• Published 25th Jun 2012
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Fallout Equestria x Wild Arms: Trigger to Tomorrow - thatguyvex



A young tribal pony tries to keep his moral center and ensure the survival of his friends while facing the many dangers of the Detrot Wasteland and beyond.

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Chapters Next
Chapter 1: A Colt Meets a Filly and ARMs

“So, why is this place called Ghost Ridge again?” I asked as we came up on the crest of dry baked sand and rock with tufts of brown barbed plants that looked like just about every other ridge I’d ever seen in my ridge seeing life of sixteen years. A warm and dry wind was blowing over the ridge, causing my short and utterly unruly blue mane to dance about my head.

Next to me Trailblaze snorted and adjusted the grip her mouth had on her hunting spear, long black strands of her mane being blown by the wind into her clear, sky blue eyes as she looked at me with what I’d came to think of as an endearing glare.

“Might be cause there’s supposed to be ghosts haunting the place, or maybe the Chieftain that named it way back when just thought it sounded appropriately ominous. Y’know to keep idiots from exploring beyond it.”

“I can’t figure why,” I said, ignoring the obvious implication that we weren’t being too bright, breaking tribal law to come here to hunt, “Doesn’t look any different than any other part of the wasteland…”

This much was true; the barren, rocky terrain was mirrored for miles around. My tribe called a small valley home, and our village, Shady Stream, was situated right underneath the shadow of a protective cliff past which a gentle stream flowed down from the mountains. One of the few clean sources of water to be found for I-had-no-‘effing-clue how far. Shady Stream had been settled centuries ago after the Great Fires burned the world, a handful of pony survivors clinging to the hope that shelter could be found in the foothills of the mountains far from any centers of the civilization that was burned away. As luck had it the unpopulated mountainous region wasn’t hit nearly as bad by the Fire Spirits that according to tribal legend were unleashed from the Great Fires themselves, and poisoned plant, animal, water, and even the very earth itself in places with invisible fire that would seep into your body and kill you with horrible sickness.

I imagined at least in part the tribal laws concerning never going too far from the village itself and specifically to avoid certain places had to do with all those old superstitions and fears about the Fire Spirits. Personally I’d never seen much of anything to indicate such things existed, or if they did that they weren’t as close and as dangerous as the Chieftain made them out to be. I found myself poking at one of the rocks on the crest of the ridge.

“Hello? Any Fire Spirits in there?” I asked the rock as I prodded it hard enough to send it rolling down the other end of the ridge. Okay so maybe I wasn’t the brightest colt in my tribe, but I’d never seen a Fire Spirit before so I had a hard time taking the legends as seriously as some of my tribesmates did.

Trailblaze groaned.

“Y’know if we end up dead because you taunted Fire Spirits into burning our insides I am going to haunt the crap out of you.”

“How? I’ll be dead too in that case.”

“Ugh, let’s just get this over with. If we’re gone too long somepony is going to suspect we’re doing something we shouldn’t. Which we really shouldn’t be doing this by the way, Longwalk. Why are you so damned insistent on coming here to hunt anyway?”

I frowned, really trying to come up with an answer that didn’t involve the truth, which amounted to ‘because I’m curious’. Trailblaze would probably smack me into unconsciousness with her spear and drag me back hog-tied for the Chieftain if that was the case. Lucky me my brain managed to dream up an acceptable sounding excuse for my disapproving mare-friend. Well, friend who is a mare. Me and Trailblaze weren’t like that. Not that I hadn’t thought about it, but I usually bucked those thoughts right back from wherever they came from when they did rise. Me and Trailblaze had been friends since we were both old enough to walk for crying out loud! Thinking of her like that was borderline the equivalent of thinking about my sister in that way. Not that I had a sister to think about in that way, which I wouldn’t if I did, but I didn’t and…okay off track now.

“Look Trail, we’ve been having a piss poor hunting season right?” I explained in what I was hoping was my best ‘honest truth’ voice, “So bad there’s been talk of starvation. Starvation, Trail! It’s clear we just can’t keep to our old hunting grounds. We gotta expand; look for where new game might be hiding. Now I respect tribal law much as anypony-“ a snort from Trailblaze, “-but rules aren’t gonna fill bellies. Gecko meat will though. And last time I was out this way I’m certain I spotted gecko tracks near this ridge.”

Okay, that wasn’t a total lie. It wasn’t the whole truth either, but it was close enough. I did find some kind of tracks out this way last time I decided to go exploring, I just wasn’t sure they were gecko tracks. They certainly had looked like gecko tracks, but had been a little on the large side. Alright, a lot on the large side. Now that I think about it perhaps trying to find something larger than a gecko wasn’t such a good idea, but hey, remember when I said I wasn’t the brightest colt in my tribe?

Trailblaze was looking between me and the ridge itself as if she didn’t entirely believe me, which I had to admit she had plenty of reason to doubt. The best tracker in the tribe I was not. Now I wasn’t without my talents. I was one fine aim with a thrown spear or rock and could go hoof-to-hoof with Stone Crack, our tribe’s best hunter, in an unarmed match. Half of the time anyway; he was the best hunter for a reason after all. He had me beat hooves down when it came to spear fighting and Trailblaze had me beat in that department as well, not to mention she was ten times the tracker and pathfinder I was. Really aside from throwing and bucking I didn’t seem to be good at much else besides getting into trouble. And talking my way out of it. I attributed that to my good nature more than having anything resembling a convincing and solid grasp of how to speak convincingly.

After another moment of doubting expression Trailblaze heaved a sigh, her soft brown flanks shivering a bit in a sudden unpleasantly chill wind that swept the ridge and drew my attention to her cutie mark. A peering eye. I never really understood cutie marks. I mean I got that they were supposed to represent what your ‘true calling’ was or something like that, but I mean, c’mon, an eye? The hay did that mean? That Trailblaze was good at looking at stuff? I suppose she did have pretty sharp eyes, better than mine anyway, but that just seemed like…a really vague thing to have as a personal talent.

Maybe part of it was I, despite being nearly old enough to be a considered a proper stallion, didn’t have my cutie mark. Yes, sad but true, my flank was blank as the day I entered this world. I used to feel rather embarrassed by the whole thing but by this point in my life had come to grudgingly accept it, maybe even take a little pride in it. After all didn’t this just mean that my talents could lead anywhere?

“-follow you but we’re not going to go more than a mile or two past this point. If by then we don’t see any sign of gecko or anything else we can hunt we’re heading back…Long, what are you staring at?”

Trailblaze had been speaking as I’d been staring at her cutie mark, lost in my thoughts. I blinked and stammered out, “W-what? Nothing, nothing at all.”

She peered at me, and then shook her head, “I’ll bet. Let’s go. I want to be back home before it gets dark. I’ll take lead, you spot.”

“Sounds good,” I said, a good deal of cheer back in my voice now that I knew for sure Trailblaze was with me on this one and wasn’t going to try and drag me back to the village.

We settled into our customary hunting routine as we stepped down the far end of Ghost Ridge and headed into what lay beyond; a dense patchwork of old dead and brown trees whose branches splayed about like claws. The old forest wasn’t a proper forest since the Great Fires probably, every tree a desiccated husk of what I imagined a proper tree ought to look like. Not that I’d ever seen a real live tree, but the passed down stories of the tribe spoke of them as things of great beauty and lush green life. The trees that came to surround me and Trailblaze as we entered their territory did not match the mental images I had. The only green in the area were my own eyes as they cast about curiously, looking for any signs of movement in the dead forest.

