• Published 20th Nov 2013
  • 2,213 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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Here We Gather

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Many dark and mysterious things roam the equestrian wastes. Some mistakenly made by the very hooves which once claimed to protect that which was innocent, pure and good. In the name of this very goodness and science they invariably sought to turn such progress towards making weapons of the most innocuous of things. Trust to nothing, to no pony or higher power. None are there to aid you in the dim light cast upon the land, strewing ill and shadows long cast over it by the past. The only thing you may trust to is yourself and hope in your decisions. Wither they may lead you in the stillness is entirely the happenstance of your choices.

From great underground stables few recall, to the vast unforgiving emptiness that blankets the land there is little hope for the world. Yet those dull embers of hope spring forth from time to time. Tiny sparks in this absolute darkness gleam brightly as a thousand watchfires lit all at once. By this same token such an ember attracts all sorts of attention. Blighted landscapes almost seem to cry out for justice, restitution for all the horror inflicted upon it by tortured ghosts of long ago. The barely surviving members of the once great and flourishing pony races look up only to a closed sky which offers no escape. In the dank stillness something stirs. Surely no greater horror could yet await?

Great and terrible are the powers that clashed time and time again. Their fight for supremacy over a withered world just another story held onto by the scarred and shattered remnants of what was. The battlefields full of pain and suffering lay eerily silent, forgotten. The misery of the distant past plaintively calls out for justice where there is none. No peace has settled anywhere, only an uneasy quiet which refuses to let go of the present. Nowhere is this made more clear than by simply seeing the grand marvels ponies once held as their greatest achievements. Those which still stand a mute monument to the countless lives wasted in a futile war with a pointless end.

Life still tenaciously goes on in any way it can despite the devastation wrought across the world. Life which is looked upon by envious eyes shrouded in dark and shadow. The silence is a heavy weight on top of all that still lives. How dare life defy the end and continue? On it goes oblivious to the fact it is over. There is no point, why won't it just give in? All things must come to an end. This is the natural order even if that end was brought about by unnatural means. Perhaps this is why life struggles on far past the time it should have quit. Defiantly ponies still face what is left. The tragic cost of continued existence a price that is far too steep. Some still accept paying this hefty sum.

Longing for some spark of hope and light the dull and injured expanses wait in silence for some grand recurrence, some push forth of civilization to reclaim control of the land and finally grant peace to the extinguished rays of yesteryear. When the grips of fear and terror took hold of the populace the groundwork of inevitability was laid. No greater law and power than that which is inevitable exists. The drumbeats of war echo throughout history to an endless tune of emptiness and sorrow. The world did not end so much as it wound down after the fact. Many ponies amongst other life survived as it always does.

The great megaspell versions of much simpler spells that never were intended to be used were hurled in retaliation against an enemy that chose to use them first, also in ways never intended. Despite their great power the destruction wrought was nowhere near total. Huge portions of the populations on all sides were incinerated instantly to join the background emanations of magic forever left to spill forth where the very fabric of reality itself was torn asunder. Those that were too close never felt a thing. For those unfortunate few not far enough away left blind and stumbling in the dark, the stark terror though short-lived was unbearable. Long after the darkness consumed them their mournful cries may yet carry, lonely in their solitude.

"Need more. I'm going to rip it open. Then it'll all come spilling out. Spilling, pouring out. Gonna tear it open, it'll be so warm when it all comes gushing out." It was heading straight for them, muttering incomprehensibly. An apparently insane silvery-coated earth pony was shuffling along behind on a nearly broken limb, pursuing relentlessly. He seemed to feel nothing. He was faster than he should be, but never tired. The crazed ponies face and coat was spattered with blood. Blood from one of the other poor souls that ran across him. He seemed to come out of nowhere, wheezing and speaking strangely. When he violently bit into their neck, killing them on the spot, she and her son ran. This was a mistake.

Spotting the motion he stumbled towards them. Now he was chasing them endlessly through the countryside. How long were they running? She didn't know, only that they must not stop. Something was even more wrong with this pony than simply being wild or crazy. At one point this very pale pink unicorn smashed him straight across the head with a rock she spotted, sending him sprawling out on his back. Despite nearly bashing his skull in, it barely slowed him down. He must not get near them. Something in his eyes screamed it. They must find somewhere to escape to. Somewhere they could hide, but they were tiring while somehow he was not. They couldn't keep this up.

Fear was the only thing still keeping them moving, Fear of being caught by this monster, and what he might do. All real strength was gone long ago. He had come from the direction of what many called the Haysead swamps, this odd mispronunciation persisted through the ages. It was a place no pony dared approach in uncounted years. Terrible stories circulated which told of an endless swamp, a vile place where nothing that would or should be called life existed, yet it was from the distant edge of this place out of myth and legend he emerged. Their companion of only two days now lay dead as they retreated. It was difficult to form bonds of trust with any wandering the blasted landscapes of what was once collectively known as Equestria.

She along with her son were enjoying the brief respite of friendly company when they were suddenly set upon. At first he seemed no threat, merely a mumbling eccentric of the wastes. Allowing him to approach soon proved deadly. At a distance the way he walked looked odd. As he approached it rapidly became apparent something was wrong. His movements were jerky, disconcerting, too fast. The instant he spotted them he jolted at them, tearing into their new friend. His very light barding proved useless against his assailant. They were just beginning to trust and like him after some tension filled days together. Now he was gone. There was no time for regret and grief right now.

The blood-streaked stallion that ended him was right on them.

"I can't. I Can't." The young colt was slathering at the mouth from near exhaustion.

"We have to keep moving or that thing will get us." His mother was huffing as she ran. They managed to gain a little distance earlier by running around some strewn debris which fell from an old building long ago, tripping him as he moved only straight at them. She would have used an ancient pistol she carried in a makeshift holster at her side, but ran out of ammo days ago. Even if she had ammo it would be frightening to try firing again.

The weapon jammed several times at inopportune moments due to the longtime lack of maintenance. Altogether it was lucky to still be usable at all, and that something worse hadn't happened when it jammed. For now, it was just a chunk of metal she carried. She could ill afford to be hauling it around at the moment but it was her only truly valuable possession. If she could just obtain some ammo for it. Any ammo. At least some means of slowing or stopping this pursuer. His senses were more acute than normal. Even at a great distance he always found his way straight towards, giving them almost no time to catch their breath.

"We have to stop mom! What are we gonna do!?" There were few places to hide around here, and simply hiding was not an option. They needed something impassable between them. A door, a wall, something, anything. Surely there must be somewhere? A ways ahead up a steep path was something she couldn't quite make out.

The minor incline was proving to be a serious issue as they were so nearly spent already. Willing themselves to keep climbing would not actually have worked if it were not for the very real possibility of dying if they stopped for the slightest instant. The path was steep enough in their present condition to feel more like mountain climbing than it actually was.

Short of breath and on the verge of panic, they were running ragged. They must find something right now or be lost. He would catch each in turn and they would die, unremembered victims in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was nothing around here to put between them and this approaching scourge. Why won't he stop? Her thoughts were scattered, dwelling on all the brutal ways he might kill them.

"Stop thinking about that, what do I do what do I do?" Nothing could be found to stop him, her frail gun would be no hindrance to him at all if she hit him with it. No, there was no time. If they let up at all now he would obliterate them.

His stamina was beyond belief, trying to fight him off hoof to hoof would be utterly impossible. Trying desperately to form some kind of plan, only one thing came to mind.

"You must go ahead." Telling her son this was difficult. At best, delaying the monster a moment or two was all that could be hoped for.

"We have to get in somewhere safe. I can't stop him. Keep running, look for somewhere we can hide, anything!" She was panting so hard it hurt.

"But.." She skidded to a halt.

"I'll try to slow him down. Run!" Turning to face the oncoming horror she braced herself and telekinetically held him in place, her horn aglow. Somehow he was thrashing, still moving forward despite it.

"How can it be!? He's so strong he can resist magic?" She strained as she poured more and more of her rather limited magic reserves into it. Being nowhere near the most powerful unicorn ever, at this rate rate of exertion she would knock herself unconscious any second. Something that must not happen or she would be finished.

