• Published 25th Jun 2012
  • 4,305 Views, 436 Comments

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.

  • ...
26
 436
 4,305

PreviousChapters
Chapter 37: Demon Spear

Heading once more into the infernally dusty, hot, and smoke choked streets of Manehattan, I was oddly comforted to have Crossfire taking the lead in this instance. For a mare who’d once been, at best, a dangerously opportunistic sometimes-enemy sometimes-associate of convenience, I felt like for the first time I might actually trust her. Her willingness, however reluctantly, to take up the ARM Iskender Bey in her sister’s stead, essentially protecting Purity from having to go into danger herself, in my eyes showed a change in Crossfire’s priorities.

After all, there weren’t any caps to be made by doing what she was doing. Whether she was focused on saving one or two lives that mattered to her, especially in Knobs’ case, didn’t matter. Crossfire was acting for a cause beyond money, and it left me finally seeing her as a pony I could call a friend. Whatever dangers and horrors were about to come our way, I’d have no hesitance facing them alongside her.

Of course it did help that I still had my other good friends at my back, with only B.B absent. I sincerely hoped my pegasus friend was alright and would catch up with us soon. Speaking of pegasi, I looked up to see Sunset and her platoon of Odessa soldiers keeping easy pace with us from the air as we exited the temporary NCR camp and started a fast canter down the center street leading towards Manehattan’s Capitol Building.

We still had quite a distance of city to cover to reach it, and from the coiling fog of smoke from burning buildings ahead, the pops and cracks of gunfire both magical and conventional, combined with the ghastly sound of shouts and screams... it was clear we were heading into the thickest of the fighting so far.

Arcaidia was on our left, her silver mane stained with soot and blood, but her eyes were keenly sharp for danger and she was the first to spot the danger ahead, shouting a warning that gave the rest of us time to sprint for cover right before a group of winged bio-beasts strafed us. The creatures had purple and gold wings like that of some mutated butterfly or moth, four of them spreading from a chitinous, centipede-like body ending with a long, stinger caped tail. The creatures lanced their tails at us as they buzzed overhead. I threw myself behind an overturned wagon on the side of the road, hearing the dull impacts of projectiles on the road behind me. I saw large, ten inch spines of bone sticking from the street, embedded into the concrete with ease, and each spine dripped thick purple goo that gave off a horrid stench like acid burning my nostrils.

Sunset and her squadron reacted quickly to the aerial threat, the well trained Odessa soldiers putting their anti-alien warfare skills to the test as they split up in expert fashion, the pegai wheeling through the air to engage the flying xeno monsters with withering hails of magical weapons fire. Sunset herself boosted through the air with a ridiculous hairpin turn that would have been impossible for anypony not cybernetically rebuilt like she was, the rocket thrusters under her metal wings burning the sky as she blazed in behind one bio-monster and unleashed a concentrated series of plasma bolts that shredded its wings and sent it screaming into the ground with a wet crunch.

I popped my head over the edge of the overturned wagon and reared up, hefting Gramzanber in my mouth and taking careful aim as several of the bio-monsters banked around for another pass at us. The massive ARM felt light as ever in my grasp as I took a deep breath and remembered my hunter roots, leading the shot as my mother had taught me, long ago. I hurled Gramzamber just as the first bio-beast started to fire, and the silver spear lanced it straight through the head.

At the same time I heard the crack of LIL-E’s revolver and rifle mounts, stitching holes in another beast that wobbled in the air, then was brought down by a well paced lance of ice cast by Arcaidia.

The beast still lived, even after hitting the ground, but Binge was on it in an instant, the ripper-knife in her mouth humming to life as it’s chain blade chewed into the wounded creature. It thrashed, and tried to stab it’s tail at her, causing my own throat to hitch in fear for a moment, but Binge twisted out of the way and flicked her tail, hurling a knife from it that knocked the tail stinger away and gave Binge time to jab her chainsaw knife into the creature’s head.

Meanwhile Crossfire stood in the open, drawing the remaining bio-beast’s fire. As poison spines struck around her, Crossfire took careful aim with her rifle and fired a shot that burst into a cloud of flechettes. The flechettes shredded two bio-beasts’ wings and caused them to stumble in the air and lower closer to the ground, but not quite crash. Then Crossfire brought her new weapon to bear, using her magic to spin Iskender Bey towards the still oncoming pair. The large silver blade proved itself Gramzanber’s match in terms of sharpness, treating the creature’s partially metallic flesh like paper and spilling thick purple blood and severed entrails across the street in a gory splatter.

When it was done she floated the sword back to her side, giving it a sour look, as if she wasn’t quite satisfied with it yet. As I teleported Gramzanber back to me and joined her and my other companions back in the center of the street, Crossfire looked at me.

“So how’s this thing supposed to work anyway, buck? Sure it’s sharp, but that’s what a fucking sword is supposed to do. When do I get the fancy super-speed or whatever?”

“I don’t think it works that way,” I said, still looking around for danger. There were a few of the flying bio-beasts still in the air, but Sunset and her squad were taking care of them with practiced precision. It was rather impressive to see Odessa doing the job they’d trained for, rather than having them coming after me and my friends. If only I could figure out how to keep it that way.

Crossfire was turning her sour look towards me, now, “This thing isn’t going to do me much good if I can figure out how to use it now. You must have some idea of how. You’ve been using that spear of yours since I met you.”

“It different with Longwalk,” said Arcaidia, “He take base ARM sphere and convert it to Gramzanber himself, so Gramzanber truly his ARM, with spirit synced to him. You take Iskender Bey after it take shape already, so sync rate not same. Takes time to re-sync in full.”

“How much time?”

“Not know. Maybe soon, maybe not. Just keep using ARM and synch shall rise,” Arcaidia said, then frowned as she looked further down the street, “Do other ponies hear that?”

I tilted my head, raising one ear up more to try and hear better. In the distance I heard... laughter? Bellowing, deep throated laughter, followed by the sound of some tremendous impact. “I don’t know what that is but it sounds like somepony is enjoying this hell way too much.”

“Can’t blame anypony for trying to have a little fun with the violence,” Binge said, wagging her tail, although her expression carried with it a serious cast, “If it was just me, I’d be tickled pink with this smorgasbord of bloodshed. Buuuuut, ponies I like are here, so it sours things because I really want all of you to keep your organs on the inside, now.”

“What, implying you didn’t feel that way before?” asked LIl-E, partially joking, I thought, but Binge just grinned at the eyebot.

“It was fiffty-fiffty back then, but they're different. I got my bucky, and all of you are part of the fam. Even Grumpy Guss over here,” Binge elbowed Crossfire, who growled at the ex-Raider with glaring eyes, but Binge just kept on grinning.

“Let’s keep moving,” I said, noticing Sunset’s squadron had finished off the flying monsters and were regrouping in the air above us, “And make sure we all stay alert. LIl-E, do you have a fix on B.B’s position with your sensors?”

I knew the eyebot had much better senses than any of us, even with my Pip-Buck’s E.F.S.

“I did, but she dropped off my sensors about a minute ago,” LIL-E replied, but before I could start to panic she added, “That’s not surprising. There’s a lot going on around us, so it’s a miracle I kept her on scanners as long as I did. She was fine, though. Looked like she’d gotten the last of those civilians off the roof and was making her way towards us. Might’ve gotten hung up by more of these ugly-as-sin flying warts.”

“She will be okay,” Arcaidia said, “I know it. She probably catch up at Capitol Building.”

“...Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go,” I said, and proceeded to catch a magical bolt straight into my side.

The pain exploded through me and I hit the ground hard, and I heard Arcaidia scream “Ren solva!” while Binge let out a string of swears I could barely follow. Groaning, I looked at my smoking side. My security armor had been penetrated right behind the right side of my rib cage, and a thickly layered sensation of burning accompanied the stink of singed fur and flesh.

I wasn’t sure how badly I was wounded, but I could still move my head, and saw my companions turning to face a contingent of Hyadean skeletal monstrosities that were charging out of the swirling smoke down the street. Many were firing off spells that conjured dark bolts of magic, aimed from the tips of their strangely purple tinted blades. I figured it must have been one of those that hit me. Normally my armor was pretty good at holding up against attacks, but after the past few days the wear and tear of all the fighting must have created some weak spots in the golden gecko scales.

Grunting in pain, I tried to push up with my hooves, but the pain grew too intense, even for my definitions of it. That bolt must have gotten deep. I was stuck watching as my friends hit the line of skeletal warriors like a living storm.

Arcaidia’s starblaster blazed brilliant lances of white energy through several skeleton skulls, then with an echoing shout she formed a multi-layered crest around her horn. Chunks of ice spun together to form a giant, Vertibuck sized shard that crashed down amid the center of the monstrous forces, smashing dozens to chips of bone.

Shots from Crossfire’s rifle shredded a dozen more, and then both the rifle’s bayonet and Iskender Bey flew in deadly tandem to smash through bones and bio-organic sinew. The Neighlisus ARM handily deflected black bolts of magic like swatting down mosquitoes, and Crossfire teleported about the street in pops of crimson magic, slicing apart anything she appeared next to.

LIL-E used her weapons to cover Binge as she dragged me off the street, Binge’s eyes filled with uncharacteristic fear and worry as she looked at my wound. She was dragging me with her teeth, and used her remarkably dexterous tail to fling a grenade at a cluster of skeletons that had gotten past Arcaidia and Crossfire. They were scattered by the frag grenade’s explosion, and LIL-E’s expert gunfire picked off the survivors.

Taken to cover around a pile of rubble from one of the buildings along the side of the road, Binge pulled out a health potion from her mane (how did she keep so much stuff in there) and fed it to my sputtering self.

“Hang in there, bucky, and drink up the healing juice. Get it all in,” she said, and I tried my best not to cough around the potion.

It hit my gut in a hot buzz, and it did help some in driving back the pain, but I still felt like my insides were on fire, even after downing the whole potion. “I’m... I’m okay,” I said, and I heard Gramzanber in my head.

You are not, in fact, okay. Analysis of your physical state suggests damage to your stomach and upper intestines that will require further magical or medical aid to repair.

I tried to laugh but it mostly came out as a groan, “Gee, thanks Gram, real confidence booster, you are.”

Binge looked at my spear and gave it a smack, “Don’t make Longykins feel bad, but if he needs more heal pots, I’ll get a beer tap and make him chug.”

“H-how many healing potions do you even have?” I asked, and she frowned.

“Not as much as I want to right now. Knew I should have been stealing more, but nooooo, you had to start making me want to be a better pony...stupid Longy.”

“It’s fine, I’ve got some in my...ugh... saddlebags...argh, why does this hurt so much? I’ve been shot before. It wasn’t this bad.”

Hyadean attack spells are designed to cause maximum pain by assaulting the nerves directly, as well as causing physical damage, said Gramzanber, and I gave my ARM an incredulous look.

“What’s even the point of thaaaaggh, Binge, be careful!”

Binge had rolled me over, admittedly as gently as she could, to get into my saddlebags to fish out more healing potions. I didn’t have that many left, but it was enough for her to start upending them down my throat like she was trying to get my drunk on the things. Every bit of weirdly carrot-tasting, purple substance made my stomach feel a bit warm and a bit less like I’d swallowed a bag of glass. Still, even with four healing potions now empty on the ground beside me, I still felt like I could hardly move.

Getting a look at my side a bit more clearly, now, I saw the magical bolt had burned a hole into me. The healing potions had closed the wound, but I had a good inch deep divot in my flesh, and I knew it was going to leave one ugly looking scar. Good, it could join the one on my face. If this kept up, me and Binge were going to be competing for who had the most patchwork body.

Oddly, I found that notion rather comforting. I wanted us both to survive this so we could lay together, comparing scars, and remembering getting through this insanity together.

“You’re gonna be okay, you hear me, Longwalk?” she said, leaning over me with worried eyes, and I just coughed a bit and managed a smile.

“Not planning to die quite this young,” I said and pulled her into a brief kiss.

“Ahem,” said a voice nearby, “If you’re able to do that, then you’re ass isn’t as badly hurt as I thought.”

“H-hey, I’m hurt. Super hurt. Actually, kinda still in agony... but, uh, you guys okay, Crossfire?”

Crossfire, covered in bits of bone and purple bio-goo, floated her rifle around behind her and fired off a shot. I heard a skeleton crack apart in the distance. Crossfire went about reloading her rifle and said, “We’re fine now. Cleared out those stupid ass walking bone piles. Can you walk?”

I tried to stand, with Binge supporting me. It hurt like an utter bitch, but I could get my legs under me. “Standing... check. Walking... ugh, I’ll get back to you on that.”

“Lonwalk!” Arcaidia arrived, LIL-E floating behind her, keeping her guns trained on the street in case more skeletons arrived.

“I’m sorry,” LIL-E said, “My sensors should have seen those bastards coming. I’m getting a lot of interference out here.”

Arcaidia came up to me and looked my wound over, her eyes narrowed to silver slits of concentration, “Hyadean bolt make for bad wound. I help heal, but it still slow you down.”

“I get any slower, I’ll be molasses,” I said, taking in careful breaths. Looking at my friends, I saw they were all feeling it too, the exhaustion. Most sported various small injuries, and were covered in sweat, blood, and dirt. Arcaidia looked ready to collapse. That huge ice shard must have taken a lot out of her.

And B.B’s missing. We’re not even at the Capitol Building and we’re down one of us, I’m barely standing, and the others aren’t much better off...

I thought about the Hyadean, Alhazad, and how powerful he was. How we’d struggled to keep pace with him, back at the Ark of Destiny. I thought of the Hyadean who’s nanomachines were inside me, Zeikfried. I’d only ever seen him through the video footage of his escape from Stable 104, but I’d never forgotten the way he’d torn through the place, or how he’d destroyed the Stable door built to withstand Megaspells.

Even if me and my friends were at 100% I’d be concerned about our chances of winning. In our present condition... if I asked everypony to keep moving forward, would I just be asking for the equivalent of suicide? I’d just taken a magic bolt to the side that I hadn’t seen coming, and it’d laid me out to the point that even draining all my remaining health potions still left me shaking on my hooves.

And I’d gotten lucky. What if that bolt had struck higher? Hit my heart, or my head?

“Guys...” said, seriously considering the idea of pulling back. We’d done our part. Tried our best. Nopony could claim we hadn’t fought. Nopony could reasonably expect more of us. I didn’t want to lose any of my friends.

But some of those friends were still in danger. Some of them were at that Capitol Building, like Knobs. Some were out there fighting, like B.B, wherever she’d gone. And there was an entire city of innocents still under threat from this attack, an attack spearheaded by an alien menace I was tied to by my father’s tinkering with my body and the ARM I possessed.

I was so close to breaking, to throwing in the towel, but I couldn’t. I still had more to do, even if it killed me.

“...Let’s go, this time without the ‘me getting shot’ part.”

Sunset and her squadron had landed nearby, waiting for me and my friends to get back onto the street. They’d been covering the alleyways with their magical rifles, and as I came out, leaning on Binge, Sunset took one look at me and winced.

“You’re going to need a med-tech after this,” she said.

“I’ve got the next best thing,” I said, nodding to Arcaidia as the unicorn put her horn to work and unleashed her healing magic upon me. Soft, cold blue flowed over me and icy cold assaulted the painful blaze in my stomach.

“I not able to heal all,” Arcaidia said, sucking down half of another magic potion, it’s blue glow reflecting off her lighter blue fur, “Enough for you to keep moving. Not get shot again, ren solva. Scars not look good on you.”

“Beg to differ, star pony,” Binge said.

Sunset shook her head, “I’ve got a Vertibuck on standby to provide additional air cover as we move forward. Reports show we’ve got a lot of enemies between us and our destination, but the NCR is getting its act together fast. Troops are mounting a counteroffensive all across the city, and the Rangers are here now, led by Calamity.”

“Who?” I asked, and Sunset offered a shrug.

“Big shot hero from the NCR founding days. One of the Lightbringer’s crew, so I hear. His Rangers got a good rep. City isn’t lost yet, kid. If you’re up to it, we’re good to move on your word.”

“Already gave it,” I replied, trying to keep my face from showing the pain still churning my gut, despite Arcaidia’s healing efforts and four health potions. We got moving soon after, Sunset and her pegasi and griffins taking to the sky. A few moments later I heard the distinct, throaty whines of Vertibuck engines and one of Odessa’s flying vehicles swooped above.

I’d been shot at plenty by those things, but now the Vertibuck turned its nose-mounted guns and side mounted missile pods on the streets ahead of us. The high pitched buzz of gatling laser fire was joined by the hiss of streaking rockets, and our path forward was cleared of clusters of bio-monsters that prowled through the smoke.

The next few minutes, or hours, it was hard to tell, flowed by in a pained haze for me. I had to focus so much on putting one hoof in front of the other that I couldn’t keep track of the details beyond the next moment to moment of trying to keep moving and stay alive. The streets ahead became ever more strewn with bodies and rubble, more and more of them the blood stained forms of torn apart or magically melted NCR soldiers. Bio-monsters were stalking through the alleys or climbing across buildings, rushing at us from swirls of black smoke and shadows. I could still swing Gramzanber well enough to fight, but every motion now brought a wave of pain alongside it that I desperately tried to ignore.

Arcaidia started slowing her shots with her starblaster to conserve it’s limited ammunition, and slowed her magic even more to preserve her strength. She kept close to me, eyeing my wound with constant concern burning in her eyes. Binge covered our rear, lobbing grenades at any monsters that snuck around behind us, and started to cackle with greater manic intensity as she went rapid on any bio-monsters that got too close, knives flashing through blood and fire.

