• Published 29th Jun 2013
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Fallout Equestria: Tales of Chicacolt - volrathxp

Tales from a broken city told in episodic format.

  • ...

Chapter 9: A Star of Hope

Fallout Equestria: Tales of Chicacolt

Chapter 9: A Star of Hope

As long as the Wasteland needs me, I will be there.

When you're as long-lived as I am, you are sure to have seen the worst of ponykind. I've been there. I've witnessed things that have made me wish the world had ended in a blaze of balefire. Slavery, death, rape, torture. Ponykind wasted no time in degenerating into savages in the aftermath of the Great War.

But in the darkness, there is light. I've witnessed indescribable acts of bravery, courage, and heroism. They say that the Wasteland is the truest enemy of the hero, and while this is correct for the most part, heroes aren't just the ponies who go in guns blazing. Sometimes, they're the ponies who grow food, the ponies who build, the ponies who love.

My name is Radiant Star. Some of you might remember me. I went on a journey to find answers to my own problems, and ended up mire deep in a mess so convoluted, it affected everything and everyone I know. I stared deep into the eyes of a long-dead mare and stood my ground.

Nowadays, however, life isn't so thrilling. Ever since Spike and the Lightbringer gathered the Elements of Harmony and cast the Gardens of Equestria megaspell, life in the Wasteland has improved dramatically. Before the casting of Gardens, the city of Chicacolt needed me and my friends to protect it from harm. Now... well, now it doesn't really need me at all. My days are relegated to democracy and diplomacy, and helping to foster the next generation of ponies who will one day lead Equestria entirely out of the darkness.

It hurts to think that I am no longer needed, but I know that I will always be there to ensure Equestria lives on. Somewhere out there, somepony needs me, and as long as the Wasteland needs me, I will be there.

* * *

I grimaced, my teeth gritting in concentration. I had to get this just right. The fate of the world depended on it. I glanced up at my opponent and spoke.

“Got any fours?” I asked.

“Nope,” the Moose replied lazily. “Go fish.”

“Shit,” I said, picking up a card from the deck. I grimaced once more. “You got me, Moose.”

The Moose nodded, smiling as he picked up my caps. He slid them into his bag, where they jingled about.

“How did you get so good at this game anyways?” I asked.

“Practice,” the Moose calmly replied.

I sighed. “Best two out of three?”

“Star, stop that. We're here to see Danish, not play Go Fish... what are you, four?” a voice behind me said.

I turned to my one and truest love, Violet Iris. The green unicorn mare was standing off to the side, tapping her hoof. I grinned sheepishly.

“I'll have you know that four years is considered senior age for an alicorn,” I said.

“What does that make you, a dinosaur?” Violet jabbed.

I narrowed my eyes at her. “Playing that game are we? We'll see who gets the last laugh there, Violet,” I said. I looked over at the Moose. “Sorry, Moose. Gotta run.”

“Okay,” the Moose said.

I stood and made my way over to where Violet stood. She rolled her eyes.

“You know, losing all our caps is a surefire way to piss off our employers,” she said.

“I didn't lose all of them!” I exclaimed as I trotted behind her. “I only lost some of them! There is a difference.”

“I swear,” Violet said, rolling her eyes. “Handling you is like handling a filly. Except you're a lot bigger than a filly.”

“Was that a fat joke?” I said, raising an eyebrow.

“You'll have to wait to find out,” Violet said. “We're here.”

I glanced up at the entrance to Theater's main offices, where one Apple Danish resided. Violet pushed open the door and I followed behind. Apple Danish himself waited just inside for us.

“Star, Violet,” he said with a tip of his hat. “To what to I owe the honor of your visit today?”

“We're here to meet with Gluttony, and you too of course,” Violet said. “There is a matter of some importance that we must discuss. Privately.”

Danish nodded. “Follow me, then.”

We made our way behind Danish as he led us toward the rear offices. He pressed a button on the back wall, revealing a secret door.

“So, what's been going on around here?” I asked.

“Well, we've had a bit of a ruckus lately,” Danish said, pushing open the door. “Not sure if you heard or not, but Patch was attacked.”

“What?” I asked, narrowing my gaze at the unicorn. “What happened?”

“Some zebra. Tried to poison her,” Danish replied. “She's fine, though. Envy's actually here tending to her.”

“I see,” I said. I grimaced. I really wanted to see her, but this mission that Violet and I were sent on... it was absolutely important.

Danish pushed open the final door, revealing a massive back stage area that had been retrofitted for only one use, a home away from home for Gluttony, the massive leader of the MMMM. The earth pony (if one could call him that anymore) sat upon a large set of storage containers that had been moved about to make a chair of sorts. He leaned forward and grinned, his pearly white eyes taking us in.

“Well well, if it isn't Radiant Star and her little marefriend,” he rumbled. “What can I do for you today? Please tell me this is a social visit.”

“I'm afraid it isn't,” Violet said. “We're here on the order of the Followers of the Apocalypse to investigate something rather important here in Chicacolt.”

“Oh? What's that? Things have been relatively slow here since the radiation cleaned up and the Cult of Iron Will stopped fucking with us,” Gluttony said. His voice boomed off everything in the room.

“Stable 180,” I said. “Somepony is there. It's been reopened somehow.”

“What? But I thought we...” Danish said. “We blew that place to kingdom come!”

