• Published 20th Nov 2013
  • 2,205 Views, 33 Comments

FoE: Snippet Story - Windrunner



Set at various points in the Fallout: Equestria universe. Each chapter is intended to be a unique story unto itself. So many references, both ludicrously obscure and blatantly obvious. Even the title. No, not that. You will never figure them all out.

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Rumble in the Broncs

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Much of the great cities of old were laid waste. In stark remembrance some structures by some quirk of positioning or fate were left standing. Some useful. Some dangerous. Some simply ponderous and utilized in some way nopony remembers. Memorials to lost souls and long forgotten heroes also remain. Standing in silent protest of their poor treatment they give and receive little. Not a mention or a thought still given to the countless lives destroyed by a war recalled almost as legend itself. If no one is left to mourn their passing do they still hold any importance? Was their suffering all for nothing? A monument to such things feels no pain, no regrets.

With none left to give it meaning and weight it is only a signpost pointing backwards. A reminder of what should never have been. The warnings it gives heeded by none in the given world. They died by scores in unintelligible number and in their passing could tell none to come after why they were left with a barren core instead of the bright and prosperous world they were promised by those now gone. Ponies found themselves wandering in the dark, alone and without aid. Their only inheritance a world shorn of reason, logic and hope. As much as one might think it so, civilization did not simply cease to function.

There was just no one powerful enough left to keep the remnants together and so they all parted to seek whatever fortunes were left to them in this miserable place. Hardly the only time such a thing has happened, but never on this scale. History is replete with turning points, but usually someone is left to remember them. No one in Equestria remembers much of anything save perhaps that they were cheated in the most miserable way possible. This dim flame of a memory is held in odd reverence. Surely the blame lays solely on zebra kind. All their fault the world was left teetering on the edge of utter collapse. This one tiny sliver of hatred is very much held in ponies hearts even now.

Ponies were cheated out of their victory, and their society. But where really were the ponies in all of this? Did they take some part in the massive destruction that laid waste their own villages, towns, and cities? Their successors may never know the real truth of such matters. Even if they did, would it make even the slightest difference in an effectively dead world? Almost all out for their own sake means little solidarity to be found, much less trustworthy companions and the sort of friendships that could lead to a better future. No thought of a government. No thought of a real town, a real city where once more the power of true good might come to settle.

In this world the powerful very seldom take note of the needs others have. Should any now attain the sort of power that could be used towards the betterment of all it is generally twisted into some perversion of their own desires instead. Some still feel that tiny tug within. That barely noticeable desire for peace and stability. So unknown they barely know what the feeling is. Even unknowing, it is a feeling felt by any who still let themselves start to care. Some wisp of fragmented memories somewhere inside just clinging to existence. Feelings of what should be. What was lost to them. How horrible things truly are. The tiniest hint trying to push their hearts towards what is right. What they deserve.

Occasionally a wandering griffon or pony, or perhaps even something else finds a little thing which helps them remember, and hits them harder than any bullet ever could. A solid gut check to remind at least one or two what is actually missing in life. What has always been denied them. A hit so much harder than anything else could possibly give to them. Sometimes the contrast of their past given so clear only a heart made of solid stone could ignore what it means. The all-encompassing loss and sadness such a discovery stirs cuts impossibly deep and torments its discoverer to no end. Pain is well known in the wastes, but some pains are indescribable, unbearable.

The weighty pain of knowing the truth is sometimes worse than all other things. The ponies lost their world, and somehow even more than that. In that great war which brought absolutely everything to a screeching halt they lost so much more. Some lost their lives. Sometimes they even lost themselves. In a great war that brought everything to this screeching halt, sometimes they lost so very much more. Rarely is there no forgiveness at all. In the face of this, what was there really to forgive? Those responsible already paid a hefty price long ago. A price which was so great it stands beyond compare. A steep sum given to leave even this much behind.

That ponies still alive today even were allowed this much was owed to predecessors who gave up everything and more to leave something, anything, for them. With so much time gone by the silence grows ever more deafening. In the end those with ears to hear and eyes to see must listen and look intensely or miss the oncoming storm and be taken unaware as they all were. It was always there to be stopped. A single pony stating a resounding 'no' and a call to action might have been enough to stop it in its tracks. The serpentine lies that spread and confounded society were left to fly unhampered and unimpeded by those who should have listened and acted. Fear is the easiest thing to spread in the whole world.

All it needs is a single seed left unchecked to grow roots as deep as the tallest mountains. It is just as easy to stop if anyone notices. It only takes the courage to face it. No one did. Ponies held like frightened foals onto the lies and the fear they muster. Lies really are easier, more comforting than confronting and facing off against the truth. The truth is painful. It hurts as much as any wound ever has. It cuts deep. Sometimes the truth destroys everything around it. The absolute worst thing to ever happen during the war was not the war itself. The worst thing to come from the war was an endless web of deceptions presented as those very truths.

If the majority on either side had realized what they were truly doing to one another and to themselves they would certainly have let the truth stand for all to see and things would surely have turned out differently. The long shadows cast by the ending they let swallow them stretched out over the length and breadth of all the land like a cold and bitter wind, carrying only death and sorrow with it. There is no limit placed upon the depths of sadness or pain if none will step up. The dim light left to filter in through the hurriedly closed skies ensured what little was left could only know of finality. In the dark and stilled lands the all-consuming quiet stands heavy upon it ever after.

Once upon a time ringing bells calling out to the glory of the beautiful joyous days fell silent. The true warmth of the sun dimming to leave only a fading, forbidding memory. The celebration of all that was life left only a barren shell of itself. A pitiable emptiness for all that was and is. Little comes out of such an ending save pain. A nearly bottomless pit of grief for those perhaps unlucky enough to have survived. Their hearts and souls shattered, their will broken. Who could blame them? Their world ripped from them on the cusp of their long-awaited victory. The quiet land gives forth the faintest whispers of a prosperous and storied past. No one hears it calling. Every day is the same, filled with the same emptiness.

When Equestria was brightly lit by the golden hues once raining from on high only a terribly greedy soul could be left feeling wanting. All the delicate beauty of their world turned to darkness. The sun wanting to shine across the land as it always did finds no way to break through. It holds out merely the faintest light for those below. If it could scream in despair would they hear it? Its dim hidden rays now only just enough to keep the world below alive. Only just. The sun is very strong, but in the face of this even it pales. Little quirks of fate left the ponies and all others almost nothing but solitude. Not even the sun with all its great strength could stop this from happening.

What keeps pushing these empty days ever adding to the total of despair and loneliness? Even now however, the faintest flickering sparks of hope remain. Almost gone, when ignited they still fight back with conflagrate fury against the darkness. Longing and yearning inside for something they cannot describe or understand anymore, ponies are left clinging only to a desperate life starved of all the little things that make life worth living in the first place. It breeds even more pain. The fires of passion and truth once brightly burning in their hearts now not even a faint memory. The cold and dark of their anger growing deeper with every passing moment, every day, every year. Every second hurts.

Once a triumphant march towards the future is now a slow crawl for simple survivals sake. Why not take advantage of others? Why not bend them to your own will? What does it matter now? The world already died. If you can do it, why stop there? Already pushed to the brink and left gazing into the abyssal depths there are many who try to do precisely that. Claim it all for yourself. If you push, sometimes there really are none who can stop you. They once died defending one another from this very sort of thing. Sometimes ponies themselves become the monsters now. Should they not be stopped? Why bother?

Live a quiet life and hide cowering in terror for all your days, at least you live, or choose to be one of them. What other choice can there be? But wait a moment, what about those little things called feelings? Almost forgotten, they still exist. Most of those that still live try to deny them, they will never succeed. Feelings are a thing of the mind, the heart, the very soul of ponies. Feelings once meant everything to them. Even stripped from them by the ills of the world it still tries to work its way to the surface. How much it takes is entirely up to each in turn. Many now imagine it would just be better without them. If you don't feel anything nothing can hurt you, but is that really the case?

In this dim future where the light touches nothing and hope fails every dead minute, surely feeling nothing at all would be better? Some think this is so, and would do just about anything to achieve it. Anything to make it all better, or perhaps only to make their own suffering end. Walking through one of the twisted but still accessible sections of Manehattan a grim-faced earth pony whose powder blue coat was dulled with dirt and grime slipped nearly silently through the mangled streets. So covered in dirt was he that his mark could not be seen. Creeping up behind a thug wearing a spiked hoof-band he silently cracked him at a very specific point on the back of his neck, killing him instantly to be dragged off into the shadows.

The rest wouldn't notice him missing for some time. He'd been hurt, beaten by his captors that he was now taking out one by one. He was only after a few very specific ponies. Only a few of which he intended on killing. The rest were just in the way. Seething with hatred for them after what they'd done earlier left him hardly thinking about anything other than completing this violent task. It was a grim and dangerous thing being done now. In any other situation he would never have set out to kill another, let alone more than one. They brought this on themselves, and they were going to pay. These vile thugs were out in force.

He did not look in any of their eyes as he picked off his targets, they deserved no respect or mercy and would not receive any from him. His heart was not truly in this, it simply needed to be done. Pay. Make them pay. These were the only things on his mind as he used all his skill to maneuver unseen between each in turn. Watching them fall dead left no feelings at all right now aside from the terrible satisfaction of success. Knowing he should not be doing this didn't slow or stop him from exacting swift vengeance upon them. Every kill hurt. Doing this was against himself, leaving him feeling a strange twinge in his heart each time. Never in his life did he want to kill anypony, not really.

This situation was something new and strange, frightening. Not feelings he knew. Another would not have been successful in taking out these murderers. Now, there was going to be trouble.

"Forgive me, master." Wiping a tear from his eye he continued on his quiet spree. Four more fell before him in short order, the ones who caused him so much pain. At last he'd got all of them. Each time, tears flowed heavily. Standing above them in a pile, shaking as he looked over what he'd wrought and done to them. This was all so painful. His mind reeled at the realization he'd taken out all his targets. That he'd gone on a nearly mad killing spree really felt so bad.

There would be almost no time to consider this further at the moment. The worst of them now lay dead, but there were a great deal of other thugs still searching as he was forced to flit from one dark corner to another. He could not possibly elude them all this way. Finally, forced into a dead end, he found himself cornered in a wide alleyway by a large group. They were very angry now, almost crazed. There would be no avoiding a fight with them now, also something he did not really want to do. This would be an impossibly tough fight for any other pony, even for him this was about to test his skill to the very limits.

"Lookit what we've got here! Get that prissy escapee, Boss wants his head!" The one standing in front pointed, yelling out to charge him. The blue pony lowered his head as they approached. The group seemed strangely wild, he would daresay almost feral but organized. He couldn't help but notice they all looked unusually similar to one another, brushing it off as simple coincidence. No avoiding it. None.

"You give me no choice." He whispered, tensing more and more as the group of twenty approached, each with a maniacal gleam in their eyes. As they approached he simply stood there, watching.

He was actually expecting a lot more than this. There definitely were many more around, why weren't they here, too? About to do something dangerous he almost shook with building adrenaline. This might even work. As the first reached him he said only one thing more.

"Sup─źdo." With incredible agility and speed, the tense ball of a pony launched himself at these thugs arranged in scattered array against him as they swung chains, bats and other assorted weapons in nearly futile effort. Practically dancing around them in turn a quarter of the group were already out cold.

Spinning and flipping to the side, a nailboard missing him by mere inches as he practically bounced off the wall of the alley to ram a hoof into the thugs skull sending him flying into two others unconscious as he quickly sidled past four more, causing them to run into each other in a tangle. Rapidly smashing their heads into the alley wall to quickly be knocked out as well.

"Why can't I hit you!?" The heaviest and largest of the group growled, swatting at him again and again to strike nothing but air while he backed up, suddenly repositioning himself forward, almost in the thugs face.

As he backflipped, both hind legs connected, hooves solidly striking the heavy bruiser in the chin sending him prone and landing the whirling wrecking ball of a pony rolling backwards to fall in between a group of five. Dropping to the ground on his back he spun with his legs out wide, smacking all of them away painfully. Springing upright immediately afterwards, his hooves cracked four of them across the head in one spin. Deftly dodging everything being thrown at him to cartwheel off another into a leap atop one of his attackers. The remainder all swung their weapons at him only to miss as he jumped off, all their weapons brutally striking the hapless thug at the same instant and rendering one more unconscious.

This blurry ball of pain kicked another in the head before even hitting the ground. As he landed his forehooves struck both sides of ones knee, shattering it, sending him falling back screaming. The three still standing looked between one another, dropped their weapons and fled. He let out a heavy breath. These kind of moves took a lot out of him. He should not let that be seen. Always keep your weaknesses to yourself. If there were any more he might not have been able to take them.

"You. We are going to have a conversation about Boss. Who is he? A slaver? What does he want? Why did he have my master killed?" The still-conscious thug with the broken knee backed into the ancient alley wall, whimpering in pain as he approached.

The thug stood there shivering, shaking his head from side to side vigorously. He looked positively pathetic, less a pony and more a mass of fear. Something about this entire mess felt seriously amiss. Just looking at the quivering thug he could tell this fear was not of him at all.

"No, no no no no no! I don't know anything. None of us do. He'll do such horrible things to us if we don't obey. Please, just go away!" He whimpered and just looked down as the blue pony stared incredulously. This band of thugs surprised and captured them both, dragging them in ropes before a mysterious pony they called Boss.

He could barely see him in the dark when he ordered his master beheaded right in front of him. Boss seemed to derive a perverse pleasure from seeing his horrified reaction. The blue pony was unsure why he hadn't been killed right then as well, instead being tied up. A great deal of time later he managed to work free of his binds, did they simply forget he was there? Using the secrets his master taught him, and the great stealth he'd honed over the years let him pass undetected out of the dim place. These underlings were sent after him the moment it was noticed he was gone. Even as they hunted him, he hunted them. Now, this one was begging him to go away? All of this made little sense. None at all.

His master never harmed any that did not deserve it, and never killed. He'd taught him a rare fighting discipline after taking him in that was never to be used offensively, but now he'd used it in that forbidden way. Why would anypony want his master dead? This was ludicrous, and now this horrible pony was crying?

"Why should I leave you alone? You and your little band brought us to him. Now my master, the one good thing in my whole life is gone. I am going to stop him, whoever he is." He huffed in anger, making the thug burst into wild laughter. What in the world?

"Hahahahahhhh..stop him!? Stop Boss? You can't stop him, nopony can stop him. Compared to him we are weak, pitiful little foals. He's invulnerable, even to somepony like you. Run run away, little pony. Run as fast and as far away as you can and never look to cross his path again." That was creepy. Was this pony completely insane? Leaving him sitting against the wall cackling like a madpony he strode out of the alley, bewildered at what he was hearing. What would he do now, without his master? He was never without him before, at least as long as he could remember. The thought never crossed his mind that a pony who always seemed so strong and wise could be taken so unaware, or that he could ever die.

A lonely bitterness filled his heart as tears flowed. His master always taught him to try and do right, be better so that others could see and become better themselves. What did it matter now? They were just empty words. Meaningless.

"No, no.. he meant the things he said with all his heart, even to his last breath. How could I think that of him?" He held a hoof to his head, panting heavily for a moment and moved on. This Boss pony whoever he really was, presented a clearly dangerous and vicious threat. Somehow he'd instilled such fear in these ponies they thought he was invincible. Who could he be? Why was he gathering these ragtag misfits together anyway? They weren't very bright.

Oddly, there wasn't a single unicorn amongst them. Still, there were many more than the group he took out in the alley. He'd let most of those after him live except for the few directly involved in his masters death. Where he'd escaped from seemed like it was just full of them. Where did Boss even find them all?

"I'm going to need help with this, but who could possibly help me take him out?" Dejectedly he cautiously walked through the remains of one of the northeasternmost sections of Manehattan. Once, long ago, it was a bright cultural melting pot.

This city was now just another dead husk of a place, all real makings of life drained from it by the end of the war. As with everywhere else it fared little better than most major population centers. In sadness he trotted towards one of the many broken and unused little buildings he and his master called home, perhaps no longer. It would take a while to get back there. Instinctively stopping at the strange feeling of being observed just as a heavy blast of something green rocketed past his head tearing out a chunk of the nearby corner wall. Never having seen or heard of such a thing left him taken aback by the massive power of whatever weapon was now being used against him.

Diving backwards, another shot added more damage to the already tortured street. This was insane. What was going on here? Multiple shots streamed towards him as he dove again for cover. Not good. Terrible in fact. He was in no condition to deal with this.

"What the.." He was interrupted by a further few blasts melting and destroying the whole wall he just hid behind, forcing him to dodge and try to circle away from wherever it was coming from. Such power was being employed against him. Surely he wasn't worth this?

Having managed to cross into another short alleyway he was at least out of sight of whatever was firing at him. Trying desperately to slip away he turned multiple corners and criss-crossed amongst the many ruined and destroyed streets and the skeletal remains of buildings he knew well from years of scavenging. Hopefully in doing so he'd managed to elude his pursuer. Sheer luck only. Really not good.

"What was all that craziness about?" Leaning against a chunk of wall he took a moment to catch his breath before moving on. To use such force against him seemed ridiculous.

It was likely best he not try to go towards what was called home at the moment. There was something terrifically strange going on here. In all his roaming, he'd never encountered anything even remotely like that. He would have to find somewhere else to rest and recover. The technique he used on the large group was one his master taught him to use sparingly as a last resort. True, it was nearly unbeatable, but performing it left him near-exhausted. As it was he could not take on another opponent and hope to win. He absolutely must find a safe place to rest quickly. It hurt. It hurt a lot.

"I'm so tired. Got to keep moving. Oww. That kind of hurts. Much more than I remembered." It always did, and always had.

Learning such moves was painful enough in itself. Actually employing them in a real fight was far worse. One leg was twinging badly from the exertion and running. It was even difficult to feel like he was getting enough air, leaving him sucking in deep breaths heavily with each step. Every labored breath burned a little, making it a struggle just to keep walking. Feeling greater pain than he'd endured in quite a long time was hardly an enviable position to be in. The pain of each breath making him wheeze a little too loudly. That could easily give away his position to a determined pursuer. Each step was leaden, slow, laborious. It was hurting worse, and worse.

"I have to stop. I have to stop somewhere. That little spot. It's close. Got to get there." Quiet whispers to himself that he could not faint out in the open were the only thing keeping his hooves moving right now and his eyes from closing.

"I haven't needed to do that in so long. I nearly forgot how tiring and painful it is." Huffing deeply he carefully peered around each corner, trying to remain undetected. He would not be able to keep dodging in this state, and was already severely wracked with pain. Fortunately, his effort to escape seemed to have paid off. At last able to move about undeterred he found an empty shell of a building, hiding himself in a dark corner within to rest.

It would not be comfortable, but it would have to serve. His eyes closed quickly. When he awoke only about an hour had passed. The true toll of the fight was evident. The little rest helped. It still left him trembling, sweating profusely, shaky and aching all over. The extra exertion of escaping on top of the strain from the fight pushed him a little too far over the edge, something his master warned was very dangerous. It was definitely true. His heart hurt. It would take a whole day before he was truly recovered. Another matter impressed itself upon him. A lot of food and water was badly needed now, something there was a decent amount of if he could just get home unimpeded. Those kind of moves burned energy.

A lot of it. There wasn't much at home, but represented the sum total of their constant scavenging. It would definitely be enough to keep the two of them going for a while. Now those supplies would last a great deal longer on his own. Daring to sneak a peek outside revealed nothing unexpected.

"Master...I am so sorry. Through your death I could not uphold your ideals. You taught me not to kill in anger and never for revenge. I just couldn't help myself. I felt so much rage. I have failed you." Sniffling he set out for home, this time keeping out of sight wherever possible. His master was the only thing in life he cared about.

Having found him wandering as a young colt either abandoned or his parents perhaps dead, he'd taken him in. He'd taught him of honor and the concept of right from wrong, and of justice, almost speaking of each as if in sad reverence of them. Where he'd learned of these things was never spoken except to say they once held great importance to ponies. Rarely they would encounter other ponies wandering the safer remaining portions of this section within the once grand city. They never traveled outside of it. There was no need to. They never even left this region of the city. It was familiar. Home. A home now being encroached upon, invaded.

These very rare meetings were usually brief, sometimes a bit hostile, but not once in all the years did it end in bloodshed. Even his coat seemed to droop. It felt so terribly hurtful inside now. A pain never experienced before. The kind of pain that no mere medicine could cure. Not that medicine was all that common in the wastes either. A highly prized commodity, it could just as easily harm as help anything. That sort of knowledge like most other things was uncommon at best, contorted and harmful in its use at worst. Especially the right way to use it. There was none for this, good or bad. Only a painful ache within that felt like an endless flurry of punches. So much pain. So much.

"We did everything right. Stayed out of sight. Never messed with anypony. Just like you wanted. How did they get the drop on us? On you? Why did they do it?" Head hanging low and almost shuffling along at the slowest pace he'd ever walked almost felt a bit embarrassing after so thoroughly trashing the thugs. It was all they could be described as. They certainly did not seem very intelligent. At least not as a whole. It was a good thing they weren't. In an up close and personal fight he absolutely held the advantage. He'd been trained for it. Never having imagined it would ever actually be necessary to do such a thing, to push or be pushed so hard. The danger in doing so was real.

Little twinging pains like before were settling across his entire body, lending urgency to reaching a truly safe spot. There was a bit of something for this sort of thing at home. Not much. Just enough to help his current condition. While making his weary way towards Buckner Park road and their well-hidden home in between two other tilted structures, a feeling of apprehension and foreboding fell upon him. He tried to shake this feeling as he carefully tested jogging along a little faster, but it would not leave him. Knowing to trust such a powerful instinctual feeling he stopped by a large pile of junk which tumbled from a smashed building long ago. Peeking to take a good look around, nothing obvious could seen.

It seemed as dead and empty as it ever did. Searching amongst the debris and stark portions of buildings and structures long left to rust and decay was not an easy matter. Puzzled, he stood looking around. Still drained from before was making for incredibly slow going anyway. A slight glint was just noticed in the distance above one of the larger structures as something hurtled towards him. They were blazing and fast approaching. Very fast.

"Not again!" He yelped, stepping back as a heavy green blast like before shot by, barely missing his left foreleg. It passed by so close he could feel heat emanating from it as a small hole melted in the ground.

There was no time to care about this as several more bursts were already heading straight for him from somewhere. Darting to the opposite side of where the blasts were coming from was his only chance, only just managing to jump right over one as it flew by he could tell he was in serious trouble once more. Rolling forward to land against an ancient wall gave him only an instant to recover as it too was melted away by the barrage. Where was it coming from? Their origin seemed to shift positions. A heavy piece of shattering brick hit just behind his right ear, making him stagger about on his hooves. Having only enough wherewithal to do so he ducked around the next corner.

He'd been left standing with a hoof to his head as blood trickled down his neck. The jagged cut was fairly deep. Dangerously so. No time to deal with that right now. Just more pain for later.

"Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Showing your head in the open like that. This is not good. I haven't really recovered yet. How did they find me again so soon?" An admonishment to himself. This could be deadly and it was his own fault he'd been seen.

"Great. What do I do?" There were only a couple sparse buildings standing on this side of what used to be a street.

Going out there would mean crossing all that empty space with no cover at all. Here they were mostly in total ruins, but at least it provided some little bits of cover. This tattered shell was being blown to shreds by the strange green orbs which melted through everything they hit. They were either incredibly hot or caused damage in some other way he did not understand. A couple of them almost seemed to explode on contact with something. It was a good thing the one that landed under him had not reacted that way. Was there some difference? Did it matter what they struck which determined if it resulted in an explosion?

Never having actually seen a real explosion before was probably not helping his understanding of this either. Soon the entire remaining front wall would be gone. Where were these guys? Several buildings stood on the opposite side. One looked relatively more intact than the rest. Probably up there, but there was no way to be certain without going out to be shot at. The choice would soon be made for him. The old brick shuddered as more of it was torn away. It would start collapsing soon. Whatever he did was going to hurt. There was no avoiding it right now. He would have to move soon or be crushed by the swaying structure as it began to give way. Why would they expend so much power against him?

Were they seeking revenge for the dead thugs? They did not seem the sort to have friends, at least none that would have cared enough to bother. Most in the wastes didn't care. Why would they? He shut his eyes for the brief time left and took several very deep breaths. The thugs were the kind of ponies he'd once seen those with power over order to their deaths and in their insanity would gladly do it. Life mattered little anyway. He himself mostly didn't care either, and probably never would have at all if it weren't for... His eyes opened as he groaned, trying to think of what to do. In another moment or two the strange green orbs would tear down the entire remains of the small building he ducked behind.

He was perhaps the fastest earth pony alive, maybe ever. His master said so. It was time to find out if this was actually true. If it wasn't at least it would be over quickly.

"Focus, find the timing. I am lightning. I am speed. I can do this. I must do this. I AM speed." He let go of his head and turned to step out from behind what remained of the wall, jumping forward past one of the flickering green orbs as he practically flew across the ancient street. The steady stream of raining death turned towards him. Dodging between them he found there really was a slight delay between each.

Any seeing this would have marveled at this rocketing ponies momentum. He looked like little more than a streaking ball.

"3 seconds at most, generally 2." He thought as he jolted and dove around each almost as a blur. Where could they be? It was at this moment he realized it. There were two points of origin. The best thing to be done was go after what seemed to be the closest.

