• Published 1st Mar 2013
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Fallout: Equestria Rise from the Ashes - Nightrein

A name. The most integral thing to anypony; even when the Wasteland leaves nothing left of you, you always have your name. After a brutal attack, one stallion awakes to find even that is lost to him. Can he survive on the one lead he has to his past?

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Chapter 6 - The Burdens of the Present

Chapter 6 - The Burdens of the Present
“She couldn’t be right. I was better than that. I had to be better than that.”


Fear is powerful. Fear can consume all rational thought, all identity, and all of your senses in an instant. Fear is a reaction to something that threatens you; it’s a response when you’re in danger. Fear, for some, can be a motivator - if they fear something resulting from inaction, they can use it to drive themselves to do what, under normal circumstances, they could never or would never even attempt. Fear leads you to either flee or act. In that way, fear is simple by nature.

What I felt, beholding the sight before me, was not fear. Fear seemed almost a welcome change that I would embrace, had I the choice. But no, I had no fear to drive me to either take Skydive and run, or immediately attack what was in front of me. I had no fear to shut away my thoughts and frantic fantasies about how the creatures I was looking at were even possible. Instead, what I felt rooted me in place and prevented me even closing my eyes. What I felt…

...was terror.

* * *

“So… from what I’ve been able to understand, you have no memory of who we are. Is that so?” I didn’t reply. I didn’t even nod.

“He can’t remember anything,” Tamber replied once she realized I wasn’t about to. My eyes lingered on her mouth full of wicked-looking canine teeth. What was she? What had she gone through to become… this?

“I asked him, not you. Quiet,” Lamia scolded with a nasty tone. Tamber seemed caught between an angry glare and a look of shame. I heard a shaking sound from the chair beside me, partially breaking my frightened stupor. Skydive was shivering, though not terribly, with her gaze locked on the endless white of the not-a-pony in front of her’s eyes. Shock was clearly being no kinder to her than it was to me.

“Cinder?” Lamia called, still trying for an answer from me. I swallowed hard, trying to use the distraction I had from Skydive to stave off the overwhelming terror I couldn’t seem to break myself from.

“N-no, I… I don’t,” I choked out. I could hear another tremor from Sky.

“Hm. Oh, where are my manners…” she said with a chuckle before turning to a doorway at my right. “We need water,” she called out to whatever lay beyond the doors. “So sorry, you must be simply parched after all that time out in the desert.” After a few moments, a purple-robed pony trotted in carefully, balancing a dish with several glasses of water on her back. I leered at the hood, worried of what abomination this one could be. As she slid the platter onto the table, nudging it toward me with her muzzle, I only saw a regular pony’s face. A light orange coated mare peered up at me cautiously before dropping her head to face the floor again. “You may go,” Lamia instructed, levitating one of the elegant-looking glasses of water toward herself. The mare quickly backed away and went back through the doors, closing them quickly behind her.

“Here.” Lamia levitated a glass to Skydive and I, then to each of her companions. I noticed - trying to stave off the paralysing fear as best as I could - that she hadn’t passed a glass to either Tamber or the white-eyed stallion Sky was still staring at. Lamia made it fairly obvious she either disliked or had no respect for Tamber, but why keep a glass from the creep to her left?

I heard Skydive mutter something unintelligible. Turning, I saw she had finally averted her gaze from the pupilless stallion and to her glass. I glanced down to it only to find the water was beginning to freeze in the glass. Sky wasn’t shivering from fear, (or at least not entirely) whatever that freak in front of her was doing was actually freezing her!

I quickly grabbed the nearest leg of Sky’s chair and pulled it around my own, slotting her between Tamber and I - notably away from Mr. Freeze. Skydive didn’t seem to react whatsoever, as if she didn’t even notice.

“Are you alright?” Lamia questioned. There was some kind of hidden spite under the innocent-sounding tone of hers. I think I understood what Sky meant about the (admittedly hot) mare out in the garden…

“I think-” I began, only to cut myself off as I looked back up at her. Her own glass was frozen, and the mare to her right’s seemed to have tiny shards of ice floating in it. Lamia paid no honest attention to me, she was glancing between all the glasses. And smiling. For some reason, I lost my nerve to speak.

Tamber darted her eyes between Sky and myself before hesitantly speaking, “I think he wants to-”

“Cinder can answer for himself, for the last time!” Lamia interrupted angrily. “Cinder… is everything al-”

“No.” Lamia seemed a bit startled that I cut her off. “I think Sky and I will be leaving.” I kept my eyes firmly locked on anything that wasn’t the group on the other side of the table. The moment I looked back over at Lamia… something was wrong here, and I did not want to find out what it was the hard way.

“Dinner hasn’t even arrived yet, and we have so much to catch up on… are you sure?” she questioned in her poisonously innocent voice.

