• Published 21st Feb 2012
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Fallout Equestria: Tales of a Courier Reloaded - a friendly hobo



This is the story of Clover and his quest for revenge.

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Chapter 15: Once More Unto the Breach

Chapter 15: Once more unto the breach.

The massive station door closed behind us as we were plunged into a cold engulfing darkness that seemed to creep in on all sides. A breeze of cold air blew down the tunnel, making the mane on my neck stand on end. I shuddered in the cold before pulling my hood up over my head and peering out.

I heard some faint clicking, followed by some grumbling from a familiar griffin before the dull orange light of Tallie’s makeshift heater turned on. One by one the group’s flashlights flicked on, illuminating the passage ahead. I quickly took up position next to Tinder Two-Tails.

“S-So… what was up with that filly?” I asked through chattering teeth. “The b-big one at the door I m-muh-mean.” I could almost see Tinder’s determined face under his foggy, scratched mask.

The bearded stallion looked down at me and chuckled. “Who? Tiny? Yeah, unique kid that. Biggest pony I’ve ever known.”

I couldn’t help but think of the photos Stitches had shown us in her lab, one in particular standing out. “She’s one of those Behemoths, isn’t she?” I asked, remembering the name of the giant mutants.

Tinder stopped in his tracks, giving me a blank stare as to say ‘seriously’. He quickly burst into a hearty laugh. “You seriously believed her?!” he asked, giving me a firm slap on the shoulder. “Clover, dude, she says that to everyone. There’s no such thing as a Behemoth! Tiny’s the only example of anything close!”

My face flushed with a beet red, silently cursing myself that I believed it. Thank goodness I was still wearing my mask. I knew it was too impossible. “Whatever…” I grunted. “How long until we surface?”

Hammerhead, the mutated minotaur, piped up from up ahead as the others snickered at my expense. I’m sure most of them thought it was true too! “We’re gonna be down here for about a mile. That’ll get us closer to the tower!”

“Mkay…” I mumbled. An hour trapped in the tunnels under Mustang. Just where I wanted to be!

The ponies around me seemed to be doing well, especially Short Fuse. For someone who probably had some severe PTSD, she was still marching along, weapons ready for anything. She was clinging close to Featherweight though, which was understandable. Of course, Mayflowers was up front with Spook and Hammerhead, pretending to be our leader.

Tallie was perched on Lollipop’s back, clinging to her jury-rigged heater like it was a warm teddy-bear. The little griffin looked like a pillow with her jacket fluffed up around her, illuminated by the orange glow. Lollipop didn’t seem to mind it either, unless her mind was just set on other things.

Ace, however, remained beside me as Tinder trotted forward to take point with Hammerhead. The rest talked amongst themselves, about Mustang, gear, and anything else to break the cold silence.

“So, uh…” I began reaching back to scratch the back of my head. Bad idea to do it mid step as I stumbled and face planted.

Ace giggled as she helped me up and dusted me off. “Clumsy stallion,” she said before trotting off again. “Left hoof, right hoof. Haven’t forgotten that, have you?”

Left hoof, right hoof. No, left… or was it right.... As soon as my hooves got the message I was ready again. “So! Ace!” I started again, this time keeping my hoofing. “That kiss, uh… does that mean…”

The beige mare shook her head and patted my shoulder. I could see her expression through her gas mask and it didn’t fill me with much confidence. “Clover, we're in a below freezing hallway, underneath a dead pre-war city, with mutants prowling about waiting to kill us. Not the time."

Yeah, I knew. I was a coward and she didn’t want to be seen dating me. I got it. Yep. Great. Then again, she did have quite the attitude when we first met so there could be some of that creeping back into it. “Alright,” I finally said with a nod. Either way, I’d find out eventually. I really did like her.

Seconds turned to minutes like a sleepy snail’s crawl. Occasionally there’d be a drip or a faint howl of wind that made my skin wriggle. Other than that, silence... and my teeth chattering behind my gas mask.

The tunnel’s walls had thick wires running along it in all sorts of patterns. Large pipes and metal beams flanked them, separated by missing chunks that revealed the frozen dirt beyond. The tunnel was remarkably clear save for the occasional rubble. The monotonous walls were broken up by long passageways leading into the abyss beyond. I shone my light down one seeing no end to the hall. I shuddered as I stared into the nothingness, a faint laughter echoing in the back of my head.

“Alright, folks!” Tinder boomed from up ahead, making me jump in my coat, and Tallie chirp in surprise. “We’re about halfway! We’re right under Stormclaw Square!” He turned towards the tunnel again and kept walking, his guns pointed forward. “Fun fact about the square, it was built two hundred and fifty-three years ago in honour of Andrea Stormclaw, the griffin who united the-”

The ground shook suddenly, causing rubble to sprinkle down on us from above and for me to jump so high I almost impaled myself on an icicle. The group froze and looked around somewhat frantically. Fuse was huddled against Featherweight aiming her gun at anything and everything frantically.

“That’s new…” Hammerhead said as she scanned the tunnel ahead with her assault rifle. Nothing was coming… “Sounded like a detonation.”

Fuse frantically nodded. “Close, thirty to fifty meter radius, sounded like a… forty-five to fifty-five kilo bomb.” I knew Fuse was a competent demolitions expert, but there was just no way she was that good. “Considering where we are… a frozen bomb got loose and fell from its perch.”

“Logical…” Geoff the mutant griffin whispered as the tentacles unravelled from around his arms. They grabbed two SMGs holstered on his back and started scanning the area with them. “I can’t think of anything else.”

Tinder nodded and began moving again. “Then let’s hope it took some freaks with it.” Freaks? He did know the company he was keeping, right? “Let’s keep mo-”

THUMP!

Another ground shaking explosion, this time closer. Tinder froze in his path and looked over his shoulder. “That can’t be a coinci-”

WHUMP!

The ground shook even harder as rubble started to come down in bricks. Copper Wire’s eyes grew to the size of dinner plates before he spoke up in his super high pitched voice. “Guys… guys! Get moving!”

Looking up I saw why. Massive fissures began to crack along the decayed mortar of the ceiling as thick bricks began to fall to the ground with a sickening crunch that threatened to make my brain come out my eyes. It looked as if the entire ceiling could come down!

“Too late!” Tinder called. “Duck and cover!”

The tunnel’s air filled with dust as large chunks fell around us. One of the pipes cracked, bursting from the ceiling with a massive clang, spewing out slush, ice, and a frozen rat.

I shook my head and tried to get focused. As the panic set in my heart begab beating furiously as I frantically searched for cover. A faint voice, one that I’d become familiar with, shouted at me to duck to my left. My legs moved on their own as I found myself suddenly thrust into a side passage.

Another chunk landed as I looked up from my fallen heap, then Lollipop landed on top of me. She quickly picked me up and threw me further into the tunnel like I was made from feathers, and stood by the entrance, guiding people in.

Tinder was next, then Copper Wire, and lastly Mayflowers. Just as she scrambled through, the doorway collapsed, closing it off from the tunnel. I could still hear the shouts behind it and the falling rubble crashing down before, then that terrible silence.

I scrambled to my hooves and gasped. The rest didn’t make it through! They must have been crushed and buried under all that concrete and dirt! I sprinted forward and started to hopelessly dig at the rubble. “Ace!” I shouted. “Tallie!” My heart thumped in my chest. Tallie must have scrambled off Lollipop’s back in the panic!

Tinder dug at his ear and started yelling into his microphone. “Geoff? Spook? Hammerhead! Someone! Anyone! Respond!” Mayflowers was doing the same with her team, both looked more angry than scared. My heart was racing. My friends, almost all the people I had left in the world, the ones I could trust, gone. Lollipop started digging beside me, seeing my panic. It was the only way to help.

Suddenly, there was a cough in my earpiece. Hope started to swell inside me as Ace’s voice cut through the dirt, but it was staticy. “Clove-! Clover, tha- Goddesses!” she said, her voice cutting out from interference. “We- -kay -alright. -some- -soldiers and- -ghost. Spook? Tallie- Lollipop okay?”

My heart sank again. “I-I don’t have Tallie,” I whispered, then started digging again. “Please please please be okay!” I shouted, digging.

Another voice cracked through. “This is Hammerhead!” the thick voice of the mutant minotaur called into my ear. “We’re alright! Got civvies with me! -explosives chick and- Geoff and... Tallie? Yeah, Tallie!”

My heart couldn’t handle this. Dropping then soaring then dropping again. I stopped digging and sat down, panting. Thank Floyd, or whoever Tallie decided to pray to. “Tallie! Ace, Tallie’s okay!” I heard a garbled sigh of relief on the radio.

“Everyone’s accounted for,” Mayflowers confirmed with a nod. “Now what the fuck happened?! How far off course are we?”

Tinder hummed and checked the rubble. “Looks like we’re separated for now. Cave in. I’m keen to find out, because either ice sheets are melting or the psycho-animals out there have ordinance,” The stallion grumbled to himself and looked down the narrow, dark passage way. “Alright, all units, looks like we’re moving in teams. This is team one, Spook team two, and Hammerhead three. With all the radio shit going on we may lose contact. Everyone find a way out and head for the tower, over.”

Hammerhead’s voice chimed through with a confirm, Spook’s clicked once for an affirmative. Why even give him a mic?

“Clover?” Ace’s voice called through the static creeping into my headset. “Clover. -safe, stay focu-, and alive. -see you at the-” was all I heard before her voice cut out.

“I’ll t-try,” I replied, hoping the message got through.

Lollipop tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a stern nod. “We’re gonna be okay, Clover,” she said. “I’ll make sure of it.” Mayflowers rolled her eyes behind Lollipop as she walked down the hallway. Somehow, something about having Lollipop’s friendship made me feel safe. She was a strange one; I’m sure I’ve said this before. Grinning like a maniac one moment, motherly the second, strange, but as long as she was my friend I’d be safe.

I looked back at the rubble, then down the hall. Tallie must be going nuts alone. Poor kid…. I couldn’t wait to see them again. Ace, Tallie, even Fuse and Featherweight. They were nice. I’d trade Mayflowers for either any day of the week.

We began our march down the long hallway, into the black beyond.

--- --- ---

The tunnel twisted and turned ahead of us as we walked in silence. Every few minutes we’d try to check in with other groups, but the interference increased until the point where we only garbled static. They were on their own, and so were we.

If anyone was in trouble it was me. I almost fell apart again just after the tunnel collapsed. Succumbing to fear and panic, two things I vowed I wouldn’t fall to again. One day I’d get it; after all, Neighgas wasn’t built in a day!

Tinder shone his light up at the ceiling, revealing a ladder heading into even more darkness. “Better than waitin’ down here,” he said, looking to us. “Pretty sure this one gets us about… not far from the rendezvous point.” He nodded at Copper-Wire and Lollipop. “You two cover our asses, Clover and me’ll secure up top.”

Me part of the point-team? I wanted to say no. “I’ve got your back,” I said, as confidently as I could. Not sure how that came across though, but apparently it was enough to warrant a nod before Tinder took the lead.

Wrapping my hooves around the rungs, I followed after, keeping my mind on surviving rather than whatever scary stuff might be up top. Thankfully, I didn’t need to climb for long. With one great heave, Tinder removed the manhole and climbed up, assault rifle at the ready. Scanning the room, he barked for me to follow.

We’d surfaced in a small workshop it seemed, which made sense; the tunnel we’d scampered into was a maintenance passage. The room itself was cold and plain; just a workbench, some lockers, and some loose wires.

