• Published 6th Aug 2011
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One Last Quest - Vanner

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5
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Broken

Chapter Five: Broken
The war isn’t over just because the battle’s been won.

Pokey felt himself coming around. As if rising from a lake, he swam to the surface of consciousness to find a white pony standing above him. It was Death, come to lead him into the afterlife. Pokey closed his eyes again, and he tried to stand. Pokey was ready to follow the reaper pony to his fate. He found himself largely unable to move; his bones were sore and stiff. He opened his eyes again to find that it wasn’t Death who was standing above him, but the beautiful mud spattered face of Redheart.

“Glad to see you back with us,” she said.

“Uggh,” he protested.

“Now don’t you dare try to move,” said Redheart. Pokey looked at her, trying to cock an eyebrow in disapproval. He found his face hurt far too much for sarcasm. He saw the freshly bandaged wound across her shoulder. He stared at it, then back to her, as if to ask just what happened. “Oh, that’s just a present from those rotten dogs,” she said. “I gave them what for, don’t you worry. Luaga and Lawres did too. Cheerilee managed to corral all those kids to a safe place by herself and keep them quiet till your herd came charging out of there.” She nodded to the gathered group of ponies. Pokey stared at them. What he didn’t see was seeing a single donkey, zebra, or mule among them.

“Where did they go?” he asked, weakly.

“The Kin of Luna?” she asked. “As soon as they came flying out of those caves, they turned right back around to dig you out and Medley out. Quite the industrious punch of equines, if I do... Hey, what are you doing? You can’t move!” Pokey struggled to his feet against his own wounds.

“Medley!” he yelled. “Oh, Goddess, Medley!” Redheart swallowed hard and looked away. “Oh no,” begged Pokey. The color drained from his face. “Oh, no, no, no, please, no. Not Medley. She’s has a foal for Luna’s sake. Please tell me she’s alive.”

“She’s alive,” said Redheart softly. “But I don’t know if she’s ever going to wake up. She may not even make it to Bridleburg.” Pokey’s ears flattened in rage. He shot to his feet.

“Where is Jenny?” he demanded. “Where the hell is that donkey?”

“War Jenny?” asked Redheart. “She took her equines and...”

“She left?” he demanded. “After what we did for her, she LEFT?”

“Calm down!” scolded Redheart. “I was trying to say that War Jenny took the Kin of Luna and Medley to Bridleburg. You know how amazingly fast they are over land. If they hadn’t taken Medley, she would have died out here for sure.” Pokey’s rage subsided, and he felt weak in the knees. He glanced over to the assembled crowd of ponies that stood nearby with their rescued colts and fillies.

“What are they still doing here then?” he asked. Cheerilee came from the rear of the herd.

“They’re all waiting to leave,” said Cheerilee. “You saved each and every one of these ponies. They weren’t going to let you walk all the way to Bridleburg by yourself.” Pokey smiled weakly, as he tried to remain standing. His barding nearly fell off as he stumbled onto Redheart.

“Hey now,” she said as she guided him to the ground. “Let’s get that armor off you and get you onto a stretcher. You’re in no condition to be walking anywhere.”

“I’m fine,” protested Pokey. “I just need to…” He flopped onto his side. Redheart shook her head at the unicorn.

“Tsk,” chided Redheart. “You are the worst patient my dear Pokey. Cheerilee, grab that strap there and pull.” His armor fell to pieces around him as the straps loosened. Swaths of the lacquered plates fell off the leather backing and into the mossy soil. “My goddess, what happened in there?” She asked. “I thought this barding was meant to protect you.”

“It did,” groaned Pokey. “You’d be looking at a half a pony now if it hadn’t.”

“You look terrible,” said Redheart. She pulled off his crushed helm and cringed at the sight of his uncovered face. “Your nose is clearly broken, as are a half a dozen of your ribs.”

“That all?” asked Pokey. “I’ll just walk it off.”

“You’ve also got a sprained hoof,” chastised Redheart, “so you’re not walking anywhere. Cheerilee, tie him to the stretcher.” The mulberry pony cheerfully broke out her rope.

“I dunno about you,” said Pokey, “but the whole school teacher bondage thing doesn't do it for me.” Cheerilee smile turned into a shocked gasp. Redheart snickered.

“Well, he’s clearly not feeling that bad,” Cheerilee said as she her cheeks turned an even brighter shade of red. “I think he’ll be fine.”

