Fallout Equestria: Misfits
Chapter 8: The world through different eyes.
It wasn't the same. If you put aside the obvious differences the whole experience just wasn't the same, yet I thanked Celestia that I at least didn't have an anxiety attack afterwards. Still, this was what I really wanted; to lay side by side with somepony, the warmth, the slow movement of her chest and the soft beat of her heart. If it wasn't for the drastic difference in body size I could almost feel normal.
Midnight Rose lay beside me on the big bed and covered by my wing. Say what you want about the feathery appendages, they were damn good for hugging and cuddling.
She gave a deep and satisfied sigh. "I've never been with a goddess before, cant say that I was disappointed." She purred and nuzzled my ear. Okay, so I used my diagnostic spell to cheat, it wouldn't be the first time. Still, making her feel good was balm for my soul, it paid a little for the pain I had been prepared to inflict on another. I'm not a nice pony, I try to be a good pony but I'm not nice.
I groaned slightly. "Please, I'm no goddess. Just a mutated pony." Being put anywhere close to the same tier as Celestia and Luna made me deeply uncomfortable, not to mention thinking like that would be a slippery slope to dangerous ground.
Rose gave me a curious look and a smirk. "You didn't look mutated down there, everything felt normal to me." I blushed when she pointedly licked her lips.
"Yeah, well. I mean I used to be a normal unicorn before I got dipped." I hugged her closer and rested my chin on her fore hooves then closed my eyes.
"Dipped in what?" Rose asked and blew softly in my ear, making it twitch.
Well, that was the question. The taint in my dreams couldn't have been like normal taint. Perhaps there was some other factor; either the taint itself, Unity or The Goddess that made it different from the normal 'twists-you-into-a-horrible-tentacled-monstrosity' variety.
"Well, never mind. I'm just saying that I was a normal pony a little while ago." I didn't want to talk about the nightmares I had about being pulled into the vats.
I felt her rest her head on my neck. "Oh, and what would you call yourself now if goddess doesn't qualify?"
I thought for a minute. Well, what was I? At its most basic I was no longer just a unicorn, but a winged unicorn, going further than that seemed wrong. "Alicorn is as good a word as any." I finished.
I felt a hind hoof stroke my belly and work its way towards my hindquarters with large circling motions. I didn't feel ready for more just yet, the sex had been weird enough so far.
"Why?" I asked, making her hoof motions stop. "I mean, most ponies either cover in fright or immediately distrusts me. So why join me in the bath?" I really wanted to know why she even gave me the time of day, not to mention sharing a bed with me. Sure, she had said that she found me to be a kind pony, but that cannot be the whole story.
She sighed. "Well, to be completely honest its partly because Cinnamon asked me," This didn't surprise me, in fact, I had figured as much. But what she said next did surprise me. "but mostly because I find you attractive."
I lifted my head and looked at her for a second, too stunned to say anything. I didn't really expect that because I felt that my eyes took too much away from my appearance. "Attractive?"
She must have mistaken my surprise for something else because she squirmed and looked embarrassed. "Well, actually." She wavered then whispered. "You know that bust of Luna in the museum?" I nodded, she blushed and lowered her voice even more. "Well, I kind of... had a crush on her when I was a filly."
Well now, that is interesting. "Care to elaborate?" She had piqued my curiosity, and for the moment I just wanted to talk. I supported my head on my hoof and listened.
"Well," Rose began. "I grew up with my father in an old chapel a long way away. The inside was shaped like a cross and on opposite ends were these big stained glass windows depicting Celestia and Luna respectively. At least that is what I assume, because the window of Celestia was blown out long ago, Luna's window had survived though." And here she got a wistful expression and bit her lower lip. "Luna taught me the pleasures of being a mare."
Well, that was... kinky. And I had to admit, kinda hot. "And then you arrive, statuesque, blue, with those large wings." Her horny smile was like a half brick to the primal part of my brain. I felt a second wind.
Somewhere in the dusty attics of my mind, Shade smiled in its sleep.
*** *** ***
The sun was creeping into the afternoon if I was any judge. Both me and Wild had decided that staying a few days in Red Light couldn't hurt so I had decided to set up shop in Kickback alley, after breakfast I had set up a proper awning and two tables. Word had gotten around and I had quite a few people, ponies and otherwise, willing to pay a few caps to let the alicorn healer help them.
Wild had gone off to hunt rats, something she said calmed her down. A respectable job in a town where the rats are the size of terriers. I didn't object because she looked like she needed some time alone to think after yesterday.
At the moment I was dealing with a particularly difficult foal, she couldn't have been more than three or four and she had a nasty case of split hoof.
