• 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 12: House Of The Rising Sun

Chapter 12: House Of The Rising Sun

“Bonjour a tous, mes amis! The sun is shining over the beautiful Ville of Neighorleans, the spirits are high and as always, happiness is all over the place, because all of you know what time of the year it is… Maredi Gras! Here at Bayou Radio, broadcasting live from our studio in the Old Town, it’s Papa Gramophone, sending good vibes to all of you ponies wanting to have fun!

You’ve been listening to the Grand Band of the Mareais, right here by my side, bringing us the swing of the old times! Thank you, mes amis, for another great piece; we’ll be back at you in a minute. Don’t go away! Now, let’s return to the news, shall we? Hmm, to begin with, some festive announcements! The Grand Parade of tomorrow is going to be even greater than expected, with the partaking of several foreign groups that have finally made it to la Ville in time! For those of you that want to go take a look, remember, it’s going to stroll down Buckbon Street, beginning at 4 PM and lasting until 7 PM!

Also, to all the colts and fillies out there, remember that the Municipal Costume Contest is still looking for new entrants! The requisites are simple: you must still have no Cutie Mark, and the costume must be entirely made by you or your parents! Originality and quality will be judged, so have fun, work hard and best of luck to you! Great prizes await the winners!

Let’s now take a look outside to hear about the terrible war still raging out there… things are taking a turn for the better, folks! The Equestrian Air Force reports of a successful bombardment raid over key Zebra industrial settlements, as well of raids over the cities of Roam and Zamane. Take the fight to their homes, soldiers! Down on the ground, the trenches of Stalliongrad keep fending off attacks of the despicable striped troops, while our brave armies keep advancing into enemy territory: several enemy battalions got encircled and defeated in the Zebra city of Manetua.

As we always do, I now remind you of the words of our beloved Princess Luna: stay strong, believe in yourselves and do the utmost to be one step closer to victory. Train, work, live and believe; the Sun and the Moon are with you. Don’t let strife bring your spirits down, and carry on. And that we will!

On breaking news, the grand opening of the brand new Rising Sun Hotel will be even greater! To celebrate the combined effort of the Ville of Neighorleans and the Government of Equestria in order to bring forth the creation of such a symbol of status and hope on a brighter tomorrow, the Ministry Mare Rarity herself will preside the celebrations of the Grand Party of Maredi Gras, as well of the Opening Ball of the Hotel! I don’t know about you, but I will definitely be there to see the most glamourous mare in all of Equestria honor us with her glistening presence!

Now, that was all for the moment, so let’s return to rejoice and party! Get your costumes out, leave your shame at home, dance, live and enjoy today, as we don’t know what life will bring tomorrow! I will leave you with the Grand Band of the Mareais once again, may their soft brass help you get through the day with a big smile on your face! This is Bayou Radio, live from the heart of Neighorleans, and I am your beloved Papa Gramophone, conducting our little show! A bientôt a tous!"

The muffled sound of a brass band playing a quick be-bop was the sign I needed to return back to life. Getting knocked out was starting to become a rather unpleasant habit, even more since we arrived at Neighorleans. This time, however, I knew perfectly how and why I had been put to sleep, and I had a certain idea of what I would be facing when I returned to consciousness.

I can’t say that I totally grasped the implications of the card I had played by letting myself get trapped in the Curse. There was a calculated risk of not coming back, as there always had been since I left the Stable, but this time failing didn’t mean death, it meant something far worse. Don’t get me wrong, though, I did fear death. I always have. However, after having been shown the best and the worst of the Wasteland, I had learned to welcome death as something obvious, something of everyday, treated with respect instead of fear.

In retrospect, the endeavour I had chosen to undertake was a very high gamble… seeing Turner’s fate (at least his replica’s) made me shiver in angst. An eternity repeating the same three days, over and over again, while at the same time being aware that he was trapped in that endless loop… what would happen to me, should I fail to stop Rarity? Would I be aware as Turner was, or would I be spared that punishment?

“Wake up, sleepyhead.” Turner’s voice echoed over the music. “It’s time we get moving.”

I opened my eyes to find myself lying on the floor of the same control room, but something had changed from the last time. Rust no longer formed stains on the metal walls, the ceiling wasn’t smeared by large stains of humidity, and the terminal we had used to communicate with Turner was working perfectly, showing graphs of power intake and output, device temperatures and maintenance warnings. However, the greatest difference was that Turner was standing in the middle of the room, in the flesh.

I got up as quickly as possible, while Turner looked at me with a satisfied smirk. I found it very understandable, as he had finally found somepony to try and break the Curse from the inside. After having been forced to wait for more than two centuries, that bit of Turner’s soul had a new chance of finding closure. I would have been happy in his situation.

“How was your sleep, mate?” He asked.

“Had better, had worse.” I replied diplomatically. “It seems that I’m already inside, right?”

“Right in the middle of the maelstrom, my friend. As you will be able to see, you’re in the Neighorleans of before the War, and everypony in this ‘world’ of ours is a victim of the Curse.”

“One question… are they all aware that they have been cursed, like you?”

“Oh no,” Turner laughed, “not at all! They got swallowed totally by the spell’s power, so their souls got totally bound to this here and now. They don’t realize what is really happening to them.”

“And can’t you let them know that they’re caught in a curse?” I asked. “In fact, why can’t YOU confront Rarity and break the spell yourself? After all, you do know everything about this.”

Turner lowered his eyes, looking at the floor in a mixture of shame and sadness.

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple, Farsight. Let me try to explain… in the real world, time is a linear flow. You’ve got your now, your before, your later. What you did before may affect what happens now or later, what you do now can affect what will come in the future. Simple laws of cause-effect, altered by a factor of chance, a pinch of randomness that is inherent to all processes in life. In here, though, things are a bit less linear and a bit more… wibbly-wobbly for me.”

“You just made up that word.”

“Maybe. The idea that I want to transmit is that, while I’m not bound to do the same things over and over, there are some other things that I am bound to do. For example, when the time for the spell comes, I will go to the HQ control room and I will ready my countermeasures. No matter what you do or what you tell me, I will be forced to do that. You, on the other hoof, are not bound yet. That’s why I’m counting on you to get this done.”

I breathed deep and nodded. It all made sense, after all. If the Turner I was speaking to was a byproduct of the spell, asking him to destroy that very spell would be like trying to undo the spell, like trying to turn back time. No, I had to break the Curse according to the flow of time in this alternate reality.

“Understood. Let’s get down to practical matters, shall we?” I asked.

“Of course, I was waiting for that.” Turner nodded. “But would you mind if we did that somewhere else? This room is starting to make me feel claustrophobic.”

“Sure.” I agreed, as I was starting to feel a bit oppressed as well. “Let’s get out of this place.”

Allons-y!” Turner exclaimed, and started moving.

“Wait, what?”

“I said ‘let’s go’, but in the way they say it over here. So many years hearing the same language gets to you in the end.”

I shrugged as a response to Turner’s funny behaviour. Once again, having been trapped in a two century-long endless loop could have some strange side effects, and who was I to judge them? As long as he proved to be helpful to me, I guess I could cope with a wacky companion. After all, not so long ago I was walking around with a psycho by my side.

I felt a funny sensation when I walked out the control room and witnessed the magnificence of the Transformer Station in its glory days. What I had seen as a large rusty and mouldy pool of swamp water was now a glistening clean hall of red brick walls, with large arched windows through which the bright sunlight poured into the building. The large electric machinery hummed harmonically, delivering power to all of the city, while a group of ponies in worker jumpsuits walked to and fro around the place, keeping everything in perfect working order.

“You seem surprised, Farsight…” Turner smiled. “What is it?”

“I could never have imagined this place would be of such… greatness. I had caught glimpses of it when we came here, but to see this… it makes me wonder.”

“About what?”

“About how we could let ourselves destroy all of this. There’s no excuse to losing all the work that has been poured into this place, and into many others, I suppose.”

“Indeed, there isn’t. You know, that’s a question I have asked myself so many times… and yet, I can’t find an answer.”

“There are things that don’t have an answer; and if they do, maybe it’s better not to hear it.”

“How deep.” Turner smiled while he climbed down a ladder. “Now, don’t let nostalgia grab you too hard. You know this isn’t true at all; it’s just an illusion.”

“I know, although it’s hard to accept.” I sighed.

Turner’s warning was no shot in the dark, for I had been partially blinded by the glory of the past… it was quite tempting to let yourself go and live forever in three days of magnificence and happiness, even if in the very deep you knew that it was all a lie, all fabricated by a ruthless spell. I had to be extremely careful while treading the streets of Neighorleans, for the risk of losing focus and forgetting my purpose was too high, and the temptations were very powerful.

