• Published 17th Nov 2011
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Fallout: Equestria- The Last Sentinel - Adder1



It's hard to kill memories when you remember everything.

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Chapter Fifteen: Introspection

Chapter Fifteen: Introspection


Night fell quickly, the darkness peeled back as the guardponies at the Tenpony Tower security checkpoint switched on their lampposts. We were close enough to them in the Four Stars terminal to bathe in their artificial glow. Dinner, a meal scarcely discernible from breakfast or lunch in manner or substance, went by quietly.

“Getting tired of yams yet?” I nickered, trying inject some humor. Rig rolled her eyes, or at least she had the decency to. Azrael remained statuesque as ever. The soft light made her look almost ghostly due to her coloration and cloak. I sighed out a chilly mist. “Right. Let's get this over with, shall we?”

Rig nodded. By now, she looked normal once more. No trace of what laid beneath the coat remained. “Yeah. Let's.”

“Very well. Azrael, before we start, what am I supposed to feel when you glean my memories?”

“A slight buzzing sensation, my father told me,” the griffin replied. “Do note, however, that since you're the first pre-war equine I'll have the opportunity to delve into, this may take a bit longer than usual.”

“No problem,” Rig said with a shrug, popping another cigarette between her lips and lighting it with her soldering spell.

“Perhaps I should have stated this earlier, but that means I cannot detect or glean anything else during that time frame.”

“... heh?” Rig and I stared at her.

“It's a... shortcoming of my telepathy. I must focus on a single subject for the duration of sifting through memories.”

“And you never bothered mentioning this why?” I inquired.

“Because it usually isn't a problem. I tend to avoid using it during combat is all. Outside of that, it usually isn’t an issue. Here and now, however, I just wish to inform you of that. Be vigilant while I glean you.”

“Noted,” I acknowledged. With that, I relaxed my mental defenses as if unraveling a tightly-knit ball of yarn from around my mind.

Azrael visibly winced.

“You alright?” I asked.

“Your senses are... very sharp,” she remarked. “Not unlike that of an animal... interesting.”

I chanced a small smile. “Hmph, well I'm not even in my dracopony form.”

“Hm. Frost, I still can't read your memories.”

“Well, I'm not quite done yet,” I said, continuing to unwrap the mental shield. “You're only reading surface thoughts. Soon, though. Just... remember that you won't like what you find.”

And then I felt that same buzzing sensation droning, invading the back of my mind. There was nothing to stop it this time. As it persisted, I merely looked out beyond into the darkness of the Manehattan ruins as Rig waited patiently.

“You know, this isn't bad so far,” Azrael commented. “Granted, I'm not sure I like who you are as a child.”

“How far in are you?” I asked.

“Eighteen years.”

“Then the first shouldn't be too far away,” I spoke grimly.

The ebony giant raised a near-invisible eyebrow at me. Then her eyes widened. The buzzing silenced. My heart quickened, hammering away in my breast. I felt the pair of photographs there with it.

“F-Frost... y-you were in love with-” Azrael stammered uncharacteristically.

“Yes.” I cut her off.

“But... then-”

“Glean further,” I said lowly, icily. Rig glanced between the two of us.

“B-”

I let out an unsettling growl. “Glean. Further.”

Azrael was at a loss for a few seconds. Then the buzzing resumed.

“Frost, what was that all about?” Rig questioned.

“First landmine,” I answered flatly.

“What is it?”

“You don't tread on landmines, Rig,” I cautioned her, “physical ones or psychological ones.”

“Well, you killed an innocent mother and child.” The earth-coated unicorn crossed her forelegs. “I'm treading on it.”

“Rig... please...” I warned.

“Fine,” she snorted. “Azrael?”

Oh no...

“It's... best if I remain silent on the matter for now,” the griffin said tentatively.

“Are you serious?” Rig nickered. “I thought we agreed there wouldn't be any more of these secrets!”

I tensed, heart racing. Here it comes...

“I will...” Azrael exhaled deeply. “I will reserve judgment until after I am finished.”

Rig let out a sigh. “Fine.”

I likewise breathed out a sigh- out of relief. Thank you, Azrael...

<You're welcome.>

Oooookay, that was unex... okay, that was to be expected from a telepath. Still very, very creepy though.

“Well... where are you now?” I asked.

“Your enlistment,” the hybrid responded.

“Second one isn't far off then.” I tensed, shuddering.

“'Second?'” Rig eyed me. “Hmph, did you cheat on your first or some-”

Azrael clutched at her head and screamed. Before I could say or do anything, memories and thoughts rushed back unbidden. The world dropped away, fading into white...

Darkness coming...

Cry cold breath hunger pain anguish light bright night cities lights legends laugh hurt book power words triangle talk revenge henchpony underling lie vanity regret lust weak weak want more want no hate library book danger risk chance try success joy joy joy heat cold ice mark name school new heat pain hate scorn day change change change cast out no want cold night lonely music music solace club music dance love love love talk date court kiss love bed false no want no want no no not proper prove forget love love love forget trust piety divinity learn love teach happy joy future gas gas gas war war war join pendant dead boys blood iron blood death pain pain pain pain pain pain friend faith pain pain faith pain faith pain escape pain pain mirror scars pain hate pain vengeance pain apathy pain kill pain howl pain rip pain tear pain gnash pain cut pain scars scars scars suit armor no pain no feeling destroy rage kill kill kill kill friend no no no kill friend no no no help please pain need help take take medal take take want need must have no pain do not want pain cannot stand pain take take take scars forget cannot forget pain help nightmare help sooth help no pain relief happy joy joy joy scars scars scars want join train pain push push push force train become train pain push fight protect serve shadow operation covert no trace night master no love what no no no why do more push push push why push try try try want just want just want love just want love just want love just want love bomb try cloud no no no love no no love no flee mother father please no hurry hurry push harder harder faster try fail bomb burn rise north under safe pendant try fail no try fail no try fail no no no not safe operation what no traitor traitor traitor all traitors traitors traitors monster-

f

a

l

l

exile

exile

exile

exile














































rebirth.

