• Published 5th Nov 2011
  • 38,425 Views, 2,401 Comments

Fallout Equestria: Heroes - No One



A Fallout Equestria Sidefiction. A lonely guard, inspired by Littlepip, goes to save her brother.

  • ...
68
 2,401
 38,425

PreviousChapters Next
Chapter 17: Choices

Choices

If a pony resists you, you must feed them lead and fire. However, if they bend the knee, you must help them back up, else nopony will ever bend.”

“Who the fuck is Silver Storm!?” Flare, as always, asked the best questions, even if he didn't truly understand why. Who was I? I certainly wasn't a loving mother, and I was a failure as a heartless mercenary. So who exactly was I, and why was I there? Somehow I failed at being both Hired Gun and Silver Storm. I guess that meant I needed a new name.

Smooth Tongue, that fucking bastard, seemed amused at Flare's outburst. “Why, the giant mare with the silver coat... Oh, has she not told you? I suppose that is to be expected. She was always good at running, weren't you, Silver?” I winced and avoided his eye contact. Dammit. What was he doing here? If it was any other pony but him...

“You know this freak, Hired?!' Flare seemed more than a bit shocked at the revelation. I nodded slowly.

For his part, the bastard leaned across the counter grinning from ear to ear. “Yes, she used to work for me. Do you really know nothing at all about your travelling companion?”

“Fuck off, Smooth.” I looked back up at the olive buck and showed him my most defiant glare. “I never worked for you. Never.” I would never work for him. Fuck him. Just. Dammit.

“Oh?” He tapped his pipbuck on the table. Wait, when did he get one of those? “If I recall you often guarded over my land. Not to mention the thousands of times you scavenged through ruins on my behalf.” I flushed and looked away because he had the right of it. “And those times you fought for me, or did you forget?” No, I only tried to. How could I forget my home though? Loath as I was to admit it, anytime I worked for Marefort I worked for him.

“You...” Flare folded his wings to his back, and looked over to me in shock. “You were a raider?” Was I? I didn't do any raiding myself, and the only time I fought was in the defence of my home. On the other hoof, I worked directly for him and my work, my town’s work, was vital in him keeping control over large swaths of land. Hell, the weapons that he had pointing at me were probably ones I had dug out myself.

“I...” There wasn't an easy answer. “No. Yes.” I stomped my metal leg. “Maybe.” He didn't seem impressed. “It's. My town. It was under his control. I never killed for him...” It was the closest thing to the truth I could think of. “I tried to kill him. I...”

“Failed.” Smooth Tongue failed. “Guards,” he looked at the group that had brought us, “thank you for bringing these ponies to my attention, but I have ample protection.” He nodded to the guards on either side of them. As our capture-ers left, he continued, “she nearly killed me though; you should pat her on the back.” High Stakes did. I think he was mocking me. “She broke my leg and left me limping, and I can't thank you enough for that. I was out for a week, and during that one of my lieutenants tried to seize control of Marefort.” I suddenly stood up much straighter. “Luckily most of the ponies were smarter than you, barricaded themselves inside the central building. A few still died, but not as many as could have.”

I gulped and looked at my feet. “Who died?”

“Star Belle, Whitewalker, Brightflame, Hedge, and Grey Wind.” I winced. More names to add to my list of failure. “You'll be happy to know your failure put my leadership into question. I needed a show of force to remind ponies why it is I in charge. Extending my territory works and once these fool ponies surrender. I will establish one of my most trusted ponies as mayor and return to Stable 42. It is further than most of my towns, so I fully expect him to rebel, but by then my little show will be over, and it won't matter.”

“You're wasting the lives of those under you, so you can prove a point?” High Stakes did not seem at all impressed, at least guessing from the haughty look he was giving Smooth.

“Of course.” I really hated the way Smooth Tongue smiled. It just made my skin crawl. “It is the game those in charge must play. It is a show of power, of force, showing that I will do whatever I want. I am not physically strong, so I must show in some way why I am allowed to rule, and why others must follow. When they doubt that, I crush them.”

“You get others to do the crushing,” High Stakes said simply. “Others like me, or like Hired.”

“Power is not just about the size of one’s gun or how many ponies they kill. Oh yes, that can be important, but it is not everything.” He waved his hoof. “I doubt you would understand the subtleties.” I understood Subtlety all right, it was exactly what I needed to end him.

“You're mean,” Serenity said scrunching her little face at him, “And... and you smell.” Nice one. I smiled my approval down at her.

“Oh. I did not see the little one.” He leaned almost exaggeratedly over the counter. “Tell me little one, what is your name?”

Serenity continued to give her best scowl before saying, “Serenity.”

“A pretty name for a pretty filly.” Coming out of his mouth that was way too creepy. “Silver, I am surprised you picked up another one,” he said, as if it was as easy as buying a new gun, “considering what happened to your la-”

“Smooth Tongue If You Finish That Sentence All The Guards In The World Won't Protect You.” There was no bluffing in my voice. His guards could riddle me full of holes but if he dared to bring up Foundation against me, I would tear him limb from limb, and if I died trying, I'd come back from the dead to finish the fucking job.

“Touchy as always. But more talkative, this can only be a plus the way I see it. So tell me... Hired, was it?” fuck him and his grin. “What have you been doing with yourself? So much has changed and I feel we haven't had the time to catch up.”

I didn't respond.

“Really? Nothing at all. So many friends for so little done.”

“You know,” said Flare, “I am going to base a villain off you in my next story. You hit all the marks perfectly. Tell me, is it on purpose, or are you just like this naturally?” The raider leader laughed.

“A little of both, I am afraid. The type of ponies I deal with are better handled by treating them as if they are beneath you; if you lower yourself to their level, they think they can be you. It is fine if they hate me, so long as they fear and respect me.” There was a slight chuckle in his voice. “If you wish, I can go further into the realm of villainhood so to have somepony to hate accurately. Let me see... I suppose I should start by insulting the tall pony’s glasses and hairstyle. Straight over one eye? Are you a sullen teenager? Next I would mock you,” he said, addressing Flare. “Perhaps mentioning how ineffectual and pathetic the Remnants are, and then pointing out you are not nearly as funny as you believe. Next would be mocking Silver for her new cybernetic equipment, making her question if she is truly pony or just a soulless machine, followed by an obvious insult towards her lack of intelligence.” With a weary sigh he continued, “Finally I must, as all great villains do, threaten to harm the child if my wishes are not met. Is that sufficient for your work?”

“Can you laugh maniacally, too? Place your hooves together and reference vague events that will only make sense in retrospect? I mean if you're going for the 'evil' thing you might as well go all the way.” Flare said. To my eternal surprise Smooth Tongue laughed.

“Oh, I like you. How would you like a job?”

“How would you like a mine in your rectum?” Flare shot back. “You know, on a scale from one to ten.” Smooth Tongue's jovial expression faded as a guard entered the room behind us.

“Sorry.” A far too familiar voice said behind me. “Am I intruding?” The voice paused. “Silver? What the fuck are you doing here?” Wanting to kick my brother in the face... I hadn't seen Summer Silk or Meadow or whatever he was calling himself now, since stable 42 when he shot me. With poison. From space.

“Getting captured. Shocking I know.” Flare answered for me. Once he gets going he just doesn't stop. “Who are you anyway, another of these raiders?”

“I am Summer Silk,” he answered. “Of the Crimson Hoof. Silver Storm is my idiot sister. I apologize for whatever she did to bring you here.” The silvery-grey stallion said as he slowly trotted around us giving me a wide berth before standing off to the side of Smooth Tongue.

“Uncle?” Serenity asked.

No one answered her. That could only be for the best.

“Meadow. I assume you are here to shoot me again?” I glared at my former brother. “Don’t miss this time. You won't get another chance.”

“T-that was...” He sounded abashed. “One time, and you attacked first.”

“You shot me with poison! From space!”

“Are you two done bickering?” Smooth Tongue asked. That's exactly what we were doing. Just like old times. Only with poisoned bullets. From space! And Smooth kept talking because ponies loved to talk me to death. “Have you made any progress with the villagers, Summer?”

“Sorry, sir,” my stupid ass brother said. “Anypony who gets halfway up that hill gets shot at. We could take it by storm but with impressive losses. On both sides. We've tried all sides of the hill, but they have plenty of snipers...”

