• Published 2nd Jun 2012
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The Price of Loyalty - M1SF0RTUNE



A dark, dystopian dramatic thriller set in an alternate universe with a divided Equestria, and a tale of redemption for a traumatized young soldier of Queen Luna's army.

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Journal #3

Journal #3

July 26th, 1011 P.E.

I had another nightmare last night. Couldn’t go back to sleep, so I thought writing might help me get my mind off things.

Guess I’ll start with the last few days.

I’m writing this in some stupid, “sophisticated” little town called “Trottingham,” several miles from the eastern border of the Shale territory. I get the feeling you’d want to hear what Equestria’s like so far but to be honest, it’s not very different from the Lunar Confederacy, just a lot greener. And brighter. Judging from what I’ve seen here in this town, I’m not very impressed. There’s no CrystalTech here; it’s very primitive. Picture the lights of the Capital only with candles and fire instead of magic or enchantments that don’t use any kind of crystals.

In fact, I haven’t seen any crystals since we got here.

Anyway, I’m gonna backpedal a little bit and start with the last night we spoke. That was a little over a week and a half ago. I sent word to the Council that I accepted the mission, and spent most of my time at home.

I took Justice out. It was kinda nostalgic, actually. But I could swear the thing’s a lot heavier than I remember. I don’t plan on using it this entire trip but I needed the practice (even though it wasn’t for very long). It has been two years since I last used it and all.

The rest of the time was spent preparing, putting requisition orders in, checking on the other soldiers in our convoy (reading their dossiers, military records, psych profiles, all that other garbage). They seem capable of getting the job done, but we’ll have to see how things pan out. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m actually grateful Jetstorm’s with us. He’s a good soldier and he and I work well together. Guess the suits up in the capital knew how to put a good team together. I’m not so sure about Swift though.

The ambassador, Peace Walker (the guy we have to foalsit), is a bit harder to get a good read on. He’s been the lead capital representative with the other Territories, keeping them in check, making sure they’re supplied, things like that. They say he’s a really firm but fair negotiator, but from the few exchanges I’ve had with him for the last few days, the guy’s got a bleeding heart. It nearly got him killed at one point, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I got to talk with him, or rather, he talked with me, just before we went to the Gate Station to head to the Shale just inside the palace’s walls. I got there really early since I didn’t sleep well the night before, and I wanted to make sure we had everything we needed, so I had Jetstorm pick up our weapons and equipment.

You should’ve seen it though Doc, there were so many soldiers, all from the many towns, some were from the cancelled expedition, others were all the way from the northern and western outposts. You’d think the place was gearing up for war.

Anyway, I was waiting for Jetstorm when Walker showed up earlier than I expected, and I swear the guy didn’t know how to mind his own business.


Jetstorm felt like he’d been gone for hours and I was starting to grow a little impatient. The only thing to pass the time was to watch the activity around the palace. I read and re-read our dossiers, information about what’s known beyond the eastern border and every other document that got shoved in my face to prepare for the trip.

I was leaning against the black wall that surrounded the Palace, beside one of the capital's famous gardens full of “glowing flora;” some enchanted plants and trees that glow various hues of cool colors ranging from the purple leaves of a white tree, blue ferns and flowers that looked similar to northern lights. They even seemed to “flow” a bit in the light, chilly midnight breeze. If I were an admirer of plants I could’ve stared for ages, but my focus was more diverted to the dozen or so politicians running amok, but also the hundreds and hundreds of soldiers that seemed to flood in from everywhere in the country.

Whole platoons of soldiers of various colors, genders, and breeds populated the Palace exterior, performing role calls, drills, training, briefs, and all manner of other military routines before whole squads of troops left the Palace, more than likely to one of the local Gate Stations. There were small groups of soldiers awaiting orders talking with one another. From what I could overhear, they were nervous, talking about reports on the holovids and the radios and rumors between soldiers that apparently were from the eastern outposts. The bulk of it consisted talk of war. The atmosphere was tense, like everypony were waiting for some bomb to explode in the middle of the capital. Only murmurs populated the place apart from the shouting of the officers.

A lot of the soldiers were ponies I recognized, some of them I tried to avoid eye contact with, lest I got another rehearsal of some bar fight I might or might not have gotten into with them and I was in no mood to get into a confrontation. I wanted to avoid getting attention at all costs if I could help it.

Somepony else didn’t seem to know this though.

“Ah, hello there!” the ambassador, Peace Walker, shouted to me just off to my left. He must’ve just arrived and spotted me off by myself. Then again, I was the only nightbreed in the area with a glowing mane, broken horn, and not wearing full plated armor in the vicinity, so unfortunately I wasn’t hard to notice.

“Ambassador,” I simply stated without looking up at him.

“Lieutenant Nightwing, right?”

“Yes, sir,” I responded flatly, and in military fashion.

“You’ll be leading the escort?”

“Yes, sir,” I said again in the same tone.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed he was giving me a puzzled look, but I didn’t question or comment on it. A moment of awkward silence passed before he tried starting a conversation again.

“You’re looking better.”

“Sir?” I said, finally looking the brown unicorn in the eye. It was only then I noticed his “casually regal” attire. He wore a simple black coat with a purple and blue vest underneath that had various patterns in the design. It looked simple enough for travel clothing, but it was far too flamboyant and screamed “very important pony”, almost to the point he might as well have a bulls-eye pinned to his back.

“Your injuries. You were bandaged during the council meeting, I just thought you were doing better since you’re not wearing them anymore,” he explained.

I wasn’t sure how to comment on this, so all I said was, “Yes, sir.”

He gave me that puzzled look again. “Uh, Lieutenant, you can speak freely. I don’t know what it’s like with other ambassadors or politicians you’ve worked with, but you don’t need to stand on ceremony with me.”

I didn’t comment.

He frowned, pawed at the ground and watched the crowd briefly, then spoke up again. “So… uh… how long have you been in the military?”

“Five years,” I said.

“That’s quite a while.”

“Not if you’re a nightbreed.”

“Why’s that?” he asked.

“Most nightbreeds serve for life, ambassador,” I explained, as if I were telling this to a foal.

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot.” He said, poking the ground. “Guess that slipped my mind. I don’t often talk with nightbreeds, save for a few friends in the Grey-, Sun-, Mage-, and Spellwing clans that were either retired, planned on retiring, or were civilian.”

“Greywings aren’t the kind to retire, least not Artemis.”

“You mean the commander of expeditions?”

I turned to him. “Do you know him?”

“I’m afraid not. I’ve heard about him though. Leading the expeditions can’t be an easy job.” He paused, hoping I would comment, which I didn’t, before he asked, “Have you been on any?”

“What, expeditions?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Three.”

“That’s impressive. Have you had any luck?”

I shook my head.

“That’s quite a long time out there in the Dragonlands, though. I hear most expeditions take months. How long have you been out there?” he asked.

“Two years, on and off. The first one was about four months, the second was about six.”

“And the third…?”

“…Ten.” I glanced aside, recalling the long days and nights spend struggling to survive in the deep, monster-filled wilderness. “We had to stay during the winter.”

“That must’ve been brutal.”

“We managed. We lost the expedition commander to a frost dragon, but Artemis, who was platoon leader at the time, kept us alive. Jetstorm was there too.”

“You mean the Skywing accompanying us?”

I nodded.

“Incredible. Well then, I guess I’m going to be in some very capable hooves then,” he said with a jovial smile.

“What makes you say that?” I asked, ignoring the sub-joke.

“Oh, uh, nothing, just something my late dad used to tell me. He said that anypony who comes back deserves a dozen medals of honor, but those who go back are true patriots.”

“It’s just a job, ambassador.”

“Oh please, don’t be so modest. From what I’ve read up on you about the separatist uprising in North Hayford, you’re a hero Lieut-”

“Can we change the topic, sir?” I interrupted.

“…But I was just-

“With all due respect, I’m not privy to talking about my military history.” I said, an edge growing in my tone. The ambassador recoiled.

“Alright, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.” He pondered for a brief moment. “So… your father was Skarro Nightwing, wasn’t he? The former Law & Order Councilor?”

I scowled. “Let me rephrase. I meant a topic that doesn’t have anything to do with me or my life, ambassador, especially my father.”

He flinched a little, and then frowned, his ears sagged while he turned to the ground. Over the next minute or two, he watched the soldiers and politicians run, march, or trot briskly about the grounds, and again, he tried to start another conversation.

“Awful lot of soldiers here,” Walker said. “Where do you think they’re from?”

I sighed. “Some of them are from the northern and western border outposts, others were stationed all over the country in various towns.” I nodded my head in the direction of a small group of nervous-looking soldiers. “I know that group there was actually supposed to be shipped off with the next expedition before it was cancelled.”

“Cancelled? An expedition?” he asked in disbelief as he turned to me for confirmation. I responded to this with nothing but a stern gaze before I returned my attention elsewhere. “You’re serious… my goddesses. This must be larger than the news made it out to be, no wonder they seem scared.”

“And they should be. If things go south, they need to be ready for war.”

“I strongly doubt it’ll come to that Lieutenant…”

“Regardless, they need to know how serious the situation is.”

“…You’re making it sound like the mission’s going to fail before we even set out,” he stated.

“With all due respect ambassador, you must not know much about our military if you think I’m being cold, or cynical, or something along those lines.”

“This may come as a surprise Lieutenant, but I’m a lot more familiar with the Queen’s army than you think, and that’s what troubles me. For example, I know our forces our spread way too far and way too thin across the Territories. We don’t have the food, the numbers, the morale, the weaponry, or the organization to launch a campaign. We’ve barely been holding our own borders together and that’s not to mention the numerous uprisings, fallouts from the wars and plagues, and hundreds of other factors. I should know; my job is to pick up the pieces and keep any of the Territories from seceding from the Confederacy.”

