• Published 25th Jan 2018
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XCOM: Ranger - Wanderer D

Sunset Shimmer escapes Equestria... with unforeseen consequences.

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Chapter 89: Skirmisher


Chapter 89: Skirmisher

By Wanderer D

The Skyranger flew into view of the Skirmisher main camp. Like the Reapers, they had very few "static" bases, but the main camp itself, where Betos was, didn't stay put ever since before Sunset had even met them. It was sort of a wandering base that would attach itself to another camp for a period of time, providing additional training, new orders, and generally speaking, promoting that sense of a large family, rather than just cells of a faction. This time around, the Avenger had to fly over to South America to find them.

"Whatever happens," Sunset said, "don't interrupt."

"Why?" Jane asked, leaning forward. "What's going to happen?"

The others leaned forward, and even Twilight looked up, betraying her interest. There were many questions Sunset had for her, but this wasn't the time.

"Responsibility is…well, even though I kept in contact I was still exiled from the Skirmishers, and now… well, with what happened..." Sunset said.

"Need I remind you that you are an officer of XCOM, not the Skirmishers?" Chrysalis asked. Given the building of relationships was integral for XCOM's plan to succeed, she had felt it necessary to accompany Sunset and Bradford to the Skirmisher base. "If you're going to be executed, that might be something to bring up."

Sunset let out a small chuckle. "I know… I was a Skirmisher only—" she cut herself, sighing as she looked down at the helmet, still in her hands. "I was never really a Skirmisher, but I was as close to one as a non-ex-ADVENT could be. And even though I was exiled… it wasn't… bad. I mean, it wasn't like I wasn't welcome back, exactly… and Betos trusted me…" She shook her head.

"After Mox came with us, I was sort of… unofficially reinstated." She sighed. "He was my responsibility… I—" she closed her eyes, taking deep breaths, "Mox and I… before I left the Skirmishers, I promised him I'd be someone he would be proud to follow, one day…" She sighed. "So much for my promises."

"So… what do you expect to happen?" Bradford asked.

"I can't say… I'm not entirely sure, but Beto's actions when we arrive will decide my standing with the Skirmishers… depending on that, I might have to just… wait in the Skyranger."

The others exchanged looks, but before more questions could be asked, Rainbow Dash called out, "Approaching landing zone! We have a welcoming committee!"

It was true. As they landed and the hatch opened with the ramp lowering down, they could see a small group of Skirmishers, led by Betos herself, waiting for them at the base.

The Commander and Bradford were the first ones out, greeting Betos rather formally, before moving to the side. Twilight, Jane, Laetitia and Angel walked (or slithered) over to the side until only Sunset was left behind at the top of the ramp.

Sunset took a deep breath, attaching Mox's helmet to her belt once more, she slowly made her way down and stood in front of Betos, looking up at the Skirmisher leader.

Tala and Gorak were behind their leader, along with two more Skirmishers she didn't recognize, who looked a bit confused at what was going on. She knew that they were aware of customs, but they were probably more recent additions to the Skirmisher cause. Which meant that it was up to Betos alone, unless the other two spoke up.

Tala gave her a steady look for a few seconds then turned around, and Sunset tried not to show her dismay. Gorack remained impassive, but thankfully didn't turn away, giving Sunset a bit of hope.

Betos punched her. Hard.

Even though Sunset had been somewhat expecting it as an outcome, the Skirmisher leader had waited for the exact moment when Sunset was least expecting it to happen.

Sunset's vision swam, she saw black and stars for a moment, and the next, she was just registering pain not only on her lower jaw, but on her butt, after she had landed rather heavily on it.

She shook her head, caching a glimpse of Chrysalis impassively stretching her arm across in front of Bradford, who seemed like he was about to charge in. Laetitia had a hand on Jane's shoulder, Angel was hissing angrily, and Twilight's eyes were wide, her hands covering her mouth in shock.

Sunset could taste blood, but she didn't wipe her mouth, instead looking up at Betos.

"Stand up, Sunset Shimmer," Betos ordered.

Easier said than done. Betos packed quite the punch.

Sunset slowly pushed herself off the floor, standing a bit shakily, but with recuperating balance until she stood straight. She still didn't wipe the blood off her lips, simply matching eyes with the Skirmisher leader.

"I see you have Mox's helmet."

