• 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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Where Ponies Dare

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Who is it that walks these withered, wasted lands, spreading further misery and darkness? Why? What force is it that compels, drives such ponies and others beneath them to perform these vicious acts of some danse macabre? Is it just a fleeting flicker in the dark, some remnant of memory given to put on a wicked performance? Something more? Something less? This unwanted deathly dance began long before war brought all semblance of planning or order to an ultimate end. Leaving only sadness to disperse from the heavens. Both the above and the below sit in the same misery given to all who still tread here. A chill silence all that was left when that blistering night fell, and all things stopped.

A dead halt given to everything, leaving little to nothing for any that dared survive. The imagined balance between that which was right, wrong or anything in between, unimaginably proven undeniably to be powerless in any way. Clinging to morality is painful when everything is out to kill one another. Giving up truth and justice is by far the easiest path to walk. Quick and easy to fall into, and fall into it just about everything did. An all-consuming hole where supposed righteousness once stood. Did the great army, stoic and battle-hardened not stand for what is right and good? Surely, they thought to protect, to serve justice as they saw it? Were they wrong to stand against the rising tide of war? Who knows now?

The last moments came, and rapidly overwhelmed all response to it. Was any action appropriate then? Standing idle or off to war, what did it matter? That which is cosmically pointless does not ask for permission to be so. Like the reality of the moment, it just is. The dead wastes are the reality and have been for just short of two centuries. Static. Empty. This is a span of time few are capable of recognizing. Yet, some who do understand it, exist. Their wandering is the most painful of all. Some imagine they know the true nature of pain. For the few who truly know, it is not that sharp stab in the dark. It is a companion most unwanted, unbidden, and refuses to leave. Dull and seeming endless, it hovers near unseen. Tormenting.

Who belongs to these hooves clacking in the dark, as they perpetuate such strife, and draw down what little life is left in their wake? The company of death is the one constant in the wastes. A wrongly turned corner all it takes to end a life, but what is this? What at this very moment causes whoever or whatever it may be, to choose to gather and enlist such power of force and violence, spreading it out across what little remains? The sheer futility of this, baffling anyone still clear enough of mind and vision to see what is happening around them. These moments are dead and blind as they have been for all these ageless years, why now? Some are beginning to wonder.

Those strong enough to wander start to see the vaguest picture that even amongst this, something is even more wrong. Something in this mosaic puzzle does not fit, amiss. Disturbingly askew, as is the nature of many things left to this crying and dead world. Very few can look across this land of bleakness and diluted color to see the whole of the scenery. The pervading silence occasionally punctuated by violence is all that has been known for so long. It must appear to be normalcy. A solemn moment for the poets play, then slipped away. Pain long held inside, simmers and bubbles its way to the surface. Somewhere this thin line against the encroaching bleakness must be drawn.

The distant rumblings drawing ever closer. Those who can still muster the tears to weep, stand in their own muffled silence. A call to action has not come in forever. Would they even know how to respond to such a request? The sleeping sun long done, and sisters cold stars no longer seen above, give any reassurance. Looking askance plays no sympathies here. There is nothing to look down on. That privilege ended with the rest of the world. No horror too twisted can lurk, no pain too deep, so as to engulf entirely. The bottomless chasm opened on this place, and in mere seconds it was no more. Naught but the depth of enduring quiet lingers, to creep over all that is and bring it to an ultimate end.

An end all but absolutely assured. Somehow, life still stands. The ponies of yesteryear, in all their storied glory. So powerful and keen, what would they say of this? This cannot have been wanted by anyone. It is a most fruitless ending. None worse than all things gone. More than a bitter pill, it is simply nothing. They might say the world was alive. How could we have let this happen? It is far too late for that. It did happen, and this is the remainder. All that waits to fall and, inevitably, fail as age takes all of it. A situation careening downhill at ever faster pace until it became little more than this. It hurt them while they lived. It hurt them while they died, and it keeps right on hurting them in death.

Haunted looks on gaunt faces was the only thing offered when it fell apart, and the world died with them. Fall apart it did, in a slow circle encompassing the whole of things. Lofty ideals fall on deaf ears once they have been proven inadequate. Nothing is more proof of inadequacy than outright failure to be held up. All they fought for, all their hope gone in a quick flicker, a final sputter of the light. It left them this place, full of hopeless denial. What greater pain could there be? You shouldn't ask such questions. By then, anyone left must have known better. That instant when hope dies and strength fades, indelibly etched into whatever memory remains. Perhaps it is punishment.

Some meting out of mocking justice, but did the survivors really deserve to be given over to this? A hollow existence with no room for hope, is no existence at all for some. This kind of mockery is reserved for only the most stupendous, the most uproarious of follies. What other label could be stamped upon this record of enduring failures? Their deaths given no meaning, and no memory. Names long lost, never to be recalled by a single living soul. Forgotten, not even buried. Just dead with the rest. There are none left to call for redress, to ask for forgiveness, or to right anything wrong. If that could or can be granted is a matter in itself. It isn't discussed, with no one left to care for it. No one to ask, and no one to know.

Downhill is but one direction. There was to be no climbing back up. From once antagonistic tribes, the ponies of times past eventually threw aside their differences, and flourished together. Inviting others into the fold, but their counterparts barely held together at the best of times. Orders and empires came and went, but one would hold onto the past too tightly and fall, only to rise again. The loose affiliations of a fallen empire coalesced once more, eventually to wind up in direct opposition to the ponies grand ideals of unification and harmony under a single flag for the whole of the world. This flag held high for well over a millennia. Far longer still. Solid. Strong. An intimidating prospect to fall to the wayside before it.

How bright and shiny it looked from afar. Despite the once shiny veneer, rapidly advancing technology took toll beneath it. Too quickly, it outpaced the control of its very creators. This sweeping shift in needs was so fast, becoming so central to development that it took even the most pessimistic by surprise. In the blink of an eye the power needs of an entire country became just short of impossible to meet. All magic is of limited scope and power. Not up to the task of so much need, they turned to coal. Coal, coal and more coal to feed all their new machines was abundant elsewhere, but not here. So far from home, what trade deals could be struck for it were passed. Amended, passed again. Again and again.

Each time, more for less. An untenable situation suited only to piling on pressure to forge ahead with alternate solutions, and solutions were found. With no clear out, and the issue looming, spark reactors were created in response. The potential became clear. The dangers inherent to this new thinking, somewhat less so. Even still, it would not have been enough. Any reason and any excuse used to pull everything towards and through war. What was a lie and what was not? There is no one left to say. Maybe there is more to all this, perhaps there isn't. What is always clear, how little from all of then, still stands. A sudden descent from on high to this barrenness, with only glints of bright memory remaining.

Following a path, to them the only path. It lead to war, as it could lead nowhere else. A winding trail from which there was no escape. Inexorably they were pushed, pulled, prodded. Guided through interminable trail to their oblivion. Save us, they would all cry and look to those they felt their saviors. Nothing of the sort. That illusion was its own type of folly. Neither encouraged or suppressed. Finding they could do no more to save themselves than anyone else. What a cruel joke, to find the very source of their hope just another font of despair. Choices made in hurried moments rarely come out right or well. Not through all their history did they face this great and grave a threat. Ever present. Slow.

So slow it might have seemed unmoving, but always closer. Closer and closer to war, and then it was there. A jarring thorn in the side, only a little pain. At most a pinprick, surely. In the face of this, always disinformation given, the appearance of strength and unity in the face of a terrible and quickly proving unrelenting enemy. Mayhaps, the only real choice was to do so. For near a full twenty years they fought valiantly to hold the line, and it did hold. All who went to fight did so through no other compulsion than to defend what they felt rightfully theirs to uphold. None were forced into it, beyond circumstance. Keep them at bay, until victory. The very day nearly upon them and then stolen at the last.

No more perfect timing for cruelty could be asked. Ripe for one further sting, before the abyss took them. A dim and faded day, still regarded with dread even past the memory to truly recall it. There in that moment so many stand, forever awaiting their victory. It would never come. Static. Motionless. Hopeless. It might be suggested they could never win. Perhaps those powerful ponies of olden days long past should have forced the issue far earlier and with all the might they could muster. The faintest glimmer of a moment to do so may have presented itself once. One time only. Such opportunities do not reveal themselves lightly, and never for a second time. Pain remained.

Their moment come and gone via the most insidious and unjust joke of all. They never saw it. Hopes shattered and left strewn about like so much useless debris. Leading to the now, and the now is worry. Want. Misery. What do the eyes see ahead? A single fork in the path. He knew Manehattan was really only part of a much larger area, just never knowing how truly immense not only the surrounding city, but the surrounding country truly was. His master told tales of far off lands and places so far away they could never be reached, yet they were out there, somewhere. Never expecting to travel so far from home, or ever need to leave, left him listless and forlorn.

Nervousness and worry haunted his every hoofstep into the great unknowns of which he could only formerly imagine. This was unwanted adventure. Though roaming was in his nature, it was of familiar surroundings, always with somepony he cared for as his mentor. Teacher, master..father. Tears were something he was not totally unfamiliar with, but never for a reason like that visited upon them both. One unfortunate encounter left him wondering if there was truly any power of good left in the entire world. A world which rapidly seemed to be hurtling into some great darkness the likes of which his mind could not comprehend. A creeping chill took him from time to time as he walked.

It felt like several eternities passed already since the last time he saw a friendly face. Anything he would know as a face even. The strange creatures he squared off against since leaving seemed altogether otherworldly, not even really knowing the word. Only the disturbing feeling that what was wrong here warranted great respect. Were they just evil? Not ponies. They looked like them, but that was where any comparison ended. The poor girl he was forced to kill was something else as well, what was that? Why would anyone do something so terribly cruel to another? It defied any reason he could come up with. The dreams were insidious, painful even. Always so full of pain, suffering and sorrow.

Each time it was like drowning in an endless ocean of regrets. Shadows around every corner, coming from everywhere and nowhere. Each dream felt worse than the last. It felt like it was seeping into his very being every time it happened. Once desiring only time spent with his master, the world about him now was pain and misery. Lonely, empty roads built ages past by those with far more knowledge than he. Death seemed to stalk every hoofstep, each new day felt amiss and entirely askew. This could not be right. Was it truly death itself roaming these streets, hunting him down? Surely, he was not worth that kind of attention? Nary a clue and no guess could clarify the abysmal days behind him.

Battle after battle just to leave the north end of the city had each taken their toll. Exhaustion was not something he was used to on a continual basis. Some strange insanity took hold of reality here. What else could explain it? Were things ever truly sane? The world about did not seem to suggest it was ever so. Now, half-imagined and some definitely real apparitions seemed poised to jump out at any moment and end his life. He was not quite ready to simply give it over to some unknown and hope that what comes after would in any way be better than this was. As luck seemed to stand at this moment, to his imagining it could very well be worse. Deadly, grotesque things thus far failed to end him.

Was this something to be proud of? There was no way to tell. Each encounter left no chance to glean real information, certainly nothing helpful or informative about all of this. Did any of this even have an answer or meaning? Would finding an answer prove to be a grand revelation, or something meaningless overall?

"What is going on around here? This has all gone crazy!" The pony who called himself Bolt, ran across one of the once grand thoroughfares of the old city. Once bustling to near beyond capacity with the comings and goings of all.

The city itself was not nearly as large as all it contained, being forever built upwards and outwards into the ocean surrounding the island it lay atop. Left intact in tattered manner, yet vulnerable. After long hardship he'd at last found a way to slip past the ever present looming walls of black flames encircling his former home. The creepy silent fire which burned at a fever pitch and seemed to spout endlessly without pause high into the sky. A truly confounding situation presented itself to him and lead to no answers, only further puzzles of no clear origin. Bad dreams seemed to both plague, and save him on several occasions as if in dire warning of approaching doom.