Okay, so I guess I gave him less credit than I should’ve… I thought to myself.

“Anyway, that’s beside the point. Trying to go to war with Equestria is not only reckless and wrong, it’s suicide. We’re on this mission to keep that from coming to pass, as well as save well over half a million lives and the lives of any innocent bystanders in Equestria. Isn’t that why you fight Lieutenant? For Queen and country?”

“…Of course, sir,” I replied.

“Then just have a little faith, is all I’m saying, for us, and for Equestria.”

“No offense, sir… but I don’t exactly have any faith left to give.”

“Why?”

“I’m not at liberty to say,” I said, and he frowned. I sighed, and turned to him. “Look, ambassador, again, with all due respect, I’m only doing this mission because they’re the Queen’s orders, and it’s my job to see it through. Part of that means to plan for, and expect, the worst. My opinion and personal feelings are unimportant and irrelevant.”

“It is to me, Lieutenant.”

“Why?”

“Because I care about my country and the ponies living in it. Yourself included. Part of my job is listening to what my fellow confederates have to say, after all,” he explained with a friendly smile.

I’ve seen the many smiles of a politician, none of them genuine. They were natural liars, and only cared about themselves. To anypony else who’d listen to their speeches and promises and talks of politics concerning the country, they never realize just how much backstabbing and greed occurs during those charismatic speeches. I hated politicians because of this, and I’ve grown used to their talent for twisting words for their own benefit.

This case however, the way he talked, acted, looked into my eyes when he spoke, and spoke only in a tone one would address another pony, not the tone one would use to address a nation. I knew the difference far too well, and seeing this from this ambassador was a little surprising. His concern was actually genuine, there was no hidden agenda underneath. He was really looking out for his fellow pony.

If I had been anypony else, I would’ve embraced his friendliness and returned it in kind. However, I wasn’t that kind of pony, and I wasn’t out to make friends.

I just wanted to get this mission over with as quickly as possible.

“Regardless, sir, my opinion is still irrelevant, and I’m not at liberty to say. If I may speak freely…?”

“Um, of course.”

“My only concern is the mission and I’d appreciate it if you stayed out of my business.” I paused a moment. “Sir.”

Instead of recoiling from my rudeness, much to my surprise, he just smiled and nodded, then in a respectful tone he replied, “As you wish Lieutenant.”

Well, that was easy, I thought to myself. Probably should’ve just said that earlier.

So the two of us fell into a rather awkward silence. The ambassador looked like he wanted to prattle about something or other, but instead he just leaned against the wall and waited.

We didn’t have to wait long.

“Hey Ashen!” called Jetstorm.

Took him long enough…. The white nightbreed was on his way back with a couple of other dark-colored nightbreed soldiers and a cart strapped to them.

“Sorry I was late, but I assure you, there was a good reason,” he said, as he came to a stop in front of us along with the soldiers carrying the large cart.

“And that is…?” I asked and peeked over his shoulder to see the contents. There were a few bags carrying who-knows-what, probably food and other supplies, and a lot of power crystals.

“You’ve got some good friends or something Ashen. They told me you’ve been cleared to use one of the new prototypes that you tested… uh, what was it, four months ago?”

“Wait—, and it’s five months by the way. You mean they finished the C.L.a.W. Device?” I corrected and asked quickly.

“Yup! Told me that you’ve been granted access for field use.”

“I thought they were still calibrating the levitation field,” I said, unconvinced.

“Fixed, and before you ask, they told me to tell you they also fixed the overheating issue you brought up. They built a couple of fail-safes into it.”

“What about-

“Yes, they fixed the cannon alignment too. Fires straighter than an arrow.”

I still wasn’t convinced, but if there’s one thing the techies in the Green District were good at, was efficiency.

“Um, excuse me,” started Peace Walker, who had been listening to the conversation and just stepped in. “What’s a ‘claw device’?”

“C.L.a.W., it’s an acryonym,” I corrected. “Stands for ‘CrystalTech Levitation and Weapon” device.”

“And that is…?”

“It’s a hybrid CrystalTech device. Has a cannon and a levitation generator built into it— Jetstorm, are you sure they fixed the thing about overheating? Because that was a serious risk of making crystals in the clip go critical and overload.”

“They told me they added a dampener, but in case it starts to overheat from firing, the weapon will lock up and make some kinda beeping sound when it’s cooled off. Second is that it’ll auto-eject the clip if it’s about to go critical and warn you if it does.”

“Sounds a little inconvenient,” I commented. “How many shots average can I get?”

“You’ll like this. It uses part of the Mark II and Mark V tech, at least I think that’s what they said. Anyway, they said that they were able to make the C.L.a.W. only use miniscule amounts of energy at a time. You could get a total of a thirty consecutive shots, average, and that’s without having to hold your fire for the cooldown.”

“What’s the cooldown then?”

He smirked. “One-point-seven seconds.”

“Bullshit,” I quickly said, looking at Jet as if he lost his mind or was pulling my leg.

“That’s what I said. The docs gave me an insulted look for it too. Gotta give them credit, they’ve made some real breakthroughs recently.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

“Excuse me, kinda lost here,” suddenly came ambassador Walker.

Jetstorm explained it this time. “Basically, most standard-issue weaponry only fires maybe a dozen shots average, twenty at the most. They have long cooldowns too, so you could only fire maybe three shots at a given time before you have to wait some five seconds in the heat of a fight. They’re still reliable for their accuracy though. Mark III and IV’s tried to fix the cooldown problem but it came at the cost of energy consumption and accuracy. Mark V fixed the cooldown problem altogether and didn’t cost as many shots, but was still inaccurate. So combine the Mark II’s accuracy with the Mark V’s shot-per-crystal and cooldown rate, you get the Mark VI, which has been integrated with the C.L.a.W.”

“Impressive. I didn’t know you were so well-versed with CrystalTech.”

“Um, actually, I’m not,” replied Jet with a nervous chuckle. “Ashen here’s the closest thing to an expert, and he had to teach me this same stuff several times when I asked him what the difference was between each cannon model.”

I just rolled my eyes. “Jetstorm here’s cocky and reliable, but he’s a bit of an idiot.”

“Hey!”

We paused a moment.

“Okay,” Jet started. “I’m an idiot, but I’m a damn good-looking idiot who picks up all the hot mares and can out-shoot the good Lieutenant here in a marksmanship competition.”

I sighed and shook my head. “Moving on…”

“Uh, right. Anyway, I’ll just grab it out of the cart, one sec-“

“Hey, did you get the rest of the equipment I asked you to get?”

“The other cannons and T.C.E.D.’s? Yeah. We need those.”

Peace Walker turned to me suddenly. “Wait, hold on a second-

“Not now ambassador,” I interrupted.

“No, why are we bringing weapons? I thought this was a diplomatic mission.”

“It is,” I replied. “We’re bringing them for your protection-

“Lieutenant, we can’t just walk into Equestria armed to the teeth!”

“We can, and we are,” I explained. “For all we know, they could be setting up an ambush.”

“That’s insane, Lieutenant.”

“Ambassador, my job is to prepare for the worst. Remember? Besides, we might need these while we’re cutting through the Shale.” Jetstorm stopped mid-search for the device he mentioned and approached me.

“Ash, I thought we were just going to go to the Gate Station and travel straight to one of the border outposts.”

I turned to him. “Unfortunately, all of the Gates at the Outposts are unavailable. They’re reserved for the troops being moved across the country.”

“Can’t we just go once a Gate cools down?” Jet asked.

“No. Despite the mission, the council think it’s more important to get the eastern and southern borders garrisoned. Some of the outskirt towns are also being used for transportation, though the cooldowns are taking so long since they’re sending so many troops at a time, it takes days just to send a batch at any given time. The only thing we were able to get reserved for us is one Gate at the Station, and an exit in Skyjax in the Shale territory.”

“Skyjax? That’s still about half a dozen miles from the border,” Jetstorm said, his expression contorting.

“Yeah. We’ll be going on hoof.”

“That’s at least a couple days travel,” Jet explained.

“I know.”

“Well… do we have an escort crew coming with us at least?”

“Only about five other soldiers. We need to keep a low profile,” I explained.

“Why?”

“Council’s orders.”

“Seriously? They think we’ll run into bandits or straggling separatists or something?”

“I didn’t ask,” I told Jet, who sighed and ran a hoof through his mane.

“Well… that complicates things.”

Walker just silently watched our exchange. He didn’t seem to have anything to add, nor did Jetstorm after that.

“Where’s Swift?” I asked.

“Here!” shouted a voice from above us. A moment later before we even had the chance to look up, a snow-white pegasus touched down in front of us. Her bright violet eyes made contact with me as she smiled and saluted. “Reporting for duty, sir!” she said enthusiastically. She still had that purple headband keeping her mane behind her head. It was a bit distracting.

“Uh, hi Swift, at ease,” I deadpanned.

She dropped her salute and greeted the rest of the group, Jet and Walker returning with a hello of their own, but I didn’t give them the time to get to know each other.

“Alright, listen up,” I began, addressing Jet, Walker, Swift, and the two soldiers carrying the cart. “We’ll be heading to the town of Skyjax in the Shale territory. There we’ll be meeting with three other officers to lead us through the Crag on hoof through the mountains of the Shale until we get to Outpost Aeries. Once we’re at the border, we’ll then proceed on hoof to the closest-sighted Equestrian town. From there, we’ll have to rely on local transportation, if they have it, to get to the capital of Canterlot where we’ll be meeting with the Equestrian matriarchy. The trip should take approximately five to seven days, maybe more, maybe less. Depends on whether or not we run into any delays.”