“Yes. Diamond Night set the self-destruct sequence,” Violet said, grimacing. “We suspect whoever is there must have been digging for the entrance. They knew it was there.”

“Our orders are to recruit both of you to come with us to Stable 180 and ascertain the situation,” I said. “The leadership of the Followers, and I as well, believe that your connection to that place will help us complete this mission.”

Gluttony lifted a hoof and pondered for a moment. He finally nodded. “Okay. We'll do it. Danish, get your shit together and let Lilith know we're gonna be out,” he said.

Danish nodded and trotted out of the room. I looked back to Gluttony.

“Thank you,” I said. “You know as well as I do what would happen if somepony were to find those statues.”

“I do,” Gluttony said. “Which is why I agreed to this in the first place.”

Danish reappeared in the room, this time carrying some saddlebags. “We're good. Let's get out of here.”

Gluttony grinned as he rolled off the storage containers. His fat jiggled, every step shaking the room. I watched as Danish trotted over to the back wall and pressed another button, opening a massive door that led outside.

“Come on then, Ministry Mare! Let's be off,” Gluttony roared. His voice was as big as the rest of him, and I shook my head as my ears flicked back in self-defense. Some things never changed.

“Right behind you.”

* * *

Chicacolt had become many things since the Gardens megaspell eradicated the radiation, but a real functioning city wasn't one of them. Not yet at least. This was still evident as we plodded silently towards the center of the city. Every so often we'd catch glimpses of scavengers, poring through the ruins of abandoned buildings, likely looking for food or something to trade. The truth was, even with things getting greener and better by the day, the Wasteland wasn't ready to throw in the towel just yet.

Our journey towards the center of the city wasn't a long one however. Theater's proximity to Filly's Tower made the journey relatively short. I spent the time on the way there thinking about what had happened at Stable 180. It was there that I'd truly met Diamond Night, an alicorn who was host to a spirit of Nightmare that had been possessing her, as the result of a set of statues that held her essence. Diamond had used them to create herself as Pride, and the others that shared her peculiar condition.

While we walked, Violet made idle chat with Danish. I tried to listen, only picking up small parts of what they were talking about. Patch was still in the infirmary, it seemed, the result of the poison bringing forth a heart condition the mare had from a younger age. I grimaced at that, having wish I'd have known a long time ago. I shrugged off those feelings however, as I knew it wouldn't have mattered. Patch would have still come on her journey with us even if I had known about it. She was too strong-willed.

Consequently, my god-children had been tasked with saving her. I smiled at hearing that. The two youngsters were coming into their own. I said a silent prayer to Celestia that they would find their way in their own journey, as I had in mine.

Filly's Tower arose before us, the flattened section of land that indicated the radius of the suppression megaspell the Tower controlled rolling out under our hooves. I took a hesitant step deeper in, but nothing happened. The Minotaur, the radio personality and AI program that ran the Tower, was either not functioning or he was watching and knew it was us. I couldn't tell which.

“So if somepony was here, how did they get past the suppression spell?” Violet said. “Wouldn't the Minotaur have used it?”

“That is a good question,” Gluttony said. “Do you think they approached from underground, like you did?”

“Those tunnels should have collapsed during our escape,” I said, narrowing my gaze at the massive earth pony. “Unless we're dealing with hellhounds or something. Can you see anything from up there?”

Gluttony lifted a hoof and scowled. “Nothing. We're gonna have to get closer to the building.”

I grimaced, but nodded. I set my eyes forward, focusing on the Tower. The base of it had seen better days for sure, having been sitting vacant ever since we had left all those years ago. What worried me is that there wasn't any signs of life, or any indication that the area had been disturbed. Was the information the Followers had received wrong? I wasn't certain where they had found this out from.

The closer we got to the base of the Tower, it became more apparent that there was nopony around. I pushed over a bit of rubble with my magic and sighed.

“Nothing,” I said. “Not even a radroach. Something's not right here.”

“I'm not getting anything on my E.F.S.,” Violet said. “Nothing except you three, at least.”

“Are you sure that someone was supposed to be out here?” Gluttony asked.

I scratched my head with my hoof, thinking hard. “I mean, yeah. There was supposed to be someone here. I wonder if they've already left, but this place looks like it hasn't been touched in ages.”

“We should check the Stable,” Danish said. “Make sure it's still buried.”

I nodded. I started towards the entrance to the base of the Tower and yanked hard with my magic. The door pulled away easily, easier than it had last time. A small amount of rubble blocking our way, and I swept it away with a burst of telekinesis. The lobby was fairly bare except for the debris surrounding the broken elevator shaft at the far end. I glanced back at the others.

“Can you get in?” I asked Gluttony.

“I can try,” the massive stallion said as he approached the side of the building. “Ponies built this shit to last, that's for sure.”

Gluttony growled and pushed his way through the busted and broken window frame until his corpulence attempted to fill into the lobby. Partway through he heaved a sigh and began to back up with a grunt. “Yeah, this isn't gonna work. I'm gonna have to stick outside, keep a lookout.”

“Alright then. Danish, Violet, on me. Gluttony, if anything comes out and it's not us, detain it,” I said, starting forward towards the broken elevator shaft.

The shaft was mostly filled with pieces of metal, cross beams, and stonework that had been ripped off when the Stable had blown. Sparks of electricity jumped off the cabling laying strewn to the side. I peeked my head out over the hole in the foundation. The shaft went all the way down to the Stable, but even with the smattering of emergency lights here and there, I couldn't see much.