On no less than six occasions he'd been forced to fight, with no compulsion to do so. Being attacked so violently and injured numerous times left only a sad feeling of desperate need for action. The presence of other ponies, always of little or no interest to him was now desired dearly. He was still all alone.

"There have got to be others, there has to be somepony somewhere!" He complained audibly to himself, trudging along to the north, then west, almost in tears. Having finally managed to leave Manehattan proper felt a mixed blessing. Far from home, alone, embittered over his dead master and hurting inside and out was almost too much to bear.

Being unable to search or even reach many parts of the city left him with no way to know if anypony there yet survived. It was unfathomable to even think them all dead, seeming impossible despite low numbers. A barely legible sign hidden above on a thoroughly impressive though decrepit stone outcropping read to him as 'Ponyworks Facility One.' Whatever that meant. With no small amount of trepidation he now dared to venture through this enormous underground tunnel which appeared to lead straight out from the shore and under the water for miles, and actually appeared to connect to the mainland going by a dingy visual map on the wall. He barely knew what a map was, but it was there.

It was protected by a sheet of glass which kept it barely visible through the accumulated grime. Why would they have made such a thing? As if at some time purposely built to be concealed from the very sky above. It was by no means easy to reach this tunnel through any imagining of the term, stumbling upon it nearly entirely by sheer fortune. It was another unknown amongst many.

"I never heard of anything like this before, I wonder what he would have thought of it? It's frightening and amazing that they built something like this. How did they do it? Why did they make it?" His mind raced over the possibilities.

Most interesting of all, lights above buzzed and emit an eerie hum as he strode beneath them in awestruck amazement. He held no idea of such things or how they operated. Almost as interesting as the glowing terminal on the wall, well inside the entrance. Probably to keep it out of any weather. It looked worn and old and near useless. He set down his now much lighter packs. Near half the water he carried when setting out on this sojourn was consumed now. It took so incredibly long to find a way out of the north end of the city he'd been beginning to wonder if he would ever have the chance to see another pony again. A thought that though a solitary sort, made his blood run cold.

He positioned the packs against the wall and lay back against them, huffing out of sheer exhaustion. If it was not safe here, then it was safe nowhere. Normally his first thought would be to mess with the old terminal, having so few chances to do so ever before. He felt cold, miserable, and tired. Just staring at the nearly comforting glow from the screen. He normally felt so fascinated by such technology, barely ever having been near to it. Likely he would mess with it later, if only to give himself something else to think about for a change. Anything to take his mind off the current situation. He slipped into sleep. Nearly delirious from being so tired, it took him quickly. He fought to stay awake, but just could not any longer.

It felt unsafe to sleep lately, dangerous. Several times it almost got him killed, but it was necessary. He knew this very well. Without proper rest from time to time anyone would become ever more vulnerable, and that had to be avoided as much as possible. Especially now. Crazed creatures seemed to stalk his every step within the city, and even in his own dreams. Such a dark and dreadful feeling passed each time, one of consuming and sad misery from which there was no escape. It was likely alright to rest easy this time. Nothing could possibly have seen or followed him this far, into such a place, surely? A deep slumber took hold and for the first time in much too long, a welcome rest was granted.

Many hours passed as his body relaxed and his mind finally relented to allow such luxury as real rest. A deep sleep he'd not been allowed in what felt like forever. His eyes slowly opened to the same scene as he left it. Relieved and finally given proper rest worked miracles.

"Thank goodness. I needed that. I must have been out of it for a really long time. I actually feel normal." Bolt exclaimed satisfactorily to himself. The terminal across the way beckoned as it must have done since being so abruptly left to whatever fate befell such things. Now that he could think straight once more, two things became apparent.

A couple things he was unfamiliar with seemed to lead off endlessly down the tunnel. Steel beams which glinted in what dull light was given. The other was that the terminal was actually open and displaying several options. A constantly flickering line of text rolling across the top read 'Emergency'. How strange. Whatever it meant. Unlike the few terminals he saw before, this one only possessed a few numbered buttons. It just seemed to be begging for somepony to finally push one, after all the years gone by while it sat alone unseen. It listed several options:
1. Summon cart
2. Call track maintenance bot
3. Call security bot

"Ooh, what's this?" He couldn't help but feel a bit excited. This terminal was open, asking for no password and practically offering to do something. Would it be helpful? Dangerous? Slowly he lifted a hoof towards the buttons, hovering over them shakily for a long moment before putting it back down. He panted, shivering a bit in the dim tunnel.

"I don't know what any of this might do. Is it worth it? What if it causes more craziness? Maybe I should.. No. No fear now. That will not save me or anypony else. Remember what he taught you, make a choice." He admonished himself. Lifting his hoof he pushed in the number 1 block. Might as well start at the beginning.

He jumped back slightly as the terminal lit up brightly, stating 'Emergency power only. Terminal station 3 blocked. Cart arriving.' What did all that mean? It then indicated with scrolling numbers '8 seconds' which slowly went down. Bolt was very unsure at this moment. Should he be getting out of here? To his surprise, as it reached zero a hidden door to the side slid open and a rusted looking steel thing on wheels spilled itself onto the tracks which sparked slightly. It looked entirely ancient. On top of it was what looked like a grimy, smaller version of the terminal, stating 'Do not touch opposing rails simultaneously at any time, enter cart.' That bang and the sparks did not serve to calm his nerves.

He went about gathering up his packs, his heart rate returning to normal. The packs were not quite as comfortable as they once were due to a singed strap. Still, it was better that than them being destroyed. They were one of the few physical things which held truly good memories for him. Their weight was something familiar, good. Calming in their own right. He was glad to have them. Now for it. Would getting on this thing prove useful? Deadly? The old things necessitated caution. Once he did, there might be no going back on the decision.

"As long as I see it coming, that's all I ask." He said aloud, not really expecting anything to answer such a prayer.

Did anything, ever? As he approached the strange contraption one side of it swung down to open a step up to the inside of the cart. It took a lot of nerve, but he finally just stepped up into the thing, whatever it really was. It proved not exactly roomy, but there was enough space for the packs and to lay right down if necessary. As he did so it felt like the floor clicked down a little bit. As this happened the dull green screen, covered in dirt from time long gone also offered out three square numbered buttons which extended themselves with an odd whirring noise. It was somehow sad feeling, these machines left to themselves so long ago.

Whatever it was, this thing seemed solid and extremely heavy as he pondered which button to press:
1. Terminal Progression
2. Mainland (6572726f72)
3. Call assistance

"What does any of this mean? Well, the first one worked..I guess. Might as well continue." Reaching out to ever so gently push in the button the cart lurched forwards, almost making him fall onto the floor.

After this the cart steadied out and slowly rolled down the unused tracks, sparks occasionally sputtering off the wheels in protest as it inched its way forwards down the long unused rails. It was not at all fast, but he watched in quiet reflection as it rolled along. This was truly amazing. They once had and knew how to make things like this? The slight rocking motion was almost making him feel a little ill, but it passed eventually. Even this novelty began to wane as it simply went on and on. Not any less enthused, this was just slow.

"Easier than walking anyway. I better not get used to this, it could break or something. I might as well get comfortable for now though." Laying back, he watched the ceiling passing by. The slightly stuttering lights were dim, but interesting. The continual buzz lulled him back to sleep. What was probably a very long time later he awoke with a start at a horrible screeching noise and the cart grinding to a quick halt as he was nearly thrown up against the terminal, but simply fell back and banged his head. That was new.

"Oww.' He gently rubbed the back of his head and neck. That was quite a jolt, and very much not a fun way to wake up.

Slowly he regained his senses, cautiously peeking up over the top to see the track ahead obstructed with a fair amount of debris. The ceiling clearly buckled and caved in a bit here. It was probably just age. Luckily it hadn't completely given way or the entire place would probably be flooded. That would have made this entire effort pointless. This could also be a real problem as it was. The screen stated 'Terminal station 3. Track obstructed.' No kidding. Always in that same green color, looking at it too long almost felt like it was giving him a headache. Looking around revealed there to be a few more of those sliding doors off to the sides, closed. They must have their own tracks or other things behind them.

As curious as he was, he did not want to push his luck. This situation could be a pain to deal with. He was at what appeared to be a similar station to the first, just short of it in fact. That this entire facility wasn't completely destroyed must have meant it was truly constructed solidly. Staring at the rubble and heavy beam halting his progress, he began to wonder how the ponies of old could ever possibly have been reduced to this poor standing from such staggering heights and ability in the times of old. Times he only barely knew about from stories told in reverent sadness and probably mistaken as to the truth of things.

"Well, they really were just ponies I suppose. Stallions, colts. Mares, fillies and foals. They just knew what I do not. Stop being intimidated, get moving." He knew he'd taken to speaking to himself, but knew no other way to keep himself motivated and focused when all he really wanted to do was be at home. No, home was gone. Forever. The only thing that made it home was his beloved master. He stepped down out of the strange machine to once again hear his hooves barely making a sound.

"Well this is a pain." He stretched a bit. The knock to the head wasn't that hard, mostly surprising.

It did hurt, but would pass quickly. Surveying the situation he could think of little to do just yet. Despite his nature and disposition, moving all this himself would take more strength than he could muster right now. It might even be too heavy anyway. Despite his strength, this fallen beam was immense. Perhaps another strange contraption could be summoned. Approaching the terminal on the platform did not prove this to be so. The old machine simply displayed 'Locked' and unresponsive to any amount of coaxing.

"Guess I'm hoofin' it." He grumbled and gathered his packs from the cart. How far did that contraption bring him?

Hoping the way ahead would not be blocked, he made his way around the pile of rubble to find the rest of the way looked clear ahead at least. It was dim here where the damaged lights failed to provide much illumination. He felt odd, and his ears were kind of crackling. A weary trudge lay ahead. Bolt meandered his way forward down the strange old tracks. There was nothing else new to see. Ever quiet, it was kind of disturbing only hearing the too-dull clip-clop of his own hooves in the tunnel and nothing more than his own breathing. After a hard walk of what felt like endless miles in the dim lighting he noted there was another platform ahead. How far did this go? Did his master ever travel so far?

It seemed so, from what he was told. Dire thoughts were for now replaced with what happy memories he possessed. For what it was, he'd had what he felt was a good life. One that almost wasn't, as many were not. Thanking whatever good fortune allowed it, he moved on. This was a sad journey he'd embarked upon. It felt so long ago already that he left. Staying would have been pointless, maybe even deadly. Something was so terribly amiss back there. Help was required, if anypony anywhere yet lived to provide it, or had the strength to do so. The next platform ahead was different somehow. Painted a disconcerting red color, with twirling red lights in metal bars surrounding the terminal. This was certainly unusual.

What could it mean? He cautiously approached.

"Is this interminable and lonely wandering the price I must pay for all the good time I was given? Maybe none of us deserve it. Maybe what they did back then was so horrible that we are all marked for pain and I simply delayed my suffering? What would he say of me thinking such a thing?" He actually got teary-eyed for a moment. Brushing some aside, he took a deep breath.

"Silly. We didn't do anything wrong. He always tried to help me, and everypony else we ever ran into. Even if this is some kind of price to pay for all the happiness he gave me, it was worth it. You hear me!?" He found himself shouting in the vaguely echoing dimness. It reverberated down and throughout the halls and sounded a hollow refrain back to himself in an eerie fashion. It seemed weak in itself, like something dying a slow death. The thought disturbed him further, he shook his head vigorously.

"Who am I yelling at? I must be losing my mind. Calm down. I've been alone so long. Just need to keep going until I find somepony, anypony at all." He muttered and gathered his thoughts before taking a more thorough look around. This terminal was not locked, but only presented options he did not know the meaning of. The intriguing display only offered two options underneath a line reading 'EMERGENCY' once again. They read as:
1: Summon maintenance bot
2: Open access door

"I am here. I can either press one or both of these, or just walk on. What would he do? Then again, he would not even be here to begin with I suppose. This is my journey to have. He had his long ago, be glad he got so much out of it." Bolt admonished himself sternly and stiffly this time. Stepping up to the terminal, he summoned his courage and pressed the first option, then looked around warily. This time he refused to be taken by surprise if something banged again. At first, it appeared like nothing was happening in response, though the terminal screen blinked and flickered back to life, stating something about an incorrect Exit I.D. What did that mean? Maybe it was damaged somehow?

