, but I’m learning to live with it.

With my now boosted speed I threw myself at the Hellhound. I thrust Gramzanber’s serrated edge at the clawed hand that’d taken Bernard’s life, the claws still dripping the griffin’s blood and bits of his innards. With everything moving in slow motion around me I could see the Hellhound’s features clearly. Including the way its eyes snapped to lock onto me, with a speed and awareness that I didn’t think should have been possible.

Its hand moved. Not as fast as I was, but fast enough that the Hellhound saved its arm from Gramzanber’s edge. My surprise lasted just long enough for the Hellhound’s other claw to slash down with speed I could match, and hence dodge, but that alone left me wanting to gape. I thrust again, not believing the Hellhound was doing this. It twisted aside, only taking a light scrape from my spear. It managed a counter, a back blow that I had to duck under.

It was keeping up with me while I was using Accelerator!? I could practically dodge bullets while in this state! I breathed hard, trying to calm myself. I was faster, I could see that much. The Hellhound’s own ridiculous speed and reflexes were just letting it keep pace. I had to press harder! I launched myself into a relentless series of thrusts and slashes, refusing to let up, even as my heart beat faster and faster. The Hellhound danced away from my attacks, deflecting them where it could, and rolling with slashes that turned what would have been grievous injuries into flesh wounds. It was not purely on the defensive either, managing several slashes at me amid my own blaze of attacks that I couldn’t fully dodge while maintaining my attack. My own golden gecko reinforced armor barding was put to the test as the Hellhound’s claws cut several lines through it, burning bloody slashes on my chest and the side of my barrel. Like the Hellhound, though, I managed to keep my wounds of the shallow variety.

For a single minute that felt closer to an eon, me and the Hellhound exchanged blows. I didn’t notice we’d pushed each other across the entire room, destroying cubicles as we went. I didn’t notice where my companions were. I just saw the Hellhound, its claws, and the blinding silver edge of Gramzanber, all framed by the electric blue tinge of Accelerator.

-isten to me! You have to stop! Longwa-

The voice snapped through my consciousness, for just a second. I almost lost my concentration. I was certain the Hellhound was tiring. Its arms seemed to slow, its shoulders sagging. I saw saliva dripping from its ragged breaths, and perhaps just a flash of worry in its otherworldly glowing eyes. I knew if I could press just a bit further I could finish this! It’d slip, I’d get its arm, and then... I didn’t know. Kill? Perhaps with its arms gone it’d run. The thought for some reason made me want to laugh. Just a little more...

-aid you have to stop! You can’t take anymore of this! Can he hear me!?

Again that voice. Female. It sounded both faint and distorted, like it was coming through from another room, or another place. So familiar. Who? What was she saying? I had to stop? But I was winning! I was...

I was using Accelerator far longer than I’d ever dared use it before!

With a sense of cold panic I cut off Accelerator just as I jumped back away from the Hellhound, which had its back pressed against the wall. The world turned back to its normal color again and for a second I felt nothing. Then my heart pulsed once and horrible, fiery pain twisted through every centimeter of my body, wracking me from my gut all the way to every extremity. I screamed, or at least I was pretty sure I was. I stopped hearing things but I could feel my throat making the noise. My vision dimmed, and a blackness closed in around me. When I was able to see clearly again I was looking at the floor, blood covering it that I was fairly certain I’d just coughed up, if the coppery taste on my tongue was any indication.

I was being dragged back and I saw a very pissed off looking B.B, her pupils dilated around her pretty violet eyes as she fired her revolver at something while pulling me away by the tail. I craned my head to see the Hellhound, its body covered in numerous small gashes, being battered by B.B’s gunfire. That was soon joined by a curtain of icicle spears thrown by Arcaidia, who had jumped up on a table to get towards me and B.B. I could see concern in the unicorn filly’s eyes to match her fury.

“Ren solva! Alive?” Arcaidia called out.

“Idiot is alive alright!” said B.B, “Gotta keep him that way! Where’d that damn Raider go!?”

“Here, bird of prey! Naughty dog, playing too hard with the little puppy,” said Binge as she seemed to materialize out of the shadows, “He’s very sensitive, you mean doggy!”

I didn’t know where she got them from, they just seemed to appear in her hooves as she stood on her hind legs, but Binge started throwing knives at the Hellhound with remarkable volume. Aiming for the wounds already there, some of the knives even managed to sink in.

I tried to speak, or stand, but found I could do neither. Pain still churned through me. I saw something float over in a field of Arcaidia’s levitation magic. Gramzanber. I must have dropped it. I always do that. Tether. Needed a bloody tether. Thinking was getting hard.

“Spring Breeze,” I heard Glint saw somewhere I couldn’t see, “Can Suture fly?”

“He’s barely able to walk Glint! I don’t think he’d make it if he had to fly, but I’ll carry him if I have to!”

“Right, blow open the windows! We’re flying out of here!”

I heard the thrum of magical plasma weapons firing, and B.B dragged me back to a spot where I could see Spring Breeze and Glint both trying to blast open the boarded up windows, with Suture laying on the ground between them. I felt a pang of guilt that I hadn’t thought to just tell them to do that to begin with. They might have made it out with all their comrades still alive then. Never enough time to think.

There was an ear splitting roar and I glanced back at the Hellhound. Its wounds piled up, the beast had thrown its head back in a ear splitting roar. It hurled itself into the air in a powerful leap, and as it sailed through the air it occurred to me where were all standing very close to the spot where I’d felt the floor crack earlier.

“R… run...” I managed to croak to B.B, who gave me an odd look just as the Hellhound hit the floor, claws first, and ripped.

I felt the ground shudder. A series of shouts, followed by a loud, splintering crack. Then the floor fell apart beneath me and the entire world around me became sound and pain.

----------

I don’t think I was out for very long. I woke up quickly, my body still feeling like a large slab of bruised meat. I was laying on something soft, which I took as a good sign as I looked up at a dark, wood ceiling. A wavering pool of white light provided illumination, which as I turned my head I noticed was coming from a few plastic tubes set on the ground. They reminded me of larger versions of the same glowing plastic sticks Fine Eye and his salvage family used, only white instead of green.

I was laying on a mattress of an unusual shape set along the brick wall in what looked to be a large room, large enough I couldn’t see the other walls aside from the one to my right, which was marked by a massive pile of fallen rubble. I recognized some broken cubicles, and the inward slant of the rubble suggested it’d come from above. So was this the floor beneath the one we’d been fighting on? Or was it even lower? From what little I could see of the room it was filled with odd sectioned off portions, like the cubicles above, only larger and rather than holding desks and terminals these sections were set up like they were designed to look like different places. I saw one where the inner walls of the sectioned off portion were painted like some kind of mural of a forest, another that looked like a desert, or another that just looked liked it was designed to look like the interior of a house. All these places had beds, and set up near the beds were tripods carrying devices with lenses that purpose of which I didn’t know. Seeing one of the nearest beds devoid of a mattress I figured where the one I was laying on had come from. My wounds were bandaged, my barding, saddlebags, and Gramzanber propped up against the wall by the mattress.

I heard a faint rustling to my left and looked over to see B.B laying on the mattress next to me. I gulped, seeing that she was both unconscious and her middle was heavily bandaged, the bandages soaked red with blood... far too much blood. When had she gotten so badly injured!? Was it during the fall? Where was everyonpy else!?

“O-oh, you’re awake! Um, uh, just stay still, don’t move!” said a frightened, small voice and I looked over as a pony entered the pool of light. It was Suture, the Odessa medic. He was limping, his left wing bandaged, but his other wounds suffered from the Hellhound left mostly untended. His red mane was plastered to his pale, sweating face, and his eyes looked at me with trepidation.

“What happened? Is B.B okay?” I asked, ignoring the pegasus’ words and rolling off the mattress. My body shouted its complaints at me, but I ignore them as I got to my hooves and started pulling on my barding.

“I-I said don’t move!” Suture said, louder, shaking as he reached to pull an energy pistol from a holster tucked under his uninjured wing. As he pointed it at me I just looked at him.

“Seriously?” I asked, “Why go through the trouble of bandaging me up if you’re just going to shoot me?”

“I… I... you’re on our Target list!” Suture said, remarkably clearly for holding a gun in his mouth. I realized he was using a technique the same my tribe used to talk when holding weapons.

“Great, I’m on your list,” I said, “You think that matters right now?”

“Suture, stand down,” said another voice, Glint’s, and another pegasus appeared from the room’s shadows. Suture gulped again, but obeyed, seeming more relieved to holster his weapon than anything else, and lowered his head with a shaking sigh.

Glint wasn’t wearing his Odessa heavy armor, I figured due to the fact that one of his own wings was wrapped up in a splint. He was a rust colored stallion, of an age with myself, perhaps a few years older. He had a wild orange and streaked yellow mane, and his eyes were a vibrant red. His cutie mark looked like a orange ball of light peeking from behind a mountain, and I realized that ball of light was probably what the sun was supposed to look like.

Glint looked at Suture, eyes both stern and concerned, “I told you to look to your own wounds Suture, while I was scouting the room.”