During our last conversation, Turner and I had walked out of the Transformer Station and were standing on the cobblestoned road of a large avenue that led to the old town, with gardened estates built to each side of the street. The sun was on its zenith, and the blue skies shimmered in the damp heat. Unlike the post-War Neighorleans, which was damp, cold and murky; this pre-War city was hot, with the sun blazing upon us. The air kept being damp, as well as having had a slight hint of swamp smell, but it was distant and vague, not like the deep stench of the real Neighorleans.

Turner began to walk down the avenue towards the lively coloured houses of the Old Quarter, and I rushed to follow him. I needed his knowledge of the current situation, while he needed me as an agent to his intentions.

“Turner, how am I supposed to break the Curse?” I asked. “We’ve been talking about it in theory, but what am I exactly meant to do?”

“I can’t give you a single answer about what to do, but the purpose is very simple. You must stop Rarity from casting the spell. How you do that is up to you, but be aware of one thing. Like me, she’s a partial projection, so she’s free to alter her actions. However, she will cast the spell in three days time, at midnight.”

“I assume that she’ll be heavily protected.” I mumbled.

“Are you going to eliminate her?” Turner seemed surprised.

“What other alternative do you see?” I replied. “Casting the spell is a forced action, so I won’t be able to talk her out of it. The only possible way I fathom is to take her out of the picture before she curses the city. We both know that she’s a powerful magic wielder, so she would be able to use her powers to fight back or to free herself from any kind of imprisonment. I don’t want to take any risk, Turner.”

Turner took a deep breath and looked to the floor, thinking. He sighed and shook his head.

“I see no other way either. However, something makes me feel bad about this… I swore to protect Equestria and its leaders, and look at me, conspiring to kill one of the Ministry Mares. It goes against all I fought for in life.”

“But you know all of this isn’t true. Shouldn’t that help you assimilate it easier?”

“According to pure logic, it definitely should. However, it doesn’t; so I guess it’s become more of a matter of affection than one of logic.”

“I think I can understand that, Turner. I can’t ask you to do something that would hurt you, but I need you to promise that you won’t interfere with whatever I intend to do. I don’t want to get caught here forever, and less because of you.”

I gave Turner a hard look to emphasize those last words. I had trusted him to the point of getting myself entangled in such a mess, and the last thing I needed was to have him hindering my work. I needed to make clear that he was an ally and not an enemy.

“Fine, Farsight.” Turner sighed. “You are right. I can’t ask you to do something and then start causing you trouble the moment after. However, I can’t just stay by your side while you plot to kill Rarity. From now on, you are alone. Good luck, my friend, and may you do the best for all of us.”

With those last words, Turner took a side street and left me on my own, thinking about how I was going to slay a Ministry Mare while surrounded by a myriad of guards. It was not going to be an easy task.

*** *** ***

It was the dawn of my first day in Neighorleans, seventy-two hours remained until the fateful moment of the Curse, the instant in which I would be freed or condemned forever. Dismissing the thought of a possible failure, I trotted calmly down the avenue towards the Old Town. I wanted to fetch some references to help me find my way through the city. My PipBuck was of no use to locate a single thing, because the locating system didn’t work in the alternate reality of the Curse.

I managed to sneak into a building and climb onto the rooftop, and the sight of the world left me without breath for a second’s time. The city spanned far and wide, almost into the horizon, with tall towers popping up every here and there. I could manage to recognize some landmarks I had already seen in the ‘real’ world, such as the Rising Sun Manor or the park in Harmony Hill, below which the suburb of Maretairie formed a peaceful community. For a moment, my thoughts flew back to Auntie Cheval. Would I meet her, pre-ghoulified, if I went all the way to her place?

Nonsense. I dismissed the idea as fast as it came, as it wouldn’t help me at all in my endeavour. I needed to focus on the target at every minute. Getting sidetracked could mean my downfall.

My eyes moved from side to side, trying to locate a valid landmark to use as a starting point for my search. After all, first I needed to know where Rarity would be, and where she might be vulnerable to an attack. Of course, she would have already prepared herself against possible strikes; so it would become a true ordeal to take her down. To do anything, though, first I needed to move around town with ease.

“I never thought it could be so big…” I mumbled. New Pegasus and Freedom Field, together, could almost fit within the Old Quarter; or so it appeared to me.

After ten minutes of hectic search, my eyes found what appeared to be a large dome in an open space between buildings, down in the middle of the Old Town. A bolt ran through my mind… could that be the Town Hall? It looked like a good place to start searching for information, given that all the Governments handled information. I darted down the staircase and galloped down the avenue towards the designated target. I had not a single second to…

“Hey, you!” A voice called me from the side, making me freeze. “What’s with the funny outfit?”

I felt shivers down my spine. I hadn’t realized that I was wearing my armored Wasteland suit in a reality in which the megaspells were yet to hit, so ponies dressed properly in a civilized fashion. There was no way I could get close to Rarity without raising suspicion, dressed as I was. I looked at the unknown caller and found myself staring at a young buck in a casual outfit, a polo shirt and trousers.

“Well, I…” My mind struggled to craft a valid cover that could explain my outrageous attire.

“Oh, of course, I almost forgot it’s Maredi Gras. I’m such a dumb buck!” He laughed, and I couldn’t help laughing as well. Maredi Gras could be the perfect way of blending in.

“Yes, it’s my Maredi Gras costume! You caught me off guard, that’s all.” I smiled, trying to hide my nerves; even if my heart was still beating like crazy.

“Well, it is one fine costume indeed!” The buck nodded. “It’s based on that holomovie, right?”

“What holomovie?”

“That old blockbuster from around twenty years ago, ‘Mad Mac the Road Warrior’!”

“Oh, you meant ‘Mad Mac’!” I chuckled, even if I had no idea of what he was talking about. “Well, I guess it is. I wanted to dress as a Wasteland Raider, something from a dystopian future, you know; and this is what came out.”

“It’s a wonderful piece of work, you know? You should enter the grand costume contest. You might as well hit the big prize!”

“I need to give it a thought…”

“Trust me, you should. Just look at the details! That rifle is amazing… mind if I take a closer look?”

“Please don’t.” I couldn’t afford having him know that the rifle was real. Just in case. “It took me a lot of work to build it, and I must say it’s quite fragile… I prefer to handle it very carefully.”

“Oh, OK.” The buck winced, displeased. “Have it your way… anyway, I must be leaving. Good day to you, sir!”

“Good day to you too.” I nodded and turned around, leaving the place as quickly as possible without appearing too hasty.

That had been simply pathetic, and I knew it. If I wanted to be inconspicuous enough to get close to Rarity, I couldn’t just go crashing out of any harmless conversation, as if I had something to hide. I needed to calm down and think of a convincing story, something that would be regarded as logical in the context of the reality of the Curse.

My best choice was, obviously, to play a foreigner. I had no trace of the Neighorleans accent, and I couldn’t risk to try and mimic it; as any local would spot it and flag me as a fake. The best lies are those that contain a big chunk of truth in them, so I decided that my cover story would have me be a Las Pegasus citizen coming to enjoy Maredi Gras. As there was a rather inconvenient War raging around, I had to consider that being a healthy young stallion, my place would be in the frontlines. Therefore, I also had to forge my way out of that situation.

Obviously, my best choice would be to say that I had been issued a permit to leave my battalion, permit which I had used to come to Maredi Gras? No, that was a rather weak explanation… I needed a better reason to explain why I was in Neighorleans. Suddenly, a flash went through my mind.

“Nadyr!” I mumbled. “He should be in this reality as well!”

He could be my perfect alibi. Being a local, as he had been born in Peekayune, he could pretend to have invited me to come and have a little meetup. Now I just had to find him, although I already knew it wouldn’t be easy.

*** *** ***

After having invested almost all of the morning looking for my lost companion around town, I decided to stop for a meal and something to drink. I had been walking up and down the streets of Neighorleans, searching for that one half-zebra that I had gone missing a day ago, in another different reality; but I hadn’t been lucky.

What I had noticed, though, was that even if everypony tried to maintain the festive feel, one could feel the dread and deep worries that the War caused upon the population. Most of the ponies I came across in the streets were colts and fillies, or old and weary stallions that couldn’t stand without the help of walking aids. There were some young mares and stallions here and there, but beneath their pretended happiness I could see the damages of conflict: the buck dressed as a scarecrow had a funny walk, probably caused by a bullet wound to the leg; the mare dressed as a bride hid the crystal eye that replaced the one lost by an explosion; the pegasus that strolled over the park wouldn’t fly again, as one of his wings had been crippled by shrapnel.

The city and its inhabitants, though, were making a heavy effort to hide all that gloom, by competing in having the prettiest storefront, the biggest garlands, the shiniest flags or the best costumes. I did admire that perseverance, though, as sad as it could be. It showed the will to live and to outlast that the ponies had; as well as the hope that drove them forward. Even if I knew that it was futile, I couldn’t help feeling a little hint of sympathy for them.

