• 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 25: Shadows

Shadows

“You're no savior. Your talents lie elsewhere.“

The radiation dial on my pipbuck slowly ticked upwards. Perhaps I should have seen it coming, this outcome. Well, I'm not sure how I could have seen The Laughing Stallion exploding coming, but I should have expected that I would have failed in some spectacular way. It wasn't even that I failed, it was that I failed without ever getting close. I never had a chance to save the Chairpony, or the Batmare, or Pinprick. Even if I had tried harder, done better, I couldn't convince myself that I would have been able to save them. That was what hurt the most. Not only that I let good ponies die, but that even if I tried my hardest I would have been helpless to stop it.

When I was just a foal I was helpless to save my mother and brother, and I made myself a promise that I would never be helpless again. So I made myself stronger. I trained when I was alone, and became a mountain of a mare. Since I was a foal I was always big, but I made the choice to be strong. It didn't help. Even for all my strength I couldn't save Wildfire from being shot, and I couldn't save Foundation from...

In the end I was just as helpless as I was the day my mother was shot. Despite everything I did, everything I pulled myself through, I was eternally too late to be any good. Was it so much to ask that I could stop being helpless and actually save something before it gets destroyed. From Marefort, to Timber, to Bridle Hope, I could only ever help after the worst happened. Or, like Karkhoof, to make the worst happen.

“Hey, Silver.” I opened my eye and looked through the tears at Flare. “We need to go...” He was flying beside me where I hung from the remains of the catwalk. “Something went wrong, ain't gunna shit you about that, but you need to stow the tears until we're all safe. “ I sniffled and tried my best to stop the flow. “Good... I'll ask what happened later.” The blue pegasus reached out a hoof to me.

Part of me didn't really want him to fly me back to the ground. I could have let go right there, fallen like Pinprick did. It would have been easier that way... but when did I ever do something the easy way. My eyes turned back up to the catwalk as I thought. That's when I saw her. Standing on top of the catwalk was the ghostly form of Wildfire. She was smiling sadly down at me, and seemed to nod, before she vanished from sight. That was all I needed.

I quickly let go of the railing and grabbed onto him. My whole body lurched downwards taking the pegasus with me. For a second I thought maybe I was going to fall anyway.

We only dropped a few feet before the furious flapping of Flare halted our fall. An odd chill moved slowly down my spine, and I wasn't sure if I should have been terrified, sad, or annoyed. I seemed to settle for a mix of all three as Flare slowly set me onto the safe ground. If the world wasn't in the middle of going to shit I would have kissed it.

“Momma!” Serenity ran out of nowhere and hugged my currently not working metal leg. “I was so worried! I thought’cha was gunna fall!” As I carefully wrapped my leg around Serenity, I looked around the train station. There was so much glass on the floor that it could have been mistaken for a carpet. The guard rail that surrounded the pit was shot all to hell, as were parts of the walls. And the corpses. At least a dozen minotaur corpses littered the ground on the side I was on, and on the other side I could make out just as many pony corpses.

As I looked over the wreckage I saw her... Pinprick, but she wasn't alone. There was a tiny figure hunched over the body rocking back and forth.

“C'mon...” I stop back to all fours and helped Serenity onto my back. “We need to do... something.” I limped over the small figure as Serenity poked at my deactivated leg.

Spitshine was hunched over her mother's bloody corpses and sobbing. As I got closer I could hear muffled words, “Please... please get up... you can't... you're not allowed to... wake up... I'll be good, I swear... Momma... Momma I need you, please...” The filly's voice choked up. “Momma...”

“Flare...” The blue pegasus who was flying beside me raised an eyebrow. “I need you to take Spitshine to Haze, please.” He nodded confidently.

“Spitshine...” I walked closer to her, but kept myself at a respectable distance. “We need t-”

“Why didn't you save her!” Spitshine didn't even look at me. “Why didn't you... she always said you saved her, but now... you should have. Why didn't you...” she broke down sobbing again. “Go away... just... go... I hate you, all of you.”

“It's not safe here...” I said in my softest voice. “You need to go. Your momma would want you safe.” The truth was that no place was safe anymore, not after what had just happened. Dise was a powder keg, and somepony just lit the fuse. Still, if anyplace was safe in Dise it was an invisible orphanage under the city, so I had to try and help Spitshine. It was the least I could do. The very least.

“I'm not leaving her... I'm not leaving Momma...”

“We'll come back for her, I promise... but you need to be safe first. She loved you more than anything, she wants you to be safe...” Slowly Spitshine looked over to me with her bloodshot red eyes. “Please...”

“I... I don't want to... but Momma always said... I gotta be safe.” She rubbed her eyes. “You better not lie, you g-gotta come back for her... or else!”

“Yes... I promise. We all do.” Flare and Serenity both nodded their agreement, “Flare... I need to do something. Take Spitshine to Haze, then come back for Pinprick. We'll be back in the city as soon as possible.”

“Yeah, okay.” He landed on the ground and lowered his body. “Get on Spit, I'll take you to safety.”

The little filly nodded and slowly climbed onto Flare's back her eyes still wet with tears. She took a glancing look back at her mother, and started sobbing again. Tearing her gaze away from her dead mother Spitshine latched onto Flare's mane for something to cry into.

Flare looked down at me. “Don't think we can blame this one on Curly Fries, can we?” I gave an exasperated sigh and shook my head. “Don't think so... Don't stay above ground too long; Celestia knows how much radiation we're in for.” He flapped his wings a few times and took to the air. I watched him fly until he was safely out of the train station, and I could turn my attention to other pressing matters.

Not that my job for Mayhem really mattered at all. Something insane just happened, the Chairpony of the NCA was dead, along with The Batmare, Pinprick, probably Lucky, and countless others. The city was being blanketed by radiation, and to top it off, the NCA and Minotaurs were at war. Basically everything ever sucked, and I was still going to do a job for some fuckhead because I made a promise. And why not? I'd probably fail that and die, and won’t that be fun.

“Momma?” Serenity tugged at my mane. “Are yo-”

“Fine... I need...” I lowered my gaze to the broken body of Pinprick. “I need... my...” I turned away from her, from my failure. “My leg and eye got deactivated, can you start them up?” My filly said nothing, and got to work.

There was a stinging feeling as she powered up my leg and eye, and it was as painful as ever. I just didn't care. It felt pointless, everything did. If ever there was a chance to make a difference, to save somepony, to be a hero it would have been here, it would have been stopping this whole mess, but I failed. With my failure ponies better than I died. So why try? Nothing I did mattered. I had my chance and let it burn.

Perhaps it was for the best. Heroes always seemed to die, or stop being heroes.

“Where we goin' anyway? What’s this secret mission thingy, an' why didn't ya tell us sooner?” Serenity said quietly from my back.

“Make sure the Minotaur King gets out alive... Did you see which way he went?” In all the chaos I wasn't able to follow his movements. Not that I had really tried. Perhaps I should have. That at least I could have done.

“Uh, well... when the shootin' started, Flare drug me behind a wall for protectioning, but I could'a sworn I saw some of the minotaurs head down the stairs in the centre there... Uh, Momma. Why're we helpin' them? Ain't they sorta like the enemy?”

“No...” I headed across the glass-strewn floor and ignored the pain as my hooves got cut and scratched. “They're not... we work for House not the NCA... and this whole thing was set up... and... trust me.”

“Alright! When has that ever gone wrong!” Great, sarcasm. That was exactly what I needed. Why couldn't ponies just take me at my word? Oh, right, because I was always wrong and all my plans backfired on me in a spectacular manner. How could I forget...

Still I had a job to do, and despite the pointlessness of trying, I had to finish it, if for nothing else than the sense of normality to it. My name was Hired Gun after all, and even if the world was going to shit, it was my job to do petty assignments for piddling amounts of caps.

Thankfully, once we got down the large staircase in the middle of the room most the of the glass cleared up. Except for the pieces sticking out of my hooves of course, they didn't go anywhere. Thank Celestia I was still high on Med-X, or else it would have really hurt. So I was probably going to regret it later, but I regretted everything, so it was nothing new.

As we neared the first small platform (which seemed to allow access to an area below the train station), we heard shouting further down. I could barely make out the sounds, but I did feel a burning sensation in my shoulder, and a few seconds later Serenity said. “Ponies downstairs yellin' an' tellin' someone to stop and drop their weapons.... ah think on the next level down.”

Had I more time, I would have questioned how she did that (or at least ask when she had modified her sound spell to amplify, not block out sound) but it was apparently urgent. I would have jumped down the stairs, but the idea of falling any length at all right then made my stomach twist so I made do with a running trot until I reached the second basement level. “Where to!?” That was a stupid question. Straight ahead was more stairs, and to my left was rubble blocking an entrance to whatever was supposed to be on this level, so I turned right.

I barrelled through a door that read 'Offices,' into a series of tight hallways and small rooms. It was so cramped I could barely move at all. It clearly wasn't designed for running, or anypony tall. Normally I would take the time to explain how bland and drab the colour scheme was, but I had voices to follow, and by then I could hear them without Serenity's help.

“You will tell me your name!” A commanding voice shouted, but there was no reply. It was enough to give me a sense of direction, just down the hall and- shit!

Next thing I knew I was sprawled on the ground and my face stung. I let out a pitiful groan and I picked myself up with my forehooves and looked to see what tripped me. To my eternal annoyance it was nothing more than some sort of cord running down the hallway. Who the hell would put that there, it was a hazard. I mean sure, nopony would expected someone to be running down this hallway but... yeah it was my fault.

“Momma, stop layin' around.” Serenity, who must have fallen off my back, nudged at my flank with her head. “Get up, c'mon, you're tha one what wanted'a save whatshisname.” Thanks for the support.

“Yeah.” I picked my hind legs up and started off again, this time in much slower trot, because I would rather not fall again. Strangely enough, the wire was going in the same direction I was. I studied it as I trotted down the hallway, and for some reason it looked, well, not new (hardly anything was truly new in the wasteland) but newer. Of course, the realization of what it was didn't hit me until the wire turned into the room the voices were coming from.

I didn't turn into the room right away though, instead I did the (almost) smart thing and slid up against the wall, and peeked into the room to see what was going on. There were four NCA ponies (thankfully none of them were ones I knew) holding three minotaurs at gunpoint. The one I identified as the Minotaur King was standing with his hands up, while his guard were both on their knees, (minotaurs have knees, right?) with their hands on their head. This was not counting the several dead ponies and minotaurs littering the room... wait... my eye was giving one of them a box, so it must have been living. A brown minotaurs lying beside a... large camera...

Holy shit.

My eyes scanned the room again, and sure enough the broken body of the NCA Chairpony was there too.

“Alright, you beasts,” the NCA soldier said. “You're coming with us.”

I motioned for Serenity to stay out of sight before I jumped into the doorway and pointed Subtlety. “Sorry. You can't do that.” Only the commander of the soldiers and one other pony turned to look at me, while the others kept their weapons trained. “I need the King.” My brained worked quickly. “By orders of Mayhem.” I had to take the job, and I had to complete it. But Mayhem only told me not to tell Serenity, Flare, or Mr. House about it, he said nothing about the NCA.

“Are you fucking kidding?” The commander attempted to size me up, but much to his dismay I was still bigger than him. “You're a big motherfucker, but even with that you can't hope to take the four of us.” Oh I had no doubt I could completely destroy them. I've smashed through ranks of Steel Rangers, so this would be foal's play. Only I made a promise to myself not to kill them.

“Maybe not.” I lied. “But I can kill him.” Subtlety was actually pointed at Ginger across the room. “Do you have any idea. What a 50. Cal does to a pony? Or minotaur? He'll be paste.” Of course my gun was actually still disconnected from my battle saddle thanks to that fucker, Dragonslayer, but they didn't need to know that. If it worked on a god, it would work on them.

The stallion gulped sharply before glaring, “So fucking what. We'll have the King, and you'll be dead.”