The forest floor quickly began to slop upwards as we entered proper foothills and through the thin dead and leafless canopy of the forest I could see the distant looming shapes of mountains miles off. Trailblaze kept her eyes low, searching the ground for signs of quarry while I kept mine up and watchful for any possible approaching dangers. I too had my spear though it was slung across my back attached to my barding of gecko hide. I felt confident that whatever me and Trailblaze ran into we could handle it. After all I’d never met a critter that a pair of decent tribal hunters with good ol’ pointy sticks couldn’t handle. Looking back on it my naiveté was monumental.

An hour into the forest and we were climbing a particularly steep hill when Trailblaze stopped in her tracks, causing me to almost bump into her. I didn’t ask any questions, we were both experienced enough in hunting together to communicate without the need. A soft tap of my hoof caused her to respond with a tilt of her head and flick of her long streaming mane, followed by a twitch of her tail that meant ‘fresh trail’.

I came up next to her and looked at what she’d spotted. A nice tiny pile of gecko droppings, fresh enough to be no more than an hour old. I gave her a look and grin that caused her to roll her eyes. Yes, yes, I guessed right about there being game in this area, good for me. Never mind that totally wasn’t the real reason I wanted to come, but hey I’ll take credit where I can get it. Honestly this forest was proving to be not nearly as interesting as I’d hoped it would and so while my curiosity wasn’t all that satisfied with the trip finding food was a more than acceptable alternative in my book.

We tracked the critter that had done its business for a short time longer, its tracks now rather easy to spot. Those tracks were soon joined by others and while at first me and Traiblaze were perfectly happy about the prospect of being able to bring a good haul of fresh gecko meat back to the tribe as an offering of apology for breaking the rules we began to get a tad nervous and exchanged nervous glances with each other as we noted just…how many tracks we were finding and how strangely large they seemed.

Geckos were pack animals yes, but they usually never ran in groups of more than five or six. There had to be at least a dozen sets of tracks all moving together up the hill by the time me and Trailblaze were reaching the top.

“Longwalk, I think it’s time we headed back,” said Trailblaze, her voice calm and level with only just a small dash of the unease I too was feeling, “One or two geckos is fine, but those things still have teeth, and these tracks are kind of big. This might be part of the reason we’re not supposed to come this way.”

“Just a bit further,” I said, feeling my curiosity burning away at the nervousness that was slowly spreading through me, “I want to see if this really is the biggest gecko pack of all time. I wonder why so many are together. What do you think Trail?”

“I think,” she said with a low growl to her voice, “That we’ve gone a little further than we should and we really need to go back now!”

For just a moment I seriously considered her words. They were spoken with such a sharp edge of urgency and growing fear that I could see in my friend’s eyes that my heart clenched a bit and I realized the only reason she was here at all was because she was worried about me. For that alone I maybe should have turned back. I sometimes to this day wonder what my life would have turned out like if I had listened to her.

I turned away from her, saying softly, “Sorry Trail, you can go on back if you want, but I’m going ahead. Just a quick peek I promise. Any hint of danger and I’m out of here. Never met a gecko yet that can keep up with me at full gallop.”

“That’s out in open desert,” she hissed, “You try galloping that fast in this forest you’ll break a leg in no time, then you’re gecko food. And I didn’t come out this far just to leave you on your own. You go, I go.”

I gulped, suddenly realizing that if something did go wrong and something happened to her that the responsibly for that would be squarely on me. As much as her words stirred something warm in me and caused thoughts that I quickly bucked down into the corners of my mind I’d have much preferred it if she’d turned around and went back to the village. I was fine with the notion of putting my own neck at risk in the name of curiosity and laughs but Trailblaze was only here because of me. I ground me teeth for a moment in frustration and indecision but ultimately nodded my head and began heading up the hill to its top, Trailblaze following behind me with a resigned whinny.

At the top of the hill we saw it descend briefly into a shallow ravine that unlike all the land around it was utterly bare of trees. Down in that ravine was the dark foreboding mouth of a cave, yet its shape was…strange. The cave was at one end of the ravine, its shape oddly triangular. The ravine itself was a long thin and shallow furrow in the earth and it occurred to me that it was very out of place amid the much deeper and sharper ravines me and Trailblazed had seen everywhere else. The lack of trees or plants of any kind in the ravine itself was also disturbing and set the hairs of my coat standing on edge.

“…shit…” Trailblaze breathed and I saw what caused her exclamation just a moment after she made it.

Emerging from the cave mouth was a gecko, but nothing like any gecko I’d ever seen.

Geckos were cute little lizards about a fourth of the size of a proper earth pony. They ran around on two legs for the most part, had bulbous eyes and gleaming silver scale hides. And nasty teeth and claws. They were quick, agile, and aggressive, but a skilled hunter could get a spear in their gullet or pop a sling stone between their eyes and put them down before they could bring those natural weapons to bear. The hunters of Shady Stream had hunted geckos for generations and their meat, bones, and hides were important commodities to our daily lives. Practically our only commodity. While a single gecko wasn’t too dangerous if you didn’t let yourself get cocky, a pack of them could kill if you weren’t careful or didn’t have a party of other skilled hunters guarding your back. Even then, we weren’t ponyfolk accustomed to feeling fear when it came to dealing with geckos.

The gecko I was looking at filled me with a profound sense of dread as it strolled from the cave mouth and lifted its head to the air, sniffing it, I imagined, for me and Trailblaze’s scent.

It was easily twice the size of a normal gecko and its scales were of a pure gold hue that caught the pale light of the cloud covered sky and radiated it like a mirror. Its claws were larger than any other gecko I’d seen but that wasn’t what was causing the dread I felt. No, that was due to the presence it gave off. Geckos were predators yes, but never before had I felt such a concentrated sense of malice coming off of a critter. I could tell just by looking at this thing that it wanted to eat us, not for food, but for pleasure.

“Longwalk, can we go now?” Trailblaze whispered.

Three more golden geckos joined their companion at the cave mouth, all of them sniffing the air searchingly. They started to turn their heads our way. I gulped and I think maybe made a small ‘eep’ sound before saying, “Yes, yes we can.”

However just as we both turned to start our stealthy climb back down the hill we heard an unearthly hissing sound that was quickly joined by a chorus of others that filled the ravine and echoed through the trees like…like the hungry wail of ghosts. I didn’t need to yell for Trailblaze to run but I did anyway as we both began to bolt down the hill as fast as we could without risking that prophetic leg-breaking fall Trailblaze had mentioned just moments earlier. As we barreled down the hill I risked a look behind me and I imagine my face must have gone an exceptional shade of pale as I saw not just the four golden geckos but nearly ten of the monstrous critters bounding over the crest of the hill after us with a speed and agile pace that suggested they weren’t nearly as hampered by the forest terrain as we ponies were.

“Split!” Trailblaze shouted, apparently having stolen a glance like I had at the golden horde descending on us and I realized what she intended. It was a practical tactic, splitting up to try to either disorient and split our pursuers and hence increase the chances of one of us making it back…but damned if I didn’t want to scream my protest at the notion.

Traiblaze wasn’t giving me the chance though as she bounded off to the left and I knew I needed to head right, otherwise it was possible the whole damned gecko pack would just go after her. So I turned a sharp right and began leaping down the sharp hill at an angle, praying to the ancestor spirits that more of the geckos would come after me instead of her. I could hear the unnaturally loud hissing and the scampering of clawed feet behind me but I didn’t dare risk another look behind me to see how many were following. Tree and bush branches clung and scrapped at my flanks, tore at my mane, and more than once I almost felt the uneven ground beneath me hit my running hooves at an angle that could have spilled me into a fatal fall, but whether through luck or agility I kept going.

