Chapter 23: Dragon Attack
“Good afternoon, mares and gentlecolts, and welcome once again to another hour of great music and wonderful entertainment here, at everypony’s favourite station, New Pegasus Radio, the home of the best classics and the groundbreaking new hits! As always, I am your host, Miss New Pegasus, and I’m here to bring you the tunes you have all been willing to hear. This last piece was one of our local crooner’s best, and you know who I’m talking about. Of course, I mean Dino Maretino! After some months touring through the NER, he returned home with a renewed will to sing live in our city, and I tell you, each show is a total killer! It’s really difficult to get a seat, so if you want to see him live, you’d better get moving, or you’ll miss the chance!
It’s time for another news update! Remember the rumour that began spreading some time ago about a battle taking place in the skies above Neighvada? Well, it seems to be actually true, my dear listeners! A team of scavengers sent by the New Pegasus City Board has returned with proof of wreckage in the northern desert area, and caravans are already being established to scavenge the ruined airships in the search for technology, goods and raw materials. Scrap traders everywhere from Hoofer Dam to Divide Pass are rejoicing, as they will have plenty of wares to sell. How this discovery will affect the prices is something that is yet to be seen, though…
Something that still remains a mystery is the identity of the contender forces. The NER has claimed not to know about the existence of the downed airships, and keeps claiming to have nothing to do with them. This humble reporter has done her share of journalism to know how to handle such statements, and has decided to take a little trip to one of the many Republican bases across the territory. According to most of the low-ranked troopers, the NER Air Force is based on pegasi and griffins, without any kind of machinery to keep them airborne. Now, this could be a widespread lie, but frankly, I would put my caps on that being the truth.
Could this be the Tsardom’s doing? The enemy force attacking from the east is a total mystery, as very few has still transcended from their way of waging war and their war machine. However, and once again according to the reports of troopers who have been in the frontlines, it is unlikely that the forces of the Tsar have such mysterious machines in their ranks. Apparently, their way of fighting gravitates mostly around the use of blades and lances instead of projectile and laser weapons, so it’s hard to actually believe that they have an airforce.
Moving on to matters of war, things are starting to look grim for the Republican forces on the East Bank of Hoofer Dam. Even if their resistance is being spotless, the sheer number of Tsardom troops being syphoned into the area has begun to push them back onto the Dam itself. The last remaining NER Rangers are doing an immense sacrifice by holding their position at Camp Manefield, now dubbed Meatgrinder Hill, in a display of dark and edgy wartime humour. From here, I’d like to give you all our support. Every single day counts!
After all, let’s think of it for a moment… what will happen to our way of living if the Tsar manages to overrun Hoofer Dam and marches into Neighvada? We don’t know much about this mysterious leader, who has been able to push the formerly almighty forces of the NER back into our lands. Does he endorse slavery? Does he abide laws like the ones of the Republic, or is he just another tribal chieftain who has been able to amass enough ponypower to fulfil his mad desires of world domination? Frankly, I wouldn’t want to find out.
Once again, that was all for this hour. We’ll be back with more news updates in sixty minutes, but in the meantime, let’s enjoy some more music to soothe our weary bodies and souls. You know, every time I feel down, I like to resort to the classics… I always enjoy handling the old records, hearing the buzz of static when the needle touches the vinyl… and then, when the music starts to play, I take a deep breath and try to let the tune entrance me. Speaking of which, here’s a little Octavia to make your day a bit brighter! Remember that you’re listening to New Pegasus Radio, and I am your host, Miss New Pegasus, speaking right into your hearts!”
I woke up lying on a mattress that smelled of urine and decay, hearing orders being barked in the distance and feeling as if I had been run over by a Stormwind class Carrier. The last thing I remembered was to have crashed on the lakeshore and to have been hit from behind, but that wouldn’t explain the calamitous state I was in. Probably, my captors had not been very respectful when it came to holding a prisoner, but then again, this was not New Pegasus. I had been downed and captured in the Wasteland, with all its implications. The fact that I wasn’t dead yet meant that somepony expected something out of me.
The real pain, however, was still on the inside. Avro’s lies were like a flaming dagger thrusted through my heart, tearing me in two, as part of me wanted to break up with her and part of me kept being awestruck by her beauty and presence. I couldn’t just forgive her, but I couldn’t leave her behind. No matter how strongly my mind told me that she had played me like a fool, my heart kept wanting to be near her, to feel her body close to mine, to hear her voice… It was impossible for me to make my mind, at least by myself. If I only had Rose beside me… she had warned me of Avro’s fake ways, and I hadn’t listened. She had been my voice of reason all those years, always beside me, caring and supporting me, my loyal partner, my friend… Should I… Should I have looked at her as a soulmate instead of as a daughter?
Something was off about that idea, though. I kept seeing her as a filly, as the filly I had met in the Wasteland several years ago, even if she had grown to become an attractive mare. Thinking of her as I had thought of Avro before her treason felt odd and somehow disturbing. No matter how strange things I had come across in the Wasteland, I simply couldn’t picture myself and Rose doing the things I had done with the pegasus mare. It was… wrong, even if I had no arguments to back up that statement. It plainly felt bad. I shook and shivered in angst and despair, as those thoughts went through my mind.
“Hey, look, he’s finally awake!” A voice said, making me open my eyes.
I had been holed up in a crumbling room with three other ponies, all of them dressed in rags and seriously beaten. Two of them were stallions, the other was a mare, and the three of them had a martial aura, which led me to think that they were troopers. NER, probably, captured by who I guessed our host was.
“Are you alright?” The younger looking stallion asked.
“Urgh… I don’t really feel alright.” I groaned. “How do I look like?”
“You don’t look good, friend.” The older stallion smirked. “Then again, none of us look good. We’re dressed in filthy clothes, we’re hungry, we’re wounded and we’re being held captive, probably to be sold as slaves. You wouldn’t expect us to be ready for a fashion show, would you?”
“I guess not.” I tried to smile.
“Of course. Are you wounded?”
“I don’t know.” I mumbled. “Everything feels in place, even if a bit battered.”
“Like your hindlegs?” The mare smiled. “Those are some fancy pants you’re wearing.”
“Pants?” I blinked in surprise.
“Well, I call them pants, but they’re more like metal socks.” The mare replied.
“Metal? Oh, you mean these!” I smiled. “They’re the result of a bad wound I took years ago.”
“I see. That’s not the usual Wastelander remedy, though.” The younger stallion let go a soft laugh. “Would you mind telling us who you are?”
I frowned, as I didn’t really like the looks of things. These ponies had begun asking compromising questions, and I was outnumbered three to one, without a chance of resorting to any kind of weapon. I couldn’t really tell if their intentions were bad, or if they were overtly hostile, which made me feel even more uncomfortable.
“Look, we know that you’re a Stable Dweller, we’ve seen the PipBuck in your forehoof.” The older stallion said calmly. “I understand that you may want to have your secrets, and we won’t go in there. Just tell us your name, so we can address you properly.”
“Fine…” I sighed. “My name is Farsight.”
“Farsight?” They gasped. “THE Farsight? From New Pegasus?”
“The very one.” I nodded.
“Then keep it down, my boy.” The older stallion frowned. “You don’t want Nevski to know you’re here.”
“Who is Nevski?” I groaned.
