• Published 29th Jun 2012
  • 3,205 Views, 375 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - Wasteland Bouquet - Cascadejackal

There's a lot of stories in the Equestrian Wasteland, and they all need to be told.

  • ...

Chapter 11: Cradle to Grave

---CHAPTER 11: Cradle to Grave---

“ We can always find a way to fix that hole in the roof. But if you don't come back, we'll never be able to fix the hole in our hearts.”


A young filly hums to herself as she stands on the porch of her house, eyes closed to better enjoy the gentle wind that blows through across her face.

She doesn't know the name of the tune she's humming, or the words, only that her mother always smiles while singing it. For a moment, the filly wonders if she should go back inside and ask her mother to teach her the song properly, but her young mind quickly sets the idea aside in favor of spending the morning playing.

As she opens her bright blue eyes and steps lightly off the porch, she hears her mother call out from the kitchen window, telling her to be careful. The filly giggles; she's always careful.

"Yes mama!"

With that, she skips off into the large field behind her house, a place of dreams and magic, wondering what game she could play today.

Perhaps she'll be a famous explorer, charting untold lands and travelling all over the world.

Maybe she'll be a famous singer, making ponies everywhere smile with her songs.

With a little squeal, the filly realises the perfect thing to do, and skips to her favorite place in the field.

To those innocent eyes, the field is a wonderland of infinite majesty. The earth is a deep, luscious brown, full of life. The grass is emerald green, strong and healthy in the golden sunlight that filters through the beautiful silver clouds above. Every breath of wind carries with it whispers of a world she's never known, waiting just beyond the house and field that have been her home, her world, since the day she was born.

Her young heart soars as she dances in the warm morning air, skipping and spinning to a song only she can hear, until she reaches her rock. A boulder at the far end of her field, it is so large she has to jump to get on top of it.

The rock has been her castle, her fortress, her stage and her mountain. Her father places cans and pieces of wood on it as targets when he gives her shooting lessons. The ancient piece of stone is her playmate and her oldest friend, almost as reliable and comforting as her parents, and she stretches out on it, basking like a lizard as the cool surface slowly drinks in the rising heat of the day.

Her cyan eyes take in her field, coming to focus on her house. The old wooden structure, repaired and maintained by her parents, is the grandest thing she's ever seen. She knows every inch of it, from the creaky floorboard on the porch, to the loose panel under her bedroom window, where the little spider lives.

The house is ancient and showing its age in places, but to the filly, it is the only place she can imagine calling home. She smiles and rolls onto her back, exposing her soft white underside to the sky, but doesn't look away from the building. She thinks about the comforting smell of the living room, where she so often falls asleep, curled up in front of the fireplace with her parents. Her mouth waters at the thought of the clean old kitchen and how her mother might, even now, be preparing lunch.

The filly shakes her head and rolls over again, standing up with a determined look on her young face. It is still morning, and she has to play before she can eat lunch.

She looks around, peering into the tall grass beside her rock, searching for a stick she remembers seeing yesterday. With a yell of delight, she spots it, using her magic to wrap it in a white glow, pulling the length of wood up to her before letting out a battlecry and leaping from the ramparts of her castle heroically, determined to protect Canterlot from the evil invaders.

The battle goes on for hours and countless evil beasts are vanquished by her mystical sword as it flashes back and forth, gripped by her mighty magic. The fearless warrior queen leads her valiant ponies against the enemy, driving them back as Princess Celestia and Princess Luna look on in awe at the crimson maned hero.

Finally, the battle is done, and the brave warrior kneels before the princesses, smiling graciously as they promise her anything she desires. She thinks for a moment and opens her mouth to speak, but a voice breaks into her concentration.

He mother is calling her in for lunch.

The little filly giggles and leaps down from her rock, leaving her stick leaning against it, all thoughts of heroic battles and princesses forgotten without hesitation. Her mother is calling, and that is much more important than playing.

With her tummy rumbling, the filly sprints across her field towards her house, leaping into her father's waiting hooves on the porch and laughing as he hugs her tightly, asking what she'd been doing.

"I was being a knight, just like in my books!"

She beams as her father ruffles her mane with his hoof, chuckling, and takes her inside. She can smell something delicious being cooked, and the clink of plates makes her ears twitch with anticipation.

Throughout the meal, the kitchen is filled with the sound of laughter, as always. The filly is careful to mind her manners, just like her mother has always taught her. Her parents talk and joke, their happiness even more wonderful to her than the delicious meal her mother prepared.

The filly savors every last bite of her lunch, and looks up at her father with big, shining eyes when she's finished.

"Papa, can I please go play now?"

Her father nods, and then gives her some news that makes her ears stand up straight, her eyes growing wide with pleasure.

Her big sister will arrive tomorrow.

A squeal of delight echoes through the house as the filly runs to her room and starts tidying it. She loves her big sister, and it wouldn't do to have her favorite pony see her room in such a mess.

"Big sister is coming, Mister Chicken! We have to get everything ready!"

She quickly finds her stuffed griffin, a ragged little thing her mother made for her years ago, and grabs the threadbare toy in her mouth, carrying it as she hums happily and trots back and forth, cleaning. Books are returned to their rightful places, organized by some mad system the filly reinvents on an almost daily basis. Magazines are stacked at the end of her bed, where she can reach them easily at night. Her collection of pretty stones, gathered from all across the wide world of her field, is straightened and dusted.

The filly finishes cleaning and smiles, setting her toy down on her bed in a place of honor. "All done, Mister Chicken! Big sister will be so proud!" The toy doesn't answer, and she doesn't expect it to. With a giggle, she pokes it with her hoof, knocking it over. "You worked hard, Mister Chicken! You should take a nap!"

Finally, she remembers that she was meant to be playing, and realises she didn't have to clean up so early in the day. Reasoning that it was better to be done cleaning now and be able to play more later, and that her mother would be proud of her for doing such a good job, she giggles and runs out of her room, heading once more for her field.

For hours, the young filly plays. Her joyous laughter rings out across the heavenly field as she darts back and forth, playing explorers, knights, and all the games her innocent young mind can conjure into being. The greatest magic in the world is that of a child at play, where all the world is hers to shape, and her pure heart is full to bursting with that immeasurable magic.

In time, her father calls for her to come in, as it's time for her bath. She waves goodnight to the setting sun, knowing that even Celestia needs her naptime, and happily trots towards her house, pausing for just a moment to watch the fireflies that dance in the cooling air.