The restaurant I had entered offered local cuisine and low prices, and as one could think, was a little bit of a hellhole. The windows hadn’t seen a clean wet cloth in weeks, the tables were old and clunky, the plates and trays were dirty and cracked, and the whole place reeked of not having been cared for properly. I had chosen the place because, in that reality, I was effectively broke. Maybe I would be able to barter some of my belongings for food, but I highly doubted that would work.

“Of all the places in the world I could find you, and you come here.” A familiar voice spoke behind me, making me turn around and see a well known half-zebra looking at me with a face of smug satisfaction.

“Nadyr, you son of a…” I grunted, remembering how he had left us aside, but then I decided to hold back my anger and show a happy face. “Am I glad to see you!”

“Me too, bro.” Nadyr got close to me and pushed me towards a table where a plate of stew was cooling down on. “I suddenly found myself in… here, in this… I don’t know how to call it.”

“Is that yours?” I said, pointing at the plate of stew.

“Yes, why?”

“Because I’m feeling rather hungry now, Nadyr.” I looked at him with irony. “And I just don’t know where on Equestria to get the money I need to pay.”

“That’s no problem!” Nadyr smiled broadly. “I’ve opened a tab in this place. Of course, I don’t intend to pay… not that I have the feeling that I’ll be forced to do it anyway.”

“That’s smart and cunning, I like it!” I smiled as well.

“So, fancy some stew? It’s not half bad, despite the looks of the place.”

“I could eat a griffin right now.”

“Then they’ll cook you a griffin!” Nadyr laughed coarsely. “Just kidding, bro. I’ll get you a serving, give me a minute.”

Nadyr whistled to get the waiter’s attention and made a sign with his forehoof. The waiter, a silvery colt, nodded and trotted into the kitchen, returning shortly after with a plate full of the smoking stew. He left the plate on the table with a soft knocking sound and wished me a nice meal.

“Put this on my tab, boy!” Nadyr waved the waiter goodbye and took a mouthful of the stew. “Tasty.”

I did the same, almost burning myself alive from the inside out in the process, and the taste of fresh vegetables almost made me cry in joy. Nothing I had eaten before in my whole life felt so clean, so natural… even if I had gotten used to it, the aftertaste of contamination and decay was present in every single food or drink in the Wasteland. This was how vegetables must have tasted before everything got destroyed… Too bad it was just an illusion.

“You seem to be enjoying it, Farsight.” Nadyr smiled.

“I most certainly am.” I nodded and took another bite.

“I told you the food was good!”

“Yes, yes, chastise me all you want for not trusting you.” I laughed dimly. “You should know me by now.”

“Of course, of course.” Nadyr stretched his neck slightly and looked at me with a worried face, letting me know he was changing subject. “I don’t know what the hell is going on, Farsight, but I don’t like it… wasn’t this supposed to be a ruin?”

“It was.” I nodded. “What happened to you?”

“I don’t know!” Nadyr shrugged. “I just stopped to have a little nap, just to do the final stretch towards the Manor, but then I woke up and the world had returned to… normal!”

“The Curse caught you.”

“The what now?” Nadyr looked at me with a very puzzled face.

“The Curse. Don’t you remember Maretairie? The story they told us about everypony here dying instantly?”

“Oh yeah!” Nadyr stomped the floor to emphasize. “That story! Honestly, I thought it was all bullshit.”

“Well, now you know it wasn’t; because the two of us have been caught in it.”

“Caught? Is there a way of getting out?”

“There is, but it’s not that simple. We need to stop Rarity from casting the spell that cursed Neighorleans.”

Nadyr winced.

“How are we even supposed to do that? It’s not like we’ll be able to walk to her and ask her kindly not to fuck up the entire city, right?”

“Right.” I shook my head and shrugged. “Rarity will not reason with anypony and will not bend to any kind of barter…”

“So we have to stop her the bad way.” Nadyr finished, and I nodded. “Well, tell me how to kill a Ministry Mare in the middle of a flurry of guards!”

“That was what I have been trying to work out…” I said, and I decided to make things clear with my companion, “as well as finding you, you dickhead. Are you out of your damn mind?”

“What’s wrong with you?” Nadyr frowned. “Why have you become so mad now?”

“Give me a fucking reason to leave me and Rose alone in the Bank!” I grunted. “You stole the boat and left us stranded there!”

“Well…” Nadyr babbled, trying to find some valid explanation. “I woke up from the shock before you two, and since you seemed to be completely out of commission, I decided to go scouting by myself. The computer spoke about Rising Sun Manor, on top of the hill, so I thought I could go check it out. With a pinch of luck, you would be still down by the time I came back!”

That was the lamest explanation I could have expected, but in the very deep, I knew that Nadyr’s greed would force him to do stuff like that. You can’t blame the wind for blowing, so I had to admit that I should have seen that coming.

“Honestly, I am rather mad at you, Nadyr. You put yourself in danger, as well as risking our lives. We managed to find a way out of the office you left us in, and luckily, we didn’t run into any more trouble, but think about it: what would have happened if you wouldn’t have been able to return?”

Nadyr grumbled something, behaving like a young colt being reprimanded; but then lifted his head and nodded.

“Point taken, Farsight. As usual, you’re right.”

“It’s not about being right or wrong, Nadyr. We’re working as a team here; that’s the only way we’re getting the Gold and returning home in one piece.”

“Of course, of course.”

I could feel Nadyr’s displease at my constant speech about teamwork and mutual good will, so I decided to steer the conversation on a different direction. Nadyr had been inside the Curse for more time than I had, so he might know more about the things going on in town.

“Nadyr… you wouldn’t happen to know where Rarity will be in the next days, would you?”

“Sorry, bro. The folks here are quite silent, given the fact that there are some unwanted individuals strolling around the place… namely Ministry of Morale goons. Butchers with a license plate, I tell you. I’ve been questioned twice just for being a half-zebra.”

“And what did you tell them?”

“That I live in Peekayune and that I had come to enjoy the celebrations of Maredi Gras! That’s the most credible thing I can tell them!”

Smart, Nadyr, smart. He had been thinking about his cover as much as I had.

“Of course,” he continued, “the celebrations’ schedule is unclear and cryptic, so that nopony can anticipate where Rarity might appear. Everypony believes that she’s lodged in the Rising Sun Hotel, since the place is like a damn fortress. I tried to take a sneak peek around it, but I couldn’t even get close to the outside fence! Guards are just everywhere!”

“I see…” I mumbled, worried. If we couldn’t even know where to strike, we had absolutely nothing to do. Suddenly, a risky idea went through my mind.

“Uh-oh. You’ve come up with something, I see it in your face.”

“You said that Pinkie’s bucks are everywhere, right?”

“That’s what I said, yeah. What are you implying?”

“We know that you’re suspicious for being a zebra, so you will draw their attention. I’m assuming that the MoM goons must know when Rarity will appear, in order to protect her and ensure her safety. Therefore, if we can grab hold of the documents of any of those guards, we should be able to plan a strategy.”

“Sounds good, but I don’t like where you’re going.”

“Any better idea?”

Nadyr puffed and grunted.

“No.”

“It’s settled then. Leave the restaurant and wait on the side street. Be ready for some combat.”

“If anything goes wrong, I’ll make you pay, bro. I swear.”

“Come on, trust me. When have my plans gone wrong?” I smiled smugly.

Nadyr sighed and walked out of the restaurant at a steady pace, while I got close to the bar and called the waiter for a bit of privacy. When the silvery young buck came close, I did my best impersonation of Turner’s attitude when being ‘official’ about his assignments.

“What is it, sir?” the waiter asked.

“Keep it down, boy. Agent Sight, Equestrian Military Intelligence Service. I need your help. You’ve seen the zebra I’ve been having lunch with? He’s an enemy spy, conspiring against the Government. I’ve been playing a double agent, promising him some information on our Army plans, and I’ve arranged for a meeting on the side street. Do me a favor and call some Ministry of Morale agents to back me up. Do it quick, son, because I need to be there soon, or he’ll begin to suspect me!”

The waiter nodded with a worried face and darted out of the front door of the restaurant. I calmly left the place, taking a detour in order to give some advantage to the waiter and the guards. The plan was to ambush them in the backstreet, after all.

*** *** ***

“May I see your papers, sir?” The voice of an unknown pony came from around the corner. I took a peek to see Nadyr surrounded by two stallions in long black trench coats and hats. Obviously, the idea of ‘blending in’ didn’t appear to be a priority to them.

“Gentlecolts, this is absurd.” Nadyr replied, playing the role of the disgruntled citizen.

“Shut up!” The farthest buck barked. “Papers, now!”

“I don’t understand this.” Nadyr shrugged. “I am a loyal citizen of Neighorleans.”

“Don’t play with our patience, Zebra scum. Where are your damn papers?”