~*O==>oOoSHADOWSo<<[3#4*]

Darkness fading...

Endless white stretched before my eyes, dulling gradually until I was looking at cracked... something. Rough, worn. I was pressed against it from gravity. It was floor tiling. I was still in the Four Stars terminal. Shadows flickered before me, the cracked floor brightening, darkening, brightening, darkening.

With a grunt, I pushed back to my feet. I gasped as I was blasted by a stinging wave of heat and realized what was going on. Fire leaped from the penthouse floor of Tenpony Tower, smoke billowing up blacker than the clouds. Bodies laid strewn about me. I recognized one of them as the unicorn who waved Rig and me through the checkpoint. A hoof-sized hole had blown through his side.

Wait. Rig. Rig! Where was Rig? Where was Azrael? What about Treble? I looked about, spinning around dumbly.

“Rig!” I shouted.

The Wasteland was silent.

“Azrael!”

The Wasteland was silent.

“Treble?”

The Wasteland was silent.

“Anypony?” I yelled louder, desperately, panting. “Anyone?”

The Wasteland was silent.

I slumped to the ground. I was alone. I was all alone save for the distant, ever-present gunfire and shouts of the Manehattan ruins, alone save for the dead around me.

And among the dead were griffins. Against my eagerness to flee from the overwhelming heat, I approached one of the bodies. It had a faceplate depicting a skull letting out a rebel yell and had skeletal armor.

“Dammit, I didn't mean it!” I cried out hoarsely, shouting to the flames above. “I didn't meant it! It was only a joke! I didn't want this place to be destroyed! I didn't mean it!”

The Wasteland was silent.

“Oh fuck you too!” I roared out my cry.

The Wasteland roared back.

I stumbled back, panting harder. The heat was starting to sear at me now. I needed to retreat, needed to recollect, needed to... needed to gather myself.

No, ourselves.

“Love!” I shouted. “Nightingale!”

“With you!” I heard Her call. I whipped my head to the side to find Her there for me, looking just as worse for wear, just as baffled as I was.

“Oh thank goodness...” I sighed out in relief. My breath was dry. “Where are Rig and Azrael? What happened here?”

“I don't know!” She answered. “Something went wrong when she delved further!”

What went wrong?”

“I don't know, I don't know!” She repeated firmly. “Frost, we have to get out of here! You can't stay here like this!”

“But... if they come looking for...” I protested. A horrendous metal groan filled the air, causing both of us to look back at Tenpony Tower. The broadcast antenna was listing dangerously. “Rrrgh, dammit! Alright, let's go!”

We took off, heading for the Manehattan streets as the ear-splitting groan increased in volume behind us. It paused for a second, two, three, four- and then came a crash that caused the earth to tremble. I didn't stop, She didn't stop- we kept on running.

Then came more trembles, far more powerful than they should be for such an impact. I chanced a look back to find that a great fissure was splitting the earth from the point where the antenna crashed, racing impossibly for us as the age-weakened terminal grounds gave away.

“Oh f-” I cursed my luck, cursed The Dead Boys. “Right, bear right!”

She widened Her eyes and took off with me as we tried to avoid the yawning maw behind us. I tried to concentrate, tried to cool my burnout, but the fires were still burning too hot, too close behind us. Feeling the ground behind me start to give, I kicked off with all the strength I could muster... but I fell, fell into the abyss, hearing Her cry out my name.

* * *

I was jolted back into consciousness, eyes snapping open in a start into blackness. My eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness around me and found Her gazing worriedly down on me. I was lying on my back, my head bent up uncomfortably from the fin-like plume of my helm.

“How long was I out?” I asked. “Ugh, I mean- are you alright? Should probably have asked that first...”

“I'm quite alright,” She answered softly. “You needn't worry about me.” She pulled away, looking about. “You were out for less than a minute.”

I nodded slowly, taking in the area around me. It looked like we were in the sewers. Viscous, black muck choked up the canal that ran through the middle, flanked by walkways on both sides; we were on one of them. Pipes of all sizes ran past us, nearly obscuring the smooth concrete wall behind them. I looked up to find the great tear in the earth far above us. We had fallen a long way.

I let out a whistle. “Thank you for starsteel armor.” I'd be needing ice muscles to get back out that way, though. For that, I'd still need to clear my burnout. I closed my eyes and focused.

Spark. Fizzle. Fizzle. Crackle.

Crackle? That wasn't a good sound.

Spark.

Spark.

Spark.

Crackle.

Oh that was so not good.

“Dammit!” I hissed, slamming a hoof into the ground. “We'll need to find another way out.” A pause. She had been quiet for a while. “... are you alright?”

“Love...” She whispered, “I think I might have found out where Rig and Azrael went.”

I turned around to see her staring at the wall I had originally been facing away from. My blood ran cold.

Before us was a gear-shaped Stable entryway gaping wide-open. The lights inside were dead.

* * *

12 read the yellow-painted numbers on the monstrous door off to the side of the entryway after passing through with Her. I swallowed hard. Why did I get the feeling that this wasn't going to end well?

We strode up the small set of steps just beyond the entrance. My armored horseshoes rolled silently over the metal as Her footsteps. The blinking lights of the softly chirping electronic equipment and consoles were the only sources of light in the entryway, white against black. I stopped before the open door leading into the Stable atrium, black as can be. It was like standing before the Gates of Hell.

I tapped the gem on my breastplate, the angry-blue glow lightly illuminating the area around me. “Rig! Azrael! Are you here?

No answer. No buzzing in the back of my head.

I tapped the gem to deactivate it. “Come on, let's leave,” I said, turning around. “They're not here.” I started back, then bristled and froze mid-step as She planted a hoof on my shoulder.