"Oh that's great. Fine, that one." He spoke while running and dodging.

Somewhere above on one of the crumbling rooftops was one of them. The other must be at ground level. There were at least two of them, possibly more. Weaving between the crossing orbs of death he was finally approaching the base of the building. Once inside the firing ceased. That run hurt. It would soon hurt much more.

"Why did it stop?" There was no time to wonder. Ignoring that, he began rapidly sneaking up the jagged flights of stairs. This particular building was very sturdy, but still damaged by neglect and disuse. It was six stories to the roof. He was uncertain how to approach this. Whatever he did it must be fast.

The one above surely knew he was coming, and the other was certainly going to move to a better vantage point while he was dealing with this. Altogether it was nothing but a bad situation he'd found himself trapped in.

"Now for it." Steadying himself he faced a door that contained almost certain death behind it. He stared a brief moment then bashed it open, immediately dropping to the floor as another blast flew overhead, knocking bricks loose. Now. Darting forward to avoid it he could now see a pony standing at the roof edge.

He was wearing some kind of hefty metal armor, holding aloft by a connected bar that ran behind the neck was some kind of weapon with green bits along the barrel and what looked like smoke pouring off the width of it. The weapon emitted an eerie hum as it discharged yet another blast. The fastest earth pony ever ran straight at this armored mountain of a pony before him, dodging each successive shot in turn. 2 seconds between each shot. Left. Right. Jump. Duck. Roll. Attack.

"This cannot be." A muffled voice came from within the helmet as the bolting pony whirled past a sixth shot.

"Hurricane kick!" The blue streaking sight of the pony was reflected in the armors visor as he leapt, spinning past yet another blast. His left rear hoof connected against the top of the helmet which caused a terrible ringing thud as it was forced to turn some by the impact, then the other hoof smashed straight into the visor with such force it shattered. It went straight through, striking square on the occupants eye with such tremendous impact it caused the heavy armored pony to scream from within as he tumbled over the edge of the roof. The quick earth pony fell on his back wheezing in pain, muscles cramping. It was almost too much to bear. No. He could not stop yet. Not yet.

"Darn it all! I didn't want to kill him... Move!" He ordered himself and painfully stood, peering over the edge as he wheezed.

"What? He's gone!" It was not possible. Surely a fall six stories straight down would have killed even the toughest pony. Despite the armor, if he did not die there was no way he could still move after that. Everything was wrong with this situation and it was only getting worse. Pain. Pain. Pain. Lungs hurting and burning so badly he could barely breathe made it so hard to think or move.

"Calm down. Think about it later, there's another one to deal with still. Oh, this hurts so much!" Grunting through labored breaths he forced himself to move back towards the door, being near the edge of the roof was too exposed. Wheezing in pain from the exertion and needing to move immediately like this was rapidly taking a serious toll on his body. It was far too soon to be doing anything even remotely like this. Fighting through the pain he slipped back down the stairs. Somewhere the other one was waiting to fire at him. He just knew it. Judging by how far away it was when he ran in here the other one could not have reached the building yet. This gave only a moment or two to work out some kind of plan.

The pain was so intense and getting worse with every movement. Being found like this was truly terrible luck.

"Have to think fast. What's my next move?" There was nothing really useful around here. The area was known well enough, but there were many semi-destroyed buildings around here yet to be explored thanks to an abundance of caution even his master heeded. Hiding behind things was only a good way to slow whoever these guys were down. Literally any cover would quickly be melted away.

"I cannot do that again, it would kill me. I have to get out of he.. aaah!" As if in reaction to his statement he was sent almost doubling and nearly falling downstairs clutching at his heart for a second with his left foreleg folded up against him at a serious stabbing pain radiating out from it. Trying to ignore this he moved down to the bottom floor. There was absolutely no time to wait or else wind up pinned in here. Slipping outside through the door the injured pony darted around the corner as quickly as he could just as another blast flung by. That one was much too close. So close in fact the end of one of his fetlocks caught on fire which was hurriedly put out. Any closer and it would have struck directly.

How far away could these guys fire from? Was there any limit? Did they ever run out?

"I knew it." He huffed. Almost stumbling he looked across to find more cover. A pile of old jagged pipes and broken bricks lay strewn around the area. Not much to hide behind there. A remaining piece of an ancient skycart lay across the other street. He didn't actually know what it was. It was the most substantial thing within reach in this condition. Knowing he could only move in short bursts or risk killing himself for them left no choice. His attackers would not be aware of this though, something he definitely did not want them to realize.

"Move. Move, hurt later." Willing himself to rush across at a sprint. No shots, they must be repositioning again. Why did they keep doing that? This might give the barest moment to plan the next move. He could not fight now. The only option was to get away from this onslaught against him. Why were they so bent on killing him anyway? Could they really be more of Boss' group? They seemed nothing similar to the thugs from before. These ponies were brutal but efficient, coldly calculating in their actions. It was necessary to do the same if there was to be any chance of surviving this. He must survive this or never find out what it was all about. That fact was driving. Painfully so.

"Blast it, why are they doing this?" A painful twinge as another mild bolt of pain shot from his heart. Unable to wait longer he ran towards an old half-destroyed goods warehouse which no longer held anything of value, but should provide ample opportunity to find cover. Here they come. More of the constant stream of green sizzling orbs shooting from somewhere. He'd seen guns before, and knew that they needed to be loaded. Where did they get so much ammo for something like this? Whoever they were, they excelled at obscuring their position. Much like himself. Not quite as good. At this range he was able to avoid them more easily as he made his way into the dilapidated structure.

It was a relatively large building in the past. Now, as many things it was just another large pile of sharp metal pieces and debris. Whatever was housed within was reduced to dust by whatever portion of a withering blast had swept through, causing much of the roof to collapse and the rear-facing wall to totally disintegrate. If anypony were in here they would have been atomized in an instant back then. He knew nothing of these things, only that he must keep moving away from the crazy ponies trying to end his life. Finding himself slowing down he realized he must do something to draw their attention away from him and gain some time to flee.

There must be something, anything here that could be used as a distraction. Nothing obvious. These ponies were taking potshots at him from as much distance as they could. They were out there, somewhere. At least judging from the one he'd seen covered in armor they looked like ponies.

"Gosh, they learn fast. Better come up with something. Think. I Have to think." He pushed himself hard to come up with anything. For now, all that could be done was to keep moving so that they also would have to keep repositioning to shoot at him. A dangerous thought came to mind. Moving to a window frame he poked his head up and yelled as loudly as possible.

It was time to play a dangerous game.

"Is that all you've got!? Quit boring me!" This could easily backfire, but there was little time or choice. A desperate action, trying to goad them into making some kind of mistake. Another shot flung past his head through the window, they really were good shots. Too good. The only thing which really saved him so far was his sheer speed and luck in finding cover. He could not possibly keep this up for much longer, it already hurt so incredibly badly. His leadenly pounding heart could not take much more of this. The firing stopped and things fell silent for an instant. Now what?

A far off clicking sound barely caught his ears followed by a whooshing noise. Almost not registering his own action he bolted behind the partial remains of a still standing thick pillar just as a strange long projectile shot through the empty window to smash into what was left of the opposing side to stick there. A quiet rapid beeping noise was heard coming from it. This could not be good. He did not know what this thing did but it was certainly a weapon of some sort. The only action to take was to get away from it. Leaping once more away from the pillar the device exploded sending chunks of cement and smoke everywhere.

Lucky once again to have found something to land behind he'd nevertheless been struck by numerous small sharp pieces, each cutting deep. Bleeding and panting heavily from the pain and exertion he knew this would be his only chance. Summoning all his will through the pain he ran off in the smoke. These ponies were utterly ruthless, he must get away now or die. Slipping as quickly through the smoke as he dared it seemed this gamble may be paying off, though at some cost to himself. Hurting was better than dead. Once clear of the smoke he quickly headed down another familiar street once more. This familiarity was likely all which saved him now. He managed to elude them again for the moment.

Now he was twitching in pain so intense it panged and jolted to move. Only once before in his entire life had he ever experienced pain anywhere near this bad.

"What do these guys want with me? Why are they trying so hard? Ahh..the pain is so much, master." His heart was hurting again and fluttering agonizingly off and on. If it was not possible to stop running and find safe shelter once more very soon he would die anyway. It seemed safe for the moment at least. Having to push so hard was nearly killing him. Now, he was injured in multiple places, one hit on his left flank just above his mark was bleeding more than the rest and even his neck.

This particular injury was by far the most serious. At least externally. Despite the knock to his head, that was only a glancing blow. If he kept rushing about like this with such a serious wound it would surely be exacerbated dangerously. Huffing terribly now the pain throughout his body was nearly overwhelming, the shock of it all almost resulting in losing consciousness. Vision starting to cloud he shook his head. Got to keep moving. Just a little more. Just a little.

"No, no. I Can't rest here." Fortunately luck seemed to be favoring today as he finally reached a hiding spot he'd picked out long ago in a little hole in the ground behind what was once a convenience store.

He did not know what it was, only that it was a small underground room beneath the collapsed structure. Most of it was inaccessible but he could easily hide undetected down here for a very long time if necessary. He would have to wait at least until nightfall to try moving again. Food and water would have to wait. It was far more important to rest now. Without stopping to rest his heart would surely give out. At last, at long last, no more running. Now he was a ball of agony.

"That was too close. One more push might have killed me. Master, what should I do?" Laying on his uninjured side he quickly succumbed to the sweet surrender of sleep.

A shadowy figure peered out at him, eyes glinting somewhere in the dark. Three hours later as his eyes fluttered open a hefty groan left his throat. Was that an odd dream? It felt wrong for a dream. It still hurt all over, everywhere. Everything ached, leaving him aquiver. Overexerted beyond critically. Surely there was no more painful a state to be in than this?

"This is not good. I still have not recovered from all that. It was too much." At least the bleeding seemed to be a little less. Utmost caution would be required to make it home now. No more mistakes. It could not be afforded, nor to lead them there. Any action taken now must be with complete confidence there was no following or being seen.

Somehow earlier they'd come after him a second time, finding him with ease. There could be no repeat of that or it would easily result in being finished off. Home, such a deep need to reach home soon. These injuries demanded proper attention and care. There was nopony to rely on now but himself. That realization hurt.

"So, a game of hide and seek is it? Well, we shall see about that. Bet I'm better at it." He mumbled. Unsteadily rising to his hooves the pain was found to be still quite sharp. He steadied himself. Some risk would have to be taken to move about. It was necessary to minimize exposure to open ground or streets.

Stepping up into the street once more to take a cautious look around revealed nothing just as before, and could be just as misleading. It was darker outside now, making it less likely for him to be spotted. Still, whoever these ponies were, they were no amateurs. Somehow one survived a solid blow, and what should surely have been a fatal fall from a great height. The other was extremely cautious. They both wielded strange weapons of devastating power with seemingly callous abandon. How did they obtain so much firepower? Right now he could not hope to face it again and survive. Keeping to the deep shadows that night granted was the only way to remain undetected.

It was slow going slipping from one dark corner to the next, always thoroughly looking at all possible angles before daring to move again. They did not seem to be around. Could they finally have given up on him? It did not seem likely, they'd invested a whole lot into attacking him so far. It would be much too nice if they did. One might at least hope. Trusting to hope in this situation would be naive and invite further disaster to come knocking. No more mistakes.

"No, they are out there somewhere. Waiting for me to make a mistake. They are both too deep into this to simply give up. I will not make it so easy for them. You want me? Come and get me, if you can." He spoke bravely.

One thing his master taught was that fear should never overtake you. It was to be your ally, not your enemy. Something which should keep you from making mistakes, not from making decisions and taking action. Truly believing in his masters teachings gave great confidence. This time the darkness was his friend, allowing him to move about unimpeded. On the slightest chance he was being followed he took a winding route towards home. It might be slower, but it was well worth eluding the two hunting him. Badly in need of food and water was making this even more difficult and wearing. Going slow was not just a choice, but a necessity.

Moving quickly would likely reopen his wounds, some of which were close to being truly grievous. Two hours later the night granted his reprieve for now. Slipping between the two toppled buildings surrounding his home let him sigh in relief. They had not found him this time. Entering the humble abode deep within the old ruins brought memories to mind. Time spent training with his master in this courtyard, the things he taught, the thoughts he conveyed. Bringing tears to his eyes he entered the rundown abode. Water was the first priority. He wasn't sure exactly how long he was a prisoner, but by now at least a couple of days passed since he last drank anything. The rack of ancient water bottles was fairly filled with them.

Oftentimes it was not as his master would give them out to defuse tense situations when rarely meeting others, saying it was the right thing to do even if it left them without. He drank plenty. Time to rest. Food was a much different matter. One does not need nearly as much food as water, but it is still a necessity of life. There is very little to go around in the wastes. It drives living things to the madness of starvation and desperate action. A burning empty stomach leaves little room to think. Fortunately his master was as adept at scavenging as he was at fighting. Things most others would simply discard found real use in his capable hooves. With nothing whatsoever wasted, they were not left wanting.

It was not a good feeling eating what was contained in those horrible packages from long ago, but you did not starve. When you did find one you knew it could keep you going for a week, if not more. They were very filling, cleverly packed with all sorts of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins which somehow kept. The taste was always awful. He knew nothing of this either, only that they were edible and for whatever reason would keep one going for a long time. Ponies from before the war knew so much. There were plenty of these varied packages here, even more so than the water. They were never appetizing. So weary he could hardly remain standing he strode into a very familiar room.

He nibbled at a partially emptied packet forlornly and did what could be done for his wounds before climbing into a comfortable cot his master procured from somewhere during one of their jaunts into the surrounding ruins. At last he could rest properly a while. He'd spent much of his youth here, listening to his masters teachings. Finally able to take some time to think he found himself crying. He was truly alone now. Rubbing the area of his heart the extremes of exhaustion quickly left him asleep. When he awoke many hours later his heart still ached dully.

He would have to be extra cautious for some time not to overexert himself, though he was in unusually good condition there were still limits to what his body could endure. With no choice he'd been pushed much too far and would be paying the price of this overexertion for a while. No one should be able to find him here at least. The entrance was nearly invisible. He did not imagine there was a more well-hidden spot in the whole of the Manehattan ruins. Far off from this location there was a small settlement, but they had little to do with them. Other ponies were generally untrustworthy or simply very badly off.

Groups of them usually meant they were either family, had known each other for a long time and merely stayed together through familiarity, or raiders. Raiders and slavers did not usually venture into the city and were relatively unknown here, there were easier places to capture the unwary. Dealing with Boss and his minions would have to wait. Boss seemed nearly psychotic from what little he'd seen of him. Why would so many ponies follow his orders? He was only one pony, could he really be so threatening and powerful? Whatever the case, fighting against him without help would be impossible. There were just too many of them to take on alone.

If the two he encountered earlier were any indication they were also willing to go to unimaginable extremes for some reason. Employing extremely powerful weapons without care like the two from earlier seemed like terrific overkill. There was also the matter of why they wanted him dead badly enough to use such things. Why did they bother attacking him or his master at all? It defied reason. An excess of caution would be needed. He never did have any companions, both chose to live solitary lives away from other ponies. Sometimes it was lonely, but his master meant the world to him and his company was enough. It was just easier that way. They were free to do as they pleased and owed nothing to anyone.

Perhaps this choice was a mistake, as much as he liked this self-imposed solitude it now meant there was no one for him to turn to for help. He knew there were griffons and even the occasional pony that could be hired to fight, but that would be very costly. All he truly cared about at this moment was finding a way to strike at Boss for what he'd done to them. Something struck him then, he'd seen some of the thugs several weeks before from a distance. They seemed to be looking intensely for something at the time. After a few hours they left, not having found whatever they were after. At the time it did not seem important. Just an oddity.

If only he'd recalled that earlier he could have questioned the injured thug about it, he'd been too exhausted and disturbed at his masters death. It was too late now, they would surely have long since reported back to Boss and having seen what he was capable of it would be surprising if they weren't severely punished for failing. He thought about trying to pick one of them off once more to gather information, but they would likely be on guard now that they knew something about how well he could fight and elude them. There were also those two possibly still out looking for him, they were a dangerous duo that were clearly very used to working together. After all, they nearly managed to kill him by themselves.

More than that there was absolutely no doubt the one who fell should have died, how did he survive such a tumble?

"The pain..no, it's nothing. This is nothing." He rubbed his chest gently, it was barely possible to move without hurting. There was not much to be done for now, he could only manage to move enough to get a drink and slip back into his cot. It rocked gently side to side as he stared at the ancient cracked ceiling. A broken window to his left let in what little light there was. All that took far more out of him than he thought. At this rate it would take days to recover. There was nothing for it. His master taught him all that he knew about speeding healing along, but he was not here to help anymore.

There was one healing potion they'd discovered and kept in case of an emergency, it was so tempting to take it now. No, it was not the time. It was something he should only take if there was truly dire need. He'd been injured much worse once before and managed without it. He would be okay this time as well. He thought back to all the time spent under his masters watchful eye in training. When he first started learning how to fight, how to scavenge, how to survive. It was a rough time. It was always a rough time. It didn't matter, because his master was always there to guide and encourage. Now he was gone forever for no apparent reason. Now that there was time to think, tears welled in his eyes.

Many ponies over the years felt the empty despair and pain of living in the remains of the world. Now it was his turn to feel that burning pain inside, something he'd never truly felt before. He didn't remember his parents or anything else from before the life he was now accustomed to. The only thing he remembered from the time was being so very alone and scared, and then his master was there. He'd saved his life then, and for all his skill he could do nothing to save him in return when it mattered most. It hurt so much. Far more than anything else he'd ever felt. Still crying while falling into a fitful sleep once more left him quivering in the cot.

His dreams were a random haze of bad feelings and fear, almost happy memories painfully tinged now. His master looked on as he trained.

"I can't do it!" He moaned as he failed once again to perform the most intense maneuver he was yet taught. Soaked in sweat and huffing he spun into a whirling kick only to miss the wooden target post and fall flat on his side painfully yet again, he groaned. It hurt. And again. It hurt worse every time. Why couldn't he do this? Over and over he tried only to fail time and time again. Pained and frustrated he continued to try over and over, he did not want to fail his master.

Finally, tears flowed as he looked over. He felt so disappointed in himself, he'd been so sure he could do this by now. He'd been so confident he could finally manage it. Today was supposed to be the day.

"I'm sorry..I...I can't. Why can't I do it? I've watched you do this move a hundred times..I..." He huffed and felt terribly embarrassed. He kicked the ground in frustration. His master ruffled his mane and smiled broadly at him. What? He spoke in a gentle soothing tone.

"Of course you can't." His tears stung, why would his master say something so hurtful? He spoke again.

"You are young and strong. You learn everything I teach so quickly. The reason you cannot do this is because you are trying to do as well as me, instead of as well as you." What was that supposed to mean? He left him standing there, puzzling over what was said for more than an hour before suddenly calling his master back outside. There he stood in the old somewhat slanted doorway looking out at his student with a gleam of expectation in his eyes. As he watched, his student launched himself at incredible speed towards the wooden post and into a spinning kick which made it shatter into halves as it connected, going straight through to land in a cartwheel and slid to a stop on all fours.

He was always rather fast, but it was at this moment he realized just how much he really loved moving that way.

"One more thing." His master was smiling widely and pointing at his flank. What? He looked back to see he'd earned his mark. Two crossed lightning bolts now adorned both flanks. They were perfect for him. A symbol of his passion, of his soul. Lightning was a rare thing, like himself. It was one of best moments of his life. In a world where joyful moments were rare, it stood out. A moment he'd got to share. After heading inside he found himself being congratulated on having learned nearly everything about close quarters fighting there was to know. There was only one more thing to learn, but that was for later.

For some reason after this his master chose to have a much different and very much unexpected sort of conversation with him. Of all things he chose to tell him a few things about mares, and even a few about stallions if he should ever find himself having leanings towards a relationship with either, or with both perhaps. Why did he choose this time to have such a talk? Such things were mentioned quite briefly before a few times while he was growing up, but never with real gravity or the sincerity which comes with a serious conversation. Perhaps he just couldn't think of a better time to bring it up? Maybe he simply thought it best to get it out of the way now.

Whatever the case, it was a heartfelt and warm conversation about love and romance, and the different things it could mean. It was an awkward feeling conversing with him about these things. The things being explained. The difference between the sort of love he felt for his master and he for him, and what it meant for a relationship with another if he should ever choose to pursue something of that nature. Having been told one could be smitten with such a thing at any time was a little concerning. There was also the fact that it could be a false thing as well, leading to a different sort of pain. He'd never thought about it much before that moment, but he was glad they'd talked like this.

Since that time he'd never encountered anypony that he felt like trying to strike up such a thing with. The dream took on a wavy appearance as something formless seeming to take strides out of the very shadows reached around his master and pulled him into them, away from him, gone forever. This thief was taking him away. Bring him back. Come back.

"No, come back. You can't have him!" He yelled and jumped at the thing as they both disappeared into the dark. He pounded on the wall futilely until his hooves hurt. They were gone. Helpless to do anything about it the formerly happy feeling dream now somehow made him turn towards some faceless horror in the dark like he was being pulled towards it by some invisible grip, hauling him into the shadows.

His eyes popped open as he found himself breathing quite hard and covered in sweat. What was with that dream? Everything still hurt dully and would for quite some time yet. Every so often he needed to stretch his limbs and move about a little bit to prevent his muscles from seizing and cramping, it was painful. At least he was still alive. If he'd been pushed even the slightest bit further his body would have surely given out. His thoughts bounced between sadness , anger, and loss. Who was the one they called Boss, what did he want and why was he so terribly cruel? His imaginings flitting between these things made it very difficult to rest properly. Hurting as he was the time felt to be passing very slowly. So slowly.

Waiting to heal properly felt like an eternity. It was necessary. It was so slow.

"This is unbearable. I need to go after Boss, make him talk and.." Really, then what? He'd already killed the ones that murdered his master when they were ordered to. Was he really ready to go kill another one? He felt so badly already. Maybe it would be a mistake to go after him as well. What if they were really just following orders because they had no choice like that other one said?

"No, the ponies I took out clearly enjoyed killing." He muttered and twitched in the cot, sending it rocking softly.

The cot itself was a gift his master generously gave him when it was discovered. Whoever made it must have been incredibly skilled as it still nearly felt like something new. That it did not crumble to dust like so many other things spoke to their capability. The old ponies really did know things.

"Whoever you were, you did fine work. Thank you." He once again cautiously stepped off to get a drink. Normally he would not need so much water, but being injured this badly was taking a lot out of him and tough to get through. Days passed in this fashion and felt like they were going so horribly slowly until he was finally able to move about without feeling like he was endangering himself. It still hurt a bit.

"I have to be patient. I will have to wait to go after Boss, just a little longer." He looked at the old crumbling building he called home. It did not feel like home any longer. His master was gone forever. Now, this was just another ruin amongst many. It felt so empty now. Lifeless.

"A few more days, then I'm coming after you. Do you feel my anger?" Grumbling, he decided to pack up most of the food and water. He also packed what caps and bits they'd collected over the years. This was not truly home any longer. It would likely take some time to find a way to reach this dangerous pony.

Boss clearly held great sway over some powerful ponies. Why did they follow him? He did not seem the sort one would readily associate with. There was no hurry as he packed what he could into a pair of saddle packs they scrounged up together what felt like ages ago. They were quite worn, but sturdy enough. It would only be a little heavy for him. The warmth his master brought to this simple ruin was gone. It was just another hollow and empty place now. He really could not stay here much longer, it just added to his pain. As the time passed he could not help but think of all the things they'd done together. Scavenging for supplies was just how things were.

They shared everything, and he was always being encouraged. He knew many other ponies were not so lucky as he'd been. Many were on their own or forced to rely upon shaky alliances with those just as likely to honor such alliances as to turn upon one another. Actual friendships were a rare thing in the wastes. This was abundantly clear. Even the few trade caravans they ever dealt with never truly felt friendly, just more tolerable. As he thought about these things he realized that none of the traders had passed by since Boss' minions started looking for whatever it was they were seeking. If only he'd remembered seeing them before and to question that thug about it, but he was in such pain then and so angry.

It would not be possible to do what he was planning alone. He'd heard of mercenaries operating far off outside the city that could be hired, but they would be very expensive. Hiring them should be a last resort. He did know a few ponies here and there, but they were not to be trusted fully either. It was a sad state of affairs, but this was the tattered world they'd been left. Like most, he'd heard of the great war that culminated in the destruction of nearly everything. How did they ever let it come to that? Gazing out into the hidden courtyard he could only imagine what it must have been like when it was new. He would likely not be returning here once he left. Perhaps. It hurt. Everything hurt. Why did life have to be this way?

What would it have been like if the war never happened? Would all this still be standing, safe, happy and bright? A place where one would be proud to live, surrounded by familiar friendly faces? He could not really imagine what that would be like. That was something he would never experience. The idea was nice, but it was impossible. All that was left were damaged slowly falling ruins succumbing more and more to age. That anything was left standing at all was a marvel in itself. The structures in the city were built to last. He didn't know this sturdy construction was a byproduct of the war itself, and almost the sole reason anything was left standing at all. How did ponies live back then?