“Door,” Tinder said, nodding to it. I nodded back and leaned against it while the stallion ordered the others to come up.

I opened the door a crack to peek outside. It was a little difficult at first because of the snow and ice around it, but it budged with a little bit of brute-strength. Outside was bright, but not sunny. The cold overcast still hung overhead and the wind caused the falling snow to whirl and spin around the building tops. Thankfully, it was calmer down on the ground.

The calm could be attributed to the complete lack of life around us. Not even a track in the fresh snow, much to my relief. My body shook as the cold washed over me, making me pull the camouflage canvas sheet on my back around me. There wasn’t much in the snow; a few large pieces of metal debris, some with a yellow-brown rag material fluttering in the wind.

Lollipop put a hoof on my shoulder, peeking out the door with me. She gave a pat and a nod, which I returned, before pushing the door open. Tinder took point again, the crunch of his hooves through the snow clear as day even below the howling winds. I took the second position with my SMG, while Copper and Lollipop took the rear. We moved in silence, listening for any movement or howl. Anything that would spell bad news for us.

The snow was beautiful, I must admit. Given another context, I’d easily immerse myself in it. The snow glistened and twinkled in the little light we had, and made satisfying noises as we made our way through it. Even when it covered the frozen bodies of scavengers and ancient soldiers alike. Lollipop and I made sure to stop and procure anything we could of use from the bodies, knowing they wouldn’t need it anymore. We made sure to say thank-you though, hopefully that’d stop us being haunted.

I’d long given up on wondering how the city got frozen like it did. It was probably some magical bullshit that only scientists would understand, not small town farmers like me. Give me a tree and some good metal shoes and I’ll tell you the best way to buck a tree. Talk about snow magic though, and you’ll lose me at ‘snow’.

I was beginning to get worried about our tracks carving a path straight to us, making me constantly watch over my shoulder, but thankfully my worries were put to rest when I spotted Copper dusting snow into our tracks. It wasn’t the best camouflage, but it was good enough to be missed at first glance.

Nothing stirred around us. The city remained as dead as the fateful day it fell two hundred years ago. Not even the howl of a mutant pierced through the air. To be honest, the serenity was killing me. My nerves were already on edge, frayed and running thin. Anything could pop out at us. Anything.

The only thing that put me at ease was Two-Tail’s decision to cut through a ruined building. It stood several levels tall with a long vertical sign hanging from the side of it. The bulbs along the sides had frosted over and shattered long ago, and the lettering was covered in snow.

Even as we ventured inside I couldn’t tell what we were entering. I’d never seen anything like it. Counters and displays stood everywhere around us, with silhouettes of all shapes and sizes. The first one made me jump, but upon closer inspection I realised it was just a mannequin. It was like a museum for shopping! One giant store with counters for everything. There were multiple floors above us, but our bearded leader walked straight past the metal mechanical escalator and straight for a small doorway. Nobody even considered to stop and look for loot. We were on a tight schedule. Every second we waited meant another second our friends could be in trouble.

The thought of Tallie or Ace in trouble… no, they could get out of it. I had to focus on helping the others and myself survive the near future.

I followed the mutant through the halls, watching as his dual tails bobbed in front of me. It took me longer than I want to admit to realise that I was staring at another stallion’s ass. Something Shamrock would have playfully teased me with back at home in our favourite pub.

Now was one of those times he’d tell me to stay strong. When the going gets tough, slog through it and have a pint when you win. My hoof to whoever looked down on us from above, I would have that pint.

The building’s halls were small and dark, only illuminated by our flashlights. It wasn’t long before we reached an emergency exit door sitting pretty under a green sign. The push bar was mangled and twisted, obviously by panicked hooves. I hoped they got out.

One quick shove and it jolted, moving only a few centimeters. The stallion in front of me looked to me and jerked his head towards it, wordlessly demanding my help. Who was I to say no to someone who was helping me with my mission? A mission that could benefit so many people if it turned out well. I stepped forward and gave the door the strongest push I could.

Gradually, the door pushed against the barricading snow, shoveling it to the side until it was open just enough for us to get through with our equipment, even Lollipop with her machine gun. On the other side of the door was a sight I seriously wasn’t expecting. Then again, what was I expecting to see in a place like this?

Before us, propped up against a ruined building, no doubt having crashed through it, was the other half of the massive blimp gunship we saw earlier. The back end, too, it seemed. The yellow and brown canvas was torn to shreds over most of it, flapping in the wind like several battle scarred flags.

The massive thing’s fins rested against the building behind it, cutting clean through the bricks and mortar to create a large gash, easy to see through to the other side of it. The square stood beyond it, with a perfect view of a large statue pointing its flag in our direction. Oddly symbolic.

The gunship’s rear weapons were broken and mangled from the impact, with the frozen corpse of its gunner lying outside the pod’s window, dead on impact. The cargo doors hung open, with several crates and supplies spewed out onto the snowy ground. The perfect opportunity.

Without a word, Mayflowers shoved her way past me and made a beeline for the crates “Supplies. Lollipop, Clover, get to work,” the mare demanded, pointing at the crates. For once, I agreed with her.

Not Tinder however. “We ain’t got time to scavenge, Sergeant,” he muttered into the mask-mounted comms.

“With all due respect, sir, these could be valuable to our survival,” she whispered back, pointing out a crate to me as she walked towards the cargo doors.

Tinder shot her a look that I think could have frozen his mask clean off. “Look, don’t be stupid. We need to move,” he almost barked. “The mutants are probably following us. We need to be mobile.”

“We covered our tracks,” Mayflowers retorted. “And this is MY operation, we’re doing this to save MY city, so I say we’re gathering supplies here.” She then gave the cargo bay doors a good kick to punctuate herself.

Bad idea.

The doors creaked as the centuries old hinges moaned and groaned under years of stress. Finally, the whole top one came crashing down on its lower counterpart, producing a loud CLANG. Mayflowers eeped and jumped forward, instantly regretting not listening to the mutant commando. Dumb broad.

The sound reverberated through the buildings around us, echoing loudly. The howling winds far above us almost fell silent as we grit our teeth, hearts beating in our chests.

“...we… need to lea-” Copper began in his high pitched voice, standing stock still as if waiting for something.

Then we heard it. Something that chilled our souls to the very core. A long, guttural howl filled the air, a sound ponies should not be able to make. Something that I knew meant bad news bears for us.

Tinder lifted his rifle as he stared at the buildings. Something that conveyed a message to the other combatants perfectly, as they did the same. Lollipop got a better hoofing as her machine gun clicked a new round into the chamber.

“Now you’ve done it,” Tinder said, calmly. Mayflowers lifted her rifle and shivered, realising her mistake. For someone with admittedly good tactical sense, that was a stupid move. Could her pride really have been that important to her where she needed to prove that she’s in charge? Probably.

We waited in silence, waiting for our enemies, the ugly monstrosities that infested this city. The air was silent for several moments before slowly, the low rumbling of hooves began to pierce through it, followed by multiple howls.

We heard the sounds of hooves echoing from the square; the ground began to vibrate with each stomp.

“Defensive positions!” Tinder yelled to the others and waved a hoof. I watched as ponies scattered around me and took cover behind crates or just inside the blimp’s cargo hold. It took me a few seconds for my hooves to get the message, but finally I dove into the gunner’s pod at the rear, sniper ready. We sat in wait.

The thundering hooves petered out until we were met with silence again. My breath was the only thing I heard, the rim of my mask fogging up slightly. ‘Stay calm. Don’t be afraid’. I thought to myself. ‘You’ll make it. You always do.’ Part of me wanted to run, but an even bigger part wouldn’t let me. If I ran, I’d likely be run down by them. If I stayed and fought, I might just have a chance.

One of the beasts leapt into a clearing of one of the crumbling buildings and stared down at us. Four tentacles waved over its patchy back as it scanned us, then they stood up straight. It was a Reaper, and the same one that I’d shot, saving Mayflowers. A fifth tentacle sat curled up on its back, still bleeding from the night before.

The beast howled up to the sky before we could make a move. It wanted blood, my blood, revenge for me taking a part of him, and he brought friends. Several of the beasts started to pour from the windows and side streets, heading directly for us. Guns and turrets erupted around me as the group fired on them, hosing the fodder with precision only soldiers could manage.

Me on the other hand, I knew it’d be a waste to pick off the fodder. Something told me I’d be more useful focusing on the bigger, harder to kill enemies. I scanned the crowd with my scope, taking long calm breaths, trying to slow down my beating heart. Slowly, I managed to drown out the ratatat of Lollipop’s machineguns, the sentry on Copper’s back, and the shotguns and rifles of Mayflowers and Tinder.

My first target came into view. One of the larger Executioners, a mutant with an elongated head and long spiked hooves, the very same kind that almost killed me the last night, marched over the event horizon of the mutant river. It howled and ordered the beasts around, pointing its long spike at me. Of course, standing still to give orders only helped me.

I lined the crosshairs up against his head and bit down on the trigger. My rifle jolted as the bullet zipped forward and slammed against the beast’s head, spattering brain, ichor, and bone out the back of its elongated cranium. The bastard staggered, then fell in a heap, its spiked hooves flailing out to the side and killing two more mutants. I couldn’t help but give a triumphant “Ha!”

It wouldn’t take long though. With every mutant we put down another two took its place and got one step closer to us until Tinder was smacking them back with the butt of his rifle. “Pour it on ‘em!” he demanded, narrowly avoiding a swinging clawed hoof.

“There’s too many of them!” Copper squealed as he dipped, ducked, dove, and dodged the mutants flailing at him. The SMG sentry on his back made short work of them, but our ammo was finite. “We’re going to be overrun!” He was right. Almost every shot I took impacted on one of the special mutants, and most managed to take only two shots to bring down, but there were more coming in, and the bodies were piling up.

Lollipop was the only one not being dog-piled on, and that was purely because her machine gun spat out so many rounds that it created a literal bullet-wall in front of her. The bullet casings were starting to mound around her, and I could see her eyes in her mask’s view ports narrowed. They looked almost predatory.

“Not if I can help it!” she finally barked over the comm channel. Her gun stopped firing for a moment as her horn began to light up in a brilliant brown. It began to shine brightly, making some of the mutants stop and start shuffling back at its awe. Some of the soldiers around me stood and stared, but quickly went back to shooting baddies. Not me though. I stood and stared.

Slowly, from the light, its magical aura started to seep forward and outwards, like a magical cloud. The mare herself amazingly began to float off the ground, just a few inches at first but soon she was more than a few feet.

The magical aura began to take shape, but it looked like something was inside it. Something impatient. There was a dull howling coming from it, muffled against a magical barrier, but suddenly a face pressed outwards. Not a pony face though, something more akin to a hound. It retracted then pushed out again before its head began to fully form. Then another one. Then a third!

They lurched at the mutants, trying to get in reach but they just weren’t close enough. Not yet at least. More brown magic flowed out of Lollipop’s green horn, forming the creature’s neck, then upper back, then front paws. Now the soldiers had stopped firing, each one totally enthralled by the display. Even the mutants were unsure on what to do, like they’d been hit by a centuries dormant sense of primal fear.

The beast’s body was almost done. Soon its belly and back stood in a thick brown magical field, a bit wobbly around the edges but still solid, like a rock hard piece of jelly. Its back legs took shape along with two massive canine balls, and I’m talking huge! Finally its tail formed, and to complete it, a large black spiked collar grew from the creature’s neck, Lollipop’s magic still firmly attached to it. Underneath her chest armour I could see a faint glow.

