• 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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Chapter 11: Only You Can Cross Your Own Barriers

With the poorly lit terminal station’s shadowy expanse quickly filling with the skittering forms of spider ponies, their clicking legs and throaty hisses filling the air with a spine tingling wave of noise I did not take long to conclude that we were in a less than desirable position.

“Back in the elevators,” I said, “now!”

I had no shame at the idea of running away. We’d met up with LIL-E, Iron Wrought, and Fine Eye’s family, so we had zero reason to stick around this death trap.

“We have a problem,” said Sweet Pear as she’d already backed up to the elevator, pushing her two foals behind her as she rapidly punched the button to open the elevator door, “the doors aren’t opening!”

I took a quick glance to confirm this, feeling my face flush with fresh fear. Why weren’t the elevators working!? We’d just come out of them! I heard a raucous coughing hiss that loudly reverberated off the walls of the huge terminal station and looked up to see the massive brown spider pony was slowly lowering itself towards the ground on a tree trunk thick strand of webbing as it…laughed. Was it responsible for the elevators suddenly not working? I abruptly recalled LIL-E mentioning someone or something controlling parts of the Stable, closing doors on us, or activating the energy barrier that split us up from Binge and B.B. I wondered at how this monstrously sized spider pony could do that, but it wasn’t as if I was in a position to ask.

“A new plan would be fantastic right now,” muttered Iron Wrought, then he drew his pistol while giving me a meaningful look. Was he expecting me to come up with something? Did he forget how well me and plans got along? As in; not at all?

However nopony else was taking charge, or making any move other than to tense up and raise weapons to try and fend off the enclosing horde chitin and fangs. LIL-E was oddly silent as she extended her weapons and trained her turret, and even Arcaidia seemed grimly subdued by the situation, her eyes fixed with a cold determination as hard and uncompromising as the icicle shards she began to form in a floating cluster around her. Seemed my companions were setting themselves up for a last stand, and the very notion ignited an angry spark of fire in me. I felt weak in the legs from the after affects of poison still coursing through me, but the warm core of anger was pushing that back. I would not let another death like Shale’s happen!

“LIL-E,” I said, knowing time was short, “where’s that armory you said was down here.”

“Straight across, to the left of that control room,” was the mechanical reply.

“There’d be some pretty powerful weapons in there, right? And it’d be a decently defensible position?”

“Can’t guarantee there’ll be any weapons actually in there, but the room itself has only the one entrance so it’d be easy to defend.”

“Did you find anything in the medical lab that was labeled Buck, or Med-X?”

The floating metal orb was silent for a second, which was a second longer than we had so I ended up shouting, my tone harsher than I intended, “LIL-E!”

“Yes,” was the terse reply.

“I’ll take it.”

“Take what?”

“Both. Everything. Anything you found that’ll give me a boost.”

“Longwalk, you don’t want to do that,” LIL-E started, but I cut her off.

“There’s no time! Our only shot is to smash through these things and get to the armory! Tell me you’ve got a way to open it!”

“I do. I downloaded the passcode from the Director’s terminal, but-“

“Then give over the drugs. Quick!”

By now the spider ponies had coalesced from the deeper gloom of the terminal station into a small horde of many legged monstrosities that we could only barely see. They clambered over stacked metal crates, and filled in gaps between machinery that dotted the room. All avenues by this point were covered by the creatures, and we only had a dozen meters of space between us and the advancing mass. Fine Eye and his wife both had their weapons at the ready, even their two little colts aiming their small pistols with fearful looks. Arcaidia’s wavy mane was bristling now and she was leaned down, ready to spring into action, her face etched with her kitten-drowning expression that brokered no notion of mercy or fear. Again I wondered at her. So inquisitive and friendly under normal circumstances, but in a fight, so brutally ready to unleash death. Would I ever become the same? Did I want to be the same?

Iron Wrought was giving me an odd look as LIL-E floated up to me, a side compartment opening on her that revealed a stash of various chems. I didn’t recognize most of them, but the tablets of Buck and the Med-X syringes were familiar enough from my last encounter with them. I hastily set down Gramzanber so I could snatch up the tablets with my mouth, downing one of them in one gulp as I stuffed the others into my saddlebag. The hissing of the spider ponies was getting louder and their sizable leader had reached the ground, a towering shape over the skittering masses. I ripped out a syringe of Med-X even as I felt the burn of the Buck coursing into my weakened limbs and fumbled around jabbing the needle into my leg, wincing at doing so but shoving aside my fear of needles.

A cool wash of relief hit me, mixing oddly with the heat in my muscles from the Buck. I felt my heart doing acrobatics in my chest but felt oddly disconnected from the sensation as I grabbed Gramzanber back in my teeth and took a few steps forward toward the waiting army of spider ponies.

“I’ll go first; cut us a path through them. Everypony follow close behind me. No stopping. Watch out for the webs. Don’t. Stop.”

“So the idea is to charge blindly ahead, hope we make it to the armory without getting swarmed?” asked Iron Wrought.

“Basically.”

“And this is sane, how?”

“We don’t have time to be sane,” I replied simply, “Give me a better option and we’ll go with that.”

At Iron Wrought’s silence following that I took a single, heavy breath, and readied myself.

Thinking straight was hard now with the drugs coursing through my system, but I didn’t really need to. I knew where my destination was, and how I was going to get there. Even the shuddering doubt that skipped across my mind about whether or not I was going to end up killing any of these creatures in a few moments was somehow quieted; which I probably should have taken as a serious warning sign. A warning sign I ignored as I let the boiling fire of the Buck burning in me rise up in my throat in a wordless warcry as I reared up on my hind legs briefly, forelegs kicking, before barreling forward at a full gallop into the dark. I only had a vague direction to go, but that was all I needed.

The echoing cracks of gunfire, from the rough explosive sound of LIL-E’s incendiary rifle to the tiny pops of Fresh Pear and Crumb Trail’s little 9mm pistols, filled the air as I charged forward. Orange tracers lanced into the waiting spider ponies, igniting them in bright flame. Cold caused my coat to bristle as shards of ice flew by my head in a well aimed spread that smashed into the lead spider ponies before I even reached them and I could already hear the humming energy of Arcaidia channeling another spell before the last shard hit its mark.

The roaring thud of my heart hammering in my ears almost drowned out the gunfire and hissing as I crashed into the line of spider ponies, head bowed low like a battering ram. Despite the spider pony’s numbers, their bodies were light weight, and the first one I hit was bowled over and sent flying. The one behind it was more prepared than its kin and nimbly skittered aside my charging path and reached out with hooked legs to try and trip me up. I whipped my head, weaving Gramzanber in a silver arc that sent the spider pony’s outstretched limbs spinning into the gloom without me even breaking stride.

Hypocrite.

The thought was a stray, tattered thing in the back of my skull as I dove headlong through another pair of spider ponies, ducking a flying strand of web to smash one of the creatures in the face with the flat of my spear, hearing chitin crack and feeling green blood splatter across my face. Without thinking I planted my front hooves and spun on them, slashing out with my hind legs in a hefty buck at the other spider pony’s mid-section as it reared up to try and engulf me with all eight legs. Instead it felt my buck smash through chitin and come back coated with green blood and chunks of internal organ.

You don’t want to kill? But maiming is fine? Crippling is okay? Leaving them to a slower, more painful death of their wounds? Is that how your tribe taught its hunters to act? Wasn’t one of the first lessons learned as a hunter to make your kills quick and clean, so the prey doesn’t suffer?

My teeth were grinding so hard around Gramzanber’s handle that I could feel my gums starting to bleed. This wasn’t a hunt! This was a fight. These creature’s weren’t animals or monsters. I’d clear my friends a path, I had to, but if I could do it without killing then what was wrong with that!? It was like my mind itself was turning against me though, forcing me to think about it when thinking was the last thing I wanted to do.

We were charging through a dense section of piled crates and barrels, stacked along one side of the terminal station. It limited the route I could take, but it was also granting us a little cover against what was an increasingly dense blanket of webbing the spider ponies in the rear of the horde were sending our way. One quick glance behind me showed me how well my companions were doing.

Arcaidia was furthest behind, not because she was slow, but because she was deliberately brining up the rear and using fast, accurate sprays of frost to freeze the strands of web in mid-air before they could strike any of the others. Her horn was like a strobe light, flashing with crest after crest of magic as she kept up a constant stream of spells, faster than anything I’d seen her attempt before. She had one of those vials of blue liquid floating right in front of her as she run, practically chugging the thing as she went.

In the middle was Fine Eye and his family, and I could only admire the way the salvager family handled themselves, showing me that they hadn’t taken on their profession idly. Fine Eye used his double barreled shotgun with slow, practiced ease, using its powerful blasts to keep many of the spider ponies charging in from the sides at bay. His two sons, despite being small colts, fired their pistols with aimed, practiced shots, each colt supporting the other and firing on the same target so their relatively weak weapons could combine their firepower. Sweet Pear, despite her kind sounding name, was now a mare with a fire in her eyes. With just a lead pipe in her mouth the earth pony mare covered her husband and foals, smashing the skull in of a spider pony that got past the gunfire and tried leaping at one of the colts. I saw no remorse or hesitation on her face.

Iron Wrought and LIL-E were flanking either side of me, just a few paces behind. They kept up a steady barrage of fire pouring towards the encircling spider ponies, LIL-E’s incendiary rifle mount lighting up the dark room with flashes of fire and her turret spinning around and blasting relentlessly while Iron Wrought kept his own shots slow and deliberately aimed to take out any spider pony that he could see trying to spit webbing at us.

Not one of my companions was wasting effort on avoiding killing blows. It didn’t make me pause or slow down, but as if my brain was now acting entirely separate from my drug soaked body thoughts kept stabbing through my mind even as fought.

Fine, don’t listen to me then. I’m only your brain, something you’re clearly not planning on making use of anytime soon. But the longer you avoid taking the lives of your enemies, the harder it’s going to be to protect the lives of your friends. What’ll be your excuse when one of them dies? Oh, wait, scratch that, one of them already did; Shale.

I wanted to start shouting at myself, to tell my little brain pony to shut its condescending mouth and leave me alone. As it happens I didn’t start full on yelling at my own brain out loud, but I did start muttering under my breath, “Shut up, shut up, shut up.” Over and over again like a mantra those words poured out of me as I desperately tried to slice and batter a path for my friends through the clustering mass of spider ponies.

On and on they came at me, piling in my way like living barriers of fangs and slashing hooks. While I was disassociating one spider pony’s body form its legs with an overhead chop of Gramzanber another jumped onto my back. I felt its hooked legs rip into the flesh of my back, and I bucked wildly. It hissed in my ear, a shrieking sound that rung my eardrums, as it tried to work its fangs past the dented metal and shredded leather of my barding. I threw myself back first into one of the larger metal crates and heard a gut wrenching squishing sound and the high pitched whine from the unfortunate spider pony who was no longer on my back but was instead decorating the crate’s surface with a unpleasantly colorful splatter of bits. Only the fact that it was hissing pitifully in pain indicated to me that it was alive at all as I scrambled forward once more.

