Fallout Equestria x Wild Arms: Trigger to Tomorrow

by thatguyvex

Chapter 17: The End of the Beginning (Part 1 of 2)

Chapter 17: The End of the Beginning (Part 1 of 2)

The rhythmic, monotonous whine of the ship’s internal alarm and the occasional rumble of an explosion, either deep and resonate from something internal, or echoing and faint from one that was external, were the only sounds to accompany our hoofbeats as my tribesmates and I galloped down the sterile metal hallways of the Odessa airship, Varukisas.

Each of the ponies beside me wore different expressions, all tinged with varying degrees of anxiety, fear, and excitement. They knew the danger we were in, and that our escape hinged on a combination of speed and reliance on what little information of the ship’s interior that I knew. Many of my fellow tribal’s gave me nervous glances as we moved, except for Trailblaze whose eyes were unwaveringly focused ahead, and Whetstone who looked at me with less nervousness and instead wore an encouraging grin.

“Think I’m getting now why Trail was always following you off places,” Whetstone said to me as we reached the T-junction hallway where the door Sunset said had my gear behind it was located, “You just get mixed up in the most interesting situations, Long.”

“Not by choice!” I said as I reached over with the keycard I’d taken off Sunset and slipped it through the pad built into the side of the door. At Trailblaze’s dry look I amended, “Not always by choice.”

Whetstone just chuckled, one elbow nudging Trailblaze’s flank, “You’re right, Trail, he needs a pony to keep an eye on him, otherwise he’d get himself hopelessly in over his head.”

As the door slid open with a soft hum I gave them both a sidelong glare, “Hey, I’m totally capable of taking care of myself-”

My sentence was halted mid-way as an Odessa soldier who’d been waiting on the other side of the door yelped at seeing me and reached for a holstered energy pistol at her side, drew it, and fired in almost the same motion. Fortunately the thin red energy beam shot wide in the Odessa mare’s haste to just draw and fire, and I managed to duck away from her follow up shot, which clipped one of my tribe in the flank. The tribal stallion in question, a dark brown fellow I remembered was named Rock Roller, cried out as the beam singed his coat and fell back against the wall. Meanwhile Trailblaze and Whetstone both burst into movement, surging into the room, and I followed haphazardly after I recovered my wits.

The room was a little larger than the brig, a roughly rectangular space with a curved far wall, lined with numerous wide lockers. In the middle of the room a small desk and terminal set up faced the door, and this was where the Odessa pegasus mare had been standing at when I’d opened the door. She, a purple coated mare with a short military cut green mane and matching green eyes, was wearing just a simple set of light combat armor and a cap, clearly not one of the security forces on the ship, had come around her desk and had wide, fearful eyes as she fired at Whetstone and Trailblaze rushing her.

Red beams snapped by my friends, one scoring a mark on Trailblaze’s shoulder but that barely slowed Trailblaze down as she body slammed fully into the Odessa mare with a wet, meaty smack. The pegasus mare yelped in pain and I heard a snap of bone as one of her wings smashed into the lockers she’d been thrown against by Trailblaze’s hit. Whetstone skidded to a halt by the desk, looking around, possibly for a weapon. Trailblaze stood where she was, her eyes narrowed at the pegasus mare, the Odessa soldier struggling to stand and whimpering in pain from her broken wing.

I saw waves of heat roll off of Trailblaze’s body as she seemed to raise a hoof without thinking about it, and to my shock I saw fire wreath the hoof, yellow and bright. The Odessa mare had just barely gotten to her hooves and looked up to see Trailblaze, eyes widening in fear as she looked about for her gun, which she’d dropped when Trailblaze had hit her.

I moved fast, following my instincts as I rushed up behind Trailblaze and without really thinking about it grabbed her outstretched arm and pulled it up. Fire lanced into the ceiling, fire that would’ve burned the Odessa mare alive. Instead the fire scorched my own arm and I grunted in pain, releasing Trailblaze’s arm and backing up a step reflexively. Trailblaze turned her fierce blue eyes on me and I saw the fire reflected there, but her expression softened almost immediately as she looked at me.

“Longwalk? What...” she glanced at her arm, “What was I-”

“One sec,” I said and turned to rush at the Odessa mare, who was scrambling for her gun now that she saw where it’d fallen. I threw myself on her, and we wrestled on the ground, rolling about in a small flurry of scrambling, kicking hooves. She was rather strong for her slight frame, but my advantage of weight was solid. Helped the pegasus had a broken wing and the pain of it was weakening her attempts to break free of my grasp.

“Longwalk, hold her up!” said Whetstone, coming up to us with the energy pistol in her mouth.

“Wait, don’t kill her,” I said, and Whetstone laughed.

“Relax, just hold her. Trust me.”

I was fearful and worried as to what Whetstone was intending. If I could get my tribemates off this ship without killing anypony that was the preference, though a practical part of me realized that it was almost inevitable it’d happen if we ran into too many Odessa ponies on our way out. But Whetstone’s calm, disarming smile was enough to calm me. I decided to trust her, and with a wrench of my forehooves, which were now locked under the Odessa pegasus’ own forelegs and behind her head, I lifted the soldier up.

Whetstone came in and after a second of giving the purple pegasus a judging look she licked her lips and gave the Odessa mare a solid whack across the temple with the flat end of the boxy energy pistol. The mare went still in my arms and I rolled her off me, checking briefly to make sure she was still breathing, but not moving. Convinced she was unconscious I looked at at Whetstone, who was smiling broadly and offering me a hoof.

“Thanks,” I said, taking her hoof.

“Hey, don’t think anything of it,” Whetstone said with a shrug as she pulled me up, “Not interested in killing anypony unless I got no choice. Besides, couldn’t pass up a chance to try knocking a pony out in one hit. Kinda miffed that metal mare didn’t go down; that was my best punch!”

She examined the pistol in her mouth, spitting it out onto a hoof to look at it curiously, “Nifty little thing.”

She grinned at the unconscious Odessa mare and went over, snatching the holster off the mare’s uniform, “Yoink! I claim this loot in the name of me!”

I just chuckled at her as she started to divest the Odessa mare of her light armor, complete with side pouches probably containing ammo and possibly other useful things. I would’ve advised her to be careful where she pointed the energy pistol, but I was distracted by Trailblaze, who was staring at the unconscious pegasus mare with a worried frown.

I came up to her and looked her in the eye, “You okay?”

“I would’ve killed her,” Trailblaze said, voice calm, “I didn’t even think about it. I just raised my hoof and the fire was there, and I would’ve used it to burn her alive if you hadn’t stopped me...”

“Don’t worry about it now,” I said, looking around the room, sensing where Gramzanber was from among the numerous lockers and side compartments located around the walls, “We can talk about it once we’re gone from this place.”

“I’m not worried about it,” she said, which caused me to give her a blinking, surprised expression as she stared at me. I sensed Gramzanber’s distinct pressure behind a sturdy, thick locker in one corner of the room, but I couldn't go to it yet, unable to look away from Trailblaze. Her voice had been steady, unwavering, and in her eyes I saw a tightness around the edges, as if there were a million thoughts trying to push their way out but were being kept under tight control.

“Longwalk, I want... no, I need you not to jump in like that,” she said, her voice still that disturbing calm, “I get why you did it. I do. But I can’t risk losing you or anypony else in a fight because you tried to hold me back. My only concern has to be getting all of us out of here alive. I don’t have any weapons to use except this fire. I don’t want to kill ponies this way, but I will to protect all of you. If I have to, I’m going to burn us a way to freedom, through anything, or anypony, that gets in our way.”

The fire returned to her eyes and I felt the heat washing off her, making sweat bead upon my forehead, and I took a step back from my best friend. Her voice burned with an inner passion that was scalding.

“So please, Longwalk... don’t stop me again.”

My mouth opened, but no words came out. I just nodded. What could I even begin to say to that? Certainly nothing that wouldn’t take far too long to say given our present circumstances. Instead I resolved to just make sure to remove as many obstacles in our path as possible, and as fast as possible, myself so that Trailblaze wouldn’t have to use that fire inside her. I didn’t know if this intensity inside Trailblaze was truly her own feelings or if her connection to the Guardian of Fire was doing something to her, but I didn’t like the change I was seeing. Or was it a change? Was Trailblaze always like this, and it was just the circumstances bringing out a part of her our peaceful life back home hadn’t allowed to spring to the surface? There was no way to be sure, but I reaffirmed a promise to myself that I’d do everything I could to make sure Trailblaze didn’t have to go to such extremes to protect us.

As I trotted towards the locker I sensed Gramzanber inside. I raised a hoof to touch it, but a instinctual warning popped off in my head and I hesitated. Paying close attention as I very slowly and carefully moved my hoof closer to the container’s surface I saw the hairs of my fetlock raise, and I saw a small glimmer of energy course over the metal’s surface. Some kind of barrier, then. No telling what would happen if I touched it, and I wasn’t about to find out, having learned my lesson on that count back in Stable 104. After a second or two of thought I turned to look at Whetstone, who was getting into the Odessa mare’s armor.