“Yes sir, sorry sir. I… I just finished with the mare, and was getting supplies to work on myself when I heard him-” a nod at me, “-stirring awake. I didn’t want him going anywhere until you got back.”

“Well, I’m back. No go see to your other injuries,” said Glint, and Suture gave a short salute with his uninjured wing and trotted away, pulling a small flashlight to light his way.

Glint turned his attention to me, and those red eyes looked me over, measuring. I kept strapping on my barding, using the motion as a way to keep my mind occupied before it could reel with questions about where the rest of my companions were and if they were alright. I remembered the collapse of the floor and my fears were awash with images of Arcaidia or Binge being crushed.

“They’re probably alright,” Glint said, and at my look he explained, “My power armor can track the vital signs of the squadmates keyed into it. My com relay is damaged, but the vital tracker is still working. Spring Breeze is alive, and if she is, then chances are so are your friends. At the very least I doubt Target 02 would die easily.”

That did some good to my fears, though it hardly erased them. I gave Glint a thankful nod, then noticed the pain in his eyes, and I didn’t think it was from his injuries. “I’m sorry about Bernard.”

Glint flinched, “He’s not the only friend I’ve lost today, but... thanks. He was always the first to take risks, if it meant helping one of us. Suture’s alive because of him. That’s something. You also said you got Nosedive out. I’ll take your word on it, because I lost his vital sign well before you showed up, but the sensors could have been damaged.”

“He’s alive,” I assured Glint, “LIL-E wouldn’t leave him, and if my friends and her have regrouped, they’re probably looking for a way to get to us. Where are we anyway?”

“The basement level of Silver Mare Studios,” Glint said, nodding off into the dark, cavernous room, “We fell all the way through the ground floor to here. From what I’ve seen this basement level is where they filmed most of the studios cash makers.”

At my confused look Glint coughed, face reddening slightly as he explained, “Silver Mare Studios was a film company that got its start making low budget propaganda films for the Ministry of Image. It tried to make bigger budget adventure films, but didn’t have the capital until its owner, a stallion named Money Shot, decided to start making pornography on the side. The studio was able to make enough bits with that side business to fund some actual adventure films, most notably film adaptations of the Daring Doo books.”

“Pornography?” I asked, and was bemused by the pegasus stallion’s now glowing face.

“Well, you know, when ponies, or other species... do things... mares and stallions... shit, do you really not know?”

“Oooooh,” I said, putting the piece together, “Like Wingboner magazine!”

Glint gave me boggle eyes and a double take, before gradually regaining his wits and saying, “Yeah, like that. Only film. Before you ask; films are moving pictures, with sound. The technology was invented before the Great War, and developed quite a bit before the balefire bombs dropped. Its all but a lost art now, though Odessa has the technology.”

Film. Sounded like the holoprojections I’d seen in Stable 104, only not as three dimensional. I tried not to let my mind wander to what a pornogrpahic film would be like and refocused my attention on more important matters.

“My friend, how did she get hurt? Will she be okay?” I asked, nodding my head at B.B

“She got her stomach stabbed by a length of broken metal in the fall. Suture spent a few hours stitching her back together, and even spent the last of our healing potions to make sure the internal damage was minimized. He said she should pull through, but she’s lost a lot of blood,” Glint said, then gave me a strange look, starring.

It made me uncomfortable as I slipped my saddlebags on, checking to make sure the contents were all there, “What?”

“You’re not what I was expecting,” Glint said, shaking his head, “You don’t look, or act, like a pony that’d burn an entire settlement to the ground, or willingly aid in the subjugation of the planet.”

I blinked at him, feeling a coldness enter my gut, “Wait, what? Run that by me again, this time with less crazy, please?”

Glint frowned, looking at me sideways, his posture tensing, “You know what I’m talking about. Settlement 216, locals called it Saddlespring. It was destroyed, despite our best efforts to protect it, by a Veruni infiltrator and her minions releasing a S-class relic from the Ruins underneath the settlement. You’re one of Target 02’s chief minions; a tribal earth pony, who uses a genuine weapon-class ARM in the shape of a large bladed spear. Code Name: Pale Rider. Threat Class: B. Standing orders are Capture-On-Sight. The only reason I’m not following that directive is because you’ve put yourself at risk to save my squad, and it would be stupid of me to fight with you under these circumstances. That, and I’m starting to think you’re not willingly helping the Veruni infiltrator.”

I was floored, trying to process his words. It took me a few seconds to order my thoughts enough to get a complete sentence out that wasn’t “Bwuwuh?” Or “Zaaaa?”. After a few tries I got it right.

“We didn’t destroy Saddlespring! Mostly! Its kinda my fault, yes, but it was an accident! Don’t go making assumptions without all the facts! And what’s this about me being Arcaidia’s minion!? I’m not a minion! I’m her friend. You Odessa ponies have been after her, and it was Odessa that finished the destruction of Saddlespring by firing on it with some stupid powerful weapons! And that was after you ponies were shooting up the ponies who lived there, under Shatter Sky’s orders!”

I breathed heavily after my little tirade, my lungs burning, my chest aching. The backlash from overusing Accelerator was still leaving my whole body feeling ragged and torn. While Glint had said Suture had used up all their healing potions, my saddlebags still had the ones I’d taken from Stable 104, and I took Glints surprised pause as an opportunity to down one. I thought about giving B.B one as well, but if Suture had used a bunch while healing her, I wasn’t sure another would do any good. I was still unsure of the limitations of healing potions. Glint, eyes looking at me widely, eventually replied.

“My squad was present during the operation. A Veruni infiltrator, Target 02, entered the Elw Ruins underneath Settlement 216, and while down there activated the S-class relic that then assaulted the settlement. Captain Shattered Sky and the 11th Company had tracked Target 02’s location through information gained from ground sources, and we were securing the settlement in preparation to capture Target 02 when they were engaged by the S-class relic. 11th Company engaged under the Captain’s orders to try to minimize damage to the settlement, but we took heavy casualties and were forced to retreat to the Vesuvius when it became clear the settlement was a total loss. There was some conflict with civilian elements, but Odessa only returned fire in self-defense. As for the bombardment, that only occurred after the town was deemed a total loss and that no other survivors were present. By all accounts, it was the release of the S-class relic that destroyed Settlement 216, not us.”

I balked. It was... from a certain twisted perspective, an accurate assessment of what happened. I tried to imagine things from this Odessa soldier's point of view. I remembered charging through the Saddlespring streets with unarmed civilians, trying to get to the gate, getting shot at from all sides by Odessa energy weapons. Some of us were armed, yes, but weren’t we the one’s fighting in self-defense? But... if I was an Odessa pegasus, under orders to secure the town, and its citizens fired at me and my comrades, would I see shooting back as self-defense? And he was right that most the damage to Saddlespring was already done by the Golem before Shattered Sky called down that bombardment. However that didn’t mean they didn’t have some responsibility for being there in the first place!

“Why?” I asked, “Why does Odessa think Arcaidia is some kind of threat?”

Glint frowned, a look coming over him that was like a door closing, “I’ve already said more than I should to a pony that isn’t one of us. You don’t know what she is, so I can understand it seems confus-“

“I know she’s not from this world,” I told him bluntly, and he blinked at me.

“You... do?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling a little like an ass for feeling satisfied at his dumbfounded look. It did feel kind of good to be the one causing that look rather than giving it, “I know that she was at least raised by these Veruni you’re talking about, on some world other than this one. I don’t know anything about what the Veruni are, though, other than they’re not ponies. Really, it all goes right over my head, and I try not to think too hard about it because it doesn’t change that she’s my friend. What I want to know is what Odessa’s connection with the Veruni are, why you see them as enemies? Glint, Arcaidia isn’t a bad pony. She’s done nothing but help me. She saved my life, and the life of a close friend of mine. Please, just trust me a bit, and tell me why Odessa wants Arcaidia! We might be able to avoid having to fight if I just knew what all this was about!”

I could see it in his eyes, the struggle to decide. A part of him wanted to tell me, to trust me. I understood, we’d fought together. I’d saved his life, and he mine. Even over a short period of time that kind of experience builds a connection between ponies. But I also saw a lifetime of belief and conditioning pushing back that desire to trust. Odessa was his tribe, and to trust me, from his point of view, was a betrayal of that tribe. I saw that loyalty win out in him as his red eyes hardened and he shook his head.

“I can’t divulge classified information to ponies outside of Odessa. I’m... sorry. You seem like a decent pony, just being duped into helping the enemy. When we get out of here, I’ll let you go your way... but next time we run into each other, I’ll have to follow my orders.”

I sighed, ears drooping. “I understand. Let’s just focus on getting out of this building then. You scouted the area, did you find any exits from here?”

“No, but then I didn’t go far,” Glint said, seeming to relax now that the subject had changed. He jutted with his chin down to my left, deeper into the wide, open room, “I found an office over there, past all the bodies, but I didn’t explore it. We might find an exit if we can clear the rubble, but injured as we are, that would take time, and it’s be dangerous.”

“So we’re buried down here?” I asked, not quite keeping the quaver out of my voice. I wasn’t fond of being underground, and the thought of being buried alive was making parts of me clench tightly in fear.