All he knew was scavenging, and he was very good at it. What did they do? There was so much stuff laying around he didn't know the use of, what it was for or anything else about. Some things were obvious, the intended purpose of a mattress or a cupboard was clear, but there were so many other things. Objects related to fun and games were very uncommon and the purpose was easily lost or twisted. He had no idea of the purpose of a bowling ball happened across once, or what an iron was used for or a golf club, he didn't even know the names of those things. Some of it left him quite baffled.

An industrial park in one section of the area always held his interest, all those old ruined machines sitting there in silence. What were they for? The sheer size of some of the remaining rusted machines was impressive. There were not many that could tell him what they did or how they worked. Clearly the ponies of the past knew a great deal, yet they still fell. They were so powerful and knew so much, how could they have let the world become like this? For the most part life now was just bland, weary and joyless. Was it ever better than this? He'd been happy enough just to have somepony nice to live with, and a place to call home at all.

He did wonder sometimes what his parents were like or what happened to them that left him alone. He imagined that perhaps not being able to remember them at all was a good thing. He could not truly miss what he could not remember in any way. The few days before he left the only home he'd ever known passed by quietly and sluggishly. It would be too dangerous to keep returning here once he left, it was just a little too close to where he'd been held captive. He would have to find someplace else far away from here, but where could he call home now? It all felt so surreal. He did not know this word, only the feeling. It was just a bad dream, he would wake up soon right? It did not happen. It was true.

Finally, it was time to go. He slipped the heavy packs over his back and walked out into the night. It would be best to move around in the dark on the off chance the ponies with the excessive firepower could still be somewhere out there. It was quiet and dim as it always was at night. Having to leave these surroundings he was so accustomed to hurt in its own way. Almost all of the busted up streets in this area, back alleys and walkways he knew at least a little. Places to avoid, places where things could still be found. This was more jarring than expected. This region was all he knew, now he would have to leave it. His master told him of radiation and how dangerous it could be.

Neither knew what it really was, but the lethality of it and the threat it could pose was obvious enough. They even at some point found an old magically charged radiation detection badge which began to change color if you were getting too close to a source. It still worked. With it they'd determined all the most dangerous spots in the immediate and surrounding area. He'd made sure to bring that, as he was heading towards places he did not know well or at all it would certainly prove useful. The last thing packed was the one healing potion they possessed. It still looked potent. Trudging quietly through the darkness amongst the empty ruins was a lonely endeavor.

Once sufficiently far enough away to feel at ease he picked up the pace somewhat. Boss and his underlings did not seem intent on leaving this area anytime soon. He hoped whatever they were looking for would keep them busy long enough for him to figure out his next move.

"Whatever it is must be fairly important to him to have so many looking for it, but what could possibly be so valuable around here? There's nothing special." He wondered. There was so little. The rad detector badge was worn by a strap around a foreleg and very prominent against his blue coat. A pre-war pony might have mistaken him for a medic.

It was going to be a very long walk to the nearest point where any pony he barely knew was, would it be of any use to go to them? Maybe they could at least give him some information. He would be passing by there anyway if he decided to head towards the merc camp so he might as well ask. He'd been careful not to make much sound as he weaved his way out of the furthest north section. He passed by an ancient faded metal sign attached to the remnants of a wall along one street saying 'Try Whickers candy bars, the most nuts ever!' He almost found himself laughing at the strange sign. What did that even mean? His master also taught him to read, but never revealed who taught him how to do so.

About that sort of thing he always seemed rather secretive. Did he even have parents? It didn't really matter. It wasn't worth prying. Forlornly walking for the next numb hours before taking a break he just sort of got into the rhythm of his own hooves clacking on the ground and what pavement there was. Almost without realizing it he'd slowly traveled onwards for almost the entire day. As it began to grow darker once more he found himself reveling in all the good memories he'd shared with his master. His life with him was far from easy, but it was good. He would have to find an out of the way spot to rest for the night. This was nearly beyond as far as he'd ever dared travel before.

Another day would take him outside of anywhere he knew. This city was truly immense in its day. The ruins were certainly strung out over very long areas. Even back then motorized ground vehicles were not all that common. Usually relying on pegasi or trains to move goods or other ponies over very long distances. Highly automated machines both for ground and air use were only just beginning to gain some public trust a short time before the war ended. He didn't know any of this, only the sheer scale of the rest of the city now before him. To him the city was gigantic. He found a little nook to rest in out of sight. He was still a little sore, but just couldn't have stayed where he was any longer.

Everywhere he looked there only served to remind of what was now gone. Maybe this long jaunt would ease his mind, there was a necessity of thinking clearly for this. At the very least he desired to confront Boss and demand an answer to why he did it. He was unable to stop feeling both sad and angry alternately.

"I am not a violent pony. I'm not. I can't believe I even did what I did, but was it really a mistake? They were terrible, and enjoyed it. Surely it cannot have been wrong to stop them from doing that to anypony else ever again?" He did not feel very good since that moment. Why did it feel like this? He knew killing was not something to relish.

He'd taken others lives, even if they were murderers. That is what was bothering him. Five ponies were dead because of his own blind anger in retaliation. They may have been truly evil, maybe they even deserved it. Did he have the right to finish them off as he had? He'd tried not not to think about it for all this time, but now it weighed heavily on his heart. He was a little shaky as he sat, taking little nibbles from a small packet and small sips from one of the water bottles.

"I don't think I regret it. They killed him. They were ordered to do it and didn't even question it, they just did it. They deserved to die, didn't they?" This conflicted himself so much he was left crying profusely.

This was not something he ever imagined himself doing before, taking other ponies lives. He wound up choking on his food. After this he spent a good deal of time trying to get himself together. It wasn't right and it was not fair. Few things in the world now were, but they did something so terribly wrong and he'd made them suffer for it. This was just balance wasn't it? What was truly right here? He was so drained and tired of it all he just lay there limply until sleep finally took him. Thankfully there were no dreams of anything that night. At the first sight of the sky beginning that ever so slight transition into what was still called daytime he awoke. He wore a blank expression as he awoke.

Although he'd cried in pain before he'd never really experienced such terrible emptiness and sadness over loss. It just kept hurting inside and it wouldn't go away. Why, why did they have to take his kind of alright life away from him? It wasn't much, but it was enough. Getting up to stretch and take a drink he allowed himself a moment before heading on. He did not know the rest of the region very well and it stretched on for a very long way. Although he was one to explore it was always with caution, and never too far without his master. This spot was barely known, soon he would be venturing beyond anywhere he'd ever been. It was a bit exciting in some way. It also incited nervousness.

Past this point would require paying careful attention to the badge upon his leg. Familiar surroundings were now behind. At the slightest hint of it changing color he would have to back off and change directions. Dropping dead from something invisible was not a way he desired to go. Although he'd never seen it the description of dying that way was beyond horrifying to him. While thinking of these things he'd come to the realization that he really was not afraid of dying, only of it happening in some manner he couldn't see coming. At the very least he wanted to face that directly whenever it did someday happen to him.

It was a slight solace to him that his master at least saw what was coming as he felt the same way. Still, the sheer unfairness of it was burned into his mind. This was a kind of pain he could never have been prepared for. The sadness washed over him in waves at random times and it bothered him so much that he could not control this. For a while he would feel alright and then it would hit him again like running into a solid wall. Tears came and went. Would they ever stop? It did not feel like they would no matter what. Were tears endless?

"I just want him back, but that can never be." Gulping down water he decided it was time to get going.

This would be a very long trip. Thinking it should be safe enough to travel freely now he still took the time to survey his surroundings before continuing. Some ways away was what once was a river. There was hardly any water in it, it did not flow any longer and was probably unsafe to drink from. Fortunately he brought plenty. For some reason he still felt somewhat unsafe. It was a senseless feeling really, there couldn't possibly be any danger here at the moment. Something still felt wrong. Though the city was mostly abandoned, there were generally ponies somewhere to run across, especially in this direction. He'd found none in his slow trek so far. This was not really that odd and didn't warrant this feeling.

Reluctantly he left the packs hidden in the nook nestled between some small ruins for the moment and headed nearer the river. How could it be dangerous here? His senses were telling him it was. His ears pricked and swiveled. There was nothing. A terrible sense of foreboding settled over him. Sneaking a peak over a small rise revealed nothing other than an ancient bent street sign indicating he was near some road which used to be called 'Fetlock Avenue'. The river to the side was just barely still full enough to cover a pony he thought. It was stagnant, dirty. He gazed into the dark water, and something underneath gazed back with enormous alien eyes.

"What!?" He yelped, rolling to the side as a figure he could not really see underneath leapt out of the water at him. It was huge. He knew what it was, but couldn't believe it. A frog, but it was of such size it defied description. He jumped behind a small rock along the bank which barely offered any cover just as the creatures large tongue shot out, shattering it on impact and reducing it to powder. He absolutely could not get struck by that or be killed instantly. No wonder there were no ponies at all in this immediate area, this thing had likely ambushed any that were. At this distance running was out of the question, it would only serve to get him hit.

The only choice here was to get in close and hammer on it with everything he had. He sprinted past the thing and knocked it on side of the head in passing. If he made even the slightest mistake right now its sheer weight would be enough to finish him. He danced around behind it as it turned, smashing his forehooves into the back of the neck or what he thought would be a close approximation. This did nearly nothing. Bad. Very bad. It was squishy and far softer than expected, making it difficult to inflict real damage. The enormous frog was practically absorbing all the kicks and jabs at it. This was not good, though it was beginning to bleed in places. At least it kind of looked like blood.

Knowing nothing of this sort of thing he could only keep bouncing about trying to stay behind it and hitting it over and over. This was taking forever, but he did not want to resort to anything more powerful. Attacking it from in front would be too risky. He prevented it from jumping away once or twice by following its movements as fast as he could and dashing to where it landed, continuing to pummel it. Anything more might be too much so soon after recovering from last time. He could probably make short work of it, but those sort of moves always carried some amount of risk. Only if he needed to. He managed to smash one of the creatures hind legs right at the base, rendering it useless. Then the other.

Finally, after bashing it about the head for several more minutes it finally fell forward and lay there twitching. Panting heavily he moved a short distance away and sat back against an underpass, staring at the gigantic thing. Where did it come from? There was never anything like this around here he knew of, and nopony they'd ever spoken to mentioned such a thing. He only knew it was a frog because knowledge of such things existence was not entirely forgotten. This was vastly larger than his master ever spoke of. What was going on around here? Could this thing have anything to do with Boss? That didn't seem likely, but he could rule nothing out for the moment.

"Wait, what's that sound?" There was a slow beeping emanating from the body of the creature which sounded somehow familiar.

"No!" Flinging himself into the underpass just in time as the body was enveloped in a strange greenish glow and exploded sending chunks of glowing flesh everywhere. One large piece landed just beside him and melted away. What happened?

"Uck. Was that the same weapon from before? It might have been something similar. I have to keep my guard up." All the pieces were incinerating. This was crazy.

This was not the end of his problems though as he heard a strange wheezing sound approaching from somewhere else.

"Oh, what now?" At first he thought perhaps one of the few locals actually did escape the strangely large creature and was coming to investigate the commotion. This thought quickly evaporated as a mumbling purple-coated mare approached his position. She hadn't spotted him yet in the dim light. He watched in concern from behind the edge of the underpass remains that just barely concealed him.

Where her cutie mark should be were deep gouged scratch wounds that looked like they should have healed long ago. What was more concerning was that a quarter of her skull and one eye seemed to have been replaced with a steel plate which held several wires and tubes hanging off which went running into the base of her neck, the eye glowed a strange orange color. Even more disturbing than this was what she was saying as she examined the remains of the frog. What was she saying?

"Signal lost. Subject deceased. Terminate area residents..help me. Seek and destroy all living entities in vicinity..no stop it. Movement order confirmed." Her movements were weirdly erratic like her balance was impaired somehow.

She walked about the area continuing to speak and act strangely. The wheezing was disconcerting him so much. She would see him any second now. Not another fight.

"Search concluded. Eliminate target..make it stop." She lurched towards him. What should he do now? He stepped into the open, preparing to fight this odd apparition of a pony. She halted and quivered heavily. What? Her eyes twitched about oddly and disturbingly. For a moment it seemed as if she might not attack him, but just as this thought crossed his mind she launched herself at him surprisingly fast.

"Run away. Run away!" Her voice was warbling and distorted sounding. Run away? What in the world? She stumbled towards him and he deflected a blow from her forehooves as she reared and stamped down hard, causing him to stumble back some. As an earth pony he was very strong, but she was so fast and ridiculously strong even compared to that, at least twice as strong as he was judging by that attack. If he was not in as good condition as he was that single move could easily have caused serious injury or worse. This was terribly dangerous.

"Lady, what is going on here!?" He questioned as he dodged her leaping straight at him.

Something was even more odd about this. Her moves were fluid and unusually skilled, but just kept barely missing their mark almost like she was trying not to hit him. She was also..crying? She threw herself at him repeatedly. The fight was dragging on forever and going nowhere. Why wouldn't she stop? This time as he dodged she rammed into a jagged hard ledge of the underpass, cutting a large groove diagonally across her chest. Despite this she continued to fight as if the deep gash inflicted no pain at all. She struck at him violently again and again.

"I don't know who you are, but I do not want to fight you like this. Stop. You're hurt! Please, stop?" He yelled as they crossed glancing blows over and again. This ceaseless exchange of blows was not getting them anywhere whatsoever. He did detect a slight change in her speed, was she slowing down almost imperceptibly? She continued to hammer at him in almost a rhythm. He finally found a real opening as she really was beginning to slow. There was no desire to hurt whoever this was, but she was clearly trying to kill him, or was she? He needed to take her down now if he was going to at all.

He ran at the wall of the underpass to leap and bounce off it onto her back as she approached where he leveled a wicked kick directly into the back of her head, smashing her face into the wall heavily with a clang. She collapsed onto her side with a heavy dull thud. Now he'd fought two opponents and was very near exhausted once more, leaving him gasping for breath. The fight with her went on far longer than he thought. He'd never faced an opponent with as much endurance as himself save for his master. She twitched and turned her head towards him. She should be out cold. It cannot be. She was still mumbling odd things. Her movements were jerky. Just seeing this made him feel weird.

Why was she getting up again? How could be still be conscious?

"Target must be terminated.. kill me. Destroy target..KILL ME." What? Did he hear that right? He didn't want to kill anypony at all, except perhaps Boss. He'd already had his fair share of doing that. She was already rising to her hooves unsteadily. How could she still be awake and moving? That kick shoved her head into the wall so hard it should be impossible for her to be awake, let alone getting up for more. She was injured very badly, he could tell that hard landing also cracked several ribs making her wheeze even worse. Didn't it hurt? He truly did not want to do this.

Why was this happening? Blood was trickling out of her muzzle and nostrils. It was certain he'd nearly killed her.

"Re-engaging target.. kill me. Terminate target..PLEASE?" She was begging him to kill her? What the hay was this insanity? She was preparing to attack him once more. Again they batted at each other. Wounded so seriously she shouldn't even be standing she was still giving him quite a fight. How was this possible? Blow after relentless blow was exchanged once more. No choice. Never any choice.

"Miss, please don't make me do this!?" Tears were trying to well up once more.

She clocked him across the face with a hoof. That hurt horribly badly, but it gave him the opportunity to retaliate with a heavy jab directly into her throat which finally sent her to the ground, rolling to land hard upside down. He heard a crunch as her neck snapped on landing at such an odd angle, she twitched all over disconcertingly. The orange light was fading from that eye. He wasn't given a choice in the matter. Again.

"Thank you." She wheezed as her head drooped and sparks shot off the metal plate. She lay still. She was smiling? For a moment he could not even think. It was too horrifying. He just stared.

What he just went through was awful in some indescribable way. It felt nothing like when he'd taken out the ponies who helped murder his master. He stepped up against the crumbling wall of the underpass and closed his eyes, pressing his forehead against the wall where he proceeded to bang his own head against it several times. Nearly in shock and leaning against the wall shaking, he truly could not process what just occurred. It wasn't right. It just wasn't. For several minutes he just stood there shivering, staring at everything and nothing. If anything else attacked him at this moment he would have done nothing and died for certain. This did not happen. The eerie silence that took the area was all there was.

It took ten minutes for all that just happened to truly register within his mind. There was so much death around here. He never wanted to kill, never. Especially not anypony he didn't have any real reason to. His heart was beginning to race. This place was dangerous, he should be leaving. Unsteadily he turned his head towards where she'd finally landed. It finally sunk in. It struck with tremendous force. It couldn't be real. It just couldn't.

"It's not real. It can't be real. You're not real. This isn't real, it can't be!' Tears slowly started flooding out of his eyes as he shook. Was he going insane? Nothing made any sense.

Finding himself laying on his side on the ground he stared at the poor mare for several minutes before sobbing uncontrollably. Something burst. He just couldn't help it. It felt like he couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't move. He was shuddering so much it was almost hurting. He let out a loud guttural scream. Time felt like it was standing still. Everything was just getting worse and worse. Why, why did he have to do this to her...why? It hurt in a way he could not stand. It was unbearable.

"Why!? Why..why..?" He yelled at the uncaring sky and fell to constant crying. This felt so wrong, all of this.

She was dead, whoever she was. He'd been forced to kill her. Who was she, what happened to her? Why did this have to happen? Did he just murder somepony? He felt so terribly conflicted. She asked him to kill her even while she seemed to be trying to kill him, even thanked him for it in the end. It was insane. Everything was insane, ever since Boss and his lackeys showed up. Go away. Go away. GO AWAY.

"Its all gotta be a bad dream, Its just gotta. I'm gonna wake up..I'm gonna wake up!...wake up!" His tears gushed down his face as he panted and choked up so much his heart twinged painfully. Except it was not a dream.

Everything that just happened was there telling him as much. Swallowing hard he finally caught his breath and began to calm down. His racing heart slowed to a more normal pace as he finally got hold of himself. He looked over his opponent. She'd put up an awesome fight, deserving of respect. He wiped his face and panted.

"Lady, I am sorry for whatever horrible thing happened to you. I am so sorry I had to end your life. I know you asked me to do it, but it is not fair I was forced to take it from you, I know. Please, forgive me." He couldn't just leave her like this. Did she have any friends, family?

Such things might be rare in the wastes but even as dispersed as they were ponies usually knew someone else. He could not do much, but dragged her body a little closer to the shoreline where he scrounged up enough rocks to give her a shallow grave at least. He did not get the feeling she deserved to have met her end this way. When this quest of his was over he would try to find out who she was. He owed her that.

"I won't forget you, miss. I'll try to find somepony that knew you later, I promise." Solemnly he left the shallow grave with a heavy heart. After picking up his packs he prepared to resume his long trek.

He wanted to rest after all that, but it might still not be safe here. After that he'd decided he would actually head out of the city region and seek the assistance of the griffon mercenaries far to the north. He knew they were there thanks to the trade caravans they'd occasionally dealt with, often they were the only source of information or news. It would likely cost most or all of the caps he could offer, but it was clear he was dealing with something so strange here that it was necessary. There was still such a long way to go even to leave the city limits or even just this area. After these encounters nowhere felt safe. Over and over he caught himself feeling unsure of his own actions. Somehow he'd become involved in a real mess.

Sighing deeply he began walking once more. He did not really know the safest way to go. He knew the entire city spanned a very large area. The northern section he'd lived in all his life certainly held just enough scavengable goods to last a lifetime if one was diligent and knew what to look for. Ever leaving what he knew never crossed his mind before. It would never feel like home again. As decayed and destroyed as it was, it was truly all he knew. It was familiar. It would not be very long now before passing beyond the farthest point he ever dared wander before. Hopefully the few other ponies that still lived around here did not suffer a similar fate to the rest that lived close by.

Even if they were not really friendly, they were still ponies and did not deserve such a fate. He barely knew one of them. He'd seemed tolerable at the time. Perhaps he could at least get some directions from him. One thing he did not want to do was run right into the most dangerous places in the ruins. The unexpected combat took a bit of a toll. He did not expect to go at it again so soon. It left his heart gently aching as he walked, his hooves clicking strangely dully as they contacted the ancient cracked pavement. Probably just imagination. He meandered across the old road and to the west. There was a long way to go this way first, this much he knew.

Occasionally he found himself wondering how ponies built things like some of the formerly majestic buildings which still somehow stood. An hour passed in this manner before spotting something in the distance that looked somehow off to him, causing him to halt. What could this be? He found a spot to hide away his packs once more and carefully approached the object shimmering in the distance. Keeping himself hidden from sight was something he knew well enough. The remains of some sort of battle were plain to see here. Laying on their side was a steel ranger, an unusual crest was emblazoned across the armors front. Much like the ancient machinery, he found the suit fascinating.

How did it work, what did it do? The suit itself was completely shattered. Smoke still spread into the air from a gaping hole which went right through the front on the left side of the chest and out the right side on the other. What could possibly have done something like this? What could have had this much force behind it and done such a thing? Even the strange glowing green shots fired at him over a week ago could not have punched through something so solid this easily. Could the occupant still be alive? He left the safety of cover for a brief moment to find out. The bulky suit proved to be incredibly brittle. His hoof barely touched the suit which sent it and anything within crumbling to dust.

How? This did not make sense to him. It looked so heavy and dense, yet it utterly destroyed itself when touched. Almost no trace was left as it fell to dust. That can't be good. More weird things that needed answers. They were piling up rather quickly.

"Oh, no." Furtively glancing around he could not detect any threat. This fight seemed to have ended some time ago. Whatever pony wore the armor did not stand a chance against whatever went hurtling at him. Incredible force was used against this hapless wanderer.

"Why was a steel ranger here anyway? They never bothered coming around here before." He vaguely knew what they were and to avoid them, never actually having seen one. Not here. He'd been told there was nothing interesting to them anywhere near. This was very puzzling. Everything was. It was an unpleasant puzzle.

"This makes no sense. Nothing about any of this does. What is happening around here?" He wished they'd never encountered Boss' minions. If only they never ran across them. In all the world why did they have to come here? His mind could not fathom the significance of any of this.

All it seemed to him was that pointless random violence was being committed. In the wastes this was not exactly unheard of, but why so much and to this degree? You can make nothing but enemies if you kill everypony you come across. Too much was wrong.

"There is so much dreadfully wrong here, master. I wish you were alive. I wish you were here." Wiping his eyes he quietly slipped back for his packs yet again. Whatever happened in this place, it was much too late to help anypony. A rare slight breeze blew past him. The stirring of the air in this situation felt ominous.

Caution lead to moving at a slow and steady pace ahead. At last he could see the few pieces which still existed of Freepony street. A slight curve in the road lay beside yet another ancient building. More of a ramshackle assemblage of old useless pieces of metal and whatever could be thrown together in the vague shape of a building. This was his first destination. Hopefully the pony he was looking for would be around. The thing which resembled a door looked to be rather weak. He dared knock upon it delicately a few times. There was no response. This was quite far from where he'd found the fallen ranger. Was he dead as well?

He was beginning to feel spooked and very alone in the world, more than he ever felt before. Though bereft of much goodness the world never entirely felt empty or lonely to him. He did have his master to thank for much of that. This was different.

"Hello, anypony here?" He called out meekly, feeling desperate for a response. There was no one here, just more empty silence. He realized this is what bothered him most. He'd barely heard a single sound since he set out. The world was always quiet, but it was not this quiet. Were there no ponies left alive anywhere around here? This was very worrying.

He banged on the door once more to find it slip open of its own accord. Should he venture inside? He did not want to invite more trouble, but something very bad was going on.

"Hello? If you are in there, please come out?" He waited a moment. Again there was nothing. Fearing the worst he set his packs aside the oddly shaped entranceway and stepped inside. The large single room of the place was a disaster. A shattered plate lay on the floor amidst several spent shell casings. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he realized why.

A dead earth pony whose pale spotted coat and underside was caked with dried blood dripping from the corners of his mouth lay draped on his back against the rear wall. His muzzle was still wrapped around the firing mechanism of a small gun. Something threw him there with such terrible force his spine snapped. He did see it coming, whatever it was. A look of abject terror was fixed upon his face. This must of happened days ago. Fortunately, this was not the pony he was looking for. The horrendous sight before him triggered some terrible feeling of foreboding. At this range the shots could not possibly have missed even if the poor fellow was in a total panic when they were fired.

There was no blood aside from his own. Whatever got him must have been barring his way to the door. This was genuinely creepy. Never having seen such a sight he was once again shocked. Something just picked up a pony and threw them this hard? It would likely be best not to linger here. Such sheer wrongness hurt his head. Hastily he backed out the door. Looking around the shack revealed another shock. A decapitated mare lay strewn in several places and numerous pieces behind it. This sight made him feel terribly sick. Her head was not cleanly removed but strangely hacked off at an angle like it was removed by blunt force alone. Blood had sprayed all over the rear wall.

The head itself was entirely missing. This place was full of death. With his packs safely on once more he wandered westward. It would be a while before he would reach another road. When he finally did, it would be time to head south towards the other remnants of Manehattan. Truly realizing this was going to be a very long trip was a bit of a sting. Why was everypony around here being slaughtered in one way or another? It made as little sense as anything else lately. It was all so frightening and illogical in any way he could see. This proved some kind of threat to life could be lurking anywhere.