“Hey Whetstone, check those pockets, and look for anything that looks like the keycard we took off Sunset,” I said, swinging around and heading for the terminal on the desk.

Outside in the hallway Trailblaze had trotted over to check on Rock Roller’s wound, and I sent a silent prayer to the Ancestor spirits that no more Odessa soldiers would arrive while I figured out how to get my gear out of this room. Fearful visions of Trailblaze roasting pegasi and griffin in droves fueled my speed as I leapt in front of the terminal, and despite my trepidation at my poor track record at using technology of any kind, started trying to figure out how to open the locker containing my ARM.

The menu system was straightforward at least, and with a few tentative keystrokes I found a menu list that showed various ‘Secure Containers’ and their contents. At a guess I imagined this room was an armory of some sort, as most the containers were listed to have held weapons and armor, but were all now quite empty. Probably because the attack on the ship the security ponies emptied out their gear to go fight. Several of the larger containers were listed as ‘Highly Secure Storage’ and one of them showed a listing of ‘Prisoner Accoutrements’.

Unfortunately when I selected that container the terminal asked for a password, and I stared blankly at the screen, at a loss as to how to proceed. I had zero clue how to even begin to guess the password, or otherwise get the terminal to do what I wanted. I glanced up at Whetstone hopefully as the mare trotted beside me. The Odessa mare’s armor was tight on Whetstone’s more bulky frame, but she didn’t seem to mind, her tail swishing in pleasure as she came up and looked at the terminal.

“So we getting your stuff or what, Long?”

“I, uh, don’t know. The container with my things in it is locked solid and protected by a magic barrier. This terminal wants a password to open the container. Was kind of hoping you found something in your newly acquired pockets that’d help.”

“Nope!” said Whetstone, reaching into the pockets and pulling out various objects, things I recognized as magic gems to reload the energy pistol, a health potion, a blackened knife, what looked like a locket of some kind, and a small green packet that read ‘Cloudmint Bubblegum!’.

Looking the items over I nodded towards the potion, “That heals wounds. Rock Roller could probably use it. Keep the gems, they reload the gun. Don’t know what bubblegum is.”

Whetstone nodded, snatching up the potion and trotting out to where Trailblaze was examining Rock Roller’s burned flesh, which at this point I could smell clearly despite the small wound. Burned pony had a distinct scent to it, no matter how small, and I felt a chill in my neck, wondering if, by the end of this day, I’d smell it again. No, I had to believe we could get away from here without Trailblaze having to do that. I just had to move fast.

On impulse I picked up the locket, a small bronze heart-shaped affair, and clicked it open. Inside was a picture of the purple pegasus mare, hugging an embarrassed looking gray stallion, probably because the mare was nuzzling his cheek and clearly enjoying his embarrassment. It was a simple, silly picture, and it wasn’t clear if the two were a couple, or perhaps siblings, but either way I was glad I’d managed to stop Trailblaze. For now. Damn it. Why couldn’t Odessa had just left my tribe alone?

Closing the locket I set it aside in frustration, but out of the corner of my eye I saw that on the back of it something was written.

Wingstrider & Lemon Loops
Always thinking of you

I sighed, looking at the unconscious mare, and noticing the yellow, rounded fruit cutie mark on her flank. I decided I’d leave the locket with her before I left... assuming I could figure out how to get Gramzanber out of that container! Frustrated, and without any better idea, I jabbed at the keys and entered in the first thing that came to mind, which happened to be the first name on the locket.

The screen blinked after I entered ‘Wingstrider’ and instantly the icons changed to show a simple menu for the container with my gear in it with a ‘Open/Close’ command. I nearly fell over at the sight, realizing that somepony hadn’t really thought hard about their password, apparently using their special somepony’s name. I glanced at the unconscious Lemon Loops.

“Looks like its a lucky day for both of us, Lemon. You don’t get killed, and I get my stuff back. Win for everypony!”

I wasted not a second more, clicking the ‘Open’ command, tossing the locket onto Lemon Loops’ comatose form as I galloped over to the large container. It’d made a loud hissing click and I saw circular protrusions on its surface twist about, and the sound of what might’ve been heavy bolts unlocking before a seam down the center of the container swung open. Seeing the thickness of the container’s doors I realized I never would’ve been able to force this thing open, not without something like Gramzanber itself to do the cutting, and even then it would’ve taken awhile.

The opened container was spacious on the inside, with both sides of the open door having notches where my saddlebags and armor were sorted, along with a shelf where I saw my Pip-Buck and Grapple attachment on the bottom. In the main compartment Gramzanber was held against what looked like some kind of metal disc. When it touched it there was resistance from some kind of invisible force as I pulled Gramzanber off the metal discs, not strong enough to stop my determined effort but enough that they held the spear upright.

I felt instantly better with the spear in my possession, and breathed easier.

“Longwalk, hurry up will you? You got what you need or what?” said one of my tribesmates, an off white mare with a brown mane named... was it Snowdrift? I felt bad, not being sure of all the names of my tribe, but there it was. I was pretty sure her name was Snowdrift. She was joined by Whetstone who came back in.

“Ooooh,” Whetstone gave an appreciative smile, “I see you got that ridiculously over sized and shiny spear back! What’s the story with that anyway?”

“Tell you later when we’re safe,” I said, hastily pulling my other stuff out and struggling to quickly don my armor and saddlebags. I looked my Pip-Buck over and tried to recall if I needed any special tools to put it back on, or if that was just needed for the purpose of removing it. The cuff was open, at any rate. Shrugging, I placed it on my left foreleg and clamped the cuff closed. There was a snipping click and I felt the device tighten around my leg, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“So you just needs special tools to get them off,” I said aloud, chuckling as I reattached the Grapple to the universal device port the spider ponies back in Stable 104. Whetstone broke out into giggles and I glanced at her.

“Sorry, sorry, just, uh, yeah, I guess someponies do need ‘special tools’ to get off, but I didn’t know you were into that kind of thing.”

At her words I found my eyes widening to pools and heat rushing across my face, but Whetstone just nudged me with a hoof, smiling conspiratorially, “Hey, I’m not judging, to each their own, right? Still, my advice is always check with a mare first if she’s into that before making a move.”

“Whetstone, you’re impossible,” I said, finishing attaching my saddlebags over my hastily donned armor and making sure all the straps were firmly tightened.

Whetstone just grinned, “I try. Now, what do say we get off this flying contraption and get our hooves back on solid ground?”

I could only nod in agreement with her as we trotted back out into the hallway where our fellow tribesmates were nervously gathered, watching the different corridors. So far we’d been lucky, with nopony coming our way. Rock Roller was looking better, back on his hooves, the smaller state of his wound indicating Trailblaze had given him the healing potion.

“Can we go now?” asked Snowdrift, her ears flat against her head as she looked left and right down the hallways, “Do we even know where we’re going?”

“I do,” I said, with as much confidence as I could muster as I moved down the corridor back towards where the brig was, “We need to backtrack this way, then hang left, assuming there’s the same kind of T-junction at the other side of the ship. From there there should be an elevator that’ll take us to a hangar with escape pods we can use.”

“Elevator? What’s that?” asked Snowdrift.

“Like a, uh, big metal box that goes up and down.”

At the mare’s utterly confused look I just sighed, “Just trust me, it’ll be safe.”

Trailblaze came up next to me, eyeing Whetstone and the pistol she carried, “Can you use that?”

Whetstone rolled her shoulders, loosening them as if she was getting ready for a hoof fight... which she probably was, “Can’t be too hard. Point it at the bad ponies, and pull this little trigger thing. I got it.”

“Then don’t hesitate,” said Trailblaze firmly, “I want you guarding our rear, and anypony or anything shows its head trying to pursue us, shoot first...” she hesitated a second, then added, “But don’t take any unneeded risks. Keep up with us.”

“No worries there, if its comes to us being chased and I need to make a desperate last-stand to make sure you all have time to escape... I expect you to turn around and save me! This flank is way too well toned to be for me to waste it dying before it’s got a chance to get all old and wrinkly!”

Trailblaze sighed, but in a way that was warm and filled with fondness, and I glanced sidelong at the pair out of the corner of my eye as Traiblaze and Whetstone shared a close hug, my eyebrow raising slightly. That hug... was certainly very friendly. I shook my head, putting it out of my mind as I took the lead once more and we started a fast gallop down the hallway we’d come from.

Past the brig the hallway was all but identical to the one we’d just used, and as expected I saw a T-junction ahead in this direction as well. A similar metal door was built into the wall of the T-junction, and I briefly wondered if it led to a similar armory as the one we were just in, but didn’t have any intention of trying to open it up and find out, despite my curiosity. I skidded along the smooth metal deck, almost tripping over myself in my hastiness to keep my speed up. I was a little ahead of everypony, intentionally trying to put a bit of distance between myself and the group. The reason for this paid off as I rushed around the corner and up ahead saw a pair of Odessa pegasi milling outside another door on the left side of the hallway.