The filly tells her mother all about the day she had and all the adventures she went on, her eyes shut tight as the soap is washed from her face. As her coat is dried with a soft, fluffy towel, she describes an enormous, pretty beetle with a shiny shell that had buzzed at her and flown out of the field, past where she was allowed to go. She trots beside her mother, the most beautiful unicorn in the world, as they go into the living room, where her father is waiting in front of a roaring fireplace. She laughs and launches herself at the earth pony stallion, burying her small face in his big, strong neck. Her mother sits beside them and the family falls into comforting routine, lit by the dancing flames that seem almost alive.

The filly hums along with her mother, the same song she had been humming that morning. Her father reads to her from a large book of fairy tales, and every princess or hero looks just like his darling daughter. Her bright blue eyes begin to close as she yawns, and her parents smile lovingly at each other, knowing that, for the filly, sleep is not far off.

Suddenly, her eyes shoot open, wide with fear. "Papa, bad ponies are coming."

Her father asks her if she's sure, and she nods. "They're coming here... They're really angry, Papa. I'm scared." The large stallion, a comforting presence that promises safety simply by being there, kisses her horn, telling her not to be scared, that he'll protect her. He nods to his wife, and the beautiful unicorn lifts her daughter with her magic, carrying the filly to her bedroom as the stallion puts out the fire and starts extinguishing all the lights in the house, one by one.

The filly scurries under her bed to hide, just like her mother tells her to. "Mama... Be careful... Please?" She peeks out from behind a stack of magazines, her bright blue eyes brimming with tears. Her mother smiles softly and floats the stuffed griffin from its place on the pillows and into her daughter's waiting hooves, before giving the young filly a kiss on the forehead, telling her everything will be okay, and that she should stay hidden until it's safe, like a good little pony.

She watches her mother turn out the light in her room and leave, closing the door behind her, and listens to her hoofsteps going down the hall as she slides further under the bed, clutching her toy and sheltering behind her magazines.

"It's okay, Mister Chicken. Mama and Papa will be fine, you'll see."

The toy is silent, as always, and she gives it an extra tight squeeze, to make sure it isn't too frightened. Not because she's afraid, because that would be silly... Silently, she admits to her toy that maybe, just maybe, she's a little scared too... But that's okay, because everypony is scared sometimes... right? Even Mama and Papa.

Her parents are nervous, and she knows it. The same way she knows the bad ponies are coming for the house, and that they're all really angry. It's not something she can explain, but she's always been able to sense other ponies. Her parents understand it, and trust her without hesitation. This isn't the first time she's warned her parents about bad ponies nearby, but it's the first time the bad ponies have been coming to the house.

The little filly flinches as she hears the familiar crack of her father's old hunting rifle, the one she's been learning to use for so long. One of the bad ponies falls, screaming in pain, and the filly rubs her chest, the distant, phantom pain mildly distracting. "See, Mister Chicken? Papa will protect us." Another gunshot, and the hurt pony fades from existence. The filly blinks in surprise; it felt... funny... when the bad pony died... But not haha funny...

More gunshots ring out in the night air, both from her father and the bad ponies. The house is good cover, and the proud, strong stallion fires from a window, doing everything he can to protect his family, but he is only one pony. The bad ponies have to cross her flat, open field, but there are lots of them, and they all have guns.

The stallion takes a hit and goes down, his gun sliding under a cupboard, the little filly choking back a scream as she feels his pain. Her mother rushes over to stop the bleeding, pouring a healing potion into the wound even as the first bad pony breaks down the door and charges into the house, snarling like an animal as he slams into the beautiful, fragile unicorn mare, pinning her to the ground. The next pony to violate the sanctity of her home smashes a sledgehammer into her fathers side as he tries to stand, breaking ribs and knocking him to the ground. More bad ponies come in and they gather in the living room where, just minutes ago, the filly had almost dozed off in front of the fireplace with her parents.

She feels their rage, their blind need to hurt, as they stomp on her father and stab him. Their leader approaches her mother, the delicate mare coughing and groaning in pain. The filly is confused. She can't understand why the bad pony is so interested in her mother or what he wants, her young mind unable to comprehend the horrible, alien desires of this monster from the wasteland...

As two of the bad ponies pin her down and spread her hind legs, her mother starts to struggle, only to struck across the face with a jagged chunk of wood, dazing her and ripping deep marks in the soft skin of her face. The little filly gags, and hugs her toy closer, trying not to scream or throw up. Her mother is worried about her, and the filly won't do anything to let the bad ponies know she's there. She'll stay hidden under her bed, nice and quiet, like a good pony.

The leader of the bad ponies presses his hoof against the back of her mothers head and lowers himself against her. The filly struggles to understand what he's doing. Her father does something like this with her mother sometimes, but it's because he loves her mother, and they both like it. The bad pony doesn't love her mother, and her mother is frightened, screaming and struggling to get free, to get away from the horrible pony that is pressing against her.

The bad pony thrusts, tearing into her mother, and the filly feels something in her mind shatter, biting down on her lip until she can taste blood. She feels her mother crying at the invasion, the violation of body and soul, and squeezes her toy tightly. Another bad pony hits the mare with the wood again, telling her to scream louder. Her father tries to crawl to her mother, but the bad ponies start kicking and beating him, forcing him to watch as his wife is raped over and over again, by the entire gang. They torture him until he dies and then torture his wife, even as they continue to rape her. Even the mare's death does not slake their animal lust and her cooling corpse is violated, new holes cut for their sick pleasures.

Through it all, the filly stays under her bed, frozen, her young mind shattered. Pain and pleasure are warped, twisted, one corrupting the other in irreconcilable ways. She cannot feel hate, though she knows it would be okay to hate the bad ponies. She cannot feel much at all, now, just a deep, hollow emptiness, like there is an endless hole inside of her, where happiness used to be.

By some miracle, the bad ponies don't search the house, too busy with their foul, twisted desires to engage in petty theft or vandalism. For hours, they destroy everything the filly had ever held dear, and it is almost dawn when they leave, throwing burning bottles into the house behind them, running off and howling like the vile, diseased beasts they are.

The filly remains under her bed, unable to move, her mind completely broken.

Mama is gone.

Papa is gone.

She has never felt alone before, never felt anger, or fear, or doubt. Now, she cannot feel at all.

Her mother told her to stay under the bed, and that's what she'll do. If she's a good pony, then her mother will come and get her, right? Everything will be okay if she's a good pony, right?