And she was yelling her head off. At this point it was just to drive home her point because I had long since anaesthetised her. Somepony walked up to me and asked me something, I didn't hear what he or she said because my ears had long ago shut down to save themselves, and the foal was fidgeting so much that I had to keep my concentration on holding her still to properly mend her hoof.
"You'll have to wait in line like everypony else, I cant give anypony privileges right now." I said, or rather, I was sure I said it. My ears were out to lunch. The shape moved away and I gave it a glance when I had a second to spare and nearly choked. It was the gaunt Undertaker I had met in The Don's dungeon, and he was trotting obediently to the end of the queue and waiting like anypony else.
The hell did he want? I mentally shrugged when Shade turned my attention back to the filly and I got back to my work. I finally lost patience and shoved a snack cake in her mouth, that only made the filly realise that yelling would get her food. Her mother stood useless to the side. I didn't comment.
*** *** ***
I had just finished treating a buffalo's bad back when the Undertaker came up to me. I sat and studied the big turquoise that Blue Thunder had payed me with. There was something about the gem that wasn't right. First of all, gems shouldn't smell like candy. I sniffed it again. Definitely a rock candy smell to it.
"You'll break your teeth on that." The Undertaker said in his hoarse whiskey voice and I looked up before placing the gem in my bags.
"So, what do you want?" I asked with an edge in my voice. I started to prepare my work area for the ones later in the queue. I really wanted to throw a punch at him, but knew that he'd probably end up breaking my leg or something if I tried. And to be honest, last night had mellowed me out more than a little.
"Well, I wanted to know if you were interested in joining us? You managed the situation yesterday wonderfully." He said while sitting down, I bristled.
"Join you? Join you?!" I stood, my outrage building towards fury despite my efforts to keep it contained. I advanced until I stood muzzle to muzzle with him. "You left me there!" I gave him a hard prod in the chest. "You left me in that damned dungeon to be tortured, raped and possibly killed!" I didn't care who heard me and my voice kept climbing until I narrowed my eyes, glared at him and lowered my voice to a dangerous growl. "Give me one good reason not to carry you up to the cloud cover and let go."
"I might land on somepony." He said calmly and I snapped. I managed to pull the punch enough at the last second to not break something. I was stumped when he just took the punch without flinching. He just sat there looking at me, blood leaking from his nostrils.
I looked up to the motley collection of patients, some of them looking worried despite the general apathy present. “Give us an hour.” I told them and they alternately walked and limped out of the alley, leaving me alone with the gaunt buck. I walked back to my table and sat while magically pulling out a sparkle cola.
“Feel better?” He asked and I nodded, not looking at him.
“Is it generally Undertaker policy to leave ponies like that?” I asked coldly. I got a shrug in response.
“For some anyway. I dare say that the twins would have pulled you out of there, same with Little Sister. Shriek would have spat in your eye before doing the honors herself, but she is a bit of a bitch.” I assumed that he was talking about other Undertakers. “I myself wanted to know what you were made of. You didn't disappoint.”
I sighed, being angry at him wouldn't amount to much, he knew why I was angry and he wasn't trying to wheedle out of it. “Tell me about them, the other Undertakers I mean.” I said around the bottle.
"Well, there is ten more apart from me at the moment. I'm Iron Sights." He brought out a rag to wipe his muzzle of blood, I noticed it had stopped bleeding, which was way too early considering the force of my punch. "Then there is the head honcho; Mort, he oversees and keeps a sort of order between us. There is the twins; Tombstone & Piledriver, they work together on all jobs and I haven't heard of anyone that has managed to show them up in melee or hoof to hoof combat."
Okay, that was four so far. And I had heard of Mort earlier, even met him, Trader has had words with the ghoul several times when I was with the caravan. Nice fellow.
Iron Sight continued lining them up. "Lets see, we have Little Sister, a little pegasus girl born on the surface so she haven't been branded a dashite or anything. Big Sister, she on the other hoof is a dashite and extremely protective of her younger counterpart... Odd really, considering Little keeps a manticore and a yao guai as pets and its others that need the protection. Shriek is a tall mare and the nastiest piece of work you've ever laid eyes upon, just a fair warning."
Oooh, that was interesting, two pegasi. I wondered if they can give me any tips about my flying or general wing care. Provided they even wanted to talk to me. I was calming down and just sat there, sipping the carrot flavored soft drink while listening.
"Roadblock is pretty much what he sounds like; big, strong and can be used to stop tanks. He almost never speaks to anypony except for maybe Mort. Ranger is and odd one though, he..."
At that moment Shade roared. ~~DUCK!~~ In my ear
The only reason I didn't end up with a spear in my head is that I was turned towards the entrance of the alley and Shade had kept an eye out when I was listening. The eight hoof long wooden spear passed my head as I hurled my body to the side and buried itself halfway into the brick wall behind me.