“Maybe, but I doubt it. There’s probably more than one way back up. There was another door leading out of the office, but I didn’t want to leave Suture by himself while treating you and your friend, so I left it,” Glint said, then give me a look with a slight smile on his face, one that reminded me of Trailblaze, oddly, “Want to check it out?”

I looked at B.B, and Glint said, “We can wait to see if she wakes up, but I’d rather finish scouting quickly. Suture can keep an eye on her.”

“I thought you said you didn’t want to leave him alone?”

“I didn’t want to leave him alone until he took care of his wounds, and I didn’t want to leave him alone with two unknown quantities like you and your friend there. Now that I’ve taken your measure, I think I can at least trust you won’t turn on us,” Glint said, and cocked his head at me, “So? Shall we?”

I thought about it, shrugged, “I’m not helping things by staying here.”

I retrieved Gramzanber, hefting the spear in my mouth and nodding to Glint to lead the way. He strode a short distance along the rubble filled side of the room, where Suture had gone. I saw not far from where B.B and I had been set up the two Odessa ponies had sat up another area of light with more of those light sticks. Here Suture was slowly applying bandages to his own wounds while laying down by a few saddlebags of equipment, and what I assumed was Glint’s disassembled armor. Suture looked up as we approached.

“Suture, me and… uh...”

“Longwalk,” I said with a small laugh, “We never did actual introductions.”

“Right,” Glint said with a laugh of his own, “Me and Longwalk are going to look for a way back to ground level, and see if there is anything useful down here.”

The way Glint emphasizes the word ‘useful’ and the way Suture gulped and made me think of something I hadn’t really questioned up until now. Why was Glint and his squad even in this building in the first place? What had drawn them here, before getting attacked by the Hellhound? Was it under specific orders, or had they noticed something about the building worth investigating? Given how tight lipped Glint was about Arcaidia I doubted he’d tell me anything, even if I asked.

“Okay, sir. I’m almost done, though I could use a healing potion to really get my wing moving again,” Suture said with a wince as he tightened the bandages he was wrapping around his right foreleg, which had been gashed pretty badly by the Hellhound’s claws. I reached into my own saddlebag and retrieved one of the healing potions there.

“Here,” I said, holding my hoof out with the potion balanced on it. Suture looked at me in trepidation for a moment before taking it with a mumbled thanks. He still looked scared of me.

“While we’re gone, I want you to keep an eye on Longwalk’s friend, and do whatever you can to keep her stable,” said Glint as he went to his armor and began to strap on parts of it, the chest and leg pieces primarily, which housed the saddle for his beam guns, though one of the guns looked smashed and unusable, “We shouldn’t be long.”

“Do you need any more healing potions?” I asked the medic, “For yourself, or B.B?”

“I… uh, no, this should do for me. As for her, healing potions have done all they can. It’s all on her now,” Suture said. His nervousness was infectious and I felt my own nerves straining. Glint finished with his armor by sealing his helmet on, his features now hidden beyond that white, bug-eyed visage. His voice was slightly distorted by whatever device projected it from inside the helmet.

“If we’re not back in, say, twenty minutes, assume something’s happened and try to find a way out yourself.”

“Y-yes sir.”

With that Glint and I proceeded into the larger portion of the room, my Pip-Buck light providing a path of illumination through the dark. We passed by numerous sectioned off portions of the room made from wood side panels, film sets, Glint explained to me. The devices on tripods were cameras, devices that captured the images that’d take place within the frame of the set. Given the rumpled beds and shelves of... questionable items, it was clear a lot of the sets were used for the pornographic films Glint had talked about.

He’d also mentioned the bodies.

They weren’t quite skeletons, though from the clothing these ponies were from the time of the war. There were at least twenty, all gathered in various clusters of four or five near the back of the room. Scraps of flesh and bits of fur from hides not entirely rotted away gave more definition to these corpses than a simple skeleton, giving me bursts of imagery I could put together. One pony was laying on her knees, doubled over, her forelegs crossed over her belly; the dark stains by her mouth indicating she’d been throwing something up. Blood? Vomit? Another pair of ponies had fallen on their sides, legs wrapped around one another, their muzzles touching in a final nuzzle. Another pony had laid on his back, spread eagle, as if he’d just fallen down and said ‘screw it, I give up’.

“Unlucky,” said Glint, “They got down here to escape burning, but there wasn’t any running from the radiation.”

“Radiation,” I said, shivering. I used to laugh at the notion of Fire Spirits that would burn a pony from the inside out. I was feeling a lot less amused now. I wondered, even though I’d been told magical radiation was just a form of fallout from the balefire bombs, if there wasn’t some conscious spirit to the radiation. The way it just invisibly killed living things, seeped into the land and choked the life from it... it almost seemed like it had a malevolent force keeping it going.

Past the bodies the far wall was mostly bare, a few electrical lines and a breaker box being the only things to break up the brick monotony beside the single wooden door near the corner to my left. The silence of the room was weighing on me as I stepped around the last of the corpses, and I paused as I noticed a faint smell of burning. I glanced down to notice three of the bodies were all clustered together, burn marks on their heads and chests; fresh marks.

“They were ghouls,” Glint explained, noticing my look, “I was lucky so few of them turned.”

“One of my friends mentioned ghouls before, but what are they? These ponies, were they alive!?”

“No. Not alive. Not like you’re thinking. The radiation turned them into violent, rotting animals,” Glint said as he trotted up to the door, gesturing me over. Another body was slumped pitifully against the wall right next to the door, a mare who, if I looked past the rotting flesh, seemed little older than I was. She had a black bullet hole that had cratered half of her skull, the contents long since turned to a congealed pile on the floor. I swallowed, trying to keep my bile down. Did ponies know what balefire would do, when they created those weapons? Or was it the zebras that made them? Either way, the after effects seemed worse than the initial blast. At least the blasts killed quickly. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to live through watching your own body slowly rot.

Glint reached over and hoofed open the door slowly, peering in cautiously. When the door was open wide enough he moved inside and I followed. The room we entered wasn’t small, but it felt cluttered and confined. The middle was taken up by two large metal sets of shelving cluttered with round metal cases, each with tiny labels on them. The walls were lined with similar shelves, though some of them held books rather than those round metal cases. Despite the size of the room there was little space to move. Glint nudged me and pointed to the right, where I saw there was a desk tucked into that corner of the room, and next to it was a blackboard like the one’s I’d seen in the classrooms at the school the Raiders had used as a base.

There, at the desk, was what looked like a pony body, a fair bit more intact than the one’s in the studio. It was a stallion, by the bulk, with a light purple coat and wisps of a gray mane clinging to his skull. He was dead, by the way he lay slumped in the chair at the desk, and while the light from my Pip-Buck didn’t give perfect lighting, I could make out he was wearing the tattered remains of a suit that matched the color of his mane.

“I didn’t approach,” said Glint in a low whisper, “Don’t know if that one’s a ghoul. E.F.S won’t give a reading, but that doesn’t mean anything, if its sleeping.”

The words left my mouth before I really thought about it, “If you’re not sure, why not just shoot it from here?”

Glint gave me a look, and I licked my lips, “Just saying. You’d rather I poke it with my spear?”

“Truthfully? Yes. I don’t want to waste ammo I don’t have to.”

I snorted, letting my irritation push back my nervousness and I swished my tail as I trotted forward, “I can see we’re off to a great start in this team-up. What’s next, getting me to taste any strange liquids we find?”

“If you’re volunteering, sure.”

From his deadpan tone I wasn’t even sure he was joking. I deferred my right to make a snarky comment back at him, mostly because I was close enough to the body that I didn’t want to risk it hearing me, if it was a ghoul. I crept up behind the slumped stallion, heart starting to thump louder in my chest. Decided to get this done with fast, rather than draw it out, I quickly nudged the back of the pony’s head with Gramzanber’s tip. The head lolled to the side and the chair tipped over, dumping the pony to the ground. I jumped back, poised to strike.

The pony didn’t move, and now clearly saw his face. Eyes closed, expression cast in a look of despair. I saw the hole in the side of his temple that hadn’t been visible before, and now the pistol laying on the desk amid a few spots of blood. The pistol was a light caliber, semi-automatic, matte black, but with a dark red wood finish on the handle. It looked to be a remarkable condition for the age of it, and despite its small size it was, oddly enough, scoped, and its magazine seemed larger than what I’d seen on other pistols of its type.

I felt a little bad about it, but waste not want not. I was crap with guns, but perhaps B.B or Iron Wrought might like a back-up. That or it might sell for caps. I put the pistol in my saddlebag as Glint trotted up, looking at the body, shaking his head.

“Guess he didn’t want to go like the others,” Glint said.

“Wonder why his body is more intact than the others?” I asked.

Glint shrugged then I heard him make a pained grunt, “Damn wing, hurts like a bitch.”

I began searching the desk while Glint double checked the body, searching the shirt pockets. On the desk I saw several stacked books, some with distinctive titles like ’The Early Exploration of Northern Climate Regions’, ‘The Origins of Equestrian Life: A Study on Pre-Paleoponic Civilizations’, ‘A History of the Crystal Empire: Separating Fact from Fiction’, and ‘Are we Alone? A Short Story Anthology of Close Encounters!’. Odd choice of reading. Another book caught my eye, mainly because it lacked title. It was just a simple blue bound book, a little ancient blood turned brown with age having stained some of the bottoms of the pages from the stallions long ago suicide. Flipping it open to the first few pages I realized it was a journal.