“Maybe some other time,” I claimed - an offer I had no intention of following through with. Under my breath, “I think I’ve lost my appetite.”

* * *

I slowly walked Skydive down the halls toward my room. She was still out of it, only occasionally muttering unintelligible noises as if she was asleep. For all I knew, she might be. Tamber was supporting her since I couldn’t risk lifting her myself. I grimaced - despite all she’d done for me, I couldn’t even help her stand without hurting her. This was complete garbage, and I felt no better than that.

At least it seemed like I’d found someone to trust in Tamber. She was willingly helpful (beyond belief), and Lamia seemed rather poorly dispositioned toward her. If I hadn’t trusted her in the first place, and she didn’t like Tamber, then Tamber was likely on my side. As for the rest of those creeps… they’d already hurt Skydive. It would take a lot to convince me they weren’t enemies, no matter how ‘polite’ they tried to act.

“All these nasty terms… ‘freak’, ‘creep’, ‘abomination’... since when were you so ‘normal’ that you could judge?” an unwelcome rasp made an appearance in my head. Fuck off, I growled inwardly. Of all things right now, the last I needed was his input.

“Oh, they’re fairly scary, I won’t deny it. That two-headed one especially. But really… you’re so frightened by something that could be much, much worse. To the point of labelling them freaks before you even know them, even. That’s a terrible way to make friends, you know.” As if you would know the first thing about making a friend. You’re a voice in one pony’s head, and all you’ve done is piss him off, I retorted, trying hard not to accidentally start talking out loud. It was harder than I thought it would be.

“I know plenty on the subject. But that’s not a conversation you deserve to have.” I huffed. How arrogant can someone in a position as low as his possibly get? “But really… you should stop insulting them so much. After all… you are one of them, remember?” he trailed off laughing. I… no, no, I was not one of those… things! I palled around with them, but I wasn’t whatever they were. I was a pony - regardless of my burning touch - through and through! If I was one of them, why did I look exactly like a pony instead of being deformed like they were?

“That’s what I mean. You think you’re that much above them, that you’re ‘normal’ compared to them. Just because you look different doesn’t mean you are different.” No… no, you’re wrong, I argued internally. “At least you can tell with them! They actually look like the monsters they are. It could be worse… they could be like you.” I couldn’t even keep stammering in my head to drown him out. “Your little ‘friend’ Skydive was oh-so-terrified when she saw them. Just wait until she realizes she just can’t see it in you.” I bit my lip, trying to hold back a scream for him to shut up. My gaze shifted to Sky. “You’re what could be worse, Cinder. Just as much of a terrifying, threatening monster… but she won’t be able to tell until it’s too late…”

No… he was wrong… I… he was wrong! She knew! She… she knew, and she accepted me despite it! I wasn’t the same as them, and I never would be! Even if I had the same power for the same reasons, we were… we were different fundamentally. I had control, and I exercised it. I kept the worst of what that stupid bastard of a voice could do at bay. If I had this burning touch for the same reason they looked like they did, then I had the reins on him; I was able to keep my own appearance. He was wrong! He had to be wrong… if he wasn’t, and I was just another monster…

...he had to be wrong…

* * *

Skydive was fast asleep on the bed. She was no longer cold, but we layered on some extra blankets just to be safe. Now, Tamber sat in a well-preserved felt chair in the corner of the room beside the bed, while I lay on the same couch from before.

“Alright,” I broke the silence. Tamber turned to me with devoted attention. “I have to know… what the hell were they?” She sighed.

“I still can’t believe you really don’t remember anything… it must be so hard. Well… Miss Lamia refuses to tell me very much; what I know I’ve had to get from her muttering to herself or writing down somewhere. I’m guessing you mean why we look… different?” I nodded. “Well… you’re right if you guessed we’re not exactly the standard definition of ‘pony’ anymore. Miss Lamia calls us Subjugators. Well… them; she mostly just calls me ‘mutt’ or something. Whatever that means… anyway, we’ve all gone through some kind of event or process or something like that which got us like we are now.

“From what she actually told me, we’re all a hybrid of sorts. We’ve been… ‘mixed’ somehow with other animals and creatures. For example, I’m part wolf.” That explained… a hell of a lot, actually. “Ben - the two-headed guy - is part Hydra. He’s real nice, by the way. Just don’t talk to Mal… he’s a jerk.”

“Mal being…?”

“The other head, the nasty one that’s always got an angry look.” I nodded, not certain I wanted to talk to either of them. “Let’s see… Lily - err, Vena… she’s got some spider in her. Honestly, she’s really creepy… I don’t know why Miss Lamia likes her so much. She has these little pet spiders, and it’s just plain freaky, y’know? And the damn things are everywhere. Like little spies or something… I make a point of stepping on ‘em when I see ‘em.”

