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



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

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Chapter 7: Remorse and Promise

I was lying on my side on the ground and wasn’t entirely sure how I got there for a moment. I couldn’t hear anything beyond a high ringing tone in my ear followed by a sensation of muffled pressure. My body was numb and I wasn’t even sure I was breathing.

Then everything snapped back into focus as my brain remembered to make my lungs draw in air and sound returned to me. I felt a copper taste in my mouth and realized there was blood in it, the sharp pain in my tongue indicating I’d bitten it. My head still ringing I raised it and looked about, trying to get my bearings. All around me were the ponies of Saddlespring, all of them in the same state I was, on the ground and in shock, slowly coming to their senses after…whatever the hell had hit us.

“Marvelous. Simply marvelous. The pinpoint accuracy of that barrage was commendable. I’ll have to give my compliments to the Colonel and his gunnery crew. I’ll admit though, I’m somewhat disappointed. I imagined an S-Class Relic would withstand more than just one barrage.”

Captain Shattered Sky was still standing where I’d last seen him, smugly observing us from the open platform in the side of that big flying machine he’d called a Skylord-class Vertibuck, his heavily armed and armored guards standing next to him impassively. How was that smug bastard and his guards still on their hooves while the rest of us got knocked flat? I saw next to me Crossfire and B.B were dragging themselves to their hooves. B.B had a shell shocked look on her face, her eyes looking behind us and her mouth slowly mouthing the world ‘no’, though I hadn’t looked yet to see what she was seeing.

Arcaidia’s unconscious form had fallen off of Brickhouse as the big earth pony still lay dazed on the ground like I was, and I glanced over to notice Shale’s body was on the ground next to me. Iron Wrought was also still down and wasn’t stirring like the others. I could see Shard rubbing his horn with one hoof so I knew the unicorn was at least conscious.

“What…was that?” I barely managed to croak as I stood, looking behind me at…Saddlespring?

I blinked. That couldn’t be right. What I was seeing didn’t seem possible. But I was looking right at it. Now I knew why B.B had had that look on her face.

There wasn’t much of Saddlespring left that could be described as a town. What wasn’t still burning from the Golem’s flames was little more than deep smoldering craters trailing pillars of black smoke. The entire town had been flattened or otherwise blown to chunks of rubble. Only a small area by the gate where we all were had been left unscathed. How many ponies had still been left in town, hiding in their homes? I didn’t even want to guess. Nopony was left alive in town now, certainly, nopony except me, my companions, and whatever ponies we’d managed to either bring with us from the sheriff station or “rescue” at the gate.

Where the Golem had been standing was a thick black oily cloud of smoke, obscuring any sign of the metal giant.

I didn’t care. My eyes were still focused on what little remained of Saddlespring. The first town I’d ever seen, where hundreds of ponies had been living their lives in relative peace despite a clearly harsh and uncaring world around them. Living their lives until I’d come here and set loose hell on their town. Inadvertently, but that didn’t matter. This was my fault.

“Impressed?” Shattered Sky said in response to my question, which hadn’t be directed at anypony but hey the pegasus stallion seemed chatty, “Rightly so. The linear cannons on board the Vesuvius are an unparallel achievement in ballistic weaponry; a testament to Odessa’s might-“

He had to stop talking to duck and avoid the spear that had nearly taken his head off. He didn’t get a chance to make the indignant comment his eyes said he had to make as he had a good two hundred pounds of pissed off earth pony tribal slamming into him at breakneck speed. A red boiling haze had filled my vision the second I’d heard this bastard start to talk again and a incredible heat that wasn’t unlike the crimson fires of the Golem had risen in my heart. Much as I hated myself right now for being the one primarily responsible for Saddlespring’s destruction I could certainly lay a fair portion of the blame at this pony’s hooves; or at least it felt a hell of a lot better to be pissed at him than at myself right now.

I think it was only the sheer brazen nature of my attack and the fact that the Odessa pegasi had felt very much in control that had allowed me to get in close and tackle Shattered Sky without his guards turning me to green goo or a pile of dust. As I tumbled end over end into the Vertibuck with Shattered Sky both of his guards had turned to follow our movements, weapons on their battle saddles leveling to protect their commanding officer…and in so doing turned their backs on my companions.

I heard B.B’s own roar of rage mimicking my own as she landed on top of one of the guards, shoving the tube covered energy pistol against the back of the thick white insectoid helmet the guard wore and fired at point blank range multiple times. Shockingly that didn’t actually kill the Odessa solider as the guard reared up and threw B.B off, the flexible scorpion-like tail on the armor snaking out and trying to skewer the pegasus mare. She rolled out of the way and was up and firing again, the point blank range making it impossible for her to miss even with the unfamiliar weapon

The other guard was already down, even that thick demonic looking armor was little match for the combined fire from Crossfire’s heavy rifle and Brickhouses huge revolver. Crossfire had finished that guard off before he’d even gotten a shot off, ducking in and shoving her bayonet right into the chest guard of the armor and firing a round right into the pegasus, literally blowing a hole clear through his body.

All of this I barely caught sight of while I tussled with Shattered Sky.

The Odessa officer was much lighter than I was and I was certain I had the advantage in terms of strength, but that didn’t seem to count for much as amid our rolling about on the ground he slipped from my grasp like a oiled snake and I felt a hoof connected with the side of my head in almost the same instance I felt another hoof wrap around my shoulder and with shocking ease twist me around and slam me across the metal deck of the Vertibuck.

“Such anger. Do our actions truly enrage you so?” the Captain asked in an unconcerned tone, adjusting his glasses with a wing tip. How the hell did he still have those things on!?

I ripped Gramzanber out of the bulkhead of the Vertibuck and responded to his question by lunging forward at him, thrusting the blade at first at his throat, but even in my anger a part of me hesitated at going for a killing blow and I adjusted the angle of my thrust to go for the shoulder instead.

We were fighting inside what looked to be some kind of large cargo hold and passenger compartment. Steel crates lined one wall while metal benches extended from another. The back of the area had some kind of closed ramp that I surmised opened out the back of the Vertibuck while the other end had a short metal staircase leading to a closed metal door. The sides had sliding doors like the one we’d charged in from. Most these details I barely took note of as Shattered Sky gracefully slide aside my thrust and with speed and force I couldn’t have imagined possibly from a flesh and blood opponent and stepped into my lunge, placed a hoof under my outstretched neck, while hooking my right hoof under the shoulder with one of his wings, and literally flipped me end over end and threw me downrange to slam into one of the bulkheads.

How had he done that!? I knew I wasn’t exactly the most experienced fighter out there, but I’d been getting pretty good with Gramzanber, or at least I thought I was. Shattered Sky had countered me with the ease an adult pushes aside a newborn foal.

Rage still burning through me I scrambled to my hooves, seeing Shattered Sky hovering in the air with lazy flaps of his wings as he casually glanced away from me to watch as B.B and Crossfire tag-teamed his remaining guard. He seemed so…relaxed. Like he was watching a sparring match instead of a battle to the death involving one of his soldiers. Didn’t he even care that one of them was already dead and the other was likely to die fighting? He wasn’t even lifting a hoof to help, he hadn’t even bothered to draw his gun yet.

As could be expected despite the potent armor the Odessa soldier’s weapons weren’t suited for close combat and B.B’s earlier shots had done a number on her, so the pegasus solider was disoriented and her shots were flying wide as B.B ducked and dived around, firing until her own weapon went dead. Then Crossfire simply moved in and with a casual move tripped the Odessa pegasus with the stock of her rifle, flipped the weapon as the soldier fell on her back, and slammed the bayonet down at the joint where the neck met the head. The huge blade slide right through the joint in the armor and blood gushed out. I could hear the pegasus mare behind the helmet coughing and sputtering her last breaths as Crossfire dug the blade in, then wrenched it out in a gout of red.

“Commendable,” commented Shattered Sky, “I see the Drifter’s Guild has not lowered its standards since I last faced one its members in battle.”

“Piss off,” Crossfire said as she turned her weapon on the Odessa officer, “I’m not fishing for compliments. You’ve cost me a lot of caps today. I plan on taking the difference out of your hide.”

“Oh? Well conflicts of interests are a simple inevitability of the times we live in. If you feel cheated of a hard earned reward perhaps you might consider a deal?”

He, once more with speed I found difficulty believing, dodged aside as Crossfire’s bullet nearly grazed past his ear. He sighed.

“I shall take that as a ‘no’ then? Very well, since you dirt ponies seem so insistent upon this I shall oblige your desire to fight.”

B.B growled in frustration as she fiddled with her energy pistol and found it had no more shots left. Tossing the weapon she braced herself on all four legs in a clear stance ready to lunge at Shattered Sky, teeth bared and eyes blazing. Guns or not it was clear she was ready to tear the other pegasi’s through out with her teeth if need be. I was more than raring to keep fighting, though Shattered Sky’s ability to avoid my attacks so far was starting to really bug me. I couldn’t figure how he was doing it. Simple skill couldn’t explain the way he just seemed to know how to avoid attacks. And if he was this good how had my first tackle managed to land?

As the tension built and we all prepared to resume the fight there was a sound like a titanic intake of air followed by an explosive discharge of heat and pressure from outside. A harsh red glow filled in from the open sliding side door followed by the sound of ponies screaming.

I wasn’t at a good angle to see outside but B.B was and from the look on her face I could take a guess at what she was seeing.

“Is it that thing?” I shouted.

“Moving an’ shootin’! It’s aimin’ them big gatlin’ guns on its arms up into the sky!”

Shattered Sky had put a hoof to his ear and seemed to be listening to a different conversation, and talked to thin air. I wasn’t up on technology much but I was guessing he had some kind of device in his ear that was letting him talk to other Odessa ponies.

“Repeat Vesuvius, I don’t think I understood those orders…wait, Colonel, Target 02 is still in the vicinity! I only need a few more minutes-…very well Colonel, I understand. I shall evacuate the area immediately. Pilots, get us out of here.”

Get us out of here? What did- I stumbled as the entire floor shifted and vibrated beneath my hooves. I felt a pull on my whole body and felt the Vertibuck lurch as the sound of the machinery of the vehicle buzz to life. Quickly the scenery outside the door shifted and I saw the ground suddenly drop away, the angle showing me the still intact gate of Saddlespring and the dozens of ponies still running around it, now trying to dash through the opening left by the departing Vertibuck. I realized with a dull, sick feeling that Arcaidia was still down there along with Shale’s body! I suppressed the illogical urge to go diving out of the open door. I had to worry about that later, we still had Shattered Sky to deal with.

As it stood myself, Crossfire, B.B, and Brickhouse were all gathered before the Odessa officer, who now regarded us with cold, calculating eyes behind his thin rimmed glasses. The flying Vertibuck created a harsh current of air from the open side door that blew my blue mane into my face but I didn’t take my eyes off of Shattered Sky.

“What are you waiting for, an invitation?” he asked us as he waved his hooves wide, still hovering in the air with casual flaps of his wings.

“First tell me something,” Crossfire said in a level tone, “What’s this Target 02 you were talking about?”

I glanced at her. Why was she curious about that? I’d already figured by context that ‘Target 02’ had to be Arcaidia. I couldn’t get my head around what Odessa wanted with her but it seemed likely this all tied into what my father must have been searching for all those years ago. The thought made me even more angry, the realization that this Shattered Sky and all the pegasi who’d attacked Saddlespring were in a twisted way ‘family’. Was my father still alive? If he was did he have anything to do with this? I had a hard time swallowing that bitter notion. I recalled my mother referring to him as a ‘Colonel’, and hadn’t Shattered Sky just been talking to a Colonel about that Vesuvius thing a few minutes ago?

“My dear if you have no interest in parley with me then why should I speak of classified operations with you?” Shattered Sky replied to Crossfire while I was busy fuming.

“Meh, was worth a shot that you’d feel like a monologue. You strike me like a buck that likes the sound of his voice,” she said with a small shrug, levitating her rifle next to her aimed squarely at the hovering gray pegasus.

“Well, I do like the way my voice sounds, but that is neither here nor there. Now then, shall we begin?”

“Don’t gotta ask me twice,” snarled B.B as she flapped her wings and lunged up into the air at the smugly smiling officer, or at least she tried to but a harsh glow of red magical aura surrounded her and pulled her back to the ground. Crossfire was glaring at here.

“You an idiot, filly? You manage to suddenly pull some ammo out of your dainty little virgin plot?”

“What are you babblin’ about!? ‘Course I’m outta ammo otherwise I’d already be shotin’!”

“Then you’re useless here. Back off and let those who still got weapons to fight handle this,” said the Drifter harshly, “Want to be useful? Take this and get back down to them ponies we left behind!”