Pooling the entirety of her power she picked him up and hurled him a great distance backwards through the air to slam into the ground heavily. This would give them some time if she could just remain conscious and moving. Once again he scrambled to his hooves showing no sign of anything but insanity and single-mindedness of purpose. Whatever this purpose was escaped her. Why was he always coming straight at them? It was as if nothing else whatsoever mattered to the crazy pony. Didn't he ever need to stop, to eat or drink? As she fled after her son it came to her attention he barely even seemed to breathe. There were indeed dangerous ponies and other things in the wastes, she'd met some of them.

This was something else, sinister and wrong. What was he? Could he be invincible, immortal? This could not be happening. It must be some nightmare brought on by long years wandering the despairing wastes. Nothing was easy, but his existence defied all reason. This oncoming monster shot down their hopes instantly, his appearance killed it all, eyes rolling forth and back in his head half-glazed and lifeless. They were a pale off-white color they'd never seen. Her son's coat was a very rare mix of white and black highlighting, something very few ponies ever sported. She thought it made him look handsome, this was the opposite.

His strangely bright white coat now a horror in itself splattered and streaked as it was with their friends very life essence. He continued mumbling a nonsensical rant of want and need for warmth, for it to all come spilling out. There was nothing like this. He was an impossibility loosed upon them by some unwholesome power. What could possibly have given rise to such a nightmarish apparition as this demented pony? Try as they might, he never stopped. They would wake up soon, right? Except this was no dream. Most certainly this was the waking world and everything was wrong, more so now. They stopped calling for help an hour ago, nopony lived around here. Their companion was a fellow traveler.

He'd linked up with them after some banter back and forth which successfully convinced them his company would be alright. He may even have had an eye towards romance. It was not to be. Despite their short acquaintance, she would miss him. Having no real chance to think of a destination they were randomly heading for what was once known as rambling rock ridge. Finding themselves on an unused dirt trail they'd been fleeing down it for nearly 2 full hours in their bid to escape this terror. Somewhere in the distance a small rocky, slightly mountainous region hovered into view. A very thick hefty wooden door on enormous ancient steel hinges hung wide over an entrance into the hill, obscured from view by many dead trees. Perhaps an old mine. Catching up with her son he yelled.

"Mom, in there!" It was their one chance to escape whatever madness consumed this pony.

"Get inside, hurry!" With whatever modicum of strength she still possessed she willed the door to move, to close. It was so old, so heavy and stuck fast.

"Move, move!" She screamed in panic as he closed in on them once again, still muttering a slew of vile sounding scrambled statements about warmth and ripping things open.

"Close, please close..." Just as her magic began to fade the door finally loosed to swing around for what felt like an eternity, the hinges screaming in protest. Closer, closer.

At the final instant she managed just enough to slam the immense door shut right as he smashed straight into it with a terrible thud which echoed down the tunnels within. With that she collapsed unconscious, leaving her son alone in this waking world of pain and suffering.

"M..mom, are you okay?" He was shaking, trembling in fear. The pony outside was hammering himself against the door futilely without pause, slamming into it again and again.

"Mom, please...I'm scared.." The blood-soaked pony outside just kept hurling his body against the door.

This was not the old cave entrance they'd once seen in passing. It was much further west and this was well hidden from the ground. Coughing, fatigued, her son shuddered. Hardly able to catch his breath after being forced to run so long, so far. His young body ached as his legs practically folded beneath him. Each bang against the door made his heart leap.

"Go away!..please, go away..." A whispered entreat to finally leave them alone. The murderous pony outside smashed against the door nonstop. The poor young colt stared transfixed upon the enormous old door, afraid to look away. His head bobbed as he sagged. His energy was all but spent. For long moments he sat like this, unable to move.

Slowly, inexorably, exhaustion was catching up with him. The only thing keeping him on his hooves for quite some time now was his mothers coaxing and encouragement that they would escape if they just kept going. Her words looked to be proving true. Maybe they were safe in here. Still unable to let go of his terror he sat for interminable moments. Moving to look away from the door his trembling worsened. The bad pony mustn't get them. He didn't really know of death yet and had just seen a pony that truly seemed to be a new and genuine friend murdered right in front of him. It hurt so terribly to see their new companion die. Finally, he took a step. He huddled close, laying against his mother.

He held to her tightly, crying.

"Mom, you have to wake up. Please wake up?" Exhaustion finally struck the young pony as his eyes closed despite himself, his head falling against her. Regardless of the constant dull banging outside he fell into sleep, perhaps in shock. It would not be until several hours later when his mother came to with a deep gasp. She awoke to still hear the dull thudding of their tormentor outside. It was no weaker than when she collapsed. Something was so terribly wrong with him. She knew there were dangerous things in the wastes and wilds of the land. This was something else.

What could drive a pony to act this way? Looking around she realized how dark it was inside. Daring to cast a very unpracticed and faint light spell her mother bothered to teach she quickly determined there were two tunnels here. Perhaps one might lead to another way out. Out and away from the source of their fear. Now there was time to think, in some way she felt pity for the poor pony outside. Surely no one would ever act that way of their own accord? He must be sick or something, but with what? She'd never heard of anything at all even remotely like this. It could not be simple insanity. It would not explain how he seemed to have endless strength and stamina to pursue them.

He didn't appear to feel pain either. This was beyond frightening. How could things be so wrong? He should be in serious pain, exhausted, maybe even dead. Instead he just kept on coming as if his only purpose was to hunt them down. Who was he, what happened to him? Once from a very far distance she'd seen a strange mix of pony and machine. A monstrous apparition to behold, all metal bits poking out in odd places and entirely frightening even from far away. It seemed pained. She was so glad it hadn't noticed her and went about whatever strange business such a thing might. Even that terrible image, that awful visage had looked alive and intelligent.

This pony only kept muttering terrible things, coming at them. The look in his eyes so cold, so devoid of reason, of life. How could one be so fixated on anything? The slamming outside continued. Thinking to herself that must surely hurt, she realized how much pain she was feeling herself. Overtaxing herself enough earlier to faint was not something she'd done before. Her head ached and she felt like she'd actually burned her horn slightly. It was definitely an experience she did not wish to repeat. Quietly a soft groan escaped her throat. The circulation in one of her legs was a bit impaired. With that pins and needles feeling she noticed her son fast asleep, clutching to her like fear itself had taken form and flight.

She would have to wake him, deciding to wait a moment. He may need whatever rest he was getting now. The dull banging against the thick wooden door was a near-constant rhythm almost inducing her to panic once more.

"Get hold of yourself. He can't get in, right?" She whispered to herself. She must wake her son. Reluctantly she readied herself to get moving. Somehow this pony was running along on what was clearly a broken limb without so much as flinching. Why was he so set on catching them? She'd never seen him before in her life. There were things she did that were nothing to be proud of, but not one thing that could incite another to revenge.

She moved from place to place as many wastelanders did, in search of water, food, shelter. A safe place to be. All of these things were in short supply, life was very unforgiving. A faded sign on the wall gave warning the mine was patrolled by Heavyhoof Security Services. Rather, it would if either of them could read. She always wanted to learn how, but for many this was a skill lost to time and the reality of the wastes. What she mostly learned over the years was to shoot first and ask questions later. Her parents were not much help, having abandoned her at a young age. She could not really blame them. It was either part ways or certainly die. The only other choice was to split ways and possibly live. It could not have hurt more.

In her travels she met a strapping stallion who stole her heart and made her feel secure for once. In the end he didn't measure up, leaving her alone with a young foal. She found out later he did not live long past their separation. Something somewhere snapped inside her then. She would do anything to somehow ensure her son a better life than she endured. To this end things felt to be looking up, and they were. Up until this surreal insanity intruded on her efforts. They better go. Now which way should they head? The tunnel to the right looked to be inclined slightly upwards, but could be a deception of the dim light. The one to the left went downhill just as gradually.

There were other signs on the walls but they were so faded and covered with grime they would not have been readable even if she could understand them.

"Ohh, my head." She held a hoof to her face.

"Guess I'm just lucky I didn't faint sooner." She truly overdid it earlier. It was difficult to decide which way to go. The dim light provided by her weak spell did not project very far, falling short almost unnaturally.

"Which way do we go?" There was no way to know which one might lead to a way out, if either did.

She nudged her son gently as he woke with a start, almost yelping.

"Shh.. it's okay. We're safe for now. There has to be another way out of here somewhere. Let's go." He followed her looking dazed.