“Nevski is the envoy of the Tsar to handle this war. He’s a fearsome commander, always hiding behind that dragon mask of his… or hers. Actually, we don’t even know his gender or race. We’re talking about a total mystery.” The mare whistled.
“Why would this Nevski be interested in me?” I shrugged. “It’s not me he’s fighting against.”
“Nevski has not respected any kind of neutral settlement.” The younger stallion groaned. “He will raze and pillage any village his armies walk across.”
“I see.” I gulped. “So, we’re talking about a butcher.”
“More or less.” The mare nodded. “That’s why you should keep your identity hidden.”
“I understand.” I winced. “Who are you anyway? I’ve told you my name, but you’re keeping yours concealed.”
“I’m Stranded Flame, Sergeant Major, 5th Infantry Corps of the New Equestrian Republic Army.” The older stallion saluted. “I was made prisoner two weeks ago, after an echelon of Tsardom troops managed to encircle our outpost.”
“My name is Static Flicker, Corporal, 2nd Engineer Corps.” The younger stallion nodded gently. “My story is similar to that of Flame’s. We were sent to repair some trenches in the outskirts of Camp Manefield, and the Tsar’s ponies managed to break through our lines. I was captured alive, instead of being killed.”
“And I am Dynamite Storm, First Class Trooper, Demolition Corps.” The mare winked. “Those bastards got me while our team was trying to deploy a minefield in a crag pass.”
“You’re all troopers, then?” I asked. “Are we prisoners of war of some sort?”
“I wish I could say that.” Flame groaned. “In that case, I would expect some fairness in the way they treat us. However, I don’t think that will be the case.”
“Do you really believe we’re going to be sold as slaves?” Storm asked.
“Sergeant Major, with all due respect, slaves are usually collared to avoid their escape.” Flicker frowned. “This doesn’t seem to be the case.”
“Where are you going to escape to, Flicker?” Flame laughed ironically. “If you managed to sneak out of the settlement, there’s only one way to go, and that’s straight into the frontline, which incidentally has the largest density of Tsardom troops per square meter of the whole Wasteland.”
“What about Lake Honeymead?” I asked. “That would be a possible escape route.”
“We already discussed that earlier.” Storm grinned sadly. “We wouldn’t be able to swim through the lake in our condition. We would drown before we made it to the other end. Besides, once on the west bank, we would have to walk until we found a settlement.”
“Understood.” I shrugged. “But, you must be looking for a way out of this place.”
“We have tried…” Flicker sighed. “But the security is very tight here. As much as we’d love to run away, it’s just impossible.”
“Have you given up?” I groaned. “That doesn’t speak well of the mighty armies of the Republic.”
“Screw the mighty armies.” Flame spat. “We’re just foals on the run right now, if you haven’t noticed. Ever since we met Nevski in the battle of Des Manes, he’s been harassing our asses until Hoofer Dam. No more glorious conquests for the banner of the two unicorns!”
“Don’t be like that, Flame!” Storm cried. “They’ll rescue us!”
“I honestly doubt that.” Flame shook his head.
“That’s how all our conversations end.” Flicker shrugged. “We are trapped here, depending on aid that will never come. I’m afraid to tell you that it will be your fate as well.”
“Really?” I winced. “Listen, if life has taught me something is that fate is something that won’t govern me. I have worked my way from the bottom to the top, and I intend to do something similar here. I will manage to break out of wherever we are, and if you wish, I will take you with me!”
“Those are pretty bold statements, Farsight.” Flame snickered. “I will forgive you because you have no idea of where we’re at right now. As soon as you get the feel of everyday life in this place, you will realize that there is little you can do to get out.”
“I have to agree with the Sergeant Major on that one.” Flicker nodded. “Forget about any trace of logic here, Farsight. The Tsardom handles things brutally, and any attempt to reason with them is silenced by a gun or a blade.”
“Trust me, every single pony can be bent.” I smiled.
“Not with Nevski around.” Flame replied coarsely.
“I won’t give up without trying.” I shook my head.
“Then good luck, Farsight.” Flicker mumbled. “It has been a pleasure to meet you.”
“Why so grim?” I asked. “Is it that bad?”
“Just wait and see.” Storm winced.
“ALRIGHT EVERYPONY, TIME TO GET TO WORK!”
A voice boomed, and the door opened harshly, letting two armored ponies in. The guards that walked into our little hideout wore ornate metal armors in silver and green, all decorated with motifs of dragon scales, spikes and fangs. I had a flashback of that day eight years ago, when Nadyr and I fought another pony in a similar attire on our way to Neighorleans. Could it be that the Tsardom had been there all the time?
“Well, well, it seems like our latest acquisition has finally woken up.” The two Tsardom ponies walked to me, looking at me closely. “How are we feeling today, sleeping beauty?”
Careful, Farsight, I thought. These are nothing more than a band of ruthless, merciless killers, and they won’t take irony like the ponies in New Pegasus. Watch your muzzle, or you might be in real trouble.
“I can stand on my hooves, if that’s what you’re asking.” I replied with a gentle smile.
“I can see that.” The guard snickered. “The question is… can you work?”
“Well, that depends, really.”
“On what?” The other guard replied irately. Careful, don’t be too smart.
“On the kind of job you want me to do.” I continued calmly. “I realize that I don’t have much of a choice, but I have to try.” I shrugged.
“Well, the Wasteland has taught me what I’m good at and what I’m terrible at, and frankly, if my fate is to work hard for you, at least I’d like to do something I am proficient at.”
“Reeeeeally.” The guard smiled cunningly. “Please do tell me, what are you good at, apart from speaking?”
“Well, as a professional scavenger, I can handle myself in tasks of exploration and mapmaking, as well as treasure hunting. Besides, life in the Wasteland has made me a proficient sniper.”
“A scavenger and a sniper. Of course.” The guard coughed. “And what the fuck do you think that Vojvode Nevski would do with a scavenger or a sniper? It’s either the mines or the frontlines for you, prick!”
I gulped. None of the two options were of my liking, but the second one showed at least a faint chance of deserting and making a run for freedom. If I chose the mines, whatever that meant, I wouldn’t have a single chance of returning home. In the frontlines, at least I could cling to the hope of making it past NER lines.
“In that case, I think I’ll choose the frontlines. At least I can handle a gun better than a pickaxe.”
“Who says you’ll be holding a gun?” The guard grinned malevolently, while he and his companion dragged us out of the room.
“What about them?” I asked, pointing at the troopers.
“Those are going to the Arena. That’s what happens to the ponies that cross Vojvode Nevski.”
“Yes, the Arena.” The guard pushed me forward. “Now shut up if you don’t want to end there too.”
I gulped and nodded. Even if I didn’t know what the Arena was, even its name had a vibe of death and brutality infused into it. Frankly, I didn’t want to be sentenced to whatever the fate of the Republican ponies was, so I held my mouth shut and walked on. Things were indeed brutal under the rule of the Tsar.
*** *** ***
I was taken to a sort of boot camp, at the outskirts of the ruined town in which the forces of the Tsar had established their settlement. It was a vast esplanade, filled with obstacle courses and rubber-coated wood dummies simulating Republican trooper ponies. A dirty group of prisoners trotted up and down the dusty field, in what seemed to be an endurance test, as they all looked battered and about to collapse. The guards dragged me to a scarred stallion with no left eye that wore a feathered collar on top of the Tsardom armor, then turned around and disappeared. The one-eyed buck began to walk up and down, looking at me from his only healthy eye, while evaluating my capabilities.
