• Published 20th Nov 2013
  • 2,214 Views, 33 Comments

FoE: Snippet Story - Windrunner

Set at various points in the Fallout: Equestria universe. Each chapter is intended to be a unique story unto itself. So many references, both ludicrously obscure and blatantly obvious. Even the title. No, not that. You will never figure them all out.

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She ran through the day. The horrible sight she'd witnessed behind her driving her onwards. It played at her mind. What could she have done? Should she have turned and fought? Never having had any experience in a real fight she probably would have lost. Lost against the awful ponies that ruined her life. Running and running. Don't look back. She thought that horrible monster thing before was the most terrible thing ever, but these first few terrifying hours running were the worst thing she ever experienced. Fleeing from her home by herself. Hoping never to see the crazed murderous pony again who so coldly ended her parents lives. For what? Why were her parents dead? Alone she ran and ran. Eventually fatigue overtook her.

That night in her dread she did not even remove herself from Moonlight. She felt secure in here. This confining space she was so afraid of when she first saw it was now her haven. It would keep her safe. Safe from the horror. Safe from the terrifying evil inflicted on her family. Safe from the pain. She fell asleep leaning against the remains of an ancient dead tree in the middle of this nothingness. She was so tired. The suit would protect her. The only sure thing in a world that betrayed her young heart and left her with nothing but fear. A night passed.

"I never did anything wrong. It's not fair. It's just not fair!" She kicked the ground with an armored hoof, nearly tripping herself in the process.

"Agh! Stupid horrible ponies. My dad didn't deserve that. Mom Didn't. They both made mistakes sure, but why did they have to kill anypony!?" This time she ran forward to work off pent up frustration with the cart rolling behind, its contents her only possessions. The thought the terrible ponies that attacked them might follow her tracks occurred to her so did her best to obscure them for a day or two just in case. After the rapid departure from home her only thought was escape. After those two days full of fear it did not at all seem possible for them to follow.

"Mom, dad.. what do I do!?" She moaned as she ran, slowing.

Returning to a normal pace she found her heart pumping too hard. "Just walk. Just walk that way. He said to do that. Just do that." On the third day into her unexpected trip she was already feeling desperately alone and dejected. There was nothing out here. Nothing at all. Certainly no other ponies. Time passed and days slipped by one after another.

"There's nothing out here, nothing! Did ponies really let this happen to everything everywhere? What happened?" The empty parched landscape seemed to roll out forever in front of her. For an eternity of loneliness and anguish she wandered through this emptiness, her thoughts tortured by the images of her father dying right in front of her.

Her mother she did not even get to say goodbye to. Minutes passed one by one, then hours which turned to day after lonely day. Not a hint of life could be seen here. She always thought the farm felt empty and lifeless compared to the tiny town she barely knew. That thought had been so wrong. Compared to this horrible loneliness the farm was positively bustling.

"Maybe I should have went to Far Side instead? I had to leave in such a hurry. Dad told me to go this way though." On she marched, passing mile after empty mile of absolutely nothing. The sheer hollowness of it all tore at her mind.

On the barren land rolled.

"How long have I been out here? I feel so lost. I feel so small." The mountain ranges far off to the north looked imposing, intimidating, and altogether lonely as she felt.

"This is surprisingly boring. Where are the all bad things, the danger mom and dad told me of in the world?" There was only emptiness. Once or twice she tried using the suits magic apparatus. It was still just as taxing and hurt her head badly to use it. She stopped counting the days as they passed. Moonlight kept track of time and distance anyway.

Another day passed, and another. In a blind haze she continued pressing on, always eastward. Days dragged, the hours, the minutes, the seconds. Time seemed to stand still as she trudged on, her only hope of reaching the distant destination to relentlessly do so as long as could be stood at a time. Could she possibly make it? Her thoughts were consumed with the fact her escape may have been pointless if she wound up dead out here anyway. Visions of her parents lifeless forms haunted every step.

"I can't do this, I can't. No, don't think about it. Just walk." Another day, another. Walking on and on.

It was so wearing on the mind doing the same thing all day, every day. Surviving this trek seemed impossible even with the supplies she dragged behind her in the small rickety cart.

"I'm not even halfway there yet. Maybe this was a bad idea, but I have to go somewhere right? Dad said it was there." It was so much further than she had ever been in her entire life. Where was everything? She knew the great cities of old were very far away, but was there truly nothing out this way at all? If at some time there was, not a single trace remained. As each day passed her spirits fell ever further. The sheer depressiveness of it all was devastating.

The world was so dreary. She did not realize just yet how much she was mumbling under her breath as she walked. If anypony were around to hear they would surely think she was crazed.

"I wish..I wish..." She did not finish this particular thought. Even wishing felt too hopeful at the moment. There was just so much distance to cover. Her father said she was in very good condition for the trip he had planned, but he was expecting to be with her. This was probably not the route he would have taken either. Knowing this was the case did not help now. In the sudden rush to escape there was no time to think and consider.

She'd simply done what her fathers last words to her said to do. The terrain here was mostly flat which let her keep a decent pace without much effort or planning. Here and there the slightest pile of dirt stirred up by the occasional wind lay scattered. It did little to break up the monotonously dull trip. After one week passed she was feeling pretty low and ragged. For a few days she'd been hopeful due to the apparently speedy progress she was making towards her goal, but this was drilling at her willpower. As yet another day passed she was growing very concerned. By the time nearly two weeks passed she was in a far more terrible state. Her parents were brutally murdered right in front of her for no reason she could fathom.

Since that moment she walked and did so some more. Thanks to this suit dubbed Moonlight she could continue to walk even in the dark without worry of stumbling into an unseen pitfall or unnoticed obstacle. Everything was highlighted in such a unique way. The visual of the world from within the suit was a welcome distraction. The length of her trek so far was interminable beyond compare. In the bottom right of her vision a constant 'no broadcast' flashed. For much of the time she simply went forward, east, trying not to think or feel. Forward to some distant unknown place her father bid her go with the last of his strength.

For much of her life she wanted adventure and excitement, but not like this. Not all alone. All that was really wanted right now were her parents whom she would never see or speak to again. She understood they were not her true parents, but never having known them could only hope they would have cared for her as much as her adoptive father and mother. For all she knew, her life may have been terrible with them. Her real father sounded like he was sincere when he begged the poor fleeing pegasus to take care of her, but he was a pony of the wastes. It may have been he merely wanted to make some act of his life worthwhile or have meaning. She never knew her parents names at all, not even her adoptive parents.

These facts began to dig at her. The suit made light work of pulling her cartful of supplies. A lot of food, less and less water. In comparison to the food, the water she was chugging through at a dangerous rate. Despite the armor having built-in protections against letting a pony inside overheat it was still hot. She would not abandon the suit as it was really her only possession now, and may be needed later. Sometimes she imagined it actually responding to things she said. It really did not and would only react as it was designed to, but in her current state of mind she needed something, anything to listen to her addled rantings about unfairness and any wild thing she would think to say.

When she spoke of where she was heading the suit displayed an arrow and distance. Huh? How did it know that? She could swear it was listening, even sympathetic, but that was surely impossible. She walked so far already and was beginning to fear her father gave wrong directions as he lay dying. It would not be his fault if he did, but she was becoming so very frightened of never seeing another living thing.

"I gotta be brave. I have to be tough. I always wanted to have an adventure. Daddy was brave and tough, mom was....I wanted...I want.. I want mom and dad!" She yelled, stopping to sob uncontrollably.

She truly let herself cry for the first time about what happened. She sat, clumsily slipping out of the suit as it opened and for what felt like forever, tears fell like searing rain as she rocked back and forth.

"How could you leave me all alone!? Dad, mom!...What am I doing?" She shuddered. She didn't know how much time passed. She didn't care. Until now she'd focused on the mundane. The normal. Walking, eating and sleeping to the exclusion of any other thought. The horrible reality suddenly settled in full force. She was after all not quite an adult yet, and utterly alone in the middle of nowhere. She imagined this was the real reason her father was preparing to take her on some impossible quest to find a book nopony could possibly have.

To help her learn how to make her way in the world on her own. He taught her so much in the short span they spent preparing, but some things cannot simply be taught. She could fight and strategize, she could shoot. Her father questioned her on the right solution to many scenarios. What she really did not know was how to interact with other ponies aside from the few in the town she barely knew, much less a griffon or anything else that might be out there. What would they be like? Would they like her? Would this favor he was owed be enough to make them help her? Was he really owed that much? If she ever reached wherever it was. If this griffon was still alive was another matter.

If they were dead or could not be located, then what? She didn't know what to do even if she did find them, much less what to do if she did not. If only they set out sooner at least one of her parents would still be alive. Now, she must try to learn quickly by herself. She looked up as her tears finally subsided and panted, not really feeling any better while awkwardly climbing back into the suit as a slow beeping she never heard before caught her ear.

"Huh?" Her attention was drawn to one of the floating display markers which appeared as the back closed. She'd become used to the floating dials and messages surprisingly quickly. This was different.

The marker twirling as she walked ahead, changing to an arrow pointing to the left along with a glowing 'Investigate' hovering beside it. No, not left. North, with a distance of 200 meters displayed.

"What is this?" As she turned northwards the arrow centered at the top of her vision, changing to gold. It slowly disappeared upward then appeared repeatedly, urging her to go in that direction.

"Moonlight, if only you could really talk to me." She jerked her head back slightly as the display flicked out of her vision and back on for a second.

"Whoa. I hope this thing is alright." Curiosity getting the better of her she headed towards the spot shown. Everything looked the same out here, dull, boring and most of all empty. A place devoid of anything resembling life. Barren. Without the suit direction indicator she would now be hopelessly lost. There were no distinct landmarks. Realizing without the bearing indicator she would really stand no chance of finding anywhere now made her feel terribly small and vulnerable. There was nothing to be seen, why was the suit pointing her this way? Eventually reaching 0 meters the arrow turned into an X. She unhooked herself from the cart bars.

"But, there's nothing here." She looked around in confusion. It was just more empty land, nothing. The blinking X insisted otherwise.

"What?" Far off mountains to the north were the only real feature here. The rest of the landscape was just as tormented as everywhere else.

"Maybe..under the ground?" She jolted as the display flickered out again for a few seconds. "Oh, that worries me." If something happened to the suit she would be in serious trouble.

Not possessing a shovel or any kind of digging tool made it a little tedious using the suit to dig into the dirt, but fairly effective thanks to the amplified force it could deliver. It would still take her far longer than if there were anything to dig with. Hooves are not meant for digging large holes, perhaps a trench. A long time passed as she dug deeper, which took longer the more she did. The X blinked insistently. There must be something here. Becoming very tired of this activity she nearly gave up when upon deciding to dig just a little further she heard a clang as her armored hooves struck home against something metallic. Definitely metal.

"Oh! There is something here after all." She felt accomplished. What could it be? Anything to alleviate the tedium of this torturous journey was welcome. It would still take quite some effort to free the metal box from the ground. Knowing this effort had not been in vain helped a great deal to spur her on. Thinking about it as she went about finishing teasing the box from the ground she realized this would have been an ideal spot for a building. Something probably stood here once. The only clue to it was this buried steel box. If there was anything worthwhile within she did not want to damage it, carefully prying at the decayed hinges. They popped off easily, allowing the lid to slide off with a thunk.

"What the?" What looked like a shiny metal ball with a seam and a blue button on top sat inside. It was so well kept within it appeared brand new. Gently tapping the button did not get a reaction.

"Aww, maybe its broken? Well it did sit here for a long time I guess. Maybe it's worth something." She put it in the cart in a spot where it wouldn't roll off by mistake.

"Well, thanks for pointing me to this Moonlight. Wait, why am I thanking a machine?" She was jarred again by the display flickering off and on.

"Ohh, please be alright. I can't fix you. You're all I have." The display blinked back into existence.

"Whew." That was very concerning. She really did not need to be worried about the suit breaking down now as well. She already walked well over 150 miles, keeping up a grueling pace driven by fear and wanting to put as much distance between herself and the menacing ponies who invaded her home as possible. With her water supplies running lower she really needed to slow down now. She kept herself to any shadow she could find as she traveled onward, favoring night to move. It was ever so slightly cooler at night. An occasional lifeless tree or bit of ragged plant life was the sum total of everything out here anyway.

