Fallout: Equestria

by Kkat

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Peace in Our Time

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Peace in Our Time

“Be good... or I’ll shoot you dead.”


My abused body was through. My nerves didn’t even have the will to scream at me anymore. My muscles arched dully, my insides hurt, my PipLeg itched. I could feel the mud slowly squishing in between my armor and coat, seeping through the hole the Ultra-Sentinel had burned in my chest.

I didn’t care. My friends needed me. Velvet Remedy was unconscious (oh please, let her just be unconscious). I had tried to save her from drowning, but she’d gone under more than once, and now she was just laying there, unmoving.

A few yards away, the Sky Bandit was half-sunk in the lake, the front end thrust upwards over the muddy shore. I heard a grunt from the air to my left where Calamity hung from the Sky Bandit’s harness.

“Ugh. Nnngh!” Calamity’s legs kicked circles in the air. “Oh pony feathers!”

My attention was focused on Velvet Remedy. I was desperate to get closer to her, to see if she was all right, but my body ignored me. I tried to pull her close, but my magic flickered over her limp form and died. Too much strain.

She wasn’t breathing. I could see no lift and fall from her body.

Oh Goddesses, Velvet Remedy wasn’t breathing!

“Calamity!” I shouted hoarsely, terror surging through me. “Velvet’s not breathing! Help her!”

“Ah’m tryin’!” Calamity shouted back, suddenly thrashing in his harness. “Ah can’t get down!” His wings flapped and his hooves kicked.

My mind was exploding in panic. Every second, she was dying. And I still couldn’t get to her, couldn’t even crawl. My horn flared with the surge of adrenaline. There was not enough in me to wrap around Velvet, but that flush of power was enough to pull apart the clasps of Calamity’s harness, dropping the rust-colored pegasus into the mud. He scrambled to Velvet’s side and began pumping his hooves against her breast, pausing only to breathe for her.

Behind him, a groan rose up as the Sky Bandit slipped further into the lake. With a start, I realized SteelHooves was still in the back of the passenger wagon, paralyzed in his dead armor, unable to move as he sunk into the water. I knew he couldn’t drown, but the thought of being trapped in a watery grave had to be horrifying. My mind immediately conjured memories of my nightmarish imprisonment in the healing booth.

Calamity continued fervently, trying to bring life back to Velvet Remedy.

Tones of grey bled into my vision. My whole self cried out for rest, begging me to just let go, just go to sleep. But I fought the cool embrace of darkness, the little pony in my head kicking and screaming, telling me that if I let it overtake me, I would never wake up again. If I lost consciousness now, I could slip into a coma. And somehow, I knew it wouldn’t be a peaceful sleep. All the nightmares of the healing booth awaited for me down there.

I heard a choked, sputtering cough from Velvet Remedy. My panic lifted, my heart crying out. Oh thank the Goddesses!

The grip of panic eased around my heart and mind, and blackness rushed in like a surging ocean. I think I heard Calamity fire his battle saddle and yell something, but he sounded too far away. Then nothing.

*** *** ***

Visions of my life in Stable Two passed before my eyes. Boring, dull, safe, grey. Devoid of any real life, empty of friends or of purpose. A job where I was helping no pony. Out of a sense of responsibility and a hope, I braved the possible nothingness beyond the Stable door, leaving that peace behind. Trading it for pain and horror as I searched for her.

I remembered my first day, and how the daylight seemed so strange to me, beautiful yet odd and unhealthy, strained by the curtain of clouds above us. I saw how stupid and foalish I had been, plunging headlong into places like Ironshod Firearms and Stable Twenty-Four, repeatedly risking my life and later those of my friends, driven by curiosity and a need for answers. I was lucky to still be alive.

My friends swam before me. My fearless first friend Calamity, always by my side, always ready to catch me when I fell. I owed him my life, over and over. Velvet Remedy, the real mare (not the one of my foalish fantasies) with the caring heart who tended to me while I was sick, and who took my burden when the return home was too much for me to bear. SteelHooves, met in battle with a flurry of explosions. I had seen him conquer his own demons to fight alongside Xenith and to finally step up to lead a new force for good in the Equestrian Wasteland. And Xenith herself, pulled from Red Eye’s hell of industry and slavery, a tortured mare, a survivor who became our guide in Old Olneigh, one of the most grim and deadly places the wasteland had to offer.

My mind filled with voices. The voice of DJ Pon3, broadcasting out of Manehattan, bringing messages of warning and hope, and making us out to be heroes. I remembered that first real voice from the past, that message from Scootaloo, a hello from one of the ponies who had shaped the world and watched it fall. From them, I learned of virtues, of sacrifice and of failure. Even though they were gone, they had become my family almost as much as my living friends. I was no longer alone.

I recalled moments of joy, times I had almost forgotten. Breakfast with Gawd at Junction R-7. My water fight with Homage in the pouring rain. My head filled with shadows. The horribly damaged Pinkie Bell with her balefire bomb she was saving for fireworks. The accidental shot (BLAM!) on Bucklyn Bridge.

I dreamt that I was drowning in blood, a crimson river from all those whom I had slain. The memory of Arbu transformed that terror into reality. Of all the things I had struggled against – raiders and slavers, zombie zebras and even a dragon – the greatest threat had always been from myself. The darkness and the rage that hid within me. Addiction and failure.

My soul was weary. I needed rest. Hadn’t I been through enough? I had tried to do good, I had tried to help. I had pushed myself through torture and horror. Death awaited me, and I could hear the sweet, cajoling song of the grim reaper pony, offering me final respite.

I wanted to go to her. Let her wrap me in her cloak of blackness and unending sleep.

But even here, the little pony in my head fought with me, reminding me that there was still too much to do before I could allow myself peace. There were still ponies who needed me. Red Eye still threatened Tenpony Tower and my beloved Homage. There was still a Goddess out there bent on the extinction of ponykind through Unity.

As long as you’re willing to face the fire…

Well, fuck. My little pony was right. As much as I yearned otherwise, I had to return. To regain consciousness…

*** *** ***

I moaned, rolling onto my side. My body was covered in a sickly sweat. Unpleasant warmth rushed through me, and my head and stomach churned with nausea. I itched from dried mud.

I was laying on a filthy cot in a ramshackle wooden structure that stank of damp wood and rot. I tried to push myself up, my legs trembling weakly before giving out. The effort caused my gut to rebel, and I found the strength to roll over and vomit. Mercifully, there was an old mop bucket next to the bed, seeming to exist just for the purpose of being filled with my sickness. My throat burned, the inside of my mouth turning horrid. The stench of my throw-up made my eyes water and drove my stomach to churn and release even more.

I collapsed back, tears in my eyes. This had happened before. Illness brought on by physical overexertion, mental turmoil and the nastiness of the wasteland. We needed to go. I didn’t have time to be bedridden again for days.

Canterlot had been physiologically brutal, the Pink Cloud and the broadcasters putting my brain and insides through a grinder. The loss of a rib was traumatic and terrifying. The scar there, like the one on my neck, would never fully heal. My PipBuck had fused to my coat and flesh. Was it any surprise my health was falling apart?

The memory orbs had been emotionally gut-wrenching. Part of me screamed to gallop back to the Ministry of Peace just to give Rarity a proper burial. But even before we had left the Ministry of Awesome, the fires and Cloud had made that impossible. The heart-rending blow of watching Applejack step out of that elevator… and realizing that Applesnack had intended to propose to her that very night, and she was anticipating it… oh Goddesses.

I fought to get up only to fail again. I must not be this weak. My sickness could be costing lives.

Goddesses, where was I? My eyes moved slowly over the filth. A few empty bottles, rubbish, a doorway without a door and the stained sheet that covered it. Not SteelHooves’ shack.

“Now… let’s get ya set up jus’ like that.” I heard Calamity’s voice drift in from the next room, followed by a loud thump of metal against splintering wood. I felt the urge to call out to him. “The gal was fine enough t’ let me rent this here set o’ magically powered armor long ‘nuff fer us t’ reboot ya. Should have ya mobile in no time.”

“Are you sure you know what you are doing, Calamity?” SteelHooves’ voice followed his. “Maybe you should wait for Littlepip.”

“An’ leave y’all stuck like this?”

Xenith’s voice chimed in, “Is it wrong that I want to stick him in poses?”

Even feeling as wretched as I did, I had to bury my muzzle into the mattress to stifle a snicker. I felt better knowing three of my friends were just on the other side of that filthy curtain.

“Try it and I will hurt you,” SteelHooves warned, grumbling. “Calamity… hurry.”

“So, which end do Ah plug this inta again?” Calamity asked, feigning confusion. The levity in his voice betrayed him.

“Just hurry. Before the zebra gets any other ideas.”

“Thank you, SteelHooves,” Xenith said quietly. “For helping my daughter’s village. I know it must be hard for an old soldier to help zebra kin.”

I mentally grasped at that through the swimming in my head. We were in Glyphmark. Through the doorway, I realized the next room had fallen still.

“Applejack was afraid of zebras,” SteelHooves finally said. “It took her little sister to show her that they are people just like ponies. Good folk, most of them.” I listened, surprised, as Applesnack opened up to Xenith. “She never forgot that. Not even in the blackest hours of the war. Not even when her closest zebra friend betrayed her…” His voice seemed to freeze. SteelHooves’ low, rumbling voice impossibly dropped even lower. “…or so we believed.”

Again, the room beyond mine filled with a pregnant quiet.

“Applejack would have wanted her rangers to protect all good people. Not just ponies.”

I loved SteelHooves a little more at that moment.

After a moment, Calamity spoke up, changing the topic. “How are they?”