"This is horrifying. Could Boss really be behind all of this? I suppose he might be. He is definitely sick and twisted, but what possible purpose could any of this serve? They had nothing worth taking." He was talking out loud to himself to brace his nerves. The strange quiet still seemed to surround on all sides. Even his own hooves did not quite seem to make the audible volume they should while trotting along. How could all this not be a dream? The horror was just not ending. What happened to the pony he was looking for? That was his haphazard shack, but two other ponies he'd never seen before were brutally murdered there. Was he laying somewhere in the surrounding area as well, hurt, dead?

Feeling extra disturbed he kept walking until well out of sight of the shack. Ponies were being slaughtered left and right apparently, it left him feeling so cold. There were very bad things in the world, but something about this was just plain wrong. Off.

"I can't take it. This whole thing hurts my head. Think about something happy for a while, yeah." All that came to mind were tinged memories of time spent with his master. While they were happy memories they were always interrupted by a flash of what happened to him not so long ago.

"All the ponies in Manehattan cannot be dead, can they?" That would be ludicrous. Not even all of those thugs and whatever else could possibly have killed them all. There were not many of them, but they still equaled a fair amount in total. A few of them were very heavily armed. There were also other things in the city that should make that utterly impossible. He only needed to keep moving until breaking away from all of this, but how far did that mean? Could it mean wandering for days or longer before finding another living thing? This entire trip so far was turning out to be much more dangerous than imagined. A few hours later he finally found something to indicate where he was.

A barely recognizable sign at a sparse intersection reading only 'Treemount'. His understanding was that it should be a simple run almost straight south from here. It was still a worry though. There was no clue to what was happening, and it could not simply be assumed he would find another pony or even another living thing anytime soon. He'd traveled a fair distance today. It was time to find a safe place to rest. At least he wasn't attacked again since the craziness in the morning. Whatever destroyed the ranger wasn't around either. An ancient marred and toppled street marker further down indicated 'Freemane Street'.

There was a small squat and somehow still solid looking building with a large sign across the front stating 'MHPD Police Precinct' in tall white lettering. It was situated in front of a small hill which ringed and obscured it from view. It seemed like it might once have been important in some way. Whatever it meant was lost on him. Out the front several destroyed carts once painted solid black and equipped with solid bars across the back lay rotting in many pieces. A slight outline of something like a star could just be made out on one of the wrecks. It looked safe enough, but after previous experience he was going to take it very slowly before deciding this was a spot to rest.

Gently pushing the heavy door open he found it was made of some type of metal. Inside a desk and several broken terminals were found. One in a corner room still spilled an eery green glow across the main room. Stepping further in were found several prison cells. One contained an ancient pony skeleton. He didn't like the idea of staying near that, but needed rest badly. The interior of the building was very sparse and a little bit cooler than outside. One section of a back wall to the locked cell where the skeleton lay appeared to have been broken out of from the inside with the door still locked securely. The lock on that cell was also strangely fused along the connecting portion, there was no way to unlock it.

That was something of a concern. What could have gone right through such a solid wall, and why was it in there with them to begin with? The walls looked built to withstand serious punishment. The building itself was definitely abandoned a very long time ago. Why nopony took up residence here likely related to the fact there was really nothing else left standing for a good distance in any direction. With nowhere nearby to scavenge it would not be a good place to stay. Aside from the broken wall it was certainly secure here. Carrying large amounts back here would be too time and strength consuming.

The damage was not obvious from the outside which was probably the reason the skeleton lay undisturbed in the corner, other ponies must have come across this place at some time or another or could he really be the first to come across this? Discarding his packs behind a desk in the opposite corner he decided to return outside and head around the back to see if there might be some way into the broken cell. A heavy steel beam had fallen crossways covering the hole after whatever it was busted loose. After much wriggling and trying to find a way to slide in through the mess he just barely managed to make it within. Now it was possible to get a very close look at the skeleton.

The ponies right foreleg was clearly crushed and several of the ancient bones looked to have been broken off more than succumbed to age, were they chewed on? Close inspection in the dust revealed a small partially opened package of 9mm rounds to the side which the poor fellow must have been fumbling with, was he trying to reload some kind of weapon? There was no gun here. Perhaps it was buried in the rubble or landed outside the cell to be taken away. Scouring the area revealed nothing more. Gently prizing the pack off the ground it was chucked into the main room. It took as much effort to climb back out through the small hole as it did to get in.

Just as it was cleared a chunk of steel debris caved in absolutely sealing the hole completely, and sending dust flying which set off a coughing fit for a moment. Too close.

"Whoa, that was a little too careless of me. I could have been trapped in there. Get yourself together." He mumbled while heading back to the main door. Before returning inside one more quick look around verified there was nothing and no one here. A safe place to rest easy within. One of the cell doors hung off its hinges and finding one of the folding wall-mounted beds to still have a serviceable mattress afforded a place to sleep.

His gaze wandered to the glowing terminal across the room. He did not know what such things were for, but technology always fascinated him just like the silent machines back at the industrial park. It beckoned for a password under the statement 'We serve Lady Justice. To keep the world safe'. Lady Justice? He knew the concepts of justice, but his master never mentioned her. Who was she?

"Well, guess you couldn't do that could you?" He realized this was likely a shameful thing to say. That screen likely stayed the same way since the great war so many years ago.

A war which ended in such widespread devastation it was still recalled with fear and told of in hushed whispers if spoken of at all. No pony could ever have wanted this to happen to the world? No one could have stood up to that, it was too big. His thoughts drifted while laying on this somewhat uncomfortable bed. It was becoming difficult to relax enough for sleep.

"It is perfectly safe in here. The last pony to walk in or out of here must have done so ages ago." Trying to assure himself it was safe to close his eyes it was a harsh struggle to finally fall asleep. Eventually it took him at last.

Thankfully there were no dreams. Too much happened lately so the simple blankness of a dreamless sleep was a welcome darkness. As dawn broke he awoke feeling much better. The wall mattress things were clearly not designed with comfort in mind. This was obviously a place intended to keep prisoners so this made sense. It did leave him feeling rather stiff. Almost to the point of wondering if sleeping on the floor would have been a better choice. Likely not. Real beds were not exactly a common thing in the wastes. Even amongst the city ruins most things decayed to the point of being useless. The environment everywhere was harsh.

A few pieces of unworkable machinery and crushed rubble were generally the sum total of what was left. Where buildings still stood they were often rickety dangerous wrecks, begging to be explored before utterly collapsing. Some unexplainable feeling of sadness rose when gazing at the old ruins. This small prison withstood the tests of time admirably. Loathe to expose himself to more trauma the consideration arose to maybe spend a day just resting here. It was safe and did provide the opportunity for a good rest. After thinking about it for a while the decision was made to stay. It was necessary.

His master always told him to get the rest needed for the road ahead so you could push harder when it truly counted. Did he set out on this journey too soon? It was necessary.

"No. I waited long enough. Do what I need to do when I need to do it." He really could use the downtime. The weird frog monster, the fight with the mysterious mare, and the ponies found murdered left a feeling inside so poor it would be best not to wander further just yet. He was still a bit bruised and achy from the rough battle with her. Spending the day poking about the little building for amusement was alright, but it provided little. Nothing else was really here.

Likely some wandering pony or ponies desperate for supplies took whatever may have been left within a very long time ago. He tapped at the large keys on the terminal, they seemed designed so one could press them with hoof or muzzle easily. These flickering terminals appeared to exist all over the wastes in various styles and places. Most were broken or dead, but something still powered many of them. The ponies of the past had such great knowledge, and left just as many mysteries behind. Thinking about it he realized at some point it would be necessary to try and find out what they did with his masters body. The thought they likely just dumped it along with his head somewhere was painful.

It was not something he desired to see, but his master deserved so much better. It felt like every action taken and indeed everything which happened since encountering Boss was in a dreamlike haze. Sleep helped a little. Whatever was going on extended far beyond just him. This much was clear after the crazy things he'd been through just trying to leave the region. There was still a very long way to go. Ancient rail systems which spread throughout some areas of Manehattan in its prime would once have made such a trip relatively short work, perhaps less than a couple of hours. Walking and carrying full packs through the decrepit ruins now took far longer.

Mere happenstance allowed a few streets and buildings here and there to survive. Just more indications society and civilization was once far more advanced. Once ordered and straight, they now often ended in impassable dead ends or lead absolutely nowhere. Making ones way through the tangled mess of the city even within a confined area like this was a tough journey. The pace was slowed down a great deal by the fighting as well. Bruises and welts from the encounter still ached a little. The choice to remain here for the night was for the best. Finding it difficult to simply lay still the whole time he occasionally prodded at the old terminals keys. None of the seven letter words he could think of resulted in it unlocking.

Not really knowing, but being fascinated by such technology he could only imagine what it was supposed to do. At least imagining was a good distraction from otherwise racing thoughts.

"I wonder what these were for? They look creepy. All green and glowing like this. They're all over the place. Must have been important I guess." He mused. The building was nice inside and oddly cozy. Rarely enjoying such comfort left him dozing off a number of times. The day passed in a welcome slowness. Finally, he went back to sleep proper. There might not be a chance to relax like this again for quite some time.

During the night some distant rumbling roused him fitfully for a moment. Thinking it perhaps a simple imagining brought on by all that was going on around him lead to falling back asleep quickly. Awaking in this manner left dazed and confused dreams of the mare he'd been forced to kill. Her face contorted in pain throughout as they fought. His eyes flew open as he relived seeing her grateful smile at the end, it looked so content. So peaceful. So, happy. He was breathing very rapidly. Such a painful memory to be carried from now on, and forever. Would it always be haunting like this? The rest of his life? A lifetime is a long span to carry such a burden.

"Ohh. Miss, I am so sorry." He truly was sorry for her. Panting from it he climbed out of bed. It was morning, such as morning was now called. The same endless gloomy dark skies he'd always known. Retrieving one of the water bottles from the pack he got ready to leave the safety of the building. It already took much too long to get this far. At most it should have taken a day or two to at least reach the next section of Manehattan. As it was this was the third day out and not even half the distance was covered yet. The lay of the land was also forcing a route more towards the northwest than southwards. Fortunately, it should be a straight shot from here south. He slipped the packs on once more and started out.

Within an hour of leaving all such hopes were dashed thoroughly. It became wildly apparent he would have to find another route. Something tremendous and terrible was going on here. Across the way barring the path was an immense wall of flames erupting straight from the ground itself. It didn't seem to touch it or be fed by any kind of fuel. What was burning? The tremendous waves of heat could be felt from several meters away. It smelled strange. Burning, but not like fire burns and smells. Almost sickly somehow. The fiery wall looked like it went on for so long in both directions it blocked the entirety of what was once the Grand Pony Concourse and several other remaining roads.

The erupting flames spread out for miles upon miles in either direction. There was no way through or around it. Digging under it was not an option either, the heat was too intense to approach. It could not be seen through. Ears swiveling about trying to hear something. Anything. Somehow it did not make any sound as fire does. Not so much as a single slight note to it.

"It..how can this be?" His jaw went slack for a few moments while trying to comprehend and take in this sight. How could this not be some terrible dream? Dumbfounded he sat in silence.

Shutting and opening his eyes several times did not make it go away. Groaning in resignation he turned towards the northwest. He could only hope there was some other far off way around remaining. A long trip indeed. This would double or even triple the length of time it would take to reach the rest of Manehattan. Forlorn and dejected the trek was resumed with a heavy heart and a serious worry there may be no way through anywhere. What could have sanctioned the use of such awesome power? Was something beyond comprehension acting against him? No bad fear. Fear saves you. Use it. Do not let it use you.

"Has death come here just for me? I am just a little pony. I mean no harm to the good. Nothing above should care one whit about me or what I do. I am not worth it. This must be for someone else." Somewhat sad words escaped his mouth. He couldn't help it. This wasn't fair. Why would anything want to stop just him from wandering? It absolutely must be for some other reason. He was so small. It was too big and too grand for him. The rest of the one time lively city beckoned beyond the towering pillars of flame. The flames very presence felt like despair given form. Nothing would be getting in or out through there. Nothing. Was anypony still alive beyond the other side of that wall?

Backtracking like this was not at all expected. Provided there even was a way to reach the rest of Manehattan it would add many miles to the journey. Some buildings dotted the horizon far off in the distance. Approaching revealed them to be mostly skeletal structures barely clinging to existence. One was slightly less decayed. Out front a very faded and smudged sign lay on the ground. Barely legible the lettering could just be made out to read 'Hippogriff Theater'. Daring to peek in through the remains of long ago shattered glass revealed only a large destroyed lobby. The rest was much too dark to bother searching within. It appeared like it was palatial and decorated to excess at one time.

Like all things now it was just another dreary reminder of a wonderful past few if any even remembered. A great chandelier once hung over the lobby. When the end came pieces of it were sent crashing down everywhere. Some pieces were thrown about with such force they were embedded in the walls and flooring. What was left of the building was a sad quiet collection of what amounted to nothing more than another ruin. Such a place could be worth exploring within if he had the time and inclination. Perhaps he would return here some other time. For the moment he already carried what was necessary. An instinctive feeling to scavenge was ignored for now. It was interesting, but would have to wait.

Far more important things were going on. Exploring at the current time might also result in unnecessary danger. Everything being so weird thus far left him feeling apprehensive and a bit spooked. Ponies were dying around here. Until this was all straightened out he would have to push against his own curiosity. Normally he would not have bypassed such a potential scavenging site. It simply was not worth it at the moment. Pressing on was the only option at present. Wearily he trudged to what he judged was northwest.

"I wonder if that other pony escaped? I hope there are at least others alive around here somewhere. What if they're really all dead?" Looking about furtively as he traveled along the distant edge of the strange wall of fire could still be made out. How far in both directions could it possibly stretch? Did it reach all the way across the entire region? It couldn't, could it? Where was it even coming from? There was nothing really burning within it that he could see. The ground itself was not even scorched beneath, but being anywhere near it the terrible heat could be felt. Except near the flames there was that creepy silence enveloping everything, everywhere. What if he never got out of here? What if he died on his way?

It was frightening. More and more fear was building inside. He should turn back. Hide somewhere until it all stopped. Almost feeling himself succumbing to this paralyzing fear he bopped himself hard across the muzzle painfully. Ouch.

"Oww. No! Whatever this is. Whatever is out there. I will not give up or give in." Rubbing the spot gently for a moment before moving on he actually felt a little better after that. His master said sometimes to get going a good whack was all one needed. This appeared to be true. The slight pain brought back focus on walking. It was not something to do without caution no matter how safe it might feel or appear now.

If he ever wanted to know what was going on or find anything out at all there was no choice but to find help. What if there was none?

"Am I really so focused on revenge? Maybe not. I think I really just want to know why, and then decide." He did indeed kill other ponies already, but they murdered his lifelong friend right in front of him and he was not thinking clearly then. Effectively he had been a father to him. Never having really thought about it before he realized this was so. He'd never called him that or anything, but it didn't matter. It was the case. He owed him everything and now he was gone forever.

He'd been a truly good pony in a world with almost none that were.

"I just want this to be over. He wasn't going to be around forever.." That may be true, but his life was cut short. He truly wanted to do whatever was necessary to make the one most responsible for this to at least explain his actions, and to pay for them. That mystery pony hidden in the dark. It almost felt like that dark figure was still laughing at his suffering from somewhere. This was not possible, but the feeling persisted. Why were there no other ponies around anywhere? This was really beginning to bother him.

After wandering this far it was almost a certainty to come across at least a few even at random. They often avoided one another, but this was getting ridiculous. Where could they all be? He'd almost traveled 20 miles in total as it was. There were very few, not that few. Not even one? What happened?

"Where is everypony? There has to be someone left alive around here doesn't there?" What if they were really all dead, leaving him the only one left? The world felt empty and lonely most of the time, but this thought left a terrible cold feeling in the gut. Trying to shake it off he ran onwards for a bit.

The muffled weak sound of his hooves did nothing to improve his nervous state. The strange deadening of sound which had gotten worse as he neared the wall of flames was keeping him on edge. Everything seemed weaker, duller somehow.

"I'm still alive. That must mean there are others as well. I cannot possibly be the only one." A reassurance to himself. Taking a deep breath helped. This gray world was always dull. How it could be even more so eluded the mind. Were the senses lying in some way?

"But why do I always feel like I'm being watched around here!?" This did bother him slightly. Not like before when he was attacked. This feeling just made him a bit jittery and nervous. Like something was just waiting to pounce from nowhere. That feeling he could not get rid of.

"I don't feel safe here. No matter where I go it's like there eyes watching me from somewhere, following my every move." In some way this felt much worse than things that could be confronted and fought directly. At least they were solid, and definitely real. You cannot simply fight a feeling to be rid of it. Something was watching, following. He just knew it.

Why wasn't it attacking him? Feeling like he was being surrounded left him trembling. This was grating and wearing on the nerves beyond belief. It was angering and annoying to extremes.

"I know you're there! Come out and lets get it over with, shall we!?" He yelled loudly. Normally he would never have done such a thing, but this feeling was getting worse and worse. No response. Was he just imagining things? His voice did not carry nearly as far as it should have. Another concerning thing. So much was piling up. Would this insane nightmare he'd been drawn into never end?

"Calm down. Keep a clear head you foal. What am I doing? That was completely idiotic. What would he say?" He was even talking rapidly. Almost feeling embarrassed he'd done such a thing was also annoying. It was exactly the sort of thing his master would have admonished him not to do. He would have to try to remain calm from now on. Monsters right in front of you were one thing. Imaginary monsters were another altogether. It was just his imagination running away on him, it was certain. It had to be. What else could it be?

"That wall of fire is no imaginary thing. I can't let myself think I'm safe just because things have been too quiet." Some time was taken to lean against a steel post sticking out of the remains of a street corner. He really needed to stop and eat a little before going further. He'd been neglecting eating a bit too long. Finding a little square structure that only had a roof held up by posts and was a semi-circle he decided to sit within the remains. It was better than no shelter at all and gave a good view of the surroundings. There were a good few buildings still standing around here. As usual they were very much battered and worn things. Lifeless. Uninviting and ugly. Dangerous. Yet, they still were marvels to admire.

One stood a full fifteen stories above. It looked like it would fall over at any moment. Much of the pitted front wall had fallen away over the years. The idea of climbing within such a wobbly looking structure to such a great height was chilling to think about. It would be dangerous in all sorts of ways. The stairs could break. A single missed step and a floor could give way beneath one, leading to a terrific view. At least for the brief instant before hitting the ground at a rate of speed even he would be envious of. There was at least one fear he'd never let on. It was almost a problem a few times in the past. A fear his master knew nothing of. One very deep fear never spoken of. Always hidden.

"I should have told you. You probably would have helped me do something about it. I'm sure you would. Though you are absent, I tell you now. I.. am afraid of being up high. I just felt so embarrassed, master. Silly, isn't it?" A deep sigh was given finishing up. It was true. If ever he needed to climb something higher than a couple stories it was nerve wracking. Any situation that may have required it was carefully avoided. Carefully explained away as simple caution. It was too late now. Any conversation which should have been shared long ago could never be now. It really was a silly fear. One that should not strike him so.

It should have been dealt with while the chance existed to do so, but they'd both expected to lead a long quiet life. There would be time. That time was stolen. Perhaps it was naive. Too hopeful. Too good. Nearby there was a large cement structure which looked like it lead straight underground. Half of the entranceway was collapsed leaving steep uninviting stairs just barely accessible. Going within could mean never returning to the surface. The lettering which once stood above was so faded with age it was illegible. Underground rail lines did exist. He explored a small remaining portion of one once. Could he possibly get past the huge wall of fire that way?

It would be a very dangerous gamble to go exploring underground in such a place. He knew there were a rare few other such entrances spaced far apart throughout the city. They were quite unsafe. Ponies don't belong underground.

"This feeling of being watched, it won't go away." The persistent feeling was annoying in one way, dangerous in others. If something really was watching his every move why couldn't he determine from where? It felt like it was coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. It made relaxing even a moment feel like he was putting himself in mortal danger.

Shaking his head heavily he finished off the awful tasting packet he'd been nibbling on occasionally, only sipping at some water to down it. Knowing he would use far more water than food on a long trip like this lead to being quite cautious. The twin packs were positively full of scavenged water bottles. It made for a very heavy burden to carry. If he did encounter other ponies he would have to try and keep it a secret just how much water he was hauling around. It could easily make him a target for the more desperate or violent types out there, provided there were actually any left alive for it to matter.

"I can't stand this. Give me a straight up fight anytime." Bemoaning the situation wasn't helping.

Gathering up the packs yet again he set off. Looking down into the dark of the destroyed subway entrance revealed only a pitch darkness that for some reason made the blood run cold. Not being one to fear the dark made this a very curious sensation for him. What could be causing it? Ignoring it he bypassed the entrance to walk uphill and along a small rise. Cresting it did not show or really put anything new in view aside from the usual distant ruins.

"Something isn't right. I'm saying that a lot lately." This all felt like some ridiculous illogical puzzle was being presented which did not have any real solution. The weird silence in the area, the wall of fire, all the things attacking.

Altogether they simply did not add up in any reasonable way. Boss could not be responsible for all of this could he? At most he seemed like some sort of crazed and demented murderer. How did a simple murderer command so much fear or manage to order others about without being killed himself?

"I am assuming too much. He could very well be the reason behind all of this. I don't really know. This silence feels dangerous, but how does silence feel dangerous?" The question posed to himself did not leave a very good feeling as he walked on. Where was everypony?

By now he should have encountered quite a few of them no matter what was happening. They were not here, or anywhere. Where did they go?

"If there are no bodies then they might not be dead. I've only seen four ponies since I left." This did not prove to be a particularly comforting thought. Those four ponies were dead. One by his own hooves. Any number of things might have happened to the rest. A further 45 minutes of walking lead to some more standing ruins. Another subway entrance not nearly as damaged as the last stood here. On a whim he decided to take a look.

There did not seem to be any really good decision to make here so looking was as useful as anything else. Maybe some of the ponies in the area took shelter down there? It was a possibility. Knowing better than to simply walk right down he trotted up to the entrance and squinted, looking within. It was difficult to see anything in the pitch darkness below. Detecting something was amiss he sniffed at the air coming from within to find it strangely warm. Much too warm. Dangerously so. Oh no.

"Warm air?" That was just as puzzling as anything else. A dim glow seemed to flow down the hallway beneath.

He hit the ground hard as a veritable tongue of flames shot up the stairs and forth from the entranceway roaring like some fell creature loosed upon the world. The flames just missed and flashed by so close it ignited the top flap of his left saddle pack which was quickly kicked off. Frantically he retrieved a water bottle from the other pack and popped the top to pour over the flames. The pack was just singed. Grabbing the strap in his mouth he dragged them away from the entrance off to the side. He was lucky not to have been set ablaze along with it. That was too close. Small sprays of flames still burst from within occasionally. Suddenly what was left of it crumpled inwards, extinguishing the shooting flames.

At the same moment a strange rumbling was heard and the entire area shook slightly. What was that trembling noise?

"Was that, an earthquake?" The word was not commonly heard even before or during the war. They were a rare and highly unusual thing in Equestria at any time. Fortunately the pack only sustained minor damage. It would be a difficult thing to replace if destroyed. Wiping some sweat from his brow he once more donned the packs and returned to walking. That was entirely too close. He'd almost been killed again. This thought weighed heavily as he walked. Over and over he almost died. This was ludicrous. Again something with no answer. That was the most frustrating thing.

Not one answer since setting out. Not even one. Frowning he stumbled slightly and stopped to notice the heat. Heat? Why was it so hot here? It was getting hotter and hotter. Everything was. Especially the street underneath his hooves.

"Oww oww!" He danced around as the ground was becoming warmer and warmer. It was getting so hot his hooves were starting to hurt being in contact with it. There was no choice but to run onwards over the increasingly heated street and ground. Yelping while running he was making a terrible amount of noise while galloping in a mad dash for somewhere, anywhere, that was not burning his hooves. If the heat increased much further he would be in serious trouble.

As fast as he was the heavy packs were still slowing him down. He may even have to ditch them any second if he wanted to get out of here. This was a horrible moment. There was really no time to think, only run. As the heat emanating from the ground rose it hurt worse. Each time his hooves hit the ground the pain was incredible, forcing him to run flat out. Each time they contacted the unbearably hot street might be the last step he would ever take. Run. Run. Run.

"Aah!" With a final burst of energy he scrambled ahead to fly around a corner where the ground seemed to be cooler to the touch. At last the pain was lessening. A few more short leaps and it was bearable once more.

He stood there panting heavily. If not for his great speed and stamina he would surely have suffered a most terrible fate. Looking back he could see several of the tall ancient buildings now on fire. If there were anything to scavenge within them it was gone now. It felt bad to see them burn. A sad funeral pyre for days gone by.

"What is going on around here!?" He couldn't help himself. He had to yell. This was too much. If there was anypony else in the area the heat and him yelling would surely have brought them out. There was nothing. The odd rumbling was subsiding to leave in its place the same suppressive silence as before. There was no one here.

They either left already or were dead. He was completely alone.

"Grr." He bashed a nearby metal signpost in frustration which snapped the old steel in half. Noting the dilapidated sign read 'Cowbell Area' was not of any use. What even was that? Now there was little choice but to head northeast for the moment. While not exactly opposite of the way he wanted to go it was going to force him very much farther off-track in a bad way. More time wasted.

"Why is any of this happening?" He hung his head and cried heavily. There was no holding it back now.