I looked up from my prone position on the ground and saw a collection of five adult female zebras in the alley entrance. One mare stood on her hind legs with a weird contraption on one front leg. One other zebra slotted a spear into it and the mare took one step forward and hurled the spear with the front leg towards me. It reached an incredible speed and I barely avoided it as I rolled, crashing into my worktable and spilling many valuable medicines, the spear buried itself deep in the asphalt where my head had just been.
I looked up again as I wiped healing powder from my face with my hoof and took them in. I knew them; Marked Mares, an amazonian tribe of female zebras that engaged in ritual scarring and cutting. They were seen very rarely and I knew little more than that.
The mare that had hurled the spear stepped forward, still walking on her hind legs. She was marked with a crude image of a pair of wings on her face that spread from what I assumed was a depiction of a horn. This image was surrounded by lines, like the spokes of a wheel or rays of a sun. The lines seemed to be kill tallies for alicorns if the rest of the brand meant what I thought it meant.
She opened her mouth and growled. "Starspawn." There was a deep hatred there, deep, bitter and ancestral. The type of hatred that would keep somepony alive even when all else had failed. It seemed to burn in her eyes like the dark fires of hell itself. Hatred burned in the eyes of all the mares present.
Oh bugger, this was definitely not good. I stood and looked around for Iron Sights, he was leaning casually in a boarded up doorway, odd really since I had no memory of him actually moving. He gave me a wolfish grin. "So, how will you handle this?"
I shot him a cold look before turning my attention back to the zebras. The alicorn hunter was walking into the alley casually. Damn, there was something creepy about the way she was looking at me. She crossed her forelegs across her body and slotted them into what looked like some kind of hoof weapons that she unsheathed. One big blade made of what looked like a hellhound claw now adorned each foreleg.
She opened her mouth and spoke in the zebra language. "I shall take the horn of this abomination myself, you stay back."
I pointed a hoof towards her and spoke in broken and heavily accented zebra myself. "Why do you defile your ancestors by attacking me in this place of healing?" I had none of the flair in my speech and it was highly formal, there hadn't been much time for me to learn to speak zebra properly, but I had no problems understanding.
Her eyes bulged and her mouth sprayed spittle as she shrieked. "Blasphemy! How dare you defile our language with that abominable tongue of yours!" She lunged. I reflexively brought up my shield and leaped back. The claw passed through my barrier like a hot knife through butter and scored me deeply in the shoulder. My rump bumped against the back wall. Bugger.
Okay, I was cornered, my shoulder hurt like a bastard and I was facing a mad mare with blades that passed through my shield like it wasn't there. I was so dead.
Then, as she lifted her right claw for another swipe Iron Sights kicked the limb with a roundhouse that sent the weapon flying. "We were having a conversation! Don't you know that it is rude to interrupt others when they are talking?"
"You dare interfere with my sacred task?" She roared in Equestrian at him. I took the opportunity to cast my raven spell at her. She gave an indignant howl as the tornado of black birds enveloped her. Iron Sights leaped back, a shadowy raven perching on his hat.
~~Eat the gem you were given by the buffalo.~~ Shade ordered. I was momentarily stumped. Eat the turquoise? What would that accomplish aside from busted teeth? In my panic to get my plasma revolver up I told Shade as much.
~~You wanted to know why Trixie wanted you and others like you so badly? Then eat the damned turquoise!~~ Shade snapped at me.
I was in an agony of indecision. On one hoof I needed every edge I could get, on the other I had serious doubts about doing something like that. I looked around, the four zebra mares who had been told to stay back guarded the entrance to the alley as if I couldn't just fly out of here. The alicorn hunter was still wrapped in my cloud of ravens, instinctively trying to shield her eyes and face. Iron Sights was standing calmly to the side taking in the situation, just like me.
I could just fly away, but what would that accomplish? Not much, they would probably just hunt me down again. They all looked the type, fanatical, obsessive. The type to use companions and friends to lure their prey out. As much as I hated the thought, I had to try and take them down. Iron Sights seemed willing enough to help me.
Luna dammit. I looked in my pack and levitated the big gemstone out. It was a medium blue and knobbly, more like a rock than a true gem. I caught the scent again, rock candy. I stood there for a second, not sure what to do. I saw the tornado of ravens start to dissipate.
~~What are you waiting for?~~ Shade asked me hurriedly.
"Dammit all to hell, I just want one day without everything turning to shit!" I shouted angrily, then I shoved the gem in my mouth and bit down.
To my surprise, the blue turquoise didn't hurt my teeth. It shattered dutifully when I bit down and it made a crunching sound like breaking glass when I chewed. I swallowed, expecting at every moment to feel the sharp shards tearing deep gashes my throat and fill me with pain. Instead it went down smoothly, leaving behind the sweet taste of fossilised sugar.