Continuing his theme of being evil Smooth Tongue said, “As if they stood a chance. I applaud them their valour for defending their home, but it is pointless. We hold superior numbers and tactics. If I wished it I could sent a stealth squad into their casino, slaughter their snipers and raze the building to the ground without ever firing a shot.” I doubted that, but I wished him the best. Except not. “I would like to avoid that however. A town without townsfolk is a graveyard, and I would prefer to have the town continue, only under my control.” A slightly different tone than when Meadow wasn't around. Interesting.

“We'll talk to them,” High Stakes said.

Wait, what? No we wouldn't! And most certainly not for that asshole. I had to work for him my entire life and I was not going back just as soon as I got free. No way.

“Hired, stop glaring at me.” I wasn't glaring at High Stakes. I was trying to set him on fire. With my mind. “We were sent here to do a job.” He turned his head back towards Smooth Tongue, and he didn't catch fire. Drat. “Hired here has been to the town before and may be recognized. Meaning we may be able to negotiate a deal for their surrender... however we require payment. A promise that all caravans coming through this town will not be taxed.”

The leader rebutted, “Taxes are a good source of income, and the Crimson Hoof will require tribute by the town.” And in time they would use the town, steal it's males, and make a larger army. I am not entirely sure why males though, as females could fight just as well. Maybe each town's pony tribute was set up differently...

“Yes.” High Stakes admitted as his glasses flashed, “but caps can be gained in more than one way. The reason this town is a hub for caravans has to do with the casino. Take a percentage of their profits and open up trade routes with your towns in the north. You get more traders coming in and more money for your casino. Taxes will drive business away, but this way you'll get more, and thus more caps in the long term.”

The raider leader clapped mockingly. “Well now, I am impressed. If it works. But it’s the brightest idea I have heard all day.”

“I'm still lost,” Flare said. “So.” He pointed a hoof at me. “You worked for him.” He pointed at Smooth. “Or lived in a town he owned. You're also his sister.” He pointed at Meadow. “And he actually works for him because he's an ass or something.” I nodded. “So then you.” He pointed his hoof at me. “Tried to kill him.” Why did he keep pointing at ponies. I didn't understand. “But was protected by your brother who shot you.”

“With poison. From space.” I added.

“Right, space poison, which explains why Sky Fall is so obsessive.... Where was I?” He furrowed his brow. “Fuck. I'm lost again. Whatever. You're all insane, and I hate you.”

“Thanks for the input. It has been noted and discarded.” His eyes gleamed at High Stakes. “How do you deal with these stupid ponies? It must be a task.”

High Stakes did not respond.

“Right.' Smooth Tongue continued. “But it is your job, and you do it so amiably. What was your name?” High Stakes moved to answer but was cut off. “It doesn't matter. Funny that. Now that we are done... catching up, I suppose I should put you to use.”

My lovely brother eyed me warily and gulped nervously. “If I may offer a suggestion... it seems you are plannin' to let her try and convince the townsfolk to surrender, but is that wise? She did try to kill you before, and doesn't seemed to have changed temperament.”

“Never let a tool go to waste, Summer. Silver Storm may be wild and unpredictable,” I hated it when ponies talked about me as if I wasn't even there, it was just rude, “but at the very worst it'll be one, maybe two more ponies we'll need to kill. A single pony can't change the tide of an unwinnable battle, no matter how strong. At best, we win without much of a fight at all. Besides.” His red eyes sparkled as they stared at me fully. I knew what he was thinking, he didn't even say it. There was no way he was taking Serenity from me!

I put my hoof down in front of Serenity and focused on the shotgun in my saddlebag. I wondered if I grabbed it, then switched to stop timey mode if I stood a chance. It was the only option as there was no way... I refused.

“Do you know why villains use less than savoury methods?” Smooth Tongue asked me. “Because they are effective. Please tie the filly up as insurance to Silver's good behaviour.” He smiled. “Be good, and not a hair in her mane will be hurt. Can't argue with that, now can you? Tell you what, I’ll even let you take your pegasus friend with you to help with your negotiations. It's just business, right? Do this and I can assure you that the town will allow caravans free travel.”

“Don't worry, Momma.” I looked down at the source of the small voice. She was shaking, but her face seemed confident as she said, “You'll come back for me. You can do it. I'll be fine, don't worry... I'll be.” I could do it. Yeah... I was not okay with this. There was no way I'd ever be okay with this. Not wither her, not here. But I had no choice.

“Heartwarming,” Smooth said. “Escort Silver and the pegasus as far as the hill, and leave the others here as collateral. Worst comes to worst, they are mistaken as Crimson Hoof and the defenders lose two bullets.”

---

“So,” Flare said turning the 'o' into a long whistle, “you’re Hired's brother.” As we walked through the silent camp toward the casino on the hill I resisted the urge to take out my shotgun and kill everything. Obviously it was Meadow who was chosen as our escort because, really, Smooth Tongue hated me and wanted it to be as awkward as possible. “What was she like as a filly?”

“Loud,” was the instant answer, “and hyperactive. She mistook our home for a jungle gym.”

There was a slight pause as Flare seemed to process that information. “Hired Gun... loud and hyper...” He looked intently at the dirt as we walked before turning his head back to Meadow. “Are you sure this is the right mare?”

“No.” That hurt. “She is different than the way she was. I heard she changed from the time I was taken away, but such a change is unsettling.” There was a sense of heavy sadness in his voice. “She was never bright, but she would smile before. Maybe she grew up or what happened hurt her more then I knew. I loved my sister.”

“I changed?” I growled. “You are working with raiders. I saw you kill peaceful folk.” For the brief second I pushed my own sins out of my mind. “You became something horrible. You are working with him! He killed our mother.”

“Do you remember our mother?!” I winced at his tone. “Do you even remember her name?” It was... Mayor Mare. Except that was just her title... and I always called her momma. I didn't know. I didn't know my own mother's name. “Maybe she treated you like a pretty princess, but she was a drunkard, and brutal with punishments. She resented her position, resented the Crimson Hoof, and resented me because she knew it was only a matter of time before they took me. She'd beat me when she drank too much, and tell me how worthless I was. How I'd never accomplish anything. Sure she'd dote upon you, but she was a horrible mare.” But. She was my mother! She wasn't bad. I didn't remember any of this. “It's just like you Silver. You were always good at forgetting the past when it was inconvenient. Smooth Tongue was more of a parent to me then our mother ever was, so don't talk to me about who he killed.”

We stopped at the edge of the hill where the casino was waiting. “You...” I was shocked. I... in my mind, Mom was never like that. She was nice and kind and... “You can't talk about her like that!”

“I'll talk to her however I like!” His eyes were furious and torch light from the camp set his body half in shadows. “You clearly never met the mare, just the mare you wanted her to be. Just go, Silver. I had hoped... hoped that if you survived you'd see your mistake. That you'd come back... I've missed you Silver. But you refuse to learn. So... just go. It was foalish of me. Just...”

There was a glint of tears in his eyes. I reached my hoof out but I wasn't sure why. Part of me wanted to embrace him. Strike him down. Something between but I couldn't. He was a monster and my brother, so I put my hoof back and stomped at the ground, turned to the casino and stormed away. It didn't matter. Well, it did matter! He was my brother. He would stand up to bullies for me when I was awkward and afraid to say anything back. I didn't want to let him go... but I didn't know what to do. It had been so long.

I was halfway up when I realized Flare was talking to me. “You alright, Hired?” I didn't respond. Just kept walking. “You both seemed a little worked up. It's a hard situation but...”

“Shut up. What do you know?” It seemed like I was stepping so hard I was leaving indents in the dirt.

“I have family you know. Two younger brothers, but even though I was older, they were bigger, and they loved to pick on me an' give me noogies. When I left the Remnants they refused to talk to me at all and pretended like I didn't exist. Since I went back, I hadn't spoken to them. Too afraid at what they'd say.” I nodded dumbly. Of course, he had family. I guess it was one of those things I should have asked about. “There's nothing tougher on a pony than family, I understand. So stop moping about it. You have much more important things to mope about. Like the fact we are stuck in hostile land with your filly captive to the whims of a tyrannical mad stallion. On the bright side at least you still have your health!” There was a short pause as he remembered the starmetal. “Or... well you have your... stunning good looks.” He gave a weak smile.