Crossfire pulled something from her jacket and threw it at B.B, who caught the device in her mouth while Shattered Sky looked on. He didn’t seem to be in any rush to stop any of this and for a second I wondered why he seemed so casually content to let us do our thing and converse instead of fight. But then sometimes my brain pony could actually do some thinking for a change and I realized he had no reason to rush. We were inside his flying machine, which was probably on a course for a place with even more Odessa soldiers. If anypony was on a clock here it was us, not him.

The device Crossfire had given B.B I recognized as the detonator for the bomb collars on the slaves. Shit, I’d almost forgotten about them! That detonator had some kind of proximity range with those collars didn’t it? Where we already out of range!? I hoped not, but since Crossfire had given it to B.B with the clear intent she get back to those slaves there was a good chance we hadn’t gotten far enough yet for those collars to go off. If any of those poor slaves were still alive down there B.B was now their best shot at surviving. B.B seemed to realize it too and I saw the conflict on her face as it went from burning desire to smash Shattered Sky’s face in, to a concerned worry-filled look at me, to a weighty sigh as she looked at the detonator in her mouth and understood a lot of lives were now resting on her getting back to what was left of Saddlespring.

“Kuk ‘is auf fur muh!” she awkwardly mouthed around the detonator and then flew out the open side door, heading back to the surface.

“…So, any more questions, comments, concerns, or last minute preparation?” asked Shattered Sky, “Because I do happen to have all day. My schedule is remarkably clear, so if you remaining three wanted to do a little group huddle and plan your tactics, really, do feel free.”

“I think we’re good here. Doubt we need much planning to mop the floor with your sorry flank,” said Crossfire and Brickhouse nodded his head.

“Don’t need any fancy tactics to fight,” the burly earth pony said, cracking his neck “Not for a feather weight shrimp like you.”

I felt like I ought to say something, since this seemed to be the moment for wisecracks and witty one-liners before the fight, but…meh, I had nothing. So instead of talking I decided to kick things off by being the first to charge the hovering Odessa officer. I heard Crossfire groan, presumably at my naïve attempt to get the first shot in, but I wasn’t paying her much mind as I used one of the metal benches as a springboard to leap into the air and get enough height to slash at Shattered Sky’s legs.

For my trouble the pegasus easily twisted in the air, slapping the flat of my spear down and out of the way with one hoof while he flipped in the air and came down on the back of my head with both hind hooves. The kick sent me hitting the deck hard but I was conscious enough to roll with the fall and was actually on my own hooves again in a second.

Crossfire and Brickhouse both opened fire and Shattered Sky zipped back and forth, his body moving in ways that looked exceedingly uncomfortable for any pony with a proper skeletal structure, but Shattered Sky seemed to enjoy flouting the laws of physics. With a fluid motion he drew his own pistol and fired a trio of shots that forced Crossfire to dive for cover behind a metal crate while Brickhouse just took one of the shots to his chest with a grunt of pain but otherwise little sign he was being slowed down.

With Shattered Sky’s attention on them I tried to take advantage of his distraction and dashed under him and thrust up at his barrel with my spear, some part of me trying to rationalize that if I did manage to stab him it wouldn’t be immediately fatal and hence wouldn’t count as killing. Fuzzy logic was still logic, right? I wasn’t even surprised when he looped around the thrust and grabbed onto the shaft of my spear with the crook of one foreleg and shoved his pistol at my face. I whipped my head and let go of Gramzanber, throwing both spear and Odessa officer at the wall. His pistol went off and the bullet cut a line past my cheek as I threw myself to the side. My own throw had seemed to catch him a tad off guard as he actually did hit the bulkhead pretty hard and Gramzanber clattered to the floor. But Shattered Sky barely had the air knocked out of him by that and he was already up and buzzing around, lining up a shot on me, only to have to dodge in a fast spinning flight back towards the tail end of the cargo hold to avoid a barrage of fire from Brickhouse and Crossfire.

While those two advanced down the hold, firing downrange and keeping Shattered Sky on the defensive I scrambled to go recover Gramzanber, getting the spear in my mouth and rushing forward to close the distance with Shattered Sky. The pegasus was trading shots with Brickhouse, the huge earth pony looking more and more frustrated by his inability to hit the agile pegasus and I was starting to worry about the big buck’s injuries. For every near deafening boom of Brickhouse’s revolver Shattered Sky was sending back two or three shots from his long barreled pistol, and whatever borderline unnatural endurance and raw toughness Brickhouse had the growing number of bullet holes appearing in his hide was…disturbing. How many times could a pony afford to get shot like that? I could see blood trailing from Brickhouse’s mouth and nostrils as he single-mindedly continued to pour shots at Shattered Sky.

This gave both me and Crossfire more than enough time to get close though and the black unicorn mare gave me a sidelong glance and a nod as she dashed to the left of the Odessa officer. Guessing what she wanted I went to the right and we both came at him from opposite ends, Crossfire using her magic to whip her bayonet rifle around in a deadly vertical arc while I thrust up with Gramzanber. Shattered Sky rolled in the air, trying to contort his body between our strikes, but I could see that we’d finally boxed him in and he was too slow to-

-he vanished from sight and Gramzanber bounced off Crossfire’s bayonet and we both staggered back, staring at the empty space Shattered Sky had just been in. I felt an intense pressure in my mind and Gramzanber’s metal growing cold in my mouth, the spear seeming to vibrate in reaction to something.

“The fuck!?” Crossfire shouted, and I could only mentally echo her as I looked around trying to figure out what had happened.

“That was a very close call,” came Shattered Sky’s voice from the other end of the cargo hold, “I commend your efforts.”

We all looked and there he was, calmly floating in the air on the opposite end of the hold, having seemingly instantly traversed the distance in an eye blink. He was casually reloading his pistol as Crossfire and Brickhouse both opened fire and I swear I didn’t even see the bastard move this time as he just seemed to vanish inside of one eye-blink and appear a few feet to the left in the next, the shots completely missing him. In the instant he’d performed his vanishing act I felt another spike of pressure from Gramzanber, and for a second I could almost hear a mare’s voice in my head shouting something but I couldn’t make out what and it was gone in an instant. Was I going crazy?

“I imagine I will be chewed out somewhat for making use of my ARM without authorization, but I simply despise being injured. Pain is so…irritatingly unpleasant,” Shattered Sky commented as he pulled up the sleeve on his left hoof to reveal some kind of odd device on it. It was a silver band with a round apparatus on it that had two little pointers, one longer than the other on it. I’d never seen a watch before so I had no context at the time; to me it’d just looked like a weird wrist device. But I did recognize its silver sheen of the device as being very similar to Gramzanber and the term Shattered Sky had used.

“Hold on a sec, did you just call that thing an ARM?” I asked as Crossfire and I came up next to Brickhouse.

I heard Crossfire whisper to Brickhouse, “You look pretty tore up, Brick. Got any healing potions left?”

“Sorry boss, used them all up back in town,” the big earth pony said between labored breaths, blood dripping between his teeth clenched around the mouthgrip of his revolver.

“…I see,” I wasn’t sure what Crossfire’s narrowed eyes meant but something about her look felt cold to me as she looked over Brickhouse and then turned her attention back to Shattered Sky as the pegasus finished reloading his weapon and addressed my question.

“Yes, I did call this ‘thing’ an ARM. An artificial Astral Resonance Machine, developed from the few examples of the genuine article Odessa has collected over the years. Genuine ARMs like the one you possess. What, are you telling me you’ve been traveling with Target 02, and bear an ARM yourself, yet you have no idea what it is you’re wielding?” the pegasus shook his head, “Your ignorance is criminal. You’re aiding somepony while unaware of the danger she represents. I am doing you a favor in ending your journey here, before you make any further errors in judgment.”

For a second I saw a pale blue aura appear around the device as the two pointers on the face of the circular apparatus spin around, then Shattered Sky disappeared once more, only to appear instantly above us, pistol pointed downward.

I barely had time to throw myself to the side as a barrage of shots rained down on us. I felt a bullet tear through the meaty portion of my shoulder and I cried out in pain. I heard Crossfire swearing profusely and Brickhouse grunt. As I painfully rolled to my hooves, blood trailing down my wounded shoulder, I saw Brickhouse teeter on his hooves and slowly collapse on his side like a felled tree, a hole torn clean through the top of his back by one of Shattered Sky’s shots, leaving a bloody hole in the bottom of his barrel. Crossfire had dove to the opposite bulkhead from me and looked uninjured, but that seemed to be because she’d floated her rifle into the way of the barrage and the weapon had taken the beating. The stock had a hole blown in it and there were a few more chunks blown into the wood beam holding the barrel. Crossfire seemed more pissed about the damage to her weapon that about her fallen companion and I heard her growl a she fixed Shattered Sky with a deadly glare.

“I ain’t getting done in by some bullshit magic trick! Foal’s hoofshoes are officially coming off, asshole!”

I had to admit I had figured Crossfire had been fighting with all of her strength and skill already. I was apparently quite wrong. The way she renewed her attack on Shattered Sky was like watching a storm cloud break. The unicorn swung her rifle around in a dizzying pattern, combining shots at bizarre angles with sudden thrusts and slashes of the bayonet, all the while leaping into the fray herself and bucking out with hind legs or trying to gore with her horn; all in a combined arms flurry of death that continued to build upon its own momentum. I’d never had kept up with such an assault and if she’d directed that kind of fury at me I’d have been dead in seconds.

Shattered Sky didn’t get touched.

It wasn’t like he was faster and I doubted he was any more skilled than the Drifter. It was that device; the thing he called an ARM. Whenever it seemed Crossfire was about to land an attack I felt that sharp pressure from Gramzanber as Shattered Sky’s wrist device glowed blue and he would vanish into thin air, appearing just outside of range of the attack. Every shot, every slash, every kick of her legs came within centimeters of striking the Odessa pegasus only for him to wink out of existence and reappeared in the same moment somewhere just beyond harm. Crossfire’s frustration was clearly mounting from the bloodshot tinge her eyes were taking and the low growl emanating from her.

I’d been staring in complete awestruck dumbness of the spectacle when a forceful shove on my hoof drew my attention down. Brickhouse had kicked me from where he was laying and was giving me a hard look, even as blood poured out of his mouth, boiling up from his torn stomach. Somehow even with that ragged wound he managed to force words out of his blood choked throat.

“..grenade…pocket. Can’t dodge…”

It took me a second to figure out what he was saying and in a rush I went to him and with an apologetic look, regretful I didn’t have any healing potions on me for him, rummaged into the pocket of the stallion’s vest. And tucked in there was indeed what I recognized to be a pair of frag grenades. These might do the trick! A big blast like they made, could Shattered Sky get clear even with his weird ability? Quickly sheathing Gramzanber I got one grenade out with my mouth and quickly turned to face the still battling unicorn and pegasus. I briefly calculated in my head the best angle of the throw, doing so feeling natural, then pulled the stem out of the top of the apple shaped weapon. Now…what had been that phrase Shale had used? Oh, right.

“FRAG OUT!”

I threw, the thought crossing my mind that this weapon wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that could be used non-lethally and I might end up killing a pony because of this…but the situation was desperate and options were few and far between. If I ended up with blood on my hooves I’d just have to figure out how to square that away with myself later.

Crossfire looked and I saw her eyes go wide as she galloped towards me and dove. Shattered Sky looked at the arcing grenade with a quirked eyebrow and I think my jaw may have dropped as I watched him target the grenade in mid-flight with his pistol and let off a shot.

There was an explosion and a rain of shrapnel, the grenade going off between us. I felt pieces of hot metal stab into the hide and heard Crossfire call me something very unflattering. As the ringing slowly began to clear from our ears and I stood, remembering to draw Gramzanber once again, I saw the grenade had torn loose a few of the metal benches and left a scorch mark on the floor of the cargo hold, but otherwise hadn’t done much. Shattered Sky looked unharmed, just a few scuffs and cuts on his uniform as he adjusted his glasses again, this time with a hoof.

Crossfire got up next to me; hide a little bloodied and cut up from the shrapnel as well, as she glared at me.

“Buck, grenade plus closed in space plus allies equals BAD!”

I just pointed a hoof at Brickhouse, “His idea.”

“…seemed smart…at the time…” said Brickhouse.

“Stallions,” Crossfire muttered.

