Fallout Equestria: Ancient Protectors

by Tempestus

First published

Two Steel Rangers and a Shadowbolt find themselves in a wasteland after nearly two-hundred years of cryo-stasis.

After being sent to Stable-150, Applebits awakens to find that everything has changed, and that Equestria is no longer the loving land she once knew. With her only other surviving companion, Bull's-Eye, and an unexpected ally, Dark Lightning, they set off to find somepony that they had thought had died during the falllout, Tempest Knight. This fic takes place at the same time as Little Pips adventures in the original Fallout Equestria. It is also a cross of standard (original only) FoE and my head cannon. (The latter taking place prior with slight modifications as to not effect FoE.)

Duty to the People, Country, God! Never forget your Duty to Yourself

I did not create Fallout Equestria nor do I own My Little Pony Friendship is Magic or the Fallout series!

Acknowledgements-

I would like to thank Interloper, G-man64, and the_Changeling_Prince_2 for character history assistance and for the encouragement to keep the story going.

Kkat- The creator of the book Fallout Equestria.

Lauren Faust- The creator of the television show My Little Pony.

Bethesda Gaming- The creators of the video game series Fallout.

Delta Flood3 and Death Angel Wolf- For the use of their OC's and the ideas that they put into this piece of fan fiction.

Prologue

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Prologue

All things good and bad come to the same end.- Tempest Knight

NO, This can’t be happening! They would never go this far, and yet I find myself blasting these missiles out of the sky on our borders. To make matters worse it looks like the Pegasi have closed the cloud barrier and retreated, cowards this is as much their fight as ours and I could use their help taking out these mega spells! Screams from below me signal that the enemy is falling back on the ground.

As I landed in front of my army a Steel Ranger clad in white and black armor approached me, “Sir, The enemy is breaking attack and I’m getting reports that multiple cities were just hit!”

“What,” I replied in shock.

“Manehattan, Fillydelphia, Cloudsdale, Canterlot, Horseshoe City, and more sir, the casualties are off the charts but I am receiving reports that the Stables are activating!” the Steel Ranger Knight reported with a tone of fear in his voice as he looked up slightly!

“The princesses and the ministry mares?” I asked.

“We believe them to be dead sir.” the knight reported.

“No, this can’t be, n, n, no, but…” I stammered not knowing what to say when Star Paladin SteelCrusher turns to me and asked,

“General, we need to leave, where are we going, which stable?”

I replied still disorientated, “Military Stable 150 is closest, take everyone and go, I will remain here and stop more missiles, enough damage has been done this day for the next thousand years to live through!”

I have seen death, it is not a new concept for me, I am ancient compared to everypony I know aside from the princesses, born intot he world by my pegusus mother of half Cyrstal pony decent and to my mighty dragon father just in time to become a knight and serve during the last war with the Griffon Kingdom. Now the region I that I was charged to defend is falling and all I can do is watch and mourn the loss of so many, and her, no Dashy, she, she is gone. I lowered my head and inspected the ground, we had just decided to get married the last time I was in Canterlot. Luna needed to see us both for a strategy meeting as the threat of megaspell bombardment grew, if only I had at least a chance to say goodbye.

“She is gone.” I murmured aloud no pony heard me as I stood in shock and a single tear dropped from my eye and to my chin.

“Understood sir I will get them there, do you want us to wait for you?” SteelCrusher asked with a tone of both sorrow and fear.

“No, get everypony inside and go into cryo, consider these my final orders until we meet again!” I said, looking strait at her, my trusted second in command, a unicorn medic clad in Steel Ranger Armor named Applebits.

“Understood it has been an honor to serve with you!” She exclaimed, she stepped back, then nodded, getting the troops to the stable.

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It had been hours since they left for the stables, when finally the missiles were in sight, it was now dark, the cloud cover not helping for my visual below, but I was maintaining a high altitude in expectation. I went to work blasting them with balls of fire soaring from my muzzle, thrusting my dragon wings hard to gain speed. Four down and it looked like there were at least fifty more to go, I again strafed them with fire determined not to let a single one past, twenty more detonated. I stopped and turned midair and bellowed flames from my muzzle, my balefire incinerating ten more that had gotten quite close and then my shield dropped as I had gotten too close to the last of the missiles. Before I could see it a missile struck me in my ancient armors chest plate and detonated, fortunately for me it was a balefire spell and I being half dragon was immune to it, unfortunately the resulting impact coupled with the shock wave sent me hurtling towards the ground with a trail of black smoke as all of my fur burned off to reveal the scales beneath.

I hit the ground on my left wing and skidded forward tearing apart my body as I smeared blood across the hard rocky ground. Still conscious I shakily stood, but when I put pressure on my left fore leg I found that the lower bone was protruding out of the skin. Howling in pain as I shot a stream of red hot flames into the air I also took notice that I had stripped the membrane off of my left wing and it too was oddly shaped. Grimacing I looked tot he sky which now that the cloud cover was complete cast down a faint grey light as the sun set, I could only hope I stopped the majority of the missiles before I was knocked out of the sky.

Letting my tears flow freely as I turned to see the nearest settlement glow green as it burned in the distance and hearing the multitude of pained screams I realized just how far I had been blown back. Baltimare and its citizen were living through Hell right now and I couldn't do a thing as I was in no condition to even stand let alone rescue refugees from the radioactive flames. I tried to take a step towards the burning city but fell onto my face as I howled in a fresh wave of pain and looked to my flank, embedded into my right side was a large chunk of metal that had have dug deeply into me, I quickly used my talisman to surround it in a magical aura and ripped it out of me as blood gushed from the wound. My vision became fuzzy as I looked towards a cave not too far from where I was standing, I managed to stand again as I put magical pressure on my wound to stop the bleeding and ignoring the pain I shakily limped on three hooves inside. Laying down I breathed fire to cauterize the gash in my flank as I felt a warm trickle on the back of my head before passing out into a nightmare filled coma filled with screams of the innocent ponies as they burned to death and repeated images of my beloved Rainbow Dash suffering many different fates.

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I woke in a strange sphere that was obviously radiating with energy, alicorn energy. By the time I spotted them a bright blue flash erupted before my eyes.

“Tempest Knight, the last son of the Mage Dragons, finally awake I see, I am the goddess.”

I watched as unidentifiable faces rolled across her giant head unsure of just what I was looking at.

She continued, “You have been resting for two hundred years, though it doesn't really matter anymore since the stables failed and Equestria is little more than a radioactive wasteland filled with charred pony skeletons.”

I replied weakly noticing that my once midnight black coat had turned charcoal grey and that my black and red mane and tail had also faded, “What do you mean?”

She answered in a factual tone, “Indeed, all was lost in the days after the spells hit,the stables failed during the first generation they were operational for and the land became far too irradiated for life to continue.”

I once more drifted off to a nightmare filled sleep as her voice faded away, I had failed in my duties, and I was the only one left.

Awake

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Chapter 1

Awake

From the flame the phoenix dies, from the ashes the phoenix is reborn! -Applebits

I awoke, the stable lights were dead or dim but my sensors told me that I was not alone, at least two other living beings in the room with me, both friendly. I turned on my head lamp to see Knight BrokenBlade step out of his cryo tube and do the same. I looked around again, my tube had been opened with all of the others, yet nopony else moved, they had perished, the stable released neurotoxins and killed them because it was unable to release them, the pegasus soldiers who had been safe in the sky had forgotten us, and the rest of my army had paid the price.

“Are you okay?” I asked the knight,

“Yes ma’am, all systems are ago, though I do wish I could say the same about my buddies… Our buddies.” He replied in a country accent.

“Good, do you have a third friend on your eyes forward as well?” I asked looking towards the door and loading my two twenty millimeter gatling machine guns with AP ammo, deciding that I should take point not only because of rank but weapons since all he had were two anti tank cannons after all.

He replied, “Yes ma’am but I don’t know who it is all I know is that he is in the control room for all systems.”