Nadyr stomped the floor in anger.

“So that’s it, right?” He huffed. “It’s all because of my stripes. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been loyal to the Government in Canterlot, it doesn’t matter that I’ve paid my taxes, it doesn’t even matter that I took a bullet for the country in Hill 466!”

Hill 466? I had to admit that I had no idea of what he was talking about, but he had a natural talent for acting.

“Hill 466?” The two MoM goons looked puzzled.

“Yes, Hill 466! Of course, you can’t know where it is, because you’ve got your muzzles so deep in your asses that you don’t even see daylight!”

“Be careful about what you say, you bastard.” The closest goon clenched his teeth. I readied my rifle, because I had the feeling that things could get rough any minute.

Nadyr flinched lightly and bowed.

“Sorry, officer. I know you’re on duty, but there are some times that this poor war veteran feels a little mistreated by his nation. Could you at least tell me why I’m being questioned now?”

One of the goons, who seemed to be the leader of the two, sighed deeply; as if moved by Nadyr’s sudden burst of alleged honesty.

“I am sorry, but I can’t tell you. Please, let me see your papers and let’s get this over with.”

“Of course…” Nadyr gave in. “Just let me find them.”

Nadyr started searching in his pockets and saddlebags, with the two goons looking closely. Since I doubted Nadyr had any valid papers, it was the time to act. I readied my gun and checked if S.A.T.S. was active. Unluckily for me, it wasn’t, so I would have to do things the hard way. I aimed at the closer goon and took a deep breath.

BLAM!

The hollow bullet tore a hole of the size of a tennis ball in the head of the MoM guard, spraying blood, bone and brain matter all around the small side street. The second goon unholstered his gun, getting ready to fight. Sadly for him, Nadyr was a much faster gunslinger.

BANG!

A single shot at point-blank range ended with the life (or illusion of life) of the second goon. I trotted at my companion and put away my gun.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“I’m fine, don’t worry.” Nadyr boasted. “I could have taken them down myself, but thanks for the help.”

“You can stop acting now, Nadyr.”

“Are you implying I couldn’t handle them alone?”

“Honestly, I don’t think you would have been able. Still, what’s done is done. Let’s take a look and see what we can find.”

As fast as we could, we started scrounging around the corpses of the two dead goons. We knew that the noise of the shots would bring everypony to the small side street, so we needed to hurry up.

“Any luck?” Nadyr asked. “This one isn’t carrying anything.”

“This one doesn’t seem to… wait a minute.”

I had found a small note in a back pocket of the coat. A closer look of it revealed that it was a timetable for the security operations in the coming days, which gave us a rather good hunch about when Rarity might appear in public. I couldn’t help to smile broadly.

“What is it?” Nadyr came close.

“Look at this. It seems that there is a grand parade taking place this afternoon, and then there are no great things going on until the opening party of the hotel. My guess is that these are the times in which Rarity will be seen, and therefore when she will be vulnerable.”

“A parade, huh? Will the Ministry Guards be expecting a sniper?”

I smiled at Nadyr’s remark.

“I guess they won’t. Still, let’s not be overconfident. I don’t want to get gunned down here.”

“Neither do I.” The half zebra shook his head. “What do we know about the parade?”

“It will go down Buckbon Street from 4 to 7 PM, which means that we have an hour to get set and find a proper place to set up our attack. Let’s hide the corpses and get moving!”

*** *** ***

After having hidden the dead ponies in a convenient dumpster full of trash, we hurried for a rooftop that gave us a clear vantage point over the Parade. Sadly for us, they were definitely expecting a sniper. Pegasi patrolled the sky in regular intervals, and most of the entrances to the buildings around Buckbon Street were heavily guarded. It wouldn’t be as easy as we had thought, not by far.

The music coming from the distance let us know that the parade had already started, and that we had to move as fast as possible not to miss our chance. Galloping along the backstreets, we tried our hardest to find a doorway we could sneak into. Finally, we found an unguarded back door close to Dumane Street… our only worry would be the pegasi patrols keeping an eye from above. Once on the rooftop, we hid under a convenient water tower. That would keep us away from the pegasi, but it hindered my line of sight.

“Are we ready?” Nadyr asked.

“As ready as we can be.” I sighed. “I don’t think I’ll get a clear shot from here, but I don’t want to be gunned down by those winged cops.”

“Me neither.” Nadyr laughed ironically. “We’ll have to do with this… by the way, what happened to Rose?”

“Rose? She might be cursed as well, but I wouldn’t bet on it.”

“How so?”

“Apparently, those ponies with a greater magic skill are less vulnerable to the Curse, which will make them stay for a longer time in the ‘real’ Neighorleans. Those with less ability will get sucked faster into the ‘fake’ Neighorleans. Rose, teamed up with Lavender, is by far the most powerful magic caster of the three, so I would put my caps on her being in the ruined City, while we’re dilly-dallying around in this illusion.”

“I see. Now, would you mind explaining how you found out about that?”

“It’s a long and complicated story, so bear with me.” I began to tell Nadyr about how I had met Turner, how he had told me about the Curse and about how to end it from the inside. The half-zebra’s face showed his surprise and disbelief about the things I was telling him.

“No disrespect meant, Farsight, but that’s just bananas.”

“It’s our best bet, Nadyr. I know it sounds bonkers, but I don’t have any better idea about how to return to our beloved, post-Balefire reality.”

“Tell me something, bro. What will happen if we fail to do whatever we’re meant to do?”

“Apparently, we’ll get trapped in this illusion forever. Three days after three days after three days, and so on.”

“That means we’ll know that we’re trapped?”

“I don’t know about that end. I don’t want to know either.”

“Of course…” Nadyr let go a sigh of dismay. “Let’s concentrate on taking the Mare down, shall we?”

I nodded and readied my trusted sniper rifle, trying to find the best angle of fire while keeping safe under the water tower. I grunted, because I had almost no line of sight with the ground, so it would be a one-shot chance only.

“This won’t work.” I mumbled.

“Well aren’t you a natural optimist.” Nadyr snickered.

“You’d better start thinking about a different way of getting to her.” I gave Nadyr the note with the timetable, and I concentrated on the telescopic sight of my rifle.

The brass band music became louder as the parade got close to our location. Crowds of ponies dressed up in the most different costumes walked along the celebratory chariots, while the musicians played a quick tune, encouraging the viewers to dance to the beat. I tried to keep the aim steady as a chariot representing the glorious Army of Equestria passed through my sights.

“Where is she?” I grunted in anger. My muscles were starting to get cramped, and getting the crosshairs to stop moving was an ever greater ordeal.

“Still no luck, Farsight?” Nadyr asked from behind, his head stuck in the timetable. I couldn’t believe it was taking him so long to find a possible opportunity.

“Nope.” I mumbled. “I don’t think I’ll be able to hold much longer. This position is too uncomfortable.”

“Don’t give up just yet. She should be about to appear.”

Suddenly, right after Nadyr had said those words, a chariot symbolizing the Elements of Harmony appeared on my sights, and Rarity was on top of it. For a moment, I was awestruck by her otherworldly beauty. Her white coat glistened in the bright sun of the Bayou, and her spotless purple mane curled itself with grace and elegance with every move she made. A perfectly fitting red dress made her shine like a star on top of the chariot platform.

“Bro, isn’t that Rarity?” Nadyr asked.

“In the flesh…” I mumbled, trying to find a clear shot. As hard as I forced myself, though, I couldn’t stabilize the sight. The tension and the wait had left my body slow and my magic weakened, and the chariot moved too fast for me to lock onto Rarity. Besides, a missed shot would attract the attention of everypony in town. I couldn’t risk it, not that much at least.

“Farsight! She’s getting away!”

“Aww, fuck it!” I tossed the rifle to the floor and let myself fall, exhausted. I rolled to my back and looked at the low end of the water tower. Stains of moisture appeared all along the wooden planks, and the striped face of Nadyr looked at me from above, with a face of incredulity.

“Why didn’t you shoot, bro? Don’t tell me you’ve fallen in love.”

“No, it’s not that. I couldn’t get a clear shot, and my body felt too heavy to respond properly. I didn’t want to miss, because then we’d have a hard time getting away from all the police in town.”

“Fair enough. I just hope we don’t have to regret this missed chance.”

“Well, that depends. Have you found a way of getting close to her?”

“I might have.” Nadyr smiled. “At first I thought in the Opening Party, but her appearance will be only five minutes long. I guess that’s when she’ll cast the spell.”

“That’s a no-go.” I shook my head. “Too risky, we can’t just play a single card. There must be another way.”

“Well, apparently there is a private party taking place before the official opening, but you will need an invitation to get in there.”

“Any idea on how to get one?”

Nadyr shrugged and made a face of not giving a single fuck.

“Beats me. I guess, though, that if it’s a private party and Rarity is involved, it will mean glamour and glitz.”