At the bottom of the hill I began a proper full on gallop towards the edge of the woods but my progress was halted by the feeling of something large, warm, and violent slamming into my back. I tumbled, instinctively curling in my limbs and rolling with my shoulder in an attempt to keep from breaking anything. Pain stabbed at me from all sides, first from the bruises of the fall but next from the feeling of something sharp ripping into my flank right through my gecko hide barding. Not even getting proper look at what was attacking me I pivoted and bucked out with both legs. I hit something scaly and hot to the touch and heard a piercing hiss.

I was not a small colt. Almost to my full adulthood I was pretty damned big and while I couldn’t claim to be the strongest of my tribe I had quite a bit of muscle for my age. I got picked on quite a bit due to my blank flank and my talent for breaking tribe rules, so I learned early on how to place a proper buck to defend myself. I’d rarely run into anypony or anything that could take one of my bucks and shrug it off like it was nothing. Stone Crack was one of them, the Chieftain was another…and now this golden gecko was the third.

The critter had been sent flying back a half dozen paces by my hooves but it stayed dazed on the ground for only a second before it got back to its feet, shaking its head and hissing at me with such a deep rumbling sound that it sent a chill straight to my heart. ‘Yeah, you are so going in my belly’ the golden gecko seemed to be proclaiming. I believed it. I also noticed it was the only golden gecko around.

I understood with a feeling not unlike being bucked straight in the gut that all the others must have gone after Trailblaze. My mouth was dry and in place of fear was sparking another feeling, anger, both at the gecko for being in my way and at myself for letting this all happen. I had to take this thing down, much as the thought made my brain want to pack up and leave town for the next forever and leave me to my suicidal tendencies, and go help Trailblaze. Nevermind the whole point of splitting up in the first place had been to give at least one of us a shot at getting back to the village alive. The knowledge that she was the one in real trouble and not me and it was my own damned fault she’d come out here in the first place and even now might be getting torn to bloody ribbons by these things was overriding any sense of self preservation I’d had just moments before, drowning out even the lancing pain in my sides and the wet feeling of blood coating my body from the gashes the golden gecko had given me.

I planted my hooves wide and lowered my head, feeling an angry growl rearing up from my throat. I turned my head and gripped my spear haft in my mouth, drawing the weapon of thick oak and sharp flint spear head and levered it at the golden gecko as it coiled to pounce.

“Bring. It. On.”

The golden gecko sprang, claws splaying out, massive oversized jaw opening to reveal rows of wickedly gleaming teeth. I charged to meet it, using the same method I’d learned to use on this critter’s smaller cousins. Geckos loved to leap, and while this brought their most powerful weapon, their fierce jaws, into play, it also exposed the softer scales underneath their chin where their throat met up with the rest of their head. A well timed spear thrust could get a gecko every time if you got them just as they leaped at you.

I shoved my head forward, thrusting the spear just under the golden gecko’s throat. The thing may have been twice the size of a normal gecko but that still made it smaller than me. I was sure I could get a fatal blow in. I felt the spear hit home solidly. My eyes widened in shock as the spear didn’t penetrate but instead skidded off scales hard as metal and the gecko kept coming. The hit had caused the gecko’s leap to turn into a haphazard stumble but its jaws snapped at me all the same, and even though I rolled to the side while keeping my teeth firmly gripped on my spear I felt those sharp teeth bite clean through my hide barding and gouge the flesh beneath.

I had to grit my teeth all the tighter as I screamed, otherwise I’d have dropped my spear and been truly well screwed. As it was I was wounded once more and the golden gecko only looked more pissed than before, my spear having done next to nothing to where I’d struck it. I was heavily disappointed in generation’s worth of passed down hunting knowledge. Curse you nature and your evolutionary processes! Or whatever had caused this golden gecko’s scales to act like some kind of freaky natural armor.

The golden gecko didn’t give me any time to contemplate the general unfairness of my situation as it pressed in at me, jaws snapping. I backpedaled, swinging my spear more like a club now just to try to keep the thing at bay while my not so fast brain labored to come up with anything resembling a plan. But with each second my anger at this thing was growing, burning at the fear. Trailblaze needed help dammnit! I didn’t have time for this!

Backing up I felt myself hit something solid and realized I’d just backed into a tree. On instinct more than conscious thought I threw myself forward and rolled as the golden gecko made another spring for me, gaining quite a bit of air as it sailed over my rolling form. I came up to my hooves awkwardly and turned, hoping to see the critter face plant into the tree. Instead the damned thing in a feat of impressive acrobatics landed on the tree feet first, claws digging into the bark, turned, and sprang from the tree right at me again! However now it had a lot more height on me and was descending on my shocked self from above. What happened next was pure accident but I’ll still take credit for it being a brilliant martial maneuver on my part. I won’t tell anypony else if you won’t.

I reared up, more in instinct and fear than any idea that the golden gecko, much like its smaller normal not-big-and-near-freaking’-invincible cousin had a very big mouth that opened very, very wide when it made its leaping attack. Such a wide open mouth that my spear had very little trouble slipping right into as the golden gecko bore down on me. A mouth that had no super armor scales at all but rather very soft tender flesh that my spear had no trouble at all penetrating through all the way to the back of the beast’s throat, through its spinal cord, and out the back of its neck in a spray of crimson blood.

I was still bowled over on my rear as the thing’s body slammed into me, the golden gecko dead before either of us finished hitting the ground, but still twitching enough in its death throes that its teeth and claws still got in a few vengeful cuts on my already abused flank before I managed to disentangle myself from it.

I stood there a moment, drenched in blood my own and from the gecko, and stared at the corpse, breathing heavily. The adrenaline was still pumping hotly through me but not enough to keep the pain from registering. I hurt all over. A lot. Shaking somewhat and feeling my stomach wanting to vacate that morning’s meal I retrieved my spear from the golden gecko’s body, pulling it free with a wet splorching sound. I barely had time to realize I needed to go find Trailblaze, barely time to even start considering how I was going to pull that feat off as a not-so-skilled tracker, or how I was going to help her given my only partially successful golden gecko slaying record, when at least the former question became moot.

“Longwalk! Run!”

Trailblaze’s voice registered in my head only a split moment after her dashing form burst from the thick dry brush of the forest, fully galloping past me. I looked her way, eyes wide and blank, then back the way she came, and this time I’m very sure I went ‘EEP!’ as I saw the rest of the pack of golden geckos that had been hot on her tail coming out of the same brush.

It didn’t take me long to catch up to Trailblaze. No that wasn’t a yellow wet trail following behind me. I’m far too manly a buck for that.

“I…thought…the plan was…split up…” I huffed as we ran.

“It was,” she breathed back, keeping her breath far better than me. I was good in the strength department but Stone Crack always told me I needed to work on my endurance. What can I say, it’s not my fault I was born big and strong; I don’t even exercise! But I guess that meant my cardio wasn’t what it could be. I’d caught up to Trailblaze but I could already feel my legs flagging, my lungs burning with ragged gasps. I wasn’t going to keep this pace for long, motivated for it or not.

“I ran into more of them the way I went, had to double back this way just to stay ahead of them all!”

Well, that explained that. Wait, there were more of them!? I chanced a glance behind us. Eeyup, there was a lot more of the bloody things than there were before, all still hot on our heels like we were the last fresh meat they expected to find in months. Which I reflected might actually be the case. I didn’t have time to really think about the ecology of these critters but since I hadn’t seen any other animals out and about this area I could only guess at how they all kept fed. They certainly seemed very intent on dining on me and Trailblaze though, and my brain could only handle so many activities at once. Theorizing on reptilian ecological survival was way below ‘run run run run run!’ on my brain’s list of activities to focus on.

We were running along the bottom of one of the foothills, neither going further uphill nor heading the way that would take us out of the forest.