“I don't know what I'd do without you.” I looked up at the casino we were closing in on. Considering we weren't being shot at I guess we... weren't going to be shot at. Or. Something. “I don't like this.”

“Which part?” There was the sound of a smirk on his face. “The part where we walk slowly towards a building loaded with snipers and a great deal to kill for? Or the small raider army behind us? What about the fact we have companions captured meaning we can't rebel?” He’d forgotten about the family connections, and the overall stupidity of being dragged into this. All I wanted to do was travel to Bridle Hope and kill some raiders. Instead, in my travels, I’d found out I had accidentally caused the destruction of an entire town and was a direct cause of another being taken over by asshole raiders I was related to.

“Yes.” All of the above and more. It felt like my gut was trying to eat me from the inside out.

As we got closer I saw a glint of a scope from a partially boarded up window, but there was no shot. I guess we were in the clear. The facade of the casino was partially worn down by time, but I could still see the vague outline of a cowpony with a comically large hat. The multicoloured neon sign once said 'Black&White Casino' but since only the blue lights still worked, it said 'BCWT AI' which was a pretty stupid name for a casino, if you asked me. So the locals just called it 'the casino'.

We reached the large double doors without a fuss, but when I tried to push through I found it locked. Or barricaded. I was sure that I was more than large enough to break the whole thing down if I felt like it, but that would not have helped my attempt at negotiations. So instead I raised a hoof to the wooden door and knocked a few times with a heavy thunking sound.

On my EFS I could see far too many red ticks on the other side, and only a few green ones. If I strained my ears I could hear the sound of voices beyond the doors. As I tried to listen I noticed a few of the red ticks turning green. There was a loud crash and a few more turned green. It wasn't long that all the ticks on my EFS were green. There was a scraping sound, another crash, and finally the doors opened.

“Workin' with raiders now?” A pair or purple eyes peered out of the casino at me. “I wish ah could say ah was surprised.” A beautiful white pony with a thick red mane strode out of the casino with a bit of a swagger. I would be lying if I said it didn't cause my eyes to lock onto her flank... er. Her cutiemark. It was an apple.

“Pearly...” I said slowly. It had been a long time since I last met the beautiful pony I’d had a one night stand with, and we did not leave on the best of terms. Mostly because I told her of my plans to assassinate a town member, and while she didn't like her she still took exception to who I was hired by. I barely stopped her from killing me. “It's been a while.”

“Ain't been long enough, hon. Not nearly.” There was no warmth in her smile. “Now, last I saw you, you were running back to a group of slavers with... product at your heels.” I guessed that after I killed Nanny Jane she watched me take Serenity away, but I had hoped she hadn't. “Where is she now? Safe in the hand of murderous thugs?”

“Well...” I looked back at the camp. “They have her so I don't betray them... I never gave her to the slavers.”

She laughed and moved in close, wrapping a foreleg around my neck and kissing my cheek. I didn't even have time to blush. “I know.” There was a hint of playfulness in her voice. “Heard from a reliable source. I'm glad. You seemed like such a good mare when we first met, an' it didn't sit right knowing you'd stoop so low.” If only she knew how low I would stoop.

“Hired, hold your libido. What would Platinum Haze think if she saw you like that?” Flare said. I flushed red and pushed back. This was no time to be blushing, damnit. “You don't want to cheat on an alicorn, given their phenomenal cosmic powers.”

“Is the lad daft, Hired?” Pearly gave me a quizzical look before turning to the entrance. “Alicorns and the like.” She scoffed. “Come inside before you get shot up.” Better advice I'd never heard.

The entrance hallways to the casino had been reconfigured to the point I could barely recognize it. Nearly all of the lights were out, and the ones that were on were dim and made shadows dance in the strangest places. The dimness helped to disguise the plethora of traps loaded around the room. All of them had been deactivated, but as we passed, I heard ponies behind me sneaking out of hiding spots to set them up again. All in all, I saw four shotguns loaded on trip wires, three mines, and four pressure plates that appeared to be connected to a rope on the wall. I followed one of the ropes to the ceiling where there was a fake panel and probably something heavy hidden above to fall on the unsuspecting. Or boiling oil if they were feeling old-school. Overall, it was an impressively macabre hallway that, if you included the ponies apparently hiding out to ambush attackers, would tear the raiders to pieces. Not enough though, not nearly enough.

The door at the end of the hallway led to a vaguely familiar sight. The Bridle Hope casino floor was set up like a hexagon with the outermost, and largest, ring used for slot machines (mostly Rainboom Riches and Fishing for Winnings.). The middle ring was traditionally used for blackjack, poker, and craps, while the centre was the high rollers table. The whole place was meticulously designed so every side looked the same, and finding your way out was beyond difficult. When I first saw it, I had thought it was the height of old world preservation, but after seeing Dise and all its wonder, I could see where it was starting to wear.

The carpet was dirty and torn, the machines were rusty and broken, and some of the tables had large holes in them. It looked even worse now that it was full to bursting with ponies from the town. Most had set up crude tents and quarantined areas as their 'homes', but the chaos of it all made the whole place look that much worse.

“Home sweet home,” Pearly said. There was a hint of bitterness in her voice. “Lucky for us, armies are easy to spot; we were able to bring everypony in here before they got close, but they've held us here for days. Eventually food is going to run out, and then what? They know it too, and they're waitin' until we're half-starved and can't fight back. Ain't like no raiders I've ever seen. Bridle Hope has been attacked before, and we've retreated here. They always try to charge the front door and our traps tear them to pieces. Now though... They're fucking waiting.”

I followed her as she snaked past a Rainboom Riches machine. “They want you to surrender,” I said as she stopped to wave at a group of stallions sitting around a craps table drinking. “They want me to tell you to surrender. They promise nopony will get hurt...”

“The day ah trust a raider is the day ah die.” She looked back at me with her hard purple eyes. “Don't play the fool with me, we can't trust them. They want us to put our guard down an' they'll gut us. Every last one. I've been trying to convince the mayor to bring the fight to them, but she ain't listening. She says now that we have 'The Hero Of Wending' that they don't stand a chance. I think she's a damn fool”

“Hero of Wending.” I could already hear him preparing a joke. “Been up to Wending once or twice back when I used to do caravan runs. Nice little town but built on top of a radscorpion nest. Once time I near got stabbed by one of those beasties. Heard something on the radio about a mother daughter team clearing those fuckers out and blowing a twenty foot tall bastard to hell.” That sounded familiar. I guess. Also it wasn't a joke so I was disappointed.

“The very same.” We moved slowly around a table but Pearly had to stop and tell a filly to get back to her mother before we could continue. “She didn't look that impressive, but the description matches, so what can I say?” In the centre of the casino was a large walled-off tent structure that we seemed to be moving towards. “They say she cleared out a raider base by herself, and stopped a mysterious plot to poison a town’s well. I guess when she heard about the army she came here to help.” Now she sounded like a right saint.

“Does she have a name, or are we expected to call her 'Miss Hero’?” Flare paused to smirk. “Not that I have a problem with that, I'd just prefer a real name. How about Lightbringer Jr.? Part-time Security? The Ghost's Apprentice? Merchant's Bagboy? You know, something catchy like that. She is a little hero after all.”

We stopped in front of the entrance flap to the centre tent. “If you call her that, she might just stab you. I hear she's fond of that. Her real name is Pinprick”

“How... heroic.” I said looking up at the tent. It was a large cloth thing that hung from a rafter and fell down in almost a cone shape. Without any further adieu, we pushed our way in. All the gambling tables that would normally be in the area were flipped on their side and pushed to the side, pinning the cloth down and making something almost similar to a wall. Inside the tent I noticed four ponies.

One was a pale yellow pony with a light grey, almost white, mane who was currently fussing over a large pink cannon. A party cannon, I remembered them from the Clips And Clops. The other two were playing cards, and must have been the so called 'heroes'. The filly was light grey with a purple mane and a devious smirk on her face as she held up her cards in a field of magic. The other was deep grey with a spikey red mane and an unsettling look in her eyes. The two of them looked vaguely familiar. I watched them and tried to figure it out as the pair dropped their cards and the filly raised her hooves in victory.

“Woohoo.” the filly grinned. She turned, looking to brag at the grey maned mare no doubt, when she saw me. “No way!” She gasped running up to me. “My prisoner!” She giggled looking up at me. “What're ya doing here? You escaped, I heard, and momma said we had to leave but...” Who the heck was this filly? Flare looked over at me and shrugged. I looked over at the filly’s mother who seemed to smile sadistically at the sight of me.