We’d broken through the area filed with the piled crates and barrels, reaching a fairly open portion of the terminal station. To my left I saw a pair of yellow and black stripped pillars set in the wall that led up to the ceiling, a empty square space in the ground between them. It reminded me of the big elevator lift I’d seen in the Ruin that had carried the Golem to the surface. Dead ahead was the raised control room and metal walkways that led up to it. On the ground floor, just to the left of the control room, was a small closed door, presumably the armory as LIL-E had said. We were almost there!

A shadow passed over me, and I felt the distinct feeling of dread even past the hefty affects of the drugs in my system, as the massive spider pony with the white mane and brown bristling carapace landed in front of me. It turned towards me with its huge legs pounding the metal floor like pistons and as its red eyes bore down on me I could see its all too pony-like face was wearing a faintly amused grin. At this distance I could make out details about this giant among spider ponies that I hadn’t seen when it’d been up on the ceiling. Parts of its face were covered in pieces of metal that seemed to grow from its chitin, metal spars rising up from the back of its mane like spines. Its legs contained metallic plates that were almost like armor, and its foremost legs ended in huge scythe like blades that were clearly shining with a sheen of metal rather than that of chitin.

A scratchy, buzzing feminine voice filled the air, which I realized with shock was coming from the giant spider pony even though its, her, mouth wasn’t moving.

“Ah, ah, ah, my little ponies; that’s far enough. No more running for you, now. My children are hungry and you’re just tiring yourselves o- Hey, listen to me when I’m talking to you!”

I’m not sure why this monolithic spider pony thought I was about to stop to have a chat with her, especially because her first sentence had the word ‘hungry’ in it. Instead I used the brilliant and carefully well thought out maneuver of ‘jump at the house-sized spider pony’s face while shouting a undulating warcry that sounded like somepony was stomping on a sick cat’. The drugs might’ve had something to do with my tactical mindset.

I had been planning on trying to blind this huge spider pony with a well aimed slash across the eyes, but this concept was somewhat spoiled by the fact that it battered me out of the air with one leg much like somepony might smack a ping-pong ball.

I bounced along the floor not unlike a ball in the above analogy, and I was thankful for the Med-X dulling the impact. Wonder why B.B warned me about this stuff anyway? So far I wasn’t seeing the downside of these drugs, as I clambered back to my hooves. I’d been knocked a fair distance to the side, near a dip in the floor that contained rails that, for what little I could tell, seemed to be what that train thing was designed to move along.

I didn’t have time to see more than that as I heard Arcaidia’s voice ring out, “Longwalk, tu aruvai!”

Wasn’t sure what that meant, but given the giant spider pony was stomping its ways towards me at frightening speed it was probably a warning. I could see my companions slow as the huge spider pony came at me and I shouted at them, my throat going hoarse, “Keep going!”

Then I didn’t even have time to glance their way as two massive blade tipped legs slashed down at me, the air whistling as they tore through it. I stumbled in backing up, barely ducking one slice that took of parts of my blue mane. I couldn’t dodge the second, just managing to get Gramzanber’s blade in the way of the slicing leg before it would’ve sliced me open from flank to neck. The strength in just that one thick leg was enough to almost cause me to bowl over, only a combination of the Buck and my own skill in keeping myself on my hooves keeping me up. Even so, I was forced back a few meters by the blow and my teeth were rattled something fierce.

The over sized spider pony’s face was glaring down at me, her hinged mouth opening to reveal fangs as long as one of my legs, coated in a thick viscous purple goo I could only imagine was less than safe for my health by the way drips of it caused the metal floor to hiss and steam. Again the scratchy mare’s voice seemed to speak from nowhere at first, though at this distance I noticed it might’ve been coming from some metallic node near the base of the spider pony’s neck.

“You’re not with the pegasi, despite this weapon of yours,” she said as she casually pressed her one bladed leg heavier on Gramzanber, forcing me down to one knee under the strain, “Too dirty for their taste. Not too dirty for my children’s tastes, given how starving we are, but before I turn you into food I’m curious to know…where did you get this weapon from? Surely not our own excavation site?”

I could see the other blade arm twitching in anticipation to strike. She was trying to distract me with these questions. I decided to play along, tensing myself to move even as I kept pushing back against her massive strength with my own drug boosted muscles.

“Why do you want to know? Who are you? What are you?” I figured answering a question with a question was a good way to avoid giving any information out while simultaneously irritating my foe. One of the few lessons I remembered from what my mother’s friend Hawker taught me about fighting, if you can make your opponent mad, they’ll also get stupid.

“You don’t need to know any of that, little morsel,” said the big spider pony with a haughty, confident tone, “But I’ll do the polite thing and introduce myself; Director Midnight Twinkle, Ministry of Arcane Science. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

My eyes widened slightly as the implications of that hit me. Director Twinkle? As in the same one mentioned in those messages I’d read? As in the ‘Overmare’ in charge of the Stable!? If that was the case then how did she end up as this gigantic monstrous fusion of spider and pony? Did that mean all of the spider ponies here were former Stable residents?

Director Twinkle didn’t even fully finish her introduction before stabbing in at my gut with her other bladed leg, but I’d been keeping one eye on it, ready for the move. I pulled back sharply with Gramzanber, ducking my whole body down to let the blade arm I’d been holding back pass over me while I thrust forward with the spear, intercepting the other blade. I couldn’t possibly stop its momentum, but I tried to redirect it so it’d stab pass me instead of straight into me. It…sort of worked. I wasn’t skewered by the large curved metal blade but it still sliced along my side. Whatever kind of metal it was it cut through my barding almost like it wasn’t there and even through the dulling Med-X I felt a painful line of sharp pain as my hide was sliced.

I didn’t stay still, knowing I needed to get around Twinkle and get to my friends. I couldn’t see what was happening with them past Twinkles massive bulk, but I could still hear their gunfire so at least I knew they were still fighting. I galloped to the left, rushing along the edge of the divot in the floor that held the train tracks. I wasn’t able to get far, as the sharp hiss of cutting air behind me was my only warning of another attack Director Twinkle was making with her bladed legs. I spun on my hind legs, Gramzanber clashing again with the flashing strikes of Twinkle’s foreleg blades. She was remarkably fast for her size, and I had difficulty just keeping the curved razor edged blades from splitting me in half, let alone finding any opening to counter attack.

I felt the familiar and comforting pressure from Gramzanber and knew if I needed to, I could make use of Accelerator. I was hesitant though. My heart was still pounding rapidly in my chest from the dose of Buck and my body still felt numb from the Med-X. What affect would using Accelerator have on me, if I used it while these drugs were in my system?

Gotta get away, lead her further from my friends.

I couldn’t afford to look away from Director Twinkle and her death dealing bladed legs, but I could catch a brief glimpse from the corner of my eye the muzzle flashes of my companion’s gunfire and the tell-tale frost blue glow of Arcaidia’s magic in the darkness of the terminal station. They were near the wall; hopefully LIL-E was getting the armory door open. Just another minute or two and they’d be safe. Just had to stay alive until then and find a way over to them while keeping Director Twinkle distracted.

“You’re being quite the rude little pony, not answering my questions,” commented Director Twinkle without breaking pace with her quick and halting strikes, smashing her blade legs at me with almost casual ferocity, forcing me further and further back from where my friends were, “But that’s alright, I can theorize given what I’ve seen thus far. You’re no Odessa agent. They just wouldn’t associate with a haphazard, dirty earth pony, nor with the kind of ratty group you’re with. So, more likely you’re salvagers. You having that ARM must be coincidence. Or, rather, I would say it is, if not for the presence of a unicorn amongst your number who is using Crest Sorcery.”

Despite Twinkle’s completely relaxed manner of talking the huge blades hadn’t stopped their stormy flurry of blows at me, leaving me with no choice but to duck, roll, dive, and parry without a split second of breathing space. I’d been forced to back up until the train was just a little ways behind me, and I was even further away from where my companions were. I could hear a distant shout, one of both alarm and pain, which sounded like Fine Eye’s voice.

“Crest Sorcery?” I asked, casting a worried look towards where I’d heard that shout of pain from, “She’s a unicorn, so she uses magic, like any other one, right?”

It was weird seeing a twenty foot tall partially mechanical spider pony roll her eyes, and Twinkle’s voice took on a chiding lilt to it, “Not the most perceptive type are we? Have you seen any other unicorn form symbols around their horn when they use magic? I’m willing to bet not. No, that is Crest Sorcery, a technique of magic not native to Equestria. My department took many years discovering its secrets from the relics and fragments taken from our excavations, among other things.”

She raised one leg and slammed it down towards me as she talked, and I threw myself to the side, the scythe shaped blade cutting a sparking furrow in the floor as I rolled to my hooves. I looked towards the far wall where my friends were but I couldn’t get a clear look though, the darkness and far too many darting shadowy forms of spider ponies obscuring my view. But I heard another cry of pain and it incensed me, shoving aside my hesitance. I’d need to use it to get past Director Twinkle! While I was deathly curious about what she was saying, I just didn’t have time to talk. I needed to find a way to disable her, or at the very least get past her. With her ridiculous speed for her size I had only one option available to me.

Accelerator

I felt the pulse of energy from Gramzanber, the spear blade flaring with its blue ghostly fire as the world tinted cerulean. My plan was to try rushing Twinkle with my increased speed and try to blind her again, but the moment my body entered that state I felt a wrenching pain in my chest and a twisting sickness flow through my limbs. I felt as if a hole was being bored into my chest from the inside out while my limbs simply drained of energy. I quickly ended the Accelerator state, before my heart literally ripped itself free from my rib cage. Even as the blue glow faded the pain redoubled, and a blast of blood, bile, and foam burst from my mouth as I went into convulsions, dropping to the ground.

Above me Director Twinkle loomed with her massive bulbous body, lowering her face towards me with curiosity on her arachnid features.

“Oh my, what is this all about? Don’t tell me you tried to use that ARM’s power? You must be rather ignorant of how incompatible they are with a pony’s physiology. And I was enjoying myself, toying around with you. Hm, perhaps I won’t turn you over to be food for my children. Your body would be of greater use as a source of data for further experimentation.”

Even past the blood and vomit in my mouth I managed to grit my teeth and force out words as I glared up at her. I’d dropped Gramzanber in front of me, and I tried making my limbs move, but it was like they had dozens of tiny vices inside them, keeping them stiff and still. I could only surmise that whatever Accelerator did to my body when it increased my speed like that, it hadn’t reacted well with the drugs. It was the only explanation I could think of…that or the less pleasant possibility that B.B’s father had been wrong and I was no different than any other pony that’d used an ARM; I just happened to get an extra day or two out of mine before it killed me.

“Not…dead yet…”

“No, but that is an easily rectifiable state of affairs, given your current condition.”

Though it felt like my insides were twisting in on themselves I forced myself to roll over onto my back, blinking past sweat coating my forehead and dripping into my eyes as I hooked a foreleg around Gramzanber’s shaft, even as Director Twinkle raised one of her huge scythe tipped legs.

In the distance I heard a cry of rage and heard a burst of magic and cracking ice and out of the corner of my eye saw Arcaidia’s frosty shards smashing into the horde of spider ponies that had been encircling my friends. I could barely pick out the blue unicorn filly with the silver mane, all but charging into the mass of spider ponies while throwing spears of ice left and right in an attempt to get to me.

