• Published 8th Oct 2012
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Fallout Equestria: Viva Las Pegasus - S3rb4n



A story of rise and fall set up in the post-apocalyptic city of New Pegasus

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Chapter 11: Who Wants To Live Forever

Chapter 11: Who Wants To Live Forever

“This is Agent Turner, Equestrian Military Intelligence Service, codename “Tennant”, transmitting in a secure frequency to Army HQ from Neighorleans. This transmission is classified for being viewed only by Intelligence High Command Chief Colonel Forlorn Star.

My Colonel,

Operation Masquerade has been completed by the joint forces of the Ministry of Image and the Army Intelligence. We could say that the operation was a success, taking into account that the entirety of the Gold has been successfully relocated to its final destination. The transport was made without any issues and the whole operative reached extraction point within the specified time frame.

However, there is a matter of concern to national security in the undertaking of Masquerade. The so-called defense system for the Vault complex has suffered... unforeseen consequences. I think I can assure that the Army Intel operative on location didn’t know anything about the Ministry Mare’s direct implication in the operation; and I sincerely hope that High Command was as well unaware of her intentions.

The unfortunate turn of events was motivated by a direct order from Minister Rarity herself, against which both me and Agent Conneighry couldn’t do anything. The original plan for Operation Masquerade implied casting a multi-point cloaking spell in order to efficiently hide the location of the Gold Vault to unwanted eyes. However, the Ministry Mare decided to single-hoovedly alter the plan, by ordering her agents to deploy a city-level binding spell.

As I’m sure you know, those binding spells are meant to tie the soul of the subject to a given location, avoiding it to leave the bound place. Such magic is considered necromantic and its usage has been highly restricted by both the Army and the Government. However, Rarity decided to use her authority to enforce the casting of the spell, so both Conneighry and I had no other choice than to cast an anti-spell for our protection.

The consequences of the spell were disastrous. I don’t know what happened exactly, but the spell swept away all trace of life from the entire city of Neighorleans and its surroundings. The death toll has been greater than that of any of the battles we have fought on this war. If any of this were to come to ears of the public, the image of the Government would suffer a catastrophic blow; putting all our war effort in jeopardy.

I highly encourage High Command to begin the preparations of Operation Atlantis. I know this plan was devised in the event of a zebra takeover of the area, but the risks we’re taking by not covering our mistakes in Neighorleans are far greater than the cost of flooding the city.

May time have mercy on all of us. Turner out.”

It had to be a dream, but it felt so good I didn’t want it to end.

I was sitting in a throne or a big chair of some kind, in the middle of a grandiose room covered in screens that showed maps, charts and flows of numbers. By means of some unknown magic, I kept everything under control with a blink of an eye. With a single thought, I could alter the world around me; deciding who lived and who died; delivering fortune and ruin with a flick of a switch. My power was absolute and unquestionable, and for a minute, I felt the happiness of an accomplished goal.

I knew it couldn’t be real, though. My memory had a blank spot between the Bank of Neighorleans and this situation, but no blackout could have been long enough to prompt such a change of the situation. Once I realized that, the environment I was in didn’t seem as appealing as it did before. Everything looked stale, fake, fabricated; and even my actions appeared to be orchestrated by something different.

I tried to get up and walk around the room, but I found out that I was shackled to the throne and unable to move. The screens had changed and showed images of death and destruction, but of those who I cared about: Rose, Nadyr, Stuka... Their lifeless, maimed bodies flickered from screen to screen, constantly catching my eyes, no matter where I looked at. A message echoed in the room, an ominous, metallic voice that rumbled in the emptiness of the chamber.

“It is all your fault. Their blood is on your hooves.” The voice said.

What had happened? It had to be a dream, but I wasn’t all so sure. The blackout in my mind could have lasted for days or months, and I couldn’t tell what had caused it. Had I been unconscious, or was I suffering some sort of amnesia? Were my hooves indeed stained with the blood of my companions, or was this a trick of my mind, making me suffer just for fun? My nerves started to cripple under the pressure of a warped reality and the inability to tell if I was experiencing reality or just a fantasy.

What worried me the most was that I felt totally awake, totally aware of the world around me. All the signs I could read pointed out towards one same thing: that chamber of torture was real, and somehow, by some unknown turn of events, I had ended up chained there. Trying to ignore all the bombardment of bloody images and creepy messages, I focused on finding a way out of my imprisonment.

The first step would imply breaking or opening the shackles that bound me to the chair. With the right tools, it wouldn’t take me more than a minute or two to have one hoof free of their tight embrace; but there was nothing to be used to pry the cuffs open. I shook nervously from side to side with the purpose of having a wider line of sight, in order to find something I could help myself with. However, in the very deep, I wanted to break the chains with my bare force, and something told me it was an exercise in futility.

“Why are you shaking so hard, Farsight?” the voice asked. “You’re not moving anywhere.”

The voice echoed in my mind, and it sounded familiar; as if I had heard it before, yet warped, altered... different. Anyway, that voice made something tick in my mind, something that simply didn’t add up with all that I had been experiencing to the moment.

“Farsight?” The voice echoed. “Farsight!”

Suddenly, the screen-filled chamber disappeared and I opened my eyes. I was looking at a wooden ceiling, lying on a rug-covered floor; and the air smelled like moisture and smoke, both scents mixing themselves and fighting for supremacy. Suddenly, I remembered what had happened before I blacked out. Rose had unleashed some sort of power blast that had knocked me out cold. Just an instant before, I had injected an adrenaline shot right into the filly’s heart.

The thought of Rose made me almost jump from the floor, looking for the filly. My eyes leapt from side to side of the room, searching for any trace of her; and I must admit that in my initial nerve I didn’t even consider checking my E.F.S. for the presence of any life form nearby. Anyway, after a couple of minutes of anxious searching, I found her looking out the window.

“Rose...” I sighed. “You’re alright.”

“Uh-uh.” Rose shook her head, then she turned around and looked at me in the eyes. “Wrong number, Farsight.”

I expected to see Rose’s two big emerald irises, but I found myself looking at two small jade dots; and my blood froze instantly as I realized who was in charge of Rose’s body. My mind raced to find the optimal way of confronting the situation, as the lovely Rose had been substituted by our unwanted partner Lavender. Knowing how deadly and violent she was, I had to be extremely careful in our way of acting, or I wouldn’t live to tell about it.

“La-Lavender.” I gulped. “What happened? How long has it been?”

“You mean since I knocked you out?” Lavender asked, visibly amused. “I can’t tell, I’d say that two or three hours. And answering to your first question, I can’t say I did it consciously. The rush of adrenaline to the heart must have prompted some sort of defensive mechanism, a telekinetic blast or something in the likes of that.”