"What did you just make me do?" I asked Shade, dread stacking up in my mind like cord wood.
~~Wait for it.~~
Oh, he... woah. I could feel it, like a great sugar rush. But that wasn't all, Iron Sights and the mare in the waning tornado of ravens both did a double take as I felt energy flow though my body. I drew a deep breath, letting it out slowly. To my amazement a twin tongue of flame was expelled from my nostrils, making me take a few startled steps back, bumping the wall again with my rump.
"What?" I asked Iron Sights, momentarily forgetting the murderous zebra, thankfully she seemed to be as stunned as he was.
He gestured to his own medium length dark mane with a hoof and I took a glance at my long thick braid. At first I thought it was on fire and almost panicked even more, until my eyes shifted focus and I saw that the strands of hair weren't burning, they were literally strands of green and light blue fire.
I looked up again. The zebras in the alley entrance were looking at one another, doubt evident in their eyes. The alicorn hunter snapped out of it. "Your magical trickery will not help you, starspawn!" She challenged and charged, her blade low to the ground as she closed the short distance in her usual two legged run. Riding the sugar high, I danced to the side while preparing to cast my invisibility spell. Moving felt easier, more natural, and... I belched.
Something about belching grated on my soul, not because it wasn't ladylike. I really didn't care about such bullshit because what a mare should or shouldn't do didn't matter much to me. Besides, I wasn't a lady to begin with. But something haughty in me thought it was beneath me.
The large green fireball that escaped my muzzle and roared towards the charging zebra took us both by surprise. Her more than me since she had gotten close enough to be unable to duck in time. She still managed to twist with the fireball to avoid taking the blast full on. She just got severely scorched as she landed awkwardly after an impressive back flip.
Okay, I knew the source of her hatred, I got hints about it from the insult she had spat at me. I pitied her, so much hatred and anger, but I suppose some people need someone to blame. And many zebras blame the stars for almost everything.
As the zebra mare steadied herself I heard a grating sound. The ponyhole cover that lead down into the sewers had opened and slid to the side as several foals poked their heads out. Iron Sights leaned nonchalantly to the side and didn't interfere, he probably figured that I could handle this. Hrmph, at least he had helped me by relieving the crazy zebra of one of her weapons.
Years of training by Trader started to take over. 'Take advantage of every little thing you can, fighting fair only ever got ponies killed. Cheat, bite, kick privates if you have to. Whatever is necessary to survive, that's what fighting is all about. Survival.' I levitated out my revolver as steam flowed out of my mouth. Don't think about how or why, that can be done later. Take advantage of everything. Survive.
I took a deep breath that made my ribs creak. I could collect more herbs later and the ponyhole cover was out of line of fire. As I levitated my revolver into line with the mare I prayed like hell that my body knew when to throw fire.
With a mighty 'Whooosh!' a cone of green fire was expelled from my lips and I fired several times. She ditched her hellhound blade and did a smooth cartwheel away from me to make herself as small a target as possible. I didn't hit her but I did advance, hoping I could drive her into the rest of the marked mares and group them together.
I had to stop throwing what I was rapidly starting to suspect was balefire when the marked alicorn hunter turned in her cartwheeling path and scooped up a filly from the group of spectating foals by the sewer entrance. She did a complicated flip in the air and landed standing, holding the filly around her little waist and keeping a hoof against the foals head, ready to snap her neck.
Iron Sights swore and spat. "Taking a foal hostage? Filthy cunt."
"Lower your weapon starspawn and prepare to die, or I will have this filthy creature killed." Hatred and black insanity danced gleefully in her eyes. There was no question that she would kill the little filly if I didn't do as she said. The question was, was she insane enough to do it anyway?
I started to freeze up, the filly in the zebras fore legs was the same little creme filly I had given a blue feather to when I visited The Cistern. She still wore it in her mane. I looked into the foals eyes, there was no fear there. She met my gaze with the complete assurance of a child that big sister alicorn could do anything, that I would without a doubt save her. I couldn't do anything else.
I started to lower my revolver. ~~What are you doing?~~ Shade asked indignantly.
"Saving that foals life." I answered in my head, then shot Iron Sights a glance. "Make sure the foal is safe." I whispered. He nodded almost imperceptibly.
As I laid the revolver on the ground the marked mare gave a loud command in the zebra language. "Spears!" The four zebras in the alleyway entrance stood and slotted spears in their spear throwing contraptions.
"Let her go first!" I shouted back, my horn still glowing because I still hadn't completely dropped my revolver.
She gave me a triumphant smile that made the brand on her face crawl like it was alive. Oh please Celestia full of grace don't let her hurt the filly. I heard her yell: “Throw” And in the little pause between her yelling and the grunts of the four other zebras as they threw their spears... a tiny snap.
