Chapter 7 > In which there is a free cart ride
“Pony pulls the wagon!”
Red Eye. A name many ponies feared. Heck, many non-ponies feared him too. He represents the epitome of what slavery can become, in ruthless enough hooves. Endless production from free labor. Endless power in the wastes. A superpower where superpowers were few and far between, the only others even remotely capable of matching him on his own level being the Enclave, the Goddess, and perhaps the Steel Rangers, if they would stop obsessing over technology and actually focus on a single front.
“Thy should be careful with the Steel Rangers from here on out.” Mezzer said to me. “They would probably try to take not only thy PipBuck from you, but myself and thy new robot”
“Right… speaking of…” I looked over my shoulder down at the ground under the observation platform. MG-MS11 was levitating himself up from his fall off the platform. “You okay down there?”
“Capital, Sergeant Coin!” MG-MS11 said. So he thought I was a sergeant. Alright, I can deal with that, though I thought that’s what MG-MS11 said his own rank was.
“Not so loud, you’ll wake up the whole town!” I said, quietly.
“Wake up the town? An excellent idea!!” MG-MS11 said, his voicebox crackling, and a second later, before I could say anything in protest, he began speaking at a much, much higher volume than before, his robotic voice carrying throughout the town and echoing across the crater. “Royal Canterlot voice actiVATE! ATTENTION FAIR CITY OF <FILE NOT FOUND>! ZEBRAS ARE AT THE GATES, I REPEAT, STRIPED ZEBRA INFILTRATOR SCUM ARE AT THE GATES OF THE CITY, PREPARING NO DOUBT FOR AN UNPROVOKED AND UNMERCIFUL ATTACK AGAINST THE MARES AND FOALS OF EQUESTRIA!! GATHER YOUR ARMS AND…” MG-MS11 kept at it, spouting very loud nonsense at a rapid speed of there-is-no-way-I-was-going-to-shut-him-up. I scrambled off of the observation tower anyways, not wanting anypony to find me next to the body of Shotty Snipes. It was obvious he was sniped from the encampment outside, but you never could be sure with these bomb-worshipers just how logical they were going to be when one of their own was lost.
Lights were turning on all across the town with the racket MG-MS11 was causing. The house nearest to the gate, and consequently nearest to us, lit up first, and was the first to expunge a grumpy looking unicorn stallion who was wearing a leather dustier and wide-brim hat. I couldn’t tell what color he was in the low light, but I did catch a glimpse of the shiny gold star badge pinned to his chest. If I were to take a guess, I’d say that was the sheriff of Maregaton, and he looked none too pleased at being woken up late at night. It was probably late enough to call it really, really early in the morning, actually. “What’s goin' on out ‘ere, why ‘s some fuckin' robot goin' haywire when sensible ponies are catchin' some shuteye?!” he groused. A cheery individual, to be sure.
“ARE YOU THE MAYOR AND/OR APPOINTED RANKING CIVILIAN IN CHARGE OF THIS TOWNSHIP, SIR?” MG-MS11 shouted not two feet away from the pony he was addressing.
“Yes, yes, I’m the bloomin' sheriff, pipe down rust-bucket! Who owns this pile o’ scrap? ‘S it you?” he said, looking around and finding me, the only one around. Hiss had disappeared again, it seemed. The sheriff gave me the stink eye, and I figured I needed to calm this situation down fast or I’d otherwise be discovered for what I was and thrown in jail or worse.
“Yes… that’s my robot.” I said cautiously, not wanting to upset the law pony further than he already was. “There’s an encampment surrounding the town, sir, take a look. Careful not to peek your head over for too long though, they got snipers. Took out your guard up there.”
“What? Ol’ Shotty’s dead?” the sheriff said, looking genuinely shocked and saddened by the news. He quickly ran around me and up the walkway to the observation platform, where I heard him exclaim, “Fuck! Celestia this can’t be happening! Who’re they?!”
“Red Eye’s slavers.” I replied from down below. “You can tell by their banner.”
“Slavers.” The sheriff said, spitting the word out like the foulest of curses. “Shoulda known, they’ve come ta take us all away!” He came down from the platform, looking out at the crowd that was now gathering at the gate, wondering what the late-night ruckus was all about. “They’ve come ta sell our freedom! Ta work us ta death! Well, I can tell you, missy, we’re not goin’ without a fight! Everypony who’s fit to carry a weapon, meet me at Mare Iarty’s in one hour! We’ve got some plannin’ ta do!” He turned to me, looking me square in the eye. I didn’t dare flinch, he had a fire in his eyes that burned with fury I had only seen in those slaves that had a purpose, the slaves who are best put down before they do you or others harm. Those who would charge straight at you in the hopes that their bomb collar would take you with them. It wasn’t a nice look. “And I expect you to be there too, missy. You recognize ‘em, I’ll wager you know ‘ow to fight ‘em too.” With that, the sheriff stormed into his house, slamming the door as if it had personally affronted him.
The crowd murmured worriedly, some still wondering what was going on. As I watched, though, the news spread fast, and the reactions of the ponies around me were varied, but all negative. Some looked scared out of their wits, others frothing at the mouth with anger. Quite a few more sensitive-looking mares burst into tears. Some were looking to me to… they looked like they were waiting for instructions. Why were they looking at me for guidance?! “Umm…” I said, not sure of what to say. I wasn’t used to ponies wanting to follow my orders without a collar around their neck. Luckily, I was interrupted by MG-MS11.
“Alright, ponies! You heard the sheriff!” he shouted, though no longer setting his voice to the earsplitting volume that it was before. “A militia order has been enacted in accordance with Ministry of Morale protocol YT-67d! In the event of a zebra attack, all able-bodied ponies are to arm themselves and prepare to repel the attack under the command of the highest-ranking lawpony. We are to regroup at Mare Iarty’s in an hour, bring your guns and let’s make the striped bastards wish they’d never been born! Hoo-Ahh!”
“Well, it looks like there are a few leadership protocols in our new robot friend. Good thing too, otherwise thou would be left standing here looking like a moron.” Mezzer said snidely, snapping me out of my reverie. The crowd dispersed a bit, ponies still telling each other what was going on. I overheard somepony telling somepony else that, no, zebras weren’t the ones who were attacking, slavers were. I shook my head, wondering how I had gotten into this situation. First I was supposed to blow up the town, now I’m supposed to help defend it against an attack?
“C’mon.” I said, as MG-MS11 hovered up to me and Hiss reappeared by my side. “We need to get back to Tootie’s and tell the other’s what’s going on.” Maybe some input from my friends would help sort things out on what I was supposed to do.
“Friends? Thou mean ‘slaves,’ right? We are talking about Crescent Wrench and Shimmercoat here, and while I am unsure of Crescent’s feelings towards thou, I am certain Shimmercoat does not count thee amongst his list of friends.” Mezzer corrected my thoughts. That was going to get annoying fast.
They are so my friends! I countered, thinking back at the magical weapon’s presence in my mind. They helped me fix my back, didn’t they? Even Shimmercoat helped by buying all those potions to fuel MG-MS11.
“His life is linked to thee, it only makes sense that he would do his best to make sure thy life is not lost.” Mezzer reminded me. And I think Crescent only sticks around because of him, and the fact that she seems to be terrified of being alone out here in the wastes. If thou wants to test their friendship with thee, remove Shimmercoat from his bondage and see how long it takes for him to make an aggressive move against thee.” Mezzer said, and I got the sense that he thought about what he said for a moment. “On second thought, do not do that. I do not want thee and I to be killed for such a stupid test.”
“It’s possible for slaves and their owners to become friends, I see it all the time in Auction House!” I said out loud, forgetting that I only needed to think at Mezzer. There was nopony around but Hiss and MG-MS11, though, so I don’t think it mattered much. “You’re probably right, though…” I continued, sighing. “I’ve traveled alone for so long now that I forgot what being around other ponies is like… I suppose that being around you guys is making me go soft… I’ve never considered other slaves before this to be ‘friends.’ Guess Shimmercoat saving my life, even if it was only to keep his head, has got me thinking that he likes me.” I chuckled, kicking at the ground a little as we walked. We were nearly there, this little chat with Mezzer would have to continue at some other time.
“Oh, I would not go that far. Thy feelings for Shimmercoat in particular are no doubt also influenced by thy thrice-dammed feminine hormones.” Mezzer said, causing me to blush.
“It’s not my fault he’s good looking!” I said angrily at the male presence in my mind. If the ‘correcting my thoughts’ thing wasn’t going to get annoying, the ‘straight male presence in my brain’ thing was definitely going to be a problem. “I would never do anything with him anyways. He seems more than content to screw around with old mares we meet in the street anyways. And my dear ol’ Ma said to never screw around with ponies you don’t intend on marrying. So I don’t.” No matter how much as I’d like to, in some cases.
