• Published 5th Nov 2011
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Fallout Equestria: Heroes - No One



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

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Chapter 23: Time Off

Time Off

“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”

I kicked Flare off the whore, then I hooked my metal foreleg around the other stallion and lobbed him out the door. Perhaps I threw a bit too forcefully because he hit the opposite wall and slid down it in a daze. After slamming the door so hard I cracked the frame, I spun and focused my rage on the smirking pegasus.

“You Should See The Look On Your Face,” he said in between giggle fits. “Priceless!” He just laughed there on the floor, kicking his legs and flapping his wings. He was high as fuck.

So I kicked him in the gut and turned his laughter into a gasp for breath. “What the fuck Flare?! Dash? Really?” I couldn't give a damn about his stallion-whore friend. He was allowed to fuck whoever he felt like, but going back on Dash? Didn't he give me a big speech in the facility about overcoming addiction? And now this.

He didn't respond right away, so I took a step closer. “Momma don't!” Serenity cried from behind me. “You're hurting him!” Good! He was supposed to be the model I was going to follow. A way to prove to myself that I could kick my addiction by looking at his example.

“Listen To Your Daughter.” Flare scrambled away and flapped into a corner.

“Why Flare? I thought you said you kicked this? You're going to relapse for the sake of a bastard li-”

“Yeah, Fuck You Too, Hired.” He held his stomach where I kicked him. “I've Fought For You, Bled For You, Killed For You. High Stakes Is An Idiot, But You're Not Much Better.” He spoke fast and loud, and I wondered if he could even control the inflection of his voice. “High Stakes, Hired Gun, Serenity, Mr. House, The Enclave, The Steel Rangers, The Reconstruction Center, Simple Heart, Timber, Bridle Hope, Bitter Steel! It's Too Much! Something Had To Give.” He gasped. “Something... I Needed It, I Needed Its Help. It's Too Much. It Was Dash Or I Break Down.”

I wasn't sure how much of what he said was true. It was a lot of stress, but I honestly thought that this was about High Stakes more than anything. It was easier when High Stakes betrayed him, but that message shifted the blame to just about everyone including Flare.

“Buck up! You're a stallion, act like one. You're better than-” He cut me off.

“Hired 'Give Me Your Med-X' Gun Is Telling Me To Quit?” I grit my teeth and took the insult. “Yeah... That Makes Sense. You're A Hyp-”

“SHUT UP BOTH'A YOU!” Somehow Serenity stood between us, though I wasn't sure when she got there. “Flare, ya go take a shower, Silver, we're gunna go see Haze. Both'a ya are gunna be 'part for tha rest of tha day, an tomorrow when ya cooled down ya can talk.” I don't think she was allowed to decide that. “Ah'm serious. It's late, an I don't want ya two bickerin' all night.

“Sure!” Flare grinned, clearly still tweaked out of his little pony mind. “I'll Just Have To Go Apologize To The Mustangs For Damage To Their property An-”

“No whores.” I glared at Flare. “Not in my room.”

He just pouted, “No Fun.” My glare seemed to bring him down. “Oh, Well, Fine Then. Tomorrow With The Talking. I'm Looking Forward To It! No... Wait, The Opposite Of That!” Or not. The urge to kill him was rising; it was lucky for him that Serenity was there. “Well, Go Now,” he said.

Ugh, this was just sucking. With a little bit of annoyance I started to leave until I remembered walking around the city with a B.E.L. might just be a bad idea. Reluctantly I set the weapon near the door and glared over at Flare. “If you touch this. I will kill you. A lot.”

“Yeah, Yeah,” Flare said. Which really raised my confidence and my spirits.

I spun around, walked out, and slammed the door. Words cannot express how angry I was, but the closest guess I can think of is that it felt like I'd taken another dosage of Rage. I stomped my hoof once and stared at the imprint it made on the floor. It wasn't enough though. I don't know why it upset me so much to see him regress like that, but it really did.

“Momma, c'mon. Haze is waiting.” Yeah. That was good at least. Serenity tugged on my leg some and I reluctantly looked up and shook the anger out of my head. I could deal with it later, for now I had to see Haze. To see how I felt. It was important. I started walking down the hall, slowly at first, but steadily picking up speed.

How long had it been since I'd seen the alicorn? It must have been over a week, but I couldn't seem to figure out exactly how many days. Too many, of that I was sure. Hopefully she would even want to see me. I did turn her down, and I wasn't exactly prettier now. She always seemed nice, but she was also annoyingly gorgeous and her standards would have to be above my scarred hide. It was clear that I'd made a mistake by turning her down before, but I could rectify that. We just had to keep it slow. Give us both time to adjust. That makes sense, right? Well it would have to because that was my plan and I was sticking to it.

Of course, when I was deep in thought I wasn't looking where I was going and ran face first into Starscream. Well it would have been face first if I wasn't a head taller than him. “The he- oh Hired.” He took a step back and retracted his sharp wings. I must have surprised him. “So you are back, it's not just a rumour. Some of the Hizai stationed here were betting on if you'd survive.”

“Of course Momma would!” Serenity said haughtily from beside me. “Nothing could kill her.”

“My thoughts exactly, little one.” He smiled sweetly at my daughter before turning his head to me. “So I owe you a drink. I am quite a bit richer now.”

“Uh... thanks.” I really hoped that wasn't him hitting on me. “Maybe another time. My day off. Need to see somepony.” Wait. “Quick question first, you hiring? I mean the hotel. Not the Hizai.” Pearly still needed a job.

“Yes, I believe so, if you have a friend who wants a job it can be arranged. So long as she doesn't mind serving drinks.” There! Something went right. The day was not a total loss. With a nod I continued back on my way. With a sheepish grin he quickly moved out of the way, “I'll have to speak to you later though.” He said as I was halfway past him. That was more than a little annoying but I turned to him anyway and raised an eyebrow. “About your pegasus friend.”

“What did he do...” My voice was low, and it was my intention to be threatening.

“He has been ordering quite a bit on your name. Drugs, whores, alcohol. From the Mustangs and Galicians mostly, which makes it more expensive. I'll have to take it out of your pay, unfortunately, unless you can convince him to pay.” My eye twitched just a little bit. “Are you okay?”

“I'm going. To murder him.” I hissed through clenched teeth.

“Well I'm afraid that won't pay your bill.”

“It'll be worth it!” I huffed. The amiable cyborg alicorn just shook his head at my display. Maybe I was just being a little bit childish about the whole affair, but that was pretty much par the course for me.

“Whatever you say.” He smirked and nodded down the hall where the elevator was waiting for me. “Oh!” he said as me and Serenity passed him, “one more thing.”

“What!” Okay, so I was getting more than a little pissed off.

“I still need that report about what happened.” Seriously? “Have fun.” He laughed and trotted off. I wasn't sure if he was enjoying my discomfort, or actually thought tedious reports were funny. Well the joke would be on him if he expected whatever I wrote to be half way legible.

So I with my bad mood, and Serenity with her fruitless attempt to cheer me up with smiles, entered the elevator. Elevator technology was still kind of strange to me, but whatever. So long as the cable didn't snap and send us tumbling to the first floor. Though it would have gotten us there quicker, as the elevator was infuriatingly slow. Not to mention quiet.

When we eventually reached the first story I stormed out of the elevator, through the main hall of the BS casino, and out the doors. The sun was just starting to set in the west so I came out of the building to look at the bright orange sky beyond the buildings and walls of Dise. It was sort of beautiful to see, even if I didn't get a good look with so much in the way. It didn't do much to put me in a good mood. It reminded me too much of fire.

---

We descended into the tunnels below Dise from the secret entrance in the east side slums. No longer did the tunnels remind me of the darkness and whispered promises. The trip through the black hell that was the eastern tunnel was a thing of the past, and while I would always carry the scars from it, it was no longer something that haunted me. Not now that I knew what caused the visions. When the orb was a mystery, dark and powerful, it hurt more, and knowing the truth, or at least part of the truth, helped. That all being said, I doubt you could pay me enough to journey back there. Which was a shame because I had made a promise to journey down there and find it no less.

I didn’t plan on doing that right then, so I kept walking. By then I'd already memorized the path to Platinum Haze's orphanage. So long as the dim lights above us didn't fail, and so long as no paths were caved in, I would be able to get there. The tunnels really were amazing, an interlocking web of passages that connected all of Dise. They seemed to spread out infinitely. A thousand different paths, a thousand unexplored corridors. Though the tunnels were populated (because they were safe, and secure, and provided much to scavenge) that was only a small fraction of the entire mass.

So much of the tunnels were unexplored. Maybe because some of the lower levels were framed in dirt, and incomplete, or because large sections lacked power. Who knew what treasures were hidden in these uncharted catacombs, who knew what mysteries lay dormate? Hopefully I never would. The reconstruction centre had filled me with more mysteries, catacombs, and hidden dangers than I ever wanted or needed. It didn't help that both were built by, or at least paid for and supervised, by Wallkirk. It seemed everything that stallion touched turned to rust, decay, and death. Of course... considered the world all but ended, the same could go for any pony who lived before the war.

It was strange to think that ponies must have built these tunnels. Real, living and breathing ponies two hundred years ago had carved under their city to make a home. Or at least that was what Wallkirk had promised. It was supposed to be a fallout centre, the world’s largest Stable. Instead it became the world's largest tomb. What would those ponies have thought, the ones who built this place, to know their years of hard work had accomplished nothing. That despite the blood and sweat they had poured into this place, nothing had been preserved except their failure. A vast network of tunnels and caverns, of would-be homes and schools, and hospitals, an underground city made for the residents of Dise, and all that was left of this promise were ruined halls and lights that barely worked.

It was a depressing thought, but a necessary one. Sometimes it was easy to forget the ponies that came before. Most everypony who lived knew that the old world burned in balefire, but the scope was hard to imagine. How many ponies could have lived in these tunnels. Hundreds? Thousands? Millions? The scale was above and beyond anything I could imagine, and this was just one city in a sparsely populated country. How many cities burned in Equestria itself? How many millions died that day?

Sometimes I wondered if ponykind still existed. Yes we were technically ponies, but as a race we were dead. We were a shambling corpse of a race stumbling around looking for one last thing to do before we kill each other off. Like maggots that eat at the flesh of a corpse we as ponies only existed to feed off the remains of our former glory, to suck the buildings dry, to scavenge the flesh and technology from the bones of the corpse of our culture. And when our meal ran out, when we scavenged the last wire and gun and light, when the flesh was gone and not even bone marrow existed to feed on, we would die off for good, after living a mere two hundred years longer than we should have.

I hated these tunnels.

Whenever I came down, here my mind travelled to a world two hundred years dead and made me think. These thoughts just made my head hurt. It was better to ignore the past, keep moving, and survive. It was the only way. Maybe the world had died, maybe our race had died, but I was still alive, and I was going to survive.