I doubted Trailblaze knew where we were going any more than I did, I think the plan was just to try keep running until either we ran out of juice and got eaten or the geckos got bored and gave up the chase. I was starting to seriously doubt our chances of the later occurring when Traibaze suddenly veered to the right, almost causing me to trip and take a very unpleasant tumble before I managed to course correct and follow, the horde of teeth and scales close behind us. Before I could ask what she was doing I saw what she was going for and felt my face drain of blood.

Another cave. Not the same as the one in the ravine higher up but still a bloody cave. And Trailblaze was leading us right into it! What was she thinking!? What if the thing was just a dead end? Even if it wasn’t, how were we going to lose the golden geckos inside? I didn’t know what her plan was but I hardly was in a position to question it. Putting on a final burst of speed born of desperation we reached the cave mouth and charged into its dark depths. The inside of the cave was incredibly cool in comparison to the warm suffocating exterior of the Wasteland and some little pony in the back of my brain was informing me that the cave seemed a little too cold. I told that little pony to please shut up and let me focus on not dying today.

The sound of many clawed feet scrabbling over stone echoed through the cave, joining the thunderous hoofclops of me and Trailblaze. The golden geckos hadn’t even slowed down following us inside. Trailblaze forged on ahead into the dark and I could barely see her in front of me as we ran deeper into the cave, the ceiling and walls around us both closing in as the cave became more and more narrow.

Just as I feared we were about to hit a dead end, and hence meet our dead end, the narrow cave suddenly opened up again and where for a moment things had gotten so dark I couldn’t see and was moving more by following Trailblaze’s sound more than anything else there was now an odd pale blue light that was allowing me to see.

We’d entered into a large open cave where rubble and rocks from some ancient cave in filled the side of the cave opposite where me and Trailblaze came in. A deep fissure ran through the center of the cave with only a narrow stone formation spanning its several meter wide gap. Though I couldn’t get a clear look at it the soft icy blue light was coming from something inside the pile of rock rubble on the far side of the cave. Trailblaze didn’t even slow down, crossing the narrow rock bridge and heading right for the light. I followed, hearing the golden geckos not far behind us. It sounded like they’d slowed down a bit in the narrow passage we’d come through, hissing and clawing at each other in their eagerness to get through first to bite at the fresh meat. That ravenous nature was buying me and Trailblaze the precious seconds we needed to cross the fissure, catch our breath, and take stock of our surroundings.

“What…what are we doing here…?” I managed to breathe, looking at Trailblaze questioningly more than accusingly. I figured she had to have had a reason for coming into this cave, effectively trapping us with the things trying to eat us. We might not have had much of a chance outside of getting away, but a small chance had been better than nothing. In here we were just meat waiting for the slaughter.

“I,” Trailblaze hesitated, looking confused and more frightened than I’d seen her in all the years I’d known her. The light of the cave was making her dark mane luminescent and cast her whole face in a pale light that brought out the real shine of her eyes. She was beautiful and for just a moment I felt very regretful I’d always bucked away the warmer thoughts I’d sometimes had about her. We were probably about to die. I might not have been so bad to at least try seeing if our friendship could go anywhere else. I shook myself. No, not thinking like that, especially if these was going to be my last moments with Trailblaze. We spent our lives together as friends; I didn’t mind leaving this life together with her as a friend. No need to make it weird by saying something awkward.

“I heard singing…” Trailblaze finally said, even as the sounds of the geckos got much louder as they neared the cave we’d entered. She pointed a hoof, “From that. It was…calling to me I think.”

I turned, for the first time really looking at the object that had been producing the blue light. And blinked.

“What the hay am I looking at?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.

The object looked like it had come through the cave ceiling, the hole punched in the solid rock above where all the rubble was strewn indicative that some time, who could guess how long ago, the very object I was looking at had actually blasted through the cavern system above and to this point. The little pony in my brain that apparently was better at putting pieces together than I was noted that this object probably came from the caves above us where that strange shallow ravine had led, and the golden geckos had come from.

The object itself was about three times the size of me and Trailblaze, a hunk of metal shaped smoothly like a spearhead, tapering to a point that looked sharp enough to pierce…well…solid rock. It was an incredible sheen of silver unlike any I’d witnessed before, or honestly, since. Back then my mind didn’t even have a word to categorize that kind of bright metallic sheen. I’d never seen the moon in full beautiful glory before otherwise I might have made that comparison. The light of such soft blue was coming from strange geometric lines that crossed back and forth over the metal surface of the object, literally lighting the thing up and filling the room with a blue hue. As I looked at it I felt just how cold the cave was, unnaturally so, and to my shock saw small licks of frost coating the rocks around the object. The thing was generating cold, radiating it like an aura.

I took an involuntary step towards the object, my curiosity drowning out fear. Then the hisses of the golden geckos reached a new height of loud as they echoed through the cave, and I turned to see they’d arrived, a little over a dozen of the things, spilling into the cave from the narrow entrance. They paused, heads shaking, as if disoriented by the blue light emanating from the object and the pack took a few seconds to sniff us out before they started to advance at a slow prowl towards us.

I turned to Trailblaze, not noticing that as I did so my back left hoof had gotten very close to the object. I’d noticed Trailblaze didn’t have her spear.

“Trail, catch!” I said as I tossed her my own spear with a flick of my head. She was way better with spears than me. I’d make do with my hooves. My only plan was to try and buck as many of the bastards down that fissure as I could to give Trailblaze a fighting chance against the rest.

Trailblaze caught my spear expertly, her fear being suppressed now with a look of determination.

“We take them at the bridge, side by side, Long,” she said “We can get through this.”

I nodded, letting her confidence become mine, though I was pretty sure, even with the narrow rock formation the golden geckos had to cross, that they could still overwhelm us. I was wounded and I could tell Trailblaze hadn’t fared much better during her flight. She must have lost her spear against one of the critters and I could see gashes on her neck and one of her forelegs, dark blood matting down her light brown coat. The geckos were at their end of the rock bridge spanning the fissure. I looked at Trailblaze and she looked at me. For just a split moment we only saw each others eyes and nothing else.

“Side by side,” I said back to her, and started forward. As I did so the way my back left hoof rose to take a step made it brush along the object.

Freezing cold run through my whole body, shattering my senses into a thousand screaming pieces. The cold pierced into my very brain and I could think or feel, but I was pretty sure the strangled whimper was my own and the thudding sound was me hitting the floor. I think I heard Trailblaze call my name but the freezing numbness had covered my mind like an unpleasantly wet blanket. I was struggling just to get breath in and out of my lungs, which felt like they were trying to draw breath after a ten mile run in dead of winter. I could still see, though, and what I saw was that the object had lit up far brighter than it had been a second ago, the room bathed in such intense azure hues that it made it look like we’d all just been dipped in paint. The geckos were hissing loudly now and there was a very different tone to the hisses, a tremble that made it sound like they were quite suddenly afraid.

Then there was another hiss, but this was no gecko. This hiss was coming from the object, a high pitched bursting sound of air releasing from having been under great pressure. Frosty mist flew from around the center of the object in a circular pattern, and I watched in numb amazement as the object’s front half rose up away from its mass like the lid of a cooking pot, only there was nothing holding up the lid! It was moving through the air on its own, up and away from the object which was now gaping open, blue light spilling from within. The lid softly floated through the air and landed lightly on the rubble next to the object.

I was starting to get feeling back into my legs and was trying to stand, Trailblaze standing beside me, staring at the now open object with her mouth gaping, my spear lying on the ground at her hooves.

From the pale blue light pouring from inside the object something rose up out of the object, casting a shadow over me as I looked at it…

…No, at her.