They were wearing simple combat armor, both armed with boxy energy rifles, a stallion and a mare, the former a pinkish hue, and the later a near jet black. Hearing the clamour I’d made coming around the turn in the hall these two guards had already been looking my way, and upon seeing me I saw both pegasi’s eyes open wide.

“H-halt!” the mare said, aiming her rifle, “Stop where you are or I’ll fire!”

“Fuck it, just shoot him!” growled the stallion, also raising his weapon.

I grit my teeth and lowered my head, not slowing down. Indeed, I speed up my gallop, barreling forward full tilt as both pegasi opened fire. The corridor was narrow, true, but both of these soldiers were clearly jittery from the attack on the ship, and hadn’t expected to see me charging at them. Their aim was still good though, one red beam slicing by one of my legs, and another coming close to my neck. My armor absorbed one, and a slight tilt of Gramzanber put the silver spear in way to deflect the other. But the pegasi recovered fast from their shock and adjusted their aim, the mare flapping backwards with her wings and reaching to the wall and pressing a button, while the stallion pulled out one of those metal barricades from the other wall and took cover behind it while snapping another shot off at me.

That shot went wide, but before I could reach the two pegasi a turret popped down from the ceiling behind the mare, probably activated when she’d hit the button on the wall. The burning rain of red bolts from that turret was too much for me to dodge, even as I tried to juke in my gallop. Pain seared through me as my armor tried to ablate most of the heat, but some of those deadly energy bolts seared past golden gecko hide and armored fabric to burn my fur and flesh. Still I charged on, hearing my tribesmates not far behind me.

I was intent on dealing with these threats before Trailblaze could! I wasn’t letting my friend become a killer today. Not if I could help it.

Knowing the turret needed to be gone now I aimed my Grapple at it, mentally activated S.A.T.S and targeted the barrel. With a decent chance to hit flashing numerically next to the turret (how did the Pip-Buck get these numbers anyway?) I let fly and the Grapple snapped around the turret’s block shaped barrel. Twisting my hoof to have the Grapple’s magic lessen the turret’s weight I turned and yanked with all of my strength. Lightened by magic, the turret was much easier to tear out of its housing than it would’ve been normally, and it came out with a shower of sparks and smoke. A little luck had it bounce off the pegasus mare who’d been trying to line up a shot on me, causing her to squeal and hit the ground in a heap.

Not wasting any time I recalled the Grapple and leapt forward towards the barricade. The pegasus stallion popped up, ready to fire, but found me practically in his face. He yelped and flapped backwards, but not fast enough. A quick slice from Gramzanber had his rifle falling into two clean halves, which caused the pegasus to look at me in shock before he scrambled for a pistol in a shoulder holster. But his second of hesitation and fear gave me more than enough time to rush forward over the barricade and smash the flat of Gramzanber across his face, sending him smacking to the wall.

From his groan he was dazed, but not down, but before I could move to finish knocking him out another red beam sizzled by my face. The black mare had recovered from the turret hitting her in the back and was standing once more, firing her rifle at me. I turned to use Gramzanber as a shield, but a bolt of orange fire flew past me. The fire bolt hit the pegasus mare’s outstretched wing and bust it into orange flames. The mare’s scream was piercing, a wrenching cry of pain that I could all too well empathize with, remembering Moa Gualt’s flames burning me.

I didn’t need to look behind me to know Trailblaze had caught up and had fired that bolt. Quickly, not sparing any time, I rushed the pegasus mare, who was far too busy screaming about her burning wing to notice me. Reaching her, I swept her legs out from under her with the back end of Gramzanber’s shaft, then aimed a blow with my hoof, connecting solid with the side of her face. She crumpled, feebly trying to reach for her pistol, but another blow from me knocked her out cold. Her wing was still on fire, though.

I didn’t have time to immediately deal with that, turning to take care of the pegasus stallion, but found my tribemates already had beaten me to that punch. Trailblaze and Rock Roller, along with a larger, more burly murky blue mare whose name I believe was Carving Stone, had all jumped upon the Odessa soldier. Hooves rose and fell and by the time they were done I couldn’t be entirely sure if the stallion was alive, but he certainly wasn’t going to be getting up again any time soon.

Sighing I turned back to the fallen pegasus mare, and did my best to pat out the flames on her wing. The flames died down, but her wing was a blistered, featherless, charred mess. I couldn’t imagine the kind of pain she was going to be in when she woke up, and sent a silent prayer to the Ancestor Spirits for her.

I stepped away from the mare to turn and find Trailblaze looking at me, a hard to read look on her face. She looked down at the pegasus, then at me, and without a word turned and began galloping down the hallway, making a simple whistling call that any hunter in our tribe would recognize as the signal to form up and follow. Everypony got moving, and I pulled ahead of the herd to gallop next to Trailblaze.

“Not going to try running ahead again?” she asked.

“The elevator isn’t much farther,” I said, “Wouldn’t matter to run ahead now.”

My words proved true as we came around to an area identical to the room with the three elevator doors that Sunset had taken me to on the opposite side of the ship. Remembering which elevator had taken us down to the hangar I approached it and hit the button, hoping there wouldn’t be any security systems that kept it locked or anything. If there had been Sunset would’ve said so, wouldn't she? Well, the button had lit up, which I figured was probably a good sign.

As we stood there, my tribesmates and I, waiting for the elevator to arrive, I heard a blast from nearby, deafening with the sound of tearing metal. Wind whipped around my mane and the deck lurched so hard that I fell over and rolled into the wall. Amid the cries of my tribesmates I heard Whetstone call out, “Holy Ancestors cocks up my-” before another ripping blast of metal sounded and drowned out the mare’s curse.

It took me a second to get my bearings. Trailblaze was already back on her hooves, but most of my tribesmates were on the floor, dazed, except Whetstone, who was... sliding across the slanted floor towards a giant gaping hole that had been ripped in the side of the hull of the airship. Outside the hole I saw a being that I could only assume was a Golem. It had the same strangely metallic, bipedal appearance of the red Golem from Saddlespring, and the darker brown Golem Odessa had in its hangar. This one, however, had a faded blue color. Its form and shape were slimmer, sleeker than the Golems I’d seen before, though still large, easily three or four times the size of a pony. Which actually put it at about half the size of the other Golems I’d seen, I realized. The Golem had a strange pair of swept back crest from the side of its dainty, almost feminine head. Two wings, pearly white, and formed from a single crescent from which broad, blade-like protrusions spread, sprouted from the back of what looked like an armored skirt around the Golem’s blade shaped legs. Its arms were nothing more than a pair of drill shaped appendages, made from a metal much darker than the rest of the Golem, and from the way one of the drills was still spinning with a high whining noise, half tearing through the metal of the hull, I could guess this Golem had just rammed the ship and ripped open the hole Whetstone was now sliding towards.

The Golem wasn’t looking at her, through, its gem-like, glowing white eyes were focused solely on me.

“G-guys! Little help here!” cried Whetstone, her hooves scrambling to try and find purchase on the smooth deck.

I immediately aimed my Grapple, firing it her way, while at the same moment the Golem aimed its other drill arm into the hole it’d made, pointing its tip at me. Even as my Grapple line flew past Whetstone, letting her wrap a hoof around the wire line, the Golem’s drill split open in four segments, revealing a long, smooth barrel concealed inside. White light gathered in it, aimed squarely at me, but I couldn’t possibly move out of the way, not without risking Whetstone losing her grip on my Grapple wire.

I almost decided to try throwing Gramzanber, but Trailblaze beat me to the punch. Her eyes flashed with anger as heat waves flowed around her, and she outstretched a hoof. A concentrated jet of fire launched out, red and orange flames, blasted into the Golem’s arm. I saw the flames wash over the armor, not seeming to do much damage, but the blast forced the arm to the side at just the moment it fired a thin, white beam of energy that tore through one of the elevator doors behind me.

With a fast twist of my wrist I activated the Grapple’s retrieval, pulling Whetstone back towards me. At the same time whoever was driving the airship got their act together and righted the vessel, the deck getting back to a more level state. The Golem backed up and I saw it’s wings and legs projecting small white pulsing flames, presumably part of how it flew, and started to give chase. At that moment though I saw two pegasi fly by; Shattered Sky and Hammerfall.