“I can still hear thy thoughts.” Mezzer said.
I blushed, but didn’t answer, as we had reached Tootie’s house, and I pushed open the door, the three (or four) of us stepping inside. Crescent was yawning in the center of the living room, rubbing her eyes, her curly mane flattened to her head on one side from lying on the floor next to that Mr. Handy she was still working on. She had obviously just woken up. The squeaking of the bed in Tootie’s room had stopped, thankfully, and I knocked on the door. Apparently they hadn’t been awakened by MG-MS11’s call to arms. Either that or they were too busy… not that I cared.
“What’s going on?” Crescent Wrench asked. “I thought I heard somepony yelling outside.”
“That would be because Mr. Loudspeaker over here decided he needed to wake up the whole town.” I said, pointing at MG-MS11.
“Would you rather I let these townsponies be killed in their beds by the zebra menace?! Neigh, I say!” MG-MS11 said, eye sensors focusing on me.
“Whatever, the point is… SHIMMERCOAT, GET OUT HERE!” I shouted, tired of waiting for him. After a few moments, Shimmercoat and Tootie emerged from the bedroom, manes disheveled. Shimmercoat still had his scarf on, at least, and Tootie didn’t look like she was suspicious, so at least he had kept the presence of mind to keep the fact that he was a slave a secret.
“What, is the town under attack or something?” Shimmercoat said, yawning. He looked worn out. What a shame.
“Actually…” I said, “It is.” Tootie gasped, stepping closer to Shimmercoat, her eyes widening. “Red Eye’s slavers are besieging the town as we speak. They’ll probably assault us in the morning.”
“Slavers!? Oh… oh dear, that’s just plain awful!” Tootie said, looking horrified. “Sheriff High Horse detests slavers, he says that they bring disease an’ blight wherever they go, an’ that they’ll take anypony from their families and work ‘em till they die!”
“Well, I don’t know where he got disease and blight from…” I muttered. Sure I was a mess when I walked into town, but hey, I had just had back surgery, gimme a break here! “And only some slavers work ponies like that. But these particular slavers will most certainly work you to death if they get their hooves on you. Red Eye has… well, poor business practices when it comes to that.”
“Tha’s a strange way of puttin’ it.” Tootie said.
“Go on…” Shimmercoat said, looking smug for some reason. “I’m curious. What’s the difference between Red Eye’s slavers and ones that, say, wander around on their own?” he asked.
“Who is this Red Eye anyways?” Crescent added.
“Well, not many slavers wander around on their own.” I replied, wondering what his game was. This was as good a time as any to educate Shimmercoat and Crescent on the difference between what I did and what Red Eye did. “Red Eye is the leader of a group of slavers based in the ruins of Fillydelphia. He is one of the main superpowers of the Equestrian Wasteland. He commands a massive army of ponies and griffins, and sends them out on raids frequently, collecting slaves to work in the factories he’s got running in Fillydelphia’s industrial district. He and his slavers work his slaves until they can’t work anymore, and once you’re caught by Red Eye, there’s pretty much zero hope of ever being free again.” Crescent looked like she was scared out of her wits, Shimmercoat looked thoughtful, and Tootie looked increasingly worried as I spoke. “The fact that he’s sent a large amount of slavers to raid this town probably means that he’s expanding his reach… I’ve never seen Red Eye’s slavers out this far from Fillydelphia before in this much force. Usually it’s only small bands trading with more local slavers. This is bad news for anypony living in the region.”
“Ah’ll say! Where does ‘e get the nerve, taking ponies away from their ‘ard earned homes like that?” Tootie said.
“I don’t know why he does it, I don’t work for him.” I replied, truthfully. I’ve never sold anypony to Red Eye’s slavers, though sometimes I bought collars off of them. They pay well enough, but the way they treated their slaves didn’t sit well with me. Sure, I’ve sold to raiders, even, but that was when I thought that the slaves would be used in a manner that wouldn’t mean the death of them, which is why I got angry when I came back to raider customers to find that slaves I had sold them were being used as macabre wall art. “Slaves are supposed to be an investment, not some sort of tool to be used until it breaks.”
“You say that as if you were okay with slavin’…” Tootie said warily. Nuts, did I just say that out loud?
“Well, yeah.” Crescent Wrench said, yawning, and probably not realizing the gravity of what she was saying. “She is a slaver herself after all.”
“Crud.” I said, the horrified look on Tootie’s face telling me that the jig was up.
“You wondered why I didn’t take off my scarf earlier?” Shimmercoat said, turning to Tootie. “This is why.” He removed his scarf with a bit more flourish then what I thought was nessessary, revealing the bomb collar strapped to his neck.
“Wha… is that… MAH CELESTIA!” Tootie recoiled from the collar as if it would go off any moment.
“Coin Slot here is a slaver. She’s got me and Crescent under her thrall.” Shimmercoat said to Tootie.
“Shimmercoat! Why are you telling her?!” I asked, panicking, all hope of covering up Crescent’s accidental revealing of my identity lost. This wasn’t the plan, this wasn’t the plan at all.
“Because this town seems nice, it has nice ponies in it, and more importantly, it doesn’t allow ponies like you!” Shimmercoat said, turning towards me, anger in his perfect features. “While I appreciate you forcing my hoof to get out of the Stable that was surely going to be the death of me, I utterly do not appreciate you thinking that I’m some sort of ‘investment,’ as you call it. I am a pony, not a piece of chattel. I figured that once I made a friend in this town, I could turn you in and force you to free me.” And to think that I had been thinking about Shimmercoat as one of my own friends just moments earlier. It… it hurt. I didn’t think it would; after all, Shimmercoat had tried to use me as a pony battery for his Stable… but him trying to turn me in literally the first chance he got… I hadn’t expected that. Though I really should have, in hindsight. Hiss growled at Shimmercoat, his hackles rising as Shimmercoat continued to talk. “You can’t blow my head up here, not without the whole town coming down on you. Tootie’s my witness, Crescent might be too scared to turn you in, but she isn’t! Right?” He turned to look at Tootie.
Tootie was looking at me, terrified. “You… you’re one of their advance scouts, aren’t you? You’re probably going to open the gates for them in the morning, that’s why you left! But your robot woke up the town, so now you got to do something else before the sheriff mounts a counterattack!”
“No!” This was bad, this was really bad. “I don’t work for Red Eye, I’m an independent contractor!” I said. “I usually work for Auction House!”
“Auction House?” Crescent piped up, she had been pretty quiet, looking from one pony to the other as we had… discussed things. She was probably still waking up. “What’s that?”
“Is this really the time?” Shimmercoat said exasperatingly to Crescent Wrench.
“It’s a town, a city!” I said, grabbing onto the lifeline, hoping to get the topic of discussion to a subject that didn’t involve turning me in to the sheriff with the fire in his eyes. High Horse, I think Tootie had called him. He gave me the impression that if I were outed as a slaver to him, I would be dancing the hemp fandango in short order. “Auction House is just about as far away from Fillydelphia as you can get!”
“You mean, like, on the other side of Equestria?” Crescent asked. Shimmercoat looked miffed that she had stolen his big ‘face down Coin’ moment, but I was glad for the young mare’s curiosity.
“No, I meant like… their practices. Red Eye works his slaves to death, fights them in gladiatorial pits, and treats them like objects… tools. Auction House treats slaves like I said they should be treated… as investments. Slaves are free labor that will pay for themselves five times over if you treat them right.” I said. “At Auction House, there are many support services for slaves and their owners, and the ponies living there follow the rules. Slaves aren’t to be beaten, raped, or starved. Slaves must be given enough time to rest and sleep, and are even allowed one full day a week off of work. Slaves…”
“Enough!” Shimmercoat interrupted. “If you get this collar off of me and leave right now, we’ll wait until you leave town before going to the sheriff. You’ll have your chance to escape to this ‘Auction House.’ Sounds like a great place, just leave, and stay there. Away from us.”
“I can’t do that! Red Eye’s slavers will capture anypony that sets hoof outside the town right now!” I said.
“So? You’re a slaver, they’ll let you pass, won’t they?” Shimmercoat countered.
I shook my head. Some ponies just didn’t get it. “No, slavers don’t play nice like that, especially Red Eye’s group. They’ll take me just as soon as they’d take you guys. I’m as stuck here as you right now.”
“Um…” Tootie said. We all turned to her, she didn’t look near as scared as she did moments earlier. “Ah have an idea… what if… what if Ah bought Shimmercoat from you?”
Shimmercoat looked at her as if she’d fallen from the moon. “You shouldn’t have too!” he protested.