Don’t Arcaidia…stay with the others… even my thoughts were getting heavy as I tried to summon up the energy to shout, to tell the unicorn to stay back. She was only going to get herself…

Killed? Yes, yes she will. Trying to save you, because you’ve been holding back trying not to take any lives. If you fought seriously, without hesitation, you wouldn’t have gotten poisoned to begin with. You wouldn’t have needed any drugs, and Accelerator would’ve worked. You could have finished this monster in front of you, and your friends would be safe. Congratulations moron.

I felt tears stinging my eyes as I tried to tell Arcaidia to stop, tried to lift Gramzamber haphazardly with my weakened hooves to stop an attack I knew I couldn’t. I saw the scythe begin to descend even as out of the corner of my eye I saw Arcaidia get swarmed by half a dozen strands of webbing, coating the unicorn to the ground even as she struggled to get to me, horn flaring with a blast of ice and a scream of rage on her lips.

The room shook and was filled with yellow flashing lights as a blaring klaxon alarm sounded. Twinkle’s strike paused as the big spider pony, and indeed most of the spider ponies, looked up towards the sound of gears grinding. I looked to past my blurred vision, seeing the two pillars I’d seen earlier lit up with the strobe of yellow lights as a square section of the ceiling broke off and began to descend along the pillars… revealing it to be a huge lift.

On that lift was a large black plated vehicle. It was bipedal in shape, the Stable-tech logo painted in bold yellow on its side. It was standing on two squat legs, but it had a thick, rectangular body, two mechanical arms sprouting from either end, one ending in a sizable multi-barreled gun, the other in a long blade covered in smaller gleaming teeth. The top of this vehicle was open into some kind of cockpit, and inside the cockpit space were two familiar mares the sight of which made me want to laugh and cry at the same time.

“Awww, look how many pretty ponies started to have fun without me? Makes Big Sis Binge sad to see ponies playing without her around to make things extra juicy!” said Binge as she slammed a hoof down on the cockpit dashboard, “She’s gonna have to punish some ponies for premature fun doubling!”

“Stop clownin’ ‘round dangnabbit and start makin’ this ‘ere thing shoot somethin’! Which o’ these levers is fer blowin’ stuff up!?” shouted B.B, who was hanging on the side of the cockpit while looking over a dizzying arrow of switches, values, and handles on the dashboard.

“All of them, silly filly!” I heard Binge cry happily as she demonstrated what she meant by running a hoof over half a dozen buttons and levers simultaneously.

Chaos ensued.

The barrels on the vehicle’s gun arm began to rotate with a dull whine and with a harsh, ear drumming roar it unleashed a wild torrent of destruction. Bullets slammed into the massive form of Director Twinkle, who hissed like a broken steam valve as she was forced back by the wave of gunfire and raised her bladed forelegs to shield her face. The rest of her body was pelted by the heavy rounds, though I immediately noticed that while some chunks of dark chitin was being blasted off, Director Twinkle’s carapace was remarkably tough and was withstanding the punishing storm of bullets.

The bipedal mechanical vehicle leaped off the lift before it got the ground floor and Binge was still madly pressing buttons and flipping levers as she cackled merrily. B.B had flown up out of the cockpit as the machine jumped, spreading her wings and taking flight towards the horde of spider ponies that’d surrounded everypony else. The white pegasus mare gracefully banked and rolled through the air as the spider ponies overcame their surprise and began to shoot streams of webbing at her.

I could see she’d drawn her .44 revolver in her mouth. She must have found some ammunition for it, because the heavy revolver barked loudly alongside the two slightly lighter booms from her twin foreleg revolvers. I’d never seen a pony use three guns at once like that, and could only admire B.B’s precision as she dove and twisted in the air through the wave of webbing while picking off spider ponies with expert shots; scattering the group that had swarmed on Arcaidia.

As for myself, my body was still in the process of pretending all of my internal organs were being replaced with razor filled plastic bags, and my muscles were doing a fine impression of being made of brick. At most I was succeeding in being able to twitch my limbs a bit and move my head just enough to see what was happening, but actually doing something useful, like, say, standing? Apparently not. As good as it was to see Binge and B.B alive I was frustrated and ashamed of not being able to do so much as lift a hoof to help.

The heavily armed vehicle, which in my mind I was starting to mentally dub a ‘Mini-Golem’, landed on the ground with a crash that dented the metal floor. Binge was tossed about the cockpit, but didn’t seem to mind it even when her head smacked the dashboard. All she did was giggle as she licked blood from her face and put her hooves on more levers. I had no idea how she knew how to control that thing, but control it she did as she sent the Mini-Golem stomping towards Director Twinkle.

The huge spider pony glared at Binge, face screwed up in an angry snarl.

“How did a clearly mentally challenged pony like you get access to our prototype Full Tuned Gear? It was sealed with my personal passcodes!”

I made a scrunchy face at the name. I liked ‘Mini-Golem’ better, but trying to voice my protests came out as something more akin to “Blllarrrg” rather than an actual sentence. Stupid vomit and blood, getting in the way of talking. On a brighter note, I was managing to get my hoof to lift a little, rather than just uselessly twitch. Progress!

Binge just cracked a mad hatter grin, “You meet all sorts of playmates in the dark, looking for a good time. Found a shy friend who whispered secrets in my ear for the promise of blood, and this shy friend showed us to this shiny new toy to play with! Would’ve preferred a stuffed animal or a new set of knives, but Geary is good too. He’s got lots of fun things to make ponies burst apart like confetti!”

Binge’s hoof jammed down repeated only one particular button while her smile split her face and her eyes became like two dilated white gems that gleamed in the dark. Metallic clacking sounds followed the sight of several hatches opening up alongside the bulky sides of the Mini-Golem (screw calling it the Full Tuned Gear, Director Twinkle’s not the boss of me). From those hatches roared out a swarm of small missiles, trailing white plumes of smoke as they spread into the air and seemingly split apart into dozens of even smaller micro-missiles which then rained down upon the entire terminal station.

Rather indiscriminately.

Small expositions like those from a frag grenade detonated all over the place as the howling rain of tiny missiles landed in an utterly untargeted and indiscriminate swarm. They pelted Director Twinkle, who howled in anger and pain. A few landed right near me, pelted me with shrapnel. Many more detonated among the mass of spider ponies, scattering limbs and other body parts among splatters of green blood, while sending many other spider ponies scrambling for cover. To my horror I heard a pony scream as well, a female voice, but I couldn’t tell who it was. I heard B.B shout though, “Blast it all ya daft crazy Raider watch where ya shootin’!”

“Whoopsie!” said Binge as she giggled, “Geary’s real enthusiastic about partying!”

“Stop playin’ ‘round and git Long already!”

“Oh, right, Binge’s little play buck! Hiya Longwalk, what are you doing laying on the ground all moopey eyed for?” Binge sent the Mini-Golem pounding towards me and Director Twinkle with clanking steps, “Throwing up blood too? Tsk tsk, you shouldn’t party so hard without your Big Sis Binge to show you how to do it right! Or to lick up the blood.”

Binge’s eyes took on a violent, manic sheen to them as they looked at the hulking form of Director Twinkle, “Especially not if you’re partying with another mare. Hurts my feelings.”

I had no reply to that, even if I had been able of forming a sentence at that time. I was starting to get more feeling back into my limbs, and as awkward as it was I was managing to twist a fetlock around Gramzanber’s shaft, though I was less than sure how I’d use the spear with my hooves. My mouth was too slick with my own blood and bile to make for a good grip, not that I was able to really move my body enough to get my head to the spear yet anyway. I just wanted to stand up and help, to try and end this fight before anypony else got hurt.

Does that include your enemies? Do you think this fight can end without ending their lives? Does that monster in front of you look like she’s going to back down short of death?

That inner voice was referring to Director Twinkle’s increasingly enraged visage as the huge spider pony moved to meet Binge’s advance, lips twisted in a sneer, “Oh spare me your dithering, simpleton! You break into my domain, steal my possessions, and slaughter my children!? Some of you I might have added to my little family, but you, you’re not worth anything more than food!”

Twinkle raised both of her bladed forearms and smashed them down towards Binge and the Mini-Golem. In response the green coated Raider mare pulled back on a lever while licking her lips and the Mini-Golem’s right arm began to whine in a high pitched metallic squeal as the metal teeth on the blade mounted there began to spin around rapidly. The Mini-Golem raised that blade and intercepted the descending scythe shaped talons of Director Twinkle. There was a ear splitting scream of metal on metal, sparks flying between the rotating saw-blade of the Mini-Golem and the thick blade arms of the spider pony.

“Eating ponies without proper cooking is strictly a no-no. Especially with no hot sauce available,” admonished Binge with a tone like she was lecturing a class, “Pony meat is very dry, needs something to spice it up. Hm, but spider meat, I wonder what that tastes like?”

“Cease your mockery! Dangerous ponies such as yourself is the very reason I have kept my children safe within the confines of this Stable, and deal with any intruders who wander inside our home swiftly and decisively. You are a twisted thing, and your infectious presence shall be removed!”

“Gee, all this dirty talk is making me a little hot and bothered. Can we call a break while I hit the little filly’s room for some relief?”

Binge’s crass manner only seemed to enrage Director Twinkle further. This was good, as it meant she was no longer paying attention to me. It was bad in that Binge and Twinkle were having their clash right where I was still laying partially paralyzed. I barely got my body to flop out of the way of one of Director Twinkle’s stamping legs, this one a albeit smaller bladed hook on it but still as large as my body nearly skewering me before I managed to roll aside.

Sparks continued to shower down around me as Binge tried to bring the Mini-Golem’s buzzing chain blade to deadly bear, swinging the entire body of the mechanical biped around in a spinning back slash that Director Twinkle halted with both her foreleg blades. Meanwhile I had managed to prop one hindleg knee underneath me and was slowly pushing myself into a quasi-upright position. If I could just get a little more leverage I’d be able to swing Gramzanber, albeit awkwardly, with my forelegs. Perhaps if I could trip up Twinkle by hitting one of her back legs, or just thrust up into her pulsing abdomen?

Suddenly Director Twinkle backed up a few skittering steps, causing Binge and her Mini-Golem to go off balance, and Twinkle opened her massive maw wide with a hocking, hacking sound that reminded me of youthful days with Trailblaze spitting off the cliffs near our village to try and hit our fellow villagers. What; we were foals, we didn’t have to be mature! In any case I recognized the noise and realized the giant mutated part pony, party spider was about to spit something, and with a painful drawn in breath I shouted hoarsely, “Binge, dodge!”

The earth pony mare seemed to be ahead of me and was rapidly moving her hooves over a wheel on the dashboard, sending the Mini-Golem almost randomly clanging around in a lazy circle just as Director Twinkle spat out a massive glob of dark purple phlegm that stank with a cloying and burning scent that mad my nose hairs wither as it sailed over my head. The glob partially impacted on the Mini-Golem’s blade arm and almost instantly I saw smoke rising from the metal as the bright sheen began to corrode to a blackish hue.