“Doesn’t that piss her off?” I asked, wondering if this was how Tamber may have gotten on Lamia’s bad side. Tamber shrugged with a grin.

“You never seemed to care.” Right… maybe that’s how both of us got on her bad side.

“What about the white one, the one that was… whatever the hell he was doing. What’s he?”

“Oh, Rime? I… I really don’t know. Neither does Ben; if Vena did, she wouldn’t tell me. He’s only been here for a few days, actually. He’s why I’m a bit wary about Miss Lamia, he suddenly appeared rather quickly after you vanished. And he looks a lot like one of the Orchid guys.”

“Orchid guys?” I asked, wishing she would realize that no memory meant no memory. I wasn’t about to recognize little terms she, or perhaps I, used to use.

“You’ve seen some of them, I’m sure. They go around wearing those silly purple robes? They’re like a cult or something; Miss Lamia seems to enjoy them, so she lets them stick around. I’m not exactly sure what they do, but Rime looks way too similar to one of the members. I think they’re called the Amaranthine Orchid. Sometimes their members up and vanish, and the guy I think Rime looks like went missing not too long before Rime made his sudden appearance.” I recalled the steel-coated mare mentioning something about sacrifices… if she was right, this just got very freaky.

“So… how do you all go about turning into… Subjugators, exactly?” I jumped back to the original topic.

“I don’t know,” Tamber replied disheartenedly, “I don’t remember, I mean… the earliest I can remember is waking up in some sandy part of the wasteland nearby with Miss Lamia staring at me. I think she remembers how it happens, and you. Or… you used to…” I heard Tamber give a whiny sigh. “Vena wouldn’t bother telling me if she did, and Rime hasn’t said a word since he’s been here. At least, not that I’ve heard. As for Ben and Mal… well, no offense to ‘em, but they’ve kinda hardly got half a brain to themselves. If they know what happened to them, I doubt you’d understand it if they tried to explain.”

“...Right… so, am I really…” I trailed off, the recent internal conversation still weighing down on me.

“Yep. Just like us.” I withheld a shudder at her phrasing. “Well… not exactly. You always seemed a bit different; it was completely fascinating to Miss Lamia. I’m sure you noticed you don’t look different like we do.” I nodded. “Well… Miss Lamia used to go on about how you were some ‘perfect version’ of us or something. She got the name Subjugator from what she says we do; we ‘subjugate’ the animal half of ourselves. Apparently, you do a better job of that than the rest of us… I don’t really understand any of it. All I really know is that it means you’re the biggest and baddest of the group, and that made you the boss!”

“Wait… what? I… isn’t that Lamia, I figured? If not all of you? I thought Mirage was controlled by all of you together.”

“Well… no, not really. It used to be like that, when you were around all the time. Before we found this old fort, we just kind of… wandered. Wherever you went, Lamia, Vena, and I followed. You seemed to know what you were doing. Eventually, we saw this place and started to poke around. Lots of raiders, lots of fighting. I told you before.”

“Then, do you know… what I am?” I asked nervously. I didn’t know if I was ready for the answer. What manner of creature burned what they touched? I doubted it could be anything good.

“Hm… you told me once a while back. You never really liked to talk about it. Um…” she closed her eyes and seemed to struggle to remember. There was a soft moan from under the bed sheets. I immediately jumped to my hooves and pulled back the blankets over Skydive.

“What happened?” she asked, her voice soft and hoarse.

“I don’t know; you need to get some rest. That Rime person, he did something. I intend on finding out what, and what the rest of those… ponies,” I chose my word carefully, “...are capable of. So far, I really don’t like them.”

“Aren’t… you…” Sky was already falling asleep again quickly. Whatever Rime had done had drained all the energy from her. I sighed heavily, knowing exactly where she was going with her question.

“Yes… I’m no different than they are.” I heard a raspy chuckle in the back of my mind. “Maybe worse…”

“N-no… you’re… fine…” I pulled the blankets back over her, careful not to brush my hoof against her.

“You need to get some sleep. What would Crutches say?” That got her to smile, if only for a moment.

“Not fair.” With that, she closed her eyes again. This wasn’t fair. She’d brought me all the way here, somewhere I was supposed to belong and be safe and… and this is what she got. Every time… all I ever seemed to do was get her hurt, over and over again. My eyes burned with tears that never fell.

“Cinder?” Tamber called out. I turned to face her. “Oh… are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” I muttered dejectedly. “You were saying what I was?”

“Eh… I really don’t know. I’m sorry… it had something to do with fire, lots of fire. I’m really sorry… are you sure you’re okay?” She looked genuinely worried.

“I’ll be fine,” I replied, rubbing my eyes. “I think I just need sleep.”