“You don't want the King.” I smirked. “Not as much. Anyway. Ginger killed your leader. Everypony knows it. You could be the one to bring him. To justice. And. He's more important. He was involved. Do you really think. The King would come here himself. If he was planning on blowing it up? He didn't know. Only he did.” My gun motioned forward at Ginger. “He's who you want. He could give you. What you need.”

There was a few seconds of chilly silence before I saw his expression soften. “And what am I supposed to tell The Major General? That I let the King out of my grasp? That I let him go?!”

“The truth.” I lowered my mouth to the dysfunctional firing bit. “Tell her. You had a choice. Between the King. And Ginger. You choose the option. That made sense. You can see it, can't you?” He raised an eyebrow at me, but also visibly seemed to back off. “Something is wrong. This whole thing. Pieces don't fit together. Things don't make sense. There will be war. After all this. But with him... With him you could end it sooner. Or prolong it. If that's what you find. But the truth here? It's not with the King.”

The commander seemed to think this over before turning and whispering something to the pony beside him. “We keep the guards.” My eyes darted over to the, obviously confused, Minotaur King.

“One. You get one.” The King nodded slowly in approval.

The officer hummed to himself before staring at the ground and growling. “Fine... release the King... and one guard. Now.”

“Sir,” one of the of subordinates said in a wavering voice. “Are you sure this is wi-”

“Don't question me, welp, and release the fucking prisoners.” The Soldier stood quickly to attention and moved away so the King, and one of his guards, could get up. For his part, the King seemed apprehensive about the situation, but took a few slow steps forward. When he saw that he wasn't being shot he, and one of his guards ran past the NCA ponies, and past me, into the hallway.

Just to be safe I kept my gun trained on Ginger for a little more than a minute. “Well?” the officer said in a tone that seemed to suggest he was annoyed with me. “Go, we're not going to follow.”

“What's your name?”

“Huh, what? What does it matter.” The guard narrowed his eyes at me. “Major Knife Fall.”

“Major Knife Fall...” I said the name slowly as I looked over to where Serenity was waiting. I gave her a short nod and she quickly climbed onto my back. “It's been a pleasure, the Mustangs send their regards.” Before he could get in another word, I turned and galloped back down the hall, though this time I was careful to avoid the wire.

While I was not the fastest of ponies, it turned out that I was at least faster than bipeds, because by the time I reached the landing, I had caught up to the Minotaur King and his guard. No wonder they were caught. “Get going!” I yelled at them, “You need to get out before more come.”

“I cannot.” The King's voice was surprisingly youthful. Out of all the minotaurs I have heard (that is, two) he was by far the youngest sounding. “I must capture and prosecute the traitor. It is our way.”

“Well getting you out alive is my way! So go!” As I shouted I heard voices to my left. Sure enough at the top of the stairs a whole squad of NCA ponies were lined up and heading down. “Shit, move!” I pointed my gun, “Move or I'll shoot your legs and carry you. I'm saving you whether you like it or not, so go!”

“I... but...” He turned to his guard, who silently nodded. “Fine. This way then, quickly.” He started running down the stairs.

“This is a great idea!” Serenity said from my back as I followed them down the stairs. “Follow da monsters'n people ta protect'em.” As soon as we got to the bottom floor (which was, as I suspected, a train station) the Minotaur King jumped off the platform and started hitching it down one of the dark tunnels. “Oh! Follow'em inta tha darkness too!”

“Serenity, please stop.” I jumped off the platform and followed quickly behind them. How they were able to see I wasn't sure, but my eye quickly adjusted to the light. “Trust me. It'll be fine.” Well, that was probably a lie. The region was at war now, no matter how you cut it, but the plan at least would be fine. Hopefully. Doubtfully. Nothing ever went right for me.

---

The minotaurs seemed to know where they were going, if for no other reason than the fact that they just happened to find a torch lying there in the train tunnel. It was a little bit suspicious, but really to be expected given that is where the minotaurs seemed to be headed when the fight broke out. The tunnel itself was not the Dise tunnels I was used to, but instead a large cavernous thing like the tram tunnels under the Reconstruction Facility, only these were wider. It was a bit surprising to see them here at all, because I had no idea there were train tunnels near Dise at all.

Though, if I was correct, the tunnel we were following led away from Dise, not towards it. At least that is what my pipbuck map seemed to suggest. Given the size and scope of the train tunnel it wouldn't have surprised me if they were connected in with Wallkirk's tunnels. It'd seem the logical thing to do if people were riding the train when the end happened.

Which they were. This I figured out when we passed a long half-crushed train car filled with century old skeletons that had managed to crash despite being on rails. It was... a bit unnerving, the way the skeletons were piled on each other near the door. I had to wonder if they were moved that way by some scavenger, or if that is how they died, scrambling for an exit.

“Where are we going?” I had to ask, because we never seemed to stop walking. “Is there an entrance to the Dise tunnels? Show me to it. Then I'll go. You're safe now.”

“No, not safe here. Here is where they come to feed; little ponies should not be here alone.” The King said, but did not stop his fast pace. I immediately straightened up. There was no need to even tell me what 'they' were, because if it was something I had to fight then history dictated it was going to be some ungodly horror, or an arrogant jagoff. Given the feeding comment, the first was far more likely.

“Momma is not little at all!” Serenity said indignantly. “I am, but she's probably bigger'en you, ‘cept you cheat 'cause yer on two legs.”

“Perhaps this little pony is less little.” He turned his head back to look at me. I don't think I liked the way his brow furrowed when he stared, as if trying to memorize what I looked like, or perhaps trying to figure out if he knew me. Or something. I'm not really the best at deciphering looks. “But little is still little, still, you saved my life, and for that you have my gratitude.” I'd rather he kept it. It was not like I saved his life out of the goodness of my heart, and while I didn't really care about the Minotaur v. N.C.A. squabble, I would rather not be associated with such an ostracized group. “To whom do I owe my thanks?”

“Hired Gun.” I looked away from the strange creature. “That's who I am. You should thank Mayhem. Circumstances forced me to take this job.” So long as he didn't go around praising me for saving him I would be okay.

“So you're a slave,” he remarked so casually I almost didn't realize what exactly he said.

“What!” My eyes narrowed into my usual glare. “I am not a slave.”

“Aren't you?” He didn't even seem to notice my annoyance. “My guard here...” He waved a... hand, I guess, at the green minotaur walking beside him. “Immovable Object, his name. His father was one of many who struck Hoof Town many years ago. Back during the first war. His father was unnerved at the violence, and he fled the field of battle. Because of this, his family now must pay his debt; his son must fight in his stead. Does this make him a slave?”

“I... what?” I guess that made him a slave? Sort of. It wasn't the usual definition, and the practice was a bit barbaric. “Maybe?”

“In the same sense you do not wish to do this job, yet you are doing it.”

“It was my choice...” For some reason I felt defensive.

“But you said yourself you did not wish to.” Now he was just pissing me off. “If it was your choice, but you do not wish to, then what convinced you?”

“I... it's my code. Always complete a job. To the letter.” I don't really think I liked what he was getting at. It didn't seem like he was trying to agitate me on purpose, but he was still doing a great job of it.

“Then you are a slave to your code. So it is your code I must thank?” He scratched at his chin with a claw. “I am not sure how one goes about that, so I guess I will thank you. For making the code that made you a slave. Thank you, Mr. Hired Gun.”

“Miss,” I corrected venomously. “I'm a mare.”

“Oh. My apologies. With ponies it can be hard to tell.” With me it was no doubt harder. Not counting my rather butch features I was also decked out in grimy armour that completely concealed any guess at knowing my gender. The closest give away would be my voice, but I couldn't really expect a non-equine to pick up on that.

“How do you tell on minotaurs?” Serenity seemed legitimately curious.

“Horns, it is the simplest ways. Bulls have them, cows do not.” He drew a hand up to his own pair of horns as if to explain what that meant. Or prove he was a bull? I'm not entirely sure.

Serenity went to give a reply, but was cut off when the Minotaur raised his hand from his side: “Shhh. There are things near... they come, be on your guard.” That'd be really easy, especially because I didn't actually have a gun that worked on me. Well, Subtlety worked, but it was disconnected from my battle saddle making it effectively... wait.. it still had a trigger right?

“Serenity!” She jumped on my head so she could look down at my face.

“What, Momma? Gunna tell me ta hide'an be safe?” Sort of the opposite of that. I took a quick look around the tunnel. The cavernous semi-circular hall was not as sturdy as I would have liked. Along the walls a series of doors could be seen (service tunnels, or entrances to the Dise underground?) and on the floor there were multiple grates, probably for floods or the like. Whatever 'they' were, I suspected they would come from one of those places.

Something fell on my head. For a brief second there was a strange pinching pressure on my head.

“GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!” Okay. I might have panicked. Just a little bit.

BANG.

I wasn't sure who shot, but the thing (radscorpion, I'd find out) fell off my head a second later. “Momma are you ok....ay...” She gulped as I felt something drop onto my flank. “Run!”

I didn't need to be told twice.

Not that I ran far though, just enough to get to the two minotaurs, and turn sharply to see what the hell was going on. It was not good. Almost instantly, my EFS started showing hostile after hostile, until it was just a thick red line. From the ceiling radscorpions came pouring out one after another in a colossal torrent of stinging death. Then they started to move towards us. “Serenity.” The closest one broke out in a running scuttle. “Serenity, pistol now!”

She tossed the weapon into the air and I caught the still smoking pistol in my mouth with just enough time to adjust my aim and blast the thing to pieces. The spray of blood and ichor did absolutely nothing for the hundreds more pouring from the ceiling and filling the tunnel. There was a sickening sensation in my gut as they swarmed closer. Maybe (for whatever reason) I was strong enough to withstand their poison, but not even I could survive that many.

“Die.” I fired a bullet into the hoard, but it moved forward without even noticing. “Please. Just. Die.” Bullet after bullet flew from the zebra-enchanted pistol until my mouth was sore from the impact, but still it came. Shit shit shit.

“Little pony!” There was a mind breakingly painful tearing sensation on my backside when something tugged hard on my tail. “Run!” Right. Fear overcame pain as I turned tail and ran.

I was not a fast pony, but at that moment I felt as fast as Flare. My hooves pounded into the concrete so hard that it sent shock-waves up my back (thought that was mostly the fault of my injured backside). As I ran, I couldn't help but notice the minotaurs were starting to lag behind. They just weren't built for speed. Part of me whispered to survive, to let them die and be eaten by the teeming mass to give me time to escape. The more sensible part reminded me that I was apparently running towards a Minotaur base, and they'd probably shoot me on sight if the King wasn't with me.

So I took a look back. They were so far back that the Scorpions were nipping at their heels. With poisoned stingers that didn’t bode well at all. I skidded to a stop, and did a one-eighty towards the stupid slow bipedal idiots. “Serenity! Head.” I shouted.

“But Momma, you're running the wro-”

“Just do it!” I'd have to apologize for my tone later, but all that mattered was getting us all to safety. It was stupid I know, but as I ran to the King's aid I couldn't help but think that maybe this time I'd actually save someone. Maybe this time I wouldn't fail.

I got to them just as the swarm was about to overtake them. One of the foul black creatures had managed to wrap its legs around that of the fleeing King with its stinger poised to strike. My hoof was just in time. The metal prosthetic (Serenity said that means 'fake leg'. Or something) slammed into the wide of beast with enough force to send it flying back into the swarm. For the briefest of a second I thought I saw the King look at me with surprise in his dark eyes, but I didn't have time to verify.

“Move!” I shouted as my metal leg slammed into the tail of a larger beast, severing it completely. “Faster! I'll push them back.” Not for long, but I'd try, dammit. The King seemed to be in wordless agreement as he scrambled down the hall at an increased speed. Not fast enough, not nearly.

Without warning, there was a burst of fire beside me. My heart jumped and I scrambled backwards from the too-close flames. The flames weren't alone though, being wielded by the torch-carrying Immoveable Object, the King's guard. And it worked. Sort of. The Swarm didn't stop so much as pause— balk at the swinging flames. But the torch was small, and swarm larger than was reasonable.