I nodded. Indeed, it was the most plausible explanation to what took place when I injected the drug right in her heart. However, that didn’t explain why Lavender had taken Rose’s spot in control of her body. I needed to know how on earth she had managed to gain command, but asking it directly could be blunt, and having Lavender involved, unwise.

“Uh... so... where is Nadyr?”

“Stripey?” Lavender shrugged. “Don’t know. He must have woken up before I did, and I suppose he left looking for the gold. That greedy fuck.”

“How come he has woken up before? Wouldn’t you be the one to rise first, since you were the caster of the blast?”

“I thought so too, but I guess that those of us who are magic-enabled are more sensitive to magic as well. Stripes is a stump when it comes to magic, so he must have been hit lighter by the blast.”

“That sounds reasonable.” I smiled dimly.

“Of course it sounds reasonable.” Lavender snickered. “You don’t seem too worried about him, though.”

“I am worried, but you do know me, Lavender; I tend to hide emotions.” I shrugged once again, as I thought that showing indifference would keep her calm. “Tell me, why are you here?”

“It’s rather simple, bright buck. Rose has taken some serious hits, so I’m here until she gets better... if she gets better.”

The “if she gets better” part sent shivers down my spine, but I hid them as well as I could.

“So you do care about Rose, after all.”

“I care about me, first and foremost. After all, if Rose dies, I die too; so her well being is my well being. Speaking of which, who has turned me into a living mummy?”

“I guess that would be me.” I smiled and arched an eyebrow.

“Shit, Farsight, you’re a damn disgrace; but I don’t think that mister Stripey is any better, am I right?”

I felt rather surprised at Lavender’s way of acting. She was still ruthless and aggressive, but she hadn’t started a bloodshed yet; maybe because of her body’s state. Not that I complained, though; as I didn’t want to face her wrath.

“That’s just how it goes, Lavender. Rose is the healer of this party, Nadyr and I do what we can when it comes to bandages and medicine.”

“Yeah, yeah, quit your excuses, Farsight. It’s not like things are going to change, anyway.”

I smiled and nodded, as I somehow liked Lavender’s new stance. Her menacing presence still loomed around, but she was a little bit more civilized than before, something that I really welcomed.

“That’s very true, I’ll give you that. Can I ask you another question?”

“Go ahead.” She grunted. “You’re going to do it anyway.”

“You seem much more... temperate than the last time we spoke. Have you really changed, or are you just playing with us?”

Lavender let go a subtle laugh full of disdain towards me and looked at me with true amusement in her face. Unlike the previous times we had met, the psychotic personality of Lavender didn’t manifest so clearly. The blood-chilling broad smile was gone, and in consequence, her range of facial expressions was far wider; leaving the contracted eyes as the only way of identifying which one of the personalities was in command.

“Ah, Farsight, for being such a smart buck, you sure can be naive when you push yourself. I haven’t become a new pony, but I haven’t been inactive while Rose was in command. You know, seeing the world through her eyes has made me think about the world we live in. I was designed to act in a controlled environment, in a Stable, and all my code was made to work as planned inside the boundaries of such a civilization.”

“With ‘working as planned’ you mean being a psychotic murderer?”

“What is making you so sheepish, Farsight? I am an experiment, meant to push the boundaries of science beyond what ponykind had ever achieved; and if that meant tampering with our moral limits, so be it.” Lavender looked at my eyes and laughed. “Is that remorse in your face, Farsight? After all the scheming you’ve been doing, playing with ponies’ lives as if they were pawns on your board, you don’t seem like the kind of pony that feels remorse. What a disappointment, I thought you were worth observing.”

“Remorse?” I shrugged. “Maybe... after all, I’m a Stable Pony as well, raised to their outdated morality. Don’t rush to dump me, though; I adapt quickly to new environments.”

“Of course you do...” Lavender chuckled. “Adapt or perish, as they say. Anyway, as I said, I was meant to remain inside the Stable environment, but then you came and showed me that there is a whole wide world out there. A rich, morally ambiguous world where good and bad are not clear boundaries. That very ambiguity made me adapt and yes, change. This world is so violent and ruthless that my urge for blood and destruction gets covered without me having to act; and for that, Farsight, I thank you.”

“Why, you’re welcome.” I smiled, trying to appear relaxed, although I was still afraid of what she could do. “I’m glad to be of some use.”

“Always polite and in control, even under pressure.” Lavender strutted down the room. “You are such a surprising individual, Farsight.”

“Chaos only generates more chaos.” I looked at the evil filly with a grin of irony. “And unless you want to bring the world down, chaos is of little help.”

“Says he who conspired to topple the gangs of Freedom Field. You don’t seem so tough from up close.” Lavender took a clumsy step forward.

“Lavender...” I said as firmly as I could. “If we want to achieve something out of this trip, we should cooperate. You’ve seen what the local fauna can do to a pony, so we should stick together and work hard to return in a piece.”

“Of course, I was just having a bit of fun.” Lavender looked at me with a faked sadness, as if she was mimicking a sorry filly. “Won’t you let me have an instant of solace?”

“I think we should establish some rules of engagement, Lavender. First, no disemboweling, at least not with us; and if you want to crush our enemies to a bloody pulp, you’re free to do so, as long as we both agree. Secondly, treat Rose with respect, because you two depend on each other, as much as you might despise that fact. Last but not least, when Rose is good to go, I want you to let her retake command.”

“I agree on rules one and two, but three is a no-go. Did you seriously think I would accept that?”

“Not really, but this is a negotiation; in which I make an offer and you pose a counteroffer. Let’s hear what you’ve got to say.”

Lavender smiled and lowered her eyelids, giving me a smug and ironic look.

“As I said, I can live with rule one and I agree with rule two. Now, when it comes to deciding who must be in control, I say that you let us two handle it.”

Her tone had become menacing, making clear that she wasn’t negotiating. It would be either her way or no way; and knowing what Lavender was capable of, I wasn’t going to confront her... you may call it cowardice, I call it survival.

“Oh well,” I shrugged. “I can live with that.”

“I think we have an agreement, Farsight.” Lavender smiled proudly, and I couldn’t help to smile as well. Somehow, I saw myself reflected on her attitude, and I liked that.

“Indeed, we have, and I am very glad about it!” I smiled and gave her a kind hoofshake. “Shouldn’t we get moving?”

“Sorry to break it up to you, but our escape route has been cut off.” Lavender frowned. “The boat is gone.”

“But the boat needs magic to work... How has he managed to leave with it?”