“You haven’t eaten anything yet,” Tamber informed me. “It’s probably best you have some kind of dinner first.” As if on cue, my stomach rumbled loudly. I sighed, conceding the point. I pulled up my Pipbuck’s inventory sorter and skimmed through my items. Among my choices were a few slabs of gecko meat, some fresh-looking carrots, and a few boxed lunches - courtesy of Ash. Looking at the gecko meat, I began to regret bothering to take it… I had no intention of eating it raw, but I also had no idea how to cook it. (I realized Ditzy Doo never mentioned it in her guide, now that I thought about it.) On top of that… it was going to smell very nasty if I didn’t do something with it quickly. I pulled the hunks of meat out of my bags, setting them aside before pulling out one of the boxed lunches.

“You’re not going to eat those?” Tamber asked, her head tilted in curiosity. I shook my head as I also pulled out the Sunrise Sarsaparilla that had been in my bags for a while now. I figured I may as well try it now, before it goes bad or something. If it even could. From the corner of my eye, I could see Tamber grinning and staring at me like a fool.

“Are… you okay, there?” I questioned tentatively.

“You didn’t so happen to bring those for me, did you?” she asked, the (absolutely creepy) fanged grin not leaving her for a second.

“If you want ‘em, take ‘em. I thought I said-” I was cut off by Tamber’s sudden lunge toward the hunks of gecko, only barely able to get out of her way. I grimaced as she tore into them, literally as well as figuratively. A bit of gecko got stuck to my cheek. Wiping it off with a brief shudder, I picked up the lunchbox and Sarsaparilla bottle and sat down on the chair beside the bed - pointedly away from my voracious friend.

“How did you know?” Tamber asked with her mouth still full of (eww, raw) gecko meat.

“Know what?” I questioned back, trying to concentrate on eating the trail mix and salad that were in the box.

“I love gecko! It’s my favorite!” she answered, thankfully after having swallowed first. Glancing up as I tried to pull the cap off of the Sarsaparilla bottle, I noticed she’d actually already finished all three hunks of meat. ‘Voracious’ wasn’t a strong enough description…

“Well… you’re welcome? I just kind of had it with me; I already told you I had no idea any of you even existed until just today.” About a hundred times, I wanted to add on. Instead, I took a drink from the bottle.

Despite being lukewarm, the sarsaparilla maintained its fizziness and completely delicious flavor even 200 years after it was made… why had I not tried this before? Ash had given me a bottle of Sparkle~Cola before, but it paled in comparison to this. I lifted the bottle to my lips and took another drink. I needed more of these…

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

The tongues of flame danced and licked at my legs, but I no longer felt anything from them. It was official: I was used to creepy. I laid down on the non-existent floor and closed my eyes, too tired to deal with the voice in my head tonight. I began to wonder if I could fall asleep here… what would happen?

“You’re already sleeping,” the rasp answered for me, “there’s not much reason for you to do it a second time.” Damn. That would’ve been interesting. I lifted my head and looked around. There was nothing to see save the flames. I frowned at the continued absence of my mystery head voice.

“Tamber is a wolf… Vena is a spider… and Ben is a hydra,” I recited what Tamber had told me. “What are we?”

“Why would I tell you?” he questioned back. I sighed; why did he always have to be so difficult?

“I don’t know, I was hoping you’d explain. Maybe I could understand why you’re like you are, why I can do the things I can… anything.” I honestly hadn’t expected him to tell me, but it was worth the chance. I laid my head back down and closed my eyes again. There wasn’t much to do until I woke up.

Time marched on very slowly. And there was no way to tell if I’d been lying still for minutes or just a second. This was truly a boring place to be. I opened my eyes again, wishing that something would happen, be it waking up or something to appear and just be for a moment. A burning void was hardly a good dream to have night after night.

“You said you wanted out,” I spoke, deciding even the obnoxious conversations the rasp provided would be better than nothing.

“Yes. What of it?” I was surprised he actually chose to respond.

“What did you mean? I’m going to guess you’re… whatever my other half is. Is it even possible to get you out? What’s the whole deal with that?” There were several moments of silence from him. I was fairly sure he wasn’t going to give me an answer.

“You’re… actually thinking about it?” he finally responded. “Hm… there is a way. I don’t know if you could find anyone able to do it, but yes, we can be separated. As for what comes next, I believe I would be wholly reformed. Otherwise, I would likely die immediately.” I wasn’t sure he liked the possibility of the latter. “I would be better off than in here,” he asserted.

“So, are you something I can just get removed? What are you right now, if anything?” I asked, praying for a straight answer rather than his usual dance around the question.

“I have no clue. I don’t think any simple surgery will solve our problem, though.”

“Well, what’s the way you know about?” He maintained silence for a while, clearly debating whether or not he wanted to answer me.

“If you see it, I’ll let you know. You wouldn’t understand even if I told you.” I began to raise the question of how I was supposed to find whatever it was without knowing anything about it, but I felt a tug on my conscious. I was waking up.