I just looked at him realizing that his helmet was missing, he was a dark brown stallion with a blond closely cropped mane and blue eyes.

“I want to meet this friendly and ask a few questions, stay close but try not to fire your guns, oh and don’t forget your helmet.” I pointed a fore hoof at his helmet and he nodded.

About half way up the corridor I heard screaming as the stable alarms went off and defense turrets activated, thankfully they too were listed as friendly, could the pegasi have just taken so long because we were still fighting zebras, and they couldn’t get into the stable? Sadly as I rounded the next turn that thought was blasted out of my mind as though Celestia had banished it to the Moon with Luna. I heard my companion squeak which was unexpected all I could do was stare at the bodies of disemboweled ponies hanging by their necks around me, and about twenty more in steel cages next to me.

“Ma’am what is this?” BrokenBlade asked me.

I just back stepped back and shook my head when a filly nearby in one of the cages whispered to what appeared to be a dead mare next to her,

"Mommy steel rangers are here to save us!”

To my shear astonishment the dead pony looked up from sleeping at me and to the filly and said, “My dear, steel rangers are more likely to save this stable for its remaining technology than to save us.”

I couldn't believe what I heard and my companion gave a defiant stomp,

“I don’t know what’s going on but I aint about to let it continue, go find that other friendly I’m going to get these ponies out of here!”

I looked at him and nodded still trying to process what I was seeing, then I galloped off to the door on the other side of the room.

When I was about halfway through the room the door I was running to opened and two ponies with spiky hair charged out of it taking positions on either side and not noticing me. They were both mares, identical in fact, black coats and black manes they each had gold eyes, and they were covered in blood. Then one of them saw me and a few of the civilians behind me with my partner, and shouted at her sister to kill us, I logically opened fire, forgetting that I had AP rounds loaded killing both in an instant. All noise stopped as soon as I opened fire, my eyes forward declared to me that there were still roughly five hundred hostiles left which wasn’t good because I just killed two of them and forgot that my guns sounded just a tad bit louder than theirs.

I turned and yelled, “Get them out of here and into safety I will catch up!” BrokenBlade nodded having just opened the last cage. I charged through the door and jammed it shut, it was now time to find the guy who woke us up and give him a hug.

WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH, three missiles took out groups of the vile ponies, I had just came out of the stable kitchen and it was filled with cut up ponies who these monsters had been eating, I now felt no remorse in killing them because now I wanted them dead. I stopped just short as a rocket flew right in front of me and into the wall next to me, somepony just missed his target, the 50. CAL turrets opened fire on the crapper, I smiled one less bullet to waste on them for me. Turning the corner I saw a river of blood and bodies this was where the friendly was holding out then the turrets went red.

I then heard somepony go, “Crap, they overrode my code, security is now against me and I don’t have a gun!”

I realized that the turrets had targeted me so I opened fire, WHOOSH, WHOOSH, two missiles later and the turrets were no more. I trotted into the security station, “Hello?”

To my amazement there was a Shadowbolt in the room with me, he had custom armor that looked stark naked without his wings and weapons.

“I’m here to help, you opened the cryo chambers?” I asked.

“Not intentionally, I was trying to activate security functions for this stable, those raiders removed my wings and guns, worse they have a large population of folks from a nearby town I came to investigate, turns out they have been eating them too.” he said, his voice was deep and plain, but definitely distinguishable to most others I knew.

“So, I noticed they turned the turrets against us.” I said, thinking about my comrade defending the captives and leading them to safety.

“Yes, I’m part of Commander Dash’s squad, second in command in fact, the names Dark Lightning, you came out of cryo?” He said.

I couldn’t see him through his armor, though I could tell he was sturdy, tall and buff. Then I realized he asked me a question while I was looking him over inspecting him.

“I’m Star Paladin SteelCrusher of the first Equestrian Army, second in command to General Tempest Knight.” as I said it I watched him drop his head a few inches.

“You are part of his unit!” He exclaimed, I knew this not to be a question, but all hopes of a rescue operation launched by the Shadowbolts faded at that reaction. Just as multiple explosions erupted from below, the distinct sound of anti tank cannons sounded and we raced out the door.

BrokenBlade had not only escorted the civilians out but cut a swath through the stable of blood and bits of turrets, and what looked like ponies, I approached him.

“Did you leave yourself any ammo.” I asked, he had removed his helmet and sat down to catch his breath exhausted from the fight, my EFS was telling me that there were still lot more hostiles moving in on our position.

“Fresh out ma’am, but mission complete, didn’t think it right to leave you here by your lonesome.” He replied.

I told Lightning to get him out, that I had a plan. I waited for him to leave before turning around and charging my way down the halls into the reactor core of the stable, floating enough explosives behind me that I could erase Ponyville off the face of Equestria. I threw the explosives and fired a missile as I turned and galloped for my life out the front of the stable as a column of fire raced out behind me and the world went black.

Answers

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Chapter 2

Answers

We know not the consequence of action, but of the consequence of inaction.-Applebits

I woke up in pain and my partner standing over me, his armor off I could now see his cutiemark, a bull’s-eye, two thoughts came to my mind, the first was a good shot, the second was an easy target, then I remembered that I never did get his name, he was one of my own, and I didn’t know his name. Before I could stop myself I found myself blushing, and he was staring into my eyes holding, in his mouth, a bowl of soup. I decided to sit up off my side and winced at the pain, my legs were folded under me still and I had stopped blushing, he gave me the soup then walked over to a metal winged pegasus and told him that I was awake.

“How long was I out?” I asked, hoping to break the silence.

Lightning responded, “about two days, me and Bull’s-Eye have been talking about that plan of yours, it was crazy.”

I now looked him over, able to see him in the dim light that was able to penetrate the cloud cover in the sky, he was a pegasus with a charcoal grey coat, orange and black mane, and tangerine colored eyes, with a cutiemark of a black lightning cloud and bolts, it also looked like the cloud had gears in it.

“Well I ran out of ammo and wasn’t about to start spearing them on my horn!” I laughed a little to make them more comfortable hoping that they would get my joke, I had never been good at humor, but they laughed with me.

“Probably good, we don’t want you to break your horn.” my partner Bull’s-Eye said, he had started putting his armor back on, everything but the helmet, then I noticed the wagon.

“Aint she a beauty?” Lightning said pointing a fore hoof at the wagon, it was, in all manners of the word, a pony pulled tank, from the 90 millimeter cannon on top to the two hoof wide tracks on the bottom and the heavy armor plating.

“Who is going to pull that?” I asked, looking at the pegasus, who did look as though he could but I knew for a fact that thing couldn’t fly.

“I am, was going to ask if we could take turns though?” said Bull’s-Eye,I looked at him and nodded.

“Okay for a few minuets there I thought the pegasus was off his rocker.” I said with a laugh, and they both laughed with me. It was nice to have friends that would laugh with me. I had completely forgotten about my rank compared to Bull’s-Eye, though I am an equal to Lightning it must still be nerve racking to be a knight in the presence of to high ranking officers.

“Bull’s-Eye can I speak with you in private please?” I asked as I got up, the pain in my ribs suggesting that I had a few fractures, I will have to deal with that later.

“Sure thing ma’am.” He replied looking slightly worried. I took him to the edge of the light and in a hushed tone told him not to worry about the chain of command, that we are what we have and I see us all as equals in a team. He took it well and we returned to the fire.

“Your armor took quite the beating but I was able to fix it, even slightly improve it, though I have never seen Steel Ranger armor this color before.” Dark Lightning said looking at me, and I realized that I had been launched out the stable door like a bullet out of rifle.

“How bad was it?” I asked nervously now worried about my armor.

“It held well no structural problems just a few external armor plates were blown off nothing to difficult.” he said with a smile.

That news made me happy, I approached him, “is it ready to be worn?” I asked him.

“Yes, its not going to get any better, but I still don’t understand why you two have black and white armor.” he remarked.