“Oh, it was rather funny!” Lavender emitted a crackling laugh. “You should have seen him trying to row across the swamp with the help of a makeshift ore. It was rather pathetic, but he did move alright.”

I felt anger bubble inside me once again. How could he have been so greedy to leave us there? Was he so blinded by the perspective of becoming rich that he had put his life at risk by going alone to Celestia knew where? And what was more worrying for me, had he deliberately abandoned us not to have to split the reward?

“How could he even leave us here?” I groaned.

“I told you, Stripes is a good-for-nothing greedy fuck.” Lavender shrugged. “You should know what to expect when joining a bloke like that.”

“He’s greedy alright.” I hissed. “If I put my hooves on him, he’s going to explain some stuff.”

“Oh, yes, he will, but first we need to get out of here.” Lavender snickered and turned to look through the window once again.

“If you happen to know something I don’t...”

Chirrrrrrp.

The sound made me freeze solid for a second, as I saw a sky-blue Dragonsprite appear behind Lavender’s head. The filly didn’t seem to worry much about the small insect, though.

“There’s more of them?” I effortlessly tried to grab hold of my gun.

“No, there’s only this one left, but it doesn’t seem to be aggressive. Apparently, the whole pack was guarding this.”

Lavender lifted a small object out of her saddlebag and put it on the director’s table. I walked close to take a look at it, and I found myself gazing at a shiny ingot of pure gold. It had been engraved with the symbol of pre-war Equestria, the blazing sun; and the inscription “24 carat gold” was clearly visible on the top side. The promise of riches had started becoming a reality.

“The Gold of Equestria...” I gasped in amazement. “Wasn’t it supposed to have been moved from here?”

“Well, this one was hidden in one of the deposit boxes. I found the ingot while searching the safe, and the sprite came out of nowhere and started following me.”

“Then, is it coming with us?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s coming with us.” Lavender’s tone admitted no reply.

“Oh well, as long as it doesn’t try to roast us, I have nothing against it.” I shrugged. After all, a tamed dragonsprite was a neat weapon. “Has it got a name yet?”

“I called it Bonafyre.”

“Bonafyre, huh?” I walked close to the sprite. “Alright, Bonafyre, welcome to the crew. Keep your burning in store until we need it, okay?”

Bonafyre chirped and fluttered up and down, mimicking a nod.

“All right, I’ll take that as a yes.”

“It seems to have a greater intelligence than what I expected.” Lavender smiled with admiration. “This world is a box of surprises.”

“Indeed.” I nodded. “Anyway, we’re getting sidetracked. We need to find a way out of this place.”

I returned to the computer and started searching through the hard drive for an evacuation plan of the bank or anything that told us how to reach another building without having to go down to street level. I had the feeling that important buildings such as that one had to be equipped with some sort of secondary escape route in case of robbery or attack, but there was nothing to be found.

“Any luck?” Lavender asked.

“Nope.” I sighed. “There’s a lot of stuff in here, but nothing that we can profit of.”

Right as I was saying that, the computer screen flickered and a message was prompted to the front end: “You will find nothing here. What you’re looking for was deleted long ago.” I flinched with surprise when I noticed what the system was telling me. I tried operating some of the keys in order to dismiss the message, but it seemed as control had been removed from the terminal; just to be operated by some remote, unknown entity.

“Who is there?” I yelled. “Who is watching? Show yourself!”

“Are we being watched?” Lavender grinned. “Ooh, this is getting interesting.”

The screen flashed again and the message displayed on the screen switched to a different one. “I mean you no harm. Don’t be afraid.” If whoever was behind was trying to appeal to our trust, he wasn’t doing things too good.

“Somepony that asks me not to be afraid doesn’t sound too honest to me.” Lavender grumbled.

“Whoever this buck is, he responds to our words, so he must be listening.” I frowned. “Hey! Is that your only way of communication? Can’t you reach us in any other way?”

After that last question, we eagerly waited for our mysterious stalker’s reply. Time seemed to grind to a stop while the two of us stared at the computer screen, nervously paying attention to the flicker of any pixel. After a little while, the message changed once again: “Is that a PipBuck in your forehoof?”

“No, he’s just happy to see you.” Lavender croaked.

“Lavender!” I yelled. “Indeed, it’s a PipBuck.”

The window on the screen disappeared for a second and then appeared with another message: “Radio, 95.5 MHz. I’m listening.” With such a clear command on screen, I quickly stuck the earbloom of the hoofheld device into my right ear and tuned the radio to the given frequency.

“Hey!” The voice of a seemingly young stallion roared in my ear, causing me to turn the volume knob down.

“Finally, something less cryptic that a computer screen.” I sighed.

“Don’t bicker so much. It was the only way to get through you.”

“Oh, you actually hear me?”

“Yes I do. PipBucks carry a two-way radio, mate; so you’ve got to be talking to a microphone.”

I winced, surprised. I took out my earbloom and found that the cable had a small terminal in the middle, with a tiny receiver membrane in it. That was the microphone the unknown buck talked about. All clear, then.

“Yes, I have a microphone. I’m surprised I hadn’t seen it before.” I shrugged.

“No problem, mate. It happens.”

“You’re from Trottingham?” I asked. His accent reminded me of Mixer’s.

“Why, yes. I am.”

“Are you a ghoul, mate?” I mimicked his usual sentence ending. Trottingham had been destroyed by the megaspells, according to Mixer. Therefore, if I was speaking with some buck that came from Trottingham, he had to be a ghoul. There was no other way.

“Ghoul? Sorry, friend. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Now something didn’t add up. If he wasn’t a ghoul and he was from Trottingham, where or when were we? What had this teleporter done to us? And what sort of place was Neighorleans? Was it some sort of endless Tartarus where Nadyr, Rose and I had been thrown into because of our greed? I’d have to get as much information from this mysterious pony as possible.

“All right, never mind. Who am I speaking to?”

“Agent Turner, Equestrian Army Intelligence, working with the Ministry of Image. I suppose there is no problem in revealing my identity to you. After all, I’m not undercover.”

Equestrian Army Intelligence? Ministry of Image? That was just freaking IMPOSSIBLE! I had no data about the Army, but the Ministry hadn’t existed for two hundred and twenty years, and now I was talking to an agent of that very organization? My mind was starting to feel numb from all the incoherent data I had been fed in the last minutes. I breathed deep and tried to keep calm, despite all the chaos around me.

“Pleased to meet you, agent Turner. My name is Farsight, freelance scavenger; and this is my companion, Lavender.”

“My pleasure, Farsight and company. What brings you to Neighorleans?”