“Quite reasonable… now, where do all the glamourous ponies go in Neighorleans?”

“You might be interested to know that there is a rather fancy Casino downtown, close to the Bank. That would be a good place to start looking, wouldn’t it?”

Good old Nadyr could make some bright remarks every now and then. Indeed, a Casino of a certain prestige could be a magnificent place to look for an invitation. I still didn’t know how I was going to do that exactly, but I had good vibrations. I couldn’t help smiling broadly, and I let go a laugh of relief.

“Those are great news, Nadyr! Will they let us in looking like this, though?”

“Well, it’s Maredi Gras.” Nadyr huffed. “I guess there’s no harm in trying.”

“Also, what about the money? We have nothing in this reality!”

“That’s where you’re mistaken, my friend!” Nadyr smiled, and took out a large wallet from his saddlebags. “I nicked this from one of the dead goons. Seems like it had just been pay day, this thing is stuffed.”

The wallet was, indeed, almost full with different notes and coins. A lot of money for a goon, unless the MoM paid its employees in cash. Not that I worried too much, though. We needed money, and we had found money.

“Not a minute too soon!” I got back up with a hop. “Let’s go play our cards, shall we?”

*** *** ***

Right where Nadyr had told me, I found myself staring at the immense Grand Casino of Neighorleans. The building radiated elegance and class from each and every block that had been used to build it. The long archways and large windows with carefully crafted glass panels spoke of glory and opulence, the thick rugs that covered the floors welcomed each newcomer with their softness and warmth. The constant mumbling of ponies playing and croupiers dealing was muffled by the tapestries in the walls, that depicted imagery of classic elegance and aesthetic beauty.

I was used to being in casinos, such as the Four Little Diamonds in Freedom Field, but unlike the ones in Neighvada, this place was welcoming and likeable. I didn’t have to fear being shot in the back by a rival gang goon; although I had the feeling that the same level of foul play was involved in there, just with a bit more of subtlety.

Nadyr and I walked along the foyer of the Casino, a two-leveled round room that was lit by the sunlight that sipped from a crystal dome in the roof, as well as by four chandelier lamps that hung from the ceiling. Two symmetric staircases of dark wood and gold coating connected the upper and the lower level, and the walls were covered in patterned wallpaper in gold and bronze colors. Suddenly, a liveried butler called our attention.

“Excuse me, gentlecolts…”

“What’s wrong?” I asked, acting surprised.

“I’m afraid to tell you that your looks don’t exactly fit our dress code. I will have to ask you to leave.”

I looked at myself rather theatrically, moving the head up and down along my flanks. Then I composed a smile of shame and shrugged while laughing dimly.

“Oh, you mean this… I thought it was Maredi Gras!”

“Well, sir, it is indeed… but this establishment takes great pride in its class and elegance. We can’t do any exceptions.”

“Why, that’s too bad!” I whined. “I’m a soldier on a permit with a nice amount of money to gamble with, and I can’t just because I came dressed up for Maredi Gras? Can’t you do something about it?”

The mention of money made the butler’s attitude change, even if he tried to hide it from us. He became a bit less distant than before, and started acting friendly and willing to help.

“I think there might be something… if you wish to come with me, I shall provide you of adequate attire.”

“I knew we could find a solution.” I smiled and nodded.

“Follow me, please.” The butler turned around and climbed the stairs to the upper floor.

We walked down a maze of corridors after the Casino butler, leaving the main gambling halls aside, until he stopped at the door of a small room that was marked as ‘storage’. When we were close enough, he opened the door and entered the room, telling us to follow him. Once inside, we noticed that they were using the place as a cloakroom, since it was full of suits, coats and other garments. With class and determination, he picked up a couple of elegant suits and gave them to us. After that, he left the room to give us a bit of privacy.

“Good move.” Nadyr smiled in relief. “For a moment I thought he wouldn’t let us in.”

“Greed is a powerful motivator.” I answered, while struggling with the tie. “He couldn’t risk losing the chance of getting more money into the casino.”

Once suited and ready to go, we left our stuff in a corner of the room and followed the butler back into the main hall of the elegant casino. Gentle music flowed in the halls, while soft lights coming from chandelier-like lamps projected dancing shadows on the mustard-colored walls. The soft red and gold rugs that covered the floors were warm and welcoming to the touch, rustling gently as we walked on them.

“Excuse me.” I tapped the butler’s back to get his attention.

“What is it, sir?” he answered solicitously.

“Well… I have heard many rumours of a grand party taking place in the Rising Sun Hotel, prior to the grand opening. Is that true?”

The butler doubted about what to answer. Obviously, he didn’t want to say it openly, because the celebration was meant to be secret; but he couldn’t just deny it. It was a lie too blatant to hide.

“Well…” he stuttered.

“Come on!” I smiled gently. “It will be our little secret. After all, it’s common word out in the streets. Nopony admits or denies it, but everypony speaks about it.”

“All right, sir. There is, indeed, a special celebration for a private group of attendants.”

“And you won’t happen to know of any way of getting an invitation?”

“Not at all, sir.” The butler’s reply sounded stiff and fast. He was hiding something.

I grabbed the wallet and picked out a hundred bit note, sliding it carefully into the butler’s pocket. I smiled and winked in complicity.

“I can’t believe that a well-informed pony like you has no idea about how to get an invitation.”

“Well, sir, all invitations have been given away; but…”

“I knew there was a but.” I smiled.

“Indeed, sir. I meant that there is one invitation owner that has been playing all day in the casino, with a perplexingly good luck… or maybe savoir faire.”

“Would you mind pointing me to that individual?”

“Of course, sir. It’s the light grey stallion in a black tuxedo playing at the Poker table.”

“Thank you!” I nodded in gratitude. “One last thing… would you mind giving us chips?”

*** *** ***

The poker table was a world of its own, almost separated from the rest of the casino by a clever setup of divider screens with elegant patterns. A bar of its own allowed the gamblers to get their fixes without having to leave the area, and the lower lamps surrounded the table in a convenient layer of shadows. Even the music and the voices from the outside sounded to be really far away.

Five ponies surrounded the table, six if you took the croupier into account; as well as their entourages, who watched from a safe distance. Mares with expensive gowns, distinguished looking stallions… and my target, the tuxedo-wearing stallion. He was different to the rest of the players. He belonged there, a casino table seemed like his habitat, judging by the way he acted and by the pile of chips he had accumulated; but there was something alien about him… as if he lacked the class of the other gamblers. He seemed rougher, smarter, more dangerous.

“I’d like to join.” I said to the croupier.

“Of course. Small blind is 25 bits, big blind is 50 bits.” His reply was mechanic, as if he had been saying it for ages. I had 6000 bits in chips, so I had my good chances of battling my way for an invitation.

“Count me in.” I dropped a chip in the center of the table and made myself comfortable. Cards started flowing from the pack into the players. A seven and a queen, not bad to begin with. I pushed another chip and began to watch my opponent closely. He didn’t show any kind of emotion while playing, but he did seem to pay attention to me; as if the rest of the players were nothing more than a nuisance.

“New in town?” he asked, out of the blue. He spoke in a Trottingham-like manner, but with a funny accent.

“Why, yes.” I answered calmly.

“What’sh your shtory?” Well look at that, the tuxedo buck had a lisp.

“Nothing too fancy, really.” I smiled gently, trying to appear humble, in order to make him lower his guard. “I’m just a veteran on a permit.”

“Well, to be a shimple war veteran, you’ve got a juicy wallet. You don’t shee many of thoshe theshe daysh.”

“I’ve been saving it for a rainy day, but by the looks of things, I won’t be able to use it in a long time, so I might as well have some fun with it.”

“Of courshe.” The buck showed genuine interest. Could that mean that he was aware that I was really new in the Curse? “What’sh your name, shon?”

“Farsight. And yours?”

“Call me Conneighry. Nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure is all mine.”

Meanwhile, the croupier had dealt the three first cards; a five, a three and a queen. Good, that gave me a pair to play with. Carefully, I raised the bet to force others to move and take contenders out of the picture. Suddenly, one of the mares went all in, which caused a sudden gasp of surprise among the audience. I noticed that Conneighry didn’t even flinch, though. He pushed all his chips into the middle, and took a sip of his cup without much interest. I didn’t want to lose all the chances at my first move, since my opponent had reacted with such calm to an all-out attack. He had to be ready for whatever may come, so I folded. Other two players went all in as well, and the remaining one folded.

“What a blunt move.” Conneighry grimaced, looking at me. Did he nod at me? “More cardsh, pleashe.”

The croupier dealt the remaining two cards, which happened to be two aces. I couldn’t hide the eagerness I had for the players to unveil their hooves, just to see who won. I had a hunch, though, and that was Conneighry.