“Neither has woken,” Xenith’s voice turned solumn. Neither? Velvet Remedy is still unconscious? I once again felt a twinge of panic. How long had it been since Canterlot? “Although Littlepip moans and mutters fevered things in her sleep.”

“Littlepip is awake,” SteelHooves announced. “She’s probably eavesdropping.”

I also hated SteelHooves just a little bit right then. Go ahead and put him in silly poses, Xenith!

*** *** ***

I was shivering when Xenith came in. Somehow, my body had gone from overly hot to unpleasantly cold.

“The metal ghoul was right,” Xenith intoned casually, “You are awake.”

“W-what about Velvet?”

“She still slumbers,” Xenith informed me. “I have given her what salves and remedies I know, but only she can find her way back to us as you have done.”

“She will,” I assured her. “Velvet Remedy’s stronger than she looks.”

“So are you,” the zebra said as she placed a hoof on my forehead just below my horn.

I groaned. “Well, that’s easy when you look pathetic.” Xenith smirked ever-so-slightly.

“We need to go…” I started to say, trying a third time to stand. I forced my forehooves under me, lifting myself just enough to reach the mop bucket as another wave of nausea swept over me.

Xenith watched as I vomited. “You are sick,” she said grimly (and quite unnecessarily). “You need to rest. I will not allow us to go until you are well enough for the journey. Another day at least. Maybe two.”

“How long…?” I asked, spitting into the bucket of sick, trying to clear the acidic foulness from my tongue and teeth.

“Less than a day,” Xenith told me. “Calamity has been negotiating with your trader friend to get the things you need. And he has been putting armor on our flying vessel. If there is one thing Glyphmark is not poor in, it is scraps.”

I had wondered when he was going to get around to that. Nodding, I tried to reason with Xenith, “One night. But then we have to go. I’ll prop myself up with crutches if I have to.”

“No,” Xenith said flatly. “I decide when we go, and I say: not until you are at least able to walk on your own and hold food. Only then will I consider it. Assuming that the medical pony hasn’t woken up by then and had you chained down until you are fully healthy.”

I moaned, slipping back onto my bed. We couldn’t wait that long. Especially if Velvet Remedy did decide to chain me down until I got better. Something Velvet was more than capable of. Xenith might not realize that, but then the zebra wasn’t there when Velvet shot me.

“I can recover on the ride to Splendid Valley,” I told her, recalling having said something similar to Velvet Remedy after Arbu. But the mere thought of riding in the Sky Bandit made my head whimper and my stomach twist unpleasantly. “Okay... once I can hold food.” I wasn’t going to subject the others to a ride in the passenger wagon with me while I spent the whole trip with my head in a bucket.

My mind wandered a moment, trying to retrace the days. How long ago had Velvet Remedy shot me with my poisoned dart gun? How long since I had left Stable Two? My whole life was condensed into… what, eight weeks? Over a month and a half, not quite two months. The equally miserable little pony in my head pointed out that between now and SteelHooves’ shack, I’d used up all my sick days, and soon the master PipBuck Technician would have to dock my allowance. I found myself giggling.

“Laughter,” Xenith mused. “A sure sign of regaining health. Or slipping into insanity.”

That just made me giggle harder for no good reason.

Xenith got up, taking the mop bucket’s handle by her teeth. The stench from it had begun to permeate the room. I felt simultaneously thankful towards her and embarrassed at my disgusting frailty. I was sorry to be the reason she had to do something so unpleasant.

My might caught on something as she started towards the filthy curtain. “Xenith, how is your daughter? And… have you told her yet?”

The zebra stopped. She set down the bucket of vomit and turned to me. “Xephyr is doing well. She is the doctor for these townsfolk, and plies her craft well. She is very thankful for what we have done here.”

Xenith sat down, staring off into the air. “She and the others of her village have released me from my responsibility, so I am free to go.” She looked at me sternly, “As to your second question: no. And I wish that you would not tell her.”

I nodded. “But… shouldn’t she know? And, Xenith, you deserve to be reunited with her.”

Xenith smiled sadly. “She is her own mare now, not the little girl I knew. I would rather she keep that strength than submit to being my child again.” She looked away again. “And, to be truthful, I cannot be responsible for her. I do not know how. Plus, you need me. More than she does.”

With that, Xenith stood back up, taking the mop bucket once again, and walked out, the curtain waving in her passing.

I laid there for some time, unsure how to feel. Part of me was happy that Xenith would be with us again. Another part of me, the part which deeply wished for a happy ending for my friends, was softly crying. I wasn’t even sure why. My own mother, as much as I loved her from a distance, was not as important to me as my friends; and I would not wish to sacrifice my time with them or the good I was trying to do for a reunion with her. So why did my heart desire for Xenith and Xephyr to be together?

I shivered again. Part of me wanted to pull down the disgusting curtain and wrap myself in it. But a better part of me shuddered at the thought. And I knew that, if I did, I would just become too hot again. Instead, I curled up. A wave of weariness pass over me.

We needed Xenith. I needed her. We were stronger together. Better.

I would need my friends. Soon… as soon as I was well enough to function… we would be enacting my plan, whatever that was, to deal with the Goddess.

I moaned as another shiver quaked through my body. Suddenly, I felt nervous. Scared. I was about to risk our lives with a plan I didn’t even know. I was trusting myself... which was beginning to feel awfully stupid. They all trusted me, but why should they? I hadn’t told them what I was doing, just their specific parts. No one knew what we were doing! This was insane!

I’ve got a plan for dealing with the Goddess. I’ve told everypony their parts, and just their parts. I’m the only pony who knows all of it.

And then I took that knowledge from myself and locked it away in orbs sitting far away in Tenpony Tower. What was I thinking? Literally, what was I thinking?

I’ve told everypony their parts, and just their parts.

Every pony...


…because the Goddess couldn’t read zebra minds.

A smile broke across my muzzle. Ooooh, I was a clever pony!

*** *** ***

“She did what?!” Calamity gasped, startling me from the near-sleep my aching body had fallen into. “Dammit, Li’lpip promised me…”

Oh no. What did I do? I immediately felt awful for whatever I had done to upset Calamity.

“Calm yourself,” SteelHooves commanded softly. “Everything was fine.” Was SteelHooves mobile yet? It didn’t sound like he had moved. The idea that he might still be paralyzed within his armor was horrible. I thought of how he had been trapped helpless under the water and prayed to Celestia and Luna that he had been pulled out quickly.

“Fine? Ah was gone, you were immobile and Li’lpip goes pokin’ her head inta a whole heapin’ mess o’ memory orbs right in the middle o’ the Canterlot Ruins?” Calamity roared. “Dammit! Ah know that mare ain’t got no sense at all, sometimes, but Ah expected her t’ treat a promise better! What did she expect Velvet t’ do if y’all were attacked? Or if the Cloud got in?”

“Turn on the shield,” SteelHooves said simply.

Calamity stopped mid-rant. “What now?”

“We were inside the Ministry of Awesome, within the shielded zone. If anything happened, Velvet Remedy could have protected us with the throw of a switch,” SteelHooves informed him, adding the jab, “Or don’t you trust Rainbow Dash’s defenses?”

I could hear Calamity let out a defeated sigh. “Fine. Okay.”

“She’s not responsible for Velvet Remedy’s condition,” SteelHooves added. “In fact, she risked drowning to save her.”

“Ah know that. An’ Ah’m not mad at her cuz o’… hell, Ah’m not mad at her. Ah’m just mad,” Calamity admitted. “Feels better than bein’ worried sick.”

I heard a crack of wood and dust shifted down from between the ceiling boards as the small building shook from Calamity’s kick.

I could understand the sentiment.

“Hell o’ a time t’ let everypony down, Calamity.” What?

“I seem to recall you saved them.” My thoughts echoed SteelHooves’s sentiment. Calamity had caught us. And then he saved Velvet when I couldn’t.

“Yeah, well they wouldn’t ‘ave needed so much savin’ if Ah had jus’ flown us outta there. Muh fault we ended up in the moat. Hell, Ah don’t even remember touchin’ down.”

“Calamity!” I called out weakly. “Stop. Just… Not your fault…” That was all I had the energy to shout, and it left me panting.

The orange-maned pegasus poked his head through the curtain, hovering a pony’s height off the floor. “Li’lpip? Ah’m sorry. Ah thought ya were asleep.”

Part of me regretted letting him see me like this. I was drenched in sweat. My coat was matted to my skin beneath. I hadn’t bathed since being dropped in the mud.

I shook my head, then weakly hoof-waved him in. The pegasus landed to pass through the doorway, stepping up to the old, stained mattress that served as my bed. “C’n Ah getcha anything? Water? A blanket?” He frowned. “Not sure we got any o’ those. An’ the water here ain’t ‘xactly the best neither.”

I wanted both. But I asked for neither. “Calamity, thank you,” I said, smiling as best I could. “Velvet and I both owe you our lives. You were… awesome.”

He shook his head. “Thanks all the same fer sayin’, but…”

“But nothing. It… it’s been… hard and hurtful on all of us. Sometimes, I just want to stop…” I trailed off, ashamed. I felt like I wanted to stop a lot lately.

“Ah know whatcha mean. A lesser pony woulda called it quits a long time ago.” Calamity laid down next to me. He pulled out the pink gem and set it between us.

“Thank ya fer this, Li’lpip. Ah got right messed up in the head after Bucklyn Cross. Ah hate what happened there, an it was sendin’ muh mind inta dark places. Ya gave me somethin’ t’ remind me that we are the good guys. We don’t always get it right. Hell, sometimes we mess it up real bad. But we keep tryin’ and there are folk better off thanks t’ us.”