That was the kind of tricky question I was expecting, more now that I knew I was talking to a Ministry of Image agent. Whoever this Turner buck was, I wasn’t going to tell him openly that we had come to find the lost Gold of Equestria. Luckily for me, I had an ace up my sleeve.

“My companions and I came to look for whatever we could find, but we seem to be one zebra short; so we’re pretty much looking for my lost friend.”

“I see. Maybe I can help you out with that.”

“How?”

“The city had a working surveillance system, but now the power’s down. Maybe you can help me put it back online, and I’ll be able to look for your friend.”

Sweet Celestia, did Turner actually know about the megaspells and the War? Or easier still, hadn’t he simply taken a look at the state of the city? Half sunken and ruined, no doubt the power was down. Anyway, Turner seemed to have some vantage position over the Neighorleans ruins, so he was our best bet to find Nadyr and, with a hint of luck, the gold.

“Wait a minute. If the power is down, how come you can actually see us?”

“That room has a power supply of its own, as do other places in town. However, the general power supply is down, so most of the cameras are not working.”

“All right, but you’ll have to navigate me through town. We’re new around here. And besides, we need to get out of here first.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Turner sounded confident. “There is a safe tunnel coming out from that room, that leads to the city hall.”

“Shouldn’t that tunnel be flooded?”

“Flooded?” Turner doubted to answer. “Well, I can’t say about the other end; but the airlocks beneath you are in working order.”

“Fine... where is the entrance?”

“Oh, about that, give me just a minute.”

Something clicked in the wall, and one of the shelves rolled aside to reveal a dark corridor leading downward. Turner wasn’t lying about the tunnel, so he could be saying the truth about the rest as well.

“Well, there’s the tunnel alright. Now, if you could tell me where you want us to go...”

“Of course, mate. Jack the PipBuck into the computer again.”

I walked to the desk once again and connected my hoofheld device to the input port of the terminal. Some seconds later, a beep in the PipBuck let me know that data had been correctly downloaded, and I looked at the area map; where a new marker labeled “Bayou Power Transformer Station” had appeared.

“Great, that’s all we need.” I nodded. “Lavender, let’s get moving!”

Lavender sighed and trotted into the dark passageway that Turner had opened for us, and I followed her at a close distance. The hallway turned into a staircase just ten steps away from the entrance, and all traces of light were soon gone. I took the lead and used my PipBuck to light the way into the subterranean tunnel.

“I never thought you would be so trusting.” Lavender snickered. “That Turner buck could be sending us into a trap, as far as we know. Besides, who the hell is he? I thought this place was abandoned.”

“Indeed, the questions he causes in my mind are many, and he will have to give me proper answers if I am to cooperate further with him; but for the moment he’s solved our deadlock and he hasn’t said anything we have managed to prove wrong. Let’s give him the benefit of trust... for now.”

“If you say so...” Lavender sighed, and I guess she shrugged as well. “For our own sake, I hope you’re right.”

We kept walking downstairs for minutes, sunken in an oppressive silence. The signs of dampness in the concrete walls were more and more evident as we descended, and I was quite sure that we were already below water level. My biggest fear at the moment was to find that the tunnel was flooded or collapsed, as it was our only hope to exit the Bank. If that way out was of no use, we would have to wait for Nadyr to come back... if and only if he came back.

Soon, we reached the lower end of the stairs and walked into the lower corridor. The heavy reinforced metal gate of an airlock blocked the way and a small terminal glowed beside it. A quick browse of the terminal let me know that the status of the adjacent chamber was good, and that it was ready to be used. Therefore, I walked in and after Lavender had done the same, I locked the outside door by means of the inner terminal. With a hiss of air and the clunky noise of gears turning, the gate sealed itself and the computer inside the airlock prompted me to open the door leading to the tunnel. As far as I knew, it could be full of water, what would mean our death... but it’s not like we had any other choice.

“Ready for the unknown, Lavender?” I asked.

“Open the damn gate already.” Lavender huffed. “There’s no need for theatrics here.”

“All right. Hold your breath.”

I pressed the button to open the door, and wished for the best while the cogs in the gate turned to unlock it. The airlock opened with a hiss and a squeak, but there was no wave of black swamp water flooding the small antechamber; only silence. I couldn’t help to sigh in relief as I walked into the endless darkness of the tunnel.

*** *** ***

The green beam of my PipBuck lamp pierced the darkness, showing what lied a few meters before us, which was nothing more than damp concrete. While I walked along that linear void, I kept thinking about what I had discussed with agent Turner. First of all, the fact that he was an Equestrian Army - MoI agent working in Neighorleans was highly confusing. The Army and the Ministry of Image, as well as the rest of the pre-War Equestria had been wiped out that fateful day. There was no point in making me think the Army or the Ministries were still functioning. Therefore, my guess was that, whoever this Turner was, he was impersonating a pre-War pony that might have been an actual Army or MoI agent. Probably, as convoluted as it might sound, this fellow was probably another scavenger that had started acting as the Ministry agent to obtain some benefit from a ghoul population, like the one of Maretairie. Not the most straightforward of plans, but it was plausible.

Secondly, his ignorance of the current state of the city ticked me off. Turner seemed surprised about the power being down, which, but if he had known about how wrecked Neighorleans was (which was obvious at a quick glance), it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Instead, he spoke as if nothing had happened here in the past two hundred and twenty years. It was just absurd; just plain absurd.

Despite all that, we had no better choice than following Turner’s advice and orientation. With Nadyr gone, Lavender and I were alone in a harsh environment, looking for something we knew very little about. After all, this situation had been caused by the half-zebra from the very beginning, and now we needed to meet up with him before anything else wrong happened.

“Thinking about Turner?” Lavender asked. She had crept up to me, and her voice made me leap aside.

“Ugh... don’t do that again, Lavender, please. I don’t want to have a heart attack.” I sighed. “And answering to your question; yes, I am. Don’t tell me you can read minds as well.”

“No, I can’t.” Lavender snickered. “It would be great, though. Anyway, it’s not hard to guess. You haven’t said a word since we entered the tunnel, and we’ve been walking for a long while. Something is bubbling in that mind of yours, and given the circumstances, that was the best bet.”

“You know me far too well.” I smiled in the dark, even if she could not see me. “Mind if I share my thoughts with you, Lavender?”

“Go ahead, it’s not like there’s anything better to do down here. Apart from walking out of this hellhole, that is.”

“Fair enough.” I mumbled. “He says he’s an agent of the Equestrian Army Intelligence. However, if I am not mistaken, the Equestrian Army vanished the day the megaspells fell. If that is the case, how come he keeps claiming that? It would be wiser to introduce yourself as a scavenger, a mercenary or a private investigator... those abound in the Wasteland nowadays.”