Crossfire remained at the front of the group, marching like a grim, black reaper. Her rifle and Iskender Bey moved with mechanical precision in her magical grip, cutting and blasting the way forward through any beasts that survived the Vertibuck’s onslaught. Sunset and her squadron in the meantime flitted through the smoke above, wraith-like as they hit creatures on the buildings and rooftops, clearing out those trying to sling spells at us from those elevated positions. LIL-E floated up to help them, her weapons chattering almost ceaselessly, until at some point she floated back down and said in deadpan, robotic monotone, “Fuck my mechanical dong, I’m out of ammo.”

“Just hang back then,” I said, strained as I almost stumbled a step from a particularly nasty twinge of pain from my wound, “We got to be close.”

I hoped that was the case, at any rate. The first good sign was that now we weren’t alone on the streets. NCR soldiers were appearing with more frequency, often as we came across holdouts that had taken cover in storefronts or thrown rubble and wagons together to form barricades. Every such group we passed by started marching alongside us, adding their firepower to our forward momentum. At first it was just two or three ponies, but soon enough it seemed like we had a whole contingent or several dozen or more blood soaked, wounded, ash covered soldiers moving alongside us. They fired into the bio-monsters in our path with well trained if desperate skill, and when ammo ran dry, they resorted to clubbing with their gun hilts or pulling knives.

Some died to skeletal blades, monstrous claws, or poisoned darts from flying beasts, but it seemed whenever one NCR soldier fell screaming, there was another soot stained survivor joining us from elsewhere.

I’d lost track of the streets we’d passed, or if we’d made any turns. I was following Crossfire at this point, trusting the Drifter to know her path. I was starting to feel like nothing was going to stop her until she reached Knobs’ side, like she was driven by forces beyond mere magic or muscle. We all were, our bodies beyond the breaking limit, but we just kept moving forward through the fire and tide of enemies.

Then, finally, without me realizing how close we’d been, I found green grass under my hooves.

It was the front lawn of the Capitol Building. The white edifice loomed above us, less than a hundred yards away, across a green field strewn with the broken wreckage of Vertibucks, a destroyed NCR army camp, and countless scores of crushed pony bodies.

The building itself was still mostly intact, but I could see where its front doors had been torn apart, and several portions of its wall and interior had been smashed to pieces or it’s windows broken in. In the sky above I could see several Raptors hanging hundreds of feet up, discharging hailstorms of energy weapons fire at swarms of flying bio-monsters that darted through the dark clouds like locust. A Vertibuck was fall in a pulsing fireball in the distance, falling behind view behind the Capitol Building itself, who's NCR flag still flew high from it’s roof.

NCR soldiers, the survivors who’d joined us, spread out in a rough semi-circle, weapons trained ahead. At what was obvious, and my companions and I took a moment to stare at the sight before us.

“Bwahahaha!”

At least we knew where the laughter from earlier was coming from.

The creature stood easily at the height of five ponies stacked atop each other. It had a bipedal form, but it’s appearance was more akin to some mutilated cross between a frog and a gecko, with lizard-like, clawed feet attached to a huge pot-bellied body. Thick, burly shoulders and arms hung long and low from a torso clad in thick plates of green armor that looked physically grafted into muscle and flesh of a darker red shade, interconnected by veins of ropey pink tissue. A bestial face, wide like a frog’s, but tusked like a boar’s, bellowed laughter from it’s wide mouth. Solid yellow eyes gleamed from beneath a brutish brow, topped by a massive mane of wild, white hair that fell down the creature’s back.

This beast, a Hyadean I assumed, was laughing with booming guffaws as a group of pegasi flew about him.

The pegasi weren’t Odessa soldiers, but were rather armored in dark plated armor and wore thick, brown overcoats. Their rounded helmets were joined by gas masks with red eyes, and on the prominent black shoulder pads of their coats was the NCR symbol, and another sigil showing a winged blade, colored red.

“It’s the Rangers!” one NCR soldiers shouted in both amazement and relief, “General Calamity’s here!”

There was a ragged cheer from the soldiers, and I had to admit, I wanted to join in if I hadn’t been afraid how much cheering might hurt. It looked like the pegasi were giving the Hyadean monster one hell of a fight. There were only about six of them, but they were flying around the giant brute with incredible speed and skill, flipping in the air and darting about with the kind of aerial acrobatics I’ve only seen B.B pull off when she was on a blood rush.

They were armed with heavy looking rifles, fixed to their sides with battle saddles. The rifles bore long barrels with a square, knobby bit at the end, and when fired they boomed like a belch of thunder.

I could see the shots hitting the Hyadean, and felt my stomach drop at the realization that the rounds were mostly bouncing off his armored hide. One or two did draw a sort of thick, green blood, but from the way the creature stood there laughing, it was like he didn’t even care about the injuries.

Then, it spoke. Or rather ‘he’, based on the voice.

“Bwhahah! That’s some fine shooting and flying. Damn fine! You lot are way better than the lesser fodder I was dealing with at first. So, I’ll take my turn now, and see if you take it as well as you dish it out!”

I’d failed to notice at first, but the creature bore a rather odd weapon. In its hands hung a huge chain of dark metal, which was attached to what appeared to be a sizable ball as easily ten feet wide, covered in prominent spikes. It struck me as entirely out of the ordinary for an alien creature to be carrying what looked like such a primitive weapon, until I saw the creature swing it.

With almost casual ease the beast spun the chain, and sent the spiked ball flying. It moved like something that had an invisible, giant hand guiding it. It flew at angles that should have been impossible from the way the Hyadean had spun it, shifting at sudden right angles or spiraling in ungainly circles.

Regardless, three of the NRC Rangers were caught utterly off guard by the attack, their bodies splattered like balloons of blood that suddenly popped.

The other three narrowly avoided the same fate, one of them letting out a harsh, deeply accented curse, “Gorramit, ya ugly rat bastard! Yer gonna pay fer all o’ this!”

The pegasus in question managed a sudden stop and turnover maneuver that sent him hurtling past the Hyadean at breakneck speed. His rifles boomed in tandem, smacking the Hyadean square in the face with both shots and stumbling the creature back. The pegasus wasn’t done, flipping again and rolling with incredible speed and agility to fire another pair of twin shots that rocked the beast in the side of the head. It was impressed with the smooth, fast maneuvers the pegasus was pulling off, having only seen comparable moves from the likes of Shattered Sky, or B.B when she was on a blood high.

The pegasus’ two surviving comrades had flown higher and were backing him up with tossed grenades, which landed at the bulky Hyadan beast’s feet and detonated with flashes of magical green plasma.

Yet despite the hammering, this brutish monster was not only still standing, but the thick armor covering his bloated, muscled hide was only signed by the grenades. His head bore bleeding scratches where the earlier rounds had struck, but that was it. Knowing those huge rifles must have been firing some seriously high caliber rounds, the lack of apparent damage from them left my mouth dry.

“General Calamity!” shouted one of the NCR soldiers that had joined us in the rush through the city streets.

The pegasus in question flew about, hovering briefly to see all of us, and let out a sharp curse, “Oh gorramit, y'all need ta keep back! This walkin’ pile o’ warts is too dangerous fer regular troops ta handle! Fall back n’ leave this ta the Rangers!”

“Oh ho ho?” the Hyadean turned his solid yellow eyes towards us, letting a long, dark pink tongue loll out of his mouth to lick his lips and tusks, “I’m not against more fleshbags coming to play. Huh...? Wait a moment...”

Ignoring the Rangers, this Hyadean turned towards our gathered group fully and took a few lumbering steps towards us, his eyes peering directly at me and Crossfire. Or rather, less at us, and more at our ARMs.

“That what I think it is? Veruni ARMs? Hah! So Zeik wasn’t pulling my leg, there really are some of you squishy little ponyfolk traipsing about with genuine tech from those idiot Veruni! Bwhahaha! That’s hilarious! Look at you tiny horses, trying to use weapons millennia more advanced than your piss stain of a civilization! One of you is even holding one in your mouth. Can either of you even-”

The Hyadean stumbled forward as he was shot in the back of the head by Calamity, although the dual rounds from the pegasus Ranger’s twin rifles still only appeared to bounce off the monster’s ludicrously hard skull. The Hyadean wheeled about, bellowing, “Hey! Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking! It’s rude! Try this on for size!”

I heard a loud, deep sucking sound as the Hyadean opened his wide, toad-like mouth and drew in a massive breath that stirred the air around as if a literal wind was billowing past us.

At this point Sunset, who had taken up positions with her squadron above us, shouted out, “Pull up! That xeno bastard is using a sonic attack!”

Calamity and his fellow Rangers had a second or two to hear that and react before the Hyadean leaned forward and let out an unbelievable howl that blasted outward in a conical rift of wind and vibrating air. The sound was loud enough to make me clap my hooves over my aching ears, but it was clear the effect was much worse for those caught by the cone of unleashed wind and sonic force. Sunset’s warning had bought the Rangers the extra moment of time needed to pull up from the worst of the wave, but one of them still got caught with their lower half in the blast’s radius.

The wave distorted the pegasus’ hindquarters, and I flinched as I heard bones crack and the pony’s scream tear through the air. They started to fall, but their comrade swiftly dove around and caught them. I saw the cone of sonic sound waves continue onward to smash into the side of the Capitol Building with enough force to send cracks running up and down the building's walls and leave a circular indent nearly twenty feet wide.

“Smoke Cloud, git Yellow Stone outta here!” commanded Calamity, and the Ranger that had caught her comrade gave a sharp nod.

“What about you, sir?”

“Don’t worry ‘bout me! Git yer asses clear, now!”

As the Rangers obeyed their orders, the Hyadean glanced back at us, and then up at Sunset and the other Odessa soldiers and barked out another gruff laugh, “Hah, so it’s the self-proclaimed ‘defenders’ of this planet, popping in to say hi? I thought you didn’t deign to help out the poor little ‘landbound’ or whatever you call them?”

Sunset didn’t respond to him and instead looked at Calamity, “Hey, NCR! You mind if we cut in on some of your action, or did you want to kick this dipshit’s ass on your own?”

Calamity’s expression was impossible to see behind the Ranger mask he wore, but his posture was clear as he made an ‘after you’ gesture at the Hyadean, “Don’t know who you folk are, but long as yer aimin’ ta help, I won’t be sayin’ no!”

“Music to my ears! You heard the stallion, soldiers of Odessa! Open fire!”

With skilled and trained precision, the squadron of Odessa pegasi and griffins split up into smaller groups that started to surround the airspace around the hulking Hyadean. Green bolts of plasma and lances of crimson laser fire struck down upon the brute’s armored frame and he raised his arms to shield himself from the barrage. It didn’t look to me like the energy weapons were doing much more than ballistic rounds had, but there were some scorch marks appearing on those thick armored plates, so perhaps enough concentrated fire might do it?

“Fire! Fire! Fire!”

I wasn’t sure which trooper was shouting, but in seconds the valiant NCR soldiers around us ignored Calamity’s order to withdraw, and instead set up a firing line and started pouring shots from battle rifles into the Hyadean, adding their firepower to Sunset’s squadron. The air was filled with the rapid chatter of gunfire as bullet tracers stitched into the beast, almost all of them simply bouncing off his armor like they were trying to shoot a tank.

“Their guns not boomy enough to work,” Arcaidia said to me over the cracks of gunfire, “That is Hyadean knight! Ren solva, need to pierce armor with Gramzamber!”

“What’s this thing good for then!?” Crossfire said, waggling Iskender Beye, “It’s the same as the buck’s spear, ain’t it!?”

“You not synced with ARM, so not as strong yet,” Arcaidia said, “But go ahead and try. I back you both up with magic!”

“Oh oh, what do I get to do?” asked Binge, and Arcaidia gave her a flat look.

“Not die by hiding or being out of way.”

“Awwwww, if only I still had that shiny scythe the birdie’s brother gave me. Wait, will this work?” Binge said, reaching into her nest of a mane and yanking out a brick of high explosives. My eyes bulged out a tad, as she also got out a detonator and started setting the timer for it.

“Just how many explosives do you still have in there!?” I asked, and Binge just gave me an immensely unsettling wink.

“A mare never reveals all of her secrets, bucky!”

I shook my head, trying to ignore the fiery pain that still plunged my side into agony from my earlier wound. Looking at the situation, with the Hyadean ‘knight’ all but engulfed in a field of gunfire from both the ground and sky, I couldn’t even see an opening for me and my allies to jump in.

“How are we even going to get in there?” I said, “We’ll get caught up in the crossfire if we charge in.”

Crossfire gave me a funny look and I blinked back at her, “What? I know it’s your name, but that’s not what I meant.”

She rolled her eyes, “I know that! I was staring at you because don’t you have super speed? Can’t you just dodge through all of that fire?”

“Normally yeah...” I trailed off, trying not to let pain douse my features. I was running on empty as it was, and that side wound was draining me by the second. I knew if I used Accelerator right here and now, I might not be able to do it again anytime soon. Crossfire seemed to read what was going through my mind and she came up to me with an intense look flaring in her eyes an poked my chest, hard.

“Then throw it you numbnuts!”

Oh. Right. I must have been dealing with some serious blood loss at that point if I hadn’t thought of that as my first option.

“Brilliant plan,” said LIL-E, “Maybe we should focus on dodging, first.”

“Dodging whaaaaaAAAHHH!” I started to say, then ended up screaming as Crossfire had to grab me and fizzle out my senses for a moment with a teleportation spell, due to the fact that a moment later the Hyadean’s huge spiked ball smashed the spot we’d just been in.

“Bawahahah! This is getting fun! Never anything quite like smashing up a bunch of low-grade fodder for an afternoon workout!” the Hyadean chimed happily, spinning his flail around with wind shattering speed. Arcaidia used her magic to pull Binge away from a strike that soared right overhead and then smashed into a group of NCR soldiers with the kind of force usually reserved for missiles. Parts flew and blood rained down, but the NCR soldiers bitterly kept firing.

Arcaidia’s horn didn’t cease being coated in ever more layers of blue light, her magic now creating sloped shields of ice to protect the soldiers from the Hyadean’s spinning flail. The ice often shattered on impact, but deflected the ball enough to allow some of the soldiers to get out of harm’s way in time.

Crossfire and I appeared on the Hyadean’s other side, my eyes dizzy from the teleport, but Crossfire steadied me.

“Just wait for a clear shot,” she told me, “I’ll try and help make an opening. Don’t Goddess damned miss!”

“Y-yeah,” I said belatedly and took several deep breaths trying to focus myself.

Arcaidia turned her magic towards the Hyadean, sending spears of ice flying towards him. He smashed several with a backhanded strike of his fist, while several other shards lodged into his armor. From his grunt I think one of the shards might have actually penetrated deep enough to hurt.

“Pfft! You think a little ice is going to slow down the mighty Berserk! I’m one of the sanctioned Quarter Knights directly appointed by Lord Zeikfried to subjugate this mud ball planet! I was killing Veruni Sentinels over this heap of rock before your species was even banging rocks together to make fire!”

“Put a’ cork in it ya loudmouthed freakish varmint’!” Calamity darted down below one of the Hyadean, Berserk’s, swinging flail strikes, and inverted himself in mid-air as he went between Berserk’s legs. This gave him a near perfect shot with his twin rifles that struck right under Berserk’s chin. Granted, I might have gone for the groin, but with these Hyadean aliens it might not have been the best assumption of a weak spot. The dual anti-machine rifle rounds to the chin, however, was like getting an uppercut from a freight train. Tough and armored hide or not, that shot knocked Berserk cleanly on his ass.

At the same time, Binge crept in from the side while Berserk was still dazed and said, “Boop!” as she attached her brick of high explosives to his back, complete with a sign she’d pulled from somewhere and scrawled on with blood (possibly her own) ‘Kick Me!’

“Get off me you third rate lower lifeforms!” Berserk bellowed, smashing out with a fist that nearly caught Binge, but she managed to dance away from the blow. A good thing, because that first crater the ground where it hit, further showing this alien warrior’s immense strength.

“Think you’re about to get your opening,” Crossfire said, taking aim with her rifle and popping off several shots. Her rounds didn’t do much more than Calamity’s did, but they sure got Berserk’s attention as he glared towards the two of us.

I gulped as I saw him draw in breath again, preparing another of those sonic howls. Wounded as I was, I wasn’t going to be able to dodge it, so instead I hopped to my hind legs, grasping Gramzanber in my fire hooves to prepare to throw. If I could get the throw off before Berserk let loose that fatal howl...

Luckily Binge also had my back, having set her detonator timer just right. The explosives went off in a concussive blast that nearly knocked me off my hooves. I managed to keep myself steady, and for a moment most of the shooting from both NCR and Odessa soldiers slackened as everypony waited to see if the explosion had done the trick.

“Bwahaha...hah...ugh...”

No such luck. Berserk emerged from the smoke and flames, gleaming like a metallic demon. He was wounded, certainly, with the point blank blast having mangled some of the armor on his back and left brackish, purple blood oozing from several parts of him, but he still looked as strong as ever as he spun around and unleashed the howling breath he’d been keeping in. The unsuspecting NCR troopers were devastated by the wave of sound and wind that tore through them. Arcaidia formed a barrier of ice, but only had time to protect herself and LIL-E, along with a few lucky soldiers who were nearby.

I saw Binge spring away from the wave as well, but even her bouncy agility wasn’t enough to get totally clear. The edge hit her and sent her rolling like a log.

“Binge!” I shouted, but Crossfire shouted even louder.

“His back is turned, dumbass! Hit him now!”