Knowing absolutely nothing about these things asides from their existence was not helping matters any. The platform was not constructed the same as the others, there was a thick wall at one end that seemed almost out of place, like they started and just stopped building it, along with a heavy steel railing along the side that must have been intended to keep ponies off the tracks when interacting with the terminal. Was this place ever used for anything? Why was it even here, anyway? To him this was quite odd. There must have been a reason for this weird underwater tunnel to exist, but what was it? The entrance was too well hidden to have been an accident. It was a choice, purposeful. That much could be told.

There must be some real secret to this place, he mused to himself. He'd never even heard of buildings underwater, let alone a massive tunnel that went on for who knew how long exactly. The lonely silence felt heavy upon him as he waited and thought, trying to understand what was in front of his eyes.

"Maybe I should press it again, wait." His ears twitched and pricked as he picked up on some odd trundling sound somewhere out of sight. This could be good or bad. There was no way to tell as yet. Deciding to hide himself behind the half finished wall gave some comfort. Waiting as the sound drew nearer. Something felt off about this.

Trusting his instincts on such matters, he slipped in against the wall as far as he could hide himself and waited. Fighting was something he wanted no more of for now, if it could be avoided at all. The sound grew closer and louder, the closer it got he could hear some deep humming sound accompanying it. The sound stopped close by. His heart beat faster as he tried to be as quiet as could possibly be. Daring only to just peek as barely out over the railing he almost gasped audibly before catching himself. A pony looking thing as black as pitch itself was on the tracks, a disturbing dark red glowing visor in place where eyes should be. It was rolling on wheels attached to the insides of it's legs, crouched against the tracks.

Red beams of light radiated out of what looked like two small tubes on its sides. It's head tilted and looked up and down, sweeping the creepy red beams up and down and around. Two odd square racks composed of other squares with weird circular objects adorned what would be it's shoulders. As it's head turned, he ducked down before it could see him. Did it see him? Oh no, oh no. This was dangerous. It must be. It looked deadly. It felt deadly. What was this thing? For an eternity he held still, trying to keep his breath and heaving heart from giving him away. As quickly as it appeared, the sound began moving on down the track the way he'd come from.

He dare not move until it was far gone and hopefully out of hearing range. Finally, at last it was gone. The fearsome looking thing scared him. Never having felt the depths of real, true fear before in his life, gave a long moment of pause. Not even his fear of heights recent conquered could compare to the sheer terror that just passed by.

"What was that thing!?" Whispering quietly to himself he wondered what to do now. Would it come back? If it did, what then? Something made of flesh and blood and bone, he could fight. He realized he was almost crying. That monstrous apparition was nothing alive, was it?

"Stop it!" Bolt clocked himself in the head with a hoof just painfully hard enough to rouse.

"Fear is fine, it keeps you alive and gives warning. It must never stop you." It took several moments of hard fought tension to relax and get moving again after his heart settled. Even more cautiously than before, he looked at the terminal once again. The other option still presented itself. Would touching it cause some other horror to be unleashed upon him? Already finding himself wishing he'd not come down here, he simply jabbed the button so he would not give himself time to think it over further.

A sliding, grinding sound that was entirely too noisy for his liking creaked out as a side door unnoticed before forced itself open after so many empty decades of disuse. It unfortunately echoed loudly. Hopefully it really was out of range. This odd dulling of sound might be helpful for once.

"I hope that thing did not hear that." He thought, while moving to investigate the opening. How big was this place, really? Not having looked inside the other doors from before gave him no idea of the real scale of the place. Looking in here proved it to be far more immense than realized. Walking into this place was confusing, concerning.

After passing through the sliding door it smashed shut behind him, making his body jolt, he spun around to find it closed tight. Was there a way back through it? Pushing on the door would do nothing even if he put everything into it, it was stuck fast.

"Oh, great! Wait. Wait. Stay Calm." It was all he could do to get a handle on himself, turning back around he was given over to awestruck amazement, his eyes growing accustomed to the lighting. A vista unimagined greeted his vision as he looked out through an enormous window with huge crossing steel beams which seemed to hold the entire ocean at bay.

Out in the water he could see numerous domes along the length of the tunnel, some on either side. They were lit up from the outside by lights, some of which were clearly damaged and aged. This was amazing, so curious. Like a whole city hidden underwater. What was this place? Awestruck, he could only stand there, taking in the sheer scale of this hidden wonder. Did his master know of such a thing? No, he would have told about something like this. They, built this? It was utterly inspiring. For long moments he stood agape, slack-jawed and wide-eyed before finally regaining full use of his senses. The sheer scope of this place took him by surprise.

Some of the domes outside the tunnel appeared to be destroyed or flooded in places. He was probably fortunate the door he chose to open was not to one filled with water or he would have been washed away in an instant along with any other secrets this place may yet hold. Atop the domes, something he could not quite make out in the distance appeared to be lettering which might read 'NL' but it was impossible to tell from fading. Looking to the more immediate area the realization struck that this was an entire dome of it's own. This place alone was massive. They were capable of building something this extensive?

If there were any lingering preconceptions in his mind about what was possible to achieve, they fully fell away in this moment. This was beyond incredible. An epic monument to their power, it must be. Feeling so completely and utterly dwarfed like this nearly made him pass out. Breathing hard and holding his head low as if in prayer to the past for trespassing here, he began to explore. A way out of here was still needed.

"This place is not meant for me. I am just one. A very little one. I am not after whatever is here. Let me pass in peace, please." He beseeched the world at large in a quiet, reverent tone.

Why he was saying this at all he could not guess, nothing could be listening could it? No power of goodness was about to reach out and take hold of his hoof now was it? For a little while, fighting off panic was all he could focus on. This was not where he wanted or needed to be. This place was a thing of the long dead past, and maybe best left that way. He wanted very little, maybe it would be granted.

"I just want to find some other ponies, or anyone friendly. For now, that is all I want." Speaking to calm his own nerves after that harrowing moment back there, he could but wander these strange hallways, hoping to find a way out that was not barred or broken. From what little he could see of the other domes, each layout was different internally.

Some could not be seen into, others were shattered entirely. Some of them were just clear and empty, and two others like this one held many internal hallways to various rooms of sorts. They were far away. This dome was by no means empty. Odd metal things, machines of purposes he could not even guess at and other oddities fairly filled the place.

"Oh, I should not be here. I saw what looked like a way to the north mainland and I just took it without thinking further. Stupid." Admonishing himself was getting tiresome. This may have been a terrible mistake. That thing back on the tracks image haunted him. Even the other strange creatures he fought on his way here felt alive, in some manner.

It did not have any spark of life at all. A horror he hoped not to encounter again. Did the ancient ones create that? Why would they make something so horrible? The very proximity of it had made him feel nearly ill. Shaken. Could he have died right there?

"Well, at least I saw. Teach me to be careful what I ask for, right?" He wandered through the dilapidated place and came upon the strangest room yet. A series of bubbling and beeping beakers and machines lighting up and doing strange things concerned him deeply, but none seemed menacing as the weird thing from before.

Left to some unknowable tasks, forgotten and given over to futile effort. Hopefully there was a door back into the tunnel somewhere around here, or some way to open or bypass it. The heavy steel door would be far too much to simply break through. It might be possible, but would take a ridiculous amount of time and create far too much noise in doing so. What if his only choice was to prize it open with what was available? It might bring that thing back. Better to look around for an alternative first. Some of these things might be of use, but he knew nothing about what they were or did. There could be an easy solution staring him right in the face and it would never cross his mind what or how.

Hoping to find another terminal, that was fulfilled. The hope was short lived. A slight twinge of fear echoed in his being about messing with this thing, but what else was there to do? Much like the terminal left at the old police station, this one continually asked for a password he did not know. Being stymied like this frustrated to no end. For a good while he could only stand and glare at it. Glancing around something caught his eye. A little metal tag thing hanging under the desk the terminal sat upon with a number on it.

"I don't suppose.." He absently keyed in the number.

Much to his surprise the glaring screen clattered and clacked, springing to life. It almost made him jump. Suddenly, new words appeared on the screen. The written equestrian language as he knew it was a series of straight lines in various arrangements, and other easy symbols whose origin were necessitated to write by hoof on the ground when needed. The way these keys were arranged seemed strange to him. It was not like the very few other terminals he'd seen before. They were the same, but in different places. Even the numbers were in different places. Was there something special about that? There was no way to tell. The new things read:
1. Announcement Draft
2. Mail: 3
3. Operations

Well this was new. What did any of that mean? There was little choice but to continue. Might as well try the first. Hesitantly his hoof hovered over the key, finally pressing it yielded an odd text which contained something to make the heart sink. A missive which was direct and solemn:

We will try to slip this message to as many more ponies and maybe some griffons or others we can find of similar thought shortly:

Come, Ponies! Friends!
We must all rise up, for one kingdom harmonious. Not for one kingdom lay waste, crumbling in the ashes of the other.
Just take a good, long, look around. You see it, don't you? We are all throwing our lives, ourselves away!
We are being taken by darkness in the name of the light and they know it! We cannot fall willingly into this trap.
Is this who we are? I say neigh!
Think to yourselves, is this what we came together for?
All we have strived towards, given our strength over to?

Will you be amongst those to let it go on, happily greeting the end with a whicker and soft accepting whinny?
No longer can we give blind trust to the powers that be.
We are all on a path only to destroy one another.
Rise, Rise up ponies. Friends! Fight for the truth, fight for justice! We have all been given over to a lie.
The single greatest lie ever told. A lie so great and momentous it is taken as the truth.
Stamp your hooves! Ruffle those feathers and scales! It must be now. Lady Justice has, and always will stand for truth!

We must fight back with her, or fall forever into the abyss that we have so lovingly crafted with our own hooves and talons!
The tide is high and the water rising. We must act before it is too late.
Come, Ponies! Friends! Rise! Join us now, before it's too late! Before we are all consumed by the torrent. She is with us!

Bolt could only reread it over and over. Lady Justice again? Who was she? They seemed to have great faith in her. Whoever she was. What were these ponies about to do? It must have come to naught when the great war ended in fire and death. This was all anypony truly knew of the war now, if anything at all. That it was long, and it ended in this. Was this place and the ponies that built it just more victims? This seemed to say they were trying to do something about it, maybe. Consumed they most definitely were. This was sad, and felt hurtful to read, but it was there. Was this speaking about that time? It must be. Bolt pressed the button to go back.

The same screen presented itself, in that ever-present and somewhat painful green. It took a few moments to stop thinking that message over. Who and what would it have reached? Who was it really meant for? It was altogether painful to think about. This appeared to say that ponies back then may have seen whatever their approaching doom was and tried to do something about it, but it was likely too late. What could have lead to the ponies of old allowing such a miserable fate to befall them and their great works? Only able to imagine the rest, he moved onto the next option. Would it reveal something more? That message felt entirely sad and upsetting. Maybe this would be better, or at least more useful.

Being trapped in this city unto itself beneath the water was not something to relish. A strange feeling of eyes upon him made Bolt look up and around cautiously, but it passed. Trusting his instincts, he did try to keep a low profile. The various blipping and whirring machines he could not fathom made enough noise for him to blend in, but past experience enforced itself. Never get too comfortable. His hoof pressed down the mail option. The first proved to be a long missive showing:

All staff: You know how hard it has been, so difficult to hide behind false fronts, to make excuses and lie after lie to keep it all out of sight. We have toiled long, to stay hidden, to build and gather strength. We all know the difficult working conditions down here, but we all must to do our part. We know you all want to work on the great things we are doing here, and we understand. Just remember, though; somepony still has to scrub the toilets! Somepony still has to make sure the walls do not leak, and keep us all safe until we can act. We have the tacit permission of Princess Luna herself for these projects, but she will disavow any knowledge of us or what we are doing. We must be secretive.