Then I looked at her cutie mark. A bloody dagger. The memories came flooding back all at once. I was captured by raiders and met these two there. Then when I took Serenity to them and killed Silver Bullet, I spared her and told her to take her daughter... Spitshine. Right. Her Daughter Spitshine away so they could do better. It never occurred to me that the heroes I had heard on the radio could be them!

“Bloody Dagger!” I shouted at once waving my hoof at her.

“Pinprick, you fucking git.” Pinprick. Right. Bloody Dagger was never her name, just what I knew her as. She grinned at me through yellow teeth and walked up to her filly. “Remember this fucker?” she asked Spitshine. The filly grinned and nodded. “She was fucking mad when you had to leave, she’d have liked to fuck you, but what can you do?”

“Another part of your mysterious past I'm guessing?” Flare seemed amused. “They just keep piling on today.”

“Oh, you got a birdy to fuck then? Looks a bit skinny for my tastes; a pretty little cunt, too.” Was Flare blushing? I hope so.

“We're friends. What the hell happened?” Everypony in the tent was staring at us now. Pearly for her part seemed to be enjoying it. I guess Pinprick here was how she knew I hadn't thrown away all my morals before. I was still in shock it was her. It had been so long, I thought I would never see her again.

“Tried to leave that damn place with Spitshine like you said, but didn't work so well. Fuckers got up in arms and we had'ta clear them out.” Spitshine helped by making a 'Bang' sound. “A whole lot too, and it weren't easy I tell you. Managed to stumble half bleeding to a small town. They healed us up, and in return I helped fuck up some idiot fuckers who tried to attack.” She paused. “It felt good. Doing good, and after the radscorpion incident we just got used to helping idiot fuckers what can't fight. Feels good, even if it's stupid.” She paused. “You were right, I think, and a cunt like you being right pisses me off. I was playing raider because that's what my momma did, but I ain't never enjoyed it. Once we were free things got better. So thank you, you fucker.”

“You're... welcome?” I wasn't sure what to say.

“That's it? Fuck, you're a piece of work. Was manning the sniper when I saw you coming and convinced these fuckers you were good to deal with. Even this cunt,” She waved a hoof half heartedly at Pearly. “Wasn't so sure you weren't a fucking agent, but you know I talked them out of stringing you by your feet. So you best be thanking me too.”

“Thanks...” I turned my head to Pearly. “You were going to kill me?” She had least had the courtesy to look ashamed at that.

“Well darlin' when last I saw you...” She paused and let me fill in the blanks. “I mean I didn't want to think but considering the circumstances...” Yeah. I guess I couldn't really blame her. I mean we hadn’t ended on good terms, and if I had been in her horseshoes I'd think the same thing.

“It begs the question.” A soft voice I didn't recognize said. Looking around I saw the grey maned pony hunched over the pink cannon was speaking. “What you are here for?” She stood up slowly and wrenched her neck sideways so it cracked. “You are here on the behalf of the raiders, aren't you?” I stared blankly at her. “Oh, where are my manners? I'm Mayor Buttercup, I saw you once when you were unconscious, but we haven’t met proper.”

“Hired Gun...” I said slowly, eyeing the blue pegasus to my left to make sure he didn't correct with my real name. “That is Flare. We are here for them... they have friends of ours. Won't release them until we deliver a message. They will attack. Show no mercy. Unless you surrender. Then everypony gets to live...”

“Let them come.” The older yellow mare grinned. “We have the heroes here, and the casino is a death trap. They don't stand a chance.”

“Now I don't want to tell you how to run your town... casino... thing,” Flare said, “But you don't stand much of a chance, and I'll tell you why. From what I have seen they have you outnumbered three to one. That wouldn't be that bad since you have a position of power but it seems they have better training, and equipment. Hell, a few of them have pipbucks and know how to use them. If you fight them they will tear your townsfolk in half, hero or no. No offence, Pin.”

“None taken, been trying to tell this fucking cunt the same thing for hours now, but she's not a listening type bitch.” It was good to see that despite trying to be heroic 'Bloody Dagger' still took time out of her busy schedule to swear like it was going out of style. What kind of hero swears that much anyway? Seriously.

“What other option do we have?” Buttercup said her voice annoying high. “We fight or we die, there are no other options.”

“That's just retarded, pardon my language, but for fuck's sake, dyin' ain't in the schedule,” Pin said as her filly jumped on her back and rested her forehooves on Pin's head. “I'm saying we set the best in your hallway of death when they attack, and send the rest out fleeing out the back. Hopefully they don't grow a brain and put some ponies out back too. If they do that, well we try to punch a hole through and run as fast as we can.”

“What you're asking is for ponies to die voluntarily,” Buttercup said. “Anypony left to defend here in your plan will die.” She shook her head. “That is not an-”

“The other option. Is we all get fucking torn to bits. Do you know what raiders do to prisoners? I fucking do. We want as many of these fuckers as far away as possible when they get into mutilation mood, that make fucking sense to you?” Pin stomped her hoof. “Some will die so the rest can live, now that's a fucking plan. Ain't a good one, but one that doesn't have a 100% failure rate.”

“They have nice kids here, don't want 'em to die,” Spitshine said sadly. “So it's the best plan. We'll lead the escapees and 'bang' anything that gets close. This way most survive!”

“Ya'll know my opinion on the matter,” Pearly said.

All eyes turned to me and Flare. “Running is the best plan... the Crimson Hoof is not kind if you oppose them. Either that or surrender.” There was a look of shock on the other ponies' faces. I guess that option was off the table completely. Exactly what I wanted to hear... “But. We have companions caught... a filly. We can't let them die.”

“But you'd let my ponies die so others can escape?” Buttercup said. She sounded upset, and I guess she decided it was all my fault.

To my surprise it was Bloody Dagger. Er, Pinprick who came to my defence. “As if fucking volunteers are the same as random fucking cunts that got fucking captured. One’s a filly too, so no fucking way we can stand back and let that bitch get a knife shoved up her ass, you hear me?” You know if you looked past the way she swore as much as everypony I had ever met combined, she was actually nice. I suppose. At least, she was trying to be.

“Well...” Pearly started, “once they attack, you two can swing around the side and rescue them.” There was a awkward pause. “Unless.. ya don't think he'd shank them 'fore that, do ya?”

I wanted to say that I wouldn't put it past him, but Flare cut me off. “I wouldn't say likely. The guy we talked to seemed like the kind who enjoyed lording power over ponies. If he did kill Serenity or Stakes then he wouldn't have power over us, and we'd have no reason not to strangle him with his own entrails.” He shot me a knowing glance. “That one flips the shit if Serenity is even hinted as possibly maybe being in the proximity of something dangerous. Killing her would be him signing his own death sentence.”

The little filly on Pinpricks head had been smiling but at Flare's statement her smile faded into something similar to scowl. In a tone that left no room for the imagination, she said simply, “You'd be surprised what you can live through.”

Nopony wanted to think about that. The ponies in the tent looked away and to their own business. The only sound we could hear was the constant background chatter of the rest of the casino. What was worse is that I knew Spitshine was right. And I knew all too well what could be done.

“So... nice cannon. Going to throw a party for the raiders and discuss the issue over tea?” Do I even need to tell you it was Flare who said that?

“No,” Buttercup said, fussing over it, “I'm trying to fix it so it'll work properly. I bought it for a defensive weapon after I heard the Galicians used it in their casino. We were expecting something... that exploded more.” That was all Flare needed to hear to cause him to flash across the tent push Buttercup onto her back away from the cannon so he could get a better look. “What are yo-” the mayor started but was cut off.

“I can fix it. Trust me, if it explodes violently, you want me on your side.” I couldn't really argue with that logic.

Pinprick walked towards me and pushed past. “We're running. I'm going to find some fuckers who want to cover our escape. Think about how to save your little bitch too, Hired. Good luck.”

“Don't worry!” I heard Spitshine yell as they walked away. “You'll save her! Well, you better or I'mma be pissed. You're still my prisoner, and you gotta do what I say.”

“Well...” I looked around. It seemed everypony was busy. Great. I guess I would just wait here. Hoping Serenity wasn't dying.