"He died free," Sunset said, "But he still has a mission to see through."

Betos nodded. Behind her, Tala turned—not fully to face her—but she wasn't showing her back to Sunset anymore, and Gorack stood straighter.

"Spoken like a true Skirmisher, Sunset Shimmer," Betos said, "Make sure you don't disappoint him."

Truth be told, Sunset already felt like she had. "I'll do my best to honor him."

"Then I welcome you back as one of us," Betos placed her hand on Sunset's shoulder and nodded. "Now, come," she added, looking over at the rest of the XCOM delegation, who had waited awkwardly to the side. "We have some things to discuss, and the proper rites to send Mox off."

With that stated, the group of Skirmishers turned around and walked away, presumably expecting XCOM to go with them.

As the rest followed into the camp, Jane glanced at Sunset. "Are you okay? That looked like it hurt."

"What was that about?" Bradford asked, and it was clear the others were also curious. "When that one Skirmisher turned around you went white as a sheet, but you seemed almost happy to have been slugged right in the jaw."

Sunset grimaced. "Tala turning around… meant that she sees me as either dead to them, or unworthy. When Skirmishers are freed, it's like a rebirth of sorts, just like a lot of things they do are symbolic. Being punched means that you exist. Being ignored by your brothers and sisters is basically the highest dishonor for a Skirmisher.

"Even though I'm not really a Skirmisher… if Betos had ignored me… I would have left and I would have never been welcomed back again. If she had spoken to me and just acknowledged me that way, that would have meant that they considered me a friend or a known entity, like you guys."

"So… punching you was a good thing?" Laetitia asked. "I must take note. For future reference in cultural exchanges, of course."

"Punching me was also symbolic, as were her orders," Sunset said, rubbing her chin a little and rolling her eyes. "It's complicated to explain as individual instances, but the combination of the two was something only Skirmishers would get." She smiled a little. "I'll never really be one of them, of course… for obvious reasons, and as an XCOM agent and a Ranger, I'm more of a member of a clan, rather than a full-fledged Skirmisher..." she rubbed the back of her head. "I'm sorry, I know it's not making much sense."

"So, you could say you're family to them even if you're not really?" Jane asked.

Sunset sort of nodded. "Yeah. I'm like the one lawyer in a family of doctors."

"That's an odd comparison," Chrysalis said, "but it'll do. Do you have any additional duties now that you're back here?"

Sunset cleared her throat. "At this time, only helping with Mox's rites. It's fairly quick, Commander, after that? Since I'm under your command, my duties will remain the same as always."

"No additional shows of loyalty needed?"

Sunset shook her head. "No, ma'am."

"You will inform me of any changes that might occur, I would expect."

Sunset looked at Chrysalis straight in the eye. "My loyalty to XCOM and Earth won't waver, commander. If anything—" She glanced around the camp, recalling how much she had hated parts of her life at the beginning, and slowly grown to like it. "...if anything, it's only been made stronger."

Chrysalis nodded.

Behind them, Twilight gave Sunset a confused look.

"So you succeeded," Betos said later, sitting across the table in her tent. On it, were Mox's helmet and Sunset's destroyed grappling hook.

Across from her, Bradford, Chrysalis, the Reaper and Sunset sat on top of tanned animal skins and carpets.

"That is correct," Chrysalis said. "Sunset's mission has revealed the location of the Assassin's base. We are currently working on updating some of our equipment and preparing the team that will infiltrate the base, and eliminate the Assassin once and for all."

Betos nodded. "We will finally be free of one of the Elder's oppressors," she smirked. "The Assassin has cost us much." She looked at the Reaper, judging her body language. "As for you, Reaper… you can inform Volk that we will honor our alliance. Our territories are open to Reapers and our safe houses are yours. And when the time comes to fight, we will be at your side."

The Reaper nodded, "Volk will be informed."

Betos turned to Bradford and Chrysalis. "Then, if you would allow me some words with my fellow Skirmisher first, we shall proceed with the ceremony… and the hunt."

Once the XCOM group had left, Betos focused on Sunset. The girl looked exhausted, and guilty. It was an unusual sight, as Skirmishers being ADVENT-bred (except for the one exception across from her), kept such emotions hidden deep within so well it was nigh-impossible to tell until they completely broke down.

Still, it would be seen as a sign of weakness otherwise, although Sunset being human… well. In the end, she had invited Sunset back, and she would be treated as one of them.