This suits fine, as she is using us, we are using her. You are, every one of you very important to our grand cause no matter how small your contribution as yet may seem, you would not be here if we did not believe in you. We are every one of us in this together and if we truly want to make the world a better place, then we must be practical about the necessities. Our time is coming. Rest assured; Soon we will rise, like a great leviathan of the deep. All your hard work, patience and perseverance will pay off!

"A what? Leviathan? What's that? I guess, their apparently vast patience went unrewarded after all. Lies? Princess Luna? Was that their leader or something?" He wondered about all that and sighed sadly.

All of these were rather puzzling statements to Bolt. Leviathan was not a word he knew the meaning of. All he really cared for at this moment was finding a way to the mainland, and help for the afflicted city. There must be a way. He pressed the second mail option which was of an entirely different tone, reading:

This is your third administrative warning, Pen. You have been speaking up about project "C.U.D.D.L.E" in rather dire terms. I know the containment area seems a little unsafe, but we have guards and the safeties are effective. After all, we haven't had a single incident in over sixty days! He only lost a small patch of his coat.

That didn't sound too good. What kind of weird things were the old ponies doing back then? He shook his head, Bolt then pressed the final option which presented a screen full of other options:

--EMERGENCY--

1: (4661696c757265)

2: Systems Integrity Check

3: Call Assistance

"Just numbers? What does all of this mean!?" Bolt shook his head. It was far more frustrating understanding these things than he ever imagined before. The ever present line across the top seemed odd to him. Sitting on his haunches and leaning back a bit, he closed his eyes tightly. Taking a deep breath, he decided to simply get on with it. Punching in number 1 merely brought up a strange screen full of unreadable gibberish which then returned to the same options. How odd. Pressing number 2 yielded a weird series of numbers and text, only some of which was readable in places. What few things he could vaguely understand read as:

0001: Security Station Damaged. Header control malfunction. Urgent maintenance required.

0002: Dome 1: Exert text fail. Dome 3: Flooding detected. Dome 4: Fa̱̰ͅi̝͈͓̹l̹̀u͍r̛͔͍̬͈e̗̺̘͔͖

0003: Operations Terminal: Fail state. Terminal 2: Fail State. Terminal 8: Fail State. Exit Terminal 2: Override required.

0004: Hardware Adjunct Failures Detected

"Huh? Useless." That text gave him a weird feeling. Backing up once again, only one option remained. The third option was all which remained. Warily, he pushed the button down. This action seemed to be too much for the old terminal as it seemed to tremble and fizzle. Bolt found himself backing away quickly at this new oddity while it continued to crackle and fritz, which was getting worse by the second, reflexively he knocked a nearby metal table on its side and dove behind it just as the ancient machine exploded, sending parts showering everywhere.

"Oh frig, what just happened? Did I do that? I didn't know that could happen!" Bolt huffed and stood.

After dusting himself off it immediately dawned on him that was a terribly loud noise. How far did such a sound travel with the tunnel doors closed? Was there anything else bad around which might have noticed it and be heading straight for him now? This turned out to be useless after all, better move on. There was such a mess around here now.

"I feel tired again already. This is just too much." He complained and wandered into other rooms cautiously. Each held several marvelous looking machines and apparatus the nature of which he might never come to know or understand. None of which were helping him at this moment. What would he do?

Something about this place just felt off in some manner all around, but this feeling was hardly something new by now.

"I am getting far too used to weird stuff. Keep your head, this place is really dangerous and I must keep my guard up." Advice to himself was becoming a little too common. At least two hours passed by now since he became trapped in here. The next room he stumbled across by sheer accident, on leaning up against a wall to rest for a moment he noticed a button recessed into the wall, perfectly hoof-shaped. How odd. Well, it was new. Pressing it in then made it click and him back up defensively as a hissing sound accompanied a section of the wall sliding open. Definitely new.

There must be secrets inside secrets in this place. He concluded it was not really part of the wall, but merely something he did not recognize as a door which opened. This made him feel a bit silly. Were there other doors he overlooked because of this? Quite probably.

"Oh, I am so stupid! These things are doors. I could have passed fifty of them and never known. Darn it. I need to be more careful. Come on, Bolt. Get it together. Think." He took a very deep breath. This entrance lead into a small room only containing some various mostly useless things. A short heavy looking solid steel pole of some kind lay there amidst it all.

He might be able to pry the tunnel door open with it. Possibly some good luck. He strapped it over his back by tucking the pole under and through the pack straps on the undamaged side. He did not know it, but this made him look very much like he was about to go jousting. Deciding it may not be safe to return the same way, immediately the choice was to continue exploring and see if a way back around to the tunnel was present. This place held up well over the years. It was by no means clean, and the air did not exactly feel good to breathe, but it was tolerable. This place was so huge. How did they do all this? Exploring this great wonder raised his spirits a little.

This sort of thing was really part of ponies inheritance wasn't it? His own distant ancestors must have built such things as well, did that not mean they owned this place now and should be comfortable here? These thoughts passed through his head as he wandered the cracked and rusting structure. How did this place even still stand after so long? They must have possessed so much knowledge, and yet they were brought to ruin. Bolt let these thoughts run by as he examined several more doors with hoof-shaped buttons, opening each cautiously revealed little of actual use to him. More strange machines and flickering lights whose meaning or use was completely lost on him.

Even those things with labels on them made little sense to him. A small panel screen stating 'Air Circulation: 32.4%" in one room was attached in front of several large and dangerous spinning blades which seemed to be sucking or pushing air around. Some of them were unmoving or grinding and sparking. One constantly just slightly moved left to right. He would not dare walk past the enormous quivering blades, if it ever moved further while doing so he would be cut in half instantly. Another panel in a room beside it displayed 'Air quality: Dangerously Low' This did not sound good at all, but he did not know how or if that truly affected him or what it meant in actuality. Everything about this just seemed dangerous.

The reality of the amount of water outside and above him suddenly overwhelmed him for a moment, finding himself panting heavily. It did feel strangely warm in this place. Trying to push that idea from his mind, Bolt continued his exploration. There was little point worrying about it now. This place was so far underwater it would never be seen. If he died here, no one would ever likely find him. Stumbling upon this place by accident may still prove to be a boon, or his end. Leaving the room, he made up his mind.

"It's alright. Having seen so many wonders, great and terrible.. If I should die now, It is well enough." He stated factually. This corridor lead towards a strange heavy door that gave him a jolt when it hissed and opened of its own accord as he approached.

"Get a grip, relax. Ponies built this place. I belong here. I..belong here." Just stated to calm his fraying nerves. Behind the massive door lay a scene beyond simple comprehension. Cylinders and jars on racks, some bubbling, lined the walls as overhead lights flickered to life. Inside were skulls and icky looking things of every possible shape.

A sick feeling overtook him at this sight. Why would the old ones have such a place? A gross menagerie of once living things laid out as if in sick memorandum. Whatever went on here in ages past did not feel right, if anything ever truly did. Nothing looked quite right. Somehow tortured grins forever static and lifeless, staring eternally upon the others. A sort of false life was given some as they bobbed to and fro in their enclosures, some long since emptied through the passage of time. An eerie feeling overtook Bolt here.

"What did the ancient ponies need with this? I do not understand. There is no good here. I have to get out of this place." His mind felt ill at ease having seen so many strange things, a new and odd ill feeling to add to all the others.

"I feel like my lungs are burning a bit. This air tastes a bit foul, and I feel slightly dizzy. I need a way out of here, soon." This place was so immense. Wandering through this dome alone could take days, time which he may not have to spare. Passing through a similar door at the opposite end, one which raised up instead of sliding, it hissed and resealed itself behind him with a thud.

"Curse this endless wandering. Did I truly do something to deserve this loneliness? How long have I even been away from..home?" A few tears welled that he could not hold back. It already settled in that what he knew as home was just an empty shell now. There was nothing for him there, save memories. It may not even still stand. For all he knew the entirety of what was left of the old ones city could lay a smoldering ruin by now. Was that possible? Could even the ruins all be gone?

"Stop it, Bolt. Focus and keep moving. There must be somepony, somewhere. Find them." As was usual since he left, his hooves did not seem to make the same sound they should. Weaker somehow. Like they lacked weight or the ability to make sound carry very far. It was all so strange. Something was truly amiss here, and everywhere. Even knowing little of the mechanisms behind how sound works, or a great many things really, it still felt wrong. Feeling stalked and betrayed by the very world around him was a feeling so foreign and disconcerting it made it difficult to even put one hoof in front of the other. Some force of wicked will was surely behind all of this, but what and why?

It served no purpose to hunt him down, surely? Yet hunted he felt at all times. Could death itself really be playing a mad game with him? Why bother?

"Enough wild imaginings, death couldn't possibly care very much about one little pony like me, now could it?" He found the thought a bit amusing. No, death would get little amusement toying with somepony so unimportant as him. He was just another pony amongst the remaining few clinging to life in a desolate ruin. The very idea was absurd and laughable. The concept itself was rather silly, wasn't it? Death was not a tangible thing, just something that happened.

Another long hallway. This place was immeasurably large. How big was the entire place in totality? Hours on end must have passed already. Bolt found a safe seeming nook out of sight and dared take a nap. He learned this lesson well enough, never chance being seen except on your own terms. Wearing himself out yet again and in this situation was probably not a good idea. The longer he remained here in the depths was likely bad, but there was no choice. There must be something actually useful somewhere around here, if he did not in his ignorance of the old ones things overlook it again and again already. He was determined to find his way out of here. There were ponies to find, somewhere. He felt sure of this.

They could not all have fallen. Some were unicorns, with magic and other abilities he did not possess or pretend to understand. The few unicorns he ever met did not seem possessed of particular strength either. Just a little strength of another kind. No, they could not all be dead, surely. Having been taken unaware more than once left him very conscious of how easy it was to be surprised. He did not want to wind up feeling like a foal yet another time. They were mistakes he'd been taught to avoid and should stop making them. Especially in the here and now. Things were different than back then. That was training. His mind drifted to the exercises his master set out for him.

How to move silently, how to blend in with the shadows. Practically become them. Keep the mind sharp and outthink opponents. He knew these things so well and failed miserably to follow them thus far. Why did he keep letting that happen so far? It was almost shameful. Pitiable even. A few more mistakes like that and he really would die. Some guidance would be great now, but there was none to be had. He was on his own, as he'd been for so long already. He did not remove the packs this time. Just a little rest. Just a little. This was alright at first. Relaxing was difficult of course, but he must do so. Eventually he slipped into a soft slumber for a while.

Unfortunately another dream intruded upon his rest, of swirling despair and enduring darkness snuffing out all things, everything. A terrible, miserable dream of suffering and tangible darkness throwing all the might of itself towards him. A living wall of agonizing torment to cage him in a prison of freezing pain. An image of some creeping pony made of the dark drawing closer, nearer. It hunted him throughout, the faster he ran, the closer it got. Nipping at his haunches as untold terror swelled, forcing itself upon his psyche. This was not him. He could not feel this way, it was wrong. There was no misery like this. It could not possibly exist. Sadness and wailing overtaking his dream left him shuddering.

Nothing could feel this bad! Bolt jolted awake. He knew what was coming. He'd come to know a dream which felt like that, if that was what they truly were, meant only one thing. Something was nearing, he just knew it, practically feeling it. Was it something horrible once more? Where? What would it be this time. He stood and twitched his ears, listening, trying to feel, sense or hear what it could possibly be. Unlike before this did not seem to have quite the same tingling terrible feeling of apprehension somehow. Yet, maybe this was untrustable either. Something was definitely about to happen. This tingling sense of distrust was almost palpable. What was there to distrust?