She was a pony, standing straight and regal, an impossibly long and shimmering mane of pure silver falling in waves around a lithe body of azure blue, her wide eyes a silver that matched her mane exactly. She was rather short though, young looking, perhaps a filly a few years younger than me. If her appearance from within the object wouldn’t alone have been enough to make me stare at her boggle minded and struck dumb, noticing the horn jutting proudly and sharply from her head would have done the trick. You must understand my village consisted only of earth ponies. Unicorns and peagasi existed only as passing myth from the time before the Great Fire. I had no way to easily categorize in my head what a strange young filly with a giant horn growing out of her head was. My brain was still back-logged with the task of accepting what was happening, let alone factor any minor details like head horn thingies.

So obviously my first words to her were quite suave and well thought out.

“Guwhahuh?”

The blue filly who I totally didn’t quite understand yet was a unicorn looked down at me and smiled in such a bright and cheerful way that it rather made me want to smile right back at her.

“Estu ren masa fes. Estu dol shae?”

Well…that made no sense at all now did it? Before I could decipher at all what the filly’s words meant, though I could hear a strikingly strong note of relief and beaming happiness coming from them, Trailblaze got her wits about her first and ducked down, snatching up my spear with her teeth and turning back to the geckos.

“Talk later! Longwalk can you stand? Those things aren’t gonna stay stunned for long now that there’s even more meat for them to gnaw on!”

I was shaking, my body still feeling weak and numb from whatever the object had done to me to open itself and let the blue filly out, but I felt strength returning to my limbs pretty quick.

“Y-yeah, I think so. Good as I’m gonna get anyway.”

The geckos had overcome their own trepidation and fear of the object opening itself and our new arrival’s appearance and were now scampering over the bridge. Me and Trailblaze both charged forward to meet them but were both suddenly halted as what felt like a faintly cold breeze surrounded our bodies, a pale blue haze filled with tiny motes of sparkling lights gripping both me and Trailblaze and lifting us into the air.

“Th-the hay!?” I think both me and Trailblaze said at basically the same time.

The blue filly, which was I was starting to gradually get information from my hard-at-work brain might be properly termed a ‘unicorn’ according to tribal legends, was striding forward under and past where me and Trailblaze were floating, our legs kicking uselessly in the air. The unicorn seemed a little shaky on her feet as well I noticed but she had her head held high and I saw an aura of light identical to the ones levitating me and Trailblaze was emanating from that large horn in her forehead.

“Mas mas, estu ren tevali! Estu ren mei survas dol kurvai ren reval.”

“…Okie dokie lokie,” I found myself saying in reply, still too shocked by present circumstances to really think of anything else to say.

“Wait!” Trailblaze shouted, apparently her brain being more pro-active than mine, “You can’t fight those things by yourself! Let us down!”

The unicorn filly just chuckled, a chiming laugh as she reached our end of the stone bridge, facing down the first of the golden geckos that had nearly made its way across. She stared right into its wide open mouth filled with deadly sharp teeth like she was looking at an adorable kitten. An adorable kitten she planned on drowning. The look that passed across that filly’s face turned so ice cold heartless in an eye blink that the only way I could think to term it was a ‘kitten drowning’ expression.

The unicorn filly’s horn flared a pale blue so intense it nearly turned white, an overlap of magical aura dancing around her horn. Then there was a flash of light and my eye caught the most peculiar image of a symbol, some kind of complex crest, appearing in the air in front of the horn. Then the cold in the room spiked and there was a burst of freezing wind and the shriek of golden geckos. A blast of icicles had burst out from the filly’s horn and engulfed the first three golden geckos that had gotten furthest across the stone bridge. Their bodies turned blue and white as frost ate up their scaled hides. They tumbled, shrieking from the bridge, one of them breaking in half at the waist, its upper half bloodily flopping into the abyss of the fissure as its lower half remained frozen ice solid where it had died.

“…Sweet spirit ancestors protect us.”

I didn’t know who said it, me or Trailblaze.

Neither of us were the praying types, but in that instant, I think we were both temporary believers.

“Ha!” I cried, finally recovering some of my senses as I think my brain was just too blown away by the display it’d just witnessed to stay locked up, “That was awesome! Do it again! Crazy ice horn filly for the win!”

“Longwalk, don’t encourage her! She might aim at us next!”

Unfortunately it was a moot point either way. After her dazzlingly display of discharging freezing death the unicorn filly swayed on her legs, her look of cold intent to harm replaced by sudden alarm as her horn fizzled and the blue aura around it faded. Me and Trailblaze fell back to the ground with an ‘oof!’ and a ‘gah!’ respectively. The filly had fallen back on her rump, her mane falling about her like a cloak and pooling about her body like a puddle as she barely kept her front half upright on her fore hooves. Whatever magic she’d unleashed had apparently drained her and by the look of shock and something akin to betrayal on her face I could guess she hadn’t been expecting her magic to run dry so fast.

And there were still ten golden geckos left, the ones behind the group that had gotten iced edging forward in a slow prowl, alert for more magic attacks but intent on claiming their kill. Trailblaze gave me a look and I nodded to her. Time for us to step in and do what we’d been planning to do anyway. We charged the bridge just as the lead gecko made a leap for the still stunned filly.

Still too distant to have a shot at intercepting the gecko before it sunk its jaws into the young unicorn Traiblaze gave a sharp and guttural growl and whipped her head, throwing my spear. She might not have been as good an aim as me when it came to spear chucking but her aim this time was true and my spear struck the springing gecko in its bulbous left eye. It howled and tripped, cart-wheeling off the bridge and into the fissure. My spear went with it.

“Doombringer! No!” I cried, still charging forward. I loved that spear. I’d had it for a whole year, longer than any other spear of mine had lasted!

“You named your spear!? Ugh, if we weren’t about to die I’d smack you!”

Oh, thank you Trailblaze, for such uplifting commentary before we enter into suicidal battle. And why shouldn’t I name my spear? That question put aside for later debate me and Trailblaze reached the bridge and planted ourselves between the geckos and the unicorn filly. I tried giving her an encouraging smile but form the look I got from the filly I wasn’t succeeding. Poor thing seemed real tore up over her magic failing her all of a sudden. I’d have felt bad if I wasn’t so damned terrified, high on adrenaline, and about to get ripped apart by golden geckos.

Trailblaze positioned herself to the left side of the bridge while I took the right. The golden geckos came scampering right up the middle, only partially slipping on the ice still covering this end of the bridge. I recalled the way the one I killed earlier had so easily used its claws to grip into tree bark and figured the same was happening here with keeping their grip on the stone even through the ice. Didn’t say much for our chances that their claws were that sharp. The first one didn’t leap but instead came slithering in low, its mouth gaping wide for Trailblaze’s legs. She reared up, expertly smashing her hooves down on the gecko’s head as it snapped its jaws on empty air. Though the golden gecko only seemed momentarily dazed by the blow rather than honestly injured it was all the opening I needed to follow up Trailblaze’s move with one of my own; a hefty back-buck that sent the gecko plummeting into the dark. I let out a whooping tribal war cry, which very quickly turned into a yelp of pain as a second gecko, faster than its companion, jumped in and racked my back right leg with its claws.

I kicked out with my left uninjured leg and caught the gecko a glancing blow on its jaw but that just seemed to make it angry, and it was quickly joined by another as now two pairs of razor tooth filled jaws were snapping for my flesh. Traiblaze was stuck also engaging another pair of geckos that were trying to get at her. Seemed like the space where the stone bridge met this half of the cave was just wide enough for me and Trailbaze to hold against four geckos, while the others writhed about in a mass on the rest of the bridge behind their fellows. If either me or her took a single step back though it’d give the geckos room to spill onto our half of the cave and surround us. Then the dinner bells would ring, lights out for us in a very unpleasant and bloody way.