The filly shakes her head, wondering where the voice came from.

"Get up. It's not safe."

The voice is in the back of her mind. She blinks, unsure of what to do.

"Crawl out from under the bed. The bad ponies are gone, but the house is on fire, and it isn't safe to stay here. Bring Mister Chicken."

Blinking, the filly grabs her toy in her mouth and crawls out from her hiding place, standing and giving herself a shake, waiting for the voice to tell her what to do.

"Good girl. Now, go to the living room."

Still clutching her beloved toy griffin, the filly pushes open the door to her room and walks down the hall. She really doesn't want to go into the living room, but the voice seems to care about her, and her mother always said she should listen to ponies that cared about her.

She pauses in the doorway, young mind struggling to process the horrific scene before her. Blood covers every surface, her parents life splattered like so much paint, fire slowly creeping up the front wall, towards the ceiling. Slowly, one hoof at a time, the filly approaches the mutilated, violated bodies she can barely recognise as her family. She hesitates upon seeing her mothers once beautiful face, now slashed and broken. Some small part of her mind remembers reading that you should close somepony's eyes when they die, but her mother doesn't even have eyes any more...

"It's okay. It's the thought that counts."

Nodding, the filly extends her hoof and closes her mothers eyes, hiding the gouged-out sockets from the world, and then does the same for her father. She decides the voice must be good, because it tells her to do nice things, and that she'll listen to it from now on.

"You're a good pony, you know. Now, go over to the cupboard, and get your papa's gun. You'll need it."

The filly sets her toy down in a clear spot on the floor, one free of blood or other fluids, and looks under the cupboard. Sure enough, she can see the familiar old gun, and she reaches for it. It doesn't occur to her that she could use her magic, but with a little stretching, she manages to catch the stock with her hoof and drag it out, setting it beside her toy.

"Well done. You should go and get your mama's saddlebags, as well. Be quick, though. The fire is starting to spread."

With a nod, the filly darts back down the hallway, to her parents room. She knows where her mother keeps her saddlebags and goes to slip them on, but hesitates upon seeing her father's old duster. The voice never said anything about taking it, but she always loved the old coat... She grabs it in her teeth and puts it on, the old leather garment far too big for her, but it is in no danger of falling off as she tightens the straps of the saddlebags around her middle. She is starting to sweat, and has to run back to the living room. The front wall, with the only door in or out of the house, is completely ablaze. She grabs her doll and tucks it safely into her bags, then sticks the old gun through the straps before trying to get to the door. It's useless, the flames forming an impenetrable barrier.

"Break the window. It's the only way."

The filly blinks, confused. That's not something a good pony would do. "But only bad ponies break things... I'll get in trouble."

"Wouldn't it upset your parents more if you got hurt? You can say sorry after, but it's very important that you stay safe."

The filly thinks about it for a moment, then nods. "Okay..." She trots over to the window at the back of the room, coughing a little. Her young lungs aren't used to so much smoke, and sweat is pouring down her face. "I... I guess I can break it..."

"Good girl, but there isn't much time. Hurry."

She takes a few steps back and charges, jumping at the last second, curling up as she hits the window and goes through it, shards of broken glass bouncing off of the well-worn duster. She hits the ground hard, rolling a few times before climbing, unsteady, to her hooves, and turning to look back at her house. It's become an inferno, the sudden rush of air through the broken window fueling the blaze. Flames leap and roar like demons from her scariest books and a pitch black column of smoke rises into the air, reaching for the low, dark, suffocating clouds. Something inside the filly feels like crying, but she has no tears. Her soul is broken, dead and dry like some forgotten desert, all emotion locked away tightly and hidden from the world.

"You're safe, but there's one more thing you need to do."

The filly simply blinks, waiting for the voice to tell her what to do. Her eyes widen a little when she hears her next task, though. Not from surprise, but simply because it is so unexpected.

"You need to find the bad ponies, and kill them all."

"B-but... Only bad ponies kill... I want to be a good pony..."

"Good ponies protect other ponies as well. If you let the bad ponies leave, they'll hurt so many, and it will all be your fault. That will make you a very bad pony, because you could have stopped them. Do you want to be a very bad pony?"

"N-no... I'll be a good pony and kill them... But only because they're bad ponies, okay? Not for revenge, because that's not for good ponies, and I don't want to hurt them too much if I can help it...

"Only because they're bad ponies, and not for revenge. I promise. I'll even show you how to kill so it won't hurt them too much. Now, they went across your field, so that's the way you should go, but be careful. Alright?"

She nods. "Alright."

The filly sets out across her field, the house she was born and raised in slowly collapsing behind her, sparks from the ravenous blaze fading into the night like so many tiny lives cut short. Her hooves, stained with the blood of her family, pick a familiar path through the sparse and dry grass that fills the field. The earth underhoof is a sickly brown, hard packed and rough, still showing scars from the radiation that once bathed this area and promising little life to even the hardiest of plants.

Her eyes have lost their innocent shine, the once-vibrant blue a dull, muted grey. She no longer sees things through the eyes of a child, or even as most ponies would. Her gaze is clear, and she can see only the truth of the world. The pain, the suffering, the innocence and the sin. She passes no judgement, but simply accepts. This is the real world, one she should never have had to know, and one in which she will live from this moment forth.

As she passes her rock, the rough old boulder that had so often brought her joy, she brushes up against it one last time. Unseen by her, something falls from her bag and lands beside the large stone, watching with mismatched button eyes as she walks away, oblivious to the loss of her old companion. Some would say the stuffed griffin looked sad, or that it may have shed a tear, but the toy simply lay there, waiting loyally for its owner to return.


The dark clouds hang like a burial shroud over the wasteland, no moonlight piercing them to grace the decaying world with its silver beauty, leaving only a darkness as cold and black as the hearts of ponykind.

Still, the little filly trudges on through the unfamiliar land, following the vague sensations of blind rage and base desires that spread outwards from her prey like a sickening haze, one only she can perceive.

Her mind is clear and focused. She has a purpose, if only for the time being, and fulfilling that purpose will help her be a good pony. The voice had told her so, and she trusts the voice without question, as only the young and vulnerable can.

She walks for almost an hour, yet she does not tire. Her bags and her gun are heavy, but the weight is comforting, familiar, a reminder of better days that she bears without complaint. In time, she draws close to her prey and takes shelter in a small ditch, speaking for the first time since leaving her home.