For the first time ever he was truly afraid. This would scare almost anypony. Sniffling and sobbing terribly a few times he slowly came back around to keen stinging awareness. It took a while to catch some breath. He'd been crying an awful lot lately. Were tears drawn from a bottomless well?

"I guess I needed that. I feel like such a foal, getting all scared like this. I'm okay. I'm okay. Knock it off. I need to move." Brushing the tears away as he muttered at himself he did find it possible to focus again. A few more gasps and he was ready to go on. Sore muscles were aching from the strain of rushing like that while carrying so much weight.

It would require finding a place to stop and rest yet again, but staying anywhere near here did not seem like it would be safe. The need to put a great deal of distance between here and himself spurred to keep going for another hour. At least the feeling of being watched was gone, if it was ever really there to begin with. Finding himself near a little building with an odd hinged retractable door that still seemed workable he went inside cautiously. It was empty and strange. A flickering terminal set atop a long counter that occasionally sent sparks flying at random still displayed a partial message across the screen. 'Champion Skycart Repair' was prominent. The door was highly unusual to him.

It was a tracked multi-hinged affair that slid up the tracks on either side and across the ceiling. It was quite a curious thing to see. A metal chain hung from one side. Not able to resist he pulled on it which sent the door rumbling down along the tracks to slam closed with a tremendous banging crash and bending the extremely old metal slightly. So much for being quiet. It should be alright. The need to be more attentive rang true.

"Oh. Gosh darn it. I have to be more careful." It did not result in anything though. After a time he was able to try and get comfortable once more. It was not a really comfortable place, but it at least served to keep out of sight.

The slightly cool cement that made up the floor of this strange square building was a welcome change from the blistering heat just narrowly escaped from. Like anywhere else everything within was rusted and pitted. The sheer age of what buildings somehow managed to remain upright was showing more and more. The poor blasted remains of the ruins echoing only the faintest hope for a real future. Ever rebuilding the world seemed an absolutely impossible idea which none would entertain. The very thought was laughably absurd. Rebuild from this? Most ponies did not even know how such a simple structure as this tiny square was made to begin with, neither did he.

The ponies of the past were knowledgeable, powerful, they were considered legendary, almost thought of as gods for all they achieved and left behind. Left behind? They left nothing.

"Heh. All those gods left for us is a giant graveyard." He was repeatedly mumbling while thinking about these things. Was he going mad? This was an unusually angry and pessimistic thing to say or feel. He deserved to feel angry. He had every right. He thought to himself that it was allowed, to be mad about all this. Allowed to be horribly terribly angry. Once finally relaxed the slightest bit he caught himself staring at the cracked walls.

This miserable thing called existence seemed to be full of nothing but pain now. He'd been hurt over and over again in such a short time in so many ways. Life was not supposed to be like this. Somewhere inside it felt like this was the truth. Life felt like it was supposed to be happy and exuberant. A thing to be celebrated. The very world was wrong. It always was. Something always said so about this for all his life, but it was not something to be thought about. There was no option but to ignore it. Being pushed like this was giving rise to these feelings. It was wrong. There was just something about the state of the world in general which absolutely did not have the ring of truth to it. Why was it this way?

Not able to shove these thoughts and feelings aside he focused on trying to sleep on the uncomfortable floor. The little jail bed thing was almost missed. How far he'd fallen. How hard.

"Wish I'd brought my cot." There just wasn't any room to lug such luxuries around with him. It would be waiting for him to retrieve at a later date. If he ever went back, or was still alive to go back. That was becoming less and less certain. Never having really thought about the possibility of dying left uncertainty how to feel about it. His master was not afraid of it or anything else, and called it only a natural end that must come to all things in their time.

At the present time this was not a very comforting thought. Being killed did not at all seem right or natural. Feeling cold and miserable the brief relief of sleep welcomed at last. For the most part it was a deep and dreamless slumber. Perhaps brought on by the events of the previous days an unwanted stuttering dream intruded. Before him stood a fiery shadowed specter of a pony. Dark and menacing in the dim and dull light. Its legs were streaked with fire that turned to black fur which looked more like shadow itself halfway up. The fire wreathing around its waist like a belt. Fire streaming from its eyes to the sides seemed to give off little to no light of its own. Instead consuming it.

Everything was dimming, becoming darker. Dull and pale as color was torn from the world.

"Run, little pony." It intoned in some deep low hissing way that felt deadly in itself. It took a long slow stride towards him on thick almost spidery legs, smoke arose where its hooves contacted the ground making it melt, and those consuming eyes were coming closer.

"Ach!" He awoke with a start. What the hay was that? The last few days were the most miserable of his entire life. It must have just been something new his mind threw together out of all the misery and pain.

Soaked in sweat and moaning through the ache of his tensed muscles he found it difficult to muster the will to even stand up. Something about that dream felt very off. Weird and wrong. It was not the sort of thing he'd ever dreamt before. Muscles actually felt more tense now than before sleeping. He shook himself hard and stretched.

"I have to relax. That's a funny thing to say right now, but I do." Chugging a bit of water from one of the bottles made for feeling the slightest bit better. One whole bottle was wasted putting out the flames, but on the whole it was far better than losing the saddle packs. They were one of the few material possessions he ever had or cared to have. Avoiding the need for weapons meant they never spent much out of the caps they scrounged up either.

He was far more comfortable using his body and hooves to fight up close and personal, and was very good at it. To him the idea of using a weapon against another felt cowardly and fearful. Having seen how devastatingly powerful the weapons of old could truly be left thoughts of wondering if this was a good thing. Even at his fastest he could easily be hit by a stray bullet.

"No. I never needed one before and I don't need one now." If he could not survive on his own merit was he truly worthy of living at all?

"My master.. My father taught me everything I need to know and to live. Stop doubting. He believed in me. Trust." He was thinking about his master far too much. The point of the journey may be about him, but it was to the point of distraction and being distracted now could be deadly. The dream left a dreadful feeling deep in the gut that was proving difficult to shake off. Everything was just wrong.

"I still ache from that run. What even happened there?" It appeared safe enough to venture outside and continue the dangerous trip. A trip that was becoming dangerous on a scale he'd never imagined before.

It was hard to imagine even while actually experiencing it. With apprehensive feelings mounting and grandly discouraged by everything it was a chore just to work up the will to get moving again. Something beyond the absurd was encompassing this place. Every action feeling like it could lead to getting killed was taking a hefty toll on his mental fortitude. The scope and sheer size of things happening made for appreciating just how small he truly was when compared to them. It was only luck so far. Counting on that kind of luck to hold would be a poor gamble. Why was everypony gone, and where? Did they too head off in this direction or somewhere else?

Were they encountering things as powerful and dangerous as he was? Current thoughts were a haze of misgivings regarding the current course of action. Should he keep going? What else could be done but try to get out of here and find help? Was anybody even capable of helping put a stop to something like this? Constantly being on edge like this was so wearing. It was still far better to be wary than make some terrible misjudgement that could easily lead to an abrupt death. The thought about possibly making wrong decisions regarding what to do were another added weight not needed.

He would have to walk even more gently and gingerly for a while, standing on his hooves still stung a bit from the pain inflicted upon them. He'd been extremely fortunate to get out of there before winding up unable to keep running and melting to the ground with none to know of his passing. By his own judgement it was mere seconds that meant the difference between that and still being alive now. If he'd been forced to abandon the heavy packs he would have nothing now, not even the caps or few bits. That thought hurt. Aside from the food and water those might be needed. Heading back the other way would be impossible now. Was that street still on fire?

Any buildings over there would likely have been reduced to cinders by this time if so. Wild dreams and unfathomable things going on all around left only a wanting for his simple uncomplicated life back. A life which for the most part had been comfortable, if a little difficult at times. Was this the payment for leading a life filled mostly with ease?

"No choice but to go north for now." Totally in the wrong direction. He was beginning to wonder if he'd ever even reach the other sections of Manehattan. He'd always known the city was sprawling and very large. Never in his wildest imagining did he think it was actually this big. Whatever direction one was heading it seemed to fan out and go on forever.

At one time ponies were able to build all this? It left an ill feeling in the stomach. If they were capable of doing so much how could they possibly have fallen? Would the ponies of the old world have understood what was going on now? Would even they have known what it meant? Why it was happening? It was incredible how much they built, only to have it all come tumbling down around them. That any of it still stood at all proclaimed they certainly knew how to make things which endured. Such thoughts were making feelings of deep sadness known once more. It was pitiful.

"Beh. They're all gone anyway. If even they could die then they couldn't have been all that powerful, could they?" Momentarily it dawned on him this could be false reasoning. Even those with great power were often arrogant or prideful of accomplishments that did not really mean that much or could be lead astray with promises of even more. He never understood stories about ponies like that. If they already had so much power what could they possibly have needed with more, were they that insecure and so unsure of themselves? If he had that much power, confidence would not be an issue.

His master did tell stories about how too much power held by one can be abused or lead to a rapid downfall and never to be drawn in by false promises of such. There he went, thinking about him again. Would it always hurt? This was a pain unknown. It could never be made right. It could only be paid for.

"I will always remember all that you told me, but I must do this thing. I have to know." He bowed his head solemnly. Even if going after Boss resulted in being killed in the end, he just had to do it. That was not a choice. It must happen. Even if it was to the death he must know why. It was probably stupid. Suicidal. It didn't matter.

Whatever it took he was going to find out why even if finding out why resulted in his own death. It was a debt owed. One that must be paid in full. It wasn't about honor. It was simply about the truth. It must be known.

"I know, master. Don't do it. It's not worth it. Except, it is worth it, because it was you. Are you watching me from somewhere, seeing me act like such an idiot? I know it's dumb. Probably just going to get myself killed. I need to know. I hope you understand." In life he would never have had occasion to say something like that to him. In death he was being driven like never before. It burned inside like its own kind of fire. The truth. No matter how painful.

Even if it also turned out to be caused by a stupid reason. At least it would be an answer. It really likely wasn't worth it. Knowing would not stop the pain inside. The feelings of loss and horror over it.

"I guess I'm not all that bright after all. I can't even imagine what is going on around me right now. I just want to know why, before I die." At this moment it was the only thing. If it were not for that desire it would be so easy to give up. Too easy. To just wait for something in the dark to step forth once more and finish the job would be the laziest thing ever considered by him.

"Not yet. I'm not done yet. Once I know. Then we'll see what happens. This is so hard. Were you ever pushed this far, master?" Questioning the air was pointless. Futile. Wasting time. It took willpower to move. So much of it. After taking a few deep breaths he headed outside. It was time to get going again. No matter what it took he was going to get the help that was required. Forced far off-track and feeling discouraged was not going to be enough to stop this driven pony. Definitely not now. Not after having come this far. Some terrifically wild and strange things were going on that may or may not be related in any way to whatever Boss was after, but it didn't matter. Today was going much better as he traveled.

No monsters, no deathtraps, no nothing as he ventured forward. In the distance to the west he could still just make out the telltale glow of the gigantic wall of flames. How far could it actually extend? He hoped not to encounter anything else untowards today. So far it was going nicely. Just being able to walk slowly along was a welcome change compared to the last few days. The glow seemed to be receding from view finally. Perhaps now he might be able to turn westwards and finally make some actual progress towards his destination. The entire trip was going to be nearly twice as long thanks to this huge detour. The day passed uneventfully for once.

Eventually passing by someplace titled 'Mareipola Golf Course' according to a charred looking sign made him come to a stop. Whatever golf was. His hooves still hurt some and he needed to find a good spot to sleep a while.

"I'm lucky I didn't get hurt a lot worse. Everything going on around here is insane. " He complained to the air. It really was insane. What could set the very ground and air on fire? There were many strange stories of things in the wastes, but he'd never heard of anything even remotely similar to any of this. Stories of killer machines, apparitions, crazed ponies and all sorts of otherworldly things just did not seem comparable.

Pushing hard to make up for lost time was not possible at the moment as much as it was desired. Fatigue from walking all day was setting in. Having had the chance to actually relax for a while was just what he'd been needing. Being on edge for days now due to all the odd things happening was really putting a damper on his willpower and spirits. The downtime was proving just as useful as making progress on this trip. Several times now he'd been hurt. If this sort of problematic luck kept up he'd wind up dead for certain. Feeling a chill inside at the thought of the odd circumstances surrounding left one with only discouragement. Was going on like this a good idea? With no idea?

"My hooves still sting. Am I ever going to get out of here or find anypony else?" Wondering such things aloud was becoming commonplace. It felt for all the world like there was no end to these illogical events. Spending even another minute in this area was not appealing in any way. Ahead to the right was a big jumble of wrecked buildings. Pieces of a shattered sign had fallen years ago and shattered. What remained only left 'tr lub'. Once part of a country club adjoining the golf course it told him little. It might have drew a laugh if he knew ponies were once able to partake in such a silly activity and actually enjoy it. It would also have seemed ludicrous that ponies were ever so secure and relaxed.

Things like sports were essentially nonexistent now. There were no obvious doors remaining on any of the toppled structures. Most of the ruins were slanted pieces of brick and other materials left at odd angles. Materials once well known to ponies. Never having encountered the scientifically or engineering inclined he did not know what any of it really was or what they were called. Such ponies were not often to be found. In the crippled world left to them those who did possess knowledge tended to use it for their own ends, keeping it to themselves, and those ends were often not in others best interests. Sighing heavily he began searching for an out of sight spot in which to hide for the night.

An unbearable journey was not what he'd been expecting when he set out. At most it was thought he might have to slip by some of Boss' minions and then be on his way unimpeded to find assistance. Perhaps this had been poor reasoning on his part, but he did not have any reason to think otherwise when preparing to leave. While they obviously possessed serious firepower he'd not imagined them to have any other advantage. None of them may even have anything to do with the weird things going on around here. For now, all that could be assumed was they were probably still around and needed to be avoided. Were they trapped by the flaming wall as well? Thinking this was less comforting.

They wielded tremendously powerful weaponry. If they were trapped too, was there any chance of escaping this? After what happened with the erupting street the day before he would not risk any further effort to go underground if it could be at all avoided. He'd also found himself almost afraid to step forward from time to time. It was difficult to shake, but having been in danger so often was leaving him so nervous. Thinking he detected some odd scent far off in the air it was dismissed as simple imagination brought on by it all. Right now he just needed to pull himself together. A little time with nothing weird happening was ever so pleasant. The stress and strain of the last few days nearly brought him to the breaking point.

He found it difficult not to think up new horrors awaiting as he moved forward. Feeling like something was after him for the entire other day did not help either. He was quite often randomly finding himself taking really deep breaths when he did not actually need them. He took this to be bad for him but just couldn't seem to stop it from happening, and shook his head hard. Locating an out of the way spot behind a crumpled pile of bricks and a formerly opposing wall he dropped his packs and lay his head on one as a hard sort of pillow, wrapping his forehooves around as if hugging it. He did not realize this was a way of comforting himself. The pain and loss he was feeling was overwhelming.

There was no one else to give any comfort so without realizing it he'd been doing little things like that from time to time as a method of coping. If a pony trained in psychology had seen him they would know he was in a truly bad place, and that it was very unhealthy. Such a diagnosis of wasteland residents might be relatively common if there were any around to make it. Pain and suffering were hardly an unknown in this stricken world. Most experienced it in some way or another. It was merely his turn to know it in his own way. He was also finding himself unusually angered by everything he'd been put through so far. Stopped short of leaving this section of the city and forced in the wrong direction was really getting to him.

The enormity of it was grating for him to think about. Did all good in its entirety finally flee the world completely? Was it all about to end? Didn't it already end? What did it matter? He was not realizing or catching himself acting at all oddly. It wasn't even on his mind. Things were so strange and frustrating lately he was not noticing that he was thinking either depressively or so angrily about it all. He would never have thought this way before and was slowly being driven into it. Once again he thought there was some hint at a faintly foul odd odor very far away, but brushed it off as simple fatigue. At least he hadn't lost his packs. While they were nothing special, they were something he and his master found together.

Having them be destroyed would have hurt terribly atop all the terrible hurt that was already being felt lately. There was just so much.

"Is there nothing really good left in the world? Is it truly all gone? Why are you gone? Father." He mumbled sadly. Only a little over a week and a half ago he'd never have imagined things could ever become this bad. The word rolled off his tongue naturally. Realizing he'd actually been saying that was an odd sensation. It was true though, it always had been. It was very hard to find a position he could sleep in.

Though life was hard, he'd never truly felt wanting before these last few days. Would it ever feel alright again? Feeling like all the world was set against him now was a very depressing thing. Was it ever going to end? Was he going to find his death out here facing off against some unknown? Some horror waiting in the dark for the unwary? He was not afraid to die. That was never a thought. What was needling him most now was the fact something faceless almost killed him twice now. He truly wanted to know what all this was about before meeting his end. Perhaps find a way to stop it all, but at least knowing what it was would let him die more at ease. It would be something.

"Stop it. I am not going to die yet. He..wouldn't have wanted me to think this way." It was hard not to. He had to force himself to think straight. Yes things were weird and possibly deadly, but they failed to kill him so far. Feeling sorry for himself was not something he was used to, so much that he wasn't even really sure about what he was feeling. Others would have stood much less chance than he did. Somehow he was sure of that. It wasn't overconfidence, just the simple fact he seemed to be surviving where no one else appeared to be.

"There have to be other ponies alive somewhere, there just have to be." He was finding it very hard to slow down his racing thoughts and sleep. Somewhere out there something menacing and fearsome was waiting for him to make a mistake, some terrible misstep and wind up dead. Such a mistake he was determined not to make. Unable to shake the feeling something was wrong also made it difficult to rest. There was nothing around the immediate vicinity that should leave such an impression on him. The tension of this undertaking was playing havoc on him in many ways. Sleep was important. Especially now, and as much as possible might be needed.

Tossing and turning while trying to rest with his mind racing was simply not good. A couple hours later he found himself still struggling to really sleep, staring up at the blank sky vacantly. It should be an easy thing to fall asleep when pushed so far, but his thoughts kept meandering in strange circles. At last his eyes fell heavy and closed entirely to the welcome embrace of quiet darkness, and with it the inevitable bad dreams brought on by his current plight. He walked past one of the common wrecks of a building and stopped to take notice of a strangely pretty mare standing in the darkness of an overhang, gazing out at him with a look of utter sadness.

As he approached her a quiet weeping and sniffling could be heard. She was crying profusely.

"Miss, what's the matter?" He questioned her cautiously. At this, however, her face began to melt away as the tears burst into flames, making him stumble backwards. Soon her entire body began to collapse into streams of water until nothing was left but a steaming pool of the deepest and clearest crystal color he had ever seen. It shimmered and sparkled where the pretty mare formerly stood. What happened? Against better judgement he moved closer step by step, inching along until it could be gazed into it. He froze in his tracks as he was transfixed by a vision in the pool.

He looked over a town. It was silent, empty. Doors hung open and ponies belongings lay strewn about everywhere. Whatever happened here was sudden and violent. All the buildings were a deep black color. Were there any color all of them would be beautiful works of architecture. In place of color some pitch seemed to make them all dull, somehow looking even more lifeless than the ruins he'd called home his whole life, like their very essence was sucked away. He didn't want to see this, it felt wrong to see. Apprehension and alarm bells ringing in his head could not seem to pull him away from staring at the unfolding scene.

Some distance away something he just knew was terrible beyond anything he could imagine was happening. He felt glad he could not see it, whatever it was. The vision popped over to show an immense ponylike shadow rising from the depths, taking shape. First a somehow hideous blank head solidified out of blackness. There were no eyes, no mouth adorning its muzzle. It formed slowly, inexorably rising quietly ever higher towards the night sky. A ring of fire ignited around it into a weird symbol. The sight of it was disgusting in some intangible way. The wrongness of it, the shape of it as it became visible, nothing about it was quite right.

His view of it was from a vast distance and even this far away it looked like its wispy mane writhed and wriggled in some absolutely disgusting manner. A sick feeling was overpowering as its misshapen chest slipped into view. Desperately he wanted to look away from this abysmal thing. It drew itself upwards until it stood on tremendous huge shafts of shadows for legs. The sheer height of the shadowy pony let it stand far above a tower with a huge bell inside. This was something a pony should not see. Never. Wake up. Please. Something would not let him look away from it.

Laboriously lifting an impossibly immense hoofed limb the huge beastly thing reached out and struck the bell within, loosing a resounding noise so loud he thought surely his ears would pop. As it rang out across the land little flickering shadows rose all around. The disturbing sight left him feeling ill for some reason. At last he was backing away from the horrible image in the pool as something struck from the side and whooshed past. As he turned to see what it was he saw himself being surrounded by the very shadows streaming out from the pool. Somehow he could feel their presence. It was vile and ominous. He wanted to move away from them but found himself curiously unable to move a hoof.

The shadow things were forming up out of the water, the ground, everything. They in no way felt alive. A horrid awful power which dwarfed everything else was about to come crashing down. He could feel it building to something terrible. Why wasn't he leaving?

"What are you!? Get away from me! No!" There was nowhere to go as they circled about, bobbing up and down sickeningly. Their motions were jerky, wavy, sick. Something was telling him to move, to run, to do anything but stand here. He could not. There was no fear greater than this. His limbs trembled against such inaction in the face of these horrors.

He should run. He should run and never ever stop. I have to move. I have to move. Why can't I move? I can't let them touch me. They mustn't. No matter what he thought, no matter how much he willed his legs to start moving they did not respond. It was unbearable. Some great pressure felt like it was rooting him to the spot. Being dwarfed like this was like nothing ever felt before. A strange feeling of sad loneliness funneled into him to bring forth gushing tears which burned as they fell. Streaking fire started to roll off the tears as they ran down his face, carving their way downward. He could not make them stop. Was this what happened to the pretty mare only a few moments ago? Was he going to die?

It would not stop. Try as he might more and more tears flowed to erupt in fire as they scarred him, engulfing his head. He could not even seem to fall over, only stand there as he was torn to shreds. There would be nothing left of him. No trace of his existence. Nothing to warn others of his fate, of this doom.

"I can't move! Somepony help me! Help me, please!?" He yelled in vain. Nopony would be coming to save him, he would burn and be consumed in fire and shadow. As he quivered the awful things were coming closer and closer. All he could do was shudder violently in fear. A fear he'd never known. This wasn't like him at all. What's wrong with me? Move!

It was no use, and the pain so incredible. The amorphous bloblike shadows looking for all the world like some sickening caricatures of ponies stretched themselves out and flowed about him, holding him, swallowing him up in their darkness and incomprehensible sadness. He could feel their despair seeping into his soul. Awaking with a start he banged his head against his pack. Fortunately he hadn't slammed his head harder.

"No! Oof. Oh, it was just a dream? Oh, thank goodness." Nightmares seemed to be coming to him rather a lot recently. What was wrong with him? He'd never felt fear like that before, or anything like that really. Certainly nothing like that.

He panted very heavily.

"It was just a dream. I have to calm down." Rubbing his head gently with a hoof he decided against trying to get more sleep at the moment. His head ached much more from the terrible dream than from knocking it against the pack. The same awkward feeling of being watched from somewhere was upon him again strongly. Why did that keep happening? It must be his imagination, what else could it be?

"Found you." Some dark and deep intonation from around the corner stated.

He was on his hooves in an instant to dodge as a large metal bolt struck the ground where he was laying. It would surely have been fatal if he'd kept still. He'd barely caught a glimpse of it coming down. It dug unusually far into where it hit. The shadowed figure stepped forth from the corner into view. A pony wearing a black cloak with red trim all around it whose eyes were equally red took strangely deliberate steps into view. Both its eyes were huge, glowing a deep red that echoed the hue of blood. There was a tiny dot of yellow in their centers. They seemed to have no pupils and constantly quivered.

Hanging from the cloak by folds were countless wicked knives made out of some metal material he'd never seen before. The knives were clearly designed to be easily thrown and accessed by hoof or mouth. They were all rusty looking and covered in gore which stuck to them all over like they'd never been cleaned. Who, what could this lunatic be? It mostly looked like a pony. It was difficult to look at, all shimmery in the dim light.

"Who are you, why are you attacking me?" Maybe he would finally get an answer of some kind. As the pony revealed himself it was a disturbing sight.

Even clearly in view he could not truly be seen and looked almost wavery somehow like he was constantly shaking rapidly, almost vibrating visibly. Having shaken off sleep almost instantly was a bit of a shock in itself. This pony thing looked terribly dangerous.

"Perhaps a better question might be what. What am I?" That dark voice stated in a questioning hiss. What was he saying? The voice grated and in itself almost seemed to make him angry. Why was he feeling so angry at a voice? It was the pony right in front of him he should be worrying about. Was it actually asking him what it was? Why would it?

Could it really be asking such a thing?

"I do so hope you stop me." It intoned. What? He was the one being attacked. What could this clearly cruel thing be talking about? Some of his or its many knives and other sharp objects were positively dripping with fresh blood. It wasn't from either of them, not yet. Did it belong to the other ponies around here? At the current moment it didn't matter. There was no more time to think about that. Whoever he was he'd already made the first move towards ending his life and would have to be cautious in fighting him.

Taking another of those strangely deliberate steps towards him the shimmery dark form of a pony flicked a blade in his direction with its mouth that somehow deeply tore through his shoulder even as he moved out of the way. How did that happen? He'd seen it coming. It happened again.