“Well, well, well, seems like I have been given another meat puppet. It’s my lucky day.” He chuckled. “What’s your name?”
“My name’s Indigo Snow, sir.” I replied firmly. Indigo Snow? I had no idea where that name had come from, but there it was.
“Ooh, an educated one.” The Tsardom pony laughed. “What am I going to do with you, tenderhoof?”
“Don’t assume I’m a tenderhoof, sir.” I said coldly. “I’ve lived for many years in the Wasteland.”
“Then how do you explain your metal hindlegs?”
“A strike of luck, sir.” I gulped. “That’s all. I happened to be rescued by a chapter of Steel Rangers who felt pity of me when they found me wounded in the Wasteland.”
“Really. A chapter of Steel Rangers.”
“Right as I tell you, sir.” I shrugged. “I can’t expect you to believe it, but that is the truth.”
“And the PipBuck?”
“Family keepsake, sir. My father gave it to me, but he wouldn’t tell me where it came from.”
“Whatever.” The one-eyed pony groaned. “Mister Snow, you are nothing more than a maggot. I would even call you a fucking maggot, but since you’re so educated, let’s keep our standards high. You have been captured by the glorious army of the Tsar, and because of that, you are going to join his ranks in one of his frontline platoons. My job here is to turn you from a maggot to a valid soldier for the Tsar and Vojvode Nevski’s plans.”
“Good, I like it when I get things explained clearly.” I smiled.
“Shut up, maggot!” He roared. “You are nothing but an expendable piece, useless meat that will be thrown against the despicable forces of the NER. If you want to survive, you’ll learn to fight face to face, hoof to hoof, or you will die in the process. The Tsar doesn’t want snipers, he wants ponies with a taste for blood! Do you understand, maggot?”
“Yes, sir.” I gulped.
“Then get a move on! Go, go, go!”
I pranced at his order and began marching through the dust, with the drill instructor following me closely. My body was still weary from my crash and whatever they had done to me, but my mind realized what happened to the prisoners made by the Tsardom. Every pony that had the bad luck of being captured by Nevski’s advancing army was given the choice to work at the mines or to enlist as frontline soldiers, that is, meat puppets meant to flood Republican posts to the West. In a sense, we were not slaves, as we had chose our destiny, and that way, the Tsar could get an almost endless supply of troops. No matter whose idea it was, I had to admit it was cunning and frankly effective.
“Faster, you maggot!”
Suddenly, I felt as if a line of fire had been drawn in my back, and I heard the characteristic sound of a whip cracking the air. The pain made me huff for air, and I almost lost my balance in the gallop. Tears began to flood my eyes and I had to clench my teeth to avoid screaming. After all that time living in comfort and luxury, the bare reality of the unforgiving Wasteland had become almost mythical to me, but there I was, experiencing it directly.
“I told you to move faster! You’ll be torn to shreds if you gallop so slowly!”
“But I…” I gasped.
Another whiplash could be heard, and my back ignited in pain once again. I could feel the blood slowly dripping down my body, making the rags stick to the fur, and the tears flowed from my eyes. I did nothing to stop them, and I concentrated on galloping faster. It was the only way not to be tortured by the drill instructor. However, what I couldn’t avoid was to miscalculate a step and trip over, falling headfirst into the ground.
“Get up, maggot!”
I didn’t want to. Frankly, I didn’t even care if the drill instructor was about to whip me once again. I just didn’t feel like getting back up to endure more torture. As far as I was concerned, I could die there, betrayed and alone. How foolish of me, when I tried to convince the NER prisoners to help me escape. They were right when they said that there was no way of getting out of that place!
Suddenly, a voice inside me warned me, told me not to give up. There were ponies that genuinely cared for me, and for which I had to live. There would be a way out, there always was; but to find it I had to get up and keep fighting. I realized that the little voice inside my mind was right, and I forced myself to get back on my hooves, despite the lacerating pain of my back.
“I see you’re strong-willed. I like that!” The drill instructor laughed. “Very few prisoners get up after two whips to their backs.”
“Do I… keep running?” I panted.
“No, let’s try something else. Come.”
I followed the one-eyed pony back to the dummy area, where he threw me a makeshift sword. I caught it with my magic and balanced it to the sides, getting the feel of it. I had never fought with such a weapon, except that time when I slit the throats of two guards during the Ferratura uprising. I had used a glass shard that was much lighter that the coarse steel sword I had been given.
“You’re a unicorn, so I guess you’ll handle yourself quite well with one of these. If you had been an earth pony, I would have tied a lance to your side and would have sent you to phalanx training. Anyway, get to the dummy and show me what you can do!”
Frankly, I didn’t like the idea of having to fight from close range, as I enjoyed the battles from a distance and through the comfort of a scope, but I was starting to believe that if I managed to get on the good side of the instructor, I would be able to make some progress. I walked close to the dummy, holding the sword straight before me, and without warning, I thrusted the blade to the dummy’s throat, sticking it deep into the rubber cover.
“Nice, nice!” The instructor pranced. “Right to the jugular vein! I like your style.”
“Thank you.” I stuck the blade out of the dummy and sent a sideways slash while jumping back. I was starting to like it, but then again, I wasn’t fighting a real opponent.
“You are skillful, you know. Have you handled swords before?”
“Not really. I’m just a quick learner, and I used to be a sniper, so I know where to aim at.”
“There is something you must watch out for, though, maggot.” The instructor groaned. “If your blade gets stuck in the enemy’s body, let’s say that it gets buried in a bone, you’ll be done for. Go for the soft spots, and slash rather than thrust.”
“I understand. What now?”
“Keep training. I’ll get you some gear.”
I nodded and kept thrusting and recoiling, sending vertical and horizontal slashes at the rubber-coated dummy, while I smiled cautiously. It looked like I was actually managing to take a place within all that military apparatus, and with some luck, I would be sent to the frontlines. Once there, it would be a matter of time until I could manage to sneak out and reach my side of the world.
“Here you are.” The drill instructor said. “OK, fellas, take him away!”
“What?” I roared, as two hulking ponies in armor grabbed me. “Where are you taking me?”
“To the Arena, of course.” The one-eyed pony smirked. “You have proved that you can withstand pain and that you are good with a sword.”
“Wait a minute! Didn’t you say I was going to be sent to the frontlines?”
“I did, but I didn’t tell you the truth, that’s how it goes.” He spat and grinned mischievously. “You can’t possibly believe that a pony fallen from the skies goes unnoticed by Vojvode Nevski, did you? He requested you at the Arena personally… I believe he wants to see what a pony of your kind can do.”
“Couldn’t he just have summoned me to his… office, or whatever?”
“Ha ha, no. Vojvode Nevski wants to know if you’re worthy of being summoned to an audience. That’s why you’re starring at the Arena. Double time, soldiers!”
*** *** ***
I was dragged to an elliptical construction made out of scrap metal and wood, high as an apartment building, and three times as broad. The place looked imposing as hell, and I could feel my spirits plummet as we crossed a dark archway into the bowels of the Arena. Once inside, we walked through dimly illuminated corridors, in which the moans of the wounded and the prayers of those to fight could be heard clearly. I had to push myself to the very limit to stand calm in the atmosphere of violence that surrounded me.