“No,” She said. “We're going inside.”

I paled. “B-But-”

“It is not up for debate,” She spoke firmly. “A Stable with a possible water talisman would be the first place they would go. And they could be in trouble.” Her tone softened. “This isn't Stable Seventy-Two, Frost. Easy.”

I gulped. “Under... stood. Understood.” Steeling myself, I turned around and strode forth into the heart of darkness.

The Stable Twelve atrium was a wide room with a high ceiling, plunged in darkness. A portion of it was marked off from the rest as a designated sporting area, in clear view of the balconies that flanked the upper areas, linked by catwalks. Markings for hoofball had been painted on the floor, markings worn by age. Heavy, upward-sliding doors leading to the rest of the Stable rest in the four corners of the room. They were all open. It was a world of metal, metal, only metal- and darkness. Only two things broke the monotony- the cameras and the giant, circular, glass window of the Overmare's office. No light streamed from it, but yet it still dominated the atrium like a massive eye watching over everything else. Just looking at it gave me the chills. I turned away from that horrible portal and the dark shape looming just behi-

I snapped my head back up to the window, my heart skipping a beat. There was nothing there, only smooth glass.

“Love...” I turned slowly to Her, speaking quietly, “did you...?”

She was looking at the window as well, slowly facing me. “Get your weapon out.”

I nodded quickly, biting down on Night Fang and holding her out as we proceeded across the atrium. I was moving in a low, silent crouch while She moved noiselessly across the floor like a ghost. I cast furtive glances to the Overmare's window with chills creeping down my spine. I checked the sign above the doorway we approached- Mainten. The rest of the sign had cracked off. The green backlight had long stopped working, just like every other light in the Stable.

Oh, you big, empty bastard. You and your sense of irony. But if Rig and Azrael were in fact here, they would be in Maintenance.

The loudspeakers pinged out a whine, causing me to swing Night Fang back toward the Overmare's office. It was still empty. But only the console there could control the speakers. I slowly turned to Her again as She faced me. Her troubled expression mirrored my own. We pressed on.

The maintenance wing consisted of a network of tunnels leading to the systems that kept the lifeblood of the Stable flowing. These systems were now long dead, the lifeblood coagulated, the pipes choked up. Overhead panels had fallen free, exposing the torn guts of the Stable- frayed wires, cracked circuitry, displaced piping. We were still bathed in blackness. Everything about Stable Twelve screamed death to me- even the air was unmoving, stale, heavy.

The first body lied just beyond the entrance.

It was another Dead Boys griffin, a female. Her faceplate was gone, beak and eyes were wide-open. She was slumped against the wall in a pool of her own blood, a great hole blasted into her breast. The coppery smell still hung in the air. She had no weapon on her person. Surprisingly, I saw a pair of dog tags hanging from around her neck. I read her name.

Maya Sharpclaw.

The loudspeakers pinged again, causing us to glance about. Okay, there it was again. Nothing new. Nothing-

My heart skipped a beat as a cracked, croaked female voice drawled out- slow, sorrowful.

Woke... up this mor...ning,
radio moa...ning.
Thoughts... run in cir...cles
and set... the... day...”

I looked back at Her, recognition etched across our faces. My pulse quickened.

Azrael.

We moved along together. I swept Night Fang across the tunnel.

The speaker whined before cutting out, causing me to cringe.

Wait, that shape in the Overmare's office- was that her? There was no hint of Rig. Did that mean she was alone? Is this one of the panic attacks she was talking about? But I was here, I was well within her radius! What went wrong? What went wrong?

“Frost, we should go to her,” She called out to me.

“I know, I know!” I raced along, searching for some sort of signboard. There had to be one somewhere here as I galloped through the maintenance tunnels. “Come on, come on...” We met a T-junction with one, and I sprinted past to the left, ignoring the griffin body slumped there.

The speakers whined again.

I'm... all... burnt... up,
no... resurrec...tion...
lying here... slinging ashes at... the... sun...”

Stairs, stairs leading up and out of the maintenance tunnels. Clambered up them, skipped steps, heart racing. Doors open, waiting for me. Another griffin body slumped against the wall just before the Overmare's office.

Can't find... what I once knew...”

Take me...” the Stable seemed to whisper snidely down on me. I spun around, eyes wide as I looked the room frantically. Nothing. No one else was here. There was only the crescent-shaped desk and a string of terminals displaying nothing but meaningless letters, numbers, and symbols. My gaze fell to another griffin body slumped against the wall.

Can't find... what I once knew...”

Take me...

I snapped my head to find the Nightmare seated at the desk with her muzzle to the speak-

Night Fang sputtered into the body of another dead griffin, the head rolling limply on the shoulders from the bullets. The echoes ran eerily through the Stable like a horrible exhale of old, cold breath, refusing to silence completely until after several seconds.

Nothing. Nopony, nobody here. Just the body. Just the griffin body. Not the Overmare, Nightmare.

I hated Stables.

“L-Lrv...?” I murmured around Night Fang's grip, eyes wide, heart racing.

“With you,” She whispered to me from my side. “Always.”

I looked into those eyes full of everything, trying to find comfort in them. The darkness perverted them, tainted them. I shook my head, turning my attention back to the terminals. I pushed the body there out of the way, tapping my hooves at the keys to try to elicit some sort of response. Nothing. CTRL, ALT, DEL. Nothing. ESC. Nothing. F1, F2, F3, F4, F5, F6, F7, F8, F9, F10. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. I growled, bashing the keyboard in frustration.

The screens flickered and changed to a string of arrows. I furrowed my brow in confusion, following them down to the empty space at my side.

Odd...

I jumped, heart skipped a beat. The... wh- there was a body there! Where did-

I turned around to the Overmare's desk. The body was still seated there, limp, lifeless.

I'm... worried my... wires... are... crossed again...”