The three headed dog, now finally formed, roared up to the skies, magical slobber spraying from its jowls and landing in the snow before dissipating. What happened next I still can’t believe actually happened.

The beast tore off in a straight line towards the mutant, dragging a floating Lollipop along with it. The three heads of the massive canine ripped, tore, and squashed any and all mutants in front of it, carving swathes of destruction around it. The beast batted the bigger mutants aside like they were nothing, and I could almost see an aura form around the dead, only to dissipate moments later.

The mutants were cut down ten by ten as the monster dog tore through them, leaving destruction in its path. The beast even leaped up at one of the surrounding buildings, stuck its three heads into three different windows, and tore some of the griffin mutants out, flinging them to the ground, before tearing large chunks of wall out and throwing them into clumps of freaks as he fell back down to the ground, landing on all fours.

It seemed to focus on one enemy in particular though. One that was barking and screeching at the mutants choosing to retreat, severely pissed off at their insubordination. The crippled Reaper stood alone as the mutants ran, creating an open circle around it. The beast marched straight over to it.

The Reaper was distracted at first before turning to the beast, then slowly looked up. I could see the mean, toothy expression on its face droop as its eyes grew. Instant regret coated its face as it began to backpedal, but running was futile.

Lollipop’s pet beast picked it up by the face in its middle mouth, then flung the beast up into the air! It howled as it flew, flailing around and trying to gain purchase, but it found none. Its howls were cut short as the beast Lunged with all three heads and tore the beast in three. Its torn bodies fell through the magical beast’s stomach and onto the ground after it was swallowed. I could have barfed, but honestly I felt relieved. That’s one less pony… monster… thing trying to kill me.

The beast watched as the mutants fled over the rubble and corpses, running back to the square and their dens or warrens. Slowly, it and Lollipop began to speak in unison, their voices layered. “To the depths of Tartarus with you!” they called in unison, four voices as one. “Where I will keep you for eternity!”

And just as quick as it started, the dog began to fade with a horn flick. It only took about ten seconds, but the magical field retracted back into Lollipop’s horn and her body fell back into the snow.

“Lollipop!” I called out, watching as my friend lay limp in the snow. I scrambled from the broken gunner’s pod and raced across the snow to get to her, but a hoof wrapped under my midsection and pulled me to the ground.

Mayflowers stared with ferocious eyes into my own. “Stay down, Civvie! Whatever the hell that was, I will not let it jeopardize my operation!” she snarled. “It could come back and kill us too, we’re leaving her behi-”

By that point I’d had enough. Every millisecond I stared into her eyes, the more red I began to see. The anger of her not letting me tend to my friend like she’d tended to me was just too much. I grabbed her mask with both of my hooves and slammed my head against it.

In her surprise, she stumbled backwards and shook her head to clear it. “What the…. why yo-” She looked back up at me like she was going to pull her gun out, but she wasn’t quick enough. I sprang at her and pinned her to the ground. I may have been a coward, but I was a damn strong coward.

“Shut. The. Fuck. Up!” I spat in her face (or at least I would have if not for the masks.) “I have had it with you! This isn’t your operation, it's my operation! You’re here to give us protection, nothing more and nothing less. Right now, I don’t give a fuck what you think and you are not stopping me from helping my friend. If anyone’s getting left behind,” I felt the SMG at my side dig into her shoulder. “It's you. There are more competent ponies here who can help me achieve my goals. You can either walk home alone and meet the same fate as the majority of your team, or you can listen, follow, and shut the fuck up.”

The mare stared at me, stunned by my outburst. Almost everyone was, as if I wasn’t capable of it. To tell you the truth, even I didn’t think I could do it. But… it felt good. It felt good to finally unleash the knot in my stomach, let out my inner anger instead of cowering. I felt powerful.

Mayflowers’ eyes softened slightly as she lay limp, staring into my eyes. “I like a strong stallion,” she cooed quietly.

I couldn’t help it. I lifted a hoof off of her foreleg and slammed it into the side of her mask, where the mask met her jaw. She yipped in pain, but… I think she enjoyed it. “Don’t. You. Dare,” I hissed, then got off her. How dare she try and turn on me like that.

I wasted no time darting over to Lollipop as Tinder was helping her up. She was conscious, but weak. “...another ten years off my life… Sorry…” she managed to grunt as she wobbled on her hooves.

“Nothing to be sorry about, you saved our lives,” I said and moved to support her. The sweet, sweet adrenaline was starting to wear off and my injury from last night was starting to burn, even with the potion running through my veins. “What, uh… what was that?”

Lollipop looked up at me, weakly. “I guess you don’t know the tale of Cerberus,” she said, then wobbled again with a gasp of pain. I was quick to hold her steady. “Can’t discuss now. We need to get out of here.”

“She’s right,” Tinder announced, gathering his weapons again. “They might be scared now, but they’ll be back and in greater numbers. Your friend ain’t in the right state to do that crazy shit again, so let’s get mo-”

Timing just wasn’t on our side that day. The air filled with another guttural howl as the second wave began its damned march, edging closer once again after seeing the beast had disappeared. Everyone gathered their weapons as I almost had to drag Lollipop towards the rear. She was in no state to fight.

Copper just stared. “Can’t run…” he said, knowing they’d catch up. “Yep… we’re boned.” His voice was just as squeaky as before, but I couldn’t find any comic effect in it. We didn’t have the ammo or energy to last another wave like that, not without Cerberus.

The first of the monsters started to creep out of the ruins and towards us. We opened fire and they began to run. The brawl had started again, and we all knew our place. I aimed down my scope and got ready for the big guys.

There was one mutant I was hoping I really wouldn’t see. Something told me it would take a lot to bring down, ever since I met one yesterday. Hobbling around on two stone-like legs was a mutated Diamond Dog, turned into the mutant we came to know as a Boulder. It lumbered forward, heading straight towards us. Of course, me taking a shot at its head only chipped the rock and made it stumble a few feet, but it only pissed it off. With a single swing of its large, rock-like arm it crushed a mutant and flung another one aside.

“Shit,” I managed to squeak as it locked its beady eyes on mine, then started to charge, followed by the howl of the mutants around us. Bullets peppered the Boulder, chipping it down but not stopping it, not even for a second.

FWOOOM!

A rocket streaked down from above and detonated on the Boulder’s thick shoulder, blowing everything from its shoulders down the bottom of its ribcage to smithereens, sending bits of rock everywhere. The legs took two more steps then fell.

A faint whine then filled the air before the thunderous roar of a massive gun, something I’d only heard once before. Showers of bullets rained down from above turning the mutants into minced meat, knocking them out of the air as the leaped and thrashed, and making puddles out of most unfortunate enough to be standing still. I knew that combo between bullets and a rocket. I knew who they belonged to, even if I couldn’t believe it.

Looking up, I saw two griffins, one clad in grey and white camouflage with what seemed like foliage around the seams, and the other encased in a massive suit of metal armour, wrapped up in white and grey tarps to the point you could barely see the green camo under it. The griffin’s visor reflected the muzzle flash of his minigun, the blackness of it lighting up nicely.

Garry and Forsythe. Soldiers of the Resistance, brother and sister in arms, literally. The two griffins who had saved my lame ass before, and the ones who I helped bring down a corrupt general, all in one night. I was quite fond of them.

As the hostile mutants fled once more, the griffins flew down to us, flapping their wings almost gracefully against the dark and cloudy sky. Forsythe landed softly on a ledge nearby, barely displacing any snow and scanned the area around us. Garry, on the other hand, not so graceful. The ten-ton-tom landed with a thud, kicking up snow in every direction and aimed his minigun towards the opening.

“Pretty sure at least one person’s told you not to scav in these ruins,” he said over his shoulder. “Scavengers… sometimes I think you’ve got more balls than brains!”

“Hello to you too, Gaz,” I said with a smirk and trotted up next to him. He blinked from behind his visor and looked down at me, recognising my voice. I gave him a fond thump on his armoured shoulder. “Thanks for the help. Again.”

Gaz just shook his head as Forsythe perked up, listening closely. “Clover? Mind telling me what in the hell you’re doing in a place like this? Thought we told you to stay out of trouble.”

“No time to expla-” I was cut off as I felt something collide into my side. The world tumbled around until I found myself pinned to the ground by an excited griffin.

“Clover!” the griffin squealed, then sat up on my belly. “Good to see you again, cutie-pop,” she said with a wink, her hands resting on her chest.

My chest felt like it was about to fall off from the impact, mixed with injuries sustained recently. “H-Hi Forsythe…” I managed to get out around my blush. One glance at Mayflowers sobered me up though. She was glaring absolute hate-daggers at the griffin for some reason. I couldn’t see her mouth, but something told me she was the type to grind her teeth. “We don’t have time to explain. We need to get out of here.”

“Right!” the deep voiced griffin said, hefting me up and letting Forsythe fall on her rump. She quickly got up and flew up to a window, getting a good vantage point. “We’ll escort you to a safe ar-”

“Nope!” I interrupted as I was set down. “We have a rally point to get to. Meet our friends there. Mission to complete.”

The armoured griffin stared down at me for a moment, then nodded, seeing the determination in my eyes I’d guess. I showed him our map and he gave Forsythe some hand signals, to which she nodded and flew up to the top of the building with her rifle. “We don’t have a lot of time, but we’re heading that way anyway to meet up with B-team. Let’s get moving.”

I nodded to him, then gestured to our group to get moving. Nobody objected, either because they wanted to get this over as soon as possible or they just didn’t want to mess with the giant armoured griffin. Either way it was fine with me.

After the firefights and explosions of the past few moments, the silence was extremely comforting. Just me, my friends, Mayflowers, and the snow crunching under our hooves. The wrappings around Gaz’s armour did a very good job of masking the sounds it made when he moved. It reminded me of the white tarp on my back, which made for good camouflage.

The buildings loomed over us, like monuments to the world before us. Bricks, cement, glass, steel, all sorts of materials that once made a city great were cracked and crumbling around us. Not quite as frozen in time as I had previously thought.

By the time an hour had passed I felt damn near frozen, even with all of my equipment, and I’m sure everyone else was feeling it from the shivering and chattering of teeth going on around me. We finally found sanctuary though. Finding our way through a frozen and ruined park we finally got to our our rally point.

It was a tall building, maybe ten stories high, with a lot of its windows blocked by either sandbags or wooden planks. The top of the building had large, fortified balconies overlooking the surrounding areas, and the bottom of the structure seemed even more fortified with metal doors, barbed wire, and a lot of frozen-solid Coalition soldiers in their brown and yellow desert uniforms.

The closer we got I could see the expressions on their faces. Fear, panic, and hatred. Some looked like they were fleeing into the building, while others seemed to shout out in a rage. Most however had their faces covered by masked helmets. One stood out though, a soldier with two fancy machine guns and different armour. Something seemed familiar about it, but I couldn’t put my hoof on it. It looked a lot more advanced than the rest, sporting two large circles at the front, a more heavy-duty set of armoured plates, and a more intimidating mask.

Then it dawned on me. This was the armour that was described in the messages I read back at the Red Zone hospital. The one that was taken over during the war and held hostage. This was the armour that nurse’s son was wearing when they were rescued. Its a pity it was frozen…

Garry marched forward, his minigun spinning up in preparation as he approached the main door. With one swift kick he pounded the door open, letting it swing free of the ice. He scanned the lobby beyond, then waved us in.