Shattered Sky fired several shots from his pistol into the Golem’s head, his form vanishing and reappearing several times at random angles to avoid the beams of white energy the Golem fired back at him. Hammerfall came in from below, bellowing a laugh I could hear over the wind shear. His massive tooth-bladed weapon was making a high whining noise, its spinning teeth seeming wreathed in crackling blue energy as Hammerfall slashed in a spinning arc, cutting a sparking line across the Golem’s armored chest. Their attacks, much like Trailblaze’s fire, only seemed to do superficial damage but the Golem abandoned trying to catch up to the hole leading to me, and instead wheeled about in mid-air with speed and maneuverability far outstripping something of its size, and started to engage the two Cocytus members. In seconds the airship had gone past where the three battled, but I could tell the ship was banking around to circle the fight, and I could hear the distant sound of gunfire, making me believe the ship’s weapons were trying to target the Golem, and possibly other things flying outside.

“Is this how you’re days have normally been going since leaving?” asked Whetstone, climbing to her shaking hooves, and giving me a grateful smile as the Grapple retracted back into its device. I just gave her a helpless shrug.

“Today’s been a bit more hectic than most, but, yeah, basically,” I said, then laughed, “Puts the boring life back home into a much more positive light, really.”

Most my other tribesmates were on their hooves and had moved to huddle together away from the open hole in the hull, and were looking towards Trailblaze for direction, who in turn was looking at me with exasperation, tinged with a grateful nod as she saw Whetstone was unharmed. Beyond her I could see that the Golem’s beam had cut a thin line through the wall between the elevator doors, a sparking hole with the edges red hot from melted metal. I was suddenly quite thankful Trailblaze had managed to screw up the Golem’s aim. I also felt an odd bit of concern, because while I didn’t care at all about Shattered Sky, Hammerfall was Glint’s father. I found myself hoping he’d be alright out there, fighting that thing.

Whatever else I could say about Odessa, they built their machines to be tough. Even with a hole blasted through the area right next to it the elevator itself arrived with a soft ding and the doors opened with no trouble. We piled in, and it was a tight fit for eight ponies.

“Slate that better not be your hoof I’m feeling,” said Snowdrift with a soft gasp.

“Hey! I’m not trying to! I’m stuck in the corner,” protested Slate, a short beige stallion with a bushy brown mane.

“Why are we suffocating ourselves in a metal box, exactly?” asked Rock Roller.

“Because Longwalk says so,” said Whetstone, who then glanced at me with a sheepish grin, “Uh, why are we in here?”

I grunted, trying to shift so I could reach the button panel, eliciting a quick yelp from Whetstone as I had to reached one hoof out and brace myself with the other, “Sorry, sorry. Just need to hit this button here, and this ‘box’ will take us to where we need to go.”

“Great, just get your elbow out of my-yah!” Whetstone yelped again as I pushed forward and hit the button I saw was marked ‘H1’ which, honestly was just guessing meant ‘hangar one’. All the rest were numbers, ordered four to one, but with no letters. Immediately the elevator lurched into movement, taking us down.

I readjusted my position, and got a faceful of Whetstone, who was half glaring half grinning at me, “You know, if you were that interested you should just say so.”

I rolled my eyes, but was glad enough for the break in tension, letting my heart rate slow a bit to something resembling normal levels, if only for the moment, “Sorry to disappoint you Whet, but my heart belongs to another.”

“All marekind weeps to hear the news,” Whetstone said with a wink, “So, who’s the lucky stallion?”

It took me a moment to realize the innuendo, at which point I just huffed, “Very funny.”

“Who’s joking?”

“Please, you two, could we stay focused?” Traiblaze asked in a grumbling tone, neighing in fond frustration, “I swear if I knew herding you two would be like herding foals I’d have just shoved the leadership role onto Snowdrift.”

“Hey, why am I suddenly a part of this conversation!?” Snowdrift cried, “If I was leading I’d just end up walking us off a cliff. Trailblaze, you’re in charge, and staying that way as long as I have a say in it.”

“Seconded,” said Stone Carver, the burly mare twitching her lips in an almost-smile, “Sorry Trail, but you’re stuck leading us. Chief's daughter and all that.”

For a moment I saw Trailblaze’s features freeze in a moment of fear and frustration, but she quickly shook it off, forcing a calm, determined mask into her face. I still noticed the slight twitch in her ears and the stiffness to her stance that showed how much tension she was feeling, and I wanted nothing more than to wrap my hooves around her and hold her close, tell her that things would turn out okay and I knew she could do this. I couldn’t do that through, only give her a silent nod and smile of confidence, which when she saw it she gave me the barest of smiles. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

“I’ll do my best,” she said, then frowned, “How much more time does this thing need? How big is this place?”

Pretty big, from what I’d seen of its exterior, but Trailblaze was right, the elevator was taking longer to reach its destination than seemed right. I could feel it’s momentum was slower than when Sunset and I had ridden it earlier. Just then I felt the elevator grind to an unnaturally sudden halt. Amid cries from my tribesmates asking what was going on I frowned, listening. I heard the soft snapping of metal wires, and suddenly realized we had very little time.

“Move!” I said, taking Gramzanber up in my mouth, careful to keep its edge away from my fellow ponies as I tried to get to the elevator doors.

“Get out of his way!” Trailblaze commanded, sensing the fear and urgency in my voice, no doubt.

They scrambled as best they could to give me space as the elevator lurched again and the sound of breaking wires was heard by all. I didn’t waste any time once I got to the doors, I shoved Gramzanber into the thin metal and shook my head back and forth, tearing through the doors. Gramzanber did what it did best, slicing metal apart, and after a few seconds, combined with a few well placed bucks, I’d managed a hold onto one of the lower decks large enough for us to fit through. I backed up and didn’t hesitate to grab the nearest pony and shove her towards the hole.

Whetstone went out without complaint, and once she was out in the corridor she stayed there to help the next pony, Rock Roller, down. The elevator shuddered again, but held its position as Snowdrift went out, followed by Stone Carver, who ended up getting cut on the metal edge of the torn door due to her size, but the stoic mare barely made a whimper as she went through. Soon the others were out and it was just me and Trailblaze inside. We exchanged a look. Her eyes narrowed. So did mine.

“You next,” we both said at the same time.

Trailblaze’s lips pressed tight in a thin line and she let out an exasperated groan, “Longwalk...”

It was amazing to me how much raw irritation and understanding fondness she could mix into that one utterance of my name. It made it all the harder to grasp that the longer I stood there arguing with her the more likely we’d both get ourselves killed. With a single, accepting nod I clambered out the hole first. The second I was out I was turning towards the elevator, hoofs out to help Trailblaze come through.

There was a sickening moment of fear as I heard the grind of metal and the final snap of more wires, and I didn’t hesitate a second in pulling at Trailblaze’s hooves as she threw herself through the hole. She cleared it just as the elevator lurched again, then fell in a strangled, halting drop. I think a few of Trailblaze’s tail hairs were caught, but that was it, thankfully. She landed on top of me, but was back on her hooves in an instant, helping me up. I saw a slightly rattled look in her eyes as she glanced back towards the elevator shaft, but she quickly composed herself and looked back towards me.

“Now what?”

Good question. I looked at where we were, which was essentially an identical area to the elevator rooms on the other decks. If nothing else Odessa was consistent with its deck plans on this ship, so I felt safe assuming that this floor would follow a similar pattern to the one above. Not that knowing that gave me any clue on where to go from here. Unfortunately Sunset had only told us to use the elevator to get to the port hangar. If there was another way down, I’d need information from one of the pegasi or griffins of Odessa.

“We search this deck,” I said, making sure I had a steady grip on Gramzanber, “Find somepony that knows another way to the hangar.”

“Oooh, do we get to beat somepony up for information?” asked Whetstone, sitting back and clopping her forehooves together.

“Maybe,” I said, hanging my head slightly, “If we’re lucky we can get what we need without too much need to... uh... convince them.”

Trailblaze nodded, expression hard, determined, her jaw set tightly, “Let’s move. Don’t want to waste another second in getting out of here.”

There was no more discussion at that point and we were moving once more. The corridor, much as I suspected, mirrored the one on the deck above. Which meant, if the ship’s decks were built more or less the same then we’d see a door on our right soon, and beyond that a T-junction with a turn off to our right and a route that moved further ahead.

It didn’t take long to realize that the fighting on this deck was heavier than the one above, however. We came across dozens of scorched marks in the walls, broken turrets, melted pop-out barricades, and bodies. Odessa had been fighting hard in this hallway. There were a few bodies, pegasi and griffins alike, laying dead strewn about. Most had their armor melted or parts of their bodies torn away, victims of those strange dark beams the skeletal creatures fired from their blades, or cut by the unnaturally sharp weapons. To the Odessa soldier’s credit for every one of their dead I saw the fading, dusty remains of three or four of the skeletal monsters.

Shortly we came across a door on our right, in the same location we’d seen one on the previous deck. Unlike the one above which had been locked and guarded, this door was torn open, its edges melted away or pulled outward. A rank smell of coppery blood and bodily fluid wafted from the door, and against my better judgment I poked my head in first, before any of my tribesmates could. I grimaced at the sight within, letting out a long, hissing curse.