Then something moved. A shadow of something. It was deep down, but there was something there. My eyes widened as I pulled up my Eyes-Forward-Sparkle. There was something showing up, but it was faint, and it was red.

“There's something down there,” I said. “Did you see that?”

“It's pretty dark, think it was just a radroach?” Violet said.

I grimaced. “Do we want to take that chance? You and I both know what's down there.”

“Fair point,” Violet replied. “How are we gonna get down there?”

“Brought some rope,” Danish interjected. “Tie it down to something and climb down.”

“That's going to have to work. I can't teleport us and risk not being able to see where I'm going. Danish, tie that down on that pylon over there,” I said, pointing at a nearby support pylon.

Danish went over and his horn lit, pulling the rope out and tying it around the pylon. When he was sufficiently sure it was taut, he pulled the rest of it over to us. I gripped it with my magic and tied it around us.

“Gluttony, we're going down to investigate,” I called out. “Hold things down here.”

“Don't be long, Ministry Mare,” Gluttony replied. “I've got a bad feeling about being here.”

I nodded and looked to Violet. She nodded in return.

“Let's get going then,” I said.

I reached out with my magic and carefully started moving rubble and debris away from the hole. I dropped down to the first outcropping of metal and rock, taking a length of rope with me. The emergency lights still illuminated the shaft, but they weren't doing such a great job of it. I could barely see the next platform down as I lowered myself. I felt weight above as Violet and Danish followed me down. The metal groaned as I landed. Nopony had been down this way in years, but it was the only way I could think of to get down to the Stable. The underground passages we'd used had likely collapsed, and the only above ground passage was likely covered up as well.

Somepony however, was down there. What did they want? Were they there for the statues? I had to know. The statues were what had made Diamond Night into Pride, and had been a large part of why I stayed near Chicacolt all these years. The power locked inside of those things was not for anypony to have.

I lowered down to the next outcropping, feeling the rope start to tighten. I grimaced. We were running out of rope too quickly and we were still only halfway down to the bottom.

“I don't know if we have enough rope,” I said softly to the two ponies above me.

“What do we do?” Violet replied.

“Drop down to me and untie yourselves. I'm going to have to carry you two the rest of the way down,” I said.

“What about getting back up?” Danish pointed out.

I grimaced. “Going to have to improvise there.”

I felt the rope twinge as both Violet and Danish dropped down onto the outcropping next to me. The metal groaned heavily under our combined weight. I reached out and picked up the other two with my telekinesis, but it was too late. The metal gave way beneath my hooves and I started slipping. A cacophony of sound erupted as the girder dropped the rest of the way, clanging and banging its way down the shaft. I grunted as I clung to the limited space around me, using the length of my body to hold onto the wall. Violet and Danish hovered next to me.

“Star! Are you alright?” Violet said.

“Yeah, but I can't hold this for much longer,” I said. “We need to move, now.”

The groaning above me told me I didn't have any time to explain. The shaft shuddered as pieces of metal and debris came raining down on our heads. I started to try and shuffle my way down the shaft, but avoiding the debris was too much. I lost my grip and yelped as a rock struck my horn, cutting free my magic.

“Star!” I heard Violet shout as she dropped out of the air next to me.

I dropped as well, trying to access my magic through the stabbing pain in my forehead. I needed some way to slow our fall, or at the very least make the impact less damaging. I reached out and extended a shield spell around myself and the other two, hoping it would do the trick. There weren't any other outcroppings to drop onto, just the rest of the shaft. I closed my eyes and hoped for the best as we hit rock-bottom.

* * *

My eyes fluttered open. What happened? I thought. Did I lose consciousness? I groaned, pushing myself to a sitting position and coming face to face with a pair of red eyes. A ghoul stood inches away from me, glaring but not moving. I couldn't tell if it was feral or not. My eyes twitched to the side. Violet and Danish were nowhere to be seen.

The ghoul let out a low growl. It didn't seem to want to talk, so I had to assume it was feral. What was it even doing here? I had assumed that any ghoul wouldn't have survived without a constant source of radiation, and that had been cleared up by Gardens, right?

“Uh... hello?” I said.

The ghoul only growled in response, before poising itself to leap forward. I shuffled backwards as fast as I could as the creature jumped, landing on the cold concrete with its face. I lit my horn and grabbed a rock with my telekinesis, bringing it down as hard as I could. Blood splattered on the ground and the ghoul stopped moving. I stood, shakily but stable.

I looked around, noting that I was in the same room as the elevator shaft dead-ended into. Where are Violet and Danish then? I pondered. I lit my horn, casting the area in a soft purple light.

“Violet? Danish?” I called out. No response. “Great. How long was I out? Two days?”

Still no response. Just silence. I grimaced. At this point, I'd take the ghoul's company over this. I turned around and took stock of the rest of the room. The elevator shaft appeared to have caved in on itself, so likely there was no way I was getting out that way. A quick perusal of my E.F.S. verified at the very least that Violet and Danish weren't underneath all that somehow.

I brought up the tag functionality on my PipBuck and put in Violet's PipBuck tag. It beeped softly as an indicator came up, pointing in the opposite direction than the shaft. I breathed a sigh of relief. That had to mean that Violet was at least alright.