I began putting it on, using my magic to put in into place and fasten it, otherwise I would need somepony else to help and there were no other mares in my group, just another reason I like being a unicorn. “The paint on our armor signifies us as part of the first army of Equestria, its purely symbolic.” I said as I was strapping on my battle saddle, “Now I have a few questions for you.” I stated looking him in the eyes to see if he faltered, he didn’t.

“Ask away, we aint going nowhere till the morning, gotta give you time to heal.” he said looking me in the eyes this time.

"Okay", I looked around, “What exactly am I looking at, what happened to the woods this stable was hidden inside?” I asked him as my first question.

“Well this is what is left of those woods, when the mega spells hit, Equestria turned into a wasteland of radiation and mutated monsters, its that simple, the only place that was left untouched was the Everfree Forest, but that place underwent its own mutations.” He said looking down as though he had failed his mission.

“Okay, I know the pegasi closed the sky and all, but why didn’t they come down for us as planned?” BrokenBlade asked him, obviously disturbed.

“Well the Enclave, that’s what they call themselves now, don’t come down to the surface anymore, its not allowed and any pegasus that does comes down here is labeled a traitor and branded as a Dashite, they do this by burning off your cutiemark with the emblem of Rainbow Dash, hence the name Dashite.” He said, a twinge of sadness in his voice.

For a time after that we were just quite, while I had been sleeping Lightning had made repairs to everything possible, and my partner had taken the liberty of gathering supplies from what was left of the stable. Finally I asked him, “So your pre-apocalypse, right? What’s your story?”

He looked at me and sighed, obviously seeing this coming, but not wanting to relive it, “Well as I said before I was second in command of Rainbow Dashes squad, when the mega spells hit I had orders from her to take out the missiles before they left the ground while she dealt with military command as the head of the Ministry of Awesome. I did so, we took down numerous missiles until we had exhausted our ammo, but the damage had been done to Equestria and was irreversible. So Dash told us to go into cryo across Equestria and set our timers for ending cryo around two hundred years. I woke up not even two years ago to this day, the wasteland.”

I looked at him, realizing that General Tempest had stayed behind to stop more missiles from doing even more damage and that he might still be out there. I then proceeded to tell him our story up to the present, when I was done we had both disclaimed everything that needed to be known and we all settled down for sleep, each of taking watches throughout the night.

Treason

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Chapter 3

Treason

Every war has its traitors.- Applebits

I woke to shouting and for a moment was worried that Bull’s-Eye and Dark Lightning were fighting, that worry disappeared when I noticed Lightning stirring from his sleep on the other side of the fire. The night had been uneventful but I had still slept in my armor, everything but the helmet, which I quickly put on when I saw a Paladin yelling at my Knight to step aside. I stood and approached with due haste as Lightning woke up.

“What is going on here?” I said in a authoritative voice, much like that of the royal canterlot voice, everyone froze at the sight of me.

“Two unknown rangers, what contingent are you a part of soldier!” the lower ranking paladin asked me, I looked at him unsure of what he meant.

“Contingent? What the hell is that, and why do you not address me with my proper rank?” I asked bluntly still using my command voice, they all backed up, I saw them engage their weapon systems, I did the same even though my team did not.

“You, you aren’t part of a contingent, then you need to hand over your armor now or we will kill you!” The lead ranger exclaimed.

I looked at him and said, “No, we are part of the Equestrian First Army, and I am Star Paladin SteelCrusher, I only take orders from the princesses and General Tempest Knight, no pony else, find your place soldier!” I was now spinning up my guns ready for a fight when their scribe, a unicorn mare stepped forward.

“Did you come out of that stable Star Paladin?” she asked me.

I replied with the only logical answer, “Yes, my squad mate and I were rescued by this Shadowbolt from Rainbow Dash’s personal squad, we managed to rescue a large portion of the civilian population that belongs to a nearby town, sadly the stable was over run and we didn’t have the supplies to retake it conventionally, the idiotic raiders had glitched the stable auto turrets, so I did the only logical course of action. I took as many explosives down to the reactor core, which was already malfunctioning and blew the stable.”

They were all staring at me, and I saw two of them shut off their weapon systems, the scribe looked pleased with her answer and backed away to the two rangers who had shut off their weapons when the paladin decided he didn’t like what the scribe was doing and shot her with a grenade machine gun. WHOOSH, WHOOSH, BRRRRRRT, I didn’t think I just fired, he had just killed his own scribe, and I was mad. He collapsed with a thud the two of the remaining four rangers turned red on my EFS, I killed them as well. When I was done, bits of pony and armor scattered the ground, the other two rangers just looked at me in shock, scared witless, they were both knights.

Finally one of them approached me, “Sorry Ma’am” a gruff voice from under his helmet, he was a large stallion, “the scribe had told us no to fire but the others, they only care for what the Elders say, and the paladins only follow the Elders. No need to worry, there are still those of us who will follow Star Paladin SteelHooves when the time comes, if ever.”

I looked at him in disbelief, “SteelHooves is still alive, well if you would follow him will you follow me?” I said, no longer speaking in an authoritative tone but in a curious tone.

“If he trusts you then I will, what was your relationship?” the second ranger said, her voice sounded delicate as though she was crying in her armor.

“We fought alongside each other on numerous occasions, like him I was one of the first rangers, we rarely spoke to one another when we were home, hell he rarely spoke.” I said with a laugh.

They both looked at me and BrokenBlade with a sense of respect.

“My sister and I will follow your orders, could we accompany you?” asked the gruff speaking ranger.

“Yes you may, though I would like to know your names.” I replied without hesitation, for I knew that they were now alone, since I did just obliterate their squad in an instant.

They looked at one another and removed their helmets then looked back at me, they were both earth ponies, the brother was sky blue with a silver mane and blue eyes, and the sister was forest green with a black mane and brown eyes.

“My title is Knight BlueSteel, but my name is Wild Blue, this is my sister Knight CrossedSwords, her name is Green Woods.” The brother said pointing with his left fore hoof as he spoke.

“Welcome to our team, know that we are your friends and we have no intention of forcing you to do anything, we are in this together.” I said with a reassuring smile to comfort them, they were much younger than even Bull’s-Eye was and he had just been promoted to knight before the fallout.

We buried the other rangers, each with a stone marking that I engraved their names into, traitors or not they were still our own. Then we moved out, BrokenBlade pulled the tank wagon and I walked next to BlueSteel while CrossedSwords manned the tank wagons gun and Dark Lightning flew just ahead, leading us toward the town he spoke to me about when I first met him.

“So how are there still Steel Rangers if Equestria has no formal military?” I asked.

“Well Equestria may have no formal military but the Steel Rangers never stopped fighting, they collected up technology to store and use as this trial went on, eventually the old Elders passed and the next generation took over, that’s when everything went from protect the stables and store what tech we could find, to take the stables and the tech inside, discard the civilians and store the tech for ourselves. That’s why there is discontent within our ranks, we are just afraid to act on it seeing as though we all wish to survive, that’s why we are waiting for Steelhooves to make his move, so we can follow him, he is the only pony who could rally enough support for us to return to the way we should be.” BlueSteel told me.

All I could do was look at him in disbelief. CrossedSwords nodded at her brothers story, and then it happened, BANG, BANG, BRRRRT, PEWPEW, the very distinct sound of Dark Lightning going into combat, we all left the wagon tank behind and galloped to the sound of gun fire!

Lightning had engaged slavers, slavers that had taken over the town, the same town we had sent the freed captives to. I ordered my rangers to secure the town and defend the population at any cost, then I charged into battle after them, BrokenBlade stayed on the hill to provide support with his anti tank cannons. I looked up to see Dark Lightning actually firing black lightning bolts from his wings, like he was their source, I guess that’s how he got his name. We rounded the corner BlueSteel opened fire with his grenade machine guns, he had two, and I followed CrossedSwords who had four miniguns like my two, we stopped on the other side of the street and began picking off the attackers. I told them to hold their positions so that Lightning could pick the locks without getting shot while I went to finish the rest of the slavers who were now regrouping after our surprise attack.