“Well, for some reason, he doesn’t seem to worry much about what others might think of him. This place isn’t precisely crowded, so I assume that crafting a solid cover isn’t much of a need over here. Besides, the common Wastelander isn’t a malevolent schemer like you are. You have a special ability to sense conspiracies around you, you know?”

I couldn’t help laughing out loud. Lavender had a fine sense of sarcasm, something that I really liked.

“Ah, Lavender, touché. Anyway, let’s assume he’s not lying to us. Let’s assume he IS a true agent. How do you explain that?”

“Well, he could be one of those nasty ghouls.”

“It does sound like the most plausible explanation, but you’ve heard other ghouls.”

“Strictly speaking, I haven’t, since Rose was in command at the moment, but I see where you’re going. The voice, right?”

“Exactly. Ghouls have a raspy, grating tone in their voices; but Turner’s voice sounded clean and normal. That’s what is confusing me.”

“Meh. Stop stressing your brain, Farsight.” Lavender huffed. “Whatever it is, you can’t do anything about it right now, so concentrate on getting us out of this tunnel. When the time comes, you’ll get the answers you seek.”

“I hope you’re right, Lavender.” I sighed. “This place is like a gigantic puzzle. Every time we take a step forward, the path seems to shift and change.”

“How poetic.” Lavender snickered.

I ignored Lavender’s sarcastic remark, since my PipBuck had come alive with a message indicating that we had found the City Hall of Neighorleans. Obviously, the PipBuck didn’t pay much attention at the height of the signal, since we had to be many meters below ground, or in this case, water level. Anyway, that meant that we had made it almost all the way across the tunnel.

“What was that?” the filly asked.

“My PipBuck says we’re underneath the City Hall. There must be an airlock nearby, so pay attention.”

“Whatever.”

I ignored Lavender’s lack of enthusiasm and started waving the PipBuck lamp from side to side, looking for the distinctive metal gate of the airlock that would get us out of the tunnel and into the light once again. A few steps into the darkness later, I found myself staring at the door we had to cross. It was closed, but not locked, as the bolts meant to keep it shut hadn’t taken its place on the frame. With a pinch of magic, we would be able to make our way through the airlock.

“Lavender! Come help me with this!”

“What is it, Farsight?” Lavender came grunting.

“The airlock door is closed and the power is down... we’ll need to get out by force. Care to give me a hoof?”

Lavender let go a long and disdainful sigh, just before her horn lit the tunnel red and the gate moved aside with an eldritch, deep rustling noise. I hurried into the airlock, willing to know if the other door was open or locked. We were so close to leaving that tunnel that I was feeling really anxious about seeing daylight again, even if dim and green. The other door was closed too, but once again, the latches were unlocked. I assumed it was the standard procedure in the event of a power loss, in order to avoid leaving anypony trapped in the airlock. I didn’t wait for Lavender this time, I just rammed into the door and started pushing with all my might; and after ten seconds of painstaking effort, the gate whined and moved, leaving a way open for us to leave that dark tunnel.

*** *** ***

“Turner!” I called. “Are you listening?”

“I bet you a hundred caps that he isn’t.” Lavender grunted. “I never thought you’d be so trusting to follow a ghost through a radiated swamp. Seriously, Farsight, I thought you were a rational buck.”

I sighed. “You know what, Lavender? You’re right. We’re chasing shadows here. It’s just too bad that we need to return home with something more than our empty hooves.”

Lavender looked at me with a smug grin of irony.

“Coming from another pony, say Nadyr, I would have believed that statement. Coming from you, I simply don’t. That Turner voice has got you properly hooked, and you’re solving mysteries right now.”

“That’s just a secondary objective.” I mumbled.

“Look at you!” Lavender laughed. “Talking all military and stuff. Secondary objective.”

“Fine, have it your way.” I shook my head, admitting my defeat. Lavender was a tough contender when it came to dialectic battles. If she hadn’t been a psychotic mass-murderer and a filly, I would have loved her; and when I said loved, I meant loved.

The tunnel gate had opened to a small concrete-walled room that hosted nothing more than a tall spiral ladder. A quick climb later we were standing on what appeared to be the Mayor of Neighorleans’s office, a quite regal chamber with a large veranda, that provided a vantage point over the remains of the old town and the hills of the outskirts. The eerie green light filtering through the dome of leaves reinforced the image of devastation of the city. I closed my eyes and for a moment, I had a glimpse of the town’s past: vibrant activity of ponies trotting down the cobblestoned streets of the old quarter; garlands and flags that showed the festive nature of the locals, music echoing through the buildings… and as fast as it came; it went.

I found myself staring blankly into the greenish horizon, and something caught my attention. Up on a hill, close to the dome’s wall, a magnificent manor stood proudly, almost unhindered by the chaos and destruction cast by the war and Nature’s iron will. A remnant of a better past, the mansion was a classic three-floored building, painted white with grey slate roofs and porches leading to what must have been a glorious garden.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Turner’s voice spoke in my ear, sending a shiver down my spine.

“Turner! You and Lavender want to give me a heart attack?”

“Sorry, Farsight. I thought you were calling me.” Turner was right, I had called him out before. I just had assumed that he simply couldn’t communicate with me. "What is it?"

"You will have to explain some things to me. Why do you pretend not to know that the city is in ruins? Your cover is just flimsy. You say that you are an Army Intelligence Agent, but then you act surprised when I mention that the streets are flooded. I want to know the truth about you before we move on."

"The truth, eh?" Turner let go a long sigh. "Fine. I know that the city is a total disaster. I have been watching it for a very long time now, while I waited for somepony to get deep enough in the ruins to establish contact."

"Well, here we are." I grunted. "Can you help me find my lost companion, if I restore the power?"

"Actually, don’t even bother. Power can’t be restored, only the backup arcano-generators work after so many years. I still want you to come to me at the Transformer Station. From there I'll be able to set things straight."

"Fine, we'll do that. By the way, I’m looking at a rather fancy house on a hill. Any ideas on what it might be?"

Turner chuckled lightly and sighed.

“You’re looking at Rising Sun Manor right now, and let me guess, you’re wondering why it’s still untouched.”

“Come to think of it, yes, it’s a rather good question.” I nodded. “Wait, did you just say Rising Sun? As in the Rising Sun Hotel?”

“Exactly. But all that Rising Sun Hotel thing is total bollocks. Rising Sun Manor was built with a completely different purpose.”

“Explain yourself, Turner.”

“I’m guessing that you’ll have found the document on the Bank Director’s office, haven’t you?”