There were still at least 150 more miles to go. What if father made a mistake in his pain?

"I'm so tired, Moonlight. It feels like I've been walking forever. I could really use a break..huh?" In the top left of her vision the autonomous actions indicator she only saw once before was marked. Why did that show up now?

"Aut..automouse...autonomoose..autonomous actions?" As she spoke it correctly the tag enlarged, shifting in to the center of her vision with a list. Other smaller tags underneath stated combat, defense, and travel options. She was fairly confused by this.

"How come dad never said anything about this stuff?" What did these things even do? She was desperately afraid of breaking the already oddly acting suit. Moonlight seemed to be showing her this on purpose.

"That can't be. This is just a silly coincidence. Must be." She stared at the list for a moment.

"Um, travel?" Immediately the tag enlarged, showing another list of options. Set direction. Set distance. Set speed. Each of these was currently followed by a zero.

"I don't know what this does, better be careful. Set direction?" N-S-E-W? Appeared beside it.

"East?" E locked itself in the box. "Set distance?" Maximum 1609.33 Meters/10 miles? Was displayed beside it. "1 mile?" A floating 1 showed. She was feeling a little apprehensive about this. "Set speed." Walk/Trot/Canter/Gallop/OverBoost? Hovered beside the tag. Without thinking she just blurted it out.

"What the hay is OverBoost?" Which locked into the final box. The tags disappeared as the suit started to move on its own.

"Hey, hey! Whoa!" It started at a walk which felt very uncomfortable as her legs were forced to move with the suit.

It quickly increased in pace until she was moving at a furious gallop.

"Moonlight, stop! Moonlight!" The pace increased further until she was practically flying above the ground barely striking home with each forward leap. Moving faster than she ever thought possible she found it best just to try to relax and allow it to happen. A velocity gauge stated 65 MPH as the suit bounded along with a mind of its own, the cart bouncing behind.

"Moonliiight!" She futilely intoned, her voice practically vibrating from the motion. Less than 20 seconds later the suit whirred and hissed, slowing to a quiet halt exactly one mile from where it started.

She huffed and moaned standing there motionless, her muscles feeling like rubber.

"I think I better be more careful what I say in this thing." She panted and felt pain everywhere. This could be very useful, but she did not want to use that setting again anytime soon.

"Ahh, my legs feel like they're on fire!" She held still for a long while until she felt comfortable lifting her limbs again.

"I guess this suit can move like that for a quick escape or something maybe?" She blinked and very slowly moved on. Though the suit provided the strength and speed she was nearly exhausted from the strain.

It could be set for ten miles? Had anypony ever even tried that? Just from this every part of her felt sore, terribly overtaxed and aching. What condition would doing that for ten miles leave a pony in? She decided to look for a good spot to sleep and recover. While she knew from experience it was possible to sleep wearing the suit, it was not comfortable. As her supplies dwindled she took to sleeping in the back of the cart. It provided at least a little security. She noticed a defense option tag in the list earlier but was too shook up to try anything else yet. A ways away she spotted the very sparse remnants of an ancient wall that was probably part of a building forever ago, just the corner in a sort of triangle really.

She did not imagine anything or anypony at all was out here, but her adoptive father did tell her to stay out of sight whenever possible and only announce her presence if she wanted to be seen. This sounded a little silly to her when she first heard it. When she surprised the pony that ended her parents lives she saw up close just how effective a surprise can be, it nearly saved her father and definitely saved her life. After the unexpected run she hurt so badly everywhere. It was a good kind of hurt she thought to herself. It actually felt sort of nice to have some interesting things happen that were positive after walking so long through the vast barren landscape. She sighed as she hid the cart behind the piece of wall.

There really was nothing out here. The suit threat indicators hadn't shown a single thing since that awful night. They showed nothing now, friendly or not. This land, at least here was totally dead. The remnants of any kind of civilization were so few and far between they might as well not have existed at all. She got comfortable in the cart for another lonely night in the wastes. The morning, such as the dim gray morning could be called in such desolation dawned in that subtle lighter hue as always to reveal absolutely nothing new. Except for the growling. Wait. Growling!? Groggily she opened her eyes.

"Huh!?" A deep growl seemed to be coming from the..cart.

"What?" Then she noticed the strange metal ball she picked up earlier rolling around willy-nilly.

"Grr. grr..uhh oh yeah grr!" She stared incredulously at the metal ball rolling around growling.

"I must be seeing things. That ball is talking." The multifaceted button which would not work before was now glowing a very faint blue. It startled her by rolling straight at her.

"Boo!" She yelped as she fell out of the cart.

"Oof!" The wind was knocked out of her as she hit the ground hard, making her wince in pain.

Her muscles had not yet fully recovered from being pushed too far the previous day. Clutching her chest she picked herself up. Taking a deep breath she cautiously peered over the edge of the cart. The ball was still rolling around at random.

"Hey, hey you! Are you my new owner?" The voice was warped and sluggish sounding like it lacked power to continue.

"Owner, me?" She was still half asleep despite the painful tumble.

"Well you're here, I'm here, so you must be my new owner! YAAAY." It bounced, twirled and rolled about the cart.

"Huh, what are you talking about, uh, ball?" She was beginning to think she was perhaps rationing her water a little too strictly.

"Conglaturations..on your....purchase..of a Happytime Super Happy Funball!!...we hope....you.....willlll......." It sped up ludicrously to sound at a very high pitch then trailed off disturbingly slowly.

"I will what, what? Funball? Hello?" The dim blue light faded from the button.

"Umm.." She blinked several times.

"What..just happened?" She set about having a very small breakfast and even less water. She was not doing too badly on food for the moment but it was still going down. The water would not last too much longer. She had to be careful. The containers looked ever emptier, frighteningly so. She must be getting closer at least by now she figured.

"Ohh..I've been out here so long. Am I ever gonna see anypony again?" A few tears tried to well in her eyes.

"No, don't cry anymore now. Gotta save it." She rubbed her eyes and slipped back into the suit. She was becoming more deft getting into it alone with practice. It still looked awkward from the outside, but was just a routine to her now.

She knew exactly how to position herself and sort of step hop up and slip into it. Not quite with ease. A few times she forgot to tuck her tail down inside, but the suit would not close until she was in properly. It was also a bit harder with sore muscles. It would require another whole day before she would be fully recovered. This slowed her progress a great deal. A distance traveled counter continually displayed in the upper right of her vision counted off the miles. It proved she must be getting close to somewhere. She paced herself the entire time, stopping to take breaks every fifteen miles or so to take a break and split up the monotony of her journey. It was taking a heavy toll on her mental state. There was so little to see.

Moonlight did occasionally state something factual in that disturbingly deep intonation, but it was not like having anypony to talk to.

"The world is so big and empty, Moonlight. It seemed so hard before. I never thought I could be so lonely." Again she somehow felt like the suit was actually listening to her, but chalked it up to desperate imaginings. It was at least a slightly good feeling to imagine something cared about her, alone as she was out here. There was so little variety to the landscape. If anything was ever here there was no evidence of it.

The endless miles passed as they do when one walks. Finally, things began to look different. It was subtle at first, then far more obvious. There were old dilapidated buildings in bits and pieces. Just looking at it she got a strangely familiar feeling. This was a farm once. These were farm fields. If she could tell anything, it was that. She could easily see there were at least four large fields here once, perhaps 5. Like everything else they were barren, lifeless and ruined. She knew the look well enough. The long hard days helping her parents around the rundown and distant farm now felt like nothing more than a dim memory of a time she thought she would never care to remember.

"I'd give anything if this never happened. That awful pony, what did they even want anyway? What did any of us ever do to deserve this?" She bemoaned her situation as she resumed her endless trek eastwards. She even ventured to try using the suits travel option again, this time setting it to a regular walk. It was much smoother this time. The regular speed was so gentle she could almost fall asleep while walking. This thought struck her as possibly dangerous. What if she did happen to fall asleep while the suit continued forward without her attention? Would it stop if obstacles were in the way, a wall or a hole? She would have to test these things before relying upon it.

She set it to walk only as far as she could see forward, repeating when necessary. This also gave her something to do occasionally. It was at least better than doing nothing but walking. Having already walked nearly 300 miles all alone had taxed her will to the limits. There was still nothing living. Two more days passed in this fashion.

"How long have I been out here? Please, please let there be somepony around here, anypony at all. I can't stand it anymore!" Her loneliness and frustration were taking a terrible toll. When she thought of adventure she imagined excitement. This was the exact opposite of exciting, and becoming more frightening as her water ran lower.

"I don't want to be alone anymore." She looked up to the gray sky. Her dad told many stories. Some were about the sun and moon. Neither of these things she had ever seen. He said plants grew much better when the sun could freely shine upon the soil. Her old story book did contain stylized depictions of them, but what did they really look like? He said it felt so good and warm to be in the suns light. How could you feel the sun? She thought it was a silly joke. He also said the moon was cold and distant but beautiful, and shined its own kind of light in the dark. What did he mean?

"Will I ever get to see any of the good things he talked about?" She sighed and moved on.

The difference in the land here was jarring. While it was not life it at least held the look of something other than the absolute desolation she trudged through for weeks now. An occasional piece of old useless machinery and wrecked and abandoned buildings here and there were becoming more common.

"Surely somepony must be around here somewhere?" Her hopes were rising.

"Just a little further. Just a little further." The occasional light squeal from the damaged leg joint increasingly bothered her as it got worse over hundreds of miles. It did not seem like it would fail, but what if it did?

It could probably still limp along if so, but it would be something she simply could not fix on her own. If anypony even could fix it.

"Does anypony even know how to fix things like this anymore?" She'd caught herself talking to herself more and more during her long empty walk. Her thirst was becoming a problem.

"I know I need to drink, but it's almost all gone. Wherever I'm going has to be here somewhere, it has to." Her father did not have time to tell her precisely where to look or even what the griffon she was to find looked like.

She'd never even seen an actual griffon, only knowing they were birdlike mercenaries. According to what he said anyway. She was also told never to sign a contract of any kind with them unless she could pay the agreed price.

"What if this griffon dad knew wants me to sign for his help? I only have this cap box. I don't think that's very much. I don't even know what anything is worth!" She could not help but wish her parents were still alive. She barely knew how to run their farm, and vaguely what the food they grew might be worth. Because it was fresh food it held more value than the awful tasting packages from almost two hundred years ago.

Sure they kept well enough, but they tasted like a powdered brick despite their labels. This made fresh food of any sort highly sought after by most. The sky was beginning its slow dimming into what was called nighttime. Again she'd found nopony at all, just more shattered farm buildings. This area must have been rife with them at some point.

"Guess I'm camping again. Better find a place to sleep." It did not take long to locate a safe looking area inside one of the mostly collapsed buildings. Judging by what remained it was probably a barn once. Stepping inside once again recalled memories of home.

Memories that were far happier than she would ever have guessed before being thrown from her life into this cruel world.

"This reminds me of home, but is that home anymore? Do I ever want to go there again?" Her sleep was troubled. She was so thirsty when she awoke she could not help it anymore and finished off what little remained.

"My head is killing me. Everything hurts, ohh. This is bad. There's not a single drop left. If I don't find this place soon I'm gonna drop dead.." As another mile passed by and another, her heart sank.

"There has got to be something around here somewhere doesn't there? Isn't there anything left anywhere Moonlight?" Just as she was about to give up and wait to die she thought there was some distant sound.

"I'm just imagining things, I must be dying already." The suits distance traveled counter indicated 323 miles from origin. Once more she engaged the automatic travel options.

"Dad said 327 miles. I'm almost there. Come on, move. Set direction." The terrible thought struck her that it was possible the suit could continue walking until it reached the destination with her dead body inside of it.

"Wouldn't that give everypony a horrible fright..hee." She found the idea highly amusing, if a bit creepy. She was also feeling a bit delirious.

"Better keep moving." The long trek was surely almost over, it had to be. Otherwise her long torment and effort to reach this horribly far off place would've been for nothing. Mile after dreary mile passed. She was really only letting the suit actions do the walking for her now. A few times she found herself choking abysmally. The thirst itself was painful. As she walked her muscles began to hurt and her limbs feel heavier. An occasional spasm of pain told her she was in a very bad state.