I roared in denial. A huge gout of green fire escaped my mouth and incinerated the flying spears, showering me with ashes. My world was filling with red mist and I charged. The mare looked startled but threw the tiny body aside and readied herself in a fighting stance.
I closed the distance and tackled her head on, making her fly backwards as I roared obscenities at her. Fire escaping my mouth at every syllable. My world was shifting, I wasn't entirely sure what my body was doing but I knew what I was seeing. The slaver. The slaver that had killed Bitter Drink, that had taken my son from me and made me leave my home.
I was holding something in my horns magic, the hammer. That had been a mistake, using a hammer on him when my own hooves would have been much more satisfying. I tossed it aside as I closed the distance and drove my horn through his shoulder. Why was he standing on his hind legs like that? I slid to a stop. Making the slaver slide off my horn and pile into copies of him. That was good, I could kill him repeatedly, take eight years of frustration and hate out on him in so many ways.
I started to stomp on the struggling bodies and to pour fire from my mouth. The flame soon stopped and I felt my insides cool down and still. No matter, he was getting up. I punched, kicked, stomped and bit down on his ear to tear it off. I could feel things going wrong with my body, bleeding start and bruises form. Half my vision faded in an explosion of starlight and one of my forelegs snapped out of its joint.
I felt these things happen distantly, I didn't feel the pain. I was too busy to kill him again and again and again. Soon there was only one of him left. I tried to grab his head in my fore hooves but failed because my leg was dislocated. I grabbed the limb in my magical embrace and popped it back in its socket. Barely feeling the pain that normally would have had me in a crying heap.
I grabbed at him again, holding his head in my hooves and glowering at him through one black eye. I saw him, battered and bleeding, but he was also The Don and a light blue unicorn mare at the same time, the images fighting for space on the same face. I remembered them all, although the mare was hard to place. They were all the ponies that had taken control from me, in one form or another, that had raped my body by warping me into this thing I was now, that had tortured me on that slab in the dungeon.
But most important of all, I held the head of the slaver, the foal killer. He who had taken my adoptive son from me, caused me to flee my home and now had killed another innocent foal. Far off my body was screaming in pain, that was distant, as distant as the little nagging voice that was telling me to come to my senses. I ignored it all.
I started banging his head on the black top beneath us, cursing him and loosing what sight I still had when tears started to flow from my damaged eyes. I hated him, I hated him so much, and I would take payment here and now for what I knew he owed me. I felt his head crack under my hooves and soon I was trying to bang mush to the asphalt. I started to stomp on the ground, trying to make sure that no part of his head was whole.
The red mist started to dissipate and I could hear myself screaming. "Why did you have to kill her! I would have gone freely you monster!" I stopped stomping on the ground. My chest heaved and shuddered, sobs was wracking my entire body and pain slammed into my consciousness, I was certain that I was bleeding from several cuts and deep lacerations, I also felt several busted ribs and my entire body was battered and bruised.
I heard Iron Sights rough whiskey voice say in a kind and gentle tone. "Here you go, drink these, it'll make you able to see at least." I felt the lip of a bottle against my lips and grabbed it in my mouth, tipping my head back to drink it. My sight slowly returned to me and some of the damage was disappearing. My left eye had just taken blunt trauma and swollen shut, there was no permanent damage done. I was still tired and battered, most open wounds had closed but the loss of blood made me fight for an upright position.
I couldn't collapse, no matter how much I wanted to close my eyes and sleep for a fortnight I couldn't stop just yet. I looked around. The five corpses on the ground around me were torn to shreds, heads caved in, chests collapsed and all burned deeply by fire. With dark satisfaction I saw through my tears that it was the foal killing marked mare who's head I had beaten to a pulp with my bare hooves. I wouldn’t ever regret killing her.
I winced and brought a hoof to my face. I felt around until I found the place that felt wrong. I could feel an angry cut tracing a diagonal line from above my right eye down between them to my left chin. My muddy mind threw up a card; enchanted blade. I cursed and sorted through my knowledge of zebra enchantments and the ground, there were a few I had heard of that were used on weapons to make wounds that would never heal properly or leave scars akin to those left by energy weapons.
After a second I found what I was looking for, a carving knife with a gem for a pommel. Bugger. It was probably used for the ritual scarring and similar, I was almost sure that if I continued to search in their packs I would find a branding iron too.
"I'm sorry I couldn't save the foal." Iron Sights apologised. And I felt my back stiffen, causing pain to shoot through me. "There wasn't any time for me to do anything." There was regret in his rough voice. I closed my eyes.
"I'll meet Mort when I have the opportunity. I'm on my way to Trottingham anyway so we'll stop by The Field of Fallen Feathers when we are in the vicinity." I didn't want to talk to anypony for a while, and I had a corpse to lay out.