“Well, I must say, I am at least impressed by the tenacity if not the intelligence you lot have displayed thus far,” Shattered Sky said, “Really it’d be a shame to dispose of such talent. I’ll extend the offer of a deal one final time, my dear Drifter. Dispatch the two stallions by your side and I assure you you’ll be compensated tenfold for the credits you’ve lost as a result of my organizations operation interfering with your job. You needn’t even renounce your standing with the Drifter’s Guild. We do have ties that would allow you to work for us and them at the same time…”

Unlike last time Crossfire’s response wasn’t an immediate bullet towards the Odessa officer’s head. Instead the black coated unicorn seemed to be seriously considering her options. I saw her yellow eyes darting to me, then to the fallen and bleeding out Brickhouse.

“Tenfold you say…? You know how many caps that really is?” she asked in a very natural tone and I felt my blood running cold. She couldn’t seriously be considering this!? Her partner was dying at her hooves and she was thinking of bargaining with the bastard that shot him!?

“Oh, I imagine it was quite a lot, but caps are of a little concern to Odessa. We value the services of capable and skilled ponies such as yourself and would consider your enlistment worth ten or even twenty thousand caps.”

I blinked. Ten or twenty thousand? I was no expert on Wasteland economics but what little I’d seen thus far had shown that that kind of money was probably the kind of figure a pony could live off of in comfort for a good long while. Crossfire’s own words echoed back in my mind.

“That’s another free lesson I’ll give you on the Wasteland; Caps are King. You got enough caps, you can do anything. You live through this you’d best remember that.”

“Crossfire…you can’t be serious. These pegasi, they killed that whole town!” I said, though there was a stab of guilt through me as I said it because honestly I was as responsible for Saddle Spring’s destruction as anypony, given that Golem had been released by me and my friends, “If they’re willing to do that then there’s no way you can trust them to keep their end of a bargain! And what about Brickhouse!?”

Crossfire shot me a sharp look, lips pulling back in a snarl, “What about him? He’s the idiot that got himself shot. I tell every pony that partners up with me the same thing ‘Keep up, or go home’. I don’t run with ponies that can’t hold their own, and if you get yourself killed, that’s your own fault! Besides, he ain’t dead yet.”

“Well, part of this arrangement would involve you putting him out of his misery,” said Shattered Sky off hoofedly.

“That a fact? How about this instead? I take out the dumb buck here,” she gestured at me, which caused me to instinctively take a step away and ready my spear, “And if Brickhouse can keep breathing long enough for you Odessa types use your fancy tech to get him back on his hooves then he’s in the clear. He’s an idiot sure, but he shoots straight enough and makes for a good meat shield.”

“…I suppose that is acceptable. Very well, it is a deal. Now, kill the other one.”

I wasn’t even given a second to prepare myself before Crossfire rounded on me, her rifle’s bayonet slashing for my face. I reacted as quickly as I could, getting Gramzanber’s haft between me and the large bayonet, the reverberation of the strike rattling my teeth as I blocked it. Crossfire didn’t waste any time though, following up her rifle by spinning around and bucking me with both hind legs, and I wasn’t fast enough to dodge that one. I went sprawling across the cargo hold floor, barely getting back to my hooves as Crossfire came in at me again.

Remember when I just said a second ago about how long I’d last if Crossfire attacked me full force like she had been with Shattered Sky? Yeah, the fact that I wasn’t dead within seconds and instead was just being forced towards the other end of the cargo hold by a relentless but oddly rhythmic and predictable series of slashes and thrusts from Crossfire’s rifle clued me in that something was up. At first I wondered why she wasn’t using the actual gun portion of her weapon to shoot at me, but then I saw her magic flick a switch that let the empty magazine of the rifle clatter to the ground and I assumed it was just her being out of ammo. But then I noticed the clip that she levitated out of her saddlebags and slapped into the rifle, giving me a brief reprieve from her melee attacks, was of a different color than the matte black clips she’d been using. It was blood red.

“…There’s a lever on the ass end of this cargo hold,” she whispered as she slashed at me again, much harder and faster than before and forcing me onto my haunches as I blocked the blow, “Flip it when I send you over there, then buck, you’d better duck and fucking grab something, or you’re dead.”

I had no idea what she was talking about but it was clear that this was the only chance we were getting to get the drop on Shattered Sky. I tried to keep the relived look off my face and instead look appropriately scared, like I was desperately trying not to let the Drifter kill me. Not a hard act to put up considering this time Crossfire moved her rifle even faster and combined that with an artful spin kick that knocked Gramzanber aside and let her strike a shallow slash across my side. She followed this up by sweeping my legs out from under me with the butt of her rifle, then spun it around to aim the point of the bayonet at my chest. Her eyes were cold and grim, but there was an almost snarky small half smile on her lips.

“Don’t fuck this up,” she said as she brought the bayonet down towards me, but at the same instant her horn glowed a brighter and fiercer red than I’d ever seen it and I suddenly felt like my whole body was being pulled in all directions at once. My vision filled with red light and for an instant my senses did a barrel roll as I felt myself being taken apart piece by piece in an instant and then shoved back together just as quickly.

Blinking my eyes I realized I was suddenly somehow on the other end of the cargo hold, right next to Shattered Sky, and just as Crossfire has said, a lever in the bulkhead that was labeled ‘Emergency Hatch Release’. Disoriented but clearly remembering what Crossfire had told me to do I threw myself at the lever, pulling it down hard. In that same instance I heard Shattered Sky shout something to the affect of us all being fools, but it was kind of hard to hear over the sudden explosive decompression of the entire cargo hold as the massive back hatch of the Vertibuck opened up to the sky and the all I could hear was howling wind force.

The suction of the air flowing out didn’t last long but it was enough to pull me off my hooves and send me skidding towards the now open hatch towards empty sky. I flailed my hooves about, my left foreleg caught hold of one of the hydraulic pistons that had opened the hatch. Burning pain from the bullet wound in my shoulder seared through me as I held on for dear life.

Shattered Sky was still in the air, his wings now beating furiously to try and keep himself stable from the sudden wind tearing through the cargo hold.

Looking up I caught a brief glimpse of Crossfire, her horn still glowing a bright red as she held Brickhouse in place, and also aimed her rifle downrange at Shattered Sky. I saw her give me a brief look, one that seemed a little regretful as she shrugged at me. I didn’t understand why that was until she fired.

This round seemed slower than a normal bullet, just so much that I could actually see the single round sail through the air at Shattered Sky for a brief second before that one round burst. It exploded into a shower of dozens of flechetts that filled the entire space of the cargo hold, leaving no room to dodge, no place to hide…for either Shattered Sky or myself.

I saw the brief look of consternation and indignation on the Odessa officer’s face as he raised his ARM to activate it, then seemed to realize there wasn’t anywhere for him to go but straight out the back of the Vertibuck. His eyes were narrowed and filled with righteous annoyance as the barrage of flechette rounds tore into him, cutting up his pristine white uniform and staining it with red as he was sent tumbling out the back of the Vertibuck. Being a pegasus capable of flight he’d probably be fine, assuming those wounds hadn’t been enough to kill him, but he wasn’t likely to catch up to the Vertibuck anytime soon. And really that was a minor concern in my own mind as a shower of flechettes torn into my back and legs and I felt my grip loosen.

I briefly felt myself slide along the remaining metal of the Vertibuck’s hatch, then all I felt was open air roaring past me as I went into free fall.

Well…this sucked. I was rolling and spinning through the air, seeing only glimpses of what was around as I fell. The ground looked kind of distant and I got the faint impression of some huge sword-shaped air ship larger than the Vertibuck we’d been in by a ridiculous margin. I think I saw the black pillars of smoke from what might have been Saddlespring and the vague shape of something bipedal, large, and red walking away from that carnage, but everything was just a tear filled blur as wind sheer alone kept me from seeing more than a second or two before blinding me.

I couldn’t think of anything to do. I was falling and in minutes would be an unpleasant smear across the Wasteland, another dead among the many that had died this day. I was kind of pissed at Crossfire, but I suppose she had warned me. I couldn’t really blame her for using the one attack she had available to take out Shattered Sky. It was just bad luck I was caught in the blast as well, but somepony had needed to pull that lever and I’d been the only one available to do it. Humoring Shattered Sky’s ‘deal’ had been her only opening to get me over there…and how had she done that anyway? It was like she’d just winked me over there somehow? Was that a unicorn thing? I’d have to ask Arcaidia sometime…

…oh, wait, falling to my death. Damn.

Was Arcaidia even okay? Last I’d seen her she’d been on Brickhouse’s back, but he’d come onto the Vertibuck to help us fight and Arcaidia hadn’t been on him then. Had he just left her back in Saddle Spring, with that monstrous Golem thing? There had still been dozens of ponies there, including Iron Wrought and the remaining Labor Guild slaves. I even felt a little worried for Dr. Lemon Slice. Crossfire had sent B.B back that way with the slave collar detonator, so maybe she’d be able to look after things. At least Arcaidia…damn it all I’d told Arcaidia I’d help her find her family! I couldn’t die until I’d at least done that much for her! And besides that there’d been another promise I’d made. I’d promised Trailblaze I wouldn’t die out here!

Thing was I didn’t have a way to fight gravity. It wasn’t like I could stab it, or buck it. Those were really my only skills. Maybe I’d luck out and survive impact…yeah, I’d already been falling for more than a minute, and I could safely say that any forthcoming impact wasn’t going to leave enough of me left to survive.

By this point I was flapping my legs up and down in a completely pointless effort to see if I could spontaneously tap into my pegasus blood and sprout wings. So far it wasn’t working. The ground was much, much closer now and I could make out I was falling towards a densely packed collection of ruined buildings, like a forest of twisted concrete and rubble. Any hopes I may have harbored of there being a convenient ‘Pillow Factory’ or something similar for me to fall onto was dashed.

Well, it’d been fun while it’d lasted. I hoped that, whenever I saw Trailblaze again when she too joined with our ancestor spirits she’d be at least a little forgiving and not kick my flank too badly for breaking that promise. And on a bright side maybe I’d see Shale somewhere in the everafter? Even if she wasn’t a part of the tribe the ancestor sprits might still let me go look for her in whatever world waited beyond this one, right?

As I pondered this I briefly noticed that something white and fast was coming right at me from off to my right. I didn’t quite see what it was before it impacted with me but I got the faint impression of a mane of brown and pink streaked hair and feathered wings. I felt hooves wrapping around me and my whole body got jerked to the side. The ground was so close now I could see the tops of ruined structures and I heard a mare yelling something in my ear but it was drowned out by the sensation of a sudden rolling impact with hard dirt.

Then everything went black. Ancestors above I hate losing consciousness like this!



----------


I’ve come to the realization that I very much dislike having to wake up from being knocked out or passing out. It’s not like waking up from a nice restful sleep, something I hadn’t had in days. With normal sleep you wake up feeling refreshed. Waking up like this though my brain just wanted to remain checked out, quite fed up with my tendency to throw us into the fray to get horribly injured over and over again, and oh did my brain like to inform me in no uncertain terms about how injured I was.

Fortunately this wasn’t like the same dead-buck-walking feeling of every muscle and tendon in my body being on fire with pain like I’d felt back in the Ruins, this was more of a dull ache that blanketed me from muzzle to tail, but the kind of ache that says that while still in bad shape I was at least mending. I was laying down on my barrel on what felt like a soft if unpleasantly greasy mattress and when I opened my eyes I saw that it was still light out, but a subdued orange cast light of evening rather than the soft light of morning. I’d must’ve been out for at least twelve hours or so.

I was in what looked to be the interior, or mostly interior, of a burned out destroyed building with only half a roof and three walls. The mattress I was on was tucked up against one corner of the remaining walls, Gramzanber’s silver form leaning against the wall next to me, my saddlebags beside the spear. I was bandaged up, my shoulder wound and various other small cuts covered up with clean gauze wrapping. I also appeared to be alone. I thought back to the most recent events I could remember. The destruction of Saddlespring…fighting Shattered Sky on the Vertibuck…Crossfire’s last attack knocking both the Odessa pegasus and myself out the back of the Vertibuck…falling…then some mare had caught me, or tried to. Brown mane, with pink streaks-

-B.B!

I stood on shaky legs but found my hooves could carry my weight. I got my saddlebags on and then I snatched up Gramzanber and went to sheath it but realized my barding, or what little had been left of it, was gone. Sighing I kept the spear in my mouth and cautiously walked over to the open side of the building, not sure what to expect. Being that I was alive, wounds all nice and treated, chances were I wasn’t in any immediate danger, but given last I remembered Odessa forces were still at large there was no reason not to be wary.

Peeking around the corner of one ruined wall I caught a glimpse of the destroyed suburb around me, but that was all I saw of my surroundings before I bumped nose first into a horrific floating metal monstrosity. I like to think the scream I made was fairly masculine but that was probably wishful thinking on my part, but at least I made up for it by dropping into a defensive stance, spear pointed squarely at the…whatever the hell this was.