"Mom, the horrible monster can't get through the door, right?" He squeaked out. She tried to sound reassuring.

"I don't think so." Surely the creature outside which resembled a pony would wind up dying before it could actually come crashing through such a large and heavy old door? She would not make that assumption, instead simply hoping.

"Let's not find out." The inclination of the tunnels in the dark made it much more difficult to tell if they actually continued going up or down. She choose to go down the tunnel to the left. With caution they wandered forward. Crazy ponies were one thing, there were other things in the wastes. She'd never lied to him about the fact that life in the wastes was hard and fraught with danger. This was an utter unknown, never having imagined such a horror. There were many strange things which happened, but not once did she ever hear of anything like whatever happened to that stallion. She would even have found him cute if he wasn't trying to kill them.

As they cautiously inched down the tunnel she brushed past several unseen switches knocking one into the on position. Glancing at it the shape E.T.S. Enable was in the center. It was not a symbol she'd seen before. Neither knew what these switches could be for anyway. A very far off clinking sound could just be faintly heard followed by a hum so slight it might not even be there, nothing happened. There was little she truly did know aside from survival. It was the only reason she was able to force them both to run so far and for so long from him. There was no desire to face such things. She only wanted to give her son a good life. Was that so wrong? Nearly having that faint hope taken away shook her to the core.

She wouldn't let him see how scared and shaken she truly was.

"Mom, did you hear something?" Tilting her head the only thing she could make out was the occasional thudding back where the maniacal pony was still throwing himself against the door. Did he never run out of energy or breath? His strength was so overwhelming it was ludicrous. Knowing he could push back against magic with that ridiculous strength alone was terrifying. Never in her life did she feel so helpless against anything. Were there more like him? She shuddered. His singular bloodlust was so very disturbing. He did not seem to enjoy it or anything. This thought felt hollow.

Something about the entire situation simply did not add up. He attacked whatever moved until it stopped moving, nothing more. Holding a hoof up to her ear she couldn't make out any further noises.

"I don't think I hear anything." A slight feeling of apprehension struck her as they trotted down this long-unused passage. Where did it actually go? She'd never been in such a place and having no idea of what they could expect was not a good feeling at all. Was this place itself dangerous? There were all manner of things present in the wastes, many of which were dangerous to encounter in the open where some chance of escape existed, in such a confined space as here they would be hard-pressed to win a fight against even the weaker of such a menace.

Why did life have to be like this, so full of danger and suffering? It felt wrong. Somewhere in her mind some dim racial memory of a happier time tugged at her emotions, almost making tears well up. No, she would not let this be their final day. No matter what it took she was going to get them out of here safely. She was going to give her son a true chance at a happy life free from sorrow, somehow. Nothing else mattered, not even herself. Whatever it cost didn't matter. She kept them moving. The further they were from that door the better.

"Mom, it smells bad in here..." There was some faintly foul odor emanating from somewhere.

It was sickly and slightly nauseating, just weak enough they could tolerate it. They both felt very pained after running for so long. They knew running well enough, it was often a quick escape that meant more than anything else in the dreadful expanses of the wastes. She'd chosen not to go near cities unless there was no other choice. It just was not safe. Nowhere truly was. Her experiences scavenging in the closest city ranged from easy pickings to nearly losing her life on too many occasions to one thing or another. As they made their way down the dark tunnel they came across a door. Above it a grime covered sign stated 'Office'. Not being able to read could prove to be a real problem here. She didn't know what it said.

Was it something dangerous or harmless to look around inside of? Being indecisive was always a bad thing in her experience. She tried to open the ancient door. The unused hinges squealed terribly at this unexpected use. It barely moved. Placing her forehooves against the door she shoved heavily. The swelled door jammed against the frame. She didn't want to make more noise, but it seemed safe enough. She turned around to buck it open. This did not have the intended effect, resulting in her legs going straight through the door with a resounding thud. Her son giggled heavily.

"Very funny. Help me out." He tugged one leg out, then the other.

"That's better." There were now two hoof shaped holes in the door. At least now it might be possible to open it. There was no point trying to be quiet now after that racket anyway. She pounded away on it until the remains of the door simply collapsed in protest at the treatment stirring up decades worth of dust causing both to cough uncontrollably for a moment.

"How pleasant." The foul odor was the slightest bit stronger here. The source of it was certainly not coming from within.

"Yuck, that smell really is bad, whatever it is." From the look of things nopony had been inside this place in ages.

Ruined papers lay strewn across the desk. They would be unreadable even if she did understand them. Whomever once ran this place left in a tremendous hurry. This was of course an action carried out by the vast majority of ponies everywhere when the war struck its final horrifying notes. The scene looked familiar because she'd seen it many times over. She did not know why or how it ended, but each time she saw this exact thing made her feel glad she was not there to experience whatever happened. It felt horrible to see at the same time. Some pony was doing something probably not so terribly important when..something really awful happened.

It gave her the same familiar chill those other occasions did. It was plainly obvious the pony that was in this room suddenly grabbed whatever was important to them and ran. It must have been dreadful. This thought struck her as ironic in some way, but couldn't put a hoof on exactly why. It wasn't a very large room, containing only the desk and what was once a water cooler. She could not know the function of this device, any water within long since evaporated. She rifled through the desk drawers for a moment. She gasped.

"Oooh!" Her son looked on quizzically.

"What?" She pulled out one of those horrible ancient ration packs that everypony appeared to have had tucked away, and which seemed to keep forever. This one displayed a picture of a delicious salad. It would surely not actually taste anything like that, but it was a great find nonetheless. Holding it aloft while bowing her head she exclaimed:

"Whatever pony created this awful stuff..thank you so so much." She'd made a habit of being thankful whenever finding something like this. It may taste bad, but finds like this were what let them live thus far.

"Now if we could just find a way out of here. Hold this." She passed it off to him.

In their haste to escape the sudden violence earlier they were not able to grab their makeshift stowaway packs. They would have to try and retrieve them later. The packs contained food, water and other things they could not do without.

"We get to eat more than usual later." She hugged him. This was such a rare event it warranted a little joy. Anything to give them a moment of it was terribly welcome. An air vent in the corner seemed to hint at the same foul odor. It was a concerning scent, but this was an abandoned mine or something after all. When the war ended any sort of industry ended with it. Who knew what really ever happened here? For all she knew it could have been very important, or absolutely nothing.

Any clue the scattered papers may have held to the purpose of this place was long erased by age and the seeping damp. Even if she could read, they would not tell any secrets of the past. Not really caring unless something here might aid them in their escape. One of her first priorities should they get out of this place would be to retrieve their packs. Then, she would set her sights on finding a pony who could teach them to read. Seeing the signs drove it home, it hurt. Throughout the years she'd been hiding caps in a very secret place discovered long ago. She would surely have enough secreted away to entice somepony to teach them.

Looking at the sign above the door and not knowing what it meant made her feel terrible. What if it was important?

"I know it's dark and scary, but we have to be brave and keep going, okay?" She ruffled his beautiful soft white mane as he nodded slowly. He would make such a handsome stallion when he grew up. They passed an ancient terminal set into the wall on their right. Any secrets it contained were lost to time even if she knew what it was. Lacking power the strange old machine was just another reminder that once long ago, ponies were masters of all manner of arcane technology. Mostly lost were the skills needed to utilize or even power them up.

Some machines still operated on their own separate power supplies. These were oft dangerous. Clearly their presence here went unnoticed by anything. Perhaps nothing was in here after all. Knowing better than to trust to possibly false security she continued down the long hall. This place was much larger than she imagined at first. There were many other branching side passages and places to potentially get turned around and lost in. She scraped thick marks into the wall to identify where they'd already passed. They walked past ancient elevator lifts, some with open shafts. They hung from steel cables weakened by time, likely unworkable, some broken with age. Only one remained on this level.

She knew what a lift could do from a previous misadventure and that it would be extremely dangerous to attempt using something so old and tattered, if they still functioned at all. The bulky rusted machinery stood as yet another silent reminder of days long gone by. These grim reminders that at one time ponies knew ever so much more about the world elicited some feeling of longing in her, for what she knew not. Her sole immediate concern was the safety of her son.

"This place is confusing. What did they even do here?" She wondered aloud as they continued their forced exploration. They could not go back out the way they came in.