She was right. Berserk had turned his sonic attack on those across the area from me and Crossfire, so his back was momentarily turned. I wasn’t ever going to get a better shot, and neither was Crossfire. We both attacked at once, her charging in with Iskender Bey, while I threw Gramzanber with as much might as my weakened body could muster. Even that simple throw caused sharp pain to stitch through my side, causing me to cry out and nearly fall.

At least my aim was decent. Gramzanber struck Berserk with a meaty noise, the uncannily sharp ARM bypassing already weakened armor. Berserk cried out in the first noise of actual pain I’d heard from him and he spun around in time to face Crossfire leaping at him while bringing both Iskender Bey down with her magic, and shoving her rifle right into his face.

Her rifle shot him between the eyes, which didn’t actually penetrate but it did snap his head back while Iskender Bey’s edge slashed across his chest. The sword-shaped ARM drew both sparks and blood across that thick, armored chest, not going deep but definitely wounding.

“Graa! That was a cheap shot!” Berserk whipped the chain of his spiked ball around, the ball itself moving at an absurd angle to come at me while the chain itself coiled like a living thing around Crossfire’s midsection.

I could barely dodge. It was more accurate to say I half fell, half flopped away from the spiked ball that nearly crushed me. Meanwhile Crossfire was lifted up and slammed into the ground like an empty barrel, and I heard her stiffle a cry of pain as the impact hammered her. Yet she still had Iskender Bey gripped with her telekineiss and slashed it at Berserk, forcing him to block with his bare hand. The blade cut his hand, even taking a finger off, and he responded by driving a foot into Crossfire’s body and kicking her like a beer can for several dozen feet.

I’d gotten back to my hooves and mentally recalled Gramzanber back to me, the ARM flashing back to my grip.

Longwalk, your vital bio-metrics are reaching critical condition, Gramzanber warned me, I know this may be an unorthodox suggestion, but perhaps withdrawing from the battle is in order?

“N...no, can’t do that...'' I said, looking towards Binge. She was stirring, slowly rising from where she fell, so I knew she was alive, and felt a cold wash of relief at that. But I didn’t know how badly she was hurt either, and on top of that Crossfire wasn’t looking so good after that kick to the ribs.

I am not suggesting abandoning the situation completely. Merely retreating into the Capitol Building to find cover, regroup, and absorb some more healing magic, Gramzanber said.

It wasn’t a bad idea, overall. But that still meant leaving the majority of the Odessa and NCR soldiers to fight this Berserk bastard alone. That didn’t sit very well with me at all. However, at that same moment, it also stopped being just my decision.

Berserk was getting hammered again by the Odessa squadron, and the few surviving NCR soldiers had rallied with Calamity to fire at the Hyadean’s weakened armor. At the same moment, Sunset landed near me, her face a mask of dead seriousness.

“Longwalk, get your people into the building.”

“But-”

“No ‘buts’, kid! I’m not facing your parents again knowing you got killed when I could have stopped it. Besides, aren’t there ponies in that building you came here to save?” Sunset asked, giving me a hard look. I gulped, and nodded, and she gave me a small, wane smile, “Then get your team on their hooves, dammit, and get in there! Me, my squad, and these NCR folk will handle this xeno chump.”

For a moment I hesitated, if only because I’d already seen what Berserk could do. Even with his injuries, I wasn’t sure the Odessa and NCR soldiers could finish him off together. But my group and I were on our last legs, and if there was still a fight to be had inside the Capitol Building, we’d need every scrap of endurance we could muster for it. Gramzanber was right, and so was Sunset. With a deep, shuddering breath and said to her, “Alright, just... don’t die out here.”

Those rust red features of hers managed a surprisingly confident smirk, “Worry about yourself. I got backup coming.”

“Backup?” I asked, and she chuckled dryly, pointing up.

I looked, and saw a pair of Odessa Vertibucks coming in fast. They flew over the battlefield, and rather than open fire on Berserk, they deployed two additional squads of soldiers into the sky. Among those fleeting, white clad figures, I spotted two that looked familiar.

Hammerfall and Glint were both leading their separate squadrons of soldiers and were swiftly diving upon the fight, the former already revving up his artificial ARM, Nidhogg, with a throaty roar that filled the air.

“We’ve got this,” Sunset told me, “Now get your team in there and put an end to this mess!”

I could only nod at her, giving one last look to the battle before I rushed over to Crossfire. Hammerfall was living up to his name, coming down like a literal mountain of hammers on Berserk. The spiked ball and chainsaw ARM collided in a blaze of sparks, and in seconds the sound of energy weapons fire joined the chorus as Glint led his squadron in a strafing run against Berserk that added to the fire already coming in from Calamity and the NCR troops.

Crossfire looked a bit dazed, but by her injuries and the sight of our reinforcements, and she shook her head with a rueful grin, “I might not like those Odessa assholes, but damn if they didn’t show up at the right time to play fucking cavalry.”

“No complaints from me,” I said, and waved to my allies. I watched Binge carefully as she shook herself and started trotting our way, swaying about a bit. She was bleeding from her ears, which worried me, but her smile was as infectious as ever.

“We leaving the party so soon?” she asked me.

“Way too crowded here,” I said, “Not my scene. You okay?”

“Hehehe, my bones tingle like they’ve got tiny little bees with drills buzzing around my marrow, and I can’t actually hear anything, but I’m okay Longykins, thanks for asking,” she said, wobbling a little to the side as she spoke. I steadied her with a hoof, looking at her with a closer look of concern, but she just smiled back at me.

Arcaidia galloped as fast as her awkward gait with her artificial leg would allow, LIL-E floating alongside, the pair skirting the edge of the ongoing battle with Berserk. The Hyadean seemed entirely too capable of withstanding the punishment being thrown his way, and was matching Hammerfall’s chainsaw ARM with powerful swings of his spiked ball, but at least it looked as if he wasn’t able to break away from the troops surrounding him now.

“Arcaidia, you know what that thing is better than any of us,” I said, “Can they beat him?”

Arcaidia gave me a flat look, a tired depth to her silver eyes, “Don’t know. Maybe? Only Odessa fake ARM really do much, I think, but can’t give you certainty, ren solva. Just have to trust them, yes?”

“And we don’t have time to chat about it,” Crossfire said, “If we’re going, we got to go now.”

“Shitty time to run out of ammo,” LIL-E said, her underslung revolver turret spinning around in a frustrated motion, “I don’t have time to restock in my usual way.”

“Bitch about it later,” Crossfire said, turning with a swish of her blue tail and moving with a determined purpose towards the front steps of the Capitol building.

“She’s right, let’s get in there and save whoever we can,” I said, and with exhausted by agreeing nods exchanged between us, my friends and I broke into a ragged trot towards the damaged edifice of NCR’s Capitol Building, leaving a viscous ongoing battle behind us that I could only hope wouldn’t end up killing those I was leaving.

----------

The interior of the Capitol Building was no longer lit by any electrical lights, the power having clearly been damaged or blown out by the fighting. The corridors were instead dark, lit only by the light of the burning city sifting in through broken windows, and the flash of occasional red emergency lights powered by backup generators. This cast each rubble and debris strewn hall in a ballroom dance of shifting shadows and angry orange and red pools of light.

I was tense, but it was hard to even feel the tension in my muscles at this point, my body having largely become numb save for several key points of pain, including my side. My breathing was ragged, and before we were even twenty paces past the shattered front doors I found myself stumbling over some rubble and nearly face planting.

Arcaidia caught me, using her magic to steady to as she said, “Ren solva, you need rest and more magic for wounds.”

“We all do, but every second we waste is a second the Skull City Guild leaders could be dying, or the NCR President, or... or Knobs...” I said, looking at Crossfire, who’d been marching ahead with grim resolve in her every hoofstep.

“I can go on ahead without you bunch,” Crossfire said, not even looking back, “Rest if you need to and catch up.”

“Don’t be a moron,” LIL-E said, “You got a shiny new sword, that’s nice, but you saw what that monster outside could do. You ready to fight another like that, by yourself, without a bunch of NCR and Odessa soldiers to take the hits for you?”

Crossfire didn’t stop, but she did slow down a bit, and LIL-E continued, “Whatever has gone down here has already gone down. We’re the clean up crew, more than rescuers. But if there is somepony to rescue, we won’t be doing it half dead and low on supplies. Look, I was programmed with some information on this building, since the LIE-E series was also considered for guard duty on this and other key NCR installations. The lab we were built in is in one of the sub-levels, and I still have the access codes in my databanks. I also know the lab has medical supplies. Let’s go there. I can re-arm and maybe even find a few upgrades, and the rest of you can use the place to heal up.”

“How much time would that take?” I asked, suppressing a half-cough from dust and plaster that fell from the ceiling from an explosion rocking the building from somewhere outside.

“Getting there? Just a few minutes. The access elevator is just down this hallway a bit further. You guys can take whatever time you feel is best to heal up. As for me re-arming or upgrading? Haven’t a Goddess damned clue,” LIL-E admitted, “If needed you guys should go on without me at that point, since I’m as useless as an empty roll of toilet paper at the moment. No ammo, and my weapons just aren’t cutting the fucking mustard anymore, either..”

“Don’t say that,” Binge said, “You’re a pretty little artificial soul riding a chariot of iron, and even without ever getting a weapon upgrade the entire story, you’re still always helping out!”

LIL-E turned around and stared, or rather aimed her face-plate really hard, at Binge. “Didn’t you just say outside that you can’t hear anything after taking that asshole’s screaming attack?”

“Oh, my left ear is still very silent, and possibly clogged up with blood, but my right ear is clearing up,” Binge said, twitching her right ear a few times for emphasis.

“At any rate, I think LIL-E is right,” I said between labored breaths, “If it won’t take more than five minutes, we should do what we can to shuffle a few steps further away from death’s doorstep. Crossfire, you okay with that?”

“...No, but you idiots are going to do it anyway, so I might as well save my breath,” she said, every inch of her coal black frame bleeding with barely restrained need to break into a gallop. I couldn’t really blame her. I felt similarly. I didn’t like the idea of stopping for anything, but we were all but done in terms of stamina. I’d barely even done anything against Berserk, and I was still one or two hooves from the grave. We weren’t doing anypony any good, unless we recovered a little.

But I was terrified that even spending five minutes doing that might cost somepony their life. If we found Knobs in any condition other than alive... I knew Crossfire would never forgive me, and I wouldn’t even hold that against her.

Fortunately, if nothing else, the Capitol Building seemed empty of any of the small fry enemies we’d had to fight our way through to get here. That meant we weren’t being besieged on every end as we walked down the hallways, but that had its own disturbing connotation to it. It meant that the damage we were seeing hadn’t been done by a horde, but by a single foe.

And from some of the bodies of NCR soldiers we were running into strewn about the entryway earlier, or down the hallway now, I had a sinking feeling I knew who that enemy was.

The bodies were severed into pieces by extremely clean, neat cuts. Armor and weapons were cut in halves as smoothly as sheared paper, with the flesh beneath just as evenly bisected, leaving rivers of blood and entrails to paint the floors and walls. The heavy front doors of the building had been blown clean off and rendered into splinters, and plenty of side doors were treated the same.

I’d seen this kind of brutal but efficient carnage before. In my dreams, and from the security footage from Stable 104.

The giant, menacing humanoid in steel blue armor, wielding a dark spear akin to Gramzanber. The Hyadean warrior who seemed to be the leader of the alien efforts to make this world their own, both in the distant past, and now in the present.

Zeikfried.

My heart was hammering coldly and erratically in my chest. I was as afraid for my friends as I was for myself. I didn’t know at all if we were ready for this. To make it all worse, B.B was still missing. What had happened to her? Our party was drained, and incomplete. We couldn’t win this, could we?

But there was no other choice. None other that I could make and live with myself. We pressed on.

The elevator was where LIL-E said it would be, just another couple dozen paces ahead and down a short side hallway. The steel doors were closed tight, but lucky for us the backup power generators were still giving it some juice. LIL-E extended a robotic arm from her chassis and pressed some buttons on a side mounted keypad. A green light flashed, and the doors opened. We silently piled in.

As the elevator moved down, Crossfire broke the silence.

“Hey, Frosty, so what’s the deal with these alien freaks anyway? You and the buck seem to know, but I haven’t exactly been brought up to date with this shit. Might as well explain it now, while we’re taking the breather...”

Araidia glanced over at her, “Long story. Short telling is Hyadean are ancient enemy of Veruni, my people. I raised by them after taken from here... long ago. Hyadean monsters make themselves powerful with bio-metal. Not really organic, even if some parts look or bleed organic. They conquer planets, make all life on planet like them. Strongest of Hyadeans are the ‘knights’. Each planet invasion, four are chosen to lead, the ‘Quarter Knights’.”

“Like generals, got it,” Crossfire said, “So the Jolly Green Jerkfest out front was one of those Quarter Knights, and there’s another one in here somewhere, trying to kill everypony. So was the masked freak from your alien ship also one of these knights?”

“Very much likely, yes,” Arcaidia said, and something struck me then.

“So that’s three knights accounted for... but who’s the fourth, then?”

“We’ll find out eventually, one way or another,” LIL-E said, “But didn’t your tribal friend, Trailblaze, say something about running into a Hyadean that had one of those Guardian entities following them around?”

“Oh... huh, I nearly forgot about that,” I said, rubbing my head, “There’s been so much going on. We could really use Trailblaze here. The power of a Guardian would be damn nice to have right about now.”

“It sure would,” said Binge, “Huh, too bad we don’t have any way to get some of that tasty otherworldly god-like magic being’s power. Wow, my mane’s itching a whole bunch.”

“That’s because you never wash it...” Crossfire said, then blinked at Binge, “Uh... am I going crazy or is the Raider’s mane glowing?”

Looking at Binge, I saw the familiar bright gleam of light and knew it was coming from the statue of one of the Guardian Lords that Binge had taken from the Sweet Candy. As Binge yanked the statue out of her mane, she held it up for all to see, “Oh, this? Heheh, I’ve just been holding onto it because I think it’s kinda neat. Makes me feel all warm and comfy like I’ve got a blanket made out of multiple Mr. Happy’s smiling away and hugging me.”

“That is... one of the more disturbing things I think I’ve been forced to imagine recently,” LIL-E said, “But whatever the case, it’s clear that the statue is reacting to you. Uh, you sure it’s not radioactive or something?”

“I doubt it,” I said, remembering when the statue had saved me and Binge from the ooze monster on the Ark of Destiny, “This statue is some kind of link to one of the stronger Guardians. Bartholomew explained it like it’s kind of a mobile version of that shrine Odessa was experimenting with in the cave north of Stable 104.”

“So, what, a Guardian can connect to us through it? Through... Binge? Like what your friend Trailblaze can do with that fire bird Guardian?” LIL-E asked.

“Okay, hold up, what the rip-roaring teabagging hell is a Guardian?” Crossfire asked.

“Umm, well...” I gave her a somewhat embarrassed look as I explained, “They seem to be extreme powerful magical entities that used to be tied to powerful and elemental parts of our world’s magic. They used to protect the world from dangers a long time ago, but lost a lot of their power during the war with the Hyadean and Veruni when they invaded... like, eons ago. They’re only now recovering enough power to communicate with some ponies that have special connections to their elements, and, uh... I think it has something to do with magical Leylines running through the planet? I don’t really get it. Trailblaze knows more, because she’s a Guardian Medium.”

“...Buck, if I didn’t know you were being serious, I’d think you’d have gotten your ass into a stash of Dash,” Crossfire said, shaking her head, “You know what? Sorry I asked. This alien and Guardian shit is way too over my head to give a shit about. I’m just going to shoot the things trying to kill us and let you sort out the rest.”

“Probably for the best,” said LIL-E, “And let’s hope if Binge turns out to be a freakin’ Guardian Medium of all the damn things, it turns out to be a Guardian of Murdering the Bad Guys. Because that’s what we could use a lot of, right now.”

“I’d settle for a Guardian of Sexy Times,” Binge said, wagging her tail.

As luck would have it, the elevator reached its destination just then, forestalling any further awkward conversation as the doors opened to reveal a very short corridor beyond, followed by sliding metal doors that were already open. Beyond them was a wide, rectangular room that was dimly lit by the emergency lighting, but between Pip-Bucks and unicorn horns, we were able to light up quite nicely. It looked like some kind of security checkpoint, with a sealed off room behind thick bullet-proof glass sitting alongside a heavy metal door with a pad set into the wall next to it. It looked like the pad required some kind of keycard, but LIL-E just floated right up to it, and I heard a series of brief screeching noises issue forth from her that left my ears twitching like ants had crawled into my eardrums.

With a soft clicking noise, a green light popped to life on the pad, and the metal doors slid open. Through the threshold we found a much larger room, one that looked like a melding between a mechanic’s workshop and a medical lab. It was empty of anypony save us, and thankfully unlike the rest of the building, this room was largely intact save for a few fallen pieces of equipment that probably got knocked over due to tremors from explosions from above.

LIL-E floated rapidly around the more mechanically oriented half of the room, scanning the equipment present before she came to stop in front of a station that looked like a large circular metal pad built into the floor, surrounded by various mechanical arms tipped with numerous tools and devices the likes of which I could only guess the use of. I was about as technically inclined as a rock, so I wasn’t even going to try and figure out what most of this stuff was for.

“You got what you need here?” asked Crossfire, and LIL-E bobbed up and down in a nodding gesture.

“This is a fully equipped automaton maintenance and manufacturing station,” LIL-E said, extending her small robotic arm, which in turn had a small wire she plugged into a terminal attached to the station, “Hmm... yeah, they still got my line’s schematics on here. Even if the LIL-E line was terminated, they had a few upgrade options planned that are still in the database.”