“Darlin, shush your mouth and let me say mah piece.” Tootie said sternly. Shimmercoat shushed his mouth. “If’n I bought Shimmercoat from you, and freed ‘im immediately, would tha’ break some sort o’ slaver-customer agreements?” She sounded confused, but hopeful.
“Well, if I were a Red Eye pony, the answer would be yes.” I said. “His policies are once you’re a slave, you’re a slave for life, and no customer can free you or they’d open themselves up to being enslaved. But independents working for Auction House-”
“Get to the point.” Shimmercoat interrupted again.
“I’m getting there!” I said, wanting to make sure the difference between me and the ponies outside the gates was loud and clear. “Auction House affiliates don’t work like that. Once a slave is sold, it’s up to the owner when or if they are freed. In the actual city of Auction House, a slave can even be required to be freed by law if they do certain things or if certain conditions are met. So no, there would be no protestations from me if you were to buy Shimmercoat from me and free him immediately. Though…” I said, holding my hoof up to forestall Tootie’s reply. “I would require as part of the transaction that nopony try to kill me after the sale, including Shimmercoat…” he glared at me. “and that nopony turn me in until I’m able to leave this town for good.” I had said that I wouldn’t sell Shimmercoat, as I was pretty sure I could rent him for a mountain of caps back at Auction House, but if it was a choice between selling him into freedom or getting turned in to a militant sheriff, well, the choice was obvious.
Before Tootie could reply, there was a knock on the door. A stallion’s voice came through. “Sheriff High Horse is callin’ all ponies to get their asses to Mare Iarty’s pronto! Git out here and git a move on, we got a fuckin’ town emergency on our hooves!”
“Why don’ we discuss the details of the… um… transaction… after we solve our little Red Eye problem?” Tootie said, trotting towards the door.
“Will you buy me too!?” Crescent said excitedly. Geesh, was I that bad? Though I was more then willing to sell Crescent to such a nice mare. Tootie was exactly the kind of customer I like to sell to the most. If she could afford the both of them (and I planned on giving her a discount for not turning me in), then I would be happy to sell her a family. She looked like the kind of mare that was looking for a nice family to live with, but due to unfortunate circumstances didn’t have one she was related too. Buying one was perfectly acceptable in my book.
“If I can afford it, dearie.” Tootie said, looking at me. I nodded at her, smiling. She smiled back. “Let’s get to the pub though, the sheriff’s waiting.”
“I… ugh…” Shimmercoat sighed, putting his scarf back on. “That didn’t go the way I wanted it to at all. She shouldn’t have to pay for me.”
“Hey, if she buys you, everypony walks away happy and alive. Isn’t that worth a few caps?” I said.
“I suppose… in a twisted way of thinking about it.”
“Well, let’s go and get ready to defend your soon-to-be new home.” I said, smiling, trying to cheer Shimmercoat up. He had thought this was going to be a big showdown with me, and Crescent and Tootie kind of stole his thunder. I almost felt sorry for the blue buck. Almost.
“Hey… sorry for yelling at you.” Shimmercoat replied, looking me right in the eye. “I got a little overpassionate… from what you told us about these Red Eye ponies, Crescent and I should count ourselves lucky that if we’re slaves, we could have much, much worse masters. You gave me the motivation to finally leave that deathtrap of a Stable… and save a little one from it as well. I suppose that’s worth something.” He smiled. “I’ll still be glad when this thing is off my neck, though.”
“Uhh… thanks, I guess.” I stammered. Shimmercoat was one confusing stallion, angry at me one moment and thankful the next… I didn’t know what to think around him. Argh… it didn’t help that him smiling at me was…
“Don’t even think about it.” Mezzer said.
We trotted (or in MG-MS11’s case, floated) out of Tootie Fruity’s house and headed in the direction many other townsponies were headed, towards the Mare Iarty Pub and Inn.
“Everypony here?” Sheriff High Horse said from atop the bar as we stepped in. He spotted me and nodded, apparently I had garnered special attention from him. Lucky me. In the light I now saw that High Horse was white, with a dark purple mane and tail that looked like they had never been cut or groomed in his entire life, a distinct possibility. His horn also looked a good deal sharper than mine… like he might have filed it sharp or something. Also a distinct possibility. “Good! Thanks to this here robot…” he pointed at MG-MS11, “we ‘ave been alerted to enemies at our gates! You there!” He paused, looking confused for a moment instead of angry. “Um… I didn’t catch yer name, stranger.” He said, looking at me.
“Coin Slot.” I said, not seeing any reason to hide my name from him. It was doubtful he had heard of me before.
“Right! Miss Slot, please enlighten these ponies as to who we’re up ‘gainst!” High Horse said.
Everypony turned to look at me. Hoo boy. “Um… alright. From their banner, I could tell that the ponies outside the town are under the employ of Red Eye, the slavemaster from Fillydelphia.” The crowd murmured, apparently some of them still didn’t know fully what was going on. “This many of them here probably means only one thing… that they are preparing to attack the town, and are probably going to try and capture as many ponies as possible to put to work in the Fillydelphia factories.” I said.
“Right! I won’t have a single slaver set foot in this town under my watch!” High Horse said over the murmuring crowd, gaining their attention again and quieting them down. There were a lot of worried glances going around. “I called us all here to gear up and get ready to fight fer the town! Now, I was thinking we mount a defense along the walls and snipe at them from cover ‘till they go away…” he started, but I had to point something out.
“Um…” I said, loudly to catch the sheriff’s attention, and High Horse glared at me for interrupting him. “Sorry… but Red Eye employs a lot of griffins… there’s probably quite a few of them out there, they’ll just fly over the walls. Might even grab ponies from the walls and carry them off, if they’re out in the open.”
High Horse looked stunned. “Griffins?” He asked. I nodded. “How do you know so much about this Red Eye guy and his troops?”
“It’s fairly common knowledge where I’m from.” I said, not missing a beat. I definitely didn’t want anypony getting suspicious of me. “In fact, I moved out to this area to get away from ponies like Red Eye… looks like he’s expanding his reach.”
High Horse glared at me, though I was beginning to think that glaring was his default expression. “Right then… so we got fliers. Any ideas?” he asked the crowd. Nopony raised their hooves, and there was much examining of ceilings and floors.
“I do believe that I moight ‘ave an idea.” Came an accented voice from behind the bar where High Horse was standing. Looking behind the sheriff, I saw a green earth pony stallion with an orange mane and tail, who was also sporting an orange goatee. With his cutie mark being a wine glass, I could only assume that this was Iarty, the proprietor of the bar we were meeting in. “We could evacuate the town, make it so that when the slavers come, there’s nopony to capture. We wait until they leave, then come back.”
“Sounds fantastic, Iarty.” High Horse said sarcastically. “Cept the part where they’re surrounding the town and there’s no escape from them! How’er we supposed to evacuate when there’s nowhere to evacuate to, ya daft barpony!”
“I’m jus’ thinking o’ ideas, no need to get snooty on me, sheriff.” Iarty said. “Mayhap if’n we ‘ad something they want besides our freedom, we could sell em that and make em go away.”
“What about the megaspell in the center of town?” somepony in the crowd suggested.
“Yeah!” A unicorn mare standing next to me said. “That thing is slowly killing us anyways.”
“Let me get this straight…” High Horse said, his glare sustaining its intensity. “You want us to sell a group of slavers a megaspell?! That’s got ta be the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard!”
“Besides!” Another pony spoke up. This one was a white coated, white maned pony wearing a white hooded robe. She removed her hood as she stood on a table to make herself heard. I saw that her eyes were white as well… in fact they looked glazed over. Weird, I’d never seen eyes like that before except in blind ponies… does that mean she was blind? She continued speaking, though, seeming to look out at the crowd. “The Church of Balefire would never allow such a blasphemous transaction! To sell the spell would be tantamount to selling ourselves to these slavers! The cleansing fire and radiation purifies this town and keeps us whole! Or have you townsponies already forgotten who helped put up the wall surrounding our abode, who helped fund the caravans that provide us with supplies, who helped sustain us in the early years? It was us! The Church! As Head Minister, I forbid the selling of the megaspell!”
“As much as I… dislike agreeing wit’ Miss Jeteye over there,” High Horse said as the crowd started to murmur in reaction to the church pony’s statement. “I also forbid selling that megaspell. I hate keeping it in the center of town where I just know it’s goin’ to be the death of us, but givin’ it to some slaver just reeks of big trouble, if not fer us then for somepony else down the road. Who else has ideas?”