BrokenBlade was still atop the hill and raining death with his anti tank cannons. As I rounded the next corner I launched two missiles and dashed for cover in the local sheriffs office as lightning came my direction. “What the hell was that!” I screamed, even though I was alone. I moved through the wreckage that was the wall of the sheriffs office and into what looked like a store, peering through a window, I saw it, three alicorns. I positioned myself in the doorway, they had yet to see me, and primed my missiles. WHOOOSH, WHOOOSH, WHOOOSH, I fired multiple groups of three missiles then dashed into the next building, bringing up my shield as lightning danced about me. Glancing back I noted that I killed two of them and that the other was missing, then I ran into it as it bucked me away. Apparently they can teleport, so unfair. BOOOOOM, the distinctive sound of twin anti tank cannons filled the air, BrokenBlade had moved up to my area and blasted the alicorn for all it was worth, in this case red dust.

“Well then, they don’t much appreciate good artillery now do they?” My friend chuckled.

“Guess not” I replied with a grunt while getting back up to my hooves, “lets get back to the others EFS says that all hostiles are dead.” I finished saying after I got up, all he did was nod. We came around the corner to find the towns medic using our supplies to patch everypony up. I approached him, he looked at me and saw my armors battle damage from the alicorns, he was a baby blue unicorn with a soft voice, white mane, and green eyes.

“Now you look like you had a run in with those winged unicorns that came with those slavers.” He said.

I nodded, “Those creatures are called alicorns, but I don’t know why they attacked you folks, is everypony okay?” I asked.

“Eyup everypony is okay, they didn’t want to kill us, they wanted to sell us, what use are we dead?” the old doctor said, it was a rhetorical question but I still nodded.

I found the ponies that I had rescued the night before, I should say they found me first, next thing I knew, that little grey filly with red mane and grey eyes had me pinned on the ground smiling down at me yelling,

“THANK YOU SO MUCH YOU WERE AWESOME!” I had no idea fillies were that strong, I knew they could be loud but this unicorn was strong for being half my size, and I was considered in no way to be small.

I got up and the filly sat on my back, as I walked over to my companions I saw what she had called her mother talking to BrokenBlade, who had removed his helmet as a courtesy.

“I’m glad you folks are okay miss, though do beg my pardon, you look like your dead?” I could hear him say, he was very blunt, guess that’s why they call him ‘BrokenBlade’ aside from him breaking zebra swords during the war.

“I’m a ghoul.” said the mare.

Just then they noticed me the filly was now jumping up and down on my back with definitive bouncing sound every time she jumped up, I waved a fore hoof at them as a hello.

“So are you her momma?” he said, “If ya don’t mind me asking!” He quickly added.

“I adopted her when her parents died, they were killed in a raider attack, it was the least I could do.” the ghoul said with a smile, which in all honesty would have made me lose my lunch if I hadn’t served in the army and seen worse.

The filly jumped off my back and ran to her adoptive mother, “MOMMA DID YOU SEE HER AND HER TEAM, THEY SAVED US!” the filly said.

I looked at them, “I did what anypony in my situation should have done, it was right, and it is my duty to protect Equestria and its citizens.” I said proudly.

The ghoul looked at me, “I’ve never seen a Steel Ranger jump to help without payment or an interest in the technology, didn’t think you all cared about us ponies who are just trying to live life to the fullest without horror getting involved.” she said it with such disgust that my spirits fell.

“Well we obviously aint normal Steel Rangers from any of, well what they call em, contingents? Eyup, contingents, we belong to the Equestrian First Army and are happy to help.” BrokenSteel said, with a hint of pride, though I think I will talk to him about his grammar problems later when we are in private.

She just looked at us in shock, “Equestrian First Army! You survived the fallout, that’s why you were in the stable when you rescued us?” she asked.

“Yes, we woke up from cryo thanks to our Shadowbolt friend, then we found you and the horrors above, glad to report that I blew that place up with about two tons of explosives and three missiles in the fusion chamber.” I said plainly, her gaze searched me and stopped on my medical gear.

“You’re a medic?” she asked.

“Indeed I am, but the doc has ordered me not to use my horn, apparently I cracked it in combat, he wants it to heal before I use it again, but I did donate a large amount of supplies for the clinic.” I replied with looking at the wounded.

“I can understand that, thank you, for everything.” she said, ending the conversation.

I walked over to our new teammates, “Hey I have a task for the two of you, it will improve our image and give you both a sense of pride! That is, if you are up to it?” I said looking them over, they had handled combat well, a few minor dings and scrapes but nothing near pain for the pony inside.

“What is it?” BlueSteel asked, with a determined face, I removed my helmet.

“Its simple, I want the two of you to stay here and protect these people and their town from invaders who wish them harm! Do you accept?” I said it with a straight face looking back and forth between them, they wasted no time replying, not even changing their look of determination.

“We would be honored ma’am!” BlueSteel said.

“We would also like to paint our armor to match yours ma’am?” CrossedSwords asked.

“Well I see no reason why you can’t, you fought like one of us, and alongside two of us. I consider the two of you members of my army, seeing as though I was second in command and General Tempest isn’t here to welcome you himself!” I stated with a half hearted smile, then I saluted them.

“Thank you it is a real honor!” they both said in unison.

I walked over to Dark Lightning, he had pulled our tank down to the town to stock up a little on food and ammo, and give the town medical supplies in return. When I felt hot, I wasn’t wearing my armor, I had shed it for the doctor to inspect me, the world faded away and I felt like I was falling.

“I failed my oath, I failed my army, I failed her, I failed everyone.” I heard a low grumbled sorry voice say in the darkness, then the room imploded with light, I saw alicorns, green ones, surrounding a large green sphere, I could make out a pony inside, he had dragon like wings and was very large, I felt cold all of a sudden like all the life was sucked out of me. “Why couldn’t fate have just let me die when I failed, why…” the voice trailed off and the image faded.

I woke with start, I was on a medical table, there was a curtain dividing the room, I was alone on this side, but I could hear the voices of my comrades on the other side, and the town doctor. I was sweating like I had just performed the medical mega spell that Fluttershy taught us, I got up and got water, I knew it was radioactive my armor had said so when I was in the sheriffs office fighting that alicorn. I drank a few gulps to bring my temp down then notice the curtain slide back.

“You are awake!” the doc said, “why don’t you lie down your body must be over worked which would explain the blackout.” he continued. “Though when you fell everyone in town was healed.” he said with astonishment in his voice, “I’m sure it was you, although you seemed to heal yourself as well, my only recommendation is that you don’t use your horn for a few more hours, at least until you have the energy.” then with a nod the good doctor left.

After he left I got back up, I was still in pain but I could rest later, I needed to talk to somepony that I could trust while this was fresh in my head and figure out what happened to me. Naturally Dark Lightning was the only one of us near me when I blacked out, so I was happy to see him on the other side of the curtain.

“Now I’m going out and I don’t want her to move to much, leaving you here to watch her Mr. Lightning.” the doctor said, and my friend nodded, as the doc walked out the door.

“Lightning I need to speak with you, alone.” I said as soon as the door shut.

He trotted up to me, “You aren’t supposed to be up!” He stated, his voice was stern.

“I don’t care, been through worse, what I have to say I have to make sense of while its still clear, I can’t very well do that alone.” I said to him with a look of concern.

“What’s going on?” He asked.

“I think I saw General Tempest, he was surrounded by eight green alicorns, and was thinking aloud, speaking of how he had failed.” I said recalling the memory as Lightning got me more water, I know my coat is white, but does that make me look dehydrated? I sat on the cold floor, thankful for small favors.

“Can you remember anything else?” He asked placing a cup next to me filled with water.