I was never going to learn anything from this voice…

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

“Are you sure you’re alright?” I asked Skydive for the third time as she slowly gathered her things back into her saddlebags. She was already up and going by the time I opened my eyes, having finished fiddling with her pistols. The end result of her toying, she informed me, was putting all the best-functioning parts of the spare pistols into Crutches’ to make it work better than before.

“I’m perfectly fine,” she responded, continuing on with her packing before letting out a sigh. “I… I’m worried about New Trottingham. Fuse seemed genuinely pissed off, and it was directed at me and the town. In case you couldn’t tell, pissing off a guy with a lot of explosives and a small army of idiots is a very bad idea.”

“He was also after me, I think,” I added.

“Well, yes, but he’s far more likely to send the high explosives straight to New Trottingham. If he wanted a single pony dead, all it would really take is one pony and a gun,” she retorted, then paused. “...Usually, anyway.” I chuckled.

“I’m going home,” Sky let out after a small silence. “When… if Fuse so chooses to actually put some bite in his bark for once, New Trottingham needs me there to defend it. Plus… I think you’ve finally found home.” I shuddered a bit at the comment. This place hardly felt “homey” to me. She continued without enough pause for me to raise objection. “I’m sorry to be this… abrupt about it, but I didn’t expect something like this to come up. I really need to leave as soon as I can if I’m going to get to New Trottingham before Fuse and his gang do.”

“You said it like he’s made this kind of threat before,” I brought up when her unsteady goodbye lulled, “has he?” She nodded. “And he’s not gone through with it?” Sky started to bring up an argument as I continued, fairly certain of the answer already. “Then don’t let it bother you too much. I know he looked serious, but still. Don’t get too worked up over it; everything’s going to be fine.” I gave her a reassuring poke - making sure to keep my hoof on the thicker parts of her barding, (for some reason, the burn of my touch seemed to ignore the leather barding.) “Especially since you’re there to protect them.” Skydive blushed a bit and smiled.

“Thank you.”

*** *** ***

Sky walked out of the large twin doors at the front of the keep, bound for New Trottingham. For home. I doubted this was the last I’d see of her… I was determined to make regular trips to the town. I still wasn’t so sure about Mirage… the place had a vibe I just couldn’t shake off, no matter how hard I tried. And as per my “family”... I had mixed feelings. As if on cue, Lamia appeared around the corner, trotting down the hall distractedly at a brisk pace. She nearly bumped into me before her eyes left the parchment she levitated before her.

“Oh? Is your little pegasus friend leaving?” I nodded silently. “Hm. Well, it was good I ran into you,” she continued, clearly uninterested in Sky in the least. “I just received this rather… obnoxious… piece of parchment from an unfortunately valuable friend of ours.” She turned it around to show me.

“It’s a list,” I pointed out, returning the same uninterested tone. My eyes returned to the gate Skydive had now vanished behind. I was going to miss her… despite the weird social habits she had.

“Yes,” Lamia continued, breaking my reverie before it had a fair chance to begin, “a little ‘shopping list’ courtesy of Avarice. She dropped this off just before you arrived.” I still didn’t see what the problem was. There were four things on the list.

“Why is a list this small a problem,” I asked as I pushed it back toward her, “and why does it concern me?”

“It’s a problem because the things on this list are horrendously specific! A piece of technology allegedly found in some rotted-out Stable, a page torn from one specific book… they’re senselessly stupid and exact. The damned thing gives exact locations!”

“That makes it easier, I’d think,” I retorted, still curious as to why she intended me to take care of the stupid thing for her. Lamia herself seemed to think the items were meaningless; why did she actually want someone to go get them anyway? Or was this just to try and get me away? Perhaps killed, again?

“Except the locations are all over the place! The Stable is relatively close to here, but the factory she specified is almost at the damned border to Mustangia!” She spat a curse before muttering, “Close enough to the damned wall they could do it themselves…”

“Alright, why should I be the one to do this? Isn’t there someone else, someone more… suited to this kind of thing?” I asked, curious to hear whatever she came up with.

“Unfortunately not. Typically I’d send Ben or Tamber out, but at least one of these pieces of junk will require actual social interaction; Ben’s already out of the question. Tamber, on the other hoof, is already off doing something Vena sent her out for. Who knows when she’ll be back. Myself and Vena need be here to watch over Mirage, and Rime… he’s not well. I’m still trying to figure out what’s wrong with him. So, to my dismay, the task falls to you.” I snorted. “I realize you only just got here, but sadly, we can’t ignore a request from Avarice. We owe the bitch…” I grabbed the list and stuck it in one of the pockets in my barding. Clearly, I wasn’t allowed to decline the task.