The initial entries didn’t seem to be anything more than just the stallion, who didn’t name himself, talking about his day to day. I quickly gathered he was, however, he was a major player at the film studio. He talked about working on films and directing others.

“What do you have there?” asked Glint.

“His journal,” I said, and Glint rather quickly peered over my shoulder, faster and with greater interest than I would have figured normal.

“What does the last few entries say?” he asked, eagerness in his tone.

“I, uh, well let’s find out,” Why was he so intent on this? I didn’t ask, however, and flipped to the last few pages, starting with the third entry from the last I read, Glint hovering over my shoulder...

I tried to get in contact with her again. Used the terminal Shock Pad set up for me that has the secure connection. She didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Can’t blame her. Its crazy. I know I sound crazy. But its her. I know it is. My dreams, they’re more real than the world is around me these days. World’s gone gray, lifeless, nopony cares anymore. Directing the sex feels like I might as well be telling robots to buck. She feels real though; in my dreams, she’s vibrant. A flame, an exploding firework. I know we’ve met, and I think like me, she’s been made to forget. They did it, but why? What is the MoA hiding? The answer I know is somewhere in the north, in that frozen valley, but the only proof we were there is in that film reel, and they took it. They don’t know about the copy. I don’t know if I can risk contacting her again, even with the terminal. They’ll find me again, and maybe they won’t stop with my memory this time. I have to do something though. I’ve been trying to find the truth since that day I woke up with the headache, missing months of my life. Told it was a coma, an accident while filming. Lies. All lies. She had an ‘accident’ too. And others didn’t make it. Fleetfoot, Drops, Dust. Can’t be coincidence they’ve all dropped off the map. Are they dead? I saw the film, the copy. Fleetfoot has to be dead. I don’t think that was special effects. And the last scene. Not a film. No script is that poorly acted but with that much emotion. Who is she? Why do I know her? Why do I constantly dream of Trixie Lulamoon if I’ve never met her!?

I looked over at Glint, and his expressionless helmet looked back at me. I put my hoof on the journal.

“This is part of what you’re after isn’t it?” I asked him.

He was silent for a long second, then asked me, voice guarded, “Did you kill Summer Breeze?”

The question caught me completely off guard and I gaped at him for a second. The question had come out of nowhere, but perhaps that was why he’d asked it. Deflect my uncomfortable question with an uncomfortable question. I rocked back on my hooves, still keeping one on top of the journal. Glint was looking at me, body still, waiting. I was painfully aware of how his weapon pointing roughly in my direction. How was I supposed to answer? I was almost certain the pony B.B shot in Saddlespring was this Summer Breeze he was talking about. Spring’s sister. One of Glint’s squad. The mere fact he was asking, and his tone, suggested to me he already knew the answer. Maybe he wasn’t expecting me to answer and just wanted me to drop my own line of questioning. Well... he didn’t know me very well, yet.

Meeting his blank visor, keeping my voice calm, but also with the regret I honestly felt, I said “Yes. Not by my own hoof, but I was there when she died. I’m pretty sure it was her. Same eyes as Spring Breeze. I remembered those the clearest, the eyes.”

“Which one of your group killed her? The Veruni? Or the grounded pegasus?”

“Does it matter?” I asked.

Glint’s tone was strained, clipped, the pain in it evident even as the Odessa soldier tried to hide it, “I just want to know, for certain, how she died. We couldn’t recover the body, but I heard her report over my com line that she was pursuing your group. I saw her lifesign flatline in my HUD a minute later. Look, I won’t lie, a part of me wants to just burn a hole through your skull just thinking Summer died because of you. My responsibility is to my squadmates that are still alive, however, not the one’s already gone. Right now you’re my best chance to get myself and Suture out of here alive. I won’t jeopardize that by trying for some half-assed revenge. I just want you to tell me the truth...”

So I did. I told him exactly how it went down. The brief scuffle, the standoff, Summer charging with the knife, and B.B ending her life with a single gunshot. No embellishment, nor any attempt to deflect blame of justify it with the excuses of ‘it was us or her’ or ‘it was self-defense’. Both were true, but that wasn’t the point. To those who lose loved ones, the justifications are never worth anything.

Glint looked at me for a long moment, then slowly, very slowly, I heard him let out a breath he’d been holding.

“Thank you, for telling me,” he said, and I watched as the armored pegasus seemed to gradually drain a tension out of his body, like a weight was being pulled off his back, “I hated not knowing how it happened. Just that flatline, and nothing else.”

“I’m sorry,” I said lamely, just not knowing what else I could say to him.

“Forget it. Even if I blamed you, and dusted you right here, it wouldn’t get her back. If I do try to kill you, Longwalk, it’ll be for the sake of living members of Odessa, not the dead,” Glint said with a finality that said the subject was now closed.

“Alright,” I said, still feeling awkward about the whole conversation, “So, about my question?”

I could have sworn the jerk smirked at me underneath the helmet, “Classified information.”

“Hey! I answered you’re highly sensitive, uncomfortable question! Now answer mine!”

At Glint’s silence I bristled, grumbling under my breath, “Fine, keep your stupid secrets. I didn’t want to know any of them anyway.”

“Geez, how old are you?”

“Old enough to ignore ponies who won’t answer questions,” I said, as I got back the journal and read the next entry, Glint chuckling lightly as he joined me. The jerk.

Fuckers, all of them. Knew it could happen, but to have it actually happen. The sirens only gave us minutes worth of warning. Minutes. I didn’t even know until ponies started charging down here, screaming, those that didn’t want to try for home. Heard the blasts like loud popcorn. Felt the shaking. Now I’m down here with a dozen office workers, film crew, and a couple of the actors. They’re scared shitless. Can’t blame them. Chanced a look topside and its a fucking mess. And we’re already feeling the sickness. Won’t be long before there’s nopony left. World’s gone and all I can do is write. I can’t even try to call her. I couldn’t warn her. Maybe she got to a Stable, maybe not. Her cottage was near Manhattan. Close enough that a blast could have just taken her. Celestia, Luna, whichever you two bitches happen to be listening up there, I hope you’re fucking happy with how this all turned out. Fuck. I should have tried harder. Should have pushed, even if it ended in tears, or me in a nuthouse, I should have gone to her. Just to see her face. To see if my dreams weren’t entirely crazy. Or maybe just to end it before it got to this point. Maybe to be with her when the bombs fell. Better than this. I thought about burning all these books and notes, my search for the truth. Why bother? Maybe someday somepony will find this and pick up where I left off. More likely nopony will ever find me, or care, but dreams are all I’ve got left; maybe all I ever had.

The last entry was dated six days after the previous one and was written in a more shaky, jagged script.

Others are dead, save a few that turned out like me. Not them anymore though. Had to put a bullet in Sweet Tart before I could get the door closed. Don’t know why I still have my mind, while the body’s going. Doesn’t matter, going to end it myself, but need to get this last bit down, just in case:

To anypony who finds this. My name is Money Shot. I’m a filmmaker. An entertainer. For two years I’ve lived with a part of my memory missing. Supposedly an accident while filming ‘Daring Do and the Search for the Guardian Shrine’ is the cause, but I don’t believe that. I think the Ministry of Awesome altered my memory. I risked a lot to find the truth, and all the evidence and information I’ve managed to gather about what happened to me and the others who were making that film I’ve hidden behind the third shelf on the west wall. Maybe you don’t care, and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. I can’t imagine anypony living in the world after what’s happened would really give a shit about some dead pony’s futile search for the truth; but it’s all I have left to leave behind. The only proof I can leave that I was alive, and that she was too. Take it or leave it.

Cut. That’s a wrap.

Glint made a ‘hmm’ing noise next to me as he finished reading, and looked towards the shelving along the wall that the entry had indicated, “Third shelf, eh?”

He went over there and I followed, noticing the other door Glint had mentioned earlier occupying the corner opposite where the desk was. As I passed the body I gave Money Shot a look, and on impulse I bent down and turned him over, placing his hooves in a more restful position. Seemed like the right thing to do.

Glint was already moving the shelf aside as I finished with the body, and behind it I saw a safe. Glint sighed, “Great. Bernard was the expert on cracking these things. Buck me...”

“You really need what’s in there?” I asked.

“Enough that I’m kicking myself for not taking those optional safe-cracking courses during advanced training and instead took underwater operations training because I thought the scuba gear fits real tight on the flanks and Summer looked damned fine in them,” Glint said with a sad sigh and strained laugh. I was starting to realize that as hard as he was trying to keep it together and focused on his mission, his emotions were boiling over inside.

My brain pony poked me with a devious little thought that I could offer to open the safe with Gramzanber in exchange for answers. It might even work. Or it might destroy what little trust I might have built with the Odessa soldier. I gave my brain pony a mental buck into the nearest closet and put a hoof on Glint’s shoulder.