So far, these horrible dreams gave real warning of things, though this certainly felt somewhat different for whatever reason. It simply did not feel vile like the rest thus far. Then, it happened. Standing there like a statue, suddenly it was there.

"The voice won't take me!" A startlingly powerful female voice from down the hallway behind him made Bolt spin right around on his hind hooves to land and face them. A tall horned figure stood there with a flowing mane and tail the likes of which he never imagined before. He'd assumed nothing living was in this underwater city, or perhaps anywhere anymore. Wait, wings? She sported wings as well. He never expected to actually see an alicorn.

His master told him to never approach them for any reason. This could be quite bad. She looked emaciated, perhaps injured in some way he could not quite tell. Hovering beside her was a nasty looking thing with many barrels he just recognized as a gun of some kind. Not good.

"Wh..who are you? Please, I need help!" He stammered at this surprise. Instead of a response the weapons barrels started spinning. Uh-oh. This was probably going to be quite troublesome. It instantly got worse. Her horn glowed black.

"I won't do it, die!" At this before she even finished speaking, Bolt jumped across the hallway as a ridiculous stream of fire began bouncing off everything. This was terrible.

If she kept that up for long this entire ancient underwater facility could come crashing down on their heads, to say nothing of the entire ocean just waiting to get in. Yelling for her to stop would do no good right now, she would not be able to hear it over the noise and she did not seem inclined to reason. This was insane. Why was she shooting? He didn't even do anything. How could he get her to stop firing? Bullets were whizzing everywhere and he was just managing to hide behind the heavy steel doors and equipment all over the place as she slowly stepped forward, making him race from spot to spot. At this rate it was inevitable he was going to get hit. Death was upon him, why did it have to be like this? Did he come all this way just to die now? It went eerily silent. What?

He dared peek slightly around a large steel crate or something he'd slipped behind. She was gone. What in the world?
Vanished without a trace. Fortunately they were within an inner hallway or that outburst of insanity could have easily drowned both of them. Was she completely out of her mind? Could she have been down here for.. That would be an awfully long time to be alone, impossible. Bolt cautiously began moving again. There was no point dwelling on it. Now the air in here felt oppressive as well as sickly. Maybe the strange alicorn could be reasoned with, if she would allow the chance to speak. It would be best to avoid her if possible.

If she just wanted to be left alone, why attack or announce her presence at all? He'd no idea anypony was down here until this moment. This gave pause, were there more? Like her? Crazy? Where did she go? It was far more unsafe here than could have been accounted for. At least she was a living thing, flesh and blood. He supposed it would be far better to be killed by that than some complete unknown. It certainly would have been quick. Wait. This meant there were other living things still around. That feeling was good. Thank whatever might be listening, or not. Probably nothing is anyway.

"Well, that was close. That was so stupid! Come on, Bolt. You didn't even hear her, pick up on her scent, anything. It was all there, you dope, and you didn't notice even though you knew it was coming." He took a very deep breath. It was not something he should have overlooked. Too distracted by everything around him, he'd forgot the most important lesson of all. Except without choice, never assume anything as a given. He'd assumed nopony else could possibly be down here. That was a mistake that could easily have cost his life already. He felt dumb, living ponies were exactly what he was looking for. Time to get moving.

"Wasting time, half a city still needs my help, or anybodies help. If it can be given, I have to find someone. There is at least one other pony alive, even if she is crazed. That could mean others." Speaking encouragingly to himself helped, as did finally knowing he was not the only living pony left in all the land. It was a very good feeling. There was nothing he could do back in the city himself. The towering black walls of fire were an unknown to him in any fashion. Was it magic? His master never mentioned anything like that. No unicorn he ever saw could come near to creating something so immense. Not to mention that terrible feeling of sheer wrong which its mere presence elicited. The flames should not exist.

It was not just them, the existence of other oddities encountered on his way to this point and what they heralded were just as unknowable. Was this truly some sort of hell given over just for him to wander in and experience? Death itself did seem near and nipping at his haunches on every possible occasion. Could this be some kind of perverse game he'd been pulled into, to amuse whatever twisted things may exist beyond his comprehension and understanding? Bolt shook his head as he walked, paying far more attention to his surroundings now. Being caught so unaware was shameful, it would not happen again. He'd been taken in by the grandeur of this place, whatever it really was or for.

The terminal messages seemed to to him to mean it was of some great importance to somepony once. Was it simply forgotten? Abandoned? Could even a work this great in scale really have simply been left to rot under the ocean? If the ancient ponies could let this grand a thing simply fall to the wayside, did he stand any chance whatsoever? Perhaps the alicorn knew what this place truly was. He might never know.

"What am I really to do now?" Bolt thought to himself. How far could he really go? Survive for how long, and if he did?

"If I get out of here, get help. Do all that and..kill Boss. Do all of that, then what will I do? I have no one else. I barely know anyone. I guess no one really does, but still. I cannot wander alone, forever, can I?" Once more finding himself on the verge of tears. This was not good. Nothing was good at all. This was all so wrong. So alien. Yet, this was built by ponies. It clearly was. From the terminals to the way things were organized, clearly ponies built it all. Simply knowing other creatures existed did nothing to change what a fearful thing actually running into them could be. This entire journey he'd been fighting what felt like fear given form, consigned to battle his way out of the city, and fight an unceasing dread in the bottom of his gut that refused to ever fully go away no matter how hard it was pushed down. The quiet was unnerving.

Ever since that horrible first day, it seemed like sound just fell dead, not going quite as far as it should. Imperceptibly it almost seemed to be worse now. A shorter distance. That didn't make any real sense, but did any of this? This place should hold his rapt attention, it was awe-inspiring, amazing. Yet, fear was the one thing that remained wholly present. It must be resisted. At all costs. It must.

"Is there something wrong with me? Maybe. Just keep putting one hoof in front of the other, and move." Bolt peeked around a corner. As before, another lonely ancient hallway slowly falling to dirt and grime.

This hidden jewel beneath what were once waves now fallen as flat and still as the rest of the world felt so lonely. Like life itself abandoned these unique corridors. This was taking hours upon hours just to find a way back out to the tracks. Some sort of hideous deathly thing roamed them, but seemed the only way to go. Fighting that thing was certain death, no doubt. The very thought of trying made him shiver all over. A loud clang behind made him look back quickly. What looked like a small tin was rolling out from another side hallway. What now? Ready to leap out of the way at the slightest hint of aggression, he strode to look around the corner. It was just another corridor, but lined with shelves.

Supplies of varying nature. Some things he recognized, like a picture of those strange ration packs that appeared almost everywhere. Did every single pony used to have them? Why did the can fall and roll? This was strange. Perhaps some actual luck was coming his way? Better not trust that idea. Skill, forbearance and determination were all that carried him to this strange facility. Death itself might really be stalking for all he knew. A powerful and dangerous pony roamed this place, why was she here? Could it be her home? That would be strange, wouldn't it? The dim feelings of being confined and slowly suffocating down here were quite unpleasant and wearing. It already felt an eternity since breathing in fresh air.

Well, not exactly fresh. His thoughts deemed it simply more tolerable up on the surface, not pleasant by any means, but almost anything was better than this. There were other things on the shelves he did not recognize. There was so much unknown to him that it was a bit shameful feeling. There was just so much stuff here he did not understand. The ponies from long ago would know what all this stuff was, right? Clank.

"Oh, no." Bolt muttered at the sound as he immediately jumped out across the hallway to land in the opposite entryway. There was that awful ticking stuttering sound as bullets went flying and spraying past once again.

The packs were slowing him down, but abandoning them was not a choice. They contained his sole chance at continued survival should he manage to live long enough to escape this demented place. It could be heard getting closer, Bolt ran down the hallway he'd been forced into as fast as was possible carrying such a load. Some stray flicking shots bounced past his head on the right just as he turned a corner. Too close once again. Why was she doing this? It was quite possible to bring down the entire place with that much firepower. She must be truly out of her mind. It ceased once more. What was going on here? So deathly silent again.

On a whim he chucked a piece of metal that happened to be laying against the opposite wall out into the open. Nothing. Nothing at all. Leaning around the corner there was nothing to be seen. This made little to no sense. If the mare just wanted to be left alone, his only intention was to leave. There was no understanding this. Deciding to take the shiny bit of metal with him he took to chucking it into any open spaces before entering them. Again he appeared to be alone, but that was clearly not the case. There was a sign on the wall stating something like 'Gantry' and an arrow pointing down one way while some kind of symbol that looked like little more than a squiggly line and an arrow pointed another way.

What was a gantry? So much to be understood about this place. Following the gantry arrow lead to a strange room with an open pool of water that somehow did not let the entire ocean in from below. A huge tall cylindrical object to which an overhead bridge extended to the top, accessible by steel stairs was also within. Something about this thing felt wrong, it practically pulsed with a sickly power he could actually feel as he neared.

"What am I sensing? What is this? No, no I want nothing to do with this thing. It feels wrong. Just leave it be." It practically made his teeth chatter being near to this..thing. It must be an ancient weapon or something, what else could possibly feel this horrible? Was this one of those things that left the world like it was now? If so, it was surprising anypony yet lived at all. On the side was a mark stating 'EXP:Plague Missile B: 0-0-3' Plague? The word sounded chilling somehow. It was appropriate to this feeling in the area. Whatever a missile was, there were two other open spots where more of these might once have been housed. Bolt moved past it as quickly as possible and out of the affected region around it and huffed.

"I have never felt anything so vile as that right there. What were you doing down here, old ponies? Would I even want to know? Nothing is quite right down here. The more I find the less I want to know." Complaining to himself was small comfort. This was all too big for him, too large to comprehend. They were possessed of so much knowledge, why did they let the world become like this? Were they totally unable to utilize the knowledge they held for good purposes? Was it possible to actually know too much and become unable to control what it would bring with it? This was not a thought that ever crossed his mind before.

"No, there must have been good ponies too. There must have been. No one could possibly have truly actually wanted something so horrible feeling, could they? Just being near it felt disgusting right down to my very being." At least the feeling passed. His wandering felt interminable, endless. Would he ever find a way out of here? Was he taken in by what might be turning out to be a clever trap for the unwary and curious? Perhaps. That fleeting thought ended rapidly. Trying to move stealthily did not entirely appear to be working in this instance. This situation was tremendously dangerous. No matter how quiet, the strange mare somehow kept locating him. Practically able to sense it coming by now.

This time she nearly cornered him in an intersecting hallway which culminated in being forced down a path which looked all too familiar. Did she chase him around in a complete circle somehow? It was so easy to become disoriented down here with few distinguishing features. Being harassed into rushing headlong at random was not conducive to mapping out the place or determining which direction to go. One room he felt no desire to revisit under any circumstances and he was heading straight for it again. Just ever so barely diving for cover around a corner from that tick-tick-ticking menace. She must want to die or something, surely? This place must be about to come tumbling down atop both of them.

It fell silent, again. Why bother him at all?

"Oh come on, lady! I don't even know who you are or care, drown yourself if you want but leave me out of it!" Bolt yelled as bullets ceased flying past. His voice echoed down the long empty hall. A fleeting realization struck him as he said this. This menacing alicorn could easily have stopped and held him from running at any time couldn't she? Why hadn't she done that and just killed him already? She was herding him. Forcing him down a specific path, but why go so far to do that? For that matter if they were at all like he'd been told she could just drag him to wherever she wanted him to go whenever she wanted.

This was also exhausting, hauling his packs, running, diving for safety was beyond wearing. There may be no choice except to confront her directly, but he would have to take the mare by surprise to stand any chance at all. It would also require ditching the packs which he might never be able to find again. No, even if he could somehow get close, without a single deciding blow she would have him at her complete mercy, if she didn't already.