“Go,” he grunted as he swung the flames. “Protect the King.” But. He shouldn't have to. He was a slave, right? Or so the King said. How could I let someone like him take my place. Sure, he was just a minotaur, but it felt. Wrong. It felt. “GO!” He kicked his goat-like leg at me. It missed, but I got the message and flew the opposite way down the tunnel once more.

I looked back as I ran though. How could I not? I saw as the black mass surrounded him slowly. As they did, he waved the torch around wildly, trying his best scare them off. It wasn't going to happen though, I think he’d known all along. But he kept trying. Even as they started to swarm over his body, he swung and flailed. And when he fell and the creatures amassed around his fallen body there was a burst of flames from the centre as something in the mass took to fire.

But it was snuffed out a second later, and they started at us once again. Worse, they seemed to move faster now that they’d got a taste.

By then I had all but caught up with the King, and the sight wasn't pretty. Without the torch to guide him (and lacking cybernetics to assist) he was running blind. His legs were bleeding, and something stuck out of his arm. “Serenity, keep low!” As soon as I felt her press her little body flat against my skull, I charged forward harder.

By bending down low, I caught the King under the knees, making him twist and fall. It took a great deal of skill, and much more luck, but I managed to get him to slam stomach first onto my back. He was as heavy as anything I had ever lifted, but my body was filled with so much adrenalin, so much will to escape, that I hardly noticed. At first anyway.

Sure enough, the longer I ran, the heavier he felt, and the slower we moved. “This is no way to treat a king.” he protested, giving me something to think about other than our impending death.

“It is a way. To save a king. Keep still! And quiet!”

As dramatic as that was, I was starting to get the feeling that it was far from accurate. The mass didn't seem like it was slowing down anytime soon, and I had no idea how much further I had to run. Worse was the fact that we had almost been caught up to. “Fuckfuck.”

Luck was on my side (for once) because as I rounded a sharp bend I saw a faint light at the end of the tunnel. It had to be our destination. The way to safety. Or it was some sort of light monster leading me into its mouth, but that'd be a cleaner death than that of a thousand thingies.

“There!” The King shouted from his lofty position on my back. “Faster!” I tried! Really. But with such a weight on my back, and the pain of my previous adventures (like stepping through glass) coming back, I just couldn't force myself any harder.

Which was precisely when I felt a sharp stinging sensation right above my hoof. Without even looking back I somehow found the will to push myself hard, distancing me somewhat from the swam. It wouldn't last though. All I could do was pray to Celestia above to grant me some sort of mercy and let the King speak true.

“Who goes the-” A voice from the light shouted as we came closer.

“I AM THE PRIME MINISTER! READY FLAMETHROWERS!” The King bellowed from my back.

The minotaurs came into view from the blinding light a second later. There was some sort of instalment of lights, and mounted guns, but I didn't care. I slammed through the barricades, and into the nearest Minotaur in my haste. The four of us tumbled head over hooves as I felt a blast of heat from behind me, followed by the sound of a thousand screeching rad-scorpions.

I turned my head from my awkward fallen position to see a wall of orange flame and black burning limbs covering the tunnel. It was the first time in a long time that the sight of fire didn't make me freak out. I did. I saved someone. I actually managed to save someone. It wanted to laugh but everything hurt too much.

Wait...

My mind rewound to a few seconds earlier, and I looked over at the Minotaur King who was lying on his back. “You're the prime minister?”

---

To explain my confusion over The Prime Minister's correct titles you have to understand that my job was to save the Minotaur King. Not Prime Minister. Right after hearing that I had worried that I had been through all that, just to save a minotaur I wasn't contracted to save. It would have been beyond frustrating. Thankfully that was not the case. Well, sort of.

“So you are the King?” After a few long confusing minutes at the front gate of the... town, I guess, we were instructed by the King to walk with him(with a few guards of course). I was still on the edge of deciding if the underground settlement was a town or a military encampment. On one hoof it seemed to be filled with Minotaurs performing drills, but on the other I saw a more than a few calves running around.

“Yes and no,” he answered as he walked beside me. “By all accounts, the line of Kings died out during the war, but when addressing pony-folk we still style ourselves as such. We have found that ponies are more receptive to royal monikers than political ones. Even independent Caledonia worshipped the princesses before the war, after all.”

It was strange walking in that town. I decided that right away. As we passed the rows of tents that lined the tunnel walls I could see and feel creatures inside staring at me. It was as if they had never seen a pony before, or at least never saw one there. I wondered if that was how Ginger felt in Dise. It was... odd to be the minority.

“What does that mean. Prime Mini Star, that is.” Serenity leaned onto my head to ask the question.

“It means instead of ruling by divine authority, like the Princesses, I rule by election.” He chuckled. “You ponies have elections in some of your cities, right?”

“Ya Huh.” Serenity said in a slightly higher-pitched voice. I knew that tone well enough, it meant she knew something she thought was cool and wanted to tell someone about it. “Eye Glow has a Mayor, is that sorta the same? I remember the election a little, it was cool. There was a parade, then a gunfight.” That sounds like my kind of parade.

“Perhaps they are similar. Would you like to hear the process?” Dear Celestia no. Please. No politics. I looked around frantically for some sort of escape, but all I managed to do was come face to face with a goat. Which proceeded to bleat in my face. “Don't mind them.” The Prime Minister glared down at the goat. “Don't you have somewhere to be?” The goat bleated again before trotting off. “Sorry about that, some of them don't know their place.”

“I've neva' seen a goat before.” Serenity stared over at the strange skinny legged creature.

“You probably won't again.” The king seemed agitated now. “They're... workers.”

“Like Immoveable Object?” I asked pointedly.

“Yes, they are indentured servants to the minotaur race for...” He rubbed his forehead with one of his massive clawed hands. “It matters not little pony. I am sure you are not interested in ancient treaties and the like. Simply accept it and move on.” Yeah, I wasn't interested in anything of the sort, but it was better than a huge speech on how the minotaurs political structure worked, because really I didn't care.

“I guess not...” He led us to a door in wall of the tunnel that we had to squeeze past tents to get to. They really could use work on their space management.

“Now we have a problem.” The Prime Minister (does he even have a real name?) said tapping on the door with his claw. “We do not take prisoners of war, you see.” This didn't sound good at all. “But at the same time you did me a great service... twice over. And yet, the knowledge of this base is a secret, and if word got to to your pony government how close we are to them... well, we would have a problem. So far we've gotten away with it because the rad-scorpions make the tunnel too dangerous to travel normally, so they haven't checked, but if you told them...”

“I won’t.” I gulped nervously. “You have my word.” Which as about as good a word as you could get from anyone. I did save him twice on it after all... yet I still doubted he would be swayed that easily.

“Yes, yes of course. But I still risk this encampment on the word of a pony.” Racist. “I will need to think on it. For now you will be our... let’s say honoured guest. There was a general who used this room as his quarters, but he was a casualty of that mess, so it's yours. If you want to wander the camp, feel free, but you'll need a guard with you at all time.”

“So I'm a prisoner here?”

“Oh of course not!” He chuckled good naturedly. “You can leave anytime. Just not alive. Lets just say you're a prisoner here as much as you are a slave to your code.” Briefly I wondered what the punishment for murdering a Prime Minister was. Maybe it'd prove my strength and they'd make me P.M. Instead.

“Thanks...” I opened the door slowly. “I guess.”

“I'll make my decision within twenty-four hours. Fair warning, if I take longer than that, you're better off trying to make a run for it.” He gave me a short bow. “Thank you once again for risking your life to save mine twice. I pray Discord's blessing on you.”

I was halfway through the door when I had to stop and turn around to give him a dazed look. “Discord?”

“Who else?” He motioned to his large body slowly. “Do you think anyone but the Lord Of Chaos would create beings such as us? Legend has it he grew bored in his first reign and crafted the first of us from a goat, a bull, and an ape...” he gave me a level look. “Why did you think we joined the great war on the side of the zebras? You ponies imprisoned our god.” That, made a certain amount of sense. Maybe that's what the final straw was in the train station. Ginger praising Discord.

“Oh...” I said dumbly. “I see.” The P.M. gave me a look that resembled a glare before nodding and turning around with one of the guards. The other two minotaurs remained though and flanked my door. With a sigh I walked into the room as instructed and took a look around.

It was a small room, perhaps a large maintenance closest in a past life, with too many amenities that made it feel cramped. I guess if I walked on two legs it'd be easier to navigate. Taking up one side of the room was a surprisingly large fold up cot, while a large desk took up part of the opposite wall. Due to the narrowness of the room, however, the two things looked to be right next to each other to the point you could fall backwards off the Desk chair directly onto the bed. Off in the corner was a tall skinny wardrobe. Most of all though, the room was clean, so clean that the walls looked white. I guess the minotaurs favoured cleanliness, or the former general was a germaphobe.

The door slammed shut so hard behind me that I nearly jumped. I didn't bother looking back though, instead I took a few slow steps towards the desk. On it was a book that looked to be a diary, and for a second I really wanted to read it. To find out more information about the minotaurs. After how long I had been in Dise everything I had heard about minotaurs had been myth, legend, or biased propaganda. Getting information was rare, after all... yet...

Yes, I didn't care. After I carefully helped Serenity off my back, I flopped over on the cot and closed my eyes.

Things had happened so fast I had barely had time to let the gravity of the situation truly sink in. Now that I was away from danger and responsibility, I could truly think about what had happened. It wasn't pleasant. The memory of me hanging there helplessly as Pinprick was killed, trying to defend me no less, the thought of her daughter crying over a broken corpse, the sound of The Batmare's horn cracking, the feeling of pressure as the blast wave washed over my body and showered me with glass, all of these things came rushing back to me. It was like being there again, seeing the chaos and confusion, and once again being powerless to do anything to stop it.

If there was anything I loathed, it was being helpless. My entire life, I’d done my best to avoid that fate. I’d always been big, but I chose to be strong, but even that didn't save Foundation. I’d tried to push ponies away, thinking that if I wasn't close to them then I wouldn't be put into a position where I was powerless. It was a silly notion, and did nothing at all to save Wildfire. I tried to be a hard-ass, but that just changed me from helpless to destructive. Even then I was always too late.

I was too late to save Foundation, to slow to make Wildfire duck. I managed to get to Timber only after it burned, and got caught up in my own drama that I couldn't help Bridle Hope. Maybe I was just too slow. I couldn't put the pieces together fast enough, so everything I did was delayed. If I was as smart as Serenity maybe I could have stopped what happened at the train station. Figured out something was fishy.... or something.

With a groan I rolled over in the cot. Part of me didn't care if the Minotaurs did kill me. At least it'd be actually saving someone. Go out on a high point. It would be easier that way. Just let it all fall into somepony else’s hooves. Stop worrying about the conspiracies and plots, and everything that made Dise, Dise.

Then I thought about the blade sliding into Pinprick's neck. Somehow I don't think I would ever forget that, and I was glad for it. It gave me something to hold onto. Maybe I could die, but I didn't want to die until I had ripped off Dragonslayer's head, and then slaughtered every single mysterious pony he was working for. That was something. Revenge. I’d tried being a hero, and that had failed; maybe I'd do better if I was motivated by revenge.

I guess for that matter I still had High Stakes and Smooth Tongue. Maybe I'd put all their heads on pikes when I was done. That was if I ever got out of this situation. Knowing my luck that was far from likely, but still I could dream, right?

Of course.... Living meant I'd need to go back to Dise. I wasn’t sure I could take going back to the city that I failed so thoroughly. It would be washed in radiation by then, and somehow I suspected the bubbling gang war would finally spill over into the streets. It was close before, when I killed Roy, but after the explosion.... Hooves would be pointed, ponies would be desperate, and the stronger of the gangs would try to devour the weaker ones.

Maybe lying in the bed forever would be easier then. I'd be dragged into the inevitable gang war, as it's what I'm paid to do. No part of me wants to fight that war. I thought before that Mr. House had the right vision for the city, that he had the ambition and ability to unite it. Yet lately it seems all he can do is further divide and conflict it. Maybe I made the wrong choice, but what were my choices.

