• Published 24th Mar 2013
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Fallout: Equestria - False Dawn - Requiem Mori



Equestria has fallen, and the pieces are still being recovered. A mare wanders alone, cold and embittered. Perhaps she'll find friendship, even in these dark times... if such a thing is even possible.

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Chapter 20: On the Wings of the Goddess

Chapter 20: On the Wings of the Goddess

Sometimes, the best option is also the worst.

You never think about it, really. Not until it is too late at least. The frail morality of ponies. When the war started, I felt young, I felt invincible. I had finally found a purpose, a use for my dire skills. But at what cost. War is a terrible thing. A long known adage, but one that is not appreciated until it is too late. I wonder what could have changed back then. One single event, to make this world a different place. Or were we damned as soon as we started down this path. It is odd to think now, back on my hatred. Back on my wrath. It was so clear back then, so righteous. But for what? Now here I lie, broken, bitter, and old. A shell of the pony I once was, who was already a broken remnant of what I could have been. Only now can I see that. Only now can I know what our blindness cost us. But even now, I feel nothing but hate. Hatred and regret.
~From the Journal of Nevermore

I feel more alive than I have in decades, a purpose finally driving me forwards once more. I wipe my blade off on the fallen creature, a sneer of disgust crossing my face as I look down on it. Poor thing. Still, it was unsettling. I had heard about these creatures before, but had not met one myself. I suppose I should consider myself fortunate that there were not more of these things lingering about... or perhaps there were? With a rasp, I slip my daggers back into their sheaths, the weapons clicking as they find their home again. I feel blood trickle down my side, sticking to the hairs, staining my cloak once again. I barely feel the wounds though, even through the numbness of death. My heart is racing, even as we get closer to our goal, the precious box and my memories carried together, a slim hope for a future, a slight prayer for relief from this blasted hellhole. But even as I feel my heart sore, a voice in the back of my head whispers that this was merely the start of the end. My voice telling me that hope is futile, and that I’ve condemned us all to dying in futility. Hope versus pessimism. Even as I ignore the little voice, I know that its words most closely express the truth. Dust and ashes.

We make our way through the Dead Zone, occasional fights breaking out as stray ghouls wander into our paths. Feral souls, bereft of direction and purpose save for mindless slaughter. My own sanity lingers on my mind as we put the ghouls down. More of those bladed monsters show up, singles or in pairs. These are far harder to put down than the ghouls, but Star Racer’s cannons prove to be a boon against these creatures, the energy beams putting them down hard with their withering power. She steps through the ashes of the latest attacker, their assaults becoming more frequent as we push further into the heart of the town. I look over at Zone Control, the pretty unicorn looking up from her pipbuck as she sees me look at her. She nods slightly, letting me know we’re on the right path to our destination, her pipbuck having declared that the Stable Heart Hospital was our goal. She steps up next to me, her voice low. “You seem troubled, Nevermore... what’s wrong?”

I hesitate as I look at her. What am I to say? That I feel that that we are doomed, that we will all die? While at the same time I feel purpose in my strides? These ponies have been drawn into my past, something that I had denied to others for so long. I don’t know what drove me to let them in, why I let them through my bitter exterior. Perhaps I was lonely again. Perhaps I just wanted to hear a friendly voice again. Regardless, they are here now, a bright spot in my darkened soul. A flicker of light against the encroaching night, wavering and dying, but still shining. For now. All too soon their lives would be snuffed out, plunging me back into the nightmare of my cursed existence. The decades have not been kind to me, seeing those I cared for wither and fade. Or meet a brutal end. Too many bodies have been strewn in the path behind me for me to look to the future with much hope any more. I say the only thing I can. “I am fine, Zone Control... I am fine.” My rasping voice is low and harsh, the melodious tone from before lost to the sands of time and non-use. My breath hisses behind my mask as I shake my head. “I am... just thinking.”

She nods, understanding. Knowing that my words are more to dissuade further conversation than to provide a proper answer. “Well, what are you planning to do, once we finish here? Will you finally settle down? Or will you still just wander about?”