"You know of the old graveyard?" He asked in mild surprise. I nodded and pulled myself staggeringly to my hooves. I remember throwing my gun away and soon located it lying against an old cardboard box. The capacitors were scuffed where it had struck the ground.
"I know of the place, I've visited it once." I walked up to a group of crying foals, gently moving them aside with my head. "Come on kids, she needs to be prepared for..." I saw her, had I not already been weeping I would have burst into tears at the sight. She lay in a puddle of dirty water where she had landed. At the sight of her neck I whimpered. I pulled out my blanket and gently levitated her up, wrapping her tiny lifeless body in the fabric.
"One of you go tell The Matron, the rest of you can show me the way to whatever place you have where the dead are prepared for burial." One colt took my braid in his teeth and led me on, I followed on shaky legs like a newborn lamb. My mane had returned to its normal state. I had to ask Shade about that later. As it was I couldn't find it anywhere in my mind.
*** *** ***
Eventually I was lead to an old glassblowers workshop, where an ancient mare worked. I could see hoofmade earthenware pots and containers. I guessed that the old glassblowing oven had been modified for cremation.
"What's going on here?" She asked in a brittle voice as I entered with the bundle on my back, accompanied by half a dozen foals.
"I have last rites to administer." My voice was hoarse and worn as I gestured to the little bundle of cloth on my back. Again I looked like a mess and I slowly shed saddlebags and duster, bundling them together and stowing them on a shelf. I wasn't entirely fair to the old nag, I had managed to down a few more healing potions on the way and now I moved with self assurance as I walked to the back rooms. I knew what to do.
"You cant ju..." She started to protest but I shut the door in her face.
The back rooms were like I had expected them to be. An old workshop turned mortuary, I walked over to the table set with taps and a sink for cleaning the dead and placed the filly on it, then gently unwrapped her body. Such a little thing she was now, her body had almost shrunk when it was no longer filled with the life force of a child. I gently closed her eyes and started to clean her, using the water from the taps and several scrubbing brushes.
I wasn't squeamish about dead bodies. It was something to expect when you were a medical pony, sometimes things just went wrong. The water wasn't clean, barely the bathing sort, but filtered enough to clean a dead body properly. I took the opportunity to clean myself as well, the tingle of radiation felt much stronger now. It practically brushed my bruises away as I watched, I also fixed three broken ribs with my bone mending spell.
I started to hum to myself as I cleaned her soft mane. "Sweet Celestia, full of grace." This was answered by a familiar rasp.
"Help us find our rightful place." It was The Matron. She walked into the room, closing the door with a hindhoof.
"Help us grow up big and strong." I continued. Wishing this was so for the little filly I had failed to save today.
"Laughing and singing all day long." The ghoul matron was pulling off her many layers of hoods and scarfs. Behind it was what once had been a lovely face even if it looked like she was ghoulified at an old age, the wisps of mane still clinging to her scalp were two tones of pink and the glow from her green eyes was kind.
"Show us how we should be kind." I floated over a ratty towel to her so she could help me dry the filly.
"Teach us beauty and peace of mind." She started to dry the creme body gently while singing her parts softly.
"Sweet Celestia, full of grace. Show us your gentle, shining face." We finished the verse together as I retied the blue feather to the dead foals mane.
I sat down with a thump and put my head in my hooves, wincing as I felt the still open wound on my face move. "What was her name?" I asked silently. I felt like shit, my outer appearance was fine apart from my face. Where things were still flashing warnings were on the inside my body. I needed to find either an extra strength restoration potion or new potion ingredients, if I didn’t I was going to piss blood for a week.
"Her name was Trinity Creme." The Matron said sadly while stroking the little head. "I heard from my little pony when he came to fetch me what happened, your workplace has been cleaned and what can be salvaged from the wreckage and bodies has been collected."
"I'm sorry." I felt the lump form in my throat and I hugged myself. "I should have ordered them to close the lid when I first saw them." Laying out foals always struck me hard. I hadn't done it since Bitter Drink, but it had happened twice before him. Sometimes, things just didn't work out.
"We all have our regrets." I heard her muse, she sounded like she was far away, in time as well as space. "I should have done more for them, fought more for a different solution." She turned her attention back to me. "Who were they?"
I owed her that at least. "Marked Mares. I don't know much about them, but from what happened today I am guessing that they are hunting alicorns. Certain tribes of zebras has always had a gut wrenching fear of the stars and by extension Luna, whom they accused of being an agent of the stars." I rubbed my temples. "Some turn their fear to hatred, its easier to get up in the morning that way. And from Luna I guess it wasn't that far a leap to include all alicorns."