“I'm on lookout duty.” Pearly turned and started to leave. I didn't even notice until I felt her tail stroke under my chin. “You should come too.” I opened my mouth and tried to form words. They refused to work properly so I just nodded and followed.

---

We stood on the roof of the casino, looking down at Bridle Hope. It was alive with lights. They danced in the tents that lined the streets and filtered across the town, making it positively glow. Off in the distance I could the small bell tower of the school from which I had once sniped Nanny Jane. My eyes traced a line from it to the General Shop, which was glowing more than anything else. Inside I thought I could make out movement in the windows. I almost wondered if I could shoot them from here... until I remembered they still had Subtlety.

Beside me, I felt Pearly snuggle up close. For warmth, I hoped. It was almost a beautiful sight if I could forget the fact that my oldest enemy was down there with my daughter captive. That just made the whole thing really dramatic and “pissing me off”-ish.

“It really is a nice little town...” Pearly sighed, resting her head on my neck. “It's a shame we have ta leave. I know you ain't from 'round here, but you must understand the hardship of leaving home.” Yeah. When I left Marefort the first time, I didn't think I was ever coming back, but it wasn't until Stable 42 that I really understood the breadth of what I’d left behind. Of my failure.

“It's never easy,” I said simply, as I stood stiff. The nights kept getting colder.

“Must be an eventuality for an adventurer like you. Always travelling from place to place, never stopping for long.”

“We stop,” I said simply. “For a few days. Here. Dise. Timber...” I let the word hang in the frigid air as I imagined the charred corpses and blackened streets. “The stopping is the best part. The world is harsh. The more you move, the more you see. Maybe we should have stayed. One place, never moving. Would be better.”

“Why not stay in one place then?” she asked.

“I don't know. Been thinking about it. Now, though.” I shook my head. “One place is bad. So is any other. Stayed here, would have had to leave. Stayed at Timber, would have burned. Dise isn’t better. It hides murder under flashing lights. There is no safe place.” Even Marefort got attacked, though it was my fault. Timber was my fault. Bridle Hope my fault. Karkhoof even more directly my fault. The blood of the innocents I inadvertently led to death could fill a river.

“So why not make a safe place, hon?” Hon... I focused on the way she said that word.

“Trying to. It's hard.” I smiled down at her. “Don't laugh. But I'm trying to fix Dise. Make it better.”

She laughed anyway, and her voice echoed down to the streets of Bridle Hope below. “Sorry, it's just. That's a mighty big order there, and I ain't sure you're the one for the job.”

“Oh, I'm not.” My eyes fell back on the Bridle Hope General Store. I could only assume Serenity was still being held there as far as I knew, and waiting for me to broker a deal I knew was never going to happen. “Not for me. For her. Serenity... I rescued her that night. Do you remember?” She nodded, a hint of sadness in her eyes. “She hated me. She should hate me. I nearly sold her, but... I couldn't. Killed my employers. Drug her around with me. Now she thinks I should be her mother. Or did think that... So. I need to protect her. Fix it. Give her a safe place. Even if I die trying.”

The words made the world pause for a brief second. I had admitted my desire to myself, but I hadn't really told anyone. Saying it out loud made it seem almost... juvenile and simplistic. Which I was, so I stick to it.

“It's a nice thought, now I ain't sayin' it's not. It's just Dise ain't lookin' to be fixed. Only been down the once, but I hear stories, and it seems to me it enjoys itself the way it is. And the rest of the wasteland is beyond what a single pony can do.” She looked at me and shook her head. “I mean look at you. A few weeks after I see you and you're head to hoof in scars, you lost an ear, have a green glowing eye patch and hell... Hired, you'll die before you fix anything.” I was going to die anyway. Everypony was. If Sky Fall was right I would die much sooner than that on account of the poison coursing through my veins. “I don't want you to die.”

“Why not?” My voice must have been harsh because the force of it sent her flinching away from me.

“I...” She scrunched up her nose at me. “What kind of question is that?!” The correct one. Maybe she didn't want me to die, but when it came down to it there was no reason for her to care. I was an unthinking brute who killed innocents at the command of caps. Maybe there was 'goodness' inside me, but it was covered so much by blackness and failure you couldn't see it without squinting.

“A good one?”

“Now hon, that just ain't fair.” She moved closer but was far more stiff. “I don't want nopony to die, ya hear? You done some rotten things, and I ain't saying those don't count or nothin' but you can do better and I can see that you wanna. You've got a daughter now too, right?” Well yes. Er, no. Something like that. “If nothing else, I want you alive for her sake.” She licked her lips. “And I wouldn't mind finishing what we started when we first met...”

Wait... finish? When we first met, we went out gambling, I got drunk for the first time, er, ever, and I woke up in her house. It didn't take an intelligence chip to fill in the gaps.

“Uh... but didn't we... already.” I felt heat rise to my cheeks and turned my head from her. “You know... after...”

She laughed.

I felt my cheeks start to burn hotter as she said, “Hell no, hon. Don't get me wrong, it ain't like I didn't wanna. You were loaded and stumbling so I helped you back to my house.” I felt a sinking sensation in my stomach. Whatever came next I really didn't want to know but was going to find out anyway. “We got there, you kissed me, Threw up in my mouth. And passed out.”

Well...

That was...

I started talking so fast my tongue tripped over itself as I desperately tried to explain just how sorry I was. What came out though was mostly a jumbled list of nonsensical statements and stuttering, followed by me shutting my stupid mouth glaring at the roof we were standing on, and hoping I'd wake up. My only consolation was that Flare wasn’t there to make fun of me about it.

Pearly laughed hard enough to make up for his absence though. “Don't worry too much 'bout it. The nature of whiskey is to make you want a good fuck, and then make you fuck it up when the time comes. It's a tricky mistress.” You're telling me. Strangely enough her words did nothing to stop me from blushing furiously and avoiding eye contact. She kept talking, “Hell, if I’da known you’d never drunk before, I wouldn't have given' you any. I worried ya were mad at me for it.”

“I puked on you...” I paused. “In your mouth. And you. Were worried about me being mad?”

“Well when you put it like that, you make it sound like ah'm crazy.” She chuckled and went back to staring at the town. The raiders down there seemed busy, I saw a lot of vague shapes running back and forth. It made me just a little bit uneasy at the whole situation. Serenity... she had to be safe. I was coming for her.

“Hate waiting.” I growled my displeasure.

“She'll be safe.” I felt her breath on my cheek, but didn't dare look. “Don't worry. You'll get her. She travelled with you this long, right?” She kissed my cheek. “You'll save her, in time.”

“And what would Platinum Haze say if she saw you!” For fuck's sake Flare! I turned my head and gave the pegasus a withering glare as he came floating over with a cannon strapped to his underbelly. “Now I did warn you not to cheat on an alicorn, but no. Nopony listens to poor Flare. A terrible, horrible, awful situation. When she tears you apart, I'll be the who'll have to bury you, and do you know what I'm going to put on your gravestone?”

I gave a weary sigh. “Here lies Hired Gun. She should have listened?”

“Damn. You know me too well. I'm going to have to come up with new jokes.” Or Flare could just try actually being funny. But for him that might be too difficult. Instead, he flew over to the edge of the roof and slowly lowered the cannon down as Buttercup followed up behind him and unlatched the subtle bright pink cannon.

“You're dating an.... alicorn?” Pearly inched away giving, me a cockeyed look. “Now ah'm pretty sure alicorns don't exist.” Oh, how much she had to learn. “Or is he just fuckin' with ya?”

“It's...” I turned my head to Flare and watched him fuss over the cannon. “Complicated.” I shook my head and trotted over to where Flare was, but was careful not to go too close to the edge. The last thing I needed was a reminder of how high I was. Urgh.

“Didn't take long to load this thing up with something that actually goes 'boom',” Flare said as I approached. I looked at the pink cannon cautiously. “Can't say for sure the whole thing won't break down after one shot, but what a shot it'll be! Imagine the explosion. Like music to my ears.”

“Will it work?” Mayor Buttercup asked as she hunched over the device, her rump in the air, giving me a good look of her cutiemark (Some sort of flower). “If it does... we might be able to hold them off. If they come through the front. We could hold the town.” She sure was... persistent in that desire. I couldn't blame her. She was the mayor and this was her home, running away could not be easy.