The rest of the area was just as I'd remembered the Stable. Drab and gray. Rubble littered the ground. Several of the hallways leading out of the room were collapsed in. Only one of them was free and clear. I stepped towards it, having nowhere else to go. As I made my way through the hallway, the lighting flickered on and off. After all these years, the power running the Stable had stayed on, even during the self-destruct sequence. I grimaced, wondering if the self-destruct ever actually occurred. Diamond had activated it, but had it worked? Had the Nightmare spirit stopped it? I wasn't sure.

The hallway ended in another long hallway with a sign that pointed me to the Reactor room or to Medical. I turned the corner towards Medical where Violet's tag was pointed and saw them. More feral ghouls. Three of them loitered in the hallway, rasping and sucking the air around them. They shuffled back and forth like they hadn't seen me yet. How had I not seen them on my E.F.S.? Because you weren't paying attention. Like old times, I thought to myself.

I reached inside with my magic and formed it into a shining blade of shimmering amethyst. I compressed deeper and the blade fragmented into several shards. It was an art I'd learned along my journey, one that I'd managed to perfect over the long years. Bladecasting was my weapon of choice these days, an elegant method for a more refined age, but still brutally deadly.

I growled, sending the shards out individually. Each one sunk into the back of a ghoul's head, taking them to the ground with practiced ease. I yanked them out and reformed the blade and stepped over the two bodies. I moved forward more cautiously as a few more red blips appeared on my E.F.S. I couldn't tell how this many ghouls had survived the explosion. It worried me more than anything.

As I got closer to the Medical facility, I noticed one of the red blips disappear. It was replaced by two blue blips. I turned the corner and stepped into chaos. Several large feral ghouls were growling and pawing at a makeshift barricade of tables, chairs, stretchers. A beam rifle shooting silver fire lifted from behind it, incinerating one of the monsters. I stepped into the fray myself, dispersing my blade's shards and making quick work of the rest of them.

“Star! You're okay!” I heard Violet shout over the barricade. She pushed a piece aside, revealing herself and Danish behind it.

“What happened to you guys?” I said.

“Don't know,” Danish said. “Woke up here like this, you were gone. Then these ghouls just came in and got the jump on us.”

“I woke up outside of the elevator shaft,” I said. “Strange. I wonder who separated us.”

“All these ghouls... you don't think...” Violet started to say. “You don't think it's Sloth, do you?”

I grimaced at that thought. I was never truly certain whether Cranky had perished here or not. I had sworn to myself that I'd seen him on my way out of the city when I left Chicacolt the first time, but could he be the one doing this?

“Cranky would be the only one with the knowledge of where this place is,” I said. “But why?”

“Maybe he never got Matilda free?” Violet offered.

“Maybe... I don't know. This doesn't feel like him. This feels more random, like an animal. Why split us up to attack us individually?” I said.

“I don't think we need to worry about that,” Danish said, pointing past us. “Whoever it is, they're making their move.”

I cocked my head towards the entrance to the Medical bay. Three more ghouls, these ones much larger than the ones we'd killed already, lumbered inside. As soon as they saw us they went wild, rasping and howling as they charged the barricade. One of them punched right through the makeshift wall, sending several stretchers soaring across the room.

“Oh no you don't,” I said, releasing my magic. Three shards from my blade embedded in the creature's skull, dropping it to the ground.

“We can't stay here,” Violet replied as she lifted Thunder Flash into the air and fired. The blaze of silver fire melted one of the remaining ghoul's heads.

“I agree with Violet,” Danish chimed in. “We gotta get moving.”

“Head towards the security center and the Overmare's office. We should be able to find the stairs to go down, hopefully they're still standing,” I said. I stepped out from behind the barricade and sent all of my shards at the final ghoul. It didn't stand a chance.

We made our way back into the hall outside the Medical bay. A quick scan of an old map on the wall showed us the way down to the Overmare's office. I remembered it like it was yesterday, going down to the chambers below it, fighting Pride. Releasing Diamond from Nightmare's grasp. All the memories came flooding back as we walked.

No more ghouls arose to challenge us as we finally came in view of the office. The sign above it was still lit, showing that this is where the Overmare worked. The door sat open, cold and quiet. I walked inside, grimacing. The wall at the far end of the room was receded inward, revealing the secret entrance to head downwards. Whether it had sat open all this time, I didn't know.

“We have to go down,” I said. “Find the statues. Secure them. Bury them. Whatever it takes.”

“I sure hope the boss is doing alright,” Danish muttered.

“Gluttony can take care of himself, Danish,” I said as I stepped out onto the spiral staircase leading down. “We'll get back up to him, don't worry.”

Danish nodded mutely. I turned and started down the stairs, Violet on the right of me and Danish on my left. As we walked, I could feel the air getting thicker. Something was down here. I could feel it. The deeper we descended the worse it got. By the time we arrived at the bottom, I felt nearly nauseous.

“Something's just not right about this,” I said. “Do you guys feel it?”

The others nodded. I figured as much. This feeling had to be magical in nature. What in the heck is causing it? I thought.

“Let's keep going. Be cautious,” I said.

I moved forward, heading towards the sanctum where we'd fought Pride. I couldn't believe it was still intact. Had something actually gone wrong when Diamond triggered the self-destruct? It was the only thing that made sense. I kept moving, faster until we reached the sanctum.