It would be too dangerous to try and slip past the horror still pounding himself against the door. The realization this place was absolutely huge hung over her. Finding another way out of here may be more of a problem than hoped. That awful smell clung to everything in the entire place. The air vents which once constantly cycled fresh air in and out of the mine long lay dormant. The further away they wandered from the door where they started the worse it became. It was a disconcerting sickly smell, cloying and stale. The echo of their steps in the darkness gave an entire other dimension to their situation. It made them feel incredibly small.

The longer they stumbled about in here the more apprehension fell in on them. Something did not feel right about it, not in the same way as the dangerous stallion, but still it persisted that some unknown was present.

"I don't like it. Coming in here may have been a mistake. Be really careful, okay?" Her son was staying right beside, almost too close. Telling herself to remain calm she looked about. The dark stillness was not helping the feeling of entrapment and near-helplessness. Her light spell was vague, not very bright at all. Why was it so dim? She wished her mother taught her better, but she hadn't seen them in so many years, not knowing if they were even still alive.

The encroaching feeling of wrongness increased as they ventured farther within. Not having encountered anything dangerous in here actually made it feel more threatening. Something you can see is far easier to deal with than the unknown.

"Hold up." They stopped.

"My dear, I have to ask you something important. Answer the best you can." He blinked and nodded at her.

"How long have we been walking? Think carefully before answering." The young colt looked down with a tense expression on his face.

"A really really long time. I'm so tired mom..can we rest for a little?" He looked utterly exhausted, but there was no reason for it. Exactly like she was starting to think and feel.

"But it's really only been about twenty minutes. Why do we feel so tired? You can rest but don't go to sleep. I don't want to scare you, but I've got this terrible feeling. We have to get out of here as soon as possible." She could barely tell time either, guessing. He lay on the floor of the tunnel, panting. Her tiny light spell could not exhaust like this, and he was doing nothing but walking. This realization proved something was terribly amiss here.

Not wanting to admit it to herself before, the sickly sweet smell was masking another odor, one she did recognize. It was the unmistakable smell of death and decay. Something terrible happened here. Her heart sank as the beginnings of panic started to set in on her.

"No. I will not give up." She struggled through the strange fatigue, encouraging her son to get to his hooves once more. She was scared now, more frightened than ever. Even the monster outside she felt less fear of than this new unknown. She looked around the ancient unused tunnels.

Only now did she note this place felt more dead than anywhere she'd ever been. Her heart pounded as they inched their way forward through the blackness. Her weak light spell felt like the only thing keeping some unimagined terror away from them. Something horrible, something hidden, watching. Why did they have to wind up in here of all places? The hushed whispered clacks of their slow heavy hoofsteps their only companions in this miserable place. Life left here long ago, abandoning it to rot. Why did she feel like this? There's nothing there. The glimmer of faint light on long rusted steel took on some more frightening depth now.

The faint shadows cast flicked while they passed as if some wicked intelligence abode within them, aware of their presence.

"Mom..mommy..please? I can't keep going." He looked worse than before, swaying he almost fell over. She sat, taking the food package from him.

"Get on my back." He draped himself over her, very nearly unconscious. Forcing herself to stand again, she knew they must get out of here. If she fell asleep now, it felt like it might be for the last time.

"My dearest, most precious thing in the whole world. Talk to me. Talk loudly. Laugh, sing, keep me awake too." So hard to put one hoof in front of the other, each step a mountain of effort. Her eyes were half closing by themselves.

"Wake up!" He shuddered groggily. "Loudly now!" This was working, if only barely. They sang unintelligible lines at the top of their lungs just to keep awake.

"There once was a silly pony..she liked...uh..dirt!" This got a laugh out of him. Good. Anything to spur them onwards.

"What's that?" He wearily pointed a hoof at some glittering object on the floor.

It looked out of place, or at least like it didn't belong here. A very small somewhat rectangular-shaped object lay against a far wall. Several buttons protruded from it, marked with letters as indecipherable as anything else to her. Why she decided to pick it up was really the effect of this strange fatigue more than curiosity. At doing so it lit up and she dropped it, gasping. She didn't know what such a thing was. A mundane innovation developed during the war. It was speaking. It was such a surprising and novel thing they stood agape, listening.

"Audio log: Reveille. Great, stuck with guard duty in a mine. Fantastic. Why do they want guards here anyway? and why even have us make these? I doubt anypony will ever actually listen to them anyway. I suppose it's not much different than my journal, I guess." The ancient machine whirred and clicked a moment. Whatever powered it hadn't given out in all these years.

"Why did I ever agree to this assignment? It's better than that place Scootaloo had me guarding. It was in the middle of nowhere. Who gave a contractor clearance to give orders anyway? They were official. Really, what was that place? Did it need guards either? Surely even the stripes will never find it." The voice said that vehemently.

"It was a nice break from the front lines I suppose, but I'm ready to get back into the fight. At least I'm only here a week, then I can get back to kicking tail." It stopped to click some more. The disembodied voice began to speak only to stop and click again before continuing.

"Thank the princesses! The weeks almost over. With a bit of goading I managed to find out where those orders came from. Sounds like Colonel Bright Step's the one that gave the go ahead. I always liked him, he knows what's up. Why would he do that though? She's just a mare from Stable-Tec, but they're just a construction company, right? Whatever game he's playing, he better be careful is all I have to say." the voice died off leaving them standing in silence once more.

"Mom, was that a ghost!?" She stood in stunned silence a moment.

"I don't think so. Wouldn't ghosts be scary? That voice sounded kinda bored." Carefully she hovered it aside, deciding it was a worthwhile prize. She was able to just balance her light spell and bring it along beside them. Whatever it was might be very valuable. The novelty of the moment was rapidly wearing off as that terrible fatigue still pressed in upon them. If a guard was here once she reasoned it might be close to an exit.

"Keep talking. I know it's hard but we have to stay awake." Once more they meandered through the unfathomable pitch within. Again she felt like some unseen eyes sought them in the dark.

Trembling with fear and unnatural fatigue was making it difficult to keep going, but her focus on keeping the spell going and lifting the strange thing seemed to be helping. Between that and their silly songs back and forth her spirits were almost lifted. Still, carrying him as well was tiring. By coming in here they exchanged one horror for another. At least the pony could be fought off, there was nothing here to fight against except their rapidly waning strength. Every step was like dragging a lead weight forward. As they walked she spotted a small light source. Approaching it she found it to be a tiny vent to the outside. Outside was right there, so close and yet so inaccessible.

She could at least smell fresh air through it which made her feel better. Gently she held his muzzle up to the vent alongside hers. The air helped re-energize them slightly. It did not alleviate the fatigue much, but it did grant them a moments reprieve. Panting, she desperately sought an exit. There were no doors here. Only the scattered remnants of untended broken machinery. Ancient lifts promised only a deadly plunge to the depths of this crypt-like place. So much fear was placed upon them this day their very spirits felt deadened and worn. Tears welled in her eyes. There was no way out, only more darkness. It was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe.

Each lifeless breath felt as though it granted no actual air. On and on it went. She felt sick to her stomach. Keeping that tidbit to herself they continued their loud back and forth, making up nonsense jokes and sentences. She could not let him know how terrified she was. If she did it felt certain there would be no chance to come out alive. The laughter was so out of place here. She thought about how little there ever was to laugh about in her life, how joyless and futile it all felt. Then her son came into her life. At first she felt he was just a pointless burden. Taking care of him only a wearying chore. Slowly, she found herself coming to love her child selflessly. Her only joy. She'd never felt joy before.

His first shaky steps, his first words. She found these things meant something to her, each success of his easing some deep-seated need in her heart. Watching him grow filled her with pride. He was still so young, and smarter than she ever was. If his life were cut short she would never forgive herself. He was her world, nothing else mattered. Finding some strength left within she continued this deathly struggle to survive. Wading through this ocean of dread and fatigue was the toughest thing she'd ever done. Her only thought, he must live. Yet another junction of hallways stood before them. None looked more promising than the last. Opting to go in a straight line for now she felt her hooves clanging on the floor.