The lobby reminded me of the old Fed military bases Shamrock and I passed on our way into the Ponave. Sandbags stacked up along the walls, guns lined up and locked up, but instead of having soldiers milling about, this one had the frozen bodies of several soldiers in varying degrees of injury. Some were holding bullet wounds while others clutched at bloody stumps. Thank goodness the sight was obscured by the ice.

“Top level’s clear,” Forsythe’s voice cooed over the radio. “Think this place is empty, Gaz.” There was a bit of static behind her voice, but I could still hear her clear enough to understand her. Damn jamming… We’d tried time and time again to raise the others, but we were mostly met with static and the very faint calls of their voices. At least they were alive.

“Copy that, ground’s clear. We’re moving up,” Garry said, then looked over his shoulder. “Alright, I don’t know most of you except Clover. He’s a friend to us, so I’m going to trust his decision to work with you.” He had everyone’s attention, even a weak Lollipop who was using Tinder Two-Tails as a support. “Name’s Gary, Resistance Special Operations. My sniper’s Forsythe, and the ponies that will join us are B-team. I’ll get to that later. Once they and your friends get here, we’ll talk about the next step. For now, hunker down and await further instructions. Don’t leave this building.”

“Sounds good to me,” Tinder said, holding out a hoof in introduction. “Tinder. Mustang Ghost Squad leader, he explained.

Everyone introduced themselves, long story short, and began to take up defensive positions. Two ponies stayed in the lobby and barricaded the door, guarding it, while the rest of us headed up the stairs, a few stopping on each floor until it was just me, Lollipop, and Garry.

We passed several different rooms, each one dark but I could still make out the frozen silhouettes of long dead ponies, frozen at the direct moment of the city being frozen. Some were looking over maps, others eating rations, while some near the windows seemed mid-dive to get away from them. We gave up looking for loot though; everything was frozen solid.

Garry soon kicked open a door for us and looked inside. Looked like locker rooms to me, with only one frozen body inside. “Alright, you two should rest in here,” he explained, looking around. “Easy to fortify, no windows, least bodies. Don’t take too long, I need you,” He pointed at me, “on the roof ASAP.”

I remembered Garry being much warmer. Maybe the cold didn’t do much to help his attitude. Whatever though, we get to rest and treat injuries. Fun! “No problem. And again, thanks,” I said with my best smile. He just grunted, nodded, and headed out again and back towards the stairs.

Lollipop slumped onto one of the benches and sighed, looking at most of the open lockers. “What a day, huh?” she asked as she started to go through her pack. Soon she fished out some medical tools and got to work treating herself. Thankfully, nothing broke the skin.

“Yeah…” I said, sitting down before her. “So… that, uh… that dog thing…” I said, trying to figure out how to ask her about it. “...Pretty, erm…. nifty?”

The lime green unicorn let out a small sigh and rested her hooves on her knees. “You deserve an explanation,” she said, looking at the hooves. She then began preparing a healing potion with a needle as she spoke.

“I guess it started before the war. Y’know, the one with the Resistance. When the Federation seemed all sunshine and rainbows. I was a pediatrician.” She checked the needle and gently inserted it into a safe spot on her chest. At least, Stitches mentioned it was safe. “Life was good, y’know? My marriage was going well and I loved kids, which is why I loved my job. Then the war happened.”

I sat back and let her talk as she pulled out the needle and took a deep breath. “My husband was drafted early on. Chose to be an MP back home instead of shipping off. I didn’t like it, but at least he wasn’t a grunt, right? Well, a few years later came my turn.” Lollipop gently shook her head. “I didn’t really get a choice. They looked at my previous experience and chose me to be a medic. Cut down on training costs, got me out into the field sooner… I guess the war wasn’t going on as well as they hoped. I wasn’t pleased but… I had to do what I could for my country.”

The way she almost spat out the last few words definitely shed some light on how she felt about the Feds. If only Ace was there, maybe then she could trust her a little. “I fought for a couple of years, on the front lines, saving my fellow soldiers… I hated it. I wanted nothing more than to be with my husband. The war put everything on hold for us, we were trying for a baby and everything.”

She took a moment to gather her thoughts. I decided to put my hoof over her shoulders in comfort, a move I was glad I made as it seemed to make her relax. “I rarely got to see him, even though we sent each other letters every day. He was worried, but I knew he’d be okay. He was off in the middle of Federation territory guarding a munitions dump. One of the safest places to guard.” She stopped for another moment and looked at her hooves with another sigh. “Did you hear about the Battle of Lonepine?” she finally asked.

I had in fact. “Yeah, I think so. Big stand-off between the Resistance and Federation, lots of casualties. One of the biggest victories for the Federation too, right?” I remembered it as a large battle in the middle of a Resistance-sympathising town near Fort Crossroads in the Ponave. A war of attrition over the town that lasted about two weeks before the Resistance retreated. Quite a few civilian casualties too.

“I was at that battle.” Ah. “It was hell, but we fought through it. Stitch after stitch, potion after potion, our guys were starting to win against the Resistance. Everything seemed to be going well until I saw it.” Her voice caught in her throat as she took another moment. “A child had been hit, and he was losing a lot of blood. I could see his parents taking cover, yelling out for him as bullets zipped by.” Her eyes left her hooves and met mine. I could see tears starting to form. “I couldn’t leave him to die, Clover. I… I couldn’t!”

“You didn’t, did you?” I asked softly, giving her shoulder a squeeze. It was getting harder to listen, but I owed her that and more.

Thankfully she shook her head. “No. Against orders from my sergeant I went and helped him. Shielded him from the fire coming from both sides. I extracted the bullet and started on the wound, focusing almost everything I had on saving his little life, but something was digging in the back of my head. Why wasn’t I being shot at?”

The mare held her hooves to her forehead as she recalled her story. “I didn’t get it. The Resistance hated us, and we were taught to hate them! But over the bullets… I swear to Celestia, I heard the closest ones yelling ‘Don’t shoot the medic! Don’t shoot the medic! Remember your training!’. It was then I realised that they weren’t anarchistic animals. They were trained not to shoot the Butterfly-and-cross of a medic.”

She sniffed and adjusted her mask. “I managed to save the colt though. Got him to his parents and told them to run. Run as far as they could, and they did. I don’t know what happened to them…”

I listened to her story, but I didn’t see the connection to the dog. Not yet. “I don’t know what happened to them in the end. What happened to me though? Well, I was court martialled for aiding rebel sympathisers and thrown in prison.”

“What?!” I asked in disgust. “For saving a child?! They locked you up for that?” How could they think that a child’s family’s political views made them expendable? How?! It was just… so inhumane!

“That’s not even the worst bit.” Uh-oh… “When I was in prison… my husband’s letters stopped. I waited for a week, but nothing. I thought maybe the guards were keeping them from me for being a traitor… no… that wasn’t it.” She took one big deep breath, deeper than any other I’d seen her take. “My husband… was killed in a terrorist attack. Someone had bombed the munitions depot and killed him. No other casualties, just him.”

“Shit… Lollipop, I’m so sorry…” I whispered, trying to help. I knew how it felt, to know someone you loved dearly was dead. Maybe not the same kind of love, but love none the less. It hurt. It left a massive hole inside you that you knew nothing could fill.

“Had to be an inside job…” she managed to sob. “Because I was a traitor maybe? He was the only one to die!” She shook her head. “I thought that it was such a waste! Surely my own government couldn’t be responsible, could it?” Lollipop sniffed again and fought back the tears. “A week later my suspicions were confirmed. I was taken from my cell and led into a room with two scientists and they proposed some sort of… experiment.”

She gulped down hard, shaking violently. “They claimed to have a solution. Something that w-would bring my husband back to us and aid the Federation in the war. If it meant getting the love of my life back? I agreed instantly.”

“I re-remember it clear as day. They strapped me down to a table and… they brought out this… this thing. It looked like a slab of mummified flesh or something. I asked what the hell it was, then… they said the strangest thing… ‘This, Lollipop, is what remains of Cerberus. Gatekeeper of Tartarus.’. The three headed dog from the tales, you remember, right? Apparently that was what was left of his chest. ‘We’re going to infuse it with you. If it all goes right, well…. we’re going to see some serious shit.’.”

“I began to regret it instantly. Reality flooded back. What was I doing? I was subjecting myself to experimentation because… what? I thought I could bring back my husband? He was dead. There’s no cure for dead!” she let out a few sobs, then rubbed her mask. “It was too late. They activated their machines, began the… painful process of merging our DNA. It was so… so painful, like something was trying to dig around my inside with claws made of swords.. I remember blacking out from it.”

“When I came to I felt…. the pain had gone away. I felt powerful, but exhausted. When I opened my eyes, the lab was trashed and the scientists were dead. Torn to shreds in some cases! And I was floating! Just floating in midair, but then I saw it. Coming from my horn was this… this beast! This angry beast that had destroyed the people trying to hurt me.”

If it was anyone else, I’d have stopped listening by then. It seemed so farfetched, but my trust for her and from what I’d seen of the wasteland, from ghoulified minotaurs to crazy anarchists to even zombie spies, her story seemed believable.

“We ran. I knew they only wanted me to be a weapon. Cerberus can’t bring back the dead, he never had before, he told me himself. So we ran. Ran away from the lies, ran away from the deceit. My government had betrayed me. I couldn’t stay. So…. I changed. Would you believe I used to have a white coat and gold mane?”

“I… I think I could picture that,” I mumbled, still listening. It was… an amazing story. Something I should have written down then. Better late than never?

“I shaved my coat… got these tattoos… decided to go tribal to hide away. It worked but only for so long, soon the Federation spies caught on. I was on the lam every few months, then I met you.” She looked up at me again. “Cerberus… he protects me. Sees me as a second chance to fix the world, do his job and banish the monsters to Tartarus… but every time he comes out, I feel weaker and weaker, like years are shaved off my life.”

“That’s… that’s a bad trade off…” I said, then kind of regretted it. Like she didn’t know that before? Come on. “Wait…” I narrowed my eyes. Something seemed... familiar about that situation, and when I think something’s familiar, I know I’d heard of something before. I didn’t feel completely sure, but I thought I’d remembered. “I remember a report on the radio about a bunch of scorpions being exterminated, and cults calling it Cerberus’ work. Was that… y’know… you?”

Lollipop sighed and nodded a little. “Yep. They were about to prey on a caravan and I couldn’t get a good shot. Saved fourteen lives with it at the cost of… well, maybe twenty years? I dunno.” She shifted a little in her seat and looked to the frozen soldier. “That’s my story, I guess. I’m cerberus.” Lollipop shifted again and tilted her head at the body. “I wonder what his story was…” she mumbled, then reached over. “Weird hat. Looks like… ooooh…”

“What?” I asked, standing up and shuffling over. The frozen body was indeed wearing a weird hat, complete with a little ball in the middle of it. Something that got my familiar sense going again. I couldn’t explain the mirror he was holding, but I think I could explain the hat, but it just wasn’t coming to me.

“I think it’s a recollector,” Lollipop said, starting to chip at the ice around the ball. Aha! That’s where I knew it from! That’s like the memory orb I found in that one house where I got the sniper and ammo from! The one where Chester, the backstabbing fink, tried to lock us in the ghoul tunnels!

I reached down and helped her chip out the memory orb, then held it in my booted hoof. “Neat. Wonder what’s on it.”