I nodded, staring into the gem.

“I hate this plan of yours,” Calamity told me bluntly. “Once again, yer going inta someplace insanely dangerous alone. An’ once again yer the only one who c’n do it. I hate that.”

I’m… going in alone? The idea of going into Maripony (or worse, all of Splendid Valley!) alone terrified me. I no longer liked this plan either.

On the other hoof, it didn’t surprise me. I knew myself too well. Any chance to spare my friends the danger, any way I could make it my burden alone, and I would take it. I had done it again.

“Y’all remember what that place did t’ us last time?” Calamity reminded me. “An’ we were together then.”

“Calamity?” I asked, worried now. “What can you tell me about the plan?”

Calamity blinked. His eyes widened as he realized what I was asking. “What? Y’all don’t know? Ah mean, Ah know that ya had yer memories removed, but ya really don’t know nothin’ ‘bout the plan?” Now he was beginning to panic. “Didn’tcha even leave yerself any notes?”

Notes? “Where would I…?” I stopped. Dammit, of course! My PipBuck! How could I have not thought of that before?

Slowly, I lifted my right foreleg, my gaze sliding to the dead screen of my PipBuck.

“um… Calamity, you rebooted SteelHooves’s armor, right? Is he able to move again?” I felt supremely stupid and foalish.

Calamity winced. “Ah, actually, no.” My eyes widened. SteelHooves had been immobile this whole time? “Turns out, it ain’t as easy as it looks. Ah ain’t a certified PipBuck Technician an’ Toaster Repairpony after all.”

“Then…” I started to pull myself off the mattress, determined that SteelHooves not remain paralyzed a moment longer. My forelegs trembled and my stomach shot me a queasy warning. I looked around, but the mop bucket wasn’t back yet. I laid back down, putting a hoof over my muzzle and tried to force my insides still.

“…could you bring him in here, please?” My head was swimming again. Trying to remember just what I needed to do was like slogging through belly-deep sludge. I needed tools, the spell matrix master key and something to reboot him from. “And could you please fetch my utility barding and… you borrowed magically powered armor from somepony?”

“Ah’ll do muh best,” Calamity said, looking chagrinned. “He’s… kinda heavy.”

I nodded, wondering how they got SteelHooves inside in the first place. Or out of the water. My eyes widened as I remembered something else. “There was a shot!”

Calamity started, jumping up and looking around, “Where? Ya sure? Ah didn’t hear nothin’.”

I shook my head, whimpering slightly at how sick the sudden movement made me feel. “No… before. At the lake. You shot… something.”

Calamity visibly relaxed. “Oh. That shot. Ah was catchin’ the griffin’s attention. ‘Parently, some folks tend t’ notice when a passenger wagon falls outta Canterlot.”

*** *** ***

SteelHooves sat silently by my side. I was feverish and having trouble focusing, but I was finished. I started disconnecting my PipBuck from his armor, glancing once more at the set of badly damaged power armor laying in the corner.

“I’m sorry,” I told him, wiping a sick coat of sweat from my face. “We should have had you moving faster.” I felt so tired.

SteelHooves said nothing, but it wasn’t a damning silence. His tail shifted. I pulled my tools away. “Done.” I cast another look at the armor Calamity had rented for this and winced. Sometimes, things were just unfair.

It was Steel Ranger armor, torn up but with a still functional spell matrix that I had been able to use to restore my PipBuck (and then use my PipBuck to restore SteelHooves). There was still traces of pony blood on it. I had chosen to restore my PipBuck first not merely because it was easier, but because I felt SteelHooves would rather not be connected directly to the other armor.

The magically powered armor had been taken from the body of one of the Rangers we had killed in Stable Two. From the damage, it was a pony whom SteelHooves had put down himself.

SteelHooves stood up. He tested each leg, then stretched. “Thank you,” he said solemnly. “Now rest.”

I curled up, part of me hating that he saw this but unable to properly care. I really wanted nothing more than to sleep… and hopefully not dream.

I watched him as he turned towards the doorway. He would just walk out as if everything was concluded. But it wasn’t.

“Applesnack…” I whispered but I knew he heard it by the way he stopped. I wasn’t sure if this was what I should do, but… no more secrets. “I saw you.”

“You see me often.”

“In one of the orbs… in the Ministry,” I told him. “It was the memory of a guard… he was assisting Zecora on a mission… to help get her closer to Caesar…”

SteelHooves said nothing, but the temperature in the room seemed to drop.

“You… were going to propose… to Applejack that night.” I looked at him, my heart squeezing in my chest. “I’m so sorry.”

“Closer to Caesar,” SteelHooves repeated. “To do what?”

I closed my eyes. “I don’t know. Spy on him, I think.”

“Or assassinate him.”

I shook, feeling a chill that was more from sickness than reaction to his words. “I… don’t know… but I don’t think so.” I wasn’t sure why -- maybe it was the way Zecora had worried about pony deaths, or how her inexpert fighting skills caused her to likely kill my host by accident -- but I just didn’t feel like Zecora was that kind of killer. I cringed as I realized I was. “She was a spy.”

Simmer down, sallie. Zecora ain't no spy!

The world was filled with sharp-edged irony.

SteelHooves stood there, as unmoving as he had been all day. Finally, he said, “It wouldn’t have mattered. Killing the Caesar wouldn’t have stopped the war. The legatus legionis would have simply stepped in. And, if anything, he was worse.”

I swallowed, my mouth tasting filthy. “SteelHooves… Applesnack, I’m not judging you. I’m saying…” What was I saying? I fought for words. “I’m saying I understand now. I know what you meant when you said I made it easier for you to live with yourself. And… I’m sorry.”

He nickered.

“Applejack never knew the truth about Zecora either,” I told him. “And she loved you. She tried to fight for your relationship because she loved you. And, I think, because she understood.” Not approved. But understood.

SteelHooves walked out.

*** *** ***

I was trapped. Buried alive. Encased in a coffin of metal. There was no air. I couldn’t breathe.

Sounds… horrible, horrible sounds came at me out of the darkess. Warping, unearthly tones. Rending sounds. The sounds of saws.

I tried to back away, but there was no room. My backside hit a smooth surface, not metal but glass, and I felt a shock of cold. My hooves splashed into the sticky warmth of blood. I could smell the sick, coppery stench. My healing booth coffin was filling with it.

You cut a bloody swath through them. How many ponies are dead tonight because of you, Littlepip? Velvet Remedy’s voice echoed accusingly, provoking a sickening déjà vu. How many ponies have you slaughtered?

The blood was the blood of Arbu.

It sure didn’t take you long to become a mass murderer, did it, Littlepip?

The sound of the saw was getting closer. It intended to cut me apart with ragged teeth. To slice open my head and take my brain.

Strange symbols appeared, floating in front of me. Alien glyphs of ancient zebra design. But unlike the sounds and voices and darkness, their pulsing lines of crimson and black were soothing. They shifted in odd dimensions, offering to unlock themselves. To protect me.

I knew these and they were blasphemous. I turned away…

…I was facing the mirror. I stared back at myself, bleeding, dying. Littlepip the raider. My expression was grim, hateful. The stream of blood was pouring out of the mirror, the blood of Arbu coming from my body, mixing with my own.

The saw was getting closer. I could feel the wind from its gnarled, spinning teeth blasting my mane. It was going to cut out my heart. Rip me open and wrench out my spine. It would hurt. Hurt so badly. But I wouldn’t be allowed to die.

Let us help you, the glyphs whispered. You have no power. You have no purpose. Let us give you purpose.

“I have a purpose!” I shouted at the raider-Littlepip in the mirror.

I’m not the Wasteland Savior, Homage, I heard myself saying. You are. You and them. I’m just the one who clears the way.

You could be the savoir, the glyphs whispered, floating in the air around the mirror. I realized I could almost understand them.

Let me show you secrets!

“I don’t want your secrets!” I shouted at the glyphs, but I was lying. I’d seen the blackness that the Book held, the horror. But…

You’ve seen how much good we can do in the hooves of the right pony. You cannot deny.

“I….” I whimpered, faltering. I knew that was true. Even the blackest magic could be used for good. But… “I’m no Rarity. I’m weak.”

I could make you stronger. Better.


My gaze locked on the raider in my soul. She trembled, dying from blood loss. She was grotesque, horrible.

“I’m not this!” I cried out. “I have a purpose!”

It… it’s not us, is it? I heard my voice cry. We’re not the right group of friends. We can’t bring Equestria back.

No, Spike’s voice laughed at me. You’re not!

The saw was so close now. If I didn’t take the glyphs for protection, it would start cutting me.

Let me show you so many secrets!

“NO!” I screamed, crying. I wanted those secrets. I tried to fight, but I really, really wanted them.

The saw was gone. The noises stopped. The healing booth was no longer a coffin and I was no longer alone.

“Enough of this,” Rarity said, stepping forward. She glared at the glyphs. “You leave her alone.”

When...? How?

The beautiful white unicorn gave me a sad frown. “I was not that strong either.” She stared back at the glyphs as the other Ministry Mares walked up from the darkness behind me. “The Black Book preys on you when you’re weak and alone. But you’re not alone anymore.”

“I’m… how?”

“Cuz ya brought us together, didn’tcha?” Applejack smiled. “It’s what you do.”

I think I know who you’re looking for, I remembered telling Spike.

“It’s happening differently this time, isn’t it?” Twilight Sparkle’s voice was curious.

“Well duh,” Rainbow Dash hovered over her. “Do you think it was the same when it was just Celestia? Same is boring.”