A large stallion with a grandiose self image, and sense of importance? An easily angered and extremely violent mule? An old mare, who by all accounts shouldn't have been in power as long as she was. Sure those were just the main gangs, but what else could I join? I wasn't an NCA citizen. The Finishers were too weak to make any sort of difference. As an Earth Pony, I couldn’t join the Enclave, or the minotaurs. The Steel Rangers were right out, for obvious reasons. Sure I could have joined 'The Watchers,' but their leader, Clean Cutt, gave me the creeps, and I'd be a shit doctor. Mr. House was really my only choice, and I still felt like shit for making it.

Maybe I would just sleep here forever. No responsibility. No need to get up. Just sleep. Maybe I'd dream without nightmares too. It sounded pleasant really. Maybe if I escaped here I would go wander in the Dise tunnels until I found orb we buried, and it'd let me sleep. I wouldn't have to worry about this. I wouldn't be haunted by memories. Maybe then I could be at peace...

“Momma.” Something nudged my back lightly. “Momma, I'm hungry.”

Of course, I still had at least one reason to stay awake.

---

“What a fine selection... of rad scorpion meat.” I said. The yellow bull standing on the other side of the table merely grunted in response to me.

It really was a good selection. Small rad scorpions, large ones. Red ones. Blue ones. Rad-scorpion on a stick, or sauteed in oil. I guess when your town lived underground then you didn't have much in the way of variety. Or, more likely, they were hiding all the good food from the freaky pony. I don't think I've been glared at more in my life than when I walked through the tent town. Even my so-called chaperon was glaring at me for all it was worth.

“Are you buying?” The bull glared down at me. It was... unsettling. I really hated when ponies, er, people were taller than me. Which didn't happen very often -- except in this minotaur town. They were all friggin’ huge. Thankfully I was still fairly sure I was stronger than all of them. Which is not saying much as I've still yet to meet anypony (anyone) who has some close. Except for Torr, but I kicked his ass.

Serenity put her hooves on the table so she could get a look at the food. After a few sniffs it looked like she was about to gag, but she eventually said, “Still hungry. Can we get the ones on the stick?” They must have smelled the least bad.

“Two of those... things.” The minotaur nodded and turned around.

Behind him was an open tent with what looked like a barbecue inside with a goat standing in front of it. The minotaur, to my surprised, bleated at the goat in what sounded like a harsh tone (I could be wrong, I don't speak goat) before turning back to me and grunting. “Is that your daughter?”

Before I even had a chance to reply Serenity cut me off, “I am, she's my momma.” I could hear the pride in her voice. “Only just recently.” The Minotaur raised an eyebrow but did not question her on that. “Isn't she awesome?”

“She is a small pony. Many scars. Bad fighter, or too many fights.” A little bit of both. My fighting style wasn't what you'd call refined. Though I did routinely turns ponies into refined paste.

“Lots of fights, she's awesome at fighting, just...” She hummed over the wording before saying, “Just lots'a ponies wanna kill her. Robots sometimes too. An' animals, but not nearly as many of them! This one time she fought these giant snakes though! It was awesome! An' really scary.” Ah yes, the infamous land sharks. How I hated thinking back to them. Thankfully I rarely did as they were overshadowed by my guilt ridden mind by the events of Karkoof.

“And survived?” The yellow minotaur sized me up. “Metal leg, and eye. Pony technology. She is lucky.” He walked back to the Goat to yell at it about something, and it was then I realized that the bottom half of the bull's right leg was made from wood.

“Awww.” Serenity noticed too. “Oh! I could make you a new one, mister.” Considering her earlier reservations against Minotaurs she seemed to be warming up very nicely. Perhaps being around them enough convinced her they weren't going to eat her, or something.

“No.” He turned back to us once he was done bleating at the goat, though now he was carrying two plates of food. Or rather 'food'. “Pony technology is not allowed. We must recreate without help.” I'm sure rampaging through pony lands would help that, but I wasn't about to question their motives. To their face at least. “Here food.”

Serenity attempted to sway the bull's opinion by pouting at him as she nibbled at her scorpion shish kebab, but he seemed unswayed. I decided it would be best to change the topic before her pouting got any worse. “So. Those goats.” I looked behind the yellow bull to where the goat was still standing. “Why do they... work for you?”

“Pony would not know story.” The yellow minotaur looked thoughtfully at me before deciding he did want to answer. “During the war, goats lived with us. Fought with us. They were almost equals. Then they betrayed us. Some took a megaspell to the heart of our capital. The price for cowardice and treason is paid for in their sons’ and daughters’ lives. But such a crime that even if all sons and daughters for a thousand years paid it would not be worth. So we took all of their kind in payment. Until the debt has been settled.” Somehow I got the feeling the debt would not be settled for a long time.

“So they're your slaves.” I said coldly before biting down into the food I was given. The strange juices of the meat flooded into my mouth, and nearly made me gag at first, but after a second it became... not good, but tolerable.

“Yes. No.” That was a helpful answer, but I was not asking a question so it didn't really matter. “They are not bought or sold or traded. They are given to those who need them.” he grunted in annoyance. “Begone, pony. I have work.” He snorted and turned away from me.

“Nice guy.” I muttered as I walked away.

“I wanted ta build him a leg.” Of course Serenity did.

“How did you plan to do that? You can't make one from scratch.” I said after finishing my meal. Okay, the food was actually good. Minotaurs managed to take a disgusting bug thing and make it eatable. Somehow.

“Still got that one I made for you after your old one got smashed. At least you should.” She looked at me accusingly. Did I still have that leg? It had been a while, and I nearly forgot about it. Just to make sure I lifted up my pipbuck and flipped through the menus with my nose until I found the inventory management part. Yup, it was still there. At my nod she continued. “Besides, his leg was missin' past the knee so it'd be easier ta make. An'a challenge! Never built anything for a minotaur before.” Nor was she likely to.

“Soon you'll be making full androids.” Serenity beamed at my compliment. “I'm still surprised you were able to learn. The Watchers seemed... less receptive to the technology.” We had to stop and stand to the side as a row of Minotaurs in full armour came barrelling by. I couldn't help but take a look at their guns as they passed, and I might have salivated a little bit.

“Well... It's not like they dislike it officially. Jus' they're associated with a religious thingy that dislikes 'em. Sometimes ponies come in what need help an' are cyborgs, and we help everyone so some ponies're trained in it. I jus' took ta it early because it's really cool!” She explained as the minotaurs passed. “If everyone was a cyborg it'd be so much easier... hey, Momma, can I ge-”

“No,” I said quickly. “Maybe when you're older.”

She waited for maybe a few seconds before responding, “I'm older now! Can I?”

“Much older,” I clarified.

“Awww, why?” She whined. As a foal I thought that I was good at whining to get what I wanted. After adopting Serenity, I realized I was subpar at best.

“Firstly, you're too young to make that decision, you might change your mind when you older. Usually cybernetics are a 'forever' deal.” Yes, I had this speech prepared in advance, because I knew eventually I was going to have to use it. “Secondly, you're still growing, so you'll have to get replacements every few months and there's no way to afford that. And finally; The technology is still growing, wouldn't you want to wait for cooler technology in ten years?”

Serenity opened her mouth to whine again, but closed it before I heard a peep. Her brow furrowed in confusion (probably over the fact I actually made a coherent argument) before she hung her head. “Good point.” She admitted. “Fiiiiiiine, I'll wait. For a few years. How'd ya get so persuasive?”

“Dealing with you. If I didn't learn, you'd walk all over me. I don't have enough caps for that.”

“Now if only ya could talk ta any other pony without looking like yer about'ta tear their leg off and beat them with it.” Though I had never actually done that, I was positive I could if so inclined.

“That's a different sort of persuasive.” With that final snarky remark we found ourselves back in the doorway to our cell, I mean room. Not that I minded. The cramped room was better than a hundred accusatory glares.

“You, pony.” The minotaur who was guarding us said sharply as we moved towards the door. “I have a question.”

“What?” I snapped turning to glare at the much larger creature.

“Not you. Her.” The creature pointed down at Serenity with one of its sharp claws. It made me want to kick his head inside out. Serenity took a step forward and nodded. “You. You work for this group. The Watchers?”

Serenity shook her head, but the minotaur kept, for a lack of a better word, watching her, so she explained. “I used'a... sorta. Why?”

The minotaur narrowed its eyes. My guess was that it was studying her, but for what reason I didn't know. “I see... don't trust them.” What a genius this minotaur was. Telling us not to trust a faction in Dise. As if that wasn't obvious. Not like he was biased because that Minotaur Ginger defected and joined them.

“Sure, whatever.” Serenity huffed before turning back into the room. Well, that soured her mood quickly. He just had to ruin the only moment of levity in a really shitty day, didn't he. Without even bothering to say anything to him, I too walked through the door, and took the time to slam it shut. It was mostly for effect though, because if I was really angry, the door would have been in splinters.

“Hey, Momma.” Serenity had managed to usurp the bed from me while I was busy being childish, “Um...” She frowned and looked down at the blankets. Guessing that she wanted to talk about something serious I took a seat on the floor and motioned for her to continue. “What's gunna happen ta Spitshine?”

“I...” I shut my stupid mouth and decided to think before speaking. A rare event for me. “I'm not sure. It depends on what she wants.... Most likely she'll live with Platinum Haze and her orphanage.” The thought of Pinprick dying flashed through my memory again. I had to force the memory away. There would be plenty of time to dwell on that later. “If she doesn't want to stay there... I'm not sure. I'll do what I can for her.”

“Will she come travelling with us?” Huh? I hadn't really thought about that option. No part of me really wanted another daughter. As much as I loved Serenity, the idea of bringing another filly into the shit I got into didn't sit right.

“Uh... maybe.... Um.” If she really wanted to, I'm not sure if I'd say no. I owed it to Spitshine to make her happy. “That depends. Not if you didn't want her to.” With my new found ability to think ahead I realized that if Spitshine did start travelling with us, then it might just make Serenity jealous (for whatever reason) and if so it would be completely off the table. Serenity had enough to deal with that I couldn't add jealousy on top of it.

Though it was all mostly a moot point because I really doubted that Spitshine would want to travel with us after how much I was implicated in her mother's death. That is to say my failure directly caused it, and she was smart enough to realize it. Maybe to make it up to Spitshine, I'd capture Dragonslayer and let Spitshine kill him. That'd be nice right?

“I don't know... maybe having a sister would be nice, but I don't wanna share.” She fidgeted awkwardly. “That doesn't make me a bad pony, does it?” I really was the last pony in the wasteland to ask that question to. If I could tell the difference between good and bad I wouldn't have gotten into half the messes I did.

“I don't think so,” I said anyway drawing a hoof around her. “You've been through a lot; you deserve... more than I can give you.”

Serenity didn't respond right away. Instead she opted to sit quietly studying the bed. “Momma... why did he do it?”

I ran my hoof through her mane and asked, “Who?”

“Dragonslayer. Flare said he saw ya fightin' with someone who looked like him. It was him wasn't it?” I nodded. “Why did he kill Pinprick?”

“Pinprick was trying to stop him from killing me.” If she hadn't shown up at that exact time... well... nothing. He would have escaped just like he did, given he expected the explosion to kill me. That was... a depressing thought. She didn't even manage to save me, despite giving her life in the attempt.

“Well! Why was he tryin' kill ya?” She furrowed her brow. “Why did he want everpony ta starting fighting in Karkhoof too? He paid ya... and...” She frowned. That was not a pleasant memory for anyone.

“I don't know.” Maybe I'd ask him before killing him. “I'll... I'll find out. There has to be a reason. He'll pay for what he's done...”

“What if... maybe he had a reason... or he was confused. I mean... you've killed ponies too. Maybe he's like you.” Maybe... but someday I would have to pay for my crimes too. Hopefully after Serenity was grown, but eventually the family of one of the ponies I killed will come back to make me pay. If I had to guess it would be Jas, of the Crimson Hoof, whose wife I killed.