The guards tossed me in a small holding cell, where there was nothing more than a haystack to act as a mattress and a tiny hole in the dirt to be used for numbers one and two. This was no luxury hotel, but then again, it was reasonable to think that the ponies that inhabited these chambers didn’t do it for too long. I tried to make myself comfortable in the pile of hay, while my magic fiddled with the sword at a safe distance. Whatever my future was meant to be, it would be done by the tip of that weapon, and not by means of my wits and tongue, so I’d better get ready for the unknown.
Once all had settled down, I began to feel the lacerating pain of my back, as well as the anger bubbling inside me. All of this was, in a way, Avro’s fault. If I hadn’t followed her into that crazy campaign against the Red Front, I would still be sitting comfortably on my couch, watching the world revolve around me and deciding my next moves. Instead, I was wounded and held prisoner by a bunch of lunatics who would have me fight for my life. I was scared, yes, but that fear channeled itself as rage instead of blocking me as it had done before. All of my life was still there, still close for me to reach, and I just had to find a way of getting out. However, each and every turn of events put more and more distance between me and my goals.
“Avro, why?” I moaned.
It was a stupid question, but somehow, it made me feel better. Of course I would get no answer, apart from a smug or violent retort from one of my neighbors, but my soul needed to let go some steam. She was the source of all my problems, but instead of wanting her dead or away from my life, I wanted her close. I needed her close. That paradox was making me go absolutely nuts, trying to find a tradeoff solution.
Another thing that nagged in the back of my head was who had actually downed our gunship in our way back from Breakeven Point. According to Petlyakov, the attack had to come from the ground, but we were flying over Republican territory at the time. Could that actually mean that the NER was aware of our dealings with Ilyushin’s group, and that they had considered Avro’s uprising a rebellion against their rule? Could that put the City of New Pegasus in jeopardy? Once again, I blamed Avro for that, but in the very deep, I was blaming myself for not being able to see through her treacherous ways. I could have dismissed her as I had dismissed so many other mares after a quick shag, and yet, I didn’t. I fell for her as I had fallen for Stuka, but the griffin was honorable and fair. I supposed that, in the end, it was my memories of the time we had spent together what drove me towards Avro.
“Why did you have to do that?” I sighed. “Why wouldn’t I listen to Rose?”
Poor Rose, I thought. Where would she be at the moment? Pet should have arrived at New Pegasus with the grim news… What would happen to her? What about Nadyr? Would they begin to search me through the Wasteland, or would they ignore me and carry on? In the very end, I could expect the half-zebra to do that, but knowing Rose, I had the feeling that she would do the utmost to bring me back. Getting me out of Nevski’s camp, however, was something completely out of her reach.
I also wondered who that Nevski fellow could be. It was a funny name for a pony, but then again, so were Ilyushin, Petlyakov or Avro. Such a brilliant commander coming out of nowhere was something odd, even for the Wasteland. Legends always dart through the wastes, and somepony with the abilities of Nevski should have been known by almost every foal from here to Canterlot. Instead, his actions had been a total surprise, and that was what had brought the Tsar’s army right into the gates of New Pegasus.
Suddenly, the sound of hooves against the floor brought me back from my thoughts. The door opened and two armored guards walked into the room.
“Indigo Snow?” They asked.
“Err… yes.” I had almost forgotten my cover. “What is it?”
“Time for you to fight. Get up!”
I didn’t wait for them to force me, and as quickly as I could I got back onto my four hooves, my pain still hurting from the wounds caused by the whip. Blood had already caked on them, and I could feel the tension on my coat as I moved. They would definitely leave a scar, although that was the least of my worries. I walked out of the small holding cell, surrounded by the two armored hulks of flesh, while holding the sword I had been given in a futile attempt of clinging to something.
“So… what’s the fight like?” I asked nervously.
“It’s a fight.” The guard replied dryly. “You and other ponies fight to the death, and if the Vojvode likes you, you might get out of the Arena alive.”
“I see…” I mumbled. “And who will I be fighting?”
“Frankly, I have no idea.” The other guard shrugged. “I’m tasked to bring you to the arena, that’s all. Once I’ve done that, I plan to go to the canteen for a beer. I don’t like the fights, to be honest.”
“Yes, really. I don’t like them. Period.” The guards left me in front of a barred door. “Now, when the bars lift, you walk out and give them hell, alright?”
I nodded and gulped, as the two guards turned around and left me alone with my pathetic little sword in front of a barred gate that led to a place of death and suffering, as the roar of what sounded like an enraged audience began to grow in my ears. Cheering, wailing and stomping curled into an eldritch symphony that appealed to the deepest instincts of ponykind echoed across the whole building. Suddenly, the voice of a single pony, a young stallion, rose above the cacophony of noises, probably amplified by a sound system.
“Good day to all of you, my fellow subjects of the Tsar!”
The crowd responded with a cheer.
“Are you ready for another fight to the death? Do you want to see the enemies of His Magnificence maim and destroy themselves just for your amusement?”
A solid “YEAH!” was the reply of the exalted crowd. I couldn’t help to shake a bit at the prospect of having to maim and destroy… or be maimed and destroyed.
“Well, I am pleased as punch to announce you that our always bright Vojvode, the terrible Nevski, has decided to grant us a four-way match as a celebration for our latest advances in Hoofer Dam!”
Four way match? Really? I was hoping to fight one pony at a time, not three of them. I shook in dismay and grasped my sword tighter. Whatever was to happen out there, it would have to be bloody and violent. I had no moral qualms towards violence, as I had exerted it many times in the past, but this situation meant actual danger to my hide.
“So hold on tight to your seats and get ready to enjoy the most brutal show this side of the world has yet to offer!”
Okay, that announcer was starting to get on my nerves. He knew which words to use to make me feel uneasy, that was for certain.
“Coming from the skies above us, he’s the living mystery, the pony with metal instead of flesh, the mighty warrior of origin unknown! This is our Vojvode’s present to you, the one and only Indigo Snow!”
The bars opened, and I walked outside, frightened but determined to fight got my life. I found myself staring at a ring of ponies’ faces, most of them clad in dragon-shaped armors, roaring at me, claiming for my blood to be spilt on the sand, almost foaming from their muzzles, while others looked at a throne built on one of the sides of the ring, an elevated plinth on which a distinctive individual was sitting. All in him reminded of a dragon: his helmet had the shape of a dragon head, his armor resembled the spine and wings of such beast, and the tail was clad in a shiny long spike of metal that coiled and uncoiled rhythmically. That had to be Vojvode Nevski himself, and as the NER troopers had told me, there was no way of telling who or what stood beneath the plating. Everything in him or her was concealed.
“To face him, we have three prisoners that refused to accept their place in the glorious order of the Tsar! Three stupid ponies who preferred their ill-fated ideals over their lives! These miscarried individuals are here to be tested, and if they defeat the skytraveller, they will earn a second chance to integrate in our magnificent society!”
So it was a three-on-one, not a free for all four pony match. So much for my hopes of survival. Another barred gate opened, and I found myself facing at my former cellmates Storm, Flicker and Flame. They winced when they realized it was me who they were going to fight, and I couldn’t help feeling disgusted as well. I wouldn’t have cared if I had been faced with three anonymous ponies, but these were known to me. I had spoken to them before, and they did look like fine chaps. Nevski had a macabre sense of humour indeed.