“How long?” Crossfire pressed.

“All the materials are here for a rearm and refit,” LIL-E said, “All I have to do is set the automated system to begin and hook myself up to the station. Should take... approximately ten to fifteen minutes.”

“Too long,” Crossfire said, looking towards the medical lab portion of the room, “We find whatever healing potions we can here, chug them, then we get our asses back up top.”

Arcadia gave the mare a briefly sharp look, lips pressed tight and ears flat, but she didn’t argue with the other mare as she quickly trotted over to several of the medical cabinets and started rummaging through them. I joined her, hoofing through various jars, cartons, and bottles looking for the familiar potions, and any other gear that looked useful.

“We need more than potions,” Arcaidia whispered to me as we searched, Crossfire stalking back and forth in the room behind us while Binge staked out near the entrance to stand guard.

The pain radiating from my side and gut, along with the draining, numbing sensation of exhaustion told me that Arcaidia was right, but so was Crossfire. “I know, Arcaidia. There’s no choice. Even these minutes feel like too much time wasted. We just have to make the best of it and push-”

“Ren solva...” Arcaidia said, turning towards me with her silver eyes shining with the moisture of tear she was holding back, her hoof lightly touching my fore leg, “You’re hurt. Bad. Magic not enough. You push, you might...”

I paused in stuffing a first aid kit into my saddlebags, and looked at Arcaidia’s hoof. I grasped it briefly with my own, my voice quiet, “We’re all bad off. We’ll manage.”

“You could stay here...” she suggested, “Let us finish things.”

I froze, my brain pony tripping and planting his face into the proverbial sidewalk. Stay here, while my friends went on to face the dangers ahead? I knew I was badly injured, perhaps worse than I’d ever been, but...

“I can’t do that,” I told Arcaidia, cracking open a healing potion I found amid the shelves and downing the contents as if to prove my resolve. If anything the fact that the healing warmth from the potion only slightly reduced the throbbing pain inside told me that Arcaidia probably was right. But even so, I couldn’t do what she suggested. I couldn’t stay here, nursing my wounds, while the ponies I cared about went on to face danger and death.

Arcaidia’s face registered a wave of internal strife, her eyes briefly shutting tight before she shook her head and blew out a freezing sigh, “Stubborn toaster head, if you die, I not going to cry! Dumb, rock skulled, sludge headed, ren solva!”

“S-sorry,” I said with a sheepish attempt at a smile, “Can’t really help it, you know?”

Arcaidia wiped at her eyes, grumbling, “I know.”

“Hey! You two done making out over there?” Crossfire said, and Binge perked up.

“Threesome?” the ex-Raider asked.

“NO!” both Arcaidia and I shouted, near simultaneously

“Aww, no fun.”

We worked in haste from there, chugging healing potions near as fast as we found them, and using the med-kits we could scrounge to bandage up any injuries that still bleed even after the healing potions. By the end of it we all looked like walking corpses held together by rolls of gauze, spit, and hope, but it was better than just looking like corpses, so I considered this a detour well spent. The brief break had also let us catch our breath a bit, for what little good that might do us.

LIL-E was set upon a robotic arm in the middle of the automaton manufacturing station, and I was slightly alarmed at the state of her. The mechanical arms moving over her had all but disassembled the eyebot into several portions, moving in a swift, arachnid dance of soldering and welding that caused sparks to fly in multiple showers. I could tell her revolver and rifle attachments had been removed, but I couldn’t quite tell what was being added to her, or indeed if what was happening to her was actually helping at all.

LIL-E’s voice spoke from my PIp-Buck suddenly as I stared at her.

“You’d better get going, Longwalk. This is going to take longer than I thought, but I will catch up as soon as the upgrading is done.”

“If you’re sure...” I said, and LIL-E’s voice chuckled in a dry, mechanical buzz.

“Oh, I am. I might arrive late to the party, but I’ll have some serious party favors to bring once this process is done. Looks like the doc really wanted to upgun the LIL-E series into effective one-bot armies, and while he didn’t get the funding for half of what he wanted to do, what is here that this station can jury-rig together ought to have some... explosive results.”

I couldn’t help but crack a small smile at the enthusiasm in the eyebot’s tone, “I’m looking forward to it. See you soon, LIL-E.”

“Don’t get dead in the meantime, Longwalk.”

----------

We were back on the Capitol Building’s main floor in no time, but to me it felt like every heartbeat was a moment strained out too long. I hoped detour would prove to be worth it. Pressing on through rubble strewn halls, myself, Arcaidia, Binge, and Crossfire made for the primary assembly hall. Crossfire figured it would be where most of the action had gone down, since that’s where most of the bigwigs, NCR and Skull City alike, would have been when the attack began. The assembly hall would be across from the ballroom where the party had been last night, and it was surreal to think that not too long ago I’d strode down these very halls with my friends, dressed to impress and enjoying a rare evening of actual frivolity.

What? I can use words like ‘frivolity’. Just because I’m a tribal doesn’t mean I lack a vocabulary, okay?

Honestly I could have used some humor in those dark moments before we arrived in the assembly hall. All of us were running on frayed nerves, last legs, and desperate hopes. A city was in flame around us, countless ponies and other creatures dead or dying. Outside friends and allies were stalling a monstrous alien juggernaut, and inside we were on a limited timer to find survivors, friends among them I hoped.

Things didn’t look good as we passed the shattered doors to the ballroom, which some NCR soldiers had apparently barricaded and made a stand at. I thought I could maybe see one or two complete bodies amid the otherwise strewn pony parts. The walls were covered in strange, entirely too neat and clean holes as if something had just scooped the plaster and wood right out, or deleted it from existence. Some of the bodies had similar wounds. I had nothing left in my stomach to vent, thankfully.

A brief glance inside the ball room showed it mostly empty, with the majority of the bodies clustered near the entrance. It didn’t look as if the majority of ponies were here, so that probably meant Crossfire’s assumption about the assembly hall was right. From what she’d read of the building’s defenses and layout, it was the most reinforced room in the building and had several emergency exits as well. And it wasn’t far, just a short trot further along past the ball room.

We all braced ourselves for what we might find. Crossfire marched in front, raw, naked determination painting her face stiffly, like a death mask. Arcaidia stayed close to my right side, Binge on my left, both mares, friend and mate, seeming to want to both draw strength from being near me and have me draw strength from them in turn. For once, even Binge’s expression was focused and serious, as if she sensed what was coming. Her tail lightly brushed mine, a gesture of comfort and promise. My tail brushed hers back, matching that promise.

“Ren solva,” Arcaidia whispered, “Watch Pip-Buck sight.”

The E.F.S. I barely saw it, flickering on and off, but there were a hoof full of dots ahead of us, just past another set of broken doors. These doors weren’t merely wood, but thick, metal sheets that had come down across the normal doors of the assembly hall, but even this final defensive barrier had been torn asunder and rendered into so much twisted metal. I got a ghastly flashback to the remains of Stale 104’s main door.

Ahead, the flickering dots on my E.F.S registered as friendlies. Friendlies? Survivors! I wanted to bolt ahead, but restrained myself. I saw no red dots, but that didn’t mean anything. The E.F.S might not be picking up every threat.

“I see it,” I whispered back, nodding to Arcaidia then saying, a bit louder to Crossfire, “There’s somepony alive in there.”

Crossfire responded by increasing her pace, the blade of Iskender Bey hovering close to her side and her rifle hovering on the other as she broke into a faster trot that nearly became a gallop. I thought I was supposed to be the reckless one? But it was Knobs. I understood exactly why Crossfire might throw aside caution in this case. Without another word, I too broke into a short gallop, Binge and Arcaidia doing their best to keep pace as Crossfire burst into the assembly hall.

If the ball room had been a few soldier’s final stand, the assembly hall had been the pitched battle. The smell of blood, voided bodily fluids, gunsmoke, and death filled the air like a fog. The room was barely recognizable, with entire sections blown to pieces or ripped to shreds. No piece of furniture was left entirely intact, as if a hurricane filled with concrete chunks and metal blades had flown through the room. Bodies lay in broken, shredded heaps and pieces all across the hall’s remains, some utterly beyond identification, others still intact enough to tell they were soldiers or dignitaries. For a moment I was too stunned to even begin trying to identify corpses, or look for threats, my Pip-Buck’s glow just showing me a ghostly hellscape of blood for a few moments.

Then with a snarl Crossfire pushed ahead, sweeping her horn left and right with a fierce glow of blood red magic to illuminate the area.

“Knobs!” she didn’t quite shout, and it drove a painful punch to my gut to hear the hardened mercenary mare speaking in a voice that was nearly breaking with fear and held back tears, “Knobs please say something if you’re in here!”

We all moved further into the room, and I thought I heard a noise to my left. It was barely audible, but it sounded like a faint, feminine groan. I immediately swung my Pip-Buck that way and made for the sound. Everypony else saw me move and were following me in an instant, Crossfire all but surging ahead of me to get at the source of the sound.

Near the wall entire sections of the masonry had been torn apart and partially collapsed, along with what looked like part of the ceiling. I saw a glint of metal amid torn bodies, and saw a large, well crafted blade. I recognized the sword almost as soon as I recognized the length of gray mane peeking from beneath the fallen rubble, just beyond the fallen blade.

“Applegate?” I said, rushing to the rubble.

Crossfire noted the sword, her face becoming even more tense as she helped me move the debris using her magic, with Arcaidia joining in a moment later.

“Shit... how the hell did this happen?” Crossfire said with a grunt of effort as she hauled a large chunk of wall away from the fallen mare. I reached in and grabbed a warm hoof, wet with blood, and pulled Applegate out from under the rubble.

The S-class Drifter was breathing, but barely conscious. Her mauve colored fur was matted with blood and her mane streaked with the same crimson staining her gray locks. Her injuries mostly consisted of fine cuts, shallow but profuse in their bleeding. I also saw a raw bruise covering most of her left side that must have been from a tremendous impact. Her head had a painful lump on it, probably the main reason she was dazed.

I was honestly a bit surprised to see her here, specifically. The last time I had seen Applegate was back outside the Ark of Destiny, after we’d defeated the Golem, Roaring Metal. Then again, a lot had happened after my friends and I entered the Ark, so it was entirely possible Applegate had returned to Manehattan with Whiteheart and what had been left of Hawkeye’s team. There’d been plenty of Veritbucks available to give them a ride, after all. She might have been put on security duty here when the attack on the city started. There was no way to know the details without asking her.

“Applegate, what happened?” I said, gesturing for Arcaidia to help me lay her down in a more comfortable position. Arcaidia wasted no time in doing so, and her horn’s comforting glow covered Applegate with the application of healing magic.

“Mmmm...” Applegate made a weak sound, but her eyes remained unfocused.

“What’s wrong?” Crossfire asked Arcaidia, “Can’t that fancy alien magic heal her any faster?”

Arcaidia didn’t look up from Applegate, but her eyes grew into sharp chips of silver, “Head wounds not easy. Better you go find more survivors.”

“There’s more alive here,” said Binge, her tail twitching along with her snout, “I can smell them.”

I put a hoof on Arcaidia’s shoulder, “Keep healing Applegate. We’ll finish searching the room. If we need you, we’ll shout.”

Moving away from the fallen Applegate as Arcaidia continued to work on her, Crossfire motioned for me to follow her as we moved towards the center area of the assembly hall. Binge bounced off to our right, peeking at any intact bodies she found. I was already recognizing a few of the dignitaries from both the NCR and Skull City groups, although none whose names I knew.

“This is bad,” Crossfire said under her breath next to me, her voice hoarse, “Applegate’s one of the best. I could never keep up with her. I’ve seen that damn sword of hers cut through a full grown fucking Hellhound. Longwalk, what the hell are we up against that she lost to it?”

At that point my own dread certainty that the one who’d stormed the Capitol Building was the alien entity that had escaped Stable 104, and who’s memories I’d witnessed in my dreams, was all but hammered home. “I think it’s the leader of these weird ass space creatures. Basically the chief of their tribe.”

“Which also means if we fill his face full of lead, that cuts the head off the snake,” Crossfire said with a dry lick of her lips, “Buckin’ perfect. We can put an end to this here, today. But first...”

“Knobs,” I said, nodding my own affirmation that I didn’t want to go anywhere until we could confirm what had become of our friend. Crossfire might have known Knobs much longer than I, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t fully invested in the hope that we’d find her alive.

More bodies greeted us, the further back into the room we went, along with the signs of battle. Applegate and the other defenders must have put up one incredible fight, if the way most of the back area was devastated was any indication. The main meeting table was splinters, and most of the back wall was collapsed, save for a shattered open doorway that led to a set of steel stairs. The bodies weren’t in any great condition, and Crossfire spat out a curse as she came across one of them, a blonde mare who, even with her severed head laying upon the floor, was holding a glinting ivory-grip pistol in her mouth.

“Leader of the Security Guild,” Crossfire grunted, “I’ve spotted bits and pieces of her crew, too. Don’t see Rupert or Begonia anywhere, though.”

I wracked my brain for flashes of memory, and recalled overhearing this mare, Steel had been her name, talking with a griffin, “Rupert’s the griffin in charge of the Enforcers Guild, right? And this mare was named Steel. I saw them talking the other day. Hm, but you’re right, it doesn’t look like Begonia is here... I wonder if she ran off?”

“The head of the Labor Guild isn’t going to be caught in this mess,” Crossfire snorted, “We’re not that lucky. It’s suspicions both her and Rupert aren’t here.”

“Maybe they weren’t a part of the negotiations today?” I suggested, then paused. I heard another muffled noise, and by the look on Crossfire’s face, she heard it too. With both readied our respective ARMs and slowly approached the source of the noise. A number of bodies consisting of both soldiers and a few NCR government officials had all been seemingly tossed into the wall, where I could see red splats of gore from where they must have impacted. However it looked like three or four of them had been haphazardly pulled into a pile, and from that pile there was a slight whimpering noise.

“Who’s there?” I called out as Crossfire and I got close, “If you’re alive, please say something.”

“L...Longwalk?”

The voice was that of a mare, but was parched and scratchy, making it hard to identify. Crossfire and I wasted no time in rushing to the corpse pile and doing the grim work of separating the dead from the living. Blood coated everything and the stench clogged my nostrils, but I was so accustomed to this by now that I only gagged and came close to throwing up briefly. Amid all the gore and viscera a pair of bleary eyes blinked up at me from a blood smeared face. I didn’t recognize her at first, but a second later she cleared her throat and Wellspring Whistles said, “Thank the Goddesses. I didn’t know anypony would come.”

“Wellspring!” Crossfire reaching a hoof out to the mare, “Figured you might’ve scraped by, but where’s Knobs?”

“She’s right here,” Wellsrping said, voice going stiff and frightened, “She’s hurt.”

Those words filled my stomach with ice, and Crossfire’s horn lit up pure red as she used telekinesis to haul the bodies off Wellspring, and revealed that the mare had been covering up and protecting Knobs, who was lying unconscious in Wellspring’s grip. We hauled both mares free, and Wellspring stood on shaking legs. She was a mess, the nice clothes she’d worn to cover the diplomatic negotiations now stained dark red and torn. But she was alive and conscious, which was something. I didn’t see any major injuries on her, although with all the blood it wasn’t easy to tell. Knobs was even harder to tell her condition, because as a ghoul she already effectively looked like a corpse, and being covered in blood from all the other bodies didn’t help. All I could tell as Crossfire laid her friend out on the ground was that Knobs was unconscious, but still breathing.

“Wellspring, are you okay?” I asked.

“Fuck no,” she replied after a second of catching her breath, her eyes haunted but slowly regaining their focus, “I am as far from okay as I think I’ve ever been in my life, and that includes the time I was trapped with Crossfire and Knobs beneath Skull City.”

Huh, sounded like there was a story there, but I decided not to press on it and instead focused on the moment. “I mean are you injured. Do you need a healing potion? We stocked up on them.”

“I... I don’t think so,” Wellspring said, looking herself over, “Cut and bruised in a few places, but I’m okay. Knobs she... she tackled me to the ground when it all happened. When that monster broke in.”

“Of course she did,” Crossfire said with half of her voice rough with anger and fear and the other half soft with uncommon affection as she carefully checked Knobs. I came over, afraid to ask, but swallowing that fear as he knelt down to look at Knobs more closely.

“How is she?”

Crossfire made a frustrated, snarling sound in the back of her throat, “I... I don’t know. I’m not seeing any major cuts, no bullet wounds. Must’ve taken a hard hit somewhere. Shit, and since she’s a ghoul, she needs radiation to heal up. Potions or the walking icicles’ spells won’t do as much as just a straight dose of rads. I’m no doctor, so I don’t know how bad off she is. Shit.”

I’d never seen Crossfire this near to breaking down. The usually unflappable and rough mare, who’d I’d mostly only ever known to either scowl at weakness, danger, and most morals for that matter, now looked like she was struggling just to keep her fear for the life of her friend from overwhelming her and the frustration at her inability to help Knobs from crushing her.

“We’ll figure something out,” I told her, and she shot me a hard glare that didn’t hold for long as she took a deep breath and nodded. Binge bounded over to us, her tail drooping upon seeing Knobs.

“The ghoul isn’t a ghost yet,” she said, “And the half-deads don’t become all-dead that easy, so I bet we can find some glowing goodness around here for her to soak up all nice and sponge-like.”