The crowd started throwing out ideas, some ponies wanting to just charge the besiegers now, others wanting to try and run away and come back later, still others saying they should just lock up their doors and wait for the slavers to get bored and go away. I watched with interest as to what was going on. Ever since I had had to leave my family’s casino on the Big 52, I’d never settled down anywhere in particular. Home was where I laid my head at night… but these ponies were obviously both scared of losing their home, and determined not to lose it. I thought about what I was doing here… these ponies didn’t deserve to die just because I had my back fixed by some strange pony on the road. The detonation module in my pack felt heavier, the weight of the worries of these townsponies making itself known to me. On the other hoof, I needed to complete the job I was given, otherwise Price would probably send bounty hunters after me once he figured out that the collar he had put on me didn’t work. I did not want to become the source of somepony’s paycheck.
“What are we gonna do, ya’ll?” Tootie said quietly to me, sounding desperate. “Yer…” she looked around nervously to make sure nopony was paying attention to us. Even High Horse had stopped looking at me, the crowd was busy brainstorming, and we were at the back. “… a slaver… if you were attacking the town wit’ an army, what would stop you?”
“If I had an army at my disposal?” I asked rhetorically. “Probably not much besides another army contesting for the rights to the town.”
“I don’t think replacing this army with another would solve the problem.” Shimmercoat added quietly, if a little sardonically.
“What if this hypothetical army thou has is staffed with incompetent officers? Or stripped of its command staff? I would think that would slow thy advance considerably.” Mezzer piped up in my head.
“Or…” I said, picking up on Mezzer’s hint. “If my officers were all dead, then the command structure of my army would be caput, and the cohesion that makes an army threatening to an organized town defense would fall apart.” I smiled. “If we could somehow get to the important ponies in that army outside the gates, they would probably give up! Sure, Red Eye’s slavers are more organized than most, but most of his grunt troops are still just ‘reformed’ raiders and rough mercenaries.” I sat up straight, quite pleased with my idea.
“Thou should remember that that was my idea.” Mezzer said.
“Oh, shush, I would have thought of that eventually.” I thought back.
“So you’re saying we should sneak out there and find a way to… um, get rid of the officer slavers?” Crescent Wrench asked, obviously avoiding the word ‘kill.’ Poor girl, the wasteland still hadn’t gotten to her yet. She reminded me of myself when I was young… it would only be a matter of time before something happened that whould change her forever, though. Just like me… thoughts of my dear ol’ Ma resurfaced, but I shoved them back down. I needed to concentrate.
“Essentially. We should tell the sheriff to gather the sneakiest ponies in town to sneak into the enemy camp and quietly assassinate the slaver officers.” I replied.
“A capital idea, sarge!” MG-MS11 proclaimed loudly, causing the crowd of murmuring ponies around us to stop talking and turn to stare at us.
“Something you’d like to share, stranger?” Sheriff High Horse asked. “I welcome any and all ideas if it helps us get rid o—OW!” High Horse was interrupted by a metal cylinder flying through the window and hitting him smack on the nose. It thunked to the ground and rolled to a stop in front of the packed group of ponies in front of the bar.
“GRENAAAAAADE!!” MG-MS11 shouted at the top of his volume, just as the cylinder erupted with a deafening explosion and brilliant flash of blinding light. I couldn’t hear anything but a ringing in my ears as I instinctively jumped backwards, bumping into somepony. I felt ponies pressing against me and each other as they all swarmed for the exit, which I was standing right in front of. Panic was in the air, and the ponies in the bar were pushing and shoving for the exit in a blind and deaf mob of hooves and horns. I was struck several times, and I retaliated by swinging the Hoof of Honor around a bit as I tried to feel my own way around blindly towards the exit.
Something grabbed my swinging hoof. It felt like a claw, and that was my last thought before pain exploded in my head, and I blacked out.
“Maaaaa!” I shouted, wandering through the crowded casino. “Maaaaa!”
Something had happened. There were rumors of a pink ghost visiting Sun City, a city to the north quite a ways. The rumors were that crowds of ponies, griffins, and other beings were now fighting over the city’s resources all of the sudden when they had lived together peacefully for some time, and all this was somehow related to the Ghost. Refugees from Sun City that had fled south during the fighting had, of course, encountered my family’s casino, and it was now as crowded as it had ever been. The amount of customers they had was record-breaking. Pa was working overtime at the bar, Hammer was trying to keep an eye on everypony on the gambling floor, and the few other staff members Ma had hired recently were swamped with serving, cleaning, and peacekeeping duties all at the same time. And Ma was nowhere to be found, not even in her office.
“Maaaaaa!” I shouted a third time. She really needed to be here when the place was this crowded! I looked around worriedly. We were surely losing caps to cheaters and scammers, but we didn’t have the ponypower to cover our casino when it was this full. “Pa, do you know where Ma is?” I asked my Pa, who was working on three different ponies drink orders at the same time.
“I don’t know honey, kind of busy right now…” he said. “Check outside behind the casino, she might be tossing some trash out or something, I saw her head towards the back with a big bag.” He continued mixing drinks as rapidly as he could, his hooves flying around knocking glasses together in an artful display of organized chaos. He was pretty skilled with his hooves; it must have come from being an earth pony.
“Ok!” I said, heading towards the back of the casino where the backdoor was. No customers were allowed back here; this was where Ma’s office, the kitchen, and the staff rooms were. I passed by Lucky Star as she exited her room, looking really tired. “Lucky!” I called out. “Have you seen Ma?”
“Um…” she said, looking down at me. Her eyes were all glittery with the makeup she wore for her showmare performances. Lucky and I never really talked. Honestly, I got along better with Hammer then I did with her, and he really creeped me out. “I heard someone head out the backdoor, could have been her.” She said, shrugging and heading for the gambling floor.
“Ok, thanks!” I said to her retreating flank, and continued down the hallway. Upon reaching the backdoor, I used my magic to grasp the handle, about to open it…
Everything froze. I couldn’t move! What was happening!?
“Can thou hear me, Coin?” A strange, deep voice asked. Right next to me, a weird device floated in the air. It kind of looked like a terminal screen attached to a gunstock… and it was floating where the head should be in the starry, swirling form of a stallion. I tried to scream, but nothing came out.
“Don’t panic, Coin.” the monster said. “It’s just me, Mezzer.”
My mouth unfroze, even though the rest of me didn’t… I was still magically grasping the doorknob. “What… what’s going on!? Who are you!? Why am I frozen!?”
“Coin,” the thing that called itself Mezzer said. “It’s only me… this is only a memory of thy childhood. Thou art knocked out right now.”
As Mezzer said this, memories of my adulthood came rushing to me. I’m… a slaver? No, captured by slavers? Both? How is this even possible?! Can I have memories of the future while having a memory of me as a filly?
“Wait… I’m a memory of myself from the future… in the past…” I said. “So… how are you talking to me? Wait, you’re my gun, Mezzer!” I shouted, recalling forward what he was.
“Yes. Thou art an adult in the present, and I am joined with thy soul. Because of this, I have been exploring thy memories to understand who thou art more closely. We have come close enough that I can now communicate with thee while reviewing thy memories.” Mezzer said. “Has thou not noticed the increase in dreams about thy past? That would be my fault.”
“Oh…” I said, not sure about how to take this. It was an amazing invasion of privacy, sure, especially since he didn’t ask first… but if we really were joined at the soul, we needed to know each other at the most intimate level if we wanted to work the best together. “I… have noticed, a little. But could you ask first before you invade one of my memories? I was kind of freaked out there for a second.”
“My apologies, I will endeavor to let thee know when I plan on conducting memory-dives.” Mezzer said, his ‘head’ bowing.
“Anyways… do you know what’s going on outside?” I asked.
“Yes, I do, unfortunately. While thou remain blissfully unconscious, thou and most of the townsponies of Maregaton have fallen to the slavers. Thou art being rounded up and dragged around like the rest of the town, and placed into a caged cart right outside the city gates. That flash grenade stunned nearly everyone inside the bar…”
“How can you see this without my eyes being open?” I asked. I was just full of questions for Mezzer. I guess this was the ‘getting to understand each other better’ thing he was talking about.
“I have other ways then thou for sensing the world around me.” Mezzer said, putting a spectral hoof to his spectral chest.
“Ok then…” I said, not wanting to hear a technical explanation of how he saw what he saw. I had the distinct impression it would make my head hurt. “Where are the others?”
“Crescent Wrench is with thee, in the cage. Both she and thou have been outfitted with slave collars, though I don’t worry much about those considering what thou did to the last one thou was wearing.”
“Yeah, when you’re in this business, it pays to figure out exactly how bomb collars work and how to turn them off.” I said. “And I’ve bought Red Eye’s collars before, I know exactly how to take them off, no problem. I usually take them off the merchandise after a sale; I don’t like giving them away. Means I have to go buy more.”
“Indeed. Nevertheless, we still seem to be in a pickle, as thou has been placed in a cage full of ponies wearing the things. The sheriff and that priestess pony are both in here as well, along with a good portion of the town. There is another cage they are filling up too. The cages are on carts; we will probably be carted away towards Flillydelphia once the slavers are done looting the town.” Mezzer said.