So we braved the jaws, using every little hunting trick and maneuver we knew. We ducked and bucked, pivoted and reared, kicking out with vicious fore hoof jabs. In response the geckos lashed out with lacerating claws and snapped over and over again with teeth that were now running red with pony blood. Before long both me and Trailblaze were covered in even more bite and claw marks, that while none of which were immediately crippling or fatal, were sapping our strength as our blood pooled on the ground under our hooves. My mouth was dry and my body was on fire from the pain, and for our efforts we’d only managed to knock one more gecko into the fissure, leaving eight left hissing for our meat.

“Soval! Estu soval ARMs!”

Huh? I chanced a look behind me. The unicorn filly had, while me and Trailblaze fought, scampered back to her weird coffin-pod-thingie and had retrieved something from it; a tiny spherical object that she held in her mouth, apparently in lieu of levitating it. She was hopping up and down excitedly, trying to get our attention as she repeated, “Soval! Soval ARMs!”

With no further attempt at explanation she swung her head and mouth-tossed the object at us. It clattered to the ground at our feet and I barely could catch a glimpse of it before I was too busy trying to push back a pair of gecko jaws from my neck. It looked like some kind of silver orb, no bigger than your garden variety rock. What was that supposed to do to help!? I really found myself wishing this unicorn knew how to speak something other than fancy gibberish!

The gecko’s clawed feet scratched at my back legs while my front pushed back at the thing’s jaws, inches now from my vulnerable neck. Suddenly the thing’s weight lifted from me as Trailblaze took a second having body slammed her own opponent into the fissure to back-buck at the one on me. It tumbled away under her hefty blow and it freed me up just long enough to turn and grip the silver sphere in my mouth, figuring that the unicorn must have tossed it to us for one of us to take and use…somehow. The silver orb felt ice cold in my mouth and I had the weirdest sense of an invisible unnameable pressure snaking its way into my head the moment I’d touched it. I didn’t have time to ponder.

I saw the golden gecko leaping at Trailblaze’s back as if in slow motion. It was a strange, dull piece by piece movement the way I witnessed the whole jaw clamp down around the back of her neck. I mostly remember though the way her eyes were looking right at me when it happened, and the way they went from exhilarated at having saved me to wide with terror filled knowledge of what was happening.

I’ll note for the record that gecko’s don’t kill their prey quickly. They worry at it like a dog with a bone, wringing their heads from side to side savagely once they’ve got their jaws on you. Which is exactly what this golden gecko started doing to Trailblaze. She reared and shook her whole body violently, trying to dislodge the thing that was killing her, blood pouring from her neck in crimson dark rivers. I knew I was screaming her name but somehow the whole world had gone quiet to my ears, my brain in lock down and only processing snippets of information at a time. I was only vaguely aware of the other golden geckos following behind me as I chased after Trailblaze, who was running towards the back of the cave with that gecko still attached to the back of her neck. I think she was planning to try and smash it into the cave wall or something. I never found out. What happened next happened so fast that I didn’t have time to properly register any of it.

The pressure in my head intensified a thousand fold.

My body became a glacier of cold, starting with my mouth.

Words were shoved through my brainpan at the speed of thought.

ASTRAL RESONANCE LINK ESTBLisssshhh-

CONNECTION ERROR/NON-VERUNI ORGANISM DETECTED

CALIBRATE SYSTEM TO MATCH ASTRAL PATTERN

/////calibration status…13%..59%..92%, complete/////

ORGANISM RECOGNIZED/TERRA EQUIS

ASTRAL RESONANCE LINK ESTABLISHED

Gramzanber requests weapon identification protocol.

I didn’t know what any of what had just slammed through my brain meant, or what the thing in my head wanted, but in that moment all I could think about was the sight of the gecko’s jaws tearing into Trailblaze’s flesh and the soul piercing need I had to stop it. To have anything, any way, to get that gecko off of her. More than anything I wanted my spear back, so I could throw it.

Understood. Weapon identification protocol accepted, initiating ARM manifestation.

I felt the freezing cold in my body abruptly replaced with searing hot heat that rather than cause pain caused all of my senses to burst alive with vivid alertness and life like I’d just been smacked awake from a long sleep by a hoof made out of the sun. I felt the sphere in my mouth burst into a cloud of sparkling silver dust and in the next microsecond my brain could process it had become a spear. Whatever energy was in me then surged through me and I could feel it pouring into the spear. I didn’t waste a single second throwing that spear with everything I could muster.

There was a blinding streak of light, the sound of slicing meat, and the next moment I was staring at Trailblaze laying on the ground in a pool of her own blood, the severed head of the gecko still clamped onto her with its dead jaws. The rest of the gecko was flopped on the ground. Embedded in the wall above my friend was the spear I’d thrown. It was nothing like a tribal spear made of wood and flint. A spear made of pale silver with a blade large and more shaped like a serrated knife than any spearhead made by tribal hooves.

The strength I’d felt just a moment before abruptly faded and my body rapidly decided that it had had just about enough of my shenanigans. I felt myself tip over and hit the ground. I heard sounds, the geckos hissing, and a sound like howl of wind. The air had gone cold again but now I wasn’t sure if that was from outside forces or the fact that I’d lost so much blood or the fact that I was staring at the body of my best friend bleeding out before my eyes . I think I tried crawling towards Trailblaze, intent on getting the dead gecko’s jaws off of her, hoping to somehow stop the flow of her blood over her once clean coat, to somehow save her, because it was my fault she’d been here in the first place.

I don’t think I made it to her before I passed out.

----------

I awoke to singing. A soft humming melody without words but carried a powerful note of calm and peace. I lay in darkness and for a minute just let that song wash over me. It almost coaxed me back to sleep before my exhaustion chocked brain recalled the events of the previous however-long-ago it was. The second I remembered what I’d last seen I shot to my feet.

“Trailblaze!”

I looked around, feeling dizzy, disoriented, and frightened to my core. Last I’d seen of my closest friend in life she’d been laying in a widening pool of her own blood.

It didn’t take me long to realize we were still in the cave me and Trailblaze had found the strange blue unicorn filly. The filly in question was sitting by what I’d come to start thinking of as her ‘pod’, curled up on her belly with her legs folded under her as she cheerfully hummed her calming song. Next to her lay Trailblaze, her body covered in a faint luminescent aura of icy blue that matched the glow on the unicorn’s horn. She was so still that for a moment I felt the world drop out from under me with the certainty that she was dead, then I saw her flank slowly rise and fall with a small breath and I felt the world return. She was alive. Trailblaze was alive and I wanted to go crush her with the biggest hug I could muster. But instead I looked to see what had happened to the golden geckos.

The ones that had remained had gotten over the bridge…but apparently not much further than that. The cave was littered with frozen gecko statues, and shattered iced gecko parts. The only unfrozen gecko body was the one I’d killed, its severed head and headless body lying next to each other by the wall…the wall where the silver spear still stood planted a foot deep in stone.

I gulped, barely recalling throwing it, barely remembering the strange alien thoughts that had seemingly been forced through my brain before the weapon had formed. I turned my attention back to the unicorn, who had stopped singing as she noticed me standing and was giving me a happy look, her smile bright.

“Tu vira, ren solva!”

“Um…good morning to you too?” I said cautiously. I wasn’t really afraid of the filly per se; after all she’d clearly saved both me and Trailblaze’s lives. But I really didn’t know how to act around her. She was a complete unknown. She shot ice from her forehead and moved stuff around with glowy sparkly horn aura. She could go from bright smiles to cold death ‘kitten drowning’ stares in an eye blink. And she’d crawled out of a giant metal pod thing that, near as I could tell had fallen from the sky and punched its way through dozens of meters of solid rock to rest here in this cavern for…who knew how long?