“Ah reckon it’s diff’rent every time.”

I was confused yet comforted. I didn’t know how, but they were with me. And with them, I had the strength to refuse and fight.

But you don’t want to fight, do you? Let me give you a taste of what I have to offer.

“Hey Pinkie, this is a great party, but I’ve got something that will make it even better,” Pinkie Pie said dourly, her expression cross. She was staring at the floating runes, but I didn’t think she was seeing quite what the rest of us were. “You’ve got to try these. Just take one. They’ll blow your mind.” Her hoof stomped.

Another voice echoed out of the darkness.

Have you given up your principles for the greater good yet? Red Eye asked. I see you’ve already become a monster. Or did you think I wouldn’t hear about Arbu? The blood began to rise.

“Ah don’t like this feller,” Applejack hissed.

And look at that, Red Eye’s voice mocked as I felt a burning in my right foreleg where my PipBuck had merged with my flesh. You’re becoming more like me every day!

“I’m not like you,” I asserted, lying again. “And I’m not a monster.” I knew I was. I could see it in the mirror.

“CORRUPTED KINDESS!” Trixie’s voice accused triumphantly, her image floating above the mirror.

Fluttershy stepped forward, “How would you know?”


“Hush now,” Fluttershy commanded, Staring. “Quiet now.”

The image of Trixie faded, looking abashed.

Power, the Black Book cajoled. Purpose. Together, we will unlock the world!

“Don’t listen to it,” Rarity strengthened.

Applejack rested a hoof on my shoulder. “Ya already got a purpose. Yer the Bringer o’ Light, ain’tcha?”

“I… I don’t even know what that means.” I shook my head. “I don’t have a purpose! I’m lost. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“Now listen here,” Applejack said sternly. “What Ah’m tellin’ ya is the honest truth. Ya do have a purpose.”

“Yer the one that brought ‘em together,” she said as images of my friends floated at the edges of my vision. My living friends. Calamity. Velvet Remedy. SteelHooves. Xenith. Even Pyrelight. They were here with me too.

I felt tears.

“Ya find the good ones. Draw ‘em out. Clear the path an’ light the way,” Applejack smiled gently. “There’s a name fer that, y’know.”

I wanted to believe her so badly that I was trembling.

“But…” I turned back at the mirror. To the shot up, bleeding, dying Littlepip in cobbled-together, gore-stained raider armor, barely standing as she faced down her next kill, Little Macintosh floating in front of her, pointing upward. “…but this is my soul. Isn’t it?”

“Of course it is, silly,” Pinkie Pie said, hugging me suddenly and pointing at the mirror. “You’re just looking at it wrong.”

“Look behind you.”

*** *** ***

I awoke with a gasp, sitting up suddenly. Then collapsed back onto the mattress. I felt awful, damp with sweat and caked with mud. Filthy. Almost too tired to move. My mane was clumped and stringy. But the nausea was gone and my fever had broken.

I was not alone in the room. “Xenith?”

The zebra who moved closer wasn’t my companion. “Xephyr,” I said, recognizing her. “Where is everypony? …I mean everyone?”

Xephyr pulled a wet sponge from a tin pot filled with water. “Your other friend woke up an hour ago,” she told me as she began to wipe my forehead. “They are all with her right now.”

I wished I could be too.

“Xenith is my mother, isn’t she?” Xephyr asked. I froze, unsure how to answer. Xenith had asked me not to, and I wanted to do right by her. But if Xephyr already suspected…

“I thought so,” Xephyr said as she continued to sponge me down, removing some of the illness sweat from my coat. “She has tried to hide it, but how many zebra mares named Xenith does she think this wasteland holds?”

Smart girl. I shivered a little under the cool dampness of the sponge, but was immensely thankful for every stroke of it. I wanted a bath so much it hurt. I would have given my left forehoof for a day at the Tenpony spa.

“You will be going soon,” Xephyr gleaned. “You will be taking her with you.”

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

“I will be happy to see her go,” the young zebra mare told me bluntly. “I am not ungrateful for all she has done, but she would not have done it if you had not led her.”

I winced. “No, that’s not true!”

“Yes, it is,” Xephyr said, accepting no argument. “I love her… from a distance.” I felt an odd chill as the zebra’s words echoed my thoughts from the evening before. “But she is not her own mare, and she never will be. I will not be like her.”

Xephyr continued to sponge-bathe me in silence.

“Your father…?” I began to ask.

“My father,” the young zebra said bitterly, “Was Qarl Death-Hoof, leader of our parent’s tribe until that slaver griffin killed him.” Stern. I was sure of it.

“I was just a little foal, but I remember how he treated mother. And how he ran the tribe. I am not sorry he is dead.”

*** *** ***

I knew I shouldn’t be moving. My body wanted nothing but more rest. But I had to see Velvet Remedy. And I didn’t want to go back to sleep. There were things waiting for me in my dreams, and not all of them meant me well.

The ramshackle shack (it would be generous to call it a building) was Glyphmark’s attempt at a clinic, and possibly the largest old house in town. The floors were broken, the roof was sagging, but it housed all of us. Velvet Remedy was being kept in what had once been a bathroom. The old tub, waterstained in brown with traces of pink, was the only intact object in the room full of debris and shattered porcelain

“Ah thought Ah’d lost ya,” Calamity was saying as I approached. I stopped, backing out of sight, not wanting to interrupt. My legs cried out that this was a good time to lay down, or at least lean against something. They were weary and tired of bearing my weight, and if I refused to sleep, the least I could do was get off them.

“Now you know how I feel every time you go off and do something reckless,” Velvet replied without malice.

“Ah… I don’t think Ah could take this anymore without ya,” Calamity told her. “Ah’m strugglin’ here, Velvet. It feels like all muh friends are fallin’ apart, and Ah’m tryin’ t’ be the strong one. But Ah ain’t doin’ so good.”

I remembered what I had heard Calamity mutter to himself as we entered Stable Two: Ah gotta be strong fer them. Not go crazy. Ah can’t jus’ charge in an’ kill every armored bitch Ah see. Ah need t’ be strong. Need t’ watch fer them. Need t’ protect ‘em. Ah c’n do this.”

“What’s wrong, love?” Velvet asked gently. “What’s eating you?”

“Bucklyn Cross.” I winced. “Ah’ve tried t’ make peace with it, but…”

“Come closer,” Velvet said in response. “Let me hold you.”

I could hear Calamity’s throat hitch. “We were bullies, Velve. Nothin’ better than bullies. We went in demandin’ somethin’ that we knew they wouldn’t want to give, an’ it all ended in blood. Those young knights didn’t deserve t’ die.” My friend was crying now. I felt a lump in my throat. My heart twisted in knots. “Ah shoulda stopped us. Ah knew better. An’ that makes it muh fault.”

“Hush now, love,” Velvet cooed. She knew there wasn’t anything she could say, so she wisely said nothing. I imagined she was holding him as he cried into her mane.

“An’ Ah’m terrified that Ah’m losin’ ya too,” Calamity said brokenly.

“What? No, love,” Velvet soothed. “You’re not losing me.”

“That crap ya pulled in the Ministry o’ Peace says different,” Calamity asserted. There was strength in his voice. I could tell he had pulled back from her. “No… no, don’t say anythin’. Ah understand why ya did it now, Ah guess. But yer too wrapped up in Fluttershy. Ain’t right nor healthy, puttin’ all yer faith in a pony ya hardly know.”

“I know Fluttershy,” Velvet insisted softly.

“Yeah, but there are things ya don’t know,” Calamity replied and all sorts of alarm bells started going off in my head.

“Oh?” Velvet asked, and I swore the question sounded like poison. “Like what?”

Calamity faltered. “Well… Ah don’t rightly know. But Li’lpip’s seen things in those orbs, and…” I could hear from the timbre of his voice that he knew the hole he was digging. So he changed tack. “Jus’ remember what DJ Pon3 always says is the one big truth o’ the wasteland? We all done things that we regret. An’, well, sounds t’ me like Fluttershy had some regrets too.”

“And Littlepip is keeping what she knows secret, isn’t she? To protect me, no doubt.” Velvet hissed out a sigh. I guessed that Calamity had nodded. “What a surprise. Littlepip keeping secrets from her friends. I swear, if there was an Element of Frustration...”

“Velvet, please,” Calamity said softly. “Don’t be mad. She means well, really.”

“And do you think she’s right? Do you think I need to be protected from whatever this is?”

“I dunno,” Calamity struggled. “After the Ministry o’ Peace? Maybe.” He found more solid ground as he told her, “Ah just know ya shouldn’t get so wrapped up in tryin’ t’ be yer idol.” I had a sudden flash of Pinkie Bell, and I bet Velvet Remedy did too. “Yer a wonderful, lovin’, carin’ pony all on yer own. Jus’ be yerself.”

*** *** ***

I slipped out the front door, not wanting to interrupt the quiet moment Calamity and Velvet Remedy were sharing. I blinked in the odd daylight, once again recalling how strange the air seemed without the healing light of the sun.

Ditzy Doo waved at me.

I blinked again, taking in the sight of Ditzy Doo’s delivery wagon. (Absolutely Everything! “Yes, I do deliveries!”) She’d picked up a new companion, I noticed. A griffin bodyguard in Talon armor.

Now I knew who Calamity had rented the Steel Ranger armor from. And which griffin he’d been signaling. Xenith had given Glyphmark a buck to the town’s economy, and Ditzy Doo had taken only days to start trade with them. That was… amazingly fast for word to have gotten out. I suspected a little of Homage’s hoofwork.