I glanced at Her for an explanation. I received none. They couldn't be here. They couldn't be here. Besides, no water talisman... right? Otherwise, Treble would have said something. They couldn't be here. What were we thinking? I started for the door, passing through. The body was still there as before.

So... worried I've... lost... my connec...tion...”

I glanced back to make sure- She was gone. She was gone.

My breath quickened, chest heaved, heart throbbed, lungs burned, eyes bulged, teeth clenched. I spat out Night Fang, scrambling back into the office. Only the body. “Love!” I shouted. The Stable screamed the echo back at me, sending my mind reeling.

Hurried back out. Only the body. “Nightingale!” I cried. The walls wailed back down at me.

I raced back down, down into the maintenance tunnels. “Anyone!” The tunnels trembled around me.

The shadows warped around me, drawing my gaze back to the lone body at the T-junction, just below the signboards. I shook my head, trying to calm my nerves, making haste for the atrium.

I felt the oddest sensation. The fur on my back crawled, trying to stand on end as if something was watching me. The loudspeakers pinged, whined. I wheeled around teeth clenching around- nothing. Night Fang was gone. What did I do with her? Didn't I have her all this... body.

There was a body there, right there, at the end of the corridor. Another was opposite it. Did I miss them the first time? No, I came through here twice, I would have noticed them, I...

... looked back at the T-junction signboard. No body.

Cold seeped through my shoulders, slunk down my spine, made me rigid. The loudspeaker let out a tinny, static-scrambled hush. No. No.

They weren't here. They couldn't be here. I shouldn't be here.

I scrambled back toward the atrium. I only made a few gallops when a hiss from the speakers made me halt. I looked back.

The body was only a few meters behind me.

Another was slumped on the opposite wall.

My vision began to haze, the static hush growing to a steady drone. The world began to shudder ever so slightly as I fled away, panting.

A deathly cold touch against the back of my right hindleg made me stop dead in my tracks.

A des...perate need... for... more dis...trac...tion...”

The body was right behind me, brushing against my leg, my hindhooves trodden in the pool of blood. I gulped and paled as I looked around. There were bodies, bodies all around. Static drone to static moan.

I looked back at the closest one, at the dog tags, telling myself this was a nightmare, this was a nightmare, this was a nightmare, this was a nightmare, just wake up, just wake up, this was all a nightmare, everything will be alright when you wake up.

Won't... you... take me back... to... o...blivion...?”

Maya Sharpclaw.

I scrambled back, mouth working, babbling words that made no sense. I turned away- and ran right into Maya Sharpclaw. Of her face, only a massive, gaping blackness greeted me.

The faceless thing let out a bloodcurdling wail and drained all warmth from my body, replacing it with an unyielding, dreadful cold. I couldn't tear myself away- I was rooted there, trembling in shock as the wails mounted. Only my shrunken eyes darted around, seeing nothing but bodies, bodies, faceless bodies! My ears rang as the wails mounted. The closest body lurched up and tackled me onto the floor, pinning me on my back.

This was a nightmare! This was a nightmare! This was a nightmare! Just wake up! Just wake up!

More of the bodies pounced onto me, drowning me under the wails, clutching and threatening to pull me apart.

This was a nightmare! This was just all a fucking nightmare! Wake up! Just wake up! Wake up and everything will be alright! Just! Wake! Up!

The one on top of me leaned closer- closer dammit! That empty blackness loomed closer to me! I wanted to move, wanted to spring out, beat them back! Why the fuck couldn't I move! Move, stupid body, move! Those fucking screams are making your fucking ears bleed and made everything fucking spin! Move! MOVE!

This was not a nightmare! It hurt! IT HURT! They were tearing me into pieces! Bloody seams opened up on my legs! I could feel them! And Goddess, oh Goddess, the screams!

They were bursting my ears!
And I could only stare in shock!
And when I stared in shock, I never got off the ground!
I wanted to take my ears off, but I couldn't! It's my eternal curse!
I wanted to take my ears off, but I couldn't! It's my curse! It's MY FUCKING CURSE!
I WANT TO TAKE THE EARS OFF!
PLEAAAAASE! TAKE THE EARS OFF! PLEAAAAAASE!

The body leaned closer and the black hole swallowed me up.

* * *

The world bled back through the black. Ceiling. The ceiling of the maintenance tunnels, panels fallen, wired guts exposed. My heart thundered away in my chest, and I panted hard. My heart pumped, my breath came in, out. I was alive. Wetness matted the fur around my ears, but I was alive. Alive.

Alive as I could be in this world of metal, only metal- and darkness.

The bodies were gone. They were all gone. Goddess, I don't know what I would do if I saw another of those... those bodies. I let out a shuddering sigh. Waking up... would be wonderful right now, so wonderful. This was a dream, right? This was still a dream, right? You can black out and regain consciousness in dreams, right?

What are you trying to tell me, brain? Other than that I'm crazy?

I started to hoist myself up, still panting hard. Why was I even bothering anymore? I would eventually just... wake up, right? Right? Just... lie down. Wait. Wait it out.

Just like so many years ago.

“Love...?” My ears twitched painfully. That was Her voice.

“Nightin...gale?” I called out weakly, barely audible at all.

“Frost...? Are you there...?” Her voice was coming from...

“Oh Goddess,” I groaned. Her voice was coming from the Overmare's office. I didn't want to go back there, didn't want to see the bodies, didn't want to, didn't want to, didn't want to.

“Please...” She whispered.

I bit my lip and exhaled sharply. “I'm coming. I'm coming. I'm going to regret this, but I'm coming.”

I walked, and I walked, and I walked, and I walked. All the while, I could hear the fucking big, empty bastard laughing. Why was I even bothering? I found myself asking that again. I just needed to wait and wake up. That's it. But this was Her. This was... for Her, I decided. For what I've done. And so I walked. Slowly, steadily I trudged on.