I approached slowly, looking down at Trailblaze’s still sleeping form and saw the scars. Not wounds, scars, nearly healed, as if she’d been recovering for months. Even the massive deep furrowed scars on the back of her neck, while severe looking, had already re-grown some of her light brown coat over them. Seeing those wounds healed melted away whatever doubts I was feeling about our new companion and I sat down next to Trailblaze opposite the unicorn and gave the filly a wide grin of my own.

“Thank you. A thousand times thank you.”

Whatever language she spoke the tone of my voice and my expression must have gotten the meaning across because she giggled, smiling brightly.

“Danku.”

She then looked over at the cave wall where the spear rested, lifting her chin, “Estu dol ARM ren solva, nes?”

My face scrunched up in a frown as I really began to wish I could grasp even a small part of what this unicorn was saying. I would’ve settled just for having a name to attach to her. None of the nicknames that floated through my mind worked for me; Ice, Frosty, Littleblue, Scary Death Unicorn. In any case she seemed perturbed by my inability to comprehend what she said to me and with a lady-like sigh she lifted her chin again towards the spear.

“What? You want me to fetch it?” I asked, not expecting an answer but heading slowly over to where the spear was anyway. I looked back at her and pointed my hoof towards the spear. She nodded enthusiastically and rewarded me with one of those cheery smiles of hers.

I shrugged and gingerly gripped the spear in my mouth, surprised for a moment by the cool touch of its surface. It slid out of the stone with shocking ease and I was left wondering at how light it felt, and the strange way it felt so…right, to hold it. Like being in contact with the spear was filling in a part of me I hadn’t known was missing to begin with. I shook off the odd feeling and gave the spear a closer examination as I trotted back over to the unicorn and Trailblaze.

The haft of the spear was a little shorter than the ones used by the tribe, but also somewhat thicker, and the butt end was capped by a sharp point as well, which I imagined for a second you could use to give a nasty stab to anypony trying to come up behind you in a fight. The spear head itself was easily four times larger than any spear head I’d seen and was shaped with an obvious slicing edge, more like an over sized knife blade than a spear, with the edge itself serrated. Tilting the spear this way and that in the soft blue light I noticed letters marching across the center of the blade, a sheen of silver just a tad lighter than the rest of the metal and hence only visible in the right angle of light.

Gramzanber.

The word meant nothing to me, but I was surprised I even recognized the letters at all. The spear was a complete mystery, just like the unicorn filly who bestowed it on me. My brain wanted to try to piece this all together but getting a puzzle together generally required more than just having one or two pieces and unfortunately the only pony I could ask questions to try and get more pieces didn’t speak the same lingo as me. At this point I wasn’t even sure what the puzzle was let alone how to put it all together. So instead of making my very tired brain do any more work I settled for shutting out the questioning little pony in my mind and contented myself to sit back down next to Trailblaze as the unicorn filly did her magic healing thing…which almost immediately led me to a new line of questioning that this time the little pony in my head managed to clamber enough to get me to ask.

“How’d you get your magic back?” I asked after setting down the spear, Gramzanber apparently, in front of me and looked over at the unicorn, “I mean last I saw you’d run yourself dry with that icicle number.”

The unicorn filly cocked her head at me, perfectly round silver eyes blinking. Of course she had no idea what I was asking. I took a second to dream up a proper pantomime. I got up and pointed to my forehead where a horn would be if I were a unicorn. I then made a ‘whoosh-frzzzz’ sound I hoped sounded something like the burst of icy wind did when she’d cast that magic, and then I wobbled on my feet pretending to be tired and fell on my rump just like she had. I then pointed at the glowing aura of magic around the sleeping Trailblaze and then at all the frozen golden geckos, then finally shrugged my shoulders in what I hoped looked like a questioning manner.

That seemed to do the trick as the unicorn filly’s eyes widened a bit and her face flushed red. She looked away from me a moment to float up something that had been behind her, a small blue glass flask filled with what appeared to be a glowing blue liquid. I was starting to sense a color theme with this unicorn.

“Estu dol mana res zerplas,” she said as she uncorked the flask and took a long sip of the liquid. As she did so the magic aura around her horn, the flask, and even Trailblaze suddenly got more intense and bright, though it faded again a second later. She set the flask back down and let out a refreshing ‘Ah’ sound and looked at me expectantly.

“Ah, so to replace your juice you drink…more juice. Makes sense. I think. Never figured it’d be healthy to drink something that glows, but then I’m not a magic horn pony, so I guess you know more than me on the subject.”

She nodded as if she understood what I said though I was sure that wasn’t the case. A minute or so passed in silence between us. I started to think about how I was going to explain all this to the Chieftain when we got back to the village. With a small groan I realized that I had no idea how long me and Trailblaze had been here. It was probably already nightfall, if not getting close to next morning. Way past any reasonable time for me and Trailblaze to be out hunting. The village had to have been in an uproar. I was just the son of a hunter, but Trailblaze was the Chieftain’s daughter! And I’d drug her off into a forbidden territory, nearly gotten her killed, and now had a complete stranger in tow to bring back to the village; which I should add right now had very strict laws about bringing in outsiders.

“Longwalk?”

I nearly jumped to my feat, hearing Trailblaze’s voice. As it was I was still pretty tired and wounded from our encounter with the geckos and so my jump was more like a hobbled stumble. Trailblaze had opened her eyes but hadn’t quite gotten to raising her head or even really moving. Instead she was blinking as if trying to recall where she was.

“I’m right here Trail,” I said as I brought my head right up to her so she could see me clearly, “You’re alright.”

“I’m alright…?” she repeated slowly and her confusion was plain as her muzzle drew up in a concentrated grimace of memory, “I shouldn’t be. How am I not dead?”

“Our resident magical mare apparently has healing in her bag of tricks,” I said, nodding my head towards the unicorn who was watching me and Trailblaze with a warm expression, apparently quite pleased to see her patient awake. I shared the sentiments. I was also concerned, wondering just how much the magic was actually doing. All I had to go on were less than fully detailed tribal legends concerning unicorn magic, and even diluted by centuries of telling the stories still basically got across the point that the powers unicorns wielded were far from all powerful. The surface wounds looked closed up, but Trailblaze had lost an awful lot of blood, and now that I was looking close enough I could tell she was pretty pale underneath her brown coat.

“I can see that,” Trailblaze said as she looked about nervously at the magical aura surrounding her, then to the unicorn herself, “Thank you.”

“Danku.”

I chuckled, “I think that means ‘you’re welcome’ but I’m just guessing. Never heard a language like hers.”

“You’ve never heard any other language, period,” Trailblaze commented, stretching her legs experimentally and slowly trying to stand. That experiment ended up with her swaying and almost falling over if I hadn’t gotten up quick enough to brace her, letting her lean on me. The unicorn got up as well, looking at Trailblaze with a stern look as the magical aura around her horn fluctuated and the smoky blue light around Trailblaze seemed to condense. My friend lifted off the ground and she gasped, more in surprise than pain, and gave the unicorn a glare.

“I can walk on my own!”

“Mas!” the unicorn filly said, stomping a hoof.

“Think that one means ‘no’,” I commented.

“I figured that. Hey, maybe you can convince her to put me down and let me do this with my own four legs, since you seem to be the self-appointed linguist of the group.”

I shook my head, “No way. I’m on Littleblue’s side on this one. We don’t know how badly you’re still hurt, and if the lady who did the healing number on you is saying you don’t walk; you don’t walk.”

Trailblaze’s eyebrow shot up at me, “Littleblue?”

I shrugged, wincing at the motion. My own wounds hadn’t gone anywhere, though none of them seemed that bad the overall affect of dozens of bite marks and claw lacerations over my hide was not at all pleasant. I’d need a few days of the tribe healer’s attention by the end of the day, assuming Trailblaze’s mother, or my own, didn’t kill me first over this mess.