“Oh yeah!? Where?” Crossfire spat, “Hate to break it to you but the NCR was cleaned of things like radiation by their Goddess damned Lightbringer, so there isn’t any convenient radiation nearby to heal Knobs with you brain-dead moron!”

“I’m Binge, not Braindead. Totally different character, grumpy. And who says there isn’t any radiation still around? What do you think powers up all them whirly birds flown about by Odessa? Magic. And when magic power stuff breaks, it leaks out the glow.”

Crossfire blinked in stupefied shock for a second, and Wellspring hobbled forward to say, “She’s right. A crashed Vertibuck would be leaking radiation from whatever is left of it’s engine. Did you see any outside?”

“There’s plenty,” I said, thinking of the intensity of the fighting outside the building, “There’s probably a few crashed Veritbucks. But it’s dangerous out there. We can’t just drag Knobs out there. On top of that we still need to find any survivors still here and deal with the one who did this.”

Wellspring gulped, “That armored giant? Do you know what it is, Longwalk? I couldn’t help but notice, as it was slaughtering everypony, that it was wielding a spear that looked a lot like yours.”

“Long story,” I told her, “Where is it now? Did you see where it went?”

“Up the stairs,” Wellspring said, nodding towards the partially intact stairwell past the back of the room, “President Grimfeathers was buying time for others to escape up the stairs to the roof, and I heard her fighting that thing all the way up to the top. I don’t know how long ago that was, or if anyone is still alive up there.”

As if to answer the unspoken question I felt a rumble run through the building’s walls, and heard the muffled whump of an explosion from the floors above us. Dust rained down on our heads, and Crossfire shot a look between Knobs’ unconscious form and the stairs leading up towards the roof. I saw the torn feelings in her eyes, and I raised a hoof towards Knobs.

“Crossfire, you should get her to one of the downed Vertibirds. Keep her safe, make sure she pulls through.”

Her eyes turned towards me, fierce, fearful, her lips pulling back in a rueful expression. “Don’t be a bucking idiot. You go up there alone, you’ll die. Whatever this alien sonuvabitch is will skewer you alive.”

“I won’t be alone,” I told her, glancing back at Binge and Arcaidia, the latter still focusing on healing Applegate, “I’ll have my friends with me.”

“They’ll die too,” Crossfire said, and she held Knobs tightly, looking at her fallen friend for a long moment before letting out a shuddering sigh. “Let’s not fool ourselves. The only shot we have at winning is if all of us are there. You’re going to need me, and this stupid Goddess-damned ARM.”

She touched Iskender Bey with a hoof, almost glaring at the sword, as if blaming it for all that had happened. Then with a swift motion of her horn she levitated my saddlebags off of me and tossed it to Wellspring.

“Huh?” I said, and Wellspring blinked in confusion.

“Healing potions might not do much, but they’ll do something,” Crossfire snarled, barely keeping her tears in check as she gently hoofed Knobs over to Wellspring, “Feed every single last one you can find in the buck’s saddlebags to her. Keep Knobs alive, and take her to the building’s entrance. If you can spot an opening, get her to a Vertibuck core, but if not, keep your fucking head down until me and the buck finish things up on the roof.”

“You’re seriously going up there?” Wellspring said with a breathy voice of fear and worry, “Crossfire, you don’t know what that monster was like! You didn’t see what it can do!”

“Well, it hasn’t seen what I can do either. Me or the buck, or his little ice filly-friend, or his crazy-ass Raider bitch,” Crossfire said, standing back up, the look in her eyes all but burning with an azure wrath, “And it’s high time this alien fuck learns that it came to the wrong damned planet!”

Binge let out a gleeful titter, bumping my rump with her own, “Hehehe, isn’t she so much more fun when she’s pissed, bucky?”

“Terrifying is the word I’d use,” I said, managing a weary smile as I looked to Wellspring, and in turn, Knobs. “Be careful, Wellspring. We’ll be back as soon as we can. Just keep her safe.”

“I will,” the newsmare said with a solemn nod, “Her and Applegate.”

On the subject of Applegate, the powerful swordsmare remained unconscious, but Arcaidia’s tender spells had her breathing easier, at least. My petite blue friend from the stars bore a wane look of exhaustion as she all but guzzled down one of her rare remaining potions to restore her magic as she levitated Applegate over to Wellspring.

“Wounds not take life, but still need much more healing,” Arcaidia informed us, “If we to still do battle, I save magics for mighty impaling of enemy’s skull with largest of ice spikes.”

“Finally speaking some proper Equestrian, there,” Crossfire said, flicking her pale blue tail harshly, her golden eyes now burning like embers in her soot black face, “Let’s go finish this.”

I nodded. We all did, as if to affirm to each other that this was it. This attack upon Manehattan, the one behind it lay at the top of the Capitol Building, possibly still trying to kill the NCR’s very leader, Gawdina Grimfeathers. We were the only ones in a position to stop the alien warlord, and possibly turn the tide of the entire battle. We were wounded, running on fumes, and our party was still not whole, but this is what we had, and with wounded and possibly dying friends left behind us, we marched forward to face what could well have been the most deadly creature currently on the planet.

----------

The stairs were uniform and simple, an almost anticlimactic flight of steel steps leading up a concrete shaft towards the Capitol Building’s roof. The signs of battle were no less fierce here, testament to a running fight the NCR’s President must have fought against the invader as she acted as rear guard for any surviving dignitaries fleeing upward. Blasted holes from eplosives, stitched bullet holes from a high caliber gun, and even a few griffin talon marks intermixed with huge, even chunks cut out of the stairs and walls from what must have been a hectic running fight.

None of the damage was beyond our ability to traverse, with a few missing steps requiring a brief leap to get across, but otherwise the journey up the winding switchbacks of stairs was disturbingly smooth. None of us spoke. None of us had to. Arcaidia’s eyes bore a soldier’s determined calm, her horn lowered in equal resolve to match her gait. Binge bounced with an eager energy, her steps ever close to mine, her tail swaying near my own as if to draw strength from being near me. I felt the same, invigorated despite my exhaustion and fear just by being next to my mate and my friends.

Crossfire was in the lead, a dark valkyrie on a mission. Seeing Knobs in that condition had clearly affected the mare, leaving a blinding fire in her eyes and a wrathful grimace on her face. Both of her weapons floated at her side, ready to unleash that fury upon its proper target.

Gramzanber remained held loose in my mouth, the spear shaped ARM a cool reminder of all that I had done and all I had walked through to get to this point.

Yet, a part of me somehow knew, even in that moment of quiet ascension to the roof, that this wasn’t going to be the end.

Even if we won, much remained to be done. Even if we somehow managed to kill this Hyadean leader, this Zeikfried, this wouldn’t be the end of it.

I felt like I was walking up the stairs to reach a beginning, a new turning point. I could almost feel the gaze of the Ancestor Spirits on me, watching in silent encouragement. Or, stealing a glance at the faint glow of the Guardian statue that Binge kept tucked in her poofy mane, perhaps something else was watching us as well?

The stairs terminated in a simple metal door, which was ripped clean of its hinges. Smoke wafted through along with a breeze tainted with the scent of gunsmoke and blood. And beyond that open door, we all heard gunfire; loud, cracking retorts from a high caliber weapon. There were also screams, high pitched and terrified.

We rushed through, and came upon a scene of battle and flame.

Heat washed over us from the right, where a bulky vehicle that was similar to the bulbous shape of a Veritbuck, but stretched out lengthwise, with two sets of rotor-blades up top, was spewing flame from its ruptured side where it lay in a flaming heap upon a landing pad. Several scorched bodies lay near it, but living ponies were huddled further away behind a set of boxy ventilation shafts, taking cover from the fight taking place across the rest of the roof.

I recognized at least one of the ponies hiding in cover as Begonia, her eyes bugged out and terrified. Those next to her I also knew, if not by name at least by vague memory as other members of the Skull City delegations, or local NCR folk, including the head of the head of the Railway Department, Wagontrain. They hadn’t noticed us yet, mostly because they were all watching the fight taking place upon the wide, relatively flat majority of the Capitol Building’s roof.

President Grimfeathers was moving in bounding leaps while circling her foe. Her bloodied body and the cleanly severed stump of her right wing gave testament as to why the griffin wasn’t flying. Yet her wounds didn’t seem to slow her down that much, her leonine body providing her powerful strides even as she used one hand to aim and fire a prodigious pistol who’s retorts sounded louder than thunder.

The bullets, whatever caliber they were, sparked upon the armor of her foe, and my eyes fixed upon him, my heart pounding in equal parts fear and... a sense of overwhelming familiarity so intense it was akin to temporary vertigo.

I’d seen this being in my dreams. Witnessed his memories, in fragments. In my mouth, Gramzanber felt both cold and on fire, for my mind could not help but compare my ARM, my companion since the start of this journey, to the weapon held in one armored fist of the alien creature that stood before us.

Zeikfried, leader of the Hyadean forces on our world, head of the ones known as the Quarter Knights, stood in all his towering glory no more than thirty or so paces ahead. He had his back partially turned to us, as he was focused upon President Grimfeathers, but I could still see his full profile in the shady and flickering light of the flames. He was unbelievably tall, even more so than Berserk or Alhazad, although he did not have the former's raw bulk nor the latter's bizarre shape. Instead Zeikfried had a shape that was very akin to the bipedal forms of the Veruni, standing upon two legs, and possessing two arms stemming from a wide set of shoulders and a thick chest. His body was covered in a gleaming, steel blue armor, and I couldn’t tell if it was a suit that he wore or if the armor was truly grafted to him as if it were his own flesh, for there were no true joints or openings in the armor’s shining blue surface, conformed to thick muscles from head to toe. A flowing cape of deep purple flowed down his back, and his head was encased in a helmet that bore wing-like protrusions at its sides, but a long steel spike rising from the forehead. Of his face, I could see little save a small, dark opening in the front of his helmet that gave a hint of a pale, chiseled chin and smiling mouth.

And in his right hand was his spear, a dark mirror-twin to my own Gramzanber, yet larger to fit the towering alien warlord that carried it. The spear’s edge had a similar serration to Gramzanber, yet it looked a tad more jagged, with longer back-facing spikes, and a larger wave pattern to it’s tip. There was also a prominent gem of a dark violet color set in the base of the massive spear’s blade. Despite those differences, it was impossible not to see the similarities between this weapon and my ARM.

Blast marks dotted the area around Zeikfried, the origin of which became readily apparent as Grimfathers yanked a grenade from somewhere in her tattered presidential suit and yanked the pin with her beak, throwing the object at Zeikfried’s feet. The Hyadean simply drew his cloak around himself, the seeming “cloth” gleaming with a hexagon pattern a moment before the grenade exploded. Flame washed over Zeikfried, but he strode out a moment later and threw his cloak over his shoulder again, and directed his hand towards Grimfeathers.

“I believe I’ve given you sufficient time to vent your rage upon me, Madame President,” Zeikfried spoke. His voice was a deep, resonating baritone, filled with a rich, yet metallic quality to it, like a hammer upon pure steel. “I’ve honored your desire to fight me, but I cannot let this drag out. The sacrifice of your nation is a necessary step, and it’s nearly complete.”

“Shut your puss-ugly mouth you fucking pretentious, alien prick!” was Grimfeather’s reply as she swiftly reloaded her pistol with a fresh clip and reared up onto her hind legs, drawing a second pistol from behind her back. She took aim, but she was now standing on the opposite side of Zeikfried from us, and she spotted me and my friends. She couldn’t keep the surprise off her face, and even seemed to forget to shoot for a second, although thankfully Zeikfried did nothing about that and instead turned towards us.

I still couldn’t see his eyes past the shadows of his helmet, but his lips, already smiling, twitched even wider as he looked upon us.

“Ah... the experiment and his allies. I had heard from Alhazad you were in this city. So it’s true, your Veruni ARM has taken the shape of my Gramzanber. How surreal to see a weapon of the Veruni take on the form of my beloved spear, wielded by one so young. But I suppose I cannot treat you as I child, can I? Not after you’ve overcome so much to reach this point.”

“We not here to talk!” Arcadia shouted, leveling her horn and blazing forth with a storm of ice, thick crests of symbols forming around her horn. Lances of ice rushed Zeikfried, and he lifted his hand. I saw crests form around his hand, same as the Crest Sorcery that Arcaidia used. An incandescent barrier of violet light formed in front of Zeikfried and the shards of ice broke upon it, leaving him unfazed.

“I can see that,” he replied, “And I don’t begrudge your desires to fight. You’re here to save the lives I intend to take, after all, so our battle is quite inevitable. But why forgo the rare chance to exchange a few words, first? I may be in a bit of a rush, but not so much so I can’t satisfy curiosity. But then again, you are a child of the Veruni, who hate us Hyadean’s so fervently. Perhaps expecting a conversation is a bit much.”

There was more than one reason to buy a few moments, so I stepped forward, holding out a hoof to Arcaidia. She looked at me, but I gave a bare inclination of my head towards President Grimfeathers. Smart enough to recognize an opportunity when it presented itself, the griffin had taken out a healing potion from inside her suit and was drinking it down. The NCR’s President was no fool. If Zeikfried could be delayed to buy her a moment to catch her breath and recover, it’d make our fight against him all the easier.

Of course, Arcaidia wasn’t the one I should’ve worried about.

“Converse with this you son of a bitch!”

Crossfire’s words dripped acidic fury as she opened fire with her rifle while charging forward with Iskender Bey. I saw Zeikfried move with speed entirely unlike his size and bulk would have suggested he was capable of, his dark spear deflecting Crossfire’s bullets in fluid, graceful motions. Huh, so that’s what Accelerator-like speed looked like from this end of things? I gulped and charged in behind Crossfire just as her horn flashed red and in a burst of light she teleported into the air above and behind Zeikfried’s head. She swung Iskender Bey down, and I thrust forward with Gramzanber from the other side.

“Impressive,” Zeikfried said, and I barely saw him move as he turned on the balls of his feet. His own Gramzanber swung up as his liquid fast motion caused me to stumble past him. I felt the tip of his armored boot hit my gut like a runaway wagon, while there was a clarion ring and a spark of light as Zeikfried’s spear met with Iskender Bey’s edge.

“But also disappointing,” he finished, turning his spear sideways and slashing at Crossfire in a powerful arc. She managed to teleport away, and Zeikfried’s spear smashed into the roof, the blow cracking the concrete and cleaving not only a hole at his feet, but blasting an opening across the roof for half a dozen yards.

“I can tell your bodies have already been pushed past the breaking point through prior battles. I’d rather have fought you when you were fresh, but I suppose that would have been unlikely, given today’s planned attack.”

Why attack!?” I demanded, coughing as I stumbled back from the kick he’d given me but not backing down as I pretended to rush in again. I thrust, but then abruptly pulled back when I saw him move to dodge again, and this time reared up on my hind legs, spitting Gramzanber from my mouth to clutch in my forehooves as I spun around and slashed at his knees. He surprised me by throwing his cape up, blinding me and ruining my aim, and on instinct I jumped back, narrowly avoiding another contemptuous kick from his boot.

“Strange question. Why would I not attack my enemies? Indeed, when the leadership of said enemies are all gathered in one place, would it not be foolish to let the opportunity to eliminate said leadership slip through my fingers?”

“Stop wasting time talking to him, buck, and fucking help me kill this bastard!” Crossfire shouted, having teleported atop a set of ventilation fan housings and taken careful aim with her rifle. She fired several times in quick succession, and each shot let out a round that burst in the air into a swarm of flechettes; all but impossible to block or dodge.

Zeikfried waved his hand, and I saw a circle of white symbols appear around it. Crest Sorcery. The symbols flashed and around him sprung a circular barrier of white light and wind as the air itself stirred and encased him. The barrier held fast against Crossfire’s flechette rounds, much to her frustrated growl. Then Arcaidia joined in, stepping forward with her own horn flaring into a blue corona. Rather than ice, however, now the roof in front of her shook and a series of stone spikes erupted upwards, the roof’s concrete itself reshaping into a wave of spearing rock that smashed into Zeikfried’s barrier and tore a hole in it.

He swung his spear and smashed the stone spikes to dust, his lips smiling beneath his helmet, “Ah, so you can use Geo as well as Cryo? It takes a skilled Crest Sorcerer to master more than one element. It seems the Veruni taught their pony pet well, but then your sister did tell me she was the one who trained you, so that makes sense.”

“What did you do to my sister!?” Arcaidia demanded, summoning forth more magic as her silver eyes blazed hatred at the Hyadean warlord. Stone rose in thick lances around her, and then became encased in further layers of ice as she combined both earth and ice elements together. The ice and stone spikes circled her rapidly before firing off one after another at Zeikfried. He kept his barrier up behind him, which protected him from Crossfire’s shots, which had switched to high-explosive rounds, while he used his spear to deflect Arcaidia’s spell, his voice never losing it’s casual tone.

“Nothing, other than save her when she was near death. Then we got to talking, one exile to another. Turned out we had quite a bit in common, especially in regards to how irritated and fed up we both are with the war between Hyadean and Veruni.”

That line gave me pause. He was ‘fed up’ with the war between the two alien races? “But if that’s the case,” I said, “If you’re so tired of war, then what are you doing starting another one here on our world!?”

He looked at me, and although I couldn’t see his eyes behind that cold, steel blue visor upon his helmet, I got the sense of a vast intensity of resolve which matched his own clarion tone. “It is not war I tire of, but stalemate. Veruni and Hyadean have warred for generations with no progress towards victory. And war without victory has no meaning. In your world, I see opportunity to change that dynamic.”