For the second time that day, I was so lost in thought I wasn't watching where I was going. I tripped on a fallen and cracked statue as I turned a corner and fell face first into the metal grate that made up the floor.

“Momma!” Serenity ran over to me head and started to shake it. “Are you awake? Were ya sleepwalkin'? You were so quiet I was sure ya were sleepwalkin!”

“I wasn't.” I mumbled blinking up at the dim light above me. The glowing tube blinked for a second and looked like it nearly went out. “I'm... good.” I looked around the hallway still tumbled over on my side. On the side of the wall was a simple wooden door with a plaque that had the word 'Wall' written on it. It looked really familiar.

“Well let’s get goin' then, ‘for ya fall 'sleep fer real.” She tugged at me in an attempt to help me it. It might have been effective were she not tiny, and I not massive. “Come. on.”

“Wait...” She stopped pulling at me and let me get up myself. “I need to see something.” I walked over to the door and studied the plaque. On the golden background the black words 'Wall' was clearly visible, but if I looked closer (I briefly lifted up my eyepatch so my cyber-eye could assist) then the faint outline of letters that had fallen off and faded were still barely visible. 'Wallkirk'. The door said said 'Wallkirk'. Looking back at the broken statue that had tripped me, I noticed that, if it had still been standing, it would have been remarkably similar to the statue that adorned the fountain in the centre of Dise.

“What is it Momma?” Serenity asked.

I should have responded, but something struck me about this door. About this place. Ever so carefully I pressed the flat of my metal hoof against the door. Then kicked. The door gave way in a shower of splinters, which made Serenity gasp and run behind me for cover.

“Sorry.” I walked through the door. “Have to see something.” The room was marginally more preserved than most in the wasteland and much more ornate. The wallpaper would have been fancy if it weren't stained and peeling, and the desk that took up most of the room would have been a marvellously thing with its golden outline, had the desk not cracked down the middle leaving the right half collapsed, and the left only standing because it was learning on the right. In order to walk over to the desk I had to carefully step around the countless papers strewn across the floor as if somepony left in a hurry. As I walked I tried to read them, but the words were smudged, and paper stiff and ready to crumble.

Off to a the side was a large full length mirror. As I passed it I couldn't help but look. It was a strange picture, seeing me reflected there in the centre of the room. The room was a fancy, if slowly decaying, picture of the old world, and I was most certainly a pony of the one that came after. Scared and broken and walking through ruins in order to find something to feed upon so I could survive one more day. I didn't belong here, the reflection seemed say, but yet there I was treading through the murky waters of the past.

“Momma, what're you doin...?” Right. I had stopped to think. That was getting annoying. I kept getting lost in thought as of late.

“Looking.” I carefully walked around to other side of the broken desk. Besides a single broken lamp, the desk was completely empty (no doubt whatever papers were on it found their way to the floor). Carefully I scanned the desk and noticed a few intact drawers on the side that hadn't completely collapsed. Upon opening them I found the first three to be completely empty, the last one however was different. It was completely empty like the others, but being close to it made my shoulder burn. That could only mean something magical.

I hefted the drawer out of its socket and placed the whole thing on the desk, studying it intently. Serenity got bored of waiting and ran across the room (disturbing the papers I had attempted to avoid) and jumped onto the desk. She poked the drawer a few times before giving me a confused look.

“Magic... I can feel it.” But what kind of magic was the real question. Apart from the fact that something about it was magical, I couldn't figure much else out.

“Huh.” Serenity prodded the drawer and lifted herself up to get a better look inside. “Oh!” she used her magic and a few seconds later I heard a pop as she lifted the bottom of the drawer out in a pink magical field. “False bottom...” She grinned. “And there's a... magical something, look.”

Sure enough, when I looked into the drawer with the bottom removed I saw a thin purple glowing shield covering where the false bottom was before. Underneath it was a small binder of papers, apparently secret like. I knew from past experiences I wasn't going to get through the magical field without a lot of ordinance, or I had the particular magical it was looking for. So instead, I flipped the shelf upside down, slammed my hoof through the bottom of the shelf, and took the papers out that way. Whoever designed this system was not very bright.

The papers were all perfectly preserved in a hard plastic binding. With all the care I could muster with my large clumsy hooves, I set the documents before me. There were four in total, but I noticed on the back of the binder it listed more. He must have taken some with him when he went... wherever it was he went.

As I started to read the first of the documents I realized I already knew what it was about. It was a carefully detailed document about what happened to Simple Heart, how he became what he was. There was also a long section about Baptisia's betrayal, as well as numerous quoted reports about who she could have been working for, and who her know allies were. The final section said it was going to detail her fate, which is why I only skimmed the rest and went straight for that. The problem was it said nothing, but told me to refer to a collaborating report.

Which I did, as said report was right there. Reading through it, I instantly got bored, which was impressive considering it was about spies and subterfuge. Maybe it would have been interesting if the spies were looking for interesting information, but instead they were looking for some book. Apparently it had some cool spells on it or something, and was a huge secret. It must have been important because according to the records he spent a lot of money just to have a single pony read it. Not even steal, just read once. Once I got to the section about Baptisia I found it referred me to yet another document.

“Momma... are you okay? Ya starin’ at that thing and we need’a go.” Yeah. I closed the reports and shoved them into my saddle bags. I could always read the rest later.

“I’m fine. Let’s go.” After pushing away from the desk I got up and walked back towards the door. This time I didn't care if I disrupted the mess of paper, and I didn't bother to look at the mirror for some more philosophical conundrum. Fuck philosophy; it was just another remnant of the past trying to scratch its way back to the surface, and all it did was make you realize how much everything sucked. I stopped at the door and took a look back into the room. There was... something I was missing. I wasn't sure what, but there was something.

“What was all that, Momma?” Serenity asked as we continued down the hall.

“Nothing important to us.” the documents felt heavy in my bags. “Just old world shit. House might want it.” Like everything else in the tunnels, it was just the old world coming back to haunt the new.

The tunnels were as still as silent as they everywhere, and there was nothing to listen to but our steady breathing and hoof steps. Maybe it wasn't so bad the ponies down here died, maybe it was a mercy. Ponies were liable to go insane down here. Of course, the same could be said for stables. Maybe I was just trying to reassure myself that what happened wasn't as monstrous as it had seemed.

We walked down a set of stairs to where Platinum Haze lived, and it was then I started to hear voices. Angry voices. Without so much as a second thought I started to run. After turning a corner I saw a disturbing scene.

Platinum Haze (when I saw her at first, I almost missed everything else going on. She was just too beautiful) was standing in a defensive position with a opaque blue bubble shield encompassing her. The more pressing issue was the fifteen or so gun toting ponies surrounding her yelling demand. The leader was a short white unicorn with a long blond mane, and a rising sun for a cutie-mark. She started to hush the crowd with a wave of her hoof.

“Serenity. Take cover.” The little filly frowned and nodded before scurrying back behind the corner we turned. Just as I started to get Subtlety ready my eyes met Platinum Haze's. To my surprise she just shook her head. She was in danger though. Why wouldn't she want help. I headed her wishes, but my stomach twisted in anxiety.

“You.” The mare challenged the alicorn with a look. “Have taken foals that belong to Celestia's Vision. I command you to return them to where they belong.” I had remembered Haze spoke of her partner travelling to where the remnants of Celestia's Vision after Karkhoof Zebra counter attack were, and bringing back the foals. It should have been expected that move wouldn't be without consequence.

“We Apologize!” Her voice seemed to boom across the room, and her eyes were glowing. “But We Cannot! The Foals We Have Taken Were Parent-less And Without Guidance! If Their Parents Are Still Alive We Will Give The Foals Up To Them, If Their Relation Can Be Proven! In Addition, We Have Asked Each And Every Foal If They Wished To Stay With Us Or Return, And All Agreed To Stay! We Will Ask Again, But Will Not Return Any Foal Who Does Not Wish To Go!”

“No, you will give them up.” The mare floated up her pistol threateningly. “I will not allow them to be with an abomination such as you.”

“We Are Sorry You Feel That Way In Regards To Us, But We Cannot Abide By Your Request!” Her voice echoed one more and the sounds of cocking guns was the reply. “Please!” Her booming voice faded turning to normal, “Do not do this, we beg of you. You are making a mistake...”

“No. You are.” A single bullet slammed into the shield.

The rest of the ponies didn't fire. Platinum Haze's horn adopted a second and third layer of glowing energy and suddenly a light blue field wrapped over all fifteen ponies weapons. There was a brief tug of war with each weapon simultaneously but the blue won over and Haze pulled every weapon away, turned them around, and pointed them at her attackers. There was a collective gulp as the group looked shock. The white pony in particular looked like she was sweating bullets as she looked down the barrel of her own pistol.

Haze's voice returned to its booming tone. “We Warned You! But You Did Not Heed!” Every single weapon in the room cocked, and I was fairly sure one of the ponies wet themselves in fear. “You Will Regret This Decision...”

All at once Haze detached the ammo feed from every weapon, and and removed every chambered bullet. There was a collective sigh of relief. It turned to more of annoyed groan though when haze bent the barrels of all the weapons in such an impressive feat of magic is made my shoulder burn so hot I almost thought it was on fire.

“We will not kill you, it is not our way.” The broken weapons clattered to the ground. “But neither shall we allow you to have the foals, if they do not wish it. Leave this place at once, you have nothing more to do here.”

“W-what I...” The mare with the rising sun on her flank gulped. The ponies around her seemed a lot less confident now that they realized they didn't have the upper hand.

“Ahem!” I said loud. Everypony looked down the hall towards me. “She might not kill you. I won’t make the same promise.” The white mare gave me a strange look I couldn't decipher and waved the ponies away. One by one Celestia's Vision started to leave the area, but it was not until the last one turned the corner I walked over to Platinum Haze.

I'll admit I was really nervous to see her again. A lot had happened and I was worried she wouldn't like me anymore. After the way I rejected her, and got all cut up, I did really deserve rejection, but I didn't want it. We could make this work, I was sure of it. If we took it slow, did things right. I really wanted it to work. “Platinum Haze, I-”

She cut me off, and I waited for the worst.

“Silver! Your face! Are you okay?!” Her voice was high and worried. She was just held at gunpoint by fifteen ponies, and she asked me if I was okay. That was the same Platinum Haze alright.

---

Platinum Haze quickly casted an invisibility spell over us (I didn't have time to explain how that hurt) and hurried us towards a... wall. Only it wasn't an actual wall given she was able to walk right through it, and so were we. Haze explained that the school was becoming known, and it was a priority to keep its whereabouts hidden at all costs. Once inside Haze and I deposited Serenity with the other foals, at Serenity's request. Apparently she made a friend before, and was excited to talk to them again. I was instantly suspicious.