It was round, about two hoof lengths around, with a dark metallic sheen to its metal carapace. The metal sphere had four or five long metal spikes spread out behind it and a miniature turret mounted under it with a short, stubby barrel. The face of it was grated and while I saw no eyes or anything I got the impression the thing was staring right at me. Oh, and did I mention it was freakin’ floating!?

“Stay back demon! I got a pointy thing and I’m not afraid to use it!”

“…Okaaay. Longwalk, right? Are you usually this jumpy or is it just that you’ve never seen an eyebot before?”

The voice that issued forth from the floating machine was oddly warped sounding, making it impossible to identify inflection or even gender. I blinked a few times and while not pointing Gramzanber away from the thing, er, eyebot, said “Both, I guess? What are you? Sorry I’ve been having…a really bad day. Kinda been having bad luck with machines too.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen some of how your day’s been. Not a lot of ponies that survive a fall like you did, even with a pegasus friend coming in for a last second save.”

“B.B! Is she alright!? Please tell me she’s okay!” honestly my worry for B.B very quickly pushed aside any misgivings I was having about talking to a floating metal ball of unidentified origin and purpose.

“She’s fine. Better off than you were anyway. She woke up well before you did and her father took her back to camp. We didn’t want to risk moving you until you woke up on your own so I volunteered to keep watch on you until then.”

The wave of relief that flooded me made me sit down on my haunches, Gramzanber going lowering as I tried not to cry, “Thank goodness…I…if anything had happened to her...”

While there was little more than a bland monotone to the eyebot’s “voice” I still had the impression of sympathy in it, “Your other friend is okay as well. The blue unicorn? B.B told me you two had come to Saddlespring together.”

“Arcaidia’s alright? That’s great!” I said, then hung my head and asked in a more somber voice, “…How many others made it, from the town I mean?”

There was a long, uncomfortable pause before I got a response, “Not…a lot. Thirty, maybe forty? Not including those slaves from the Labor Guild. Everypony is holed up a couple miles from here, deeper in the suburbs where there’s plenty of cover and some sewer access to hide. Odessa’s stopped doing flybys but we’re not taking chances until we’re sure they’ve moved on.”

“Odessa…what do you know about them? Wait, first off, back to my first question, who are you?”

I had a lot of thoughts snaring up my mind. Questions about Odessa. Questions about Arcaidia. Guilt and worries about Saddlespring. Not to mention Shale, whose body I still owed a proper funeral. Before I could let any of it overwhelm me though I wanted to at least know who, or what, I was talking to.

“I’m…well I guess you can call me LIL-E.”

“Lily?” I asked and in response the machine rotated around until I could see a plate on its side that had the letters ‘LIL-E’ engraved on it.

“LIL-E. Don’t ask, just a silly acronym a friend came up with.”

“Is that actually your name though? I mean…what are you?”

“A pony. What you’re looking at is a special eyebot a friend built for me. I’m not giving you my real name because…well…let’s just say it’s not a name you need to know nor would knowing it do you any good. If anything it’d cause you trouble if you said it to the wrong ponies. Anyway, LIL-E was made to be an extra set of eyes for me so I can observe places in the world I can’t get to anymore because of my…condition. Places like the Detrot Wasteland.”

“You mean the Skull City Wasteland?”

“Ugh, no, I am not calling Detrot by that stupid name. They should’ve just stuck with Detrot instead of trying to make themselves sound all intimidating and badass. Anyway, yeah, I normally couldn’t keep an eye on a place this far north, but LIL-E is set up with a transmitter that maintains a connection to my home. With her I can go almost anywhere. Mostly. Still a few places where LIL-E’s transmitter won’t work.”

I slowly digested this information. I had something of a better concept now of what robots were but the machines still confused me and honestly gave me the creeps. Not to mention my closets encounter with another robot involved an entire town burning to the ground. Ancestors…Saddlespring…

“Where is Saddlespring from here?” I asked and LIL-E rotated and floated up a bit, pointing her ‘face’ in a direction.

“That way. There’s not a lot of it left.”

Without understanding why I was overcome with a sudden, almost violent need to see it for myself. I began at a slow trot that despite my injuries groaning in protest quickly became a full on gallop. LIL-E floated after me, making a strange low buzzing noise as she did so. Past a broken concrete street and three or four more old rubble strewn buildings I came upon a hill that gave me a good view of the surrounding area. Looking in the direction LIL-E had indicated I got a clear view of Saddlespring.

There was nothing there now. It was just a mass of a dozen or so craters and black scorched foundations with little more than thin skeletal walls, not one of which was more than five feet high any longer. There was no movement down there, not a single sign of life. An entire town of several hundred ponies, wiped off the face of the world.

I wondered who had survived. The guard at the gate who’d given me and Arcaidia directions, Copper Shell, had that friendly mare made it out? What about the merchant who’d swindled my caps for cheap armor and a sheath for Gramzanber, was he still alive? The foal I’d heard crying in the sheriff’s office, had their mother or father gotten them out safely? I even wondered if the green eyed Odessa pegasus mare I’d fought had lived through the fight…

…So many dead and most of them I never even met. It seemed wrong that I should be responsible for so many deaths and hadn’t the decency to know any of them. I at least wanted names that I could carve into my mind and remember, because I shouldn’t be allowed to forget what I’d done. No matter the circumstances this town’s destruction boiled down to one dumb choice I’d made; I’d gone and opened the Golem's, Roaring Metal’s tomb instead of calling Crossfire on the radio.

I knew that it was possible things would have turned out exactly the same way if I had called them, that even if Crossfire and her team had come down there like had been originally the plan it was very possible that Golem would’ve been set free anyway. But at least there was a chance that it wouldn’t, that maybe Dr. Lemon Slice had known a way to control or otherwise shut the Golem down. Or maybe Crossfire, Brickhouse and Shard, being far more skilled than I or my companions had been, could’ve actually stopped the Golem if it had gotten loose. Odessa would have still attacked Saddlespring, sure, but they wouldn’t have needed to destroy the town if the Golem hadn’t been there.

I could spin in my mind thousands of possible excuses and reasons that would’ve diminished my part in this, but right at that moment, looking at the end result, I couldn’t. I couldn’t excuse myself from the simple truth; that from Shale’s death to the destruction of Saddlesrping I was responsible.

“Did you know a lot of ponies there?” asked LIL-E’s toneless voice and I looked up past tear filled eyes to see the robot floating next to me.

“I…didn’t, and I should have. This shouldn’t have happened.”

“Nothing like this should ever happen, but it does. Every day it does,” I heard a sound that might have been a growl of frustration but the monotone buzz of whatever the robot used to generate its ‘voice’ made it sound like a demonic bee, “Every single damned day somepony dies in the Wasteland. Until the Wasteland is wiped out forever it’ll keep killing ponies.”

“I can’t blame this on the Wasteland. I did this. This is my fault.”

“…You’re going to have to explain that one. How is this your fault? I only got some of the story from B.B’s father. All I know is that a giant metal monster came out of the ground at about the same time Odessa showed up and attacked. What’s your part in all of that?”

Maybe because I didn’t really know who LIL-E was, because she was just a faceless pony controlling a robot from who knew where, and mostly because I desperately felt a need to let out all the pent up guilt I had choking me from the inside I began to talk. I didn’t hold anything back, I told her everything from the moment me and Arcaidia met the slave caravan to the moment we’d released the Golem, where I…sort of lost it.

“I mean what the fuck was I thinking!? Did I honestly think I’d just be able to bust up whatever was inside that tomb!? That image, ghost, whatever the hell it was, warned us about the danger! And what did I do? I ignored it and went ahead anyway! Why? Because of some half-assed thought that I could deny the Labor Guild what they were after? So the fuck what!? It’d have been better than an entire town dying! And…and…Shale. Her body is still…she deserves a proper funeral…they all do.”

I was breathing hard, just taking in ragged breaths as I listened to my heart beating in my chest. I was so pissed at myself and I didn’t have any notion of what to do about it. I’d screwed up before in my life, made mistakes and gotten in trouble; but it was all simple things that had only ever really affected just me. Getting Chief Hard Tack angry enough at me to bar me from hanging out with Trailblaze had been the worst trouble I’d ever been in, and compared to Saddlespring…there wasn’t a comparison.

Two days in the Wasteland and my actions got a town killed.

It was a concept I couldn’t even fully get my head wrapped around. Just thinking at all about what had led to this, how ignorant and foolish my actions were, let me with a tight angry feeling in my chest, like I wanted to hurt something. Mostly myself.

“If you honestly feel that way,” said LIL-E’s blank machine tone, “Then what are you going to do about it?”

“Huh…?”

“I said, ‘what are you going to do about it’? You looking for punishment? I know the survivors would probably be looking for somepony to string up for the loss of their loved ones, so if you’re just looking to run from the pain your feeling, they’ll likely oblige you. Or maybe you just want to lie down and feel sorry for yourself until starvation or some Wasteland creature kills you? That’s also an option. Nopony’s going to stop you from giving up Longwalk, except maybe yourself. Assuming you’re up to it and you honestly feel responsible for causing the death of this town, and intend to do something about that.”

I starred at the floating robot, not able to respond. Was she right? Was I just feeling sorry for myself, letting myself wallow in guilt? But what else could I do? I’d tried so hard to help ponies and the end result had been more death and destruction than I’d ever witnessed in my life all wrapped up in one horrifying twenty four hour period. LIL-E was right that amid the swirling pale of dark feelings roiling around in me right now the thought of just laying down and giving up, of not doing another single damned thing, wasn’t absent. But there was something else coursing through my thoughts and emotions that was different than that feeling of being overwhelmed by what had happened.

It was the thought of the things I still had to do and the promise I still needed to keep.

I’d promised Trailblaze I wouldn’t die. Somehow, one way or another, someday down the line, I needed to be able to walk back to my village and see my best friend again.

I still had to pay the debt I owed to Arcaidia. I didn’t know anything about the filly and had more questions now than ever before, but I hadn’t forgotten what I’d started this journey for.

I certainly couldn’t let B.B worry about me either. The mare had risked her life once again to save mine. Was I going to disrespect that by giving up, no matter how badly I had screwed up?

And then Shale…she had given her life for mine. More than anything else was I going to devalue that sacrifice now by wallowing in self pity?

No. I couldn’t imagine what I was going to do to make up for my part in Saddlespring’s destruction, but I’d look for a way. I’d figure something out I could do that, while probably never being enough to atone for the deaths I’d had a role in causing, would be better than simply quitting.

And I at least knew the first thing I needed to do, if not what would come after.

“I’m…going to do something about all of this,” I said, “But first I’m going to find Shale’s body, and as many others as I can, and I’m going to make sure they can rest in peace.”


----------


LIL-E guided me towards Saddlespring. She said she had something called ‘scanners’ that let sense things far better than a flesh and blood pony, so if any Odessa pegasi were left in the area she’d spot them long before I could, and could direct us to cover to hide. However we encountered nothing as we approached the destroyed remains of what had once been a thriving settlement.

As we approached the spot where the gate had been I noticed the massive imprints in the ground alongside the craters. From the shape of the prints I could only conclude that these were the footprints of Roaring Metal. The tracks looked like they were heading south. All I knew that was in that direction was that big desert B.B had called the Bleach. And beyond that the NCR. Would the Golem keep walking all the way to that distant country, or was it after something in the desert itself? I couldn’t begin to guess and while I knew I had a responsibility now to find some way to stop that thing before it hurt anypony else I had no clue how I’d even start going about that. One thing at a time…

The bombardment from whatever Odessa had used had left numerous craters, but there was space between them to walk. The gate itself was partially intact.

“Most of the survivors ran from the gate area before that Raptor hit it any harder,” said LIL-E as I began looking around, “If there are any bodies left here, there isn’t going to be much left to bury.”

“What’s a Raptor?” I said as I looked in one crater, seeing a burnt severed hoof with a little yellow coat left on it, but not much else.

“One of the Enclave’s airships. Odessa might call themselves by a different name, but their origins are clearly Enclave. The Raptor they used to hit this town and that big metal thing-“

“Golem.”

“-, right, Golem, well the airship they had looked like a Raptor. More or less. A little larger, with a longer and narrower hull than I’ve seen. But it was still pretty clearly a Raptor. I don’t know what Odessa’s goal is here but they’re acting little different than the Enclave did back in the day.”