“What kind of delays?” asked Walker.

“Best case scenario, there shouldn’t be any, maybe a little weather. Worst case scenario… we could run into trouble. If it comes to that, we’ll be ready. That’s why we’re bringing the cannons.”

Walker wasn’t too thrilled with my answer, in fact, it made him a little nervous, but he didn’t make any further remarks.

“Any other questions?” I asked.

None came.

“Alright. Jet, go ahead and distribute the weapons and T.C.E.D.’s.”

Jet nodded and went toward the cart. Then Swift suddenly chimed in. “T.C.E.D.’s?”

Jet glanced over his shoulder as he was rifling through the cart. “Tactical Combat Enhancement Displays. They’re not standard issue, but Ash here said we should all have them for the communicators and heads-up displays so we can keep track of and talk to one another.” He went back to searching for the buried cannons.

The fact she asked bothered me a little, I wasn’t sure why at the time. However, I had more pressing concerns, so I ignored the notion.

“Got it!” announced a muffled Jet through his teeth. He stepped down from the side of the cart and approached me with a smirk. In his teeth was the C.L.a.W., which looked like two large bracers held apart from each other by three flat pieces of the same metal of the rings. The flat pieces were at triangular points; one flat piece on the bottom, the other two on the top-left and top-right corners. The mount for the crystal that’s used to fire the weapon was easily visible, being connected to the top-right rod. I could see the trigger mechanism and the crystal ejection lever embedded into the front ring.

I had to give the thing a test run.

“Give it here,” I ordered. Jetstorm nodded and held it up for me to slip my hoof through the rings. If I remembered how this prototype was supposed to work, and even interface with the T.C.E.D., it was going to-

*Ching!*

OW!

The two rings tightened around my right foreleg, and a needle of sorts jabbed into my right forehoof’s ankle, sending a sharp, yet weird pain spiking through my leg. It went numb a couple seconds later.

“You alright?” Walker asked, noticing my face contorting a little from reacting to the pain.

“Yeah, I’m fine, it’s just this needle thing that sticks into my damn leg so it can read my energy signature and monitor my health, adrenaline, and energy levels, stuff like that.”

Walker seemed to take that just fine, but Swift on the other hoof was looking at me like I just tried to explain advanced magic theory and quantum entanglement or something. This was odd to me, because energy signatures are in courses about Magic Basic, which then leads to teaching foals about CrystalTech.

I thought about bringing this up, but Jetstorm interrupted my train of thought a moment later. “By the way, the docs told me to give you a really quick crash course on the levitation device, and also to tell you that there’s a hoofblade built into the C.L.a.W.”

“That’s convenient,” I said, looking at the underside of the device, and sure enough, there was an opening in the bottom metal bar, where I assumed the blade was in. I gave a quick flick and quarter-turn of my ankle, and the blade popped out with a satisfying p-ching! That quick test out of the way, I pulled on a catch with my teeth and slid it down along the bar, which retracted the blade. “That’ll come in handy. At least I won’t need to use Justice.”

“I’m still surprised you brought it,” said Jetstorm, his playful demeanor gone, as he eyed the scabbard with the accompanying blade strapped to my back. I gave him a very brief look, then turned my attention back to the C.L.a.W., and changed the subject.

“You said a crash course on the levitation?” I asked.

“Oh, right, yeah. They said that it will read your energy signature to detect… well… if you want to pick up something. You don’t need to use a lever like on the prototype.”

“But I still have to use the trigger mechanism for the cannon?”

“They couldn’t get this to work with the cannon, not yet anyway. Something about the brain waves and energy signature, that kinda nonsense,” he explained. “Anyway, try just picking up that rock over there.” He pointed to a rock in the garden next to us.

To give this levitation mechanism a quick test, walked over and held my hoof over the rock. At first, I was shaking my hoof or trying to do something physically to make it work. I was used to manual control, this was new to me. So after a bit of fidgeting and finding that failing, I simply willed the rock to be picked up. After a couple tries, suddenly, a trio of small metal appendages unfolded from the front bracelet of the device and formed a “claw,” and hovered just in front of them in a white magical field was the rock.

Now I can see where the abbreviation came in, I mused. I swing my foreleg around, seeing if there was a delay. To an untrained eye, nopony would’ve noticed that the rock was lagging behind my swinging leg, but it was far more miniscule than the prototype version I worked with, and far less cumbersome. This could come in handy.

“Huh,” said Jet. “You picked up on that fairly quick. They thought you’d need a few hours.”

“I’m quick to adapt. Did they say anything about levitating power crystals with this?” I asked as I experimented with rotating the rock. Interestingly enough, the claws swiveled around along the front bracelet, so I didn’t have to rotate my leg in awkward and uncomfortable angles.

“Only that they didn’t recommend it. Picking them up doesn’t do anything, but if you try to use the firing mechanism while you’re levitating it, they said that can overload the crystal.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I replied. Satisfied with the test, I chucked the rock back into the garden, and the claws retracted to their previous folded position. Releasing the field was just as simple as it was to pick it up. With practice, I might be able to find a myriad of uses for the levitation mechanic. “Anything else I should know?”

“That’s everything.”

No wonder it took him so long to get back from requisitions. “Alright, good. Can you get me a T.C.E.D.?”

“Sure, boss.”

“Give the others their equipment too while you’re at it.”

Jetstorm nodded, and not much longer later, he produced a small black box, with big white font saying “T.C.E.D.,” and placed it on the floor in front of me, before he started passing out the other cannons and T.C.E.D.’s.

I flicked my case open with a hoof, revealing two pieces inside it. Another bracelet, much like the same ones on the C.L.a.W., and a folded headpiece. The first to go on was the bracelet-piece, which slid over my hoof and then another unwelcome jab of my foreleg by another needle as the ring tightened around my foreleg. Unlike the C.L.a.W., there was a small button on the top of ring, which I pushed using my nose.

A green hologram suddenly appeared that wrapped in a semi-circle around part of my foreleg, displaying lots of yellow text and icons. It beeped after a few seconds, which was to indicate it was ready for use, then unexpectedly beeped again. A small yellow text prompt appeared.

\\:C.L.a.W. Device Detected.
\\:Synchronizing...

A tiny light flashed on the side of the C.L.a.W. Device a couple times.

\\:C.L.a.W. Device Synchronized.

That was quick, I thought. The prompt shrunk out of existence and I pressed one of a row of buttons on the left side of the display, which showed my vital signs. Jetstorm’s suddenly popped up under mine, with his name clearly shown in the same yellow text. When I looked up at him, I saw he had his T.C.E.D. equipped and was working on his Mark II cannon strapped on. Alright, good, that works.

I then took out the headset, unfolded and slid out the thin set of rods that would set the device on top of my head, and at the end of it was a tiny box attachment, which I clipped around my ear. On the box was a big red button, which I held down with a right forehoof. This made another appendage pop out from the bottom of that tiny box, and it unfolded around to my right eye, stopping just short of it, then another holographic screen, a tiny one this time, popped up in front my eye.

This was the combat visor. It shows targets, terrain, who’s communicating with me, among other very useful combat prompts and information. A beep then came from the computer on my forearm, which indicated it detected the visor-piece. Only one more thing to check.

I touched my nose to another icon on the mini-computer, and a microphone popped out of the box which extended along my jawline. I reached up to my earpiece and tapped the button, not holding it this time, and spoke into the microphone. “Comm check.”

Jetstorm looked up at me and raised a hoof, indicating he heard me just fine.

Alright, I commented to myself. Everything’s in working order.

The six of us spent the next few minutes checking to make sure we could hear one another in the comm check, gave quick orientations (with Swift’s not being as quick) on how to use the T.C.E.D., distributed power crystals (aka ammo) to each other, and did one last check on our equipment and supplies. When I determined we were all ready, we set out for the Gate Station, and Skyjax.


He backed off, thankfully, but I swear that naïveté is going to get him killed one day.

Almost did, actually, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So I got this new prototype thing, which I can’t really talk about here, but I’ve been practicing with it whenever we took breaks just to get a feel for it. I had an itchy trigger finger and fire the thing, but I restrained myself, especially due to the ambassador and the rest of our party.

Which reminds me, the ambassador is a real chatterbox, and he was happy to get to know Swift and Jetstorm. Jet spared no expense in sharing some of the close encounters he and I had in the expedition, but when he wanted me to tell a version or part of the story, I just kept to myself. Eventually everypony in the group stopped talking to me while we were making our way to the Crag.

That was until we made a pit stop at a tiny village, which I forget the name of. Tall Stone, I think it was called. But it has this huge mountain trail that leads up to this little plateau where you could see in between a couple of the mountains. They call it “The Perch.” I swear you could see the entire country from that place.

I thought I’d have it to myself for some peace and quiet, but after like an hour or two, ambassador Walker joined me there.


I was testing the C.L.a.W. up on the Perch. I had a bench to myself and nopony else was populating the small flat and fenced plateau that made up the tourist destination. Tonight wasn’t one of the good nights to be up here, so the villagers at the foot of the mountain told me, because it was cloudy tonight and I couldn’t really see very many of the Queen’s stars. That was alright though, I wasn’t up there for the view. I was there for privacy.

I was in the middle of checking the trigger mechanism and running calibrations on the levitation mechanic with a large rock I found, to see if I could figure out what all I could levitate with the device. Turns out, even though it could levitate things, the weight of an object doesn’t cancel out, just decreases it drastically while in the field. There was a boulder by the rock face that I tried to lift earlier, but while the field wrapped around the object, I couldn’t actually lift it with all the strength I had. While I was contemplating on this and testing out the other functions on the device, that’s when I heard a voice behind me from the staircase that led up to the Perch.

“Mind if I join you?” asked Walker.