I pulled myself to my hooves. I pulled out the blanket again and wrapped the now cleaned body of Trinity up in preparation for cremation. Before I wrapped her head I leaned down and whispered in her cold ear so The Matron wouldn't hear me. "I'm so sorry Trinity. When you arrive, please tell Bitter Drink that his father misses him."
"You know, you remind me so much of them. The Princesses." I turned to look at the old ghoul, not comprehending. "I was there, a very long time ago, when Luna was freed from the clutches of Nightmare Moon." She was studying me, taking in my wings and stature. She seemed to be far away once again. "Hard to think that such an old mare acted like a teenager for so long." She gave a raspy and sad chuckle. "Hard to imagine that the same mare I once saw prank somepony by hiding in a tub of water during Nightmare Night, turned so cold when the war took her school from her." She looked back to the bundle. "But something similar happened to you, didn't it?"
I nodded. "I lost my son in a slaver attack, this was a long time ago. It never really stopped hurting, the wound eventually closed, but the scar remains." I felt the slash across my face. That would leave a scar too. My eyes stayed dry, they were too worn to show my sorrow anymore.
There wasn't much else that needed to be said after that. I wrapped her up and walked back to the room with the big oven. The ancient mortician gave me a stiff nod when I gave her the little bundle. Then I collected my gear and left, carrying several weeping foals on my back as I returned them to The Cistern. Burial wouldn't be until tomorrow.
*** *** ***
While magically wrapping a healing bandage across my face to cover the wound, I stepped into a mansion in uproar. Ponies in battle saddles and assistants towing papers scurried around in the big entrance hall. I stretched out a tired wing, making a young mare carrying several rolled up maps thump into it and sit down hard.
"Ow! What'cha do that for? I need to get these to Cinnamon right away." She admonished me. I felt a little bad, but not much.
"What is the emergency?" There was certainly something big going on.
"Haven't you heard? The enclave attacked New Appleloosa and Shattered Hoof a few days ago and there's a big disturbance above the Everfree Forest. We just found out today, the fat asshole had kept this hidden from most of us." She then picked up her maps and rushed away, not giving me a second look. I followed closely.
We eventually arrived in a conference room. Cinnamon sat at the end of a big table, shifting through papers and maps. She looked up when I arrived. A pair of reading glasses sat perched on her muzzle and her graying mane was in a tight bun. "Ah... yes, M'lady we could use your help..." She faltered slightly but rallied. "What has happened to you?"
"Zebra fanatics attacked me while I talked to Iron Sights the Undertaker. One of the orphans got killed." I sat down by the table at a free space and looked at the others around the table. Midnight Rose sat to the left of Cinnamon and gave me a worried smile that I returned.
A few of the other ponies I recognised; two doctors who wouldn't meet my gaze, probably the ones who had fixed me up yesterday. Meshing Gears and another buck, both covered in oil, the second buck was the overseer of the local spark generator, battered as it was. The big mare in a suit from yesterday sat on the right side of cinnamon and glowered at me, still pissed at me for the cloud of ravens I had shoved in her face. After that there was maybe a dozen other ponies that I guessed held high positions in Red Light.
"The offending zebras have been taken care of. I’ll be borrowing the medical room later if that’s okay." I rubbed my temples again as Cinnamon nodded. I wanted to go to sleep.
"Right, as I said, I sent the two talons out early this morning with a telescope, and they say that shit has hit the fan. There is an outright battle between the Enclave and Red Eyes forces above that Cathedral place he has squirreled away in Everfree. Fillydelphia is like a kicked anthill and Stern is probably out for blood, so we are officially closing down the gates tomorrow. Any caravan and merchant willing to stay is allowed to do so, but no one is going to enter or leave after sunset tomorrow." She turned to the big mare to her right. "I want you to get every junkie you can to fortify the walls, debris and girders, whatever you can find not attached to a standing building."
"Wont be easy, the lazy fuckers." The big mare muttered. I was impressed, Cinnamon was clearly getting into her right element and taking to it like a fish to water. I approved of her assertiveness, if she could survive this she would have no problems running Red Light in the future. A baptism by fire if I ever saw one.
"Just confiscate any and all the drugs your guards can get their hooves on and use that as payment, it's a little cruel but they have to pull their weight just like anypony else for a few days." She shifted to another map. I peeked at it curiously and saw that it was a worn map of most of Equestria. Sure it was out of date by two hundred years but amended frequently with changes scribbled in.
"Do you have any advice you can give M’lady?" Cinnamon asked me. I started to get really tired of the honorific, but somehow bent my fizzing mind to the task. Red Light was the biggest trading hub between Shattered Hoof and Trottingham, nothing good could come of that in these circumstances.