"I've never felt so powerless in all my life. What do you want from me!? All I want to do is help ponies!" Being quiet wasn't working anyway, so why not? At each opportunity she always came so close to ending his life, might as well give some kind of retort whenever it happened.

This time he wound up finding himself backing into a side room to avoid the constant streams of destruction she unleashed with that terrible weapon. Always at a distance, never close enough to fully see properly, and always when he thought he'd given her the slip. This strange game of cat and mouse continued for five hours. Bolt would slip away from danger and return to searching only to be assaulted again and again. Was her ammunition endless as well? It never ran dry, or was that why the pauses? Perhaps she was going to get more ammunition from somewhere. Nearing total exhaustion, Bolt was about to drop. Willpower alone cannot carry anyone forever.

He must rest soon or be finished by simply running out of strength. Hoping against hope he'd finally given the maniacal mare the slip, he settled on the floor of a tiny room, behind a small rack of what might have been a stacked bed once. It was unrecognizable as such now. So tired he could not even remove the packs, against all odds he was allowed sleep. He awoke many hours later with a jolt and banged his head.

"Ow! oops." Shushing himself he looked to see he'd clocked himself off one of the bars of the beds or whatever they used to be he was hiding behind. That hurt. At least he was well-rested now. This was ridiculous. He just wanted to get help.

Groggily, Bolt rose to his hooves. This proved to be a mistake as one of the packs caught on the edge of a bar, causing him to stumble into a shelf which knocked over a metal box looking device that clacked to life. It practically bellowed.

"Heavenly shades of Luna's night are falling.." Bolt smashed it with his forehooves repeatedly until it fell silent. What was that thing? Oh, now his heart was racing. That noise might have echoed throughout the whole place. Wonderful.

"That's just great!" He chided himself while hurriedly unhooking the pack from the bar and dared glance out down the corridor in both directions. Nothing there, but better not risk it. Moving was essential now.

What insanity might be encountered while moving about this time? Rushing was always bad, he knew this was a given. Without time to think, plan, or even consider the vaguest plan of action was putting him in ludicrously dire straights. Was she nearing even now, ready to dispense death? The answer did not take long to come raining down upon him. Already? That short tick-tick-tick of the barrels spinning up sent him crashing over a desk destroying who knows what and around a corner to barely miss dying yet again.

"Stop it! You are crazy, just stop it! Cut it out ya dumb filly!" Screaming at her from afar did little, but it did feel somehow better to do. Yet, this time it did do something. Something clicked in a weird way different from before.

What now? He went to move and the weapon spun up once more. What? The bullets started up once more, but were cutting straight through the wall and just missed his head. These bullets were different. Bolt backpedaled in the opposite direction as they seemed to sear and cut through everything leaving tiny explosions in their wake. If they'd been near the outer walls of this sunken ruin of the old world it would absolutely have killed them both already. He was running out of places to duck or hide. Any instant he was going to die, this was the end of the road. There was no escaping this. It was clear this was his fate. Tears welled, but once more it went eerily silent. This made no sense.

This time though, there was a loud thunk as something hit the floor in the distance. Huh? Still alive somehow, but why? Of all the things that could have been expected at this moment, what came next was beyond ludicrous. He heard the alicorn speaking.

"I'm sorry, daddy. I didn't mean to." The formerly powerful voice sounded weak, small. Almost mewling, and crying? Daddy? What in all the world could possibly be happening here? He dared peek out amongst the wreckage and carnage of shattered equipment, piles of bullet casings littering the whole place as some thing fell and sparked, smoke from the fallen rubble hung thick in the air making him cough. There she stood, her weapon laying on the floor, empty.

She really was crying. This looked and felt horribly incorrect. He'd understood alicorns to be regal, powerful, and most of all dangerous, but what was this? She looked the part. Beautiful, magical, mysterious. But, this was wrong. She just stood there bawling like a child. No more menacing than a rotted rag doll. She was muttering to herself almost incoherently. Seeing her like this felt dangerous no longer, and more like something palpably pitiable. He could tell, she would not harm him again. The entire feeling of her presence changed from deathly to little of consequence. What happened here? Bolt slowly stepped out.

"Miss?" His voice shook. This pony could crush his comparably feeble frame in an instant, but she looked so hopeless and lost now. Standing there sobbing incessantly like the entire world turned against her, unmoving asides her flowing mane and tail. That was unique. This incredibly powerful pony was so utterly pathetic in this moment he could hardly stand to look. He gulped and walked closer. This was not frightening at all now, more disturbing. She looked, frightened?

"Miss? Please, I don't want to fight. I came down here looking for a way to get to the mainland and that's all, I swear. I won't hurt you." This sounded so silly to him to say, he thought to himself. Hurt her?

She could break him in half if she so chose and there was little to nothing he could do to prevent it, but the fight was definitely gone out of her. The sheer fire and intensity in her eyes was utterly gone, replaced with some unknowable misery as waterfalls of tears spilled as if held in check for centuries and suddenly unleashed from behind whatever damn held them. As he neared she lifted a hoof, making him nearly flinch and recoil a little, this action actually seemed to make her crying even worse. It was regretful, after which he trotted right up to her where she promptly gave an odd hug, pulling him close and simply shivered, crying into his shoulder. This was, strange. There was really no menace here.

Just a mare who was hurt very badly somehow, but what?

"W..what's wrong, miss?" Bolt found himself asking and just letting her hug and shiver against him. Through shivering and sobbing she was saying things he could hardly catch like a stream of hurt flowing forth.

"I just wanted to play with somepony!" She gushed. Wait, what did she just say? He could not have heard that right, could he? Bolt did not know what to do or to say. He'd never comforted anypony before, and certainly nothing like this. He and his master supported each other, but that was the extent of what he knew of this kind of thing.

What could possibly be going on with this alicorn? This should be amazing, but she was so disheveled and miserable as she stood there towering above him. What did he chance upon down here in this practically other world? There was no sense above, and none below the water either apparently. She truly appeared emaciated up close. She did not look unhealthy, but not right either. He just returned the hugging as best he could. She was simply too large for him to do more, and he must not upset her again. That was a given.

"Can I, do something for you, miss?" He asked curiously. Through intermittent sobbing she replied.

"I'm not a miss, I'm a little girl!" She shuddered heavily. Bolt blinked several times. What? Was she just mad or something? What could he possibly say to that? What should he say? She babbled.

"When the bad things happened, daddy he..he told me to stay here and he would get help.. but..but..I haven't seen him in so long.. so so long.. where did daaaddy gooo?.." The alicorn trailed off into incomprehensible caterwauling. He'd never met a truly young pony before, but the worst part about this was she really did sound like a little filly in her mannerisms, how she held herself, how she spoke. It all screamed, child, to him. What should he do? She was talking about bad things?

"I got so lonely.. I tried to follow daddy, but...but when I got near someplace called...called outside I think.. a horrible voice tried to get in my head and make me do awful things, but i made it go away." The mare trembled. She did what?

"I can't find daddy.. I can't go to outside or the awful voice will get me! Can..can you find daddy for me? Please..please please pleaaase?" The alicorn started bawling some more. This was sounding worse and worse. What was this?

"What's your name?" Bolt decided to inquire cautiously. Upsetting her could literally be deadly. She spoke with some kind of accent to her speech he would find almost cute if that were possible under the circumstances.

"I'm Flourisher, but the..the...bad ponies in the white coats always called me Nocte Terrores. I don't know why. What's..what's your name?" She nuzzled against him so sadly it was difficult to bear. Bad ponies in coats? What did he trot into down here? The way she asked his name sounded so shy and reserved. This was almost silly.

"I'm Bolt. Pleased to meet you. Can you tell me how old you are?" Such mundane questions seemed to extraordinarily odd to be asking right now, but what else was there to do? It was at least good to hear another not unfriendly voice.

"I am..seven, seven years old." She stated very matter of fact and seemed proud to say it. This made little sense.

That was utterly impossible. She was a full grown mare, she really seemed to believe this though. Something truly disturbing was running through Bolts head as he held her gently and considered the things she was saying. No, it couldn't be. It should not be. It was wrong. Terribly wrong. It was so beyond wrong his mind could hardly grasp the implication of what it meant. She sounded so lost, so forlorn and hopeless like all the weight of the whole world really pressed down upon her. Soon, he would have to ask. Quite possibly the fastest earth pony to ever live, just held her gently and close. In some way, it felt good. In every other way, this was wrong inherently.

Something sickly and amiss happened here the likes of which he was not prone to understanding easily. A great ill feeling washed over Bolt as he pondered the strange mare in front of his eyes. Her mane and tail ethereally wispy, but touchable. Like a piece of the world itself given over to solid form, but somehow sickly, not quite right. Some great and terrible tragedy of a scope far beyond his ken occurred down here, long before he lived and still went on. It could be seen and felt now. This place was as rotten in feeling as anywhere he'd ever been. For as little as that might mean, there was a chill and depressed feeling about this whole ordeal beyond anything reasoned or understandable.

What strange circumstance lead this mare to be here all alone? The possibilities running through his mind all felt like they would fall short of whatever was really going on here.

"Can you tell me exactly what happened when they left? Is anypony else down here other than you?" Bolt gently brushed at her, being all he could really think to do. She seemed to enjoy it immensely. He knew the sadness and misery of being entirely alone for what was in reality only a fairly short time now, it hurt. This pony he found himself holding was all alone for what must have been a vastly longer period. How long could she really have been down here, all by herself?

"There was so much noise. Horrible noise. They were y-yelling. Everypony ran, but daddy stayed with me for a long time. Just us. We had fun. Something..something big cracked one day, and he said he would go get help. I haven't seen anyone else since. No one. I was so lonely! I thought you were one of the bad ponies, I'm sorry miiister!" Flourisher bawled some more.

"Listen, listen Flourisher. Shh.. It's okay. Now, this is important, alright?" Bolt tried his best to calm her down. She was shaking and crying so much it was hard for him to even look at her face. She nodded in between bouts of sobbing.

"Did your father tell you anything else before he left, or leave anything? Anything at all? Also, could we maybe move into a room with some more light?" Her mane and tail almost seemed to cast some of their own, and he was really only asking to keep her talking, but perhaps she could point him to something useful or be of some assistance. She was, after all, an alicorn. A sort of being he never expected to encounter in all his days. They walked into a more brightly lit area. It was still dim, but better than darkness. The mysterious mare brought the weapon she'd been levitating along as an afterthought. Hefting a ridiculously powerful weapon like that was nothing to her at all.

Why did she have so much firepower anyway? It did make him think on his own mortality once more. Only sheer luck prevented his demise this time. A single stray bullet from those barrages would have been enough to end this unfortunate adventure he'd been forced to set out on. It became clear she was not entirely serious about killing him earlier, but even so, he could easily have been dead by now. This stressing situation only ever seemed to get worse, and this moment really seemed no better. Why was all this happening? It might never be told. In proper lighting he could see she was truly gorgeous, but clearly on the edge of starvation.

"He taught me how to use the commissary machine? for food, i think it broke..and...a..contupor?" She said almost absently. A Commissary, and a contupor, what were either of those things? Neither of those words meant anything to him.

"Can you show me these things, Flourisher?" Might as well see what she was talking about. She smiled and lead him down more hallways and corridors and into what was a rather cozy seeming place amidst all the steel and glass in this enormous dome. Thinking they must be almost in the direct center of this one, it made some kind of sense to him.

They both passed under another of the truly hefty steel doors he did not initially recognize as such, beneath a sign stating 'Commissary' There were long benches and tables which could have seated at least thirty or more ponies and something he knew was once called a kitchen, but little else about. There was not much he knew about the strange machines that always seemed present in such places, with tags on them like 'blender' and 'ice machine' amongst a host of other things he did not recognize. There were two things he did, a machine labeled 'Sparkle Cola' sat in an opposite corner of the large room and a terminal. Both could be of some interest.