The herd set off with Pokey’s stretcher draped across the backs of two stallions. He would have complained, but his injuries had drained his will to argue. The beating he received from the Diamond Dog rattled more than just his bones. He felt mentally drained, as if he’d left part of himself back in that cave. And to see Jenny after so many years! He hadn’t expected to run into her on this trip. Last he’d heard she was far off to the east.

Pokey tried to sleep, but he found his dreams disturbing. He was back in the cave with the Diamond Dog, only it was larger, more sinister. They had smoking black eyes and talon oozing with ichor. It had a thousand tongues and teeth like shards of glass. He felt his spells gone; he had not even a light to stave off the darkness. Medley lay crushed behind him, pleading and begging for help as she died. A dozen more of the creatures appeared from the shadows and fell on the unicorn.

Pokey awoke screaming. It was the middle of the night, and a half a dozen other ponies popped up to see what the problem was. Redheart woke by his side in an instant. Pokey wheezed and gasped in panic under the waxing moon. The other ponies laid their heads back down and tried to sleep.

“What’s wrong?” Redheart asked. Pokey wiped the sweat from his brow and looked around the encampment. Two dozen ponies and foals slept quietly around a fire. The town of Bridleburg was only a pinprick in the distance beyond. Pokey turned back to Redheart, and shook his head.

“Bad dream,” he said. “Nothing to worry about. Just... a bad dream.” Redheart looked unconvinced.

“Want to talk about it?” she asked.

“No,” said Pokey. “I’m fine. I just need to get some rest.” He laid his head back down on his hooves. “I’ll be fine. You get some sleep.” Redheart laid back down next to him, and put her head on his shoulder.

“Trauma like that doesn’t go away once it’s over you know,” said Redheart. Pokey sighed wearily. “Sure you’re hurt now, but what about a few weeks from now when you’re back at home? You think what happened back there is just going to go away once your bones knit? I saw what you did to that Diamond Dog; that level of violence doesn’t just disappear from your mind. You needed help before, Pokey, and this isn’t going to help anything."

“You act like I've never killed any pony before," muttered Pokey. "I've done things that would curl your mane, sweetheart, but at this rate we’ll be lucky to see home again. We didn’t even get the damned emerald we came for.”

“Oh forget about that,” said Redheart. “We’re done with this silly quest. You’re in no shape for travel and poor Medley...” Her voice trailed off into a cold silence.

“She’s not going to make it, is she?” asked Pokey. Redheart simply shook her head. Pokey put an arm around her and the ponies fell asleep together underneath the stars.

Celestia’s sun rose over the river the next morning. A few ponies made breakfast from the remains of Medley’s supplies. The week’s worth of food for four was just enough to feed two dozen starving mouths. Some ponies went hungry just so their children could have a few more mouthfuls. Even with the small rations, they remained optimistic. Bridleburg was only a day’s trip away, and they would all be home again before nightfall.

Pokey refused the stretcher today. Despite his fitful rest the night before, he felt strong and well enough to walk on his own. Redheart had bound his ankles, and Cheerilee had charmed some of the stallions into taking his saddlebags for him. The three walked together at the rear of the herd.

“So...” said Cheerilee. “What now?”

“What now?” asked Pokey. “Now, we’re done. We didn’t find what we were looking for, and Medley got killed in the process.”

“I think Celestia will understand,” said Redheart. “I just hope the stones aren’t so important that we’ve doomed Equestria by failing her.”

“If our crazy despot wanted the stones so badly, she should have sent the best after them,” shot back Pokey.

“Did you ever consider that maybe we are the best?” mused Cheerilee. Pokey and Redheart turned to stare in unison at the white pony. She looked back at them. “Think about it,” she said. “Pokey’s probably the greatest horn-pony of his generation. Redheart is as good with a needle and a scalpel as any unicorn.” She looked back at the trail. “I’m apparently so smart it scares Twilight, and she’s a certified genius.” She looked back up at her companions. “The only wild card was Medley, and she wasn’t supposed to be out here in the first place.”

“I’m going to punch Celestia in the teeth if I ever see her again,” seethed Pokey.

“I’ll thank you not to talk about our goddess that way,” snapped Redheart.

“It’s her fault she’s dead!” shouted Pokey. “There’s a dozen young pegasi in Ponyville who would have pounced on the opportunity for adventure. That little show off Rainbow Dash would have blown out a wing jumping at the chance to come with us. Who does Celestia send instead? A mother of two with zero experience outside her home town. You saw the mosaic. It wasn't supposed to be her out here anymore!” He spat on the ground. “Celestia sent her on this quest. That makes her as guilty as me and that damned Diamond Dog.”