“Dunno. Need to be a unicorn to access it though, and I’m kinda too tired.” At least she cheered up a little. I rolled the ball around in my hooves for a few seconds, the curiosity getting higher and higher. I looked at her and rolled up my sleeves, motioning to the device on my wrist. Something else I’d picked up from the mysterious sniper, a leather-bound bracelet thing with a couple of wires leading into an orb sized groove. “Or that.”

“But should I?” I asked, sitting down again and looking it over. I was kind of afraid of what could be in it, but I felt… fascinated by it. I’d always loved history, and the last one seemed to vivid, and amazing, even if it was a drill sergeant yelling up my nose.

Lollipop was getting her medical gear set up again. “Up to you, but I’ve got to check on your injuries. See how your lung infection’s going, check your wound from last night, yadda yadda. All pretty hard to do without actually seeing it and stuff. Could be painful.”

“Can you work while I’m in the memory?” I asked, rolling the ball again.

The doggy-mare nodded and got out a large needle, one that made me gulp audible. “Alright, that’s decided. Back soon… hopefully…” I got comfy on the bench and rolled the orb into place. I blinked several times as the bracelet warmed up and accessed the orb. Soon the world started draining from around me and plunged me into darkness.

~ooo OOO ooo ~

An explosion jostled my host, forcing… yep, him, definitely a him, to grab his helmet and grunt, but it didn’t seem to faze him much. Rubble pinked off his helmet as he turned a corner. The air smelled of smoke and gunpowder. Explosions rang out from around us and tracers lit up the smoky sky. It was warm, a feeling I haven’t felt in a little while. Warm enough to be summer, but it felt out of place against the familiar buildings of Mustang.

My host didn’t get much time to ‘admire’ the scenery as he took a breather, as another soldier shoved his shoulder and moved on ahead. My host gulped, feeling exhausted and aching all over. He rubbed the front visor of his helmet, clearing the dirt away from a faint skull etching with his golden hoof, and got back to running, heading towards the rat-tat-tat-tat of machine gun fire. Surely he couldn’t be that stupid. No way. I wasn’t going to experience death, not again. Please no.

My host and another soldier turned a corner to see the military outpost firing down a nearby road, and several bullets flying back at them. Some Coalition soldiers lay dead in the open while others did what they could to stay behind cover. There was even a tank firing down range!

That was, of course, when something whooshed down the road and struck the tank head-on, causing it to explode outwards. My host dove to the ground as debris littered the area around them. Somehow, I knew that my host needed to cross that road to get to his allies.

Looking behind him, I could feel the anger well in his stomach. There were only two ponies behind him. “Just us left…” he grunted, then looked up to the sky behind him. “Hell…” What I saw terrified my host. The gunship that I’d seen in two halves was almost completely whole, albeit taking a lot of fire. Suddenly one of the engines exploded, showering it in fire! “The Neighgas’ been hit!” he called out.

“Shit! We will be too if we don’t get out of here!” one of the soldiers, a mare with ‘BubbleGum’ written on her name tag screeched, going into a panic.

My host grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a shake. “Focus, Bubble!” He yelled. “We’ve run the sims and done the training, focus and we’ll get out of here!” I knew that my host didn’t feel that way. Explosions, friendly weapons of war blowing up, bullets raining down everywhere… it seemed hopeless. She nodded nonetheless. “We gotta regroup with Whiskey Actual, come on!”

We ran towards the street being fired down and put our backs to the wall. “Covering fire!” my host yelled towards the machine gunners firing down range.

“Don’t do it!” one of them yelled back. “You’ll be Swiss cheese if you do!” I could barely hear him over the firing of his gun, but my host heard it loud and clear.

“Damnit!” my host yelled, then grabbed a small tube hooked up to a butt-stock from beside him. “What’re we looking at?!” he called back across.

One of the radio ponies on the other side waved at us from behind cover and tapped the headset, then spoke into it. “Good to see you made it, Whiskey Three!” he called into it, huddled down in cover while a soldier fired blindly over him. “Wish it was under better circumstances!”

“We don’t have time for this, Aperture!” my host yelled into his helmet. “I can’t get a visual! Too much fire!”

“Lots of guns!” the radio pony yelled across. “Twenty tangoes, one tank, three rockets! We have nothin-” he was cut off by a tank shell sailing overhead and hitting the building behind us. Rubble fell down onto the ponies below, but it looked like everyone got away with minor injuries. Two fell to the ground dead, gunned down by machine guns having been forced out of cover. “Damn it! We’ve got nothing for that tank!”

“Shit shit shit… Sit tight, Aperture!” my host shouted, then looked around frantically. He couldn’t even peek around the corner, so much fire was coming from it. Another shell sailed by, but just wide and hit a building further down the road. Finally, it looked as though my host had an idea.

“Alright guys, follow me!” he yelled at the ponies beside him. “I’m on point, Clockwork, move that gear up and Bubble, cover our asses!” In one swift motion my host stood up and shoved his tube into a glass window, butt first, then climbed in.

The building had to be burning somewhere as a thick cloud of smoke filled our vision, blurring it slightly. Bubble started coughing before putting her goggles and a small face mask on. No complaints though.

Moving through the building was hard, and not just because of the smoke. The heat was blistering in there, and I could feel the sticky sweat rolling down my host’s back, but the adrenaline was just too distracting.

Clockwork, the other soldier with them, creeped forward alongside my host with his assault rifle, of which I could only see the muzzle. Ahead I heard voices, but I couldn’t understand them; they were like a completely different language.

Then we saw who they belonged to. Two zebras with flamethrowers were moving through the building, clearing it for more, maybe? I didn’t know. All I knew was that Clockwork saw them first. With a quick burst from his machinegun, one went down, then the other, their blood spurts almost matching the red feathers in their helmets. “Two down,” Clockwork said, almost calmly.

The three moved forward, my host picking up a flamethrower on the way. “There’s gotta be more,” he said, followed by a small cough. I could feel the smoke starting to seep into his mask. “Let's speed this up!”

The group were now charging forward, following my host. I had no idea what he had planned, but it had better be amazing, after this! We dashed left, zoomed right, barreled through doors until we found a larger group of Zebras, no doubt following the flamer twins.

They shouted something in Foreign and opened fire! My host managed to duck into cover, but Clockwork wasn’t quick enough. He fired two bursts into them before they shot him, and I watched as he shrieked then hit the ground dead.

“Clockwork!” my host yelled, then grit his teeth. “You bastards!” he shouted at the top of his lungs then with reckless abandon dove out of cover and doused them with fire from their own weapon! I watched as the first zebras screamed in agony as their red and black uniforms quickly caught fire and the decorative feathers quickly burned away. The others scrambled back, but even they couldn’t outrun fire. They ran screaming as fire crept up their legs and tails, then they ran out of sight.

My host looked down at the fallen soldier and reached out to take his dog-tag. Bubble just stared in shock as tears ran into her goggles. “Bubble… grab his gear. C’mon,” my host ordered. She snapped out of it and grabbed a long box Clockwork was carrying. The two were off again.

They finally found their vantage point up a set of stairs. A large portion of the wall at the top of them had been punctured by an explosion, letting them peek out just a little. Below them, an odd-looking tank sat, firing its machine gun at my host’s allies.

The tank sat on two treads like any other tank, but instead of its turret looking partly flat like the Coalition ones, this one looked more domey and its hatch was open. We saw the zebra tank commander yelling at the others behind him to keep firing probably. My host was still grinding his teeth. I’d have shuddered if I could.

It was time for the plan to come to fruition. With a quick bark, the two ponies opened the case and hefted out a large rocket launcher in two pieces. “This thing better work…” he grunted and hefted it onto his back. “Load!” Bubble lifted a large rocket and shoved it into the back of the launcher.

My host aimed it down, but had to jump back as bullets peppered the wall beside him. He’d lost the element of surprise… or had he? From where he was standing, he could see most of the opposite building, but not low enough to attack the tank. He did, however, see that most of the supports for this side of the building were destroyed. Maybe one more would…

“Firing!” He yelled with a grin. Please work, please work… The launcher jolted back as the room behind them filled with exhaust. The rocket flew forward and detonated against one of the supports, showering everyone around it with rock and debris. The building across from them groaned deeply and began to list. Cracks formed in the other supports until finally it gave way, debris tumbling down from around it, large chunks falling on the tank below.

“Yes!” my host yelled, dropping the launcher and giving a hoof-pump! Though, his celebration was a bit too early. The building continued to yawn and groan until finally it started sliding forward. The top of the building fell towards my host, making his eyes grow wide. “Run!” He yelled, right before the building’s collided.

The ceiling gave way as they tried to run, and I could feel it getting harder and harder to run as the floor started to tip back. Chunks of debris and dust fell around us, until we both screamed and lost our footing. Both buildings were collapsing into the road below.

My host tried to grab onto something, but found no purchase. He and BubbleGum tumbled into the street below with the debris. I felt every impact, every hit, and every stab as debris pummeled the two of us on the way down, then finally the biggest hit of them all, the landing.

Bubble let out a moan from nearby, then crawled to her hooves. “Valentine… come on! W-We gotta- Look out!” She shouted and rolled over my host, then flung us both out of the way as a massive chunk of rubble landed where we’d just been. “Run dammit!” Valentine… where’ve I heard that be- rubble! look out!

My host and comrade managed to scramble to their hooves and sprint off towards their comrades, somehow not being shot from behind. Though, that was explained when they finally looked back. The buildings had created a lot of rubble, enough to crush the tank and momentarily stop the advancing zebras. The two sprinted back to the barricade to cheers from their comrades.

It wouldn’t last long though, the zebras were starting to climb over and begin shooting again, but my host had reached the other side of the barricade where it was relatively safe. “Nice work!” Aperture shouted from his cover. “Now get upstairs, Captain Mahogany wants t-”

A long, wailing siren started to fill the air until it was almost deafening. The firing stopped for another moment as everyone stared at each other, some with absolute fear on their face, and others with anger. Most began to cry, like they knew what it meant, while other scrambled to run. My host however looked up to the sky, watching for a sign. Anything. Then he saw it.

A large blue object surrounded in a light blue aura cut through the smoke and began plummeting towards the city. Without missing a blink, my host grabbed Bubble and ran inside. “Get to cover!” He yelled and dove behind the nearest piece of cover he could find, which happened to be a circle of sandbags, made up in a pill-box formation. With Bubblegum in tow, he grabbed the nearest and largest board of wood and covered them with it, then grit his teeth.

The world shook violently as the sound of the thing’s detonation resounded through the air. It almost sounded like a massive water balloon had landed, but times a million. The air began to feel very cold as ponies screamed out all around them. Through a crack in the board my host could see it all.

White wind and snow flew outwards from the detonation site, first washing over anyone unfortunate to be in open. They seemed to fall back, then freeze in place as a thick layer of ice coated and killed them. The air got colder and colder as the freezing blast made quick work of anyone running inside. Even closing the door proved too much as the soldiers trying were flash frozen.

My host shut his eyes and began to shiver, feeling the cold air wash over him, creeping up from all four his legs. It was almost agonizing to feel, every millimeter of flesh starting to blister from the cold, like a million little daggers were stabbing into him. Then the winds faded until there was nothing but silence.

My host, Valentine I suppose, opened his eyes slowly to look at Bubble. She hadn’t made it. Half of her face was frozen over in an expression of sheer terror. Valentine’s breath caught in his throat as he forced his forelegs to move. Finally he managed to break free of her. I felt the familiar feeling of wanting to cry.