"Are you still here? What should I do?" Briefly, she wonders if the voice is still with her, but that small doubt is quickly discarded, swept aside by the reassuring voice, warm and friendly.

"I'm here, don't worry. I want you to focus, just a little. One of the bad ponies is sleeping, can you find him?"

The filly closes her eyes for a moment, reaching out with her mind and sifting, clumsily, through the twisted, vile cloud of emotions and feelings before her. One by one, she touches each of the foul creatures, nodding when she finds the one at rest.

"Good. Now, leave your things here. They'll be safe, and you can get them after. Do you understand?"

The filly blinks, then nods before undoing the straps on her saddlebags. They are placed to one side, and the old duster is folded neatly on top of them. She leans her rifle against the rest of her belongings but rests her hoof on it, wondering why she can't just use it to make the bad ponies go away.

"The bad ponies will hear you if you do that, and then they'll hurt you. If you do exactly what I say, then I can protect you."

She smiles and takes her hoof from the weapon, waiting for the kind voice to tell her what to do next.

"Good girl. Now, I want you to be as quiet as a mouse. Can you do that?"

She nods and crouches low to the ground, playing mousey. The voice chuckles, and it makes her smile again. She likes the voice.

"Very good, little mouse. Just like that. Here is what you need to do next..."

The filly creeps out her ditch, moving behind bushes and rocks, keeping out of sight just like the voice tells her to. She knows when the bad ponies are looking, can feel them as she inches ever closer, but she isn't afraid. When they get too curious or wander too close, something distracts them just long enough for her to slip away. After several long minutes of what she idly labels 'Hide & Seek', the filly comes upon the bad pony she seeks, sound asleep with the blood of her parents still on his face.

"Do you see his knife?"

Her blue-grey eyes wander across the sleeping form, taking in his crude barding and the severed, mummified hooves hanging like grisly trophies from his belt. Spotting the knife, she nods.

"Good. Take it."

She leans over her prey and takes the grip of his knife in her mouth, careful not to make sudden movements or wake the sleeping pony. It tastes unpleasant, like bile and blood, and she grimaces.

"I know it's yucky, but it's only for a little while. Now, you need to kill him, but first... You don't want him to suffer, do you?"

The filly shakes her head. No, she doesn't want to make him suffer, even if he is a bad pony.

"You can take all his pain away, but it won't be fun. Are you sure?"

She nods. Only bad ponies cause pain, but she doesn't say this out loud. The voice had told her to be quiet and, like a good little filly, she does what she's told.

"Do you remember what you did when your big sister hurt her leg? How you took her pain away?"

Another nod.

"Just like that, then. Press the knife under his throat, right there, where it's soft. Now, as you cut, use your magic and take everything away. Don't be gentle, either. Cut nice and deep to make it quick."

The filly does as she is told, biting down on the knife as she lights her horn and slashes. Everything rushes into her at once. The pain of the wound, the rage and hate her victim feels for her, his fear of dying... Everything. It crashes down like a wave, threatening to overwhelm her, but something deep inside shifts, sealing all the bad pony feelings away in a dark and distant corner of her mind, where they can do nothing to harm her. The last thing she feels from her victim is the cold, empty, nothingness of death, and then he is gone. Silently, she says a prayer to the Goddesses, asking them to judge the bad pony fairly.

"You really are a good pony, aren't you?"

She nods. The prayer was something she read once, a long time ago, and it was something good ponies were meant to say.

"Are you ready? You still have to stop the rest of the bad ponies, but you can rest for a moment if you want."

With a shake of her head, the filly steps away from her first kill, the knife still gripped between her teeth. There is no time to rest, not while bad ponies are still nearby.

"Alright, but be careful, and do exactly what I say, just like before."

The filly follows her instructions precisely, hiding until a bad pony comes near enough for her to slip out and cut their throat, her magic taking everything from them, even the desire to move or resist. With each kill, she crawls to a new spot, like a ghost in the night, and begins again. Some see her before they die and their minds are the worst, full of horrific desires and needs aimed at her young, fragile body. For hours, she creeps about, bringing death and taking pain, until all is silent, and only she remains.

"Are you okay?"

The voice breaks into her thoughts, concerned. The filly is shivering, though not from the cold night air. It is from something far deeper. The chill of death, felt with each life stolen, now nestles beside her soul. "I... I'm okay... Just... feel funny..."

"Take a moment and breathe. It's all over now, the bad ponies won't hurt anypony else.

She takes a deep breath and holds it for a moment, then lets it out. She still feels cold inside, but it's bearable. "Am I a good pony now? I stopped the bad ponies, like you said..."

"Yes. You are a very good pony."

"What should I do now?"

"What do you want to do?"

"I... I wanna see mama and papa again... Say sorry for breaking the window..." The voice is soft when it speaks, comforting her.

"Your parents will understand. I'm sure they're happy you're alright."

"So... I should go home?"

"Yes, my little pony. It's safe now, so you should go home and let your parents know you're okay."

Her work complete, the filly collects her things and begins the long walk home. She doesn't look back, or acknowledge the corpses she leaves in her wake. They were bad ponies, and now they are dead, spatters of their blood on her muzzle the only proof they existed at all.


The once proud house is nothing but warm ashes and a few charred timbers, sticking up from the blackened earth. The filly blinks in the early morning light, unsure what she should feel. Her home, her parents, everything she loved, all gone. She thinks she should feel sad, but she is still numb, dead inside. The voice is silent, offering no advice or instructions, and she picks her way through the ashes, leaving little hoofprints behind her, until she reaches the spot she last saw her parents. "Mama... Papa... I'm sorry I broke the window... And... I'm sorry I couldn't help you... But... I made the bad ponies go away... They won't hurt anypony, ever again..."

She recieves no answer, nor does she truly expect one. Her parents are with the goddesses now, and all she can do is be a good pony to make them parents proud. The voice remains silent, and the small filly simply sits there, beside her parents remains, unsure if she really is a good pony or not. Can she truly claim to be good if she has taken a life? Does the reason justify the act, or the end justify the means? The day wears on as she idly ponders such things, the concepts and words half-remembered from her books, until an almost forgotten pony, full of fear for the young filly, intrudes upon her solitude.



The filly is dozing lightly in the back of the wagon, finding what little comfort she can in the nearness of her big sister. The arrival of her aunt and uncle had come as a small surprise, since she had all but forgotten they were meant to arrive yesterday. There had been tears when they learned what had happened, and they had buried her parents, marking the graves with two stones pulled from the wreckage of her house. Afterwards, promises were made, more tears were shed, and the filly had joined what little family she had remaining.