I saw a darting motion from the shadows of some fallen rubble near one corner of the roof. Binge’s dark green coat blended with the shadows there as she wagged her tail, eyes gleaming mad as she zeroed in on Zeikfried’s back. In a flash of revolving forehooves my marefriend chucked what had to be every grenade she had left hidden in her mane and tail at the alien warlord’s feet. Even he seemed momentarily surprised at the explosives now laying on the ground around him, and glanced at the giggling mare who had a whole wreath of pulled pins dangling from her teeth.

“It’s your ‘Welcome to Equestria’ gift basket, Mr. Alien! I hope you enjoy it!” Binge laughed as she waved.

I wasn’t entirely sure she realized I was standing rather precariously close to her ‘gift basket’ as well, but I was so used to dodging explosions at this point that I was already leaping back before Binge had even finished speaking. There was a series of deep, popping whumps as the grenades went off in quick succession, my body continuing to roll while avoiding shrapnel.

Coughing, I got back to my hooves, glancing to see Arcaidia had protected herself with a barrier of ice, and Crossfire had been far enough away to be untouched. Smoke cleared from a series of blasted holes in the building’s roof, and I almost dared hoped we’d gotten the bastard, but then his azure form leaped straight up from the flaming hole and landed no more than two paces from Binge’s position. Zeikfried’s armored body was slightly singed, but otherwise I wasn’t sure the grenades had done more than piss him off.

“Thank you for the warm welcome,” he said, and raised his spear, poised to impale a surprised looking Binge.

If ever there was a time to use Accelerator, it was now.

Even as I was mentally giving Gramzanber the command, I heard a roar of gunfire and saw a streaking dark form fly by my field of view. It was President Grimfeathers, still bloody and battered, but having recovered enough to re-enter the fray. Her pistols bucked in her talons, firing heavy rounds into Zeikfried’s back. I heard the shots ricochet off his armor, but it did draw his attention. Too much of his attention, in fact, as he spun around faster than I could imagine something his size moving. I recognized the grip on his spear, as it wasn’t that different from the throwing stance of my tribe’s hunters. I activated Accelerator just as Zeikfried threw his own dark mirror of Gramzamber.

Even then, the speed of force of his throw left my breathless as the world shifted to brilliant, electric blue in my vision. I knew time was slowed for me now, my reflexes vastly boosted, but even then I saw Zeikfried’s spear sailing towards Grimfeathers almost as fast as a normal throw. Which meant in reality the throw had to be even faster than a bullet.

I rushed forward, leaping up with my hind legs and chopping down with Gramzanber using my fore hooves. I just barely managed to knock Zeikfried’s spear off course, but then I felt a slow, grinding pain rumble up and down my body as the momentum of the blow caused a backlash through me that sent me sprawling and reopened my recently healed side wound. Fiery pain gouged at me as I hit the ground. I saw Grimfeathers in slow motion turn in mid-air. Zeikfried’s spear had been knocked off course, but not enough to entirely avoid her, and I saw the spear’s alien edge tear a wound through her right shoulder.

Time was still slowed for me as I rolled with my fall and turned towards Zeikfried. With his spear thrown, this might be my best chance to get a decent hit in on him while I still had Accelerator going. I rushed him, a dead on charge with Gramzanber now in my mouth, pointed aimed forward. I got within a few feet of him when in a blue flash, his own Gramzanber appeared back in his hands. It was the same teleportation method my own spear used to return to my hooves. Shocked as I was, I pressed in anyway, thrusting at his chest. My silver Gramzanber met the edge of his dark Gramzanber.

He was moving just as fast as I was! I saw him look straight at me, and pull back his own spear to slash it towards my neck. I ducked, feeling part of my mane getting shaved off, and Zeikfried didn’t slow down, pressing forward with a sudden thrust that I struggled to twist my head in time to deflect with my own spear.

Sparks of energy flew between our spears with each hit, and I felt my body shake from every blow. He was insanely strong, and before I knew it I was on the defensive, forced to scramble backwards while desperately parrying wickedly fast blows that could have cut me in half at any moment. Accelerator wasn’t giving me an edge. It was just barely keeping me alive. Had he just been toying around with me earlier?

I knew I couldn’t afford to keep Accelerator up for much longer. I was already in bad shape, and the backlash might knock me out. But if I shut it off now, I was as good as dead.

Longwalk, on our left, I heard Gramzanber’s voice in my head. A risky glance showed me a section of the roof that was partially collapsed and had only a narrow steel beam connecting it to the rest of the roof. Perfect. I dashed for it, almost feeling the edge of Zeikfried’s spear as it cut a narrow line through what was left of my armor, missing my flesh by scant millimeters.

I reached the steel beam and crossed it while slashing down with Gramzanber, cutting through the beam once, then again with a backswing. I jumped, and let the second fall behind me. Zeikfried, who’d been in close pursuit, had to halt himself for a second to avoid the gap, and make a leap across it. In that moment, with him suspended in mid-air, where his speed was dictated by gravity rather than his own reflexes, I had the instance I needed to shut off Accelerator.

Even as the rough backlash hit my gut like a cemento block made of cramping agony, I turned and hefted Gramzanber in a throwing stance. Planting my back hooves, and pulled up everything I had left in me and poured it into Gramzanber.

This is exceedingly dangerous, Longwalk. I recommend retreat instead of-, my ARM began, warning me of what I was doing, but I just growled back.

“No time! Just do it!”

I knew using Impulse after having used it back at the Ark of Destiny was risky. Even with Gramzanber recently attuning to my Earth Pony physiology, I was just pushing myself beyond the limits. I didn’t really see any other choice I had. I needed to at least wound Zeikfried, maybe enough to give my friends a chance. If I couldn’t do that much, then there was no point in coming here at all.

Gramzanber’s spearhead gleamed with a pulsating corona of blueish white energy as my own lifeforce drained into the spear to power it up like a portable bomb. With my muscles screaming in protest I chucked my ARM with every shred of remaining strength I had, sending the glowing bolt of light up into the descending Zeikfried. I swear I saw the bastard smile as he shoved his own spear down like he was riding the damn thing, point first into the Impulse.

There was a blast of light and heat that scorched the air. I swayed there on my hooves for a few seconds, refusing to drop until I saw what had happened. Zeikfried’s body fell from the air and landed on the roof opposite of the gap I’d crossed, his armor smoking. I then lost my own strength as the drain of the Impulse hit me and left me a numb, frozen heap of jelly, collapsing to the cold concrete of the roof.

For a second it was all I could do to draw in breath, and even then my body had a distant, cold feeling to it. Had I pushed myself too far? I heard my friends shouting, Arcaidia or Binge calling my name, I couldn’t tell which.

I lifted my head a bit, although no more than an inch.

Everypony was galloping towards me.

Then Zeikfried rose, like a steel nightmare.

He was wounded, at least. The armor plating of his chest had a rent in it, which bled a thick, purple colored ichor.

Gramzanber, my Gramzanber, was at his feet, with some of his blood on it. He picked it up, holding it in front of his face with a curious quirk on his lips that wasn’t quite a smile or a scowl.

“Color me impressed. I didn’t think you could mimic my techniques so admirably. It seems you really were made with my blood in your veins. Still, that wasn’t a proper Impulse. Allow me to demonstrate what that technique actually looks like.”

His voice resonated with firm power, and a dose of casual instructional calm, like a teacher about to show a student how to solve a difficult problem. I tried to get my screaming, drained muscles to move properly, but at best I managed to flop in place like a gasping fish as Zeikfried turned towards my friends. He raised his spear above his head, and I felt the air thicken from a blinding convergence of energy that writhed around the tip of the dark spear’s deadly tip. The colors of this energy slipped between a malignant, bruise-like purple to flashes of incandescent blue. My guess it was a combination of magic and the same lifeforce that granted me and my own Gramzanber our abilities. Whatever Zeikfried’s Gramzanber was, it was at least similar to a Veruni ARM, although not identical.

Regardless, he swept his spear in front of him with a powerful swing of one arm. Unlike my Impulse, which kept its energy contained in the spear until the spear itself impacted a target, here it was as if Zeikfried channeled that same power out in a concentrated burst from the spear’s tip. A rolling wave of power smashed across the roof, right towards my friends.

I saw Arcaidia’s horn light up like a beacon, ice and stone slamming together in front of her and the others to create a barrier, or at least try to. Things were happening so fast, I wasn’t sure the shield would form in time. Crossfire crossed Iskender Bey and her rifle in front of her as a last ditch guard. Binge scrambled behind Arcaidia, probably the smartest move she could make at that moment. President Grimfeathers, at least, had flown up and out of range of the blast, but given how her wounded arm sagged and her flank was soaked red with blood, I wasn’t sure how long she could stay airborne.

Zeikfried’s “Impulse” struck, and I saw Arcaidia’s barrier of concrete and frost get shattered like glass. Then I couldn’t see much of anything as purple light flashed and dust billowed out in a dense cloud, followed by a shockwave of force that rattled my bones, even at a distance.

I was left coughing on the ground, while Zeikfried’s voice echoed in my ears.

“Honestly it’s a crude method of attack, but while not every problem is a nail, one can never doubt the effectiveness of a hammer.”

“Fuck... you...” I managed to gasp. Not exactly my most witty comeback, I admit, but I was kind of running on less than fumes at that point. I saw Zeikfried’s helmeted head turned towards me over his burly shoulder.

“I suppose it’s my fault for expecting more, when you all are so clearly tapped out. It’s not precisely fair of me, is it? I can see the potential, but right now you’re simply not there yet.” He turned around as he spoke, kneeling down and picking up my Gramzanber with his free hand. My gut roiled at seeing my ARM in his hand, as if him touching the weapon somehow was like him touching my own soul. Growling, I managed to crawl a bit forward, pushing at least one hoof underneath me enough that I could raise my bleeding head towards him and glare. Or at least try to glare. Not sure the effect was all that impressive.

“Put... that... down!”

He tilted his head, a curiously normal expression of piqued curiosity, “I was merely comparing. Immature of me, I know, but I can’t help but compare it to my own weapon. Veruni ARMs are such fascinating devices. We never did get around to properly emulating them. Hyadean weapons such as my own Gramzanber rely heavily on our internal magic for fuel, and only take a little from the soul. Veruni ARMs are nearly the opposite. They’re quite versatile, in comparison. It’s just your misfortune that your ARM took its shape from the part of me that was used to make up your own construction. Oh, I’m sorry, ‘construction’ isn’t really appropriate for your race, is it? Birth, then? Well, no matter, it seems we’re nearly done here.”

He stood up from where he’d knelt to pick up my spear. Behind him the dust was finally clearing. I pushed myself up into not quite a standing position, but a slumped half-sit, gasping to catch my breath as I looked to see what had become of my friends.

The half of the roof they’d been on was now a rubble choked disaster area, with twisted concrete and steel sagging around a conical shaped dip from the roof itself nearly collapsing. I saw Arcaidia lying near the edge of it, her artificial leg torn off her body and her blue cape in tatters around her. I felt my heart freeze for an instant before I saw her twitch, and raise her head. Then I also saw a familiar green, scared hoof reach up from some rubble and punch aside a slab of concrete. Both Binge and Arcaidia were in bad shape, but were both still alive, the former managing to yank herself out from beneath some rubble while the latter rose on three, unsteady hooves.

Crossfire was worse off. She was laying with her back up against the concrete barrier around the edge of the roof. Iskender Bey was laying next to her, intact and smoking. I got the impression the ARM had saved her life, but only just barely. Her rifle, the Sniper Shark XR, was broken in half and it’s pieces sat on either side of her. Some of its metal bayonet had broken off and was now lodged in Crossfire’s side. I could tell she wasn’t dead by the simple fact that she still had her eyes open in a pissed off glare, and even as I stared in open shock she used her magic to yank the offending piece of bayonet out of her body and picked up Iskender Bey. She swayed as she stood, but ignored the blood leaking from her as she guzzled a healing potion taken from inside her torn jacket and smashed the empty bottle on the ground like it’ been a beer.

“That all you’ve got, asshole!?” she shouted, coughing up blood immediately afterward, but not losing her defiant expression for an instant.

If shit wasn’t so damned grim, I might have found the image funny.

“Remarkable,” Zeikfried confessed, “I’d believed that enough to do you in, but pony resilience proves to be worthy of respect. Still, it doesn’t appear any of you have much left to throw at me. Without an actual bond with your ARM, you can’t access enough of its power to turn things around.”

A bullet bounced off his helmet, and the alien warlord sighed and looked up, “And you, President Grimfeathers, have overstayed your welcome.”

The NCR’s President was clearly having trouble remaining in the air, given how the griffin’s wings were dipping and her whole body wobbled on it’s flight path. Yet even with the gaping wound in her shoulder and what had to be a serious loss of blood, she steadfastly kept her pistols on point and squeezed off rounds at Zeikfried. There simply wasn’t a single inch of ‘quit’ inside Grimfeathers, and between her and seeing my friends still standing, despite their own terrible injuries, I felt compelled to try and drag more from my own wounded body.

Without Gramzanber in my hooves I didn’t have a lot of options. I’d already seen grenades do next to nothing to Zeikfried’s armor, so the few I had in my saddlebags didn’t offer a useful means of attack. I could have tried calling Gramzanber to my hooves, but even if that worked, I didn’t have the strength left to throw or strike with the ARM. I also didn’t have time. Zeikfried coiled his legs and sprung up with a prodigious leap that took him sailing straight towards President Grimfeathers, pulling back his own spear to strike.

My muddled mind sought something I could do, even as my friends tried their own last ditch efforts. I saw Arcaidia’s horn alight, and a trail of frost gray from the tip of her hooves and snapped out beneath Zeikfried, forming a pillar of spiked ice that tried to skewer him. He smashed through the pillar and used it to spring off of, although I noticed the armor of his feet got coated in ice and even cracked in places. This delayed him long enough for Crossfire, her body still trailing blood, to teleport above and behind him. She gripped Iskender Bey with her fore hooves and brought the silver blade down hard. Zeikfried, to my stomach churning chagrin, used my own ARM in his left hand to block Iskender Bey. For a second the pair were suspended in mid-air, sparks flying between the two ARMs.

That was my moment to call Gramzanber back to me, causing the spear to flash from Zeikfried’s hand to my hoof. This allowed Iskender Bey through to cut along Zeikfried’s chest armor in a scream of showering metal. For once I hear Zeikfried actually grunt in pain as Crossfire’s blow sent him tumbling back to the ground. He landed on his feet, a fresh wound added to the one I’d given him moments earlier. Crossfire landed hard as well, her own injury causing her to cry out and stagger. Zeikfried, not hesitating a second, slashed with his spear, it’s edge cutting the concrete in front of Crossfire as she rolled away.

Several sharp kitchen knives went spinning through the air to smash into Zeikfried’s chest. Most bounced off his armor, but one lodged in the already torn open metal, drawing a small spray of blood. Binge, who’d been the one throwing the knives, let out a whoop and jump, “Bullseye! If Mr. Happy were still around, he’d congratulate me on a three point throw.”

“Allow me, instead,” said Zeikfried, pulling the knife from his chest like someone plucking a thorn from his side, and he threw the knife right back at Binge. She dodged admirably, but only enough to get the knife to sink into her left fore leg, rather than her chest. To her credit, she didn’t fall, but kept shuffling until she got behind some rubble for cover. By then Arcaidia had summoned up another spell, lashing at Zeikfried with a focused stream of winter blue cold.

He cut into the beam with his spear, splitting the frost into two beams that froze the roof around him. I saw Arcaidia’s magic peter out, her horn sputtering motes of magic as she began to run out of energy.

By now I’d managed to use Gramzanber to prop myself up, using the ARM as a crutch to begin hobbling. My aim wasn’t Zeikfried, however, but the edge of the roof. I had an idea, and it wasn’t my brightest, but all things considered, it was all I had left.

As Arcaida’s beam of arctic frost dimmed to a trickle, and she nearly collapsed in a gasping pile of sweat from exhaustion, I saw Crossfire stand in front of her to bar Zeikfried’s path. He began stalking towards them, brushing bits of ice from his hands.

“Commendable efforts. You do your species proud, and confirm what I have long suspected, that ponykind is worthy of standing among the stars as the third spacefaring race. Once this war is over, you will either rise to that height under my direction, or prove my better and do so after my defeat. Either way, I still get what I want; a new race to tip the balance of power in the long stalemate between Hyaden and Veruni.”

So, that’s what he was after. He wanted ponies to become the next race to reach the stars besides his own and the Veruni, and once there, break the stalemate in their generations-long war. He didn’t even care if we did it after defeating him or if we did it with him and his cronies in charge of things, just as long as it happened. Sad thing was, I could easily see how it would play out that way. Time and again I’d seen just how good at innovation and warfare my species was. If history was to be believed, we’d gone from relatively little technology to having the power to ruin our world in the span of a single pony’s lifetime. If Zeikfried pressed us into another war, with alien technology now running rampant...?

Odessa’s drive for new technology. The NCR’s rush for securing a better future for its people. Skull City and it’s Guilds, driving innovation forward and sitting at the center of conflict. The Protectorate of Neghlisus and Applehyde, too, would join in the rush for more advanced technology, especially with an enemy like Zeikfried out there to drive it.

He was going to forge all of us into his weapons to break the stalemate of an intergalactic war, and near as I could tell, he’d stacked the deck to make sure it’d happen even if he was killed. He wasn’t the only Hyadean on Equestria after all, and he even had a Veruni, Persephone, in his pocket. She must have been convinced by Zeikfried that this was the only way to break the Veruni’s stalemate with the Hyadeans; add a new space faring race to the equation.

And given us ponies talent for war, I couldn’t even say he was wrong.