Some strange air of sadness almost felt to have settled in here, as if the room itself wanted to be used for whatever purpose it was once intended. One of the seats seats was clearly very worn, she sat upon it.

"This was my favorite spot when.." Tears just kept flowing. Bolt looked at her curiously.

"Daddy brought me here for hay fries! They were so yummy." Flourisher seemed happy for an instant, the first time since she'd stopped shooting at him. Hay fries, another thing he did not know what it was. This felt embarrassing. Bolt proceeded to look over the terminal.

It stated several odd things, but at a guess it could be thought it wanted something to be done. A line reading "Water only. Maintenance required: Adjunct Disconnected at C-1." Flickered. He'd seen the word adjunct before as well.

"It used to let me get stuff to eat! Dummy thing only gives me water now!" Flourisher explained how it worked.

"Those things on the wall would open and stuff would come out for me. I miss the yummies it would give me." She frowned forlornly. This sort of made his heart drop. He'd brought along a decent amount of scavenged supplies, but food was always scarce. Maybe he could help, somehow. He could just fill up on water and leave, but it felt wrong to think this.

"Do you know anything about what I would have to do to fix this, or what C-1 is?" Couldn't hurt to ask anyway.

"I don't know, but this is floor A-1. C-1 is way down there." She pointed a hoof down at a strange hatch towards the back that was so much a part of the room that he overlooked it initially. It was clamped shut, marked by engraving in the metal stating 'Maintenance Shafts, technicians only'. Whatever any of that meant. She playfully rocked on the seat. Weird.

"I don't go down there anymore. I used to sneak in, no one seemed to like that. Now there..there are, things, down there. Crawly things." The strange mare shivered a little. Crawly things? That didn't sound too good.

"They're creepy and make ticky noises!" She exclaimed. Ticky noises? Maybe this was a bad idea, but for some reason he really found himself wanting to help this poor mare. She almost seemed helpless, as weird as that thought was.

"I am going to try and make this thing work if I can, but I guess that means going down into that place. Can you tell me anything else about it?" Bolt tried to work up some courage to get moving. This could be a dangerous course of action, but the thought settled in that at least he might be doing something good for somepony. That was maybe a little uncertain.

"When I first got here, there was this horrible humming black thing that felt bad to be near. I think I barely got away from it. Do you know what that was, and if are there any more of them around here?" Bolt asked the unusual mare. She nodded almost playfully. This really made it feel even more like she was a little girl. How could this be?

"Daddy said he's..is...secuwwity...wobot? Said he would protect me, but he couldn't stop the voice." That sounded kind of cute. Sec what? That didn't help very much. What was this voice she kept talking about? It didn't matter right now.

"Alright, I think to fix this thing for you I have to go down there to C-1. I don't know if I can do it, but I will try. Also I hate to say it, but you are clearly starving to death. If..if I don't come back, you will have to leave this place, no matter what. So, if I am gone more than a few hours I want you to take my packs. They have water bottles you can fill, and a little bit of food in them. You will have to, okay?" He told her in all seriousness. If there were things down there she did not want to go near, this could be very bad. This started her tears rolling again. There were really only two choices here. Stay and fix it, or try to escape with her.

"I can't, the voice will get me! I don't want to be alone again! Don't go. Don't go!" Flourisher looked so incredibly miserable it shook him to his core. Bolt walked over to her and looked straight in their eyes, speaking quietly.

"I don't really know what's going on here, or what happened or anything. What I do know is, that you are dying. You're dying, I can see it now. I need to try and fix this, or we need to leave this place together. There is nothing else we can do, understand?" He looked to her for acknowledgement. After a few trembling moments she just slowly nodded her head.

Flourisher got up, walked over to the strange cover and pulled a mouth activated lever which made a little hissing noise as the unusual opening in the floor unclamped itself and slid open to reveal a broad stairway leading down to hidden levels he'd no idea were even here. This place was so packed with odd things to marvel at, but this wasn't the time. A chill feeling rushed over him as air rather a bit more stale than even up here was stirred. That didn't smell very good at all, but it was still breathable. He watched in fascination as it slid apart to allow entry. So many interesting things in the old world. This was definitely one of them.

"Remember, three hours. If I'm not back by then, I want you to try and get out of here, even if you have to do whatever this voice you're talking about says, alright? I don't want you to die." She kind of gritted or her teeth and accepted what he was saying. He wasn't even sure himself really why he was doing this, but she really did not seem bad at all. Left in a terrible situation for some reason or other, she was simply alone. It was almost understandable why she was so out of her mind when they first met. A tremendously long time alone combined with running so low on food would probably do that to anypony. How long a time she was by herself was still unclear.

"Close this door behind me, I will bang three times when I come back." He told her and set off down into the unknown tunnels beneath. This was done with a lot of trepidation, even now his experiences with going into underground places were a mixed bag and going further below brought with it odd feelings. The door slid closed above, sealing him down in this place. The lighting was different. There was a distinctly pungent odor of something unidentifiable down here, not just settled dust. What was he getting himself into this time? Oh well, the decision was made.

Perhaps it was wrong to bother, but seeing the poor mare looking like that and withering away in such a fashion just felt like leaving her would be the wrong thing to do.

"Here I come." Bolt muttered and walked down the lower hallways. At least this was less confusing, everything seemed to run in straight lines. Most of the lights here still worked, clinging to whatever semblance of life such things had. It smelled damp down here, it might be leaking somewhere. That could present a problem if it was too bad. Whatever possessed the old ponies to build this place under the ocean? His guesses could only be wild fantasies.

It might be something quite different than anything he could come up with. Whatever that smell was, it was slowly getting stronger in the direction he was traveling, it added an almost salty tinge to the air. There were arrow markings along the walls with letters stating 'C-1'. B-1 was on each wall. This was clearly the way to go. Right towards that scent. That was a bit foreboding. This may be a bad idea, but he would keep his word. At least he'd got see more of the world. This was not how he wanted to do so, but that thought settled in. Thinking about it, this felt good. Never having imagined so many more strange, wondrous, and terrifying things to be out there was like having a veil removed from his eyes.

Ahead was something shadowy which quickly slipped out of sight. There was a strange skittery sound which made him stop short. Was that one of the things? Best be very careful. Bolt inched forward, using all his skill to remain silent and stealthy as he'd been taught. There it was. Something weirdly bulbous with several odd legs and a hard looking moss covered shell was ahead. He wasn't looking for a fight, but might have no choice. It was right in the path where the arrows to C-1 pointed. There was only so much room to maneuver here. It would be best to avoid fighting if at all possible. What could this thing be? How many were there? For whatever reason it moved off down another hallway.

As the strange creature walked off he hurriedly moved on. Did these tunnels run under the entire dome? Maybe each dome had similar? Perhaps that could be useful information. Something felt very distinctly, wrong, down here. At least it felt relatively more wrong than anything else lately. This was saying a lot. He'd encountered so many strange things on his journey thus far it was almost odd for something to truly feel this far amiss. The thing appeared to be a simple animal, he could probably take one on directly, but a group could be a real problem. Best be on his guard. Stealthily plodding along, the source of the water made itself known. The closer he came to the entrance for C-1 the more concerning it was.

There was some green mossy substance lining the walls, he didn't really know what it was. It was getting damper feeling the further he went. At last it was in sight. The hatch to C-1 was open. It must have been left that way. This looked unusual, every door encountered up to this point was closed. The reason for this was readily apparent. Down the stairs in the water were the bones of a pony wearing a tool belt and a kind of crossing harness looking thing with multiple items attached to it he was not familiar with. Those things must have been chewing on the remains. That was concerning. More concerning was the several inches of water on the floor below.

Did this poor pony get trapped down here or something long ago? It would likely never be known what really killed them. Might the pony have simply fallen down the stairs? That'd be silly. This much water wasn't good. At least the entirety of C-1 was not filled. It must be a very slow leak from somewhere. Not knowing the mechanics of either air pressure or water, he could not have known this place was essentially a giant pressure vessel. He could not have known the slow cart ride down here was purposeful, to prevent leaving at speed so as to avoid a condition once known as the bends. The tunnel below and ahead looked clear for now.

Forced to wade along in this extremely cold water was far less quiet and disconcerting, it could attract unwanted attention from whatever may be down here. This encompassing feeling of wrong was becoming worse the further ahead he pressed into the unknown. This feeling was not caused by just the presence of the odd creatures, he could tell that much. Something far more sinister felt to be lurking ever just out of sight, or around each corner he quickly surveyed. Yet, nothing else presented itself. There were more of the large shelled things roaming around here, meaning there must be a way for them to have got in, somewhere. Perhaps similar to the open pool from before?

These things were not related to his goal and fairly easily avoided so far. Slipping by them skillfully, allowed further progress. The real problem now was figuring out where to really go. It was unclear exactly where he would have to go. This was essentially aimless wandering, but since it was all straight the worst that could happen was he would reach the outer edge of the dome. The walls were well-marked with directions back to the hatch. Some doors were closed down here, and would not open. Most were not. It would be very unfortunate if where he needed to go was in one of these inaccessible rooms. Then he noticed it, marked on the wall an arrow and words indicating 'Adjunct C-1'.

A solid stroke of luck, he'd not even been wandering too long yet. It was still more than long enough, this place was huge. Some foreboding, strangely intense sense of having been here and done this before befell him. A truly odd sensation. This serious feeling made little sense, he'd never been here before, what was that all about? Shaking it off, Bolt continued towards the adjunct location. What this really meant was lost on him completely. There was something that must be done there, but what if he couldn't figure it out? This course of action wasn't really considered very much, but he was committed to seeing it through, whatever happened. The air was quite stale here, so much as to be almost painful to inhale.

It left a strange taste in his mouth and his muzzle almost feeling as if stuffed with cloth. The off odor clinging to everything was in itself not helping matters any. The humidity in here was almost stifling, making it feel quite difficult to take proper breaths.

"Ugh, that smell is even worse here. It's coming from in that room. Right where I have to go, of course." He thought, quickly advancing through the water-filled hallway. Stepping up close to peek inside around the metal door-frame, he quickly pulled back, having caught sight of a monstrously large version of the creatures he'd so far successfully avoided.

The others were squat and shuffled along slowly. This one was large, gangly and sickly looking, and certainly dangerous. Almost too big for the door. A single swipe of claws like that could slice him in half. Bolt could just barely make out, in the mold covered room there was a terminal on a desk behind it. That could be what he was looking for, but it was being blocked by this monstrous thing. What was there to do? He would have to risk getting this things attention. Struggling to come up with a plan to do so without getting killed was another matter. An idea formed in his head, but it would be very difficult to pull off.

First, he would have to get the attention of the big beast, and lure it out of the room. Bolt banged once on the metal, the thing was quicker moving than anticipated, but nothing he couldn't handle. It turned and stepped oddly towards the sound in almost too small increments. How very strange it was. The shelled creature lumbered after this intruder into it's realm, as he ran along in front it. The sloshing water and hooves banging on steel flooring would surely attract more of the things, this was what he was counting on. He was staying just out of reach of the monster trailing behind, and turned a corner. There in the tunnel ahead were a couple of the things coming towards the commotion.

This would be far enough away from the room now. Keeping an eye on its position, he dared let it swipe a claw at him just as he dove under and between the others, causing it to hammer a large claw into one and making it bash into the other. None of them liked this very much. More were coming from the opposite direction, he'd counted six in total. There may be more somewhere, but they were probably too far away to notice this. This was going surprisingly well. These three were now clamoring at each other in a weird sort of hissing gurgling way and attracting the attentions of the others. They were quite agitated. If he could just slip past them again unnoticed.