“Let’s get ready to rumbleeeeeeeeee!!!” The announcer roared one last time, and the fight was on.
I looked at the three NER soldiers that were about to fight me, and I couldn’t help to shrug and smile sadly. I was delivering a message in the likes of “hey, I have nothing against you, but it’s you or me”, and I guessed that they understood it, because I was replied by similar smiles before they moved into combat stances. Storm’s face couldn’t hide the sadness of having to fight somepony that she knew, but her moves showed that she wouldn’t stop because of that. She advanced cautiously, slowly drifting to my right side, with the blade tightly clenched in her muzzle, while she kept eye contact with me.
Flicker, on the other hoof, showed no emotions in his face, just a blank expression while his blade swung from side to side, enveloped in a haze of green magic. He advanced towards my left flank, in a clear pincer move, showing that the three troopers had been tasked to slay me in order to be saved. What I didn’t yet understand was the interest that Nevski had in seeing me dead, assuming that he didn’t know who I really was. Because he didn’t know… or did he?
Flame showed unconcealed anger towards me, his teeth clenched tightly while the sword he had been given floated steadily at his side. He was going for me head on, without any subtlety or elaborate tactic; but then again, this was no dance hall. We were fighting to the death, hoof to hoof and blade against blade. The grizzled stallion looked like a fearsome opponent, but I had been faced with greater dangers and I had overcome. I needed to pull that off once again.
“Things are about to get ugly!” The announcer chimed. “Prepare yourselves, as this might be over quickly!”
As soon as the voice in the speakers went silent, the audience cheered like crazy, while Storm and Flicker charged at me from both sides. It was a standard tactic, trying to block an opponent’s movement by pushing from various fronts at once, but I had my rear free, so I leapt backward, dodging the attacks of the two ponies. I trusted to be able to handle them one by one, but at that stage of the fight, my only worry was not to get blindsided by any of my opponents.
“Indigo Snow dodges the first attack!” The announcer narrated each and every one of my moves. It was becoming quite annoying, but I had other more pressing issues to solve. “He’s agile and capable, that’s for sure!”
Flicker sent his blade thrusting against me, like a sharp and cutting projectile, forcing me to swing to one side, since there was no way of blocking that much energy. It seems like I reacted a second too late, as I felt the sword cutting my flesh and the blood dripping off it. I took a peek while the audience went crazy, but despite the pain it was sending through my body, I realized that it only was a surface cut, not deeper than the wounds caused by that bloody whip.
“And one of the troopers gets first blood!” The announcer roared. “How long will it take for Indigo Snow to take the fall?”
You keep dreaming, stupid announcer. I groaned and breathed deep to fight the pain. It was no deep wound, nothing that would stop me from fighting, but it did hurt quite a lot. Flicker was still sending thrusts of his blade against me, but now that they were slower and more predictable, I had begun blocking them one by one. To be an engineer, he knew how to fight in close range, I had to admit that; and besides, being entangled in a battle with him prevented me of keeping an eye on Flame and Storm.
“It seems like Indigo Snow is on a tight spot right now!”
I grumbled a swear word while keeping my eyes on Flicker’s expressionless face, while our blades clashed in midair in a cacophony of twangs and clangs. I needed to keep up with his pace, thrusting, blocking and slashing at the right time; as if we were performing some sort of macabre dance of death. Meanwhile, I began to see something in the corner of my eye, the lean figure of a mare who was creeping from behind me, so I took a quick glance at my E.F.S. Indeed, there was one hostile almost at bucking range behind me, while a second one kept a safe distance and moved in circles.
“That’s it, just a bit closer…” I hissed, while deflecting another thrust by Flicker.
The red dot advanced one step, then another… enough to be within my range. Storm was counting on catching me by surprise, but I was already ahead of her. As soon as she got close enough, I used all my force and all the power of my augmentations to buck the mare in the face. A loud crack let me know that my hit had connected, and judging by Flicker’s sudden gasp, it hadn’t been pretty. I did a circle slash and rolled away from the younger stallion, trying to take a look at the consequences of my attack.
Storm had been hit right on the face, as a consequence of which her muzzle had bent in a funny angle and blood flowed out of her nostrils and mouth. She was groggy, drifting from side to side, and most importantly, she was defenceless, since her only way of grasping a weapon was to bite it hard; and she was in no biting condition. I turned around and tried to advance towards the downed mare, in an attempt to deliver the killing blow, while the audience went absolutely nuts.
“One of the troopers is down! Will Indigo Snow end with her life now, or will he enjoy the moment?”
I galloped towards Storm, who still was dizzy, and prepared to send my blade right into her throat, when something struck me from the side and made me recoil. Flame had arrived to aid his wounded partner, looking at me with fire in his eyes.
“Get away from her!” He roared.
“This is a fight to the death, Flame!” I replied in the same tone. “It’s either you or me, and I intend to live on beyond today!”
Flame wailed at the top of his voice and charged, with his blade dangerously swinging from side to side. I rolled to avoid his attack, but I felt the sword cut my face, sending waves of excruciating pain through my body. I yelled and got up as quickly as possible, while my rage and the pumping adrenaline made me forget about the burning gash in my cheek. Flame was still recovering from that last charge, and he couldn’t avoid my sword cutting through the tendons of his hindleg. With a bloodchilling wail, the old and bulky stallion lost balance and fell to the floor, bleeding profusely from his severed leg.
“That’s one surgeon strike by the mysterious Indigo Snow!” The announcer cheered. “I told you this pony meant business!”
I gazed quickly upon the battlefield. Storm was recovering from my attack, but her muzzle was still cracked and she had no way of holding the sword straight. Flame was lying on the floor right beside me, with his hindleg almost cut apart and almost incapable of getting back up. Flicker was the only trooper standing, but my latest moves seemed to have mined his confidence, as he was reluctant to advance towards me. The younger stallion seemed about to start shaking in fear, and I couldn’t help to smile. I had the upper hoof once again.
“Scared, Flicker?” I smiled.
“N-no.” He tried to stay calm.
“Well, you should be.” I said sternly, while sending my blade right through Flame’s heart, who died with a loud moan.
I didn’t break eye contact with the young Republican soldier while I sunk my sword into Stranded Flame’s lying body, nor when I pulled it out again, covered in crimson blood almost to the hilt. I was playing with his mind, showing him that I was determined to end with his life and that I would even have a good time doing it. I was no sadist, and I wasn’t enjoying the fact of having to kill three fine ponies, but I had to do what I had to do to survive. Moral qualms were out of the question there.
“And Iiiiindigo Snow gets his first victim of the match!” The announcer went crazy. “Will the remaining two opponents be able to stop him?”
The audience replied with a loud roar, showing clearly that they were enjoying the display of brutality and violence that we were giving them. There was no time to be sheepish about the ways of these ponies. If I wanted to live another day, I had to take Storm and Flicker out, and I had to do it without a single moment of doubt, so I walked calmly towards the younger stallion. Storm had a broken muzzle, so she wouldn’t be able to exert force with it. I would have to be careful, but she was less of a threat.
“Well, well, Flicker.” I grinned. “It’s you and me now, one on one.”
“Y-you… you’re a murderer!” He stuttered.
“Yes, you are!”