“I... I don't know. Ponies do things for complicated reasons. But even still, what he's done.” And what I've done. “I'm not sure if anything could... make up for that. But if he's trying to start a war.” I guess it would have been more correct to say 'If he tried to start this war' but I was still holding onto a slim chance that maybe something would stop it. “Then he needs to be stopped.”

Serenity nodded her understanding. “So... if you stop him.... will you be a hero, like The Batmare?” Nopony would ever be a hero quite like The Batmare.

“I'm not sure I want to be a hero. But... I still want to kill him. Or stop him. Or... I don't know...” I sighed and lowered my head. I wish I had better answers to her questions.

“I just wish ponies would stop fighting. Even the stupid minotaurs I guess... if everypony stopped fighting then maybe things would be better.” She huffed. Pulling her into a tighter hug, I attempted to comfort her to the best of my ability. It wasn't fair that she had to be stuck in the middle of all this. Maybe it would’ve been better if I’d made her stay at Platinum Haze's orphanage.

“Just... get some sleep. We can't do anything until we get out of here.” I added, “Whatever happens. I promise I'll keep you safe.” I had no right to be alive after my numerous (and impressive) failures. But I had to be alive for Serenity's sake. She deserved a better mother, but she had me, so I wasn't going to let my guilt keep her from her happiness. One day, maybe not soon, but eventually, I would find a safe place for her, so we could live together in peace. At least until my past caught up to me. Leaning down, I planted a kiss on her forehead.

It didn't take as long as I had expected to get her to sleep, just getting her to lie down, then a few minutes of snuggling. It had been a long day, so I guess I should not have been surprised. After double checking that she was asleep, I carefully moved away from her. She was such a little thing, and the way she hugged that Scootaborg toy of hers just made her seem even smaller.

Then the guilt of dragging her through all such horrible places came back, and I was forced to turn away.

Unfortunately, I wasn't really tired at all, and since there was no way I was going to leave Serenity alone, I was stuck in this tiny room. With a sigh I brought up my pipbuck and turned on the radio, though I was fairly sure it wasn't going to work underground. True enough, all I got was static and jumbled words.

... explo-... In the centre... rio-... confusion... unkno-... Watchers... radiation... range-...” Groaning I clicked off the radio and mulled over what little I could make out. It was... useless, and told me nothing. I guess it was a worth a shot at least. I really wanted to know what was going on in the city after the explosion. How did the residents react to the radiation. Celestia knows why I actually wanted to know. Whatever was happening, it was bad, and it was my fault. There was nothing I could do about it.

I squeezed my eyes shut and ground my teeth together. I really wanted to kick something, but there was nothing around to kick. I just... “Fuck,” I hissed. I just needed to take my mind off... everything. Worrying more wasn't going to save anypony, only drive me crazy.

That's when I caught sight of the book on the desk. I’d seen it earlier, but hadn’t wanted to read it then. With nothing else better to do, I decided to put my hard-won reading ability to the test. It was a tight squeeze, but I managed to sit beside the desk so I could read the book, without bumping into the bed. This room was still annoyingly small.

The council has once again rejected my proposal to change the electoral system.” Well, it was at least written in Equestrian, but one sentence in and I was already bored. “They claim that my proposed changes were too orderly for a functioning government, and that it would go against Discord’s will. More importantly, they once again claimed that I was bitter over my loss of the election. As much as they spout their religious malarkey, I still don't see why a chaos god would care about how we elected leaders. By all accounts Discord died two hundred years ago along with the pony Goddesses, so why should we follow such silly rules to honour him? There are claims he created our kind, and while this may be true it doesn't mean we should put so much reverence on him. To decide the election on the draw of a card is simply... I will never understand. Still, my reservations aside I must abide by their ruling and abide I shall.”

And this point in the writing a few things were scribbled and crossed out over a few lines before it continued. It wasn't what I would call 'interesting' but maybe it would help me sleep.

Beyond my continued annoyances at the council, my real reason for writing you is to tell you I have been promoted to General, and am being stationed at a secret forward camp. Due to the nature of this position. I will not be able to send you any further letters, and I apologize. Soon this war will be over, and I will return. Please be patient and take care of the calves.” There was further scribbling and the words “Rewrite.” written below it.

Sure enough when I turned the page I found the a slightly different variation on the letter. And on the page after. Apparently this minotaur had a thing for boring letters and perfectionism. Still, I scanned through the book. I had thought it was a diary before, but what it really was was a work book for a minotaur's rough drafts of letters. Most of the letters filled an entire page, a few two, but almost all were completely boring, and I was unable to get through a line without turning the page to find the next.

There was one, however, that consisted of a two lines, and a small note.

No, the war with the NCA is not an attempt to curb population growth due to recent food shortages. Why would you even waste time sending me this?” On the side there was what looked like a personal memo. It was hastily scribbled so I couldn't make out the words, but the letters 'P.M.' stuck out like a sore thumb.

More political bullshit. Who knew the minotaurs were so stuffy?

Still, I kept reading. It wasn't really out of interest, more out of boredom. It was probably the most I’d read in a long time, and there was no doubt to me that I wouldn't remember any of it by the time I was done.

---

Yeah, I fell asleep reading the book. This should be a surprise to exactly nopony.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

The loud banging jerked me awake. The room was still blurry, and I mumbled something incomprehensible.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

“One... One sec.” I blinked a few times as I remembered where I was and what was going on. I moved over to the door, but stopped when I realized one of the pages had stuck to my face when I face planted onto it in my sleep. After carefully removing the offending page I looked over at the door. I didn't open it right away; a familiar sensation hit me. I reached into my saddle bag, took out a med-x, and injected myself.

With myself now safely calm, I opened the door.

“You know,” the minotaur King... Prime Minister... thing said before I even opened the door, “making a ruler knock thrice is grounds for an execution. You're lucky.”

“That's bullsh-” I stopped myself when I realized that might be offensive to an actual bull. “I mean. Untrue.”

“Probably. I am actually leaving, but I thought I would give you some good news, and some bad news.” He smirked. “The good news, little pony, is you can live.” Here comes the catch. “The bad news is. To live you must do a task for us. That thing, on your leg, it allows you to spot hostiles, right? Including animals?”

“Anything hostile. Why?”

“This morning the NCA has officially declared war. We have been at war for years, but now it's in writing, which means... a lot of things.” He crossed his arms. “This base is secure because of the radscorpion infestation. They're all over your tunnels, but worse here, so none of you ponies have ventured through this tunnel, but now it will cause a problem. We need it for a surprise attack and cannot risk being caught by those bugs. We have managed to find out where the queen is, which should cut down on the scorpion menace, allowing us free movement, but it would go easier with your assistance. Since you are able to spot these things without sound or sight, bringing you along would help the team we are sending.”

“You want me to... help clear out the only thing stopping you from surprising one of NCA's largest bases, in exchange for my freedom?”

“Quite.”

“Okay.” He blinked at me, almost shocked, before grinning. It was either that or dying, and more importantly going on this mission would give me plenty of opportunity to escape without even doing the job. Considering he just confirmed that this train tunnel connected to the Dise underground.

“Good... good. Get your things in order, then talk to the guards. You'll be given the appropriate gear and instructions...” He stared at me for way too long before turning and walking away. It did not leave me feeling very hopeful.

I decided right away not to tell Serenity about the job. I for one didn't care about the NCA-Minotaur war, but she might, and I didn't want her to get the impression I sided with the minotaurs. Even if it was sort of true in this case, it wasn't true overall, because I really didn't care who won. No matter who won, Dise would lose, of this I was sure.

“Serenity.” I nudged her awake. “Wake up.” She blinked away and let out a heart-wrenchingly adorable yawn.

“Hmmm... hey Momma...” She rubbed her eyes. “We getta leave now?”

“Yes, sweetie. We need to do something first.” I explained to her the basic idea of what we had to do, but ignored the reason why. If anything, she would assume that it was to stop things like what happened to us yesterday. I also added the fact that if this was the 'Queen' it would reduce the rad-scorpion infestation under Dise. She seemed to agree with that, though she looked a bit worried at the prospect of going to hunt this thing. It was hard to reassure her of that, since I was just as worried, but given the circumstances...

It didn't take long for us to get our gear together, because we didn't really have much gear, and what we did have we’d never really unpacked. After some breakfast (grilled scorpion legs), we were taken to a large tent near the front of the tunnel camp.

Inside the tent I found myself surrounded by five rather large Minotaurs. All of them were decked out in heavy-looking black armour and large flamethrowers. The largest of the minotaurs opened the visor of his helmet and looked down at me. “Please relinquish your saddle weaponry and barding. We need to upgrade them with the proper equipment for this mission.” He looked over at my filly. “That might be difficult...”

“Okay...” I took off my battle-saddle and armoured barding and hoofed it over to the minotaur as requested, and he handed it over to a different minotaur who scooted out of the tent. “What is this about?”

“The most efficient way of handling the radscorpion threat is with fire. We are equipping you with a flamethrower, and upgrading your barding to make it at least partially fireproof. We are seeing if the filly can be made a set of barding, but if it is not possible, then she will be forced to stay here.” Let Serenity fight giant mutated bugs, or make her wait with minotaurs alone. What choices.

“I see.” I looked between them. “What exactly is my role...”

“You will point out groups so we can get the jump on them. Also, we have orders to kill you if you try to run off.” Well, that's no fun.

“Right. Gotcha. I wasn't planning on running anyway.” The minotaur gave me a level look and said nothing, but pulled his visor back down. “Okay...”

“Do you guys have names?” Serenity perked her ears up and looked between them. “My name is Serenity, and Momma's name is Hired Gun.” One of the Minotaurs snorted at the name. Still, after all these weeks, nobody believed it was my real name.

The lead minotaur didn't speak up, but one of them did. Given that she had no horns, I guess she was a cow. “Ignore him, little filly, he is just in a bad mood because he does not like your kind.” Her voice was muffled behind her mask, but it was still soft. She brought a hand to her chest. “I am Peace Of Mind, but you may call me Peace, or Pom.” She pointed out the two quiet minotaurs on either side of her, “These two are Forward Movement, and Forward Thinker. But we call them Move and Think.” Both grunted in greetings. The one she pointed to when she said 'Forward Movement' was a cow, like her, while the other was a bull. “And our fearless leader.” Fearless leader sort of sounds like a minotaur name. “Is Unrelenting Will.”

“Nice ta meet'cha!” Serenity smiled. “I like making new friends, are you my new friends now?”

“Sure, kid. And might I just say.” The cow looked at me. “I'm grateful that you saved our Prime Minister. It would be a hassle to do elections in a time like this.”

“Uh... you're welcome.” I took a seat on the ground. “How long is it going to take to get the gear?”

“A few hours. Intricate Detail likes to take his time.” Unrelenting Will said harshly. “Get comfortable.”

---

You know what is not comfortable? Sitting in a room with four giant minotaurs. Never before had I felt so out of place, and I almost always felt out of place no matter where I went. It got better though, after about an hour the minotaurs all but forgot we were there, which let me zone out.

Once the smallish minotaur (taller than me, but shorter than the others) Intricate Detail came back, I was finally able to get suited up. My barding had been turned into a full body black armour similar to the ones the minotaurs wore. The barding now covered all three of my legs completely (not my metal one though) except for a hole where my pipbuck screen was. It also came with a gas mask (Made for a pony, I didn't ask how they got it) that was slightly too small, and didn't match. The only part of the armour that wasn't changed at all were the pockets on the collar where I kept emergency supplies.

My battle-saddle was also tricked out with a new flamethrower, though they said I had to give it back after the mission, and a gas tank on my back. As well they fixed the feed system for Subtlety that Dragonslayer broke the day before.

Serenity's armaments were less impressive. She got what amounted to a large black fireproof sheet with a head hole cut in. Once she put it on, the sheet covered her tail and all four legs as if she had a blanket draped over herself. Which was essentially what it was. She also got a gas mask, but one far too large for her head (Her horn actually fit in the mask without a hole, not that she had a very large horn to begin with), heavily padded inside so it wouldn't wobble. What it did, though, was give the impression that she had a giant head. It was also, apparently, extremely hard to move her head with all that extra weight. I tried my very best not to laugh.