A little lavender filly with a blonde mane trotted up to me. She was smiling, a piece of parchment in her mouth. “Here, Miss Littlepip,” Silver Bell said, her voice almost singing. “I painted a picture for you. See, it’s you and Homage.”

I floated the parchment up and gazed at the painting. It was a crude child’s painting… and it was the most beautiful picture I had ever seen.

“Aw… you’re crying? Don’t you like it? I tried really hard!”

“I… I love it!” I knelt down and hugged the filly gently. I wondered what I had done to deserve such an innocent and wonderful gift? With deep shame, I remembered that I had once intended to steal from this little filly. “Thank you, Silver Bell!”

Ditzy Doo had trotted up beside us. As I let Silver Bell go, I noticed that Ditzy had a couple of little chalkboards dangling around her neck. She set one of them down, pulling out a piece of chalk, and scribbled “Hello!”

“Hello, Ditzy Doo,” I replied, floating the picture up next to me. I would have to find something waterproof to keep it in until we returned to Junction R-7, where I intended to put it up in a cherished place right next to my bed. Silver Bell had somehow really captured Homage and made her look absolutely adorable.

Ditzy Doo erased the board with a hoof, then wrote, “Can a horn grow back?” She looked at me with an urgent smile, right eye rolling upwards disturbingly.

I blinked. “I… I don’t know.” I thought about it some more. “A horn is a bone, right?”

Minutes later, Velvet Remedy was kneeling next to Silver Bell, the older mare’s horn glowing as Ditzy Doo, Calamity and I watched.

“Now I’ve gotten a lot better at this spell,” Velvet cautioned, snarkily adding, “Thanks to an abundance of practice. But all I can do is help the physical horn grow back. I do not know if her magic will heal, or how long it might take.”

“Thank you, Miss Velvet Remedy,” Silver Bell chimed softly, understanding. Her eyes drifted to Pyrelight, widening along with her smile.

The majestic balefire phoenix began to sing to Silver Bell. Her song was rich, sadly nostalgic and overwhelmingly beautiful.

Velvet Remedy smiled gently and stretched out her magic. The scar on Silver Bell’s head where she had cut off her own horn began to glow.

*** *** ***

“What do you think will happen to Silver Bell?” I asked Velvet as the Sky Bandit pushed its way through the smoke-yellowed sky.

“I truly don’t know,” Velvet replied, giving a polite cough. “I hope, with her horn reformed, that her magic will swiftly return. But the wasteland has never seemed that forgiving.” She coughed again, and I found myself joining her.

We were skirting the edge of the forest, heading towards Splendid Valley by way of Ponyville. The fires of Everfree Forest were choking the air in every direction around it. The forest had been burning for over a week now; it was consumed in flames and a thick fog of smoke, but from what I could see, it seemed absurdly intact.

“Damn, ya’d think the whole place would be ash by now,” Calamity called out, flying low to keep us out of the thicker smoke. “Hey, Pyrelight, y’ sure this ain’t a phoenix forest?”

Pyrelight let out a derisive hoot.

Our attention was snatched by the sound of a gunshot. It was rapidly followed by several more.

Calamity diverted towards the sound, and soon we came upon a gunfight. Two groups were battling between the cover of rocks and what looked like the charred corpse of a river serpent.

“Looks like raiders!” Calamity called back.

Raiders? Seriously? I’d already wiped out the raiders in Ponyville. What did they do, respawn?

“Who are they attacking?” I asked, bringing up my E.F.S. and trying to get a fix on both groups though the haze.

“Other raiders… I think.” Calamity banked and I got a better look. Sure enough, three younger raiders seemed to be holding out against four older ones. Neither side had lost a pony yet, but one of the two bucks in the younger group had taken a shot to the leg and was bleeding badly. I was mildly surprised that Calamity hadn’t started shooting yet.

“Shouldn’t we help?” Velvet Remedy asked, moving to the window next to me.

“Help who?” Calamity questioned. “Ah ain’t sure who the good guys are here, if anypony. An’ Ah’m… feeling a bit gunshy after… recent events. Don’t wanna start shootin’ at the wrong folk.”

Velvet Remedy gave an exaggerated sigh. “There are more ways than that to help.” She waved her horn as it began to glow. Below us, Velvet Remedy’s shield began to snake between the two groups of fighters.

“Excuse me,” Velvet’s magically amplified voice rang out. “Could you please lower your weapons for a moment and tell me why are you fighting?”

“What the hell?” One of the older raiders responded by tipping up the muzzle of his rifle and taking a shot at Velvet Remedy. The bullet struck the now-armored wall of our passenger wagon.

“Wrong,” Velvet informed him. Magic burst from her horn, striking him with her anesthetic spell. The raider buck toppled, paralyzed. “Let’s try that again.”

I had floated out my zebra rifle (thinking I really needed a weapon that used more common ammunition and did not set ponies horrifically on fire), and was holding myself in reserve. Calamity and I exchanged glances as we let Velvet Remedy’s tactic play out.

“Do ya have a death wish or somethin’?” one of the other older raiders shouted out. “Are ya out of yer fuckin’ mind?”

More shots rang out. Both sides were still trying to shoot at each other through Velvet’s shield. Neither was having any luck.

“They’re raiders!” one of the younger bucks shouted up at us. “They wiped out The Republic!”

“They wiped out the what now?” I asked, confused.

“Little town up north o’ here,” Calamity informed us. “Ah protected a few caravans travelin’ ‘tween it an’ New Appleloosa. Bizarrre, cult-like group o’ weirdoes, but not bad ponies. Certainly didn’t deserve t’ be slaughtered.”

“And who are you?” Velvet asked.

“Whoa!” Calamity shouted as one of the larger group hurled a home-made explosive at the Sky Bandit. I caught it in my telekinesis, pulling Velvet out of the window as the bomb exploded in the air, sending shards of glass and nails in every direction. SteelHooves stepped between Xenith and the window, his armor deflecting the shrapnel that found its way inside. I heard Calamity bite back a cry of pain as a nail tore through one of his wings. His barding and the Sky Bandit protected him from the rest.

“We’re heroes!” the younger mare in her group of three yelled up at us as the two bucks next to her reloaded.

“You look like raiders,” Velvet Remedy pointed out cautiously.

“What?” one of the younger bucks cried out in surprise. “Oh, the barding?” I blinked, feeling my life had somehow come full circle.

“Okay,” I called out, moving back into the window and aiming the zebra rifle. One of the raiders shot at us again, missing the entire Sky Bandit.

“Ya sure, Li’lpip? We don’t know…”

“We know one side is shooting at us,” SteelHooves pointed out impatiently, opening the door of the passenger wagon as the missile launcher opened on his battle saddle.

“Fuck!” somepony shouted from below. “It’s one of those outcast rangers!”


SteelHooves’ missiles shot out. One hit Velvet Remedy’s shield which collapsed in the fiery blast. The other plowed through the fire and struck the ground at the hooves of the older raiders in an explosion of bloody meat. Two managed to dive to safey, but their fellow raiders were bloody, smoldering giblets.

The two survivors turned their attention fully towards us. One of them pulled out another home-made grenade. I prepared to grab it with my magic…

Let me give you a taste of what I have to offer.

…I suddenly understood. The spell was so simple. It was barely more than telekinesis. The easiest thing, really. My horn began to glow.

The splattered blood from the torn raider chunks began to flow together, pooling, lifting.

I realized this was the first spell, the little teaser offered to anypony who might be…

…be what? Fitting? Worthy? Weak enough?

Now just form the blade.

(Be Unwavering!)

“No!” I shouted, my scream simultaneous with the raider’s throw. The blood splashed back to the ground, seeping into the soil. Velvet Remedy threw another shield up, this time between us and the raiders, deflecting the bomb. It exploded, sending its shrapnel into the shield.

No! I was shaking; cold sweat had broken over me. But I had refused. I would rather be a one-trick-pony than have a spell like that.

*** *** ***

“I’ve never seen a zebra before.” The olive buck walked around Xenith as she watched him apprehensively. “I mean, not a real one. You don’t look like the ones in the pictures.” He tilted his head, brushing a wisp of eggplant-colored mane from his face. “Can your eyes really glow?”

SteelHooves had made short work of the battle and we had landed. Velvet Remedy was tending to the wounded buck, and Calamity was talking to the group’s mare who had recognized the pegasus from tales of his caravan protecting. Her eagerness to chat with him about hunting raiders had convinced him we had aided the correct side. We had yet to trade names.

“Haven’t you heard about the Wasteland Heroine?” the younger mare in scavenged raider armor said excitedly. “She and her friends swoop in and save the day, shooting the bad guys and monsters dead. Pow, pow, pow!” The amber mare’s magenta eyes were wide and she was nearly squealing. “We’re going to be just. Like. Her!

My ears fell back. I cringed a little inside, happy I was not wearing my Stable barding anymore. Calamity was looking at me, a hoof to his muzzle, snickering. Dammit, why was he snickering?

“Are you sure she’d want you putting yourself at risk hunting raiders?” Velvet Remedy asked carefully as she wrapped the buck’s hindleg in healing bandages. “I’m sure the Wasteland Heroine wouldn’t want you getting hurt.”

The way she massaged the name made me flush with embarrassment. The radio was bad enough. I took a step back behind SteelHooves, my ears burning.

“Oh no,” her patient insisted, a khaki-coated pony with a vanilla-colored mane said. “But she wants us to help make Equestria better. DJ Pon3 says we all need to learn from her example.”

“She can’t be everywhere at once,” the olive-coated second buck explained. “It’s up to the rest of us to be brave and step up, helping fight the good fight.”