The first thing I noticed once I got a look at the orphanage was how much better it looked than before. The walls had been repainted (white and pink) and most of the rubble had been moved. The lights seemed to be completely new, and a lot more magical than before. Perhaps most importantly I noticed more than one non-foal walking around the orphanage tending to tasks.

“Some have heard of us and expressed interest. We took great precaution to interview them, and we personally performed a memory spell on them to hear their true intentions.” Haze explained after nodding to one such mare. It was hard to pay attention while I stared at her majestically flowing mane, but I got the gist of it. “Diamond Sky was apprehensive about the idea, but we won her over. It has become much easier to handle with extra hooves.”

After smiling and nodding my understanding, Haze led me down to her room. It too had been refurbished and looked a lot more like an actual room rather than a dirty mattress on the floor. Haze begged me to rest on her new bed (complete with bed frame) and rushed off to speak with Diamond Sky. It didn't give me much time to think though, as she came back just as quick as she left.

Upon her return she laid down beside the bed I was on (we were roughly at eye level) and enquired as to what had happened. So I told her. It was an obscenely long story, and I may have skipped over a few parts like the visions, but it got the job done.

“And... your face...” she asked timidly looking as the web of scars that marked half my face. “It looks...” ugly. Disgusting. “Like it hurts. Are you okay, we worry.”

“Shotgun...” I rubbed the scars. They still hurt sometimes, or maybe it was my mind playing tricks on me. “Nearly died. But apparently I was 'useful.'” I chuckled bitterly. “High Stakes, like I said before. I never should have trusted him...” Flare shouldn't have either, but that ship had sailed. Now I just needed to figure out how to get Flare out of his funk, and then maybe find High Stakes and murder him.

Before I could say anything more I felt Platinum Haze wrap her hooves around my neck. “We were so worried about you. We are aware it is silly as we have not known you long... but we have not been apart from Unity long, and time is relative.” That made sense, I think, at least from what I learned about it. “We...” she pulled away, “we apologize. We are aware of your feeling, you made them clear before we shouldn't...”

“You'd still want me even though I look like something a rad-scorpion dragged home for dinner?” I gave her a slight smirk and tried my best to portray Flare like levels of humour. It makes the conversation less serious, and thus easier.

“Your good looks were never what we were attracted to, and we do not think the scars detract from your looks in any fashion.” She said simply. “We found you... fascinating. You did not treat us as anything but another pony. Even those we have hired to work here act as if we should be worshipped and feared, yet you did not. We found this comforting, and when we saw your story we were able to look past your brutish nature.” Ouch, that hurt. “We cannot fully explain our feelings, but we say this to explain that looks are not, and have never been our primary concern.”

That made sense, I think. It seemed silly in retrospect I ever thought my good looks were why she was attracted to me. Even unscathed I had been passable at best.

“B-but, we. We are aware you did not wish to pursue a relationship, we apologize.”

“Haze do-” I tried to wave a hoof to calm her down but she kept talking.

“W-we understand, really. W-we missed you thought, and were worried. You were gone for so long and we feared...” Tears seemed to water in her cat-like eyes.

“Haze, really lis-” She cut me off again, her voice starting to waver even more.

“A-and w-we understand. Really. We are simply silly for getting attached. We are sorry, we will leave you alone and-” Oh for Celestia's sake.

I leaned over and pressed my lips to hers. It was not a long kiss, or even a very good one, but it got my point across well enough. When I pulled back I saw instead of nearly crying she was blushing a hot red. It was almost impossibly adorable.

“Can I talk now?” She nodded silently. “Thank you. Haze.” I lifted her chin up with a hoof, because I really was a sap. “I was wrong. Before, I shouldn't have... I was right. I was afraid we were going to go too fast, and that would have been... wrong. Not healthy. I didn't even think of taking things slow. One step at a time. Deal with issues as they come, and tread carefully.” That sounded stupid, and I found myself blushing. I hated blushing, yet every time. “I... I like you. I'd like to get to know you better.”

“W-we would like to as well.” She seemed unsure as she looked to the ground, but quickly brought her eyes back in line with mine. “We would like it a lot.”

“I only have one condition.” She looked at me quietly, which I could only guess was giving me the option to answer. “We're never allowed to be this sappy again. Somepony could see. I have a reputation to uphold.” At first she gave me a bemused look, and I worried that my teasing had gone over her head, but it slowly turned into a small grin, and finally into a high pitched giggle.

“We apologize.” She stood up to bow. “We did not mean to jeopardize your reputation.”

“It's fine.” I nodded impassively. “The walls won’t tell. But next time.” It was simply too silly not to smile.

“Do you mind if I stay the night...?” Watch how I make a fool of myself by not thinking before I speak. “I-I mean not stay, just sleep. Not, with you, that is. It's Just. Flare, and.” I did my best to stem the rising tide of my blush. After a few deep breaths I looked back at Haze who had a bemused smirk. “Flare and I got into a... fight. It's a long story. Just need to cool off...” and he needed to come off his high. “So I need a place...”

“It is fine Silver, we do not mind. Tonight is not a night we sleep.” I'm not entirely sure that made sense.

“I thought you didn't require sleep? That's what you said. Before.” The day of travelling had left me pretty tired, and the fight with Flare did not help matters either, so it was possible I was remembering things wrong.

“We... did state that, but in error. In Unity sleep was not required, but in this forms it seems as though it is. Though, we have determined it is not as important, and we can go longer without.” She blushed a little. “When we found this information it was on accident. We vanished while looking for more orphans, and Diamond Sky was ragged with worry. It turned out I was standing outside the door, only invisible and asleep... it is a lucky thing that we snore.” It was a task not to laugh at how silly that story was. “If you were here we might have been found sooner.”

“Yeah.” I said trying my best to get comfortable on the bed. “I'm special like that.”

There was a strange silence, and when Haze did not respond right away I looked over to her. Her yellow eyes were closed and she looked like she was contemplating something, or trying to remember. Eventually she opened them and looked gravely. “We... are not certain you are.” Was that suppose to be an insult? “One night, we were up top looking for orphans to rescue when we passed this mare. Please understand that when we go up we use multiple spells that keep us completely silent and invisible, and we did not pass within twenty feet of this mare, but I swear. She turned and looked at me. Right in the eyes. She was an earth pony too, there was no way she could have seen us, yet... it was only when we flew away that she went on her way. It was unsettling.”

Really? Another pony with that same strange power? It seemed a bit circumstantial, but there wasn't really another way she could have seen Haze if her spell was as good as she said. Maybe there was an actual reason for my powers. “What did she look like?” If I could find her, and ask, maybe I'd be able to figure it out. I've been able to sense magic for so long it had just become part of who I was, but with this information something in the back of my head nagged at me to find out its cause.

“We are sorry... we cannot recall. It was dark.” She looked abashed. “We just thought the information was relevant.” It was at that.

My mind circled backwards trying to remember when the ability first came to me. As an earth pony, most things magical had been far beyond my grasp or understanding, and unless I was sorely mistaken I didn't start being able to sense magic until Bridle Hope. A thought struck me, and I slowly lifted up my metal leg. I only had that ability since I got my leg, maybe the two were connected somehow.

“Did she... have any cybernetics?”

The alicorn looked at me and slowly panned down to the my leg. Slowly she shook her head, “None that we could see, but we did not get a good look. We apologize.”

If it wasn't the cybernetics what else could it be. Maybe something from stable forty two... oh! The star metal bullet! Of course. Me getting shot in the leg was what led to my new leg, and maybe that was it. Everypony I talked to claimed that nopony else had survived direct contact, and according to Sky Fall I was still minutely infected (and possibly dying, but I ignored that part). It was possible that some sort of... thing in the poison in substance gave me the ability. I wasn't a magical pony, so I couldn't know for sure.

“Do you know what Star Metal is?”

Platinum Haze's eyes went wide and she slowly, and perhaps a bit fearfully nodded. “We are aware... it is most dangerous. What is the nature of the enquiry?”

“Do you know... of anypony that has survived it?”

“We...” she looked away almost as if she was trying to say something, and then shook her head. “Our knowledge is limited. From everything we have seen we cannot give you an accurate answer. We apologize.” That was a strange way to word 'no', but it was good enough for me. Maybe I would hit up that pegasus bastard who Flare worked for, and see if he knew anything more substantial. “Are you okay?” She asked.

“Huh, yeah.” I smiled at her. “Sorry. Just thinking. Too much. I'm a dumb pony who forgets I'm dumb.”

“We do not think you are dumb...” With a sigh she slowly stood up and looked back towards the door. “We hate to do this, but Diamond Sky will require our assistance shortly.”

“It's fine Haze... it's good to see you again. I'm glad we got this.. worked out. Ish.” She smiled and I saw a hint of a blush on her cheeks. “Can you get tomorrow night off?”

“Uh... perhaps. For what, may we enquire?” The tall equine seemed a bit nervous at my question, if the way she kicked at the floor was any indication.

“Would you go on a date with me? The Alehouse has restaurants. That's what you do on dates. Right?”

She nodded slowly. “W-we would love to! But... if we go out in public, we fear we will be subject to an attack.”

“I have an idea. About how to hide your appearance.” For once I had an idea, and I'm pretty sure it was awesome. “How do you feel about dresses? I'll hire the Finishers to make one. They can be 'hush hush.' With that you'll just look like a unicorn.”

“A rather large one; we will stand out.” Admittedly that was true, but who would ask a giant unicorn why she was a giant unicorn?

“If anything happens turn invisible and we'll escape. It's worth a shot right? Just once. Please.” This time I took a page from Serenity's book, and I gave her a pouty look. It seemed to be enough to make her smile.

“Oh fine, we cannot deny you of anything.” She giggled before leaning down to kiss me. It was just long to leave me satisfied and have me begging for more. Not to mention how shocking it was that she took the initiative. When she pulled away her blush had grown twice as red, and was working its way up her ears.

“Uh...” my blush was not much better. “Tomorrow. Ask. I'll arrange things. I missed you...”

“You said that.” She had a smile on that seemed to light up the room, and I loathed to see it go away when she left the room. Unlike before she managed this time not to get her flowing mane stuck in the door when she closed it. Instead it was her tail. With a cute squeak, a blush, and apology, she managed to leave the room without anymore damage.

I flopped back in the bed and started giggling. There was no reason to giggle (in fact I prefer to chuckle, chortle or nicker if I had the choice) but I couldn't stop myself. Something came over me after that very successful conversation. I just wanted to lie there and giggling like a fool until the date. Everything just felt so great, and I was... happy. It wouldn't last, but I wanted to savour it. So I kept giggling. Through the door, I could have sworn I heard Haze doing the same.