“Settle down? Where?” I scoff, our hooves clipping off the hard pavement as I look around for threats. “Who would want me around? Where would I seek shelter? You know my nature, Zone Control, you know what I am.” I fix her with a hard gaze. “I remember the terror that you had in your eyes that night when you found out that I am more a monster than a mare.” I shake my head. “No, it is the road for me, an isolated existence to watch others pass into, then leave my life, as they always have.”

She clears her throat. “Well, if you don’t mind, we could-”

“NO.” My harsh bark interrupts her, silencing the others in the process. “You will stay back in the town, you will survive. There is no point to follow me. There is naught but death in these lands.” I look at the others. “Live, all of you... do what you can to survive. That is the only rule of the wastes.”

My outburst silences them, my rage bringing them to stillness. Letting them fall around me was not something that I wished to endure yet again. We walk in silence, our hooves clipping on the ground. “We’re almost there.” The tall pegasus walks up next to me, Star Racer nodding as she looks about, alert and wary. “We should be careful, we don’t know what’s out there.” I can tell she misses her EFS, the magic providing some measure of protection for us. Zone Control and Frisky Fritter both have it as well, but theirs is not as reliable as the solid Star Racer’s. Her cannons whirr slightly as they try to maintain their charge, slight flickers of light visible as they pan back and forth. She seems anxious and excited, like a racing horse champing at the bit, waiting for the shot to start the race. She looks back at me, her green mane framing her serious face, even as she gives a slight nod and a smile. If not now, then never.

The edifice stands before us, intimidating and imposing. A hospital held by the damned in the heart of a dead city. I sigh slightly as I look at the doors. “Very well... this dance has gone on for quite long enough... let us see this through until the end.” No sooner had I said that, then I hear a faint click. Not that of a mine, or at least one I’m not familiar with. I’m about to voice my warnings, when suddenly a series of explosions hammer out around us, blanketing us with debris and dust. Figures start to surround up, weapons barking, tearing at flesh. A voice cries out in pain, even as I’m born to the ground amid the rubble. Hope fades to despair, optimism withering to ash. An ambush. But who would know we were coming, and why?

~~~~~~~~~~

The airship moves silently, a dark shape against the night sky. It’s as quiet as we can make it, our mission one of stealth and surprise. Not this time the bombastic displays favored by some. No, this time it will be the way I prefer. In, out, and only bodies to tell the tale. The target lay below us, a base in the distance. Even this far away, I can feel my heart burn with hatred, just imagining the Zebra insignias defiling Equestrian soil. I click my tongue, just barely. Enough to signal our assault. Like shadows, we fall off the ship, wings tucked in as we plummet towards the ground below. I only chose the best fliers for this, the quietest. My wings snap open, slowing my descent before I slam into the ground, setting me down with the softest click. Excellent. No sounds, at least not yet. By now they might have spotted the airship, so we’d proceed by hoof. My anger wells inside me as I steal one more look back at the camp. Soon. Soon.

We steal through the night, moving slowly, cautiously. There are patrols, but they are scattered and lazy. I feel my blades thirst for them, mirroring my own desires, but not now. If they were to disappear, then our targets would be made aware. Let the minnows free for now, we’re hunting a shark. Their reckoning would come in due time. We make our way to the pass, my heart pounding as we take our positions. Dawn would be coming soon, and it would be too dangerous to move without the shelter of the night. Thankfully, we did not have far to go. My team knew their jobs, knew what they needed to do. Reaching into my dress, I feel the small device. It should be enough. It’d have to be enough.

The train chugs towards the base, slowly puffing its way along. We’d been hiding for hours now, waiting for this moment, this opportunity. My heart begins to race as the moment gets closer. “Now.” Though it’s a whisper, the others don’t need to know my commands. There’s a string of explosions, lining the edges of the ravine, a scar blown into the soil of the land I loved. For a moment, everything is silent. I look at the train, seeing a young face in the window. It is not often that a general was open to a strike like this. I did not care that he had his family with him. What begins as a clatter quickly grows to a rumble. Rocks blown free with our charges starts a reaction, sending tons of earth down upon the hapless train. My heart is cold as I see it get flipped to its side, buried under tons of rock. A terrible way to go, buried alive. But this was war, and a blood price had to be paid. This supply route was severed, an officer slain. Any additional casualties were to me, merely a bonus. With a nod, we start to move again. No reason to linger, our deed already done. Like ghosts, we fade back into the wilderness, the dust already beginning to settle around the massed grave below us. Wordlessly, we move on, to another target, another killing. And we will continue this, as long as we need to. Until we win.