This was too much. I never deserved my reputation, but after Arbu… this was unbearable. Why should any pony idolize me? I wanted to bury myself in a hole somewhere until this was over.

“You are a lifesaver,” the khaki-coated buck told Velvet Remedy as she finished binding his wound. “If anything, the Equestrian Wasteland needs more ponies like you.”

Velvet blinked in surprise. “Why… thank you!” she breathed.

“Hey,” the buck exclaimed, his eyes widening as he stared at Velvet Remedy. “You sound kinda like that gal on the radio! The one who sings the new songs.”

Pyrelight landed on Velvet’s tail and sang out a musical note. Velvet Remedy blushed. “You have a good ear.” At least she was used to having fans.

“Wow,” olive buck said, staring at SteelHooves. “Are you really one of those renegade Steel Ranger heroes?”

SteelHooves whinnied. “I am.”

“That is so cool!”

“An’ so yer huntin’ raiders?” Calamity asked, sounding impressed.

“Yep! We’re on a rescue mission!” the enthusiastic amber mare said. A scowl broke over her face. “These raiders murdered every adult in The Republic and took the fillies and colts back to their fort. I guess they wanted to keep them for themselves. We’re going in after them.”

“Probably wanted playthings,” the khaki buck snorted, his voice filled with loathing.

Calamity bristled. Velvet Remedy gasped, “They did what?

“Where is this fort?” I asked, stepping forward, my personal embarrassment forgotten.

The olive-coated buck pointed a hoof. “There’s an old hut on the far side of Ponyville, right up next to the Everfree Forest.” Dammit! I thought I had cleared Ponyville of raiders. This place must have been far enough out that I missed it. “They’ve turned it into the center of a small compound.”

“How many?” SteelHooves asked.

“About twelve. Minus these four, so eight. But they have guns and dogs.”

Xenith looked at me. “No more distractions?” she asked calmly. I bit my lower lip.

SteelHooves neighed, “The rest of you can go ahead if you wish, but Applejack would not want her rangers to ignore a cry for help.” The three younger ponies were staring at us.

I nodded. “The Goddess will just have to wait another hour or two.” We had a chance to help, and I wasn’t going to turn my back. No distractions be damned.

*** *** ***

Velvet Remedy was trembling. “That’s…”

I nodded. I wasn’t surprised now that I had missed this raider group. The cottage that they had built their compound around really was a bit removed from the rest of town. It was surrounded by a large fence of rust and razor-wire, and sharpened poles impaling the heads of rabbits, squirrels and other small animals. Sickly, poisoned trees twisted up from the barren ground, providing support for snipers nests. Dead birds hung from their branches, strung together like windchimes. A small river slogged through the property coming out of the Everfree Forest, the water grey with ash. Inside the fence were kennels, some of which were used for the angry, malnourished guard dogs that roamed about inside. As for the other kennels… through my binoculars, I could see the mangled body of a pony in one of them.

“…Fluttershy’s cottage,” SteelHooves confirmed.

The fence on the far side of the cottage lay in broken ruin, several trees on that side had been uprooted and a few kennels had been crushed flat. It looked like something huge had lumbered out of the Everfree Forest, barely noticing what it stepped on. A couple raider ponies were standing over the wreckage, poking at it, while a third was keeping the dogs from escaping with a shield spell much like Velvet’s.

I passed the binoculars to Calamity. “Could you give us a fly-over? Make sure there’s nothing we are missing?” The pegasus took off his hat, threw the binoculars’ strap around his neck and kicked his hat back onto his head.

“Gotcha, Li’lpip. One aerial recon, comin’ up.”

The amber mare stared as Calamity stretched out his wings and flew. “Pegasuses are cool.”

“Pegasi,” Velvet Remedy corrected automatically.

“Yeah. Those too.”

“We should split up,” SteelHooves recommended. “Hit the main hut and the yard simultaneously. Keep them divided.”

I agreed. “You should go with these ponies and take the ones in the yard. Xenith can free any captives and get them to safety while you four take out the…”

“Three,” Velvet interrupted. “You’re not sending this buck into battle with a wounded leg,” she scolded. “Especially when he might have to evade dogs.”

I frowned and nodded. “You’re right. I wasn’t thinking.” The fact that I regularly charged into combat wounded didn’t mean it was smart. Especially since this little group of wanna-be heroes didn’t have a Velvet Remedy of their own.

I looked to SteelHooves, “It looks like most of the foals must be inside the cottage. Calamity and I will sneak in and take them out.” I looked to Velvet. “I would like you right behind us with your shield spell ready. I don’t want any of the kids caught in crossfire.” She nodded primly.

“Wait,” the khaki buck said. “You’re taking her in with you? Are you insane?”

Velvet Remedy gave him a questioning scowl. “I’m not helpless.”

“You’re a healer! You should be protected. Kept out of combat.” I understood his logic. The loss of Velvet Remedy was the loss of not just one pony, but countless.

Velvet huffed. “Why not put me in a pretty little cage then?”

Calamity landed before an argument could break out. “Three raiders in the yard, includin’ a unicorn with defensive spells. Two snipers in the nests. Rest are inside.” He frowned, “Ah spotted lots o’ mutilated carcasses, but only two livin’ colts in the cages. They’re letting the dogs nip at ‘em. Others must be inside as well.”

I looked at Velvet with sudden concern as I remembered the horrors I had encountered in the Ponyville Library and Carousel Boutique. “Velvet? Are you sure you don’t want to stay behind on this one? From what I’ve seen, these raiders take pleasure in desecrating the former homes of Fluttershy’s closest friends…”

Velvet Remedy walked forward. “I’m not staying behind. Let’s go.”

*** *** ***

Calamity flew me in through an open window on the second floor of Fluttershy’s cottage. As soon as I had my footing, I levitated Velvet Remedy in after us, covering my muzzle, my eyes watering from the stench. The inside of the cottage was beyond foul.

The bedroom had been willfully destroyed. The bed, still displaying a bit of its butterfly motif in the carving, had been set on fire with a broken lantern and the burnt remains used as a toilet. Repeatedly. Pictures were knocked from shelves and smashed. Books were defiled. A fireplace was filled with a pile of skulls, some with rotting meat still on the bones. The rotting carcasses of small animals hung from the rafters. Some sort of wicked, bluish ivy had crawled up one wall and entwined with the rafters before dying. I suspected the raiders had poisoned the ground, killing all plant life as well as any animals unfortunate enough to try to find food or water here.

Velvet Remedy rushed to the window and threw up. I felt disgusted, not only at what I was seeing and smelling, but because I wasn’t at the window doing the same.

Velvet Remedy moved back from the window as we heard the voices from downstairs.

“You want a knife? Little Bucky didn’t need a knife,” a cruel mare’s voice laughed.

“Oh give the kid a knife,” a buck growled. “Makes it more interesting.” I slowly crept towards the stairwell, Calamity in front of me.

“Now remember, kids…” a third voice chuckled as I reached the railing and looked down.

The room below was filled with old, rusty cages. Most were empty, but there were nearly half a dozen foals locked up inside some of them. They were all staring down at the center of the room, eyes wide with terror. Several were crying.

The center of the floor had been torn up. Two fillies and a colt were in the hole, a tangled mesh of rusty barbed wire ringing it. One of the fillies was crumpled in the dirt, bleeding from multiple wounds, the flesh torn from her scalp. The colt looked battered and was breathing heavily, keeping weight off of one foreleg. Both he and the standing filly were shaking, tears running down their young faces.

The raiders were gathered around their crude, home-made version of The Pit -- smoking, drinking and lounging on furniture that integrated the bones of ponies.

“…the one that survives gets the bodies of their parents back.”


“How dare you!” Velvet Remedy screamed, swiveling her combat shotgun towards the second raider as the first fell. “The wasteland isn’t hard enough? Sick enough? Without you monsters making it worse?”

BLAM!! The second shot tore the left hindleg and flank off the second raider. He collapsed screaming in a pool of blood.

“And in Fluttershy’s house?! Velvet Remedy tossed her shield up over the children as she marched down the stairs, her expression full of unbridled fury. I watched, frozen.

“I’ll have your head on a fuckin’ plate!” the raider mare screamed as she dove for a riot shotgun.

BLAM!! Our shotgun surgeon splattered open the chest of the wounded raider. “How dare you be this foul!?”

Outside we could hear explosions interspersed with the irregular gunshot. SteelHooves was engaging the enemy.

The raider mare swung around, the riot shotgun in her muzzle, and found herself facing down Velvet Remedy’s barrel. The raider seemed to freeze, staring at the black hole of her death.

Our unicorn was trembling with rage. “I’ve never killed a pony before,” she said, her voice soft but still amplified by her spell.

This is Velvet’s Arbu, I thought suddenly. At least she had the benefit that nopony anywhere would question the vileness of the ponies she was eradicating. At least she was saving children, not scarring them.


Velvet lowered the shotgun, turning away from the third raider’s raggedly decapitated body. “Far as I’m concerned, I still haven’t.”

*** *** ***

“I didn’t want to!” the little colt, Bucky, was bawling. “I-I didn’t mean it. They m-made me do it! I-I didn’t want t-t-to hurt h-her!”

The little filly with the head injury was dead. She had expired before we could get to her. Velvet Remedy hugged the colt, soothing him as best she could despite looking shell-shocked herself.

We had saved nine foals in all. There had been three outside, one with a black coat who had curled up so far inside his cage that even Calamity hadn’t spotted him. To our surprise, he was a pegasus, great-grandson of a Dashite named Radar. Calamity had heard of the rogue pegasus. “Last one t’ give the Enclave the kiss-off,” he told me. “B’fore my time.”