“Probably…” I sighed. We were, as Mezzer had said, indeed in a ‘pickle.’ “What about Shimmercoat? And the others?”
“Shimmercoat, MG-MS11, and Hiss are nowhere to be seen. One can surmise that they are hiding nearby, as neither Hiss nor MG-MS11 are inclined to run too far away, and Shimmercoat is tied to thee by an invisible leash.” Mezzer said.
“That means Shimmercoat at least is no more than two hundred yards away.” I said. “I hope nopony notices him… wait, what about Tootie?”
“She is not within my senses. It is possible she got away with Shimmercoat, perhaps…” Mezzer said, but he sounded uncertain. “She could also be in the other cage.”
“Well… ok. Is there any way you can wake me up?” I asked. My filly body was still frozen in the memory, ready and waiting to open the back door to the casino. If I recalled correctly… I wouldn’t want this memory to play out, especially if Mezzer was watching. Some things are… private.
“Thy body must wake up on its own.” Mezzer said. “I’ll leave now, and you’ll continue the memory as normal…”
“Wait!” I said as Mezzer started to fade away. “Don’t watch this one, it’s pri—”
I opened the door, heading out back behind the casino. We had a small fenced off courtyard behind us where we kept some spare junk that could be used later as supplies, but for right now was basically garbage. Piles of broken slot machines, tables, chairs, and even a few carts littered the area behind our building, creating small alleyways in-between the junk. “Maaaaaa?!” I shouted.
“Over… *hic* over here sweetie!” Ma’s voice came from behind a pile of slot machines, out of view from the casino. What was she doing back there? I trotted over to see Ma with an empty bottle of Wild Pegasus Whisky next to her, and a big garbage bag dripping with something that smelled foul. She was levitating it over the fence. She dropped it with a sickening squelch noise and tossed the bottle over with it, turning to me with a flushed red face. The bag started leaking a sickly red pool on the ground around it.
“Did you drink that whole bottle by yourself?” I asked, incredulous. Ma never drank this much! I don’t think I’d ever actually seen her get drunk! She said only bad fillies got drunk… Pa on the other hoof got drunk all the time…
A crow landed on the bag just outside the fence, pecking at it. Ma smiled at me and said, “You… you’re a good little filly, you know? Besh one a mother could… could ask for. You alwaysh do what… what I say… mmmm…” she inhaled deeply, sniffing at the air and the foul stench coming from the bag, and quivered, her flush getting even redder.
“Thanks Ma!” I replied, smiling. Ma thought I was a good little filly!
“Imma… you need a present… for being such a good little filly…” Ma said, looking around. A present? Yay!
Ma frowned. Apparently she couldn’t remember what she was going to give me, or couldn’t find it. She trotted haphazardly closer to me. “Wait… wait…” she muttered under her breath. The crow behind her cawed. She fell over on her side, plopping to the ground and moaning. She inhaled deeply again, shuddering and turning redder again as a result. I didn’t know why she was sniffing so deeply, that bag smelled awful, like something dead was in it…
“Ma? Ma! Are you OK?!” I cried out in alarm, running to her. As soon as I got close, though, she rolled over with surprising speed and grabbed me with her hooves, pulling me in close to her chest. I ‘oomphed’ against her as she held me… I could hear her heart beat… it was fast. Ma never held me like this…
“Ma loves her good little filly…” Ma said, lifting my head up to look at her. Her flushed cheeks highlighted her glazed-over eyes as she closed them, and lowered her head towards mine…
Ma kissed me. My eyes widened in shock… this wasn’t the normal ‘I love you Coin’ kiss she gave me on the forehead sometimes… she acted like those were a chore when I did something good. This kiss… it was on the mouth… it was like the kisses I saw some couples in the casino do before they went up to their rooms…
I… I didn’t know what to do. So I did nothing as Ma continued to kiss me… her tongue forcing its way in… her hoof brushing against…
In the back of my mind I heard a voice. “I understand thee now…”
I awoke to the rhythm of a rumbling cart as it trundled across an uneven, 200-year-old road. I was at the forward edge of the cart, in a cage full of ponies, our bodies pressed together. Crescent Wrench was next to me. “Oh, thank goodness, you’re awake!” Crescent said. “You were making these awful moaning noises, I thought you were getting sick!”
I blushed furiously. “Mezzer, you and I are going to have WORDS!” I shouted in my head. “You had NO RIGHT…”
“I had every right, Miss Slot.” Mezzer said. “Thou and I art the same, I need to understand thee to understand myself. I have found out a great deal about both… I need to analyze it though…” his voice faded and I felt his presence retreat to the back of my mind. Coward. I’d deal with him later though. “I'm better now, Crescent, thanks.” I said aloud. “Using my brilliant methods of deduction…” I said, eyeing the collar around Crescent’s neck. “I deduce that the slavers attacked us early and captured most of the town.”
“Yeah… it’s all my fault.” Crescent whimpered.
“Oh come on now, of all the things that could possibly be your fault, this is the least of them.” I said.
“No! It’s you and Shimmercoat’s fault too! We were the only ones with PipBucks, we should have noticed the slavers sneaking up on the bar with our EFS!” Crescent said, looking at her PipBuck.
I looked down at mine, and then focused on the little heads-up-display at the edge of my vision that was the Eyes-Forward-Sparkle. Little red bars surrounded a mass of yellow ones, the red corresponding with the few-dozen slavers that were surrounding our little caravan. Griffins flew above us, apparently keeping an eye on the road ahead. I tried to find a yellow bar out there amongst the red… Shimmercoat had to be nearby, he would make sure he was at least two hundred yards from my position, it’d be in his best interest to do so. I couldn’t find one though, so he was either hidden, out of range… or dead.
“Oh, right… I guess you’re right about that, I totally forgot about it.” I said. Crescent nodded, her eyes suggesting that she was about to cry. “Oh come now… don’t be too upset. They… uh…”
“Came from behind?” Crescent chuckled. “I know… but now we’re slaves… it’s only a matter of time before we’re tossed into some sort of meat grinder and beaten to death!” Crescent was panicking, and the ponies around us were looking at her with mixed reaction of worry, annoyance, and panic of their own.
“Shush.” I told her sternly. “Remember, with me around…” I tried to say this quietly, so only she could hear. “I can take these collars off. All we need to do is wait for an opportunity to escape.”
“That’s right!” Crescent just about shouted in glee, and I facehoofed. An earth pony slaver hit the cage near us with the stock of his rifle.
“Quiet in there!” he said, chuckling. He had a dingy yellow coat, a dirty black mane and tail, sunglasses, and a bad attitude. “You all thought you had until dawn to come up with a plan, didn’t you?” The ponies around us looked sheepish at best, heartbroken at worst. Except for two, they looked positively livid. High Horse and Jeteye.
“The holy flame will burn thee to ashes, slaver slime!” Jeteye proclaimed from the cage, her milky eyes locked directly onto the slaver addressing us.
“Shut yer trap, ya little fuck, or I’ll shut it for you!” said the slaver, who made up for his lack of imagination with his insults with the volume in which they were delivered. My ears still hurt from that flash-bang grenade, and this guy wasn’t doing me any favors. “What’d you guys expect anyways? We had griffin scouts keeping an eye on the town, and when ninety percent of you fuckers suddenly go into one building, well, it raises flags. Seriously.” He smiled triumphantly. I noticed that his cutie mark happened to look like a bomb with a smiley face on it, superimposed on a starburst explosion. “Still can’t believe I only had to use one flash-bang. You fuckers must have been packed into that little bar. Best merch-run I’ve been on in a while. Seriously.”
“When I get my hooves on you…” High Horse said quietly, shaking with rage.
“You’ll what? Get your fucking head blown off? Cause if you even think about escaping, that’s what’s gonna happen! We all got detonator remotes, all we gotta do is point and click.” The slaver said. “Now shut the fuck up, I’m tired of talking.”
Jeteye sat on the floor and began muttering to herself, her strange eyes closed. High Horse just looked like he was determining whether it would be worth getting his head blown off if he had the chance to beat up even just one slaver. If High Horse were one of my captures, I would have killed him right off the bat. Some ponies you just can’t enslave, they’re either too crazy, boneheaded, or determined to be of any use to any owner. Red Eye didn’t care about the mindset of his slaves, though. He had ways of making ponies subservient. Ways I would not care to see. “We’ll wait until nightfall.” I whispered to Crescent Wrench. “They’ll probably let us out to feed and water us then, and let us use the bathroom. I’ll remove our collars and we can book it.”