Binge, apparently sharing the maturity me and Trailblaze had when we were eight, blew her tongue out at director Twinkle and spat at her.

“Acidy spit is so overdone! That’s fine, I have bullety spit!”

Binge aimed the rotary cannon arm at Director Twinkle and began to unleash another barrage of heavy gunfire, but the massive spider pony moved with amazing agility and actually jumped into the air above the hail of bullets, sailing through the air in a move that I imagine was the same kind of jump she’d used to get between me and the armory in the first place. The will aimed jump landed her right on top of the Mini-Golem, the weight of her landing causing the vehicle to topple over. I shouted Binge’s name as I saw the earth pony mare tumble from the cockpit and roll across the ground, but she got up to her hooves rather quickly and apparently with little harm done. She ran directly towards me at a full gallop while Director Twinkle shoved one of her scythe blades into the dashboard of the Mini-Golem, wreaking its controls with one fell swipe.

Binge skidded to a halt before me, breathing heavily, still smiling despite us being caught in a deadly battle and her having just lost our best weapon.

“Hiya! Having fun? I’m having fun! You’re covered in blood. It’s a good look for you. You’re face is really cute when it’s all scrunched up in pain like that. Hey, wanna help me kill the big yelly pony?”

“Binge, we have… ” bit back a groan as my body shuddered, cold sweat mixing with blood on my face as my everything protested my current attempts at moving, talking, and living in general, “… we have to get to the others… get into armory.”

“Aww, and I wanted us to tag-team the boss ourselves,” Binge said with disappointment, supporting me as we began to hobble towards the armory, “You still haven’t gotten a proper kill yet. It makes me sad.”

“Fine with me… not trying to… kill anypony… “

“Look, though, everypony else is doing it! C’mon, give in to peer pressure! I promise you’ll learn to like it, and it’ll stop hurting after the first dozen or so times!”

Binge was nodding towards our companions. B.B had landed next to Arcaidia while the unicorn filly used small bursts of ice from her horn to freeze and then break off parts of the webbing that had covered her while B.B kept the spider ponies surrounding them at bay with her revolvers. LIL-E had gotten the armory door open and was now floating higher, using her turret and rifle mount to try and provide enough cover fire for everypony else to get through the door. At first I couldn’t spot Iron Wrought, but then I saw him, taking in a sharp breath as I saw he was dragging a blood covered and limp Sweet Pear back towards LIL-E while desperately firing with his pistol at spider ponies crowding in. I couldn’t see where the other salvagers were, and I hoped that just meant they’d already gone through into the armory. Despite the sight of what was probably close to a score of dead spider ponies I could see dozens more of them closing in on my friends from every corner of the cavernous terminal station. More than that though, I noticed that there were other spider ponies that were just… hanging back. Where they scared of us?

I wondered how many more spider ponies we’d killed up to this point between this fight here and the fighting that’d taken place throughout our moving through the Stable. It seemed pointless. Director Twinkle had said she had to have intruders dealt with, but why? Was all of this just to try to keep outsiders from…

Just like my tribe. Isolation, even at the price of blood.

The realization hit me hard. This was no different than if we’d wandered into my own tribe’s territory. Any group of outsiders that got too close to Shady Stream would’ve been dealt with bloodily if they’d refused to turn back.

But isn’t that the difference? My tribe would’ve at least granted warning first.

Yet that seemed a nitpicky detail. Overall I still felt like little more than a trespasser. We’d come here to loot and take what we wanted; it hadn’t even occurred to us the Stable might still be occupied, or that its occupants would defend their home. If I thought there was a chance of talking this through I would’ve taken it, but one look over my shoulder at the sight of Director Twinkle’s disdain and rage filled visage as the massive spider pony began to chase after me and Binge made it clear any attempt at communication was going to be an exercise in futility.

Do I really not have a choice this time?

The thought was the least of my troubles though, as my body was still being rather uncooperative. The attempt at using Accelerator had burned through the Buck and Med-X apparently, as I was feeling as weak as I had before I’d taken them and the amount of pain coursing through me made it clear I wasn’t getting that pleasant dulling affect either. At least I could move under my own power, and Binge didn’t have to keep supporting me as we broke into a gallop towards our friends.

Arcaidia, now free of the webbing that’d held her down, saw us coming and called out to me, “Longwalk! Estu vi shivatea, ren solva! Rir, esru ti givol hathriv!”

The icy blue unicorn filly galloped to meet us, twisting her head this way and that to send tightly packed blasts of frozen air to clear away converging spider ponies and give us a path. Behind her B.B shot up into the air, reloading one of her foreleg revolvers with her mouth, no free as she’d holstered the .44, and was shooting with the other foreleg revolver to try and pick off some of the spider ponies that had gotten onto the ceiling and were shooting strands of web down at us. LIL-E also floated forward, her incendiary rifle mount sending blazing tracers streaking over our heads. I heard Director Twinkle hiss in pain and assumed LIL-E’s shots were slowing the huge spider pony down a bit.

“Move yer flank Long!” shouted B.B, “Not carryin’ ya again! Yer freakin’ heavy!”

“I’m not… that heavy,” I said between breaths, “I’m an appropriate weight for my… height and age.”

“Esru ti havir shae? Talk later yes?” Arcaidia asked as she caught up with me and Binge, making a skidding turn to reverse course and join us in a gallop towards the open armory door, B.B now flying above us in an odd and to my eyes seemingly physically impossible fashion as she was essentially flying backwards. I didn’t get pegasi at all.

“Talk later,” I agreed with Arcaidia, putting on an extra burst of speed. The armory door was right ahead, less than ten more paces and we’d be there. LIL-E was floating right in front of it.

“Iron Wrought and the others are already inside,” said the robot, “I’ll be right behind you. Give you all cover.”

Instinct would’ve told me to argue that, that there was no way I’d let a friend stay put to take all the risk while I ran to safety. But even my slow and less than stellar brain understood LIL-E wasn’t actually there, in danger. She was a pony who knew how many miles away, controlling a robot from some much safer place than where we currently were. She was using her head and making the smartest call. Better than any call I’d made so far on this journey.

I gave LIL-E a quick and grateful nod before I head straight for the door-

-which slammed shut in my face and I smacked right into it painfully, bouncing off and almost tottering over.

Binge and Arcaidia ground to a halt next to me, Arcaidia already bending over and starting a healing spell with a concerned look on her face while Binge gave the door a quizzical look and knocked on it.

“Knock-knock? Mr. Door? Why are you trying to kill us? Must we answer questions three before you shall let us pass?”

Ignoring the mare’s strange questioning LIL-E said, “Luna twist my teats with her teeth the door’s been overridden! Passcodes just got changed!”

“Muwah…?” I asked, a little brain dead from my head’s introduction to the solidarity of metal doors. Gramzanber was dropped at my hooves, which I tried to scoop up with my mouth and could only barely get a grip on it, my mouth a slick and numb mess.

“So we ain’t gettin’ in!?” asked B.B as she floated above us, revolvers fully reloaded, though she hadn’t drawn the .44 again yet, apparently wanting to be able to speak clearly without a massive gun in her teeth. I’d have to teach her how to talk like I did at some point… assuming we all got out of this alive.

“Not unless whoever was helping us before decides to undo the override,” said LIL-E, somehow an edge of grimness entering her mechanical monotone, “I’m sorry everypony, I should’ve stayed interfaced with the door terminal. I didn’t think the door would get closed on us so fast… I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize, we’re not dead yet,” I said, getting my wits about me as I turned around to face away from the armory door.

“A state of affairs I intend to soon remedy,” said Director Twinkle as she advanced on her large spindly, tree trunk thick legs until she was a dozen yards away from us, flanked by the hosts of her smaller “children”. Though there was no less an amount of anger dripping from her shining red eyes there was also a satisfied smirk on her arachnid features.

“I’m quite vexed that you thought I’d allow you to simply walk into an armory filled with weapons with which you could bring even more destruction to my home. You ponies have caused enough of a stir here, I think. This whole affair is quite over, now, as are you.”

“Why?” I asked, playing for time as much as anything else as I could see Arcaidia was trying to be subtle about downing more of her magic restoring drink, “Why did you attack us in the first place? If you’d just come to us openly and asked us to leave, we would have!”

Twinkle laughed derisively, “Do not take me for some wasteland born moron! I know all too well what ponies from the surface are like. They take, and kill that which stands between them and what they take. Even if you did leave of your own volition, rumor would spread from your lips and the lips of your fellows as to where this Stable is and what lies within. We’d have Raiders and more salvagers combing these halls inside of a week. No, while occasionally ponies stumble into this place our safety is maintained by slaughtering or converting those who come in before they can flee and spread knowledge of us to the outside. My children’s safety cannot be compromised.”

“Converting…?” I wanted to keep her talking for as long as I could, and I had plenty of questions I wanted cleared up about this place anyway, “What are you talking about?”

“Oh no, no I don’t think I’ll be indulging you in any further Q&A sessions, little pony,” said Twinkle, dashing my hopes of having a nice drawn out conversation to have a chance to catch my breath and give my friends a minute to recover with, “You all die here, and then I shall find which of my children has decided to betray me by interfering with my connection to the Stable systems.”

She waved one of her large bladed forelegs and made a series of complex hisses and clicking sounds, and the horde of spider ponies backed away. At my cock headed look Director Twinkle scoffed.

“Do not misunderstand. I merely have no desire to see any more of my children die at your hooves. I shall be more than enough on my own to finish you lot off. You have no weapons that can do more than scratch my chitin. Even that ARM shouldn’t prove too much of a problem, given your weakened condition.”

“If you’re so worried about your children’s lives then you shouldn’t be starting this fight at all! We don’t have to do this, we can-” I was cut off by a hoof on my shoulder, B.B floating down to hover just above me. The white pegasus mare wasn’t looking at me, her eyes were locked on Twinkle’s massive form, but she shook her head slowly. Her face was a tight mask of concentration, only letting some of her sympathy leak through.

“Don’t waste yer breath Long, she ain’t gonna listen. I know ya don’t wanna accept it, but facts fact, this is only gonna end wit us killin’ her, or her killin’ us. I know which o’ those outcomes I’m shootin’ fer.”

With that her mouth went to draw her .44 revolver, raising her two forelegs and aiming the revolvers strapped to them squarely at Director Twinkle.

I felt a bump on my flank, glancing over to see Binge had knocked her flank against mine and was licking her lips with a hungry smile on her face. I shifted a bit away from her, to which she just giggled at me.

“You’re adorable. If you want I’ll hold your hoof and walk you through it. It’s messy, but fun. You’ll learn to like it.”

“… You are talking about the whole ‘killing’ thing, right?” I asked, incredulous, shifting another step away from the mare.

“Mmm, I wonder,” the dark coated earth pony said while still licking her lips.

“Everypony? Giant spider mutant? Fight to the death?” LIL-E buzzed nearby.

“Indeed,” said Director Twinkle, “You can sort out your myriad interpersonal issues in the everafter, where I don’t have to listen to them.”