“Two fives.” The mare that had started the all in frenzy left her cards on the table. “That makes three of a kind.”

“Aww, I had two threes.”

“Nothing, I thought it was a bluff.”

Only Conneighry had his cards hidden. I tried to find a hint of emotion in his face, but he showed no trace of them. He seemed to be carved in stone, and he didn’t even emote when he dropped his cards.

“Two acesh. That makesh four of a kind.”

“Mister Conneighry has four of a kind.” The croupier announced my opponent’s victory, using his magic to shove the chips to his side.

“My, congratulations.” I bowed humorously. “That was a masterful move.”

“Not at all, shon. Jusht luck.”

I couldn’t help to believe that Conneighry already knew what would happen in this game, even if I had altered it. Going all in with only two of a kind, and then winning the hoof thanks to the last two cards… it was something more than luck, it was knowledge. Maybe his situation was similar to Turner’s?

“Well, I’ve seen some lucky strikes in my hometown, but that… that was amazing.”

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Las Pegasus.”

“Ah, Lash Pegashush. Not a bad place at all, to be honesht.”

“I guess you’ve got to be a full-time gambler to pull out feats like that.” I praised him, trying to get a glimpse of who he was. “I am sincerely amazed.”

“Thank you, shon.”

The croupier called possible new players to the table, but after Conneighry’s last strike of luck, nopony dared to enter, not as long as he was around. After that, cards were dealt and another hoof began. I lifted my pair with care, and took a quick glance: a four and a five. Nothing fancy at all, I had little chances of winning, so I would have to fold.

“I fold.” Conneighry announced, out of the blue. Once again, the audience gasped out of surprise.

“That was fast.” I whistled lightly, showing my surprise.

“Shometimesh, one musht know when to shtep back.” He smiled and looked at me in the eyes.

Suddenly, a flash went through my mind. He was meant to win that hoof once again, and he knew it! However, he had folded without even taking a look at his two cards. I was fully convinced that he was aware of being cursed, and that he knew which cards would be played in which hoof. I just needed to make sure that he wasn’t playing with me; but once again, if he was a standard victim of the Curse, he wouldn’t be able to mess with me, would he?

“A very reasonable attitude.” I nodded and raised the bet.

Three cards flowed onto the table: a six, a king and a three. I kept having nothing, but I was just a seven away of having a flush… was Conneighry’s intuition right?

“Excuse me if I appear to be a bit too intrusive, mister Conneighry, but I believe to have noticed a certain similitude between your accent and the one spoken around Trottingham, am I right?”

“Yesh, you’re right.” He smiled. “I come from Trottingham, although I wash born in the high landsh.”

“What a funny coincidence! I happened to meet a chap from Trottingham in the front lines. He was no soldier, he was more of a black ops buck, but he was fun to speak with, and had a bit of a loony personality.”

“Did he?” Conneighry’s attitude changed, even if very slightly. I was on the right path.

The croupier uncovered another card: a four, which gave me a pair… nothing too fancy, but I had the feeling that I had to push. I raised the bet even higher, forcing the remaining buck to equal it, but not high enough to make him fold.

“Yes, he was quite an individual!” I spoke without making eye contact with Conneighry. “I think his name was Turner. Of course, I lost him soon enough.”

Conneighry flinched very slightly at the mention of Turner, what led me to believe that they knew each other. I assumed they were partners in Operation Masquerade, what meant that he was aware of him being cursed. Most probably, he had played in that table for almost two hundred years, so he knew each and every card played. The croupier lifted the last card; the required seven. At its sight, I went all in, followed by the other buck.

“Two pairs.” He grinned, showing a five and a seven.

“Flush.” I showed my four and my five. “I win.”

“Flush beats two pairs. Mister Farsight wins.” The croupier confirmed my victory, and Conneighry nodded lightly, as if he was acknowledging what he already knew.

“I guessh thish leavesh ush two alone.”

“It does. Something to drink, Conneighry?”

“Why yesh. Vodka maretini, shaken, not shtirred.” He waved a hoof to a nearby waiter to make his order.

“You, sir?” The waiter asked.

“Not for now, thanks. I like to play sober.”

The waiter left the table and the croupier started dealing a new set of cards. My pair appeared to be rather interesting, a queen and an ace; but Conneighry seemed to know which cards would appear at every time. I didn’t stand a chance against an opponent that controlled the game up to that point.

“Who are you really, Farshight?”

“Me?” I pretended to be surprised. “I’m a veteran…”

“Shpare the bollocksh. You can’t be a veteran, there never wash a veteran in thish cashino.”

“Really? Then who are you, to make such an assertion?”

Conneighry laughed, a sincere laugh for once. Then he relaxed and took a sip from the cup of maretini the waiter had promptly left on the table.

“I guessh thish ish a tie. Agent Conneighry, Equeshtrian Military Intelligence Shervice, but I think you already knew that; since you know Turner.”

“Just as I believed.” I smiled as well. “I am nothing but a scavenger from two centuries in the future, looking for the Gold hidden in Rising Sun Manor. Also, I’m trying to find my way out of this curse.”

“Of courshe, you can’t have one without the other.”

“And for that, I need an invitation to the private party.”

“Which I have.”

“And I was trying to gamble it away from you, but now that both our covers are blown, I feel a bit confused on how to handle this.”

“You won’t be able to beat me in thish game. I’ve played it for two centuriesh. I know which cardsh you will play.”

“Then, I guess it’s hopeless.” I shrugged and smiled. “Oh well, in that case, I believe we’ll meet again many times.”

“Not by any chance.” Conneighry grabbed a piece of paper from his saddlebag and shoved it to me. It was the invitation to the party, printed on thick paper with ornate letters.

“I thought you had sworn to protect Rarity. At least, that’s what Turner said.” I couldn’t help feeling surprised about his swift cooperation.

“I did, but my oath hash tied me to thish eternity. I don’t want it to go on forever, sho if you can shtop it, I’ll be grateful.”

“Fine then.” I picked the invitation. “It’s been a pleasure, Agent Conneighry.”

“Pleashure hash been mine, Farsight. Godshpeed.”

*** *** ***

The wait for the party in the Hotel went by very quickly. I kept on thinking on ways of approaching Rarity, but none of them seemed safe enough to ensure a proper strike. It depended greatly on whether I would have the chance of getting my guns inside the Hotel. I didn’t harbor many hopes, though, as it seemed too obvious. Still, it was worth trying; therefore, Nadyr and I headed to the Hotel in our Wasteland gear, pretending to be wearing Maredi Gras costumes.

The guard on the gate gave us a funny look when we tried to enter the Party, but the invitation was a powerful reason to let us in. With a mute grump, he opened the fence gate that led into the Manor grounds. The music could be heard from the outside, a local band playing a funky tune that invited to dance. We moved swiftly across the gardens and entered the Manor via the front door.

Inside, we found ourselves in a gleaming white lobby with tall, slender columns and tapestries hanging from the walls. Rich rugs covered the floors and the furniture showed great taste, being classical and yet trendy at the same time. In a corner of the room, the band filled the place with music, while all the ponies in the room danced; some dressed up in costumes and some in gala outfits.

“Beautiful place, eh?” Nadyr asked with amazement in his face.

“This could be heaven, or this could be hell.” I shrugged.

“No need to get all philosophic, bro.” Nadyr shook his head, and went to the bar.

While my companion got his fix of booze, I started scouting the place looking for Rarity. The glamourous Ministry Mare was nowhere to be found, but I could overhear her name in more than a single conversation. Obviously, all the folks in the room waited for her to appear, as she was the great protagonist of the event.

“Is she here?” Nadyr had returned with a cocktail in his mouth, which he had left on a nearby table.

“Not now, but I believe she’s in the building. We will have to wait.”

I tried to keep calm, but I felt my nerves slowly cringing with every tick of the clock. How much time did we actually have to take her out? Would it be a one-shot chance, like the one on the parade, or would we have room to plan things more thoroughly?

“Patience, Farsight.” Nadyr drank his cocktail and hiccupped. “You should have your chance.”

“I hope you’re right…” I sighed.

Suddenly, the crowd became restless. From the top of the main staircase, the sound of hooves against wood let us know that somepony was coming. With a soft tune from the band, the Ministry Mare herself came down the stairs. Rarity kept looking as stunning as she did in the Parade, but this time she had changed dresses. Now she was wearing a tight black gown that made her curves show clearly. I couldn’t help to feel a certain uneasiness down my rear half, and a plan started brewing in my mind. Risky, but which wasn’t?

“My dear citizens of Neighorleans!” Rarity appealed her audience. “Isn’t it great to be here!”

A wild cheer rose from the ponies on the lower floor, with hooves stomping the floor in glee. Rarity nodded with extreme grace in a show of gratitude.