I nearly jumped out of my seat and pointed the weapon at him.

“What’re you doing here?” I asked a moment later, looking at the elder unicorn.

“I was just talking with Jetstorm for a while, and decided I’d get some fresh air and check this place out. I’ve always wanted to see the Perch, there were lots of stories of the view here.” He glanced past me toward the overlook, where a pair of mountains stood out of the darkness, and between them, the entire countryside lay. If you looked hard enough, out in the distance were the bright lights of the capital forming their own star on the surface of the earth just behind a vast network of hillsides, trees, and the mountain that overlooked the city. As Walker saw this, he approached the fence at the edge of the cliff and let out an awed gasp. “Oh wow….”

I watched him for a moment as he stared off in the general direction of the capital, and I resumed fiddling with the C.L.a.W..

“If only the pegasi weren’t scheduled to make it such a cloudy day today. I would love to see Her Majesty’s stars tonight.”

I didn’t respond; just kept to myself. A moment later the ambassador shivered a little, rubbing a foreleg of his.

“Kinda cold tonight. Isn’t it summer?”

Didn’t answer, though it wasn’t until he mentioned it that I noticed there was a chill clinging to the air. I thought it was the altitude for a while but in my flights to the capital, it’s actually warm outside. “It’s probably just the altitude. Though if it’s weather-related, they might be issuing a cold front or something, or maybe something blowing in from Equestria,” I guessed. “Probably won’t last long.”

“That’s a good guess. Have you worked in the weather factory before?”

“Nightbreeds can’t walk on clouds, ambassador,” I said.

“Oh… Oh! Right… sorry.”

“It’s fine,” I dismissed.

“Well…, anyway, still, strange weather for summertime.”

I shrugged.

“Yknow, I’ve always been really curious what the weather factory’s like. I’m hoping there’ll be some CrystalTech enchantment to be able to walk on clouds for the public sometime soon, so I can go see what it’s like.”

“Weather’s not that interesting to be honest, considering we hardly get any,” I said plainly.

“I know, but still. It’s just one of those things in life you gotta see at least once, like the Perch, or I guess Equestria.”

I paused in my calibrating and tinkering for a brief second as he said this, then quickly resumed without a word. Things were quiet again for a moment, which was a little odd, so I glanced up at the ambassador. He was tilting his head and leaning around the fence, looking off in the distance.

“What’re you doing?”

“Huh?” he asked, looking behind him to me. “Oh, I’m just trying to see if I can figure out where my house is.”

I raised an eyebrow after he turned back toward the vista.

“Ah! I think I know where it is.” He raised a hoof and pointed just barely to the side of the capital. “There’s an old road that way. You travel along it in that direction…,” he said as he guided his hoof along the path he was specifying. “Then you’ll hit a fork. Left takes you to the capital, where you could see it shining like a gleaming diamond just over a few trees, the towers of the Blue District reflecting the night stars. I always liked that fork in the road. I’m always mesmerized, looking at those towers. After a few minutes of breaktime, I take the right path…,” he leaned forward a little, his hoof stretching outward. “Head that way for another twenty minutes or so, and there. You’re in the homey little town of Saddleton. Population, 136. Some of them include my friend Sky Hook and his unicorn wife Spellweave with her dazzling magic. Then there’s the Menders, who are easily the best fix-it-all ponies you’ll ever meet. Give them anything broken, they’ll give it back to you good as new. There’s next to no CrystalTech in that town. There’s streetlights filled with lots of bright, burning candles, and all of the townsfolk would happily go about their night, sometimes having a party together at one neighbor’s house or the other. Really nice ponies there…, I love that town.”

I didn’t intend to listen, but it was distracting. Kind of bittersweet to listen to, even. Stopped me dead in my tracks from working on my calibrations too. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the ambassador turn to me.

“Maybe when we come back, you could come see it with me sometime,”

“No,” I simply said.

He frowned. “Why not?”

“I don’t do breaks, ambassador.”

“Maybe you should consider it sometime. From what Jet tells me-

I sighed at the mention of the name, which interrupted the ambassador.

He frowned. “Lieutenant, he respects you. He looks up to you, and he cares about you as a friend.”

“He’s not my friend, ambassador. Just a guy I trained and went on an expedition with, no more.”

“That’s not what he told me.”

“What did he tell you then?” I asked impatiently and frowned at him.

Walker chose his next words carefully. “He told me you were a kind pony once upon a time, but you went through a lot…, much more than any soldier should be ordered to do. He thinks you should find somepony nice to take care of you and you should make friends and settle down. He says you’ve done enough for Queen and country and that you should take a well-earned retirement.”

I sighed and pressed a hoof to my forehead. “He doesn’t get it. It’s not that simple.”

“Ashen, no, it is that simple. It doesn’t take a therapist or somepony else to see that you’re carrying a lot of baggage. As for what that is, I won’t ask because I’m respecting your request not to dig into your privacy, but from one pony to another, you should listen to him and quit with dignity.”

“It’s not dignity I’m concerned about ambassador,” I said, resuming my work.

“Then what is?”

“I can’t say.” I didn’t look up as I said this.

Walker wanted to press further, but he knew that would be prying, so he simply sighed and leaned back against the rail. A moment later, he formulated his next sentence.

“Maybe we both should quit.”

I raised an eyebrow at him after this odd request. “What kind of suggestion is that?”

He glanced to the side briefly, bit his lip, then turned back to me. “You’re not the only one here with some baggage they’re carrying. I may not have nearly as much as you, but I have reasons why I hate my job.”

“Then why don’t you quit?”

“Probably the same reason you can’t bring yourself to quit yours.” I mulled on this for a moment, then he spoke up again. “I know what it’s like, that feeling of obligation and duty. I know it very well. But I have a daughter in the capital, and I never get to see her because of this job. I want to quit so I can spend time with her, maybe try my hoof at therapy. My wife… used to say that I could be a good therapist. Doesn’t pay as much, but at least I’ll get to see my little girl, watch her grow up, find a stallion, get married, have a foal, maybe two if the goddesses would allow it and see this deal with Equestria go through.”

There was a bit of an irony here, but I didn’t want to mention it. I’m sure Doctor Archer would get a kick out of it though. But thinking about Walker’s request, I was ready to tell him “No,” and let that be the end of it. Instead though, I was actually thinking about his proposal.

Dozens of times, Archer tried to tell me I should find a job working in the mines. It’s a respectable job and is a contribution to the country, and he had a lot of convincing arguments that could lead me toward having a better life.

The only problem was that I didn’t have any right to one.

“Ambassador, look, I appreciate the suggestion, but I can’t.”

“Why not?”

I stared at him, trying to formulate what to say. I ended up just telling him the ambiguous truth. “It’s complicated.”

He frowned, then asked, “Will you at least think about it?”

“Ambassador, I don’t-

“Please,” he interrupted.

I glanced up at him. We locked eyes for a while, before I turned away.

His ears sagged, and he sighs. “Well, I hope you’ll at least sleep on it… though for the record though Lieutenant, it might do us both some good.” He got up from the fence and passed me to head back down the stairs, stopping at the top step and looking back to me. “I hope you will consider it. Maybe I can introduce you to my daughter sometime.”

I didn’t respond.

He nodded a bit, then made his descent, leaving me alone again.

And as hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about his proposal.


He and I talked for a bit, though he made this stupid suggestion that he and I retire from our respective jobs. If only it were so easy.

Still, even after he left, I stayed up on the Perch for a couple more hours mulling over what he said. At first, I thought he was just full of shit, but then with every passing minute, I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t want his help. I didn’t want Jet’s or Walker’s or even yours, and to be honest, I just wanted you all to leave me the fuck alone.

But that night was when I had that nightmare where I was in the capital. You know the one.


It was just another night on the town.

Starlight City. The city of the night.

Everywhere you turned, life was happening in some form or another. Ponies were dancing, music boomed through the clubs, they walked up and down the streets talking about parties, friends, gossip, and all manner of other conversations.

I was walking down some street in the middle of the Red District, and everypony looked happy. There was no misery anywhere to be found, just party after party, happy ponies after happy ponies walking right by. Some were standing around, chatting about the times, and foals were playing in the streets. The lights were dazzling too, and the music was moving.

I continued to pass by many clubs and places with their own kind of party going on. It seemed endless.

Then I turned a corner.

It was a major street, whole rows of houses and shops lined the place. Any other night I’d be packed with ponies going somewhere or throwing a party.

Except it was empty.

Worse, it was quiet.

No… It was dead silent.

Confused, I looked back where I had come from and where I had just seen and heard all the parties and ponies populating the street.

But they were gone.

Nopony was in that street.

I did a double take, looking back and forth from both streets. I thought maybe I was just going crazy. Something else was surely happening somewhere in Old Town.

I went down the second street and turned another corner. Again, I saw nopony.

I started picking up the pace of my trot. I went down the long street that was filled with normally populated clubs, and popular places where ponies would be enjoying the nightlife.

There wasn’t a single soul in sight, and the eerie sounds of my clopping hooves were echoing loudly through the streets.

I poked my head into one of the clubs, usually one of the busiest and packed full of party-goers, but nopony was there. No DJ’s, no dancers, no friendly ponies sharing drinks and swapping stories at the bar, nothing.

I went back outside, and I was breaking into a fast trot down the street now.

I turned another corner to a housing district. Desperately, I broke into each one. Somepony had to be in one of those houses!

The first house, nothing. I checked every room, every closet, every basement, attic, and back yard. The second house, same story, and again with the third… the fourth… the fiftieth...

I was panicking. I quickly trotted down the street until I found myself in the Blue District. It’s supposed to be the busiest place in the entire capital…

But nopony was there. Not in the markets, not in the skyscrapers, not even in Doctor Archer’s office. I checked schools, hospitals, businesses, malls, pharmacies, coffee shops, every single building in that entire district.