“It'll go boom,” Flare repeated. “Can't say if it'll work twice. Never seen a cannon like this before... who the hell makes a cannon that shoots parties!? It works with, like, counter-logic.” I was going to have to take his word for it. “Interesting design I'll give it that, but still!”

“We're not fighting,” Pearly said. “Just ain't gunna happen. Even if we win, we'd lose over half the town, and that's if. Yeah, we got traps, but these ain't the normal raiders to walk right into them. It's too big a risk. We either make a deal with'em or run to the nearest NCA outpost and hope they are smart enough not to step on the NCA's hoof. It's a risk either way, but I'm going for the one what don't put us up against a large force with superior training.” She leaned lightly on me. “‘Sides, far as I know the 'hero' is already telling people to start packing up in case we need ta leave in a hurry.”

“Running is better than dying,” Flare agreed. “High Stakes and Serenity needed saving first.” There was a look of frustration on his face when he looked up at the moonlit sky. “If I had Bunker Buster, we might stand a chance. If nothing else, it'd cover your escape.” He kicked the cannon. “Guess I have to be useless. Again.”

“Sticking to tradition Flare? Can't go wrong with that,” I said as deadpan as I could manage.

“Great. You've been around me too long. I can't take the competition. Clearly we need to have a snark off. One on one. Mano y mano. You and I! A battle for the century! I'll write a book detailing it. Okay, on the count of-”

“Flare.” He snapped his mouth shut and grinned. “Shut up.”

“Well.” Pearly smirked. “We have a winner. Ain't gunna make for much of an epic novel though.”

“From my experience, all written work is five percent truth and ninety five percent 'truth'” He wagged his hooves in the air in what I could only imagine was a crude attempt at quotation marks. “So we have plenty of material. Add in a few fight scenes, a tragic backstory and perhaps a megaspell detonation.” he paused for a second with a wicked grin. “I got it! Silver's comeback was so fierce it set up and detonated a megaspell inside her!”

“Now, hon.” Pearly just shook her head. “Now, I know you ain't a unicorn, but you should know megaspells don't work that way... Well... would be cool if they did. Tell ya what, just chalk it up to artistic integrity.” Flare grinned and did a mock bow.

“Is this really the time?” Buttercup didn't seem that amused. That's a shame, because it was actually kind of funny. Which was rare for Flare. Though, I understood her point. Looking out towards the raiders camp, it was eerily silent, but I could make out movement. More than the last time I looked. I knew they weren't going to attack so long as they thought we were still doing peace negotiations (or rather giving the townsfolk an ultimatum), but it was unnerving.

Not nearly as unnerving as a shrill scream that echoed across the town.

We looked at each other. I could hear hearts beating in chests. There was a silent recognition at the looks we gave each other, a realization that we had all just heard that.

A second scream, deeper, but no less terrified. Coming from inside the casino. I tore off my eye patch and looked back at the camp. My green cybernetic eye whirled for a second before I started to see red and purple boxes even in places where I could not see ponies. And they were moving, towards us. The realization hit me a second later: we were just sent here as an overture of peace so that when they attacked the town wouldn't be expecting it.

I think it worked.

“Flare!” I shouted. “Use that cannon thing 'till it stops working. Then meet me by the general store.” Flare nodded and turned to the cannon as we heard a small voice behind us.

“Come quickly!” Spitshine was running from the stairs that led back to the casino. “They got in through the backdoor. Invisible ones, hurry!”

---

The casino floor smelled of blood, and panic.

I could see ponies screaming and running around wildly trying to gather their things and avoid attackers they could not see. There were pops of sounds and a pony in the distance fell and died in a pool of blood. How could you fight what you can't see? Well, they couldn't, but between my magic sensing and EFS, I could. “Round them up,” I said to the three behind me. “I'll find Pin. We'll punch through the backdoor.”

Off in the distance there was a resounding boom that shook the casino. Good to see Flare was working properly.

My shoulder burned. A few meters away I saw a panicked blue mare backed up against a 'Rainboom Riches' machine, her eyes wide and her hooves covered in blood. In front of her was a recently dead pony, but her attacker was nowhere to be seen. My EFS showed something red nearby but everything was so panicked I couldn't be sure where. I started running towards her. I had to hope the burning in my shoulder could find her attacker. As I moved closer the feeling started to sharpen at a certain point. I took to the air, planted my feet on a stool, and pushed off. As I passed over the top of the slot machine I connected into something.

The invisible pony and I slammed into the ground hard enough that their stealth-buck broke, and I could see her beneath me. I brought my metal hoof down hard smashing through her skull and painting me red with gore. Standing slowly I shook the brain matter from my leg and turned towards the mare I was protecting only to see she had vanished. Gritting my teeth, I looked around. Needed to kill raiders. Save Serenity. High Stakes too, if he was around. Too much to do.

I felt a sharp burst in my shoulder that quickly faded and realized somepony was directly behind me. Swearing, I spun around to, I don't know, kick him or something, only to see a knife flash through the air and hit my would be attacker in the back of the neck. The raider pony twitched for a second before falling over.

“Whatever these cunts are using.” Pinprick waltzed over with a grim look in her olive eyes. “Doesn't last forever. Fuckers came out no where.” The mare leaned over the dead raider and plucked the knife from her spine. “Throwing your weapon is a fucking badass move, but fucking retarded. Lucky for you I needed you alive.” Wait wh-

Before I could react the mare had her dagger so close to my eye I was afraid to blink.

“Well bitch,” she sneered past her dagger, “how'd you like to lose the other one?” Shit, shit, was she working for Smooth Tongue? I felt my heart beat faster and I tried to figure out how I could grab the shotgun from my bag without getting stabbed all to hell. “How much did he pay you? You come here, make us think he's willing to deal. So he can waltz up unprotected. We aren't fucking foals to fall for that. I'm going to pop your eye out and feed it to your master for fuck-”

“You've got it wrong!” I tried to back up, but she twitched and brought the dagger closer. “I didn't know. No idea. I swear it.”

“Why should I believe you, you cunt? You took the job for us back then. Everypony has their fucking price.” I felt a cold sweat run down the length of my spine. Those words were too true to counter. So I tried something different.

“I saved you once. Could have killed you. Gave you the benefit of the doubt.” I gave her the hardest stare I could while simultaneously looking down the length of a blade. “You owe me.” let her think about that for a second. “I need to save Serenity. I promised. So let me.”

“You should do it, Momma.” I heard a small voice say behind me. Spitshine. “She's not a bad pony, and I can tell. Besides, she's my prisoner still, 'till I say she's not, and I forbid stabbing.” The dark grey former raider had a look of pure rage on her face before softening and moving the dagger away.

“I hope I don't regret this,” she muttered. “Spitshine, get your gun. We need to help these fuckers.” The raider gave me a hard look and shook her head. “I hope you're not a lying cunt. If you are, I'll find you and kill you.” That was... good to know. “And no buts, Spitshine.”

The light grey filly trotted over to her mother before stopping to smile at me. Well, smile and levitate her gun up to my head and saying, “Bang! You're dead!” before running after her mother, giggling.

As I watched the two mares leave, I realized that Pinprick might have been the smartest pony I met in a while. Because she did not trust me at all. Maybe it was because she remembered what happened when Silver Bullet trusted me. Not that I was upset over killing that bastard, but it was a good solid lesson on why trusting me was just a bad idea. If only more ponies realized that, then I wouldn't be in a position to fuck so much up. Like right now.

“Can't say ah'm surprised she don't trust you.” I felt the sensation of Pearly's magic as she sauntered up beside me. “Ah don't much either. I want to though. But, I mean, you know?”

“I did kill that one.” I tilted my head towards the remains of the pony whose skull I’d crushed.

Pearly narrowed her eyes at the crushed pony before moving back to look at my bloody metal leg. “Eh.” She shrugged. “Good enough.” With a burst of magic I felt her dig into her bag and levitate a shotgun over to me. Before I could protest and explain I already had a gun in my bag she shoved it in my mouth. “We need to help punch through the raiders at the back. Lets go.”

I mumbled my agreement through the shotgun and scanned the area. Orange boxes and the ponies they were surrounding moved about wildly, but I noticed a pattern of most of them moving towards the back of the casino. I saw a few red boxes, but upon them showing up, most vanished. It seemed that while my EFS could pick up invisible ponies, the functions of my eye could not. Good to know.