There was a body at the T-junction. A pony body, a bright yellow colt with a black mane dressed in a Stable jumpsuit. His head was bent sickly back, torn almost all the way off his neck. Blood, there was so... much... blood.

And he was a pegasus.

I swallowed hard and backed away. No, I could do this. I could do this. She was waiting. I steeled myself and pushed on. Don't look at it. Don't look at it. Don't look at it.

“Frost...”

“Yeah,” I whispered. “I know. I know. I'm coming.”

Up. Back up the stairs, into the second hub, up the last flight. Bodies. Right there, at the door. Three of them. Three ponies. Three pony bodies in security armor. Three pegasi. The one in the middle had his helmet caved in. The contents of his head had oozed out through the visor in a sickening mush. The second- a mare, for I knew, just knew her to be a mare- had a massive hole I knew I could put my entire foreleg through in the barrel of her chest. She was slumped down against the wall in a pool of blood and pus. The third had tried to run. His wings had been ripped off and were lying discarded further up near the door, spattered in blood. The killer had then raked at his backside. His spine and the back of his ribs were exposed, the torn flesh, muscle, and ligaments littered around him. His intestines were pulled out behind him like unraveled yarn. I could see his face through the visor. His eyes were wide, mouth locked in an eternal scream. The visor was cracked where he had tried to smash his own head against the floor, trying to make the end come quicker. Bullet casings from their weapons littered the floor around them, their pistols flung away.

I stared for a good long time at the bodies, feeling colder than ever. I shuddered and trudged past them, tried to skirt past the blood. I couldn't.

And finally, I was back in the Overmare's office. She was there. Not Her. No, not Her.

Not Her.

A brilliant white pegasus mare with an ebony mane, ebony eyes.

“Hello, Mister Windchill,” the Overmare greeted. Every word was crisp and clear. “I knew you'd be back. How may I help you this time?”

@#$%$#^&@#$%#$%*#$&%*#@$%&#@$*^&@#$*%@#$%^*%$(#%#$%^

Screams. Didn't stop. Blood.

#$%^#$%^#^&&@*@*@#$%#@$%#$%@!^@&**^&(^()$$[\<#$>/?

The Overmare was dead. She was limp against the security terminals, smashed against them, her head turned to a pasty pulp. The screens were all dead, broken, sparking, flashing. I backed away. No. No. No way. This wasn't it. This wasn't it. Out. Needed to get out. Rig wasn't here. Azrael wasn't here. She wasn't here. Out, get out. I turned away...

A hideous, angry, unholy whine sounded as I started back. The body darkened, black, shadowy tendrils curling all over its writhing form as it crumbled into nothingness. I paused, staring at where the Overmare used to be. No trace of it remained. Not even the blood. Out. Get out. I raced for the door-

-and stopped dead in my tracks as I came face to face with the specter of the Nightmare. Her form was black, ghostly, semi-transparent- save for her eyes, blank, white, featureless, horrible. There were no other facial features- no mouth, no nostrils, only the vague shape of the ears and those ghastly eyes. The entire front of her body was scarred with dark marks, and the whole of her head was an unrelenting, murky black. Her mane and tail were long, wavy, flowing as if caught in an ethereal breeze. She stared malevolently at me, unblinking. I froze there, pale, eyes wide, breathless. I dared not blink, dared not breathe, dared not move.

She had no such reservation, reaching a hoof toward me as a horrible rumbling filled the air around me. That was the last straw- I scrambled away from her touch, backpedaled to the opposite wall as she slowly approached. I whipped past her. Out. Out. Had to get out. I galloped for the door, rushed past the bodies of the security team. The rumbling came again as the numbers plastered to their bulletproof padding flickered.

12.

72.

12.

72.

Oh Goddess. Oh Goddess, oh Goddess, oh Goddess!

I trudged on, breath frenzied, the world blurring into a haze around me. Down. Back down toward Maintenance. I looked back to find the Nightmare lumbering toward me with those horrible blank eyes, eyes full of nothing. The floor dropped out from beneath me, and I tumbled, fell, clanged, slammed down the stairs and met metal, only metal- and darkness.

* * *

Please wake up. Please wake up. Please just wake up. Please just let me wake up! Please!

I let out a howl of anguish as I woke to find myself in the blackness of the tunnels again- black infinity behind me, black infinity before me.

“What do you want?!” I screamed, scrambling to my feet and shouting down the hall. “What the fuck do you want?!”

The Wasteland screamed back.

Fuck you!” I raged, trembling, voice hoarse. “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!”

The Wasteland raged back.

Fuck you, what do you want?!” I cried, falling upon my knees. “Huh?! You wanna end it?! Then end it! End it!”

The Wasteland cried back.

I sputtered, heaved, cried out my rage in a losing battle against the big, empty bastard.

“Just let me go...” I babbled, locked with a stare with the floor, yet another battle I was bound to lose. “Just let me wake up... Luna damn you, Celestia damn you, just let me wake up...”

A hoof set down in front of me, just within my field of vision, followed by another. I gulp, shaking with shuddering breaths as I looked up. Her. It was Her. She looked down at me with those eyes full of everything, those eyes so, so sad. Something inside me gave and I broke into sobs, my gaze falling back to the harsh, cold floor. She drew me into Her embrace and held me as I emptied myself out into the void, lost myself again. I just sobbed into her breast, sobbed in great, whooping, pathetic sobs.

...

I pulled myself together eventually. My voice was still hoarse, breath still uneven, shaky. I looked back up to Her. I croaked out, “Why did you leave me?”

“I never have,” She whispered back. She looked so, so sad.

“B-But... you were gone...” I sniffed. So pathetic.

“Well,” She sighed, “it's all a dream, isn't it?”

I dropped my head back down, squinting my eyes tight. “Luna, oh Luna, please, I just want it to end... I just want to wake up...”

“You can,” She said. I looked back up to Her, my eyes red, puffy, bloodshot. “But we have to do something first.”