She didn’t give us another second of time, Director Twinkle’s large bloated form crossing the distance to us in one smooth, skittering charge. Scythe blades cut down with a flash of speed, causing us to dart to the sides; Arcaidia and I to the left, Binge and LIL-E to the right, and B.B flying straight up. We spread out around her, my companions focused on the fight, the kill, my own mind still coming to grips with what I would need to do.

As if I wasn’t already slow enough by the poison and weakness of the failed use of Accelerator, my hesitation wasn’t helping. It made me an easy first target.

A vicious back-swing of one forearm blade would have bisected me if I hadn’t gotten Gramzanber’s silver shaft around in time to block, but the force along rocketed me backwards like a foal’s doll and slammed me back first into the wreaked remains of the Mini-Golem. I crawled to my hooves, stumbling back into the fight, some of my strength having returned to me from Arcaidia’s healing spell moments before, but my body still groaning in protest to my every movement.

Arcaidia retaliated with a lashing hail of icicle shards, but most of them cracked harmlessly off the thick armor-like chitin of Director Twinkle’s body, leaving frosty marks but little else. B.B rained down a swarm of shots from above, the rounds bouncing off with ringing clamor. LIL-E’s own shots seemed only marginally more effective, the eyebot strafing around the monstrous spider pony with incendiary rounds plinking off Director Twinkle’s head and causing her to use one blade arm to shield her face with irritation etched on her features. I could see Binge dash under the spider pony’s main body, nimbly avoiding the many shifting barbed legs to stab up at Director Twinkle’s underside with a knife clenched in her mouth. I could hear Twinkle scoff at this and rear up, using her huge roundish back end to slam Binge suddenly and knock the earth pony mare to the ground hard.

Director Twinkle backed up until she had Binge directly in front of her, the spider pony still reared up on her back four legs while brining her four front legs to bear, using the scythe blades on the foremost legs to slash at B.B and LIL-E respectively; forcing them both to rapidly evade. Meanwhile she reached down with her hook ended other legs to try and grab Binge, who was still trying to get up from having been knocked down.

I dashed forward, ignoring my body’s protests to the rapid movement, and slashed with Gramzanber at one of the hooked legs. The silver spear bit into the chitin, drawing a small spurt of green blood and a hiss from Twinkle. The leg pulled back and I suddenly had the other one raking at me, gouging a chunk of hide from my shoulder where the metal barding was already torn and weak. I didn’t back away though, jabbing my mouth held spear at the leg that’d raked me, catching the hook portion and shearing it off. By now Binge had gotten back to her hooves, and for whatever reason was still giggling under her breath as she charged right back in at Director Twinkle like a madpony.

“Oh this is getting tiresome,” Director Twinkle muttered as she slammed her body back down to the ground, brining her scythe tipped forearms to bear on me and Binge with long, sweeping slices that forced us both to roll away… well, me to roll away, Binge just kept right on charging in, leaping over the scythe blade that could have taken her legs off if she’d been just a second early or late in her leap, and threw her knife at Twinkle’s face. I heard a harsh hiss of pain as the knife sunk into one of Director Twinkle’s beady black spider eyes, her red pony eyes going wide as she shook her head.

“Our weapons can’t hurt you huh?” twittered Binge happily, “Then why are you singing that delightful sound of pain? Underneath all that chitin you’re a squishy little pony, just like us, filled with blood and guts just begging to be pulled out!”

Director Twinkle responded to this by hocking a thick glob of violet melting spit at the Raider mare, but a streak of white knocked Binge aside at the last second. B.B flapped her wings and winced as some of the purple goo had touched her right wing tip, the feathers smoking as she stood over Binge.

“Dangnabbit! Not lettin’ mah wings git messed up again! Ya alright, Binge?”

“Whoooo, dizzy,” Binge shook her head, but was smiling, so couldn’t have been too badly injured I figured.

LIL-E had floated around so she wasn’t too far away from my right side as she fired off more shots from her weapons, but I noticed her rate of fire was slowing and I learned why as the eyebot said, “My internal ammo stores are running low, and unless I can get a clear shot at an eye or an open mouth I’m not doing enough damage here. Longwalk, we need a plan.”

I desperately tried to think of one. There just wasn’t much for us to work with. I knew my spear could penetrate that chitin hide, but if I… if I was going to deliver a killing blow I’d need a clear shot of my own, at the head, or neck, or heart. She was too big to just wear down with smaller wounds, and I was pretty sure I’d run out of endurance before Twinkle did. Was there no other way to finish this!? Around us the dozens upon dozens of spider ponies waited and watched, hanging from walls and ceiling, hiding behind crates around the far sides of the terminal station. They were making no moves to interfere with the fight, just as they’d been told to. However, even if we won and killed Director Twinkle what would all of these spider ponies do then? Would we simply be overrun and slaughtered in an act of vengeance?

Even escape didn’t seem a viable option, as we’d be leaving behind Iron Wrought, Fine Eye, Sweet Pear, and their two colts. And that was assuming we even could find a way to get out of here.

The situation seemed impossible.

Then my eyes came to rest on the train, the long boxy vehicle sitting on the rails that cut through the terminal station. An idea formed, quickly, haphazardly, as ideals always did with me. I knew nothing of what the train was beyond some kind of conveyance, that I could surmise ran along those rails. But I was willing to bet LIL-E knew what they were and probably could figure out how to operate it. There was little time to refine the notion in my head so I quickly conveyed my intentions to her, to which the eyebot slowly floated around, giving me the impression of the pony on the other end looking straight at me.

“You have a better chance of Celestia flying down from the sun to distract the bitch with a personal lap dance than this plan working, but since I have it on good authority Celestia is indisposed, and only rarely gives lap dances, I’ll go along with this.”

I gave her a grateful smile, though it was ruined a bit by the grimace of pain that followed it, “The comment was mild, coming from you. Slipping?”

“Hey, there are only so many different ways I can blaspheme against the Goddesses in a day. Got to save the good ones for really desperate situations.”

“This doesn’t count?”

“Add a few hellhounds to the mix, maybe have the Stable’s self-destruct system activated, giving us only three minutes to win, then fill the room with toxic gas that is also slowly killing us, then I’ll call it a desperate situation.”

“I’ll just take the one giant, seemingly indestructible spider pony, thank you very much,” I said and scuffed my back hooves along the ground, readying myself to charge, “Now get going LIL-E, and remember the plan is to pin her, not smash her.”

As LIL-E floated off towards the train I galloped in towards Director Twinkle, who was trying to spit more thick globs of her acidic venom, this time at Arcaidia. The unicorn filly was proving quite agile as she dove and ducked around, the purplish liquid always just inches from hitting her but never quite touching. In response Arcaidia was sending spears of ice lancing into Twinkle’s huge body, but I could see the frustration on my friend’s face as her ice was just chipping off Twinkle’s chitin. B.B and Binge had backed off slightly, the pegasus mare looking over at me as I galloped past them and shouting, “Long, hold up! What’s the plan!?”

“Everypony follow me!” I yelled to them, and B.B and Binge only looked at each other briefly before doing so, the pegasus flying close behind me while the Raider mare kept pace with me easily.

I galloped right by Arcaidia, tapping her on the shoulder as I went. She seemed to take the hint and began to gallop after me as well. Seeing all of us running off Director Twinkle gave a large and annoyed huff, an odd sound coming from the mechanical apparatus on a twenty foot tall spider pony.

“Running is pointless. I’ve sealed all exits from this chamber. Even sending your little toy to the train is a useless gesture, the exit tunnel doors are all closed. You’re trapped in here… are you listening to me!? You’re going to force me to chase you aren’t you? Argh, this is so aggravating! Now I remember why I don’t do things myself anymore.”

I heard Director Twinkle groan in irritation, followed by the scuttling ringing of her bladed and hooked legs stamping after us. We were running back through the small maze of large metal containers, crates, and barrels, and I could see the train to our left. Its dark, boxy structure was slowly lighting up as LIL-E on the inside began to do her thing, powering on the vehicle.

Now I just had to quickly communicate the basic plan to the mares running alongside me in the thirty seconds we had before Director Twinkle would catch up.

“Binge, I need you to help me make the big spider pony very, very mad. B.B, try to keep her blinded, or at least force her to shield her face from your shots. Arcaidia,” the unicorn filly glanced at me, “Vril. Ice.”

I pointed with the tip of my spear at the divot in the floor that contained the tracks for the train, “A lot of ice, do you get it?”

Arcaidia cracked an eager smile and I could see her silver eyes took on a cold sheen as she nodded, “Vira!”

“Don’t know what yer tryin’ ta do, but I’m trustin’ ya!” said B.B as she banked upwards and spun around in mid-air, letting loose a volley of shots at Director Twinkle, who was smashing through the metal containers behind us.

Binge nudged me with her nose, grinning conspiratorially, “Gonna make the yelly pony nice and angry before we deliver the final blow and find out how her blood tastes? What fun! You’ll be just like the rest of us happily dead ponies before you know it!”

I had no idea what she was talking about but surmised she was at least enthusiastic about our part of the plan and wasn’t going to question it. While B.B was shooting at Twinkle me, Arcaidia, and Binge looped to the left, heading for the train tracks. We ran alongside the train itself and I could see the lights on in the front cabin, though the angle kept me from seeing LIL-E herself in there. I knew the train was technically pointed backwards from the direction I’d want it to go, but I was leaving the details of how to work that out to LIL-E. I was not a technically minded buck, though a part of me was sorely fascinated by technology.

As I heard Director Twinkle growl in frustration at the pegasus mare who was letting loose shot after shot at her face, forcing her to shield it with one of her large scythe bladed forelegs lest risk losing another eye, I halted my gallop. I looked towards Arcaidia and gestured at the section of train track we were standing next to.

“Here. Make it slippery as you can,” I pantomimed as if I was tripping on something and falling down, and Arcaidia nodded her understanding. I glanced over at Director Twinkle. Good, she was still distracted by B.B and wasn’t watching us, wasn’t seeing what I was trying to put together.

As Arcaidia got to work, sending frosty blue beams of ice around the train tracks themselves and all the metal around the divot in the ground that they occupied I turned to Binge.

“Right, ready your best taunts, it’s time for us to become bait,” I said, hoping I was putting more confidence into my voice and expression than I was honestly feeling.

My tribe used to do this with gecko packs. One or two of the smaller hunters would go and make a big racket, draw the pack of geckos out and get the little lizards to chase them. This was done so that larger gecko packs didn’t have to be dealt with up front, but could be led to a proper ambush point. I often got selected to act as the bait. I wondered if how often I was put up to be the bait was because I was good at it, or if it was just the tribes way of picking on the pony with the outsider’s blood in his veins. Trailblaze often volunteered to help me act as bait, back then, but her mother also often refused her. That was alright, I was pretty good at causing a ruckus on my own and getting the geckos to try and run me down. This time though I wasn’t alone, as Binge’s ready grin was testament to.

“Oh yes,” she said, pumping a hoof into the air, “Let the drawing of agro commence!”