“Let me open it up,” I said and motioned for him to stand back. He did so, cocking his head at me.

One slice from Gramzanber later and the safe door swung open, and Glint whistled.

“Armor really wouldn’t do a damn thing to stop that, would it?” he said in wonderment, “Do you even know how you can use that ARM without it killing you?”

“Haven’t a clue,” I replied, looking into the safe, “It nearly does, if I’m not careful. Are Odessa’s ARMs that different?”

“I wouldn’t know, that information is classified, even to me, despite the fact my father...” he trailed off, shaking his head, “Nevermind. What do we have in there?”

“Papers,” I said, “Lots of notes it looks like, and some pictures... and looks like one of those case thingies.”

I backed up and let Glint go for the stacks of papers wrapped up in folders. Behind the papers was also one of those metal cases, its label reading ‘DDatSftGS- 11/3-11/25’. Glint began reading through the papers intently, while I began to pull out the metal case. I blinked. Behind the case was a small black gem. A memory orb. I glanced at Glint, who was absorbed by the papers. Breathing calmly, I quickly snatched the memory orb and hid it in my saddlebag.

Glint looked up at my movement, but I masked my action by pulling out the round metal case and hoofing it over to him, which he took to put in his own armor’s pack alongside the folders of papers.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Film reel. Not important to you,” he said, then looked at the safe, “Was that all that was in there?”

I frowned, my curiosity burning. This entire situation just screamed at me with all of its strange secrets. While nothing about it seemed directly connected to my own journey with Arcaidia I had a hunch that the connections were there, even if I couldn’t see them yet. Why would Odessa want this information so badly? What did some old film and the mysterious events surrounding it, including Money Shot losing his memory, have to do with an organization of militaristic pegasi and griffins who were apparently fighting some kind of war against beings from another world? How was this mare Trixie connected to it all?

I wanted answers.

“The safe looks empty,” I said, dancing around the truth. Glint seemed to take my word on it and nodded.

“Well, I’ve got what my squad was sent here for,” he said with a bitter undercurrent to his voice, “Cost us too much. Now we just need a way out of here.”

“Got one door to check,” I said, and made an ‘after you’ gesture with one hoof. We approached the door, a padlock holding it shut proving little issue for Gramzanber. Glint opened it, peering in. Beyond was a hallway leading to another door at the far end, and one along the right wall.

Checking the door on the right first we found a small restroom. Checking the yellow medical box on the wall of the restroom revealed a packet of orange liquid and a bottle of remarkably clear water, a roll of medical bandages, and another packet of red liquid. Glint explained the orange packet was RadAway, something I could drink to help remove radiation that’d gotten into my body. The red one was a blood pack. Glint let me take the supplies, stating that salvage of mundane items was not Odessa’s directive. As we approached the door at the far end of the hallway I decided to chance another question, not really expecting an answer.

“So, do you know the name Winter Sun?”

Glint, who’d been about to open the door, halted, and his head whirled back towards me. He raised a visor on his helmet that exposed his wide, red eyes.

“How do you know that name?” he asked, not quite disguising his shock.

I fidgeted on my hooves, wondering if there would be any drawbacks to just telling him the truth. Would he even believe me? If he did, would it put my father at some kind of risk? Would it put my tribe at risk? Or would it be more beneficial if Glint believed I was Winter Sun’s son? I ended up leaning towards the truth. Besides, it wasn’t as if I could backpedal and feign ignorance.

“My mother told me. Said it was the name of my father, and that he was with Odessa.”

Glint stared at me, hard. After a minute, he breathed out, “You’re bucking serious? You’re an earth pony. A dirt pony! Was your... mother?”

I tried, and failed, to keep the deep frown off my face, “An earth pony, why, yes, she is. What is the issue Odessa has with earth ponies?”

“Its not an issue we have with earth ponies specifically,” said Glint, his tone changing as if he was quoting from something, “We of the sky are duty bound to shield the ground from the danger’s above, for only those with wings have the strength needed to do so. Its not that we have issue with the landbound, but we are the ones chosen to be the shield in the sky. I... I guess a lot of us tend to use terms like ‘dirt ponies’ because of... well, you do spend a lot of time in the dirt down here.”

“Yeah, and it's not an insult at all, right?”

Glint shook his head, “Maybe it is. Sorry. Look, my point is, there’s a difference between us and the landbound, and we’re not supposed to mix with the other pony breeds. If we did it’d dilute the bloodlines, and we’d have fewer pegasi and griffins to shield the skies. So why would one of our Colonel’s have a foal with a landbound mare?”

“Love?” I suggested, still frowning, though there was an uncertainty in my tone. I was certain of how my mother felt about my father, there’d been no mistaking it in the way she’d talked about him. But had my father felt the same?

Glint’s squinting eyes suggested he might have been frowning too, “That’s... possible. We do have some ground based operations and facilities, and Colonel Winter Sun is in charge of a lot of those due to his work with the Research and Development Division... shit I shouldn’t even be talking about this with you! But...”

“But?” I pressed.

“But I’ve heard the rumors about him. He is a proponent for recruiting landbound into our ranks. There are some among Odessa who agree with this notion, but they’re few in number. There were even rumors that the Colonel has even temporarily enlisted landbound aid on several occasions... damn, now that I’m looking at you, you do have a resemblance to him.”

“So you’ve met him?” energy entered my tone as I leaned forward, eager for any scrap of information I could glean about my unknown father. For all my trepidation about learning about him it’d become a focus for me. Perhaps, just so I could know for certain how I ought to feel about him. Disdain for abandoning my mother, or being part of Odessa? Pride, for him trying to bridge the gap between Odessa and those living on the ground? I didn’t know, and that lack of knowledge was bothering me. A colt ought to know how to feel about his father, shouldn’t he?

“Only seen him on screen and in datafiles, never in the flesh,” said Glint, looking me over, “The coloring is the same, though. That doesn’t prove anything, but I’m not one to talk. I share my mother’s coloring so closely it’s been joked I may as well be a clone of her. So, let’s say I believe you’re our Colonel’s estranged bastard son, why are you asking me about him?”

I hung my head, “Just to have a chance to learn something about him. And Odessa. I can’t really explain it well, because I still don’t know how to feel about all this. In a strange way, you’re all like tribesmates I never knew I had. Does it seem weird I’d want to know about who my father is, and what his tribe is like?”

“I suppose not,” said Glint, sounding thoughtful, “I’m not saying I believe you, but if it is true, I can see why you’d want to know. I wish I could tell you more, but I don’t know anything more than I’ve already said. Even if you are his son, the fact that you’re an earth pony, and born from one... I don’t think the normal laws concerning bloodlines would apply.”

“Bloodlines?”

“Normally any pony born from a member of Odessa is also automatically considered part of Odessa,” Glint explained, lowering his helmet’s visor again, “Like me. My parents are both Odessa officers; though my mother was formerly Enclave before she was recruited. Odessa recruits pegasi and griffins from outside its ranks if they show skills we need, or have something else we want. The rest of us are born into it. There’s no provision I know of for ponies born of the landbound, though, so I doubt you’d be considered one of us, Colonel for a father or not.”

“Wasn’t really planning on joining up with Odessa, so not exactly a problem for me,” I said with a small shrug, my thoughts turning towards the door before us, “I think we’d better hurry up, in any case. We told Suture we’d be back in twenty, remember?”

“Yes, we’ll see what’s behind this door, then head back,” said Glint, and we got on either side of the door, both of us poised to either fight or run depending on what we saw when he swung it open. As we looked at each other I thought it strange. Odessa reminded me of my own tribe, at least in the fact that they seemed a very tightly knit group, uninterested in the affairs of outsiders. It must have been hard for Glint to accept my help like he was, if he’d grown up believing his tribe superior to all others. Was it a sign of strength in him, or weakness, that he was able to put aside those beliefs to team up with me; a pony who was in all other respects, his enemy?

I found a painful thought wash through me; that before the day was out, if he and I still lived, we’d just become foes once again. It didn’t seem right. If we could get along, work together, even joke a little with each other here, now... what should stop us from staying that way?

Reality. His tribe was an enemy of my friend. I’d never abandon Arcaidia, and I wouldn’t distrust her intentions. As long as Odessa sought to harm her, I’d have to fight ponies like Glint. Even if I could avoid killing, my friends wouldn’t feel the same compunctions, and ponies would die. Like Summer.

I took a deep breath, to clear my head of worries I could do nothing about at the moment and focus on the task at hoof, and nodded to Glint to open the door.

He threw it open and went in, I right behind him, both of us barring our weapons. What greeted us was a room about the size of the saloon back in Saddlespring. It was filled with crates, many of them open topped with colorful props sticking out. Stacked around were other objects I could only imagine were meant for use in the films made here, background screens, ponyquines with costumes draped over them, one of them looking suspiciously like the kind of painted and feathered headdress Crossfire had once joked I ought to wear to complete my ‘tribal’ look. At the far end of the room there was a set of doors covered by a metal grating.

“And here I was expecting, I don’t know, some corpse filled lair for that Hellhound, or just another dead end,” Glint said with a small laugh, raising one hoof and pointing at the doors at the other end of the room, “Looks like an elevator over there. Might be our way out, if its working. If not, well, shit, we’ll see how well I can fly with my wing like this.”