It looked less tarnished here. Most of the tunnels were more or less braced constructions with little else adorning them. They looked and felt very solid even after being neglected for so long. Whatever ponies once trod here did an excellent job on the construction. She was not thinking such things, not knowing anything about constructing such a place other than she could not imagine how it was done. The air felt the slightest bit less dense here. Finally, the tiniest bit of hope. It did little to lighten the sense of being dwarfed, but it did give some encouragement. Maybe they would make it after all. Her dim light spell wavered in the darkness. Their concern mounted as it slowly started to invert itself. The light it provided was turning dark itself.

"What's happening?" Concentrating on it made it flash, it stuttered in and almost out of existence. For the moment she dropped the ancient recording. This was very wrong. Each time the light faded what looked like little black bubbles scattered around them within its range. Her struggle to bring it under control was terrifying, draining. They must have light or be trapped in here forever. The poor young colt stared out into the empty black in mounting terror each time the light dipped, clinging to her exhausted and trembling. They were barely able to catch their breath. Something was in that blackness surely, stalking these intruders who dared trespass within these walls.

Both shivered as she waged a private battle of will to retain hope. Time and time again her spell threatened to fail completely.

"I have to.." Whatever force was trying to crush her light was relentless, unyielding. Feeling as though she was being squashed into the floor like some might knock away an errant insect caused her to shake heavily, all weight she ever carried before was as nothing. Sputtering and coughing, she forced the spell through sheer willpower to keep going. For ten unspeakably horrifying minutes she fought. Each passing minute was a torture all its own.

At times there was little more than a spark of her spell remaining that she must not let falter. To give in now would mean being set upon by..something vicious in that endless dark, without mercy. The spell sprang back to life as spinning single rays from her horn to finally settle as the same dim light as before. She didn't know what happened, merely that in some way she felt lucky to have survived. Struggling to remain upright she forced one leg to move after the other.

"Go, go." Was a steady train of thought as she took one tormenting step after another. Mustn't fall asleep, mustn't let the light go out. Get away, get away from here. Move. Huffing and panting she found herself growling.

A strange growing anger within made itself known. The light spell flickered in and out, threatening to die completely. She felt something tugging at her mind, battling against her will. Suddenly this became an entirely different kind of fight. She could only keep trying to walk. It was almost impossible to keep focus. Her eyes almost closed one too many times. At last relief was granted as it let go, she nearly fell into the nearest wall as the strange burden upon her dissipated. As rapidly as it began, it was over. The awful fatigue began to lessen as she pushed on. Whatever was behind them in the silent black no longer held them in its grip. Her son slipped off and stood yawning.

"Are you okay?" He looked less pale already.

"I feel better." She couldn't help but smile and hug him tightly for an uncomfortably long moment.

"Aw mom.." Their moment of levity was short-lived as keen awareness bit that they were still trapped in this unending darkness. Fearfully she dared glance back down the tunnel that lead here. Whatever took hold of them back that way was immensely powerful, dangerous beyond imagining. The very thought of encountering it again made them shudder uncontrollably. There must be an exit somewhere down one of these huge halls, there absolutely must.

If there was not, they would have no choice but to risk backtracking. She could not expect to win such a battle of will a second time, it was too strong. There were so many branching junctions it was taking forever to explore even a tiny fraction of them. Why was this place so enormous? From the outside its sheer size could never be guessed at. Carrying the food packet and device along now felt like nothing in comparison to the difficult challenge they recently endured. Exploring could almost have felt fun if it were not for the serious threats they faced. Another issue was looming. Many hours now passed. With each step stifling air in here sapped them of strength in and of itself, instilling a great thirst they could not quench.

"Mom, I'm thirsty." He croaked. So many things were going wrong with this day she could almost imagine they were being tortured by some higher power on purpose. No, they were too small, too insignificant to warrant that kind of attention. It was simple horrid luck. Losing their new friend and the packs was enough on its own to dampen their spirits. Having to flee in terror from two unknowns was simply too much. Being trapped in this mazelike prison of stone and steel was taking its toll. They'd encountered no other air vents to the outside either. That brief moment of being able to breathe easy once more just another taunt, exaggerating their plight. He burst into tears.

"We're never getting out of here, never never!" He sobbed and shook as she gently held him close while they fell.

"Wait.." She looked around in the darkness. Something was still wrong. Yet again some thought formed in her mind that this was not natural.

"Your voice didn't echo." This strange phenomenon sparked as primal a fear as can be imagined.

"Move, we have to move." She tugged him along quickly. This fear was so overwhelming it made proper thinking difficult. Were they actually being followed by something, or was this simple overtaxed imaginings?

It would be easy after all they'd been through to give into the mere wild creations of a mind seeking logic and reason in an illogical situation. The stress of these strange occurrences was putting a tremendous strain on their hearts as well as their spirits. Their will and determination to live through this was being sorely tested. She only knew if they stopped moving something may find them in this labyrinthine tomb. That is what she found herself thinking of it as. Ponies died here and something was seeping forth, woken from some interminable unbroken slumber by their intrusion. Everything in this place was suffused with the stench of death. It was all she could do not to slip into mindless panic and surely be lost.

"Be brave. Be brave and strong for mommy, okay? We will get out of here." She ruffled his mane, looking at him for a long moment. Anything after them would have to go through her first. Still more concern was piled on them as she realized they were legitimately tiring this time from the stumbling exploration. Her light still barely penetrated. Sleeping was the last thing either of them wanted to do. Sooner or later one or both of them would have to. How long had it been since they'd walked into these chambers of hideous torment? There was no real way to tell. If there were any signs of any sort they'd long since fallen, faded from decades of accumulating dust and grime.

Due to their increasing fatigue she decided to find as safe a spot as possible.

"I need to teach you something." She said.

"Teach me something?" He questioned as she lead him into one of the dead-end halls. She figured it best if they only needed to watch in one direction. Turning to him she spoke gravely.

"I need to teach you the light spell I've been using. You must be able to use it too. It isn't too difficult. I know you haven't got much chance to practice with spells yet but I'm certain you can handle this." For a while she explained how to focus, letting the method be fully understood.

Not knowing too much of magic herself didn't help matters but she'd been using this spell for a great deal of time now. Feeling confident of her ability to impart the knowledge she bid him try it. A few false starts were to be expected. Getting this to work was imperative and could possibly mean the difference between life and death for them. Finally after a half hour of sputtering and causing little flashes he managed to keep a faint light going. Her encouraging words that he would be able to do this made it far easier to keep trying. Now if he could just manage to brighten it up a little. In all this took around an hour. She could tell her level of fatigue was extreme.

She'd carried him so far, on top of floating the strange device along with them while holding the food packet in her mouth and keeping her spell going. Combined with fleeing earlier she was more tired than ever before. Eventually he got it right. Now would come a very difficult test.

"I truly hate to tell you this my boy. I need you to stand guard. I must sleep a while." His enthusiasm over his success was extinguished in an instant as his face took on a horrified look.

"But I can't..." Interrupting she pulled him close to hug him tightly once more.

"Dear, I can hardly stand. My eyes are half-closing themselves. I taught you this so you can do this." Tears streamed down his face, fearful of what was to come.

"Shh. Mommy loves and trusts you with her life. All you have to do is watch over me for a while and keep the light up. I have been going so long, and my head hurts so much. I can't stay awake anymore." She held him tightly against her, wishing to grant him some modicum of confidence.

"You can do this. I am so so sorry to make you. I know you can do it. Just watch that way." She pointed a now quite dirty hoof down the tunnel.

"If anything comes, wake me up. Try not to be scared little one. I'm right here with you. Can you do this for me?" She was afraid she'd faint before he even answered as her head nodded. He sniffled, squeezing back tightly.

"Mom, I..okay." He wanted to be brave for her. He loved his mother so very much.

"You're a good boy. Keep mommy safe." With that she settled on the cold floor, her head almost hitting it as she went out like her light. Shivering he stood over her. Close as he could, staring out into the creepy blackness. It was so hard to tell anything apart in that impenetrable emptiness. Shadows seemed to scatter and twitch back and forth.

Mommy was trusting him with an important responsibility now. He did not want to disappoint her. Keep the light going and watch that way, that's all there is to it. She didn't say for how long. He kept repeating to himself her words, he could do this. Time passed so slowly in this haze of worry. How long was it now? Not very long yet. She needs to sleep. A few times he felt his own head dip as he gazed into that scary darkness. Now he feared falling asleep himself.