Not a single pony to be found.

I was galloping at full speed now.

Yellow District, Nothing.

Green District, Nothing.

I even went to the Royal Palace. No guards, no politicians…

Not even Her Majesty.

I smashed through the front doors, and started screaming, begging for an answer from somepony. Anypony.

I ran and ran and ran and ran, and I shouted, screamed, begged some more.

Nopony answered back.

I was alone.

I took to the skies, and started flying around local towns, but was met with the same story. Empty buildings, no signs of life anywhere.

I was truly alone.

I came back to the capital and collapsed in a heap, ready to break down and grovel, mourn, and otherwise accept my horrible fate of my eternal loneliness and solitude. I wanted my friends. I wanted my family.

But nopony existed. I was alone, and always will be alone.

I wept.

Then I heard a sound.

I snapped up straight, my ear twitched, trying to pick up where the sound came from, and just down the street, I saw movement.

Somepony was there!

I called out to the shadow, but it disappeared around another street.

“Wait!” I called. “Come back!” I got up and chased the shadow. He or she tried their hardest to lose me, and I begged them to stop, to slow down, but they continued to gallop undeterred.

The pony made a left, into a familiar alley I knew to be a dead end. I could finally talk to this pony and not be alone in this horrible world anymore.

I came around the corner to meet this other pony,

But they weren’t there.

There were no fire escapes to climb, sewers to duck into, no places to hide, just a wall. I looked high and low, searching for the friend I was looking for to rid myself of my miserable and lonely fate. When I couldn’t find them, my heart sank.

I was alone again.

I turned back around where I came from, to resume my grieving.

Then something grabbed me and pulled me downward.

…then I started drowning.

***~~**~~***

I gasped for air, sitting up straight with my heart pounding, my breath out of control, and my body damp in ice-cold sweat as I shook. It took me a moment to realize I wasn’t dreaming anymore, and that I was able to breathe and inside a small room at the inn of the village at the base of the Perch.

I slouched forward, muttering a number of curses to myself followed by a sigh. After taking a moment to regain my composure, I got up and stumbled my way out the door. I needed some fresh air.

---

There was a recreation deck on the fourth and final floor of the inn, which I stepped out onto. Many chairs, tables, and public benches populated the large patio that carved out a third of the roof and a bit of the building.

There was also a pony out there too.


That was when I ran into Swift.


Swift jumped and her wings shot out as she heard me come tearing out through the door, and I stopped mid-stride when I saw her. She eyed me up and down, noticing my fatigue. “Are you okay?” she asked.

Great… out of a fire and into a frying pan.

“I’m fine, just… just a bad dream.” I collapsed on one of the chairs by the door, then slouched forward, pressing my face into my hooves. “Just a really… really bad dream….”

Her ears sagged and frowned. She brushed one of her silvery bangs out of her violet eyes and approached me. “Do you get them often?”

I brushed a bead of sweat trailing down my brow. “Too often,” I muttered under my breath.

She studied me a moment, then out of nowhere she asked, “Cold sweats?”

I raised an eyebrow up at her. “Yeah… why?”

She suddenly turned away, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, it’s none of my business,” she said, then she turned to me with a bright smile. “Anything I can do to help?”

“No, just-… just don’t.” I said, holding up a hoof, before pressing both of my forehooves against my eyes. “I’ll be fine. Just give me a minute. Maybe twenty.”

She nodded meekly, and waited for me to say something or do something. I didn’t, so she turned back to the fence and reared up so that she leaned against it and stared up at the night sky. It was still cloudy.

“You think it’ll rain?” she asked.

I looked up at her. “That’s a silly question Corporal.”

“I know… just… I like the rain is all. We don’t get it very much in Grey Sky.”

“It’s just rain Corporal, only really used to water the farmlands. Well, barely, anyway.”

“It’s still nice though.” She looked up off in the distance, that smile still on her face. “When I was a filly, I used to always watch the clouds to see if it rains, and if it does, I’d always stick my head out the window just to get my mane all wet. My friends in school thought it was weird, but I told them that rain only comes around once or twice a month. My dad always laughed whenever I stuck my head out the window on those rainy nights. I’d always beg him to come play outside with me and we’d be out for hours, sometimes rolling around in the mud even when it stops raining. It’s a pain to get all of it out of my feathers once it dries, but I told Dad it was always worth it, even if it involved some painful preening. He wasn’t very good at it, being a unicorn and all,” she said as she stymied a giggle.

I stared silently at the quirky white pegasus for a moment. She caught onto this and beamed at me. “Sorry, I know I probably sound like a little schoolfilly.”

“Yeah, you do,” I said, unamused. She frowned and turned back toward the sky, her ears sagged again.

“Sorry, sir…,” she said meekly.

I stared at her, like she were some kind of puzzle I was trying to figure out, but when I couldn’t solve the solution, I had to ask for the answer.

“Why are you here?”

She looked over her shoulder at me, ears perked up but wearing a confused expression. “I wanted to watch the clouds,” she answered.

“No,” I said. “This mission. The military, even. You don’t look or even act like a pony in the Queen’s army, so why are you here?”

“Oh…,” she said. Her ears sagged again, but she glanced at me and offered a weak smile. “Because of my dad, I guess.”

I quirked an eyebrow. “He was military?”

“Mhmm..., he was an officer. Spent ten years in the service, one of them spent on South Watch.”

“Was he in any expeditions…?” I asked.

“No, thankfully.”

“’Thankfully’?” I repeated.

“Don’t get me wrong sir, I know the importance of the expeditions, but… everypony knows that most ponies don’t come back from the Dragonlands.”

“It’s… kind of what we all signed up for Swift. You both should’ve known this when you joined.”

“I know… I just… my dad….” She trailed off.

There was a depressing silence. I didn’t choose a good question to break it with. “Is he…?”

“No, thank the goddesses, no,” she replied quickly. “He… retired. Two years ago.”

I felt a stone drop inside my chest and I looked her in the eye. “Did-… was he at North Hayford?”

After a long pause, she slowly nodded. Then she forced a smile, though her eyes and ears didn’t match it. “My daddy-… dad… was an optimist. ‘Just give the world a little smile, because it could sure use one right now,’ he used to tell me. ‘There’s too much misery in the world, so ponies like us need to show it that there’s so much good in it if you just look for it,” he’d say.” Her ears sagged even lower, and she turned back toward the rails. “He’d always smile. He was the nicest pony in the whole wide world, and he’d do anything he can to make the day just a little bit better. A little bit happier. Then… then one day he came home… his smile was gone. He wouldn’t talk, he wouldn’t eat… and he couldn’t sleep.”

I stared at her, and a great, but unwelcome sense of empathy washed over me.

She continued. “I tried to talk to him, to make him laugh and smile. But he acted like I was never there, like I didn’t exist. He hardly ever left the house, and then he’d have these-… these horrible nightmares. Whenever he woke up, he-… he screamed… he screamed and begged for forgiveness, and he woke up with these cold sweats almost every night for the last two years. It took me over an hour just to get him to go back to sleep. Some days, he can sleep okay, but other days he wakes up every other hour and….” Her head sank. “He had to be admitted to an asylum for treatment… my mom passed away when I was just a filly, and I didn’t have a job. I just… wanted to understand… so… I signed up as a messenger pegasus for the army. I thought… I thought it might tell me how I can help my dad… but…”

“Corporal…,” I started. “I don’t know exactly what you were thinking, but joining the military was a really stupid idea.”

I knew what I just said was harsh, and it was at a bad time, but she needed a reality check, and she needed it well before we got to Equestria.

She looked hurt as she turned back to me. “But… but I just thought-“

“No. You need to wake up and face the facts. There’s no playing or screwing around. Ponies die in our line of work, almost every day. Fuck’s sake, we even kill ponies and unborn foals as part of the routine. Our job is to follow the Queen’s orders so that we maintain order in the country, which includes hurting innocent, starving civilians if need be, and defend the walls with our lives from constant dragon attacks to keep them from invading the country and kick-starting another Dragon War.”

“B-but-…”

“No. You need to wake up and realize you’re not doing your father any favors by drafting. And that optimism? If you don’t get your head out of the clouds, that will get you killed in minutes- no, seconds out in the field against dragons, bandits, traitors, or worse, and what good would that do your father other than seeing his only daughter be killed in the very thing that got him locked in a padded cell in the first place?”

What the fuck am I doing? a voice in the back of my mind asked.

She frowned and her eyes fell to the floor.

“Now I need you to quit fucking around, get your act together, put your personal affairs and emotional baggage aside, and focus on the mission. You were trained to be a member of the Queen’s finest. You need to act like it, or you’re going to get ponies killed trying to protect you.”

“Y-…yes, sir…” she said, meekly.

“Now we need to be up by dusk, so you need to go back to your quarters and sleep. That’s an order.”

She slowly nodded, and slunk past me. Once she opened the door, she glanced over her shoulder at me. I wasn’t sure what her expression was. Sad, sure but… was it… pity? I couldn’t tell for sure; she turned away a second later and went back inside the inn.

I sighed, and grinded my hoof against my forehead.

What the hell did I just do?


Swift and I talked. I don’t want to think about it, to be honest.

Anyway, I took like another half hour before I went back to sleep for some of the day, but not for too long. I ended up staying inside my room until dusk finally crawled up to us. I really, really wanted to go later, because as you probably know, nightbreed eyes are very, very sensitive to bright light, including daylight. Unfortunately, Walker was insistent, so I had to spend another hour outside just to get my eyes to adjust to the light.