I backed away from the door, and cautiously my tribesmates glanced in, Whetstone retching, Snowdrift actually throwing up, and Trailblaze taking on a frozen, stony look with only her blue eyes betraying that even she found the slaughter inside the room disquieting.

The door led to what I could only figure was some kind of barracks, a large room with double beds lined in neat orderly rows. I don’t know just how many Odessa personnel were in here when the monsters had gotten through the doors. It was impossible to tell with so many bodies, and body parts, strewn around like confetti from a party. From the lack of armor or weapons I could only imagine most of the ponies and griffins in here were just ship crew, not field soldiers. A part of me wanted to walk away from this as fast as possible, but in case there were any survivors I felt I needed to take a closer look.

“Longwalk, do you really want to walk in there?” asked Whetstone, holding a hoof to her nose, “I mean, there’s nothing left in there big enough to be a complete, living pony.”

“Just a second, that’s all I need,” I told her, gulping back bile and entered. I couldn’t avoid the blood that covered the deck or dripped from the ceiling, so I just accepted getting it on my hooves, or drops of it landing on my face, as I did a quick search of the bodies. I tried my level best not to stare too long at any of the faces. As much as I was starting to get used to being around dead bodies it was always the faces that got to me the worst. You just see those eyes, and realize that this was once someone alive, and you can’t help but wonder who they were, and if any of them ever thought they’d die this way. Or maybe that was just me, my mind getting more and more morbid the longer I had to deal with things like this. Kind of hard to think cheerful thoughts when knee deep in dismembered corpses.

I think in that moment I started to understand Raiders, just a little bit. Dealing with stuff like this day in and day out? Be enough to drive anypony to learn to grin and accept the blood soaking into them. How long could anypony stand up to a world of constant, brutal death and maintain any semblance of good inside them? How long did I have before I started to crack? Maybe I already was and just didn’t notice it. After all, here I was, sifting through piles of eviscerated and melted bodies, and I wasn’t throwing up or running away in terror, as if this was actually... normal. I shook off the thought and continued my search.

Though I hadn’t expected to find anypony alive I was still hit with a intense grip of sadness when I didn’t spot a single living soul in that slaughterhouse. What I did find, however, was a disturbing number of marks in the deck or in the bodies themselves, marks that looked like they came from a massive weapon, much larger than the blades carried by the skeletons.

I didn’t have long to think about what that meant when I heard Snowdrift call, “Guys! I hear something!”

I went back out into the corridor, where Snowdrift was worriedly looking down the hall, while the rest of us gathered. Rock Roller was next to her, rubbing a hoof comfortingly on Snowdrift’s withers. I noticed their ears were perked as if hearing something and I soon heard what they did, the faint noise of screaming, magical weapons discharging, and a high warbling shriek that was... utterly unearthly in nature. My eyes met Trailblaze’s and I saw that she wasn’t at all happy with the situation, but she wasn’t going to stop me from doing what was already clear in my expression that I wanted to do. Trailblaze took a deep breath and told me, “Remember what I said. Don’t stop me if I have to protect us, but we’ll go lend a hoof.”

I gave her a grateful nod, and then Trailblaze turned to the rest of the tribe, “Okay, we’re going to help them. Not for their sake, but for ours. To learn how to get off this Ancestors cursed place! If any of those winged bastards take a shot at you, take cover, let me and Longwalk take care of things.”

There was a murmur of agreement, with Whetstone pulling out and readying the energy pistol she’d taken off the mare from the armory, and grinning at us in anticipation. I hoped for all their sakes they’d listen to Trailblaze and stay mostly in cover.

Following the sounds of fighting we soon got to the T-junction, and turned to the right. The sound only grew louder and more pronounced, and we found yet more dead Odessa soldiers and the remains of destroyed skeletal monsters, though not many. It took only moments to reach the source of the fighting. Right where the brig would have been on the deck above there was a similar door, this one ripped and melted open just like the door to the crew quarters. Inside the sound of magical energy weapons firing, ponies yelling and screaming, and that unnatural warbling noise, were clear and loud.

Trailblaze and I both reached the door at about the same time, and we had only a second to take in the scene before us.

The room was about the same size as the crew quarters, though slightly elongated. Either wall was lined with beds, which in turn had terminals and shelves of sterile equipment next to them. I quickly recognized the kind of equipment and the nature of the setup from being in Stable 104’s infirmary. This was the airship’s medical bay. And it was under attack.

Odessa ponies, soldiers in combat armor and a few in the heavier, full body power armor with the scorpion-like tails, were lined up about halfway down the medical bay, using overturned beds and tables of medical gear as cover to set up a firing line. Behind them other pegasi and griffins in white coats and wearing medical scrubs either worked furiously on wounded crew members, or were dragging wounded further back away from the firing line.

The rest of the room was filled with the shapes of skeletal creatures trying to charge their way towards the Odessa troops, magical crests forming around their blades as they fired dark, melting beams of energy towards the groups of pegasi and griffins. Others used their swords to stab into the bodies of ponies already dead, either killed in defending the medical bay or murdered in their beds.

Leading the charge of the skeletons was a hulking creature, several hoof spans taller and wider than the skeletons. At first I was reminded of the image of the blue armored Hyadean I’d been shown in the holo-recording back in Stable 104, but this creature was different. It had the same metallic, bio-organic armor plating, and a vague bipedal shape, but this thing was wider at the shoulders, and more squat in stature. Pale green armor covered its whole body save for a few joins that showed strange, red and violet, ropy muscles. Its head was square, like that of some machine, with odd spikes protruding up from its head like a crest, and a single gem-like red eye was embedded in its smooth, featureless face.

Magical energy blasts, both red beams and green bolts, slammed into this creature from the Odessa troops, and it let out a warbling, ear bleedingly wrong sounding cry, and it barreled forward. In its hands was a large shafted weapon, not quite a spear or an axe, but some hybrid of the two, with a large crescent shaped blade married to a wicked spike.

Some far less sane part of my mind decided to name this thing a ‘BAT’, short for; Big Ass Trooper. Somehow I doubted it would appreciate the name.

The BAT charged the Odessa gun-line, staggered somewhat by the concentrated fire that came its way, but the skeletons around it were also providing it a barrage of covering blasts that were forcing the Odessa soldiers to split their fire, or take cover. I saw the BAT raise its massive blade, aiming to cleave on a poor griffin straight down the middle, and I had an unpleasant flashback to Bernard’s death at the claws of the Hellhound.


I activated the power without thinking about it, moving before the world even finished turning a shade of cobalt blue in my vision. Everything slowed to a crawl as I galloped forward. For once Gramzanber struck with no hesitation on my part, no worry as to sparing my opponents. These creatures, there was no doubt in my mind, needed to be stopped. One skeleton, then two, then three were cut clean through in my charge across the medical bay, each swing of Gramzanber only meeting minimal resistance as it’s edge cut through bone cleanly. One skeleton directly in my path had its head bisected by one clean swipe, and then I was right behind the BAT, its blade halfway through its descending arc towards the griffin; whose eyes were wide at watching his impending death.

I rammed Gramzanber into the BAT’s back. I didn’t know if this thing had a spine, or any kind of understandable normal anatomy, but I couldn’t waste time second guessing myself. Gramzanber’s tip bit home, and for a second I felt an odd burst of pleasure and satisfaction that I knew wasn’t coming from myself. It was like my ARM was suddenly immensely... happy? As if it was finally, at long last, being used to fulfill the purpose for which it was made. It did not like these Hyadean monstrosities, and sinking into one made the spear, for lack of a better term, give off a sense of giddiness.

Gramzanber sunk deeply into the BAT’s armor, and I saw sparks of energy, and an odd dark violet fluid spurt out, coating my spear. I pulled back, ready to strike again, but quickly realized I ought to end Accelerator before its backlash got too bad. I’d only used it a few seconds, but I didn’t want to wear myself out too fast. There was no telling how much fighting there would be before this day was done.

With a simple mental command I felt Accelerator end, the world turning back to a normal wash of colors, and everything move back to normal speed along with a crash of sound as the real world reasserted itself. The skeleton’s I’d cut in half, which hadn’t even had time to register what had happened during my attack, now fell into pieces. The BAT let out a piercing shriek that made me cringe. I briefly saw Trailblaze back at the medical bay entrance, staring at me in disbelief.

Oh, right, she’d never actually seen me use Accelerator before. To her eyes it would’ve been like seeing me literally teleport across the room, leaving a blue streak behind me, and then see monsters fall in half. I would’ve found her dumbfounded expression sort of funny, if we’d been in any other set of less serious circumstances... and I wasn’t getting smashed across the face by a whirling backhand from the BAT as it spun around with ludicrous speed.

I felt my head smack solid into the deck and my vision went almost black. I blinked and cleared the stars from my sight just in time to see the BAT spin its weapon around, aiming its spear point at me chest, and drive it down. I rolled aside, and heard that metal spike sink right into the deck like it was made of sand.