Her blurring and occasionally doubling vision was an even greater cause for concern.

"It hurts!" She moaned pathetically. She recalled something her father said.

"What did he say? When you need to get something done and you're hurt, get it done first. If you can't ignore the pain, pretend like you can and deal with it later." That sounded so silly to her when she first heard it. Now it was sage advice. She had to keep walking despite the pain wracking her body. What if her destination was just over the next hill? She would never know if she didn't keep going. One more step, and another.

Although the suit was mostly doing the walking for her, each one felt like it took all the might in the world to take. Her breaths were ragged and slow. She was finding it very difficult to keep her breathing even.

"Gotta focus." Her blurred vision made that hilarious somehow. Finding herself laughing and choking she knew this was not good. Over the time she'd spent using the suit travel options she realized it was possible to make it stop just by saying disengage which blinked in the opposite corner of her vision, if only she'd noticed it before. Even now the soreness from that run remained, making this even worse. Her thoughts turned to the long miles behind her.

"Would our farm even be home now? Could I live there knowing what happened? I don't think I'd feel good, maybe?" She pondered as she continued along. Gunshots in the distance drew her attention.

"Huh? Oh!" Gunshots meant other living things. Good or bad she didn't care at the moment. She would've run towards the sound but did not really have any stamina left to do so.

"I know I heard shooting, and even the air smelled different around here somehow." She could see the walls of something looming in the distance, and behind it a flat expanse of emptiness so vast she could not comprehend.

This area even felt populated. Tracks here and there confirmed it. As she approached she could see perched atop a squarish structure were griffons, even further above stood an enormous cannon. What looked to be three figures were just stepping out of view way off to the south. Her sheer joy at finally seeing something alive turned to dismay for a moment as a resounding order.

"HALT! Not a step closer." Caught her attention from above. Several of them were pointing dangerous looking weapons her way.


"Ranger, you better not be here to cause trouble or get in a fight with that other one!" Ranger? Other one? Fight? What was this griffon talking about?

"Who are you, and what do you want?" The one directly above asked. Her thoughts raced, searching for a response.

"Uh, I'm looking for Captain Theach?" She forgot how very deep her voice was coming through the old suit speaker, not sounding like her at all. Her voice was also ragged now from the lack of water.

"Your name?" What should she tell them? Should she be honest? Her dad warned her not to trust anypony in the wastes without being absolutely sure. What to say?

"My name's.. Traveler." Slipped out. A name from her book. That seemed to be enough for them.

"You stay right there, pony. Do not move." These griffons did not appear too friendly. To herself she could only hope this would be alright. She couldn't help but feel awed at seeing them though, never having met one before. They looked regal and powerful, if a bit grizzled. This was taking an awfully long time, what were they doing?

"Oh dad, I hope you were right about me coming here.." She whispered to herself. A new one alighted atop the wall. He seemed authoritative. Much like her father was.

"Well, what is it?" Oh boy. Looking at the small crowd of them she felt intimidated.

"Could I talk to you alone?" He looked at her incredulously. Oh no oh no. Her heart raced.

"Well isn't this interesting? The rest of you stay here. If he does anything stupid hit him with everything you've got." Did she hear that right?

"He? They must think I'm a stallion!" she mumbled to herself.

"You say something?" Suddenly the griffon flew the distance over to her, landing to the side. Must be to keep a line of sight open to his friends she thought, so they could shoot her. Oh dear. She spoke much quieter.

"I uh, mister Theach?" He appeared a little perplexed.

"Mister? hahahahahaha. I needed a good laugh. Listen pony, get to the point." He was very direct.

"You knew my father." His gaze almost felt like it went right through the suit.

"Yeah, so? I know every pony and griffon in these parts." She decided just to keep going.

"His name was Silver Quick." The captains expression turned dark immediately, turning he waved off the other griffons who mostly vanished off the walls instantly. Only one remained at the open gate.

"What do you mean, was? You better start explaining, he only had a daughter." He thought she was a stallion too, hee. Did they think she was a unicorn as well? Being a bit young still, she thought this was hilarious.

"Oh, there is a bit of a misunderstanding here. I am his daughter. It's just this old suit speaker.." He rubbed his head.

"You don't say? Tell me what happened." He bid her explain. A short while and a few stifled sobs later she finished explaining her situation, the strange reason behind her parents murder, the long lonely trip through the wastes.

"You survived coming straight here from there? You really are your father's daughter. There are things out there that could've torn even that walking tin can to shreds." There were? She didn't tell him she'd encountered nothing the whole time. Did she just get really lucky? Or really unlucky? She felt terribly weak now that her heart stopped racing.

"Sir?, I could use some water. I'm really really thirsty.." She looked back towards the now mostly empty cart.

"Of course, of course. Follow me." He marched ahead of her as she trailed behind. The griffons inside looked a bit shocked to see a second armored pony being allowed through to the command room with the captain in as many weeks. Things were certainly active around here lately. He bid her leave the cart just outside, no one would touch it. She was glad none of them could see how nervous she was inside the tough looking armor. The captain closed and locked the door behind. She didn't know what to expect. "You can climb out of that thing now, I know how it is, Traveler you called yourself?" She nodded.

"Keep it, kid. It's a good name, I like it." He finished. She liked the sound of his voice. He set about getting her a whole lot of water and returned. Traveler sat down as she tapped out the open command and it hissed apart at the back, clambering out of the suit. She was definitely getting better at climbing in and out, but it was still awkward without assistance.

"Don't drink it all at once or you'll just get sick, slowly." She walked over and found it hard not to gulp, almost gagging. After four large mugs full to the brim she finally started to feel better.

"I met you once when you were very little. Now let's get a good look at you." His gaze was piercing, she felt like he was looking at the wall behind her, taking in every inch, analyzing, gauging.

"Not bad, Silver." Huh?

"What?" He smiled, what she thought passed for smiling anyway.

"You're father did me a tremendous service once. He refused payment. In place of it he asked that if you ever needed help with anything I try to assist you in any way I reasonably can." She could feel her thoughts becoming more clear while he spoke. The water tasted like it'd been drawn from heaven as the last drops went down.

"So, what do you need? Also, why not leave the rest thinking you're a stallion for a while? Keep things interesting." Was he serious? Did he have some reason for that thought other than amusement?

"I..my dad had an idea.." Was all she could think of. He looked intensely interested.

"We were going to try to find a book." The captain took a shot of something she did not get a clear look at from an old looking bottle, promptly sliding it back under the desk. She might have been imagining it but thought the brief flash of the bottle label she caught said Maremark Whiskey Blend.

"A book? That's a strange thing to be looking for. You won't find too many books around here, or anywhere else I imagine." She was ever so glad just to be talking to anyone again. Her belly hadn't felt so full in a long time.

She coughed heavily.

"It's called the Farmers Almanac. We had pieces of it, but some of the important parts were missing. We were gonna try to find the parts or a whole copy of it if possible, but I don't even know where to start! I don't even know if dad really did either. Can you help me, Mister Theach?" He made a slight sighing sound like he was holding back laughter.

"Just call me cap or captain, or sir." She nodded.

"As for your request, I don't know. We've never been asked to look for or retrieve a book before. Give me a day to look into it." It was something.

"Thank you, sir." She said weakly.

"As a matter of practicality, you smell awful." Traveler felt rather embarrassed, she hadn't thought about the fact a few weeks passed since she last got cleaned up at all.

"You may use one of the showers here once, after that you''ll have to pay up like everyone else if you want to use them again." That sounded great.

"Hop back in that thing and come with me. I'll show you to a little-used room in the barracks." Deftly she climbed back into the now very familiar stealth suit.

"What about my cart?" She did not want to lose the few possessions she had.

"Don't worry about your stuff. We are mercenaries, not thieves. Not one of my group will touch it." That was good to know.

"I didn't mean.." He shushed her.

"I know you've had it tough, Traveler. I will pay my debt to your father by helping you where I may. It can't be too much though, understand?" She wasn't quite used to being called that yet.

"I understand." The griffons outside once again watched sidelong as they strolled towards the barracks. She could not tell if it was how they normally all looked or if they were disturbed by this. Once inside he showed her into a seemingly unused section of the barracks.

"No one comes back here. Don't know what this room was used for either and it's quite a mess, but you can have it for tonight. Shower is there, use it." She felt better already.

"Thank you, sir." She slipped into the room.

The heavy door could be locked from the inside which she did. Picking a spot to slip out of the suit she turned to take a better look. He wasn't kidding about this room being a mess, didn't anypony ever clean up in here at all? There were old metal boxes strewn about, most looking terrible. Moldy bits of ancient paper and various bits of things stuck to the walls and floor. It must have been fairly nice once. Now it was a nearly total mess. There was an old mattress on rails against the far wall but it looked black on top. She didn't really want to touch it but it would be nice to have something soft to lay on for a change. Deciding to flip it over before using the shower she found it was not so bad, just a little dusty.

Patting it off took a while, causing her to choke a bit on the dust. Eventually it was clean enough to lay on.

"Oh, I can't believe I'm alive. I really am here right, I'm not dreaming am I?" She poked herself.

"Oww. Yeah, this is real. I made it, dad." Realizing she was crying again she stepped into the shower. The slightly warm water felt wonderful, she'd never used a shower like this before. It was amazing what the old world once had in abundance. She let it wash away what felt like gallons of tears as she cleaned herself up. Finally they subsided and she turned it off, heading to bed.

For the first time in a long while Traveler slept soundly. She fell into a deep and dreamless sleep, safe and comfortable. When she finally awoke again she felt energized and ready to face the world once more. There was also the heavy knocking on the door. "Huh?" Without thinking she opened it to find the captain standing there with a small box.

"Captain?" He stepped in and closed the door which barely missed his tail. She thought to herself that could have been really painful.

"Are you alright, Traveler?" What?

"Why wouldn't I be alright?" This was a bit confusing.

"You haven't come out in three days." Three days!? How?

"I, what?" Did she really sleep that long?

"I slept for three days?" Around this time she realized it must be true as her stomach growled terribly.

"I figured you'd need something by now, here. Also, you look and smell a whole lot better." He nodded his approval. She felt her cheeks flush. He set the box on a small dusty corner table with a bowl.

"No one here eats this stuff and no one will buy this or the other 9 boxes of it either so it's all yours. I hear they taste like rotten apples or something, enjoy." Rotten apples, what?

"And if you do decide to keep the fact your actually a mare a secret do be more careful. Come see me when you're ready." He slipped out the door, it just missed his tail again.

"Guess he was serious about that suggestion, should I keep pretending to be a stallion? Why would I? But he seems to think it's a good idea. I better think about this. He must have a good reason to keep suggesting it, right?" She couldn't understand why he might want her to keep pretending. Her stomach growled deeply again.

"I feel pretty hungry. I've never slept for three days before. I hope this stuff is edible, whatever it is." She poured some into the bowl. She noticed he'd also set a bottle of water on the little table. Looking at the box she couldn't really make out the ancient lettering. Lower on the box she could just see 'Full of applelike goodness!' Applelike? Each piece looked like a small o with little holes in them. She ventured to take a bite.

"Eeugh. These don't taste like apples, these don't taste like apples at all." Her parents farm had only a single stunted apple tree, there weren't many and didn't taste that great but these things were ancient and terrible, just sickly sweet enough she could manage to eat them.

She did not feel particularly good to her stomach afterwards for a while, but at least she wasn't hungry anymore. She was not quite sure if it was because of being full or because she feared eating more.

"Wait, did he say 9 more boxes?" The thought made her tremble a bit. She sipped the water from the bottle. It tasted so much better after that.

"Right, guess I better go talk to him. I feel like I owe him so much already though." She felt stiff, but so much better now. Traveler looked over the armored suit.

"You've seen better days too, Moonlight. We're both a bit worse for wear. Let's go, friend." She slipped into the suit once more. As she left the barracks the griffons that were present once again watched intently as she passed. She was glad to be out the door and on her way to the command room. The left hind joint still occasionally let loose a low dangerous sounding squeal.

"Don't give out on me now, Moonlight. I need you." She knew it was silly to talk to a machine, but somehow still felt like it was listening. Upon entering she found the captain sitting behind his desk.