I mean, obviously crazy and despicable in the sacrifices he was making of countless lives to accomplish his goal, but not necessarily incorrect in his assumption that once ponies got out into space we’d probably shake up the status quo significantly.

“If that’s what you wanted,” I said, reaching the edge of the roof, “You didn’t have to do it this way. You could have given us technology freely, explained things, asked us to go into space to try and end the war-”

“Don’t be foolish,” he interrupted me with a rough sigh, “Technology given through peace would be meaningless. Your kind’s power is the strength born from war. I will be the fire of war that forges you into a blade to pierce the stars. Whether you live to see that glorious tomorrow or not is yet to be seen, but this only ends in either your victory, or your death.”

“Eh...” I said, shrugging, “Why not both?”

I raised my left fore leg and fired my Grapple.

I don’t think he was really expecting a mere tool to be used like a weapon, as evidenced by the fact that rather than dodge, he merely instinctively blocked with his free arm. The Grapple line wrapped around his arm and secured itself there snuggly.

“What is this supposed to achompli-” he started to ask, but this time I got to interrupt him as I activated the Grapple’s unique weight altering magic. With the Grapple I could always either make myself lighter to make climbing with the Grapple easier, or make whatever it’s attached to lighter to make it easier to pull or drag around. Zeikfried clearly weighed quite a bit, but with that spell, his weight became a tenth of normal and suddenly he was rather light.

Light enough so that when I rolled off the edge of the roof, he got dragged right along with me.

“Longwalk!”

“Bucky!”

“Ren solva!”

I heard my friends calling after me as my body fell. The Capitol Building was pretty large, so the distance from the roof to the ground gave me a few seconds. Zeikfried tumbled through the air above me. Apparently while he was one hell of a jumper, flying wasn’t in his repertoire of powers. Good, otherwise this crazy maneuver of mine would’ve been a real numbskull thing to do.

Accelerator

Gramzanber responded to my call, shifting the world to a sheen of pure blue. With time seemingly slowed, I detached the Grapple from Zeikfried and aimed it for the roof. Despite the quip I’d given Zeikfried, I hadn’t intended to die or anything stupid like that. The Grapple shot up, and I watched it in slow motion as it wrapped around a protruding steel beam from a portion of the damaged roof.

Not wanting to deal with any more backlash than needed, I turned off Accelerator the second I was sure the Grapple had hit it’s mark.

As time sped back up to normal speed I saw Zeikfried fall past me, while the Grapple line pulled taut and I realized I’d sort of failed to calculate just how fast I’d be hitting the Capitol Building’s wall. That was a painful hello from our good friend concrete, let me tell you. Might have lost a tooth in that one. But hey, I was alive, dangling like a blood soaked rag doll from my Grapple line on the side of NCR’s Capitol Building, but at least I’d sent Zeikfried to a painful meeting with the ground.

*snap*

I glanced up at the sound of metal breaking and twisting. I’m fairly sure my eyes got wider than most plates as the steel beam my Grapple was attached to, already heavily damaged as it was, broke under my weight.

“Ohcrapcrapcrap!” I screamed, quickly switching the Grapple line to descend. It lowered me about ten, maybe fifteen feet before the steel beam came loose and I went right back into freefall.

Lucky me, I actually hadn’t been that far from the ground at that point, so my drop was only about another dozen feet. Not that my ribs really cared about the difference between twelve feet or one hundred. Still sent pure fire rushing through my nerves and left me a breathless husk on the ground for a few seconds.

Of course me being me, my luck didn’t last for longer than that brief few seconds. I heard a deep grunt filled to the brim with the kind of annoyance that reminded me of the sounds my tribe’s Chieftain would make when she’d gotten fed up with me. I raised my bleary head to see Zeikfried rising from the ground where he’d impacted. A sizable dent with spiderweb cracks in the concrete were beneath where he’d fallen, but the Hyadean warlord stood from his less-than-fatal fall and shook dust from his armor.

The place we’d fallen was on the opposite side of the Capitol Building from where the main entrance was. The back of the Capitol Building had what appeared to be a large parking lot and supply area. It was a wide expanse of flat concrete, surrounded by a tall series of chain-link fences wreathed with barbed wire. Metal wagons of varying sizes and shapes were lined up along aisles of marked parking spaces, while to my right along the fence were rows of about half a dozen sheet metal warehouses, some with open rolling doors which let me see the stacks of crates and barrels inside.

There were no other living creatures back here besides me and Zeikfried. A few bodies from earlier fighting were strewn about here and there, but otherwise no sign that this back area had even been touched much by the attack on the city.

Which meant I was alone, with no backup, injured and beyond exhausted, facing the most deadly enemy I’d ever encountered.

Yay.

Out of my group of allies, only Crossfire had a way to get down to me quickly by teleporting, but I couldn’t be sure she even had enough magic left for that. I knew Arcaidia had been nearly drained by the last spell she’d thrown at Zeikfried, and she didn’t know teleportation anyway. President Grimfeathers could fly, but last I’d seen of her she was barely staying aloft with her amount of blood loss.

Reinforcements seemed unlikely, at least anytime soon. And as for myself, I could barely get my hooves under me, and my body was a cross-stitching of either cold, dead numbness, or screaming agony. It was all I could do to just plant Gramzanber on the ground and use the spear to haul myself into a wobbling bipedal stance, leaning on the ARM like a cane.

Zeikfried took one look at me and I swear he actually face palmed. One armored, alien hand went to the face of his visored helmet and he just... shook his head.

“Incredible. Simply incredible. I keep underestimating you. Just when I think you have nothing left, you find a way to surprise me. You’re half dead and can’t even stand properly, yet you still face me. Well, you and your companions have managed to wound me several times, which is far more than I expected. The least I can do for you at this point is honor that spirit and give you a warrior’s death.”

“You really... like talking... don’t you?” I said past bloodied lips.

The bastard smiled, “Guilty as charged.”

He raised his spear. It’s jagged edge filled my vision. It wasn’t like I had any energy left to dodge or attempt to parry. I was standing purely on willpower and hope. Dragging him off the roof had been my last plan. Hadn’t really accounted for him and me both still being alive after that. Since evasion was out of the question, and attempting to block wouldn’t work with how little strength I had left, the only thing I could think to do was to take the blow. Maybe after he impaled me, I’d have a split second to do the same to him while his guard was down?

I readied myself, much as I could, to take the fatal blow, and tensed my forelimbs for my own thrust when it happened...

Only for a rain of silvery streaks to fall upon Zeikfried, impacting him with hammer blows. Right on top of that was an explosive tear of what I could only describe as gunfire cranked up to eleven and put on fast forward. Zeikfried staggered back under the torrent, his armor lighting up with so many sparks you might have thought he stepped on a live electrical wire. Then there was a streaking noise, a high pitched whine, until a trio of what looked like miniature rockets slammed down atop him in a series of short detonations.

“Longwalk, get down!” I heard one monotone, machine voice say, while another followed right behind it.

“Thank the Goddesses, looks like we made it in time.”

Two individuals descended from the air. I wasn’t sure precisely where they’d come from, but it must have been around the roof area I’d just been.

“Celestia’s bleeding teats, Longwalk, you look like you tried to make out with a bucking Deathclaw,” said LIL-E.

My eyebot friend certainly looked different from the last time I saw her, which made sense given she’d been undergoing upgrades from the lab she’d been born in. Her structure as a flying spherical robot was essentially the same, but it’s clear her body had been refurbished with fresh armor that was a little thicker than before, making her a bit larger in diameter. Her faceplate had an additional circular apparatus that glowed with some kind of laser targeting system. Where her usual underslung revolver had been was now a larger mounting bearing what looked to be twin, triple-barreled miniguns. Both her left and right side had new housings as well, one open to reveal a multi-warhead rocket system on her right side, while her left bore a cylindrical grenade launcher.

“Can you still move, Long?”

The question came from B.B. I had no idea what had happened to her since we’d parted ways when she’d gone to rescue those civilians. It wasn’t as if it could have been longer than maybe half an hour ago, although it sure felt like a lifetime. She carried her Twin Fenrir ARMs on her fore hooves, the source of the silvery bullets from a second ago. But something had changed. She wasn’t speaking with her fake accented voice, but her more natural one. More noticeable, however, was that her eyes had become a gleaming, pure red. Her mouth bore a prominent and noticeable pair of fangs. On top of that, there was an... aura around her. It was faint, but there was a noticeable curling of red mist about her body, it’s color an unnatural neon saturation that clashed with the muted colors around us.

“B.B?” I said, “Are you... okay?”

Her eyes, more red than freshly spilled blood, gave me a melancholic glance, but she nodded, “Enough for now. Time for questions later. For now, let me and LIL-E deal with this.”

“We saw the others up top,” LIL-E said, “They’ll be on their way down here in a bit, but we can kick this guy’s ass in the meantime. You look like you need a breather, so how about you have a sit while we take out the trash?”

“Bold words for a mere piece of machinery and a one of the Elw race’s pet mutants,” cut in Zeikfried, having placed up a magical barrier to guard himself from further attacks for the moment. His armor was scored in several places from the barrage he’d sustained, but for all his mounting injuries, he didn’t appear to be tiring yet. Even as I looked, I could see some of the flesh beneath the rent portions of his armor pulsating and knitting itself back together. So on top of being insanely tough, he could also regenerate his wounds? Bucking fantastic.

B.B cast a deadly glare at Zeikfried, “You know about Crimson Nobles?”

“I killed many of your kind in the first war for this world. The Elw created you to be weapons, but disposable ones. You share that much with the robot at your side. Replaceable tools of war, so easily used up.”

“Oh, just go and eat every dick, you chromed up walking dildo!” LIL-E shouted with her voice speakers at maximum volume, then followed it up by popping out a quartet of blinking green grenade rounds that arced right into Zeikfried.

He raised his magical barrier, but even that shield of luminous light wavered under multiple blossoms of emerald plasma from the detonating grenades.

“Very succinct, LIL, I think he really got the message,” B.B said, and then with speed I never imagined she had, she streaked right towards Zeikfried. The square shaped blades that extended down from the handles of her Twin Fenrir appeared to gleam with a blue tinted light, and B.B became a flying dervish as she hammered Zeikfried’s shield with a blindingly quick aerial combo of swift slashes followed by a fresh hail of gunfire after she flipped in the air to climb vertically directly above him.

Zeikfried’s magical barrier actually buckled under the assault, forcing him to leap back from not only B.B’s torrent of fire, but LIL-E’s continued shooting from her own collection of weapons. I saw him leap over some of the parked wagons in the lot, which exploded under the tracing fire from both LIL-E and B.B. For his bulk, Zeikfried was freakishly quick himself, and wasted no time in mounting a counter offensive. He threw his spear with the speed and precision of a master sniper, sending the wicked weapon flashing towards LIL-E. I saw that the eyebot’s upgrades extended beyond armor and firepower, as the hovering jets she used to fly extended and blasted out with suddenly intense thruster flames that caused her to go in a spinning evasion. The blade still cut her armor and opened a hole in her side, but LIL-E steadfastly reoriented herself and cut loose a few more rockets at Zeikfried.

Instantly teleporting his spear back to his hand, he charged it up with a flare of pulsating violet and blue power and cast out another Impulse wave, detonating the rockets in mid-air, and flipping over several more metal wagons that went sailing through the air. As if the sight gave him an idea, he dashed back to one of the intact wagons and with one hand demonstrated monstrous strength, lifting it and throwing it like a foal’s toy at B.B, who’d been trying to fly to get behind him.

She took aim at the wagon flying towards her and opened fire with both of her ARMs. A barrage of silver, streaking bullets tore into the wagon, slowing it down enough for her to roll over it’s trajectory. She then dive bombed Zeikfried, crossing the blades of her guns in an X pattern as she slashed at him.

He met the attack with his spear, causing an explosive wave of force from the clash.

“I see,” he said, “You’re not as strong as your predecessors. Is it because you’ve not fed upon enough blood, or is it simply due to being of such a later generation? Tell me, does that blond brat still live? She was the only one who ever gave me a decent fight on this rock, back in the day.”

“Blond brat? You mean the Mistress of the Family?” B.B said, teeth grinding as she tried to push her blades down enough to get the barrels of her guns pointed at Zeikfried’s face, “She’s still around. We’re not on good terms.”

“Well, if you manage to survive this, feel free to invite her to come see me in the North sometime. I’d love to finish our own inconclusive duel from the old war.”

He appeared to falter, letting B.B’s guns lower, but it proved to be a feint. The second she opened fire at his head he ducked to the side and hammered his left fist forward into B.B’s gut. She took the blow exceptionally well, knocked backwards but not dropping from the air and immediately flying up to narrowly evade Zeikfried’s follow up attack as his spear cut the air she’d just occupied.

All this time I myself was struggling to get all my hooves under me. My body felt like it was made from beaten rubber. Nothing was responding correctly, and that was the stuff I could still feel.

Longwalk, Gramzanber spoke in my mind, his voice filling with a deep note of fear, You cannot continue to fight. Your body has suffered too much strain. Please, Longwalk, you have to stay still, otherwise-

“Th...ey... they need me...” I sputtered out, ignoring the blood dripping down my chin, “Have to... keep fighting...”

Just one hoof in front of the other. C’mon body, we’re not done. That’s right, just move a bit more. Another step. Damn you, I said move! Lift, move that hoof! Now set it down and pick up the next one! Your friends are fighting for their lives! If you can’t help...

Longwalk, I’m telling you to stop! I’d never really heard Gramzanber scream before. It was like an explosion in my mind. Your lifesigns are hanging on by mere threads. I can do nothing to help you, especially if you sustain any further damage!

Then another voice cut in. It was one I’d heard before, rarely, sometimes in dreams. Feminine, somehow familiar. Warm, caring, but also filled with concern and fear like Gramzanber’s.

He’s right. You’ve done all you can. Leave it to your friends. Trust them. Believe in them. If you die here, then that’s it. You’ll make them mourn for you, having thrown your life away. Please don’t do that. Don’t die, Longwalk. I’d never forgive you or myself if you do!

Who...? The question hung in my mind, making me hesitate long enough for my legs to grow weary and give out from under me. I dropped like a burlap sack of rocks, Gramzanber clattering down next to me. It was like a cork had been opened up inside me, dribbling out what little strength I’d had left. I was stuck, barely conscious, a spectator to the final moments of my friends’ life or death battle with the warlord from beyond the stars and another age.

That, not being able to help in those moments, was a pain worse than any physical injury I had to endure. Tears filled my eyes as I watched, still trying to get my limbs to obey me, but they just wouldn’t respond. It was like trying to move while buried in sand. The only thing I was capable of in those horrible moments was to watch the companions I’d traveled with for so long fight in my place against an opponent who seemed unstoppable.

There was a flash of crimson light nearby, and I saw Crossfire appear from the flaring lights of a teleport spell. She landed without elegance, her injured body stumbling upon touching the ground, but her eyes shone with hungry, fury driven light as she stalked forward with Iskender Bey floating at her side. Arcaidia and Binge had been teleported with her, both frazzled by the disorienting spell, and looked no better off than Crossfire in terms of injury.

Seeing them only made me want to get my ass up all the more, but all I could manage was a weak twitch of my head and a groan. Stupid bodily limits.

“Bucky!” Binge was a green bolt of speed, reaching my side and wrapping her hooves around me like the idea of letting go was a foreign concept. “Please tell me you’ve still got blood jumping through those silly veins of yours. If you’re a corpse you have to tell me, okay!?”

There was genuine fear in her voice, tinged hard by a raw throated love that was heartwarming, if also somewhat undercut by the fact that we were in such desperate straights. I could see her lovely scar covered face gazing down at me, baby blue eyes brimmed with tears. I wanted to reach up my hoof to the face and give her a reassuring pat, tell her I was okay, but mostly I just twitched again and I think I managed a slight gurgle.

“I’ll take that as I ‘not dead yet’,” she said, and dug out a healing potion from her mane, “Stupid bucky jumping off roofs without my permission! Skydiving is not a hobby to try out without wings, my sexy not-pegasus. Now drinky drinky the life juice so your organs don’t fail.”

She upended the potion into my mouth, and I nearly choked on the off-brand carrot flavoring. A slight tingle seeped into my body, but my injuries were well beyond healing potions at this point, so the most it accomplished was allow me to turn my head a bit easier so I could more clearly see the battle unfold as Binge held me tight.

Arcaidia and Crossfire advanced on Zeikfried, although he gave them barely a cursory glance as they did so. Arcaidia’s horn was a sputtering thing, it’s regal length barely able to conjure a dim gleam of frosty blue light and a few fading sparks as she channeled what little she had left to summon a singular lance of ice that she hurled at Zeikfried. He crushed it with his free hand, while focusing on using his spear to launch another Impulse wave at B.B, who was nearly knocked from the sky by the energy wave’s sheer air pressure even as she dodged it. I saw her knocked like a flower petal by a gust of wind, spiraling to land hard on the ground. She landed on her hooves, skidding a dozen meters with the blades of her Twin Fenrir digging into the concrete to slow herself.

Crossfire used the brief distraction that Arcaidia’s ice had caused to rush in, pure adrenaline fueling her even as blood splattered the ground from her open side wound. She used both her magic and her forehooves on Iskender Bey, slashing the silver blade hard onto Zeikfried’s arm as if intending to sever it. He turned sideways with sickening speed, although Crossfire’s strike still managed to cut a line across his forearm, rending his armor open and drawing blood. Crossfire turned the blade sideways and made a backslash, but Zeikfried halted that with the shaft of his spear.