I stepped out onto the cold stonework and my eyes widened. Standing out in the middle of the sanctum was two forms. Smoldering red eyes stared each other down. One of the forms hissed and snapped, growling. The other form glanced back at us. Rough skin sloughed off its body, showing bone and sinew.

“Cranky,: I said.

“Kid,” the form said. “What are you doing here?”

“We received a report that the Stable had been accessed,” Violet said.

“You're alive,” I stated. My eyes drifted to the other form standing across the sanctum. In the dark light, I recognized her.

Her skin sloughed off much like Cranky's, except for the fact that it was patchy and rough. Drool poured from her mouth. Her eyes blazed red, and she pulled hard at the chains holding her down. She growled and snapped, jaw gnashing loudly.

“Matilda,” I said. “What... what happened to her?”

“She's going feral,” Cranky said. “Her mind... it's slipping.”

“Is that why you came back here?” Violet asked.

Cranky nodded slowly. “When we left the Stable, everything seemed fine. Matilda... she seemed fine... but then things... things changed. She started repeating certain actions. I brought her back here to try and find... find a cure.”

“A cure? There hasn't been such a thing since all the radiation disappeared,” Violet said.

“Yes. I know. I... I didn't know what to do,” Cranky said, his voice grating.

“You could have asked for help,” I said, taking a step forward. “But we have bigger problems than Matilda. Why is this place still standing? Diamond destroyed it, remember?”

Cranky grimaced. “I don't know. Matilda was lucid enough for me to lead her down here. I didn't have anywhere else to go, and I thought that maybe something in the rubble might help jog her memory, keep her around.”

“But the place was untouched,” I said. “There's something wrong. I can feel it down here. Can't you?”

“Yeah, something is super fucked up. Even I can feel it,” Danish added. “And usually, I feel jack shit.”

“Danish is right. We have to go back up. Seal this place off,” I said, reaching out to Cranky.

“And what am I supposed to do? Leave Matilda here? She's my wife! I can't... she can't...” Cranky sputtered. “I can't leave her.”

“Cranky, you and I both know that Matilda, the Matilda you loved, is gone. There is no cure for ghoulism, let alone feralism in ghouls. All you're doing is punishing yourself by making her exist,” I said. “You can't help her.”

“I have to believe that I can!” Cranky shouted. “She's safe here! We're safe here! I'm going to find a cure!”

“Oh, you're not safe here,” a smooth voice said from across the room.

Alarms went off in my head as I arched my head to gaze past Cranky. Matilda had gone still, a strange aura emanating from her body. Her eyes opened and instead of the piercing red that I'd seen before, they were instead a cold blue.

“M-M-Matilda?” Cranky said.

“Not quite,” the voice said with Matilda's mouth. Her body twitched, almost like it was a puppet. “This body is in horrid shape, but it will have to do until I can escape from this wretched place.”

Matilda's body lurched forward, snapping the chains holding it to the ground with ease. I watched in horror as a pair of ethereal blue wings unfolded from each side of her body. Matilda’s form stretched lazily, and she blinked her blue eyes at me.

“Nightmare,” I said.

“Oh, you remember me, do you? I remember you. You were purple then,” Matilda said. “You were different. Clumsy, foolish. Foolish enough to believe that I could be beaten by your little friend Diamond.”

“Matilda... it's me, Cranky! Can you hear me!” Crank shouted, taking a step towards his once love.

“Cranky, no!” I called out, but it was too late.

` He didn't have a chance. Matilda growled, reaching out with a hoof that connected with Cranky's face, sending the ghoulish donkey soaring through the air into the far wall. He slumped over, his smoldering red eyes locked on Matilda.

“Violet, you and Danish get Cranky out of here,” I said. “And see if you can't hack the computer system, get the self-destruct online for real. If I can't defeat her, we'll have to contain her.”

Violet nodded. “What about you?”

“I'll be fine,” I said as my magic formed my blade in the air next to me. “I'm not going to let her out of this place.”

“Bold words,” Matilda's form said. “You really think you can beat me?”

“Honey, I took on both Twilight Sparkle and the very Spark of Magic,” I boasted. “You'd better believe me when I say that you're a walk in the park compared to those two.”

“I will kill you for your insolence,” Matilda spat. “And then use your body for my glorious return!”

“I'd like to see you try,” I said, flourishing my blade. I glanced back at Violet. “Go on, get Cranky out of here now! I'll message you when I need you!”

Violet hesitated for a second, but she knew when I was being serious. Nearly fifteen years of being together had meant she knew that I could handle it. She nodded and motioned to Danish who merely gave me a tip of his hat. They both made their way over to where Cranky sat, glaring at Matilda.

“No!” Cranky shouted. “Matilda's still in there! I can't leave her!”

“That's not Matilda in there,” I said forcefully. “Cranky, you're too close to this. You need to go! I can't let her get out of this place.”

Cranky glared hard at me before he allowed Violet and Danish to pull him away. I knew that he was going to resent me for this, but there wasn't any other way. They scrambled towards the entrance, disappearing from my view. I turned back to the matter at hoof.

“How astute of you,” Matilda said. “You're right about one thing. I'm not Matilda. The poor thing, her mind is fractured, so close to becoming nothing more than a pathetic animal.”

“Let her go,” I said.

“You're in no position to be making demands, Ministry Mare,” Matilda said. Her glowing blue eyes narrowed at me.