She had even discovered that, at some point in the night, she had gained her cutie mark. It was a twisted, black, heart shape, one that brought her no joy. She could see no meaning in it, and could have continued her life just as easily without it.

A small bump wakes her up, but her big sister lays beside her, the older unicorn warm and soft enough to lull the white-coated filly back to sleep. For some time, she dreams of laying in her warm bed and cuddling Mister Chicken, the precious toy that had gone missing after her escape from the burning house. That ragged little doll had been the last piece of innocent joy in her life and now it was laying somewhere, forgotten and abandoned. The thought of her friend, out there alone, leaves her feeling even more hollow than before. She'd betrayed her best friend. Most ponies would have felt self-pity, and almost certainly would have been depressed, but not the filly. She accepts the loss, her sin, and merely hopes her toy is somewhere safe.

Suddenly, a cacophony of strange emotions and sensations rush into her, mental run-off from what she can only assume is a town, something she has heard of but never seen. The jumbled sensations, so varied and different from her parents, or even the bad ponies, wash over her, crashing and slamming against her psyche as she wakes up, shaking. "So many ponies..."

Her aunt and uncle try to calm her, to help her through something they don't understand, but it is the presence of her sister that makes the real difference, giving her something to focus on, to cling to like a rock in the crashing ocean.

The filly unconciously filters through everything that flows into her, setting it aside much like she had while near the bad ponies, keeping her sense of self from being overcome. There is no conscious decision or effort, and she has no idea of what she is doing. She believes she is simply focusing on her sister to the exclusion of all else, the survival mechanism entirely subconcious and automatic.

Anything coming from the outside world is sealed away, repressed, all the fear, confusion, pleasure, pain, anger, lust and happiness seeping from the town kept at bay, lurking in the dark corners of her mind, a roiling, twisting mass of things she cannot deal with.

Soon, the filly begins the slow process of adjusting to being surrounded by so many other ponies. She stays near her sister as they enter town, refusing to speak, trying to understand the myriad lives she can feel being lived around her. The hours spent wandering the town, with her sister showing her all the neat things there are to do and see, all the strange new ponies there are to meet, open her eyes. The world is impossibly big, and she resolves to ask her sister about this later. Her big sister has lived out here her entire life and if anypony would know how big the world was, then the cream mare was certainly the right one to ask. The question would have to wait until night, though, as the town makes her too uncomfortable to speak.


The filly looks off into the night, tracking something on the very edge of her senses.

"You know they're there, don't you?"

She nods. The voice had been silent for a long time, since before her big sister had arrived, and she hadn't realized how much she missed it.

"They've been following the caravan. They want to hurt your family."

She already knew that, but stays silent. The voice is trying to help her, and she wonders what she should do about the pursuers. If they really want to hurt auntie and uncle and big sister, then she should make them go away... right?

"Are you sure? They haven't done anything yet."

Stretching, she watches the darkness, focused on where the aura of aggression is coming from. It's not the same feral, primal emotion she felt from the first bad ponies, rather, it's a focused, deliberate intent to cause harm. She blinks, taking her time and making up her mind. If she hurts them before they do anything, then she'll be a bad pony. If she lets them hurt her family, then she'll be an even worse pony.

"What are you going to do?"

The voice sounds curious, but doesn't pressure her. She comes to a decision and stands carefully, slipping away from her big sister and the campfire. She'll ask the bad ponies that are following them to leave, and if they don't...

"Such a good pony. They won't just leave, you do know that, don't you?"

She nods. Yes, she knows that, but she's willing to give them the chance. Only bad ponies kill when they don't have to. Her small hooves make very little noise as she picks her way across the dark landscape, heading for the cold, calculating ponies. It doesn't take very long and she pauses upon seeing them, careful not to be seen herself. Four of them. She waits for the voice to tell her what she should do, confident it will keep her safe.

"I can see you're serious about asking them to leave. That one, in the front. He's the leader, so talk to him. He has a knife; it's on his left foreleg. Remember that, since you didn't bring a weapon."

She had left her gun back in the wagon. It was loud, and using it would wake up her family. If her family woke up, they'd have to fight these new bad ponies, and they might get hurt. She didn't want that.

"Excuse me." The filly pipes up, trotting out from her hiding place to stand in front of the leader, a large earth pony with crude armor and steel shoes. She notes that, like the voice said, he has a knife sheathed on his foreleg. "Can you please leave? I don't want you to hurt my family, and I'd really appreciate it if you left us alone." The group laughs and the leader smashes his hoof into her face, knocking her down. She doesn't understand. She'd asked him nicely, like a good pony, but all he wanted to do was hurt her.

"I told you. Now you have to kill them, and you got hurt as well. Big sister is going to be upset with you."

Paying little attention to the voice, yet knowing it is right, she spits out some blood and gets her hooves under her. The pain doesn't bother her at all, nor does the bad ponies laughter. As the leader raises his hoof to strike her again, she staggers forwards and grabs his knife in her teeth, pulling it out and lighting her horn. Seconds later, the bad pony is on the ground, dying. His companions stare in disbelief, but then the filly steps forward, bringing them into range of her magic and draining them of all will to fight or move. Three more cuts, three more deaths, and the chill beside her soul grows ever deeper.

"You're shaking."

She blinks, trying to stop the tremors wracking her small frame. "I feel funny again..."

"You're not used to killing yet, that's all."

The filly starts nosing around the cooling bodies of the bad ponies. That she is looting the dead does not bother her, the only concern that they might have something valuable that her big sister could sell. "Big sister likes buying and selling things, so I'll bring her a present. She'll like that, right?"

"Yes, but be quick. If somepony wakes up and you aren't there, you'll get in trouble. You don't want that, do you?"

She shakes her head and searches faster. She has no idea what is valuable, so she strips the corpses of everything but their barding, filling a bag one of them was carrying before turning to trot back to the camp. As she nears her family, she realises they are awake and trots a little faster. She doesn't want them to get upset with her. She wants them to think she's a good pony for protecting them.


The next few years passed without great incident. The filly became a young mare, discovered the joys of bubblegum, and learned to speak to ponies outside of her family, however reluctantly.

She had convinced her aunt and uncle to let her work as a guard for the family caravan, and passed much of her time either reading quietly, playing with her big sister, or trying to teach her big sister to shoot.