Maybe if we waited another hour, maybe two so I could have my good night vision, or if we went another hour or two earlier where my eyes would’ve had more time to adjust… what happened next just maybe could’ve turned out a little better.

One thing I should’ve fucking checked before we set out were bandit sightings in the Shale, because before we knew it, not even an hour after we entered the Crag, we trotted right into a fucking ambush.


I counted two, maybe three dozen bandits consisting of earth ponies, unicorns, pegasi, and nightbreeds, and that didn’t include the ponies at our flank. Even though I could barely make them out in the partially-blinding light of the setting sun, I could tell they outnumbered the ten of us easily.

We got stopped by a broken down and turned-over cart that was blocking the path, and that’s when these raggedly dressed raiders showed up. They came from behind the cart, from foxholes with rock covers in the sides of the cliff, and from behind various large boulders scattered around the field. Us on the other hoof, we were completely exposed.

We were in a tense stand-off with a few that stood directly in our path, each side pointing their cannons at the other. Walker and Swift hid behind myself and two of our escorts from the village, while the rest had their sights trained at our sides and flank. It was only a matter of time before somepony took the first shot.

Then their ringleader, an orange-red earth stallion with a crimson mane and dressed in black rags, swung around the corner of the cart. “Well, well, lookie what we got here folks. We’ve got us a little merry band o’ mutants, and they’ve got lots of goodies ripe for the taking,” he said with a smirk as he eyeballed our cart, then he glanced over my shoulder at Swift. “Ooh, and they’ve got a pretty little pegasus with ‘em too. This seems like our lucky day.”

“In the name of Her Majesty, Queen Luna, ruler of the Twenty-Six Territories of the Lunar Confederacy, you are to drop your weapons and cease hostility immediately. If you don’t comply, we are authorized to use deadly force,” I ordered.

He laughed. Of course that didn’t work… never does with these bastards.

“What, the eight o’ you against all of us? I swear you freaks get dumber with every passing day. Tell ya what, mutie. Give us what you got in the cart and that smokin’ piece of flank you got behind you and we might consider letting the rest of you go. But y’know, that’s no guarantee.”

“I’m not gonna tell you again. You’re interfering with a high-priority mission sanctioned by the Queen and Council. If you don’t lay down your arms, we will be forced to open fire. You hear me?”

“Loud and clear batty, but maybe you didn’t hear me. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re in no position to give me orders. But hey, I don’t have a problem with taking what all you got off your corpses, how ‘bout the rest of you guys?” the ringleader asked the rest of his crew, who laughed and cheered. Then he turned back to us and smirk. “So what’ll it be? Your goods, or your lives and your goods?”

I was about to put a round between the bastard’s eyes. We would’ve gotten a few kills in and taken up defensive positions around the cart and what little cover we can manage, but at least we’d get the first shot. Not to mention I had a secret weapon waiting for my signal. But that’s not what happened.


Fucking bandits. I swear by all the stars in the sky, they can’t take a damn hint. We’ve killed hundreds of their kind, but thousands more have taken their place all over the country.

I swear if it weren’t for Peace Walker I would’ve shot them the second their ringleader opened his big mouth.


“Ash, stand down! Let me talk to these ponies,” said Walker as he tried to push past me, which I resisted.

“Stay out of this Walker,” I ordered, pushing him behind me.

“We can negotiate with them!” he exclaimed in a loud whisper.

I shot him a very brief look. “Are you fucking crazy? You can’t negotiate with these ponies Walker.”

“Ash, be reasonable, we can just-

“Walker, you don’t know how these bastards work,” I interrupted. “Even if we gave them our supplies, they still kill us.”

“You don’t know that!”

I shoved him behind me and trained my cannon on the ringleader again, but then that was when Walker broke through the guards and I. I tried to grab him with a foreleg but I missed.

“Walker!” I loudly whispered.


That fucking ambassador.

If he had so much as a shred of an idea what these bandits were capable of, he wouldn’t have fucked over that stand-off.

Bandits don’t just steal. It used to be only about stealing food, now they burned villages to the ground, they mutilated innocent civilians, they raped and killed them, and a number of other atrocities I don’t even wanna mention. They’re heartless, mindless animals, and Walker thought he could try where myself and others failed.

He almost got us all killed.


“Who the fuck are you?” asked the bandit ringleader.

“My name is Peace Walker. I’m an ambassador representing Her Majesty, Queen Luna. These soldiers and I are on a very important mission for the Queen. We’re not here to cause trouble, and I’d like to propose a compromise, if you’ll hear us out.”

“A ‘compromise’?” he laughed, so did the rest of the bandits.

“Walker, I’m telling you,” I warned. “Back off.”

The bandit leader regained his composure and waved the a hoof in the air, ordering his band of criminals to calm down. “Alright, alright, hah. Okay, official, what kind of deal do you have in mind?” he asked in a twisted, sarcastic manner.

The ambassador however, was unfazed. He kept his composure, and spoke with confidence. “We’re on our way to Equestria so that we can talk about the outpost attack here on the east border, you know about that, right?”

“Yeah, and…?” the ringleader replied.

“We’re going there to ask them about the attack, but we’re also going to talk about establishing a trade route-

“Get to the point, official. You’re making me lose my patience,”

“Sorry, I don’t mean to waste your time. The point is that we’re going to get food. Enough for the entire country, yourselves included.” The ringleader quirked an eyebrow. Walker continued. “You do want food after all, right? Isn’t that why you want our stuff?”

“Hmm, maybe you got a point. But you’re probably lying. Nopony goes to Equestria.”

“Well, we are. Look, we can give you a bit of the food we have in exchange for safe passage. Call it collateral, if you will. Now you look like a very smart pony, I can see that. Only a smart pony could’ve put a trap like this together.”

The bandit leader reacted positively to the compliment with a small smirk. “Well, I can at least agree with you there.”

“Right, so, the smart stallion that you are, you can see what would happen if we were to create this trade route with Equestria, right? All the food you could ever imagine. You’ll have full bellies and never need to starve again. On my honor, I promise you this, but only if you let us go.”

Walker locked eye contact with the ring leader, who was pacing a little, mulling the idea over. To anypony else, it would’ve seemed like he was considering it, but to me…

“Walker, please, listen to me,” I said, quietly. “He’s not going to make the deal-

“Hey! Mutie! Shut the fuck up, will ya?” barked one of the bandits.

“They’re plannin’ something boss, we should just kill ‘em,” said another.

The ringleader tilted his head, and leaned from one side to the other as he stood there, staring at Walker. “Hmm… interesting deal… very interesting indeed…” he began.


But in the end… I have no right to blame him. He tried. Far more than I or anypony else ever did. I thought maybe, just maybe, for a second, that the bandits would let us go. Maybe these ponies were different. Maybe there was real good still in this world…

…and maybe I was wrong.


A few seconds passed, and some of the other bandits started looking to their leader in confusion as he mulled over Walker’s proposal.

“What do you say?” Walker asked. “Do we have an accord?”


He tried hard. He really did.


I saw the bandit’s mouth slowly open and his forehoof raise in the air, ready to give an order to his followers. When I saw this…

I whistled a tune.


But I couldn’t take any chances.


“What the-

*K-THROWM*

A flash of red flew right into the ringleader’s skull from the sky and out the other side, sending a chunk of brain matter and scorched bone blasting out of his head as he fell limp to the ground.

“It was a fucking trick! KILL ‘EM!” shouted one of the bandits.

All hell broke loose.

Cannon fire began to rain in every direction from both sides. “Take cover and return fire!” I ordered to the other soldiers, as I ran up and grabbed a shocked Walker’s tail in my teeth and pulled him back behind a low rock just before one of the bandits took his head off. Two of the guards broke left and took cover behind a small boulder while they tried to pick off bandits that rained fire from above. Swift took cover by the cart while the other soldier tried to move past her and I to guard the flank. The bandits meanwhile had us suppressed, at least the ones that weren’t trying to find the aerial assailant that killed their leader. Said assailant was Jetstorm, who was raining cannonfire from above and picking off the opposition one by one with very well-placed shots.

Once the ambassador and I were safely behind cover, Walker shouted over the cannonfire as I armed the C.L.a.W.’s cannon. “What did you do?! I could’ve talked him down!”

“I just saved your ass ambassador, now stay the fuck down!” I shouted back as a bolt of red energy whizzed past our heads.

I stood up on my hind legs and aimed my weapon, left hoof on the trigger mechanism, ready to fire the C.L.a.W.’s cannon for the first time. As the target reticule from the T.C.E.D. helped me line up my aim with one of my targets, I only just noticed three barrels rise out of the three flat bar-pieces of the device and three cylinders popped out of them. When I pulled the trigger, a resounding thud was accompanied by the signature pulsed explosion of the blast leaving all three barrels at once, with all three converging on a single target’s chest. The shot exploded across his chest and sent him flying back a few feet along with a thick spray of blood.

Hot damn!

One of the bandits saw me kill his comrade, and opened fire on my position. I ducked.

I was going to be relying on the T.C.E.D. the whole fight, since I still had trouble trying to see in the bright whiteness where I could barely make out colors and shapes of the world and ponies around me. I’m sure the other nightbreeds in our party weren’t going to be faring as well either.

We were at a major disadvantage.


Looking back, I could’ve made a better choice. There were more options, but I didn’t consider them all. Maybe if I just said something different to Walker at the Perch, or Swift in the inn, maybe the battle could’ve been avoided, or played out completely differently.


I fired at a couple cannon-wielders that were shooting at us from one of the slopes, killing them with a few well-placed shots, and their bodies tumbled down the cliff-side.

Walker was huddled against the rock, trying to keep his head down as I fired over it when he shouted at me. “Behind you!”