“Maybe not, but I have to try,” I said. “I can't let you get free of here. The world does not need another psycho power hungry alicorn Goddess running around.”

“Oh, you thought I meant to escape in this body? Hah,” Matilda said. “Unfortunately, this body will not do for me. If I had wanted to escape, I'd have done so already. No... I waited for you, Ministry Mare.”

My gaze narrowed at the other mare and I grimaced. “I see,” I said. “You know... you're not the first power hungry bitch that's tried to take my body. The other two failed as well, and so will you.”

“We'll see about that,” Matilda said as a blue glow formed at the base of her brow. An ethereal horn sprung forth from it, sending a wave of magic at the ceiling above me. A large chunk of rock ripped out of the ceiling and flew through the air towards me.

I grinned and casually moved to the side, letting the boulder strike the ground next to me. “Is that the best that you got? My grandmother moves faster than you do,” I teased.

Matilda... no... Nightmare, roared. She fired another blast of magic at me, meaning to strike me dead on. I reached deep inside and called forth my own magic, erecting a shield that deflected the bolt away. I lifted my blade into the air and charged forward.

“I can see that you won't be reasoned with!” I shouted. “Going to have to do this the hard way!”

I swung my blade around, landing dead center into a shield of Nightmare's own. The mare wearing Matilda's skin jumped back with preternatural ease, using her ethereal wings to get a boost. She fired another bolt of dark magic. I slapped it away with my blade, dispersing it harmlessly into the ground. I had to end this soon. I couldn't let Nightmare escape, let alone get into my body. I had to stop her, even if it meant... Matilda... I wasn't sure if I could face Cranky if I had to...

No, I thought. I cannot think like that any longer. I must do what is required of me, because the ponies of the Wasteland, neigh, of Equestria are counting on me.

“I can see that you are conflicted, Ministry Mare,” Nightmare crooned. “You know his body I am inhabiting. The wife of the ghoul.”

“Not personally, no. But I am a friend to Cranky,” I said stiffly. “Leave her be, and we will end this swiftly. Otherwise, you will pay the price for desecrating her body in such a fashion.”

“And what would your friend think of you, if you killed his love? Destroyed her body to get to me?” Nightmare asked.

“I would tell him that I did what I had to do, because that is what I must do,” I said stoically. “I am a defender of Equestria, of its ideals. I will not allow you to harm the ponies in the Wasteland.”

“The Wasteland? The Wasteland doesn't care about your ideals, or about even itself. I have seen the heart of this Wasteland, Ministry Mare. It is full of pain and loathing and hate,” Nightmare spat. “You defend those that would easily turn against you. They already have. They don't need you anymore.”

I grimaced. “You're wrong. They still need someone to stand up to tyrants like you, ponies who are willing to stay strong and fight the good fight. Because I cannot allow a creature like you to take control. Even if it means my life, I will not rest until a threat to my world, to my friends, is stopped.”

“Foolish mare. I have seen the darkness inside the hearts of ponies. They destroyed their own world out of fear and hatred for those who were considered different,” Nightmare said. “I watched as it happened, and nothing has changed since!”

“Yeah, yeah. We got it, you're old,” I teased. “Are we going to fight or spend this entire time jabbing at each other about our morals?”

Nightmare snarled. “I'll kill you for that.”

“Would like to see you try,” I said confidently.

Nightmare lunged forward, using her ethereal wings to propel herself at me. I stepped to the side and slashed out with my blade. I connected along the ghoul's shoulder, sending her back to the ground. She roared and lit her horn, sending a wave of blackened energy at me.

I held my ground in the face of the wave and lit my own horn. A shimmering bubble of energy popped up around me, dissipating the black magic quickly.

“You cannot defeat me, Nightmare,” I said confidently. “I have had many years to practice.”

“Oh, I don't need to defeat you outright,” Nightmare crooned. “I just need to tire you out.”

I grimaced. She was right about that. I wasn't a limitless font of energy. At some point, I was going to drop from magical driven exhaustion. I needed to find a way to end this. Nightmare was possessing Matilda, but how? It must have had something to do with Matilda's feral nature. Nightmare was able to gain a foothold because Matilda's mind was failing. Can I use that against her? I thought to myself. If I can just... get to Matilda, somehow.

I thought back to the last time I was here. I'd used a memory spell to access Pride's mind. Could I do the same with Matilda? I had to try. I lunged forward, using my wings to propel myself along. I kept my blade shards spread out, using them to hopefully distract Nightmare. She tried to retaliate by firing another blast of magic. I reached out with my hooves and slammed into her hard before she could release the spell. I held her down and reached down with my head and connected my horn to her own ethereal one before she could do more than shriek in fury.

Here goes... I thought as the world around me fell into nothingness.

* * *

I looked about. The darkness swirled around me. Did it work? Did I get in? I thought. I couldn't see anything.

“Hello?” I called out. “Is anyone out there?”

I grimaced. Great, you went and got yourself stuck, I thought. I was fairly sure I'd performed the spell correctly. I moved forward, stepping through sticky black ink that pooled below my hooves. Was this Matilda's mind? Was this all that was left? I kept going, hoping to run into something that would help me ascertain exactly what was going on. I wasn't even sure if I was going in the right direction or not, if there were even directions here in the first place.

“Hello?” I shouted again. No answer.