With galloped towards Director Twinkle, just as the huge spider pony gave an enraged hiss and raised the back portion of her body. From a pair of large spindly stocks on, for lack of a better term was her butt-end, I saw Twinkle finally make use of her own webbing, something she hadn’t done despite the rest of the spider ponies making liberal use of it. Unlike other webbing, which were small, single strands, these spinnerets let loose something much closer to a sheet of web, like a spreading net. B.B clearly wasn’t expecting the move and I grit my teeth as I saw her get easily trapped in the wide burst of webbing, which to my horror Director Twinkle then used to swing the pegaus mare around in the air like a lasso and flung B.B into the nearest wall.

“B.B!” I shouted as I charged forward, but Director Twinkle stepped between me and where the pegasus mare had fallen.

“May we please finish this farce now? I am not used to exerting myself to this extent and it is quite irritating! Even for the sake of acquiring food for my children this is simply becoming too much tiresome work.”

I almost abandoned the plan, just to try and get past Director Twinkle so I could check on B.B. I couldn’t tell how badly injured she was, only that her web wrapped body had slid to the floor and wasn’t moving. She might just be unconscious… but…

Stick to your plan, Longwalk. You can’t help her if you don’t deal with this first!

Even telling myself that it wasn’t easy to look away from B.B’s slumped form and instead focus on Twinkle as the huge spider pony loomed over me and Binge. I licked my lips and tried to put on a cocky grin, though I imagined any blind pony could see how fake my bravado was.

“I doubt you can ‘finish this’,” I said, “For all your big talk, all you’ve done is knock us around a little! Thought you said you’d be more than enough to do this yourself. Maybe you should call your ‘children’ back in, though I guess we’d just kill more of them then!”

I made me feel sick inside spouting off at the mouth like that, especially because I honestly had no desire to see any more killing at all, but the idea was to make Director Twinkle mad. Binge chimed in herself, and I was amazed at how easily she changed the tone of her voice to sound as if it was slathered in haughty sarcasm and arrogant self-assurance.

“Kill more? No, no, no, we’ll kill all of them! Watch them squirm and hear them scream as we pull their little gooey bits out and decorate the walls with them like pretty party confetti! Mmm, and I can’t wait to find out what they taste like!”

Director Twinkle’s large red eyes narrowed to slits, “You dare… ?”

Binge carried on, as if having a casual conversation with me, “How do you think we ought to prepare the bodies? Boil, bake, or fry? I think deep frying those big, long legs will be best.”

It was hard, but I managed to smile at Binge as if I was in total agreement with her as I said, “Oh, I’ll try anything once, so take your pick.”

Binge’s sudden look of overwhelming eagerness made me shudder a little inside, “I’ll remember you said that.”

“Enough!” roared Twinkle, mouth opening wide and fangs dripping violet venom, “If you were seeking to enrage me then you’ve succeeded, if only because you have too little respect for my intelligence that you think your foalish banter would serve to cause me to lose my composure. Now cease your prattle and die already!”

She lunged forward, again with the kind of speed one simply could not foresee in an opponent of her size. I jumped back, seeing fangs flash inches from my face. Before I could even blink a follow up attack with a scythe blade whizzed towards my head, forcing me to jump back again, feeling the tip of the blade slice through the chest plate of my barding and cutting a burning line of pain across my hide. Binge was faring about the same, ducking and back stepping rapidly to avoid Twinkle’s snapping jaws, though she was at least avoiding injury.

Despite Twinkle’s words I could tell how angry the giant spider pony was. Her red eyes were also now bloodshot, and I could see a fire burning in them that hadn’t been there at the start of the fight. Whatever I might’ve thought about the Director’s foolishness in not just approaching us openly and asking us to leave, or that she was wrong to kill anypony that just wandered into her Stable, I couldn’t deny she at least seemed to have a genuine concern for the spider ponies under her care. Talking about killing and eating them had gotten under her hide, whether she was admitting to it or not.

I saw her back end raise like it had just moments ago when she’d snagged B.B and shouted a warning to Binge just as the webbing flew out. Like before it was a wide, spreading net of strands, and the only thing that kept me from getting wrapped up was that I was able to dash around a large metal container. I saw out of the corner of my eye that Binge had barely managed to dart clear of the webbing, mainly because most of it had been aimed at me.

I rushed back out, nodding to Binge, who caught my gesture and turned to run with me. I heard a piercing whine of metal scrapping on metal and dared a look back, eyes going wide as I saw that Director Twinkle had pulled on the webbing that’d wrapped up on the metal container and was now spinning the large metal block around and around over her head like a flail.

Oh-

Twinkle let fly with the metal container, the object rushing through the air at me and Binge.

-buck-

I threw myself to the floor and felt a rush of air over my head, pulling at my blue mane, and felt a brief harsh squeal of twisting metal as the container crashed into the floor ahead of us and kept going, bouncing and flipping from the force of the throw until it hit the wall on the far side of the terminal station.

-me…

Well, that could’ve taken my head off. It made my already fairly weak feeling limbs turn even more shaky as I got back to them. Binge was faster than I was, her green coated form a galloping blur in the gloom ahead of me. I followed her lead, getting up and running as I heard Director Twinkle coming after us. Ahead was the divot with the train tracks, and while I couldn’t see Arcaidia around anywhere, I knew what to look for and could see the tell-tale glitter of ice covering a large portion of the floor and tracks. Hopefully Twinkle wouldn’t know to look for the same sign and would be too focused on chasing us.

To avoid getting caught on the ice ourselves Binge and I both leaped the divot, though I tripped over myself doing so when I landed on the other side. I rolled on the ground, pulling a muscle in my back left leg, but the injury just felt like a drop in the bucket compared to the overall state of me. I felt a hoof wrap around my front leg and help me up, looking to see Binge’s face inches from mine. Her mane was matted with sweat and honestly at this range I could tell more than ever that her hygiene was no better than any of the other Raiders she’d been with back at the school, but her eyes shone with a strange, enticing light.

The moment passed as she tapped me playfully under my chin with a spiked bit on her hoof wrappings, just hard enough to draw a bead of blood and make me wonder… just how far I should trust this mare who up until a few days ago was a willing part or a group of ponies whose hobbies included torture and cannibalism.

“Still running, aren’t you?”

I didn’t know what she meant by that, but she just turned and ran off, flicking my face with her tail. I galloped after her just as Director Twinkle reached the tracks. Her eyes were focused solely upon Binge and I’s retreating forms and not the ice beneath her. With a screeching of chitin on metal and a hissing gasp of surprise the massive spider pony’s legs flew out from under her and she fell on her side right on the tracks.

This was immediately followed by another hiss, this one of hydraulics and releasing air as the wheels on the train began to turn, the block shaped machine rapidly picking up speed as it backed up towards the fallen Director Twinkle. I could not see LIL-E in the train’s control room, connected to a terminal. She’d kept the train dark until Twinkle had been right on the tracks, but now she lit up the exterior lights on the train and sounded a horn, the deep blaring noise echoing in the station.

Director Twinkle tried to get her eight legs under her, but abruptly more ice shot down in a concentrated blue ray that spread even more ice beneath her and the spider pony fumbled about. I looked up to see Arcaidia had climbed on top of the terminal station’s control booth catwalk, giving her a field of fire for the entire station.

“Simpletons! This won’t kill-urk!”

Director Twinkle’s sentence was cut off as the train’s back cabin slammed into her side, pushing her along the tracks as the train picked up more speed. The huge spider pony tried to slow herself by digging her large scythe blade’s into the floor, causing sparks to shower out as she did so, but it barely did anything. I swallowed, seeing that LIL-E was putting a lot of speed into this. She did recall the plan was just to pin Twinkle against the closed tunnel door, right?

I breathed out a small sigh of relief as when the train slammed Director Twinkle into the sizeable metal door at the threshold of one of the station’s three exit tunnels it wasn’t with the kind of force that would’ve broken her in half. It was enough to shove her against the thick metal of the door and keep her firmly pinned between it and the bulk of the train, just like I’d explained to LIL-E. The massive spider pony was trapped, her front half sticking out one side of the train, her back half stuck on the other. Her leg’s flailed about but could find no purchase, at least not enough to give her leverage to push off the weight of the train.

“Arrgh! Free me this instant! I will then kill all of you!”

“Poor thing, she doesn’t understand how this game works at all,” commented Binge as me and her slowly approached the train.

I looked up at where Arcaidia was, seeing the unicorn filly trotting down the catwalk, “Arcaidia, B.B’s hurt!”

I gestured and that was all Arcaidia needed as I saw her nod at me and pick up from a trot to a gallop once she got to ground level. I wanted to go over there as well, to make sure B.B was alright, but I didn’t know how long the train would hold Director Twinkle and this needed to end.

LIL-E remained inside the control cabin of the train, apparently to keep just a little pressure on to keep Twinkle stuck where she was.

The air was now filled with a chorus of sharp hissing coming from all around us as the dozens of spider ponies that had been watching from the sidelines began to shift around. I was worried they might try to swarm us, but to my surprise from what I was seeing it looked like they were… arguing amongst themselves? They were gradually forming into two groups, one slightly smaller than the other, and were hissing at each other and making odd gestures with their legs.

Meanwhile Director Twinkle was growling, “What are you all waiting for!? Assist me! I command it!”

From the ceiling a particular spider pony dropped down on a strand of web, followed by a few others. I noticed this spider pony had come from the slightly larger group of the two that were starting to square off. I tensed as this spider pony landed on the floor a few paces from me.

If the long orange mane and feminine facial structure was any indication this was a mare. Her arachnid body was a light gray, streaked with strips of white. Most notable were the large rimmed glasses she wore awkwardly perched on her snout, which she adjusted with one spindly spider leg as she looked between us and Director Twinkle. To my surprise I heard an off mechanical voice issue from her, from a similar module to the one Twinkle had.

“This is over Director. Now that they’ve seen that you can fall, your ‘children’ have started to lose their fear of you.”

“Misty Glasses,” Director Twinkle scoffed, adjusting against the press of the train, twisting her head to glare at the smaller spider pony, “I knew you chaffed under my law, but does your rebellious streak run so deep you’d forsake the safety of the entire Stable!? Only I can protect us from the horrors of the surface! Only I can make the proper decisions that will ensure our survival!”

“No, Director! You would have us remain hidden in this hole without a proper food source and have us continue to be murderers. I am not alone in thinking the time for change has come,” the spider pony, Misty Glasses (why did that name sound familiar?) gestured a thin leg at me, “These strangers are proof enough it is no longer safe to simply stay hidden in the Stable. How many of us have lost our lives today simply because you insisted the ‘intruders’ had to die!?”

“Umm…” I was a tad out of my depth now, having not expected to suddenly have a supporter amongst those me and my friends were just fighting, but then again I’d noticed from the get go that more than a few of these spider ponies had been hesitating to leap into the fray, “Sorry, but, who are you?”

The spider pony looked at me, adjusting her glasses again. Her spider eyes were simple black beads that reflected the light eerily, but her two pony eyes were pale green.

“Misty Glasses, former researcher for the Ministry of Arcane Sciences Stable 104 branch, Theoretical Arcane Physics. I’ve been waiting for some time for a group of ponies to enter the Stable who were well armed enough to pose a threat to the Director-“

“Waiting!? How long have you been planning this betrayal, Glasses!?” Twinkle heaved at the train, to little avail.