The rest of the day’s journey continued in silence. The herd talked joyfully about their return home while the trio of Ponyville residents sulked in the rear. They were tired not only from the journey, but from the understanding that they were giving up. Cheerilee had agreed to go to Canterlot to confront the Princess, but aside from that exchange, the ponies hadn't spoken for the rest of the day. As night fell, the herd entered the city of Bridleburg to the cheers of its residents. After they collected Pokey’s belongings, the Ponyville trio quietly wandered past the celebratory crowd and into the city.

The city itself was odd. Rather than the packed dirt paths of Ponyville, the streets were cobbled with limestone. The buildings were all single story, made from great slabs of cut rock. At the center of the town rose a massive two story building, its facade carved with reliefs of industrious ponies mining the earth. The Ponyville residents didn’t bother to marvel at the wondrous constructs. Pokey led them toward the clinic he'd been to so many times before. A small grey donkey wearing a lab coat passed them on their way there.

“Excuse me,” asked Cheerilee. “There was a herd in town yesterday with all manner of equines. Were you with them?”

“There wasn’t a herd through here yesterday,” replied the donkey with a thick accent. “War Jenny came through ‘ere, though. Brought a pegasus on her back.”

“Do you know where she is?” asked Cheerilee.

“Jenny?” asked the donkey. “You won’t find her ‘ere. Ponies in this town hate her kind. They barely tolerate me, and I’m their doctor." Redheart opened her mouth to say something, when she was interrupted by the donkey. "But I'm guessin' you're not askin' about her, now are yah? Your friend’s at the clinic.” He looked over the trio. “You bunch look like you could stand a visit yourselves if you want to follow me.”

The trio trotted behind the donkey through the cobbled streets of Bridleburg. Sounds of celebration filtered through the alleys, and fireworks found their way into the air. It sounded like someone was giving a speech. The trio ignored the festivities; they had far bigger concerns. They came finally to a long squat building covered in red mosaic crosses. The inside was as elaborately decorated as the outside with white tile floors, and the walls adorned with pictures of ponies caring for others. A massive portrait of a pure black earth pony hung on one wall, surrounded by dozens of smaller pictures.

A bored unicorn sat behind a stone enclosure reading a fashion magazine. The sapphire eyes of Ponyville’s resident fashionista fluttered from the cover. The unicorn looked up from her magazine at the entering ponies and put it down with an exasperated sigh. When she saw the donkey taking up the rear, she tossed the magazine behind her, as she tried unsuccessfully to hide it.

“Good to see you again, Dr. Castor,” said the pony with a saccharine smile.

“Get beds ready for these three,” ordered the donkey. “How’s the pegasus?”

“Sedated,” replied the unicorn. She came from around the enclosure. “What’s wrong with these three?” Dr. Castor glared at the unicorn.

“Heartache, if you can’t see what’s wrong with these ponies, you’d better get your eyes examined,” scolded Dr. Castor. He walked through the swinging metal doors and the Ponyville trio followed. The treatment area was much like the lobby; all white tile and calming music. Redheart felt immediately at home, and reached out to grab a nurse’s hat.

“What do you think you’re doin, love?” asked Dr. Castor. “I’m guessin’ by that cutie mark ah yours and that ‘can do’ attitude that you’re a nurse." He glanced over to see if the unicorn was out of earshot. "Probably a darn sight better than the one I’ve got, if you’ve mange to keep Pokey alive.”

“I am,” replied Redheart as she affixed her cap. She paused. "Wait, how you know Pokey?"

“Well you’re in no shape to be treatin’ patients, that’s for sure,” he replied. It was clear he was ignoring the question. He tapped a hoof onto a nearby bed. “Up you go. You can’t be workin’ on your friends with your shoulder like that.” Redheart sighed, and followed the doctor’s orders. He looked over Cheerilee with a critical eye. ”You’re not too bad off,” he said. “Didn’t take much of the fight?”

“She was the one rescuing children,” said Pokey. Dr. Castor nodded, and gestured her to a bed.

“Heard about you,” he said. “Jenny said you nearly took off the head of the first zebra that approached those fillies.” Cheerilee smiled nervously.

“I’m just a bit protective of kids,” said Cheerilee with her normal spunk. “Comes with the territory, I suppose.” Dr. Castor turned finally to Pokey.