Dizzy from the blow, feeling blood tricking into my face from what was probably a split scalp, I got to my hooves and charged in, slicing down with Gramzanber with all the strength my neck muscles could manage. The BAT, its single red-gem of an eye swiveling in its socket to look at me with an angry red flash, fired a beam from that eye. Only pure instinctive reflexes saved me as I turned my slash into a block, catching the red eye-beam on the flat of Gramzanber’s blade. Rather than deflect the beam, like it did with normal magical energy weapons, I felt a physical force hurl me back as a small explosion of energy threw me through the air.

I landed hard, and only had a moment to realize three skeletons were converging on me, when a jet of raw flame blasted above me and turned one of the skeletons to ash, and a smaller red beam of energy hit another one, staggering it.

Trailblaze had entered the medical bay, and Whetstone hung by the door, her energy pistol firing away. Trailblaze charged, a snarl on her lips, and fire in her blue eyes as she body slammed one of the skeletons that’d been coming at me. I saw heat waves wafting off her hide as she got on top of the fallen skeleton, slapping aside its sword with one hoof, and raising another. For a moment I thought I saw a gleam of orange light in her raised hoof, as if from some inner fire, before she slammed it down with more force than I’d ever have expected from her. The skeleton’s skull turned to powder.

The other skeleton had turned to fire at Whetstone, crests flashing around its blade to send a black beam towards the gray mare, who ducked with a little yelp, and returned fire, her pistol sending wild shots that grazed the skeleton but nothing more. Still, its distraction was all I needed to get up and sever its skull with Gramzanber in one clean stroke.

Whetstone gave me a sheepish look, then her eyes widened and she fired again rapidly, forcing me to duck from the crazy shots, that were aimed at the BAT which was advancing on me. I turned to face it, ready to charge in, but Trailblaze beat me to the punch, literally. She jumped in, ducking under a wild swing from the BAT that cut a huge, sparking gouge in the wall, and with her hooves now clearly glowing with orange light, she spun in place and cracked the BAT squarely in the gut with a two-hooves buck that sent the hulking armored brute stumbling backwards.

Seeing an opening, I activated S.A.T.S. Time froze, and I targeted the BAT’s head, specifically its eye. At first I got no percentage chance to hit, but that was because the targeting spell thought I was trying to still use melee, which was impossible at this range. After a mental command switched the spell’s calculations to account for me throwing my spear, it gave a very acceptable chance to hit in the eighties. Queuing up the attack I released the spell and time started up again, my body going into automatic as I reared up and flung Gramzanber full force.

It streaked across the medical bay and with a satisfying sound embedded itself cleanly into, and then through, the BAT’s head. The green armored hulk stood there transfixed for a second, purple fluid that I could only imagine was its blood flowing out of its mortal wound, before it staggered once last time and fell to the deck in a crash.

A few more seconds of weapons fire followed as the Odessa soldiers finished off the remaining skeletons, and then there was relative silence. The pegasi and griffins stared at us, and didn’t lower their weapons.

I took a cautious step forward and somepony shouted, “Halt! Identify yourself!”

Another shouted, “Shit, its the prisoners! The ones that just got brought in today!”

“Fuck, what do we do? Did they escape?”

“We need to detain them!”

“But they just... they just helped us.”

From the din of voices one spoke up loudly, “Everyone stand down your weapons, now!”

It was a pegasus stallion, with a faded, washed out red coat and a short cut white mane, wearing the coat and scrubs of a doctor. He went to the front of the gunline of soldiers, putting one wing out and lowering the rifle of one of soldiers as he said, “These ponies just saved the lives of my patients, your wounded comrades. We will not be shooting at them. I shall take full responsibility for these orders; you are all to stand down.”

There was a moment of hesitation among the Odessa troops, but gradual weapons were lowered, and I saw most of them relax in a way that suggested they truly weren’t eager to keep fighting at this point anyway. I approached cautiously, Trailblaze at my side, her eyes dark and challenging as she swept her gaze over the gathered Odessa troops.

“Thanks,” I told the doctor who’d given the order for the others to stand down, “I wish we’d been able to help sooner.”

The doctor gave me a saddened nod, his eyes looking at the carnage, the bodies of those who’d already died by the time we got here, “Hardly your responsibility. I am 1st Lieutenant Coagulant, Odessa Medical Corps. Thank you for helping to save my ward from further senseless loss of life at the hands of these xeno monstrosities.”

“Longwalk? That you Longwalk?” shouted a familiar voice from the back of the room, and both Coagulant and I looked that way to see a rust colored pegasus stallion approaching from the back of the room. It was Glint, the Odessa corporal looking not much better off than when I’d pulled him and the remnants of his squad from Silver Mare Studios . He was wounded, with bandages covering his side, and his brow, both fresh wounds I could only figure were sustained in the attack. He’d been in the back of the medlab, apparently getting treated, but he was armed, despite being out of his armor and for all intents and purposes naked.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding to him with a sad smile, “Didn’t figure we’d meet again so soon, but I’m glad you’re still alive. Is everypony else...?”

Glint smiled, though it was strained, and he gestured behind him where I could see the other members of his squad among those still in beds being looked after by the medical staff; Spring Breeze actually conscious, if still bedridden. She didn’t give me a particularly grateful look, the scowl on her face still clearly showing how she felt about me. I just sighed and looked away, only to meet Trailblaze’s heated gaze.

“We’re not here to play friends, or even to help you ponies,” she said with a harsh tone to Coagulant, “You killed parts of my tribe and forced the rest of us into chains. The only reason I’m here is because we want off this ship of yours.”

Fire blossomed in her hooves, “And somepony here is going to tell us how.”

Weapons started to raise around us again but Coagulant held up a hoof, forestalling them as he looked at Trailblaze with sympathy in his eyes, “If its to spare any more lives from being lost this day, I’ll gladly tell you. All you need to do is take the elevator to-”

“Elevator is broken,” I hastily interrupted, “A beam from the Golem attacking the ship damaged it I think. It fell.”

“I see. Then you’ll need to take the stairs,” Coagulant said, “They’re located opposite side of the elevators. Just take the stern branch of the junction you used to get here, and you’ll find the stairs clearly marked next to the doors to engineering. I suggest avoiding engineering. There’s fighting there as well. The hangar is one deck down from here, and you can find escape pods from a floor hatch along the interior wall. They’ll be marked as well. The pods are easy to operate, and just one could fit all of you, I imagine.”

Coagulant took a deep breath, and looked me in the eyes, “I may lose my commission for helping you, but the lives you saved here are worth more to me. Whatever your reasons, you have my thanks.”

Trailblaze snorted, but I nodded, and turned my look towards all the soldiers in general, many of which were watching me with guarded, unsure looks. I decided I needed to say one last thing.

“I don’t want to fight with anyone from Odessa. I don’t think of you as enemies I have to kill if I can help it. But you have my tribe. You have my mother. And you’re coming after one of my best friends. Remember that. Because I’ll fight to get my tribe free and to protect my friends... but I don’t want to kill any of you. These... xeno things, are an enemy I can get behind fighting, but not the way Odessa is going about it. Think about that.”

I doubted my words meant anything to them. From the looks of many I was just talking to the wind. I was just another landbound, just another potential threat and target in their war. A lifetime of indoctrination meant a few words from me were pretty much wasted. But even so, I saw the spark of thought in the eyes of one or two of the Odessa soldiers, along with gratitude for the help me and my tribe just gave them. Glint himself, through carrying a tired, dour expression, looked happy enough to see, and gave me a final nod before I turned to leave.

Trailblaze, of course, had her own parting words for Odessa.

“Like him, I’m going to free my tribe that you’ve wrongfully taken from me! Unlike him, I don’t care if I have to kill any of you that gets in the way. Remember that, and move aside when the time comes... or burn.”

Back out in the hall the rest of our tribesmates waited, Whetstone giving Trailblaze a sardonic half smile, “Geeze Trail, way to bust out the diplomatic skills. Think you could rain on Longwalk’s peace offering any more?”

“You’re not interested in making peace with these ponies,” said Trailblaze, “Are you?”

Whetstone shrugged, “I’m a lover, not a warrior. Rather we all could sit down by the fire, get drunk, and fool around dancing, getting wasted on healing powder, and making out until dawn. Not that I ain’t pissed at what they did, but the practical side of me says there’s hundreds of them, and not a lot of us. Declaring unending war and hate on them seems counter productive to living a long, happy life.”

Trailblaze sighed, “I’d rather they’d never come to Shady Stream at all. But I have to rescue the rest of the tribe, no matter what it takes.”

I interjected, before the conversation could get more depressing, “Come on, we know where to go now. Let’s get out of here.”

To that there was no disagreement from anypony.