"Oww. What? I know I dodged those. What's going on?" He moaned in pain and panic as it took another odd deliberate step towards him once more and sent another blade flying through the air right at his face. He moved far to the side and yet a slim slice went up the side of his muzzle. Little drops of blood were starting to hit the ground each time he dodged.

This was hopeless. He couldn't stop them.

"Aah. What is this guy? How is he doing this?" It was so hard to figure him out. Each time he dodged its head twitched. His knives were almost too obvious, easy to avoid for somepony as fast as himself. Yet, somehow they were still striking even as he moved out of the way. This couldn't possibly be a pony could it? Not really. This must be some kind of monster. Whatever it was it clearly was enjoying gauging his reaction to being puzzled like this.

It threw another jagged blade and just as before although he rolled far to the side and it went sailing past it sliced downwards across his opposing flank just deeply enough to hurt. Wait. It sliced down the opposite side? How could it be? The blade had flashed by on his left. Moving much further than should be necessary did seem to lessen their strength greatly.

"This can't be a pony can it? Ohh. I know that was on my right. I know it was. It's attacks always connect somehow, but they feel wrong. What is it about them?" As he tried to determine a course of action the thing continued to launch individual daggers and terrible well-used sharp objects at him causing him to weave and dodge constantly in a deadly and soon to be fatal dance of desperation.

Each throw was accompanied by some odd tinging noise. How many could possibly be hanging off that strange cloak? Its weapons practically made a suit of armor in themselves. Only the face was uncovered. It was strangely quiet aside from that slight sound. So far only the close cut against his shoulder did any real damage. The rest of the nicks and gashes were oddly thin like he was being cut with paper. This thing was giving no time to consider, no time to react or do much other than dodge. Attacking was completely out of the question if some clue to it could not be gleaned. Trying to step clear of another deathly projectile he almost tripped and nearly got struck by a rapidly thrown second.

"What was that? There is nothing here to trip over." He groaned to himself and sidestepped quickly. This was becoming more deadly. There was certainly no doubt this thing intended to kill him. There was probably no point trying to reason with it. A slight idea was slowly taking shape. This thing was watching his every move intensely. If that hideous dream hadn't awakened him he'd of died instantly. Ting. Another shallow groove creased through his coat. Its aim was perfect. Speed alone was the single thing keeping him alive right now. Must keep moving wildly. From above another of those hefty huge bolts came from somewhere to slam into the ground. Almost too close.

If any of those even remotely connected that would be the end of it. Why was it so hard to see those coming? They were as big as his head and should be obvious. Were they part of some strange trap? This insane thing did not belong here. It looked like it was dredged up out of some terrible dream no one would even try to remember. The wavery apparition continued to throw its deathly sharp instruments at him, it clearly intended to deprive him of his life. Trying to move towards it without knowing how this was being done was impossible. Again and again small nicks and slashes cut against and sometimes through his coat. He could take it for now, but it would soon begin to cost dearly.

None of them had truly struck home yet, but he could not possibly keep this up forever. As fast as he was there was little room to maneuver in this decrepit place. The alley was just wide enough to evade in. All that could be done right now was to size up his opponent. It said little, revealed nothing. It was truly an adept fighter, using some technique he'd never imagined before. Not a single move was wasted. It was too skilled. Every thrown weapon somehow at least lightly hit their mark no matter how hard the effort was to evade them. Desperately he seized one of the knives already on the ground and threw back at the thing. He'd never used a weapon before.

The creature looked surprised, but instead of dodging it took another of those strangely deliberate steps forward. The knife zipped through the air to hit its target and passed straight through. What? It didn't strike anything and banged off the opposite wall. Wasn't it even there? Was he truly fighting a shadow? Something intangible, untouchable? How could he possibly face this? This thing was death given shape and form. Was it just playing with him? Surely it could have taken him out at any time if it was invulnerable. A strange and dreadful feeling of terrible heat was emanating from the monster before him. Heat? It felt like the warm air that shot past him before at the subway entrance.

There was a definite warmth flowing forth from the horror slowly approaching. Was he just imagining this? At this point anything might be possible. Again a jagged instrument flung past to somehow cut across his left foreleg. Each cut stung. He didn't want to leave them there but he could not grab his packs and get out of this. Did this thing want his belongings? Did it want anything other than his life? Running and weaving his way out of the alley only to be struck lightly yet again on the side. It did not cut but he felt the cold touch of metal swish by against his coat. How was it doing this? Perhaps out in the open he would stand more of a chance. While he ran he noticed some sickly odor coming from somewhere.

Was it coming from that thing? It walked down the alley slowly as if it did not care at all that he was moving rapidly away from it. There wasn't enough room in this alleyway. It was all too easy for this thing to keep whipping knives at him straight on. If this kept up he'd be killed for certain. There was no choice but to retreat now.

"How did it even find me anyway? I know nothing saw me go in there. I myself would have had trouble finding me in that spot." He moaned at the pain from the series of minor cuts he'd taken so far. Ting. Thump. Again a heavy bolt landed heavily in the ground aside him, throwing up dirt. Where did that even come from?

If the murderous thing behind didn't kill him the deadly bolts from above certainly could. This was crazy. Now out in the open and turning to face this thing which seemed to have come straight out of his nightmares left him cold. The thing continued to shimmer and shift in a sight only vaguely resembling a pony. What could this thing possibly be? It was nearing.

"What do you want? I do not want to fight you." By this point he wasn't really expecting an answer to that and did not get one. Instead another knife flashed past. It was not even aimed at him, or was it? What? He jolted to the side as he felt the knife lightly scrape his face across a previous cut. Again it didn't hit him. He knew it didn't. It couldn't have.

There was something terrifically strange about the knives and the way they flew, something off. Every time he dodged they definitely missed but was nicked yet again. This was not working.

"I've finally figured you out, monster." He stated calmly. Hearing this the terrible thing continued to flicker in view and lowered itself as if to charge straight at him. Its strangely adorned cloak almost seemed to float along behind it as it went to step out of the alley. He could not let it do that. There would only be one shot at this. What would it do? The knives appeared to be floating and quivering of their own accord and all seemed to be launched up and down at him as he ran straight towards this otherworldly opponent.

A veritable barrage of jagged wicked blades rained about him as he zipped towards this creature about to emerge into the open. They weren't really hitting him now. Ducking and diving with all his speed was just barely letting him work his way in closer and closer to finally land a tremendous blow with both forehooves straight into the face of this dark thing which sent it twirling backwards awkwardly along with its myriad bloody knives and tools to roll to a heavy stop. There was a sickening crack and thud. The knives all hit the ground. He could see it now. All of them were attached to the cloak by nearly invisible strings of some type that were impossibly thin. Somehow it was manipulating them the entire time as they flew.

No wonder he wasn't able to avoid them earlier. The only reason this thing hadn't easily killed him in the alley was due to the surrounding walls which made it difficult for it to land a direct hit. If he'd realized what was happening even an instant later it would have been too late. Having nearly been skewered by this crazy thing left his heart pounding and him looking about wildly. He could also see now the bolts were attached to the same strange razor sharp threads, their size and weight would have made them more difficult to control which is the only reason he wasn't dead by the first blow. The pony thing lay there trembling in its cloak.

He neared it from an angle he thought would be safest should it prove able to attack again. It still looked shimmery and dull. Its face was still just as hard to see as before.

"Good...boy. I knew you could do it." That awful angering voice hissed. Its head hit the ground. It heaved and its cloak ruffled while its body slowly sank, disappearing into the ground as all its knives and weapons were dragged under with it. Was it taunting him?

"Wait! What are you? Why did you attack me?" Too late. It was gone. Not a trace remained.

It was infuriatingly frustrating. He stomped on the ground despite his shoulder. It hurt a lot. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. STOP IT.

"Nothing makes sense. Nothing makes any sense!" He huffed and tried to regain his composure. This was fraying the nerves. Now he'd just fought with some thing that simply disappeared after defeating it. He was positively covered in little nicks and some longer cuts. His fur actually saved him from a few wounds. He did not entirely avoid them all, that would have been impossible.

Instead, he'd chosen to let some cut across him on purpose as he ran forwards so they would deflect others. A calculated gamble. A slower pony than he would have been slaughtered with ease and stood no chance whatsoever. The fight was definitely real. The scars of it would be with him for quite some time. He wandered back to his packs groaning in pain. The right shoulder had taken the deepest cut. He was once again hurt badly enough to be slowed down by such an injury and that would hamper even his great speed if it was needed. He would have to find another location to rest. The pain made it difficult to want to move at all, but staying here could be inviting more trouble.

He'd been beaten up so badly several times now. All he wanted to do was confront Boss, nothing more. Did any of this have something to do with that original encounter? Was it to be his fate to endure torture after torture? Shaking his head he set about locating a secure building further to the northwest. Somewhere he could actually hide inside of. He just realized he'd only been found outside each time something happened. Was there something to that? It was only a wild guess, but it was more than there was to go on before. It was worth a minor gamble. There was no evidence at all left of the fight here. Would anypony believe it if he told them? It felt to him as if all reality itself were collapsing about his head.

Maybe he'd been driven insane? It certainly happened to other wastelanders. Insanity wasn't hard to come by.

"No. No. I did not dream this. The pain is too real." He muttered while walking. It hurt to carry the packs now. Never having felt this absolutely angry or frustrated ever before he found himself having great difficulty reining it in. Like a pathetic lump he limped along for a good while until happening across a strangely intact old road. As with anything it was cracked and marred by endless disuse. By some miracle of simple location a few buildings here took almost no damage except that inflicted by the passage of time. even one of the windows was still in the frame unbroken.

It must have been very sturdy. He might even have marveled at it if he wasn't in such pain. Even the ancient sign across the top though damaged had somehow not fallen off its steel hangers. It read 'East North Neighings Botanical Facility and Forest River Park'. If there was ever a river of some sort here it was not apparent. Many things no longer were.

"East North?" He muttered. That was a strange title. He might have laughed at the odd sign in other circumstances. As it was he was aching and hurting from stinging cuts in various place. He was only lucky he'd figured out his opponent was not only controlling his weapons after they were thrown, but that where it stood was actually in a slightly different location than he could see.

If he hadn't realized both these things just in time he would have went sailing right past his attacker and been torn to pieces. Even knowing this he was lucky to have been able to land such a blow and end it so decisively. Letting it into open space would have been disastrous for him. A mere split second was all that spared him this time around. How many times was he going to run into weird things bent on putting an end to him?

"This is ridiculous. Why does it seem like everything in the whole world is trying to kill me?" He was certainly allowed to complain now, wasn't he? He was tired, hurting and starting to feel entirely alone in the world.

Was he truly all by himself? The last living pony anywhere perhaps? Was that even possible?

"These wounds sting. I've got to clean them out just in case. Gonna have to waste some water doing it." As per usual the building proved to be empty of anything useful. He did manage to find some cloth material in a drawer that seemed clean enough to use. The deep cut on his shoulder was the worst of the lot. After gently sprinkling water as sparingly as possible and cleaning each stinging gash to the best of his ability he took to tearing the remainder of it into long strips he managed to wrap about himself and tie off.

Figuring a unicorn could have done this much easier than him left just a little feeling of pride he was able to do so without such aid. He'd seen unicorns manipulate objects before with their horns. They called it magic and it was fascinating, but he was not envious of the ability. He'd always made do before and was happy enough until this engulfing insanity erupted about his life. All he could do for now was wait and heal up again. This journey was truly not going well at all. It was fortunate he'd brought so much water along with him. As it was he was going through it at a pace he could not have anticipated. It was not like he'd set out unprepared, just not prepared for all of this. Whatever this was.

No one could have been. It was too strange and unknown. There were still many miles to head off towards the northwest before he could finally turn back towards the south and hopefully find a way out of the area. There must be other ponies somewhere? The world was proving to be quite huge after all. It was simply not a possibility he could be the only one left alive in it, was it? How far would he be pushed? Not only was he being pushed in the wrong direction, but pushed in many other ways. Conflicting feelings were rising inside, maybe clouding his judgement and he knew it. Lifting a foreleg he pressed it against his forehead and closed his eyes tightly.

Thinking too much right now was really not good for him. Being forced into a fight after sleeping so poorly did no wonders for his demeanor. There was another feeling amidst all this nagging at him. Never having felt it before he didn't quite know what it was. He wanted, to go home. He was homesick. It was so bad it almost caused choking. He'd never felt it before because he'd never really left home before. Not like this. Not without his master, and never so far away. He'd done everything for him, tried to ensure his life was as happy as could be. There was no helping it this time. Pouring tears burst forth with a guttural howl of pent up rage and sadness mixed together. It all hurt so badly. When would this be over?

"Why did you do so much for me? For everypony you ever met? You didn't have to care about me or them. I was just a little lost colt. No one else would have helped me. You didn't owe me anything. Why couldn't I save you!? I'm sorry...." Trailing off sobbing and shaking, his face was being soaked by the torrent welling up from within. Crying this much burned the eyes. It was impossible to stop. Long moments passed as such great anger and sadness finally subsided a little. No matter what he did it would always hurt. Even if he found out why. Even if he killed Boss. He just knew it wouldn't. Never ever. He was panting heavily, his head and tail drooped so low. Ears flattened. A great deal of time must have passed.

He wound up staring at the floor of this building from the old days. It took a few moments to realize he'd sort of fallen asleep standing up. This was not highly unusual for a pony, and it never felt like true sleep but he'd rarely done it. It was more a defensive thing. It must have been done instinctively. A few hours definitely passed. Had he been crying all that time even as he stood there half out of connection with reality? Knowing he'd been acting weird lately and somewhat not himself worked up worrying about this, but it was natural wasn't it? Still feeling very tired he leaned against a heavy solid steel desk in utter weariness. One of the only things left in here from times past.

"Stop feeling sorry for yourself. What if one of those things already killed Boss? What then? I'll never know why. It doesn't matter. If he is dead then good riddance. Even if I knew why it won't bring him back." Perhaps these things or something else had killed them, and all the thugs too. After all he hadn't seen one of them since over a week and a half ago. It was still something that could not be assumed. A deep sigh and a moment later he was curled up against his packs. All he needed to do was keep going. Going until he found other ponies. Help. Something. Anything. They must be out there somewhere. Real sleep overcame him this time. For once a happy dream was granted. His master giving him a warm hug.

Lots of warm hugs. Lots and lots. So many of them. Uncountable. They were always so warm. As he was growing up he'd always given them freely and so kindly to him. They felt like something he'd never had before. Did his real parents ever do that? Did he even have real parents before? There were no memories, nothing of them. Such warm hugs. He'd been so generous. Giving a poor colt that would have quickly starved a home and at least a chance at some sort of life. If another had found him they probably would have killed him or sold him into slavery and called it being generous. It might even have been the truth.

Offspring were often considered a burden on their parents, something to be used as soon as they were able. Even sold to others will. It was just how things were. He always smiled so happily at him. He even seemed proud to have him there. Proud of the things he did and learned. Always smiling. That feeling of warmth he gave. How could anypony be so good to another in this world? How did he deserve all those warm comforting hugs? He was just another in a long line of lost souls left wandering this vast and lonely world. He'd made him feel so happy and safe. There was never a feeling of want or emptiness living with him. A flicker in the dream woke him. Finding himself smiling stupidly he got up.

He'd needed that reminder of good moments very badly. It hurt in some way, but the vile and violent ending of their life could not diminish how much those memories truly meant. How good they were in a not so good world.

"Still encouraging me even now, aren't you?" It was just a dream, but it helped so much. Stretching gently and brushing a couple errant tears away he turned to look out the window. It was quite dirty, almost impossible to see out of. That did mean nothing should be able to see him through it either. Although assuming being indoors was preventing things from finding him was the merest fraction of a guess there was at least a tiny possibility it was true.

It would be the first time on this entire trip so far even the slightest thing could potentially be understood. It was not something to be trusted, but each time he'd slept inside somewhere nothing had come across him. Sniffing at the air he thought there was a hint of that same strange scent he'd noticed before. What could it be? It was still far away but it seemed like he was getting closer to the source. Was he unwittingly moving towards yet another awful encounter with something terrifying? Having been pushed to the brink over exhaustion and being hurt repeatedly left worries about his resolve and ability to continue.

No longer bleeding from any of the wide array of small cuts he'd received was good, but the deep slash through his shoulder ached very badly. It would be far too easy to reopen if care was not taken. There was no choice to be made here. He could not possibly stay hidden in a strange place for as long as it would take to fully heal from his injuries this time. His supplies would dwindle and having no idea where to obtain more at the moment would lead to being even more vulnerable. He would have to try and sneak forward, creeping if he must. It could only be hoped he was still in capable enough shape to reach his destination.

The packs were not quite as weighted down compared to when he'd launched himself into this agonizing venture. A venture never imagined to contain a seemingly infinite variety of nightmares. No, at least some of these things were no dream. More like a terrible dream stepping into reality. What was that horrid thing that nearly carved him to pieces? The slightest mistake would have resulted in a quick bloody death. An end with no answers at all. That thought hurt. At least an answer regarding Boss was desired before he died. Somewhere out there must be one. It would be okay to die then. That time was not yet upon him.

Even breathing today was pained, laborious thanks to the extreme exertion put upon his poor aching muscles. All he really wanted was to be at home, with his master. There was nothing else in all the world wanted right now. A yearning want that would never be fulfilled again. All thanks to what was probably nothing more than a demented power mad pony. He'd donned his packs. Before this trip they'd only received light use. Now they were looking a bit ragged. The singed strap was concerning. They no longer fit quite as comfortably as before and sagged on the one side a little bit. This small annoyance was also angering. It grated and chaffed against his midriff from time to time due to the way it now hung.

"I keep feeling so angry about everything. I have to stop this. I know that isn't me. It has never been me. All I want now is answers and maybe the reason for my suffering to suffer for it as well." Spitting on the ground was satisfying. Trying to stay out of sight as he traveled was a bit of an issue here. The land in the immediate vicinity was quite bare. There were a few far off buildings to the north which could barely be made out. One of them must be extremely tall to be seen from this distance. Although he'd seen tall buildings before they never appeared safe enough to venture inside or up to their dizzying heights. They might contain some valuables, but the risk would be heavy.

Many of them were rickety, barely able to remain standing as the ones which toppled over what he'd called home for all these years attested. There was definitely one positive thing from all this. It was certainly driving his thirst for exploration, and fulfilling it some. There were so many things he knew nothing about. If nothing else this dangerous adventure was allowing him to see pieces of the world he'd never known about before, he'd never imagined the city was truly this gigantic. How did ponies ever build all this? Just one of the old skyscrapers as he'd been told they were once called felt like it stood over and above their entire race, something they didn't deserve to be able to create.

Their very name felt like a sense of pride was attached to them. With all their greatness they'd still let the world be destroyed. As he pondered these things an odd feeling of want pushed up inside. It was hard to tell what it was for. Just a little feeling inside saying something was missing. Something good. Something far better than the world was able to give since that nearly forgotten time when ponies came together to craft these great works, something in which they once could take pride for accomplishing. That pride was long ago stripped from them all. There was none to be taken after failing to protect themselves and their legacy like that.

The world was and had been falling apart piece by piece ever since that failure. Whatever was happening right now could possibly just be another step in that. Was the inevitable end simply approaching? There was no way to be certain of anything right now. The only thoughts and feelings consisting of loneliness and a burning need for answers. Something creeping and hidden was definitely spreading at least around here, fanning out dangerously. So far it was incomprehensible. What if there were no answers to be found, no way out? A bad thought. It was enough to worry about simply heading towards the goal for the time being. It would take days more at this pace.

He should have been out of here already.

"What is that disgusting smell?" There it was again. Something sickening, nauseating. Still very far away but definitely a hint of it once in a while. What could it be? It was not at all familiar. It was getting worse as he headed north. With no other direction to go for now, he would have to approach the source with great care. Another mystery on top of everything else was the last thing he needed right now. The exact direction it was coming from seemed to be more towards the northeast. Perhaps it could be entirely avoided.

After crossing something which might have been a shallow riverbed once he'd found himself following the general path of a roadway apparently called 'Plain White Palomino Road' according to a smashed and almost unreadable sign uncovered by accident as he practically tripped over it buried in the dirt. This didn't really tell him anything. Occasionally glancing at the badge to be sure it was safe to continue he noticed it was a little worse for wear. Fortunately it was not damaged in the fights he'd so far been unable to avoid. Protecting it could be of paramount importance if he was to find his way through such unfamiliar territory. Radiation did exist, that much he was well aware of.

Whatever caused it and why was also something beyond his understanding. It just was. A fact of existing. Most of those who still struggled to live were at least dimly aware of it. They knew as little about it as he did. It was just another leftover from a war that should never have been allowed to conclude as it did. A grim reminder that sometimes curiosity is not rewarded. They must have been ever so proud of what they achieved before it all came crashing down. Were the weird things happening here just more of this? A product of the same foalish thought that the world could be taken for granted? The smell was more lingering here. Heavy. Disturbing. Something rotten and vile. This felt wrong.

The smell just couldn't be identified. The further north and more he traveled amidst the slowly decaying and collapsing ruins the more sadness rose within. All that power and they'd chosen to let it all be destroyed, what nonsense could possibly have driven its way into ponies hearts so deeply that could have lead to the ruination of everything everywhere? He could have been proud of this city too. Wasn't it his right, his inheritance as much as it was theirs? Instead, wandering about what must surely have once been grand and beautiful was now nothing more than a scenic view of what might have been. How much more could they have accomplished if it wasn't all toppled?

Even the earth ponies were allowed to touch and nearly live in the very sky once long ago. A few wobbly and aging buildings here and there were all that could be claimed. There was no one with the knowledge to do so. As they got older and older they would all eventually succumb and fall to the ground to join the rubble already laying there. These empty shells once held life. They'd come only to symbolize death and failure. In far more ways than he would ever realize they were the very epitome of vice and avarice of a sort he'd never imagined. They may have been built with pride, but they were built with the intention to line some ponies coffers with untold wealth.

Wealth which was useless to them now, they were dead and gone. Little more than a vague memory passed down in recognition that somepony, somewhere, did something very bad once. Something so bad it left only a crushed and ever more pitiful world to its inheritors. He'd always known there were only ruins left, but he'd never had to face the fact by himself before. He'd always had the support necessary to deal with living here in a life with almost nothing to be happy about. He'd also never thought about it at length. What would life be like if this gleaming city still stood strong as it clearly once did? A truly happy place? The thought made him feel shuddery deep within.

Something so appealing, but it could never be. All that was left for him was pain.

"Do I not deserve happiness? Did I do something wrong? What am I saying... Nothing good is listening." Something good? What could possibly be good anymore? He shook his head. These thoughts were not going to help anything. The days when ponies held sway over the very land itself were long since gone. It was past. Right now he needed to keep focus on the immediate problems facing him. Letting his thoughts drift off of remaining out of sight could prove his undoing. In this area a few times he'd been forced to backtrack and find another way forward, going far around due to the badge slightly changing hue, warning against treading into an invisible danger. Dying in such a way would be deplorable.

It was slow and tedious, but at least it was something which operated on some kind of logic. If it were not such a deadly proposition it would almost be an amusing game to determine a safe route. At least tedium felt normal. A dose of something common. Having been driven so far towards the northeast he was hoping to finally find an easier path towards the west proper. This was not proving to be so accessible here. Not only the land, but derelict ruins in piles made crossing some areas difficult if not impossible. Taken all together some parts of the city were twisted into a huge heaping maze by whatever power leveled a good half of it or more so many years ago.

How anything remained standing at all was its own mystery. Most things took at least some damage from whatever slammed into the city. How any of them remained standing was something he could not even imagine a guess at. If something was powerful enough to reduce a city of this size to mere chunks of itself how did anything survive? That scent was heavy around here. It would occasionally assault his nostrils. It almost burned when it was noticed. Pungent and wrong in yet another way he could not fathom. This was taking forever.

"Every time I try to find a way through here this thing says its not safe. This is bad. What is radiation, magical or otherwise anyway? Where does it come from? Oh. Now I'm gonna have to go even further north first." Grunting at a slight twinge of pain from his shoulder he decided to just accept it. It was just something else he would have to deal with. Knowing ponies died or sometimes even worse things happened to them when they encountered this stuff and ignored it or were taken unaware. Sometimes it was the lure of hidden riches just out of reach, food or other commodities tricked some into trying and it never ended well for any of them. Those who did not know about it were simply unlucky.

Either way he was not about to join their sad fate by choice. Until now he'd been lucky about avoiding radiation. None of it was encountered during the whole trip so far, but then he'd started out on a known route and mostly kept to directions he'd been aware of before being forced to abandon going that way. Just more frustration and testing of patience added into an already mounting pile of the same.

"He always said someday he would take me to some kind of big caravan trading post to the south or something. I wish we'd got to go together. I wish you were here." It would have been nice. A trip with the only pony he'd cared about.

Something to share.

"I would have liked that." Swallowing hard he stepped northwards once more. The radiation spots in this area were numerous. Large. Avoiding them was taking up even more time. Almost the whole day passed by the time another building was located. He could not stop outside. He'd apparently reached a section of crossroad where a path once titled 'Oilville Avenue' Stood. An utterly dilapidated small building with a tilted sign reading 'Hard Buck Cafe Outlet' was off to the right of it. Something about that title seemed like it could be taken in several ways, but he wasn't up to thinking about it too much.