"Well. For a start, the sewers are a weak point. Geri managed to get into this mansion by digging through a few weak walls, so somepony dedicated with shaped charges could just wander into this place."
She nodded. "I shall ask the Matron and her orphans to help us seal the sewers, they know it well, I should know. Anything else?"
I wracked my brain, beating it into submission, this wasn't the time to mope around, not just yet. "Enclave pegasi can’t be good news."
"Right, snipers on the roo..." Cinnamon started.
"Remember," Interrupted the mare to Cinnamon's right. "we have nowhere near enough armor piercing ammunition to deal with pre-war tech like that."
"And," A deep rumbling voice cut in and a big talon griffin walked up to the table. His great bulk was covered with black griffin power armor and a large brush gun was holstered to his side. He gave me a dismissive glance over his twice scarred beak and continued. "the Enclave are hardly the only with flyer's. Stern and Red Eye's generals in Fillydelphia has griffins of their own. Shattered Hoof can be assumed to be allies depending on what side you take." He tapped the map with a claw. "There are many factions to consider. The Steel and Applejack's Rangers are fighting each other and will probably take any excuse to barge in here, Steel will certainly do it just to trash our generator. Applejack's might do it in order to keep Steel from resupplying, but that is way less likely." I had no idea who the Applejacks Rangers were and was fighting to keep up to speed.
He tapped another part of the map. "And remember, we have the Trottingham Rangers just behind us, they have so far left us alone because we don’t have anything they might want, with them having their hooves full and all, but they would most likely take Steel's side, they are more liberal than most chapters but not entirely like the Applejack's." Good old talon mercenaries, as long as he was paid he didn't give a damn who ran this place.
"Provided they even fight one another." Rose piped up, then paused when the entire rooms attention turned to her. "I mean, they might decide to bury their differences if they are up against both Fillydelphia and the Enclave." The griffin merc nodded in agreement to her.
I stood up, my kidneys were kicking my spine for attention, reminding me I still needed to fix myself up. "Sorry everyone, I'm not feeling well. I'll have to come back to this later, I'll be in the medical bay."
As I turned, Cinnamon asked me. "Will you be staying? We could use a medical pony with your skill." The two doctors on the other side of the table nodded emphatically, clearly wanting to get into my good graces.
"Maybe, I can't say for sure." Then I walked out, leaving the group inside as they started to bicker and plan.
*** *** ***
I walked in on Runs Wild who was calmly tying on a strip of bandage on one of her fore legs. A bottle of disinfectant stood on the bench. Looks like one of the rats got in a lucky hit.
She looked up and gasped. "What happened to you?"
I told her everything while I spent the time mixing up several batches of mending tinctures from ingredients the orphans had managed to salvage, and other stuff I had picked up from a few nervous merchants. I told her of the attack, about what happened to Trinity Creme, and about Bitter Drink.
"So after a few months I left, I walked away from my home and left everything." I was not looking up from my work, not even when I heard Wild blow her nose.
"So, the funeral is tomorrow?" I heard her say and I nodded. The brew was almost done and I carefully lowered the heat. Then I felt her lay a hoof around my shoulders, my body sagged a little.
"All over a damned falling rock," I muttered. "thousands of years of anger and fear over a damned falling piece of stone." My anger against the insane Marked Mare was dissipating slowly, replaced by pity. I wasn't sorry for killing her or her companions, but I didn't have the energy to justify it to myself.
I had to focus on other things, something was clearly going to hell around Everfree and Fillydelphia, and it was going to ripple out across the wasteland. I felt it in my core, something big was waiting around the corner.
"Things are going to escalate, Wild. Something is happening and I think we might have to settle down here for a while. Just until things have calmed down." I lifted the finished potion from the hot plate and waited for it to cool. "After things have settled, I’ll to continue searching for Traders Caravan. After that’s done, I'm going to go home. I have put it off for far too long." Stable 10 loomed at me from out of the shadows. "I'd love it if you'd want to travel with me that far, I can show you the Neigherra Madre Casino, Scrap City, and perhaps even Machine Mountain."
"Can I ask you something?" I looked down and nodded at Wild. "What is your real name?" I smiled to myself, she was still as perceptive and clever as ever.
"My name," I began and downed the potion, instantly feeling my kidneys stopping their kicking for attention. "is..." I thought for a while. Yes, it was a part of me now, as much a part of me as my wings. "Snakebite Curatie Tourniquet."
Footnote: Level Up
Quest Perk: Eating Gems - Due to some oddities in your physiology, you can eat and digest gems, leading you to breathe fire for a short time. Although, this might just be the tip of the iceberg.
NeverKnown AKA ThatGuyWithTheMustache
Shadowstep AKA The Grammar Nazi
'Sweet Celestia, full of grace.' Belongs to Somber, writer of Project Horizon.
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