I gulped. “What is it?”

She stepped aside to reveal the black infinity before me. Barring the path ahead was a single figure- colossal, imposing, shadowy, bipedal griffin. She was garbed in a tattered, black cloak that did nothing to hide what laid beneath- bones. No flesh, no blood- just bone. Her massive, skeletal wings were snapped open. Her head had no eyes, and her teeth were twisted into an eternal, eerie smile. Clutched in her hand was a massive scythe.

“Sad... so sad...” said the Angel of Death, “so sad, this hollow world...”

“Azrael...?” I whispered.

She nodded slowly. “You have seen much, haven't you?” She chuckled softly, shaking her head. “Death is tragic, yes, but life is miserable, no?” She looked back up at me. “Now is your turn to face your regrets. Now is the time to face your sorrow. Now you face the fallen. The living may not hear them. Their voices may fall upon deaf ears, but make no mistake...

“The dead are not silent.”

Azrael stood aside, sweeping her scythe to point toward the end of the tunnel. “Now walk.”

I looked up Her, eyes wide, mouth ajar, panting softly.

“You have to do it, Frost,” She whispered. “You have to.”

I glanced away, unsure.

“I'll be with you all the way.” She reached Her hoof toward me. “Do you trust me, Frost?”

I looked back up at Her. “The last time I followed you to the end, I...” I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth.

“I know, love, but the last time I followed you, you killed a mother and daughter.” Her eyes, full of everything, pleaded with me. “Please... just give me another chance just as I gave you.”

I opened my eyes, nodding slowly. I took Her hoof, and She pulled me into a close embrace. “Alright. Let's do it.”

She nodded and pulled away, standing by my side. And so I walked, and She walked with me. Azrael watched as we passed before drawing her scythe up behind us, as if barring passage through a gate. I paused, looking back at the Angel of Death as she simply faded to black. I looked back at Her, She looked back at me. I turned forward and set out with a single step.

The ghostly shape of a zebra taking cover behind a crumbled brick wall appeared to my side, suited in the armor of the Zebrican Legionnaires. He stood up on his hindlegs, balancing his rifle on his forelegs to fire. A high-pitched gunshot went off and he was sent sprawling onto his back, a hole punched into his neck. He flailed, gagged, choked on his own blood for a few seconds- horrible, horrible sounds. Then he stilled and faded from view.

I knew what this walk was all about. That was my first kill, the first time I ever spilled the blood of another.

“Not one step back,” I whispered, my heart beginning to pound.

“Not one step back,” She whispered in turn.

This was going to be a long walk.

I strode forth with her. One. Two. Left. Right.

A Legionnaire captain, motioning to troops unseen, speaking orders I could not hear. Another high-pitched crack went off. A metal crunching sound preceded the splinter of bone and the splatter of brain. He fell to the ground as She and I walked by, killed instantly.

One. Two. Left. Right.

Two zebras, scrambling for cover. Crack. The rear zebra stumbled, a fresh hole in the barrel of his chest. He let out a barely audible cry of pain as he rolled onto his back, eyes squinted shut, clutching his wound. The lead zebra looked back, eyes wide. He already had a healing potion gripped his mouth. Crack. The downed zebra fell still, blood dribbling out of the fresh hole in his head. The survivor slumped, shuddering, the healing potion falling uselessly to the ground. Crack. The shot went wide, kicking up the dust around him, reminded him who had just killed his friend. He wheeled around at me, tears streaming down his cheeks as he removed a double syringe with a frighteningly long needle and injected the contents into his flank. He barreled toward me as frantic crack after frantic crack sounded off. Puffs of blood shot from his chest, legs, his jaw. He didn't falter, didn't stumble in the least. He rushed forward, forward, forward into nothingness...

One. Two. Left. Right.

Crack. Crack. A Legionnaire stumbled back from the shots that punched into his chest. The wall behind him was plastered freshly red as he slumped down.

One. Two. Left. Right.

Crack. Crack. A zebra gunner was caught once in the shoulder, once in the jaw. The bone tore free, shards puncturing his exposed esophagus. He gurgled slowly to death.

One. Two. Left. Right. Death. One. Two. Left. Right. Death. On and on it went, on and on it went. A machine gun team- on was cut down, then the next as he scrambled to take his place. A drug-charged Legionnaire. A young sniper, no older than eighteen. So many more, so much more. Back then, so very long ago, I barely had the time to take it all in. I was dozen of meters away, peering through a scope. Now...

Now I was up close. I could see their faces, their eyes. Some of them were wide, shaky, fearful of what awaited them beyond the veil. Others were blank, deathly, resigned to their fate. Anger. Worry. Regret. Indifference. Horror. Anguish. I watched my shots splinter skulls, fragment leg bones, pulp organs. I rarely thought about how much devastation a single bullet could wreak.

But I'd long grown desensitized to all of it. I did not shudder, I did not shout, I did not stumble. I only felt a great weight upon my heart, growing heavier and heavier with each passing soul.

“I... I never thought...” She trailed off, watching a Legionnaire stumble to the ground beside a wagon, crying out for help as he bled out. Again. And again. And again. Weaker. And weaker. And weaker. To silence. She shuddered as a zebra in unequestrianly armor consisting of muscle-like seams between rounded plates thrashed as he slowly froze over. Then his head shattered into a thousand shards.

“That's why I never told you,” I sighed, feeling so, so empty watching a zebra snap his head back as a hole opened up between his eyes. “You already saw enough when I returned.” I paused for a few seconds, watching a zebra sweep his weapon as if trying to nail a fast-moving target. He fell to his knees then keeled over as three rapid cracks rang out. One leg, then an elbow, then his muzzle. “I think it's going to get much worse now.”

The next zebra looked at something in a mix of surprise and horror and was bowled over as if someone tackled into him. He cried out for help, for someone, anyone to help as he tried to push his invisible assailant off. Then his eyes burst, and he howled in agony. He gave no resistance as his head was smashed repeatedly, turning left, right, left, right. Snaps, cracks, squishes sounded off until his head was a misshapen mass.