Eventually the giggling had to fade, and the worries came. My plan for the date was not really as sound as I'd pretended, but I had to go through with it. It was the perfect way to take it slow, and it'd take my mind off everything trying to kill me. Still, if I could get the dresses, and the plans, if everything worked just right then maybe. Maybe it'd be something special. I'm not sure what 'something special' was, but it seemed like the thing to aim for.

Sleep wouldn’t come though. My thoughts were too persuasive, so I dug out those documents and hoped they’d put me to sleep. I remembered the last one I read told me to reference a particular document, so I picked out the one it suggested.

This one, strangely enough, talked about stealing some sort of technology from Stable-Tec. Apparently they were working on some high-tech computer, and Wallkirk wanted it for whatever reason. Unfortunately a lot of this document seemed to be missing. Entire sections just didn't exist. Infuriatingly, one of those was the section on Baptisia. I guess I would never know what had happened to her.

Idly I lifted up the fourth report and shifted through it. The final one seemed to be less... cloak and daggers. It was entirely about his contract with the Caledonian government to attempt to build the tunnels under Dise. Apparently they thought he was the best choice as he had previously bought an unfinished stable (it did not say which) which gave him and his company the means to study it. Which was strange as the tunnels were not anything like the Stables I'd seen. Which made sense when I got to the last page where is stated:

Upon further inspection it is clear that the tunnels may not be able to keep out the expected levels of radiation from a megaspell strike. If the reports are correct it would be prudent to rethink the entire structure they are built with. As it stands right now only the deepest level would be liveable, and even that seems to be up in the air. Because of this I have sent a formal request to redesign the tunnels. I am aware that construction has already began but at a modest fee, they could be restructured to withstand the projected radiation level. I have attached an official request along with how much the project will cost. Please consider it. It could save lives.”

Folded inside the document was a five page letter that was undoubtedly the project proposal. On the back page was a red stamp stating 'request denied' with Wallkirk’s signature beside it.

I dropped the document and just stared at it. That killed my good mood at frightening speed.

---

I dreamed of the tunnels during their final hours. I saw ponies running down for safety. They were huddled together at explosions rang out, and lights flickered. Then one by one they started to choke on an unseen poison, and one by one they died thinking they were saved.

Opening my eyes nearly made me jump out of my coat though, as standing above me was an alicorn. For a second I had thought it was Platinum Haze (this alicorn and Haze shared the same slit cat like yellow eyes), but this pony was purple, not dark blue. “W-who...” then I saw the alicorn's mane. It was like a black field with a thousand stars sparkling in its wavering folds. “Diamond Sky?”

“You are correct. Are you awake? I will wait until you are.” That would have been a better ultimatum if she was not standing directly above me. “I will wait, but if you could hasten your pace I would appreciate it. I have much to accomplish today.”

“I...” I said as I slowly pulled the blankets off me and rolled off the bed forcing Diamond to take a few steps back. “You said I. Not we.”

“You have amazing powers of perception.” The alicorn remarked dryly. When I tried to explain what I meant, she quickly cut me off. “Yes, Sister Haze does speak in plurals as we did in Unity. As much as I love my sister, you must understand she is troubled.” Huh, is that why she was here? “When Unity broke, it did not break evenly. Thousands of souls and minds clamoured together around and through mother, and when mother died the minds and souls stayed in the body they were in, unable to move. Some of my sisters have many inside them. Not many wholes, but many pieces of which they must focus to make them whole, to make them a singular again. Sister Haze... is different. When Unity broke it was hard on her, and I took it upon myself to help her, to help her grow despite the challenges. That brings me to why I am here today.” The door slammed shut behind her and locked.

“Uh...” My eyes darted over to Subtlety which was lying beside the bed. “What about.” At those words she moved closer and leaned far too close to me, and flared her wings out.

“I want to make something clear.” The light in the room started to dim, except for her eyes which started to glow. When she spoke her voice seemed lower, and focused at me. “If you hurt her. If you abuse her. If you take advantage of her. I will kill you. Then I will hide your body where none shall find it. Sister Haze may refuse to kill, but I do not hold to that oath. I make exceptions. If you dare do anything to hurt her mind body or soul, you will be an exception. Am I making myself perfectly clear?

This was not the introduction I'd been hoping for. I had heard a little of Haze's friend, and Haze had always seemed to be fond of her... I could see why. It was good Haze had a friend to defend her, and I had no intention of ever hurting Haze, so her threat didn't mean much.

“Perfectly.” Despite knowing I was safe, my throat was still dry making my gulp. “Really. I like Haze. I would never...”

The alicorn stared at me for a good long while, and I held her gaze. “Okay.” She stood back up to her full impressive height, which was taller than even Platinum Haze unless I was mistaken. “I have warned you, I can only pray you are not a liar... you have known Haze at least somewhat to make her care for you. You must understand she is very... she does not like taking charge. The right pony could abuse her, and if that were to happen...” her eyes hardened. “I promised to protect her, and protect I will.”

“Are you like her mother?” As soon as I said that I knew I had misspoke. The alicorn's eyes flashed against and I shuddered.

“We are her sister. Our mother is dead, and we-”

“Sorry!” I cut her off. “I didn't mean... you are like her older sister?”

Her anger seemed to have faded at those words and she nodded. “I find this simile appropriate. If it helps you to think about the situation, that is. So long as you understand.” I nodded my understanding. “Good. What, exactly, is your intention with Sister Haze?”

“I... uh.” I scratched my two back legs together. They itched something fierce, and I hadn't had my morning medicine. I was in no way in a good place for this discussion, but I doubted stopping it to get high would really endear Sky to me. “I have no intention. I like her. She likes me. We go on a few dates. See where it goes. I'd like a marefriend... I guess. And I like to see Haze happy.”

“Okay. I will allow this. Remember my warning.” She said very sternly and I heard unlocking behind me.

“What would have happened... if you didn't allow it?” I was good at stupid question.

“I would have stopped your heart, and teleport you into the darkest corner of the tunnels.” Even though she wasn't hurting me then, it still felt like my heart was seizing up at the words. Thank Celestia I didn't say anything stupid. “Have a good day.” With a brilliant purple flash (that reminded me of the Batmare) the alicorn vanished from the room.

As soon as she left I hurriedly threw Subtlety onto my back to feel safe again, and quickly took out a Med-X. With the delicious drug flowing through my veins I felt my rapidly beating heart start to slow, and normalize. It did remind me I had to speak with Flare that day, but with Med-X in my system I was sure I could handle it. With Med-X I could handle anything.

As soon as I left the room I was hit with a high pitched squeal and impact to my side. “Momma!” She was hanging off Subtlety and kicking hind legs uselessly to try and propel her on properly. “Haze said'ta wake ya up as looooud as I could but ya're already awake. Haze gave me candy too, I like candy, you should give me more. It's really good, it's called chocolate. I like it. It tastes like the best thing ever, and I was gunna use it to wake you up, but I eated it instead. Sorry. Scootaborg ate some too, she likes it more than me, but she wasn't allowed to have much.” There was a reason I never gave Serenity much candy.

“Oh really.” I remarked in a flat tone as I helped her onto my back. “Why?”

“Cause too much is bad for lil' ponies. Luckily I'm a big pony and allowed to have as much as I want, that's what Haze said.” She stood on my back, and decided it's be a good idea to kick my back. “You need somethin' for me to sit on. Oh! How about a saddle, that'd be awesome.” Awesome was not the word I would have used. “Guess what, momma?”

“You're actually an alien sent from outta space?” It was as good a guess as any.

“No Momma, you're silly.” I couldn't argue that logic. “The guessing is that I made a friend. He's real nice, you'd like'em.” A friend. A colt friend. Suddenly Diamond Sky’s rant to me felt a lot more justified. “And Haze told me ya two are going on a date! Is this true! That's so cute, can I come?”

“Serenity... no.”

“Drat, I was gunna embarrass you with embarrassing stories.” As if she knew any. “Or wear the tablecloth as a cape and run around. That's cute right? Either way, it'd be fun.” I was starting to think this was just a ploy to convince me to make Serenity stay at the orphanage for the trip. If that was the case, it was working wonderfully.

“Let's go...” she had clearly won that round, so I dropped the topic and started walking towards where I'd assumed Haze was. Well, not assume. I felt magic, and went towards it. When has that ever went wrong?

In this case it didn't go wrong, for as soon as I reached the end of the hall Platinum Haze trotted out of it. For some reason she had a small yellow colt hanging off her mane. “Hey! Who're you? You're ugly. And you smell. What's your name? Can we be friends? Are you going to kiss Auntie Haze? You look like you are. Who’s your friend? Why are you looking at me like that? Do you have any candy?”

With the straightest face I could muster, I replied, “Hired Gun. Sorry. Sorry. Hired Gun. No. Yes. Because I am. Serenity. Because. No.” The colt just stared at me with his jaw hanging open as I leaned to kiss Haze's nose. “Good morning.”

“Good morning Silver.” Haze said as another toddler suddenly appeared peaking around Haze's horn. “Since we have tonight off, Diamond told us to watch the pre-school foals. We are unsure why Diamond always makes us watch them, we think they are simply wonderful..”

“Aunty Haze finks we're wonderfall.” The tiny filly that was clinging to Platinum's horn said. “I fink I'm wonderfall. Raygun isn't wonderfall. He's mean. An'a bully.” As if challenged by those words a third foal, a colt, jumped onto Haze's head and started to wrestle the filly. A few seconds later and they were tumbling down Haze's neck.

“So Diamond makes you take care of the young foals. Can't imagine why.” There were shouts and screams from Haze's back.

With a sigh that was nearly exasperated Haze's horn lit up, and she flared her wings out. Without looking back she pulled the two wrestling foals away from each other and placed them one on each wing. “You two behave.” She said sharply. “Or no dessert.” The two pouting foals mumbled something that sounded like 'yes Aunty Haze' and there was order once more. “They can be a hoofful, but we simply adore children.”

“Aunty Haze doesn't have her cutie-mark yet.” The colt hanging from her mane said. “Most big ponies do but she doesn't. I don't either. We're gunna help her get her cutie-mark. An' then she'll help us. It'll be like'a team... thing. A group! We'll have'ta think of a name.”

“Sorry, Silver, but we must be going. The children need their breakfast, or they will get upset. We will see you tonight?”

“Yes. Meet me in my apartment after you're off. I'll bring a Finisher over.” I said as I moved to the side to let her through. “Don't worry about caps.”

It was a tight squeeze as she passed because her wings were splayed out, and it didn't help when she stopped mid stride to say to me, “Oh, and your pegasus friend is waiting outside. Diamond Sky said he was not allowed in.” Lovely, I was hoping to postpone our heart to heart as long as possible. “We will see you later."

“Oh! We get to see Uncle Flare sooner. Good, ya two need'a hug and make up.” Serenity said from beside me prompting me to give her a questioning look. “What, they call Haze 'aunty' Haze, an I've known Flare longer than they’ve know Haze. It only makes sense.” That made too much sense in my brain for me to try to argue.