It took a great effort, but Valentine managed to shove the the wooden plank off of them and look around. Everyone was frozen, unmoving. Dead. He slowly moved his very stiff legs forward to peek out the door and into the eerily silent street beyond.

That was the Mustang I knew. The streets were covered in ice, the only sound being the whistling winds and the final breaths of those unlucky enough to have lived through it. “V-V-Valent-tine?” Aperture’s voice managed to whisper. My host looked to his right and saw the pony, half encased in ice while still in cover. “W-What… w…”

“Shh…” Valentine whispered, reaching down as far as his freezing legs would let him. “Just… s-save your strength. I’ll g-get help.”

“I… I t-think its t-too late… t-that’s the…” he gulped as the ice crept up a little more. “M-Megaspells…. a-apocalypse….” That word. It dawned on both me and Valentine that we’d just witnessed the beginning of the end. “I… g-good… g-good…” he didn’t get to finish his sentence. His mouth hung open and his eyes stared forward, but his heart had stopped. Slowly, the ice crept up again and over his body.

“No…” Valentine whispered and shuffled inside. “...someone’s gotta make it…” he mumbled, now moving up the stairs. Every step was agonising, causing pain to shoot up his legs with each step. “Someone will f-find us…”

He finally made it into the locker room and pulled open a locker, them promptly grabbed the weird hat and a mirror, then fell backwards. He managed to put on the hat after taking off his helmet, then stared into the mirror.

After seeing his face, I recognised him. I’d seen a photo of him before, with a hot little military mare. I couldn’t think of it though as he began to speak. “T-This is Private First Class V-Valentine, Whiskey S-Squad, second b-battalion. T-To anyone who finds t-this, Mustang has f-fallen… P-Please… deliver this o-orb to Corporal Pumpkin Pie… I know she’s out there… I know you’re out there.”

He gulped as his tears turned to icicles. His golden face began to look paler and paler by the second. “P-Pumpkin… if you get t-this… I l-love you. A-Always have, always w-will… all those times we s-spent together… every single second made l-life worth living. Y-You warmed me w-when I was cold, picked me u-up when I was down, and made me f-feel like the luckiest stallion in the world… I w-won’t forget a-about you, my Pumpkin… I won’t... “

I could feel it setting in. We couldn’t feel anything below the stallion’s stomach, and I could see the ice clutching at the stallion’s throat. “I… Pumpkin… I l-lov…” he let out a small gag as the ice closed around his throat, and I could feel it getting harder and harder to breathe. His eyes began to roll back until… the world began to fade in the normal memory orb fashion.

~ooo OOO ooo~

I gasped and shot upright, panting for my breath as the bracelet powered down. All sorts of thoughts and feelings flooded through my mind, trying to make sense of what I’d just seen, no, what I had just felt. All I knew was that I’d just experienced the heart-pounding combat that had plagued Mustang in its final days. The final day. It answered more than a few questions for me, like what exactly had happened to Mustang. Some sort of magical winter was inflicted on it. Well… maybe it was a half answer. It was nothing like what I’d heard happened to the rest of it; way too cold to be.

“Unpleasant?” I didn’t know until that point what kind of relief someone could feel just from hearing a familiar voice. Lollipop was going through whatever lockers she could open, looking for supplies. Blankets, armour, anything that could keep us warm.

I nodded as I got to my hooves and shook my mane, which felt really strange with a gas mask on. “Yes… very,” I replied, trying to shake the memories loose. “I saw what happened to this place and experienced a very slow, cold death.” My whole body shuddered from the experience, remembering the icy grip around my throat and the strange combination of freezing and burning on my cheeks as my host’s tears froze as they fell. Thankfully he went numb in that area before his actual tear ducts froze up.

Lollipop blinked and turned towards me, a hat balanced on her hoof. Looked like a sports franchise sort of cap, with a fancy ball on the front. Something we wouldn’t really have any use for. “Far out…” she whispered, trotting over to me. “You feeling alright? Need a seat?”

I shook my head and stretched my legs out a little, silently thanking whoever watched over me that I could still move. “I’ll survive.” I’d almost experienced death several times personally and I didn’t let it get to me. Unless you count the maniac living in my head, but I was certain I could explain him. I wasn’t going insane.

“Love you too.” Ugh. That voice. The low, cold voice in the back of my head. Trailblaze, the bastard who hijacked me whenever he saw fit. Bastard.

Anyway. I was alive, and sane enough to look after myself. I did take that seat though, sitting on a bench while my mind swam against the new memories, looking to breach the surface. Then we could move on.

“So, can’t have you running around in shredded and holey armour,” Lollipop said, prodding my armour. “Come with me.” She turned and headed into what I assumed was the bathroom of this locker area. I got up and followed her, limping a little at the pain in my shoulder and thigh. Stupid shanking son of a bitch mutant and separatist revolver prick.

Lollipop had been busy while I was out. In one of the corners she’d somehow started a small fire, using the cold wood of some of the stalls, and the smoke was carefully vented through a smashed window. Above the fire was a little suspended metal grate with a package on it. Thankfully, not entirely frozen either.

“What’s all this?” I asked, gesturing to it. I wasn’t complaining, certainly not, but I was curious. Before she could answer, I took the opportunity to scooch up to the fire and warm up. The heat felt amazing against the bare coat, exposed through the holes in my winter jacket and armour. I longed for the dry Ponave deserts and my duster. The fashionable duster given to me by Snake Eyes. Made me wonder what he was up to, and how much progress he’d made on his research. Just six days before he said he’d have something. After Mustang I planned on using those six days to actually live and forget about how jacked up I was. I really didn’t have much of a future ahead of me, did I…

I’d worry about that after I cut Double Down’s throat.

“Thought you’d need a something-something,” she said, moving to the grate and taking the package off. She placed it by my hooves and opened it, pulling out a set of Coalition yellow fatigues with brown ceramic armoured plating. My eyes widened at the sight, thinking back to the old propaganda and memories I’d had seen and felt over my stay in the Federation. Something was incredibly familiar about it though, and it only clicked when she took out the matching helmet. “Warmed up, ready for you to change,” she said, putting the full yellow and brown combat helmet with a black visor, with a skull carved into the face plating, by my hooves. That was Private First Class Valentine’s armour and helmet.

If I didn’t feel so cold, I’d have taken some time to think about it, but in situations like that you need to let logic prevail. He was dead, and I didn’t want to be. As quick as I could, to avoid too much time in the freezing cold, I ripped off my coat and damaged armour and slipped into the new armour. Oooh goodness was it toasty, having spent a good time on the fire.

The armour fit me like a glove, hugging me in all the right spaces while leaving me plenty of room to breath and move. The ceramic armour gave me that heavy, protected feeling that I really quite enjoyed. It was just right. I couldn’t try on the helmet yet though, thanks to the mask.

“Looking good,” Lollipop said as she pulled her winter coat tight around her cheeks. “How does it feel?”

“Like a good set of armour,” I replied, finally understanding what that felt like. I actually felt protected against the odds and against everything out there looking to kill me. I wasn’t wearing something flimsy, like that riot vest. Blunt force trauma and small arms were fine, but anything bigger? It was like paper. The armour I’d just received? Military grade. It felt real. “I feel great!”

“Good!” Lollipop said, then flung my coat over my head. “Now get to the roof! You’re needed.”

I pulled the coat off my head with a sigh and put it on. “My job is never done,” I muttered, then put my battle saddle back on. I gave Lollipop a brief hug and limped out of the bathroom and through the locker room, passing one of the Resistance ponies. We nodded in passing and I left the room. The last thing I heard was his squeal of delight when he saw the fire.

The stairs felt like they kept going on forever, and a shudder passed through me every time I passed one of the holes in the walls or a blown out window. Eventually though, I reached the top.

The top of the building consisted of about half a floor and a quarter of the ceiling, having been bombed out heavily during the war. Over in the shade though, I saw some of the rubble move and shift before Forsythe the griffin’s head and arm poked out and waved me over.

I trotted over and lay down in the rubble beside her, looking over the city. By her sniper rifle poking out beside her, my duty became evident. First time I’d actually taken up my chosen role, too.

“Evening,” Forsythe whispered as I hunkered down beside her, close but not too close. Of course, that changed when she wrapped an arm around me and pulled me in beside her. “Got cover?”

I nodded and reached back. Thankfully I hadn’t lost my white tarp; it was still strapped to my coat. I pulled on its tag and shifted it over me, covering my head and most of my legs, which I just tucked under it. Considering the snow and rubble around us, the tarp blended right in. “Good to see you again, Forsythe,” I whispered to her, remembering that we hadn’t really had a chance to talk.

“If only it was under better circumstances,” Forsythe whispered back as my saddle shifted and pulled the sniper forward into a firing position. The scope flipped over and covered my eye, giving me a magnified view of the large square ahead of us, and the buffalo statue standing proud in the middle of it. “Like maybe a bar… a restaurant… a hotel room with a bed for two…” She looked over and winked at me. I knew she was grinning behind her gas mask.

“Heh… y-yeah…” I replied, feeling a little uneasy. “Isn’t exactly ideal out here, is it?” The rubble was cold and hard against my belly, but at least Forsythe was warm and soft against my side. Then she slid something under me that warmed my belly right up. Some sort of military heat pack or something, I couldn’t make it out but I didn’t much care at that point. It was comfy.

“How’s it hanging, anyway?” the griffin asked, looking through her scope and scanning over the roof tops. “Been a little while. Last I saw you, you were still wearing that pink get-up, being tossed around by the beige mare, and hanging out with our buddy Snake Eyes.”

“It’s… okay,” I replied. “Could be much better. Well, actually, it’s shitty,” I replied. “Since then I’ve, let’s see… been chased by a zombie minotaur, been shot in the chest with a poisoned round, something about Gun Runners, went into the Red Zone for medicine, stumbled around in the dark and met a fucked up mutant… which Tallie crushed,” I replied, smirking at the memory of Tallie squashing the fuck out of the abomination that used to be Doctor Perfect or something.

“Oh, and picked up two new friends, Tallie and Lollipop. Tallie we found all alone, poor kid, and Lollipop was the doctor who patched me up,” I continued. “After that we got ambushed by more separatists, they got killed by Iron City defense forces, then we went into a stable that had a massive mutant tree eel thing…” I began to realise how stupid it all sounded, but I continued anyway. “Then I found out I had to wait a week to find out from Snake Eyes about how to best go get my revenge, so naturally I decided to head here for the eel mutant. Help the wasteland. Kinda regretting it. Fuck the wasteland,” I grunted, watching a single mutant scamper between buildings on the other side of the square. “And I think I’m going nuts. So all in all, feeling pretty nifty.”

“Shit…” was the only reply. “I don’t envy your life there, Clover,” she commented. “You need to find yourself someone nice to settle down with and just chill for once and for all.”

“I’ve looked into it,” I said, watching as the mutant disappeared from view. “I think I know who to do it with, just… not until I finish up my business.”

“Revenge for the brother, right?” the griffin asked, still staring through the scope. “And I’m flattered, Clover, but I can’t really settle down right now.”

I rolled my eyes, but really I wasn’t sure if she actually did want to sleep with me or not. If she did and if Ace decided not to be with me, well… who knew? I might end up growing used to the talons. “Yeah. And not you,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Heh. Didn’t think so,” she said. “Mutant, third building across. See him?” She adjusted something on her scope before continuing. “Who’s the lucky mare?”