"There you are, I have good news and bad news. Which one do you want first?" Okay, well, bad news is tempered by good news right? So, bad news first.

"The bad news?" He pointed at a very old looking map.

"Here are a few possible locations you might go looking for your book." This was bad news?

"The closest one even remotely likely to have it is 600 miles from here." Oh no.

"That is pretty bad. What's the good news?" He pointed at the door which was now opening.

"Him." She turned to look and gasped quietly.

An armored pony stepped in.

"Say hello to Down Range." The strangely black armor he wore looked vaguely similar to her own, but it seemed built to withstand far more punishment.

"Umm, hi." She almost felt intimidated even inside Moonlight, standing next to this behemoth.

"I don't know why, but he has expressed an interest in you after seeing you arrive the other day." She did not even see him then, but she was very out of it when she got here, almost to the point of not believing this was even real.

"I have managed to convince him to assist in your search. It's up to you, but you can't do much better than having more heavy armor along. You should appreciate it." Traveler was a little nervous once again.

"I do, sir. Very much." She looked at the heavy suit, imagining that Moonlight would last a while, but not long if pitted against such a thing.

"The old maps are almost useless, but they do tell what used to be in certain areas at least." The captain explained. While she looked the suit display was showing overlay lines on the map and calculating distances.

The final message displayed stated mission parameters set. How did it know what they were going to do? Moonlight was even more amazing than she thought. She noticed Down Range hadn't actually said anything yet.

"Now, there are a couple more matters to discuss." What now?

"Just before your arrival we sent off a group on a mission. The route they decided to take would pass very close to one of your potential search sites. Your choice, but if you follow the same route you might catch up with them and get their help checking it out. They have a couple days head start on you. If you head out now, judging by how fast you seem to be able to travel you should be able to catch up inside three to seven days." The captain was doing so much for her she was surprised.

How much did he actually owe her father? She decided it would not be the best time to ask with another pony around.

"I will give you a token that proves I sent you. Also, your cart has those boxes of food, such as it is, in it. However, I can only provide you with water if you pay from here on." Traveler was not entirely sure how many caps were in her box and didn't want to part with them without being certain it was worth it.

"I will pay." The armored pony finally spoke. She wasn't really sure through the muffle of his armor but his voice sounded slightly effeminate to her, it almost seemed familiar somehow, though it might just be her imagination.

It seemed unusually nice of somepony she just met to pay for something for her. They didn't even know what each other looked like. The captain accompanied them outside. After refilling her water containers and adding a few more the cart looked decently full of supplies once again. A far cry from her arrival when it was practically empty. She was not at all fond of the foodstuff, but it was free and filling, if barely tolerable. Traveler also realized the other pony probably did not pay for the water just for the sake of being nice. They would be sharing the supplies after all. Why was he at all interested in what she was doing anyway? She could only think to herself maybe he found her suit interesting.

No, that didn't seem to make any sense. He was wearing something much better as far as she could tell. She thought if she had a suit like his back at the farm she would've marched straight back with it and destroyed the horrible pony that attacked her parents. At this moment she also realized she wasn't really sad anymore but angry. So very very angry at that awful pony. This felt so strange to her she had to take a deep breath. She never truly hated anything in her entire life, except perhaps the fact that life didn't seem that good. If she'd known how horrible things could become she would never have felt that way at all.

Her terrifying trip through just one section of the wastes was enough to teach her how daunting and lonely the world could be.

"You take good care of that pony or you will answer to me." The captain pointed at Down Range. Traveler slipped under the harness bars once more.

"Great, more walking." She absently said as they set out. This was going to be an even longer trip than she just endured and probably even more dangerous, but at least she would have company this time she thought to herself.

Feeling much better after her long rest she found it all rather exciting. This was more like it. Not the adventure she wanted, but she couldn't think of anything else to do for the moment. Other thoughts swirled in her head as she thanked the captain and headed out the gate with the other armored pony. She could only hope she was making the right decision taking him along. She knew nothing about him. The captain didn't seem to know him either. Maybe he was just bored too? What did it matter? They would probably never find what she was looking for. If by some miracle pieces or a copy of the book was located could she even make use of it? Did she even want to ever return to the farm that had been her home? Could she?

Running that place alone would be very hard. These thoughts were painful. What if the horrible ponies were still there?

"They were after something." She muttered. The other pony tilted his head towards her inquisitively.

"Nothing. Guess we should get as far as we can today." He'd obtained his weapons from storage, looking even more dangerous. He still barely spoke, only nodding. As she looked at him the suit display was showing the weapon types attached to his armor. One displayed only as a question mark. That was strange, or was it? She didn't actually know if it was or not. What did he look like under there anyway? Then again he didn't know what she looked like either.

This bothered her a bit as they only knew each others name thus far, not even her real one. At this moment she realized how ironic this was considering she never knew her own parents real names either. Did he also think she was a stallion? Maybe this could be fun for a while after all. How long could she keep it a secret anyway? Maybe a day or two at most if she could come up with excuses to eat and drink alone? It would still be amusing to see their reaction. Traveler knew this was incredibly silly. She needed silly right now. Her whole life was suddenly uprooted in a single night as she was thrown out into the world alone and very unprepared. The idea that anypony would think she was a stallion was as silly as she could imagine.

Her attention shifted to the suit display which now showed several new things such as distance to mission zones. She really could not understand how it knew. She was also very reluctant to tell her new companion how unfamiliar she was with her armors full capabilities. So far things actually went better than expected. For some reason he insisted on following instead of walking along beside. Even with him marching along behind it felt a bit lonely.

"This certainly isn't conducive to becoming friends is it? I guess I have to start somewhere." Traveler thought to herself as the day passed. At least she wasn't in pain or thirsty anymore.

Until she was given the water and a chance to recover she hadn't quite realized just how close she was to actually dying. Another day or two without would surely have been too much.

"I nearly died. I hope I'm doing the right thing going after this book dad wanted." But did he really want it? Did he even expect they would ever have found it? Not having another plan left this as her only idea.

"At least it is a plan, and I've got nothing better to do, right?" It was easier to think now. Her thoughts when she was running out of water were noticeably slower and jumbled.

"Why didn't I just die with them? It would have been easier. No, that's just stupid. They would have wanted me to try to have a life at least." Still feeling angry about it all she kept up a very fast pace that day. A couple times it looked as though Down Range was trailing further behind, but he kept within visual distance. She'd noticed earlier anything friendly the display indicated with a deeper blue mark. How did it know that either?

"As long as it works." Eventually she tired and halted. Her anger finally subsided for now.

"I think this is far enough for today, don't you?" She queried her companion as he caught up.

He actually responded for a change.

"Yes. I was beginning to think you'd never stop." That was a surprising statement. Had she really pushed that far today? Looking at the suit distance traveled indicator startled her. They'd covered over 40 miles in one day. No wonder she felt so fatigued, hungry and thirsty now. That would have closed a significant amount of space between them and the group the captain mentioned. They might even catch up with them by tomorrow, much sooner than expected. The token the captain gave them as identification was a pre-war bit. She'd only seen one of them before.

Caps were generally used though these still held some value. This one was engraved on the back with a small symbol in the shape of a griffon eye with little marks around it. The stamping along the bottom edge read 'Commemorative Issue'. The rest of the text was illegible. The bits once shined a golden hue. Now they were quite dull and tarnished with age. The wastes were kind to nothing.

"Would you mind if we camped a bit apart for tonight? I kinda just lost everything and need some time alone. I'll get you when I'm ready to go." He nodded, taking some water with him.

His suit had two hefty saddlebags which probably contained his own food. There was plenty of food now.

"Yeah, so much to eat." She looked at one of the boxes forlornly.

"I'm going to become intimately familiar with this stuff aren't I?" She settled herself and the cart behind a small rise.

"I can't believe we got this far already. I better slow down a little tomorrow. No need to wear myself out." They were warned to skirt Fillydelphia as much as possible. They would pass just within view of the ancient city.

"I've never seen a real city before. I wonder what it looks like? Probably like everywhere else." She said.

The route chosen by the group they were chasing would not come near the potential site for at least a couple of weeks giving more than enough leeway to catch up. The other group would not be pushing as fast anyway. For now, this left no real leeway in their route. Unless the other group deviated from their chosen path they would definitely find them sooner or later. There should be no reason for that to happen. She braced herself and ate some of the bland crunchy food, at least it would be crunchy if it was new, she thought. It kept as well as other packaged food from long ago with their promising labels of something known as flavor.

"This is kind of like eating something that used to be hard, but now it's soft and gritty. Maybe it would be better if I made it wet?" Sprinkling a few drops of water on it only had the effect of making it less dry. The taste remained terrible.

"I always thought we ate badly on the farm. I was so wrong." She forced down what she could stand.

"I might as well get used to it. I have..lots. Which is better than not having anything." She thought. Full as it was the cart would not afford her a place to sleep. Instead she could only find as comfortable a position as possible. She was relaxed but rest would not come easy.

"Uhg. Well, I did just sleep for three days straight." She tossed and fidgeted for a great deal of time before finally falling into a dreamless slumber. When she finally slept it was with great relief. Awaking slowly in the morning she dusted herself off and sighed.

"There is no getting around it. I have nopony at all. Can I even trust the one I'm traveling with? At least the captain seemed kinda friendly?" She felt very energetic. This was really happening. They were going looking for something that may not even exist. It was exciting and scary and worrying all at the same time.

Gazing at the food boxes her choice was to skip breakfast.

"I'm not hungry anyway." After her last experience with water she decided to ration hers from the outset. Never again did she want to feel that terrible thirst and dryness in her throat. Deciding to play around with the strange silver ball for a while was amusing but pressing the indented button did not yield any further reaction. She could not get it to open or respond.

"Does this thing need power or what? Can't make it open." She tugged and pulled at the seem which wouldn't budge. It was more interesting when it did something anyway.

Tucking it back in safely she slipped back into her armor and headed over to find her traveling companion.

"Now where did he get off too?" She wondered. Unlike the other friendly markers the display showed his location marked with an additional 'A' for some reason. It did not take long to find him. He was already up as well.

"Oh, there you are. I'm ready to go if you are." He was looking out to the east.

"Something interesting?" Traveler thought perhaps if she could get him into some kind of conversation it might help.

"You can just see the outskirts of what's left of Manehattan. I used to live there..a long time ago." Far away she could just see the vague outlines of some jagged buildings.

Crumbling as they were, compared to what she was used to they looked imposing and immense.

"Ponies used to build things like that!?" She thought she heard a very slight chuckle from him but could have been mistaken.

"We should go." With that he turned and began walking.

"So much for conversation." She thought to herself. He quickly fell in behind again as they walked.

"Why won't he at least walk alongside me? I have no idea what to say. Oh forget it." Her mood was not very good.

Dreary hour after hour passed in this fashion. Aside from buildings in the distance there was nothing much to see. She stopped when they ran across a piece of a strange criss-crossed metal track in the ground, letting Down Range catch up with her.

"What's that?" This actually got a laugh out of him. Huh?

"You don't know what a train track is?" A what?

"Big steel travel machines that run on steam or even spark battery banks use them to carry passengers. If they broke down earth pony teams would even just pull them. They run all over Eques..." That was a strange pause.

"There used to be tracks all over Equestria." Was there a hint of sadness in his words? It was so hard to tell through the muffle. While he spoke she noticed there was a small square outline on the front of his armor. Seeing the armor up closer like this she got the distinct impression it should be a different color. Should she ask about it?

"Wow. Ponies used to have such neat stuff." He didn't say anything to that as they resumed their trek.

"At least he actually said something that time. That's good, right?" Having very little experience with other ponies she was quite unsure what was acceptable or expected. Was this kind of reaction normal?

Interaction with only her family and the few ponies in the small town simply did not prepare her for this or tell her what she could expect of others.

"I wonder what a train looked like?" She imagined an immense steel wheeled juggernaut belching steam and fire rolling along the ancient tracks.

"Whoa. That's awesome." She giggled to herself. At least it was to her.

"I hope this group we're trying to meet up with is more talkative." She absently said to herself. Would they be though? Would they even actually want to help?