In time, she found herself in a small bar with her big sister, awaiting the return of her aunt and uncle, while savoring the burn of her first ever bottle of whiskey. It reminded her of happy nights with her parents, her papa promising to let her try the drink when she was old enough, and singing along to songs that she was quite sure little fillies weren't meant to hear.

It was also a nice distraction from the griffin blathering on across the table.

"I went straight up, waited in the clouds until they stopped looking." The big griffin, finished with his story, winks one golden eye at the cream unicorn leaning on the table. "My gun was laying back in the tunnel, all shot up, so fighting back would've been kinda hard. I could've dealt with them, I just didn't wanna get my claws dirty."

The white mare snorts, unimpressed. She knows the griffin is exaggerating, and doesn't understand why her sister is so interested. She dislikes males in general, and this one makes her mane itch. At least he wasn't a colt. All colts were the same. All they wanted was to use any female they saw for their own release. The mare knew this for a fact, as she could feel their desire every time they saw her big sister. One of them had even gotten the cream mare drunk and tried to force himself on her. The white mare remembers the feel of his face under her hooves as she beat him senseless. The voice had congratulated her that night, saying she was a good pony for protecting her big sister. It had also felt... Good... Like beating the male had relieved some of the pressure in the back of her mind.

"Oh, so you don't believe me?" The grey griffin grins at the white mare, reaching across the table with his questing claw, trying to touch something the mare considers quite precious.

"Aren't you going to stop him?"

The voice had become a constant companion over the last few years, and the simple question is enough to spark the mare into action. "Pass the booze and I'll tell you about the time I-YEEOW!" She sinks her teeth into his claw with all her might, protecting her bottle of whiskey from the giant Mister Chicken.

"Mine." She glares at the grey griffin as he yanks his claw away, daring him to try again.

Her sister scolds her, but she is too busy trying to comprehend the griffin. She bit him, so he should be angry at her. Instead, he seems... amused. She doesn't like the way he is smiling at her, either. It makes her mane itchy.

She does her best to ignore him, confident that he will be out of her life within a few hours. Her favorite benefit of being part of the caravan, other than being near her sister all the time, is that she doesn't have to get to know anypony. She just stays near her sister, ignores everypony else as much as she can without being impolite, and tries to block out the constant stream of emotional white-noise coming from those around her.

Waving one hoof, she tells her sister they should get going, making a mental note that the griffin has a name and that he should be avoided at all costs, before staggering out of the bar, her bottle of whiskey still gripped in her mouth. While her sister shops for essentials, no doubt sweets or snack cakes, the mare drains the rest of her drink. It burns and leaves her feeling woozy, but she enjoys it nonetheless... Until she has to throw up. That isn't very fun.

Eventually, they make it back to the caravan in one piece, and the white mare flops down in the back of the wagon, trying to ignore the sense of impending doom that draws ever nearer. Her sister makes her drink some water and she appreciates it, the cool liquid clean enough she can swallow it without choking. She'll still take a rad-away later, though. One per day just to be sure, just like papa taught her.

Her mane begins to itch as she feels something approach, a presence that sets her teeth on edge and confuses her. The urge to start hurting things, specifically big grey things that are part lion and part eagle, begins to rise as she lifts her head, hoping against hope that she won't see what she thinks she'll see. "Hey, Lily! Where's your sister?"

With a groan, she flops down again, burying her face in her duster. That frustrating creature has destroyed any hope she had of enjoying the rest of her day, and she is tempted to shoot the overgrown Mister Chicken where he stands. The voice chimes in, and it sounds like it's laughing.

"I think he likes you."


All in all, he wasn't so bad... For a male. The white mare watches the grey griffin fly ahead of the wagon. She knows he is sulking over his poker losses, but she also knows he is less upset than he puts on. For whatever reason, he enjoys being near her, despite his constant losses and the bruises she inflicts every time he touches her. He had taught her to play poker, poker was an easy way to make caps, and caps made her big sister happy, so... His presence was acceptable. That he looks like her foalhood toy, Mister Chicken, also helps her cope with having him nearby. Now, if only he would listen to his mother and stop touching her.

As she opens her new comic, she tries to get her mind off of the griffin. Does the big grey nuisance understand how much she loathes his persistence? She has no idea why he is so dedicated to making her smile or why he keeps trying, even after being thrown out of the wagon repeatedly.

"I told you, he likes you."

The voice was right, of course. Despite their different species, the griffin had quickly become attracted to her. That much was simple, a physical desire she was able to ignore no matter how strongly he felt about her. What was more frustrating, and a large part of her dislike for him, was the other feelings he had developed for her. It was like... like...

"He. Likes. You. Not just wants to have sex with you, but really likes you."

The mare ignores the voice. Why would any sane male be interested in her, when her beautiful, smart, amazing big sister was nearby? The griffin likes the cream mare, but it is merely friendship, with neither one attracted to the other. Then again, she has never seen a sane male, and the griffin is quite different from the colts and stallions she is used to...

Dread creeps down her spine, and she turns to stare at her big sister. The cream unicorn has her face buried in a magazine and is clearly planning something. The intensity behind the younger mare's cold eyes makes her shudder and turn, looking back at her little sister.

"Um, Rose? Can you, y'know, blink? That's creepy." The white mare slowly winks one eye, then the other, deliberately freaking out her big sister. "Quit it. I'm not kidding!"

"Whatever you're planning, Lily, leave me out of it." She turns back to her comic, ignoring the growl her big sister lets out.

"Who said I'm planning anything?"

"You are. And it involves me."

"How did you know? Can you read my mind now?"

"No. You're just easy to understand." The cream mare is mad, and leans over to grab a mouthful of bright red tail before pulling on it. Hard. Lightning shoots up the younger mare's spine, the sharp pain awakening new sensations she has never felt for herself. Trying to block out the alluring mix of pain and pleasure dancing through her body, she turns to glare at her sister. "Lily! D-don't do that!" Her cheeks are burning, the sudden yank making her body surge with needs she would rather not have to deal with. Ever. When the griffin lands in the wagon, it's obvious he's aware of the effect pulling her tail has on her.