“Long enough. Too long,” said Misty Glasses with a sigh, “Too many ponies have died to fill our bellies, when all of my data suggests we could hunt fauna on the surface with minimal risk, given our physical abilities in these… forms. The moment this group entered our Stable I did what I could to help them, guide them, and show them what I could of what happened here.”

That’s when her name clicked in my head. Misty Glasses! That was the name of the pony whose terminal I’d read those messages on.

“That was you?” I asked, then blinked, and glanced at Binge, “Binge, you said you had a friend who whispered things to you… ?”

Binge smirked and nodded, “Pretty shy pony, hiding in the shadows, but told Binge all sorts of helpful things!”

Misty Glasses nodded, “My control of the Stable systems was limited, but I was able to send messages to terminals your friend here and the pegasus passed by when you got separated from them. I directed them to the vehicle bay. I figured the Fully Tuned Gear would be useful against the Director.”

“So that was ya’ll?” asked a familiar voice and I turned to see B.B limping up, with Arcaidia by her side.

I smiled in relief at the white pegasus mare, “You okay?”

She waved a hoof at me, returning the smile, “’Bout as right as I’m gonna be. Arcaidia’s patched me up proper, but legs a’ little stiff still. Wings’re good, an’ that’s what counts.”

She flexed her wings at me as if to prove they were still functional. Arcaidia trotted up beside me, casually glancing at the two groups of bickering spider ponies, and the huge form of Director Twinkle pinned by the train. She looked at me curiously, her silver eyes questioning.

“Estu di vilar tu shir, ren solva?” she gestured at Director Twinkle with her hoof, and then stomped with it, “Esru di shir harvae.”

The cold look in her eyes as she turned from me and looked at the giant trapped spider pony left my mouth dry, as I didn’t have to have a translation to know what she was asking. She wanted to know if we were going to kill Director Twinkle. I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, grimacing at the pain in my chest, and through my whole body, as I did so.

“Okay, let’s get to the meat of this,” I said as I took a few steps towards Director Twinkle. I was cautious, knowing she had a long reach with those scythe tipped forelegs, and she still had the ability to spit that melting purple goo. She glared at me as I approached.

“Director, I don’t want to kill you,” I said levelly, “I don’t want to kill anypony. We thought this place was going to be empty when we arrived. I won’t lie, some of my companions came for salvage, but personally all I wanted was to copy some discs so I could help a pony in my group save his family. If you let us do that, maybe take a few items my friends might want so they don’t come out of this empty hooved, we’ll leave and be out of your mane.”

“Tch, I have no reason to believe you,” said Director Twinkle with a scowl, “And even if I did, the chance you’d spread word of this Stable’s location is too high to risk. We can survive the occasional salvager or wanderer who enters our home, make them our prey to keep my children fed. But an army of Raiders? No, the dangers of the surface are too many to risk anypony leaving here with knowledge of us. My law exists for a reason; to protect my children, even if they are foolish enough to resist me!”

“Director, we are dying slowly,” said Misty Glasses, “Year by year our limited food supplies cost us lives, and surviving off of wanderers who you force us to prey upon is not only not enough, it is abhorrent! Look!” she pointed with one leg at the spider ponies, now with one group having gained enough members to clearly outsize the other, “More than half of us are against you. You were always a logical mare, before that monster transformed us into this. Think logically now! We can survive the surface. We must survive the surface; otherwise we simply can look forward to a long, slow death in this hole!”

I could see a brief moment of hesitation cross Director Twinkle’s face, a single second where she seemed to seriously consider Misty Glasses’ words. Then rage replaced that look and she said, “No. This place is mine. All of you are mine, and you will obey!”

I’d been so focused on her possibly using her long arms or acidic spit to attack I hadn’t noticed the way she’d pulled up her rear end over the other side of the train and fired off a wide spread of webbing. The white strands flew by me and gripped around Arcaidia, who caught off guard gave a small yelp of surprise as she was pulled off her hooves and dragged rapidly by Director Twinkle right up to the huge spider pony’s maw. Arcaidia struggled to turn and bring her horn to bear, but Twinkle brought a hooked arm around to push Arcaidia to her stomach and force her head to the ground, keeping her horn pointed away.

I’d taken a step forward, and I heard B.B’s revolvers clink as the pegasus mare raised them, but Director Twinkle shouted, “No sudden movements, or I will inject this filly with venom that will kill her very quickly and very painfully.”

Twinkle had lowered her fanged mouth to Arcaidia, holding the dripping fangs right above her.

My teeth tightened around Gramzanber, hearing only my heartbeat in my ears in the silent seconds that followed as Director Twinkle looked to see if we’d try making a move. When we didn’t she smirked.

“Good. Now, disarm.”

Nopony made any immediate move and Director Twinkle lowered her fangs, pressing the points against Arcaidia, the unicorn filly growling something in her language I didn’t catch but I could imagine from the tone was exceedingly unladylike. Her horn was glowing with a fierce overlay of blue light, the horn creeping with frost, but she just didn’t have an angle to fire a spell with her head pressed against the ground like that.

“I said disarm! And get this train off of me!”

Despite the way my heart was pounding in my chest I felt oddly numb and calm. I didn’t need to be all that perceptive to grasp that the moment we threw aside our weapons and freed her from the train that Director Twinkle would kill Arcaidia, and then us. It was clear in her eyes, the hardened intent to kill. I’d seen it in Crossfire’s eyes when she’d had the drop on me back in Saddlesrping. I’d seen it in the Odessa’ soldiers eyes when she lunged at me with a knife and B.B had been forced to shoot her. I’d seen it in every Raider’s eyes that’d tried to kill me, even Binge’s when we’d fought. And I saw it now, burning in Director Twinkle’s blood red eyes.

Nopony else in the room had a weapon that could penetrate that chitin covering Twinkle’s body.

Just my ARM.

I’ve made so many promises since the start of this. Spoken a lot of words. Were they all empty? I’ll help Arcaidia find her family. I’ll protect her and B.B. I won’t let any more homes be destroyed. Did I mean any of that? Do I throw those promises away because I don’t want to take the life of another… ?

Would this change me? I didn’t know. I don’t even recall the exact moment I made the choice. There was just one instant where I was standing there; staring at Director Twinkle with her fangs poised over Arcaidia, then another instant where time seemed to freeze. Not because of Accelerator, I hadn’t activated it, didn’t intend to risk it if there was a chance any trace amount of drugs in my system would cause it backfire like before. No, there was just this single instant where the image of Director Twinkle and Arcaidia was replaced with another sight, that of the cave. The cave where me and Trailblaze found Arcaidia. The place everything had changed for me. I saw Trailblaze, the gecko’s jaws clamped around her neck, the blood flowing like red rivers. I remembered that feeling of helplessness, of utter powerlessness, and the absolute unrestrained need I’d felt to save my friend.

The image of Trailblaze and Arcaidia interposed over one another, and all hesitation left me.

A single silver streak pierced the darkness of the terminal station.

I stood there, breathing hard, blood still dripping from my mouth from all my earlier injuries, legs shaking as the numbness left me and pain returned full force.

“I said… I didn’t want to kill you… ” my voice sounded hollow between heavy breaths, drained of feeling, “But that didn’t mean… I wouldn’t… “

Director Twinkle didn’t respond. She couldn’t, really. Gramzanber was embedded to the shaft between her eyes.

The massive spider pony twitched once, twice, then simply slumped, red eyes glassy with the empty stare of the dead. Arcaidia shook her head to free it from the dead grip of the hooked leg and looked over at the body, then over at me.

“Esru tu vira?”

I didn’t respond, just kept standing there. It was like I was a dreamer in my own body, only vaguely connected to it. Suddenly the floor looked very, very comfy. I began to tilt over but felt a warm body on one side of me, steadying me as a white wing draped across my back.

“Steady there Long, steady,” said B.B, looking at me with gentle calm, “Deep breaths. Yer alright, we’re alright, it’s over.”

I didn’t even notice how badly I was shaking until I felt her next to me, steady as a rock. Binge was on my other side, grinning and resting one foreleg in front of the other as she gave me what seemed to me like an appraising look.

“Mmm, that’s a good look, my little bucky-wucky. You’ll be swimming in it before long, so savor this first step into the foal’s end of the pool. Getting your hooves wet for the first time is always the hardest, but such a special moment. If only I had a camera.”

B.B gave the green mare a hard look, “Now’s not the time fer that kind o’ talk. Just leave off him, ya hear?”

“…Arcaidia… ought to get her out of that stuff… ” I said faintly and took a shuddering step forward towards where Arcaidia was already extracting herself from the webbing. I was trying very hard not to look at the slumped form behind her, or the silver spear sticking out of it.

“I got her, Long,” said B.B, “You go find a’ spot ta sit an’ rest. Yer lookin’ rather tore up, so I’ll get Arcaidia over right quick to give ya some healin’.”

Nearby Misty Glasses was starring at Director Twinkle’s body, and all the hissing arguing among the spider ponies had completely stopped. I wasn’t really paying much attention, but I did hear Misty Glasses say under her breath, “They really did it… they really went and did it.”

There were a few minutes, or maybe longer, I wasn’t sure, where I found myself sitting on my haunches against the front of the train. Arcaidia was next to me, looking me over with concern as she cast a healing aura over my body. While the injuries were fading from my body, the hollow feeling hadn’t gone anywhere. Arcaidia nuzzled me a bit, to which I tried to give her a smile, but I think the emptiness of it unnerved her more than anything else.

LIL-E had exited the train and had floated over to where Misty Glasses was talking amongst the spider ponies, all of which had gathered around us. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I heard the eyebots mechanical voice, catching a word here or there, but not enough to really follow the conversation. I think they were trying to decide what to do with us, now that their leader was… dead.

Dead…

…fuck…

I had to do it… didn’t I… ?

Somehow I couldn’t get a fully coherent thought to form. I didn’t want to. I was fine just sitting here, not thinking. Because I’m not the brightest buck in my tribe. Thinking isn’t my strong suit. Especially about complicated questions like whether or not there’d been any other way out of that situation besides… what I did.

It’s funny. For so many ponies in the Wasteland killing is just a way of life. Part of the status quo. To say you’ve killed is to say you’ve learned how to walk. There are some who don’t like it, good ponies who recognize it’s not a good thing, but they acknowledge it’s an irreversible part of the world they live in, especially if they want to live in it a long time and protect what’s important to them. Even in my own tribe this was the way of things, every hunter knowing that protecting the tribe may involve killing.

So if what I did was something that could be considered commonplace, even acceptable, by the world at large… why did I feel like I’d failed? It was a line I never wanted to cross. A barrier I'd set for myself. I felt like I'd betrayed my own ideals, breaking through that barrier. What excuse would I have in the future, when faced with others who'd inevitably seek to harm me and my friends? If I tried to avoid killing them, would I then be truly a hypocrite?

I knew I'd made the choice. I had no idea if I'd be able to make it again, but ultimately it had still been my own will that had crossed that barrier. I had no idea at all how to feel about that, so I think I spent a fair bit of time sitting there, trying very hard not to feel anything.