“Thou must remember to recover me.” Mezzer said as Crescent nodded to me. “I do not know how far away my physical form can be from thou before something happens, and I would rather not find out.”
Shoot! I forgot that Mezzer was obviously taken away from me when we were captured. He was probably in one of the slaver’s saddles, or one of the storage chests attached to the sides of the carts we were in. “Do you know where you are?” I asked him via thought.
“I’m afraid not. All I can tell is that it’s dark. That doesn’t tell us much.” he said. Drat.
“We’ll figure something out… hopefully when we make our escape attempt, we can hook up with Shimmercoat and come back for you with reinforcements.” I thought.
“What about the others?” Crescent asked, keeping quiet. Nopony in the cage was paying us one iota of attention; they were all too focused on their own predicaments, or had that hopeless look that fresh slaves sometimes get. I could tell that those ponies could be trained, and would perhaps sell really well if they were actually used as proper slaves and not as the pony-machines that Red Eye expected his slaves to be. It was a shame to see such good merchandise go to waste. “Can we save them too?”
“No. That would be unfeasible… wait…” I said, pondering. “We could try and take off a few of the collars in the cage, right before nightfall… the more ponies making a run for it, the more of a chance we’ll have to get away in the confusion! Good idea, Crescent.” I said.
“That… that isn’t exactly what I meant, but ok…” Crescent whispered.
“Alright everypony, stop.” A griffin flew down, telling the ponies pulling both our cart and the other one to stop. “We’re approaching the outskirts of Fillydelphia, so anypony wanting any last kicks with the slaves better do it now, cause it’s the last time you’ll see any of them.” Indeed, looking out towards the horizon I could see the outline of ruined buildings and thick smog rising into a red sky.
“See, this is why I fucking work for you, Brand.” The slaver that had been talking with us said gleefully. “You’re not like the other commanders, you understand what your army needs…”
“Yeah, yeah, just shut it and don’t tell any of the higher ups I do this.” The griffin named Brand replied. “I just want to get my jollies in before the meat gets ground up in the Pit. Can’t do shit once your under the eye of Stern. Make sure you don’t let them all out! We don’t want a repeat of last time… and none of you even think of running for it! We’ve all got our detonators primed and ready!” he said to us slaves.
Apparently, this particular group of slavers liked to have ‘fun’ with their captives. I knew for a fact that Red Eye and his commanders frowned upon this behavior, more for the fact that it was an inefficient way to run business rather than for morality’s sake. One of the main reasons it was frowned upon was because it gave slaves an opportunity to escape…
“Quick, look pathetic.” I said to Crescent. If we could get out now, while everypony was distracted, that would be even better. Crescent did an excellent job of looking pathetic, her eyes downcast and her ears drooping. Even her curly brown hair just kind of deflated a little. Almost made me want to cry. I did my part too, kicking at the floor and maybe showing off a little flank to the bars of the cage. Hey, if it meant possible chance of escape, I’ll do it.
The slaver that had talked to us approached the cage. “You there!” he said, pointing at Jeteye. “Slaver slime, huh? I’ve heard worse, but I want to show you something… heh. Oh, I’m talking to you, blind… ey.” Man, he really needed to work on his insults.
“I know.” Jeteye replied. “I’m guessing you want me to go to the door to this abominable cage?”
“You guessed it. I’ll show you real slaver slime… heh.” Dear chimichangas, that was bad. Apparently we didn’t look pathetic enough. Jeteye made her way to the cage door through the press of ponies… much more confidently then any blind female slave had any right to be. She would also probably be killed off or released if I was the one who caught her. I got the feeling she was hiding something. Something that would end badly for anypony who crossed her.
Other ponies were picked out by the slavers and hauled out of the cages carefully, guns trained on the entrances as they were opened. Some ponies went quietly, accepting their fate, others were crying, and still others had to be dragged out by their tails or manes. Mares, foals, and stallions alike were being chosen… it all depended on what the slaver wanted out of them. Some obviously wanted somepony to rape… others looked like they were just going to beat the crud out of their chosen slave. They were being careful though… more careful then I thought they would be. Maybe this wasn’t a chance to escape…
“Ahh! Fuck! Celestia damn it!” Brand’s voice cried out from the back of the other cart. I looked through the bars of the cage I was in to see that the griffin commander had been bucked in the face by the pony he was dragging out of the other cage. That pony was green, and had strawberries for her cutie mark… Tootie Fruity.
“Wait!” I called out, but it was too late. Tootie was making a break for it. She looked like she had seen something behind the rocks lining the sides of the road we were on.
“Little cunt…” Brand muttered, pointing a detonator at Tootie. Crescent turned away, tears in her eyes, but I watched as I saw Tootie’s collar explode. Slave collars were shaped charges… they directed the blast inward and upward. Tootie’s skull fragmented into an innumerable amount of pieces as blood sprayed from the suddenly empty neck. The body stood there for a moment in mid-stride before falling to the ground, headless. “Bitches don’t listen…” Brand said.
I heard a muffled shout from the rocks, and thought I saw a blue glow of magic. One of the other griffin slavers apparently saw it too, but when he flew over to check, he looked around the rocks a bit and shrugged, flapping back over to the cages.
The ponies around me murmured in shock. I remembered that these townsponies probably all knew each other pretty well, at they very least they were all probably passing acquaintances. Quite a few ponies burst into tears, or shook in fear at the carnage. Brand turned to look at me… son of a gun, he had heard me call out to Tootie. “Friend of yours?” He asked, looking directly at me.
“Uh… client, actually.” I said. It was the truth, though I had never been able to make a sale, and now I never would…
“Well I’m sorry for the lost business, but looks like you got a new client now, Caps. Git out here.” Brand said menacingly.
“Stay calm…” Mezzer said reassuringly.
“I know how to act in this situation… I’ve been on the reverse end enough times…” I thought back, though I made note to myself that I wasn’t nearly as abusive to my merchandise. The other slavers were beginning their ‘fun’ already… I looked away, trying to ignore the open rape and beatings and abuse that was just happening out on the open wastes… I couldn’t ignore the sounds though.
I stepped up to the door of the cage I was in like a good little slave, and followed Brand meekly. I needed to wait for the perfect opportunity; I wouldn’t make any sudden moves until then. Even… even if this griffin wanted to… to…
“I’m here with thee.” Mezzer said. “We’ll get through this.” Having the weapon reassure me was… oddly calming.
Brand led me a little ways away from the main group, and then turned to me. “So, what’s your name, meat?” he asked. I was surprised. Usually slavers like this didn’t care.
“Coin Slot.” I said, not making eye contact.
“Look at me.” Brand said. I looked up at him. His eyes flashed with the gleam of a predatory species. He frowned. “You’re not scared of me.” He stated. It wasn’t a question.
“O… of course I am… you have the power here…” I stammered. I wasn’t expecting this… whatever this was. I had no idea what Brand was up to, it was throwing me off my game.
“I suspect that I actually don’t.” Brand said. “Come here.” He sat down, and extended his talons. I hesitantly stepped closer, and he put his talons around my neck. I felt slight pressure under my collar… the tips of his claws were just barely not penetrating my skin, any more pressure and he would be spilling my lifeblood onto the wastes. “Look at me.” He said again.
I looked up at him, not knowing what it was he wanted from me. I felt scared, but he just tutted at me, clacking his beak.
“You are different, Coin Slot. You are at the edge of death, and can still look it in the eye. The other cunt had the same look… she took off, fell over the edge, and chose her own destiny. I granted it to her. What are you going to choose?”
I didn’t know how to respond to this. I had a feeling that if I didn’t respond though, I’d be joining Tootie in the everafter very soon. “I… choose life. Good fillies don’t say that they’ll kill themselves.” I said, reiterating one of my dear ol’ Ma’s lessons. Brand let go of my throat.
“Fillydelphia is not a place for the weak. It’s not a place for the strong either.” Brand said. “It is a place for those who choose. I choose to let my army do what they want with the slaves because it raises morale and keeps them loyal to me more than Stern. When I choose to leave Red Eye, I’ll have my own gang that I can take out into the wastes and survive with, with enough caps between us to build our own town. Might even inhabit that empty one we just left behind.” Brand looked away from me, a distant look in his eyes.
“I wonder what his story is…” Mezzer pondered in my head.
“He’s down on his luck, and is succeeding in the slave business. He wants to get out of it someday. It’s not a unique story.” I replied. We had different business practices, but Brand and I had more in common then he realized.
“That’s a choice you make, isn’t it?” I asked. Brand nodded, looking back at me. I carefully did not look at the shimmer that I noticed moving up behind him. I only noticed it because it had a corresponding yellow bar on my EFS. “I also make a choice. I make the choice to continue on our way to Fillydelphia right now. Now is not the time for rash escape attempts, especially with my… friend still in the cage.” The shimmer stopped.