“Uncle Flare it is.” If he didn't apologize and shape up he'd be 'dead Uncle Flare'. Which was, from my understanding, a much worse title. “Lets find him.”

After getting lost a few times in the orphanage hallways (and interrupting another math class), I eventually found the door by following my magic-sense. I'd forgotten about the illusion that made it look like a wall. Upon exiting I was greeted to the sight of the sorry excuse for a pegasus sleeping on the dirty grates that made up the floor.

So I kicked him. It was a light kick, but it was also with my metal hoof so he grunted and opened his eyes. “The fuck... Oh...” his eyes were pink, as they always were, but no longer bloodshot. “Hired.” He slowly got to his feet blushing a little bit. “Lets walk and talk. Being underground rustles my feathers.”

“Yeah.” I grunted and started down the hallway. As I did Serenity jumped onto my back, because who likes walking?

“Listen... Hired. Shit, I'm sorry.” He kept his eyes downcast. “It just got too much to handle, and I broke. Taunting you was probably not the best move. Or buying stuff on your credit.” he smirked. “But what stuff I bought, you should have seen this one stallion he had a-”

“Fuck off Flare.” I cut him off. “I'm tired of your mouth.”

This seemed to spark something in the pegasus said as he instantly replied. “Maybe if you weren't such a bitch, this would be easier. Yeah I fucked up, but check yourself before you start throwing me around.”

“What! You go and bitch and moan about how your fuckbuddy was an ass, and I'm the bitch.” My own words made me stop in my tracks. After going over what I had just said, I realized something... “Am I a bitch? Serenity?”

“Uh...” the filly on my back gulped, which answered my question. “Maybe?” She said tentatively. “it's not the word I'd use but it ain't 'xactly non-correct neither.”

I didn't mean to be a bitch, it just came naturally to me. It wasn't like I had a lot of friends. For the longest time Wildfire was my only friend. Sure I had acquaintances, but they didn't really count. So, I guess I wasn't really in the right mindset to deal with Flare. When we were good, it was fine. He'd make jokes, I’d threaten him, but I wasn't sure what to say when he was upset about something, and clearly I was handling it wrong. Apparently ponies don't like it when I diminish their problems.

“Ugh.” I said eventually. “Listen.” Flare had been silent since my last so to make sure he was listening I stopped and put a hoof on his back. “I’m sorry. I'm a bitch. Totally.”

“Yeah you are.” He responded perhaps a bit too quickly. “I've always done this. I get attached too quickly. Just like last time...” He started walking again after I took my hoof off so I followed.

“Last time?” I guess it was story time.

“Yeah...” he looked around the tunnel and shuddered. “I mentioned it before. Back in the tunnels, well I called him a mare then, but there's no point to continue that lie.” Oh, yeah. I'd completely forgot about that. “It was a long time ago now, but I found a cute little mercenary buck. He wasn't what you'd call a talker, but it was cute to get him to blush.” Flare gave a small smile at the thought. “He took a job to clear out some rad-scorpions in these tunnels maybe a month after we met. He never came back...” His voice turned grim really quickly. “Broke my heart, and I got all emotional. By then the jig was up.”

“Jig?” Now I was confused. “Why were you dancing?”

“Momma, ah think he means some sorta secret or somethin.”

“Uh...” Flare seemed to hesitate. “You know. The whole, liking Stallions things? The Remnants don't take too kindly to that sort of thing.” For the life of me, I couldn't imagine why they'd even care. “Reproduction.” Flare explained. “There are not many surface pegasi... or there were not. Having foals is pretty much required.” Oh... that made sense, but it didn't piss me off any less. “After that there was a huge deal about finding me a marefriend, and that was ever so much fun. So there, another sob story courtesy of yours truly.”

I was starting to wonder if any of us didn't have some sort of attachment issues.

“I see...” I looked down the hall. The exit was coming close. “Listen. So long as you try to quit... and don't waste my money. I'll try to help you, I guess. Somehow. How?”

“Beats me, I'll get over it in time.” Flare flapped his wings a few times so he could hover in front of my while flying backwards. “Which reminds me. I spoke with the Watchers. Booked a detox. You might want to come. For, you know, support.” he winked at me. At least he was somewhat discrete, I guess it was the most I could hope for.

“When... ?”

“Tomorrow.”

“I'll be there.” We stopped at the stairs that led to the secret exit out of the tunnels. All the real entrances inside Dise were owned by gangs, and heavily guarded to stop immigrants, but nopony knew of this one. Yet, anyway. It was good to have some way in and out of the tunnels without a gang knowing my movements. I was sure House had a tunnel entrance, but I was loath to let him know every time I went under.

“Hey Hired.” Flare landed in front of me. “We cool?”

I chewed my lower lip and looked him over. He seemed weaker lately, more tired. The trip through the facility took its toll on him just as it had me, and leaving a loved one was never easy at the best of time. I really had been too hard on him, hadn't I? Sure Stakes was an ass, but Flare had liked him, and my feelings on the matter didn't really change how Flare felt. Mind you he shouldn't have broken and started back on Dash, but if I cut somepony off for having a mental breakdown I’d not only be an idiot, but a huge hypocrite.

“Yeah. Sorry about... being a bitch.”

Flare laughed, “I expect it from you,” and flew up the stairwell. I'm a bitch, he's an ass, and that's the way it should be.

---

We made our way from the Dise slums, up north past the main gate into Parasite Mound. We made a brief stop at The Finishers HQ. Nopony I knew was working the front desk, but I still requested a dressmaker at my apartment later for a rush job, and to bring a lot of fabric and the largest dresses they owned. It was not cheap, but with my pay cheque, the money Flare owed me, and the things we scavenged from the facility I would easily have enough.

With that out of the way I made my way to the 'Vinnie May And Franny Mac Death Clock Hotel And Casino' (which was where I directed Pearly to stay) to tell her the good news. Doing all these errands actually made me feel accomplished. It was a nice change of pace from fighting for my life, or travelling.

The hotel was as dim and dark as ever, and we were greeted by a hooker upon entering. In the lobby a stage was set up where a ghoul pegasus was badly singing a song about how much balefire hurt. At that sight I quickly made my way to the backroom where the signs stated the casino was both hoping that Pearly was there and that it was sound proof. Ghouls just couldn't sing. When the ghoul saw me scurrying away I could have sworn he stopped his song to call me a racist.

The casino was cramped, grimly, and sparsely populated. Only three one-hoofed bandits were in use, one roulette wheel, one poker table, and two blackjack. It was easy enough to confirm my guess as Pearly was sitting by one of the blackjack tables smiling smugly behind her two cards. To my surprise, I actually recognized two of the other ponies at her table.

One was a tall dark grey mare with a spiky crimson mane, and a bloody dagger tattoo on her flank, and beside her was a small lighter grey filly with a tied back purple mane. “Well look what the fucking cat drug in: a cunt.” The ex-raider laughed. “Get the fuck over here Hired, Pearly's been waitin' and I've been helping. With you here, I can go fuck off so my filly will stop eating all my caps.”

“Nu uh, mommy. You're just bad at counting. I'm a super awesome counter, and guesser. You'd do better if I could teach ya, but ya never let me.” The filly replied haughtily as the dealer shoved some chips towards the filly.

“Pinprick.” The ex-raider smirked as I walked up, “Spitshine.” I nodded greetings to the both of them. “Hey Pearly.” The focused mare just adjusted her hat and stared harder at her cards. I gave a soft laugh and looked at the dealer, “Deal me in?” The dealer took my caps, and gave me some chips in return.

“A chance to steal Hired's money without her kicking me? I'm in.” Flare sat down two and got his chips.

“Momma can I-”

“No Serenity.”

“But that filly gets t-”

“No Serenity.”

“I get to because I'm super awesome.” Spitshine explained. “Look! It's my cutie-mark, init awesome?” True enough on her flank was a picture of a roulette wheel. Not quite blackjack, but the theme of being good at guessing odds came through. “What's your cutie-mark?”

My fillies eyes went downcast and she took a seat beside me. “Doesn't matter...” she mumbled. “Didn't want to play anyway.” I mentally made a note to ask Serenity what was up with her reaction and why she didn't tell Spit she was a blankflank. It would have to wait until private though.

Finally Pearly looked up from her cards, “Hired? Oh hey!”

“The bitch awakens, whoop-de-fucking-do.” Pinprick remarked as the dealer took the cards, and started shuffling.

“Hey Pearly.” I smirked. “You're focused at this game.” At that note the dealer looked hard at us, reminding us to actually, you know, play. I put in a minimum bet, ten caps worth.

“Yeah... trying to figure how that runt keeps winning.” Pearly gave Spitshine a hard and playful gaze as the dealer floated over two cards each. Since most ponies playing the game weren't unicorns, the dealer handled all the cards on the table.

With a sigh I looked at my cards. A two and a jack. “She's got natural talent.” I suggested. Maybe it was right, because the filly was staring hard at her cards. “Hit me.” I waved at the dealer and sure enough I got hit with a ten of spades. “Lovely.” The dealer stopped at nineteen, and everyone else at the table either busted, or was lower. Except for Spitshine, whose first two cards were a ten and ace.

“Natural talent!” Spitshine giggled as I gaped. “I has it!”

“See what I mean, Hon?” Pearly smirked. “Not even fair.” She tapped her hooves on the table as the dealer took the cards in and started to shuffle again. “So did you find a way for me to get inta tha city?”

“I did. A job at the Black Salamander. Waitress. Nothing fancy, but it's a paycheque.” I placed the same bet as last time. “Is that okay? I could look for more, but...”

“It's fine, hon.” Pearly waved a hoof at me. “I owe you. After Bridle Hope was taken, I was lost. I couldn't stay there, but I had nowhere else ta go. So thanks for un-losings me. Ain't just anypony what'd do that for a mare.” I couldn't help but blush.

Thankfully the cards were dealt and it gave me something else to focus on. A seven and a three. This time I looked around to see what everypony else got. After I was assured nopony else was going to show off with a lucky draw I motioned for him to hit me. This time I got an eight leaving me at a comfortable eighteen. “I'll work out the details.” I said to Pearly. “Give me a few days.”

“Do it by tomorrow.” Pinprick said, oddly without cursing. This made me turn over to hear what she had to say. “Trust me bitch, you don’t want to twat around any longer than that. Shit's going down, and it's going down soon. Use your fucking hooves, and move.”

“Tomorrow, then...” I said uncertain. The tone in Pinprick's voice took my attention more than the fact I won the hand (along with Flare and Spitshine). “What is going down?”

Pinprick took a swig of her drink (which I didn't notice she had...) and said. “Something. You know that feelin'? Right before the thunder hits? When the brahmin stop mooing, and the molerats vanish? That’s the feelin'. Somethin's ‘bout to explode, right in this city’s fucking face.”