“I see him,” I said, reacquiring the mutant. I didn’t know I was supposed to be marking them. “Ace,” I said, watching the mutant stumble around, scrounging for something. “We had a drunken fling together. Wish I could remember it.” It hurt to admit that I couldn’t remember the night I’d lost my virginity. “After that, she said she needed time to think. Get her feelings in order.”

“Well, if it doesn’t pan out,” Forsythe said and nudged me. “You can buy me a drink some time.”

“I’ll uh… keep that in mind…” I muttered back.

The air around us filled with nothing more than the howling winds around us as we watched. I took the opportunity to take a look at where we were. The area around us was pretty standard, a bunch of smaller bombed out buildings, a few frozen corpses, and some craters in the middle of the square, surrounded by sandbags and old nests. Above our building stood a large communications antenna, though, which had stood the test of time. Connected to it were several cables, some dangling loose while some leading off to buildings around the city, many to similar antenna. Only one led ahead of us though in a nice little slope, connecting to a small building across the frozen river.

“Can’t just be you guys,” Forsythe muttered as she stared through the scope. “It’d be suicidal to come out here with just five ponies.”

“Nah,” I replied, focusing again. “There was a crack team of specialists from Iron City that came in with us. Only three survivors from them.” I winced at the memories of how we found the others. “We got away with the survivors, I got injured, we took refuge in the underground railway and met friendly mutants. They’re escorting us… well, here.” I tapped the floor beside me.

“Friendly mutants?” the griffin asked in surprise. “We had no idea.”

“The unfriendly sort don’t spare them,” I replied. “They stick to the underground. I wouldn’t be so surprised. Wasteland’s fucked.”

“Heh. You can say that again,” she said. “I take it you got split up?”

“Bingo.” I stared through my scope. “Hold on…” I murmured as the mutant’s head shot up and its ears swiveled. It looked like it was growling before it scampered off. “We got movement.”

“I see it. Something’s spooked it,” she checked the load in her rifle before shouldering it. “Get ready.”

I followed suit, but stopped as my coms crackled to life. “This is Hammerhead, calling anyone on this frequency! Spook, Tinder, does anyone read?” My heart skipped a beat or two. Hammerhead, the mutant minotaur, was in Tallie’s team. She had to be okay!

“This is Tinder Two-Tails,” my team leader announced over the com. “Hammerhead, you’re weak but clear, status report, over.”

“We’re in one piece, boss, but not for long. We’ve got mutants climbing up our assholes!” she yelled a little louder into her mic, her voice a little clearer. “Coming from the north side! We’ve picked up some other normies too, some fellas calling themselves Resistance!”

“That’s Resistance special forces, lass!” the commanding and slightly deranged sound of Happy Jack’s voice said over the coms. I remembered rescuing him vividly, how the one eyed donkey had been locked up for goodness knows how long. “Tinder Two Twits, you got any of the Resistance lads down there?”

Tinder’s voice cut in again. “Confirmed, we have reinforcements. What’s your ETA?”

“I’ve got visual!” Forsythe said into her com. I shifted a little to get a northern view, and sure enough, between the buildings came Hammerhead’s team. I felt relief surge through me as I saw Tallie sitting on Hammerhead’s shoulders, shooting a small pistol behind her. I even saw the donkey turn once and shoot two grenades down the passage, then… laugh? I couldn’t tell.

Forsythe opened fire with her sniper, picking off big baddies. I quickly followed suit, but I couldn’t get my shots off as fast. She was well trained, but me? Not quite. I still landed more than a few shots though.

Hammerhead’s team booked it across the square, heading straight before us. They wasted no time, Short Fuse and Hammerhead charged forward with Tallie on her shoulders, while Geoff, the mutant griffin, hovered above the ground, flying backwards and shooting. Jack kept running, only stopping to fire two pill shaped grenades at a time, then ran off again.

The group down below had taken defensive positions and as soon as the mutants were in range, following my friends, they opened fire. Thankfully this group of mutants wasn’t large or thick, and the combined arms of so many made quick work of them.

“Thanks for the assist!” Hammerhead said over the radio as she and the others leaped over the barricades. I breathed another sigh of relief knowing that my Tallie was safe. We’d only known each other for such a short amount of time, but she was like a little sister to me. Someone I wanted to protect against anything.

Forsythe reloaded while my saddle did mine for me. “That it?” she asked, peering down the scope again.

“I hope not…” I replied. “You still have team members out there too, right?”

“Mhm. Just waiting on Adrenaline Rush’s team,” Forsythe replied in a cool tone. The heat of combat had steeled her from a playful griffin to a dedicated soldier in a heartbeat it seemed. “Wonder if she’s found your guys.”

“Maybe…” The square grew quiet once more, the snow resting on top of the fresh mutant corpses. I felt myself shaking, even if combat had only lasted a few seconds, but someone I cared about was in that group. The other one was still out there somewhere. “Why are you guys even out here anyway?”

“Long story short?” Forsythe asked, looking over her shoulder at me. I nodded in reply. “Basically, Federation science teams are up to no good down here. Blowing shit up, stirring up mutants… now they’re across there and we think they’ve found something.” Forsythe pointed across the river. “We want what they’ve found so they can’t use it against us.”

“Makes sense… thank goodness we found you when we did,” I said with a heavy sigh. “Unluckily lucky… that’s me.”

Forsythe couldn’t help but chuckle. “What do you mean?”

“I find luck in unlucky situations,” I said, looking over at her. “Survived death more than once, always get saved at the last second… only after getting into a bad situation.” I shrugged and looked down the scope again. “It’s… pretty shitty.”

“Better than just being flat out unlucky,” Forsythe said, giving my shoulder a pat and shifted her sniper around. “Oh, lookie! Beige mare.”

My heart lept out of my chest for a moment before I scrambled and looked down my scope. “Where?!” I asked, frantically. Sure enough, there was Ace and her squad. Well, Ace and Spook. Both moved with purpose but didn’t seem to be chased by anything.

“Ace!” I called into my com. She stopped and looked around. “Ace! Ace, I see you! We’re a the rally point, c’mon! Before anything else seeps out of the woodwork!”

“Okay! Sit tight!” Ace called over the com, but her voice was a little distorted by static. “We’re on our way!” She nudged Spook and sprinted towards us. My heart pounded in my chest as I was filled with relief, knowing that all of my close friends had survived us splitting up.

“Just one more,” Forsythe said, giving my shoulder a slap and a grin. “She should be here any minute now.” Her eye went back to her scope. “Bet you’re feeling pretty good, huh? No casualties at all.”

“Heh. Yeah,” I replied, grinning from ear to ear. I knew it wasn’t over yet, but my friends had survived. I was on cloud nine. “So going back to before, you said that the Feds are bombing shit? Like streets?” I rolled over and opened the maps section on my pipbuck and showed it to Forsythe, highlighting the spot we’d been split up. “Like here?”

Forsythe took a minute to look at the map, occasionally scrolling left and right to get her bearings, then nodded. “Mhm, we’d just gotten away before that one went off. We thought we were hidden, but we were wrong.” She went back to keeping an eye out. “Why?”

“Because it caused a cave-in and almost killed us,” I replied, as nonchalant as I could manage. “Its where we got split up.”

“Oh… well… sorry for being in the wrong place at the wrong time then,” Forsythe said, the smiled. “But hey, we’re all good now.”

“Ditto, and yep,” I replied, looking through my scope and scanning the skies for the last piece to our puzzle. Then I saw it. Streaking across the sky in an orange blur was a familiar pegasus, streaking towards us, but unfortunately, she wasn’t alone. The pegasus was being followed by six of the fucked up griffin mutants, wailing and screaming as they tore through the sky behind her. “We have incoming!” I called out and shouldered my rifle once again, but I couldn’t get a clear shot, not yet.

Forsythe, though, had no problems. She popped off one shot that tore through the head of one of the mutants, splattering its brains out behind it while it plummeted to the ground. She loaded another round and fired again. The bullet whizzed through the air and tore off another mutant’s wing. It shrieked as it lost control before nose-diving into the ground. Thankfully I couldn’t hear it, but I think it must have made a gooey splat.

“Dammit… can’t get a clear shot…” Forsythe muttered as she watched, waiting for an opening. The pegasus looked over her shoulder and started to duck and weave as the griffins got closer. “Thank you…”

Forsythe wouldn’t get her clear shot though. As soon as she had the griffins where she wanted them, the pegasus stopped in mid air with her forelegs extended. Out of two gauntlets shot a blade, Slashy and Smiley if memory serves correctly, extended fully. The griffins didn’t have time to stop, as one was impaled on the blade, while the other’s head was taken clear off. The pegasus wasted no time as she yanked the blade out of the griffin and spun, cutting its head off with the other blade. She still had two contacts though.

She ducked as one mutant swiped for her as it passed. The other was quick as it almost landed a peck with its sharp beak, but the pegasus was faster. She flipped upside down, landing a kick to the mutant’s chin, then stabbed it through the stomach. As she completed her flip, she pulled her sword upwards, gutting the mutant before it fell out of the sky. There was one more left.

The pegasus blocked a swipe with her sword, the blade colliding with the beast’s talons and cutting partway through them. She swung out with the other blade and sliced off the beast’s hand before pulling her newly freed blade back and shoving it through the mutant’s screaming maw.

“Wow…” I muttered as the last griffin fell to the ground, lifeless. “She’s pretty rad.”

“Tell me about it,” Forsythe said with a smirk, sitting up and keying her coms. “Hey boss, fancy flying out there. Clover here’s pretty impressed.”

“Clover?” was the reply. “Wait, that kid that helped with Short Stack?” was the reply from Adrenaline ‘Dare’ Rush. She started zooming off towards us. “No shit?”

“No shit,” Forysthe replied. “Small world, huh?”

*** *** ***

“Shit…” the orange pegasus commander of the special operations squad mumbled, leaning back against the rubble of the roof. “That’s pretty heavy.”

“Yep,” I said, after explaining the situation my friends and I had found ourselves in. Over the course of the last half hour, more and more Resistance soldiers joined our merry band and gathered around to hear it from us. Ace had found a spot between Forsythe and me, and made herself comfortable. Not that I was complaining. “So. Gotta find the Patriarch’s tether thingo and cut it, set him free, bish bash bosh, plants all ‘round.” It sounded utterly crazy, and that was just the gist of it.

Adrenaline ‘Dare’ Rush looked between her soldiers. There were the two griffin badasses that I’d met before, the loud one-eyed donkey Happy Jack, one or two of the last squad, and about five other soldiers I hadn’t met before, all kitted out in armour I’d only seen in comics. It was something similar to what I’d seen before, but I just couldn’t remember. Then there was the Iron City survivors, Featherweight, Short Fuse, and Mayflowers. With my friends added on, we made a decent team. A big team. Just what I liked. “What do we think?” she finally asked.

The majority of the soldiers didn’t seem to know what to think. “Erm…” one of them finally piped up. A shorter stallion with a horn addition to his fancy helmet, and two SMGs at either side of his circle-clad torso armour. “Well, look. We’re all headed to the same place, right?” he asked.

I looked at our map and compared it to theirs. Sure enough, we were all headed to the Mustang Research Facility. “Looks like it,” I murmured. “Can I ask, or is it classified?”

“We’ll see,” Dare said, taking the map from me. “Since you were key in our last op, we’ll help you out, but in return I will be taking command.”