"No, mom has worked so hard. I won't fall asleep." The fear settling over him of what may be forever lurking just outside the reach of his vision turned out to be enough to spur him into remaining awake.

He stood like a statue for what felt like forever. It was so difficult for him to keep his faint little light going, but it did provide an extra focus to stay awake. To him eternities passed waiting, hoping his mother would awaken soon. It was so painful to be alone like this. The sound of her breathing as she slept was a reassurance he desperately needed. It was taking so long. Must keep mommy safe. She said so. The ever-present sickly scent would not desist. Finally, finally his mother rose and restarted her light spell.

"Mom, mom I did it. I was so scared!" He clung to her as she smiled down at him, his own spell died out.

"You did, thank you. I knew you could do it." She nuzzled him softly and stretched. The floors in this place were hardly ideal for sleeping on.

"You're probably tired out now. Get on my back again, I'm okay now." Once more she picked up their small prizes and continued onward. She'd still had the wherewithal to keep marking halls and tunnels as they passed. If she did not they would surely have been hopelessly lost by now. If they had to they could even find the way back towards where they came in. A last resort only. A systematic search would surely reveal some other way out of this waking nightmare?

He fell asleep quickly after putting out so much effort. Something she never would have forced him to do if there was any other choice. His weight on her back now reassured her that he was okay. Leaving him alone like that in this place hurt her very much inside.

"At least my head doesn't hurt as bad now." It still ached but the long rest did help tremendously. Having a chance to recuperate also emboldened her somewhat. Being rested and feeling capable once more drove her on. Her iron determination and will that they would find a way out granted her renewed stamina to keep pushing.

It will be around the next corner, or the next. However many it took. The entirely disturbing thought came to her that perhaps they might indeed wind up having to risk trying to go up or down one of the lift shafts to find an exit. It would be incredibly dangerous. Who knew what other murky horrors might be below in this desolate and forgotten place? So far they encountered nothing physical and still felt like they could have died. Whatever entity may lay in wait here was incomprehensible, impossible to fathom or imagine. All she knew was this scent which pervaded everything told a story of nothing good. What awful thing happened here? She found herself longing for the outside, the open air of the wastes.

It was nothing so good itself, but compared to this a breath of it now would be heavenly. The only positive was for now they were still alive, for this they could be thankful. Though bad luck brought them here, luck also granted them this one reprieve. They hadn't encountered that awful unnatural fatigue again, to go back through where it happened was the most terrifying prospect yet. Somewhere in her heart she knew she could not possibly survive another such assault, not so soon. The first time may have been a simple fluke of willpower. To face it again would take such a stout soul she couldn't imagine anypony having that kind of courage. Their flight through this place long gone from memory was taking much too long.

By now a whole day must have surely passed. The mounting thirst and hunger was tempting her to open the large food packet found earlier. It would be best if they could avoid eating it, doing so would surely increase their thirst even further. At some point soon there would be no choice. If only there was time to pick up their packs. There was a several day supply of water in them. Thinking of refreshment now was not a good idea. It impressed just how far they'd been pushed. Feeling more pride in her son than herself was something she had no qualms about. He was better than her and deserved more than a futile end in this hole in the ground.

He slept soundly, draped atop her as she slowly strode through the maze of corridors and tunnels. How did anypony ever build such a place? She couldn't envision how many ponies it took or how long it must have taken to create anything this enormous. What was it for? It must span miles on this floor alone. How truly immense could it actually be? Whatever horror consumed this place she did not want to face. If ponies were capable of building something like this and were still unsafe, what chance would she and her son have? A creeping despair stole over her once more. They were so small, so insignificant compared to this. They shouldn't be here. No one should be here.

Though ponies once roamed these halls the echo of their distant lives no longer sounded here. It no more belonged to the world of the living than fallen spirits. The empty passages told the only story she needed to know about it, all life was sucked out of here long ago. This was no safe haven. Should they survive, it would make a chilling cautionary tale. Therein lay the rub, more and more they felt the hope of surviving diminish. With every dead end and hall or tunnel explored they could only be worn down. Despite the immensity of the halls they felt confined. This was not a spot one would choose as their final resting place. Something shifted in the very air.

Still as it was there was a definite new layer to the oppressive atmosphere. The dark itself fueling the feeling something utterly alien was happening. Something beyond the ken of young and old alike. Could anything ever deliver these tortured walls of old from this fate? It did not seem so. What good remained with power enough to cleanse it? Nothing in this world stood sacred and sacrosanct, untouched by pain. Eventually she would tire out again. Forcing her son to stand alone once was enough, to make him do so again was an idea she couldn't take. For the moment she was alright, but managing to live through another day in here did not seem at all possible. Some otherworldly predator awaited in the dark.

"This is ridiculous, we must have walked for miles by now." She mumbled to herself. It was still so difficult to catch a breath. The smell and other underlying odors were so pervasive. If it weren't for the scent lingering everywhere it might have been tolerable to traverse the mine. She really didn't know what a mine was for. She knew very little at all, but did admit and accept this of herself. It always made her extra cautious. If they hadn't been forced in here she would never have chosen to enter in the first place.

"My poor boy, my shining light. I must get you out of here, I must." This misadventure was very close to ending tragically for both of them. Muttering, His eyes opened.

"Oh, you're awake. Did you have a good rest dear?" Gently she set him down. He wasn't that heavy, but carrying him did require more effort than usual in this situation.

"Yeah, mom." He coughed heavily for a moment, almost choking before it subsided. This worried her very much. They would start becoming seriously dehydrated soon. The last time they drank anything was nearly two days ago already. They could perhaps last another day or two without but it would quickly become yet another serious problem added to their ever-growing list of serious problems.

She thought she knew misery before, but now the true meaning was becoming apparent. How far did these tunnels go? She never imagined anything this big in her wildest dreams. The remnants of old skyscrapers were large, this was ludicrous.

"It can't go much farther, it just cant." Was a thought repeating in her head. The vent they passed so long ago was such a horrendous tease with its promises of the outdoors. If only it was large enough to escape through. It was damp, dirty, filthy in this forgotten realm where living things once trod.

They could wind up with all manner of illness just by being here she reckoned. No time to worry about that, must find a way out. The only motivation left now were thoughts of reaching fresh air, such as it was, and light. No matter how dim it might become outside this entirely unnatural dark unnerved them to no end. She felt ill and weak, wearied from the strain. The only strength to be drawn now was from her absolute conviction to keep her son alive. Ponies built this place, they should feel at home here. There was no such feeling to be granted.

"Are you alright?" She coughed a bit herself. Weakly he gave a slight nod.

This was the worst situation they'd ever been in. Tight situations were something of a constant in the wastes. This was something so far removed from normality nothing made any sense. He rubbed his throat.

"Don't talk anymore if we don't have to." Was an imperative she gave him. It made their throats hurt now if they spoke. She kept her thoughts to herself.

"It's this air. We could go much longer without water if it weren't for that." Glancing at her boy she stopped, having noticed something of interest inset in the wall beside a door.

This was very promising being the first actual door they'd seen since finding the food package. He looked over where she was gazing intently. Some kind of multilevel marking or something was there, riddled with lines and circles. Below a sign indicating 'Security Station' was haphazardly hanging askew a spike driven deep into the stone. A few red arrows adorned the strange markings. She could comprehend this was some sort of map, seeing the mine represented visually would prove to be extremely valuable. Unable to understand the writing was concerning, but three exits were clearly visible. The one where they came in was depicted as being ridiculously close to another.

This made her heart feel heavy, if only they'd gone down the other tunnel first. No time for that now. The third exit was shown to be what she understood as a fair distance yet, it was reachable. She stared at the map for several moments, fixing the exact path they should take in her mind. No more mistakes, just one now could be it for them. She'd let them be forced in here and gone the wrong way, she couldn't bear taking another misstep. She peeped through the door. It was devoid of life as expected. Nothing in here should really be all that dangerous, yet it was. Nearly having the life snuffed out of her earlier made her very wary.