“Oh? When did you get that?” Lamia asked, eyeballing my Pipbuck as I pushed the note snugly into place.

“It was a gift.”

“Very convenient… let me see it for a moment. It has a map function if I recall. That makes things a fair bit easier…” I sighed as I lifted my foreleg and let her toy with the device. This was going to be a pain.

*** *** ***

This Avarice had asked for the strangest odds and ends in her request. An “advanced model of an Arcane Resonance Disruptor, likely to be found within Stable 57”, along with “any pages from ‘the Se-Alligans chapter’ found in the Dawn’s Rise settlement”, and one “ANLRCDD schematics copy, located in the MAS Arcanotech Facility ruins”. I didn’t have a clue what any of this stuff would even be. Schematics would probably be easy to spot, but how was I supposed to tell which book pages were from that one specific chapter, and what book was it from? Or for that matter, what the hell an “Arcane Resonance Disruptor” was supposed to be?

I blinked the harsh sunlight away from my eyes and continued trotting. The closest place mentioned was Stable 57; strangely enough, I had passed it on the way from Prim to Mirage. It was supposedly off to the side of the very road Sky and I had taken. I kept my pace quicker than normal in hopes of perhaps catching up to her.

Several minutes later, I found myself directly west of the Stable on my Pipbuck map. I felt my heart sink a little at not having found her. I shouldn’t have cared; we’d already said our goodbyes anyway. It was probably better that she believed I was (relatively) safe and sound in Mirage, and not out wandering again already. But still…

I turned and trotted off the paved roadway and headed for the Stable. Though they didn’t make up the roadside entirely, the consistent and large dunes the sand formed were much harder to keep my hooves steady on. I pressed through, trying to avoid them as much as I could. Stable 57 wasn’t too far off the beaten path, thankfully. I was quite close to the marker on my map when I caught a glint of light glaring from the small cliff face ahead. Lamia had mentioned a “big metal door” when she described what a Stable would look like. If I had to guess, this would be it.

Approaching a chasm in the wall, I found what reflected the light: a group of metal crates piled in a corner. I opened them, fairly certain they were abandoned, and looted the contents - two packs and one carton of cigarettes. I didn’t exactly want to pick up the habit of smoking, (something my broken mind decided to enforce was bad) but if nothing else, I was sure I could trade them to someone who already did for some food. A warm gust of air blew the lid of one of the boxes away, further down the small crevasse, before landing against the rocky wall with a loud, metallic thud.

“Whoa!” a startled yelp sounded from nearby the lid. It was a mare’s voice. I turned to the source of the voice, waiting for them to show themselves. Now that I was thinking, it was a rather familiar mare’s voice…

The vividly blue tail caught my eye just as I was about to ask.

“Sky?” I called out. Another small yelp as she jumped back to see who was there.

“Wha- Cinder?” she returned. “Why are you here? Aren’t you staying in Mirage?”

“Yes. Well… no. Actually… kinda?” I scratched my mane as I searched for the right words to explain. “I am, I think, but apparently Lamia had a job,” I put as much sarcasm in the word as I could muster, “she so happened to have that only I was capable and available to do.” Sky frowned, probably coming to the same conclusion about the task that I did. “What about you? Aren’t you going home?”

“I am. But I got… distracted,” she turned back toward where she had been. “I really didn’t think you’d want to see this, but… well, since you’re here anyway: I found another one.” Skydive pointed behind her, near a bush. I trotted around her only to find yet another metal crate. This one was markedly different from the others. Black colored, with gold trim around the edges. And a very familiar golden pentagon symbol for a handle.

I pushed the lid open. Just like the chest on the roadside; a velvet interior that sheltered a memory orb. This time, it was a misty dark gray color rather than the pink of the first. “What… is this the same person?” I asked, realizing we weren’t horribly far from where the chest had been.

“I would guess. Same look on the box and everything. But why leave this one all the way out here? If he wants to hide these, then it makes sense, but the other one was just on the side of a road.” I shrugged. I was equal parts frightened and curious about what this memory orb could be of. Was it Sunshine Valley again? After he left, or before he’d destroyed the town? Or… while he destroyed the town…

I wasn’t so curious anymore.

Still… I wanted to know. But now was not the time to take a look. “Could you put the orb in my bag for me, Sky?” She obliged, carefully placing it to avoid breaking the seemingly fragile glass. Maybe I would view it later, along with the one I left for myself. Maybe when I was done looking for the arcane… thing in the Stable.

“Hey,” I spoke up again while I had my train of thought going, “have you seen a big metal door around here? Should be close by.” Skydive shook her head. I frowned and pulled up my Pipbuck map to check the marker. If what it said was correct, I was right next to it. I looked up and turned in a circle, looking for anything that looked like the door that was described. When nothing relevant appeared, I sat down on my haunches with a sigh. “Dumb map.”