I swear, I’ll need to get Hiss’s brain checked out. He’s clearly more intelligent then any nightstalker had any right to be.
Brand nodded, unaware of the invisible bearer of fanged death behind him. “A wise choice.” He said. “I might put in a good word for you once we get to Filledelphia. You sound like a good candidate for my army… well come on. Let’s get back to the cage. No sense in taking risks, eh?” Brand led me back to the cage. The other ponies around us were engaged in far less philosophical activities, and I tried to ignore them as I made my way back to Crescent Wrench. She was shaking, hunched over with her hooves covering her eyes.
“They… they…” she kept repeating. I put my hoof on her shoulder, and before I knew it, Crescent had scooted up as close to me as she could, quivering in fear. “Came… from… behind…”
I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the screaming.
It was almost sundown. We had been traveling all day, and we were now in the city proper, or at least it’s outer ruins. The air had been getting harder and harder to breath as the pollution levels rose, and the sky was now an ominous shade of red. Collapsing buildings rose around us as our carts were pulled through the streets. The ponies around me were beaten and broken… Jeteye was completely silent, sitting in the corner with her eyes closed. Even High Horse looked like he had had the fight taken out of him by this time. Crescent was still cuddling up next to me, and every so often out of the corner of my eye I could see a shimmer… or the glint of light off of glasses… or a flash of a red chassis… the only reason I saw any of these things was because of my EFS again. Maybe if I had paid attention to it in Maregaton none of this would have occurred… and Tootie would still be alive.
“Alright, hold up everyone.” Brand said, the ponies and griffins he commanded stopped. “I sent ahead two griffins and I haven’t heard from them since. They were supposed to meet us here at the very latest. Something’s up.”
The slaver who had chosen Jeteye, who I now knew was named Blastback, trotted forward a little. “So they got themselves killed, doesn’t mean that there’s danger ahead of us now.”
“You idiot, look ahead of us and tell me what you see.” Brand replied, faceclawing.
I looked ahead as well. The road we were on was the only feasible way to get carts towards the direction of the factories of Fillydelphia. This particular stretch of it, however, had many tall skyscrapers rising up, and over half of them were tilted, partially collapsed wrecks. They were leaning out into the street, meeting in the middle and creating a roof over it where it was much darker than outside their shadow, and the street was narrower under them from all the wreckage that had been pushed to the sides. It was an urban canyon.
It was also a perfect place for an ambush.
“Bunch of collapsed buildings, so what?” Blastback said, looking up. “I don’t see any bloodwings, so that’s not the problem. You think they’re going to collapse on us or something?”
“If they were going to collapse, they would have done so already, you fucking moron.” Brand said, his tone indicating extreme annoyance. “There are more places to hide in there then you have brain cells. Granted, that’s not saying much, but it’s still a fuckton of I-don’t-want-to-be-ambushed.”
“So what’re we going to do?” Blastback asked, not even blinking at the insults. He was either used to them, or they went over his head. I’d place caps on the latter.
Brand looked around at his contingent. He did have over four-dozen ponies and just over a dozen griffins; I couldn’t imagine any ambush big enough to overpower him, even if they had the element of surprise.
“Everyone! Keep safeties off, eyes peeled, and weapons ready! There’s Steel Rangers around here, and I don’t feel like being blasted into itty-bitty pieces today!” he shouted. “It’s getting dark, otherwise I’d say we wait a little while for more scouting. We need to get home though, so no fooling around! High alert!”
Steel Rangers? Brand’s army suddenly seemed like not enough. I glanced at my PipBuck, and wondered idly if I would be better or worse off with the Rangers. Sometimes they seemed like they were the protectors of the wastes, other times they were no more then power-armored thugs stealing technology and worshiping toasters. I also wondered if Shimmercoat, Hiss, and MG-MS11 had set something up ahead. If there were ever a time to attempt a rescue, now would be it, though I doubted just the three of them could do anything against this army without some sort of trick. Maybe they’d collapse a building on them. MG-MS11 had the firepower to melt a foundation, and Shimmercoat could shield the cages. It was a distinct possibility.
Half an hour passed, and nothing happened. The tension still rose, though; we weren’t out of the proverbial woods yet. Skyscrapers towered above us, threatening to collapse at any time, yet miraculously not. I had to hand it to the pre-war engineers… the construction of these buildings was something else. It was dark, the sun behind the red clouds was on its way down, and the shadows of the skyscrapers were lengthening. Soon it would be pitch black down here. “We need to pick up the pace! Come on!” Brand said, hovering above the ground a bit, obviously wanting to be out of here as soon as possible.
“CAW! CAW! CAW!”
About a quarter of the ponies in the slaver army turned towards the loud noise and blasted their various weapons. When the rattling gunfire ceased echoing down the street, we finally saw the source of the noise; a now very, very dead crow lay in a pile of rubble.
“Well, now whoever’s here knows we’re here…” Brand muttered. “Bunch of binge-a-shits… firing at a fucking crow…”
Two more crows flew out of nowhere, landing next to their recently departed kin, and began plucking out the eyeballs. “Ew, gross.” Crescent Wrench said as we continued on.
Two blocks further and we encountered a whole flock of crows, their backs hunched, just standing in the middle of the street. There were hundreds of them, beady red eyes turned towards the approaching slaver army. I looked around, and in the windows of buildings… perched on rubble… everywhere, there seemed to be glowing red eyes and black beaks and feathers. “I have a really bad feeling about this…” I muttered.
“I am getting a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.” Mezzer helpfully pointed out.
“Form a circle!” Brand said, obviously nervous. The entire army looked like they were also massively creeped out by the amount of birds surrounding them. One of the slaver mares shrieked, and I saw that she had stepped on a griffin skull. The rest of the skeleton was nearby, and another griffin skeleton was next to it. They looked fresh, their bones picked clean.
“There’s our scouts…” Brand muttered. Tension built in the air. Everypony was waiting… waiting for the crows to make a move.
In the silence, the clip-clop of horseshoes was suddenly heard. Somepony was trotting down the street towards us, not making any attempt to be stealthy. Guns of every type turned towards the noise as somepony emerged from the gloom.
The pony was a unicorn in a full-body suit of combat armor; ceramic plates and black matte mesh covering every square inch of her. There were even ceramic plates molded around her neck, and her head and horn was covered by mesh as well. Atop her head was a floppy, old-looking setson hat. Her hooves were adorned by a full set of royal guard shoes, making my one (which had been taken away from me. I still didn’t know where my equipment was.) look even more incomplete then it already was. The only natural part of her body showing was her long, flowing tail, which was pink, with a single purple stripe down the middle.
The most prominent feature of this mysterious pony, though, was her mask. It was the type of mask one would see at a masquerade ball, except the eyes had dark, tinted lenses instead of open holes, and it was black and had a long, narrow beak going over the snout, giving her a creepy birdlike visage. I could only tell that the pony was female because of the body shape. She had no visible weapons on her, besides the horseshoes.
“Who are you?” Brand demanded, his voice surprisingly not wavering in the slightest.
The mystery mare said nothing. Then, as one, the crows launched into the air and attacked the slavers.
The air filled with the caws of crows and screams of ponies. Gunshots were fired wildly at the carrion birds, dropping several, but for every crow killed, two more took its place. I decided that now would be the time to get these darn collars off. Tapping a few key spots with my hooves, it unlocked and fell to the cage floor, deactivated. “C’mon Crescent, move!” I shouted over the noise, deactivating her collar as well. Crescent wasn’t moving, though, she was cowering in fear at the carnage around her. Ponies and griffins alike were being ripped apart by the crows, which aimed for the eyes with their sharp beaks far, far too often. They were ignoring the ponies in the cages… for now.
“I will help move the little one, if you help us with our collars.” The voice of Jeteye said next to me. I jumped; I hadn’t even noticed the white pony move up to me. I nodded, and deactivated her collar as quick as I could, moving on to the next pony, High Horse, and deactivating his collar.
Collars fell to the ground as I made my way to the entrance of the cage. There were about one and a half dozen of us in this cage altogether, and the same in the other cage. When I got to the entrance, I was stymied. The cage was, of course, locked from the outside, and crows were currently swarming the one with the key. I risked a look over to where Brand had been, but he wasn’t there anymore. Crows blocked my vision anywhere over a few yards, there were so many. The cawing increased in intensity in front of us, though, and I heard a familiar buzzing noise… my back twinged as I recognized it.