Less than a minute later, the grey monstrosity is unconcious and sufficiently bruised to satisfy the white mare, and she keeps her tail to herself for the rest of the journey. Even though the griffin was joking when he offered to pull her tail, she doesn't trust him, or the feelings she gets when she thinks about having him pull it. The voice seem extremely amused by this, and encourages her to be friends with the griffin. She does this in her own way: By beating up the giant Mister Chicken at the slightest provocation. It's the closest she'll come to actually being nice to him, and for some wierd reason he doesn't mind her attacks.
She does like his mother, though. The black and white griffin is nice.


The city rises around the white mare, enormous cathedrals of steel and concrete dedicated to the excess and madness of the prewar world, the streets great ravines filled with ghosts who have forgotten their own names yet wander endlessly, seeking some reminder of who or what they once were, unable to move on or rest. A maddening laughter echoes endlessly, howling and insane, finding perverse fascination in the suffering of the trapped spirits. All of this fails to bother the mare, as she finds it... peaceful. The city is free from the background noise of the living, filled only with the simple emotions of the ghosts. Few have any semblance of self remaining, the untold years wearing them down like wind upon the desert dunes, becoming as hollow as an empty jar. Or the head of a certain grey griffin.

The mare watches with fascination as the shades relive their final days around her, none of the ephemeral remnants able to see her, few more than vague shadows and outlines that are more felt than seen. She wonders why she has never seen such things before, since the wasteland is full of death.

"They aren't here by their own choice. They're trapped."

The voice says no more, and the mare does not press. It sounded disgusted for some reason, and she decides that if it is important to know more, then the voice will tell her when the time is right. She does not wonder why the voice knows so much, content in the belief that her conscience, for that is what she long ago decided the voice is, will always help her do the right thing. As the wagon rolls towards its destination, she begins to relax in the relative silence of the city, hoping it will take at least a few days to find the device they seek.

The mare enjoys her time in the Robronco building, chatting happily with her new friend, Tequila Sunrise, one of the few shades to react to her presence. Her conversation seems to make her family and the griffins nervous, but the white mare is fascinated by what the lovely red & gold maned pony spirit describes. The party she had been planning with her friends, how her niece, an earth pony named Roseluck, looked similar to the white mare, except for being an earth pony instead of a unicorn. Tequila tells the young mare many things, but cannot remember the day she died. When her bracelet is returned, Tequila is very happy, but her words of thanks creep out the cream unicorn for reasons her little sister cannot understand.

The next morning, Tequila Sunrise and all the other spirits trapped within the Robronco building depart, free from the force that had kept them trapped and lost for so long. Their freedom pleases the voice and makes the white mare happy, because she knows she was a good pony and helped them.

The young mare also discovers that she is afraid of both elevators and great heights. Seeing the city spread out before her, like a foals playset, will haunt her dreams for years to come. She appreciates the grey griffin trying to help her overcome that fear, and begrudgingly admits that he is pleasant to have around. Not out loud, though. Only the voice is aware of her admission and it encourages her to get as close as possible to him, and overcome her fear of males. She thinks about it, for all of several seconds, before refusing, at least for the time being.

It is with great reluctance that, with their objective found, she prepares to leave the city. The countless shades watch her go, many having awoken from their endless slumber with the departure of their fellows, but she ignores them, busy trying to fix her big sister's new pipbuck.

Upon their triumphant return to town, she learns about her parent's past, the origin of her name, and that singing dirty songs with her uncle while drunk is very fun. She also learns that, while drunk, she makes some very bad decisions, like beating the grey griffin at poker so badly she owns his contract for six months. The voice points out that she wanted to keep him around anyway, and she agrees it isn't so bad... Because, since she owns him, she can do anything she likes to him.


The next month would live forever in her memory as one of pain, betrayal, and life-destroying decisions. The scars inflicted upon her heart and soul would never truly heal, even when her big sister apologized. Sometimes, saying sorry just isn't enough to fix things completely.


The eye of the mind was shut. The body was only meat.

Near death and emotional trauma stripped her of her magic and memories, but the greatest loss was that of her empathy. The ponies of the wasteland became expressionless dolls with paper faces, like some grand masquerade where nopony was real, fading into nothingness as soon as they left her view. She could feel no connection with those around her, truly alone for the first time in her life. The only constant in her life became the grey griffin, and she latched onto him, desperate for anything real. The voice poked and prodded, driving her closer and closer to him, subtly nudging her to seek not only emotional comfort, but physical comfort as well.

In time, her need won out over her fear and in the depths of Stable 77, she allowed the griffin, now the only one she could remember caring for, to touch her. That single moment of pleasure, of vulnerability, of unbearable ecstasy, lit a fire within her, a hunger to know more of what he could offer. Her fear began to grow as well, her dreams becoming nightmares where, once again, she lost Mister Chicken, but this time it was not her toy that went missing, but her... her boyfried, as the voice called him... that left her. The fear battled with her new-found need, and she couldn't bring herself to be so vulnerable again.

The griffin, now her boyfriend, did not push her. He seemed to understand, but she couldn't be sure, only hoping he did.

Soon, yet another nightmare would enter her mind: The death of her griffin. An attack by raiders drove home just how much she needed him, and all it took was a missile to do it. The voice encouraged her to kill, to destroy those who would take everything from her, and she did so, enjoying every moment of the slaughter despite the fear she had just lost the one being she could remember caring for.

The discovery that he was alive was a relief, and through the haze of pain and adrenaline she had dragged him to a safe place and treated his wounds with what little medical knowledge she had before standing guard, determined to protect him. Blood loss and sleep deprivation took their toll, however, and she only discovered the loss of her voice when the griffin awoke. It didn't matter much, though. As long as he was nearby she was happy and when he braided his feather into her mane, her heart began to soar. That simple token became a reminder, not only that he was near, but that he truly loved her, that there was something real in her life.

Perhaps, she mused, her special talent was boxing. She certainly enjoyed it. The thud of hoof against flesh, the feeling of her body being pushed to the limit. Every bout seemed to lessen the pressure in the back of her mind, and the pain that washed over her was almost as enjoyable as Stable 77. The voice seemed happy, cheering her on, encouraging her to sink deeper into the bloodlust and battlerage, and she did so gladly. The ring had become a sacred place to her, where nothing mattered but the fight, where blood and sweat cast rainbows beneath the burning lights and the roar of the crowd surged against her with almost physical force.

And then, she died.