Apparently it wasn't even that hard to make either, given how fast Intricate managed to do all that work. Either that or he was some sort of mechanical savant. Probably the second, it was the wasteland after all.

Once I was properly instructed on the use of my new gear (It came with two firing bits now, one for each weapon. Mixing them up would be bad) and a short bit on tactics that I pretended to listen to, we left the tent. “Keep your eyes up,” Unrelenting Will said as we passed the barricade that marked the exit of the camp. “They could be anywhere.”

Part of me wanted to ask where exactly we were going, but I doubted that would have garnered much information, as it was probably already covered in the tactics meeting. Instead, I asked something stupid. “So, your name is Unrelenting Will?”

The larger minotaur looked down at me with a look of confusion before replying with a gruff, “Yes.”

“Are you related to Unbreakable Will?” That was the minotaur I found working for the Mustang water purification plant. Normally, I was bad at remembering names, but that one had stuck with me. The minotaur looked back down at me and nodded slowly.

“How do you know that disgrace?” Oh, well, that wasn't going well at all. “He is supposed to remain unseen. Don't tell me the fool was caught?” I was never going to understand the minotaur's sense of honour.

“Oh, ignore him.” Peace admonished Will. “He and his brother don't get along. Because...” She was swiftly cut off before she could say another word.

“That is none of the outsider’s business.” He looked back forward. “Speak no more of it or I'll cut your rations.”

“But then I'll just steal from you, sweetie.” She looked back to me. “He's so grumpy, this fearless leader of ours. Oh. He should have been named Fearless Leader. His father made a mistake in that account, but we all much pay for the sins of thy father, right Will?” The minotaur she was addressing move ahead and completely ignored us. I got the feel the two of them did this a lot.

Peace Of Mind snorted in response but made no move to continue the conversation, leaving me awkwardly standing between five stoic minotaurs, and one bored filly. “So.” The smallest of the minotaurs addressed me. “I have never seen a pony calf up close before.” He leaned in. “They are quite cute, I must say. Their eyes are so big, I am fairly sure that is what achieves the effect.”

“Foals.” Serenity corrected. “Pony children are called foals. The girls are fillies, and the boys are colts. Ya should really know this.”

“They also seem to be very intelligent and somewhat arrogant...” Intricate Design remarked, which elicited a glare from me. “Oh, I'm just teasing, Miss. Trying to lighten the mood.” No more was said by him, and he fell back into line as we walked.

The more we walked, it seemed, the quieter the group became. By the time we reached the door in the tunnel wall everyone was dead silent. Even their hoofsteps seemed lighter. The torch flickered in one of the minotaur’s hands as Unrelenting Will moved to open the door. He looked to me first, and it took me a second to remember why.

“Oh, right.” I said suddenly and looked at the EFS in my vision. We showed no red, and no amber except the people nearby. “All clear.” Unrelenting Will nodded silently to me and opened the door. Beyond it was almost exactly what I was expecting, a tunnel just like the ones that criss-crossed under Dise (though this one lacked the lighting). From here I would be able to get into Dise, so long as I didn't get lost... yeah, perhaps it was better to do the job and not risk getting shot, then lost.

Peace went next, followed by the twins, Intricate Detail, and finally Serenity and I. It was a nice change to the familiar. The tunnels of Dise had become as much a part of me as the city streets, even though not all memories in the tunnels were good. The darkness did not help the memories either. The last time I walked into darkened tunnels was... unpleasant to say the very least. Sometimes I could still hear words whispered on the wind. When the tunnels under Dise got dark, you didn’t stick around, you ran. As I walked, I wondered if I should have listened.

---

The tunnels were dark and empty. Each step we took echoed down the hall into the distance. I could hear the tension in the quiet breaths of my companions. Even Unrelenting Will seemed uneasy, his movements awkward and nervous. Serenity, for her part, spent most of the time on my back, hugging me close. The darkened tunnels were worse for her than they were for me, and once again I had dragged her into bitter memories.

Time seemed to slow as we moved along, helped in part by the quietness of my companions. Once or twice I saw a flash of red across my vision, but it went away before I could say anything. Even with my EFS, I was still on edge. Every creak could have been the scorpion swarm, every groan could have been a long dead ghoul searching for prey. Thankfully I found no ghouls, but as for scorpions, it was inevitable. That was what we were here for after all, so I had to expect them. To be ready for them.

I let out a shallow breath as red flashed across my vision. It didn't go away this time. “Stop.” My voice was a whisper. At the word, all the minotaurs stopped and became even more focused, if that was possible. “There's something.” The red blip moved to my right, but it vanished before quickly. “There was something to the right.”

The five of them heaved up their flamethrowers, and I felt myself adjusting mine. Directly to our right was a wooden door, and Unrelenting Will didn't even bother to try and unlock it. From a kick from one of his goat like legs the door fell inward. He peeked his head in and waved his torch around making shadows dance in the gloom. “Nothing,” he said. There was a pause in his voice. “Wait.” He leaned in a bit further, and brought his flamethrower to bear.

I was not expecting the heat to bathe over me the way it did when his weapon sent out a spurt of fire. I recoiled away instinctively, but only for a second. Never did I actually see what it was that he set on fire, but I did see the flames reflecting in the glass of his gas-mask, and his eyes underneath. They were narrowed, and his brow furrowed. I don't think he knew quite what it was that he was setting on fire, but I think whatever it was needed the fire.

“Let’s keep going.” He said grimly. None of us questioned his actions, or asked what he set on fire. I would like to believe it was just a stray scorpion.

That did nothing to help with the sense of tension in the darkened corridor. Instead it put everyone more on edge. The Minotaurs flanked to either side, with Peace at the back walking backwards, and Intricate Design in the centre of the formation with me.

“Open every door.” Unrelenting Force said as we moved again. “If anything moves burn it.” The tone of his voice was deathly serious, even by his standards. My gut twisted as the next door was kicked open by Peace Of Mind... and then set whatever was beyond on fire. I could hear her gulp when she was finished and step back into line. Nothing more was said, nothing more needed to be said.

“Do you think it's... that... thing?” Serenity asked into my ear.

“No.” It wasn't the orb, we buried that in a tunnel on the other side of Dise. Whatever they were seeing wasn't an illusion, though part of me wished it was. After my encounters with such magic it would be more familiar, more welcoming than whatever this was. “It's just a precaution.” I tried my best to be reassuring.


“Okay...” She said softly. “Are we ever going back there?”

“What?” Unrelenting Glare turned back to me. His eyes were obscured by his mask, and the gloomy light, but I got the feeling he was glaring at me for talking

“Back there... you told... Simple Heart... you said we would get that back. That thing.” The orb, right. I did say that didn't I. “And you normally keep your word...” Yeah, she had to bring my honour into it. My slavery, as a minotaur would put it.

“Yes.” It was my code, and I planned to keep it. Sometimes it was the only thing that made sense. “I'll... probably go alone. You don't need to.”

“Shut up,” Unrelenting Will hissed at us. “Intricate.” He motioned from the small minotaur over to a door in front of us to the right.

“Fine, fine. Make me do all the work. I'm a mechanic, not a soldier you know.” He walked over to the door muttering. “Work work work.” The wooden door creaked open and the minotaur peaked inside. “Hum. What is...” He brought his torch closer and waved it around. “Nothing.” he turned back towards the group. “There's a hole in the floor, but nothing more.” Red flashed on my EFS.

“Watch out.” I said quickly. It came out of nowhere and moved across my EFS indicator faster than it had any right too.

“Huh.” He turns back around. There was a gasp from his mask and he struggled to bring the nuzzle of his flamethrower up.

There was a sickening crunch. A black stinger burst out of the back of Intricate Detail in a spay of blood. His body went limp, but didn't fall. Instead the tail lifted him off the ground and slammed his body into the door frame. By the time he fell from the stinger if he was still alive, it wouldn't last for long. Not with that huge hole in him.

From the door the culprit scuttled out. A rad-scorpion the size of any pony. “Shit!” Peace Of Mind acted first, rushing forward with her flamethrower. The gout of orange fire licked the giant bug making it hiss. It tried to run around, but flame from Unrelenting's weapon blocked its path. By the time Forward Movement and Forward Thinker added their weapons to the attack the thing was a charred mass of flesh.

“Shit...” Peace Of Mind kicked the charred bug and looked down at Intricate Detail's corpse. She spoke some words in a whisper before leaning down to move his hands over his chest. “We need to keep going.”

“Yes,” Unrelenting Will agreed. “There's a hole in the room,” he said of the room Intricate Detail had tried to clear. “Go down there.” We really were quite crazy, weren't we. This mission was just... insane, in every way.

Peace Of Mind nodded and motioned for us to follow her in the room. Whatever the room was before the war, I couldn't really tell. With the only light being the flames, and my pipbuck, it was hard to see the room at all. The only thing I really had eyes for was the hole anyway. I kept staring, looking for signs of red, but I got nothing. When Peace saw that I saw no danger she jumped down into it first, making the room I was in that much darker. By the time the siblings went in, the room was all but dark.

“Hold on tight,” I whispered to Serenity. When I felt her hooves tighten around me, I jumped into the dark hole and landed with an echoing thud. It was strange though, just as I landed I thought I heard above me the sound of a flamethrower going off. The creature was dead though, so I wasn’t sure what he could be shooting at. And when Unrelenting jumped down beside us, he didn't say anything at all about it.

“This way.” The leader strode forward with his torch waving in front of him. He seemed to know where he was going, so we all followed. None of them said a word about the comrade they had just lost. It wasn't necessary, apparently.

When we entered hallway on the other side of the door, I saw the unmistakable sight of a red dot on my EFS. “To the right.” I whispered. “Hostiles. One... two... six... eight. Maybe more.” I looked down the hallway I said, but it stretched on further than my EFS could read. Unrelenting Will let out long burst of flame down the way I pointed.

The hallways became alive with light and shadows for a second, enough to see that on the other side were maybe a dozen smaller scorpions. At the flames they started to skitter towards us, but when the first few were roasted by flames the rest of them scattered into the darkness.

Unrelenting Will didn't say anything, but he started moving down that hallway so we all followed, more on guard now than ever. Peace walked behind me backwards, her flamethrower perpetually hefted into one hand and pointing wherever she looked, while the siblings walked to either side and sent a blast of flame into every doorway we passed, just in case. A few of the times they did that I could hear hissing in pain.

“Are we going the right way?” I asked after a few minutes of eerie silence. It was more to hear my own voice than my actual curiosity. Although, it was a bit odd we jumped down a hole. That couldn't have been in any map.

“Yes,” he said hoarsely. There was nothing else to be said, and I was not about to question him further. Just keep walking and hope we survive. It did ruin my plan of running away, though. I didn't really want to get lost in this place.

“Maybe we should have brought a larger force.” Five minotaurs and me seemed a bit small for something this crucial. I mean, I was a one pony army, but there were a lot of these bugs.

“Don't you ever shut up?” If he thought I talked a lot, he would never ever want to meet Flare. Or Serenity on sugar. She was very quiet right now (as she often got when things were tense) but on sugar...

Still, at that I shut up. I gathered there was some reason why the squad was so small, and I had a feeling that it had something to do with the minotaurs’ sense of honour. Maybe they had committed some crime, and their punishment was this suicide mission. It'd explain why the Minotaur King seemed sure I was going to object to the job. He, of course, made the foolish mistake of thinking I was smart. But I showed him.

A red dot flashed across my vision. I followed it with my eyes so I could get an idea of where it was, and where it was going. I really wished EFS actually showed height. The red blotch on my EFS could be right around the corner, or a floor down, it was impossible to tell. Still, when I noticed it slow and stop on the right, I had to say something. “Next hallway, on the right.”

Unrelenting Will grunted a response and motioned for the rest of us to hang back. I wasn't about to argue if he wanted to take on... whatever it was that was on my EFS. He inched forward carefully, and peered around the corner. When he seemed to be satisfied with what he saw he turned into the hallway.