“The one involving ‘Operation Masquerade’?”

“The very one.” Turner coughed lightly. “Doesn’t it raise questions in your mind?”

“Quite a lot of them, actually.” I felt the thrill of a discovery run down my spine. Turner could actually tell me what was going on! “And I’m guessing you’ll have the answers to those questions.”

“I do, but I can’t tell them to you right now. I’m depleting the power reserves I have here, and I don’t want to get isolated before you get here. Once you do, I’ll rest easy.”

“What do you mean with that?” I felt puzzled by Turner’s cryptic words.

“There is no time, Farsight. Come to the power station at once. Turner out.”

The communication ended and I was left with a ton of questions and doubts in my mind. What did Turner want to say when he used the words “rest easy”? Who or what was Turner exactly, and which were his implications in the Curse of Neighorleans?

“Was that Turner?” Lavender asked from inside the Mayor’s office.

“Yes.” I answered hastily. “Did you find anything?”

“Nothing at all. This place has been looted before.”

“Nadyr?”

“No, dust had already settled on the shelves. This place was emptied preemptively, probably before the War. This building is nothing but an big dusty husk.” Lavender grunted and stretched. “Let’s just leave.”

“How? We don’t have a boat… or did you actually find one?”

“Not really, but I did build one myself! Rather improvised, true, but it will certainly do!” Lavender boasted. “It’s a makeshift skiff, with no engine, so we’ll have to paddle our way forward; but it’s stable and definitely seaworthy.”

“Not that we have many choices. That will have to do. Lead the way.”

Lavender hopped and trotted out of the office, leading me through a maze of ruined corridors and crumbling staircases, jumping through gaps on the floor through which the stench of dampness climbed from the murky waters. Finally, we came into a half-flooded room where the mentioned boat was floating. Without a doubt, it had been quickly patched up out of an old metal cabinet and some loose wooden pieces from a broken table, but at least it floated, even if it felt worryingly weak.

“You were right, you did this yourself.” I mumbled. “Remind me to ask you to build a sky chariot when we get back.”

“What makes you say that?” Lavender said with irony in her voice.

“I doubt this will hold together for more than fifteen minutes.”

“Shut up and get on the boat, Farsight.” Lavender grunted. “Don’t make me force you.”

“I guess I have no other choice…”

I jumped into the makeshift craft, which rocked violently with my landing; forcing me to use my magic to stabilize it. Lavender leapt inside after me, almost capsizing the boat in the process. Then, she used her magic to grab a couple of planks and started rotating them as paddles. Wobbling like crazy, the cabinet-boat started moving forward and out of the building. I activated the tracker in my PipBuck and started leading the way towards the power station.

“What did Turner tell you?” Lavender inquired.

“I thought you didn’t care about Turner.” I grinned. “Why so much interest now?”

“I don’t care about Turner, but he is effectively driving us around Neighorleans, instead of the alleged pot of gold we came here to find. I might as well care about my future, you know.”

I noticed true interest in Lavender’s words, and I saw a chance to dig into her mind and try to comprehend her better. As always, I just had to play my cards properly.

“I’ll answer your question if you answer mine, without restrictions.”

“Fair enough. What did he tell you?”

“He spoke about Rising Sun Manor. Remember the hotel mentioned in the holotape?”

“It wasn’t me listening. It was Rose. I caught some loose words, but I don’t know what the tape said… mind giving me a short recap?”

“OK, long story short, the Government handled some covert operations in the area involving the Gold, Rarity and the Rising Sun Manor; which ended with the whole population of the city being wiped out. Turner seems to know more about it, and he’s willing to tell me more about it, but he wants us to go to him so that he doesn’t run out of power.”

“And you’re going?”

“It involves the Gold, which keeps being our ultimate goal. Plus, he might have a way to catch up with Nadyr as well. He’s our best call to get out of this one.”

“I’m not too convinced, but you’ve got a point there. Now ask me your damn question.”

“What makes you want to kill?” I asked bluntly. This was no time for subtleties. “What makes you feel good about it?”

Lavender laughed out loud.

“You don’t get it, do you? Why do you keep looking at me as if I was a run-of-the-mill pony, Farsight? I am a compulsion, a computer generated algorithm to cause violence and wreck havoc. I wasn’t conceived to be constrained by the limits of morality, by the boundaries of good and bad. I was meant to be a machine of destruction.”

“And yet, you have a personality of your own.”

“Funny, but yes, I do. I guess that my creators failed to grasp that I could actually learn and become self-aware. By leaping from mind to mind, I started to add small bits of personality to my original algorithm. A sense of humour, feelings, emotions, qualms, fears, hopes and dreams… Little by little, they gave me something more to think about than my single purpose. Rose has added much of her own to me, you know.”

“And you’re trying to take over her now?”

“Please, Farsight, what do you think I am? I can’t just take over her, she’s just too strong for me to actually break her apart. Actually, I’ve come to like her. Through her eyes, I’ve grasped that destruction is no longer my purpose. I’ve got a fabulous potential for that, but I feel like a have a choice now.”

I felt suddenly relieved. I had thought that Lavender would always be a kill-crazy monster, but somehow, Rose’s personality had sipped into her and had changed her for the better.

“This has another problem, though.” I thought out loud. “How will you two live together?”

“I guess that, when the time comes, the two of us will make a single entity. There will be no more Lavender, just Rose. However, she won’t be the same… and this can’t happen if she doesn’t want to. If she accepts me, I would let myself go and cease to exist. After all, I was never meant to exist as a conscious being in the first place.”

I was surprised about Lavender’s attitude. I thought that she was an invader, trying to destroy Rose in her fight to have a body of her own; and now it seemed as if Rose had won the battle and Lavender was looking for a honorable capitulation. Not that I was going to hinder that outcome, in fact, I was going to endorse it.

“I see…” The PipBuck beeped. “Look, we have reached our goal!”

Our cabinet-boat was floating in front of a tall brick building covered in seaweed. One of the broken windows acted as a door through which we entered the Transformer Station, a large empty room in which the metal bulks of the many power transformers were partially sunken. Some of them still hummed dimly, which meant that the waterproof isolation had worked properly for more than two centuries.

“Where to now?” Lavender asked.

“Dock this… thing somewhere.” I replied. “I’d start looking for a control room. If Turner is in this building, he should be in a place like that.”

Lavender steered the cabinet towards a piece of concrete floor that was above water level, and we both leapt out of it. The search for Turner had begun, and he had a lot to tell me.