“I would like to thank you all for completing this communal endeavour. We are living hard times, with a terrible war raging out there, so this place has an even greater value. Not so long ago, this was a happy nation; and thanks to that happiness we thrived. Now the horrors of conflict have tried to take that joy away from us, and we mustn’t let that happen! This is a stone, a step in that direction, an act of bravery and defiance to tell our enemies that we won’t give our happiness up!”

Another roar shook the building, as a myriad of ponies cheered Rarity’s speech. The Ministry Mare nodded and smiled.

“So, tonight is a night to rejoice. Have fun and believe in our victory!”

With a bow and a gracious smile, Rarity ended her speech and trotted downstairs. It was my best chance to approach her, before she disappeared among the many ponies of the audience. Besides, she had to be aware of the Curse, just as Turner and Conneighry had been, so I could reasonably expect some curiosity on her behalf. Where that curiosity would lead me to, though, was a complete unknown.

“A delightful little speech, Minister.” I approached Rarity trying to appear as distinguished and elegant as possible, despite my looks. “It surprises me that you’re not being broadcasted to our troops out there.”

Rarity stopped dead on her tracks and gazed upon me with her amethyst eyes. Her eyelashes fluttered beautifully up and down with every move of her eyes, while she evaluated me as something she hadn’t seen before. Her face of surprise was genuine, as I had somehow expected.

“Why thank you, darling.” Grace under pressure, that’s what she showed. Rarity acted as if I was a pony she was actually expecting. “I’m not the one meant to do that. There are others with a far greater experience than mine in dealing with our armies.”

“Still, I think you’ve been able to set the audience on fire, figuratively speaking.” I smiled and bent my head to the side, while looking at her with my most seductive look. “We all know how grim the spirits are these days… your sight and your voice could help more than you think.”

“My, my, what a charmer.” Rarity giggled softly. “I don’t think we’ve met before, mister…”

“Farsight, milady.” I bowed. “Indeed, we haven’t met. It’s my true pleasure.”

I kissed her forehoof very gently. Her fur was extremely soft and she smelled like paradise… if that was an illusion, I would try to enjoy it as much as possible.

“Milady, all the rumours about you are true… You are, indeed, an angel descended from the heavens.”

Rarity blushed, her eyes shining in glee. Her ego was, probably, the best way to get to her; and that was the card I was meaning to play… to the very end.

“Oh, my… thank you, Farsight. You are really kind!”

“It’s the least I can do.” I looked down, pretending to feel ashamed. “I’ve travelled very long, and I’ve done a great effort to meet you in person and contemplate your unparalleled beauty. Now my life is complete.”

“Have you? What did you do?”

“I’m just a humble trooper, a soldier that fights for this great nation against the Zebra enemy. For all my life, I’ve been listening to tales of your magnificence, and watching pictures that could only do you little justice. When I found out that you would be at the opening of this hotel, I fought to get a permit issued and invested a lot of money to travel from the frontlines to Neighorleans, just to be close to you. Now I can return to battle with a sense of closure.”

Rarity blushed harder, and smiled broadly. Her immense ego didn’t let her see through my charade.

“Those words are just flattering. How did you manage to get an invitation, though? I thought this was a private party, and I am pretty sure that you’re not on the guest list, darling.”

“Oh, there’s an easy explanation for that!” I laughed lightly, as if I didn’t want to give it any importance. “Yesterday, I went to try my luck in the Casino. I take some pride in being a capable poker player, so I tested my skill at the table. I happened to meet a stallion there who had an invitation, and we gambled for it. Lady Luck decided that I was the one to attend the party, that’s all.”

For a moment, I believed that Rarity would blow my cover, but she had apparently fallen for my gambit. She started checking me out carefully, with a hint of mischief on her expression.

“So you say you’re a soldier, huh?” She grinned.

“Yes, milady. I don’t want to die for my country, I want to make the zebra bastards die for theirs. I’m no hero, but I will fulfil my duty.”

“I don’t doubt that, my dear.” Rarity was definitely checking out my flanks. I couldn’t help feeling a little embarrassed, but things were going down the right way. “I like your costume, what is it exactly?”

“Oh, I inspired myself in the blockbuster ‘Mad Mac, the Road Warrior’. The aesthetics were quite unique and I wanted to mimic them… it was easy to get scrap plating from base, after all, it was good for nothing.” I shrugged. “And if you will allow me, milady, I love your dress. It makes you look mind-boggling.”

Rarity smiled maliciously, and I had an idea of what was going through her mind at the moment.

“Thanks, Farsight. Now tell me, what were your plans for the party?”

“Quite honestly, I had none. Or if I had, they’re gone after having met you. I’m at your disposal, Minister.” That was the key line, the trap was set. Would she fall for it?

“Are you, soldier?” She giggled. “In that case, would you be interested in me showing you the Princess Suite of the hotel?”

“Nothing would make me happier.”

Rarity nodded and excused herself to the rest of the ponies close to us, then she looked at me and began climbing the stairs. I followed her closely, with a mixture of feelings in my inside. The plan was coming along properly, but at the same time I felt nervous like a foal in his first time. I should try to enjoy it, shouldn’t I?

*** *** ***

The Princess Suite was larger than many apartments I had visited in Freedom Field. It was composed of three rooms; a living room, a small kitchen and the proper bedroom; all of them furnished with great taste and quality materials. One could think that there was no war going on, and that Equestria was in the middle of economic bonanza. The bedroom had a king size bed that looked tremendously comfortable, but I couldn’t pay too much attention to the details because I was too focused on the gorgeous mare in front of me.

Rarity’s black dress was lying on a corner of the room, as well as most of my Wasteland gear, and now I was looking at her glistening white body… a real treat to my weary eyes. I was standing almost naked as well, with my scarred blue coat showing to somepony different… why did I feel so strange? It wasn’t my first time, after all…

“You seem worried, Farsight.” Rarity cooed gently. “What is wrong?”

“I’m just a little excited, that’s all.”

“I can notice.” She giggled and her magic fondled my lower end, making me tremble. “Now, now, a little excitement is always good, isn’t it?”

“Of course…” I kissed her on the lips, and our tongues entangled for a second that seemed to last forever. At the same time, I used my magic to gently explore her body, applying pressure here and there, with care and curiosity at the same time.

“U-uhn…” Rarity moaned when my magic got to her rear end. “Ah, I knew you would get the hang of it quickly… Oh, Farsight…”

“I’m a quick learner, milady…” I gasped for a breath of air, trying not to succumb to the ripples of pleasure that went through my body. Rarity was a very powerful and resourceful magician indeed. She kissed me and stopped me from muttering any other word.

“Soldier…” she sighed. “Give me all you’ve got… it’s a direct order.”

She smiled and jumped to the fluffy bed, then she bent over and welcomed me to join her. I got close to her and kissed her gently on the nape while the two of us became one in a maelstrom of moans and gasps. Come to think of it, I was surprised that nopony noticed what was going on between us, since we hadn’t been precisely silent.

“That has been… ahn… amazing.” Rarity gasped.

“I know…” I smiled, still sweating and trying to catch my breath. She was distracted, and it was my chance to attack. “That’s what I’m told.”

“Cheeky little pony.” Rarity smiled and rolled to lie upside down on the bed, her legs bobbling back and forth as she tried to hold balance. I got on top of her and started massaging her with my magic. “Oh yes, keep doing that.”

I began on her tummy, and started climbing towards her breast and her neck… where my gentle massage turned into a tight grip. Rarity flinched and gasped for air.

“Wha-agh!” She cackled while trying to catch a breath of air. “Who…?”

“I’m Farsight, from the future, my dear.” I said, cold as ice. “Don’t take this too badly, I’ve enjoyed this affair with you, but I’ve got more pressing matters to attend, namely breaking out of this Curse of yours.”

“Th-future?” Rarity looked genuinely surprised, as she tried to breathe desperately. Her tongue was sticking out like a loose sock and her face was starting to look purple.

“Yes, the future!” I nodded. “I’m here for the Gold you hid beneath this house.”

“You’ll never…” She grunted, and her horn began to glow dimly. As a response, I tightened my grip.

“Sorry, my dear, but you’re not using your magic against me. Not anymore.”

“I… agh…” Rarity sighed and tried to shake me off, but I was too heavy. I could see desperation on her eyes as life dripped away from her, until she stopped moving beneath me. I caught a last glimpse of her dead body before everything went blurry around me.

A blink of an eye later, I was standing on top of an old mattress on a half-ruined room, back in the damp and murky Neighorleans of our time. A cold breeze made me shake, as I was fully naked and sweating like crazy. The exercise had drained me.

“I don’t want to know what you have been doing, Farsight.” Lavender’s sarcastic voice echoed in the large room.

I turned around to see the filly looking at me with a funny face, as if she experienced delight on watching me naked.

“Lavender… I’m glad to see you.” I said, and then my body gave up. I fell onto the mattress and closed my eyes for a little well-deserved sleep.