“The city always feels like that.” Was my reply as the cards were dealt again. “Hit me.” I said absentmindedly. It wasn't until after I said it I realized I hit on 21...

“It does? Fuck if I know.” She finished her drink and nickered at my call. As if I didn't feel stupid enough. “Still, the bat bitch seems to be worried, so I say you picked a good fucking time to come back to town. Keep your eyes out, and if shit goes wrong I told you fucking so. Cunt.”

Spitshine and Pinprick took the hand impressively. It might have something to do with most players being distracted by mine and Prick's conversation. “You know the Batmare?”

“You're looking to an 'official' Super Hero In Training. My momma would be so fucking proud.” Spitshine giggled a little giving me the feeling I was missing the joke. “But yeah, bat bitch and I have been tearing this town a new one. She's not simple; acts it, but ain't. For instance did you know she knew you entered the city, an hour 'fore you arrived, and brought me here to Pearly, cause I told her I like that cunt.”

“You're not bad yourself hon.” Pearly smirked across the table. “A tad vulgar, though.”

“Well there's no pissing around about that.” The dealer started dealing us again. “Anyway. We've been helpin' each other. We're both 'heroes' so to speak. I help her by getting her some good publicity. That radio dick has a hard on for me, and a hate on for the bat bitch. In return for working with her to improve her cred, she gives me the tips on the biggest busts, ya dig? It all works. We both get to play the fucking 'hero'.”

I grumbled at my cards. Two twos. “Hit me.” a six. “Hit me.” I didn't bother to look at the second card. “Play hero?”

“Hired, Hired.” Flare shook his head. “She means she 'acts' like a hero. You know, like a play, or a children's game.”

“Fuck off, Flare, I knew that.”

“I know what the bitch means. She's askin' if I feel like a fucking hero.” She waved a waitress over for another drink. “Which is a stupid ass question for a 'hole nother reason.” She chugged her new glass. “I'm no fucking hero. I've killed more fuckers than I saved, and that's a fucking fact. I counted. Shit like saving ponies an shit is good, but it ain't like washin' out my blood or whatever poetry you want to use. Fact is, I'm a killer, and now I just kill to save ponies. If cunts over the radio wants to call me a hero and use that to inspire them or some shit than sure I'll play along. I ain't like that cunt what opened up the sky, but fuck it, if it helps ponies I'll play their game.” she looked over at my cards. “You got blackjack, by the way.”

“Huh, oh shit.” I grabbed my chips and placed a much larger bet for the next hand. “So Prick, can I ask you something? What is the nature of a hero?”

“Is that some sort of fucking riddle?” She placed her bet. “The way I see it is a 'hero' is a title. And heroes are whoever the most ponies agree are heroes. Like the fuckbringer, or lightbringer. Whatever. How do you think the pegasi fared when half their cities vanished like dust when she pulled the clouds out from under them? When the Enclave up top started fighting for resources like the radio talks about. That shit kills ponies, ponies who get caught in the crossfire. It's the lightfuckers fault, but who down here blames her? Nopony. She's killed ponies, and done things what killed ponies, but she's still a hero because they proclaim her one. That fucking simple.” Pinprick sighed when she busted on her last few chips. “Great.”

“Sorry mommy, but I won a lot.” Spitshine held up her chips, “Loooook. I'm kind'a awesome cause of my cutie-mark.”

“Yeah.” Pinprick smiled warmly and ruffled her daughters mane. “We need to head out, some asshole is planning to raid one of the villages underground, and the bat bitch needs my knife.” She looked over at me one last time. “Keep your fucking eye open, if I were you I wouldn't hide your magic eye. See you cunts later.” We all said our quick goodbyes as Pinprick cashed in her daughters chips and left.

“She heard I was in town, searched me down, and gave me a bag of caps...” Pearly said a bit bewildered. “Because she knew how much I lost. She is the rudest, most un-agreeable pony I have ever met, and then she does stuff like that.” Pearly tossed some caps into a bet. “She's a strange one.” She could say that again.

“She's crazier than a bag of fire.” Flare, ever so helpfully, said.

“That don't make sense Uncle Flare.” Serenity said now that she was no longer pouty about Spitshine having her cutie-mark first. “A bag of fire would burn.”

“And that'd be crazy.” Flare smirked. “So Pearly, you up for a few more games?”

“Hopefully my luck will improve.” Pearly said as she fidgeted with her hat. “Should better without that filly. I swear she won every round.” That'd explain how Pinprick could afford to randomly give Pearly money.

“Momma is good luck, don't worry.” Serenity said without a hint of humour. She clearly believed that, but why I couldn't imagine. I have been many things, but 'good luck' was not one of them. “Can I play now?”

“Sure, Serenity.”

---

In the end I was down about fifteen caps, Pearly was up twenty, Flare broke even, and somehow Serenity was up over a hundred. Maybe that dealer just liked cute kids. Or Serenity stole chips. Either was just as likely as the other. After a few hours we had to leave though, so after promising Pearly I'd get her in tomorrow, and waving goodbye we left back for Dise proper. Judging by the time on my pipbuck Haze was either at my apartment, or heading towards it, so I hurried up. I was really looking forward to this date.

When the three of us barged into the BS I found it... busy. Unnaturally busy. The Black Salamander had always been the least populated of the four major casinos, but today it was full to packing. Many ponies crowded around the roulette wheels or poker tables, but even more were lined up towards the sign labelled 'hospital.'

“Sorry ma'am, we're full up.” A tiny blue mare stuck her hoof out in front of me as I walked through the door. When I looked over I saw only her black and white mane as she wasn't looking at me. “Come back tomorrow.”

“Tight Lips.” I said remembering the security mare from before. “I'm a Hizai, let me through.”

“Huh wha-Hired!” She quite suddenly hugged me. “Well don't that beat all, how've ya been?” She treated me like we were old friends, but we only met twice. “Look at all this business! Don't tell nopony, but it seems like the NCA is gearing up, and have started paying for cybernetics for their ponies. Talk about your A-Grade advertising, am I right?”

“Ya c'n thank me.” Serenity said proudly. “I convinced a general 'bout how cool it was.”

“Oh you did now sweetie, well we should upgrade you too! Free of cost.” Serenity got a really excited look on her face before the mare laughed. “Just kidding, I can't authorize that. I only run Security. Speaking of security, you really shouldn't let alicorns into your room without warning me, otherwise I might just shoot them.” My heart skipped a beat.

“What, ho-”

“Watch.” She tapped the side of her head and a pair of sunglasses slid out of her face. “Lets me see magical signatures, good for seeing stealth-bucks, and invisibility spells. Oh! And I can see through walls. That's cool too.” The sunglasses retracted. “We can't call be super soldiers like Mr. Star, but I have my tricks. I'm sure you have yours too.”

“You didn't... shoot her, did you?” For some reason asking made my throat die. This would have been a terrible start to a date.

“What, no! Hah. Maybe a few weeks ago, but after the sky went poof House sent a memo out. Apparently alicorns were coming south. Not many, but enough to be noticed. Some confused, some sane and running, but still coming. We were told to approach any and ask them if they'd like a job,” The tiny mare laughed. “Wouldn't that be something.”

“I've always said House needs an army of cybernetic alicorns, haven't I been saying that Hired?” Flare seemed amused by this information (maybe he was going to sell it to his boss).

“Haze said no, didn't she?” I said

“Well...” the mare hummed. “She didn't 'say' anything. I think I frightened her, but she did shake her head. A shame. She was a cutie... later I had to send a Finisher up there too. Makes me wonder what exactly you're getting yourself into....” black and white maned mare paused then giggled. “Take pictures!” You know what I really needed more of? Snarky ponies who delighted in seeing my squirm.

With a slight blush, I headed towards the employee only elevators. Which is to say the only elevators I knew about. I was sure there were regular ones, but I never really explored the building. It was too large, and I was too busy. For a given definition of busy.

As we waited for the elevator to go up I asked Flare to take Serenity to the orphanage while I was on the date, and after not to bug us. Which I'm sure he was planning on doing anyway. It was just his style, after all. Hopefully after our little fight he'd be more willing not to fuck up my relationships. Wishful thinking. To Flare's credit, he did agree, but agreeing and going through with it were two different things. Normally I would have already sent them off, but Serenity was upset last time I wore a dress without her being around. The elevator dinged our arrival and the three of us left into the hallway.

Our doorway was only a short walk away, and we got there without incident. Which is not that surprising. What was I expecting, the hallway to explode?

Without so much as hesitating I opened the door to my spacious apartments. To find Platinum Haze slinking out from behind a curtain set up in the middle of the room. She was garbed in a simple, flowing, purple cotton-embroidered dress in rolling black stitching for decoration. A dusty purple bodice wrapped around the alicorn’s chest, laced up the sides in shiny, black ribbon. A rich, red wrap with beaded trim was tied around her neck and draped across her back, hiding the bulges caused by her wings. Simple, black slippers capped each brightly polished, scarlet hoof. Her mane was tied into a braid in such a way it completely hid the fact it was magical and flowy.

“You look...” I said after picking my jaw off the floor, “Amazing.” I started to walk into the room only for a strange pony to cut me off. She was a pale purple unicorn mare with a long curly aqua mane (that was darker at the tips) and a fairly standard Finisher dress. She might have been glaring at me, but it was hard to tell beneath those hot pink sun glasses of hers. “Excuse m-”

“Amazing... Amazing!?” The Finisher just shook her head tromping over to the dress. “Look, here. It vas too short, and vat do I do? Add more fabric. Given no time to prepare you can see ze stitching! It's a travesty is vat it is.” I had no idea what she was talking about, and I could see nothing. “And zis wrap, it does not match the shoes! Vun is crimson, ze other scarlet. The bodice itself is centuries old, and too tight, look at eet. Dahling, do not call this vork amazing. I am ashamed to have my name on it.”

“Uh, I... what.” Did I really have to hire the most insane of all The Finishers.

“Hired...” Haze was blushing a red so bright she matched her slippers. “Thank you... we feel... pretty.”

The Finisher cut me off with a dramatic sigh. “Vatever you say dahling. Pretty, or vats it.”

The pretty alicorn looked over at the finisher and smiled shyly. “T-thank you so much as well. We appreciate what you have done for us, and your discretion.”

“Alicorns are above my paygrade.” The mare said simply. “I make zee dresses, nothing more. If I told anypony, I vould get dragged into the ugly mess, and zat, my dear Haze, is strictly against my non-confrontation policy.” The mare waved at me, “Vell, come in. I have much vork to do.”

“Uh thanks...” Haze stepped meekly to the side as I, followed by Flare (smirking at me) and Serenity (staring wide eyed at Haze) went in my room. “Who are you?”