"Why is he so quiet anyway? Always walking behind like that is kinda creepy. Why does he seem kinda familiar anyway? I know I've never met him before." The walking was still more bearable with company, quiet as he was. He was told to protect her, he would do that wouldn't he?

"Well he is my escort, but what does he really get out of this? Did the captain give him anything to come with me? Dad said not to trust anypony but myself. He trusted that griffon so he must know what to do, right?" Traveler spoke only to herself as Down Range hung almost too far behind as usual.

"This is still better than being alone. I hated that so so much. I wonder if we can be friends? I've never had a real friend." She did have to make friends somehow, but truly did not have any idea how to go about it.

"How do you do this? How long do you have to know somepony before you can call them a friend? How do you know when you're friends? This is hopeless. My story book was about friends, not how to get them." For a few hours she trudged along at a normal pace, watching the scenery slowly pass by. Looking up she saw the tattered remains of a sign laying off to the side stating 'Filly..' Fillydelphia was that way. Moonlight was still very stealthy, she felt well hidden despite the rare squeal from the worsening joint.

"You can't be friends with a machine, can you? I don't understand it, but somehow this suit has felt friendly ever since I got it. How can a machine feel friendly?" This did feel nice if disconcerting from time to time.

"I must be out of my mind with desperation. Am I going crazy?" She worried very deeply about how to befriend somepony as they wandered down the route. The way they traveled did not have any particular trail or road. Ancient pieces of posts or destroyed pavement were here and there. Never having seen a proper road left her very impressed when they did come across a wide intact chunk of one.

"Ponies used to make such amazing things, how could they have let it all be destroyed like this?" She didn't see her escort catching up as she mused.

"Because they didn't think it was possible to lose." She jumped slightly.

"I didn't hear you coming." Now she felt a little embarrassed. Her father would have admonished to pay attention to her surroundings.

"No pony or zebra won the war. All of this is the result. We lost so much." Her father did tell her about the huge war between them so many years ago, but he didn't really know that much about it.

"You say that like you were there." She said absently.

"I..no, no just thinking." Huh? That was an odd response.

"We are approaching a small settlement. One of the ponies there may have seen the other group." He pointed ahead. There were several small shacks and what passed for shelter built of just about anything.

"This is a settlement? This place is even smaller than Far Side." It looked abandoned.

"Is anypony even here?" Looking around she saw a pony duck out of sight behind one of the tiny shacks.

"Hello? We aren't going to hurt anypony. You can come out." A dirty pony with a dull yellow coat cautiously peered over a piece of debris.

"Uh, I know we look a bit intimidating. Please come out?" Slowly other sullen and absolutely ragged looking ponies peeked and seemed to appear out of the woodwork.

"What do you want?" They did look scared.

"We were just wondering if you saw two ponies and a griffon come by here in the last few days?" Traveler asked, trying to be quiet. These ponies looked spooked and wary.

"Yes, they went by here just about fourteen hours ago. They went to see Doremi." The yellow-coated mare spoke while looking down. They were close. Were these ponies really so scared of just two ponies in armor?

"You can find him that way, the big shack." She pointed off to the southwest.

"Well, thank you." She thought it best to politely thank them. They walked on as the ponies slipped out of sight once more.

"Was it just me or were they awfully scared?" She looked to Down Range.

"Ponies have good reasons to be scared these days." He really did say very little. She decided to push a little more.

"You don't say much do you?" Of course she couldn't see his face under that armor to read his expression, maybe this was the wrong time to ask?

"Not anymore." What did he mean by that? With this he simply continued walking.

"Did I make a mistake? Maybe I shouldn't have asked so soon, or maybe that didn't mean anything to him at all?" She fretted to herself as they approached the large shack. Compared to the others this shack almost seemed colorful.

Knocking on the strangely thick door did not yield an immediate response.

"Maybe their not in?" She knocked again. A moment later a sound from inside like scraping and a thousand pieces of wood breaking at the same time was heard.

"Did you hear that?" A few seconds later the door squeaked terribly as it opened on the ancient hinges. A pony she could barely see wearing what looked like a ripped, faded and worn business suit from one of the few old depictions in her story book eyed them suspiciously.

"Who comes seekiagauhgh.." He stepped forward and tripped out the door onto the ground. They both looked down at him, a brimmed hat adorned with very frail looking feathers floated down onto his head.

"Oh my, are you alright?" She asked. He got up and straightened his hat to reveal a gigantic pair of glasses that seemed to wrap around his entire head. Dusting himself off he continued,

"Of course I'm alright. I am the great Doremifasolatido." The what did he say? He gaped a moment upon seeing them properly.

"You look tough. You want the job too?" He looked back and forth between them.

"What job?" She was curious. He backed inside a moment, fumbling around in some box off to the side of the entrance.

"I have heard there once were some amazing pony music performers and composers in the old days. I either want to find some of their music or their written scores. Any will do, but these in particular I will pay more for. Interested?" It couldn't really hurt to know what he was looking for.

"Sure, I guess." At this he read off of a very old and overused piece of parchment.

"Find me any ancient data discs, memory crystals, or even scrolls with the musical notes or performances of any of these ponies and you will be well-rewarded when you return. Their names are Neightoven, Balk, Tchaiclopsky, Marezart, and Frenetic Marecury." The last name sounded funny.

"Sure. Why not?" Traveler didn't know what some of that stuff even was but agreed anyway. A small box marked 'Tertiary' showed up in the bottom left of her vision. Huh?

"I have asked a few other ponies to look as well. Anything like that will not be easy to find." He closed the box.

"By the way, have you seen two ponies and a griffon go by here?" She quickly added.

"Those two adventure seekers? Yes they passed by here just some time ago with a sour looking griffon. Said they were going somewhere very far away. I told them about the job too." Adventure seekers?

"Do you know which way they went?" His nod was vigorous.

"One of them was wearing the oddest thing. They headed into the great territories beyond." His motion affirmed they were still keeping to the chosen route and should be relatively easy to catch up with now.

"They should serve as an inspiration to us all. Their success in completing that most difficult task I gave them is what prompted me to look for these once more." Once more?

"I return to my own musical endeavors now." He closed the door on his other foreleg.

"Aaah!" The door popped back open slightly.

"Are you okay?" Traveler asked.

"Of course I'm okay! I am the great.." Down Range interrupted him.

"We know." the door slipped closed with a squealing bang.

"Well that was..interesting." She couldn't help but say. He said little else as they pressed on. She knew by now it was common for him not to respond to much. Was something wrong with him, or was he just always like this?

"I don't know how to talk to anypony. Was any of that normal? I don't know." She was beginning to feel at least more comfortable out in the world. She was doing well so far, right?

"I could be doing worse, couldn't I? I reached that base all by myself, and now I am off on an adventure. This is an adventure isn't it? I don't know, this would feel better if I was with dad wouldn't it?" For the moment she was glad her escort could not see her face or how sad she was.

She was finally letting herself truly grieve for her parents as they traveled. It was good to let it out. He wouldn't hear her crying back there.

"Am I doing okay daddy?" Traveler thought she was doing well, considering what happened.

"I think I am. So far anyway, dad." She could just imagine his imposing cloaked form standing there, telling her how proud he was of her.

"Silly. I'm never going to see mom or dad again." Eventually the tears subsided.

In their place a grim determination to succeed in fulfilling her fathers dreams of helping make the world a better place took hold. She stopped, waiting for her escort to catch up.

"Down Range." He stopped beside her.

"Yes?" This had to stop. She needed to know more about him.

"We should camp here. We will surely catch up with them sometime tomorrow anyway." He nodded.

"Also, I need to talk to you about something." She intoned as calmly as could be mustered.

He stood there quiet as always while she unhooked herself from the cart. How should she go about this? Nothing for it.

"Alright, look. I am just going to be perfectly honest." Sitting Moonlight down she tapped out the exit command and climbed out. Seeing her he practically stumbled backwards.

"You're an earth pony!? You're a mare!? You're..you're gorgeous!" What? Traveler felt her cheeks flush and her heart flutter. Nopony had ever called her a mare before. Was she really getting that grown up? She definitely wasn't expecting that.

"I, umm.." She stuttered for a second. She finally managed to continue.

"Ahem. My parents were killed and I'm all alone now, and I don't know anypony or anything about anything and I'm scared and alone and and..." She was yammering and almost crying. He seemed to just stand there listening until he reached up to his helmet and pressed a latch under the neck making it give off a slight hiss then tugged gently to the left making it hiss and release.

"Huh?" As he slipped it off his head she couldn't believe what she was seeing.

"It can't be. You look like the pony in that book. You must be hundreds of years old!" He was stunning.

"Something like that." He said dully. Noticing that small square on the front of his armor again she reached out and slowly rubbed off the black to reveal 'Magnificent'.

"It really is you! How can you be you!?" She felt slightly lightheaded from the revelation.

"I am sorry a beautiful young filly like you lost your family." She blushed quite hard.

"I lost the entire world." Magnificent stared at the ground.

"But, how are you here? I thought you were just a character in an old book I found a long time ago." As he stripped off his armor the awkward explanations back and forth followed.

He really was for lack of a better word, magnificent. The book she saw was good, but had not done him justice. Removing his armor took a significant amount of slow effort. Traveler carefully watched how he did it. It looked easier to take that stuff off and put back on, but more tedious than just climbing in and out of Moonlight.

"So, you were being punished? It doesn't sound like you even did anything that bad.." He smiled. That smile was so alluring. He's really cute. Wait, what was she thinking?

"I suppose compared to what happened to everypony else I was let off kind of easy." His smile faded quickly.

"I guess we are sort of in the same boat then." Sighing he looked up at the endlessly clouded sky.

"I also suppose I can't blame the pegasi for blocking off the world below them. They must have suffered terribly as well." It never really occurred to her that they must be suffering too. Her father didn't seem very happy with his own kind. Magnificent rubbed some black dirt over the nameplate on his armor.

"They actually did make the comic with me in it? Did they get my good side? Of course that's every side..Was it good?" She certainly thought it was.

"I think so." She was still reeling a bit from this.

"Why were you hiding who you are?" He sighed as she asked this question.

"Why are you?" Oh. Traveler felt a tad silly now. Wait, how did he know? Was he truly that perceptive?

"Why are you interested in me?" He did not respond for a moment.

"I have no one, and nowhere to be. You have a very unusual suit of armor there. I thought mine was the only unique one. Yours might also be dangerous." Dangerous? Also? How could Moonlight be dangerous? It saved her life, she never could have made it this far without it. He sat there with his head down, looking like nothing more than a lump.

"One day I was a General in the equestrian army. The next I woke up alone, surrounded by monsters. The princesses I served, my world, my hopes and dreams..all of it gone. Not two days after awaking to this horror the first actual ponies I ran across ambushed and tried to kill me. They made me..." As he trailed off this pony did not sound like the Magnificent depicted in the old comic she happened across. He sounded whipped, broken. Much like she had felt only a few days prior and still did to a degree. An idea started forming in her head.

"You." He looked at her curiously. She thought about the comic and how it portrayed him, his slightly arrogant but fiery attitude and demeanor. Was any of it true, and could she use that somehow? Only one way to find out.

"Aren't you Magnificent? One of the bravest, most handsome and powerful ponies in all of Equestria? You say your world is gone. So is mine. Why don't you help me rebuild it?" This might be working.

"Rebuild it, how? It's all gone!" He did sound beaten. She did not know what the old world was really like. What she did know is that she needed to do something, start somewhere. Following what her father wanted to do still seemed like a good idea. Looking for the book was a good place to start at least. Having a pony like this wholeheartedly on her side would be very helpful. She just had to convince him it was worthwhile and possible.

In her story book friends found common interests and goals to share, dreams to strive towards achieving even if they seemed impossible and far away. Maybe this could be her first chance to make a real friend? She didn't know or not, but she could not think of the captain as a friend. Maybe he only helped because he owed something to her father?

"But it's not all gone. You're here, aren't you?" Traveler truly wanted to have friends, and hoped this would be enough to begin with. It was so hard to tell. She spoke carefully.

"My dad had an idea. Maybe it isn't the best idea, but it would be a start. I can't do it alone. I need help. Help from ponies like you, if you're interested?" He appeared less depressed already.

"What was this idea, and how do you think it'll help rebuild the world?" Traveler relayed what they would be searching for while his interest seemed to be piquing.