She shuddered. “What was that?”

I bit my lip, shivering from the memory of the pain. “When I got free.”

One. Two. Left. Right.

A trio of zebra Legionnaires huddling around a garbage fire sprawled as a much more rapid clatter of gunfire filled the air. The first fell, pockmarked with great many holes as the can tumbled over, spraying the dying flames and embers out in a shower of sparks. The second reached for his carbine before he was crushed to the ground. His head moved up for only a moment for a split-second cry before it was smashed down into the ground, turned to paste. The third fired erratically, crying out, cursing out, backing away on his hindlegs. Three holes opened up in his torso, drawing out into great tears as he was pulled open, his mouth curving into a horrified “o.” He was knocked onto his back and set upon, torn into pieces. There was blood everywhere.

One. Two. Left. Right.

A zebra sleeping against a desk. His ears twitched and his eyes slowly opened. Not fast enough. A thin line of red opened up on his neck and his head pulled free. His eyes still looked like he was about to flutter awake at any moment.

One. Two. Left. Right.

A pair of Legionnaires rushing, searching, shouting rapid orders around them as they approached a door. It was blown off its hinges and smashed into the one on the left, sandwiching him bloodily against the far wall. The second stumbled to the side, looking back at his comrade for a split second before turning back. His head was smashed down to the floor, skull splintered into a thousand pieces inside a mass of wet pulp.

One. Two. Left. Right.

Four zebras firing upon an unseen, fast-moving target. The first was crushed to the ground, killed fast, killed messily. The next's head snapped to the side at an odd angle as something slammed into its side. A rapid clatter later, the third fell, riddled with bloody holes. The final zebra was running now. Not fast enough. A quick, guttural clatter later, and his hindleg was torn up with rounds. He fell to the ground, crying in pain, crying for help. He was flipped over onto his back, eyes wide. His screams grew louder, more frenzied; eyes bulged wider as his chest visibly began to push inward. He thrashed and flailed as his ribs cracked one by one, chest pushed inward at a slow, methodical pace. Then came a series of wet squelches as his organs were finally, slowly squished. He shuddered, squirmed for a little longer, screams dulled, words drowned the bloody froth leaking out. Then nothing.

One. Two. Left. Right. On and on it went, on and on it went. Death became increasingly violent. The last kill of a group was always twisted, cruel, drawn-out. It was torture. It was atrocity. Intestines were slowly uncoiled and pulled out as it extruding a rolled-up garden hose. Rib cages were pried open. Limbs were torn free. One of them was forced to suck himself before his head was shoved roughly, shattered against the unforgiving floor. Dismemberment. Disembowelment. Flaying. Humiliation. Quartering. Gouging. Castration. And so much more.

And along I walked down this endless hall, never shuddering, never shouting, never stumbling.

The same... could not be said for the mare at my side.

“You... you...” She stammered, “you did... all that...?”

I could only nod in response.

“Why didn't you tell me?” Her voice was tinny, shaky. “I... I...”

“Three,” I said evenly as a Legionnaire let out his dying sputter after having muscle group after muscle group plucked off of his bones.

“Wh-What?” She shuddered.

“Two.” A zebra with a rocket rifle focused elsewhere was pulled back, his upper and jaw pushed in opposite directions.

“Frost, what are you-”

“One.”

This time, I paused as She did the same. A zebra in light combat armor wielding a Remhayngton 87 Special rounded a corner, then promptly paled. He was toppled over and set upon instantly, letting out horrible, shrill cries as he was torn into pieces.

The zebra had red stripes.

My gaze went downcast as I stood there for a few tense seconds. My heart threatened to drop away, plummet to earth. “That's why.”

“That was...” She whispered, “that was a Proditor...” I could feel Her eyes upon me, waiting for an answer. “He was an ally...”

I let out a sigh that did nothing to relieve me in the least amidst the stale, heavy air weighing down around me.

“Friendly fire isn't.”

I could hear the Wasteland roaring in laughter as I pushed forth.

The deaths were quick and clean after that. A zebra- notably in civilian wear- fell dead, the back of his head partially bent inward. One. Two. Left. Right. A zebra in security wear slumped down, neck snapped. Ice javelin through the head. Decapitation. Neck snap. Quick, quiet, clean, efficient deaths.

It gave us time to talk.

“If you have something to say, then say it,” I whispered.

“What is there to say?” She turned to me, our gazes meeting. Sometimes, a look says it all. And Hers was regretful- so, so regretful.

“I didn't become who I am just because of what the Overmare did,” I said in a tone so, so empty. “I started to change long before that. Monsters don't just happen. So. Now can you see- just a little- why I didn't want to go back? Why I lied? Why I rejected you for so long?”

“... yes,” She whispered, turning away. “Love...?”

“What is it?”

“This walk... it's not just for you, is it?”

I snorted wryly, “I wouldn't know. It's a nightmare after all, right?”

She watched as the quick, quiet, clean, efficient deaths started to include ponies, most notably aristocrats and ponies wearing a mix of leather and brass. “For you and me both.”

Hundreds. My death count was in the hundreds by now. And as I watched a final pair of unsuspecting ponies fall with single holes in the back of their heads, I knew what would be next. I stood rooted in place, heart pounding harder and harder, faster and faster. I looked at Her.

“Are you with me, love?” I asked softly.

She looked back at me with those eyes full of everything, now in a gaze so hollow, so empty. “Always.”

I took a deep breath, clenched my jaw, steeled myself.

We stepped forth.

Nothing.

I shared a glance with Her, and we ventured a few more steps.

Nothing.

I strode forth, casting furtive glances about us. Nothing. No visions of those I killed. No screams. Nothing. Somehow that only did more to unsettle me. And then the end came in sight. The end of the tunnel laid before us, as did the open door to the atrium.