“EQUESTRIAAAAAAA!!” MG-MS11 cried out at maximum volume, drowning out the crows with patriotic music (far too much tuba, and was that an accordion?), spinning his buzzsaw around him at high speed, slicing through the black birds with ease. They bounced off his chassis harmlessly… crows couldn’t do much to a Mr. Gutsy. Running up behind him was Shimmercoat in a large blue bubble shield, crows bouncing off left and right as they charged at him. He caught up with MG-MS11 as they reached our cage, enveloping the robot and the back half of the cage in his shield as well. “Stand back, Sarge, I’ll get you out pronto! No POW’s in MY squad!” MG-MS11 said, and with a single slice of his saw, cut the lock. The door swung open, and only with the slightest of hesitation, I stepped out. The crows viciously attacked Shimmercoat’s shield, but he looked almost bored by the assault; clearly they weren’t strong enough to break it.
“We need to open the other cage too…” I said to him.
“What, you actually care about them?” Shimmercoat asked sardonically. I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not when he asked that. And truth be told, I didn’t know the answer…
“Of course! No Pony Left Behind! Let’s show these zebra slime what for, eh! CHARRRRRGE!!!” We quickly followed MG-MS11 as he floated over to the other cage, making the decision for us, cutting a path through the wall of crows. Looking behind me, I saw some of the townsponies making a break for it out of Shimmercoat’s shield and back the way the carts had came… some of them were unmolested by the crows… some… weren’t. I turned away, blocking out screams for the second time today. High Horse was following MG-MS11 and me with several large packs on his back, and Jeteye was following us with Crescent Wrench on hers.
We got to the other cage, and MG-MS11 made quick work of the lock. “Everypony out! Pass by this mare to get your collars removed, hurry! This is our chance!” High Horse shouted out, and the terrified ponies in the cage hurried out as fast as I could remove their collars. Some of them also made an immediate break for freedom, with the success rate of the other group.
“No! I can protect you, come back!” Shimmercoat yelled out to this second group of runners… he looked extremely distressed. Shields appeared around the runners… but they were weaker, and the impact of the crows against them causing the shields to flash. It looked like Shimmercoat was going to fall unconscious any second, he was overtaxing himself trying to save these ponies.
“Leave them!” I shouted. “If you go out, we all do!”
“Buck up, Private!” MG-MS11 said, one of his sphere shaped eye sensors pointing at the wavering stallion. “Have some juice!” MG-MS11 pointed his M.E.D.I Gun arm at Shimmercoat, and with a whirr, a beam of purple energy wafted out towards him. Once it connected, Shimmercoat instantly looked much more alert and focused, and his horn glowed fiercely, the shields he was projecting all around the fleeing ponies growing much stronger.
“Thanks!” Shimmercoat shouted back to the robot, focusing on his spellcasting.
As soon as I was done with the last collar, we all ran for it, back the way we came. I looked back, making sure everypony had left the cages, and saw the mare with the beaked mask standing atop one of the cages… looking straight at me.
I turned and ran with the others, and didn’t stop until we were out of the urban canyon, with the cawing of crows and the screams of slavers and slaves echoing behind us.
“Keeping within two hundred yards of you is really hard when you go and get yourself captured by slavers! I thought you were the slaver!” Shimmercoat said once he caught his breath his breath from running. He seemed a little out of shape. Luckily Jeteye and High Horse were out of earshot.
“Just because I’m a slaver doesn’t mean I can’t be enslaved.” I replied. “… Thanks for following us though, even if you didn’t have much of a choice.”
“Yeah, following this… thing helped out a lot.” Shimmercoat said, looking at Hiss, who was sitting next to me, his forked tongue lolling out of his mouth with a stupid grin on his face. He growled at Shimmercoat in response before resuming his panting. “It knows where to go when it comes to sneaking around. I was surprised the robot didn’t give us away, though.”
“I do have programming for spec-ops missions, Private Shimmercoat, and I would show some respect to your superior officers!” MG-MS11 said. Shimmercoat just sighed and facehoofed. I had a feeling that him and MG-MS11 had had some… bonding time while following us.
“Here is the little one.” Jeteye said, trotting up to us, along with High Horse. She deposited Crescent Wrench on the ground, who looked up, still shaking. “The sheriff was wise enough to grab the packs inside the chests on the sides of the carts, so we have the provisions to make it back to the holy city of Maregaton.”
“Also got your things too. Thank you for getting us out of that situation back there. Good thing you know how to remove them collars.” High Horse said. “And this whole little escapade wasn’t some random attack, I think you should know.”
“It wasn’t?” I asked, taking my saddlebags from him. Mezzer was safe and sound inside them, as were the rest of my things. Thank Celestia for the foresight of sheriffs.
“Nope. Town was sold out by none other then Iarty. Saw him exchanging caps and hoofshakes with that griffin when I was tossed in the cage. He shows his sorry flank in Maregaton again and there’ll be a hanging, that’s for sure.” High Horse said, a glint in his eye that told me I would not want to be Iarty right now.
“I’ll be sure to give him your regards should I see him.” I replied flatly. I fully intended on killing him if I saw him again as well.
“I’ll court martial the traitorous son-of-a-bitch myself if I see him!” MG-MS11 added.
“So I take it you folk aren’t headed back to Maregaton? We could use ponies… and robots with your kinds of skills.” High Horse said.
“No… there’s nothing for us there, sorry.” I said, thinking of Tootie, and what brought us to Maregaton in the first place. “We’ll probably return at some point though.”
High Horse looked at the group of townsponies milling around outside the skyscraper canyon and smiled wearily. “We’ll be rebuilding for quite a while, and I don’t just mean rebuilding defenses, though those will be upped quite a bit, mark my words. We lost too many in there… and too many were traumatized by those damn slavers.” I didn’t say anything. There wasn’t much to say.
High Horse sighed, and nodded to me. “Well, just know you’re always welcome in Maregaton. I’ll gather us all together and we’ll be headed off the road a bit to sleep through the night, then we’re headed out in the morning back home.”
“May the burning brightness of the balefire guide your hoofsteps.” Jeteye said, bowing towards me and following High Horse as they went to gather up the townsponies for their journey home.
My group, on the other hoof, left right away. Nopony had noticed or cared much that Shimmercoat still had a collar on, and I didn’t want any awkward questions, so we hurried down the road, then left it onto a small trail into the wastes as soon as we could, trotting for an hour or so until the main road was well behind us. The night settled upon us in earnest, and I started a campfire in the shadow of a rocky crest, choosing the semi-sheltered spot as a good place to settle down for the night. “So how did you guys escape being captured? That flash-bang got me good…” I asked.
Hiss just looked at me, I knew all he had done was go invisible and follow me. “I reduced the amount of light my photoreceptors accepted and fought my way though the enemy ranks until I could secure a tactical retreat route for the General, Private and I.” MG-MS11 said.
“Yeah, I used a shield spell to block the light and noise, so I wasn’t as disoriented as the rest of you.” Shimmercoat said dully.
“… You ok?” I asked.
“I… I saw Tootie. What happened to her, I mean.” Shimmercoat said. Ah, so that was it. “It… she saw me, that’s why she made a break for it.” Shimmercoat looked up at me. Tears were forming in his eyes. “I should have ducked my head, hid, something. But… I wanted to let her know that we were following, that she would be OK. I didn’t expect her to… to…” Shimmercoat stared into the fire, tears streaming down his cheeks. He chuckled lightly. “I hardly even knew her…”
“You wanted to get to know her, though.” I said, scooting up to him. He leaned his head on my shoulder. Crescent Wrench scooted up to Shimmercoat’s other side, and we forgot our animosities for the night, and mourned for Tootie Fruity.
“Have you ever lost someone? Someone you really cared about?” Shimmercoat asked after a moment of silence.
“…Yeah.” I said, thinking of Ma. “Most ponies in the wastes have.”
“Who?” Crescent Wrench asked.
“My dear ol’ Ma.” I replied. “She was… she took care of me. She protected me from the wastes and taught me everything I know. I… I loved her.” I yawned. It was getting late, and we had done a lot today. This sense of melancholy we had wasn’t very energizing either. “She was the best mother anypony could ask for, in every way…”
As I fell asleep in front of the fire, I thought I heard a voice in the back of my head, saying, “Thou lies…”
Level up! (Lv. 8)
New Perk: Always Cut The Red Wire: You are able to disable bomb collars, traps, mines and other nasties at the drop of a hat! Disabling harmful traps such as these now takes half the time it normally did.
Author’s Note: Large and gratuitous apologies for having such a late chapter! Lots of things came up all at once, but hopefully future chapters won’t take so long to get down on paper. This one also took more time to edit then the others, but hopefully it reflects that. It’s the longest chapter to date, whew! I hope you guys enjoy it, and thank you for your patience!
HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Also thanks to Lesolan and Shimmercoat help editing and proofreading this slog to make it something enjoyable. And thanks to all who hang out at the Sidefic Compilation doc for providing feedback and inspiration to write my own story. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!