I was putting the burden of getting the foals to safety on the three young heroes. The yard of the cottage had a wagon filled with cages -- undoubtedly how the raiders had brought the foals here. It would serve as lightly armored transportation. I had seen that the wounded buck now had the riot shotgun. Once Calamity had worked his repair wizardry on it, the riot shotgun had become a truly respectable weapon. Even better than Velvet’s own. They should be able to make it to New Appleloosa as long as they went straight there.

New Appleloosa wasn’t my favorite place to send refugees. But it was the only place close. Junction R-7 was too far, and the only place closer had apparently been The Republic. They couldn’t go back there.

“I wish we could come with you,” I told the amber mare, realizing I had never gotten her name. “But we really have to be going.”

She nodded. “Thank you. The Wasteland Heroine would be proud of you!”

I looked obliquely, reddening. “I… um… yeah. I hope so.” I kicked my hoof in the dirt.

“Heh. Anypony ever tell you you’re cute like that?” she asked, then gave me a little kiss on the cheek before scampering off to her friends. They were trying to coax the little colts and fillies onto the wagon. I blinked, my thoughts blown apart.

Within half an hour, the wagon was pulling away, hauled by the two unwounded young heroes. SteelHooves had ensured the raiders outside never got to harm them, and they were headed to New Appleloosa with a story of the “heroism and awesome might” of the Applejack’s Rangers.

I could almost feel a warmth radiating off of SteelHooves. He had done Applejack proud, and he knew it. I hoped he was finally beginning to really heal.

I turned and looked at Velvet. She had managed to hold it together until the wagon was moving. But as I watched, she began to tremble, then collapsed in sobs. Calamity was there to catch her.

“Why does it all have to be so horrible?” Velvet sobbed. “How can these… horrible creatures be ponies?” I stared at the ground, having wondered the same thing. “We fight and hurt and bleed to try to make Equestria better,” Velvet said, burying her face into Calamity’s neck. “But you can’t stop something until you take away its reason for being that way…” I thought of the Pink Cloud. “…and… but… there’s no reason for the raiders! No reason for them to be s-so vile! N-n-no r-reason at all.”

*** *** ***

The sun was setting as Calamity landed the Sky Bandit at the edge of Splendid Valley. All about us were dead ponies and the strewn wreckage of a military camp. One of Red Eye’s banners, slightly scorched, flapped in the wind.

“Well, we’re fucked,” Calamity stated as he detached himself from the Sky Bandit’s harness. (After the other morning, he had jury-rigged a quick-release mechanism.) He had spent the last few hours skirting the boundary of the valley, looking for this camp. This was one of those parts of the plan I had told him before extracting my memories.

The notes I had left myself on my PipBuck were very vague, clearly written to be reassuring but not informative, but they did include a mention that we were supposed to stop here just before flying into the valley itself. I wasn’t sure exactly why, but I suspected it had to do with whatever I had gone into Red Eye’s encampment around Tenpony Tower for. Something important enough that I took another Party-Time Mint-al, so I was really hoping it was damn vital… or maybe not, seeing as whomever we were supposed to meet here had been dead for days.

Large black birds were picking at the carcasses. I felt queasy as one of them pulled the eyeball from the armored corpse of a brown earth stallion.

“These wounds are from alicorn spells,” SteelHooves noted, moving amongst the bodies. “The Goddess’ children did this.”

A total massacre. And not a single alicorn dead. Damn.

“Ah’m guessin’ this means the Goddess and Red Eye ain’t even pretendin’ t’ be on the same side anymore.”

“Not necessarily,” SteelHooves offered. “This could be a pre-emptive strike. Or maybe she just didn’t like part of his army sitting this close.” The more I saw, the more this struck me as part of the forces that withdrew from Tenpony Tower. “Either way, I doubt Red Eye has the benefit of instant communication. There’s a good chance he doesn’t know this happened. And when he finds out, the Goddess could pass this off as an unfortunate attack by something out of Everfree.”

“Is that it, then?” Calamity asked me. “Plan over?”

I shook my head. “I… I don’t know.” I was the wrong person to ask. I looked around for Xenith. She had disappeared again.

Velvet was curled up in the Sky Bandit. Pyrelight was stroking her with a wing.

“Look, if we’re still a go,” Calamity told me, “I want to leave Velvet back here with SteelHooves. She’s not in any shape to be doing anything else right now.” I agreed. Assuming, of course, that the plan allowed them to remain behind. Dammit, where had the zebra vanished off to this time?

I rotated and jumped back as I found myself muzzle-to-muzzle with the striped face of our zebra.

“What we need is still here,” she said cryptically, her exotic voice low and urgent. “We best move swiftly. I have seen the Goddess’ children just beyond the ridge. They are engaged with a hydra, but the battle will not last long.” A hydra?! I suddenly guessed what had stomped its way past the slaver encampment in Fluttershy’s cottage. “Do what you must do, Littlepip.”

I nodded, both relieved that things were still on track and stunned by the thought of the hydra. Part of me really wanted to see that battle. But I knew I wouldn’t. I checked the notes on my PipBuck just to make sure, but I was right.

Now it was time for me to put on the blindfold.

*** *** ***

I peeked.

I couldn’t help myself. As Calamity soared across Splendid Valley, hauling the Sky Bandit behind him, I heard the roars of the hydra and I just had to look. One peek couldn’t hurt, right?

The first thing I saw was that I was alone in the Sky Bandit. That shocked me. I felt certain that at least Xenith would be with me as well.

I scrambled to the window, looking out. But there was nothing to see. Splendid Valley stretched on for miles. I could see Maripony on the horizon, and the crater filled with hundreds of hellhound holes. Thunder cracked and the hydra roared again, telling me that I was looking out the wrong side of the passenger wagon.

“Whatcha movin’ ‘round so much fer?” Calamity asked as I shifted to the opposite window. I felt a pang of guilt, but it was swiftly washed away by the spectacle of the battle.

One alicorn lay crushed and bloody on the ground. A second was in the mouth of the hydra’s head farthest to its left. The monster was absolutely huge, and the head was almost able to swallow the alicorn whole. Only her wings protruded from its closed maw, fluttering limply as it chewed the life out of her. Three more alicorns swooped around the hydra, dodging the remaining heads as they snapped at their prey. One of the hydra heads sucked in a deep breath and blasted out some sort of gas, enveloping one of the Goddess’ magically shielded children. The purple alicorn’s shield seemed to protect her. She tilted up a wing, spinning in place as a second head’s maw opened wide, and folded in her wings.

There was a flash of light where the alicorn used to be. The head of the gaping hydra exploded with a wet sound, the crumpled, and blood-soaked form of the purple alicorn falling to the ground.

I gaped. The alicorn had sacrificed itself and teleported inside the monster’s skull! Quickly, I blindfolded myself again, thankful that my head was too small for such a grotesque tactic.


My head began to throb.

I felt the Sky Bandit touch down. I waited. According to my notes, Calamity would tell me when I could take the blindfold off. I heard him releasing himself from the harness. I listened as his hoofsteps drew near. He stopped just outside the door. And we waited.


Don’t you know? I thought at her.

“Okay, Li’lpip.” Calamity said. I lifted the blindfold. There were two dark-green alicorns standing on the path ahead, and I could see dozens gathered around the Maripony ruins. Just standing there. Staring at us. Mindlessly.

No, one-mindedly. I shuddered.

“Ah’m not gonna be here when y’all are finished,” Calamity told me, his extreme dislike of this plan clear with every word. My eyes opened wide. I knew I was going in alone, but I hadn’t realized my ride was leaving without me. What the hell? How was I supposed to…

My pegasus friend pointed towards a section of the rubble. “There’s yer ride out.” I followed his hoof and spotted a bit of pink hidden in the wreckage. The Griffinchaser II. I had wondered what had become of that after we left Old Olneigh.


Yeah, yeah. I’m on my way, I thought. I’ve got what you’ve asked for. Just hold your alicorns.

There was only one set of instructions left in my notes:

Keep your Eyes-Forward Sparkle up, stall and wait for the signal.

*** *** ***

This time, the Goddess’ alicorns had not led me to the observation room, but right into the heart of the Goddess herself. I levitated myself above the dusty lake of I.M.P. and stared up between the vats at the floating face of the Goddess.

Lights on my E.F.S. compass indicated the two green alicorns flanking me, and then a vague, untargetable haze that seemed to fill the rest of the room. The haze was brightest when I swiveled my head towards the vat that Trixie had fallen into so many decades ago.

I found myself dreading this. Even as I spoke with her, telling the Goddess what I had found, I knew that I was just delaying the inevitable. The Black Book was in my saddle bags, cold against my flank. And I had brought it here. On purpose. I was about to let it fall into the hooves of the absolute worst “pony” who could ever gain it. On purpose.

There was no amount of heroic acts or lives saved that would make up for this evil.


“You’re the one that assumed what he was after in the Ministry of Awesome was a threat to you,” I reminded the Trixie-thing, speaking aloud because just thinking at the floating lightshow pony head was just a little too creepy.


I stared, trying not to let my disbelief project too strongly.


Well, stalling wasn’t going to be hard.


Standing there, staring at the amorphous nothing before me, I began to suspect she was right. How the hell was I supposed to stop the Goddess. Shoot her? A lot? Unless I picked up bullets of Goddess-killing, that just wasn’t going to do a damn thing. And she had every spell of the alicorns. Probably every spell of Trixie, Twilight Sparkle, Mosaic and Gestalt… if not every unicorn she had consumed. She could think me dead.

This was hopeless.