~~~~~~~~~~

I miss the loss of my E.F.S. now more than I ever did before. Some warning would have been appreciated, even as rounds start to ping off my armored chest. No, this was an ambush, pure and simple. Figures erupt from the ground, small but numerous. “Take cover!” I start to direct the battle, as I always do, seeking to guide the others to advantageous positions. They’re used to my bellowed orders by now, even Fritter responding. I suppose self preservation was a powerful motivator to encourage a pony to pay attention. Zone’s shotgun bucks and roars, even as I survey the battle. Something was wrong here. Their attack patterns were... wrong. I start moving, seeing the answer, barreling towards Nevermore.

As if on queue, the ground erupts around us, a monstrous figure pulling itself free from the ground’s embrace, sending the ghoul stumbling. The red metal, combined with the bulk tells me who it is, even before I finish registering the threat. Bishop. Even as Nevermore tries to regain her footing, I keep charging in, seeing the danger, even as I call out to her.

~~~~~~~~~~

The ground rocks below me, throwing me off balance. Cursing at this development, I look up, right into the face of death, only distantly hearing the cries of the others, the report of battle. I stare down the barrel of Bishop’s energy lance as it begins to spin up. So that's it. That's who was intending to ambush us. I had seen the weapon’s devastation before, and this was it, my journey ends here. I see a glow forming behind it, and I close my eyes. Not even I’m fast enough to weave out of the way of the oncoming assault. It had been a long run... but I can go no further. Even one like me cannot survive against that sort of power, as I resign myself, surrounded by a moment of blessed silence. Was this finally it? Had I finally paid enough? Come now, sweet death... I have waited for you for a long time. I cheated you before, all those years before, when I plunged into the ocean, broken and bleeding, just as I cheated you again in Canterlot. It seems that my borrowed time has finally run out. I’m broken from my trance as something hard and heavy slams into me. “Nevermore, move!” Star Racer’s form slams into mine, shoving me out of the way, even as the spinning lance fires a scintillating beam of death, going past where I now am, striking where I just was.

It was poetic, really. In a dark, and twisted way, I could see the beauty of it despite my horror. Her body glows, for just a second, face set in grim determination before contorting with pain. Another memory to be etched into my mind. Another face to haunt my dreams. Another body, to fill the wastes. Another name, to enter my book. Just like that, ash scatters across the ground, blowing in the wind. The mare so deadly with her energy lances felled by the same. Her empty armor clatters to the ground, flecks of ash spilling from the shattered plates, the armor wholly insufficient to stop the blow for more than the merest fraction of a second. The world falls silent for a few seconds, time slowing down to a painful crawl. I didn’t even have time to call her name. Star Racer... Star Racer. The stern yet kind pegasus, proud and fierce, yet completely loyal. Loyal unto death. Such a common refrain, yet how so many treat it as mere words. Just like that, she was gone, like a candle snuffed out. All her dreams, potential... lovers... gone, left to ash and dust. I look at the ash, stark against my charcoal coat, flecks of a friend now lost forever. I never got to tell her about myself... I never got to ask about her. Yet more regrets to stain my soul, to burden me down. Star Racer... I’ll remember you in my journal. I’ll remember you in my dreams. I will not let your memory die while I stand. Time snaps back to normal, compressing again in a flurry of activity as the energy lance starts to cool down again. My rage boils within me, condensing into a stab of pure, unadulterated hatred. She will pay. Bishop will pay dearly for this.