“Woah, hold up,” Tinder Two-Tails piped up, stepping forward. “You guys are headed out of Ghost operational zones. These civilians were told that it was discretion whether we follow into the dead zone, and we’ve decided against it.”

I admit, I felt a little betrayed, but he was right. This wasn’t his fight. “Understood, Mr. Tails,” Dare said, looking over at him and his team. They seemed to have made the decision while I was explaining things to the Resistance guys.

“Cowards,” Mayflowers grunted before receiving a sharp elbow from Ace. She grumbled again before crossing her hooves and grunting.

Two-Tails just shrugged it off, as a grizzled veteran like him often would. “We’ve got a settlement to protect, I’m sure you understand.” He then stepped towards me and offered his large hoof. “Nice meeting you, Clover, but I reckon these Resistance types can take it from here. I’m sure I’ll see you again if you succeed and all. Better make that happen, eh?”

I reached out and shook his hoof with a smile. “Er… yeah. Likewise,” I said, a little awkwardly. “We’ll get it done. Hopefully… probably… yeah. Something like that.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Ace said with a light chuckle as she nudged my shoulder. “We’ve got this, dude. Don’t sweat it.”

The mutant leader laughed and nodded. “Counting on you,” He looked around at everyone but his team. “Alright, if that’s everything, we’ll get going. I handed over as much intel as I have on the dead zone to your intelligence officer.” Dare nodded in acknowledgment. “Alrighty. Ghosts, roll out.” He circled his hoof and the Ghosts began moving. Each giving us a nod in appreciation and respect, one that I’m sure we’d all earned in our times together.

“Weird bunch,” Gaz grunted, his large arms crossed over his heavily armoured torso. “Right! Now that we’re all together, let’s get the show on the road.”

“What’s the plan?” my medically inclined friend asked after fidgeting a little with her mask. I think our gasmasks must’ve been getting to everyone by now, even poor Tallie. Though, I’m sure the little griffin’s attention was more fixated on Happy Jack’s explosive loadout. Just from what I could see, he had a large grenade launcher on his back with a revolver-like chamber around it, several sticks of dynamite, an SMG, and several other fuzes jutting out of the various pockets on his oversized protective jacket. He was telling her all about it in hushed tones. I don’t think Tallie wanted me knowing about her fascination with explosives, but it was hardly a secret.

Ace brought out a new map, this time with a lot of writing on it. “First things first. We need to get over there,” she said, then gestured at the massive antenna on top of the building we were in, and the long cable running through the buildings ahead and over the river. “First team are going to climb up there and zipline all the way down to the riverban-”

“Zipline?” I asked, not quite understanding the term. I couldn’t fly, maybe that was a problem?

“Yep,” she said, taking out a clip, a strange contraption with wheels, and a belt. “Attach this to the cable and glide down.”

“That sounds insane,” Ace chimed in, but I could tell she was grinning. “But fun.”

I just sighed and sat down with a grunt. “There’s no way I’m getting out of this, am I?”

“Ungrateful little shit…” one of the resistance soldiers grunted.

Dare looked over her shoulder at him. “Hey. Zip it,” she ordered, then looked back at me. “Sorry, Clover, but nope. You’ll be part of the first team.” All I could do was gulp and nod. When I woke up, I told myself to stop being a coward. Time to put that into effect.

“Each team will move down the line with Gaz and I providing aerial support, Forsythe and Chocolate Souffle will provide overwatch and sniper support from up here.” One of the lighter armoured soldiers nodded and their sniper rifle shifted forward on its saddle, just like mine. Different model though.

“When the first team arrives they are to secure the landing area. I’m putting Jack in charge of first team when they hit the ground. Clover, you’re to set up and give sniper support from the other side, understood.”

“Mkay,” I replied, then hissed at the nudge to my side from Ace. “Right! Yes, gotcha.”

“Good,” she said. “Team two and three, same deal. We all good to move?”

All the ponies around me started to shift and check their gear, me included. I stuffed the tarp back into its compartment on my back, and made sure my new helmet was secure in my bag, along with my loot duffel.

Several of team one started to move towards the antenna, led by the strange donkey. He seemed a bit too cheerful for this situation, if you asked me. I guess he was just happy to be serving the right side again. Well, right for him at least.

I took a step forward before I was pulled to the side by Ace. “Stay safe, Clover,” she said. “I’m in third team. Make sure you’re still in one piece when I get down there, okay?”

I felt a blush redden my cheeks. “I’ll, er… I’ll try my best,” I said with a sheepish smile.

Ace reached up and bopped me on the top of the head, then grabbed my shoulders. “I need you to promise me. I was scared shitless about what might happen to you out here, and I was right, with what you told us about those hordes. You’ve survived this long, and I’m not going to lose my best friend.”

A lump formed in my throat, but I swallowed it down. Best friend? Nothing more? Well… better than nothing, I guess. “I promise.”

She slid her arms around my shoulders and gave me a hug with a small smile. “Okay. Good,” she mumbled before letting go. “Now, get going. You’ve got a job to do.”

I sighed and obliged. “Alright. See you on the other side,” I replied. I looked behind me and saw Mayflowers with daggers in her eyes, eying me and Ace up. Was it the anger that she felt in general from being such a bitch or… jealousy? She was fucking nuts; it was hard to tell.

I shrugged it off and trotted forward. The antenna loomed above us with Jack and two other Resistance fighters climbing up the side, then Featherweight and Lollipop. I felt a heavy feeling in my stomach as I started to climb the rungs.

The further up I got, the more I felt the chilly wind against my coat, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been before, with my old riot jacket. I actually felt the comforting weight of the plating around me, making me feel a little safer. I shuddered from the cold and kept moving until I reached a small platform where the others had gathered.

“Gentlecolts!” Jack said with his broad accent. “Its just a wee glide t’ the bottom, hop skip an’ a jump. Nothin’ t’ it.” He strapped himself to the thick cable leading into the snow-hazed horizon, down into the white depths. The second soldier in line hooked up right behind him and tapped his back, then another, then Featherweight. “For those inexperienced wit’ this,” he called back over the howling winds. “hook yer selves up, wait five seconds after th’ person ahead of ya goes, then jump. Don’t look down, and try t’ stay lookin’ forward.”

I hooked up my belt and zip with some assistance from the last unhooked soldier, then Lollipop hooked herself up in behind me. One more, and we were all ready. “Keep yer legs out stretched and hit the break twenty seconds ‘fore ya hit the ground, then hit the release when y’ think you’re low enough. Roll when ya hit the ground and ya should be fine! All ready?”

Everyone seemed to tap the person ahead’s back in acknowledgement, me included. Not sure why, must have just been a reflex. “Wait, run that by me ag-” I started.

“Alright! Let’s do it!” Jack yelled before leaping off the platform. The line tightened around his zip as he went shooting off down it, yahooing and laughing as he moved. Five seconds after, the next soldier went. Dare was hovering nearby and zipped off after the third soldier. Gaz was spinning up his minigun and watching us depart.

“But I-” I yelled as Featherweight went off ahead of me, holding his line with one hoof and keeping his beanie on with the other. “I don-”

“Go!” Lollipop yelled over the wind, giving me a nudge. Gaz took off from beside us after gesturing me forward. I didn’t have time to complain.

I whimpered and looked down the line one last time. Ahead of me was nothing but snow, wind, and finally the ‘dead zone’. I closed my eyes then thought happy thoughts for just a second before leaping into the white, windy abyss. The freezing winds and weightlessness set in around me as the world disappeared, filling me with both dread then a weird sense of calm. A calm that wouldn’t last for very long.


*YOUR ART HERE!*


Footnote: Level up! LEVEL TEN!

Fuck me, this took way too long to write, for a number of reasons. The primary one is just a general lack of time. After taking a gap-year I am now at uni studying 3d arts, including animation, modelling, and visual effects. It’s gonna be a neat two years! Kinda paying for it out of pocket though, which kinda sucks. Debt ain’t fun. I had two jobs to pay for it, which also took a heap of time. I’m back down to one job and really scraping by financially. #StudentLife, eh? I’m thinking of setting up a donation page thing if anyone’s keen to help but I don’t think that’s fair, considering how long it takes to write these days.

Other than a lack of time, I’ve also been diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression. Though a minor case, it really saps my motivation, focus, and drive. I couldn’t afford to get help, then I had no time when I had my second job, and now I can’t afford it anymore. Fun times!

I felt you lot deserve to know why everything’s been so late recently, but I’m gonna stop rambling now. If anyone’s interested in my own personal updates and thoughts, be sure to follow me on fimfiction, I plan on making the occasional blog post about it. If anyone knows a better blog service, let me know.

Also, Mat doesn’t have the time to be my chapter artist anymore, so if anyone wants to fill in, give me a portfolio and we’ll talk.

Alright, so, thanks to Kkat for building this wonderful world I’ve based my story from, Matkingos and Nyerguds for editing and being very patient with me through this troubling time, and Dimestream for lifting my spirits when I was down, and giving me a small slice of motivation needed to finish this.

Cheers.

Hobo.

Comments ( 19 )

It great to see an other chapter of this story again. I hope to see the next one soon:pinkiehappy:

6731602

Hopefully I'll be getting one out a month, but no promises.

6733118 Welcome back, its great to see your updating again. Now if only the others did too.

Glad to see you back in action, Hobo!

Oh, fuck fuck fuck! :pinkiehappy:
New fuckin chapter blyat! Cant believe it suka! :rainbowkiss:
I fuckin like it! Clover here looks more serious and this is good! :rainbowwild:
Write a little faster nahui da? :twilightsmile:

Huzzah! One of the best FoE stories updated! Joyous times shall be had.

Hope things start lookin up for ya. Im sure after school things will get easier.

6780693

He was the inspiration, yes.

Comment posted by doctorpie25 deleted Oct 25th, 2018

Definetly worth waiting for ^^~
Can't wait to hear ace's thoughts about a relationship with clover. ROMANCE!!!!!
but, as usual, this was another great chapter. Shorter than I expected, but has me ready and raring for the next one. ^^~
Woo!!!! Finally got around to reading this cheapter.

When is the next update coming?

7679478 Half a year later I finally reply.

At this rate, its not. I'm not really into it anymore. We'll see though, I have a great story to tell, I just... don't really want to tell it through ToaC anymore.

Writing that makes me extremely sad.

8114222 thanks for the response at least. Glad to know I didn't get invested

Possibly you could hand the reigns over to someone else?
I haven't read this yet but I do love fallout, mlp, fallout: equestria, and it's spinoffs.

8403511
Crazy as it sounds, most of the Fallout: Equestria tales are truer to the general spirit of MLP than the majority of other stories here.

I can understand people dropping out of whatever is left of the MLP fandom at fimfiction.net. Sooner or later anyone could get tired of reading Dragon Ball or Pokemon fan-fictions using pony characters.

8579865
Oh yeah... those... I am personally glad I discovered FIMFiction before I discovered fanfiction's mlp groups. Those things were... terrible.

8403511

Sorry man, but I'm not really comfortable handing it over. This one's put on the shelf for now, and I'm just not likely to pick it up. Its been almost 3 years since I updated.

A shame, I had a story to tell, but I just don't want to any more.

8588599
It's fine, and understandable. Though if you want to come back and start this story again, I'd be glad to help. But otherwise, good luck with your current projects!

indefinite hiatus !! wow didn't even get a chance to read it before you quit hahaha

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