“For a half dead pony, your skill and tenacity is to be lauded. If only you were properly bonded with that ARM, you’d be a respectable challenge. Still, I find this curious. I was given to understand you’re a mercenary by trade. Is coin truly such a strong motivator for you to fight when you’re this outmatched?”

Zeikfried’s words prompted a deep, guttural snarl from Crossfire that resonated deep from within her chest. Her own horn bloomed with crimson light as she pushed harder on Iskender Bey, actually managing to force Zeikfried back a lumbering step.

“You. Hurt. Knobs!” Crossfire roared with blood stained lips.

As if in response to her words, Iskender Bey itself began to pulsate with a silvery white light. It’s edge then burst with a lining of raw white light, as if becoming encased in pure energy. This then became mixed with the blood red magic of Crossfire’s horn, turning the white energy around the blade to the same sanguine hue. The energy casing made the blade nearly twice it’s original size, and Crossfire cut down with it hard against Zeikfried’s Gramzanber. Sparks flew in a rosy shower, and Zeikfried was driven back. He actually paused in surprise, seeing a scorch mark upon his spear from where Iskender Bey had struck.

“Perhaps I spoke too soon. You are neither a mercenary, nor an unworthy opponent... but I also see that you’re done. A pity.”

I saw what he was saying was true. I knew all too well that using an ARM’s power had a price. A backlash. Crossfire’s desire to protect Knobs might have helped her bond with Iskender Bey and access it’s initial power, not unlike I had with Gramzanber and Accelerator, but that came with a draining effect on the user. I could see it hit Crossfire like a proverbial ton of bricks. The red energy faded from the edge of Iskender Bey and Crossfire seized up like somepony being electrocuted. Her body fell in a heap of spasms, her mouth opening in a strangled cry.

I didn’t know how bad the backlash was, but it was probably exacerbated by it being her first time, and already in such bad condition when it happened. Either way, I could tell Crossfire wasn’t going to be able to stand back up anytime soon.

However, it would turn out that she didn’t have to. While she’d been taking up Zeikfried’s attention, the rest of the group had been preparing.

I wasn’t sure who’d come up with the idea. Knowing how it all went down, I suspect it was LIL-E’s idea, but she probably hadn’t told B.B and Arcaidia everything. Just the bare bones to make it work, while Crossfire had been keeping Zeikfried occupied. It happened entirely too fast for it to have not been planned, and even later I had to think through it multiple times to recall every detail like I am now.

It started the moment Zeikfried had given his backhanded compliment to Crossfire and she’d fallen. B.B and LIL-E both came at him from the sides, at slight inward angles. LIL-E’s back chassis had opened to reveal a pair of conical rocket boosters that fired off blue flames, propelling her like a high speed battering ram, while B.B’s wings beat as fast as a hummingbird’s. Both of them slammed into Zeikfried, LIL-E firing her twin gatling guns and B.B unloading with the Twin Fenrir. The bullets didn’t do much damage, but they added to the force that pushed Zeikfried backwards.

Then his feet touched the ice. Ice that Arcaidia had formed when she’d slipped silently behind him and touched her horn to the ground, pushing out the last embers of her magic to create a frozen sheet of ice upon the parking lot’s concrete. The ice formed a path straight into one of the warehouses.

Between LIL-E and B.B’s efforts, and the slippery ice, Zeikfried was pushed back like a sled, right through the open doors of the warehouse. The moment he was through, B.B broke off and flew back, and I remember seeing her momentarily look satisfied, but then also confused when she saw LIL-E was still pushing Zeikfried inside.

Given Arcaidia, who’d been galloping away from the warehouse, also paused and looked back with confusion, I can only assume LIL-E hadn’t told B.B or Arcaidia what the full plan had been. They probably thought the idea was to collapse the warehouse on him and make a run for it. Get reinforcements, maybe, or hell, just escape with our lives.

I don’t think any of them knew the warehouse was one filled with fuel barrels for the wagons and Vertibucks used by the NCR. LIL-E did, of course. She was an NCR built eyebot, and would know about the fuel depot. That, or her highly advanced scanners picked up the details of what was in the warehouse during the fight, while the rest of us were just focused on staying alive. I’d like to think it was a good thing that I often forgot LIL-E was a robot, and not a flesh and blood creature like the rest of us.

I still tell myself that, sometimes.

I only really remember two other things at that instant. One, that my Pip-Buck made a beeping sound at me, one who’s meaning at the time I didn’t understand. The other was that I got a good view of LIL-E, rockets still firing full bore as she pushed Zeikfried the last few meters to the center of the depot, before aiming her grenade launcher and rocket pod at the stacks of barrels around them... and fired.

Heat. Light. Sound that I didn’t so much hear as feel like a giant hoof pressing down on my whole body. Binge shielded me with herself, hooves never letting go.

I wasn’t sure how much time passed after that, but it couldn’t have been long. A few minutes, at most. I heard Binge cough roughly above me and opened my eyes to the blurry vision of her face above me, looking down at me.

“You okay?”

“Think so...” I managed to croak out in a hoarse voice, trying to turn my head, “What happened?”

I was shell shocked and my brain was effectively mush. Binge helped me turn over, rise to a shaking single hoof as I looked at the warehouse. Or what was left of it. The area was a pure inferno. Angry orange and yellow flames formed a river of smoking heat that had consumed the warehouse LIL-E and Zeikfried had been in, and had spread to the neighboring warehouses, creating a wall of fire.

I sat there, slack and numb, starring.

Nearby, Arcaidia shuffled on three legs towards us, collapsing into a panting, bloodied pile beside Binge and I. Her silver mane was covered in sweat, ash, and streaked with blood. Her eyes gave me an exhausted look, but somehow she managed to keep her voice strong, “Ren solva, did LIL-E... did you see...?”

I was mute, and shook my head. B.B suddenly landed on the opposite side of us. Her currently crimson eyes were filled with a silent pain as she took a shuddering breath, her wings drooping, “I didn’t see her get out of the warehouse. Damn her, she told me she’d break off the same second I did.”

I felt Binge’s hooves hold me tighter as I started to shake. Her snout touched my neck comfortingly. I tried to stand, and only managed to get one more hoof under me as my mind started to seek rationale, “It’s just... just fire. She’s a robot, right? She might still be intact in there. Got to... find water, or something, put the fire out. Arcaidia, do you have any magic left?”

My friend looked at me with eyes filled with numerous layers of pain, both physical and emotional, and her head dipped to hide tears in their silver depths. “Sorry... magic dry. Can’t... summon anymore.”

“Then, uh, shit, we got to find water-” I started again, but felt strong hooves on my leg. B.B passed in front of me, looking me straight in the eye.

“Longwalk, stop. We’re in no shape to do anything. Crossfire’s down. I’m going to try and tend to her. You three stay put.”

“But what about LIL-E-?”

“Longwalk, she’s gone!” B.B snapped, “That wasn’t just fire, it was an explosion strong enough to flatten a building. We can’t put that fire out, and... just stay put dammit! ...Dammit all...”

She moved with a purpose, gliding over to the fallen Crossfire. I saw her fish out a healing potion to start to feed to the unconscious unicorn mercenary, while I stared blankly at the still raging flames that had consumed both Zeikfried, and one of my friends.

Then I saw a shape stir in the flames. For a second my heart jumped, hoping. That hope burst into ash a second later as the shape that came stomping forth from the fires was not LIL-E, but the towering form of the Hyadean warlord.

Zeikfired had not escaped unscathed from LIL-E’s last ditch effort to kill him. His armor was scorched and melted, in some places blasted off entirely to reveal ropes of shining purple muscle, shot through with cords of metal and bizarre alien machinery. Half of his helmet was cracked and torn asunder, revealing the charred features of a humanoid visage beneath. A single, fierce purple eye regarded us from the ruined flesh coldly. In his smoking, burned hands he still held his dark Gramzanber, it’s edge wafting with heat trails and still burning flames. Blood coated him, seeped into the ground at his booted feet, and his breathing was ragged, but he still stood, alive.

A sense of genuine hate started to beat in my chest at the sight.

“A valiant effort,” he said, past clenched teeth, “If a wasted one.”

I coughed and grunted in pain as a short burst of fury fueled adrenaline got me back to my hooves. However I was only able to just barely raise Gramzanber before my legs gave out again, and if not for Binge holding me, I would’ve dropped back to the ground. Arcaidia rose beside us, snarling, while B.B, eyes wide, started to feed another healing potion to the still unconscious Crossfire.

“Esru vi dorma mal vas, sobek!” Arcaidia let out in a chilling growl.

“Such language from a member of a Veruni noble house? What would your sister say?” Zeikfried chided, and Arcaidia tried to light up her horn, only for it to spark and sputter a few frosty motes before it’s light died out. Zeikfried shook his head. Already the flesh beneath his armor was pulsating and growing new tissue. Not quickly, mind you, but enough so that I could tell that the damage he’d taken wouldn’t last more than an hour or two. Still, it was clear he was hurt. If we only had more strength to give, a little more and we could have finished what LIL-E had started!

Arcaidia certainly looked about to try, even if she had to do it with her bare hooves and teeth. She took a step towards Zeikfried, and I saw B.B rising as well, ready to make a final stand.

Only instead Zeikfried looked up, and the one eye of his that I could see narrowed.

“Ah, it seems our time for today is up. The so-called ‘cavalry’ has arrived.”

This was followed by him raising his hand and tracing a series of white, gleaming Crest circles in the air to cast his barrier spell. This occurred just as a volley of green plasma blasts and ruby laser beams fell upon him. A loud, female voice called out from above, familiar in its authoritative yet youthful tone.

“Surround the xeno target! Don’t let him escape!”

Odessa soldiers in their brilliant white combat armor landed around us, griffins and pegasi alike. All blazed away with magical energy weapons, most of which bounced off Zeikfried’s barrier, but they at least appeared to keep him pinned in place.

In front of me, Sunset landed, her cybernetic limbs making whirring noises as they absorbed the impact of her landing, and the mare opened fire with the plasma rifles mounted beneath her cyber-wings. She glanced back at us as she did so, saying breathlessly, “Sorry we’re late. The big ugly one gave us some serious trouble.”

“Did you at least manage to kill the frog-face?” asked Binge, and Sunset grimaced.

“No. Bastard ran off. The NCR Rangers went after him, but Odessa ordered us to get to your position ASAP. Looks like she made the right call.”

“Odessa?” I breathed, and looked up as a shadow passed overhead.

She was clad in her well cut uniform of white and blue, trimmed with gold tassels on the shoulders. A white combat vest covered her chest, but otherwise Colonel Odessa, leader of the entire organization of Odessa, wore no further armor to impede her movements. She already carried naked in her right talon a white blade with gold cross guard, it’s surface reflecting just enough silver sheen to mark it as an Artificial ARM.

She moved like a straightly shot arrow or well cast spear, angling down upon Zeikfried, sword first. As she swung her blade, the sword itself separated into a series of shards, chained together by a band of silver light, effectively turning the weapon into a whip that she lashed down on Zeikfried’s magical barrier.

The barrier held, but visibly cracked, and before Zeikfried could respond, Odessa moved with slick speed, delivering another blow immediately behind the previous. At that, the barrier crumbled, and Zeikfried was forced to use his own spear to deflect the next blow. He still largely ignored the shots from the Odessa force’s energy weapons, even as they splashed upon the parts of him that were unarmored and scorched his flesh anew.

“Always a pleasure, Colonel. I see your tribe of aerial miscreants have not become better shots since my last major engagement with them. That was when I killed your mother, was it not?”

“Save your banal words, alien scum,” Odessa said, dodging back from his seeking spear and readying to dive upon him again. “This ends today.”

“Unfortunately, I must disagree,” Zeikfried said, and actually turned his back upon both her and the Odessa troops shooting at him as he called out, “Alhazad! It is time for us to depart.”

As if he’d been there the entire time, space warmed like water draining down a tube, and in a flash of light suddenly the other Hyadean was there. Alhazad, in his golden mask and bizarre body hidden beneath his flowing white robe, floated in the air beside Zeikfried. A swarm of his strange insectile servitors flew out from his robes, and the blue gemmed ones erected a series of energy shields around both himself and Zeikfried.

Odessa let out an eagle's screech and attacked the barriers, but I knew from my own experience that Alhazad’s barriers were made of stern stuff and even Odessa’s Artificial ARM didn’t do much damage to them upon impact.

“You’re rather scuffed up, my lord,” Alhazad commented in his ear warping voice. “Did these creatures really prove so troublesome?”

Zeikfried made a waving gesture with his free hand, “As I have told you so many times, my doubting friend, this world’s denizens offer more than their appearances would indicate. Of course, I confess I took them too lightly today, and as a result was more wounded than I expected. It’s no matter. We’re done here for now. Signal the troops to withdraw.”

“As you wish, but are all of our objectives complete? I saw survivors on the rooftop.”

“Yes, a few of Skull City’s Guild leaders remain alive, and President Grimfeathers still draws breath as well. While not all of our objectives are met, we’ve done enough damage to generate the desired result. I’m inclined to allow the ponies their small victory today, in honor of the virtue of... sacrifice.”

Upon those words, Zeikfried’s gaze moved towards the flaming remains of the warehouse, and I found the strength to get my hooves working once again and took a step forward, yelling, “HEY!”

He looked back at me, his one eye filled with mild curiosity, “Yes? Speak, warrior. You’ll not have another chance.”

“Her name was LIL-E,” I said with all the seething force I would muster, “Remember it! And this; we’re going to stop you. I swear it on the Ancestor Spirits.”

Zeikfried paused, then nodded once. “I shall remember the name of your fallen, and your vow. Now, don’t disappoint me by dying before our next meeting, young warrior. Alhazad, it is time for us to leave.”

Odessa and her followers certainly tried their best to stop him. They poured everything they had into trying to crack Alhazad’s barriers, including tossing grenades and bringing in a Vertibuck to unleash a barrage of rockets. But by the time that occurred, Alhazad had already started to warp space for another teleportation. I watched both Hyadean beings vanish through a swirling vortex of air and simply vanish back to wherever they’d come from.

And that was that.

The battle for Manehatten was over.

I learned later that the army of Hyadean bio-monsters had retreated through similar portals, leaving behind a city mauled and battered in their wake. Thousands of NCR residents, both civilian and military, had lost their lives in the attack. More than half the NCR’s leadership, including numerous department heads that the citizens had come to rely on, had been murdered by Zeikfried’s rampage. The Skull City Guild leaders had not gotten off any lighter, with many dead or missing.

It would be hours before anything became properly organized to reign in the chaos, and days before any semblance of order was restored. Of course, none of that mattered for the immediate present of myself and my surviving friends. Amid the swirl of activity and confusion, the one thing on my mind was lying in the center of a blazing warehouse.

Many hours later, when that inferno was put out, injuries were tended to, and I’d found the strength to search, we all went to that blackened ruin. It took time, but we found her. What was left of LIL-E.

There were pieces of her, but not enough to put together an entire body.

The most important part, the Memory Orb that formed the core of her cpu, I found that last. Underneath a charred slab of wall, I found the orb. It was blackened by the flames, and cracked all the way through like a spider’s web. Dull. Lifeless.

I clutched that broken crystal tight, crying as I was held by my friends. I made my vow anew, silently in my heart.

If Zeikfried wanted a war, he was going to get one.

And I was going to make damn sure he lost.

----------
Footnote: Level Up!

Perk Added - Die Harder: You may not laugh in the face of Death, but your body certainly seems to be trying to flip Death the bird. Whenever you are dropped to 0 HP for any reason, there is a 50% chance that instead of dying you remain standing with a 1 HP remaining. This chance drops by 10% every subsequent time you're dropped to 0 HP within the same 24-hour period and resets to 50% once you rest for at least 8 hours.

Companion Perk Lost: LIL-E

End of Disc 2...

...Please Insert Disc 3.

Author's Note:

First of all please allow me to say I'm sorry for the length of time it has taken to get this chapter written. Second of all, let me thank all of you who have decided to stick with the story, despite these long delays in updates. Suffice to say, 2020 was not a good year for many of us, myself included. But regardless, I have never had any intention of abandoining this story. No matter how long it takes, we're getting to the end of this, folks, that I promise you.

Now, that said, this marks the end of "Disc 2" and the end of the NCR arc. For those who might be curious how long the story actually has left, the best answer I can give is that htere are two "arcs" remaining, which comprie of Disc 3, the final Disc of Trigger to Tomorrow. I'm hoping that with certain life events smoothing out in 2021 I can re-organize my schedule to allow for a better focus on getting stories like Trigger finished.

When next we join Longwalk there's to be some recovery time and licking of wounds, both physicall and emotional, not to mention a few loose ends left over to wrap up (such as Scythe), along with the NCR taking stock after the attack on their home. Until next we meet, everyone take care out there.

PreviousChapters
Comments ( 6 )

Well, hot damn!

ayyyy so happy this started back up its been to long but ill have to reread it and im going to wait untill you finish it for that

Wow, new chapter... it's alive, alive! XD Thanks for update )

OH NO! I'm almost done!

Minor quibble, but Gawdyna needs to be checked for how she regrew a wing without fanfare. Maybe it could be reverse engineered.
(And then it turns out I futzed which character that was :V )

On a different note the Hyadeans remind me a little of Orks. Not in the obvious way, war unending and all that, but in the hints of similar philosophy. Might makes right, but also the "I don't even mind if you beat me because that means you were the stronger, and the strong do what they will". Resentment implies that there was unfair treatment and there is no such thing in battle.

Insert disk 2, please ^_^!

Login or register to comment