"Sunset," Betos spoke up, "before your mission, Mox spoke highly of you, it is thanks to him that you are welcome back among us. He said that you were different, and that you were struggling to free yourself of shackles of your own. We can do no less than offer this chance to you, and I will honor Mox's request, but I must know… have you really changed?"

Sunset visibly struggled to say something, before sighing and pulling a folded paper out of her breast pocket. She studied it for a bit, a look of deep regret crossing her face before she handed it to Betos.

She took the proffered piece of paper, reading the words written in blood, then simply looked up at Sunset.

If she was honest with herself, no higher endorsement could be ever presented. She recognized it for what it was: an order from Mox to himself, while under Sunset's command. Loyalty like that was not inspired—could not be obtained, from someone like Mox—by someone unworthy.

But she still wanted to know what Sunset thought.

"I don't know how much I have changed, if at all," Sunset said eventually, still looking pensive. "All I know, is that I have to live up to that." She looked at the piece of paper, and Betos could tell from that look, that Sunset had changed, after all.

The human sighed and spoke again, "I don't think I'll ever be worth his sacrifice… but even if it kills me, I'll make sure that we take down Aria—the Assassin. It's… the least I owe Mox."

Betos nodded. "Hold your head high with pride befitting a warrior, Sunset Shimmer, for I share Mox's trust in you. I am glad to welcome you back among us… although the cost was very high."

She considered her options, glancing down at Sunset's destroyed grappling hook. It was one of the simpler models, but it was clear that it had meant a lot to Sunset herself, as the few pieces that remained intact were clean, oiled and obviously meticulously maintained.

She then looked at the helmet on the table, belonging to a dear friend. Mox had helped shape the Skirmishers into something better than she could have done on her own, and she owed much to him too. She had lost a brother, but so had Sunset, and knowing Mox…

She stood, walking over to where her friend lay, cold and motionless on top of a stretcher provided by XCOM.

She then unsecured and slid off his grappling hook, bring it over to Sunset, who stared at the device before looking back to her.

"Knowing Mox," Betos said, offering the device to Sunset, "he wouldn't be satisfied with just one more battle. If you truly want to honor him, you'll have him accompany you for the rest of the war."

Sunset seemed almost overwhelmed as she took it in her hands.

"Mox also told me one thing, in confidence," Betos said, "He said although you didn't look it, you were also an alien. You were also alone and looking for a home. It explains a lot of things about you, Sunset Shimmer, but it also makes your more similar to us than we ever thought. So be proud, and be strong… sister."

It hadn't taken long to set everything up, and it hadn't been lost on anyone that Sunset had a new piece of armor added to her own, nor the Skirmisher decal on the shoulder opposite Celestia's cutie mark.

When she had shown up to help build the pyre, Gorack had punched her shoulder in a friendly manner, nodding in approval. Elena had commented on it and Angel had simply given her a reptilian smile.

But eventually, the moment came.

The pyre was lit.

In front of it, all the Skirmishers not currently on guard and their guests, watched Mox's body burn, and when the flames were all-consuming, Betos stepped up, guiding Sunset in front of all and faced them, and nodded to Sunset, who took a deep breath.

"My brothers and sisters!" she called out, proud and loud enough for everyone to hear. She was one of them now, and Mox wouldn't be honored with any less than the pride and honor he deserved. "Today, one of us leaves this world. Pratal Mox was not only a warrior and friend, but a free man, having broken the shackles of ADVENT's control, and fighting to liberate others. He was a warrior of unquestionable courage and honor, and this world is less without him.

"He welcomed me, taught me, and later fought alongside me. He saved my life, more than once. Mox was an inspiration, and he lived well, and he died free." She placed her hand on the helmet hanging on her hip. "Although he leaves us, he still has a mission to see through, and it will be my honor to see it happen… Mox's sacrifice is not in vain. His death has paved the way to destroy one of our most resilient and dangerous opponents.

"I will personally make sure that Mox's wrath falls upon our enemies like the fist of an angry god. This, I promise. Vox Tala For Ten!"

The Skirmishers bumped their fists to their chest in a formal salute. "Vox Tala For Ten!"

Sunset turned around, facing the pyre and silently wished her friend a final goodbye.

o.0.o End Chapter 89 o.0.o

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