And a body. This one wasn't a griffin, wasn't Maya Sharpclaw.

It was that of a pegasus mare, fur a silky black, mane and tail a deep blue, dressed in Stable barding, Stable 72. She was dangling from the ceiling under an exposed panel, dangling from a noose made of a thick steel cable. Her limp form swiveled slowly.

Back.

Forth.

Back.

Forth.

I felt a pang of guilt, my heart threatening to tear free from my breast from the great weight coiled around it thick as the cable. I flattened my lips and stood there for a long time, looking at that mare- looking at how her eyelids looked as if relaxed after exertion, looking at the slight downward curve of her tiny, open mouth; looking at her cutie-mark, a pegasus' silhouette against the night sky; looking at how her ears and wings, those beautiful wings hung limply. It was the type of expression one had way back when, falling asleep on a long bus ride home. I remembered how the color of her eyes- violet, a deep, deep violet.

And I remembered her name.

I looked away, tucked my ears down, and closed my eyes, crying no tears but feeling the same old sting, the same old hurt deep in my breast. I didn't need to see what happened after those last two ponies. I only needed to see, to be reminded how it all ended.

“Love...” She whispered to me. “We should go.”

“I know,” I whispered, creaking my eyes open. “I know.”

I turned toward the doorway to the atrium, starting off. Our footsteps echoed against the cold metal floor panels.

Wait. Footsteps. We didn't make footsteps.

I glanced back down the tunnel.

The specter strode slowly for me out of the darkness, her horrible, hollow, blank, empty eyes standing out starkly- whiteness against the blackness, like spotlights, malevolent spotlights. A chill ran down my spine, an invisible vice clutching at and strangled the gasp that struggled to rise from my throat. She stretched out from the abyss, and as she approached close enough so that I could see the ethereal flow of her mane and tail, I saw that she wasn't alone.

Six more of the specters crawled, prowled out of the shadows, white beads expanding into more of those spotlights of nothingness. The dark ghosts took the sides of the first, their seamless manes and tails flowing in an equally unequestrianly manner. All of them had black streaks and blotches on their forms- scars, like scars.

“Frost...” She beckoned. “It's time to go.”

I turned back, watching as She started off. I looked back at the specters one last time and followed after Her into the atrium. More of the shades poured out from the walls, hovered down from above. Several grew to dozens grew to hundreds- hundreds, flowing from maintenance, from the apartments, from everywhere. There were males with their shorter manes and larger build, still flowing ghostly and glaring maliciously. There were colts, fillies shuffling at the feet of their parents.

And as I turned back to the Overmare's office, to the eye that dominated this hollow world of metal, only metal- and darkness- there she was. The Nightmare, a murky, equine shape against the white static of the screens behind her. She stood there, glowering down upon me with that dreadful gaze, the only still specter amidst the sea of wraiths looming closer and closer to me.

And I could hear it- the Wasteland hissing around me, now humming, now moaning, now roaring.

I galloped for the Stable entryway, the white-eyed specters turning, shifting to trail after me. I passed through the corridor back to the antechamber, filled with the subtle glow of the electronic equipment. The yellow-painted number on the door now read 72. I paid it no more than a moment's attention.

Because beyond the portal was a tunnel caked in thick layers of ice, lit only by the wall lamp outside. And in that tunnel was the specter of a tall mare. One couldn't tell whether she was an earth pony, a unicorn, or a pegasus.

Because she was all of them.

She glared at me with a righteous, divine fury behind those eyes, and I stopped dead in my tracks with a shudder. I stood before her now, and so I could discern that she wasn't glaring at me- she was glaring behind me. I turned back to see the hundreds of specters, all halted. A few of them dared to move forth, but they went no further than the gear-shaped entry, glowering at me with those spotlights of nothingness.

I looked back up at the alicorn before me, and she did the same, her gaze softening as our eyes met. Now hers was full of somber, worried, hurt. I averted my gaze, feeling a coldness stir within me. She reached a hoof to my chin, turning me up so our eyes met once more. She gave a short nod and withdrew her hoof, standing aside. Past her, beyond this tunnel of metal and ice, light and dark was a yawning opening into infinite whiteness. I turned back to her. She was still looking back to me with those somber, worried, hurt eyes.

“Go.”

I bowed my head to her and turned to face the whiteness. My eyes were hard, glazed, but they were resolute. I strode forth. All the while, I could feel those hundreds of eyes- and hers- on me. But I did not falter- not one step back, no looking back.

I could hear the roar, the rush of wind growing around me as I stepped into the light.

And I could see the silhouette of a unicorn mare and an enormous, hooded griffin standing side-by-side, waiting for me.

~ ~ ~

I opened my eyes to the ceiling of the Four Stars terminal, curled clouds showing from the cracks. It was daytime. I was lying on my back, mercifully without my helm.

I turned to my side, spotting Rig and Azrael huddled around the campfire far away enough so that I didn't feel the heat. They both turned toward me upon hearing me stir. The young mare breathed out a sigh of relief, a ghost of a smile creasing across her muzzle. I didn't expect that.

I also didn't expect the green-coated, red-eyed alicorn seated across from them.

* * *

Footnote: Frost- Maximum Level

Rig- Level 10

Azrael- Maximum Level

Unlockables added: Soundtrack- Bodies

Soundtrack- The Angel of Death, Azrael

Soundtrack- Shadow of Death

Commission Art- Waking Up by Sw1tchbl4de (The Last Sentinel Cover Art)

Author's Note:

My thanks to Kkat, Somber, Mimezinga, and everyone else in the FoE Proto Doc and Resource Forums community. I especially express gratitude to QuackmanBrony, Broadestpeak, and Dust Nox for their aid in pre-reading this installment as well as Sw1tchbl4de again for his wonderful art. I hope you enjoyed it. As always, commentary and critique of any sort is appreciated.

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