Only to gasp. His torch fell from his hand as his arm shot out suddenly. He gave out a loud grunt and stepped back a few feet letting his foe come into view. It was a rad-scorpion (no surprises there) bigger than the one that killed Intricate Design. Unrelenting had his hand holding onto the creature’s stinger, barely holding it back. When it tried to forget its stinger and rush forward with its claws Unrelenting very calmly reached out a hoof and slammed it into the creatures head holding it back.

For all the confidence in his face, I could hear him grunt to try and hold the creature back. It was far too close to use his flamethrower, which really only left one option.

I slid into SATS and queued up a single shot to the bugs side. When I slipped out of it, Subtlety let out a blisteringly loud roar, and the a hole tore into the creature’s side. It let out a pitiful screech before falling silent and motionless.

“What did you do that for!” Unrelenting wiped his bloody hand on his armour before turning to me. “I had it taken care of.” Oh, I'm sure he did.

“Trying to speed things up,” I remarked dryly eliciting a slight chuckle from Peace.

“Ugh. We must continue to mo-” He stopped mid-word and looked around. “Check your scanner.” he must have been talking about my EFS. So I did. Oh...

“Lots more red dots coming this way.” I motioned to the hallway the radscorpion Unrelenting fought came from. When I looked around again to double check I noticed something much more distressing. “And a lot coming behind us... like a lot, a lot.” Apparently they didn't cull as many as they thought yesterday because in both those directions my EFS was just a solid wall of red.

This left us with one direction. Forward. As it was the way we were going anyway, everyone took off in a sprint. Which for me was a jog, as I didn't want to get too far ahead of them and end up alone. Minotaurs were really slow (and top heavy), but we had enough of a head start that I think we were in the clear. We would be caught up with eventually, but unlike last time I didn't think we'd be completely overrun.

I'm also an idiot.

Instead of giving us enough time to regroup, the massive swarm caught up with us within the minute. I could hear their chattering behind us, and sure enough when I looked back I could see claws starting to appear in the gloom of our torch light. With that incentive I started to run fast, hopefully urging my companions to move faster than they had been. Not that it worked.

“Turn and spray.” All at once the four remaining minotaurs turned and let out bursts of flame. “Momma!” Serenity instructed me, so I turned and let my flamethrower go with them. The familiar heat washed over me and I was glad that my barding was fire-proofed. Serenity let out a little squeal and I felt her duck behind me for cover.

The end result was a literal wall of flame stopping the creatures dead, though behind the fire I could see more moving, waiting for the flames to die down. Unrelenting Will grunted at the sight, then turned and hurried down the hallway, eager to put as much distance between us as possible. Part of me wondered why leave at all, we had enough fuel to kill them all. Still, I wasn't about to fight them all on my own so I followed eagerly.

“Their queen has to be around here...” Unrelenting Will grunted back to us. “We're in the heart of their nest.” He could say that again. Every direction I looked I saw smatterings of red. Too much to even think about calling out all of them. Unless I saw something important.

Like when we reached the end of a hallway, with two doors on either side. One had a solid wall of red behind, the other, only one. “Right.” I said quickly. “Left has more scorps.”

The lead minotaur grunted and moved to kick the door down, and before he even did all of us moved to go through. I didn't notice until halfway through his kick that there was light pouring through the cracks around the door frame, and being so close to the door made my pipbuck’s geiger counter start clicking. Sunlight burst from the now open door into our eyes. After so long in the dim light of torches the light was nearly blinding, but it didn't stop all of us from charging blindly forward.

Of course, I only had one eye that needed to adjust, my other say everything just fine. If I wasn't being pushed forward by a bunch of large minotaurs I would have stopped and run.

In the centre of the room was the largest scorpion I had ever seen. It could easily outsize a verti-buck (though still smaller than a land shark) and its black carapace seemed to shine in the sunlight. Its two massive claws could have easily cut a pony in two without much effort. As soon as I stopped being pushed I stared so dumbfounded at it I couldn't even comprehend our surroundings.

“Momma... what is...” I could hear the fear in her voice. Right! She needed a place to hide. My gaze was torn away from the giant (now screeching) beast to scan the room.

The first thing I noticed was that that the circular room was cut in half. There was a whole section missing and led out into space, and it took me a second to realize what I was seeing. The crater outside Dise that I had seen yesterday, I was in it, well I was right beside it. It managed destroy the section of tunnel, leaving a gaping hole. All I would need to do was run out that hole and I'd probably fall into the massive crater. Part of me remembered what Flare said yesterday, that strange mutations seemed to happen to things that got too close to it, and I had to wonder if that was what had caused the scorpion to grow so large.

The rest of the room was empty, except for patches of strange black ichor. All along the walls and floor were small holes, large enough for smaller rad scorpions to leave from, but not enough for any of us, not counting Serenity. What it did leave were various piles of rubble around the edge of the room. “Serenity, hide.”

“B-but...” She started to protest but I turned and gave her a look through my mask. It was enough for her to nod and run off to hide behind a pile of rubble, though I was sure I saw her float out her pistol as she ran.

“Forward.” Unrelenting Will commanded. “Try to force it off the edge.” That was actually a good plan. As big as it was I doubted it could survive the fall, and it was much easier than trying to kill it normally due to the fact it was really fucking huge.

The five of us made a semi-circle and all at once let out matching jets of fire. The creature let out a hideous shriek in pain and recoiled from the flames. As it did, I felt the tension in my stomach lift. Maybe we could actually kill this monstrous thing. It was backing up the way we wanted. All together we took a step forward, and the wall of fire made it recoil more, inching closer to the edge.

We could actually win this, I could actually do this. After so many failures I had a chance to do something good. To start making up for the past. Sure it was going to help the minotaurs, but I had heard stories of radscorpions infesting the tunnels under Dise, and have seen it for myself on multiple occasions. If this could help stop them, halt their growth, it would be something. Maybe only a little thing, but dammit I deserved to be proud of something. I needed to prove to myself that I could do it, I could change the way the my life was heading. I just needed to push a little further.

The creature crawled back more, hissing in pain. I could smell charred meat, and see smoke rising from the great beast’s black shell. I licked my lips and pressed forward again, ignoring the intense heat scalding at my armour. Just a little further. Just a little.

Forward Movement's flamethrower took that moment to sputter out of fuel, leaving a gap in flame wall. Before any of us had a chance to respond the giant beast’s tail snapped.

When I turned my head in shock toward the sound I saw the Minotaur impaled on the beast’s spiny tail. He made a weak gurgle before falling limp. The tail was torn out of the corpse in a spray of blood and entrails that made my stomach turn.

“NO!” Forward Thinker shouter. The two of them were so quiet I had almost forgotten they could talk at all, and more importantly I forgot they were siblings.

“Get back in line!” Unrelenting Will tried to order, but the cow didn't listen. She dropped her flamethrower and rushed to her brothers corpse. I understood; if it had been my brother (as much as we disagreed) I might have acted similarly, but it left a gap in our wall. It gave us an increasing chance of failure. It-

Something cracked into me and I was pushed over tumbling onto my side.

With a groan of pain, I brought a hoof to my chest, but winced away when I touched it. It was like someone had set my side on fire. There were shouts around me, and the sound of the creature moving far too fast. When I looked up I saw it towering over Forward Thinker.

The cow looked up at the beast, and to her eternal credit, reached for her backup rifle and even managed to get off a single shot. It was too little too late. The radscorpion queen's claw moved forward and, with sickening ease, cut the minotaur in half.

“Shit.” I muttered as I struggled to my hooves. I didn't have time for panic, or worry. All I could do was fight, and try to survive.

I fired Subtlety into the side of the beast, and when the bullet tore a chunk from its shell it let out a frightful screech. It distracted the beast that Will and Peace (who had been pushed to the other side of the beast) were able to light it up its side with their flamethrowers.

The queen did not die though. I shot it three more times in the side, and still it just refused to die. On the contrary it swung its massive claw through the jets of fire into the two minotaurs. The fire was cut short and I saw the two slam into a wall. The scorpion's tail turn to the now defenceless minotaurs, and looked ready to fight.

So I stopped time.

I slid into SATS And lined out a shot at tip of the queen's tail. When I came out of the pipbuck's spell Subtlety fired. The bullet ripped into the tail, not cutting off the end but leaving a massive hole. The creature once again screeched in pain, and the pause allowed the two minotaurs time to move away from the creature.

Unfortunately the only way the two could retreat was closer to the edge where the room was cut off by the crater. “Shit.” I dimly heard Unrelenting Will growl as he banged his claw against this side of his Flamethrower. He dropped the weapon and pulled out his assault rifle.

The bull let out a spray of bullets at the back of the scorpion as it moved to turn around. Perhaps this was our chance. It was big, but slow, and maybe.... I moved forward, blasting at its side with my flamethrower. Peace too used her still-working flamethrower to char at the areas that Unrelenting was shooting at. We still had a chance. Even three members down, and in pain from the beast’s attacks, we could still come out on top. We just had to push a little bit harder.

I fought through the pain (not enough time to grab a med-x) and moved forward as fast as I could. The fire from my weapon sprayed across the side of the creature’s shell, burning and melting as it did so. The heat that washed over me was intense, but I kept pressing into the attack. I could survive a few small burns, so long as we survived this. So long as I could get Serenity out alive.

Then the stupid thing had to do something unexpected. It started backing up, really fast.

Without even bothering to turn around it charged blind into the heat and gunfire. Peace Of Mind was swift enough to dodge, but Unrelenting Will was hit hard and sent stumbling back towards the edge. He seemed to regain his balance just as he was balancing on the edge of the room.

Then a piece of the floor gave out on him. He slipped, his back slammed into the corner of the edge before he rolled off the side. Not completely though. I could barely see that he managed to grab on to the edge with his claw.

“Will!” Peace didn't drop her flamethrower, or stop praying, but she did edge towards where he hung. Maybe if I distracted the thing she'd have a chance.

So I fired Subtlety into its side until I had to reload. It seemed to work. The creature turned to me and screeched out in pain. As it started walking towards me I noticed it seemed unsteady, and ichor dripping from innumerable wounds. We were wearing it down. Just a little longer and maybe we could get it to bleed out. I lowered my bruised body and let out a spray of fire from my battle saddle.

“Fight me!” I yelled at it, really hoping to keep its attention more than anything. I bit down harder and let another blast of fire wash over the creature. It seemed to balk and give me time to look over to see how the minotaurs were doing.

Not good, as it turned out. Peace had managed to grab Unrelenting's hand and was struggling to pull him up, but she wasn't having much luck. As much as she grunted and pulled, he wasn't coming over the edge, and she didn't look like she was about to back down.

Crack.

The floor they were on shook for a second. Then it broke. One second the two minotaurs were there struggling to get back into the room, the next they were gone. Vanished. Dimly I thought I heard a distant thud of landing far below, but I couldn't be sure.

My head turned back to the giant scorpion that was now renewing its effort to kill me. The fight had started with five of us, and I was the only one left. In such a short time. Fuck. Fuckity fuck. My eyes darted to the entrance of the room. Screw this mission. Screw this radscorpion queen. I was done. I let out a final blast of fire to warn the queen away, then turned.

“Serenity!” I started to move towards Serenity had hidden, “We need to get out of he-” A sharp pain made my words die in my throat and turn into a muffled scream.

My head turned back, towards the pain. The burning sensation like fire under my skin. My leg. My left hind-leg was pierced through by a black stinger. My body froze in place. I couldn't move, I could barely comprehend the sensation. I wanted to laugh, to cry, to scream, but all actions failed me.

Until I was lifted into the air by my impaled leg, and I was able to truly understand the enormity of the situation I was in. Looking down I could see myself rising higher above the ground. I panicked, my legs kicking wildly as I tried to dislodge myself. It didn't work. Nothing seemed to work. I kept flailing, but I was still in so much pain, and still hanging about to die. It was only when the queen started to lower me within range of one of her giant claws that I saw my chance.