“Crikey, mate. You’re a right mess,” he said. “How are you even standin'?”

“I’m more concerned with Medley,” Pokey replied. “Where is she?”

“She’s sedated,” said Dr. Castor. “Now sit down and lemme fix you three up before we go see your friend.” The donkey worked for a few minutes on Redheart, replacing her bandages, and applying a special blend of oils that would help reduce scarring. He complimented Redheart on the fine work she had done on the others, and the stitching done by the doctor who had come with them. With Redheart gauzed up, he moved to Cheerilee. Aside from a minor scratch or two, she was fine, as she spent the bulk of the fight keeping the children calm and out of danger. Dr. Castor came at last to Pokey.

“So,” said Castor, as he examined the unicorn’s torso. “Been a long time.”

“I could say the same,” groaned Pokey. “You get a chance to talk to with your daughter?"

“Not really,” replied Dr. Castor. “You know as well as I that the Kin a’ Luna aren’t too well regarded here. With her bein' the new chief, ponies get real nervous when they see her. I had s friend of mine sneak her out of town. You want anesthetic for this?” he asked. Pokey shook his head, and Dr. Castor passed Pokey a wooden block. “Alright then, bite on this.” The unicorn bit down as Dr. Castor put his hooves to Pokey’s chest. With an awful snapping sound, he set the broken ribs in place. Pokey whinnied in agony. The donkey repeated the procedure twice, with similar results. Pokey dropped the block from his teeth.

“Oh my goddess,” panted Pokey. “I forgot how much that hurts.”

“I’m going to do your muzzle next. You sure you don’t want that anesthetic?” asked Castor. “You're no spring chicken. I wouldn’t think less of you, mate”

“That sounds fantastic, doc,” said Pokey as his head slumped onto the pillow. Redheart and Cheerilee listened at the curtain as Dr. Castor worked on Pokey. Confident he was in good hooves, Redheart walked gingerly towards the back of the clinic. She and Cheerilee passed through the metal doors and into the extended care ward. They walked to the nurse’s station where a white pegasus with blue mane sat looking over charts. Redheart looked at him, then at his cutie mark. It was an open umbrella.

“Brolly?” she asked. The nurse pegasus looked up, and blinked in amazement.

“Redheart?” he asked incredibly. He closed his charts and stood up to greet the white pony. “My goddess, how have you been? I haven’t seen you since school.” He looked at her shoulder with shock. “What happened to you?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” she said, dismissing her bandaged shoulder. “Your Doctor Castor took care of that scratch. What are you doing in this backwater town?”

“Go where the jobs are,” he replied. “What are brings you to Bridleburg?”

“We’re here to see Medley,” smiled Cheerilee. Brolly’s smirk sank at the mention of the pegasus.

“Oh,” said Brolly. “So that’s what happened to you. Here, follow me.” He fluttered up from his desk and led the ponies down the tiled hallways to the back most room. He quietly opened the door and gestured the ponies inside. Cheerilee’s usual smiled failed her, and she gasped in horror.

Medley lay on a steel bed surrounded by beeping machines. A slow, steady scribble ran along a strip of paper, measuring the shallow beat of her heart. She lay covered by a white sheet; half a dozen tubes disappeared underneath it. Only her serene turquoise face lay exposed. She could have been sleeping peacefully. Redheart fought back her emotions, and tried to think clinically. Cheerilee couldn’t hold on to such thoughts, and ran from the room sobbing. Redheart turned to Brolly. She searched for words.

“How’s her vitals?” she asked.

“It’s only a matter of time,” said Brolly. “Pegasi aren’t meant to take abuse like that. It’s because of you that she’s even made it this far, but her body is hanging on to something else.” He looked at Medley. “I know we’ve seen violence in our time, but this... this just goes so far beyond. Who would do this to a mother?”

“No pony would do this,” said Redheart. “This was done by a monster. I have only myself to blame. I’m the one who sent her down there.”

“She went of her own volition,” interrupted Pokey as he limped into the darkened room. “And I did too.” He looked down on the broken pegasus, and gently stroked her mane. “We did the right thing, though. We saved all those ponies, all those colts and fillies. They get to live a free life because of her. How many of them do you think will even know her name?” He looked up at Redheart. “She died so that children could be free.” He turned around, and headed for the door. “It should have been me.”

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked Redheart. He didn’t answer. The door slammed shut behind him.

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