“I remember being cold, and power radiating from him, the room was definitely made of metal, and underground, that’s all I saw and felt.” I said this between gulps of water, my sweat matted coat now dry, I felt better. “What is in the water?” I asked him as he pondered what I had said.

“Well its pure water from the tank, it has its own water stone, its much cleaner than what they have been using. Oh and I have extra stones from the stable in the tank, I want to give the town one before we leave.” he said.

“So what did the doc mean when he said I healed everypony when I passed out?” I asked him.

“Well he spoke the truth in that, you even managed to restore large areas of that ghoul mares flesh, you performed, in a small scale, the mega spell that Fluttershy had created for her medics.” he said, wondering how I had done it while unconscious.

I looked at him, “You were there the first time we did it weren’t you?” I asked.

“Well yes I was, wing pony to Rainbow Dash, why, were you? I didn’t see any mares aside from medics!” he said.

“I was nearby, and part of launching the spell, I was a medical pony before I became a ranger.” I said as his eyes went wide.

“You, what, but, never mind, that’s just, well impressive.” he stated, a little shocked that we met before we employed power armor on the battlefield.

Trouble

View Online

Chapter 4

Trouble

Evil is immortal, good is uncommon, death surrounds us all.- Applebits

It had been three days since we saved the town, in that time I had gotten acquainted with the current events, and it was good not to wear my armor for a little time, I instantly regretted it when I saw them. I dashed into the living quarters they had given us, these ponies had made a small town out of the petrified trees that used to be the woods, everything was built sturdy, and recently, they had even built a freestanding three level hotel in which they were letting us stay for free in. I quickly put my armor on and headed back down, as I heard the warning from the towns guards, my friends were there too, the Steel Rangers had arrived in force, it was time to see if my rank within them held any merit anymore.

I approached the literal army, my comrades had them stopped just outside of town, Dark Lightning was nowhere to be seen, knowing him he was perched in a tree with his anti-material rifle. I stood there next to my three rangers and waited for them to address me, they apparently wouldn’t speak to BrokenBlade.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“We will only speak with your Elder, sorry, when you send him out we will then escort him to ours behind me.” the steel ranger mare in front of the massive army in front of me said,.

“Sorry, but this outfit doesn't have an Elder, we have a General and he is currently missing in action, I’m his second in command, my name is…” I was speaking when she cut me off.

“NO ELDER!” She said.

I could hear a few murmurs in the background behind her, “Excuse me but I could have you discharged from the rangers for interrupting me like that, and I will if you do so again!” I said and stomped my hoof on the ground.

“You couldn't, you are not an elder, and no contingent I know of wears that armor color, in fact we all wear the standard steel, unpainted.” she remarked.

I took note of her weapons platform spinning up, “As I was saying, I am Star Paladin SteelCrusher of the Equestrian First Army, second in command to the Mighty General Tempest Knight the ancient protector of Equestria, and I was one of the first steel rangers!” I stated in the royal canterlot voice, at which the mare in front of me took a few steps back, I could hear more murmurs from behind her.

Then I saw their elder, a very old stallion grey everything unicorn, he was wearing steel colored robes, and had glasses. Then he spoke, quite as it was everypony stopped talking and all weapons stopped spinning up, I could see the respect they gave him. I took a look at my squad they hadn’t backed down, though BrokenBlade had moved back a bit to get a better shot if a fight broke out. I turned back to the other rangers.

“Did you kill a squad of steel rangers that came through here young lady?” he said.

“They were threatening my mission, I only killed three of them, their low ranking paladin killed the scribe, and I took into my care the remaining two who made no hostile intent, then helped us retake this town from a band of slavers with strange alicorns.” I said with a respectful tone, I did not wish to have bad blood between myself and an army that had their guns trained not only on me but my friends and the town we were defending.

“I see, and what is your mission?” he asked, his tone implied that he understood my reasoning, “Our mission as the Equestrian First Army is to defend the population of Equestria at any cost to our own be it life or equipment, I acted on the final orders that I received from General Tempest before the fallout.” I stated, thankful for a keen memory and a good voice.

“The rangers fall under the council of elders, we give the orders now, that squad had a mission to kill all non rangers and secure that stable, did you interfere with that?” he asked.

“That stable is a smoldering hole in the ground nothing left inside but my units supplies, which are not yours to take without authorization which I can give as the second in command of the First Army.” I stated looking directly at him, then I saw his Pip-buck flash an image of my face.

“Could you remove your helmet so that I can identify you?” asked the elder.

“Yes, can.” I removed my helmet using my telekinesis white energy surrounded it and it came off my head, I set it down next to me. Then I looked at him, straight into his eyes.

“Can your friends do the same?” he asked.

“They don’t need to, you know who I am my entire file is on your Pip-buck, now what is this all for?” I asked, tired of not getting anywhere with this.

“Just want to know if your story fits, two of these rangers were mine correct?” he asked.

“They were, I enlisted them into my army, to defend this town and the nearby region, which includes the stable, feel free to help yourself, just don’t disturb my fallen comrades, and don’t attack this town.” I said, my tone polite.

“I will not be ordered around by a naïve Star Paladin!” he blurted aloud, everypony got their guns out and ready even my allies.

“Naïve, you may be old but I’m one of the first steel rangers, knew four of the ministry mares, Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Applejack! I fought against the Zebras, alongside Tempest Knight, I am young physical age but in my time we took orders from the two princesses, Celestia and Luna! Find your place I’m older than you!” I was using my royal canterlot voice without my helmet on, everypony in his army backed up except for him, at the same time as I was speaking I was stomping my hooves on the ground and had levitated my helmet. I put my helmet on just as he had gotten back to his army. I turned to my friends, “I think we are about to have a fight on our hooves and I don’t want the towns ponies to get hurt, CrossedSwords I want you to get them someplace where they won’t get hit, Lightning do what you do best if this goes side ways, BrokenBlade, BlueSteel keep with me.

It was starting to get dark, but the elder was still speaking to his four paladins, all of them were different ranks. As the last little bit of light flickered through the wasteland sky, the paladins dispersed into their squads. Their elder turned to me.

“I hope you enjoyed playing hero traitor, for now you and your followers of the old ways will die, I truly am sorry, we just can’t have rangers that don’t follow the new orders!” the elder said abrasively, that was it the last straw broke, this was a small war now, and I wasn’t about to lose it here.

“So you turn flank and run?” I said with disgust in my voice, “We are the Equestrian First Army, one ranger trained by us fights like ten!” I said proudly, “I’m afraid that if you want to live you will take my offer, for it was your scout squad that fired first, I just returned the favor!” I said looking him in the eyes.

“Pa, I care not what you think you can do, kill them, all of them!” he stated, “Oh and burn this town to the ground as well as kill everypony that lives here!” he added as he walked away.

I was furious, he not only wanted us dead, but now the town, they didn’t deserve that. I loaded my AP ammo, this was going to be a hard fight, but we had something they didn’t, Our armor when online emit’s shield magic, a little something that General Tempest added after too many casualties. WHOOOSH, BRRRRT, BOOOM, Everything turned to hell, but among the chaos I saw a few of theirs switch sides on my EFS, Lightning saw it to and sniped the hostiles near them to give them time to move to safety for the fight ahead. Grenade Machine Guns ripped through the air, my ears were buzzing, if I wasn’t in armor, I would have been shredded by shrapnel, unfortunately for them I had armor and a friend who had anti tank cannons, BOOOOM, BOOOOM, I smiled as they blew up from his explosive rounds, he always has the right ammo for the job.

I turned and started to run to were his shots came from, he was in our tank, the 90MM cannon began firing, it was a devastating weapon that no amount of armor could save you from. BOOOOOM, BOOOOM, BOOOM, after the last of the hostile rangers fell, all they had left on their side was their elder.