“You sound like you know a lot about this Enclave,” I was starting to feel a queasiness in my gut that was getting hard to suppress as I picked through the craters, not finding much save scraps and bits of bodies, most of the remains no larger than what I could hold on a single hoof. I couldn’t stand the thought but if Shale’s body had been…no, no damn it, she deserved better than this! I had to give her a funeral, something, anything, I…needed to say goodbye at least.

“Unfortunately,” LIL-E replied as she floated behind me, “It was the ruling body of the pegasus race for a long time. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised there are remnants of it left, even today. Most of the Enclave is either gone or fully absorbed into the NCR government. Groups like Odessa may not be common but they are not the only remnant group that refused to give up old Enclave ideals, or just redressed them as something else. I figure that must be what Odessa is, some kind of Enclave Redux or whatever…Celestia pour liquid sun on my cunt and buck me ‘till I’m raw why can’t ponies just learn when something’s a bad idea, no matter how you dress it up?”

I had to pause and look over at LIL-E at that last comment. The hay kind of cursing was that? I mean, I was prone to the occasional curse word under duress, having let off a few not more than a hour ago, but that was…creative.

“What?” LIL-E asked as she rotated to face me. I just shook my head.

“Never mind…I’m not…I don’t think there’s much left here.”

“…Sorry, I shouldn’t have let you come down here. I thought maybe you’d luck out and the mare you’re looking for might still be here.”

“I can’t believe I left her…I just lost it when Shattered Sky sent that barrage down and I charged him without thinking,” I said as I looked at the ground, “I just…left her behind.”

“Longwalk, I’m not very good at this whole ‘advise’ thing but it doesn’t sound to me like there’s a lot else you could have done. Sometimes…sometimes you can only react. There’s no perfect plan. Believe me, I’ve tried to come up with those. Never worked. You can’t plan for everything, or always have time to think about the best choice. If you left Shale’s body here…that’s…shit I’m not good at this…it’s not like she could have suffered any more.”

“I know. She deserved to be sent off with a proper funeral pyre, though I have no idea who her ancestor spirits might be so I can’t name them and ask them to look after her, or perform the rituals the shaman could have...and there’s so little left of anypony else I don’t think I could get a good pyre going…”

“Right, forgot you were a tribal,” said LIL-E, floating down to eye level with me, “For most ponies burial is the normal way to handle the remains.”

“…Burial? Like, in the ground? Why?”

“It’s just the way it’s usually done, though I have heard of a few places that do it the way your tribe does. Look, if you’re serious about doing this then I’d suggest gathering what remains we can and burying them together. I’d say do it by what’s left of the gate wall. That way we can put an epitaph on the wall.”

I had to get LIL-E to explain to me what an epitaph was, and while it seemed a little strange I think I understood the importance of it if one were to bury remains in one place rather than burning them to send the pony’s body and soul onward to their ancestors. It was like leaving a hoof print behind, it was remaining proof that the pony had once lived. I didn’t know what epitaph I could put for an entire town’s worth of ponies, but I had plenty of time to think about it as LIL-E and I went about gathering the remains we could find. LIL-E didn’t exactly have a way to help my physically, but she helped me keep focused on the task and scour the town.

We only found three intact bodies, the rest was burned bones or charred pieces. I won’t deny my constitution failed me a few times, but since I hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday there wasn’t much for me to do but dry heave once the bile was gone, wipe my chin, and get back to work. LIL-E kept an eye out for trouble but nothing bothered us as we did our grisly task and in about three, maybe four hours time I had the majority of the remains carefully laid out in one of the smaller craters by the wall. I had arranged the intact bodies, two earth pony mares I didn’t recognize and one pegasus stallion I faintly recalled as being part of the crowd at B.B’s magic show, side by side.

That done I started filling in the crater using Gramzanber as a makeshift trowel. Strangely I felt a sense of calm and somber resolve filling me as I did so, accompanied by a faint pressure in my head that I’d come to associate with my…connection, or whatever it was, with the ARM. And once again, if only for the briefest of moments, I felt like I had somepony standing next to me and I looked almost expecting to see Shale standing there. But of course she wasn’t. I didn’t know if any part of her was left with the remains I’d found, but it seemed like this was as close to a funeral as I was going to be able to give her.

It was nearly nightfall by the time the hole was filled and my hooves and neck were beyond aching. But I wasn’t done. LIL-E showed me how to fashion a proper grave marker from a few burned metal bars, tying them together with some salvaged wiring we found in the foundation of one of destroyed buildings. It was roughly cross-shaped and I asked LIL-E what that meant, but she just told me it was an old sign tied loosely to some analogy for the balance that existed between Equestria’s two Princess’, one of which raised the sun, the other the moon. I didn’t question it beyond that.

Placing that marker over the grave I then moved onto the wall, Gramzanber at the ready. For a long time me and LIL-E both stood (well, I stood, she got to float…lucky robot) and wondered what to put down.

“I wasn’t there,” LIL-E said “So honestly I can’t think of what would be fitting. Sorry Longwalk.”

“Don’t be, this is also part of my responsibility to them now.”

I began carving the words into the stone wall, carefully measuring each stroke of Gramzanber’s serrated edge as it cut into the concrete. It took a few minutes, and probably was a bit simple and hardly felt like enough, but it was the best I could do.

Many ponies lay here; earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorn’s alike.

They worked together to make a home called Saddlespring.

It wasn’t a bad place, and nopony here deserved what happened.

They will not be forgotten.

I looked at the words I carved, feeling that those words just weren’t good enough for the ponies now buried beneath me, that I had names I could carve there so that anypony who saw this knew just who had died. The only name I really had was Shale’s, and carving her name alone didn’t feel right when so many others would go unnamed. Ultimately I left it at that, only saying a few soft words to the spirits of those who were gone.

“I’m sorry. I’ll...I’m not…I’m not a strong pony. I’m not a smart pony. But I’ll find a way to make this…right. Even if that’s impossible, I’ll still find a way. I won’t let this happen to another town. Wherever I end up going, I promise I won’t let another home burn. So please rest. And…and look after Shale, okay? I know she’s not from your town, and I don’t have any right to ask anything of you folk, but she’s a good pony and I don’t want her to be alone up there. So please don’t let her be alone…”

I couldn’t speak anymore. LIL-E remained silent as I cried into the scorched earth.


----------

Making our way through the Wasteland at night was showing me a whole plethora of ways to trip and fall on my flank or face, depending on just what chunk of rubble or pothole caught me and where. LIL-E, being a freakin’ floating robot with apparent night vision wasn’t having the same problems I was. In any other set of circumstances I might’ve been able to take my ungainly stumbling about with a healthy dose of self humor, but as it was it just felt like a fraction of how hard I still felt like hitting myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I was resolved to keep going. I needed to link up with B.B and Arcaidia and continue helping Arcaidia find her lost family member. I was also determined now to find out more about Odessa and why they’d come after Arcaidia and even find some way to make them both pay for Saddlespring and ensure they could never do something like that again. On top of that I also needed to figure out some way to eventually stop the Golem Roaring Metal from going on another rampage, though how I was going to pull of that feat was even more of a mystery than how I’d confront an organization like Odessa. Then there were the numerous other things I felt I needed to do; like escort the survivors of Saddlespring to safety somewhere and make sure the remaining slaves were freed from their collars.

But despite my resolve to do all of that I couldn’t deny that I couldn’t just cast aside the iron hooks of guilt that dragged down my mind. One pep talk and a make-shift funeral wasn’t going to just erase the memories of Saddlespring. I was, however, capable of still walking. I was still putting one hoof in front of the other, even if every three steps led to another nasty trip.

“You know I really wish the pegasi in NCR could get an expedition out here to do something about that cloud cover,” commented LIL-E as I snagged a back hoof on a piece a rebar jutting from a pile of smashed concrete and cursed as I stumbled.

“What do you mean?” I asked, more because I knew she was just trying to keep a conversation going and take my mind off things and I felt like I ought to reciprocate her efforts, even if honestly I wasn’t all that interested…well, maybe a little. Curiosity is a powerful motivator that often times doesn’t care about the rest of our emotional state.

“Well, inside the NCR the SPP Towers allow for direct weather control over a very wide area. We’ve been able to keep the sky clear from Dise all the way to Trottingham without needing pegasi to do any of the weather work. Problem is with Detrot, though, is that it’s outside of range from the northernmost SPP Tower. I don’t know why, but the MoA never built a Tower out this way. So if the cloud cover that was put here two hundred years ago is ever going to go away we’d need a full expedition of pegasi to do it.”

“MoA? That’s…Ministry of Awesome, right?” I asked, recalling B.B’s lecture back when we were in the Ruins, “That’s the one that was controlled by that famous pegasus warrior?”

“Rainbow Dash. Yes, her Ministry built the SPP, Single Pony Project, Towers, with the expressed purpose of granting the ability to regulate Equestria’s weather to a single pony who would plug into the system, becoming a sort of living computer. They built Towers in every corner of Equestria…everywhere except the Detrot region.”

“Why wouldn’t they build a Tower out here? I mean, Detrot was a part of Equestria wasn’t it?”

“It was. Detrot and it’s surrounding suburbs and sister towns were home to a lot of factories, research facilities, and businesses that were all civilian run. The Ministries had the manticore’s share of the most prominent and capable research staff for their own work, the most advanced factories, and ties to the biggest corporations all in the Equestrian heartland…but Detrot was where a lot of civilian groups not under the Ministries worked on projects of their own. They were still monitored, and if they ever developed something of use the Ministries would sweep in to grab it up, but for the most part Detrot was left to its own devices. Except towards the end of the war, when resources were scarce enough that Detrot’s factories were taken over for the war effort and a lot of its labs were shut down under…mysterious circumstances. Which just adds to the oddity that the MoA never built a Tower in the area. Could be that they just lacked the resources to do it. No way of knowing for sure, unless you dug up enough memory orbs from around here to start piecing it all together.”

“Wait a sec,” I said as I set down Gramzanber long enough to reach over and rummage in my saddlebags, finally extracting the Recollector and its memory orb and showing it to LIL-E, “You mean something like this?”

LIL-E paused in mid-flight, slowly rotating towards me and hovering closer to the deice, “Where did you find that?”

“Um…in the Ruin, the one that was in Saddlespring.”

“…Have you viewed it yet?”

“No. LIL-E, is something wrong?”

“Longwalk, I know you’re eager to get to the camp and reunite with your friends but…but do you think you’d be willing to do me a huge favor and go into that memory orb right now? I need to know what’s in there and I can’t do it through LIL-E’s interface.”

I was a little nervous about the prospect. I wasn’t even sure if I’d ever intended to go into that memory orb. Curiosity or not it just sounded weird, dreaming another pony’s memories. Something in LIL-E’s words managed to convey a powerful sense of urgency even beyond the normal blank monotone of her mechanical voice. It occurred to me that, while it seemed she had helped me and was a good pony on the other end of that machine, I still didn’t know much of anything about LIL-E. I mean, who can fully trust a pony who won’t even give her real name?

I looked about nervously, “Is it safe? I mean, we’re out in the open.”

“We can use that rubble for cover and I’ll keep watch. Trust me, few things can sneak up on LIL-E’s sensors. You won’t be able to wake until the memory is done, but if something comes our way…well, LIL-E is plenty well armed. I know this is an odd thing to ask Longwalk, but half of why I’m out here has to do with finding answers to certain questions I have about Detrot and its Ruins. Answers that might be in that memory orb. Please? Pretty please? Pretty pretty I’ll-do-you-whatever-favor-you-need-later pleaaaase!?”

Wow, I didn’t know it was possibly to sound that whiny with a mechanical voice. I could almost see big watering puppy eyes popping out of LIL-E’s face plate and little mechanical arms clasping in front of her in a pleading gesture. After a moment of LIL-E bobbing up and down in front of me repeating ‘please’ over and over again I relented and nodded my head.

“Yay! Okay, let’s just hide over here,” LIL-E led me around a pile of rubble that had a vaguely crescent shape to it so we could hide in the curve.

I set myself down on my barrel, folding my legs under me, and LIL-E instructed me on how to put the Recollector on my head.

“And it should start up pretty much the second you fit it on and-“

LIL-E’s words faded away like sand being washed away by the tide and I felt myself being strangely drawn away from my body.

oooOOOooo

I’d been told basically what to expect, that I’d be ‘riding’ in the body of another pony without any real control or ability to do more than think while I was in my ‘host’, but it was still a very jarring experience to suddenly be running without any control of my movements.

The body I was in was running down a corridor I recognized as one of the hallways inside the Ruin, the pony running alongside others who were all armed with various weapons and dressed in an assortment of clothing, though most of them had some kind of armor on. Turrets would drop from the ceiling and were subsequently quickly blasted by the lead pony, a unicorn mare who was levitating two drum-fed shotguns that roared in the closed confines of the hallway. There was gunfire behind me, er, my host as well.