The wooden door crumbled away at the slightest press to give off a hideously echoing clack as she grimaced. Causing that kind of noise they could have done without. Full of fright at the possibility it might summon something from the depths they stood wide-eyed and staring for a couple minutes, straining to see anything that could indicate danger. Nothing happened. She took as deep a relieved breath as could be managed in this environment. Inching her way into the room she could see it was both partially carved out of the rock itself and some sort of metal to give it a more comfortable shape. A rotted cot was strung in halves against the far wall and some sort of ancient square machine with knobs and switches mounted into the wall on the left.

An ancient steel seat sat squarely in the center of the room on busted wheels. What immediately caught her eye was a cabinet on the right. She wiped it off, through the glass of the cabinet she could see it was a gun storage case. There was space for several weapons, one of which remained. A shiny heavy revolver hung there tauntingly, above an ammo box. If they could just get it out. The gun looked like new. She yanked the door. The case rattled, denying her access to the prize. Her current pistol was a toy in comparison to the one just out of reach. Grunting, she tugged again. It would not open Some sort of mechanism or lock was all that stood between them. Struggle as she might it would not disengage.

She tried to pry it open using magic but only succeeded in causing it to dent in a few places slightly. Frustrated, she bashed the glass noisily. It proved to be surprisingly thick. Hitting it caused a wide crack to run down the middle which to their stunned amazement knit itself back together. Something impressive from the old world she knew nothing about. Turning around to look about the room, nothing else seemed to be present. There must be a key, something to force it open, anything. This was an opportunity they could not let pass. Obtaining a weapon like the one in there may mean all the difference. There on the wall was a hanging hook with nothing on it.

Maybe it fell in the decades of accumulated dust and dirt? She scraped and dug around the area at great length, right as she was about to give up her hoof hit something. Brushing it off she found it to be an oddly shaped key. This must be it. The key looked frail and flimsy with age. She found it fit in a slot on the side of the case. Gingerly she turned it, afraid it would snap. Right as she felt the pressure would be too much for the aged key a light glow surrounded it as a click inside popped open the case door. The door hissed open softly of it's own accord. Sliding it out of the case she was awed by the weapons size. It was heavy, sporting an eight inch barrel.

The gun's only adornment was a snake engraved alongside of the firing mechanism. Taking great care she examined the gun. Before some pony placed it in this cabinet for the last time it was cleaned, and kept well within, protected against the creeping grime. Perhaps the cabinet itself had other properties they could not discern which may have helped the gun remain in such pristine condition. It was one of the later dual designs intended for use by combined forces. She could not know this of course, only that it was something the likes of which she'd never seen before. Carefully she played at the gun, never having loaded a revolver before.

It did not take long to determine how to undo the safety lock and roll the chambers to the left, the action of which was incredibly smooth. The mouth catch firing mechanism was not necessary for unicorns, but she tested it anyway. Each of the gun's actions was smoother than she imagined they could be. Her nearly ruined pistol was pathetic and dwarfed in comparison. Hanging in the cabinet was a body strap system for carrying both the gun and ammunition in quick reload containers. Opting to ditch the ancient pistol it took her a few moments to figure out how to put it all on right, and how to use the quick loaders properly, each of which held the gun's capacity of six rounds.

Finally clipping it all into place she felt safer already. In all there were sixty rounds. It may not be useful against whatever horror was lurking in this mine but it would surely prove to be later. Slinging the now loaded and safely locked weapon aside her it was time to head out of this place. There was still some distance to cover before they would find the exit. Having a firm idea where it was and obtaining this new weapon gave her renewed hope and invigorated her efforts. She waved her son to follow, trotting into the unknown once more. She'd been using the light spell for such a long time now it was easier and less taxing, even a bit brighter than before. Practice really did improve things.

This improved light gave a far more impressive view of their surroundings. This huge place was really built by ponies? Neither of them could truly imagine the effort that went into such an endeavor. Merely surviving was mostly what their lives consisted of. The ponies of times past had such great power and ability, how did they let the world become as it was? These thoughts were much too big for them as they journeyed through the desolate tunnels and halls. It was becoming easier to catch a breath, this must be a good sign. Nevertheless it was still a frightening path through darkness. She dared hope whatever waylaid them would not catch them in its terrifying grip again. It was strangely cold here.

Too cold. She abruptly stopped going forward as her son bumped into her.

"Huh?" The temperature drop ahead was far from normal. Taking a step forward proved it to be all that much colder. This was totally amiss as the rest of this place. At least that awful sickly sweet scent was less present here. The sound of some distant alien machinery caught their attention. Apprehensively they continued ahead. Along the wall in tattered red letters was the symbol 'Control Room' She only recognized one of the barely still visible arrows after it, pointing down the tunnel. It was the same style and shape of arrow on the wall where they found the gun.

It was so cold, barely tolerable. It did have the effect of slightly easing their sore throats and letting them catch their breath more readily. Fortunately it wasn't getting any colder. If it did this area would be impassable and all would be for naught. Where was it coming from? They'd never been this cold in their lives. It was an entirely new and altogether disconcerting phenomenon for both. In some way it was comforting to have it ease the thick air somewhat, in another it brought fresh fear with it of what lay ahead.

"Please let us reach the way out." She thought over and over.

Fighting against themselves to move forward felt worse than ever. So much worry and stress was almost physically hurting. She still felt terrible over finding out she'd lead them down the wrong tunnel to start with, exposing them to unnecessary danger. Despite knowing there was no way she could have known another exit existed so close to their entrance point it leadened her heart and steadily ate away at her resolve. It was her fault. Her only solace against this dissolution of her will was this gun. It was a hard-won prize, and not anything to scoff at. Guns while not entirely scarce in the remains of the world were mostly rickety old things like her discarded pistol.

The more reliable of them sometimes worked. This weapon looked as if it were just created by some expert craftspony of old. She could either keep it for their own use or trade it with one of the few trading assemblies of ponies which still existed. It would fetch a very high price. The clean ammo and quick loaders would garner a fair amount of caps by themselves. This was truly a good haul if they could just get out of this mysterious gloomy place. Her hope of doing so was nearly extinguished multiple times already. Perhaps finding something so rare was a sign their luck was finally improving. There was some sort of wash basin jutting out of the tunnel wall on the right with rusted pipes leading to it.

She did at least know these used to provide water somehow. Could she dare hope this would prove to still function? It was risky. Drinking water from an unverified source was an incredible gamble in the wastes. It could cause all manner of problems from minor illness to radiation sickness or worse. She also knew from the few who ever bothered to teach anything there were ways to tell, and even drugs able to flush ones system of such ills. They possessed none of these things. They were just two poor ponies who were now stuck in the middle of a ridiculously bad situation. She fiddled with the rusted taps. The right one simply tore completely off as the metal twisted and gave way. Nothing came out of the pipe.

Turning the knob on the left yielded no better result. She managed to whisper:

"I'm sorry dear, no water here." To her his squeaked out response was far too adult sounding.

"Not your fault." She nearly burst into tears as she lead them onwards. Her only thoughts were that he didn't deserve to suffer through this. Deciding right there, she determined when they got out of here she would buy up all the bottled water she could find and let him have his fill. She would make up for this unwanted adventure somehow. They could not linger here, the cold was only tolerable while moving. Standing still for this brief moment proved they must leave quickly.

Ahead on the left stood an enormous steel door with a strange wheel-like attachment. Something felt bitterly wrong here. The door was tightly sealed, somehow something was finding a way around the closed seems, pouring a steady stream of light smoky looking steam. It was the source of the cold. They could feel it emanating from within. Never having seen or heard of such a thing before they passed it by quickly. Some ancient machinery hummed behind there. As curious as they might be it was not worth taking another risk to satisfy. Life in the wastes taught one quickly it was far better to err on the side of caution. Those that failed to heed this one overriding lesson fared poorly.

She'd witnessed the results of carelessness from afar several times over the course of her wanderings. Up to this point her efforts to avoid such a fate for herself and her son were successful. None could be considered rich in this barren world so bereft of right and reason. By her own reckoning she'd scavenged just enough caps to live off of. She learned the approximate worth of things through watching others deal sidelong, listening to the way they bartered back and forth. Everything was negotiable to a degree, highly dependent on what you could offer in exchange be it caps, goods or services.