"It's so simple. I never realized how important something so mundane as growing food could be. In my time there was so much of everything." His eyes seemed to have just a bit more light in them. Those beautiful eyes. There she went again. She shook her head. He was obviously still distraught and depressed. They both knew pain.

"Will you help me, Magnificent?" She asked. He looked lost in thought for a couple moments. Slowly he gave a nod as he sighed.

"I suppose the pony known as Magnificent is no more. I know almost nopony would recognize me like you and that other one did, but let's keep who I really am between us for the moment, okay?" This poor pony had lost even more than she had. Despite her own this left her feeling a great sadness for him.

"Thank you, thank you!" Unexpectedly she gave him a warm hug leaving him very surprised. Ever so slowly he returned it for a long moment. As they slipped apart he spoke.

"No, thank you for showing me I can have a purpose here. In the army I swore an oath to protect and help the innocent, ponies or not. Maybe I can still do this." She beamed a smile at him.

"I'm sorry the first ponies you met were..bad. We're not all like that. I think." She found herself smiling, doing so felt unfamiliar. After this they spent a great deal of time telling each other what they knew about the world and how different it was to each others. Of course he could not tell her everything in a single night. It would take many such stories to tell all he knew. Traveling together as they were would hopefully give ample opportunity for that.

"Wow! Dad told me some stories he knew, but you were really there. He even told mom and me what the sun looks like because he saw it, but..." Tears welled up in her eyes. He looked at her in concern.

"Daddy..mom.." This time she could just let it all out. This adventure they were setting out on was supposed to be with her father. Something they would have shared. Memories they would have held together. She felt embarrassed letting Magnificent see this, but just couldn't hold it back at all anymore. Traveler thought she was done with crying. She rubbed her eyes.

"Sorry you have to see this." She stammered to him.

"Go ahead, it's fine. You'll feel better." He did work his way up through the army, and knew when somepony just couldn't hold back anymore.

She sobbed and moaned for a long time, burying her face in her hooves. Finally raising her head she felt so drained, but definitely a little better.

"Does it ever stop hurting?" Her voice was weak. He sighed deeply.

"No. It will get easier I promise, but it will never stop hurting." She could tell he was being honest and knew.

"We should get rested. From here on out things will probably get a lot more dangerous. We should set a watch. One of us must always be awake, alert and armed at all times." He started putting his armor back on.

"I will take the first watch. I'll wake you for yours in 5 hours. Try to get some sleep." He slipped the helmet down over his head and horn. A small hiss could be heard as it latched.

"Call me Down Range from now on. At least for the moment." He looked truly intimidating in that blackened armor. She found herself wondering what it looked like when it wasn't covered in char. Maybe she would see sometime. Traveler ate a bit and settled in. Just this one time she drank more water than she planned on. She needed it.

"Just this once. We have such a long way to go. This probably isn't even enough to get there and back. What if it's not there? Then we have to go even further." She shuddered at the thought.

Something he'd said during their conversation came to mind, giving her an idea.

"We shouldn't go near Fillydelphia he said, but what about Baltimare? I know I saw it on the map. It was a great city too and would have had libraries, at least one right?" She really should have asked why the griffons did not suggest there as a search site. Knowing there was a pony like this standing guard she slept very soundly. At the sound of him trudging closer she awoke before he even said he was there.

"My watch already?" She stretched and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, realizing it wasn't him through the blur but some vaguely red-coated pony standing over her she let out a high-pitched scream.

"Aaaaaaa!" At which he let out a shrill shriek as well.

"Aaaaaa!" She screamed again and he did too, then took off running out of sight in the dim light. A moment later Down Range appeared from behind a small incline.

"What's going on?" After explaining the strange incident they sat together for a moment. Why hadn't his armor picked them up?

"Did you get a good look at their face?" Voicing she had not through the haziness of sleep they could only wonder who it was.

"How strange. Probably just one of the locals happened across us. Just in case we should move away from here to another site before I rest." She wouldn't have been able to go back to sleep anyway after that shock. Slipping into the stealth suit once more they quickly moved a fair distance to locate a place less likely to be discovered.

"Should I wake you up?" Shaking his head he took off his armor once more. She felt an odd thrill seeing him do this for some reason, feeling quite glad he could not see her blushing.

"What am I thinking? Get a grip. He's like 200 years old." This time they chose to camp under the edge of the remains of a little bridge that once spanned a short section between a gulley. They should not be discovered here.

This time they were totally out of sight. She supposed it best not to stray too far and stayed within hearing distance just in case. Quickly realizing just how boring this was she amused herself by looking around the old steel bridge pieces. They were made of some sort of metal much like Moonlight, though not as dark and seemed much more brittle. That may have been from the sheer ages of exposure to the outside. Her sudden startle from sleep earlier left her feeling a bit off for a while, a sort of sickly feeling inside.

"I've had enough surprises. I just want to find the book and..and...even if we can find it, then what? Really, what will I do? I need to think about this." She stared at the ground, lost in thoughts of home and running the big, empty farm all by herself.

It would be so much work. She would also have to live with the memories of what happened there.

"Why does everything have to be so hard!?" She scuffed the ground and felt the suit give off a strange subtle shudder.

"Huh? that felt kinda weird." Her worries from before about the suit breaking down returned, leaving her feeling a bit paranoid about pushing it very hard.

"There has got to be somepony out there that can check this thing out and fix whatever is wrong with it, right?" She poked about the rubble. Just old metal pieces from a time long gone by.

She'd never spent so long just thinking about things before. She hadn't realized before just how much she relied on her parents or that all her life they had done everything in an effort to give her a fair shot at carving out a better living. Their lives had literally been for her. It was easier to cry now. It didn't hurt like it had when she was running away in a blind panic, or like it did when she thought she might die. Now it was just letting it out. She looked out at the quiet desperately depressing feeling lands forever hidden away from the sun.

"Mom. Dad. I don't know if I can do it. I don't know how far I can go. I will try to do my best." She huffed and turned to see her companion beginning to stir. Five hours had passed. It was time to set out once more.

Approaching him as he was donning his armor she asked about Baltimare.

"I know it's a bit out of our way and would lead us a ways away from the group we're trying to catch up with but if there is any chance of finding it closer and a lot sooner, shouldn't we take the chance?" Her argument did sound convincing and had the ring of truth to it.

"We know they are sticking to the route they chose. I suppose we can just catch up with them a few days later than we thought. We will have to circle around Fillydelphia a fair ways to avoid trouble." The captains warning to stay clear of that city was dire.

How bad could it be? Traveler caught herself in the middle of that thought as she realized it could actually be quite horrible. No one knew for certain what was happening there, and what business was it of hers anyway? She had only been out in the world a little over a month and nearly died already. Although her father would never see it, she wanted to prove to herself she was strong enough to survive, and to carry out his dream of the land being slowly restored. She could not save the whole of the wastes, they were much too vast for that, but perhaps even just one farm doing what it was meant to do could be the start of something big.

This time Down Range walked closer behind, but still fairly far apart.

"Why do you walk way back there anyway?" She said over her shoulder through that deep rumbling amp.

"You can use your suit radio." The suit did have such a thing. Never having had occasion to use it she completely forgot about it until now. She switched it on and found the no broadcast which had floated in her vision all that time replaced by a pair of lines which twitched and bobbed up and down as he talked. Below the lines two other tags showed as 'dropoff' She didn't bother with them right now. It was odd hearing him so clearly despite being so far away.

"Habit. The army learned after a while it's best not to travel too close together in case of a bomb going off or something." Bomb? She never considered that. It took her some playing with the controls to set the volume at a comfortable level. He continued.

"There are other good reasons for not standing close together. One of us is less of a target than both of us." He explained. Target? She gulped nervously. There may be actual fighting to be done at some point. How would she react? Would she do the right thing if fighting was the only choice? She could only hope she was prepared.

Their travel was slowed a little as unlike his armor the stealth suit did not have a means of carrying any water internally. Whenever she needed to drink they had to stop. It was not a large delay, but every moment not spent walking was another they would lose to the group they were to meet up with. If this detour to look for old libraries did not pan out they might need them to help search the next possible location.

"Have you ever been to Baltimare?" She queried.

"I have been all over Equestria. It doesn't matter now. Almost nothing is the same." Was his terse response to the question.

"This is probably a silly question too then, but do we know where any libraries actually were?" He sighed. Their respective armors were marvelous feats of engineering and magical research, but each ones shortcomings were fairly apparent. The suits mapping and navigation systems were impressive but suffered from several serious limitations.

"Sort of. Also, most libraries weren't exactly a high priority for being protected back then. Let's just hope some survived." It did not come to mind as they traveled along before so she asked.

"I guess we should've looked around Manehattan for a library." He slowed down a bit at that. What?

"I won't go back there." Even through the crackle of the radio the sound of his voice made it clear he wouldn't speak further of it. This left Traveler feeling like she'd said something wrong somehow. Had she? Or was she just imagining things?

"I'm still so unsure about everything. Relax. Relax." During her desperate struggle to cross the open wastes she picked up a habit of whispering such things to herself. Sometimes she noticed it was happening. She never did so before having to flee. Constantly she worried if she was acting the way other ponies did. She knew so few of them at home. What if she did or said something others would think was terrible by mistake?

Finding herself thinking of home as they walked a memory came to mind. When she was still quite young she was trying to help do something she did not really recall what and tripped in front of her father, hitting her head off the unyielding floor of the farmhouse. Flailing about moaning in pain and crying she heard his voice.

"Look up." Huh? Through the tears she saw his smiling face looking down at her, reaching out a hoof to help her up. Simply seeing it somehow made her feel better as she got back up and the tears subsided.

"When we fall, we pick ourselves up and try again. Even when you're down, never stop trying." Why did that memory cross her mind now?

Down Range offered to the pull the cart once in a while which she took him up on. This allowed her more freedom of movement. They were losing at least a few days if not more on the other group by heading towards Baltimare, but it might be worth the effort and maybe even save them going after them anyway. Overall it would not lose them too much time to look. Possibly a week and a half at most. The suit maps only indicated one library somewhere near the outskirts of the city. If any others were there they would need to get directions somehow.

"I'll finally get to see a real city up close." She could hardly contain her excitement.

Having bypassed what was left of two old cities already she felt a mix of building excitement and a little fear as well. Would it be dangerous? Even the captain could only tell them so much. Mostly that though some ponies still lived in the cities they were scattered, disorganized and destitute. Also that many sections of the cities were very dangerous, infested with radroaches, bloodwings and possibly other creatures whose descriptions made her skin crawl. More dangerous still, some parts of Manehattan and perhaps other cities were utterly inaccessible due to magical radiation. Though her suit was equipped with a device that might actually let her head into such heavily contaminated areas safely it would carry great risk to do so.

This was all so exciting and frightening at the same time as they approached the city. They were not in sight of anything yet. This was just more walking. It felt nothing the same. The frightening days and nights meandering through the emptiness greatly impressed upon her how terribly vast the world really is. Her entire life was the farm and the tiny town. Why did only old ponies live there anyway? She only visited the town a dozen or so times due to the distance and her young age, leaving her little chance to interact much with the inhabitants. It occurred to her now that every pony in what was essentially the only town she ever knew were all very aged. Why would that be? There were no foals there which did not seem all that out of the ordinary, it was a harsh place but there weren't even any younger or middle-aged ponies around.

Shouldn't there have been at least a few? Perhaps she should bring this up to Down Range and ask what he thought of it. At least having his company made the world feel much more bearable even if he said little. He did endure a great trauma just as herself. In the end if he turned out to be anything at all like his comic counterpart she was in good hooves indeed. Wait a minute.

"I was so surprised I never actually noticed what his cutie mark was!" When he took off his armor she was so enamored of his face she hadn't noticed at all. The comic, at least the one she'd seen hadn't divulged what it was either.

Having somepony to talk to while traveling made such a huge contrast to her lonely escape through the wastes she determined she never wanted to be all alone again. This made her wonder again, were they becoming friends? Was she doing this right? Should she try harder? Or would that push him away? How could you even tell what to do? Never having had any real friends before she was a nervous wreck over every word she spoke. With every slow, carefully crafted sentence she could only hope she didn't sound silly. He did not seem to notice or say anything about it though. Often she thought about it.