“Flicker, does it look like I have a chance?” I swung my head from side to side. “Look around you, these ponies want blood, and it will either be yours or mine. Call me a murderer if you wish, but it’s either that or being dead. Now, raise your sword and fight me!”
Flicker obeyed my order and sent a doubtful thrust against my wounded face, which I quickly blocked with my blade. I grinned and replied with a horizontal slash that he barely managed to sway, while the audience screamed for blood. Our blades entangled in a one-on-one fight, slashing, thrusting, blocking and slashing again, hitting air or metal, trying to strike pony flesh as if they were hungry for it. One of my thrusts landed on his face, cutting his cheek in a similar way as Flame had cut mine, and he replied with a prompt slash that opened a long horizontal wound in my chest. It wasn’t deadly, but it hurt a lot and bled profusely. My main worry now was to make the fight as quick as possible, with the hope of getting some medical assistance later. I had no guarantee for that, and maybe Nevski wanted to use me as target practice, but I had the feeling that if I put up a good show, they would save me for a second helping. Besides, the one-eyed drill instructor had mentioned that the Vojvode himself wanted an audience with me, if I proved myself worthy.
“We’re witnessing a duel of minds here!” The announcer roared. “Have you seen the swordplay? Keep your eyes open, for one never knows what might happen next!”
I barely got a glimpse of it, but I knew it was the way to go. Flicker left his left side unguarded after each attack, giving me a window to strike at him cleanly. It was risky, because a miss would leave me totally open, and I didn’t expect him to miss such an opportunity. I remained calm, shifting my weight to the right side, while Flicker prepared to launch another thrust. The young stallion didn’t notice my change of stance and sent the blade forward, to which I rolled to the left side and launched my sword against his exposed neck. Blood sprayed out of the open wound like a fountain of crimson, staining me in a shower of the red fluid, while the poor sod fell to the floor in agony.
“Sorry, Flicker. It was either your hide or mine.” I mumbled.
“Indigo Snow takes another life!” The announcer claimed. “Have you seen such a proficient warrior? He’s only one enemy away of victory now!”
The blood-thirsty crowd went nuts with the display of violence and gore, and I turned my head to the last remaining pony. Storm had already shaken the concussion off, and was trying to hold the sword straight while looking at me with pure hatred in her eyes. I was no longer a fellow prisoner of the Tsar, but a bloody killer who had slain two of her colleagues and was intending to do the same to her. I understood those feelings, but I also knew that they were a mistake in our circumstances. It was not a matter of allegiances of friendships, our situation was that of every pony for himself. Live killing, or die in the process. More or less, it was the logic of the Wasteland.
Storm advanced clumsily towards me, trying to keep the blade from falling off her broken and bloody muzzle. She looked simply pathetic, fighting a lost battle. In other circumstances, I would have pleaded for her life, trying to reason that there was no honor or glory in killing a pony who could barely defend herself. If I had been surrounded by more civilized individuals, I would have tried to use my charisma to obtain a better outcome. However, I was very far from civilization as I knew it, so I would have to resort to more basic ways of getting things sorted out.
“I am deeply sorry, Storm.” I lowered my head.
“Sorry?” She hissed, her remaining teeth clenched against the reinforced hilt of the sword. “For what?”
“For this.” I replied, while ramming the sword in a down-to-up motion, punching through the lower end of her jaw and thrusting against the brain. Magic allowed me to do such nifty moves.
She didn’t even see it coming, and her eyes turned lifeless the very moment the metal reached its target. Her jaw dropped, letting the sword roll to the floor, and her legs held her for one second before he hit the dust. The crowd snapped and began roaring in a mixture of joy and rage, cheering for the show they had witnessed and complaining for its prompt end. I walked to the center of the Arena, gazing at Nevski from the distance, while the announcer called my fake name again and again.
“Indigo Snow is the winner!” He cried. “He’s taken out three battle-hardened ponies all by himself!”
I smiled and went on with the show. They wanted a fearsome Arena warrior, and I would give them such a character. I guess that I could have been an actor, had I been born under different circumstances. I lifted my blood-soaked sword in the air and walked around confidently, frowning at the audience.
“What’s wrong, Arena?” I roared. “Are you not entertained?”
The ponies in the seats pranced and roared.
“I can’t hear you? Is this not of your liking? ARE YOU NOT HAVING FUN?”
“We certainly are.” A loud voice boomed, but it wasn’t that of the announcer. It sounded deep and concealed, distorted by something that stood between the speaker and the microphone. It had to be Nevski.
I turned around and gazed at the throne where the Vojvode had witnessed the whole combat. The mysterious pony was now standing proud on the edge of his privileged site, while another pony in a dragon armor held a microphone close to his head.
“Indigo Snow, you have proven yourself to be a mighty warrior, intelligent and deadly. You have managed to overcome the grim odds that I have thrown against you and you have given my soldiers a show that they will never forget. I would like to meet you personally.”
“I’ll be honored, mighty Vojvode.” I replied, bowing. One couldn’t be cautious enough.
“Then leave this Arena, warrior. I’ll have you summoned promptly.”
The whole audience cheered the name of the masked pony, as he turned around and left the Arena. The two guards who had dragged me out of the cell appeared beside me and without leaving me time to think, they picked me up and pushed me back into the dark corridors of the building.
*** *** ***
I had been waiting for several hours in the dark cell of the Arena, and the promise that Nevski had made was starting to sound stale and fake. My only visit had been that of a mare who had healed my wounds poorly and had offered herself as a trophy for the winner. I was tired and in pain, but I had a go with her anyway. The last thing I wanted to do was to enrage my captors even more. Still, while I was on top of her, I couldn’t stop thinking about Avro, about her beautiful body, about her lovely mane… and about her treason.
My mind was still torn between my love for her and my will to enact revenge on her, and being captive in the halls of that murky building was not helping me clear my mind. Getting away was my only hope, and for that, I needed to convince Nevski to send me to the frontlines. Once there, I would wait for the chance for a quick defection, and I would run back to New Pegasus as fast as my hooves could move me. However, the first step wasn’t taking place, and that played with my nerves.
“Oi, Indigo Snow!” A voice called, while the cell door opened. “Nevski wants to see you.”
“Finally.” I sighed, getting back on my hooves.
“Watch your muzzle, Snow.” The guard warned. “Nevski doesn’t like fancy-talkers. He just cuts their tongues off.”
I gulped and fell silent. Whoever this Nevski fellow was, he had an aura of dread that made him simply fearsome. I simply didn’t know how I was going to handle him, or which his intentions towards me were. However, that audience with the mighty Vojvode was my only hope to get away from that horrible place. I breathed deep and followed the guards out of the dark and horrible Arena where I had been forced to kill to survive, hoping never to return there again.
As we walked down the streets of the ruined town the Tsar’s forces had occupied as their camp, I noticed that many faces turned as we passed by. Obviously, my feats in the battlefield had not gone unnoticed for most of the soldiers that inhabited that camp, and the name Indigo Snow was already well known among the troops. Some cheered, some stomped the floor, and some even wanted to shake my hoof. In the blink of an eye, I had become a bit of a celebrity in the place.
The guards drove me to a villa that stood on the outskirts of the camp, a classical building with columns of wood and arches of brick everywhere, into what I guessed was Nevski’s private hideout. Banners with the emblem of the dragon were everywhere, and most of them sported a large ‘H’ beneath them. I assumed that had to be the Vojvode’s personal symbol, and that was the reason why it was portrayed in most of the standards and garlands in the area.