I squinted, trying to peer through the murky blackness. There had to be something here! My eyes widened as they focused on a light in the distance. I started moving towards it, in hopes that something would be there. As I got closer, I realized the light was coming from a house. A small shack, very quaint and out of the way. The garden surrounding it only went so far, dissipating into the black.

A pony... no something else... a donkey? Yes... it was a donkey. A donkey stood in the middle of the garden tending the crops. I approached cautiously.

“Hello, dear,” the donkey said. She didn't even turn to look at me. How could she have...?

“Hello,” I replied. “Are you...?”

The donkey turned to regard me. “Matilda Doodle Donkey, at your pleasure,” she said with a smile. “You must be Radiant Star. Cranky has told me much about you.”

“Matilda? What's going on here? What is this place?” I said.

“All that's left, I'm afraid,” Matilda said softly. “Long time coming. The stasis pod that held me wasn't perfect. It had held my skin intact until Cranky was able to free me, but the radiation had already done its work on the inside. I became a ghoul, which is how I was able to survive so long.”

“Go on,” I said.

“It wasn't long until after Cranky pulled me out of that pod that I began to notice that my body was beginning to become more like his. Rough skin, lost hair. I lost my entire youth within the span of a year. And then my mind started to go. I would forget things... little things at first, but more and more base instinct would take over,” Matilda explained.

“You were going feral,” I said simply. “Then how are you here?”

“This is the one thing I always remembered. My house with Cranky. We were so happy here. We were actually married in Ponyville,” she said. “I loved him so.”

I grimaced. “Matilda. Something down here in this Stable has taken control of your body. A powerful force known as Nightmare. She's using you to try and steal my body.”

“I know. There wasn't much I could do about her from here. The blackness you see is the blankness of my mind, the pieces that represent the feral part of me,” Matilda said. “She came in swiftly when we arrived, festering and waiting. I suppose it makes sense that she waited for you.”

“I... I don't know how to beat her without...” I started to say. “I mean... I can't do that to Cranky...”

Matilda smiled softly. “You must. Pretty soon, even I won't remember this little piece of heaven. I won't remember anything. Cranky understands. He may not talk to you for some time, but he understands. I can't help you beat her, Star, but I can give you my blessing on what you must do.”

“I can't... I can't kill you!” I exclaimed, tears filling my eyes. “Cranky worked so hard to find you, to help you. He wants to cure you. What if it's possible? What if we could cure your feralism?”

“Look around us,” Matilda said. “This is what happens when you go feral. This murky blackness. It takes over. It isn’t something gone wrong, Radiant Star, it’s just something gone. There is no cure, and I don't want for Cranky's last memory of me to be of this. I want him to remember this place, our marriage, our love. Not this.”

I sighed, closing my eyes. “I'm sorry that this had to happen to you,” I said finally after several long moments.

“Don't be. After Cranky freed me, I was able to see what my world had become. Ponies, donkeys, griffons, minotaur, zebra... they're all working together to make Equestria a better place to live. There is hope again. More hope than I ever felt throughout the entirety of the War,” Matilda said. “Ponies like you do that. You give others hope. You inspire them.”

I grimaced. “I wouldn't exactly say that. Nightmare was right about one thing... the ponies of the Wasteland... they don't need me so much anymore.”

“And yet, you continue to fight,” Matilda said. “You know no other life. Someday, you may be able to acquire peace, but for now, you fight because you have to. You fight for what is right because it is necessary. You fight for hope. And now you must do so again.”

“Alright,” I said with a nod. “I guess I'll be going then.”

“Thank you,” Matilda said. “When you see Cranky... tell him I loved him.”

I nodded again and closed my eyes. With tears streaming, my horn flared and the memory spell cut off.

* * *

I jumped back as my eyes opened, narrowly missing a bolt of black magic that seared past my head. I flared my wings and lifted up my shield, deflecting two more bolts. Nightmare roared, stomping her hooves.

“That spell! You used that on me the last time I faced you! What have you done?!” she snarled.

I stopped, remembering what Matilda had told me. I had to be strong. I had to do what I had to do. I couldn't allow Nightmare out into the Wasteland. She was a threat to the world, even if the world didn't even know if she existed. I took a deep breath, and without even responding to her question, I moved.

Like I had practiced many years before, I fell into the comfortable rhythm of bladecasting. My blade swerved around me like the wind. I put my emotions beside myself as I connected with my first attack. Nightmare's body went soaring across the sanctum where she landed on the ground with a *plop*. She grunted as she pushed herself to her hooves.

“What are you doing?! Something's different,” she said angrily. “You'll kill this body, this friend of yours. Your only recourse is to stand down!”

“I know,” I said solemnly as I reformed my blade. I knew. I knew what I was doing. I knew why I was doing it. It didn't make it any easier. I charged forward, bringing every attack that I could at her. Magical energy filled the air as she retaliated in kind. There was no more talk to be had, there was only the fight.

I focused on my blade, separating it into several shards. Each one gleamed in the light. I had to end this soon. I had to make this my final attack. I didn't have much time. Violet would be working on blowing this place to kingdom come, and I needed to not be inside when she did. Even if I was... I'd take it. I'd do whatever I had to do to defeat this thing, not for the Wasteland who didn't care if I saved them or not, but for myself, and for Cranky and Matilda.

“You're wearing yourself thin, Ministry Mare!” Nightmare crowed. “You won't be able to last too much longer!”

