Five minutes ago, the war, like the rest of the world, ended.
The hatred for my own kind that coursed through my veins during the war is the reason I have been cursed with this affliction. I should have listened to my elders and traveled back to the homelands when I had the chance, to die with the rest of my tribe. Most of all, I should have listened to the warnings of how cruel the stars could be, and had I heeded their warnings, they might have taken pity on me and taken me away with the others. That anger had now turned inward, still thriving inside my soul where it is the source of the soft glow I now give off, of this much I am sure. It is the last of what is left of my equinity, the only part of my tortured soul that remains intact after Equestria and its war with my homeland tore the world asunder in what became the most foolish mistake the stars have ever witnessed.
The balefire came not with sirens or panic, but with the suddenness of a light switch flicking off, filling you with the creeping fear of what might exist now that you are in the dark. There was no time to prepare, no time to hide, only the time for a half finished, silent prayer for those you loved before they were taken. Then, and only then, did the merciful wall of green flame take you and everything you knew to be true away, leaving the world barren, poisoned, and empty in it’s wake. The only thing remaining was a land where the accursed were left to suffer for the rest of their lives. A fate that I will doubtlessly grow to hate in time.
The others who emerged from the rubble in our neighborhood looked much the same as me, and at first they called themselves the lucky ones, the ones who had ‘made it’. Unfortunately, with their lives, families, and homes destroyed, they quickly latched on to the one thing they could still call their own, turning their angry and tattered souls on the only one around to blindly accuse for their shared misfortune. In mere minutes, the ponies who had once been my neighbors had emerged from the balefire as the vengeful spirits of what was now the old world, seeking to see me become the first casualty of the new one.
Father always told me that we came from a strong tribe among the nations, and that before my family came to Equestria, they lived high in the rugged and dangerous northern mountains of the Zebra Empire. He told me of how the lands there were savage and harsh landscapes, and that if you weren’t quick enough, the numerous beasts that waited in the shadows wouldn’t hesitate to rend your body in half that they may devour your soul whole. I never believed the tales he told and found myself lost in the grand illusion of modern life, but I was wrong, and should have listened to the wisdom of his words.
In those first few moments of reorientation in the new wasteland, I could feel generations worth of instincts kick in, mixing together seamlessly with the anger I kept inside. The will to survive guided my movements, my natural zebra flexibility extending as reactions flawlessly flowed into counter actions which utilized my hatred in ways before today I had never once wanted to express. My whole life I had been raised in Equestria, playing, learning, and working side by side with ponies, and in this moment none of that remained. I am a zebra, and where I once stood apart from those trying to rend the life from my body only by the fact that I have a different coat, I now question how I could once have thought it so simple. The bricks under my hooves clattered and shifted as I prepared myself for the coming attempts to be made against my life, the thought that my sons lay dead somewhere beneath the rubble I stood upon was lost in the far reaches of my memory.
I felt no pity for the banker that lived across the street from me, as his momentum was redirected by my hooves. His weighty girth made sure that he wouldn’t be a threat ever again as it carried his steps forward without fault, impaling his head on the twisted and brightly glowing remains of his own garden fencing. Emotion had no place in this exchange of actions, and though it felt alien to me, the serenity hoof to hoof combat now brought upon my mind helped to quell the fires of rage in my soul. None of us had asked for this calamity to be brought upon us, but all the same, none of us had been attentive enough to stop it, even knowing full well that the price of failure was the destruction of everything we knew and loved.
The retired teacher was the next obstacle I needed to overcome to survive, her unicorn magic already wielding a section of heated rebar as a makeshift spear. I stepped to the side as she thrust, feeling as the heat of the makeshift lance ebbed across my coat when it missed. Curling my fetlock around a brick, I used my other forehoof to balance, throwing my hind legs up to propel my body into a spin. My hooves acted with the guidance of my heritage, coursing through me with a strength I had not known I had, and even through the betrayal to the lands I had one day hoped to call my own, my hooves fought to save my life so that I still might one day gaze upon them.
The brick I held was propelled toward the elderly scholar's head as I spun down to land on all fours again, while the weapon she held swung around at me haphazardly. Her focus had been stolen by the brick, and in the added distraction of stopping it’s flight, my hind legs recoiled from the landing and propelled my rear up. As my flank swung high, it barely missed the blade being held by the mechanic who lived behind me, who was the last and biggest threat of my opponents. I gave a mighty heave with my forelegs, pushing myself into the air as the rebar rod passed through the space I had once occupied. The bright glow that Mrs. Turner’s eyes gave off dimmed for a moment as her gaze followed me while her horn tried in futility to intercept my path.
I craned my neck and guided my legs to reorient themselves midair, lining them up only a moment before they connected with the elderly mare’s back. The snapping of bone was the first sensation resounding through my ordeal that didn’t help to calm the rage inside. Rather the grotesque noise fueled it, helping it to spread through me as if it were a brushfire unchecked by anyone. The dull crunching that came when she had been forced to the ground, and the feeling of her body growing limp under my hooves was an acknowledgement that I had ended the confrontation decisively, and that she was no longer a threat.