The small carved-out section of the cliff was a fairly nice place to sit, at least. The gusts of warm wind were walled off from us for the most part, and the surrounding walls were just high enough to keep the sun away. Skydive decided to join me.

“So,” she started, looking for a conversation to grasp, “learn anything… interesting? Maybe about those ponies in Mirage? Or whatever they are.”

“Subjugators. At least, that’s what Tamber said.”

“Yea, yea, I heard all about that. Like, animals and stuff, right?” I nodded. “Gotta wonder what that one guy is. Rime, right?”

“What happened to you, by the way? You kind of looked at him and just… zoned. You looked like you were freezing.” Skydive didn’t answer right away. She seemed to lose herself for a minute, like she was reliving the experience.

“I don’t know,” she finally spoke up. “It was so strange. I stopped hearing things you were saying, and just got lost in his eyes. Just endless white… and I was shivering badly. I wasn’t scared of him; I think I was cold.” I nodded, but she just looked at me blankly. After a few moments of seemingly expectant silence from her, she picked back up. “Well… if I’m feeling cold, it’s a very bad sign. Pegasi don’t usually get ‘cold’ like other ponies. I mean, we live way up in the clouds, and we - or at least we used to - make the snow fall for the winter. I mean, we can’t exactly sit around in a blizzard all day and be fine, but we naturally resist cold. And even in those conditions, I probably wouldn’t feel anything for several minutes. In front of that guy, though… it was different.

“I don’t know what it was, exactly. I mean, I saw that he was freezing the water, so it was definitely cold all around us, but it didn’t feel like ‘cold air’ cold. It felt more… direct? I don’t know how to put it. And then…” she trailed off. She started to mutter things to herself, like she was debating what to say.

“What?” I asked when she didn’t seem to stop.

“Well… did you… notice anything? Maybe hear something?” I shook my head. “It was kind of like someone was talking. It wasn’t somepony’s voice who was talking at the table that I could remember hearing, but it was like someone was whispering and muttering. It sounded angry.” She looked into my eyes, with a grimly serious expression on her face. “Whoever it was, they really didn’t like you.”

“Maybe it was Rime? I don’t remember him saying anything, so the voice might have been his. What did it sound like?” I asked.

“I couldn’t really tell. It sounded all raspy and scratchy.” I felt my heart almost stop. She heard him? He hadn’t even been talking until we left the room! How… he wasn’t able to talk to others, I thought.

“No,” the rasp in question joined the conversation, “I can’t. She shouldn’t have been able to notice me.” I calmed down a bit, hoping he wasn’t just feeding me bullshit to throw me off. “Rime… what is he? Even as a Subjugator, he shouldn’t be aware of me. Let alone be able to make others aware of me. Unless…” Without warning, the voice burst out in raspy laughter. What, I asked internally, what is he? “No, it’s nothing,” he replied, “there’s no way it could happen.” I prodded him further for answers, but the voice never spoke up again. I frowned in annoyance. Coming and going whenever he pleased… I hoped he knew how irritating that was.

“Are you alright?” Sky asked. I realized I had been silently conversing with someone she didn’t even know was there.

“Yea, sorry,” I answered quickly, “I was just thinking.” I stood back up, looking around once more for the non-existent Stable door.

“What are you looking for, anyway? Just a big hunk of metal?” Sky questioned.

“Well, a door specifically. It’s supposed to be the entrance to something called a Stable. Not exactly sure what it looks like, only that it’s big and metal.”

“Geez, she’s throwing you into a Stable? Those things can be downright deadly a lot of the time.” Good to know Lamia withheld that little tidbit. “And… actually… that might make sense.” Sky got herself up and walked toward a small but bushy plant behind me. Pulling some of the leaves aside, she revealed an old, decrepit wooden door.

“Not exactly big and metal,” I pointed out, still stunned at how well the bush so happened to hide it.

“No, but if your map says the Stable is right here, then it might just be back here,” she retorted as she pulled the swinging wood open and went inside. “What are you waiting for?” I quickly followed her in.

The narrow, rocky cavern was hardly wide enough for the both of us to fit inside. Looking ahead, the cave was mainly lit by sunlight streaming through the door. Much of it was dark, but there was another source of light showing from further ahead. Skydive slowly paced in its direction with myself not far behind.

I heard a soft chittering from ahead. Glancing to my Eyes-forward Sparkle, there were red bars right in front of us. Sky had already drawn her pistol, having seen whatever it was before I could warn her. Two quick shots later, the red light had winked out.