One side of the building was just in good enough condition he could consider sleeping within. There was a line of stools with what would once have been nice looking padded seats. Each was shaped so that a pony could comfortably sit at a circular bar. Almost everything inside otherwise was completely wrecked. The badge did not change color. It was as safe a spot as he could find at present. It would have to do for the night. Another couple days and it would already have been two weeks since this madness started.

"Has it really been so long already? How does time have the cruelty to go on when it should stop?" Sighing very heavily he slipped the packs off. His shoulder would be aching for days. He'd also been careful not to let the wrapping heal into the cut. He tore it off and discarded it. There was no point continuing to wear it now, the cut itself was healing properly. The ache would remain for some time. It was the only blow he'd taken that was not entirely glancing. If he'd taken multiple hits like that even surviving the fight could have proven futile. He was still concerned about getting an infection. He'd been warned repeatedly how dangerous that could be.

Although the things weapons were rusty and covered in who knows what, the razor lines were clean looking. Probably to help prevent them being seen. A truly direct hit from even one of those things might have spelled his end in itself. Real medicine was a rare and expensive thing. The one healing potion he still held might have helped in that case, but he didn't know how it really worked. Would it stop an infection, poison? These were things he was not told. Probably because his master did not really know either. That sort of knowledge was itself a rare thing. He was told not to use the healing potion for broken bones, but not why. It was the sort of thing that sounded like it might once have been well known.

A faded threadbare portrait hung askew from a wire along the back wall. There were probably more, but they'd fallen and pretty much been disintegrated by the falling walls. The bottom of the frame still contained an etched tag reading 'Stud Muffin: Prize Winning Stallion'. Staring at the tag for a moment he could only imagine what that was supposed to mean. What this place was or what it was used for escaped understanding. This side was still sturdy enough to afford what might be assumed was a safe place to rest. Assumptions in recent memory were not a good idea. To be sure the now very bedraggled and pained pony sought to cover any way to see in. It was a very long day.

Boredom was not something he should be feeling. Perhaps it was something else. A desire for some kind of normalcy maybe. Whilst shifting a table to use as a block against a window opening he caught sight of a very odd looking little bottle. What could it be? Heaving the table out of the way revealed a metal canister with a spiral tube sticking out of it. There were two large shattered glass containers and what looked like it was a spout of some kind at one time. The bottle was tall and full of some of the clearest looking liquid he'd ever seen. Was it water? Twisting off the cap proved to be more difficult than expected. It was sealed extremely well.

The heavy table must have protected the bottle against other falling debris all those years ago. So far out of sight even if a pony had been right on top of it they would never have seen it without moving all the junk first as he was doing, and likely would never have done so. No wonder it was still here. What could be within? Grunting around the cap in his mouth and pulling hard was not working.

"Come on, you" Mumbling over it as he strained and yanked hard it finally gave way so unexpectedly it almost went slipping out of his hooves and flying off as he almost fell over.

"Whoa. Whoa. Don't do that now. Whew. Now, what is in here?" Managing to hang onto it was just lucky. Sniffing at it questioningly it did not have much of a scent. Checking his badge up against it did not change color. It was at least not giving out radiation. It should be safe to taste. Wrapping his lips around the bottle to take a little sip he tilted it back cautiously. If there slightest hint of it being bad or like it might be dangerous he would stop and spit it out. Holding it in his mouth the flavor was sweet, smoky and almost earthy, but in some pleasant way he'd never tasted before. It was good. Swallowing it was not as much fun. It was rough and felt like it burned on the way down. It didn't really hurt though.

He then felt like a warmth was spreading within. What was this stuff?

"Oh! What is this? It makes me feel so warm inside. I think I like you." Unable to help himself he took another sip. It still burned each time, but it was not an unpleasant sensation for him. After finishing up covering any possible way for something to see within here he found some of the cushioning from the seats was still in good condition. It detached from them easily. There were so many stools it was actually possible to fashion a little bed out of them. Not the most comfortable thing ever, but it was nicer than the way he'd been spending his nights so far.

Once in a while taking another sip from the bottle. Many hours later without realizing it almost the entire bottle was nearly drained. It was just so warm. Giggling and rolling about, waggling his legs was for some reason the most hilarious thing he'd ever seen. He felt so loose and giddy. He was being so silly. Something only a foal might do. Even his shoulder stopped hurting. How nice.

"Lookhh..looksth at thot..I haaavee hooooves! Whee." Rolling over towards the bottle and tipping it up fully it was now completely emptied. Where did it all go? So tasty.

"Awrrt thush goody. Githt me your secresst." The last drops of the lovely drink went down. It was so good. Shaking it and finding no more left him mumbling. He was really in no condition to realize much of anything. Trying to stand up he sort of wobbled and fell against what was left of the bar. That hurt. Bad thing. How dare it?

"Whust gring. ? Huip we cin drpim. Why you, take thisth!" With that he started jabbing at the solid bar.

"Oww! I gawn getchya." All wobbly and really angry feeling the world went red and hazy. A short while later he was asleep. His snores were very deep. His head ached so very much when he finally woke up.

His eyes fluttered open to see the ever gray skies above.

"Aaaaah... What..happened? Ohh my head. Everything's so fuzzy. Wait a minute, where am I?" As he looked around the extremely shocking realization that he was outside struck. Wait. No, not outside, but the entire building was completely flattened around him. This was impossible. He wasn't outside. The building was just gone. There wasn't even really a ruin left.

"What? How? Why do my legs and my hooves hurt so much? Actually, everything hurts." He thought the ache in his shoulder was bad before.

Right now everything ached everywhere just as badly. What could have happened? It looked like an explosion went off.

"I don't remember." Huffing and achy he practically dragged himself along the ground to his packs. Even the floor was gone. Luckily they were fine. He was so thirsty. Downing an entire bottle almost at once seemed to help his head a little. Drinking stirred a slight memory of the unusual bottle and its contents. Why were the packs the only things still alright? The building was utterly demolished completely.

"Where did the building go? Where did everything go?" Only little bits and pieces of it were strewn around him a great distance. How could it be? There was still some warm feeling inside.

"Now I remember. I found a bottle and...everything went dark." Gently rubbing his pounding head he finally found enough will to stand up. The effort almost resulted in smashing his face straight into the ground. So unsteady.

"Slowly. Slowly. I need to get moving." Whatever happened here would just be another odd mystery.

"At least it tasted good. I feel slow." A very odd feeling for him. He'd been lucky he wasn't killed while he was so out of it. Very lucky. Moving steadily northwards at a much slower pace than he was used to and nursing his aching head and body was certainly like nothing he'd ever experienced before.

An occasional feeling of being off balance and unsteady was quite disconcerting for one so generally in control of themself. He was still able to see the far off glow of the incredibly massive wall of flames. In the distance it still burned as high and brightly as before. Did it never end or go out? What was feeding it? Fire needed fuel to burn, but it seemed to consume none.

"It can't extend all the way around the whole of the region, can it?" As impossible a thing as it was in itself, that seemed much more so. At least there didn't seem to be any radiation barring the way in this direction.

Occasional buildings dotted the landscape as they always did. How any of them survived or ever held up this long was a true testament to the skill of their builders. The terrible headache and general achiness subsided as he traveled, only leaving that dull pain in his shoulder. It almost felt worse than before. Did he exert himself in some way he couldn't remember at all? That idea didn't feel very good at all. Blanking out was a terrifying prospect. Worse than sleep. What if he did something which would never be considered while awake? It could be dangerous. Never having heard of such a condition made for nervous moments. It never happened before.

Although his muscles did still ache, they almost felt somehow looser than before, more relaxed. It was an exceedingly strange feeling. He'd been getting that a lot lately. Strange, unknown feelings and thoughts never even the slightest bit considered before or heeded. A piece of remaining road junction and another tilted signpost indicated he was crossing something once oddly titled 'Everybody Run Hill'. Everybody run? Some of the streets and roads of old were given odd names. Why were they even named anyway? Did the ponies think they were alive or something? They weren't, were they? That thought left him shivery.

"Don't be ridiculous. Of course they're not alive. Right? That is just silly, what am I thinking?" It was likely just wild imagination getting away from him. Still, the idea persisted. Thinking the very ground might somehow come to life was an embarrassing thing to feel afraid of even for a moment. It was nonsense. This entire trip made no sense though. Perhaps nothing could be ruled out now? Even his own dreams seemed intent on causing further pain. Everything was so unfair. No. He would not start slipping into thinking that way. Perhaps it was unfair, but life never truly had been. What was really so different now? Other than being entirely on his own and perhaps the only one left.

At last able to start heading northwest again was a better feeling, but there was that vague hint of a disgusting scent again. Every time it was noticed his stomach turned, almost resulting in choking. Where was it coming from? It was definitely something to avoid approaching if at all possible. Considering how things were going thus far it was a good bet something very dangerous was likely wherever it was. Sometimes the direction he thought it was coming from changed. It was difficult to pin down an exact direction. Coming and going with greater frequency than in past days. Not another pony was to be found.

The only living thing even remotely pony-like he'd even seen on his entire trip was the poor mare he'd been forced to deprive of her life. That one still hurt badly and weighed heavily on his thoughts. Stopping some murderers was one thing, killing a pony that didn't seem entirely in control of their own actions was another. She really hadn't seemed like she wanted to attack him. Life once almost comfortable for him had been turned upside down and left nothing but nonsense in its wake. That dark creature and its flickering blades was something that could not be pushed out of mind easily either. It too almost seemed like it hadn't wanted to fight. A large chunk of spiked iron fence came into view.

Behind it were stones with names engraved in them. His master told him there was such a place around here. A cemetary. Once a place to put the dead. A respectful place. How had he known all these things? He'd never revealed who taught him anything. The cemetery was not used anymore. Why bother dragging a body all the way here when you could just take whatever they might have had and leave them where they lay? Respect for anything wasn't really on offer in this life. One was lucky if they were even buried after the fact or given the slightest bit of remembrance. He'd traveled so far in the past two weeks. How much longer was it going to take before finding somepony?

Having come so far southwest before being forced to turn back and then be forced this far north had taken an excessive amount of time. The food and water was dwindling. He'd carried all that was possible to stuff into the old packs, but that would not last forever. He'd never expected to see the graveyard. Looking upon the toppled stones within and an odd little stone building lead to building apprehension. A feeling that was trusted now. Pieces of the iron fence still stood here and there. Some fallen, some at odd angles. Surprising anything still stood really. Lining the tops of the fence pieces were sharp-looking bulb-like affairs. Just how big was the true size of Manehattan?

If only this one part of it was this big then the scale was beyond his ability to comprehend. Of course parts of it were now clearly inaccessible and reduced this size somewhat. It was still an area beyond the scope of anything he'd ever imagined before. There was enough scattered things to scavenge where they'd lived to possibly last an entire lifetime. There must be a way around or through the huge fire wall somewhere, there just had to be, didn't there? The further traveled the less likely it appeared there actually was. This trip was taking much too long. What should have taken maybe a couple of days at most already consumed an entire week. Was there any way out of here? It would be easy to go home.

Hide for a really long time. What if there really was no way into southern Manehattan proper? Would the apparently endless wall of fire die out if he just waited? There was still food and water there. It might have to be considered at some point. It would mean going all the way back. Maybe it could just be waited out. Maybe it could not. Would it have been safe to remain at home? Would it be safe now? There was no way to know. It was probably better to be away from there. At least being on the move it seemed less likely for him to be discovered. A few odd encounters didn't change that fact. The lack of answers about what to do was concerning. He was still alive. He was, wasn't he?

What if he'd actually died somewhere along the line and this was all that awaited him? Could it be? Did death already take him? Surely things would be quite different if that was the case? Death should be much different.

"No, I think that would be a little more obvious. I can't be dead. I wouldn't be in this much pain would I? I still bleed and hurt. Also, I suppose I wouldn't be alone then... right?" Muttering was becoming quite common. Anything might be better than this bitter wandering through a lonely landscape with nopony else in it so filled with anger and sadness. The sheer emptiness of it all was bearing down. Surely if he was dead things would not be like this? It was never considered before.

Did a fine reunion await then? Did anything await for then other than the same blankness of sleep? It would be a little late to start worrying about it now. There would be no point. He would find out when it finally happened anyway. Not yet. Maybe soon, but not yet. Boss first. Whatever it might take. However long. The cemetary ahead held an off feeling all its own. It was chalked up to being so weary of wandering and so many other things. This was once a place of respect and reflection on lives past. Now, it served little purpose. Perhaps not a single grave was added to this place since the war ended. Not many would even bother. Life held so little meaning to so few these days.

To warrant the effort of being buried meant somepony actually respected you enough to do so before moving on. That respect was nearly nonexistent amongst those just scrounging out the meagerest of livings. It would take effort and energy ill affordable to most. Very sparse vegetation still managed to grow here. Nothing edible. Plant life was as scarce as anything else. It was indeed some kind of life. How it clung on in the misery a question for another time. He'd found a lonely patch of grass once. It was growing in a secluded spot where no one ever went. It was stunted and brown looking, but the little patch was tough and held onto life. He showed it and his master said to bite off some of it.

A little confused he bit into it. It was bitter and odd tasting, old, and yet it was still somehow so good it left sad feelings when it was gone. The most amazing thing he'd ever tried. It stirred some feeling of longing not understood. The rest was left. He'd even started taking it a little bit of water now and then. The patch deserved it for the wonderful treat it had given. Over time it looked the slightest bit greener. A sign of appreciation perhaps. Was it still there, waiting for another drink he may never be able to bring it again? It survived without assistance before. It would probably continue to do so without him. Just a tiny thing, but it meant so much. A good memory. One of few granted here.

It was difficult to recall good moments when on all sides one is surrounded by pain and the unknown. A truly good memory. If only there were more. Something wasn't right here. This feeling was far too common now. A feeling that was starting to be trusted implicitly. As usual nothing wrong was readily apparent to the eyes or other senses. Just that same feeling of wrongness that had been enclosing around him ever since stepping out of the courtyard what already felt like an entire lifetime ago. It seemed that was a wholly different world. A world so far removed from the now it could almost have been a dream in itself. Was it ever really like that before?

Was there anything good in this life now full of nothing but misery? There had to have been, didn't there? It never used to hurt like this. Yes, it did hurt, but not like this. It was never entirely unbearable before. Pain was known as it is to all who live in the wastes. Did any know it like this? This pain was a miserable unending facade of life. When would it be over at last? What if it was just starting? It was already far too much. If it could in some way become worse than it already was then there really would be no hope. All that was left to drive forward was a burning desire for the truth and a good dream. Anything less and giving up would have been easy. The fastest route to a quick death is to give in.

Giving up invites it to step forth and swallow one whole. So easy. It would be so easy to just quit. It wasn't enough. Not yet. The desire to know was its own flame inside. Sure it hadn't been easy in any way, but he was still breathing, still alive. Somewhere out there the answers must lay waiting. They just had to be. Everything happens for some reason no matter how big or small. If the reason for initiating this journey turned out to be little more than the simple whim of a crazed sick pony then so be it. It would still be the truth. It might be something far larger. The insanity apparently encompassing the whole north of the city must have something behind it. There is always some reason. It may not make sense.

The cemetery was quite large and wide, bypassing it would take a long time. Going straight through would be much shorter. That feeling of wrong said leave it be. Stay away, go around. Sick of being deterred by random things he decided to try and slip through anyway. Far off on the opposite side etched into the strange stone building was the statement 'Woodhorse Cemetery' in large relief lettering. The name was a little odd in itself. Oh well. Staying out of sight was something he was very good at despite earlier mistakes. Hopefully it would be enough to avoid trouble here. There were many grave markers of all sorts and styles. Many were toppled, shattered. Most were unreadable.

Only a barely legible portion of a name here or there to give any remembrance to those whose rest here was surely an uneasy one anymore. Ponies seemed to have been given entirely too happy sounding names a long time ago. Too upbeat. Too hopeful. Too proud. Did they all take an easy life for granted? Judging by all they built they must all have been living in the lap of luxury, right? It couldn't be known. Perhaps they'd known pain and sorrow too, if only of a different sort. It was probably dangerous to ignore this warning to turn away. Nothing ever appeared life-threatening at first. If it did he would be having a much easier time of it lately. Instead, dying was assumed to be the eventual outcome of it all.

Was that really the only end there could be? Reaching Boss might mean dying for sure.

"Just let me survive long enough to find out why Boss did it at least, please?" A halfhearted whispered prayer to something, anything that might be listening. There was probably nothing. What good could possibly be left? If there really was anything, it was not here. Not in this darkness and silence. Only pain and death seemed to be calling here anymore. Unwanted and unwelcome visitors to be sure. What dread thing might be standing in the way now? Something as dark and sinister as before? Worse? What could be worse than that? Best not to think about it, don't invite trouble.

Just put one hoof in front of the other. Perhaps they could hide in shadows, but so could he. He was no stranger to slipping between shadows. Whatever was about here though might actually be a shadow itself. There was no cowardice in using stealth if it meant nothing less than living to see another day, such as those days were. Avoiding an unnecessary fight was always the right choice. Nothing encountered during this trip so far at all seemed natural anyway. Strange unearthly opponents were not something he'd ever imagined fighting against. For the most part he'd never really wanted for anything.

Having the provider of that almost okay existence taken away so unfairly hurt incredibly much and likely always would. All of this other stuff really meant little unless it related in some way to that. None of it readily seemed to be relatable to each other. Was every terrible thing experienced so far really just some random string of terrible luck? Was luck a real thing? Did it have some bearing on the miserable things now happening in his life?

"If that's all it has been then I am probably the most unlucky pony in the whole world." Thoughts like this weren't helping anything, but it was hard not to think them. It could not be known if this was true.

Was there somepony else somewhere having even worse luck? If there was he would truly feel sorry for them. With luck any worse than this by even just the slightest amount would have meant dying already. That feeling was rapidly intensifying. Oh great. Now what? He'd not even stepped hoof in the cemetery yet and something was coming.

"Here we go again." Gritting his teeth and sliding off the packs and badge in preparation for whatever was coming. Might as well be ready this time. There was clearly going to be trouble soon. How did it know he was here? It stepped out from the stone building.

"I have you." How? Almost the same grating angering voice. It was the same thing as before. No, wait. It isn't. It looked the same, but those terrifying eyes colors were reversed. All sickly yellow with red piercing dots in the centers, moving just as disgustingly as the previous one to-and-fro. This one looked like a unicorn whose color was emptied out from it leaving only a dark shade of itself, an empty shadow of nothing but the deepest grey hues across all its being. What could these things possibly be? This was going to get bad. As striking and terrible as this visage were the deep blood colored weapons attached to its hooves, horn, and tail, drawing even more attention. Things which looked like axe blades adorned each.

Was that actual blood or just color? It contrasted to this shadowed thing so much it looked out of place even more. The one attached to the horn was just a simple straight on heavy curved axe blade, the others were affairs which would clearly make it difficult to get anywhere close enough to strike without risking a fatal cut. The edges faced outwards only to the sides and slightly forward. If this thing was able to move at any great rate it was going to be a serious issue. Here it comes. Closer and closer. Why were these things here? What could possibly have called up such terrors? Would there be an answer?

"Who are you? What do you want?" It wasn't going to answer, but might as well ask anyway. Surprisingly there was actually a slight response given in that horrendous voice. So angering. No, stay calm. No matter what. That effect must be on purpose somehow.

"I am Aissenfelle, and you are meat." If anything the voice was even worse, more grating. Was that all it would say? Meat? That didn't sound good. Were these things cannibals as well? How could anything this horrible exist? The entire time spent speaking it was taking those same strangely deliberate steps forward as the last one.

Trying to avoid a fight here was likely impossible now. They always seemed to know where he was no matter how careful. Aissenfelle? At least this proved they had names. Names as strange as they were. Not very useful information. All those blades looked supremely sharp. This was a very much different opponent to the last one. Almost unnoticed there was some sharp looking object attached to the very end of its tail. A pointed silvery hook connected to something resembling an upturned cup. Whatever these things were they all appeared to use odd weapons. They looked like ponies, but they really couldn't be. Did it just get a lot darker all of a sudden? That couldn't be, could it?

There was no way to readily size up an opponent using weapons and techniques never imagined or seen before. The thing steadily approaching was just as difficult to look at as the last. Its motions, movements all presenting some sickening wrongness that just should not be. It moved like a pony, but nothing about it looked right at all. If it was as skilled as the previous this was going to be a serious problem. He'd been taught it best to always overestimate an opponent rather than the opposite. Overwhelm before you are. Get in fast and take them out before they can gauge you. Would that work here? Maybe not. Could these things even be overestimated? This disgusting thing was going to try and kill him anyway.

It might be a mistake to make the first move here. Who knows how it might use all those nasty-looking blades? They seemed to glow red ever so slightly in the dim light. Could they be magical? Be ready for anything. Positioning to take some advantage offered by the many destroyed grave markers was the only thought coming to mind right now. They might at least offer some defense against this inexplicable horror somehow walking amongst the living. What summoned these nightmarish things forth into the realm of the waking world? Surely no one would have done so on purpose? Why would they? These apparitions belonged more to unrecalled dreams. Why are they here?

What purpose could they possibly serve in bringing only death with them? This was wrong.

"I know you are not going to listen, but I have to say it anyway. I do not want to fight you." It was a necessary statement, of course it wasn't going to make a difference, but if unsaid it would be against himself. As expected there was no outward response to this. Did these things even think? Did they operate on some set of principles as yet unknown? Were they following some system, orders? Did they even have feelings? Was it possible they acted solely on instinct? At any rate they never gave anything useful away. Standing behind one of the markers would hopefully force it to come around.

Instead it lowered its head and charged straight at it. Was it crazy? Jumping aside as it crashed into the marker the blade went straight through the stone sending chunks flying everywhere. Those axes must be special in some not understood way. It cleaved through it almost like it wasn't even there. The ponylike thing wasn't even moving that fast when it struck. Must not be hit by those directly, even risking a glancing blow could be devastating. It was clearly holding back and certainly much faster than this. Why would it do that? It turned about on only its rear hooves quickly and aimed for him again. This made its turn very rapid to land pointed right at him. A simple straight charge ahead again.

It was easy enough to leap aside. Was it playing with him? Just giving some false sense of hope where there was none? Could it really be that cruel? The only thing to do for now was observe its actions and try to come up with some plan of attack. Every technique has some weakness, some flaw no matter how well hidden. There must be more to it than this, some strategy he might already be falling for. Charging straight on once again as he moved behind another stone, at least hitting them slowed it down ever so slightly. Not that this was helping all that much. Did it never try anything else? This was quite odd. So strange. Straight on again. This couldn't possibly be this easy, could it?

There was no way this thing intended to just keep charging straight towards him when it would never be able to connect. Was it doing something else? Keeping his attention on it while maneuvering into some kind of trap? Whatever it was doing must have some hidden purpose. This was simply too easy. This thing did seem to be possessed of endless stamina. If that was the case it really could just run him down eventually. Would it have the patience for such a thing? It would be a ridiculously simple strategy if so. Just keep charging until he was exhausted and it was not. It could not be allowed to lead into a trap. Something must be done before that happened. Risking a frontal attack was too dangerous.

At its next charge there would be just an instant where it might be vulnerable to a quick jab against an exposed side. Here it comes again. The same measured straight on run towards. Moving just slightly aside as it was about to hit, the speedy pony bashed a hoof into its side to roll away just as those wicked blades sliced through the air past his flank. The jab drew a faint growl. It was faster than imagined. A slower pony would surely have been cut in two. Now it would be on guard against that sort of thing. Better think of something else fast. So it did feel pain of a sort. Not much. Something about that jab felt off somehow. What was it? The hit was solid if quick. It was not something verifiable.

The same move just wasn't going to work here. Again. It was charging straight on again to force more dodging. If anything this was becoming truly annoying. This couldn't possibly be its plan. Did it intend to just annoy him so much he made a mistake? At this rate it might actually be a good plan on its part. No, it must have a reason behind it. What this reason was however was eluding at present. It was oddly silent as it charged. Where did it get all this strength? Shattered stone markers were positively littering what was left of the old cemetery by now. Over and over, the same move. It must know more. It was too skilled not to. As odd as it was, it was not wasting any energy.

None of these head-on attacks were pointless. Each could easily have killed with the slightest wrong move to avoid them. Those eyes always darting about apparently randomly as if unfocused were not helping. In themselves they were almost causing nausea. Its vision was obviously perfectly fine. Risk would have to be taken. This time at its charge the quick pony charged ahead himself to slide under at the last second and smash and pummel the thing in what would probably be its stomach and roll wide out of the way just as it went to stomp down with those terrible blades. Too close again. This was problematic. Nothing was inflicting much real injury on this thing. If anything it looked amused he was still alive.

Was it actually enjoying this? It was hard to tell. Those gigantic eyes certainly betrayed nothing. They rolled about in its head disturbingly constantly. Every single facet of these things was disgusting from appearance to motion. So vile. They just should not be. The pummeling did slow it down almost imperceptibly. Was it hurting? If it was that was not really apparent either. Those were solid blows as well, they also felt just as weird and off as before. Why was something about that so odd? They connected, that is all that mattered. It must feel something in some way, any way. Would it do the same thing yet again? Nothing would work twice on this thing. That much was obvious from the start.