I followed after Pearly as we snaked through the casino. She yelled at ponies as she passed, begging them to evacuate before the bulk of their forces came up. Most of the invisible ponies that came through the back were dead or run off, and those who hadn’t been were quickly overwhelmed when their stealthbucks gave out.

We reached the back of the casino to see a great mob heaving and pushing towards the exit. It was near chaos, and my EFS was so filled with ticks that I couldn't get a fix on anything. For a second I thought I saw a flash of red though, but when I focused I couldn't make out the proper highlights. Between the EFS and the eye-tech my vision was getting awfully crowded.

“One at a time!” I heard Pearly scream above the din. “One! At! A! Time!' The mob didn't seem to pay her heed and continued panicking in the general direction of the door. With an exasperated sigh and a stomp of her hoof she turned her head to me. “Ah'm going to make sure they all get out. Go on, follow them outside and head ‘round to save ya daughter. There's an NCA outpost ‘round these parts we're to be headin' to, meet us there.” Before I could properly blush and stammer she kissed me. “We'll have to try 'gain another time.”

I nodded dumbly, the taste of her lips still overriding all my other senses. Realizing my state of temporary shock, she pushed me towards the mob. The funny thing about panicked mobs is that you can be the largest pony in the world (and I was certainly a contender) but against the heaving masses pushing against you in close quarters you're going nowhere. So instead of fighting I went along with the crowd of ponies.

The cold outside air hit like a punch to the face. As soon as the crowd started exiting the unfortunately small door, the mob became a stampede, but was not so crowded, so I was able to push my way away from the group. After getting a fair distance away, I turned to watch the group tear down the hill in a disorganized mob. At the bottom of the hill, my eye picked out Pinprick and Spitshine (holding a torch above her head). Surprisingly the panicked ponies stopped at her, and formed a semicircle. I could barely pick out her voice above the masses, but I couldn't hear the words.

I stood watching in awe as the supposed hero stood and the ponies gravitated towards her like moths to a flame. Somehow she managed to ease the calm of the ponies as they streamed from the casino and battle raged behind them. Part of me went back to the question, 'what is the nature of a hero?'. For her, I could only guess profanity.

There was a sharp shout. A shimmer of light appeared behind Pinprick and suddenly a pony was standing there, a purple box around them in my sight. The supposed hero turned suddenly, moonlight glinting off her dagger, and a second later the raider was falling in a spray of blood. Without skipping a beat the hero sheathed her weapon and kicked the corpse over and looked back at her mob. She said something I couldn't hear and they all took off into the night, hopefully to safety.

I watched them go for a minute before I felt heat around my cybernetic leg. They just didn't learn did they? I wasn't as fancy as the pony I saved so long ago, but I was damned strong. I bucked the invisible pony behind me so hard the vibration shook up my legs. I turned quickly and fired my shotgun spraying the ground with blood. The blood moved violently and I heard the pony scream. So I unleashed another shell into the pony and it was silent. Even with the user dead, the stealthbuck field stayed active so I never got to see the pony I killed.

Not that it mattered. I killed so many, what was one more?

Before I continued, I made sure to jab myself with one of my Med-X's. I was really thankful they weren't taken, as they'd be a goddessend as I prepared to go into battle. Assuming I was actually going to fight anyone at all. The real plan involved no fighting actually, but it never hurt to be prepared. So... yeah.

I headed down the side of the hill away from both the escaping villagers and most of the raider army, but not before turning my pipbuck light off and reattaching my eyepatch the best I could. I had learned something, and the night concealed me as well as it ever could have. The hill on this side was a shallow incline, so when I reached the bottom of it, I was a fair distance from the town proper. I didn't like being so far away from a fight, but it allowed me to loop around virtually unseen.

It didn't take long for me to start moving closer to the town and hit the first of the sparse buildings. Bridle Hope had once been a fairly large town in the pre-war days (judging by the buildings), but now the only occupied buildings were on the main street or nearby, leaving large swaths of empty buildings half broken by time. Which was good for hiding. I knew this because, as I moved through them, I saw two glints of red on my EFS.

There was an old house right in front of me. The roof was completely gone, and it looked like most of the rest of the second floor was too, leaving only most of four walls and a floor. Sentries, I could only guess, and there was really not a good way to head towards their position without being seen.

So instead of trying and failing to sneak up, I did something really stupid. Beside me were the remains of a small shack (really only two wooden walls barely standing) so I slipped over beside it, then turned on my pipbuck light and took off my eyepatch again (and two orange boxes appeared around their vague shapes). The reacting of the sudden amber glowing thing was immediate. There was shouting, and I saw the the boxes turn from orange to red. Just then I ducked inside the shack and let bullets zip by.

It was almost too easy as I saw a red tick move in my vision. Three. Two. One. Saw a pony move on my EFS and moved my head with it. The pony popped into view around the corner and I took the shot.

And missed. The sentry dove to the ground, and my buckshot sailed over his head. Before I could adjust my aim, something slammed into my side, sending my stumbling, and I heard a gunshot. Pain throbbed in my side, but the med-x I’d just taken numbed it down enough I was able to ignore it. However I wasn't fast enough to stop the unicorn from charging me head on. There wasn't time to think. To act.

So I instinctively stuck out my hoof and rammed into into the charging unicorns horn. The spike slid into the metal plate of my foot only a few centimetres before the unicorn came to a sudden stop. I overpowered a minotaur, who did this raider think he was? I didn't have time to ask as I emptied my shotgun into him. By the time his face was mush the one who shot me was no longer in my EFS. So much for sneaking.

So I kicked the corpse out of my broken shack thingy and went to reload my shotgun. This lead to the startling revelation that I didn't actually have any ammo for it. And that reloading weapons by hoof was really fucking difficult. Seeing no other option, I took out the shotgun Serenity’d stolen a while back and removed most of the shells from that. It had only held five rounds in the magazine (even I wasn’t dumb enough to carry a shotgun with a chambered shell), but Pearly’s loaner only fit four at most anyway, so I guess it worked out in the e--. Wait. By the time I’d realized the foolishness of partially unloading a weapon to load a less-useful weapon, I’d already finished. The thought of going through the whole thing, including clearing the chamber and digging the round out of the dirt, was so frustrating, I merely stomped my hoof and put Serenity’s gun back in my bag(It still had a single thought, so I guess I could use it if I ran out).

The night was still dark, and full of raiders. None nearby me, but at the top of the hill I could see a large group. There was no point being sneaky anymore so I took off at full gallop through the blackened streets. I knew exactly where the general store was, and it didn't take me long to get there. It was thankfully unlocked, and I burst through the door without ever checking my EFS.

“Silver.” I ran face to face with my brother. “It took you longer than I expected.”

Thanks...

“It's fine, I suppose. You did your job admirably. Job, meaning ‘be a distraction’.” Did he have to say it like that. It was really annoying. I stomped my hoof and glowered at him.

“Get out of the way,” I said. There was no room for misunderstanding in my voice. I’d let him live last time out of shock, but now I truly understood how hard he’d fallen. He would get no mercy from me, and certainly not if he stood in the way between me and my daughter. I knew Serenity was in there, and I wasn't about to let him keep her.

“Okay.” He stepped sideways letting me look straight down at the door. “I'm not stupid enough to actually get in the way.” Oh... I guess that was a good point. “You don't get it, do you, Silver? What we're trying to do here. Do you know the first thing we're going to do when we claim the town? The very first thing?” I stared blankly at him, trying to explode him with my mind. “Build a wall.”

“What?” I didn't move forward, I couldn't risk leaving my back to him.

“A wall.” He stated again and rolled his eyes at me. “Large structure around a settlement designed to keep the ponies inside it safe. We're going to build them a wall and establish trade routes to Equestria. They'll become rich, and safe by our hooves. We aren't the bad guys, Silver.”

“You are.” I shuffled right so I could move closer to the door without putting my back to him. “You kill ponies. You rule by fear and intimidation.” I licked my lips and kept moving. “You're murderers.”

Then he said in a voice so hushed I had to strain to hear, “And you're not?”

That stung enough for me to physically wince away. I was a murderer... I killed Post Haste, and countless others. I killed three ponies that very night. Ponies who had mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends. Regardless of why I was a murderer, I destroyed Timber, and Karkhoof through my actions. I felt tears start to sting my eyes, but I forced them away.