“Cross Stitch, dahling. Now right this way. You have this date tonight, right? Too soon, too soon. How am I supposed to vork in these conditions.” Cross Stitch gave a dramatic sigh, fixed her glasses, and steeled her expression. “Best get to work then.”

---

Despite her constant complaints about how she didn't have enough time, how she was overworked, how I was much too large, she did a fantastic job. I had planned just to wear my last Finisher dress, but as it turns out wearing a dress over open burn wounds kind of ruined it. She took one look, spat off to the side, and threw it out and instead made me a sea green evening gown. The smooth fabric shimmered over my large body and, I wasn't a fashion expert but it seemed to accentuate my hips, and I wasn't really sure how I felt drawing attention there. Because Cross could not keep well enough alone she also took the time to do my mane up in a soft bun on the back of my head, held in place by a silver comb with two deep green, flowing ribbons. Carefully I took a few steps and let the dress flow and shimmer around me. The silver shoes might have been a bit tight, or maybe it was the criss crossing straps that laced up my legs (Only my hind legs, the shoes didn’t fit on my cyberleg, and the lace didn’t work around my pipbuck) that were tight. I thought about loosening the green buttons that held them on, but Cross looked... crossed at me when I tried.

“You look so pretty momma!” Serenity bounced around me. “Oooh, the dress is super pretty too. Oh! I just had the best idea. Make the dress a weapon.” I careened my head around to see her playing with some of the fabric on the hem of the dress. “Add some wires, a few blades, when somepony comes close ya press'a button and the dress poofs out and sends blades flying in every direction. It'd be so awesome!”

“She certainly has an... imagination, dahling.” The Finisher looked down at my filly from behind her glasses. That was one way to put it.

“Serenity is currently working on a way to make everything robots.” Flare had stayed to watch me transform from ugly to slightly less ugly. “Ponies, dresses, food, toys. With Serenity the sky's the limit. Meaning I'm sure she wants to make a cybernetic sky.”

“That doesn't even make sense,” Serenity said after sticking her tongue out.

“We think you look amazing,” Haze said breathily, and that was all I needed to hear. “W-we are glad you agreed to give us a second chance. We are just worried about being... seen by so many ponies.” She gulped.

“You look marvellous dahling, truly. Don't vorry your pretty little head of,” the Finisher said with a smile despite the fact she was disparaging the dress not that long ago. “And nopony vill notice your wings. Just do not touch that wrap, and it vill be fine. But I must go, I vill send a bill.” She started to the door after packing up her supplies.

“Wait.” I said as Cross was near the door. She obediently did so, and turned back to me. “You really don't care? About Haze?”

“Above my paygrade dahling. Have fun.” She walked out, leaving me with mixed feelings about the dressmaking mare. She clearly did a very good job with limited supplies and time, but on the other hoof she kind of annoyed me.

“Yeah, guess I should head off now too, before you put my head on a spike.” Flare chuckled. “C'mon Serenity, give the lovebirds some privacy.” he said, nudging at Serenity some. Despite my professed forgiveness, I was still a little bit sore over what transpired between Flare and me, but I tried my best to work through it and gave him a little bit of a grin.

Serenity didn't follow right away, because first she had to run over and hug my legs. “Have fun, Momma!” Then she put on her most serious expression and said very sternly. “And no hanky panky!” It was hard work to both not laugh and not blush at that proclamation, but somehow I managed. “Good.” She trotted off beside Flare before turning back one last time. “I'm serious!”

When the door closed that left me and Haze. Alone. Together. All prettied up. The awkward silence was deafening.

“So...” I said slowly.

“Yes... so...” Came the reply.

The silence continued.

“Uh...”

“Um...”

The silence would have continued but for some reason I couldn't help but laugh. Maybe because the situation was silly, or maybe it was just my way of releasing tension. Whatever the case I giggled like a little filly, and soon Haze joined me. By the time we were done the awkwardness had burned away.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I managed to get out after the giggle fit. “Go out I mean.”

“We... are nervous. But we believe it is a good move. We wish to be with you, and it will be fun. In addition it is a good way to test the waters. To see how ponies react to us so we can better judge when we can come out of hiding.” She carefully adjusted her bodice with her magic. “If we ever can.”

I made a sweeping movement with my hoof towards the door, “Shall we go? After you.” Haze nodded and started walking towards the door, and I quickly followed. However, as I came near the exit to my apartment I noticed that my B.E.L. that I left there had vanished. With a sigh I resigned myself to the fact that Flare probably touched and moved it. Normally I would go look to make sure... but I was going on a date with an alicorn, and thus quite distracted.

The hallway was empty when we left my apartment so I took the opportunity to sidle up close to Haze, an act which enticed an approving smirk from the shy alicorn. “We are not sure you should be so close, you might wrinkle the dresses.” There was a teasing quality to her voice so I didn't take her seriously.

“They'll get better.” It was an effort, but I managed to reach up and nuzzle Haze by carefully balancing momentarily on my hind legs. “I'm glad... you don't hate me.” Though by all rights she probably should have.

“We do not hate anyone,” she said as we entered the elevator and headed downstairs. Part of me wanted to question what she meant by that. It was nice not to be hated, but it could still mean she disapproved with who I was, but refused to fall into hate. Or maybe she actually liked me, and was being genuine. It was such an ambiguous statement that I wasn't quite sure what she meant. Nervously I clicked at the ground with my uncomfortable shoes.

Maybe I would bring it up at dinner, but at that time I didn't. As we got closer to the ground floor I could see her nervousness grow. She seemed to be looking around the elevator (which was a bit too small for her) in a twitching fashion, and twice I saw her prepare for a spell she never cast. “It'll be fine,” I said trying to be comforting. When she smiled at me, I could tell it was fraught with anxiety, but it was something.

The elevator stopped on the fifth floor and I felt my heart jump into my chest. Slowly the mechanical doors opened showing a sterile white hall and a green pony with a white doctor's coat standing there. He gaped up at Haze for a second, before looking at me. Something must have clicked in his head because he just nodded at me, and entered without issue. As soon as he turned around to face the door I looked up at Haze and gulped.

There was neither a response from Haze or the anonymous doctor pony, and when the door finally opened everypony left and nothing was said of the incident. Haze and I hung back as the doctor walked towards the exit. “You're okay?”

“Yes...” she said slowly. “That went better than expected.” That was good enough for me, so I let her take a few breaths to calm herself, and headed towards the casino floor. I really hoped that it wasn't as crowded as before.

Like most of the time my hopes were dashed to pieces. The casino was as crowded as earlier, and the huge line to the cybernetic office was even large. It seemed to snake out the front door, and presumably down the street. When I looked up to see if Haze was okay with this many ponies seeing her, her eyes were wide, and scanning the room. I tried to be comforting, and slid up beside her. “You'll be fine.”

We stood there looking out into the casino floor for a long while before we made the first step. Nopony looked at us, and if they did it was just a passing glance. As we walked to the exit few, if any, ponies noticed the giant unicorn in a fancy dress. We lived in a city run by themed gangs, under the threat of war with bipedal cows, and plagued by mutant scorpions and land sharks. Platinum Haze was weird, but not enough for the city to actually care. Just a large unicorn. If she had wings though, that'd be different. Until then we walked into the dark night free from judgement. She had to hide who she was, but it made me happy she was able to walk and be seen at all.

---

“So you won't fight, ever?” I asked between mouth fulls of some sort of soup... thing.

We had managed to make it to the Alehouse without so much as a sideways glance. The Casino was a different story, where the guard at the front desk both recognized me (casually mentioning that Molly had been walking the casino floor today and winking at me) and nearly didn't let Haze in for fear of the other patrons. I got around this by glowering and being fucking terrifying. Even in all my finery it was clear I was not to be messed with.

Once inside everything went smoothly. We made our way through the long hall (with strangely high ceilings) that led to the arena, casino, and various restaurants. The fanciest of the restaurants was called The White Tie. At first the waiter at the front did not want to let me in because we didn’t have reservation, but I was good at glaring. The restaurant itself was in a fancy room with high arcing ceilings, and a series of large tables with some sort of cloth on them. It was spacious though, and surprisingly empty. We were led to a table off to the side beside a family (a mother, father, and colt), and ordered our food.

Then we started our date. It was fun, we talked easily. And I never talk easily.

“Never,” she answered, floating a little sandwich over to nibble at it. “We firmly believe in anti-aggression. If the wasteland is ever to recover, we must change the way it operates. We have become a violent species, prone to anger and violence, and this must be changed.” Her voice was quiet, as it had been all night, but she sounded more sure about that statement than anything else I heard her say.

“But...” I hummed for a second and took a drink of the fruity alcoholic beverage that we were served. “Sometimes you can't not fight. There are raiders. And worse. Sometimes...” It was a shallow justification for me, but for many ponies it would be the truth.

She nodded slowly and sighed. “This is something we understand. We do not approve of violence, and will mourn all deaths, but we understand it is... inevitable. Not for us though. Mother has given us a great power. We are strong enough to live without violence, as you saw. So we will never strike another, an example to what can be done. That is our core principle.”

“Even when the world wants to kill you?”

“Especially when the world wants to kill us.” What else could I say about that? It was amazing, beautiful, and really naive and stupid. Yet she spoke the words with such confidence it was hard not to believe her. It must have been hard for her. Taken to some vats to be forcefully transformed, put into some sort of mind hive thing, then forcefully taken out of it into a world that seemed to despise her very existence. Yet there she was, determined to do no harm, or die trying. “W-what.” A blush formed on my cheeks when I realized I'd been staring.

“Sorry.” I quickly lowered my eyes. “It's just... you're insane.” A smile formed on my face. I felt giddy, and I wasn't sure why.

“That is mea-”

“It's a good thing. You're taking a stand, despite... everything.” I said with my head raised so she could see me smile. “It's. Good. You're a better pony than I.”

“We... uh.” She gave me a blush and occupied her mouth with a sandwich. When she finally swallowed she said, “Thank you, we appreciate the sentiment. We do not think we are a good pony. But... thank you.” If Platinum Haze wasn't a good pony, I couldn't imagine who could possibly be one.

With a bit of a giggle I said, “Yeah. The alicorn who runs an orphanage for free, and refuses to turn a hoof against her aggressors who hate her for no reason is not a good pony.” With a sly smile I shook my head, and then finished my soup. “You're the best pony I know... which is not as much as a compliment as it should be. This city does not breed good ponies.”

“What about Serenity?” Haze smirked.

“She's from Eye Glow.”

“Was she raised here?” Haze gave a little smile. To be honest I wasn't sure.