I could feel the shift in the air, the change from survival to aggression coming easily with the stoked flames of hatred in my soul urging it along. With it came the thoughts of my sons crushed under what remained of the home I had built for them, the image of the racist mailmare who brought me the news that I lost my wife in the battle for Hoofington, and the thought that despite losing everything, I didn’t even have the will to give up and end my own suffering. As the mechanic acted unpredictably and turned tail to run, the rage consumed my soul, taking over in guiding me as I hopped off the former obstacle toward the rebar rod that now lay unused. I bellowed out as the metal burned at my leg, but I would not relent as I hefted it up in my fetlock, torquing myself and hurling the burning spear as if it were the one true implement of divine justice that promised to give my soul peace.
It sailed from my hoof and through the air after the enemy, my mind working to erase any and all memories of the civility we had once shown to each other. We had been equals once, both working for the good of our common bond in wanting a better world, but that vision was more fragile than we could have ever imagined, and shattered completely alongside the city we had once thought could be our utopia. The heated lance drove through his coat, and with how quickly he had ceased to move once he tumbled to the ground, I assumed through his heart as well. The sight of my third kill quickly extinguished any hope, love, or kindness I had left inside my own chest, my heart now laying dark and cold only warmed by the fires of the rage inside.
The world had come to it’s end, and even as the stench of burning flesh and melting steel filled the air, I was glad that the war was finally over. Too long had we been at each others throats as a society, and too long did we let the simple fact of different looks cause the pain and suffering of millions. The megaspells had been created as a weapon, and were feared as the tool that would be used to bring about our complete annihilation. I can see now that this thought was flawed, wrongly chosen by those too blind from the fear of dying to see what they really were. They were the great equalizer, the one force left that could bring the balance back to the lands that had been slowly dying, even before today.
I paid no mind to the sound of rubble falling around me, as the old world would now spend the rest of eternity trying to tear itself down, but my instincts knew better, turning me around to face the new threat to my continued existence. My eyes were greeted by those which belonged to a half burned foal, his short horn flickering as it barely kept a badly damaged revolver with a bent barrel in his muzzle. I recognized him as one of the banker’s relatives, having seen him playing in the street a few times before and hesitated with this thought, losing my chance to strike him down, but he used the time to ensure his own survival as he pulled the trigger. The gun however, exploded in his face and dropped him to the ground as the metal bits from the gun shredded his skin, the sight of it giving my mind the extra nudge to gather up enough of my senses to know I was no longer in danger.
The colt was tougher than I thought, giving out a whine as he did what I no longer could and started crying, an action which I could not bring myself to do even when I lost my wife. The sound of his woeful sobs dampened the burning of my soul, rekindling the feeling of life that I had assumed dead along with my last victim, and as if it was something you could commonly fix, I found myself feeling whole again. He curled himself up as tightly as he could to escape the hell we had both been thrust into, the thought that he was on his own now most assuredly running through his mind over and over again.
I shouldn’t have cared, I shouldn’t have wanted him to have died with the others, but what perverse entertainment do the stars get from watching one such as him suffer? Why curse him to wander these lands alone in a world he took no part in creating? There were too many questions that did not warrant answering anymore, and the only thing I knew that mattered, was that I needed to survive. But I did not have to survive alone.
In walking over to the young colt, he did little more to avoid me than to scoot himself away a few steps, but then his legs gave out and he dropped to the ground in tears again. It was then I noticed that the open wounds on his face were slowly closing, and with every moment that passed, his limbs steadied further, glowing brighter and brighter. This was when I realized what made the affliction we shared the curse that I feared it was. The very poison that now spread across the land only strengthened our bodies, ensuring that we suffered for as long as it takes for the stars to have their fill of our misfortunes.
Looking down the road we had once used to reach the city, great fires burned in what remained of the defiant skyscrapers that lined downtown, the sun now having to claw it’s way through the great plume that rose across it, and nearly filling the entire sky above. With a thunderous crack, one of the now glassless buildings listed out of place and fell against another, forcing it to move and repeat the process, which continued until the group struck one that refused to fall in line. The sharp sounds that echoed across the silent lands brought the young colt to his hooves, quieting him momentarily as he took in the apocalyptic sight, unable to take in just how much suffering and death the image he viewed could have held.
I offered a welcoming hoof to him, the anger inside me dimming with each passing moment that he was here. For a brief second, an unthinkable thought ran through my mind as he stepped up and sat down next to me now unafraid, his eyes and injuries glowing brighter than that of the brightest stars in the night sky. I could offer this colt the peace that death brings, the freedom from the curse of going on with the pain of his memories, but it was a choice he would have to make for himself. If it comes down to it, I will survive, but that does not make me a murderer, and I refuse to make that choice for him when he has not even found that which makes him unique. Maybe one day soon, he will find himself and ask for my help in saving him from his curse, but that is not today.
The roar from the engine of a missile rolled through the sky above the two of us, the white plume trailing behind it streaked toward the center of the city, eager to ensure the obliteration of the still proud structures that defied the first strike. Maybe the stars were already satisfied with what the two of us had done in the last few minutes, or maybe it was simply that they no longer offered us the choice to continue on our path. They had seen fit to curse us, but this may have just been a second chance to prepare as now I knew what was soon to come. Pulling the colt tightly into myself and tipping my head up to the sky with my eyes closed, I felt him squeeze around me tightly in a sign that to him, we were at the very least equal in his eyes.
In the still before the blast, I offered out only half a prayer in my mind, because this time the two of us were truly the lucky ones.