*** *** ***

Our hoofsteps echoed in the massive emptiness of the Transformer Station, while we made our way up and down the maze of catwalks that hung above the large machine chamber, partially sunken in dark swamp water. Every now and then, an odd spark would crack between the poles of a humming transformer and the surface of the water, lighting the room with a deathly blue light. A bad step and the radiation would be the least of our worries. I couldn’t help to feel a hint of sadness over the grandeur that had been lost with the War. New Pegasus (or Las Pegasus, to that extent) was a hellhole, a place of corruption and debauchery; but this city had traces of a wonderful past in it.

Layers of dust over dust had settled on the catwalks and railings of the old facility, a mute witness of the two centuries of death and abandonment that had fallen over the mausoleum of a town we were exploring. I couldn’t help wondering how come Turner hadn’t left a trail of hoofsteps while moving around the place… once again, who or what was this buck?

Step after step, I kept wondering about what our mysterious guide was after. Did he actually have information about both the Gold and the Curse, or was it only a trap for greedy, overconfident scavengers? Something in the deep of my mind warned me against Turner, but we didn't have much of a chance anyway. Nadyr was gone, and our leads for the treasure had vanished in the Bank. Even if it was a risky call, Turner was our best bet.

"You're very silent, Farsight. Something is brewing in that mind of yours." Lavender was smiling eerily.

"You must be thinking the same as I, Lavender."

"Turner."

"Exactly. I don’t know what intentions he has, and that makes me feel uncomfortable... You know me, I like to be in control of the situation."

"Well, you are not." Lavender shrugged. "No big deal, actually. You need to learn to think reactively."

"As in action-reaction?"

"Yes, just like that. In Freedom Field, you see the board and move the pawns... out here, the board is hidden and the pawns are made of shadows. You won't be sure of anything until it has happened, so you need to consider all possibilities."

"Possibilities... Given that Turner seems to be the only living pony in this town, I fail to understand what he is after... what he can actually obtain from us."

"That is something I have been considering as well. Are we his ticket out of this prison?"

"But why hide as a pre-War agent? It would have been much simpler to approach us as a lost scavenger, don’t you think?"

"It would have been the easiest way, you’re right. What if he is telling us the truth? Haven’t you thought that?"

"Yes..." I grunted. "Something just doesn’t add up, assuming he lived before the War. A pony's lifespan doesn’t stretch as much, unless it’s a ghoul. How come he's still alive?"

"Well, look at me." Lavender snickered. ”Properly speaking, I am over two centuries old."

"Are you implying that Turner can be a computer?"

"Possibilities, Farsight. Think in matters of possibilities. Could Turner be a computer? Most certainly. Which are the chances? Fairly few, true, but once the impossible has been discarded; whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

"I still don’t see it as clear as you." I shook my head. Lavender’s analysis was unquestionable, although the conclusion could be uncanny.

Suddenly, a loud chirp from our new companion Bonafyre broke us out of our debate. The dragonsprite had stopped in front of a blast door with an airtight seal, a proper place to hide from whatever happened to Neighorleans. The small bugger was much smarter than one could think.

"Nice job, little fellow." I congratulated the sprite. "Lavender! Come here, we might have found what we were looking for!"

"What is it?" Lavender trotted towards me with a face of curiosity I had only seen when Rose was in control. "Oh, an airlock! It does look like a hideout."

"It’s manual and it is unlocked." I readied my magic. "Help me open it!"

Both our horns glowed in the penumbra of the factory, casting dancing shadows on the walls around us, while the combined power of our magic turned the squeaking wheel of the airlock door. Once the initial resistance was overcome, the gate opened with a swift move, and the three of us rushed inside, willing to face our guiding voice… but the room was empty. Only a large screen stood inside the small control chamber, as well as a two-way communicator. Static flashed in the screen, and white noise buzzed from the speakers located on the corners of the room.

"He's not here!" Lavender roared. "Now I definitely think he's playing with us!"

"Wait, Lavender. This monitor has power, unlike the rest of the building. Something is here... Turner? Can you hear me?"

Suddenly, the static in the screen disappeared and a brown unicorn buck with a rather spiky mane and blue eyes looked at me from it. He dressed in a pre-War fashion, a brown trench coat over a brown pinstripe suit and a blue shirt, and he looked reasonably young.

"Thank Celestia, you have finally found me." A smile of relief shone in his muzzle. "It’s been too long."

"Too long for what, Turner? You have a lot to explain." I answered, not hiding my discomfort.

”Yes, you deserve to know what has been done to this town... what I have done to this town."

"Cut the drama." Lavender said harshly.

"Sorry if I get too carried away. Let me start: I am Agent Time Turner, of the Equestrian Military Intelligence Service. My branch was in charge of the counterintelligence, you know, finding foreign threats inside our own borders."

"Like the Ministry of Morale?" I inquired.

"No, not at all. The Ministry of Morale was a totalitarian corps to keep the populace under control. We dealt with spies, took down conspiracies before they happened, or even executed some operations in foreign territory. Pinkie's ponies were just a bunch of butchers without proper guidance."

"Just what a healthy nation needs." Lavender snickered.

"To be very honest with you, I never had much work before the War started... checking out rumours every now and then, and that was all. When the Zebras attacked, we were sent to the frontlines."

"And when were you brought here? What is Operation Masquerade?"

"It happened little before the megaspells were fired. The Government wanted to evacuate Canterlot, since they were very certain that the enemy's main attack would be fired there. As a measure to protect the nation's wealth, a rather unimportant city was chosen to hide the Gold. Neighorleans was a perfect choice: far from the frontlines, unconspicuous and easily defendable since it was surrounded by the sea. The Ministry of Image asked for a joint operation in order to transport the Gold and store it properly hidden from enemy spies; that's why the Army Intelligence was involved in this. Operation Masquerade was based upon the construction of a new top-class hotel in the city, since the chariots that carried the ingots could be disguised as part of the building team's equipment."

"Wait!" Lavender said. "Are you telling me that you managed to smuggle all the gold reserves of a nation by hiding them in builder chariots? How come nopony noticed it?"

"Think about it." Turner smiled gently, showing pride on the feat his organization had managed to achieve. "Neighorleans was full of Ministry of Morale goons, keeping the population at bay because of the many suspicions of spies among the zebra inhabitants. In the meantime, the Ministry of Image buys an old abandoned manor in the outskirts of town with the purpose of refurbishing it as a hotel. Nopony would ask uncomfortable questions, and if someone dared to, the answer would be that the manor was so massive and the time frame so short that a lot of workforce was required in order to get everything done."

"But you weren't building a hotel." I muttered.