“SIESE FIRE!” I yelled, they all looked at me, we had gained eight more rangers to our cause but we were greatly outnumbered, and the town was damaged, no bodies so I assumed CrossedSwords did her job. “Elder you are the last of your contingent, we have been victorious, the steel rangers were made to protect Equestria and its population, no matter how much things change down here, that shall always remain the same!” I stated proudly while stomping a hoof, I didn’t give him a chance to reply, I saw his mouth open so I inserted a missile, WHOOOSH, and the elder was turned into unidentifiable pony bits scattered with the dead.

The eight rangers that fought along side us included two paladins, one was a star paladin.

“Permission to enlist ourselves into the Equestrian First Army ma’am” I heard a gruff female voice from behind the visor,

“Permission granted, and I have a task for you, if you choose to accept?” I replied in a slightly cheery voice.

“We have yet to meet a impossible task, save to kill you, but that was a loons plan.” she said to me with a chuckle.

“Protect this town and its residents, there is a wreck of a stable nearby that has equipment, armor, and weapons inside, don’t disturb the dead rangers inside, they are what remains of my army, though you can help yourself to the armory and vehicles.” I stated.

“Thank you ma’am, it’s a real honor to serve with real steel rangers.” she said with a salute and I returned it.

“I’m going to go talk to the town about building a barracks for you. In the mean time you ten should help rebuild the parts of the town that are damaged.” I said, “With pleasure ma’am” she said and they all trotted off to help.

I walked over to the sheriff who was helping calm the towns people down, “Sheriff!” I managed to say before I was knocked over by the little filly again.

“YOU SAVED US ALL AGAIN, MOMMA SHE SAVED US AGAIN, SHE IS OUR HERO!” the filly said bouncing up and down, this wasn’t annoying, to be honest I liked it a lot, but I had a job to do. After getting up and trying to talk in a hushed tone to the filly to calm her down, that didn’t work, I decided that I could do my job with her on my back, so long as no pony started shooting at me.

“She really likes you.” the sheriff said, he was a large black stallion with a deep voice, black mane, blue eyes, and a star for his cutiemark.

“Children and animals have always liked me, though I must admit this is definitely new.” I said with a chuckle looking at my back with the bouncing filly.

“Normally she is very shy, spends a lot of time in my office with my wife reading those old history texts about the Equestrian Military, when we had one, I’m just glad to see her smile.” he said with as he smiled.

“The others are helping rebuild the town, I’m here to propose building a barracks to house the ten steel rangers I’m leaving here to defend you, they have access to what is left the nearby stable, as a means to help defend the town, but even if it had an intact barracks its still a two hour gallop from town.” I said with a tone of urgency, I knew that these rangers had come here to attack the town, their change of heart, however deep, was only provoked by my presence and four of them, not of the remaining ten, had died in the battle,

“Well it seems like a good idea, and honestly what they just got themselves into to save us and our town, that is proof enough for me.” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well the rangers don’t take to the idea of awol rangers to fondly, so it’s a good thing that you equipped them with your armies gear, that will improve their combat abilities significantly.” he said catching the tilt of my head, “I was a retired ranger during the fallout, you see, I may not look like it but I’m a ghoul, that healing spell of yours repaired my flesh damage and fixed her organ damage, she is my gal, we take care of that there filly.” he said with a tone of pride at the mention of the filly.

“Understand and know that this town is under my armies protection, and that you are welcome to the supplies in that stable.” I said knowing that they would need what is left in there to rebuild and construct defenses.

“Miss, I just have question, has anypony told you the name of our town?” he asked with a curious gaze.

“No sir, I was just going to mark you on my map for when I return.” I said confused as to why this was important, and hoping that I didn’t offend him.

“This town is called Nowhere because we are in the middle of nowhere.” he said looking at me, realizing that I still had my helmet on, I nodded.

“That’s a good name then.” I chuckled.

Before I left him I had one more thing to ask, “These rangers, they need a leader who is here and not charging off on a crusade to rescue our general. You said you are a retired ranger from the war?” I asked.

“Well, I am a retired ranger, but I don’t have my armor anymore, gave it back when I retired and my old uniform is in taters, but I was part of the Royal Canterlot Guard, I’d be more than happy to lead them.” he said blushing.

“RCG? Wow never thought I’d see any of you again, I know that there is a lot of spare armor to spec with mine in the stable, I’m sure somepony could paint it up to specs with the RCG.” I said without hesitation, hoping to lighten his spirits and make things easier for him to take charge.

“Well that would be mighty nice, will they listen to me?” he asked matching my concerns.

“If you tell them, then yes, I’m just a Star Paladin and they listen to me.” I said, “I’ll get you that armor before leaving.” I added,

“Much obliged.” he replied.

I walked over to Dark Lightning, but stopped, “When are you going to get off me dear?” I asked the filly who was still jumping up and down on my back, it was starting to hurt, but I didn’t want to make her upset by yelping in pain.

“You don’t like me?” she said with a sob, as she leaped off my back, I quickly rapped her in a hug.

“No I love you, you remind me what I fight for, I was just starting to feel a little pain, and like it or not I’m not as young as I used to be.” I said to her while still hugging her.

She stopped crying and looked up at me, “I don’t want you to leave.” she said.

I held back a tear of my own, in truth I wanted to stay and protect this town, but I wasn’t about to let Tempest down, he was in all aspects my oldest living friend, all my relatives died in Fillydelphia when the mega spells hit, “I must, its my mission, but no worries I will return, and when I do I will have a very special friend with me that I want you to meet.” I said as I removed my helmet and smiled.

“Okay, do you Pinky Pie Promise?” she asked, I never thought I would hear that phrase again, Pinkie Pie defies all laws of physics.

“Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye” I said smiling as I did the motions with my hooves.

“YAY, YAY, YAY!” she cheered all the way back to her momma.

Dark Lightning had watch the spectacle of a steel ranger that actually liked children, “Did you ever have a kid, you know before Equestria was blasted to ash?” he asked.

Did I really look that old? “No, never even dated more that one guy during the war, and he died in combat, artillery fire took him out with a direct shot. Do I look that old, I’m only in my late twenties?” I asked as he backed up, not expecting be to be so open with my history.

“No you don’t look old at all, its just, you are really good with kids that’s all.” he remarked as he regained his bearing.

I just watched him, I had known a few pegasi before the war, but he was different, definitely more animated than they were and mach larger, I decided not to ask any more questions for now. “I’m a medical pony and I admit, animals and children like me a lot, there is nothing more to it, I grew up with five brothers and two younger sisters on a apple farm, near the outskirts of the tundra that the Crystal Empire reappeared in.” I stated, determined to put him back at ease.

He looked at me and nodded following my story, “I was born and raised in Cloudsdale, was an engineer pony in the Weather Factory working as maintenance, when I fell into the weather machine, before my coworkers pulled me out all the feathers from my wings had been singed off and all of the muscles in my wings were torn beyond healing, so I had them removed and replaced with cybernetics. I didn’t have siblings and my parents died when I was ten years old.” he said with his head down, flapping his wings slightly, “I was the first test subject for cybernetics, only later did I realize that my encounter with the weather machine granted me power over the electricity that flows through my body thus with my enhancements now able to conduct lightning with my wings.” He said with a smile.

I walked away, toward where the other rangers were, BrokenSteel was teaching them the First Army’s code, it was slightly different than the standard ranger code and held us at a much higher standard, the penalty for breaking the code was death by slow burning fire.

"We are the first and last line, we are the champions of our kind, its defenders in dark times, we are the first army, for the people we fight, for the people we die, fortudine!"

I watched as he used his royal canterlot voice, drilling it into their minds, then I listened as they repeated in unison, then he repeated the process. They were building a stone wall using cutting tools from the stable and stone from the mountain nearby, we were lucky it had many shallow caves in which we could harvest the stone. I watched as the town folk sealed the stones together with their magic and added support beams to the walls, for extra stability. They had rebuilt the damaged part of the town in only a few hours, everypony had helped, and most of the damage was in one concentrated area. I saw them mount automated defense turrets from the stable and gave a warning that they will need to be reprogrammed, then I saw four plasma cannons come down the hill, no pony in his right mind would dare attack this place with anything short of five hundred ponies or at least ten tanks! It made me feel better about leaving that they had strong defenses.