"Are we friends? I hope we are. What if we're not? I don't know." Traveler didn't know how much of a toll all this anxiety was really taking on her. Once or twice as they trekked across the broken landscape for a few seconds the suit displayed a dim 'High Blood Pressure' tag that flickered and faded which she barely took notice of. So lost in thought regarding him she didn't notice the slight tremor from under the ground at first. As it became pronounced they halted. Down Range looked to her from several meters behind as some cracks began to form in the ground.

"Earthquake!" Both said in unison.

Neither of them could find sure footing as more and more cracks expanded around them. Soon both were dodging back and forth trying to avoid falling into one of the ever deepening divides. Through terrible timing they were standing on very soft and malleable ground. The quakes intensity was increasing rapidly. Twice through jumping she avoided falling but her position made it just short of inevitable. Back where he was the ground was not splitting apart nearly as much, letting him save himself and the cart. At some point very soon she was going to be consumed by one of the fissures. Was this really it? Was she going to die not by the hooves of some crazed marauder or during some valiant attempt to obtain the almanac, but by the simple misfortune of standing at the wrong place at the wrong time?

"It can't end like this!" Traveler cursed as she dodged across yet another widening crack to land splayed out hard. Not after having come this far. Not right when things were starting to look up. Please not like this. Diving past another opening crack her survival was becoming less and less of a possibility. The stealth suit was far more agile than the heavy armor he wore, but it was not meant for this. Inevitably she was losing to the sheer overwhelming force of nature. One missed step would spell her end. Unable to avoid the edge of one upheaval the ground beneath her dropped away, trying to hop and missing she landed hanging over the edge.

"Help me!" She could not find purchase while the shaking continued, unable to crawl back up as she scrambled futilely, slowly slipping further over. The armor suit was light, but not that light. The shaking was subsiding while she struggled. He was safe but still could not approach as she hung suspended over a drop surely no pony could live through. So close to slipping. Running for her the instant it stopped he almost reached her right as the edge suddenly gave way. Watching in horror from above she slipped off to tumble and bounce several times off the now steep embankment until smashing into the bottom upside down and rolling over.

As her vision went red the last thing she heard was a sharp beeping sound and the suits familiar deep harsh mechanical voice through the ringing in her ears.

"Severe Impact. User death imminent. Automatic medical systems engaged." Hear head rolled to the side as the world went dark. It would take him some time to work his way down to where she lay. It was a fairly localized quake but had caused a great deal of damage in several small areas. The occasional light tremor still went on, making him take even more time to reach where she fell.

She was in an open field full of lush grass strewn with all manner of flowers. It was so bright, warm and sunny. Blink. Flowers? Grass? Sunny? Night Bloom was waving at her.

"M..Mommy?" This couldn't be.

"You've got to wake up now sweetheart." Why would she have to wake up? It was so nice here.

"I don't want to go. I want to stay with you!" Her smile was warm and kind.

"I'm sorry sweetheart, it's not time yet." Time for what?

Everything crumbled away as a sight like a long hallway stretched out in front of her. Down Range was waving at her through the suits visor.

"Traveler. Wake up! Traveler, you've got to wake up! Are you alright? Can you hear me?" She set into a wild fit of coughing and hacking. Her very insides felt hurt. At least this showed him she was alive. Extremely weakly she managed to stammer.

"Mag..nificent....I don't think I can move.." A horrible sense of utter helplessness wrapped around her. Was she paralyzed? What if she could never move again?

"Easy. Easy now, Traveler. Look at your display. Does it say anything's broken?" He sounded so genuinely concerned for her the dread vanished for a moment. She smiled. On the right through pained tears she could just make out a combat log tag never seen before. Taking a deep breath she activated it. When it showed the only entry for that day stated 'Traumatic impact sustained. Heart function ceased. Shock Administered. Painkiller administered.'

"My armor says it shocked me." He tilted his head.

"Never heard of power armor doing anything like that. If it doesn't say anything is broken the shock probably just stunned you. You should be okay." He was encouraging sounding. That was so good to hear.

It still took a full hour before any feeling returned to her body. For that time she simply lay there. There was no way to get her out of the suit if she couldn't move. Twitching in her legs eventually showed she could actually move. Getting up after being prone for so long like this was very painful leaving her standing on what felt like pins and needles. Her ribs felt rigid and bruised.

"Can you walk?" She was wobbly and lightheaded. It was such a relief just to know she wasn't paralyzed.

"Thank goodness. There aren't exactly any hospitals to take you to. I think." She knew what the term meant from her father, but there probably hadn't been a place like that in almost two centuries.

She was going to be hurting for a while. Her suits internal stocks of drugs were already very low of any sort. Now they were even lower. Somehow they remained potent over the years. Most likely some kind of spell was applied to the drugs when they were made. Motioning her to sit down he removed his helmet after extricating himself from the cart. Fortunately none of the supplies were lost. Now able to extract herself from the suit it was plain she was hurt badly. A large lump on the right side of her head was bleeding fairly profusely. Her ribs were not broken but obviously bruised on the right side. The sheer force of the impact at the end of the tumble had jarred hard enough to stop her heart.

Were it not for the armor she would certainly be dead. From his kit he retrieved some gauze, wrapping it around her head softly.

"I feel so tired. Maybe I should lay down.." He shook his head before she finished.

"No!" Traveler was slightly taken aback at sudden rebuke.

"Never go to sleep right after taking a knock to the head like that ever." Why was he so vehement about that?

"It's a bad idea. For now stay awake and keep moving." He was very insistent. This concern felt unnaturally deep to her. If he was that worried about it, maybe she better listen.

"Sorry I said your name out loud like that." She hadn't meant to.

"It's fine. That was really serious. It still is." Now she was really curious why this was so disconcerting to him.

"Why are you so worried? We barely know each other, and my heart stopped. That's worse than this. Isn't it?" Traveler asked.

"Let me tell you a different kind of story." A story? He finished tightening the gauze softly, leaving her looking like she was wearing a white bonnet or something equally out of place partially covering her right eye.

The serious look on his face told her to listen.

"I didn't just start out as a General. I worked my way up with a clear will and purpose. I didn't really want to fight either, who did? You can die. Eventually our purpose shifted to meaning nothing more than..winning. Somewhere we forgot there are other things, but that's not what this story is about. I'm going to tell you what my first bitter taste of war was really like." She'd never heard anypony talk like this before. His expression was more grim than she could have imagined.

"I wanted it, but I probably didn't deserve the rank. They needed officers and promotions to fill positions were a little too quick." Trailing off for a moment it looked like he was having trouble continuing.

"My friend Chance Wrenchswing joined up before I did." She had to stifle a snort. What an unusual name.

"I'm going to tell you what happened during my first battle. Naturally he wound up in the engineering corps. We met during a very large assault against one of our most distant outposts." Though hurting she was listening raptly to this.

"We thought the forest area was secure. It wasn't heavily defended. Zebras know..or knew how to take advantage of terrain very well. When the outpost was hit we were confident we could take them. That didn't last too long. They took their time, picking us off one by one. Didn't even know the first one of us was gone." Traveler could already tell this was a story with a bad ending.

"By the time we realized what was happening six of us were already down. I was only active seven months." He took a deep breath.

"I never watched anypony die before. We fought for a long time. Hours I guess. Until he took a shot across the helmet. One of the others jumped the zebra that did it while I dragged him off into the forest. I don't know what happened to him." This was a dark and terrible story so far and getting worse. She did not know what to feel about it.

"They all died. All of them. I am the only one who survived that fight." Though Travelers head was killing her, this demanded her attention.

"But, what about your friend?" She asked. He nodded in a forlorn way.

"He couldn't walk. I made a makeshift sled out of branches and straps to drag him on. I didn't know. I never should have let him sleep, but It took two days to find another unit. They were hit as well. Not as bad. The medic..couldn't wake him up." A few tears welled in his eyes.

"He never woke up." He wiped his eyes. Oh dear. That was frightening. Seeing her horrified look he quickly added:

"I don't mean to scare you. Just stay awake until we're sure you're really alright. Poor Chance, as far as I know he was still in a coma when it all ended. Maybe that was better anyway." This was such a sad story.

The particular comic she'd seen never said he'd been through such terrible things.

"I'm sorry about your friend." Was all she could think to say.

"I'm sorry about all of them. Do you think you can manage to walk? We can go slow." After hearing that she was more than willing to stay up for now and gingerly slipped back into Moonlight. It would be very slow going. The rest of the day passed uneventfully. He was unusually chatty. Just off in the distance the vague outlines of buildings could be seen in the dim gloom that was day. Her earlier excitement was tempered by the pain in her ribs and head.

As night fell they stopped just short of being within sight of the buildings. Her head wasn't ringing as much by now. Her ribs felt like they were hurting even more than earlier.

"I have to stop. Do you think it would be okay for me to sleep now?" He was still a bit concerned, but she did seem to be in full possession of her faculties.

"Alright. Don't you slip away on me now." No way she was going to die now. There were things to do. Even on the hard ground it felt so good to rest.

It also hurt a whole lot to wake up.

"Ohh." Traveler panted. Her head was pounding terribly and it felt like it took everything she had just to get to her hooves. Once up she coughed a few times. She was feeling so very hungry she opened one of the boxes of miserable foodstuff once more and just dumped some in her mouth. The same vaguely crunchy gritty cardboard-like flavor as always. She was starting to become so desensitized to it she didn't even notice. The ancient cereal whatever it was certainly was filling. She was only finishing the first box now, and would stick to drinking only the amount of water she planned on.

Where was Down Range anyway? Gingerly slipping into the suit the display showed him moving towards her. He stepped into view.

"Good. You're up. I was worried." Those words made her feel very warm.

"I'm fine. Well, I'm not fine, but I think I'm alright." She was kind of stumbling over her words.

"It's my watch." He asked if she was feeling up to it.

"I can take it." At least she hoped. She would not be able to move around as much so chose to do slow circles.

Each time she looked east the outlines of wrecked and shattered buildings could be made out. They would definitely reach the first in the morning. Hopefully the library they were looking for wasn't totally destroyed. Her excitement was beginning to return. A real city. Something she'd never been to before. The prospect was fraught with mixed feelings. It could be a treasure trove or a death trap. The squeaking from the suits damaged leg joint happened more often since her terrible tumble. As if there wasn't enough to worry about already.

"It can't be helped. Just gotta keep..huh?" The faintest flicker of another friendly bar appeared on the display and vanished.

"Must be imagining things. I guess I did hit my head pretty hard." Losing herself in thought the time passed quickly. When he asked her via the radio if she was ready to go it startled her.

"Oh my head. Yeah, can't wait to see it." If there was anything left to see. She'd been so intent on the city ahead that once again she'd missed what his cutie mark was.

"Next time." She told herself. The terrain here was very flat. A portion of an old road they were following which happened to survive showed as Mareshal Lane on her display. How did the suit know these things?

Further on just across two more roads was the library. If they could go in a straight line it would only take a few hours to reach. They were making good time once again. An occasional soft aftershock still shook the ground setting off alarm bells in her head. They proved to be unwarranted. Most of the upheaval was confined to a relatively small region. Down Range insisted on pulling the cart for now. The gesture was nice if a bit pointless aside from maneuverability. Their suits provided more than enough power to pull it regardless. It did put less stress on the leg joint she supposed. They were finally approaching buildings. For her it was quite a sight, and quite a mess. She didn't know what she expected really.

Many buildings did still stand. Cracked, withered with age and neglect or otherwise damaged with some missing entire sections, but impressive to her nonetheless.

"Ponies built all this? They're so..big." Some of them looked like they reached to the very sky itself. They were not so lucky for a clear path. One building was a real problem. When it fell the structure twisted sheering the building in half to land on its side across the road toppling another building across the way blocking the entire way.

"Do we go around?" Traveler was intently surveying all this. It was all so grand and huge to her.

"It would take hours more. We go through. Stay spaced apart." ?? He walked straight up to one of the sideways windows and straight in. She followed. It was difficult navigating in this space and disorienting. Some warped doors still in their frames hung above. Most rotted away. She could look up and see the assorted destruction wrought on tubs, tables and whatever else the building once housed before it fell so violently. A more saddening and mute reminder of the horror the end gave to all was the presence of the occasional bit of pony bone here and there. Living ponies were in here when it happened. How many ponies were struck down idly, never suspecting anything was coming?