I whipped around just in time to see a bandit wielding a crude spear charging straight for me and was seconds from plunging the tip of it into me. I stood up on my hindlegs and sidestepped the blade, grabbing it with my foreleg, then swung my body around and used the momentum of the spin as he charged past then jammed the hoofblade through the back of his skull, killing him instantly.

Another bandit charged at us with another spear, but I saw him coming early this time. I shoved the corpse of the first spear-wielder back at him, who tried to dodge but failed, then I raised my weapon and fired a round into his skull.

I heard a mare shouting a war cry as she charged up behind me. Seeing her over my shoulder, and timing my swing just right, I whipped my body, and my hoofblade, around and sliced her throat open, causing her body to collapse in a heap beside me.

Two more bandits charged for me, one wielding a sword made out of a sharpened piece of bended metal in his teeth, and the other from above equipped with a hoofblade. Both were coming at me from the sides.

The pony with the blade tried to swing his sword at me, which I ducked past and slashed my hoofblade through his legs. I recovered, took aim at the hoofblade wielder from above, and killed him with two well-placed shots to his chest and head.

Then I heard a scream.

It was Swift, and there was a bandit tearing at her full stride, intent on the kill.

“Swift!” I shouted, whipping the cannon around and fired at the bandit.

*Click*

“FUCK!” I cursed, and without delay I galloped at the approaching bandit who was about to bring his knife down on the curled up and frightened pegasus. I charged in and plowed into the bandit before he could strike, then I stuck my own blade into his throat before he had a chance to react.

Swift screamed, covering her head in her hooves as she huddled up against the side of the cart.

This is fucking chaos out here! I thought to myself as I took cover by the cart and reloaded my ammo. Walker followed behind me and huddled next to Swift.

I looked to the ambassador, and risked a peek over the cart to assess the situation. There were still over a dozen bandits in the area and we were too exposed. That’s not counting the three or four pegasi Jetstorm was in a dogfight with up above us.

I had to get the ambassador out of here, and I had to do it now. I risked another peek over the cart, the other two soldiers were still trying to hold the line.

“Damn it,” I seethed through my teeth, then turned to the only pony that wasn’t occupied in the battle. “Swift!”

She was still whimpering and curled up in a ball.

“SWIFT!” I shouted. She still didn’t respond.

I leaned down and shook her. “SWIFT! Look at me, LOOK AT ME!” I shouted, until she finally made eye contact, she was on the verge of tears. “Listen, I need you to take Walker and make a run for the outpost, it’s not that far, you can make it but you need to go now. Right now. You hear me?”

“I can’t!” she wailed. “I can’t, I’m scared-

I shook her again. “Listen to me! Jetstorm’s going with you and the other soldiers and I are going to cover you, but I need you to take Walker and run. You’re the only one who can.”

“I CAN’T!” she screamed, holding her head in her hooves. “I can’t, I can’t, I don’t want to, I’m scared,” she went off into an incoherent tangent mixed with crying and whimpering.

“Swift, if you don’t, both of you are going to die here, okay? I need you to get him out of here. We’re going to cover you, okay? You’ll be fine!” I shouted to her. A shot whizzed past our heads and another slammed into the side of the cart. “Damn it!” I shouted, then looked over the cart and fired off a few blind rounds in the general direction of the bandits, then pressed my hoof to my earpiece. “Jet! I need you to cover Swift and Walker.”

“I’m a little busy up here boss!” his voice crackled into my ear.

“Jet we’re fucking pinned down out here and we need to get the ambassador out of here!”

“Fuck! Hang on a sec-...... HEADS UP!” I quickly looked up, only to see a body of a pegasus raider collapse on the cart, his side scorched from a blast of energy and his dead eyes staring vacantly in the distance. Swift screamed when the body landed.

I leaned down in front of her and lifted her head to make her look at me. “Swift, don’t look at him, don’t look at him,” I urged. She was trying to glance at the corpse hanging over the cart but I made her keep eye contact. “Listen to me, you need to go now. Right now.”

She hesitantly nodded. “O-Okay…” she murmured, still in shock.

“Okay, now wait for my signal. When I say, you and Walker run straight down that way,” I pointed down the path. “You keep running and don’t stop, the outpost isn’t far. They’ll protect you. You got it?”

“I-… I don’t know if-

“Do you got it?!”

“I-… o-okay… I got it…”

“Alright, wait for my-

*Crash!*

Another round slammed into the rail of the cart, sending a few chunks of wood into the air. Swift yelped.

I shook her again and looked her in the eye. “Swift, go on my signal,” I told her sternly, then leaned over the damaged cart and the body to fire a few rounds at some bandits taking cover up the cliffside. I pressed the button on my earpiece. “Jet, you good?”

“I’m trying to break off. Give me like- SHIT!” There was a loud pulse noise. “Fuck, I don’t know, a minute.”

“You’ve got twenty seconds,” I said and clicked off the radio. I’m sure he was going to argue but I didn’t have time to listen to it. I turned to swift. “You ready?”

She hesitantly nodded. I was about to peek up again when Walker grabbed my foreleg. “Ash, we can’t just leave you here.”

“This isn’t up for debate ambassador.” I pulled my foreleg free. “Your job is to stay alive, and I will not let you fuck up your job, now get ready.”

He was about to try and argue again, but a loud explosion of dirt blew up next to him from a blast of energy and interrupted him. I leaned over and shot a couple more blind rounds over the cart, then took cover and pressed my hoof to my ear again. “Alright, all of you, we need to give Swift, the VIP and Jetstorm cover fire, on my mark.”

I glanced at Swift and the ambassador. She was still scared out of her wits, though Walker was still extremely reluctant to leave. I waited for a lull in the cannonfire.

Wait…

Wait………

“NOW!” I barked into the microphone, swung over cover and began firing at the bandits, suppressing them and forcing them to take cover. The other five soldiers were providing what additional covering fire they could, and Jet hovered low over Swift and Walker as the two of them bolted from cover and started running.

“Come on!” shouted Walker, the white pegasus slowly lagging behind him.

“Covering!” shouted one of the nightbreed soldiers.

He stepped away from cover, and was completely exposed.

Alarmed, I shouted toward the exposed nightbreed soldier. “Get back in cover!”

He didn’t hear me, or ignored me, because he kept moving farther and farther in cover, using himself to shield Swift and Walker.

“Get the fuck down you idiot! That’s an order!” I barked at him, but again, my words fell on deaf ears.

Swift suddenly tripped.

The soldier saw this, and tried to help her up. “Come on! Get up!” he shouted to her. “Keep moving, get to the Outpost!” He helped her get up and running again. Once she was back on her hooves, he turned to resume covering-

*K-THROWM!*

A bolt went through both sides of his head.

“NO!” I shouted, running to him and grabbing him just before his body hit the floor. “Stallion down!” I shouted, and started dragging him back toward the cart with me, while the remaining soldiers continued to try and keep the enemy suppressed on all sides.

Once I got him behind the cart, I prayed to all the stars in the sky that he was okay.

But I knew I was fooling myself.

He was dead.

“FUCK!” I shouted, punching the cart.

I grit my teeth, tried to get myself to focus on the mission, but it was proving impossible. I wanted to kill those bandits. Every single one of them.

A voice blared through my earpiece. “I’m dry, sir!”

“So am I,” said another voice.

I pressed my hoof to the earpiece. “Hold this position,” I said, taking my hoof off as I stared at my dead comrade. I shook it off. I had to. “We need to give them enough time to get away from here.”

I paused, then pressed the button on the earpiece again.

“Kill as many of these fuckers as you can while you’re at it.”

---

Ten long, grueling minutes had passed since I told Swift and Jet to get Walker out of the combat zone, and we managed to whittle their numbers down to a small few, though I was the one who did the bulk of the whittling with my hoofblade and cannon, and even managed to kill one using the levitation mechanic of the C.L.a.W. and a spear.

One of the four remaining nightbreed officers were hit, and two of the others were completely out of ammo. It was too risky to try and fish for more out of the cart, since the remaining bandits had the higher ground along the cliffsides. I was down to just a couple crystals left that I had on me, including the one I just popped into the clip.

I tried to cover the wounded nightbreed, who was clutching his scorched shoulder, by shooting at the bandits up the steep cliff, but from the angle, I couldn’t hit them worth a damn. There were at least three of them tucked in a type of crater in the cliffside, which gave them adequate cover.

“Sir!” shouted one of the voices belonging to a soldier who was trying to clear some of the bandits in the cliff to my flank. “This side’s clear.”

I ducked behind a rock and pressed the transmitter button on the earpiece. “Alright, I need you to work your way over here.”

“Yes sir!” he responded. “Also, we’re both almost dry on ammo here. We can’t do much to provide support.”

“Copy,” I replied. I watched the two of them take cover behind the cart. “Stay down, they still got a good vantage point up there. Hold your fire and wait for my command.”

“Got it,” he responded. I turned my attention back up the steep slope. They were at least several yards higher than us. Flying to get the drop on them proved to be a bad idea, which was what led to the injury of the soldier next to me.

“Sir,” said the unwounded soldier next to me. “I’m out. Do you have any ammo?”

I reached for my pocket, and produced the only spare crystal I had left. “This is all I got left,” I said. I was about to give it to him, when an idea struck me. “Wait…”

Something Jetstorm said earlier about the C.L.a.W. device and using the levitation mechanism with power crystals and trying to fire the cannon at the same time. I looked at the crystal, then back up toward where the surviving bandits were holed up.

“I got an idea.”

“Sir?” asked the soldier.

I pressed the button on my earpiece. “Do you have enough shots to cover me for a few seconds?”

“I don’t know sir, why?” one of them asked.

I looked up the hill, and hit the button again. “Just answer the question,”

“Maybe for a few seconds, yeah.”