“Worst comes to worst we can climb out,” I said, then an unpleasant thought entered my mind, “Wonder what happened to the Hellhound though?”

“Hope the damned thing buried itself alive,” growled Glint, then grunted, “Though that’s like hoping for a fish to drown itself.”

“Huh?” I asked in confusion.

“Hellhounds are subterranean by nature. Can tunnel like a living excavator drill. Their unnatural toughness and armor shredding claws would make them good soldiers if they weren’t impossibly aggressive and unmanageable,” Glint said as we turned and started making our way back to the main studio.

“You sound like you know a lot about them,” I commented.

Glint sighed again and I asked, “Classified?”

“Classified. Mostly. I can tell you Odessa’s tried adapting some of the Enclave’s old tech for controlling Hellhounds, but that project got canceled fast. Was deemed too much trouble for troops that couldn’t fly anyway.”

We were just exiting the room we’d found Money Shot’s body when we heard a high pitched shout echo through the large, dark studio. It sounded like Suture. Glint and I didn’t even bother looking at each other, both breaking out into a gallop at the same time. We crossed the room quickly, getting to the corner we’d left Suture and B.B in. Both of us skidded to a stop as we saw the scene before us.

I think we were expecting to see the Hellhound attacking.

Instead what we saw was B.B, her eyes like two red pools, wide and wild, as she advanced on Suture, who was scrambling away from her on his back, one of his fore legs with a torn bloody bite out of it. B.B’s mouth was stained red, blood dripping from the flesh that was still in her mouth as she greedily chewed and swallowed. My friend was issuing out a low, animal growl, her brown and pink streaked mane bristling. Her mouth was twisted up in a predatory snarl, her stance ready to pounce.

I threw myself towards her before Glint could shoot.

“B.B!”

She wheeled towards me, her growl rumbling. I dropped Gramzanber and tackled her, worried about her injuries, but knowing I had to get her subdued, now, before she got herself killed. I hit her and we rolled. I felt her hooves scrambling against me and her head moving to try and get her mouth to bear. As I looked I caught a glance of fangs, and those wild red eyes, pupils so dilated it was like looking at a black island in a sea of blood.

“B.B, damn it, calm down!” I shouted, trying to pin her. She was so much stronger than I imagined her slight, lithe frame being. She fought back with mindless ferocity, and as we rolled about she got her mouth around my collar. Fortunately my barding kept her teeth, fangs or no fangs, from penetrating, though the pressure and the way she worried at me like a gecko with a bone was frightening. What in the Ancestor’s names was wrong with her!?

“B.B, don’t you recognize me!? Get ahold of yourself!”

I suddenly remembered my dream from the day before, the images blasting through my consciousness like fingers of lightning.

The dead colt, B.B, blood covering her, crying over the body. Her mouth, slick with red, her eyes mirroring the fresh blood.

I tried to remember the details. Difficult, with one of my friends trying to turn my throat into a warm meal. Despite her strength, which I was fearing might exceed mine while she was like this, she didn’t seem to know how to wrestle. I might have lost a lot to Trailblaze back home when it came to this kind of thing, but it meant I got plenty of practice. No, not like that. Get your mind out of the gutter.

I wrapped my forelegs under her own and hooked a hindleg around her backside and managed to roll her over. I wriggled her teeth off my collar and though she managed to smack me solidly with a flailing foreleg I got around behind her with one fast movement and pulled one of her forelegs back behind her while I pressed her head down towards the floor. She bucked, trying to throw me off, but I held firm and managed to get her forelegs into a proper lock, while also trapping one of her hind legs as I wormed my way into a stable position where I had her more or less trapped. She was still growling, snapping her jaws at me, but she couldn’t twist her head in a way to get at me. My shoulder ached from where she’d bitten on it, and my head still rung from where she’d clocked me good, but other than that I was fine.

“Glint, is Suture okay?” I asked, not taking my attention away from keeping B.B held down. Her wiry muscles strained against my own with strength I just didn’t think could be normal for her slim frame. It was taking everything I had to keep her held and my breathing was starting to get ragged from the effort, veins popping out over my forehead.

“He will be,” I heard Glint say, “We’ll need another healing potion. Suture, what happened?”

“I don’t know!” I heard the medic say, his voice shaking with pain, “I was just checking her bandages when she snapped awake and attacked me!”

“Longwalk, you got her?”

“I got her,” one of her wings smacked me with a loud thwap of noise, “Mostly.”

“Good,” I heard him approaching, and glanced to see him angling his energy rifle for a shot at her head.

“Hey! Wait!” I moved so my own head was in the way, though that put it dangerously close to her snarling fangs. Glint paused. I gulped. He really could have decided to kill us both then and there. Instead he spoke with a calm, measured tone.

“If she’s infected with something, it’d be better to put her down.”

“She’s not infected with anything,” I said, trying to keep my own voice calm, “I think this is, I don’t know, a thing she’s dealt with before. I just got to get her to calm down. Please put the gun away.”

Glint slowly backed up, “Do what you have to, but if she gets out of your grip while she’s like that, I’m dusting her. So you’d better calm her down.”

I nodded and made sure to keep my grip on B.B tight as I started to speak to her in as calm and soothing a voice as I could manage, given the circumstances, “B.B. B.B, you got to get a hold of yourself. Its Longwalk, I’m your friend. I don’t know what this is, but I know you beat it before. I saw it. You don’t want to hurt anypony. This isn’t you.”

It didn’t help immediately, or even within the first five minutes. Glint stayed close by, keeping his eyes on us. He retrieved one of my healing potions to give to Suture so the medic could help with his leg and bandage it. B.B remained snarling and giving me low growls as I talked to her. She continued to struggle, but not quite as frantically as before. I didn’t loosen my grip, not wanting to drop my guard. I just kept speaking soothingly to her.

After ten minutes she was growling less, and her struggles had all but ceased, but she hadn’t returned to normal. I started to fear, a feeling of a frozen, clammy hoof on my heart. What if she didn’t get better? What if she couldn’t? How long would I hold her like this? How long before I had to let go, and then watch her get put down, like the animal she’d seemed to slip into being?

I wished I knew what was happening to her. I knew so little about B.B, really. Obviously there had to be a way she went from being whatever she was in the past to the dependable pegasus mare I knew. Maybe something her adoptive father did helped her return to normal? Too bad he wasn’t here. Even if she wasn’t struggling as much as before, she kept trying to turn her head to get at my neck, or any part of my exposed flesh. She was hungry, and I watched her lick the blood off her lips.

As she licked the blood, I noticed something. One of the small scrapes she’d gotten on her face from our scuffle slowly closed up. I blinked. She’d healed herself, with blood? Blood... Blood!

“Glint, could you get that blood pack out of my saddlebags?” I asked, hope in my voice.

“I can. What do you need it for?” he asked as he warily approached, keeping his beam gun pointed at us. I supposed I ought to be grateful he didn’t shoot us both, now that he knew where the exit was, and had the materials his squad was here for. Perhaps he really was, in some way, grateful for the help my friends and I had brought to him and his own, despite recent developments.

“I want you to just put it in front of her, just within reach,” I said to him, and he flipped up his helmet’s visor and gave me a look that said he thought I was crazy and I bit back the urge to shout, keeping my voice calm, “Just do it, please.”

He let out an exasperated sigh and dug into my saddlebags, putting out the blood pack. He trotted around to the front, where B.B’s snarls intensified and she surged, trying to break my grip to get at him, or I hoped, the blood pack. I held firm, keeping her from doing more than straining her neck.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Glint said as he set the blood pack on the floor and nudged it over towards B.B.

She licked her lips and ripped into the bag. Blood burst out, dark and warm. I wondered how it remained preserved over two hundred years. Some kind of spell? I supposed it didn’t matter, B.B lapped it up greedily, reminding me of a gecko at a watering hole. She stained her face crimson, her throat gulping, her growls turning satisfied. I could feel her body shuddering beneath me and her hide felt burning hot. For several minutes she did nothing except licked at the blood pack, as if she were a pony dying of thirst and this was her only water. I tried not to, but I felt a little nauseous, looking at it. But I didn’t look away. This was my friend, and I didn’t know what was wrong with her, but I wasn’t going to look away from her either.

Slowly, bit by bit, I felt her body relax. Her eyes washed away from red back to her normal violet, safe for just a slight tinge around the rim of her iris. Her breathing slowed, steadied, and she blinked.

“What...? Where am...” she looked at the blood, and I felt her body stiffen, her face turning into a taunt look of horror, “No... no, no, no, no-”

“B.B, it’s okay, I’m here.”

She looked at me as if just noticing I was there, on top of her, holding her to the floor, and her horror only intensified, “What did I do!? Who did I hurt!?”

Her voice, I noticed, wasn’t speaking with her normal drawling accent. She was speaking with the voice she used when doing her Mirage act. Smooth, light. Right now filled with fear. I looked at her with as reassuring a look as I could manage, “We stopped you before you could do any lasting harm. Just a little bite on Suture, he’s fine.”