There was something odd about the way my host was moving, the very way their body was built that was giving me the weirdest sensations of being horribly out of place. My balance felt off and I had the oddest sensation of there being something on my back. It was only when the ponies reached a door and the lead unicorn, a mare with a light brown coat and blond mane, began to open it with her hooves and my host spoke that I realized the problem.

“Hurry it up Quick Fix! Those things are right behind us,” my host said in a very clear mare’s voice.

So that was what felt off. I was missing certain…parts…and there were other parts…where parts of another kind ought to…oh dear ancestors this was just weird feeling!

The unicorn, Quick Fix, had a white hued aura of magic around her horn as she pulled at the door with her magic now as well as she said through grit teeth, “You could always help, Airheart!”

“Okay, everypony else watch our backs!” my host, Airheart apparently, said as she flew over to the door. Oh, so that’s what else felt different, those weird sensations on my, her, back had been wings. It was an utterly peculiar feeling to suddenly have two new limbs bursting with sensation flapping on my back and the weird sensation of rising off the ground with barely any effort and hovering over to the door. I could feel air gently caressing over every pinion of my, her, wings and if I’d still had a spine of my own to shiver in I would have.

Airheart put her hooves next to Quick Fix’s and added her wing power to the unicorn’s own magic and hooves. Meanwhile the other ponies in the group, another pegasus mare with a blue gray coat and black mane and two earth ponies, one a stallion of red coloring and a buzzed white man, the other a mare with a green coat and curly brown mane, turned their attention down the corridor where I could faintly see the approaching forms of Tunnelers.

The ponies all opened fire at once, all with a mix of pistols and rifles just like the collection of mostly rusted and broken weapons I’d found in the Ruin among the skeletons…two hundred years later. It hit me then and there with the full impact of a hoof to the jaw that every single one of these ponies I was watching were already dead. They didn’t know it, but somehow, someway, regardless of what they were trying to do down there, they were all going to die. Shot by somepony. I remembered the bullet hole in the skull of the pegasus I’d taken the Recollector off of…Airheart. Somepony was going to shoot her in the head.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to shout some kind of warning to them. I tried to force words past a throat that wasn’t mine and out lips that I had no control over, words to tell these ponies that they had to get out of this place, that if they stayed here somepony was going to kill them! But of course it was useless. I wasn’t actually there. This wasn’t actually happening right now. This was a memory, pulled out of Airheart’s head by the Recollector I could feel her wearing and put into the memory orb that I knew had to be there. These ponies were dead for two hundred years. Nothing I could do but watch and witness their last moments.

The Tunneler’s kept advancing past the hail of gunfire that tore through them, but it slowed the cybernetic monstrosities down enough for Airheart and Quick Fix’s efforts to finally pull the door open. Quick Fix turned and brought her dual shotguns to bear the second the door was open all the way and jerked her head in a gesture for Airheart to go through while she shouted, “Everypony get in! NOW!”

Airheart dove through the door and the others joined her as Quick Fix laid down a stream of cover fire, her shotguns firing a fully automatic burst of death that ripped into the lead Tunnelers that were just meters from reaching them. Airheart turned around and awkwardly got out a small pistol from a shoulder holster that she clutched in her teeth in the same unfamiliar manner I tended to with firearms. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t used to the damned things. Despite her clear lack of proficiency Airheart still aimed her pistol at the Tunnelers, the barrel shaking in her mouth. I could feel her heart racing and obvious fear, but I couldn’t feel any of her emotions or thoughts, just the physical stuff.

Airheart didn’t fire, either too afraid to hit Quick Fix, or just too afraid period, but it didn’t matter. Quick Fix’s shotguns in such a confined space were able to keep the Tunnelers back long enough for her to back up and use her magic to slam the door metal door shut. There was the sound of pounding on the metal for a few seconds but it subsided before long. I listened as all the ponies in the room breathed heavily from their flight and fight, and soon Quick Fix, seeming the one in charge, turned to the others.

“Alright, Screen Saver, are we anywhere near where we need to be?”

The red earth pony stallion raised a foreleg and I saw he had a PipBuck on it. He peered at its screen, then slowly smiled, “Yup, right where the doc said the terminal should be.”

“Must be talking about this thing,” said the green earth pony mare as she approached what I recognized as the big blocky device that had been in the room, “I hope the doc’s program will work with it. This tech isn’t exactly Equestrian standard.”

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Airheart said as she flittered over to the device, looking back at Quick Fix, “I might’ve found and destroyed that bug on our skywagon, but somepony knows we’re here. Depending on whose after us we got hours at most to get this done!”

“Are we really doing this,” said the other pegasus, the blue coated mare who was giving her surroundings a look as if she was expecting the walls themselves to come alive and eat them, “I mean…if we do this it’ll change everything. The war, the country…the whole world.”

“Kinda think the point of no return was passed some time ago Overcast. You wanted out you should’ve went when the doc gave us the chance.”

“Ugh, I know that Quick Fix! I know! Damnit it’s just…it’s…Celestia just look around us! All of this proves everything the doc’s been saying yeah, proves what we’ve all seen and felt for years. But…if we transmit the information in here then…I don’t know, it just feels like a lot of ponies could die in the fallout of the truth coming to light.”

I felt Airheart’s shoulder’s slump as she floated over to her fellow pegasus and put a hoof slowly around Overcast’s shoulders, leaning in closely to the other mare as she spoke in a gentle voice.

“You don’t want anypony getting hurt Overcast. I feel the same way. But you know that the truth is important. Ponies everywhere deserve to know what’s been kept hidden. It might…it might actually end this stupid war with the zebras! If everypony, including them, know that we’re not alone in this universe and that our world’s in danger from something ‘up there’ then…then that has to make everypony and zebra stop fighting! We can’t fight each other if there’s something bigger and worse out there coming to get us, right?”

“I…yes, you’re right. Let’s…let’s do this then, before I loose my nerve again,” Overcast said, leaning into Airheart’s embrace. The two mare’s parted and Airheart looked over at Quick Fix and nodded. The unicorn returned the nod and before long the five ponies went to work.

Screen Saver removed the components of some kind of device that he began to assemble next to the Ruin’s terminal while Quick Fix went to the terminal itself and used her horn’s magic to begin interacting with it, lighting up symbols on the block of metal a lot like I’d seen Arcaidia do. Quick Fix though had a grimace of pain on her face and extreme concentration as she did so. Airheart came over to her.

“Is it working…?”

“Mmph…yeah its…uhn…just harder than the doc…made it sound. The magic in this…errgh…thing is resisting me every…huff…step of the way.”

As the minutes drug by Screen Saver had built a miniature terminal just like the one I’d interacted with in the Ruin and the green earth pony mare next to him ran a cable from that terminal to the Ruin’s terminal, Quick Fix’s magical interaction with the device seeming to make progress as a port opened on the Ruin terminal and Overcast stepped up.

“Here’s hoping the doc’s theories on interface adaptors for magical matrices weren’t a bunch of pipe dreams,” she said as she affixed another device, a small steel cylinder, into the port and then connected the cable to the other end of the cylinder.

“Alright, let’s see what we can see,” said Screen Saver, settling in front of the terminal and clacking away at the keys, “…Stable-Tech’s OS is active and…good, we’re receiving a response from the other end. Looks like the doc’s adapter is doing the job! I’m getting streams of data! We can get this baby ready to roll soon as the surface team gets the transmitter online!”

“Huff…good…huff…Airheart, how’s the surface team doing anyway?”

“Just a sec,” Airheart said and I felt her raise a hoof to her head and tap her ear, her hoof brushing the Recollector as she did so, which made her sigh, “Wish you weren’t making me wear this thing.”

“This could be the single most important moment in Equestrian history, if not the history of the entire world,” Quick Fix said past labored breaths, “Figured we ought to have a record of it for posterity’s sake if nothing else.”

Airheart shook her head and then tapped something that I felt in her ear. Weird how you don’t notice those little sensations until they’re brought straight to your attention. It felt like a bead, or little pebble in her ear attached to some rubbery cord. When she tapped it I heard a faint buzzing noise in her ear as she said, “Down Team to Up Team, we’re connected and have a clean and clear data stream. What’s the status of the transmitter?”

I heard a chiming female voice say back, “We’re ready. Transmitter is up and hidden. There’s little to no activity up here, but its 3AM so no surprise there. Town’s nice and quiet. We’re about to move…wait…Millie, you see that? Everypony, take cover.”

“Up Team, say again? Allie Way? What’s going on?”

The other ponies were looking at Airheart in concern though Screen Saver wasn’t ceasing his work on the terminal. Overcast had a growing look of horror on her face as she whispered, “It’s too soon…it can’t be the military.”

“Allie? Talk to me!” I winced, well, mentally winced, at the tone of fear and desperation in Airheart’s voice.

“Shh,” said Allie Way’s voice in Airheart’s ear, “There was a shadow passing between the buildings. We’re hiding, just in case…but doesn’t look like it was anything. We’ll-“

Whatever Allie was going to say next was interrupted by the sudden sound of something brushing against something else and then a loud and abrupt snap of bone followed by a thudding sound like…like a body hitting the ground.

“…Allie…?” Airheart’s voice was little more than a soft whimper.

There was no answer, just dead static. The heart rate in my host’s body doubled as she dropped her hoof from her ear and hung her head slowly, whispering “…no…”

“Airheart? What happened? Say something damnit!” Quick Fix said as she came up to the pegasus, staring her in the eyes.

“I…I think…they’re dead. Somepony got them all.”

“It’s too soon to be the regular military,” said Overcast again, “It’d have taken them at least an hour or two to sortie a mission to stop us. This has to be the work of a group that’s faster and with less red tape to deal with than the army.”

“Like who…?” asked the green earth pony mare.

“I can only think of one group that could pull off tracking us here and getting here this quick,” said Overcast darkly, “The Shadowbolts.”

“Oh dear Luna protect us…” whispered the green mare.

“Probably not, considering she’s likely the one that gave them the order to take us down, Fresh Grass,” Overcast said as she went to the door, readying her pistol in her mouth.

“But they’ll have a hard time getting down here, right?” said Screen Saver, “What with all those turrets and monsters blocking the way.”

“Screen, have you even heard of what the Shadowbolts can do? We got down here, so you can sure as buck bet they can do it three times as fast as we did, with half the ammo spent,” Quick Fix said sharply, levitating her shotguns and taking a position on the opposite side of the door from Overcast, “We just have to hope they didn’t find the transmitter. Screen, how far are we along with file decryption?”

“Getting there. We’re over 70% done…” he trailed off, then after a second added glumly, “Even if it finishes in time and we transmit…we’re not getting out of here alive, are we?”

“…Probably not,” Quick Fix admitted after a moment of hesitating, pain clear in her eyes along with a strained quiver to her legs, “If the Shadowbolts have a kill order, then we’re pretty much dead ponies. For what it’s worth I’m sorry I dragged you all into this.”

“It’s not your fault,” said Airheart, “We all agreed this was the right thing to do. We all…knew the risks.”

“I’m still the one that introduced you all to the doc. I’m the one who pulled us all together, and came up with the idea to come here and do this in the first place…”

“Buck it Quick Fix I’m supposed to be the wishy-washy one,” said Overcast with a snort, “You’re supposed to be the one who can fly steady, so can you quit the blame game? I don’t want to die listening to my friend bitching and blaming herself. Let’s at least go down…well, not gloriously, because honestly, buck glory I’d rather live, but let’s at least finish doing what we came here to do.”

Quick Fix looked at her companions, Airheart nodding to her and drawing her own pistol, Fresh Grass swallowing in plain fear but also pushing it aside as she adjusted the assault rifle mounted on the battle saddle she wore and came up to stand next to Airheart. Overcast had a grim and small smile on her face, and Screen Saver was staring at the terminal as if his whole world was contained in its soft emerald screen.

“…You all…thanks,” Quick Fix’s eyes gained a shining gleam of determination as she aimed her shotguns at the door, “I’m still sorry you all had to do this.”

That seemed to end conversation between the five friends as the waited; either for their terminal to finish what it was doing, or for the enemy they all knew was coming to arrive. While this was happening my own mind was reeling with questions. What were they talking about; transmitting data from the Ruin terminal? Was that what I’d done when I’d hit the ‘Y’ button on the terminal, two hundred years after these events? What kind of data? Why would transmitting it be such a big, important deal like their talk seemed to make it sound? I didn’t understand.