I sent a quick prayer of thanks to the Ancestor Spirits that we ran into no further trouble on our way to the stairs. So far we’d been lucky, but I had no illusions as to how much longer that luck could last. The stairs were a tight fit, barely large enough for just one pony to go up or down one at a time, and we were all scrambling to move as fast as we could. I think seeing the monstrous creatures in the medical bay had shaken some of my tribesmates, as had just seeing so many dead ponies in such a short span of time.

For many of them they’d simply been living a calm life up until a few days ago. I knew exactly what they were going through and my heart went out to them. I wanted nothing more than to shield them from what was happening, to protect them from what was likely to come. I also knew there was little I could do except fight as hard as I could to to get them away from here, and see where things went.

Getting to the bottom of the stairs there was a simple hatch I quickly opened, leading out into the vast open space of the port hangar.

This hangar was identical to the one on the starboard side, a huge expanse shaped like half on an egg. All of the hangar’s bay doors were open, and I noticed many of the Vertibuck scaffold berths were empty. From the open bays I could see the blue vista of the sky and the ocean of clouds the Varukisas sailed upon, the ship seeming to maintain a steady course over the rolling clouds. The distant sound of heavy energy weapons fire could be heard from the open bay doors, but it sounded like it was coming from somewhere far off from the ship, now, as if the Golem had been left behind, or was at least busy fighting some distance off.

Had the ship launched all of its Vertibucks, just to deal with one Golem? Are those ancient machines really that strong, I wondered. Well, I’d seen what the red one had done in Saddlespring, I supposed there was no reason to think any of the others that existed would be any less devastating. It occurred to me how lucky I was to still be alive after a close encounter with two of the Golems. I tried to remember Dr. Lemon Slice’s rambling rant about them. She’d mentioned there were... eight? Eight Golems. One of the damned things was too much by my estimation.

Looking about, I tried to spot where the route to the escape pods were. Coagulant said they were on the interior wall, and would be clearly marked. My eyes roved between the alcoves for the Vertibucks, scanning the wall. There were a lot of small doors and hatchways, but none of them had any obvious markings. At least nothing I could see from this distance.

With unspoken agreement among us Trailblaze took the lead and we all began to gallop across the open hangar for the wall, and I continued to scan about for any indication of where the escape pods were. The closer we got the more desperate I became.

Then, as we just got amid the crates and pits of the repair bays, I spotted it. A space along the wall closed off by yellow railing, with a red and white sign mounted in the bulkhead above it that read ‘Emergency Escape Deck Access’. There was a simple box with a pair of buttons next to the railing which I figured must open the way.

“There!” I shouted, pointing, and Trailblaze nodded, and we all trotted forward.

Then beams of energy rained down around us. I heard a yelp of pain, and others shout in alarm as my tribesmates dove for cover among the crates or pieces of repair equipment. Looking back I saw that the ones firing on us was a small squad of Odessa pegasi and griffins, about five of them, that had flown in through one of the bays from outside. They all wore the thick power armor of Odessa heavy troopers, the magical energy weapons mounted on their sides as they strafed us.

I too leaped for cover behind a table with scattered tools. Taking stock I saw most of my tribesmates had made it to cover, Trailblaze across from me behind a metal crate with Whetstone next to her.

“Snowdrift! Get out of the open!” I heard Rock Roller shout.

I looked around the table I was using for cover and saw that Snowdrift was limping, dazed, the back of her left leg burned where a magical beam had hit her. While the Odessa squad was banking around for another pass I realized we just had seconds before they fired again, and Snowdrift was nowhere near cover.

I didn’t hesitate. I dashed out into the open, making a straight run for Snowdrift.

I could feel I didn’t have enough energy build up yet to use Accelerator again, and poured on the speed as I galloped. I saw Trailblaze and Whetstone both rear up behind their cover and open fire at the Odessa squad, Whetstone’s wild shots going all over the place, and Trailblaze breathing hard as she summoned up another bolt of fire... through I noticed this one seemed weaker than her previous ones. Like Arcaidia sometimes did, was Trailblaze running out of juice? Her face looked strained to me, but I couldn’t look long, having to focus on my dash to get to Snowdrift.

The Odessa squad broke up to avoid the fire coming their way, only two of them staying on course to strafe Snowdrift. I got to her just as red beams and green bolts smacked down around her, and I dove, tackling her and rolling her out of the way; not easy with Gramzanber still clutched in my mouth, but I’d gotten used to moving around with the massive spear.

I felt searing pain in my side, not bothering to look to see how bad the wound was, and forcibly pushed Snowdrift into one of the lowered repair bays, diving in after her. We landed amid hoses, cables, and protruding robotic repair arms.

Coughing, the air temporarily knocked out of me, I rolled into the wall, and pulled Snowdrift beside me. The mare was breathing hard, eyes wide and wincing with pain.

“Th-thanks,” she breathed.

“No problem,” I said back.

She looked around the repair bay, which was basically just a cluttered lowered square big enough to hold a Vertibuck, making the walls about ten feet tall. There was a ramp leading up, presumably for techs to get in and out while they worked on the flying machines. Snowdrift shuddered as the sound of magical energy weapons fire intensified, combined with the roar of flames Traiblaze had summoned. I put a comforting hoof on her shoulder, feeling her shaking.

“Stay close to me,” I told her, “We’ll go up the ramp, and get to cover. Then I’ll distract those fliers while the rest of you get into the escape pods.”

Snowdrift looked at me with fear and worry stark on her face, “Can you do that? I mean, do that and not die?”

I just smiled and shrugged helplessly, “Don’t know. But I need to get them shooting at me, not the rest of you, so you guys can escape.”

“Just... why not kill them? With that weapon. You could, couldn’t you?”

To be truthful, I didn’t know. They kind of had the advantage of flight, which meant at best I could get one of them with a good throw, then be defenseless for the rest to turn me into a fine mist.

“Maybe, maybe not. What I know I can do, though, is distract them. Come on.”

I stood to head for the ramp, but she didn’t follow, and I turned to look at her. Snowdrift was still breathing hard, eyes unblinking as she looked at me, “I don’t want to do this.”

I understood completely. For Snowdrift this was probably the first time her life had been in this kind of danger. I was starting to get used to it, if only one bit at a time, but then the world had been forcing a lot of practice upon me. For Snowdrift this was fresh, new fear, of the kind she’d never had run into back home. Geckos just didn’t compare to heavily armed pegasi and griffins trying to kill you.

I went up to her and gave her a quick hug, “Stay close, and don’t think about it. Just run, don’t think. Just like when you’re on a hunt, right? Trust your fellow hunters to watch your back.”

“Okay, okay,” she said, nodding, “I can do that.”

“Good. Let’s get out of here.”

We crept up to the ramp. I waited until I heard another round of energy weapons fire from the Odessa soldiers, making sure they finished a pass, before rising up and going up the ramp, Snowdrift behind me. My tribesmates had stayed pinned where they were, but thank the Ancestors that all of them were still alive. Whetstone and Trailblaze were still firing back, and from somewhere Rock Roller had acquired an energy pistol of his own, it probably having been left on one of the work tables.

Through my tribesmate’s fire was highly inaccurate, it served to keep the Odessa troops evasive and from surroundings us, especially Traiblaze’s fire. Even if it was weakening she was able to send up jets of it that made the fliers wheel and dive away, ruining several attempts to strafe us as Snowdrift and I got to cover again.

“Trail!” I yelled, and she glanced at me. I pointed towards the hatch that’d lead us to safety.

“I’ll draw their fire. You get them down there.”

“What about you?”

“Give me sixty seconds. I’ll come right back. But if I’m not there-”

“Then we come save your stupid ass!” shouted Whetstone, laughing as if I was an idiot for even suggesting they leaving me behind. Which I realized I was. It was crazy of me to think they’d willingly leave me behind. For a second I forgot where we were and felt a great deal of warmth for these ponies. Whatever I might’ve been treated like in the past, it was clear they thought of me now as truly one of their own.

“Fair enough. Now get going!”

With that I left Snowdrift in cover and went running back out into the open, waving Gramzanber around and yelling at the top of my lungs, “Hey you flying pieces of- “ Hmm, what would be a good insult to these people, who seemed to prize their ability to soar the skies? “Wingless rocks! I bet you’re all just earth ponies who glued on fake wings! I’ve seen better flying from my own dung I dropped off a cliff!”

It was juvenile, yes. It was also surprisingly effective. Almost as one the Odessa squad turned in different directions, but all aimed to bring them around and aim square for me as I ran out into the middle of the open hangar. I didn’t look to see if Trailblaze was getting the others away, but I trust her, and galloped as hard as I could in a wide arc that would take me along the curve of the open bay doors.

It wasn’t long before energy weapons fire lashed down around me, red beams skimming by my face and balls of green fire sizzling between my rapidly pumping legs. I felt the jarring pain of a few shots that stabbed into my armor, but credit where credit was due, Stable 104 had made for me a nice piece of personal protection. The armor held up, turning crippling strikes into painful flesh wounds. Not that I wasn’t starting to realize what a particularly bad idea my plan was at this point. I’d apparently been operating under the assumption that as long as I kept being a moving target that I’d be fine. In hindsight I really should’ve realized that a bunch of trained soldiers who spent most of their time in the air, you know, moving themselves would be fairly skilled at hitting mobile targets.