I walked over to the battleground, they had already removed the bodies, and were taking them up to the stable where I buried the others, all except four which were taken to the towns graveyard where they were adding their names to a monument of a knight of old, the armor on the stone knight reminded me of Tempest’s armor. Nowhere was one of the best towns I had ever visited, needless to say, I plan on coming back when I get Tempest, not just for the filly and the other rangers, but because if I die anywhere, I want it to be Nowhere! As absurd as that thought sounded I liked it, this was a nice little town, there was only one problem, the ground was dry, I asked about this, and apparently it doesn’t rain here that often, and when the wind picks up they get dust storms, they have a magic barrier for that and there is a lake nearby but they don’t have the ability to irrigate the land, otherwise it would be quite fertile, except the radiation, but I have a spell for that, I added it to my mental to do list.

I walked back into the town and approached BlueSteel and CrossedSwords, “When I gave the others place in this army, I also decided that I don’t trust them like I do you, I saw you fight your old contingent without hesitation, and join us before also without hesitation, that is why I wish to make you both direct officers for the sheriff, he was a Royal Guard Steel Ranger and retired two months before the fallout with his wife, they are in all aspects in charge during mine and the generals absence however I’m going to make the two of you Star Paladins and everypony else a knight.” I said to them. Neither one of them had their armor on and I could see their cutiemarks, Wild Blues mark was that of an artillery shot splashing down on its target, and Green Woods was a large oak tree, with sprouts around it. Then looking at wild blue I noticed rough patches of flesh on his back.

“That, that is very nice of you ma’am!” Wild Blue said smiling.

“Thank you ma’am, I don’t know what I need to say, um… Thank you!!!” Green Woods said, she didn’t have the same rough marks on her back.

“Green Woods, I noticed your cutiemark, you are good with plants?” I asked still smiling.

“Well yes I am, why?” she ask me.

“Well I was inspecting the ground it would be fertile if it were not for the radiation which I plan on removing. So I was wondering if you could find a way to use one of the three water stones to clean the water coming from the lake for irrigation so that the town can have fresh crops, there are seeds in the stable that you can use to complete this task?” I asked.

She stumbled a little, “That would be fantastic, the only thing I like better that being a defender is working with plants, thank you!” she said grinning.

“Blue I have a question.” I said.

“Go ahead and ask, I don’t keep secrets.” he replied.

As soon as Woods left to go check out the lake and her task that I had come up with I started “You don’t need to tell me, but I would like to know what happened to your back?” I asked hoping that I wasn't treading on fire with this subject.

He sighed, “Most don’t ask, but it’s the reason I don’t remove my armor that often. I was born in the wasteland to the rangers, same as my sister, somewhere in our history my family had pegasi, I was born a pegasus, my parents loved my wings but I couldn't wear the armor with wings effectively, so the elder ordered my wings to be removed, my cutiemark is really that of a bomber, but I pass it of as artillery.” he said looking away at the sky.

“I’m sorry, they shouldn't have done that to you, that was evil.” I said after a long pause.

He looked at me, “Its not reversible, but I’m not to worried about it, I never knew how to fly anyways.” he said with a half smile, “No worries, it doesn't bother me anymore.” he added nodding his head, I nodded back and he galloped to catch up with his sister.

By the time I had gotten a full inspection of the town that I had decided to retire in when my duties are complete. I took one last look out my window in my hotel room, separate from my stallion friends, at the place I wanted to call home, the place I will call home. Then I put myself down on my bed and drifted off to sleep.

“Join us, become one with us, so that we may enjoy unity in a new Equestria!” a loud female voice that seemed to be originating from a massive blue light on the far side of the room. I was back in the chamber where Tempest was contained. “No, my duty is to Equestria, it is to defend Equestria from any threats, I cannot do so if I join into you.” a low grumbled voice said, the voice of Tempest. The image changed, I could see a roller coaster, and Pinkie Pie balloons, a crater, a lot of ponies at work with slaver guards watching them from above their pits. There were three walls surrounding this, industrial area, that looked like a mixture between an amusement park and a large industrial city, I was looking at Fillydelphia.

Course of Action

View Online

Chapter 5

Course of Action

All journeys are hard, it is the hardest journey that is satisfying, not to the mind, but to the soul.- Applebits

I woke in a cold sweat, “Fillydelphia, that’s where he is.” I said to myself, as I began putting on my armor, everything but my helmet. Levitating my helmet behind me I opened my door, we were leaving today, nopony knew where we were going, but now, now I knew. I came down the stairs of the hotel, the bottom floor was designed as a diner with a bar, complete with a radio that was tuned to DJ PON3.

-Gooooood morning Wastelanders, this is your pal DJ PON3 coming to you live from 10 Pony Tower in Manehattan. Our stable dweller isn’t the only pony cleaning things up out there in the wastes! I have reports saying that a Shadowbolt and a small army of Steel Rangers duked it out with raiders who had captured the good ponies of Nowhere, then rushed to their aid again when slavers attacked the town! Apparently the Rangers we all know and hate are none to happy about this children, they tried to gun down the White Rangers at the entrance to the little town of Nowhere, our guys put em down hard and fast, even recruited about ten of the rangers for their cause. I guess this just goes to show that a old soldier can always reverse the ill effects of the young. I’ve been told that the pony leading these White Rangers is pre-apocalypse, nothing like the ancients to come pull our flanks out of the fire! Good luck to you out there, you are going to need it! And now the weather-

I had stopped listening, somepony knew about my actions, and was praising them, and since nopony knows where Nowhere is everypony here is safe, thank you DJ PON3 for being obscure in your descriptions.

I sat down at the bar and ordered a little food, the townsfolk were grateful to us for helping them three times in a row, and since the garden was coming along nicely, their supply of pre war food was no longer urgently needed, in short food was on the house. The pony next to me told me that out there in the wasteland they use bottle caps for currency, however obscured it was, it was good to know. By the time I had finished eating and talking about what I used to do before the apocalypse and what Equestria was like before the war an hour in a half had passed me by. I was told that the boys had gotten up before me, to recheck the supplies for the trip, I had two places I wanted to go, Manehattan, and Fillydelphia.

When I got outside I was greeted by the sheriff, now in his Ranger gear, his wife, the ghoul mare who had been nervous about us, and their adopted filly.

“I heard DJ PON3 talking about you this morning, she has been replaying that broadcast for a few hours, now you get out there do us proud and come on home with the old general!” the sheriff said.

“When I had first met you I admit I was rather worried, but you managed to put all those worries aside with all you have done for us, even leaving these admirable ponies behind to defend us, even though the increase for moving as an army would remove you from being a target. Thank you!” the ghoul said.

“I know that you have to go, I don’t want you to go, but I have to…” the filly was holding back tears, “I.. I want you to have this, she floated a locket over to me, don’t forget me, okay?” she said breaking into tears.

I hugged her, I didn’t like seeing her cry and I couldn’t standby and wait for her to stop. I comforted her until she stopped, I may be a Steel Ranger, but my heart isn’t made of steel. “I will never forget you, and I shall honor my Pinkie Promise, no force in or near Equestria will stop me from returning to you!” I said in a hushed comforting tone with a smile as I kissed her cheek.

She smiled back at me, “Good, cause if you break it I will have to hunt you down, and.. And spank you!” she said with a smile. I knew that she would be crying for a long time until I got back, but I had no intent on dieing until I was old and had grandchildren.

I turned around and nearly fell over in shock, my tank was floating in the air on its own power!

“You like it?” I heard Lightning say from the customized sky harness designed to work with his armor.

“I.. I didn’t know we had sky tanks!” I stammered, I knew they existed but I had never seen one let alone known that my own army had one, or in this case five. “How?” I asked .

“Its an early prototype of the Tortoise, the First Army was field testing them, I thought you knew?” he said slightly confused at my reaction.