Red fills my vision. Regrets will have to come later. I fling myself at my opponent, using that brief moment that Star Racer had opened for me. My hoof lands in some ash, even as I lunge at her killer. Blades won’t do much to an armored target. Blades won’t bite deeply into a robotic foe. At least that is true for most blades. Aer Arcanum is not a normal blade. The cursed weapon bites deeply into her armored chest, Bishop letting off a metallic howl as I bury it in her. My own rage feeds its bloodlust, my fury driving me further than I could have imagined. Even as my companions watch in horror or fend off her pawns, I swarm over the much larger mare, tearing jagged gashes in her armor, rending the plate with the dagger’s touch. Pain washes over me, but I ignore it. Blood flies in tattered curtains, flesh falls to the ground, smoking and burnt. But all my focus is on the target before me. Almost instinctively I cut at my foe, finding weak joints, finding thinner plating, working my way in further and further. Finally, a sound reaches my ears, that of a roaring scream, a voice full of wrath and fury. Abruptly, painfully, I realize it’s my own, by damaged voice screaming my despair at the world. It’s a wonder I’m still standing, all the pain in the world seeming to fill my being from wounds torn into my body. None of which comparing with the wound torn into my heart.

With a savage twist, I yank my dagger out, oil flowing like blood, even as Bishop staggers back. She falls, slowly, painfully. Her massive form crashing to the ground.

Victory, such a bitter word for what we endured. We won, but the cost. Dear Celestia, the cost. My heart tears open again, the pain of loss destroying my soul. Every step I take is a legacy to the fallen, the ash and bones of those that relied on me filling my path, even as I dare not look behind any further. I am drowning in a river of blood. I raise my head and cry to the heavens. I raise my voice in a song of despair. Is this worth the cost to us? Is this worth my suffering? Have I not suffered enough by now? Have I not paid for my sins? Even if I have not, why must those who follow me pay the price? How many more will fall for my crimes? Too many have already. Too many are yet to fall. My body lies in tatters, a dozen mortal wounds covering my flesh. My breath is weak and ragged, even as I fall down as well, a pitiful pile of blood and bones. Eventually, the sound of combat fades from my ears, even as the darkness starts to settle in. Tears stain my cheeks. How much more can I lose? Has not the wastes taken enough from me... have I not suffered enough for a thousand lives. My tears fall to the ground, the dust of the Wasteland consumes it all. How many of us are even left now? How many will fade into dust and ash.

What is a name, a face, a memory. How long do we endure until we are dust and ashes, forgotten by all, forsaken by all. What do we have left, once the world ended? Only one thing remains once we are gone. The impact we did in our lives, our mark upon the others. Our legacy. But like everything else, it fades and dies. Who will remember us when we are gone? Who will care? The fury of the stars, the wrath of the goddess herself. Wherefore comes retribution? Wherefore comes divine right? Though the fury of my hatred may eclipse my grief, still we must endure. Still we must strive. Hatred is a small and bitter thing, but it festers like an open wound, tearing at my soul. Dust and ashes.