I was driven to an elegant-looking wood-paneled room, where the mysterious masked commander was waiting, looking at a sizzling fireplace. When I was pushed into the room, he turned around and made a gurgling laughing noise, that sounded even more eldritch due to the mask he was wearing.
“Leave us alone, please.” He said.
“Of course, Vojvode.” The guard bowed. “We’ll be here if you need anything.”
The guards left and closed the door behind them, leaving me alone with the masked pony. I gulped and stood in silence, waiting for him to start the conversation. The warning issued about the fancy-talkers had made me be far more cautious.
“Well, well, well. Indigo Snow.” He said calmly. “Tell me, my brave warrior, how did you end up here?”
“With all due respect, oh magnificent one, I do believe you already know the story.”
“Of course I do, but I only know the basics.” Nevski laughed. “I want to hear the full story coming from your lips, Indigo Snow.”
“It’s a long and convoluted story, your highness.”
“Don’t worry, I have patience.” Nevski made himself comfortable. “And trust me when I tell you that I’ve had my share of convoluted stories in my life.”
“Of course, my Vojvode.” I cleared my throat. “My story is not so different from any other here in the Wasteland. I was born on the wilds, and I had to learn to survive by myself. The years have taught me well, and I can say with pride that I lived comfortably scavenging for treasure and hunting for food and profit.”
“Ah yes, I heard that before.” Nevski made a laughing sound. “It’s surprising how much the Wasteland has to offer to those who know where to look at. But please, carry on.”
“As I was saying, I managed to reach a certain balance in my life. Scavenging, hunting, trading and exploring the wastes made my everyday routine. I had my hardships, that is true, but they were something that one could expect from a world as unforgiving as this.”
“Naturally. The Wasteland separates the strong from the weak.” Nevski hummed. “Now, I see that your hindlegs seem to be encased in some sort of armor… would you tell me where you got that from?”
“As I warned you before, your highness, this is one of those times the story gets a little convoluted. I was searching through an old bunker some years ago, looking for whatever I could find, when I came across a group of Steel Rangers. Luckily for me, they were of the peaceful kind, and we agreed to cooperate and split the earnings: technology for them, other goods for me.”
“How odd for a group of Rangers.” Nevski coughed.
“Odd indeed, but when life gives you a chance you must grab it. We investigated the bunker, triggering its automated defences in the process. One of the turrets blew one of my hindlegs off while I protected one of the Scribes, and in return for that action, the medic-engineer of the team installed this thing in my legs.”
“How chivalrous of them.” Nevski ironized.
“I don’t know what drove them to do that, but the thing is that I owe my life to them.”
“Of course. Spare the kind words, Indigo Snow, and tell me how you got into an airship.”
“That is another part that is difficult to believe, my Vojvode. I seem to have acquired the ability to snoop in the most dangerous places, as I happened to stumble into a pegasus airbase while I was exploring a large cave. Of course, I was made prisoner, but I managed to sneak out and start one small airship. I know my way with machines, so I managed to get out of there. What I had never done before was piloting one of those crazy machines, and I ended up crashing in the lake. That’s when you found me… and that’s how my story ends.”
“Does it?” Nevski chuckled.
“Well, I’m in your clutches now, your highness. It’s not like I have much of a story left.”
“You see, Indigo Snow, I’m not a butcher as ponies from the other side of the Dam tend to think. Or should I call you Farsight?”
My heart stopped cold. How did he know I was Farsight, if he had never seen me in my entire life? He could have heard about me, but I kept my looks away from the media, to maintain a minimum level of privacy.
“How…?” I mumbled.
“It’s very simple.” Nevski laughed malevolently. “In fact, it’s so simple that you will not believe it.”
The Vojvode unlatched his dragon-shaped helmet and slowly dragged it upward, showing a grey-green fur and a short golden mane. His eyes, lying behind a pair of glasses, were awkwardly familiar.
“Delvio?” I gasped.
It was him alright. Eight years older, and visibly damaged by the harshness of Wasteland life, but the mysterious Nevski was none other than Delvio Ferratura, who had escaped my trap the day I took over New Pegasus. I realized from the look of his eyes that I was simply done for, as he had to have been irking for revenge since the very day he was forced out of the Clops.
“Yes, Farsight, it’s me.” Delvio smiled. “Surprised to see me?”
“Certainly. Then again, it fits with the fact that under your command, the Tsar’s army has known where to strike every time. You knew the land you were treading.”
“I did, because I never forgot. I remembered each step, each breath, each wound in the process; since I knew that the day of my return would come. The day in which I would have revenge upon you, Farsight.”
“Has that been your only thought these eight years?” I smirked. If I was going to die, I wanted to do it in intellectual superiority. Delvio would not see me beg for my life. “That’s quite obsessive.”
“Farsight, you cost me my father’s life, and that of my brother, apart from all our Empire. I was forced to crawl through the sewers and to flee into the deep desert, far away from any sort of civilization, as I was scared that you would send scouting parties to find me. For weeks I walked to the East, far from New Pegasus and the ever growing power of the NER, looking for a place to lay down to recover from my wounds. I suffered disease, pain and hunger. I froze in winter, and almost died of dehydration in summer. All of that, because of you; because of your endless greed and hunger for power.”
“That’s how this world goes, Delvio. You should know it better than anypony, having had your own nephew killed.” I shrugged.
“You’re NOPONY to tell that to me!” Delvio yelled. “Who are you anyway, Farsight? A disgruntled Stable outcast who believed to have been chosen by the Goddesses to rule New Pegasus, confronting each and every pony who stood in your way?”
“Yes, I am a Stable Outcast.” I groaned. “But I was chosen by nopony. I crafted my own way, through patience and hard work. I didn’t inherit it like you did.”
“I am amazed at you, Farsight.” Delvio laughed in disdain. “You stand here, at the gates of your own death, and yet you don’t lose a hint of your foolish pride.”
“Why should I back down now? I don’t regret any of my actions, as I’m sure you don’t regret yours.”
“Of course I don’t!” Delvio fumed. “I was immensely lucky to find the helping hoof of his Eternal Majesty, the all-powerful Tsar, and I swore for my life that I would give him all the lands he could imagine, for him to rule and control. He gave me a purpose, he gave me a new name, and he gave me a new life. I don’t regret any single thing, for I know that victory will be mine.”
“I won’t be the one to doubt that.” I mumbled. “Allow me one question, Delvio. How did you find out it was me all along?”
“It was easy. A pony falling from the skies doesn’t go unnoticed to anypony, so I asked for your description. I wanted to find out who had been the individual capable of such feat, but I had a hunch that you had to be involved.”
“Did you?” I grinned.
“Of course I did. You have the ability to appear where you’re least expected, Farsight, so I thought that such uncanny happening had your smell all over it. I was right.”
“Then, if you knew it was me all along, why didn’t you drag me here in the first place?”
“Simple, Farsight. I wanted to see you suffer and die.” Delvio shrugged. “But then again, your persistence keeps being something close to supernatural. You managed to kill three weathered NER soldiers and you even had the pride to address the audience.”
“I was just giving them a good show.” I laughed ironically.
“You are a funny individual, Farsight. Really funny.” Delvio grimaced. “I have you here, close to me, and I could stab you, or burn you, or choke you, or have you shot. Still, I don’t want to do that.”