Who or what taught these things to fight and wield such unusual weapons? If there was some strategy to this things constant charging it was alien enough not to be understood. There would be no answers here. Only a painful death if he couldn't figure it out soon. Aissenfelle as it called itself seemed to harbor no care for itself or anything else. Practically a mindless beast in a way it would seem. Its very name set some feeling of unease off. Could it ever really have been a pony, changed in some way? So far removed in form from them it did not seem possible. It might appear crazed from the outside. It did think in some manner. Always with those deliberate exaggerated steps even when it ran.

It was not displaying its full speed. During this entire dust-up it hadn't once pushed for that. It definitely could. How long was this going on? So far it was relying entirely on its weapons to do all of the work. Insofar as that was a conscious choice it was effective. There must be a way to take it out. If this kept up his own speed would become less and less effective until easily run over by this relentless slicing destruction. There was always that one move. No. That was an even more desperate move than the one based on sheer speed. A move that should never find use unless all hope was lost. Using it would be even more tiring than that. A condition that should be avoided at all costs right now.

If it failed, death would be the only outcome. There was so little time to think between each calculated charge. A way to hit this thing more often would be quite useful. So far very few opportunities to even do so were presented. This thing charging about like this presented as much of a defense as an offense. Was that its game? Being equally protected while attacking was certainly a good strategy. The blades must be made out of some very light material, but if they were that light why didn't they break when slicing through solid stone? Did that have something to do with the odd sensation when landing a blow?

He'd considered trying to grapple with this thing up close to prevent it using its hooves, but that was too dangerous. Every bit of this thing was protected by sharp edges. Where was this things weakness? It must have one somewhere. Perhaps it would be wise to focus on trying to take its weapons out of play somehow. He'd observed them enough by now. The arc within which it could swing each, their range, how fast they could be manipulated. There were very few openings. It was going to take every bit of speed and strength to finish this before running out. This fight was already going to leave him exhausted afterwards. It was time to take the fight to it. It must think in very two-dimensional terms.

Skilled though it was this constant sameness was leading to it taking identical actions over and over. It was not stupid by any means, merely unimaginative in the application of the great force it wielded. This could mean the slightest opportunity may arise to force an error on its part. It might very well be thinking the same about him. He'd been dodging and little else for some time now. Perfect. It did not appear aware of the trap it was being lead into. With each charge it was getting closer to the large stone building. So far this battle had been waged across a good half of the cemetary. It may imagine him to be inferior. Insignificant. It did call him meat.

If it held no respect beyond that, it may also think him less of a threat than in reality. Just keep playing the part of prey. Closer. Closer. Right in front of the stone building now. The inevitable charge. It might not care what was in front of it, but it would be a mistake this time. Leaping aside it smashed into the building as expected. Hurry now. Before it could extricate itself from against the wall he jolted behind and started a wild flurry of bucking against its hindquarters, smashing it further into the wall. Don't give it a chance. The blades which cut so readily and deeply were still half-embedded in the remains of the wall and being dug even further in as it was being drilled into it.

Chunks of the wall were falling on the things head as it struggled to pull back. 5, 15, 28, 35 kicks. What was it going to take before it stopped struggling? Again and again. It wheezed and lay still in the rubble. 64 hits. 64 to break this thing, to shatter its spine.

"Ohh. I can't..." Vision going blurry he blacked out for a moment. Awaking with a start on his side and seeing the thing sinking into the ground out of sight as the last one did was not all that great of a feeling. This was no victory. It was just a vicious battle against an unknown. Its weapons sank out of sight along with it. Not quite what was envisioned.

He'd wanted to trap it in the wall, disarm it, make it talk. So much for that idea. It was too strong to hold. There was no choice but to kill it. It actually was dead, wasn't it? There was naught to do but find a spot to rest. There was no way to walk on right now. Shuddering from adrenaline his body was all aquiver. His pounding heart in his ears was practically all that could be heard right now. It was gone. It was safe for at least a moment. Calm down. His heart did not want to stop pounding. Finally, it did. Almost blacking out a second time was not good. Snap out of it. It's dead. Gone. Get up. All he could do was shake.

"Again. I learned nothing again! Grr." Unable to even move left the poor pony laying there for a few moments. It was not wise to stay here. If nothing heard all that commotion it would be most surprising. Limbs feeling like rubber from all the exertion made it very difficult to stand up again. Finally to his hooves and sprinting across the cemetery to retrieve the packs as his mind raced, going over the fight. Everything would be aching for a good while after that. How much was it going to take to get out of here? Another unwanted fight. How many times was this going to happen? Were there no actual ponies left alive anywhere? That distant horrible smell was not so distant now. It wasn't here.

Somewhere close though, too close. It was like no scent he'd ever taken note of before. Cloying and ill, heavy, thick. It made the back of his neck bristle just to catch the faintest hint of it. Something to avoid at any cost. Get moving. Get away from here. Go. Go.

"So tired. Got to move. Nothing else around at least." Not yet anyway. Did these things have friends? Subordinates? They did not seem like the sort of thing that would. If they did then killing two of their number already might bring along more trouble. Nothing but darkness and mystery surrounding them. Encountering two was already more than enough.

This was not why he'd set out to begin with. They were nothing to do with the goal of confrontation. Living through another painful battle was just adding to the misery already being felt in his heart and mind. What did these things want? Did they even want anything at all? Two times now and all they seemed to desire was killing.

"These guys are murderous and violent, whatever they are. A murderer is a murderer, pony or not." After refitting the packs over his aching back he took to a light trot across the cemetery. Practically none of the markers survived the onslaught. It wasn't right. Faded as they were some still showed partial names in memory. Almost none were left standing.

It was disrespectful of that behemoth to do this.

"I apologize. I tried and could do no better, please forgive my weakness." A solemn request to any spirit that may yet linger here, hoping to be remembered. That would be impossible now. Certainly he could be forgiven for being unable to stop something so powerful in any other way? There was no shame in this. His opponent was truly powerful. This was unlike any fight he'd ever heard of. The strewn shattered stones now paid memory to nothing. So many of them lay broken that a chalk-like dust permeated the air in the immediate vicinity.

It went unnoticed before, but was causing little coughing fits now. Getting out of it helped a great deal. This did not feel like he'd succeeded at anything. If anything it felt more like failure. It was not a good feeling. Were there more of these terrible apparitions waiting in the dark somewhere?

"I just want to go..home..." Where was that now? The little ruin wasn't home anymore and would never be again. There really wasn't a home to go back to. It was just a place that held a few nice memories, but the warmth was gone from it. Many ponies in the wastes may never know such kindness as he'd been given.

If the pain now was the price to be paid, that was okay, it was well worth it. More misery surely lay ahead before this was over. Something inside tugged and said this was just the beginning. How much was it going to hurt before he'd paid his due? How much pain could he endure before giving out? His mind already wanted to just shut down. Not yet. Keep going.

"Let me get the answer I'm after. Just that much and you can take all you want from me. Deal?" Spoken aloud. What did it matter right now? If anything was coming it would be here by now. All that was entirely too noisy. If there were any ponies around to hear there was no way they would have ignored such a din.

Ignoring something like that would quickly get you killed in the wastes. It seemed he was bound to die regardless. Just getting his answer was literally the only idea still moving his hooves forward. The pace was slow once again. There must be a building around somewhere to hide himself away in and rest. It was still such a long way to go. According to a large long since fallen sign ahead was someplace called 'Lilcolt Park'. In what was once a cart lot a building with the titles 'Lilcolt Motel and Coffee Shop' still stood. Coffee? Motel? What were those? These words meant nothing to him. It was dilapidated as many buildings were anymore. It would have to serve. He was in no condition to keep traveling today.

A little counter greeted inside. A till still containing a few bits was toppled onto the floor. Nopony had been in here in a very long time. There were, however, some radroaches to dispatch before it would be safe to rest. One of the few things to survive the war they were wretched little things. A minor nuisance at best. An actual danger at most if found in very large numbers and best avoided wherever possible. Killing one tended to excite the others into a bit of a frenzy. Their bite was just hard enough to make a single one hurt. Many at once could actually pose a serious threat. There were only a few here. There must not be enough food of any sort around to sustain more.

What else they may feed on aside from flesh and each other was not a question he wanted answers to. The scurrying things presence was always unwelcome. It could not really be made safer inside the little building. A quick look throughout both floors did not reveal anything else useful. The few bits were a nice addition. Almost too tired to even move anymore the packs were set behind the counter. The building was located on a bit of a slope and the floors slanted over the years somewhat. He lay on his side out of sight. It wasn't comfortable. Nothing ever did seem like it was. If only his cot was here. Falling asleep like this lead to a dream about sleeping in it.

A dream in which he was more comfortable than he actually was proved to be quite interesting. The rest was well needed. Many hours passed. Some crashing noise brought wakeful awareness intruding into the pleasant dream. Something was outside. A loud voice? A regular pony voice! Could it be? There was somepony left after all?

"Ahh hah haaah. Smell ponneee inside!" What!? A rather large hoof smashed through the wall. What was this? Not good.

"I do good job. Take pony to pit!" Pit?

There was no time to move as another hoof smashed through what was left of the wall flinging him backwards against the counter so hard his head smacked off the top of it with such force the world went dark once more.

"Uhhh. What?" Something wasn't right. His head hurt very badly. As his eyes tried to open and adjust he nearly screamed. He must be dead. The world was upside down. No. Wait. Not the world. Just him. He was hanging a little too high over an impossibly huge deep pile of pony corpses in an impossibly large crater. Before the war they'd been excavating here for some reason. Digging deep. He did not know this.

His right hind leg was wrapped in a chain hanging down from an ancient crane, holding him aloft. He didn't know the name of the machine. Any other time it would have held interest. Right now he was noticing the dead ponies all looked like they'd been chewed on in various places. That smell. This was what it was coming from. This pile of rotting bits of flesh and fur. This could possibly be what was left of all the ponies in the north end of the city. What happened? No wonder he hadn't found any others during his wandering. They might very well all be dead. What could have done all this? The scent was horrifying, causing fits of gagging. Not just the scent, but the sight of it.

"Ponnee awake hahhaa?" A deep drawn out voice said. Trying to look around was difficult like this. It made him twirl in the chain and feel even more ill. Over there by the edge of this pit of bodies. A tremendously strong looking, huge deformed and unshapely pony stood there. It was more a big lumpy walking egg on pony legs than an actual pony. One eye was tiny and indented in. Its muzzle angled disturbingly to the side. The other eye was enormous. It was a sickly white color. No fur adorned it. Only the slightest line of a mane down its back. It appeared to have no tail. What twisted creature was this now? It was not like the other things. It did look like a pony as misshapen as it was.

It spoke loudly and deep, almost rumbling when it talked. It sounded slow, sluggish. This could not be good.

"Who are you?" He called down to this sickly looking thing. It was almost twice his size. So very bad.

"Me am The Butcher. Who you?" That loud and deep rumble called back. The Butcher? That didn't sound good. Was it really asking who he was? What is going on here? This thing looked so bizarre. So disproportioned. Maybe he'd hit his head harder than he thought?

"I'm...Bolt. What do you want?" It couldn't hurt to answer that now.

"Ais..I iss..sizzzelenn.. Uhh Dark ponnnee late. Get lonely. Find funny pony. Not be lonely!" It sounded entirely too happy about this.

"How old are you?" Keep it talking for now. Ask it anything. It felt like he'd been dragged on his back a good distance before being hung up and left swinging. Was it talking about Aissenfelle? It really appeared quite old.

"Me two...two hundred days old!" Days? It looked ancient. Did he mean to say he was two hundred years old? Could it be? It can't. Was it possible? Could this twisted thing really be a pony from back then? No way.

This was certainly not how he'd imagined one of them.

"What happened to these ponies?" Bolt pointed an accusing hoof at the pile of bodies. Being upside down like this was making so much blood rush to his head it was hurting even worse and making it hard to think. That knock to the head was really bad.

"Stupid Ponies no help Butch. Hungry. Long time. No share food. Think, ponies eat food. Food inside ponies. Butch eat ponies, get food!" Oh no. It ate them? There did seem to be a subtle red stain across its disturbingly sloped muzzle.

Don't panic. Don't panic.

"Where did you come from?" Anything to keep it talking. Buy some time. It seemed happy enough to talk.

"Come from before. When stupid ponies make fun of Butch. Speak funny. Look funny. Call monster. Always..make fun of..." It looked sad? Before? Before what? Who would make fun of this thing? Could it have been more normal before whatever happened to it?

"Before what?" Must keep coming up with questions. Keep it amused. Figure a way out of this.

As they were talking he'd been trying to slip loose from the chain. It wasn't working so far. There must be a way to get out of this. He also didn't want to fall at a bad angle. It would be easy enough to break a leg or his neck at this height above the pile of bodies. Still choking and coughing occasionally wasn't helping.

"Before war come. War end. Stupid ponies die, but Butch no am stupid pony. Smart. Hide underneath. Not die. Get more bigger." It happily bantered away, smiling with yellowish fang-like teeth. What was it so darned happy about? Underneath? Underneath what? Get bigger? It was truly a behemoth now. How big was it before?

If that wasn't a lie it really was that old. By some twist of fate it lived this long.

"Why did you bring me here?" Right now this odd creature was quite content to talk. Hopefully it wouldn't get hungry anytime soon.

"Boss say eat. Throw stupid ponies in pit. The Butcher do good job. Boss say good job. Butcher happy. Butcher never happy before." Its responses were almost cheerful. Wait. Boss? Did it really say that?

"Boss! You know Boss!?" Did it? Why would it?

"Boss come. No make fun of Butch. Say name The Butcher. Give special job. Make feel important. Friend." It sounded so happy. Friend? Why? How could this be? This thing worked for Boss?

"Why would you work for Boss? What does he have to offer you?" Maybe he would get an answer about Boss of some kind finally?

"Ponies always laugh when see Butch. Hate laughing ponies! Butch make go away." Uh-oh. It was starting to sound angry now. Careful. It was still speaking.

"Boss say The Butcher do good job, give reward. No want reward. Like have job! Never have job before." Again it sounded happy. What was with this guy? The tallest building he'd ever seen was just over a ridge a little out of view. How far was he dragged? Hopefully the packs were still alright, safely hidden in their little spot behind the counter. The skyscraper lived up to the name. He'd known some were very tall, but this must reach 44 stories into the air or more. It was immense to him. A gigantic monument to pony folly. They really must have been prideful to build something like that. It was hard to think of the thing below as a pony. It was some kind of monster. It must be. It ate other ponies.

There was one thing he could do. Might be a bit risky.

"Do you want to know where Aissenfelle is?" Bolt asked of this oddly immense rounded lumpy pony thing.

"Him late. Where at?" So he did know that thing.

"In the cemetery. He's waiting there for you. He needs help." This really was a gamble. Something to make Butch go away for a while.

"Darkness ponnee need help? Butch him help!" It lumbered off, sort of almost hopping and bobbing along. How odd.

While it was off trying to find Aissenfelle it was time to get loose. As it galloped away he began swinging back and forth, having almost worked loose from the chain wrapped around his leg. Now it was just a matter of timing to land on the side of the pit without injury.

"One..two..three!" Twisting loose of it just as it hit the top of the arc sent him dropping hard against the edge, trying to scramble up and not slip into the deep hole so full of the poor souls devoured by this Butcher as it had taken to calling itself. Able to stand upright at last took a few moments to get used to.

The leg which was wrapped in chain was now totally numb. How long was he up there? It must have been a good long while. The cemetery couldn't be too far away from here. The packs should still be in the little building not too far off.

"Well, I know which direction he went in anyway, but now what do I do?" That thing would not be gone for very long. It would probably be angry when it returned. What did it matter? It was probably going to try and eat him anyway.

"Ah, my leg. I can hardly move it." It was taking a long time to get the feeling back in it. The only way down from here was to walk carefully under the edge of the precariously situated machine to the other side where a slope would allow a safe stroll down.

The huge steel crane still sat ready to do some job or other. Whatever it was doing when the world stopped escaped him. Now, it was just another object from the distant past. Something to wonder about in passing, but of little value otherwise. The old metal looked strained, almost ready to snap from age and neglect. Better get out of here. It was dangerous and slow, trying to walk past the bulk of the old machinery without slipping. Finally, he managed to get up behind it. The leg was feeling better, but that awful pins and needles feeling was taking a long time to get rid of. So hard to walk like this. There was a crunching sound somewhere down the hill. Oh no. It can't be back already?

If it was then it was much faster than it looked. There, at the bottom the creature loomed into view. The large eye bloodshot hideously. It looked very upset and snorted, yelling.

"You think smart pony! Trick The Butcher! You am no smarty pony. The Butcher am smart pony. You am stupid pony! Make The Butcher angry! The Butcher smash stupid pony!" Growling and blomping along in that weird way as it hopped up the rise.

"How you loose? Oooh. Boss not like. The Butcher fix! Fix good! Do good job!" Uh-oh.

There was no time and nowhere to go. It was barreling straight at him up the hill. The only thing between it and him was the crane. Growling and getting closer and closer. It was so huge.

"No, wait, don't!" This disturbing but somehow pitiful thing wasn't listening and heading straight at the crane.

"Hate stupid laughing ponies! Stop laughing!" No one was laughing. Its insane. Was it always? This poor tormented thing. Was it treated badly even before the war? Probably. Now, it was just being used in some vulgar game or something equally as disturbing thought up by Boss, it must be. Easily manipulated. What else could it be?

Nopony would be this things friend. Not really. In some way it deserved respect, and pity. These things are not given lightly or freely in the wastes, and never to something like this. It was not like the dark creatures he'd fought. It really was a pony once. Was it like him? Left all alone, abandoned maybe? Except it was never given a chance. Nopony saved it from loneliness and pain. There was no time to ask. Stop. Please, stop.

"Stop! You've got to stop!" It was no use. Darting behind the crane and leaping as far as possible at the last instant, its great bulk smashed into the already unbalanced machine which sent it toppling, twisting in a circular motion as the ancient steel couldn't take it anymore.

The support across which the remaining guidewires hung for so long snapped with a terrible twang. The body of the crane swung around with an awful groan given out by the bending metal. Everything came crashing down sending dust and metal pieces landing all over the place, half burying the pile of ponies in dirt. A sad mass grave for them. It took a while for the cloud of debris to settle, and an even longer time to stop choking on it.

"Am I still alive? Guess I must be." Somehow, Bolt was alright. Not even a cut or a bruise from all that. Where was... It was half crushed under the edge of the huge steel support, and still alive. It can't be? It couldn't move.

Twitching, and crying? It sounded like a foal. It was simpering and sniveling like a little baby. This incredibly powerful thing doing something like that was not something he'd expected. It sounded so weak, miserable. This feels wrong. Why does this of all things feel wrong? It should die. Hurry up and die already.

"No! no! no! Butch lose job! Butch was happy! Happy! hhaaw blubfbluuu." It was making weird noises and sniffling. What now? It was dying, but what was up with this? It looked upwards with such sad, pleading eyes.

"Butch am..scared. No want die. You save Butch?" It was asking to be saved? It was impossible.

The thing was nearly cut in half by the falling machinery. Freeing it from beneath all the metal would just make it die faster.

"I'm..sorry? I cannot save you." Why did this feel so bad? So wrong? This thing alone murdered, killed and ate so many ponies. Why did it hurt so much to see it suffer in turn? It must deserve this. It must. If anything deserved to suffer it was this miserable thing.

"It okay. Maybe..see....mommy now?" Mommy? What? It was difficult to think of this thing ever having parents. Did it at one time?

"I, I don't know." Why was he crying? Stop crying for this thing. Stop crying. Stop it. Stop it.

"Butch love mommy...make feel...safe....not...laugh...." A final wheeze and its head hit the ground.

"Buck it all! Stop crying! Stop crying! I can't feel like this for this monster! I can't! Stop! STOP!" Why wouldn't the tears stop? It doesn't deserve them. Angrily he kicked up dust and trotted in circles, trying to work it off. Why won't they stop?

"AAAAH!" Was anything ever going to be right again? Ever? Screaming at the top of his lungs was a needed release. Finally, they stopped. So much misery. So much pain. Was there no end to it?

Was death the only way to make it stop hurting? Boss caused all of this, somehow. He must be the most horrible pony in all the world to have been behind this. The pit full of ponies was evidence enough.

"Boss! I am going to find you, and then I'm going to kill you if it takes the rest of my life." He'd never felt so angry before. Not at anything. Not one thing was ever worth it before. Boss must be made to pay for this. How did he do it? What could possibly have prompted him to set something like this in motion? There was no logic to it. How did it help him any? This would make an enemy out of every pony there was. Boss was no pony either, surely, just another kind of monster.

One that must pay a heavy price.

"Forgive me for calling on you one last time, master. I have a final favor to ask of you." Could his spirit be out there somewhere, listening, watching? He hoped so. Even if not, there was something he needed to do before continuing, and headed towards that huge building in the distance. From here it only took about ten minutes to reach it. He shook himself off vigorously as much to help steel his nerves as get the dust off, leaving him a bit puffy looking. Gazing up at this old rickety tower climbing high into the sky and taking deep breaths before stepping inside.

There was something to face before once more trying to find a way into the south of the city.

"Help me do this. I should have asked you a long time ago." This building was once called the Grand Celestial Hotel. A name lost to time and memory. Long since worn from the entranceway into the one time posh lobby. Now, just another dangerous swaying tower awaiting its own miserable end. It held up surprisingly well. The first floor elevator door still flicked open and shut slowly, sparks occasionally shooting off the call panel. Some slim spark of power still reaching it from somewhere. Technology still held his interest. Not right now. Climb one set of stairs at a time.

On various sides of the building some pieces of outer walls, floors and other things had fallen away. Don't look out there, not yet. Just climb. Go up. It felt weirder and weirder in his gut as he climbed. Don't think about it. Climb. No fear. There is nothing to be afraid of. Each step up felt heavy and hard to take. How many steps would it take to reach the very top? He could just run up them. No. This was one thing to take slowly. One story at a time. It got harder after the fourth. Much harder after the seventh. Still such a long way to go. Inside there was a building uneasiness. Be calm. Just imagine hes right behind you, encouraging as always. He won't let you down. Watch your steps and keep going up.

That is all you have to do. The building felt like it might be swaying a little at this altitude. Perhaps just imagination. In a way it was relaxing. Nothing to think about but inching upwards inexorably. Just breathe. No hurry. No rush. Nothing trying to kill you. Nopony likely climbed this swaying tower since time immemorial. There were safer places to scavenge and explore. Did ponies die in here, too? It has stood up this long. It will wait for you. Step by step. Each floor welcoming his presence after such a long dearth of anything living treading this way. Interesting things lay strewn about everywhere. What were they all for? Did anypony in here expect what was coming for them?

Did they survive to leave this place, or were they swallowed up by whatever fell upon them? They built this and trusted it to stand, holding them up in the very sky. So confident. Was that their downfall? How many floors am I up now? No, don't think about it. By floor thirty it almost felt difficult to breathe. Only an imagining brought on in worry.

"I have to do this. If I am to be fearless in the face of fear itself I must rid myself of this one weakness. Help me do this." Only a little further. If the ponies of old could believe in their safety atop this mountain they built out of stone and steel then he could do it too. It may be damaged and old, but it still stood. Still, be cautious.

Careful steps over missing stairs or pieces of flooring. It would be all too easy to slip and fall much too far. It would also be a fast way out. Out of this existence now solely consistent of pain and suffering.

"Why is this so hard? I'm not scared of this. I am not. I'm not scared of pain. I just don't like it very much." He'd been muttering to himself nearly the entire way up. Maybe ten more floors. Numerous times he'd needed to stop and just hold still for a few moments, clinging to the stairs. It was grueling. It was fear. A fear that needed to be discarded. A weakness that could hold him back. The building definitely felt a little wobbly at this height.

Something anyone that ever strode atop such a thing would have gotten used to over time.

"Not much further. I'm doing alright. This is alright." He was actually shaking quite heavily despite this brave statement. Ponies weren't meant for this. No, they made this. Maybe it wasn't out of pride. Maybe they'd actually been too brave, too inconsiderate of the consequences. The great ponies of times past built straight towards the heavens to hold themselves up like gods and been punished for their arrogance and hubris. Could that be it? Is that why the world was like this now? What did it matter? They were gone, and this is all that was left.

A bunch of ruined buildings long left to decay and fall, taking their memories with them. How many lived here? It just kept going up and up. There were a lot of missing steps this far up. Chunks of wall long ago fallen away. Very exposed. A few jumps were necessary.

"Don't think. Climb." It was the only way. It must be done. Get rid of it. A little over an hour after beginning this torturous flight of fancy he took a wobbly step out onto what was left of the very pinnacle and lay flat against what was left of the roof.

"Get up. Get up." Taking deep breaths and forcing himself to move against his shuddering body to finally take a peek over the one edge still intact atop the massive building. The sight was breathtaking. It looked as if all Manehattan was within view. How many ponies ever got to see the world like this? The fear almost seemed to drop away of its own accord. It was almost beautiful. What did the city look like from up here when it was new? It must have been glorious. So much so that it brought tears to his eyes once again. Was this why they built so high? Maybe they weren't so prideful after all. Wait, what is that? Something else could be seen from so far up here. Something awful.

"By all that is pony!" He gasped loudly. What could be seen from so far above was a humongous bloody-looking symbol carved out in the ground about the entire northern section of the city, ringing it for miles. It cannot be.

- - - -

True suffering. We all know of it, but what pain could be worth all this?

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