“Alright, good. On my mark, I want you to shoot directly at the group up the hill here. I’m going to try something.”

“Uh, alright, sir. Just say when.”

I really, really hoped that this crazy plan of mine wouldn’t backfire on me, especially since there was a very high chance of it.

“Alright, NOW!” I shouted, without using the earpiece, and began running up the mountain. I tried to keep myself a small target as the soldiers behind the cart started firing an intermittent series of shots up at the bandits who were trying to pop their head out. I kept my belly flat to the rock and moved as quickly and carefully as I could to a large rock just a short distance away that was sticking out of the cliff.

Just a little further…

One of the bandits saw me climbing and tried to take a pop shot at me, but I fired at him first, though it missed and hit the rock just under his foreleg. At least he took cover and bought me a couple more seconds.

I made it, though the other nightbreeds ceased firing, so my cover was gone. I took the spare crystal I had left out of my pocket again and stared at it for a moment.

I really, really hope this works…

I picked up the crystal in the C.L.a.W.’s levitation field.

Okay, the energy inside it’s not red yet… so far so good.

Then came the tricky part. I slowly raised my hoof to the cannon’s trigger mechanism… and pulled.

There was a very uncomfortable, low humming sound coming from the device. I watched the crystal.

The energy inside it turned red.

Okay… just a few more seconds…

A bead of sweat trailed down my brow. I refused to blink.

The glow got darker… and darker… and darker…

Then it turned black.

SHIT!

I leaned away from behind the rock, swung my foreleg back, then with a hefty throw, I sent the crystal flying through the air.

Then I started running my tail off!

I could only just make out the sound of the thing clinking against the cliff, and I was grateful that for whatever reason, the bandits weren’t shooting at me. I imagined they saw me throw it and wondered why.

That didn’t stop me from running full gallop down the cliff.

“GET DOWN!” I shouted repeatedly at the other soldiers on the road.

Suddenly-

BOOM!

The force of the blast shook the earth violently and an earsplitting electric pulse cracked and buzzed fiercely loud through the air, and my body spiraled out of control like a ragdoll as it was thrown into the air. I hit the ground hard, landing on my left wing. As I laid there, reeling in pain from the landing, I looked up at where the bandits were.

Or at least what was left of them.

There was a thick cloud of black smoke, with vapor trails spraying in all directions from debris, I assumed. In the smoke, there were frighteningly red miniature lightning storms sizzling and popping about in the cloud. A few more crimson-colored lights blinked in and out of existence inside the black cloud, before it disappeared completely.

That’s when it started to rain debris, though I don’t think I wanted to even fathom a guess as to what some of the debris even was.

I watched, both horrified, and in awe, at the result of my reckless stunt, so much so, that I didn’t see a bandit charging at me.

He was half-crazed with anger.


But out of that… the most unexpected thing happened.


“You sick fuck! That was my brother up there you sick, fucking monster!” he shouted as he tackled me to the ground, trying to stab me with his hoofblade.

There was a burning rage in his eyes.

“You’re a monster! You’re a crazy, murdering fucking monster!” he screamed, punching me with his unarmed hoof and trying to stick his blade into my throat that I was barely holding back. “Die! Die damn it! Just! Fucking! DIE!!!”

I couldn't hold him back. He was going to kill me.


Just when I thought I was dead, and just when I thought I knew him…


“EEAAGGH!!” shouted a stallion, who then plowed his body into the bandit who tried to kill me.

“Get the fuck off me! Let me kill that sick bastard!” shouted the mad bandit. “GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME!”

I finally got up just as the bandit kicked off my rescuer, then turned to me a second later.

“DIE!” he shouted again, and charged.

I was ready for him.

He stabbed, I caught the blade, then slammed my hoof down on it, breaking his foreleg, then elbowed his jaw. Once he was stumbled back onto his hind legs, I swiped my hoofblade, and cut his throat.

I watched as the blood poured out and the sickening gargle of him choking on his blood, but never once did he break eye contact me, even as he fell, and even as the light left his eyes, his gaze still looked at me with all its’ fury and hatred.

My rescuer groaned a little. I turned to him, wondering who it was. I thought it was one of the soldiers.

It was Peace Walker.


The ambassador saves my life. After how shitty I treated him, out of nowhere, this fucking politician of all ponies, he comes back when I told him to leave, and he saved my life.


“You okay?” he asked.

I glared at him, then started shouting. “What are you doing back here? I told you to go to the Outpost!”

“I know. I decided to come back instead.”

“What the fuck were you thinking?!” I shoved him against a rock. “You could’ve gotten yourself killed!”

“I don’t care, Lieutenant. You were all still in trouble and I wanted to help.”

“Are you seriously that fucking stupid ambassador? You’re not expendable on this mission, we are!”

“That’s a lie. You’re not expendable Lieutenant, nopony is,” he said, then shoved my hooves away from him. “I don’t care if you hate me for it, but I wasn’t about to abandon all of you, even if the Queen ordered me to and my life depended on it.”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. “You… stupid…,” I grumbled, bringing an accusatory hoof up, but I struggled to form anymore words. Eventually, seeing as it was pointless to argue with him, I gave up. I was far too exhausted and in pain to argue. “Just… just go help the others. One of them’s hit.”

“Alright,” he said.

“Wait,” I said. “Where’s Swift and Jet?”

“They’re fine. They’re probably doubling back for me right now I bet.”

I stared at him in disbelief for a few more moments, then sighed and shook my head.


Looking back though…


*Cough*

My ear twitched. That didn’t come from me, or Walker, or even the other soldiers.

*Cough*

I followed the sound, and Walker, who heard it too, followed behind me.

The coughing led us to a wounded bandit. He got a bad scorch in the shoulder, but it was far from fatal.

“Goddesses...,” said Walker.

There was a silence that hung in the air as we stared at this bandit.

“We should help him,” Walker suddenly said.

The bandit slowly opened his eyes, and looked between the two of us. “Help… help me… please…,” he begged pathetically.

“We can’t let him go,” I said.

The bandit’s pupils shrunk, and Walker ran in front of me.

“Ashen! He’s done, he can’t fight back.”

I glared at the ambassador.

“If we let him go, he’ll just kill some other poor pony who crosses paths with him,” I explained.

“No, I won’t, please…” begged the bandit. “Please, just let me go, please….” He was on the verge of tears.

“Ash, let him go, please,” begged Walker now. “There’s been enough bloodshed today.”

I look Walker in the eye. “…Alright, go get the medical supplies then. They’ll be in the cart.”

“Alright, I’ll be right back.”

I waited for the ambassador to take just a few more steps away. Once he was far enough…

“No, PLEASE! DON’T!!”


I don’t think I deserved it.


*K-THROWM*

“Ashen?! What have you done!?”


I killed a pony in cold blood almost right after he did. He saved my life and I betrayed him by doing that.

What’s worse is that I don’t know whether or not I regret it. In fact, I don’t know if I regret my decision, or that Walker saw me do it.

Who saves a guy like that? Why couldn’t it have been the stallion who sacrificed himself to protect Swift and Walker instead of me?

Maybe I’m overthinking it, I don’t know. That’s probably my tiredness talking now. It’s getting close to morning, and reading everything I wrote, this journal’s getting long in the tooth, so I’m going to have to leave it here for tonight. If I got time tomorrow before our train arrives for Canterlot, I’ll pick this up then. For now though, I’m just going to try to get some sleep and take my mind off of things.

Though Doc, just for the record, I’m starting to wonder if the point of these journals isn’t to make me feel better by venting or whatever, but remind me of the consequences from the choices I’ve made or I’m about to make.

If that’s the case, then I’ll say it now. You’re a real bastard Doc.

-A.

Author's Note:

It's been a very long time since my last chapter, and I'm glad to finally add another entry to The Price of Loyalty. It's been a rough ride up until this new chapter. I've gone through lots of things that took up much of my time, which still do, and I've gone through a lot of hardships and personal matters. I can only hope this chapter shows improvement over the last two and I hope it's still enjoyable. Thank you all so much for your support, thank you to Blankscape for his wonderful review, my proofreaders who've put up with my impatience for ages, and GenericDrawfag/Carnelian for giving my story an incredible cover art to show this story off. This story wouldn't be anywhere without you guys, so thank you, with all my heart.

Comments ( 13 )

One word: Finally!! :pinkiecrazy:

2790876>>2790928 Yeah, I know :pinkiegasp: I just hope that I can get some new readers with this chapter. :fluttershysad:

I doubt that I was putting up with your impatience. It was more along the lines of you putting up with my laziness.

Dear god! Over 63000 words! So long!
And only three chapters!
Im going to love this book!:heart: the longer the better.

Just finished the first three chapters. All I can say is I am eagerly awating more.:pinkiehappy:

Read the whole thing that's up so far, and this story has some great potential. It should become quite famous on here, if it isn't already. I think Peace Walker, and the countless others that told Ashen to calm down and find somepony are right. Good action sequence at the end of the last chapter. The politician saved the day! Sigh* Never thought I'd say that sentence in my life... But, yeah. Great so far!

3045041 Wow, thank you so much, and thank you for favoriting this story! I'm always humbled to hear people tell me how the story has potential and I hope it does become well-known one day. It's a bit of a pipe dream, but hey, some of us gotta have something to aim for, right? :twilightsheepish:

Now I really ought to finish that fourth journal... I still have it sitting around waiting to be tweaked. :trixieshiftright:

3046489 To give it some publicity, I'd be happy to run it through my story review division once it's complete.

Huzzah, new description. Now with 100% less suck!

3979431
Are you going to update soon?:rainbowhuh:

4842031 Not sure. Real life's been taking a big hit on my writing and morale, plus Journal #4 needs a bit of an overhaul.

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