“So call me whatever you want. Murderer, raider, villain. But don't stand there looking down at me from your soapbox and tell me that you're innocent.” He spat at my hooves. “We're going to save the wasteland piece by piece. Build up our influence and bring peace wherever we go. Even if we have to kill ponies to do it. Maybe we are evil, but we're evil because it's the only way to win. And we will win.” He shook his head. “Sorry, Silver, you failed.”

I took a tiny step back towards the stairway. Thoughts of my failures seemed to float around, taunting me. Post Haste run past me burning. Wildfire smiled at me with her head half shattered. And Foundation... I heard words in my ears.

I never wanted this... for either of us.

The little pony in the back of my head screamed, Survive, but all I could do was turn and run away.

The run was so familiar. I could feel the pain in my heart, and the tears stinging my eyes. I remembered the sounds of voices below, and the way my legs shook in fear as I moved. When I reached the bottom I saw Serenity like I saw her the first time. Curled up in a sad little pink ball, before sitting up and looking at me with her sad grey eyes.

Her legs were shackled again, and I ran to her and snapped the chains off with all my strength before dropping down and embracing her. I let the tears flow down my cheeks as she buried her face into my good leg. “It's okay,” I said as she sobbed. “It's okay. Mommy's here. You're safe. I came back.” I licked at her cheek. “I won't leave you again. They won't hurt you. You're safe now.” I murmured all the soothing words I could think of, until I just let her sob. She never should have came with me. If I was smart I would have realized that earlier.

“I’m sorry. I-I tried to be strong. I was just... so alone and... and I thought she was coming back an-.”

“Shh.” I whispered. “It's alright. You're safe. She'll never hurt you again.” I had killed Nanny Jane once, and if she came back from the dead I would kill her again. Damnit, I never should have brought her here. I should have listened to Haze. But that would have been the smart thing to do. I kissed Serenity on the top of her head. “I'm sorry.”

There was nothing left to say, so I just laid there, holding her. If my words could have taken away the bad that had been done to her, I would have said anything, but I was powerless. I couldn't take away her past, so I had to try and give her a future. If nothing else.

“Silver.” I looked up across the room to see High Stakes standing there. “Took you long enough.” He shook his leg where he was chained up to the wall. “Reminds me of old times...” His voice trailed away. “I'll have to tell you about that sometime.”

“I'm sorry...” I addressed to him, still holding my filly tight. “How're you holding up?”

He grit his teeth and looked a bit overwhelmed. “Better than her, but not as much as I would like... Don't worry, I'm fine. But if you could unshackle me...” He jingled his leg chain again. “It'd be a nice gesture.”

“Yeah.” Ever so gently, I helped Serenity onto my back where she grabbed onto my my mane and held it tight. With a kick I was able to free High Stakes from his chains. I knew how much it hurt Serenity, but the memories could not be pleasant for Stakes either. “What happened?”

“They threw us down here as soon as you two left, and didn't return. Serenity... did not take it well but would not listen to me. I’m sorry, Hired. I tried.” He sounded sincere to me, which was a bit of a shock. Not really knowing what else I could say, I patted him on the shoulder.

“It's fine. C'mon. Let’s get out of here.” Another day, another failure. Not only did I fail to save Bridle Hope, but I was unable to secure the trading contract House wanted, and as an added bonus, re-traumatized my filly. Today was going wonderfully.

---

The shop was empty when we returned, and I was thankful for it. I didn't know what I would do if I saw my brother again, but whatever it was it wasn't fit for a foal’s eyes. Thankfully, when we exited the store Flare flew down to greet us. Just as planned. Which seemed to be a rarity.

“Hey... you two look like shit.” He must have been addressing High Stakes and Serenity. “We don't got time to talk about it though, as them raiders are a wee bit miffed that I exploded them, you know?” He tilted his head towards the exit. “Like, now. Before they shoot me. You all know how much I hate getting shot, right?”

“I'm not going.” I was determined. “I'm going to find Smooth Tongue. And Kill him.” I turned my head to Serenity on my back. Her face was streaked with tears, and it broke my heart to leave her... but I had to do this. I refused to let him win. Not again. “I'm sorry, Serenity... I'll be back. I need you to be strong and go with Flare. You'll get to fly. You love flying.”

She nodded weakly and jumped over to Flare's back hugging his neck tight. “We'll wait for you, Mommy.”

“Hey, Hired Gun,” Flare said as he started to float into the air, “er, or Silver Storm... Hired Storm? Whatever your name is. Don't die. You either, Stakes. Dying is bad, got it?” We both nodded our approval as he took to the air and leisurely floated away.

“So.” I looked over to the pale green unicorn with his usual unreadable expression and shiny glasses. “You're coming with me?” He gave me an enigmatic smile.

“That I am. Someone has to keep you alive.” There was a pause. “How are you going to find him?”

Oh yeah, that was a good question now, wasn't it? I mean, he had to be somewhere, but it was a large town and he could be anywhere. Not to mention the multitude of raiders just about everywhere who wanted my head. I was starting to think this was just an insanely bad plan on every level. Which meant something was about to go very wrong in about three seconds.

“You won't need to find me.”

That voice.

I turned and pulled out my shotgun aiming down the street. Smooth Tongue was alone and limping his way down the main street at me, his grey mane blowing around in the wind. I took a few steps ahead over passing High Stakes. He didn't move to follow, more content to watch my back for me.

“They call me stupid.” I scoffed. Moonlight gleamed off my shotgun as I aimed. “Last words?”

“Stupid, stupid Silver.” The Stallion shook his head. “You really are predictable, did you know that? I knew you'd never give them my offer, and I knew you'd come back here to save your foal. You served well as a distraction, but you need to understand that's all you are. You can't beat me, and you're going to die if you try. I don't want you to die, Silver. I knew you'd be here, and looking for me. So, instead of risking the lives of my men, I have chosen to meet you myself. Let me talk, and please, Silver, listen. I just want you to listen.” I saw no reason to. He could talk anypony out of their barding if he was given enough time.

“You want me to serve.” He wanted everyone to serve him. That's all he was capable of. He pictured himself above everypony, looking down and expecting those below him to do his bidding without question. Well I was standing above him, and I had a fucking gun. “I won't.”

“Reconsider. I could give you a home.” There was a touch of sadness in his voice. “A purpose, a life. You would be able to do something good for the wasteland, instead of destroying it wherever you go.” He took a step forward, and I steadied my gun, causing him to pause. “You think I’m some evil madman, ‘Join me and we can rule together,’ all that tripe, but it's not the case. I want you to join me, but so I won't have to do something I would regret.”

I felt my hate rising up inside me. This bastard really thought I was going to give him the time of day.

“Think about it, Silver. All the caps you could ever want. A job paying twice as much as you get now, no strings attached. A permanent home, and the opportunity to rise in the ranks. You'd have security for your foal, and whatever loved one you could want to bring. You'd have caps to spend, things to spend them on, and goals to achieve. You could bring peace. You know it yourself, the only time Marefort was attacked was when it cut ties with the Crimson Hoof. So long as we are in charge no harm would ever befall you.” Except when you killed my mother and stole my brother.

“No. Never.” I bit down hard at my shotgun. “You die tonight.” Behind me I could feel High Stakes levitate the black and pink shotgun out of my saddle bag. It was good to have backup.

The olive stallion gave a heavy sigh and pushed back his thick grey mane. “No, Silver. You never understood, did you? Did you really think I was only going to offer this to you? Are you so arrogant to think I wouldn't give the same offer to your friends?”

The black and pink shotgun clicked behind me.

“I'm sorry, Silver. I really am.” High Stakes’ smooth voice wafted from behind me. I tried to scream. To turn. To stop him. I had to. “It's just business.” I saw the glint of his glasses and then...

Bang.

Level Up!: Despite failing in everything you did, you still gain a level! That sure is... Well, it’s something.

New Perk: Adaptive Eye Programming 1: Your practice with your new eye has paid off, increasing the range of its EFS, and improving its threat-level indicators. In addition, you’ve noticed your eye has the ability to see the awareness levels of ponies in the vicinity for enhanced sneaking!

((A/N: As usual I am here to express my gratitude to those who made this story possible and non-sucky. Such as the great Kkat, for writing her fabulous story, and my editors theBSDude, Errant Indy, and Julep. I love you all.))

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
PreviousChapters Next
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!