We crawled out of the cave and into a rather spacious metal room (the source of the light) after stepping over a rather freakishly large praying mantis corpse. Much of the fully-metal interior was very rusted and aged, much like the door behind us. There were a pair of terminals on a table, one still active while one was completely destroyed. What really caught my attention, though, was the quartet of pony corpses laying in a small circle. They each had matching bulletholes in their skulls. Blood soaked the floor, dried, but the bodies were hardly decayed at all. This happened rather recently. Several pistols lay beside the bodies. One for each…

“What do you think happened?” I asked Skydive, who seemed more or less disinterested in them. They all wore the same type of clothes; blue barding with a bright yellow 57 on their backs and shoulders. Were there ponies that lived here?

“Not sure. Whoever did it was a pretty good shot, by the looks.” She picked up one of the bloodstained pistols, gave it a good look, and stowed it in her saddlebags. The other three followed. I wandered past her and up a small set of rusty metal stairs toward the terminal. Looking up, I saw what appeared to be a monstrous, somewhat-rusty gear. On it was painted, in the same (albeit very faded) yellow as the dead ponies’ barding, “57”.

'A big metal door' Lamia had said…

In spite of my unnatural strength, I seriously doubted I had the ability to push or pull it open. There had to be some other way. I moved over to the terminal to see if there was something on it that could help. Turning it on, there was only one accessible thing there. A security log audio file. There weren’t any speakers on the terminal for me to play it from, though.

“Hey, Sky,” I called out as she climbed the stairs after me, “did you put any tools for this Pipbuck in my bags when I left? That little manual said I can plug it into a terminal if I have some wire.” Sky poked at the Pipbuck with a cynical smirk. I looked to see a small pouch… with several wires in it. Right… duh.

Plugging the wire in, I downloaded the audio file and began to play it through the built-in speakers the Pipbuck thankfully had. Stable-Tec really thought these things through.

You all can’t be serious. After all that… why? There’s no point!” The voice was panicked, and clearly upset. Sky and I listened closely.

You’re right. There isn’t a point. That’s exactly why,” a second, female voice responded. Unlike the first, her voice was steady and certain. I looked back toward the bodies. Sure enough, one was a mare. Was it the same one?

You’re all insane,” the first voice spoke up again. “We’re here! We can leave! This is the exact opposite of what Stable-Tec wanted for us.

If you ask me, that just makes this all the sweeter. Stable-Tec can go fuck itself. They did all this… the least we can do is ruin ‘what they wanted for us’.” This time it was another male voice, deep and equally as steady as the mare’s.

Yea. At this point, kid, I’m pretty sure whatever Stable-Tec wanted for us is officially the worst option,” a fourth voice piped up. Male, once again.

But you heard what they said; we could bring all we’ve done and learned with us! The whole world could learn from what happened here!” the first voice argued.

Seriously? I’d rather nopony ever even know we existed. This kind of shit should be kept in the dark,” this… was a fifth voice? Yet again a stallion. Five voices were on this recording, but only four of them died.

This is the most illogical thing I can imagine,” the first voice moaned, the panic in his voice giving way to defeat.

Let’s just get it over with,” the mare spoke up. “I’ll start.” After a second of silence, a gunshot blast sounded, followed quickly by three more. Meaty thuds succeeded each. A disgruntled whinny came through after several more seconds of silence, followed by a beep marking the recording’s end.

What… did I just hear? I turned to look at the bodies once again. “They killed themselves?” I asked, despite having just listened to the recording that proved it. “Why…” Skydive looked toward the group of corpses as well, clearly now feeling some sympathy for them having heard their end.

“Who knows… it sounds like this Stable was really messed up. Who knows what went on down there. Well… I guess we’re going to find out, aren’t we?” Sky walked over to a small panel near the massive gear-door-thing.

“We?” I questioned. “I think you’re supposed to be heading back to New Trottingham. Who knows how long it’ll be once we go down here. You’ve got home to worry about, Sky.” She seemed to ignore my comment.

“These things, Cinder? Stables? Like I told you: death traps. And this one was bad enough to drive four ponies into group suicide after they got out of it. You definitely can’t do this alone,” she argued, flipping a switch on the panel. An ear-shattering whine of metal grinding against metal burst into my ears as the gear was corkscrewed inward and rolled aside, revealing the Stable within. It took a few moments for my hearing to come back. “Besides, if I fly my way back to New Trottingham, I can make it there way faster than Fuse can trot. They can live without me for an hour or two. You, on the other hoof, really can’t.” I sighed; if she really wanted to, I guess I couldn’t argue with having some company.

“Fine. But if we both die, I told you to leave. No complaining.” Sky laughed.


Footnote: Level up!
Quest perk added: Subjugation: You are a peculiar little pony… but you’re not quite a ‘pony’ at all, are you? You have a multitude of special perks (marked with an asterisk*) that stem from this. (Current Subjugation perks: Burning Touch*, Enkindled*, He's Got the Touch*)
Perk added: Toughness: You’re made of sterner stuff than most. You gain +3 to your Damage Threshold permanently.

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