Traveling trade caravans were few and far between, but more trustworthy for the most part, probably due to the need of keeping their reputation as fair traders intact. Trade with any and all was still possible, if more risky. The reason many of the ancient machines which did survive were dangerous was the simple fact those were designed to do so. With war in mind many devices were hardened against all conceivable manner of attack. Many of these were meant for use in the very war which prevented their being used, none anticipating such a blow as to end the war could be landed. Not one would have been imagining many ages later that some unlucky pony or other with no knowledge of what they were or did would come across such creations. Knowledge truly did equate to power now.

Those who obtained such knowledge often flaunted the power this granted them. Instead of using it to better the world around them they generally chose to use their advantages to crippling effect, worsening the already sorry state of existence even further. Extending their reach and hold over the wastes as far as possible, the few to wield such power did find themselves learning a once well known lesson. Whoever is at the top is always the first target of the next most ambitious. Unbidden power plays would sometimes rage across the already violated landscape. Occasionally some scrap of technology would wind up in the hooves of ponies with no care for any but themselves.

In a way the war raged on in microcosm, only nowadays as mere free-for-alls. This wild misdirection they'd been forced down impressed upon her all the more their need to better themselves. Being able to read the signs hanging throughout the mine would have surely made escape from here much easier. It wouldn't have made surviving the strange force which nearly extinguished them any less draining, but they may not have encountered it at all if they knew the correct path to take. By her estimation their wandering around in the blackness took a good fourteen hours more than necessary. The only good to come from this so far was the revolver. As they drew further away from the door the cold became less prevalent.

Unfortunately as the air warmed they found themselves sucking in the same thick sickly sweet scent as before. Why was it everywhere? The cold in the area must have dampened it. Now it hit them full force again. They'd been breathing it in for so long she'd nearly forgotten just how bad it actually was. Re-exposure to it needled her to get them out of here as rapidly as possible. Judging from the image there should be a fork somewhere ahead where they must take the left passage. The right looked odd in the diagram as it ended like some buried cul-de-sac. Who chose where tunnels lead in this place?

They were strangely criss-crossed at odd angles and inclines. Every level followed this odd arrangement according to the image. They would finally be out soon. Their excitement built as the air began to smell less sickly, the disgusting sweet smell diminishing. the exit must be close-by. The eerily silent tunnels almost felt to beckon them to return within, their company a welcome change from the decades of disuse. The long, lonely empty tunnels recalling a time when ponies roamed within freely, a fond memory of life. It was an odd feeling as they finally came upon a heavy wooden door similar to the one they entered by. This one must have been closed when the war ended. They could just push it open.

It was heavy but between them the ancient rusted and unmoving pillar hinges finally gave up and ripped right off, sending the enormous door tilting out to crash with a tremendous thump, splintering into perhaps thousands of pieces. The noise was awful as it echoed back down the tunnels.

"Let's get out of here!" She managed to speak fairly loudly despite her throat. Both bolted and ran for a time, occasionally looking back over their shoulders at the receding entranceway. Finally they were free, free from the smell and the fear. The more distance they put between themselves and that lost place the better.

Yes, lost is how she would think of it. Life didn't seem to belong there. They must warn anypony willing to listen to stay well away from it, and what drove them in. None would wish to visit. Even the subdued natural light of the outside strained through the ever present cloud cover hurt their eyes after so long utilizing only their dim magical lighting. This would pass. After going around a rocky outcropping which also hid this door from sight they got their bearings. Far off in the distance could just be seen the very broken patchwork road they'd taken four days earlier to wind up near the swamps. Why any road lead near there in the first place was a matter long forgotten.

There was still a great deal of walking ahead of them to retrieve their packs and belongings. They should make it decently well. They could slow down and take it easy now. Anything was better than the confining walls of that place. They never realized before just how vast and open the land was. The adventure they just shared would be an experience neither would ever forget. The pain and terror of it would be ingrained in them for the rest of their lives. By the same token they now knew what true fear was, and could take great pride in having survived their encounter. They'd endured a hardship no pony should ever be subjected to and come out of it nearly unscathed save for a few scratches, and perhaps an enduring fear of the dark.

It might be the pair may never quite feel safe again. Whether this was for good or ill they could never truly tell. By the time their packs were reattained they would have to use all the water currently stored in them. It didn't matter, they were alive and away from that hole in the ground which may as well have been a taste of Tartarus itself. Whatever creeping things lurked in the bowels of the mine were welcome to confine themselves there. They must bring warning to others of the many wrongs going on. As terrible as other ponies could be, they were certainly worse. First they needed water. The thick rivers which once forked and spread through this area were long since mostly emptied.

Clean water was still attainable in some places, not often, not easily and not without cost. Absolutely everything held some value, even those which may at one time have been worthless. So little remained that a few pieces of ancient tin could bring a small price from the right buyer. Water being the commodity it now was commanded a premium. She'd done all in her power to locate sources of it. These efforts mostly did not pay off. Many fruitless searches confirmed that fresh water was at best incredibly difficult to find. Always there was barely enough to go around. Some did find supplies of it once in a long while. A few bottles here, a hidden supply cache there.

It never amounted to much, really only sufficient to keep small groups alive. An entire town was nearly impossible to supply. Somehow a few managed, thanks to barely functioning technology few understood. A dreary thought occurred. It might be dangerous returning for the packs. What if there were more like that horrible pony from before? If it was some kind of sickness she dreaded exposing them to it. The packs were necessary, of that there could be no doubt. Inside each was bottled water and other supplies accumulated from long years of hard effort, abandoning them was not an option. She was well equipped now anyway, not much could stand up to the withering fire her new gun could throw.

Judging from the look and feel the repeat fire rate of this would be excellent, this was a guess as firing ammo to test felt like a waste. She'd seen one in action before, owned by her own father. A pitiful looking barely functional revolver which nearly killed himself as often as anything else. It still packed an impressive punch even in such a terrible state, when it worked. In comparison this gun was a beast an entire order of magnitude above. Bracing themselves they once more walked the same path towards the swamps. There was nothing to like about anything which happened recently. Three, perhaps even four times they nearly died. Still, they were alive.

Stumbling around in the dark for so long gave an entirely new perspective on just how small they really were. They found themselves wondering what other treasures they may have been forced to bypass in those unfathomable depths. Taking a moment she noted only one of the quick loaders held a different color of bullet, it came to her attention they were also marked with the symbol H.E. in gold relief. What did this mean? Something else to make her wary and regret not having found a way to learn what such things meant. Ponies roaming the wastes rarely made any sort of lasting bonds with others. It was too easy to lose another, and less painful that way.

This was why she felt so burdened by her son after his father abandoned them. For her whole life it was made clear she was worthless. Her parents barely tried, never missing an opportunity to berate her for failure. She was too young back then to realize they felt burdened by her in exactly the same way. They didn't love her at all, seeing her as only a disappointing and pointless investment of time and energy. Not being very smart didn't help any. Figuring this out eventually was part of why she finally started to truly care for her child. Recognizing the emptiness in her heart she poured all her soul into raising him and caring for him properly.

It was hard work and a terrible strain at times trying to survive and bring up a child. For filling that gap inside he was worth every moment. She vowed then to give her own life if it meant keeping him safe. Unlike many false vows given by false hearts trying to gain some advantage over others, she meant every word. It was so wonderful to be outside once more. Just being able to move freely was a joy. As they walked she could not shake an eerie feeling of eyes upon them from somewhere. Shaking her head she shoved the feeling aside, there was nothing out here. The stumbling about in the dark was over. The vile pony was probably still bashing himself against the far off door.

Whatever drove him a frightening example of how dangerous encounters in the wastes could truly be. She did not want her son to see their friends corpse later when they arrived. He had seen and felt more horror in the past couple of days than many ponies would in an entire lifetime. Nearly having forgotten about the unnaturally strong pony for the moment she gazed off in the direction of their packs. Perhaps nearly a whole day of walking lay ahead of them to reach the location. Very worried for the young ponies well-being she brought herself to ask if he wanted to be carried once more. A parched response of yes please was all the motivation she required.

Helping him up to settle atop her, it was easy to tell how exhausted he was.

"You can rest easy now dear, mommy's got you. You're safe." His eyes closed quickly. Her own strength was nearly at an end after this ordeal, but would carry him to the ends of the world if need be. Taking gentle steps so as not to wake him, she walked off into the wastes.

---

The game has begun, the first die cast. I'd offer you some popcorn, but tainted as it is you would probably die. A fresh veggie dog is right out of the question. Enjoy the show.

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