*** *** ***

It didn’t take me long to wake up again, and I found myself looking at my two companions, who were apparently waiting for me to return to the world of the living. I stretched my legs, shook my head and got up from the murky old mattress. I was still weary from the effort, but I felt good enough to go; so I picked up my gear and started dressing up.

“I’m guessing you did have a good time, bro.” Nadyr chuckled.

“I did what had to be done, Nadyr.” I smiled. After all, he was right, I had had a great time.

“Sure thing, bro. Sure thing.”

“Oh, hi, Lavender.” I turned to the filly. “How did you make it here?”

“I’m not Lavender. I’m Rose.”

I took a look at her, amazed by the fact that I hadn’t noticed the change between the two personalities of the filly. The eyes weren’t as big as when Rose was in control, but they weren’t as small as when Lavender was up front. How would I be able to distinguish between the two now?

“Really?”

“Yes. Before you passed out, I was Rose as well. Before you ask, Farsight, Lavender spoke to me in the way to this place. To my surprise, she was reasonable and even a bit friendly. She proposed a truce, a treaty of mutual collaboration. I simply couldn’t believe it!”

“I know about that, she told me about it too.” I nodded. “It seems like you are taking over her, and not the other way around. Still, I firmly believe that you should give her a chance.”

“A chance? She’s a killing machine!” Rose whined.

“She is, but that facet of her personality is weakening more and more every time. In the end, it will be nothing more than a bad dream. However, the power she unleashes in you is something to be harnessed… Don’t you think so?”

“I don’t know, Farsight… I can’t fully trust her.”

“Indeed, we can’t… yet. One day, she’ll bend to you, but for that, you must learn all you can about her. Who knows, you might find things in her that make you better and stronger.”

“If you say so, Farsight.” Rose frowned. “I don’t like it all that much, but there’s little I can do about it.”

“True…” I sighed.

I checked that all my gear was in place and got ready to search for the Gold. I was eager to get away from the swamps, after all that we had been through. We just needed to scavenge the place properly, because a large vault wouldn’t be all that hard to find.

“Let’s get moving, shall we? We’ve got a Vault to find.”

“About that…” Rose smiled. “I found it while you two were frolicking in the past.”

“Where?” I couldn’t hide my astonishment.

“Outside, close to the wall, there’s a loading gate that leads to a basement. I think they hid the door as a laundry service door. That would be the most logical place to get a motherload of gold into the building.”

“That’s very smart.” Nadyr whistled.

“Of course, what did you think?” Rose giggled and looked proud.

“Stop fooling around, you two. We’ve got a Vault to raid!”

We galloped all the way down to the outside of the Hotel, to the large door that led to the basement of the building. Indeed, it looked like a service loading chute, as if it could have been used to load coal in earlier times. Nadyr and I pried the door open, and to our amazement, we found an arcano-powered elevator platform right beneath it. We didn’t hesitate in getting onto the platform and pressing the button. The device hummed gently and started descending into the basement of the building.

We expected to find an old, dreary rock-walled basement, but we were surprised to find a room of futuristic feel, with working electric lighting, shiny titanium panels in the wall, and a large round armored gate on the far end of the place. A terminal buzzed close to the Vault gate, and I headed quickly to it. I jacked the PipBuck to the input socket of the terminal, and began fighting the security protocols of the vault.

“OK, I’m fidgeting with the vault. Get ready for possible security measures popping up!”

“Security measures?” Nadyr asked. “Like what?”

An alarm began ringing in the room, and two turrets came out of the metal ceiling and began taking shots at us. I ducked behind the terminal and began to struggle with my PipBuck, trying to disable the automated defense systems before they took us down.

“Like those!” I roared. “Take cover!”

“Can you disable them?” Nadyr yelled.

“I’m trying!” I bypassed a level of security in my PipBuck screen. “But it will take me a while!”

“Don’t worry, boys, I got this.” Rose took a step forward and her horn glowed red. Suddenly, a sort of screen engulfed us and the beams from the turrets bounced away.

“Thanks, Rose.” I concentrated on the vault security, and after five minutes of struggle, the terminal beeped and the turrets hid in the ceiling.

“No problem!” Rose smiled.

“Where did you learn that, Rose?” Nadyr asked, surprised.

“It’s one of Lavender’s tricks. Helpful, isn’t it?”

“Very helpful, thank you. Now, let’s open this vault!” I was eager to see what was waiting behind the shiny gate.

With my magic and Rose’s combined, as well as Nadyr’s physical strength, the large metal door opened with a low pitched groan. We dashed into the holding chamber, and what we saw left us awestruck. A wheelless cart was standing on the middle of the room, holding a pile of ingots of shiny gold; all for us to take.

“Goddesses…” I gasped.

“That’s a lot of gold.” Nadyr mumbled.

“How are we going to take it back?” Rose asked.

I had to admit that she had a good point. All that gold was too heavy to carry on a boat. I checked the cart closely and noticed that it had an arcano-powered circuit on the lower end. I concentrated on the cart and my magic powered the systems on the machine. The cart began floating at some distance above the ground.

“It’s an anti-gravity cart! That’s how they brought it here!”

“Can we use it to take it back to the teleporter?” Nadyr asked.

“If it doesn’t sink on water, we’ll be fine.”

I steered the cart to the platform, and the three of us got back on ground level via the elevator. After that, I drove the cart to the edge of the water, with the three of us clumsily standing on top of the piles of gold.

“Here goes nothing…” I whispered and prayed to the Goddesses while I drove the cart onto the water.

It floated. More properly, the anti-gravity system kept us at a safe distance above the water surface. The three of us sighed in relief and got ready for the trip back to Maretairie. After such a long journey, we wanted to return home.

*** *** ***

Harmony Hill wasn’t empty, as we had expected it to be. When I drove the cart uphill, I noticed a pack of ghouls waiting beside the teleporter booth. I recognized Samedi and Cheval among the lot, but that didn’t make me any calmer. What had they come here for?

“Those are the Maretairie ghouls, right?” Rose asked.

“Yes… what do they want?” I mumbled, worried.

Cheval took a weary step forward and stood before the cart. Her expression, as far as I could make out, was of calm determination. What I couldn’t understand was the reason why they were waiting for us. Did they want their share of gold?

“You’re back.” Cheval’s dry voice showed no surprise, just an assertion.

“Surprised?” I replied.

“Not really.”

“What do you want?”

“You broke the Curse, right?”

“We had to.”

“Congratulations.” Cheval seemed happy.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I guess you’ll be returning home now, right?”

I looked at Cheval in the eyes, and I saw a threat. Somehow, those last words implied that they had something different in mind for us. I didn’t like ghouls, and I liked them less when they meant to stop me. Without an instant of hesitation, I unholstered my rifle and aimed at Cheval’s head. Our eyes met a last time, and… did I notice a slight nod of acceptance?

BLAM!

Cheval was blown away by the shot at short range, dripping ichor and black blood all over the grass of Harmony Hill. The rest of the ghouls stood on guard, caught by surprise by my unexpected attack.

“Farsight!!!” Rose yelled. “Why?”

I paid her no attention, and moved on to the next target. Nadyr had also picked his gun up and was aiming at another ghoul.

BLAM! BANG! BLAM!

We just needed a couple of minutes to get rid of the pack of rotten pony-had-beens. I jumped down from the cart and checked if any of them was still alive, but none of them had survived the slaughter.

“Why did you kill them?” Rose roared. “They were unarmed.”

“They had no good intentions.” I replied dryly.

“How can you say that? You only spoke with them for a second!”

“They were in our way. Besides, there was something odd about the way Cheval spoke. They might be about to go feral… or maybe they had welcome it.”

“But how can you…?”

“Rose, it’s done.”

Rose grumbled in dissatisfaction. I knew that she would take it badly, after all, she always thought that everypony’s life was worth saving… Even if those ponies were rotten and bound to lose all trace of self-awareness. I didn’t expect her to understand my actions, but they were decisions that I was forced to make.

“Rose…” Nadyr spoke calmly. “I didn’t like them ghouls either. They were acting odd… not like the first time in Maretairie.”

“But Nadyr…”

“I know you’re upset, but it had to be done.”

Rose grumbled once again, even if Nadyr had stood by my side. There wasn’t much to be done about her, she did have a strong will. I started searching the bodies of the ghouls, but they carried nothing of value. Their saddlebags, however, could be used for something worthy.

“OK, folks! Let’s put the gold in the saddlebags of the ghouls. We’ll use them to carry the Gold home. It will be a tough journey, but it’s the best way.”

Nadyr and Rose obeyed and began packing the gold in the bags. Once they were full, we distributed them according to our strength and picked them up. Heavily encumbered, but stinkingly rich, we walked into the teleporter booth. We just needed to get back to Freedom Field, and our fate would change… forever.

#

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