“I... no... you shouldn’t have seen this. I shouldn’t have...” she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, let it out. She did this several times, and with each breath I could feel her body shudder a little underneath me. Eventually she said, “I’m okay now.”

“B.B? Can I let you up?” I asked.

She looked at the licked clean blood pack and I watched as her face composed itself, like putting on a mask, her voice going back to her accented norm, “Yeah, mah body’s gone an’ taken what it wanted, permission from me or not. Dang sloppy o’ me. Shoulda expected it. Shoulda taken some blood from 104 ta keep the urges down. Stupid. An’ I call you wool headed...”

I let go of her and gave her some space to stand. As she did so I noticed that much of the bandaging around her torso had fallen away, but rather than the deep gut wound that should have been there, instead there was a mostly healed scar. She’d healed herself by ingesting the blood. Glint was nearby with Suture, the medic having retrieved his energy pistol, which I noticed was damaged. He must have either dropped it or B.B bashed it when she’d attacked him. Glint was looking at both of us cautiously, though he seemed to relax a bit when he saw B.B’s face, and that her eyes were more or less back to normal.

B.B lowered her head, gritting her teeth as she spoke, “I’m mighty sorry fer hurtin’ ya. Weren’t mah intention, an’ won’t be happein’ again ya can bet the farm on that.”

There was an intensity to her eyes as she said that, and it sounded to me more like she was saying as some kind of oath to herself, rather than just saying them to the Odessa medic. My friend was breathing heavy and there was an energy to her stance I wasn't used to seeing, as if she could still break out into animal violence at any second. It left me unsettled and worried for her both at the same time.

“What was that?” Glint asked, eyes narrowing, “Are you a mutation?”

B.B returned the narrow eyed look, expression frosty, “Might be sorry fer what I done, but don’t beholden me ta tell ya nuthin’. It’s a Family matter an’ let’s just leave it at that, soldier buck.”

For a moment I thought Glint was going to press the issue, but thankfully he just lowered his visor again, turning towards the distant door that would lead us out, “I’ll accept that for now. Let’s just go see if that elevator is our way out of here. I’m tired of being underground.”

We all shared that sentiment. I took a second to retrieve Gramzanber and secure it to my side, and B.B got her own barding, dress, and saddlebags back on, we all tiredly began to trot in a loose group towards the way that would take us to the exit. After a few steps, though, I heard a stirring of sounds behind me; a rustling of debris. I turned my head, seeing bits of wood and dust falling from the rubble pile we were walking away from. I started to say something, but my words were swallowed by an explosion of sound as the debris pile burst apart, and leaping from it, came a hulking dark form.

The Hellhound’s bone shuddering roar filled the studio. I noticed its body was almost clear of all the wounds we’d inflicted on it before, as if it’d regenerated.

We ran.

Except I noticed one of us wasn’t running.

“B.B! What are you doing!?” I shouted, as my pegasus companion stood her ground, facing the Hellhound. She turned to look back at me, a small, calm smile on her face.

“Ya go on ahead Long. I’ll catch up inna minute.”

Glint and Suture had already ran ahead of me as I slowed and turned, reaching to grip Gramzanber’s shaft at my side, “Not a chance! You fight, I fight!”

B.B’s voice became hard, almost... viscous, as the Hellhound took a menacing step forward, “Ain’t a’ debate Long! Yer still injured an’ I ain’t havin’ ya usin’ that damn spear o’ yers again. It’ll kill ya. Just leave this ta me!”

Her eyes changed, turning crimson once more. They held that predatory, dangerous edge they had before, reminding me of the Hellhound itself. However her poise, her expression, was still B.B. She seemed in control of herself, not some beast out for blood. Almost. I had an icy, instinctive feeling trickle along my spine, the kind that warned us ponyfolk when predators were planning on feasting upon our warm, soft insides. I didn't know what to think of B.B giving me that vibe.

“I ain’t dyin’ on ya, Long. Believe in that," she said, her voice still filled with that hard edge, but mixed in was an almost palpable need for me to trust in her.

Her wings spread and she took to the air as the Hellhound charged, slashing its deadly claws. She spun her body in the air with artful grace, her fore legs flashing out in a twin dance of bullets, letting fly all six shots from each revolver at a speed that made it all sound like a single echoing gunshot. The Hellhound was rocked back by the rounds that impacted with its skull one after another, not penetrating, but clearly rattling the monster and making it fall through one of the set up studio sets in a crash.

B.B, remaining airborne, and looked back at me, “Go Long! I’ll be right behind ya, so git yer flank movin’. I’ll buy ya’ll time ta git that elevator goin’!”

My every natural urge told me to stay and stand with my friend against that beast, but a growingly more practical part of me said that she was being the sensible one. She wasn’t planning to beat the Hellhound, just keep it busy so the more wounded of us could escape to the elevator. With her being the only pegasus in the group with two good functioning wings she was the most able to evade the Hellhound, and get away once we had gotten a safe head start ourselves.

“Right behind us!” I reminded her, turning and running just as I saw her smile and draw her .44 revolver and load it up with what I suspected was either armor piercing or high explosive ammo.

Seconds later I heard the Hellhound roar and B.B shouting, “C’mon ya varmint! Ya caught me inna right foul mood so ya’d best be ready fer a beatin!”

This was followed by a cacophonous series of gunshots and explosions. So, high explosive ammo it was. I wondered if even that would do more than slow the Hellhound down.

Up ahead I saw Glint waiting for me at the door into the office, and he turned and ran as he saw me coming. I followed him through, and then past the hallway with the restroom. Beyond was the room of film props and equipment. Suture was hovering nervously by the elevator doors.

“Is-is-is it coming!?” he asked.

“Damned if I know,” said Glint, looking at me, “What happened to your friend?”

“She’s keeping it busy for us,” I said, rushing up and yanking on the metal grate covering the elevator. B.B’s gunfire was still audible, echoing in the room, alongside the Hellhound’s roars. Glint helped me with the grating, shooting the lock and pulling the metal grate open. Suture had tried stabbing at the call button for the elevator but there was no response.

“Damn thing is dead, no surprise,” growled Glint as we both pried the doors open. What greeted us was a smashed elevator car, its entire boxy frame tilted to one side and half of it buried in rubble. Glint cursed, but threw himself onto the rubble and clambered up to the bent roof of the elevator car. There he jabbed at a ceiling panel until it came bouncing off. Looking through it I heard the Odessa soldier’s voice.

“Shaft isn’t that high, think it just goes to the ground floor! Suture, you come through first, I”ll boost you up to the next floor!”

“O-okay!” Suture said, gulping as he started climbing up the rubble. From behind us I heard a crash of wood and felt the ground shake. More gunshots, followed by what sounded like a lot of shattering and breaking objects. B.B and the Hellhound must have ended up in Money Shot’s office and were tearing it up. I grit my teeth, suppressing an urge to go join the fight. B.B. was buying us time.

Suture had gotten to the top of the elevator car and Glint pushed him through, then clambered up himself. I hesitated a moment before beginning my own ascent, hooves lightly treading up the fallen chunks of concrete. Looking up through the ceiling panel I saw Glint pushing Suture up a short, square, dusty shaft, a broken metal wire hanging limply in the center. About twelve paces up was another elevator door, hanging partially open. Glint, grunting in pain, flapped his wings, his injury causing him to hover unevenly, but long enough to boost his equally wounded medic to the next floor.

Glint landed, panting heavily, and I climbed up next to him.

“You next,” I told him, and offered my back. He nodded and hopped on, and I braced myself on the wall, stretching to give him as much height as I could. With Suture pulling from above, we got Glint up to the next floor. At the same moment I heard another crash and poked my head down just in time to see B.B getting flung through the door into the prop room. She skidded on her back, but quickly flipped to her hooves and dove out of the way of the charging Hellhound that rushed into the room. Its claws tore up the concrete floor beneath her as she speedily flew around the best, all three of her revolvers blazing a deafening chorus.

The Hellhound jerked about under the fusillade, the explosion of the high explosive rounds from the .44 magnum staggering it backwards.

“B.B!” I shouted, “This way!”

The pegasus mare, her eyes still blood red, glanced my way, her hooves moving with lightning speed as she reloaded the six shooters faster than my eyes could properly follow. The Hellhound took advantage of her reload time to grab huge crates of props to hurl at her. She dodged aside with the grace of water flowing downhill, even bouncing on her hindlegs off of one of the crates while it was in mid-air to give herself a boost towards the elevator shaft. As she did so she let loose another gatling raid of shots, each round seeming to strike the Hellhound in a leg or arm joint. While even the high explosive rounds couldn’t seem to penetrate the Hellhound’s thick hide, the blasts sent it reeling to crash into the wall.

If she could fight like this after drinking blood a part of me wondered why she didn’t do it more often. Then I remembered the dead colt from the dream and wanted to hit myself for wondering that at all.

“Told ya I’d be right behind ya!” she said as she quickly flew into the elevator car and up into the shaft, snatching me and dragging me up with her to the next floor.

“Didn’t doubt you,” I said back as she flung me through the open doors onto the ground floor. Glint and Suture were waiting for us, in what looked to be a debris strewn hallway, with a pair of open double doors hanging off hinges on the right side of the wall.