While my mind had been picking over its questions I hadn’t noticed that the five ponies had all gotten tense as something bumped into the door. Quick Fix’s horn glowed a brighter shade of white and a similar white aura covered the door suddenly.

“Can you keep it closed?” asked Overcast as she backed up a step from the door, pistol trained on it. It occurred to me she could talk rather well for a pony with a pistol in her mouth. Wonder why that skill seemed so uncommon in the modern era?

“Not if they got explosives to get it open,” Quick Fix said, “Which they’ll use if I keep this door closed for much longer. Our only chance is to swing it open and use one of Fresh Grass’ grenades. Maybe stun them long enough for us to take them out.”

“We’re at 96%,” said Screen Saver, “We just need another couple of minutes.”

“They’ll blast the doors in less than one, then we’re all dead and the terminal is toast,” said Quick Fix, “Fresh Grass, prep a grenade, I’m going to open the doors in ten seconds. Everypony get ready.”

“This is such a bad idea,” said Fresh Grass as she went and got a grenade, one I recognized as the same kind of flash bang types I’d acquired from the skeletons of these very ponies.

Airheart didn’t say anything, just stood a little off to the right side of the door, knees shaking, breath quick in her throat, and heart pounding. I could only imagine what the pegasus mare was going through, what she had to be thinking. Trapped with her friends in a small room, knowing that on the other side of that door were ponies both willing and fully able to kill her and everypony else in the room. The only chance for survival was to fight, but if the reputation of these Shadowbolts was anything close to the reality, what chance did this ponies have?

I would have given anything to be there. To really be there, in that room, two hundred years ago. It’s a stupid thought I know, it’s not like there would have been anything I could have done to help beyond fight and die along with them. But damnit that didn’t stop me from wanting to be in that room, spear ready, to fight beside those brave ponies. To put a comforting hoof on Airheart’s shoulder and tell her that we’d make it, somehow, even if those words would’ve been lies.

It was a desire that couldn’t be fulfilled and was stifled by the reality of the fact that I was just watching a memory, Airheart’s last memory. At least she was with her friends.

Tension mounted as Fresh Grass exchanged nods with Quick Fix and everypony else readied their guns. Quick Fix gulped, I could see the brief second of hesitance on her face, her wondering if she was doing the right then, then that fleeting look passing for a moment of stone faced concentration. She yanked open the door with her magic, already opening fire with her shotguns.

Everypony else opened fire, a crescendo of gunshots in the dark corridor as Fresh Grass lobbed her grenade with a shouting warning for her friends to have time to shield their eyes.

Airheart ducked, covering her eyes with one hoof. There was a flash, even beyond her closed eye-lids, and a concussive crack of sound. Airheart’s breathing was fast and ragged as she opened her eyes and looked down the corridor. There was smoke from both the grenade and the gunfire from earlier filling the air, and absolute silence.

“Did we get any of them?” Fresh Grass asked.

“I don’t see anythi-“ Overcast began to say as she peeked down the corridor, but then a black and blue streak of motion slammed right through the door, taking Overcast’s head between two black clad hooves and slamming the pegasus full force into the ground.

A blur of motion and gunfire was almost too disorienting for me to figure out what was happening. I felt Airheart lift herself into the air and try and shoot at a dashing black form with a trail of unimaginable colors flowing with it but I couldn’t even tell if her wild shots were hitting anything. There were more black, blindingly fast pony shaped forms in the room now and I saw Fresh Grass get lifted bodily into the air and smashed into the ceiling by one of the flying black forms…a pegasus clad head to toe in a black form fitting suit that covered everything save her muzzle, mane, and tail. The mane and tail were all the colors I’d never seen growing up as a child. They were blinding, beautiful, and I barely got a solid look at them before this pegasus mare wheeled in the air, dodging Airheart’s pistol shots, and was suddenly right in Airheart’s face with a buck that sent Airheart flying into the wall so hard I felt ribs snap and pain lance through her entire barrel.

As Airheart slid to the ground I caught sight of the rest of the fight, two other black clad shapes dancing through the room with graceful motions that none of the ponies in Airheart’s group could keep up with. Quick Fix’s shot guns blasted away left and right but a black clad shape much larger than a pony, with a beak poking out of one part of the uniform and a thin whip-like tail at the other, with yellow bird claws move in and slash at the unicorn mare, cutting into her face.

Quick Fix screamed and her horn glowed, briefly taking hold of the weird creature with both bird and feline qualities and sent it flying back into a wall.

Screen Saver and Fresh Grass were both unconscious now, a third pegasus pony in black having zipped between the two and with deft hoof strikes had knocked them clean out.

Strange, if these were the Shadowbolts, they didn’t seem to be using lethal force. None of the ponies were dead yet, just knocked out of the fight. What was going on? My memory was clear; those skeletons had had bullet holes in them.

Quick Fix, still on her hooves despite the blood pouring from the ragged cuts across her face, rushed towards the terminal. Airheart was trying to move, trying to get up, but the pain stabbing into her chest from her broken ribs caused her to cry out and fall back against the wall…right in the spot I remembered finding her skeleton in the present.

“Don’t move,” a hard but not unkind tone said to Airheart as one of the black clad pegasus, this one with a jasmine colored muzzle and light teal mane and tail came up to her and pressed a hoof against Airheart’s chest, “This’ll hurt less if you stay down.”

Airheart whimpered and let her pistol clatter from her mouth as she did as she was told. Quick Fix was the only one still up now, but the pegasus with the rainbow colored mane and tail had pulled a slim black pistol on the unicorn and the two were at a standoff.

The odd bird-like creature had extricated herself from the wall and growled, “Bitch, using cheap ass magic. Going to take the rest of your face off!”

“Cool it Odessa,” said the mare with the rainbow mane, “You’re already on my bad side for using lethal force without authorization. Don’t piss me off more by acting like a sore loser. I hate sore losers. Unicorn got a fair hit in on you, so take it like a good griffin and fall in line.”

The bird like creature, a ‘griffin’ apparently, snorted, nodded, and came up to flank Quick Fix, who was eying the pegasus with the rainbow mane while pointing one shotgun at her, and slowly aiming her other one at…Odessa?

Wait, Odessa!? As in the organization!? But…wait, that rainbow pegasus just called that griffin thing Odessa, like a proper name? The hay was going on here!?

“You’re…Rainbow Dash, aren’t you?” said Quick Fix slowly, carefully.

“Told you you ought to dye your damned mane when on op,” said the pegasus with the teal mane, “You pretty much broadcast who you are to everypony in sight, which ain’t exactly covert.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll keep your opinion in mind Raindrops,” said Rainbow Dash, then turned her full attention to Quick Fix, “Anyway, just drop the guns and surrender. You have my word if you surrender without a fight you and your companions will be taken into custody without further harm.

“Is that what you told Allie Way, Millie, and Yellow Jacket?”

Airheart had her eyes fixed on the scene so I had a pretty clear look of a slight tremor of regret passing over Rainbow Dash’s expression, “We…one of your companions was, unfortunately, killed by my overzealous subordinate, and trust me she’s going to be answering for that once this mission is done.”

“Hey, we were told these ponies were armed and dangerous insurgents! I’m not going to hold back and get all namby-pamby with a bunch of armed ponies-“ Odessa began but Rainbow Dash cut her off.

“Enough! I didn’t give the okay for lethal force so that damned well means you play it cool and keep it clean! You do not go for the kill without clearance, you understand me?”

“…Perfectly,” said Odessa, though I could see her bristling. Raindrops rolled her eyes at the scene and kept her attention focused on Airheart, though it was pretty clear there wasn’t any fight left in my host.

“Rainbow Dash,” Quick Fix said, oddly formally, “The mare in charge of the Ministry of Awesome…do you even know why you’re here?”

“I’m here to stop a group of dangerous conspiracy theorists from messing with my Equestria,” said Rainbow Dash curtly, “I don’t know what you thought you were doing in this messed up archeological site, but if it could harm Equestria then its stopping here.”

“Archeological site? Archeological site!?” Quick Fix’s eyes widened in a combination of shock and rage, “You think those magical fucking turrets and mechanical monsters were made by fucking cave ponies!? This Ruin is over four thousand years old! Open your eyes, this place wasn’t built by ponies!”

“Cut the crap, four thousand years old? This place is in way to good shape to be that old. And it doesn’t matter who or what built it, the fact is that my orders are to keep you from doing whatever it is you were doing down here. Now surrender. We’ve already got your ringleader back in Detrot in custody.”

“…I can’t do that. If you’ve got the doc…I have to make sure the last thing he wanted me to do get’s done.”

“Don’t do it. I’m warning you,” said Rainbow Dash, and I had to admit, I was impressed by how calm she was given Quick Fix had a shotgun leveled at her face.

“You know it’s funny…if all those years ago somepony told me I’d be pointing a gun at one of the mares who saved Equestria from Nightmare Moon and Discord, I’d have chalked it up to pure insanity,” Quick Fix said with a pained smile that had no mirth to it at all, “I certainly never would’ve believed that I’d just lose…faith, in our Princesses, in our country, in…everything. How did everything change so much?”

“I can’t answer that,” Rainbow Dash said with a shrug of her wings, “I don’t know either. But this is how it is. I still believe in the Princesses.”

“Even if Celestia failed us? Even if Luna lies to us?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah…I can see you don’t…”

There was a second where both ponies stared at one another, bodies tensing. A slight fluctuation in the white aura of magic surrounding Quick Fix’s horn was the only warning of her tightening her magic’s grip around the trigger of her shotguns. Rainbow Dash moved with the hard and sudden speed of breaking lightning, her movement so quick I could only get the barest impression of her striking the barrel of the shotgun pointed at her with one hoof, pushing it up and out of the way so its shot blasted into the ceiling. Before Quick Fix could respond Rainbow Dash had swept the unicorn’s legs out from under her and planted a forehoof solidly into Quick Fix’s barrel with enough force to blast the air clear from the unicorn’s lungs. As Quick Fix lay stunned Rainbow Dash pressed a fetlock firmly against the unicorn’s throat and shot a glance at Odessa.

“Get her guns, empty the chambers.”

The griffin gave a curt, “Yes ma’am,” and went about the business of disarming the two shotguns, removing the cylinder clips and ejecting the remaining shell in their chambers. Quick Fix was still trying to get air past her constricted throat and struggled underneath Rainbow Dash, but the pegasus was clearly the stronger, easily keeping the unicorn pinned until she lost consciousness, whereupon Rainbow Dash eased up so she didn’t choke the unicorn mare to death.

“Guess that’s that then,” said Raindrops, “Intel said there were only the eight, so we got all of them accounted for. What’s next?”

“Get on the horn and call in an extraction unit for the prisoners,” said Rainbow Dash, “Also get Starburst’s team on standby. I’m…curious about what this place is. Once we’ve cleaned up with the prisoners we’ll check things out here more thoroughly.”

“Works for me,” said Raindrops as she began talking to herself, into a device I could only assume was similar to the one Airheart had on. Airheart was still laboring to breath past her injuries and was seemingly trying to just stay as still as possible.

Odessa was giving Rainbow Dash a look with a raised brow, “We’re gonna explore this hole now? That isn’t in our orders.”

“Oh, now you care about orders? We weren’t told not to explore, and this place looks dangerous enough that it’s worth clearing out. Can’t let any of those cybernetic creatures get to the surface after all,” said Rainbow Dash, looking at the Ruin’s terminal, “That and I wouldn’t mind finding out what some of this stuff is.”

“Wait, repeat that?” said Raindrops suddenly, then gave Rainbow Dash a concerned look, “RD, we got…um…it’s the Princess. She’s on the line. Says she needs to talk to you directly. She’s on frequency 140.85.”

“Huh…right, start tying up the prisoners while I see what she wants.”

Odessa and Raindrops began to use black thin corded rope dispensed by what appeared to be some kind of utility belt worn around their black form fitting uniforms. Raindrops had given Airheart a hard look and said, “Stay put”, quickly kicking away Airheart’s pistol while she went to help the griffin tie up the other ponies. Meanwhile Raindbow Dash was talking, obviously communicating to somepony far away on the other end of those same kind of long-distance speaking devices that I was starting to get a little envious off. I might not understand how technology really works but I was certainly behind how useful it could be.

“Yes…yes we’ve caught them all, they’re in custody, except one that was killed due to a miscommunication of orders. No…no they haven’t said anything except some pretty pointless rambling about the age of the site. I don’t know, they were linking one of their terminals to some device down here.”

Suddenly Rainbow Dash’s posture stiffened and while the outfit she wore obscured her eyes with yellow goggles her mouth slightly dropped in clear shock.