“Is it because of my charming personality?” I grinned.
“No, Farsight, it’s because I think I would be doing you a favour by ending your miserable existence here. I want you to suffer, and I want you to cry in pain and despair.” Delvio clenched his teeth in anger. “I’m not going to torture you, though. From all these years in exile, I’ve learnt that the true pain is that of the mind, the constant nibbling that the certainty of your failure causes in your spirit. I want you to suffer that.”
“Really?” I kept an ironic façade, even if I didn’t like how those words sounded.
“Yes, Farsight. I want you to suffer a fate like the one you made me suffer. I want you to see your beloved ones die, without you being able to do anything about it. I want you to witness how all that you’ve built over the years crumbles to dust, while another pony comes and takes your place. I want you to cry, I want you to blame yourself for your mistakes, I want you to beg for your death. And when that happens, I’ll be there to rip your heart out with my own two hooves.” Delvio ended the sentence whispering in my ear.
“I see… and how do you intend to do that?” I asked as calmly as possible.
“I’ll let you leave, alone and unscathed. I know for good that you’ll make it back to New Pegasus… and once you’re there, you will have no other chance than to wait for my armies to arrive, because they will arrive. The NER is weaker day by day, and they won’t be able to hold the tide of my forces forever. When that last line of defence is broken, Farsight, I’ll gallop straight into New Pegasus, and I shall have my revenge upon you.”
“You’re assuming a tad too much, Delvio.” I frowned. “I won’t go down without a fight.”
“I certainly know you won’t.” Delvio showed the smile of a maniac. “But even you must know that your forces are no match for mine. It’s a war you can’t win, Farsight, and even you can’t deny that.”
I gulped, because in the very deep, I knew that he was intrinsically right. If we came to the situation of Delvio and the Tsar’s forces directly threatening New Pegasus, there was very little I would be able to do. As long as the NER stood strong, though, I had time to get ready. Delvio was giving me a second chance, and I was not going to let that go that easily.
“Ah, you’re scared, Farsight. I see the fear in your eyes. You’ve finally begun to realize that there is nothing you can do about your downfall. Absolutely nothing!”
“Maybe… maybe not.” I smiled. “I’ll take your offering, though. As long as I live another day, I will have a chance to get ready.”
“Not even Celestia herself could ready you for what I will do, Farsight.” Delvio stared at me. “You’ll regret having left a loose end with the intensity of a thousand suns.”
“We will see about that.” I groaned.
“Indeed. We will see.” Delvio put his helmet back on, showing that the interview was finally over. “Guards!”
“Yes, my Vojvode!” A guard quickly galloped into the room. Honestly, I couldn’t believe that he hadn’t been listening.
“Indigo Snow has earned my favour and his freedom after the glorious feats in the Arena. Please see that he gets out of our camp safely.”
“Of course, Vojvode Nevski.” The guard bowed. “Follow me, Indigo Snow.”
*** *** ***
I was driven out of the camp in the dark of the night, unarmed and wearing nothing more than dirty rags, but at least I was out of the dragon’s maws. With Delvio’s clear threat looming over my head, I began to gallop towards my safe haven, my home, my city. I needed to get there as soon as possible, in order to start preparing some sort of defensive strategy. I knew that the Republic wouldn’t last forever, and that sooner or later they would be pushed off the Dam by the ever growing forces of the Tsar, and that day would be my reckoning. That was why I had to be prepared to face them, employing all the roboponies that I had ready, as well as the aid of the NER. They were as interested as I was in stopping the Tsardom dead on its tracks.
I set a course to the north, avoiding the Dam and attempting to cross the river in a ford far enough from the battle to be able to sneak into Republican territory. Getting close to Hoofer Dam would mean having to escape firefights, patrols and explosions, and I had no means of defending myself against any attack. Besides, I was weak and wounded, and all the events of the last day had left a serious strain on me. I was beginning to realize that I wasn’t in control anymore, and that I was playing against forces bigger than I had ever imagined.
The Tsardom was no longer a mysterious threat looming in the horizon, but a clear and present danger who had me and my City right in the middle of their scopes. Delvio was out for blood, and he didn’t want to destroy me only, he wanted to inflict pain in all of those who I loved. Nadyr, Rose, Avro… once again, I found myself thinking about the pegasus as I galloped through the Wasteland night. What would she be doing as I dashed home? Would she be missing me, or would she be basking in the power I had left behind? Did she really feel something about me, or was it all a big fat lie to make me her puppet? Why couldn’t she be honest with me?
What would I do with her when I came back? That was the question that kept banging in my head? Would I forgive her and act as if nothing would have happened, or would I banish her from my life? The first option was a complete lie to all of my principles, that would paint me as a complete sellout and a really bad leader. The second one would leave a permanent scar in my heart, something that would follow me to my very death, making my life disgraceful. There were no good options, apparently, so I had to choose the lesser evil.
I finally reached the ford I was looking for and jumped into the cold water. I swam with all my forces, trying to get to the other shore before being sucked by the current. I felt weak, and for a moment, I thought I was going to drown in the stream, but I managed to set hoof on the sand and crept out of the water. The effort was draining me, but I simply had to carry on. I needed to reach New Pegasus, I needed to see my friends once again, and I needed to prepare myself for what was to come.
The moon shone above me, lighting the Wasteland blue and white, and casting shadows of eldritch shapes and sizes on the ground. This world was beautiful, even in its calamitous state, and we ponies were the ones that made it ugly, always caught in our quarrels. As I galloped through known lands towards the growing lights of New Pegasus, I realized that Littlepip was right in her words. The Wasteland needed ponies that were able to transcend their selfish goals and worked for the greater good; ponies that weren’t tainted by the greed of politics or the madness of war. Ponies that harnessed the true power to make the world a better place. I wasn’t one of such ponies, but I certainly knew one that fit into that classification. If I failed, I would have to make sure that she carried on.
I arrived at the gates of New Pegasus with my heart about to burst, panting and sweating, with my knees wobbling and about to faint. However, I was home again. Even if it was late at night, there was activity in the streets, ponies going up and down, voices, laughter, life. I smiled as I began traversing the Strip towards my home at the Spire, but I noticed that everypony looked at me with an awry face. I realized that I had to look terrible, wearing those rags and heavily wounded, but I kept being Farsight, the ruler of the City.
“Oi, you! Stop it!” A voice rang. A familiar voice.
“What?” I asked, looking for the voice. “Standoff?”
“It’s Officer Standoff to you, punk! State your business!”
“My business?” I roared. “Don’t you see who you’re talking to? I am Farsight!” I even showed my Cutie Mark to prove it.
“My, my. Farsight. Of course.” Standoff grinned, as if he was enjoying the moment. “By order of the City Council, you are under arrest. You have been accused of treason and of conspiracy to take down the City Board.”
“What?” I babbled.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be used against you in court. You have the right to hire a lawyer, and if you can’t pay it, the City will grant you one. You have the right to notify one pony of your arrest. Have you understood your rights?”
“Y-yes.” I mumbled, completely dumbstruck.
“Good! Now get moving! You know the way to jail.”
Note: Reputation Change
Tsardom: Wanted dead. Your head is a trophy Delvio is rooting for. Be prepared.
City of New Pegasus: Framed. For some reason, you have become a traitor for your own city.