~~~~~~~~~~

The knife clatters to the hard tiles, even as I watch, my eyes wide with horror. What have I done. What have I become? The mare barely lets out a gasp as she slips to the ground, blood gurgling in her throat. I try to shield myself in my detachment. I tried to hide within myself again. What have I become. I thought she’d know who betrayed us. I thought she was a step on my path to revenge. Her eyes look at me, full of pain, confusion, betrayal. It had seemed so right at the time, so clear to me. Yet she slumps down, the light in her eyes extinguished by my actions. Reaching out, I close her eyes gently, her last word shaking me deeply. Not hatred, not bitter retorts... but just why? Why indeed. I inhale deeply. Was she a zebra sympathizer? Do I have the right to determine that? Or am I hunting shadows again? Am I being lead down a path that I do not desire to go? I think about what I’ve done, but I can see the path I’ve taken. My past is covered with blood. How much did I sacrifice of myself, getting myself to this point?

Vengeance? Justice? How easy it is for the lines between the two to be blurred and distorted. How easy for one to become another. How easy to fall off the narrow path of vigilantism, to descend into the madness that lead to this path. I exhale deeply. It had been so easy, almost automatic. Just a quick jab, a quick twist, and down she went. Her cries muffled, even as I lowered her to the ground. She was close to me, once. As close as one could have gotten to myself. She never expected it, not from me. That alone should have told me the truth.

But I was too consumed with revenge, with the feeling of being right, that I forgot to listen. I forgot to watch. And now others pay the price of my indiscretion.

I look at myself in the mirror, the dour Nevermore. I recognize her face, but I do not know her eyes. They’re harder, colder. A viciousness visible that was more than my quiet bitterness. Was this truly me now? Is this who I was to become? Perhaps a touch of madness. Despite my behavior, I believe that ponies are meant to be social creatures... those of companions and friends. Even me, in my self imposed fortress of isolation and hatred had those close to me. How had we fallen so far... to violence and to suspicion. Tearing each other down, even as we speak empty words about sticking together.

It was enough to make me bark a quiet, empty laugh, devoid of any mirth. How silly, and how sad. That we would have fallen to such a state. Claims of friendship masking knives in the shadow. Let the zebras wage war. We have destroyed ourselves already, more thoroughly than they could have imagined.

So long. It has been so long since I was willing to consider this. So long since I looked up towards the heavens, to weigh and judge my actions.

I look at the sky over Manehattan. I look at the moon overhead. Luna preserve me... have I become the monster that I have fought for so long? Is this regret I feel? My soul is pensive. What have I become? The questions hound me, tearing at me to a degree that nothing else could have. Ripping into my very soul. I exhale slowly, releasing a breath that I did not know I was holding. Who are you, Nevermore? Are you a mare or a monster? The answer comes to me, echoing in the back of my mind. Perhaps a bit of both. I watch the night sky, the silence enveloping me like a shroud, blood pooling around my hooves. Perhaps a bit of both.

~~~~~~~~~~

“What are we going to do, Nevermore?” Zone Control stands amid the dust and the ashes, amid the bodies of friend and foe, as I stand up again, bitter dust in my throat.

“What else?” My voice is harsh and cold, a legacy of my long years, and a mask to my heart. “What else can we do. We keep going.” Despite my words, I head towards the ashes and the armor, a sad monument to one that we called friend.

Frisky Fritter seems to sneer at me, his voice gruff and harsh. “Makes sense, tha rotter just wants ta get her stuff done... knew we should’ve stayed back...”

I ignore his barbs, my mood cold, even as I look over the remains, the scraps of bone scattered amid the ruins of a friend. Slowly, reverently, I scoop some of the ash and bone into a small jar, doing what I can to avoid the dirt in the process. I also start to bind the armor up, salvaging what I can, tying it together with strips of cloth. Wounds could be bound later. This was important now. “Goodbye, Star Racer. I will remember you, and visit you every night when I dream. You shall be remembered, as long as I shall stand... as long as my words endure. You will not be forgotten, for as long as I remain... goodbye.”

Fritter is about to lay into me again, I can feel it. His own outpouring of grief and anger at my expense. I can feel it, but I will not accept it. Not this time. My hoof lashes out, slamming into his neck, cutting off his words, forcing him to gasp. “Enough, Fritter. You may not like me, and I am loathe to touch you. But understand this. While you may have your grievances for me, keep it to yourself. I do not wish to hear your vile banter any further.” I let him feel the cold press of my blade against his throat, my eyes hard. “Do so again, and I will reclaim the life that I gave you, when you idiots wandered into this hellhole.” I wiggle the blade, just ever so slightly. Not enough to injure, yet, but the threat is clear. Even as he nods his assent, I feel the anger starting to leave me. I should not have done that. The pressure and stress was getting to me, but it is no excuse. These ponies relied on me. And though I failed one today, I could not abandon the others so callously. Star Racer... fly once more, just once more... You’re free now.

~~~~~~~~~~

Welcome to Level 13!

Companion Lost - Star Racer
The Wasteland consumes all before it. How many more will be claimed?

I’m sure you’re proud of your little outburst, Nevermore... too bad it’s meaningless. It couldn’t save her. And it won’t save you.

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