"Actually, we were! At the same time, however, another team was building a vault to keep all the gold safe. Everything went on as planned, and the reserves were properly stored three days before Maredi Gras. The last step needed was to disguise the vault so that nopony asked unwanted questions."

"That’s when things got out of hoof, am I right?"

"Yes." Turner’s expression became darker, as if a bad memory had gone through his mind. "All we needed was to follow the plan and everything would have been solved without problems. However, Ministry Mare Rarity decided to intervene personally."

"Rarity was involved, as we suspected."

"Involved in depth, my friend. The original plan required our team to cast a multi-point cloaking spell."

"Wait a second..." I interrupted. "What is that kind of spell?"

"It's quite simple. A cloaking spell distorts the visible reality, hiding something from plain sight. However, under certain conditions, the cloaking is not perfect, and it can be spotted. By casting several spells from different locations, the resulting disguise is much more robust."

"You never did that, did you?"

"No. Rarity sent a message letting us know that she would oversee the hiding procedure. Her Ministry organized a grand party to celebrate the grand opening of the Rising Sun Hotel, thus guaranteeing that the whole city would be willing to stay and see her. You know, those were times of war. Being able to see one of the members of the Government helped give the impression that we were actually winning the War."

"What happened on the party?" Lavender asked.

"When the time was right, Rarity cast a massive binding spell. These spells are necromantic, and therefore forbidden, but she was the Ministry Mare. We had no choice than to get ready and to cast countermeasures to save ourselves."

"That spell is the Curse, right?"

"Exactly. A binding spell is used to block a soul in a given location, in this case the city of Neighorleans. Rarity didn’t want a single pony to leave after having seen the Hotel finished. What happened was a terrible atrocity, which I witnessed from here. A green turmoil broke loose from the manor, freezing every single pony solid and leaving their souls trapped in a parallel plane of existence... reviving the last three days before the party in a constant loop. My partner Conneighry and I weren't consumed by the spell, neither was Rarity. However, we didn't come out unharmed."

"I don’t get it. You mean you managed to escape the city, but at the same time you’re here and now, talking to me... how is that even possible?" I felt really puzzled. Nothing sensible could explain the situation of Turner.

"I know it sounds absurd, bu the spell did manage to bind us here... partially at least. A bit of my soul got captured in the city's surveillance system; as I was standing guard on the control room of the HQ. Ever since, this partial impression of me has been anxiously trying to contact somepony from the 'real' world, but you are the first I get to chat with in the last two hundred years."

"So, let me get this straight." I said while rubbing my hoof against my chin. "You are not the real Turner, but a sort of spell-induced replica that is stuck in that three day loop of hell; but at the same time you have a way of looking out to the real world and searching for help."

"That’s exactly what happens. Farsight, you have understood it much faster than what I expected."

"Thanks. Now, do you have any idea of why the city is flooded? Who is responsible for this?"

"That would be me." Turner sighed. "The physical me, at least. When I left Neighorleans, I was haunted by the massive injustice we had caused here, and on a less dramatic thought, I knew that if this reached out to the world, the Equestrian Government would be shaken to the foundations. We needed to cover this faux-pas in a way that nopony would notice. That’s when I suggested launching Operation Atlantis. Basically, it meant launching Balefire Missiles that we had captured from the Zebra Army against the levees that kept the water from taking over the city. This way, one would think that the striped ones had been the culprits of Neighorleans’s destruction, and nopony would be able to find out the truth. After two centuries, though, I just want the truth to be known and the curse to be broken, so that this part of me can stop existing... peace at last."

The explanation was fairly convoluted, but I had to admit that it added up. At least, it didn’t have any great flaw that made it seem absurd. Then, assuming he was telling the truth, it seemed like the Curse was the axis around which everything revolved.

"You speak of breaking the Curse, but how are we meant to do it?"

"You need to get in the loop... and stop it." Turner smiled. "It’s that simple, however, nopony who was caught by the original spell can change its path from inside. An outsider is our only hope."

"And if we fail?" I assumed I knew the answer, but I had to make sure that I was right.

"If you don't succeed, you’ll get caught in the Curse, forever."

"Wait a minute, Farsight!" Lavender yelled. "Are you really suggesting that we get trapped in the spell? Have you lost your damn mind?"

"I'm considering the possibilities, Lavender. I don’t like the chance of being cursed forever either, but I do have the feeling that it is our only way to the Gold." I looked back at Turner. "How does one enter the alternate reality?"

"It's just a matter of time. If you stay here long enough, you’ll get caught by the Curse. Of course, those of you that are magic-enabled will be tougher to break, but those who aren't will be absorbed sooner. You zebra friend has been already sucked into the loop, I’m afraid."

"What? You could have told me that before!" I roared at Turner. "Now I have to get him out. He’s a key part of my plan."

"Farsight, leave him and go for the gold." Lavender said. "The risk is just too much."

"I know." I grunted. "But we need him to carry on forward, you know that. Besides, he is a friend, as much as I can say that. I can't just forget about him..." I sighed. "This is what we'll do. You go find a way into the Manor in this reality. After all, your magic is the strongest, so you'll be the most resistant to the Curse. I'll get into the loop and I will try to break it from the inside. If I get caught, you will have to get both of us out... although I have the feeling that you won't." I smirked.

"You unfaithful bastard." Lavender snickered. “Don’t get yourself killed, now that I had come to like you."

"I am just thinking about the possibilities, Lavender. Now get lost!"

Lavender winked and turned around, darting out of the room, with her pet sprite following her closely. I looked back at the screen and shrugged. Turner was smiling at me from the other side of the screen.

"You have a complicated relationship, right?"

“Complicated doesn’t quite put it, Turner. The fact that two personalities live within the same filly makes it quite an ordeal.”

“Two personalities? Like in a dissociative disorder?”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple, but in the end it IS a dissociative disorder; and they couldn’t get any more dissociative. One is sweet and peaceful, the other is aggressive and ruthless. I’m trying to get them to agree on a middle ground, but it's this close to becoming an open conflict." I cackled, "We manage to keep it together, though, at least for the moment. What do I do now, Turner?"

"Don’t worry, I’ll handle that."

The airlock door slammed shut and I heard the seals closing, as well as a hissing noise coming out of the vents. Sleep gas, most probably. I assumed that the Curse would be more effective against sleeping victims that against awake ones.

"I just blew my last fuse here, by activating the defense system of the room..." Turner mumbled. "Power is running out... I'll see you in the other side."

The screen went black while the room filled itself with more and more of the gas. As I breathed deep, my head started to feel numb, and my eyelids became heavier minute after minute. I laid myself on the floor and waited for sleep to come to me. I was about to play my highest gambit so far... I could as well get some rest.

#

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