By the time I got near the open bay doors I’d taken more than a few solid hits that caused lances of agony to course through my body, making me nearly stumble over my own legs, which would’ve been fatal under the circumstances. If I’d attained a single skill above and beyond any others in my ill-fated sojourn into the Wasteland so far it was the skill: Withstand Hellish Agony and Still Stubbornly Charge Into Damnation Because You Think You Can Win. That’s a skill, right? Maybe its an inborn trait, instead, and just needed the right (or horribly wrong) situations to really shine. Either way despite my mounting injuries I was still running full tilt when I reached the hangar doors and I got to enact phase two of my brilliant stratagem. The part I didn’t bother telling Trailblaze about because I knew she’d have screamed bloody murder at me if she knew, but I needed a way to fake out these Odessa troops, and the only way I knew how to do that was to do something so stupidly suicidal that nopony would expect it.

I flung myself out the hangar door and into open air.

Despite all the hits I’d taken I felt the build up of energy inside Gramzanber and I activated Accelerator just as I reached the apex of my leap.

Time slowed just as my body started to get pulled by gravity’s merciless grip. With the extra time I was able to see the vast form of the Varukisas and take in the bits of damage covering its otherwise pristine hull, several holes in its hull trailing smoke. I saw its weapons, dozens of small boxy missile launchers or green glowing plasma canons firing barrages at swarms of multi-winged, insectoid creatures that reminded me of what would happen if you took a radscorpion and forcibly mated it with a Vertibird. Speaking of Vertibirds, the sky was dotted with them, along with flights of Odessa soldiers, all equally engaged with the flying bug-like monsters, exchanging weapons fire against the critters that fied eye-beams like the BAT I fought in the medical bay, or lances of stinger-like projectiles.

Beyond all that, the flying Golem was engaged with the distant forms of what had to be the Cocytus unit. I couldn’t make out details from so far away, but the Golem’s blue beams, and the rapid way in which one of the pegasus forms evaded by seemingly teleporting out of harm’s way, was all apparent even in the few seconds I took to observe.

But I didn’t have time for watching longer than that and turned my attention to the hangar I’d just jumped out of. I could see the Odessa squad that’d been chasing me hesitating, pulling up short in surprise at my leap. That confusion was what I needed, because it slowed their flight and made their movement's predictable. I aimed my Grapple and used S.A.T.S, targeting the lead griffin, aiming for a hind leg.

The Grapple fired, a heart stopping moment as I watched the clawed line sail out and prayed my crazy gamble would work. Fortune and the good aim of S.A.T.S was with me and the Grapple line wrapped around the griffin’s leg. With Accelerator still going I had the Grapple lessen my weight and pull me forward. In the slow motion of Accelerator I could see the griffin gradually realize what was happening, shuffling awkwardly in the air at my weight, but instinctively maintain a hover before he could really react beyond instinct.

Gauging my next move I deactivated Accelerator, grimacing as the backlash hit me and time return to a normal speed. My body was still being pulled up towards the griffin I’d hooked, and the second I cleared the bay doors and was back inside the hangar I had the Grapple switch from making me lighter, to making the griffin lighter.

The sudden switch in weight had me land solidly on the deck, while the suddenly light griffin was pulled forcibly down, and with an extra hefty tug from me the griffin lost all balance in the air and ended up tumbling to the deck with a meaty smack. I was running, the Grapple line returning, before any of the other Odessa soldiers had time to turn around and draw a new bead on me. Now I was galloping full speed back towards my tribesmates and the escape pods.

My stunt bought me precious time, but even then it was only a matter of seconds before the Odessa soldiers recovered and were back to pursuing me, firing away. Ahead of me I saw that Trailblaze had gone to the panel I’d seen earlier and had pressed the button, opening up a mechanical floor hatch that she was ushering the others of my tribe down into. She pushed them along one after another, waiting until she was the last one still up there, and she looked back towards me.

I heard her shout my name and wave her hoof for me to run faster. I didn’t even have the breath to shout back that I was running as fast as my wounded body was allowing me to move. Though it was only a matter of a few dozen meters the distance between me and the safety of the hatch down to the escape pods felt like an expanse of miles. I knew I was running, hooves pounding the deck, at full speed, but each second felt like I was galloping through mud, and every zap and hissing burst of noise from the magical energy weapons firing at me made my heart leap.

I was almost there, less than ten paces from Trailblaze, when a stray magical beam hit something volatile amid the repair bay to my right, and an explosion of smoke and electrical discharge knocked me flat off my hooves and pushed the breath from my lungs. For a stunned moment I could only lay there, fearing any second a deadly rain of magical energy bolts would land on me.

Then I felt somepony pulling me along, hooves wrapped around my shoulder and forelegs. I thought it was Trailblaze for a second, but then I saw Trailblaze next to us, sweat plastering her black mane to her face, as she fired streams of fire at our pursuers. The pony pulling me along turned out to be Snowdrift, her eyes fearful but determined as she hauled me along.

I recovered quickly and let her help me get my hooves under me, and she gave me a brief, relieved smile, before we both headed for the hatch. The hatch itself was a series of long, open rectangular panels in the deck that revealed a dark, steep, and short staircase leading to a corridor beneath the hangar.

I put a hoof on Snowdrift and sent her ahead of me down the stairs, which she did so with only a second of hesitation. I turned to see Trailblaze had backed up to the hatch as well, her shoulders sagging from the effort of the fire she was putting out, which was keeping the Odessa soldiers diving and wheeling away and unable to get clear shots at us.

She gave me one glance and a weak grin, and we both turned to rush down the stairs, Snowdrift and the others waiting for us down below.

“That everypony?” asked Whetstone loudly from further down the corridor, where I saw she’d opened up a circular hatch at the end that I could only guess lead into an actual escape pod. There was nopony else down here so I figured the others of the tribe had already gone in.

“Yes, go!” said Trailblaze, pushing us along. I understood the haste. We probably had only seconds before the Odessa soldiers chased us down here.

We all ran, Whetstone entering the hatch just as we got there.

There was a moment of pause as Trailblaze looked at me but I shook my head and gestured for her to go in first, which, thankfully, she didn’t argue this time, exhausted as she was. I was just about to push Snowdrift in as well when I heard something clank onto the metal deck of the corridor behind us, and I turned to see an Odessa pegasus stallion had jumped down the stairs and had his beam rifles aimed at us.

“Stop!” he commanded, “Surrender, or I’ll have to fire!”

I turned to face him, but I felt Snowdrift suddenly grab me and haul me into the hatch to the escape pod. If I hadn’t been so wounded and tired myself I might’ve been able to shake her off and push her into the hatch so I could face the Odessa soldier alone, but she was able to catch me off guard and off balance, pulling me into the hatch before I could even shout a protest.

The Odessa soldier swore and fired at us, red beams filling the corridor.

I heard a pained gasp as Snowdrift and I hit the deck of the escape pod. The inside wasn’t large, really just a long cylindrical room lined with thick padded seats with mounted braces that would go over a pony’s shoulders to secure them in place. There was a series of buttons on a panel by the door and the second Snowdrift and I were inside Whetstone, who was waiting by the panel, just hit her hoof after all the buttons.

Whatever Whetstone had hit, it was enough. The hatch closed, and the entire pod shuddered. I felt a jolt, and then a feeling of weight pushing me to the deck, along with the sight of light streaming in from the few window inside the now sealed hatch. The escape pod was away. We’d made it!

“Heh...” I laughed, patting Snowdrift, “That was close. Thanks for the save before, I almost didn’t...”

I looked at Snowdrift’s face and felt all of my emotions instant grow cold and drain out of me.

Snowdrift’s eyes looked back at me with a blank, glassy lifelessness that I had seen too many times on the faces of others since entering the Wasteland.

There was a bit of smoke rising from the hole that had been burned in the back of her head, the smell of her singed mane now testament to the energy beam that must have hit her in that last second before the hatch closed.

I didn’t say anything, even when the others noticed Snowdrift wasn’t moving, or when Trailblaze, yelling something, pulled me away from her and forced me into one of the seats, securing it even as the feeling of the escape pod shuddered grew worse. I didn’t notice everypony else yelling, screaming, rushing to get secured as well in seats with Trailblaze’s and Whetstone’s help. I didn’t look out the window to see the sky rushing by, or notice how rapidly the ground was approaching.

I didn’t look away from Snowdrift’s empty, dead eyes, even when the escape pod hit the ground, shaking me like a rodent in a gecko’s killing grip. I couldn’t look away from them, through the rough, jarring drop through the sky, or when the escape pod finally landed with a head rattling crash in the middle of the Wasteland.


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