“Out of my short list of bad nicknames for her that’s the one that rolls off the tongue the best. Got any better ideas?”

“You could try, I don’t know, asking her name.”

My turn to do the eyebrow raise, “How? No speak-y same language, remember?”

Our benefactor was being quite patient with me and Trialblaze’s discourse, watching us banter while still keeping Trailblaze firmly floating in mid-air with her blue glowing horn. She seemed perplexed by us, her silver eyes studying both me and Trailblaze with wide curiosity and intensity. Maybe she was as confused by us as we were by her. I couldn’t imagine where she came from or how she got here, but she had to have about as many questions concerning us as we did about her. Trailblaze had rolled her eyes at me and then waved a hoof at the unicorn to get her attention. She got it.

“Okay, let’s try this,” Trailblaze pointed a hoof at herself, “Trailblaze…Trailblaze.”

She then stuck a hoof at me, “Longwalk.”

Back to her, “Trailblaze.”

Back to me, “Longwalk.”

Finally a hoof at the unicorn herself, and Trailblaze waited quietly to see if Littleblue would get it.

Littleblue’s head canted to the left slightly, and then a smile of understanding played across her face. She stood up straighter, drawing herself up to her full proud height of up to my shoulders, thumping a hoof to her chest.

“Arcaidia Del Chevail Del Luminariaso Dol Graza Venti Veruni Halastra Mi Surta.”

Me and Trailblaze exchanged looks. I spoke first.

“So, uh, that um…all of that’s your name then?”

Littleblue nodded happily.

“Can we just call you Arc?”

“...?”

“Arc?”

Oh, that frown was not a good expression. It wasn’t quite on par with her ‘kitten drowning’ look but I got the impression she was seriously considering something involving me and an icicle that I would not enjoy at all. My hair was standing on end for several long seconds as she bore into me with that look before she finally sighed and said, “Arcaidia.”

“Fair enough,” I replied and stuck out my hoof towards her, giving her my best ‘pleased to metcha’ grin, “Arcaidia.”

She looked at my hoof curiously for a moment before sticking out her own. I wrapped mine around hers and shook it, which seemed to surprise her but she went along with the gesture.

“Well, now that we’re all properly introduced, shouldn’t we be getting out of here?” asked Trailblaze, still suspended in the air, “I really don’t want to spend any more time in this cave and the sooner we get back to the village the better.”

I gulped, “The Chieftain is not going to like any of this.”

“No, no she’s not, but I’ve got your back on this Long,” Trailblaze assured me, “Yeah it was dumb of you to come out here, yeah we’ve broken tribal law, yeah we’re going to be punished for it…and I don’t know what the tribe will want to do with Arcaidia here. But she saved our lives, that’ll have to count for something. And the responsibility for this falls with me anyway, as I really should have stopped you when I had the chance. I’ll try to keep most of mom’s anger focused on me.”

“The hay you will,” I stated firmly, “This was my idea, hence my fault.”

“Fine, we’ll figure it out when we get there, let’s just go.”

I could hear the strain in Trailblaze’s voice and realized she was actually still more than a little spooked by her near brush with death. I couldn’t blame her. We’d been through plenty together growing up, gotten into all manner of trouble, but nothing had come even close to what had happened today. Both of us had nearly kissed Death on the cheek and combine that with the pure strangeness of discovering Arcaidia and it was understandable that our nerves were more than a tad frayed. I looked down at the spear that still lay at my feet. Such a bizarre looking weapon, utterly unbalanced in its over sized blade and undersized haft, not the mention that it had seemed to spring from the tiny metal sphere Arcaida had tossed me.

I hesitated only a moment before picking up the spear with my teeth. Not really having a good harness to stow it I just kept it clutched there. Trailblaze eyed the weapon. I think she’d seen it out of the corner of her eye while we’d been talking but hadn’t really gotten a good look at it until now. Whatever she was thinking her eagerness to depart kept her from making any comment, which was just as well because I certainly couldn’t have answered any questions concerning the spear. Any knowledge about it was firmly planted in the inscrutable mind of Arcadia.

Taking my grabbing of the spear as the sign it was time to go Arcadia made a quick ‘hold a moment’ gesture with her hoof and cantered over to the object she’d been inside. Hopping up with a graceful movement that sent her hair wafting about her like smoke in the wind she leaned forward and began rummaging inside the pod. Inside of a minute she clambered back out, floating around her a myriad of objects.

One was a set of clothing, a dark blue dress that fitted snugly over her back and hindquarters, the edges lined in silver. In the right light I could see strange hexagonal patterns running the length of the dress, like it was made out of segments. And seriously? More blue and silver? Did this unicorn understand there were other colors in the world?

Apparently not as one of the other objects was an odd bulky silver bracelet she floated over and attached to her left foreleg. I walked up to her side and peered at the object, as it had some strange boxy protrusion on it with a number of smaller round things. The box had what appeared to be some kind of clean, clear glass on it, which would have seemed weird enough but what made me jump was when she raised her other hoof and hit one of the small round protrusions. The bracelet made a clicking sound and the clear glass box suddenly lit up and showed a display of bright blue patterns…letters, I realized!

Letters I could read!

This led me to notice that the bracelet itself also had letters on it, and as I read them my confusion over Arcadia only tripled.

Status…Inventory…Data…what is all this…?

Then I saw the words on the left side of the bracelet; Pip-Buck 3000.

Something in my memory sparked, banging on the back door of my brain, trying to get out. I knew I’d heard that term used before. I was certain of it. I just couldn’t dredge up from the depths of my admittedly less than stellar memory where I’d heard it or who had mentioned it. I resolved to ask around the village once things with the Chieftain were settled. After all Shady Stream only had about a hundred resident tribals. Shouldn’t take me more than an afternoon to find out who had mentioned the term ‘Pip-Buck’.

Arcaidia, noticing me scrutinizing her newest accessory, coughed politely and stepped away, floating the other objects she’d retrieved from her pod to her. One was a large silver (surprise surprise) set of saddlebags that she strapped to herself. The rest of the objects floated into those saddlebags in orderly fashion; a half dozen more bottles containing that blue magic-restoring juice, about ten smaller but similar vials that were too opaque to tell what was in them, a thin rectangular device no bigger than my hoof, a number of silver wrapped packets of some circular objects, a metal canteen, and finally a strange bright silver object with a long pointy bit connected to a slightly bulkier tube-like portion that was in turn connected to a grip that looked like it was meant to be held in a pony’s mouth. That final object didn’t go the saddlebags but instead fitted into a small blue holster that Arcadia strapped to her right foreleg.

Apparently done equipping herself for travel our unicorn companion smiled at herself in a satisfied manner and began heading out of the cave at a brisk trot, Trailblaze floating behind her. My friend managed to look both relieved and indignant at the same time.

Outside the cave the air was cold and biting, the cloud covered sky dark with only the barest amount of light turning the horizon a softer gray than the charcoal cloud cover above us. I realized the light on the horizon meant it was the next morning. Which meant the entire village had to have been well aware of the fact that me and Trailblaze were missing. I wouldn’t have been surprised if groups of hunters were already out searching for us. Despite my earlier assurance to Trailblaze that I fully understood this whole mess was my fault and I was willing to accept responsibility for it…well, let’s just say I was hoping I’d catch the Chieftain in one of her rare good moods.

---------

Footnote:
Level Up!

Perk Added - Hunter: In combat, you do 75% more critical damage against animals and mutated animals.

Quest Perk Added – ARM Bound Stage 1: You’ve begun the bonding process to an ARM. At this stage the connection is weak, allowing familiar use with the weapon equivalent to a +5 to the relevant weapon skill while using the ARM.

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