Accidentally stepping on the still partially intact skull of one poor soul amidst the wreckage gave her pause. She gulped.

"I'm sorry." She slid it softly off to the side and moved on. His armor was equipped with a small side lamp enabling them to see well enough. Moonlight did not have any such feature thanks to the vision enhancement it already provided. This enabled her to determine the night vision mode though helpful was no replacement for real light. Several shortcomings were noticeable now. It was not possible to look too closely towards a light source with it on, and it was much harder to make out fine details. It was easy enough to imagine this being a problem.

Her father said the suit wasn't fully tested when the war ended. It may have other problems she was not yet aware of. Their steps echoed hollowly through this once mundane structure. It must have been wonderful to live in such a place. Her imagination ran wild with things that might have gone on here. So much so she could almost hear voices. The walk through this mangled mess was depressing. So many dreams must have been cut short in this one place alone. What of the whole of Equestria? Were all the great cities as torn up and devastated? To her even this simple building was a marvel of engineering deserving of a far better end than this. Some climbing was necessary once in a while. Fortunately their path was mostly clear.

Emerging on the far side presented a view down the road of many other destroyed buildings.

"That's not promising." Half an hour later they stood in front of the library. Not promising at all. A quarter of the right side was shorn clean off leaving the entire insides of the lobby exposed. A once grand staircase still stood to the left spiraling up to a second rickety floor. Any books out here were beyond salvage. A friendly bar flickered across her display again.

"Did you see?.." He looked at her.

"Never mind." Picking their way in through the rubble did lead to a few jammed doors.

Ramming the first two at full strength still would not move them.

"Must have caved in behind." He said. This was looking less and less likely to have been a good idea. The third door opened with ease. There might be something in there. Down the messy hallway there was a sudden echoing voice.

"Help! Help!" They looked to each other. Running down the hallway they passed a door where another call for help drifted from. Backing up they could see a disheveled blue mare whose soft pink mane and tail were streaked with dirt. She was pinned on her back by a beam sitting across one of her hooves.

An open book with illegible lettering surrounded by wide empty spaces for a cutie mark was just visible. She spotted them. Some decayed bones lay about the room.

"Thank goodness! Can you get this off of me? I'm stuck." The beam was very heavy taking some effort to slide off enough to set her free.

"Who are you, and how did you get stuck like that?" They asked. Standing up and shaking herself off she looked rather pale.

"I'm Margin. I promised to visit her so I was trying to find my friend Delimiter when everything got all bright and shaky. Then this beam fell down. I've been stuck here for hours. No, days? I don't know." Bright? She seemed very confused.

"What are you doing here?" Couldn't hurt to ask.

"We are looking for a book called the Farmer's Almanac." She smiled.

"I know exactly where a copy of that is. I'll help you find it if you help me find my friend." That sounded good.

"Follow me." Margin darted out into the hallway. Didn't her hoof hurt?

Back at the staircase she started upwards, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings or how unsafe it all was.

"Isn't that dangerous?" She giggled when Traveler asked.

"Dangerous? Nonsense. What could be dangerous about climbing some stairs? Come along." Margin walked up to the top then straight across the drooping ledge without a care in the world. As she went to step into a gap Traveler gasped, but somehow she walked straight across to the far door and out of sight.

"Down Range, something feels strange about this." He agreed.

"You're lighter than me. think you're up to crossing that?" The other mare did it. Surely she could manage. It would mean leaving Moonlight here with him.

"Be careful. Something really does feel off about this, but I can't put my hoof on it." She headed up to the ledge. It was even more rickety up close. How did Margin cross this so easily? Inching her way along unsteadily she put her left rear hoof right through the ledge. It would be very painful to fall from here. The promise of the book won out as she steadily crossed inch by inch. Finally entering the door on the far side let her breathe a sigh of relief.

Margin was just turning a corner at the end of the hall.

"Come on slowpony." Out of sight again. Traveler went to turn the corner and almost fell a story down onto ragged sharp pieces below where the floor collapsed. Margin was on the other side of the large gap.

"It's right in here." She waved.

"Wait, Margin, how did you get over there so fast?" She stopped waving.

"I walked. What's the trouble with you young ponies today?" She stepped into the room on the far side of the gap out of sight once again.

"What is going on here?" If there was any chance a copy was here she needed to reach it. Backing up to take a running start she leapt across, her rear hooves just connected with the edge as she almost slipped off.

"Whew. Don't want to wind up down there." There were plenty of books in the room, most of which were absolutely ruined by the ravages of time and exposure. The ceiling had given way here leaving the room open to air and the elements.

"Here you are. The Farmer's Almanac: Everything there is to know about farming, past and present." It was a hefty tome, and nearly utterly destroyed. Maybe something could be salvaged out of it.

She'd let her hopes get too high, now feeling miserable at seeing it. The panging in her head and body from the exertion wasn't helping her mood.

"Can we look for my friend now? She should be around here somewhere." Right. That. Traveler left the book in here for now. She would get it on the way back out.

"Where would this friend of yours be?" She asked as they traversed several dingy hallways lined by multiple rooms. The library would have been well appointed in its time.

The cracked and peeling walls, destroyed reading tables and chairs, and the desiccated husk of a building now only served as a reminder that life must have been a great deal better once.

"Why are you looking for them anyway?" Margin smiled.

"We promised to meet each other and go out for a nice picnic." Traveler did a double take. A what? Did she hear that right? Brushing it off she also decided to ask.

"How did you know right where that book was anyway?" Margin was calling her friends name.

"I'm the head librarian here." What? She was beginning to think she'd hit her head even harder the other day than she thought. A low muffled wheezing was heard behind a slightly tilted door. It took some banging to force it open. Bursting through the dilapidated door revealed a crying pale pink unicorn with a soft blue and white streaked mane. A mark that resembled a comma punctuated her flank. Her crying echoed in the small room. More alarmingly a filing cabinet had fallen across her back. Another shelf fell straight across right in front, apparently cracking her horn jaggedly. The bones of a pony skeleton lay crushed beside her.

"Delimiter!" Margin ran over to her.

"Margin, you're finally here. I waited for you so long. I thought I'd be stuck in here forever." There was some kind of mild echo to her voice in this room. Traveler heaved the cabinet off of her stirring up great deals of dust. She appeared to glimmer in the dim light afforded by the gaps in the ceiling. Despite freeing her this still felt very wrong.

"That was quite a shake, huh?" Delimiter stood up and the two friends hugged one another happily. Wasn't she hurt? She had to be hurting between her back being hit and her horn being broken.

"It's time." Delimiter told her. A horrified look crossed Margins face as something dawned on her. Traveler looked to her questioningly. Rivulets of tears began streaming down her face.

"It can't be..I...I don't want to go!" Delimiter held her friend close.

"I just realized it too. I Guess I just couldn't leave without my best friend." She gave her a gentle squeeze.

"We've been here much too long already. We have to go. It's okay. We're together again thanks to this nice pony." This was feeling stranger and stranger. Margin was shaking her head side to side as tears flowed.

"Come now. It was a long time ago. We can go together." Traveler was feeling very confused. What were they talking about?

"Are you ready?" Margin ever so slowly said yes. Delimiter looked to Traveler.

"Good luck, and thank you." With a wavering shimmer they disappeared from sight. A moment later Traveler found herself sitting in an empty room beside a pile of pony bones as her vision flickered. No one was around.

"Huh? What happened to me? Where did they go? Margin? Delimiter?" There was no answer within the dusty confines of this ruined library. Only the undisturbed silence of ages abandonment.

"Wait a minute." Looking down she was dumbstruck by the fact there was only one set of hoofprints in the dust. A chill ran along her spine.

"What did I just?.." Getting up she walked back through the lonely library. There were no other hoofprints in the halls aside from her own.

"Was I dreaming? That can't be." The damaged remnants of the book were exactly where she left it. It was most definitely real.

"Was that some kind of magic? I better get out of here." Heading back hurriedly she retrieved the book and tossed it across the gap to land squarely. From this side the angle of the jump looked easier to make. After making the dangerous leap back she carried it out to the ledge and tossed it down for Down Range to catch. She did not have to go back across the ledge again after finding a relatively safe spot to jump down from. The exertion of it all exacerbated the pounding in her head and the ache in her ribs.

"Where is Margin?" He asked.

"Let's get out of here. I'll tell you on the way." As they exited what was left of the library she explained.

"That can't be right." Now he was worried about her mental state.

"They were there and then they were just, gone." They might as well get back on track. Slipping back through the ruins she was uncertain of her feelings. Did she just help something really good happen? It did feel like it was good even if It was hard to understand.

"You are talking about ghosts. How can there be ghosts?" He was still rather incredulous about what happened.

"I don't know. I just feel like something good happened." Could they really have been ghosts, or something else? Some kind of echo of the past? Whatever they were, they had been waiting for somepony to bring them to their senses and set things to rights for a very long time. Deciding it would probably be fruitless to look for another library around here they followed the same route back to their last campsite. He took off his helmet and sat using a spell to ever so gently prize apart the damaged books pages. She got some rest while he worked. Most pages were unreadable with only an intact sentence or word which without context were probably useless, he cut them out and saved them anyway just in case.

He worked at it for several hours before flipping the last page. Only one page from a chapter apparently about wheat was relatively intact. Carefully he slipped it into the relative safety of a storage compartment on his armor. Their detour wasn't a complete loss.

"Better than nothing. I hope we have better luck next time." He would take the first watch tonight. She really needed the rest. Her head and ribs were still aching. The strange incident at the library left her wondering what else they might run into. Had the two ponies friendship really been so strong in life that a mere promise bound them here until they were together again? Was that even possible?

It was hard for her to sleep that night. Hearing some shuffling she opened her eyes to see the faint outline of a red-furred pony standing over her.

"AAAHH!" Startled she started screaming, as she did so he echoed with an "aaah!" of his own. This was strangely familiar.

"Aah!" She yelped again. Down Range had come running from somewhere and in his hefty armor slid down a small ridge. Why hadn't his suit picked them up? They continued screaming back and forth.

"Stop, stop screaming!" He boomed over his suit amp.

"Who are you!? What do you want!?" She demanded.

"What's going on here? You!?" Down Range also sounded confused. The red-coated pony responded with a surprised sound to his voice.

"You!" Traveler blinked in confusion.

"Hold it, hold it!" What in the world? Now that she'd shaken off the grogginess of sleep she could see him clearly.

"Is that you, Tanner? What are you doing, are you following us?" Down Range questioned. This was all so confusing.

What did this pony want? Was he following them? This thought made her feel a bit disturbed.

"Yes, I mean no. I mean..sorry to startle you like that. I didn't intend to, really. Sorry." Once she managed to catch her breath she stood up. Down Range stepped in close as Tanner spoke.

"Wait, you know my name?" Tanner seemed to calm.

"Of course I know your name, Tanner. You only followed me everywhere at the camp. Think I didn't notice?" Tanner was a bit pale.

"Tanner? Are you alright?" He fell over onto his side unconscious, smacking his head off the ground.

"Good heavens. Traveler, check him." She leaned over him.

"Are ya..Are you dead?" His eyes shot open making her jump back.

"Ohh.. What happened?" He looked up and seeing the heavily armored pony standing over him his head hit the dirt again.

"This is going to be a long day isn't it?" Down Range held an armored hoof up to his helmet and sighed.

"It's about time for your watch anyway. I have no idea why he's here or how he found us. Probably harmless, just keep an eye on him. I need some sleep." Traveler found she did not ache quite as badly. While she always wanted excitement, this was not at all the sort she had in mind. Doing her little routine to get into her armor she couldn't help but ponder her experiences so far. Not even two months time passed since she left the farm. She went through so much. Now she'd nearly died twice. She hoped this was not becoming a trend. Through sheer luck of timing she'd met a pony who was technically over two centuries old, and now what could this Tanner fellow be doing here anyway?

"I wonder what will happen next?" She gazed off into the distance.

- - -

Is it fate? Are they merely lucky to still be alive or is that which hangs always just a hairs breadth outside of notice gently pulling at the strings?

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