“…Princess…please repeat that order…I…are you certain that-“ Rainbow Dash suddenly winced, then grit her teeth, “Yes. Yes I understand. You can…you can count on me Princess. We’ll carry out your orders immediately.”

By now Raindrops and Odessa had tied Screen Saver, Overcast, Quick Fix and Fresh Grass and had moved them up against the wall next to Airheart…all in positions I remembered finding their skeletons in the present time. Raindrops was giving Rainbow Dash a worried frown.

“What’s up? You look like you just swallowed a gulp of Flim & Flam’s cider.”

Rainbow Dash took in a deep breath and looked at her two comrades with her face a stone mask of schooled emotions, “Raindrops, get topside and call in Starbursts team, tell them to bring a full det-package. We’ll be closing this place’s entrance, permanently.”

“Alright, you want me to send Cloudkicker down to help get the prisoners topside as well?”

“There…are no prisoners.”

“What?” Raindrops sounded confused but Odessa suddenly had a knowing grin on her beak.

“You heard me,” said Rainbow Dash, though her tone was faint, almost as if she wasn’t entirely believing the words she was speaking, “This is straight from the Princess’ mouth. There are no prisoners. All the insurgents were killed resisting capture.”

“But…that’s not the truth! They’ve surrendered!” Raindrops near shouted in disbelief, throwing her hooves out, gesturing at the tied up prisoners. Airheart was shivering, looking between the two pegasi Shadowbolts with wide eyes. I could feel her breaths coming in short, rapid panicked gasps despite the lancing pain of her broken ribs. By now she’d been tied up as well and she struggled against those bonds despite the clear futility of it.

“Drops! Fall in line. These are orders from the Princess herself. Now…now get topside. Me and Odessa will handle things down here,” Rainbow Dash said bitterly.

“With all due respect ma’am…I can’t obey that order,” said the jasmine pegasus, “Executing civilians that have surrendered themselves is not what I signed up for.”

“Raindrops,” Rainbow Dash’s voice had a dangerously thin quality to it, “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. Once. You won’t get another chance. Get topside. Now.”

“…No.”

Rainbow Dash hung her head, her multi-colored mane falling across her Shadowbolt outfit’s yellow goggles. She whispered something but I couldn’t make out what it was, and in that same instant she was on Raindrops. The other pegasus had been ready for the charge and in a blink of an eye the two had become a blinding storm of striking hooves as they wheeled through the cramped air space of the chamber.

Odessa hung back and had a matte black pistol with a long barrel attachment the point of which I didn’t know in one claw, pointed at the prisoners casually as she watched the two pegasi fight with the grin of an adolescent watching friends in the schoolyard brawl.

The fight wasn’t a long one. For a few seconds the two seemed evenly matched, but while Raindrops had powerful blows, indenting the wall where Rainbow Dash dodged one hoof strike, and nearly cracking the ground from a buck the cyan pegasus barely got out of the way of, she was also slower than the rainbow speedster. Raindrops seemed to have endurance, withstanding dozens of rapid strikes from her superior officer that rained down from all sides of her, but it wasn’t enough. With speed and precision that would’ve put Shattered Sky’s fancy ARM teleporting to shame Rainbow Dash got in punishing strikes on Raindrop’s limbs, dislocating joints with each blow. Even then Raindrops didn’t quit, lashing out with one wing and even clipping Raindbow Dash a solid blow with the sudden wing-strike across the cyan pegasus’ jaw, but with her limbs disabled Raindrops could do little more than that before Rainbow Dash got behind her and wrapped her forehooves around her opponent in a solid hold.

Raindrops bucked and flew upwards, slamming Rainbow Dash into the ceiling multiple times, but Rainbow Dash held on firmly and slowly Raindrops’ struggles slowed, until finally the jasimine pegasus lost consciousness and collapsed on the ground.

Breathing heavily, blood tricking down her lip, Rainbow Dash stood over Raindrops, looking down at the other pegasus with a pained grimace that I doubted has anything to do with her injuries.

“I’m sorry Drops. You’re a hell of a flyer and a fighter…but there’s more to being a Shadowbolt than that. Loyalty to the Princess, loyalty to Equestria, above all else, and the willingness to do what is necessary…that’s what makes a Shadowbolt.”

“Heh, you definitely showed the bleeding heart a good ass kicking,” said Odessa, “We gonna off these traitors now?”

“Shut it Odessa. I don’t like this any more than Raindrops does, but I’m not going to betray the Princess’ orders. I don’t know why she...gave this order, and I’m sure as hell going to get answers…but right now we’ve got a job to do. Take Raindrops topside and make sure she’s given proper medical treatment. I’ll deal with the not-prisoners.”

“Ugh, fine, I’ll take Dropsy up top. Not any fun offing someone outside of a fight anyway. Just don’t take too long, this place if creepy as shit. Makes my feather’s ruffle.”

The griffin collected Raindrops, slinging the unconscious pegasus onto her back and strolled towards the door, only pausing once to glance back at Rainbow Dash to say “Hey, RD, don’t take this personal, but if you really don’t wanna be the trigger-mare, you’re in the wrong line of work.”

“Just…go, Odessa.”

The griffin shrugged at that and walked out, leaving Rainbow Dash alone with the prisoners. I was only a little relieved at the fact that most of them were unconscious and hence wouldn’t have to see death coming. Airheart, however, was still wide awake and shaking as she watched Rainbow Dash approach them. Quick Fix groaned as she regained consciousness, looking up to see Rainbow Dash holding a pistol identical to the one Odessa had, aiming it at her forehead.

“…So…I’m going to guess your Princess gave some pretty explicit orders about what to do with us.”

Rainbow Dash said nothing, holding the pistol steady in her mouth, body tense. Quick Fix sighed, hanging her head.

“Right, Element of Loyalty…what’s the point of trying to convince you not to pull the trigger. If what the doc found out is all true then Luna wouldn’t want any of this getting out to the public, no matter the cost. Not the truth of these ‘archeological sites’ she’s been funding, nor the reason why so many laboratories are getting shut down around Detrot. Maybe she thinks she’s protecting us, protecting Equestria. Needs of the many and all that shit. She knows though, go ahead and ask her, once you’re done here, look her in the eyes and ask her…about the Elw. See how she reacts t-“

The pistol barley made a sound when it fired, just a light ‘pfft’ noise and suddenly Quick Fix’s head jerked back and a spray of blood and brains coated the wall behind her. Airheart shrieked and looked away, trying to bury her head in her barrel as she curled up. There were more ‘pfft’ sounds as Rainbow Dash went down the line. Pfft, Screen Saver, pfft, Fresh Grass, pfft, Overcast…

Slowly Airheat looked up, knowing what she’d see, even past the burry tears clouding her eyes. Rainbow Dash looked down on her, the bright cheerful colors of her mane at complete odds with the dark unforgiving black of her Shadowbolt uniform or the harsh yellow glare of the goggles that obscured her eyes…and the tears that must’ve been there as well for even if Airheart wasn’t paying attention I could see the wetness slowly leaking out from beneath the goggles. The pistol in her mouth wasn’t steady anymore, it was shaking, and the cyan pegasus was whispering over and over:

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry…”

Airheart swallowed, and her breathing slowly steadied. I don’t know if she was accepting her impending death, or what, but she even smiled a little bit up at the pegasus that was about to kill her, and her voice was rather calm, almost serene.

“It’s okay…you’re a good pony Rainbow Dash. You just don’t remember that you are.”

“I didn’t want to do this…”

“It won’t hurt…will it?”

“It’s quick. I…I promise.”

Airheart nodded and took in a final, deep breath, leaning her head back against the cool wall of the room, then closed her eyes. I heard one last ‘pfft’, and as it turns out Rainbow Dash was right, it didn’t hurt.

oooOOOooo

Waking up from the memory orb wasn’t jarring or anything. In fact it was basically the same as waking up from sleep, my eyes fluttering open and the feeling of my own body coming back. It was a little weird, because I still had the fresh memory of being in a mare’s body just seconds ago, but that weirdness was overwhelmed quickly but the swirl of emotions and thoughts stemming from what I’d just witnessed.

I was crying. I noticed I did that a lot, but given all that had been happening I was going to give my masculinity a pass for now. It was different, just seeing the skeletons, looting them of their possessions, not really knowing who they were and just thinking it odd they were down there in the Ruin at all.

Now I had names. I knew they were ponies who’d gone into that Ruin with a purpose. To expose some kind of truth that’d been kept hidden by broadcasting some manner of data from that Ruin. Strange, Rainbow Dash had killed them, but had left their terminal intact and running? Guilt, perhaps? Had she investigated the Ruin further after that, had she confronted Princess Luna about those orders afterward? And what about Odessa? Why was some griffin bearing the name of the organization that was chasing after Arcaidia? More questions than answers.

LIL-E was hovering before me, and as I stood I looked at her and removed the Recollector from my head, setting it down and drying my eyes with a fetlock, “That…I don’t think I ever want to view another memory orb as long as I live.”

LIL-E didn’t respond. The robot just kept floating there. I cocked my head.

“LIL-E?” I slowly approached her and leaned my head close to the robot’s face plate. Cautiously I tapped it.

“You in ther-“

“Ohheyhibacknow!”

“GAH!” I fell back, startled by LIL-E suddenly coming to life. The robot hovered over me, peering down at me.

“Err…you okay Longwalk? Sorry about that, you were in there for awhile so I put LIL-E on auto-guard and went to take care of a few things.”

“Ugh…I’m fine, just, uh, kind of faint of heart right now, easily startled you know,” I said as I stood back up, cracking stiff (and still injured) legs. Apparently sitting with my legs folded under me was not a good position for memory orb viewing; not that I had any intention of making that a habit any time down the road.

“Right, just give a me sec and I’ll play back what I missed…oh, heh, yeah, memory orbs can be a pain in the flank. Let me see if I can guess; it was depressing, referenced a shit-ton of things you had no clue about, and left you with way more questions than answers.”

“…So you’ve viewed some memory orbs in your time then?”

“Oh, just a few. Now then, tell me what you saw. Don’t leave out any details you remember.”

It took me a little while to tell her everything, but as she asked, I left nothing out. When I was done LIL-E was quiet for so long I almost poked at her again to see if she’d checked out and left her robot on autopilot, but right before I did so she spoke up.

“Fuck.”

“…That’s it? Fuck?”

“Well I’d say something or other about Celestia and Luna double penetrating my anus with the sun and moon both, but honestly I think a good old fashioned ‘fuck’ got my feelings out clearer.”

“So did that memory orb answer any of the questions you were trying to get answered?” I asked hopefully.

“No, it didn’t answer shit, and my list of questions just got twice as long. Honestly I’m not sure why I was expecting anything less from a memory orb. I’m going to have to check with a few ponies, and, er, other people I know on making some sense of this information. I’m no stranger to conspiracies from two hundred years ago. Seems like that kind of shit likes to sit around and leave a bigger stink for us in the present to deal with.”

“So what happens now?”

“Now? I get you to the camp where everypony else is waiting and have a chat with my buddy Doc Sunday. From there I’m going to keep on investigating this region until I can damned well find the answers I need. What about you? What do you plan to do?”

That was a good question. I was still overwhelmed mentally and emotionally but the events of the past day or two. I felt drained, like a blade had cut right through me and scrapped away parts of me, leaving me raw and hurting and exhausted. It wasn’t a good feeling. My head wasn’t doing any better, a thick murky soup of floating questions, none of which I was anywhere near an answer to. More than anything right now I wanted to find a place to just sit down and rest, to catch my breath and my thoughts. I wanted to see B.B and Arcaidia and make sure they were both safe. Beyond that, I didn’t know.

“I don’t really have a plan. Once I’m with my friends again, I’ll think of something. I…want to find out more about Odessa, and I need to find a way to stop that Golem before it destroys another town. Then there’s the fact that I still need to help my friend get to the NCR to find her family. I just don’t have a clue how I’m going to do any of that.”

“You know, having a whole bunch of random objectives like that, mixed in with the fact that you’re stuck in the middle of territory you’re unfamiliar with, while still being wet-behind-the-ears in terms of fighting skill…I can think of just one thing you’d need to help you out with all of that.”

My ears perked up and I felt a strange sense of concern ebbing up in me as I asked, “Yeah, what’s that?”

“You, Longwalk, are in need of a PipBuck.”

----------
Footnote:

Level up!

Perk Added – Toughness: Seems that getting horribly injured on a regular basis has had the side affect of toughening up your hide, that or you're just getting used to pain. Ain't that a cheery thought? Either way, you got +3 to DT.

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