The hole I had blown in the tail earlier. There was a huge chunk missing, and it looked weak. Maybe... I kicked my free hind leg at the wound. The creature gave a hiss, but I was still moving towards the claw. Another kick. I was in between the two parts of the claw, and it was about to snap shut. There was no time for panic, or fear. All I could do was kick with all my might and pray that Celestia was merciful.

She was. The kick snapped the end tail off, and I fell.

I landed head first in a heap on the ground with the claw snapping above me. My whole body was wracked with pain, but I was alive. Somehow, against all odds. As the scorpion scurried away backwards I moved to get back to my hooves. There was still time. We could still escape.

For some reason I fell when I tried to stand. I couldn't understand it. Why was I falling, what happened. Why did my leg stop hurting so much. My eyes scanned the room, maybe I tripped, maybe. My brain wasn't working, and my eyesight was getting blurry. How could this...

My leg. I saw it. It was lying on the ground a few feet away with the barbed stinger still in it. Why was it over there? It was bleeding. Was I bleeding? It didn’t make any sense. Why could I think. What had... my eyes fell to my hind leg... to where my hind leg was supposed to be, but it wasn't there anymore. It was cut off at middle, leaving only a bloody stump. So much blood. It was already pooling around me. My leg it was...

Gone. Cut off. How could this... how...

“MOMMA WATCH OUT!”

My bleary eyes looked up. The Scorpion was mad. Charging at me. Oh. I was going to die anyway. It seemed funny. After everything. I would die like this. Part of me wanted to laugh, but I had misplaced my voice.

“NO!”

A light pink field enveloped the scorpion. It started screaming. In pain. At least it moved its mouth like it was, I couldn't hear anything. The creature started flailing. And backing up. Serenity was doing... something to it. It slammed into the door we used to get into the room.

“Momma shoot it!” Shoot. With...? Right... My gun...

I still had Subtlety. I could still survive. So I struggled to my three legs. My vision was blurry though. And I couldn't stand straight. But I had to shoot. To...

So I slipped into SATS. Time stopped and the fog over my brain was lifted. I aimed a shot with the targeting system right at the creature's eye. The bullet tore into it, and it cried out in pain. I was still wobbly, and it wasn't dead. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw Serenity firing her gun too, but it was hard to tell. Sounds seemed so muted.

When SATS recharged I went into it again and fired another shot. This time it didn't scream. It didn't fight. It just slumped over. Dead. Please let it be dead. Not that I could check. As soon as it fell I did too. I was losing blood. I seemed to be fading. Part of me said I needed to survive, but the rest said I've done enough today, and I had to sleep.

It seemed like a smart voice, I thought as the world greyed around me. Sleep seemed nice.

---

“Where am I?!” The light was burning my eyes, and I could hardly see. “Where?!” My hooves were strapped down. That was silly. I could lie down just fine on my own.

“Sweetie,” A familiar voice called out in the blinding light. “Calm down.” When my eyes adjusted I saw I recognized the voice. She was a friend of Mamma, but I could never remember her name. Wait. Momma.

“Momma!” I screamed. “What happened...? Where...?” The memories were blurry. The last thing I remember was that olive stallion. He had a gun. There was a lot of pain. So much pain. And momma was bleeding. I tried to save her. Did I? Had I managed to save her? “Is she... can I see her? Please...”

Momma, please. You have to be alright.

The mare shook her head. What was her name? “I'm... I'm so sorry sweetie she... she didn't make it.” Didn't make it. She was... oh... I was a stupid foal, but even I knew what that meant.

“I...” I wanted to cry, to feel sad, but I couldn't. I just felt... numb.

They were talking to me, I saw their mouths moving, and I heard the sounds, but they didn't become words in my head. Just... sounds. Meaningless, abstract. The ponies in front of me, I knew them, but not their names. They made pointless sounds, they tried to sound reassuring, but it meant nothing. Just noise. So I didn't pay attention. When I asked about my brother they made more noises, comforting noises, but still useless. All that mattered was that he was gone. Forever they said. Their noises couldn't stop that.

You have to live... I can't lose you... please... I can fix it...

They had to be lying. I decided this with sincerity. They were lying to me. Momma couldn't be dead. Brother couldn't be gone. I tried to move, but they stopped me. They said I was shot. With a bullet. Another lie. Bullets were deadly, momma always said, and I was alive. I squirmed in their strangle hold, and eventually they let me go.

I stood up on the ground. My body was sore, but like the noises they made it didn't mean anything. I walked out, into the open. It was raining outside. Cold rain on my coat. Momma always said should stay inside when it rained, but I had to go out. I had to find her. They were lying, and I had to find momma. So it was okay to be out in the rain.

My legs carried me without thinking. Towards where it happened. When I found the bullets, where Momma was... where I would find Momma alive. She had to be there. She wouldn't leave me, she would never leave me because I needed her and she loved me. She always loved me. Just a little bit further and I would find her waiting for me.

Bang Bang Bang

The memory of the bullet hit me. The pain in my chest, the struggle to move. Maybe they weren't lying about that part, maybe the noise was right... but then maybe they were right about momma too. How could I know. I had to see. So I ignored the memory, and ignored the pain, and kept walking to where I knew I would find momma.

Tears stung my eyes but I wasn't sure why. Everything felt numb, except the tears. They were real, they meant something even though everything felt meaningless.

I saw it. The building we were supposed to scavenge. It wasn't empty though, there was a red ball lying there in the grey rain. Why... as I walked closer I saw Cakewalk... or Wildfire, whatever her name was. She was crying too. Curled up in a ball, she was crying. Even though I think she was asleep.

I walked up to her and looked over her. She was a small filly. Such a small filly, and she was crying, but why? I was too dumb, and I couldn't figure it out. I leaned down and nosed at her cheek, but she just whined and turned her head away. She needed to wake up, if she slept out here she was going to get a cold. How could I wake her up though?

Boom

I blinked my eye in confusion and looked around. Was that an explosion... no. It must have been my imagination. But whatever it was Wildfire heard it too because she was sitting up now, her eyes bloodshot red and staring at me. “You... you did this.” She sniffled. “Daddy... he was protecting you and your stupid mother!” She was yelling at me, but I understood those noises. What she meant. She was angry.

“I'm sorry...” I choked up, the words hurt to speak. “What happened...”

“They shot him... daddy... because...” She started to cry again. “Leave me alone. I want... I want to be alone.” No... her daddy was alive. Along with my mom. She just had to believe.

“You'll catch a cold... lets go... back... you don't want a cold.” I tried to tell her, but the words came out slow and awkward. It was cold and wet, and she would get sick. We could wait for them inside Marefort. Wait for our parents to come back.

“No...” She stood up aggressively. “Leave me alone! I-” She was being silly. So before she could finish talking, I picked her up onto my back and started walking towards Marefort. “What are you doing?! Put me down!”

I didn't, and when I didn't respond to her, she returned to her quiet sobbing. She shouldn't cry, it was just going to make her more wet. And it was raining so we were already wet enough. I couldn't blame her though, I was crying too. Not as much. She cried more.

I walked her through the gloom of the rainy evening and into Marefort. I paused right before the door to decide. Part of me wanted to go my house, but... but I wanted Wildfire to be comfortable. She was the sick one, or she was going to be. So instead I started walking towards the ramp that led to the second level. I remembered the way, I had ran up that way being chased by my brother earlier that day. It seemed so long ago. Like it happened to another pony. A younger one.

I reached the top of the stairs. There were so many stairs in Marefort, and it wore me down, and it took a long time. As I walked ponies spoke to me, noises in the back of my head. I couldn't hear them, not their words, so I didn't acknowledge them. Instead I kept carrying Wildfire up and up. To where her home was at the highest point in the mess that was Marefort.

By the time I reached the top I heard snoring. Wildfire, she was asleep on my back. She cried herself to sleep, that seemed nice.

Is she gunna wake up?

I don't know... give her time.

I opened the door to her house, and realized I had never been there before. It was really small, much smaller than my house. There was only a single room, with a table in the centre, and two beds on either side of it. There was no way of knowing which bed was hers so I walked over to the closest and placed her on it as gently as I could. I was dumb, but strong. Everypony in Marefort agreed on that.

When she was safely on the bed I pulled the blanket up and tucked it in tight like Momma used to do to me. That would stop her from getting sick. I was sure of it.

When that was done I... didn't know what to do. I had to go search for Momma, but I didn't want to leave Wildfire. She might have been sick. Very sick, she was outside in the rain for so long. So... Momma could wait. She'd still be there. I would look the next day. There was a free bed so I walked towards it.

“Silver...” Wildfire said groggily. I must have woken her up. If everything wasn't so numb I might have felt bad. “Your cutie-mark.”

But I didn't have a cutie-mark. I was a late bloomer, momma always said. When I looked at my flank to confirm... I was wrong. My cutie-mark was there. Three brown rocks... that meant something, though I wasn't sure what. It was too hard to think.

Instead I fell into the second bed, and went to sleep. I could figure out what my cutie-mark after I found Momma. She would know. She knew everything, and she would always be there for me. Always...

---

I woke up to the sound of my pipbuck clicking. My eyes opened and the dream faded. My cutie-mark, three brown rocks. I never did figure out what it meant, anymore than I found my dead mother.

“You're awake?” A muffled voice asked.

“Yes I-” I froze when I looked up. A bug, with glowing eyes. The Scorpion queen. It was talking to me! It was!

It was just a mask. My mind figured it out slowly. A helmet, armour. Enclave armour, I knew it. The enclave had found me. “Calm down.” Now the enclave was telling me to calm down. I didn't feel calm. I felt sore, and groggy, and... alive. I was alive. How was.

My eyes looked around the room. The corpse of the giant scorpion was lying in front of the door, with a blown out wall beside it. And... more scorpions, three small ones littered the nearby room. What had happened. How much had I missed? My eye fell to my leg, my back one. To see what was left.

To my surprise there were robotics there, not very complex robotics, but since my leg was cut below the hock, they didn't need to be. Serenity must have done that... and...

“What... what happened?” My voice was a whisper, and even that was painful.

“You,” the Enclave said to me, “almost died. Seems to happen a lot to you. You're lucky your daughter here--” Serenity! I looked around and found her hugging me in her sleep. She looked... almost peaceful. “Is so damn amazing. She managed to stop your blood loss and make a quick replacement leg. I'm sure House will get you a new one.” My daughter. She was amazing. So amazing. I needed to give her candy. So much candy.

“Who... Flare?”

“The very same.” The Enclave pegasus nodded.

“What... how did you find me... why are you... wearing that?” Why did it hurt so much.

“Pipbuck tags. It made you easy to locate, hard to find.... As for the armour,” he sighed, “It blocks radiation, and there’s a lot to block. As soon as you're ready we're heading back to Dise. Mr. House will want to see you and... and you'll want to see what happened.” Back to Dise. To see the fallout of my mistakes.

I didn't want to see it, but it was something I had to face.


Level Up!

Skill Note: Guns 100!

New Perk: Monster Hunter: Hunting down giant creatures takes a certain type of pony. You gain +10% against all mutated wildlife, and 24% poison resistance. As if you weren’t completely immune already.

((A/N: Is this thing on? It is! Hi, I’m No One and yes, I do still exist. It has been a hectic few months and I am terribly sorry for the lack of updates. A little while back I lost my job and between that and fighting to get EI [so as to buy food and other lovely things] I sort of went into a depressive state which made writing extremely difficult. I’m still unemployed, but I got EI, and I’ve been feeling better so with any luck I’ll provide you, my fabulous readers, with more sub-par post-apocalyptic pony goodness. Thank you so much for your patience.

I would like to thank Kkat for creating Fallout Equestria, as well as my current editors who make this stuff readable: theBSDude, Menti, and Julep. I would also like to thank my friends on the FOE:IRC who have helped me through this difficult time by being awesome people. And finally I would like to thank my faithful readers. If you’re still reading this after two paragraphs of wangst you must have a strong will and kind heart. ~No One~))

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