“Neither will you,” I said, lunging forward. Each point of my blade scattered. This had to count. I brought them all forward in one single attack, each one striking a different part of Nightmare's stolen form.

She didn't have a chance. Rotten blood spurted from every hole I'd made. I coughed as the smell assaulted my senses. Nightmare's ethereal wings and horn dissipated, leaving only Matilda's still and unmoving body. A blue mist erupted from it, halting in the air.

“Hahaha! You fool! You won't be able to resist my power now!” Nightmare's disembodied voice shouted. “Prepare to accept your new life, Radiant Star!”

I grinned as the mist tried to move towards me. I reached out with my magic and just slapped, halting it cold.

“What? What is this?” the mist said as something yanked on it hard, pulling back towards the exit at the back of the sanctum.

“Without a spell to anchor your form, your magic will revert back to the last thing it had attached to... the statues,” I said as I followed along. I knew what waited back there, and I didn't want to see it, but I knew I had to. I needed to see this through.

“How? How did you do this? You... you killed your friend! Just to... to stop me!” the mist said as it struggled to escape the pull.

“I know,” I said, holding back the tears. I still wasn't sure how I was going to face Cranky. I made my way calmly next to the struggling mist until we arrived at the rear of the tunnel. I stopped cold. A set of clean, picked apart bones that once belonged to an alicorn named Diamond Night sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by several statues, each one a different species.

The mist struggled hard as its essence depleted into the seven statues. I grimaced.

“Diamond,” I spoke. “I'm sorry that this ended this way. But it's over now. She won't ever harm anypony ever again.”

“That's what you think!” the mist shouted. “I will get free! I will have my revenge on this world, on you!”

“Enough,” I said. I lifted my PipBuck. “Violet, what's our status?”

“I've just about got all the charges planted and we're nearly ready to go,” Violet's voice said from my earbloom. “We've identified a way out, thanks to Cranky.”

“Excellent, I'm on my way,” I said simply. I didn't wait for her to reply. I turned and started walking back towards the sanctum.

“I'll end you, Radiant Star!” I heard Nightmare squeak as the last of the mist disappeared into the statues. I grimaced and kept walking.

* * *

“Star! You're alright!” Violet shouted as I trotted out of the underground entrance to the Stable. “Matilda?”

I glanced past Violet and Danish at Cranky. I still wasn't sure what I was supposed to say. Instead, I said nothing and merely shook my head. He looked past me, seeing her still form. I didn't have the heart to leave it.

“No,” Cranky said, his red eyes flaring. “No! It can't be!”

“I... I'm sorry,” I said softly. “I had to. Nightmare posed a serious threat to the world. I wish...”

“Shut up,” Cranky said. “You could have saved her! She needed to be cured! Not killed!”

“Cranky... I...” I started to say, tears forming in my eyes. “I... I talked to her. She told me... she told me to tell you that she loved you, and that she would never forget your house... your wedding. She wanted me to do it. She wanted peace, for both of you.”

Cranky growled under his breath as he turned away. Exactly like Matilda said. “Don't look for me. Don't even think about it. I don't want to see you ever again, Radiant Star. You took her from me.”

“Cranky...” I said.

It was too late. He was gone, and so was Matilda. He'd taken her with him. I turned to Violet and buried my head in her shoulder, crying hard.

“Star? It's alright. You did what you had to do,” she said.

“I... I know,” I said pulling away. “But... Matilda told me that I was supposed to inspire ponies, to give people hope. I didn't give him hope, Vi. All I did was give him suffering and despair.”

“Sweetie,” Violet said. “Sometimes, the path to hope is paved with suffering and despair. It's the light at the end of the tunnel that drives us to it, no matter how dark the tunnel is.”

I cleared my tears and nodded. Violet was right, of course. She was always right about the philosophical stuff. I looked down the tunnel and grimaced. Matilda was right about one thing. Cranky would be angry with me for quite some time, but I had hope that someday he would come back around and understand, as I had. It still hurt a lot, but I had learned a valuable lesson. A lesson on sacrifice, and the value of hope.

“You alright?” Danish said. I nodded in reply. “Boss is waiting for us. I was able to get through to him on Violet's PipBuck.”

I looked down at Violet expectantly. “Violet. Blow the charges and let's get out of here. We've got more work ahead of us,” I said.

“What kind of work?” Violet asked as she pressed the button.

I grimaced and turned, hearing the thunderous roar of explosions going off below us. I watched as the tunnel shook for several long moments before going still. Matilda had made a very good point. No matter what, even if they didn't even know that I was helping them, even if they didn't want my help, I had to. I had to, not for their sake, but because it was the right thing to do. I wasn't really a hero, and truth be told, I wasn't a cause for them to look up to. I was just a pony, willing to fight the Good Fight.

“We've got ponies to help, people to save,” I said as I cleared my tears. “Nothing greater than that.”

Author's Note:

This took me FOREVER.  I really blame Star, I really do.  This was my February one-shot and it's March.  So yeah.  But it was a lot of fun to revisit Star and see how she's grown since the end of Starlight, and how she's not grown in some regards.

Super huge thanks to my Patrons on Patreon!  You guys, what of you that exist, rock hard.  Also major huge thanks to Wirepony, Heartshine, and McMesser.  You guys are the core support, and I’m so glad we’re friends.

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