B.B landed beside me and we galloped up towards the doors, Glint and Suture joining us.

“Please tell me that thing is dead,” Glint said, his words followed by an echoing roar of rage that shook dust off the ceiling.

“Not as such,” B.B said, her eyes turning back to violet within a few eyeblinks. She visibly slowed, her breathing turning rough, “An’ I just ran outta juice.”

Past the doors was a decently sized lobby. A receptionist desk with a smashed terminal was situated at one end, and waiting chairs lined the tattered, stained walls. Broken stairs led up to the second floor, and a balcony ringing the lobby. Shattered light fixtures hung from the ceiling. There were a number of doors leading further into the building, but we had eyes only for the big doors leading outside.

We ran for them, getting halfway there when the wall behind us smashed out, covering all of us in a wave of smoke and dust. The Hellhound, standing in smashed out hole it’d just put in the wall, let out an ear crushing below, its eyes knit in a narrow glare of frustration and rage.

“Hey!” I shouted at it, “We’re as tired of you chasing us as you are of doing the chasing, so why don’t you just call it quits already!?”

The Hellhound cocked its head at me, its eyes narrowing even further. It pointed one clawed finger at me, then at the two Odessa ponies with us, and made a cutting gesture with a claw. What? I didn’t get it. The Hellhound seemed to grasp my confusion and it pointed again at Glint and Suture, making a clawing gesture, then at me and B.B, and then made a small waving gesture as if to say ‘go’.

That’s when I understood. It didn’t want me, or B.B, or any of my companions. It didn’t care about us. It just wanted Glint and his squad. I could only assume because they were with Odessa.

By now we’d reached the entrance doors and found they were locked. Glint grunted as he strained against them, “No good, got to blast them-!”

I drew Gramzanber and swiped with it in one motion. The front doors fell apart in two halves.

“-or that,” Glint finished while giving me a look.

Unfortunately stopping by the doors had slowed us just long enough for the Hellhound to grasp that I wasn’t taking its offer to stand aside and let it kill Glint and Suture. It growled and sprang at us just as we got through the doors and ran out into the open.

Immediately we were flooded with bright light and I felt the air grow incredibly chilled.

A lance of ice as large as a pony slashed by my head and smashed into the Hellhound in the middle of its springing attack, the force of the blow sending it flying back into the building. Glint, Suture, B.B, and I all blinked at the glaring light, which I could not see was coming from the front floodlights of the Ursa ATW.

“Longwalk, B.B! Much gladness to see both of you not dead!” came Arcaidia’s voice, chiming with joy as the azure unicorn filly hopped down from the top of the Ursa and came running over towards us. I could see the rest of my party, LIL-E hovering above the Ursa’s roof, Binge hopping out the side door to the pilot’s cabin, Iron Wrought following close behind her. The Hellhound’s growls from inside the Silver Mare Studios building indicated it was recovered from Arcaidia’s attack.

I turned around as I was quickly surrounded by my companions, Glint and Suture being joined by Spring Breeze who gave her two companions an ecstatic look before the trio faced the entrance alongside the rest of us.

We all readied weapons.

The Hellhound stalked out of the cut open doors. It stretched to its full height, and then paused, hesitating as it saw all of us. All three still standing Odessa ponies had their energy weapons up aimed. LIL-E had both her guns deployed and targeted. Arcaidia’s horn was alight and ice shards danced in the air around her, next to her deadly starblaster. B.B, whose revolvers had just done a number of the Hellhound, were steady on both her hooves and in her mouth. Iron Wrought had his submachine gun out, a grim look in his eyes. Binge was bouncing on hooves, tail wagging with her Cosmic Knife. Then there was me, standing in the center of the line, Gramzanber drawn and poised.

The Hellhound stood there, breathing heavily, wounded from its tussle with B.B, and clearly counting its odds against all of us combined, in an open area where it had little to no cover. I saw the Hellhound think things over, its burning eyes alight with hatred. Hatred I noticed was still almost entirely directed at the Odessa soldiers. A tense moment passed, then the Hellhound, with a growl, backed up into the darkness of the building’s entrance until it vanished from sight... and didn’t come back out.

All of us let out a collective sigh as we started to get a little gray pre-dawn light on the horizon, the dull light gradually washing across our tired, battered forms.

“Well,” Iron Wrought said, “That was a bucking hell of night.”

Nopony voiced any disagreement with the statement.

“Suture, Glint, I’m so glad you two are alright,” I heard Spring Breeze say as the Odessa mare slumped, giving her comrades each a hug in turn, “When I saw Bernard get killed ... then the two of you got caught in the collapse. Just happy you made it. I can’t keep losing you guys. Skies above... Bernard.”

Glint gave her a pat on the shoulder, his voice both reassuring and commanding at the same time, “I know, Spring. We’ll mourn when we’re back at base. How’s Nosedive?”

“He’s okay. Unconscious, but okay. He’s in the vehicle over there.”

LIL-E, who hadn’t taken her guns off the building’s entrance in case the Hellhound came rushing back out, said “Longwalk, are these ponies currently friends, or foes?”

“Not exactly friends, but they’re not enemies right now, either,” I told her, then made a small ‘oof’ sound as Arcaidia wrapped me up in a hug.

“Estu risair di virol, ren solva? Can’t fly, no dropping into holes, good yes?” she playfully hit my leg even as she gave me a hard look, “Bad to go where I can’t. Good that B.B keep watch on you. Helpless without help, like... bah, esru dol ricarti vi shurm. Learn words later.”

“So did you have fun playing with the big puppy downstairs?” asked Binge, her tail wagging excitedly, “We had a lot of fun too! When the floor went boom the nice birdie caught me! So I got to ride her, and even nibble her ear a bit! Oh, but I didn’t bite her hard, so don’t get mad, okay? You’re still my favorite, bucky!”

Spring Breeze shuddered, “Don’t know why I didn’t just drop her.”

Iron Wrought, trotting back towards the Ursa said, “Can we carry on our conversations later? Somewhere away from the building that still has a nine foot tall death machine in it? I’d like to put some distance between us and this spot, honestly, but if you all feel fine just standing around chatting, that’s fine. I’ll just be inside the safe, armored transport.”

I let out a shuddering laugh, suddenly feeling all of the fatigue of the night catching up with me, the adrenaline finally running out, “Yeah, leaving sounds good.”

There wasn’t a one of us that wasn’t tense as we trudged up into the Ursa, LIL-E remaining on top of the vehicle's roof to cover the door as we settled ourselves inside. Glint and the remains of his squad along with our own numbers made things a little cramped, especially with Nosedive laying on the lower bunk bed, but nopony complained. Glint and his squad stayed in the back cabin, Suture checking Nosedive’s injuries and Arcaidia watching the Odessa soldier’s with a measuring stare. The air was thick with tension, but we were all too tired to say anything. B.B particularly looked downcast, huddled on one of the booths of the dining table and staring out the window. I watched quietly through the door between the driver’s cabin and the passenger compartment, an uneasiness settling in my gut while my body ached from the new set of wounds I’d collected that night. I kept thinking about B.B, and the way she’d lost control of herself. Would I be pushing too hard, to ask her about it? Should I tell the others what had happened, or would that be betraying B.B’s trust? I didn’t know, and couldn’t do much about it right this moment. Binge was the only one of us that seemed energetic and content, hopping into the seat next to Iron Wrought as he revved the Ursa’s engine in a dull roar, pulled us away from the bleak and dark remains of Silver Mare Studios.

---------

Footnote: Level Up!

Perk Added - Toughness (Rank 2): Seriously? Are you a masochist or something? One would think so, given how you much of a magnet for pain you are. The grueling injuries you’ve put your body through have continued to strengthen it, proving that whatever doesn't kill you should try harder. Have another +3 to DT.

Companion Perk Added - Leave it to Me!: As long as B.B is in your party whenever you fail to drop a target after using S.A.T.S there is a 50% chance B.B will attempt a follow up shot of her own with her currently equipped weapon, as long as she is both within range and has ammunition.

Bonus Ex-File: "Boss Rush Stats! - Magtortus"
Location: Saddlespring Elw Ruins, antechamber to Roaring Metal's Tomb
Level: 12
HP: 400
DT: 20
Perception: 6
Attack Skill: 80
Claw Damage: 60
Bite Damage: 80
Special Attack "Electrigger!": Magtortus spends two turns gathering energy inside its shell, DT increases to 40, then on third round attacks all opponents in 50' radius with energy bolts. Inflicts 150 electricity damage.
EXP: 250
Loot: None
Weakness: Water element attacks

Author's Note:

This chapter was a little tough to write, if only because I was trying to do a lot of little things all at once and keep it within the timeframe of a single chapter. Also trying to make Hellhounds seem balls scary without going overboard. Of course this wasn't exactly your garden variety Hellhound either. And we also get our first taste of Trixie's mysterious connection to all of this; although not more than a glimmer at this point. As always I got to thank doomande for helping me out with prereading for this, and to the awesome FoE community that makes writing stories set in this universe so much fun. And of course thanks for all those readers who keep my creative juices flowing. Comment, criticize, and speculate away!

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