It took me a bit to notice Misty Glasses gray coated form standing in front of me, her eight legs clicking as they shifted about in place, one of them raising to adjust the big rimmed glasses on her nose which I noticed got misted up so that they obscured her eyes for a moment.

“It has been decided among us that you and your companions may rest and recuperate here. Those that supported Director Twinkle have… fallen in line, as it were. I’m going to unlock the armory and let your other companions out now, if you’d like to be there to keep them from reacting violently and tell them the conflict is over.”

I nodded slowly, standing and following the spider pony towards the armory door, where I saw B.B, Binge, LIL-E, and Arcaidia all waiting. The rest of the terminal station I noticed was empty. I suppose the spider ponies had gone off, in case my companions got violent again. I couldn’t blame them, we’d done a number on this place, now that I thought about it. I was surprised they were taking things so well, but then maybe I wouldn’t be so eager to start another fight with a group of ponies that killed dozens of us, including our twenty foot tall leader.

As I approached I noticed Arcaidia was carrying Gramzanber in a ice blue aura of magic, and once I was close enough she looked to me and floated it towards me, bowing her head.

“Estu dol ARM, soval.”

I looked at the spear, at its wide serrated blade. A part of me wanted nothing more than to turn it away. I felt the old familiar pressure in my head, alongside a impulse to take hold of the spear. If it’d just been that feeling alone I might have just refused to take the spear back, but I also felt a comforting and familiar presence from the spear, and encouraging feeling almost pulsing from the silver weapon. I went up to Arcaidia and took the spear into my mouth.

“Thanks for holding onto it,” I said, and then added after a pause, “Sorry if I… worried you before. You’re alright?”

“Esru gloval, ren solva,” she said with a small smile.

“Can we get this door open now?” asked LIL-E, “I’m worried about Sweet Pear. She was badly injured when the door closed.”

“Do not worry,” said Misty Glasses, “Even if you cleaned out our medical bay, the equipment still there should be more than enough to heal the injuries you have suffered. Now let me just get onto the terminal here. The Director’s wireless control of the system was problematic, but since she’s no longer a factor, I should have no trouble overriding the lockdown.”

“Wireless, just like me then,” commented LIL-E, “So, you and her, are you both cybernetically enhanced?”

“The module that allows me to speak to you is a cybernetic implant, yes, but that is all I have. Director Twinkle modified herself far more extensively, and forbade anypony else from doing the same, not that many of us wished to… ah, here we are.”

Misty Glasses clicked a few last buttons on the terminal monitor that was beside the armory doors and they slide open with a heavy hydraulic thud. We were immediately greeted by the tube of what I recognized as a rocket launcher, which caused many of my companions to gasp and dive to the side. The rocket launcher didn’t fire, however, and soon Iron Wrought poked his head out from behind the weapon.

He looked at us sprawled on the floor, covering our heads, and he coughed apologetically.

“Sorry. Does this mean we won?”

Before any of us could respond there was a growl from behind him and Iron Wrought was roughly shoved aside. Out came Fine Eye, double barreled shotgun floating next to the salvager unicorn’s head as he looked around with angry, wide eyes.

“Where is she!?” the unicorn stallion shouted, “Where is that damned Raider that fired those missiles!?”

Iron Wrought gave a harsh curse under his breath, “Fine Eye, calm down! LIL-E, get in here, quick. Sweet Pear needs a healing potion or ten, and I don’t have any medical skills.”

“I am not calming down!” shouted Fine Eye, “My wife is dying because you all have a Raider in your midst, and she fired missiles at us!”

Iron Wrought face hoofed and just gestured for LIL-E to enter the armory, which the eyebot did after giving me a brief look, to which I nodded for her to go ahead. Misty Glasses had scuttled off to the side, a scared look on her face from the enraged and armed Fine Eye. I’d moved close to him. I didn’t need more of this, not now. There had been enough violence and death for one day.

“Fine Eye, we’ll help your wife. She’ll be fine. Just put the gun down.”

“Don’t tell me things you don’t know for sure!” he yelled in my face, and I could see he was shaking, almost as much as I was when I’d killed Director Twinkle, “You haven’t seen her. She’s… she’s… ”

I was about to say more to try and calm him down, but Binge chimed in, hoof rubbing her chin.

“Hmmm, I didn’t think any of Geary’s party favors would make such big bangs, so I’ll just say ‘my bad’ on that one. There wasn’t an instruction manual, so I just had to button mash for that portion of the game. At least it wasn’t a quick-time event. Can’t stand those.”

Binge’s speaking up finally clued in Fine Eye, who I imagined had been seeing with tunnel vision up until now and hadn’t really noticed the Raider mare off to the side. When he did look at her I saw the way his eyes widened and there wasn’t a second of hesitation as he swung the double barreled shotgun around to aim at Binge’s face.

Ancestors damn it not again-!

I’d shoved myself between them without thinking about it, only intent on putting something between Binge and that barrel before-

BAM!

I’d been shot before, and that had always hurt. This didn’t hurt. It was just one second being in my right senses, and the next being flat on my back, unable to breath, and the world echoing with a distant ringing.

For the record, this made the fifth time I’d passed out thus far in my journey. Just for those who were keeping count.

----------

I woke up in a much more pleasant manner than how I’d lost consciousness. There was a soft bed beneath me, and pleasant, if sterile lighting above me. As my green eyes flicked open I had to squint them for a moment against the florescent light in the ceiling above me. I was tucked into a medical bed, I could see, one of several situated in a somewhat dusty but otherwise clean and fairly decent sized room.

A tube ran into one of my hooves leading to a metal pole that had a plastic bag, dripping some liquid into me. I was a tad unnerved by that, but didn’t dare touch the tube. Looking to my left and right I saw the room had a number of tables covered with what I figured must have been medical equipment. There was a door to my right, and beside that a desk with a soft glowing terminal.

At this terminal was Misty Glasses, her spidery legs clacking away at the terminal keys with soft, rhythmic taps. I quirked my eyebrows as I noticed she’d, somehow, fit on a white lab coat awkwardly over her arachnid shaped body.

As I stirred she stopped typing on the terminal and turned to me, adjusting her glasses as they nearly fell off her nose. She smiled, as she approached me, her synthesized voice coming from the module built into her throat.

“Good morning Longwalk, or rather, good afternoon. I suppose it is around three o’clock after noon. How are you feeling?”

What a simple question; but even as I opened my mouth to answer I found I couldn’t really say much. How was I feeling? My body, shockingly enough, felt fine. But I couldn’t really account for the rest of me. Too much too fast. My brain stabbed an image of Director Twinkle’s dead eyes at me and I had to resist the urge to vomit. I swallowed back bile and tired to meet Misty Glasses smile with one of my own, but could barely get my lips to twitch.

“I’m here,” I said, “Um… where is here?”

“Medlab,” she replied, “You’ve been recovering for three days, almost a full twenty four hours longer than Fine Eye’s wife took to recover.”

“What happened?” I tried to sit up in bed experimentally, finding that I could without much trouble. There was a faint tightness to my chest, and my limbs felt pretty stiff, but otherwise I didn’t feel any pain.

“Well, after your companion shot you in the chest, shielding that mare Binge, the rest of your companions subdued him. I think that unicorn filly Arcaidia was inches from turning him into a popsicle, but your pegasus friend talked her down. Both you and Fine Eye’s wife were rushed to the medlab here where I spared no effort in saving your lives. You’re welcome by the way. Sweet Pear I believe her name was, well she’d suffered severe burn and shrapnel wounds from the Fully Tuned Gear’s missile payload, but honestly her injuries looked worse than they were. You were the harder case. The buckshot tore through the metal barding and pieces of that barding got lodged in your lungs. I had to be very careful in extracting them, and utilize Arcaidia’s healing Crest Sorcery in conjunction with a direct healing potion IV drip to ensure all the damage was repaired. I would recommend you take it easy for the next few days as well, as your body has had no small amount of trauma to overcome and you shouldn’t push yourself.”

I absorbed that information, slowly sitting back down in the bed and running a hoof through my messy blue mane. My stomach grumbled suddenly. Misty Glasses sighed.

“I’ll see if I can find something for you to eat. I’m afraid my Stable’s food issue was quite severe, however. I’ve already sent a party to the surface to see what can be foraged. Perhaps they’ve returned.”

“It’s okay,” I said, “My friends might have something. Just… Ancestors above I have so many questions for you.”

“I imagine you do, but they can wait until you’ve gotten your hooves under you. I’ll go let your friends know you’re awake now.”

“Can you answer just one, then, before you go?” I asked, and she paused at the door.

“Was there any chance at all that Director Twinkle was bluffing? Would she really have killed Arcaidia?”

I asked because, from all I could see, Misty Glasses had at least known Director Twinkle on a somewhat personal level. While I had dozens of questions in my head about how Stable 104 came to be how it was, where the spider ponies came from, what Crest Sorcery was and how they knew about it, and what all the things they were researching here was… those questions sat at the back of my mind in comparison to the big on at the forefront of my brain.

Had there been any other way out of that situation?

Misty Glasses looked sidelong at me, slowly adjusting her glasses again, her expression solemn.

“The Director was not a mare who bluffed. She would have killed your friend.”

“Oh… ” I said.

“I’ll go get your friends now,” Misty Glasses said after an uncomfortable pause, leaving me to my thoughts.

I lay there in the bed, trying to rest, and feeling anything but restful. I should have been relaxed, or even felt some sense of accomplishment, right? My friends were safe, for the time being, despite a little hiccup with Fine Eye. I’d need to get that sorted out as soon as I could, but I was glad Sweet Pear had survived her injuries. Theoretically there was now nothing to stop us from getting a copy of Dr. Lemon Slice’s research to give to Iron Wrought so he could protect his family, and the rest of us could go link up with Doc Sunday. After that… well I’d finally be able to actually take Arcaidia to the NCR to find Persephone.

I should have been happy things had turned out so well…

The dead, red eyes of Director Twinkle stared at me from the depths of my own mind.

----------

Footnote: Level Up!

Perk Added – Dead Throw: You may not like it, but when it comes to thrown weapons, you’re becoming a real killer. All thrown weapons deal 50% more damage on a critical hit.

Skill Notes:
Speech: 50
Survival: 50

Current Conditions: Poisoned cured!

Bonus EX-File: Party Weapons “B.B’s Custom Dual Revolvers”

Dmg: 35
Crit chance multiplier: x1
Capacity: 6 (.357 magnum)
Weapon spread: 0.2
Value in caps: 2000
Skill Req: Guns 50
Special Bonuses: +1 LUK, +10% AP regeneration

Author's Note:

Annnnnd, here we are, chapter 11, or as I liked to call it 'the boss battle that took too long'! Just about finished with the Stable 104 arc though, just some rest and wrap up for our party, then its off to Skull City! Geez, for a place that so central to the story sure is taking me awhile to get there, but hoping you folks are enjoying the ride so far. So let's thank our usual suspects: KKat of course for creating FoE in the first place, and Media Vision for creating Wild Arms. Without either, I'd never have thought to write this story. Also big thanks to all commentators and readers in general; especially you folks who keep finding my many, many typos and errors and letting me know to fix 'em.

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