What, are you an owl now? I suddenly thought of Wordsworth.


Oh. Oops? There was no way I could have foreseen the Star Orb when making this plan. Did I just trip up on something?

Stall. Well, here goes nothing…

I thought of the orbs, remembering them as best I could. Every detail. Focusing most heavily on the Star Orb.

*** *** ***

I spent what felt like hours replaying Canterlot in my head. Even when I sensed the approach of others, more alicorns I assumed, I did not stop. I went over each memory orb multiple times, but kept coming back to the Star Orb. Whenever I did, the Goddess grew quiet in my mind. I think the memory stunned her.

Finally, she demanded I stop.

{{Enough of that memory! It… it is not important!}}

I suspected deeply that it was the most important memory ever.

But I didn’t have time to investigate my suspicions. The location identifier started flashing on my Eyes-Forward Sparkle. But it wasn’t telling me where I was. How could it? I’d been in the same place for hours. In fact, it wasn’t telling me anything. Just flashing, getting my attention.

This must be the signal. But… what do I do now?

Then it told me.

> RUN!
> RUN!

What, what, what, WHAT!??

The balefire bomb is here!? How did it get here? How did Xenith get past all the hellhounds? I knew she was sneaky, but that was beyond the pale! How could I have asked her to take that risk? And I was supposed to get out of range on the damn pedal-machine? That’s insane! What was I doing standing here? Why the hell would I have gone into this place? Why would I have…

Even as I panicked, the pieces of my plan fell into place.

Of course I had needed to be unnaturally persuasive. What could have been more difficult, more worthy of resorting to Party-Time Mint-als, than talking Red Eye into giving me the bomb? No wonder he started pulling out after that. He was taking the bomb to the camp. Tenpony Tower hadn’t been under a megaspell threat in over a week! I’d made Homage safe before I’d even left.

What we need is still here, Xenith had said. I remembered how small the Balefire Bomb looked in Pinkie Bell’s barn. Small enough a little filly could move it around, if with difficulty.

I remembered going to speak with Gawd, but I’d cut out the memory of what had happened in Shattered Hoof.

Blackwing! I remembered saying, I was hoping to see you. I have something I need to ask you for, and I hoped we could come to an arrangement.

I remembered all the times I had lost track of Xenith in battle. How she’d managed to follow me without the Twilight Society catching her.

Xenith had Blackwing’s zebra stealth cloak! And zebra stealth cloaks even mute scent.


But why would I have…

Don’t watch any of these until after you/I get the Black Book and take it to Maripony. I’d written that to myself. Then told Calamity to allow me to view those two orbs we had picked up from the merchant just before we went to Shattered Hoof.

The argument between Applejack and Rarity flashed through my head:

Ya said ya were gonna get rid o’ that cursed thing!

I said I would burn It. And I tried. But as you can see, It doesn’t burn. I even tried to have Spike burn it. All that did was send it to Princess Celestia.

Well… ya still shoulda gotten rid o’ it!

How? I doubt anything short of a megaspell could destroy It. And I certainly don’t want to dispose of The Book where It could find Its way into the wrong hooves.

I didn’t bring the Black Book here to give it to the Goddess. I brought it here to destroy it once and for all! Crush two eggs under one hoof.

The little pony in my mind was prancing nervously, trying to shout down my thoughts with the scream of “Bomb! BOMB! Get AWAY from the BOMB!”



I floated the Black Book out of my saddlebags and tossed it into the taint. It splashed, then bobbed, the twisted and profane black leather floating with the debris.

No! Think of all the great things you could do!

I backpedaled, my brain finally working. I needed to get out of here now!

You could save Twilight Sparkle!

My eyes were still locked on the Book. But the little pony in my head was screaming. There was no time for that anymore!

Thump. I backed into somepony. My panic skyrocketed, my heart skipping a beat, and my levitation magic imploded, dropping me into the mucky lake of taint.

I spun around to see who was blocking my exit.

Three ponies in Enclave Armor stood blocking the doorway. In front of them, a stately dusk-colored pegasus flew forward, dressed in sophisticated grey barding with a sleek military elegance.

“Greetings, Goddess,” the pegasus called out, staring up at Trixie’s light show, seeming unfazed. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Harbinger, and I am here on behalf of the Enclave.”

It’s an Enclave experiment all right, Calamity had said about the science project we had found in Old Olneigh. Under orders of Harbinger, one of the Enclave High Council.

The Goddess had more important things on her mind…


…as did I. I desperately searched for a way around them. I could try floating them, but they had wings. I wouldn’t be able to hold them in place just by lifting their hooves off the ground. I could try to fight my way through, but these were Enclave. It could be like fighting three or four Calamitys, and I would so thoroughly lose. Even if I won, my injuries would assure I didn’t get out in time.


“There is no need to flee,” Harbinger assured the Goddess calmly. “We mean you no harm. In fact, I have come to offer you an alliance between the Enclave and the Goddess.”

I froze, my jaw dropping. “Wait… what?!” For the briefest moment, I forgot about the bomb, turning to stare at the pegasus.

The Goddess was ultimately genocidal. Her plans for Equestria meant the end of all ponies. And worse, the end of all individuality. She was a horror. And the Enclave wanted to ally with her?


Okay, and part of me was a little bit impressed with the Goddess. Trixie knew she was about to die, and her final act was to save the alicorns. Damn.

“We have recently become aware of what the pony named Red Eye is doing,” Harbinger stated. “We know he opposes you and has plans to overthrow you. His intentions with the towers pose a clear and imminent danger to the Enclave and its citizens. His intentions are nothing short of an act of war.”

Oh this was not happening! I pranced anxiously in the taint, looking around for an alternate escape route. Oh Goddesses, even if I found one, there wouldn’t be enough time for me to get away!

“But the Enclave military is…” Harbinger permitted himself a chuckle, “… let us just say ‘formidable’. Should we combine our efforts, I have no doubt that we can deal with Red Eye and eliminate the threat he poses in its entirety. Swiftly.”


Oh no! NonononononononoNO! This is bad! Need to find a way out NOW!

“And with the threat of Red Eye and his plots wiped away,” Harbinger concluded, smiling the earnest grin of a politician, “You can rule all of Equestria below unchallenged. We will remain above, unthreatened. And we will all know peace in our time.”

The observation room! It was designed to protect against a megaspell detonation. It had saved Twilight Sparkle before!

Of course, it had also trapped her inside. But I’d worry about that later.

Breaking into full gallop, I telekinetically launched myself to one of the remaining catwalks and ran for the observation room.

“What’s she doing?” Harbinger asked. “Ambrosia, after her!” One of the black-carapaced pegasi took to the air, giving chase.

My heart was pounding in my chest. An odd itch was creeping through the insides of my legs, spreading out.


I dashed into the observation room, looking around frantically. Last time, this place sealed up in reaction to the balefire bomb’s explosion. But this time, it would go off right under Maripony. In the time it took the shutters to close, I’d be dead from heat alone!

But I knew Twilight Sparkle wouldn’t create a safe room with such as fatal flaw. There had to be some way of manually telling the safe room to seal.


“Hold!” Ambrosia ordered as she landed outside, folding her wings and trotting through the door. I paid her no attention, searching with mounting panic.

“I said hold!” the armored Enclave mare demanded. “As in freeze right where you’re fucking standing or I’ll turn you into a glowing pile of soup!”

“Bomb!” I shouted at her in frustration, scanning all the controls and monitors for anything that might trigger the room’s lockdown.

“What bomb?” she barked. “What are you talking about? And I said freeze!” I heard the magical energy weapons built into her armor begin to power up.

Relief washed over me as I spotted the removable panel. I froze, looking towards Ambrosia, smiling as my horn glowed. Behind me, the screws on each corner of the panel rotated and fell out. The panel dropped to the floor with a clunk.

The sound caught the Enclave soldier’s attention. When she looked towards the panel so did I.

There was a nice, big, red button marked PUSH TO INITIATE SAFE ROOM PROTOCOL. I gave it a hard buck.

“What did you do?” Ambrosia cried out as the door closed and the armored plate came down. She spun, watching massive, armored shutters lower over the windows. “What did you just do?”


*** *** ***

“Good morning, children! This is DJ Pon3, coming at ya over the airwaves. And guess what’s riding hot on my tail? That’s right: the news!

“That bright light and roll of thunder that a lot of you reported from the vicinity of Splendid Valley just over forty hours ago? The one a lot of you said was like a megaspell going off? Turns out it was a megaspell going off. Right in the heart of Splendid Valley.

“Now I don’t have a lot of details. But I can confirm that a whole mess of alicorns fled the valley less than half an hour before the detonation. And I can now confirm reports that our Wasteland Heroine was on the Ponyville side of Splendid Valley earlier that day. Now I don’t know yet if there’s any connection, but if I was a betting pony, I’d say our Bringer of Light had her hoof in what happened out there.

“Not really the light I was talkin’ about, Stable Dweller. Our prayers go out to you. I hope you’re okay. If you… or anypony has any further information… please let me know. Right away.

“As for reports of odd behavior from the alicorns in the wake of this occurrence, or claims of seeing odd black ponies flying through the sky, I can only...”


“Greetings, citizens of the Equestrian Wasteland.

“This is the Grand Pegasus Enclave. We have commandeered this broadcast to deliver an important message to all ponies:

“Do not be afraid. We are here to save you!”

Footnote: Maximum Level
Quest Perk added: Touched by Taint (2) – Exposure to Taint has altered your physiology. You do not take immediate damage from radiation. In fact, you gain extra healing while being exposed to it. However, radiation continues to build up in your system as normal.