Starting to understand and follow the layout of this place should mean he could circle around and reach the terminal unharmed. There was a hallway he could advance down and turn. Following this let him slip away out of sight and head straight back to the room from the opposite direction. Down the hall the sounds of the chittering things hitting each other was audibly echoing. Good, they should be occupied for a while. Maybe enough time to figure this out. The terminal was intact. Good. On the screen only appeared 'Serial Line: Attach' The only thing clear about that to him was there could be a line of some sort that maybe needed attaching to something.

Glancing around the room he could see there was one cable into the back of the terminal, and indeed another fairly large wire hanging loose in the water, was that it? Lifting it up, there could be seen to be a hole shaped similarly to the end of the loose line on the back of the terminal. Did it go in there? Was this how it worked? Only one way to find out. Shaking it off and pressing in the end did fit, but was still a little loose. It would fall out again on its own. Pushing the table around very gently while keeping quiet as possible, and pressing it up against the cable managed to hold it still. That should hold for a really long time if left undisturbed. Looking back to the screen, the words had been replaced by 'Adjunct Functioning."

That seemed like a good sign. Now to get out of here. The sounds of the things were growing fainter, better hurry up. They must have finished their little brawl between themselves. Stepping into the hallway he noticed there were two worn buttons on the outside of room, marked open and close. If that closed the door it would ensure the terminal was left alone. He just knew it would make a lot of noise, but not nearly as much as the sheer cacophony it set off when he pressed the close switch. Squealing, screeching metal unmoved in who knew how long sparked and ground along its tracks, screaming in protest at the sudden application of power.

The door jolted in small spurts of motion, causing phantomlike screams to positively echo throughout the whole floor of this mostly ruined facility, just before it finally slammed home. The echoing just seemed to go on and on. That was so fantastically noisy it actually hurt his ears. Bolts ears twitched to and fro, what was that last sound? Somehow, that did not even seem like part of the echoing.

"Uh-oh." Bolt gasped, getting ready to run flat out if necessary. It would be dangerous to gallop full speed on these water coated floors, but he really did need to get out of here rapidly after that.

If all that didn't attract something, it would be extremely surprising. Yes, they were already coming this way. A lot more of them than before, where were they all until now? It didn't matter. The only choice was to evade and get out of here. In all, this task must have taken a good two hours already. There were far more than he'd initially counted, were more coming in from somewhere? Each step was dangerous in itself, but he could not stop. Must reach the hatches above. Being forced to turn away from the creatures more than once and find another way to go was almost making for lost bearings. Finally back on B-1 and running on dry floor again, at last it was in sight. Finally, the other hatch. Only one problem.

A large group of the things were scuttling along the hallway directly in front of the stairs. The door above was right there, but it was impossible, there were other creatures approaching from behind rapidly, and he couldn't even call for the alicorns help. Fortunately for him, he did not have to. The hatch slid open, drawing their attention as Flourisher leaped down the stairs and landed heavily at the bottom, her gun floating alongside.

"Get down!" She yelled, almost at the same time spinning up the barrels on the impressive gaitling weapon. Bolt flopped onto the floor as she opened up, practically tearing a line straight through the creatures.

The amount of sheer attack power that thing had was insane, however, these things were heavily armored and it took a lot to bring them down.

"Run!" She yelled as he raised his head. By now he was near freezing, that water had been incredibly cold. It was actually hard to move. They both retreated up the stairs, and she yanked the lever to close it. It slammed home. Bolt lay there, wheezing. That was too close. He stood up, shivering and shook off, then looked around. He'd sprayed her with it. Oops.

"I'm so sorry! I.." He went to apologize and she jumped on him. She was giggling.

"You're okay!" Flourisher snuggled against him awkwardly. This was uncomfortable. She felt so warm.

"How did you know I was back? I never got to bang on the door." He really did wonder.

"I heard a weird noise. I was so scared. I got Friend and opened the door." She said. Friend?

"Friend, what friend?" Bolt asked, quite curious.

"Friend, silly." She looked at the gun on the floor. She called that thing, Friend?

"Uh, okay." He didn't know what to make of that.

"Friend has..is special, daddy told me. Never let them take Friend, never." She seemed really fond of the thing. It took a long while to really dry off. That water was so cold that it felt like he'd almost fainted when he first got in it, that actually hurt. His muscles felt cramped. She held him close for a long while. He'd got completely soaked while running, but occasionally shivering was a small price to pay for avoiding being eaten alive. The air on this floor was definitely better than the two below. After a bit, it finally occurred to him that checking if he'd succeeded might be prudent.

"Well, let's take a look." They got up and walked over to the commissary terminal. Something was definitely different.

Flourisher walked up beside him and pushed the selection number of something marked 'H.F. : 22' prompting a strange whirring thump sound to come from a contraption behind the counter and out popped a little box with a strange air whooshing noise which contained stringy looking things. It was almost startling. The number dropped to 21. Was that how many there were of each thing? There were numerous other items, some of which were very low or at zero and indicating 'Ingredients Required'. Whatever that meant. Where did that come from? It was even hot.

"Hay fries!" She blew on the strange stuff a moment, then stuffed her muzzle right into the box and sloppily chewed on the contents. It was such a comical sight he couldn't help but laugh. The alicorn did not seem to care, happily munching away on whatever it was. It looked good, smelled good too. The thought crossed his mind to wonder how old this stuff must be. How was it even edible after so long? The strange old ration packs did seem to possess a similar quality, but they certainly did not taste very good at all. Bolt decided not to touch any of the really low ones, if they were limited he did not wish to deprive her of more.

He pressed a selection for something titled 'M.F.S.B' which seemed to have quite a high number. That thwumping whooshing air sound happened again, and out popped a bowl full of things he could not quite identify individually. They looked pieces of plants of various sorts, but it smelled delicious. He cautiously nibbled at them and found them to be subtle, delicate things of sublime flavors he'd never known. Before realizing it he'd eaten the whole bowlful.

"That..that was amazing." Bolt felt quite a contented feeling right now. Energized and alive. The taste was heavenly.

"You like flower salad?" Flourisher asked.

"Is that what it's called? I liked it very much." It was just wonderful to him. She giggled. Each time she did something like that, it somehow felt a little off. Her mannerisms really made it feel like she was a little filly. A long period was spent with them trying various things. She'd not eaten properly in so long that her appetite was positively ravenous and kept insisting he sample anything she ate, and even some things she didn't just to have him try them and tell what she did or did not like very much. Eventually they were both just sort of laying over the table with dishes everywhere, groaning.

"I don't think I've never been so full in my entire life!" Bolt exclaimed, and she agreed. It was an unknown feeling.

One never really felt before. It was good, but made him feel lethargic and stuffed. Overeating was never a thing he could have experienced before. The alicorn got up and started putting the emptied dishes into another slot along the wall marked simply 'Dishwasher Return' which made it's own whooshing sound and they went disappearing off to wherever that was. This was all so strange. Where did they go off to, and where did all this food even come from to begin with? He'd sampled so much of it. Most of it was beyond anything he'd ever imagined before. Some was not so great, but there was simply no comparison to the powdery near-tasteless ration packs and other scant foods he'd lived on most of his life.

This was awesome. It felt so good to be full for once of something more substantial than what he was used to. The rations kept you alive on little for days at a time, but this was entirely a different feeling. She lead him to a room with things that were kind of like beds. Far from the most comfortable things, but serviceable. They both slept quite well. Unfortunately, when he awoke it would soon be time to leave. He'd actually slept well once again. The mare was already up, holding in her mouth colored waxy looking things he'd never seen before, drawing on some paper. He didn't want to interrupt, but he really needed to set out again soon.

Not really wanting to tell her what he thought the truth of his next question probably was, felt painful.

"Flourisher, what's your dad's name?" He inquired. She set the stuff down and trembled a moment. Huh?

"I, his name?..his name..is...his...name...I...I..can't remember! I don't remember daddy's name!" She started crying all over again. This was horrible. Oh, he felt so bad for asking now. Should he tell her the probable truth?

"Flourisher, it's alright. It's okay. Can you tell me what he looks like?" He asked quietly. Sniffling she opened a drawer.

"I can show you." She rummaged through a bunch of papers, some of which he noticed were colored, with odd images of two things with sticklike features, and some scrawled writing like 'Me and daddy' underneath.

There were a whole lot of them. Flourisher pulled out a worn and faded piece of thick papery stuff. It was a just recognizable image of a handsome looking unicorn stallion with a sort of dullish purple coat, a sharp golden eye and one that was blue? Different colored eyes was very unusual. A cutie mark in the shape of a crossed ruler and pencil graced his flanks. He looked smart. The picture looked extremely old. Bolt thought this over for a long time, and considered telling her he felt she was probably never going to see him again, but decided against it for now. It was still likely a bad idea to upset her. She clearly missed him terribly.

The fact was that in all likelihood he'd died a time so long ago it was hard to think about.

"Listen, I don't know if I can find your father. I wouldn't even know where to start. I can try, but I cannot promise. I might also be gone a really long time. I can't even tell you if I will make it back, it's very dangerous out there." Bolt explained. The poor alicorn looked just so miserable as he spoke. At least she wouldn't starve for a good while. He really didn't want to leave her here alone, but what else could he do? She reached up and pulled him into a tight hug. He felt positively dwarfed by her.

Finally, she let go and gave him an odd little oddly metal looking card on a kind of thin chain thing labeled 'I.D. Dr. Ins.'. There were odd metal strips along it.

"Daddy...said you need one of these to leave." Flourisher was clearly having a hard time with the fact she would be alone again already. They went to top up his water bottles, and filled his packs with some of the more abundant foods. At least he wouldn't go hungry for a while either. After this, she lead him down numerous hallways and back to where he'd first entered this dome.

"What about that thing out there?" Bolt asked her, a little unsure.

"He won't bug ya with that, silly." She looked so forlorn and afraid. It felt so hurtful inside to leave her like this.

"The one thing I can promise is, I will try to return for you. Maybe this voice you're talking about can be stopped." He really did not want to leave her here. It wasn't right. She'd been alone so long already, with nothing but empty corridors for company.

"Do you think there are any other ponies down here?" It was a long shot, but he should at least ask.

"Monster pony in bay four ex..expy...expewi...lab dome? He's a big meanie, stay away from him!" Flourisher said. What? Monster pony? Bay four? Lab dome? What was she talking about? That did not sound good at all. Part of that sounded like a question. That was very weird.

"I call cart for you!" Flourisher pressed in a panel he didn't originally notice on the opposite side of the room, not that he would have any idea what it was anyway, and the large door slid open once more. Call cart? She actually smiled at him as they waited. Eventually a grinding sound came to a halt out in the tunnel.

It was another of the slow moving things he'd first arrived here in. At least he wouldn't have to walk the rest of the way. He climbed into this sort of contraption once again.

"Which way?" She asked. Oh right, she didn't know which direction he came from.

"That way." Bolt pointed down the rails the way he'd previously been heading. The spinning red lights were still here, lending that odd glow to everything. This time he would avoid leaving the main tunnel. As alluring and potentially amazing as exploring some of the other domes might be, he couldn't take that kind of risk again.

The mysterious alicorn messed with some controls beside the panel she'd pressed in, and watched the whole time as he slowly rolled out of sight. Bolt waved at her and the dome sealed itself once more. This was probably going to be a long ride. This veritable city beneath the water was a true wonder. He'd really only seen a small part of it. What was in the rest? It could only be wondered at. Perhaps someday it would give up it's secrets. What if he really could not manage to help her? She would die down here, alone.

"Please, find daddy." Flourisher spoke to herself, slowly walking back to her room, where she gazed at the photo of her father for a long time. She lovingly and carefully tucked it back under safely in the drawer. There was lots and lots of paper laying around this whole place. It was easy to find more empty sheets. She took a piece and some of the waxy colored things, drawing a little picture in both their colors. On one she draw a little lightning symbol, beneath which she scrawled: "Me and Bolt."

- - - - - - -

A painfully hollow dance, to be sure.

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