Two unicorn mares stand beside a fresh grave. They could almost be twins, and would seem so at first glance, but then the differences become apparent. The smaller of the two has cold, grey eyes, her expression nuetral and unreadable. Her mane is a dark red, her coat off-white. The other is tall and regal, slender and graceful, her eyes a burning blue, her intense gaze seeming to mock the world. Her mane is longer, a deep, vibrant red that seems wet, as though dyed with fresh blood. Her coat is purest white, something that seems out of place against the wasteland.

"Well now, this was unexpected." The taller mare speaks, her voice familiar and comforting. The smaller, normal sized mare turns to her in surprise, cocking her head.

"I know you..."

Blue-Eyes smiles warmly at Grey-Eyes. "Of course you do. We've been together for so long, I'd be surprised if you didn't."

"That's right, you're my conscience." Grey-Eyes frowns when Blue-Eyes chuckles. "What's so funny?"

"My dear girl, you don't have a conscience."

"But... Everypony has a conscience..."

"Not you, my dear. Think about it, have you ever felt bad for anything you've done?"

Grey-Eyes blinks. "Of course I have. When I've been a bad pony, I feel bad about it."

"Is that because you did something wrong, or because you broke the Good Pony rules?"

"I..." Grey-Eyes has trouble speaking, and Blue-Eyes smiles at her again.

"When you kill, do you feel bad?"


"You enjoy it, don't you?"

"Yes." Grey-Eyes doesn't hesitate. She knows she enjoys killing, she savors the pain she causes to bad ponies. But that's only because good ponies stop bad ponies, even if they have to hurt them to do it.

"And boxing? Would good ponies fight for caps like that?"

"I don't fight for caps."

"Then why do you fight?"

"Because... Because it's fun."

"And would you kill in a boxing match?"



"Because it's against the rules."

"Not because you would feel bad about it?"


Blue-Eyes laughs. "See? You have no conscience at all. If it weren't for your Good Pony rules, you would be worse than any raider, my dear."

Grey-Eyes blinks, then looks at the grave before them. The revelation doesn't bother her much. "Oh... Well, I'm still a good pony, even if I'm dead... I am dead, aren't I?"

"Oh, yes. Quite dead."

"Then... Where are mama and papa? If I'm dead, I'm meant to see them, like in my books..."

"Mmm..." Blue-Eyes stands and begins to circle the grave and her companion. "You're dead, but you're still in your body. You see, I'm going to give you a choice." Grey-Eyes blinks, waiting like a good pony for the taller mare to finish speaking. Blue-Eyes laughs. "Yes, you really are a good pony. Very well, here is your choice. You can move on, rejoin your parents in the afterlife. You can even see the Goddesses, if you want. But, you can never come back, never see Lily or Ibis again. Do you understand?"

Grey-Eyes nods. "And my other choice?"

"I give you one more chance. I can fix just enough to bring you back to life, but it's up to you to keep living and find a doctor. If you manage that, then you get to live your life, with all the pain, all the suffering, and nopony to blame but yourself. But, you get to see Lily and Ibis again. Is that worth it?"

Grey-Eyes nods again. "It's worth it, miss Starfall."

"Starfall?" Blue-Eyes blinks, confused.

"Starfall. Because of your cutie mark." Grey-Eyes points at the taller mare's flank, where the image of a shooting star is outlined in black. Blue-Eyes laughs, a merry, haunting sound.

"Very cute. You can call me Starfall, if you like. Now, any questions before you make your choice?"

"Just one. What's the price?"

"Price, my dear?"

Grey-Eyes blinks and stands, stretching. "There's always a price. That's what happens in my books."

"Oh, no price. You just keep being a good pony, and that's enough for me." Blue-Eyes smiles sweetly. "Of course, I would so enjoy it if you took revenge on all those ponies that hurt you."

"Revenge is for bad ponies."

"Are you sure? It's okay to say no, you know."

"I won't hurt anypony for revenge. If you want to, then you can."

"Oh, very well. I take it you've made your choice, then?"

Grey-Eyes nods. "Yes. I want to see Lily and Ibis again."

"This is going to hurt. Are you ready?" As Grey-Eyes nods, Blue-Eyes raises her hoof and smiles.

"One last thing..."


"Will you still be my conscience?'

Blue-Eyes laughs. "Of course, my dear. I'll never leave you. I promise." She brings her hoof down on the fresh soil of the grave.


Pain. It courses through my ruined body as I claw at the dirt, digging to the surface, lungs screaming for air. Starfall did as she said she would, healing just enough for me to stay alive. Now, it's up to me. My hoof breaks through, and soon the rest of my body follows as I cough and gulp air. Dying hurt. Coming back hurt even more. My vision is blurry as I climb to my hooves and stagger away from my grave, heading for the mass of shapes I can only assume is the town of Little Fillydelphia. It feels like I've been put through a meat grinder, bones and organs ruined, but I ignore the blinding agony, intent on finding a doctor.

I stagger and fall, the sudden motion making something in my chest tear, rolling from the raised graveyard and hitting the barbed wire fence. A loose coil catches my foreleg, but it's just so much meaningless pain. I stand again, feeling the bones in my legs grinding, and start forwards, only to collapse. "Gotta... Find.. Doctor... See Lily... and Ibis..." The world starts to go black, even as I try to drag myself forwards.

"Poor thing. I really shouldn't do this, but go to sleep for a little while, okay? I'll get you someplace safe."

"Thank you... Starfall..." I mumble my thanks, glad that she's still with me. I need my conscience. Without her, I wouldn't know what to do. With that final thought, darkness overtakes me.


The white mare falls to the ground, her grey eyes closing. When they open again, they burn from within, lit by an unnatural blue flame. She stands effortlesly, stretching like there is nothing wrong with her. The open wounds, the broken bones jutting from her flesh, none of it seems to bother her. She giggles. "It's been so long since I had a body, I'd almost forgotten how wonderful it is. I feel so... Powerful! Mmmmmm!"

She archs her back, paying little attention to the sounds of bone grinding against bone or tearing muscles. "Well, I do believe my little Rose said she wouldn't take revenge, but I could." She pauses long enough to wrap the coil of barbed wire tightly around her foreleg, like a piece of jewelery, then trots towards the jumble of buildings before her, humming tunelessly. "And I know just where to start."


A/N: Thanks to KKat, Somber, No-One and Mimezinga for being great inspirations, and making the FoE world a fun place to explore!
Extra thanks to my underpaid part-time prereaders Winter Storm and Midnight Stalker, without whom this chapter would have been severely delayed by my indecision and wandering mind.
All you readers out there, feel free to leave me some feedback. You guys are the reason I write, you know!