“She's never told me... she doesn't talk much about her past.” Though I was never sure why. Maybe I wasn't asking the right questions. “Wherever she grew up, she grew up well. She is so smart. Have you seen her do magic? She doesn't even have her cutie-mark. Not to mention she made a leg once. A cybernetic one. And it worked. She's just a filly. Fillies shouldn't be that talented. You should have seen her in the Reconstruction Center. There we are in a hostile environment. With no hope. But she doesn't seem fazed. She even told me to get some rest when we had the chance. ”

“You must be really fond of her.” Haze smiled warmly making me realize I'd been monologuing about how awesome my daughter was. “It is cute.”

“I... uh.” I had attempted to gather my thoughts by eating something, but I'd already finished my meal. “She's my daughter.” I said blushing. “So I love her. I'm just... bad at it. After last time...”

“You mean Karkhoof.” Fuck. I said that out loud didn't I? And then she had to go and mention Karkhoof. My Two biggest failures in one nice little package. Now if only somepony could bring up Wildfire too and let the my combined guilt drive me insane. More insane. “Not Karkhoof?” She seemed to be able to read my pained expression.

“Not Karkhoof...” When Haze messed up that memory spell before, I had managed to stop her before she got to that memory, and thank Celestia for that. But it would always come up. It seemed the more I ran away from Foundation, the more she haunted me. Maybe I should just accept her... fate. But that was... I couldn't. I couldn't go back there. I took a heavy breath and closed my eye. Just needed to think about... something, anything.

“It is okay.” I felt Haze's hoof being laid atop mine. “You don't need to talk about it. We're sorry. When you're ready though, we will always be there for you.” My eye opened and I saw Haze's. They were remarkable, and beautiful. They shown a golden yellow hue, and were slit down like a cats, and they sparkled in the light of the restaurant. It was when I first saw her eyes that I started crushing on her. It was corny, but... true. She was simply beautiful, not just her eyes. Everything about her was made in a way that shine beauty and grace. Admittedly she was not that graceful, but I didn't really care.

“Thanks I...” blushed and looked down. “You're too good for me. You deserve better.”

“But we desire you.” That was just cheesy, so I chuckled. “What? Did we say something wrong. We are quite serious. We have explained ourselves earlier, did we not. Why are you still laughing. Silver? Are you okay. Oh, we said something wrong didn't we. We're sorry. Silver, We-”

I leaned over the table, to kiss her. It seemed really effective in stopping her nervous rambling.

“Would you like desert, ma'ams?”

My kiss was halted halfway across the table leaving me in an awkward and embarrassing position. “No.” I growled, hoping she'd go away.

“But I insist.”

“Listen I-” When I turned my head to chew the waitress out I instead saw a green pony with a tied back mane, and a black cowpony hat. Sorry, not a pony. A mule. “Molly.” As I said her name one of the molly’s ears flopped out from under her hat. “Hello. It has been. A while.” Carefully I sat back in my stool keeping my eyes trained on the molly.

“You know her?” Haze seemed a bit shocked at both her arrival and my reaction.

“Oh we know each other, little dove.” Molly said pushing her ear back into place. “Me and your little rat go way back.” A few weeks was hardly way back. “She did a job for me once, then stabbed me in the back.” My eyes went to Molly's side where her sawed off shotgun hung. I remembered the video I saw the day before, and tried my best not to piss herself off. The dress was new after all, and I'd hate to get blood on it.

“If I remember. You had ponies stab me. Literally. And I did your job. I just did other jobs too.” And killed Roy Mustang. Of course, she didn't know that. At least I hoped she didn't. “What do you want, Molly?”

“Just this, my little rat. If you come into my home again, I'll send my cats to kill and eat you.” She lowered herself down and glared. “You're in my world here, and you weren't invited. When rats infest my world, I exterminate them.” Or send cats, she could at least get her metaphor right. That's right, I know what metaphor means. “Your status as a cybernetic freak means I can't attack you without reprisal, but you're stretching my patience here, Hired.”

“Let me finished my-” I tried to say meal, but she cut me off. For some reason I got the impression she didn't like me.

“No.” With a hoof she knocked the contents of the table onto the floor. That just was not necessary. “Leave now.”

“Excuse us.” Haze started to stand up and let her full impressive be seen. She absolutely towered over Molly. “We think you are being rude. We paid to eat, and we should be allowed to eat in peace. We humbly request we can finish our meal, then we shall leave, and never return.

“No.” Molly's hoof moved towards the shotgun. Time seemed to slow.

When I turned on SATS, time actually slowed. Every other time I used my pipbuck in that manner something went wrong, but this time she was close, and I had my hooves. There was no way I was going to even let Molly point a gun in her direction. I selected her torso, and slipped out of the spell.

As if driven by instinct my body slammed into Molly's sending us both to the ground. I managed to get the other hoof partially pinning her to the ground. She was fumbling for her shotgun though. And slippery. I couldn't pin her properly. There was a vague sense of screaming in the background, but when I fought I could only focus on my opponent. Even with me pressing against her, that shotgun of hers found its way to her mouth.

As quickly as I could I switched SATS on again, and aimed for her shotgun. Falling out of it my cybernetic hoof batted the shotgun to the side. The slug went off course and slammed into my table. She aimed again and I didn't have the position to hit it again. Grunting in annoyance I rolled off Molly letting her slug hit the air where I was seconds ago. My body was slick with sweat already, and The Finishers were going to be so mad about me ruining their dress.

“HIRED!” My eyes darted to haze. Shit. The father of the family sitting beside her was stabbing at her shield with a fore-hoof blade. Apparently Molly knew we were here and prepared for a fight. In the attack it looked like her dress was cut, and her red wrap that hid her wings fell on the ground. She seemed unhurt, by the by, but everyone in the vicinity could see the wing bulges on her back. It didn't help the fight was drawing the attention of everyone in the restaurant. “We need to leave!” She yelled over at me.

“Yeah I-” Something slammed into the bun my mane was tied into. I turned my head to see Molly there with her shotgun, because I was an idiot and didn't take off my eyepatch for the fight.

She aimed her shotgun at me again, and I waited for the pain. Instead if felt my body get light, and my shoulder burn. The slug passed below me as I was lifted up in a magical field. A few seconds later I was dropped on Platinum Haze's back. She carefully pushed away the assassin away with her magic, casted invisibility over both of us, burst her wings through the dresses weakened fabric, and took to the air.

The invisibility was confusing enough to have Molly, and the assassin attack where we were, and even though the rooms ceiling wasn't high, there was enough room to manoeuvre. My ride quickly flew to the exit (some of the ponies inside ran away at the sound of the fight, other moved towards the conflict. Whatever the case the exit was nearly empty by the time we got there.

“Listen for the sound of flapping wings!” Molly ordered. “And the feeling of wind.” Good advice.

“Thanks, hurry.” I whispered into where I assumed Haze's ear was. I wasn't really sure as I couldn't see her. It was not comforting to be floating in the air and not see anything underneath you.

We flew through the doors to the main hall of the casino, which unfortunately made them swing wildly. There was a vague sound of noise behind us as we sped towards the exit, but I didn't pay attention. Thankfully the hallways were high enough to fly unimpeded. The race lasted until we burst from the casinos double doors, and into the night.

Looking up at the stars I smiled a bit at them. That was until I started to move towards them. “No!” I nearly screamed as my heart started to race, and I wrapped my forelegs around Haze's neck to keep me safe. “Please, don't.” With my eyes open I could see the ground slowly shrinking below us, and still invisible there was nothing between us. Just me and the ground. Falling. “Please, go down.”

“We do not understand we need t-”

“I'm afraid of heights.” I blurted out squeezing my eyes shut. It didn't help. I still could feel the fight, and I could feel myself getting higher. Fuck. Earth ponies should stay on the earth, dammit.

“S-sorry.” As I felt out descent relief filled me., That was. Better. Much better. Not enough to stop me from panicking, or convince me to open my eyes. “We did not know.”

When we reached the ground in front of the BS I slowly got off her back and onto shaky hooves. I really hated heights. I blamed pegasi for making other ponies yearn to take to the sky. It was just not needed. Just... yeah. Eventually I managed to calm my nerves enough to look up at Haze. “Uh... sorry.”

“No we are sorry. We should not have talked back to Molly, it caused the conflict...” she blushed. “We simply wanted to eat in peace. We are sorry we ruined the evening.”

“No... you didn't...” I chuckled. “I did. The clusterbuck that is my past likes to catch up with me so it can kick my face in.”

“No, we-”

“Can we just kiss now?” A cool breeze blew my now tattered mane into my face, and I had to quickly brush it away to keep my eyes on Haze. She looked especially beautiful in the moonlight.

“Certainly.” We leaned forward once more. My whole body felt tingly. This whole night had been great, barring the minor mess up at the end. It reminded me that everything could work. I could get through my past, and maybe some time in the future I could grow to love Haze. Not now, but it was a possibility I never thought I'd have after Wildfire died. This kiss meant everything. The final reassurance. The icing on the cake. The-

“Hired?”

Oh come on!

My brain snapped out of its bleary Haze induced haze and I looked towards the sound of the voice. A deep crimson pony was walking out of The BS with a metal left foreleg. “I was just looking for you.” Mayhem. The leader of the Mustangs. And he was looking for me so hard he ruined my kiss. Of course since Haze's wings were free she went invisible at the noise making it look like I was trying to kiss the air. Which helped. A lot.

“Why?” Very carefully I moved myself to make it look less like I was trying to kiss the air, and more like I was just taking an awkward step. “What do The Mustangs want with me?”

“You.” He shook his head walking forward slowly. He seemed strangely unarmed. “Do you remember last time you were in town? You owe me a job. No questions asked. With absolute loyalty.” Shit shit shit.

“Yes... I remember.” I said bitterly. “What is it?”

“Come to my office tomorrow in the morning.” The large crimson buck said with a sly grin. “We'll talk then. It's good you're back. I hate to cash in so soon, but it is important.” He laughed and started walking towards his casino. “Goodnight Hired. Sleep well. You'll need it.”

Haze did not reappear until he was halfway down the street, and when she did she was glaring down the street to where he went. As she glared she said with the most vicious tone I've ever heard from her. “Stallions!”

I wasn't sure if that was a rebuke of him, or all stallions, but I couldn't help but laugh. “Stallions.” I agreed wholeheartedly.

Level Up!

New Perk: Terrifying Presence: You have been using this perk since you left Marefort, so it was about time you got it officially. With it you can scare the shit out of just about anypony, and get them to bend to your will.

((A/N: Another slow chapter, but I think Silver deserves a rest. Thank you all for reading. Tonights chapters was brought to you by Kkat, who created FOE and in turn let me write this, as well as theBSDude, Mint Julep, and Menti who edit my work and make it suck less. One of my editors were sick this week, so I may have missed a few errors. If you spot anything please PM me so I can fix them! Thank you lovelies. The lovely dresses you read about were the product of the mind of Kashin author of Operation Flankorage. Read it if you like dresses and death. Next chapter is my official anniversary chapter, if I had planned ahead I would have something special for you all, but alas... ~No One~))

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