“No I didn’t, but that makes everything so much easier, we have a flying tank, literally!” I said impressed with Lightning’s ability with machines.

He landed just in front of me, “Will it be able to fire the main cannon without flipping in flight?” I asked grinning.

“Yes, Bull’s-Eye spent about and hour getting the cannon upgraded to do so.” he said, also with a little amazement that our sharpshooter was able to do such a thing.

I looked it over, the underside was well armored, I had originally though it was so to counter mines, but now I saw that it was for protection from weaponry below.

I climbed in as Lightning trotted towards the gate so we could say our goodbyes to the good ponies of Nowhere and the friends we had made. I was sitting in the back of the tank with the hatch open so I could see, Lightning was pulling us in the harness, I guess the crazy pegasus could pull us after all, and Bull’s-Eye was in his favorite spot, the gun control dome, so that he could see everypony too. I could see the doctor standing next to the two ghouls and their adopted filly, and all of my rangers at their positions on the wall, they had built it four ponies high with towers, I was no longer worried about leaving them here. CrossedSwords and BlueSteel were standing at the gate waving farewell, I put my helmet on and gave a salute as choked back my tears.

As soon as we had cleared the trees surrounding the town, Lightning had lifted off. He had also taken the liberty of patching our radios into the Sky Tank so we could talk to each other during the journey and placed a footlocker full of bottle caps inside and another filled with food and water.

“Quite the set up in here.” I said.

“Yea well I figured that we would need the supplies, ammo is in the front compartment if you were wondering, it has the most armor and I fancy not blowing up anytime soon!” he said laughing.

The flight was smooth and for a while we just flew north. After a long while they asked where we were going.

“Well Manehattan is on the way to our ultimate destination.” I said.

“And where would that be ma’am?” Bull’s-Eye retorted.

“Well that would be Fillydelphia.” I said worried that they would argue.

“Fillydelphia eh, always wanted to visit the Ministry of Moral park there, never did get the chance to.” Bull’s-Eye said chuckling.

“Well that’s insane, why are we going their?” Lightning asked.

I sighed and after a long pause siad, “That is where we will find Tempest, last night he managed to contact me again, I know that he is doing it intentionally now, he spoke at me, but never spoke my name, in the vision he showed me their sniper locations, the slave pits, the walls around the city, and a path that we can use to sneak into where they are holding him, getting him out will be much more difficult though.” now I was worried that they would back out and abandon me, To my relief they didn’t.

“Well then lets go get our general back from them hoodlums!” Bull’s-Eye said with a whoopee.

“So why we stopping at Manehattan?” Lightning asked.

“Well that DJ PON3 guy, however abstract he was, practically asked us to, I figured that we should drop by 10 Pony tower if we get the chance to talk, I want to tell him who we are, and that the ancients haven’t abandoned Equestria!” I stated proudly.

“Then lets not wait to long to get there!” Lightning replied.

No pony had spoke in a long time, but the silence was okay, I levitated out the locket. I hadn't stopped thinking about the filly and I realized that I had never gotten her name, how stupid was I, I just knew her as that filly. I opened the locket, inside their was a picture of her with her name in cursive under it, Fire Bloom, on the other side was a message.

I know that you will return, you are the best pony I have ever met, and you have change our town for the better! Thank you, see you soon Paladin Applebits! Love, Fire Bloom.

I was crying, this filly, Fire Bloom, was absolutely adorable and she was the first friendly face I had seen in a long time, putting aside my teammates.

I must have cried for hours, and at some point we had landed, thank Celestia my friends didn't come down into this part of the tank, I don’t think I could take them seeing me break like this. I quickly found my bearing again and put on my helmet, I had laced the locket to my neck under my armor to keep it safe.

I popped out of the Sky Tank to a camp that was being made by my friends, happy there was no trouble I strolled up to them, finally able to stretch my legs. “So where are we” I asked.

“Just south of Sweet Apple Acres, not far from Ponyville.” Lightning said, I nodded to him he must have been exhausted.

“Why don’t you rest a bit, I think that me and Bull’s-Eye can manage the work, all that we have been doing is riding in the tank, you pulled it through the sky.” I said, and at those words Lightning collapsed next to the fire.

“So what else needs to be done?” I asked Bull’s-Eye.

“Nothing much aside from food, I got the fire going, while Lightning secured the area.” he said, I looked around.

“I’ll go ahead and set the deployable auto turrets up.” I said and trotted off leaving him to his tasks. We were in the shadow of a very large barn, and I could tell that light was slipping away.

I need to come up with a system for pulling the Sky Tank so that we don’t leave Lightning exhausted every time we land or get into a fight. When I get back to camp I will talk to Lightning about switching with me in the morning, in short, rotating so that Blade wouldstay in the gun since he was our best shot, and Lightning and I could switch back and forth between puller and the troop carrier area of the tank.

I finished setting down the last turret, when my EFS marked a stable, it was stable two. Now I new that we were bound to find other stables out there, but so early in our journey? I decided to investigate, following my EFS I found the stable door in the Sweet Apple Acres barn cellar. I looked around, it looked like it had been opened recently, I knew the override code and could get in, but if the stable was still in operation I didn’t want to intervene. I looked around with my headlamp on, there were skeletons everywhere, and the door of the stable was damaged with what looked like hoof marks, they had died trying to get in. It was sad to see so many dead but the Overmare had done her job, she had protected those inside the stable.

When I returned to the camp that my friends had set up I was amazed at the aroma coming off of the cooking pot in the fire, not only did Bull’s-Eye know how to hit a target but he was an amazing chef.

“What are you cooking?” I asked realizing that all of our prewar food was ready to eat out of the can.

“Just a stew made from some of the food I bought from the town garden, I don’t know how she grew these so fast, but they cut and cook just right.” he said obviously in love with her ability to grow plants in the terrible condition that Equestria is in.

“Where did the water come from?" I asked

“The tank has a restock able supply, that is why it has its own water stone, so that it can purify the water that we put in its tanks leaking any of the waste materials out the side under the water tank. That’s one of the few places on it where the armor thins out a little.” Lightning said, happy to have a bowl of fresh made soup in front of him.

Blade passed me a bowl filled with the heavenly aroma that filled my nose, “It smells great, where did you learn to cook?” I asked.

“Well my parents wanted me to grow up and be something other than a soldier, so when I was young, before I ever got my mark, they put me in culinary school, eight years or so and I graduated, still wanted to serve in the military, but I got a job in Manehattan as a personal chef to some big celebrity.” he said, “She liked me quite a bit and we ended up married, had two fillies, but when the war started, well she new how I felt and told me to go off to battle and do them proud, that when the war was over they would still be there.” he added as he looked down, a tear crossed his face.

I never thought he was older than me, but after looking at him and studying his features he had to at least be in his late forties. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” I was at a loss for words when the thought hit me, “If you don’t mind me asking, when did you get your mark?” I asked pausing for him to tell me to shut it.

“My mark, well you see I spent a lot of time cooking, came to enjoy it, but my mark never came, so when I enlisted, I joined as the armies cook. It was during my first term in battle, as a cook I was a non-combatant, but the stripes had us out numbered, my outfits officer threw me a weapon, I picked it up and he instructed me how to use it. I dropped eight-teen zebras that day in the total of two hours. When the fighting stopped and we could all breath again, I had been shot and the medics took me to fix me up, one of them asked me about my mark, I told her that I had never gotten mine, that I was a blank. She told me to check my flank. To this day I never figured out if it was because I was shot eighty times or that I took out eight-teen zebras, but I had a big old bull’s-eye on my flank and it has been there ever since.” he said with a smile, past our earlier discussion.

We ate in silence for the rest of the meal, as soon as he finished eating Lightning had gone to sleep, I didn’t blame him, pulling the tank must have been hard work. I stood and levitated the earthenware bowls over to a pot of boiling water and began cleaning up while Bull’s-Eye put away the leftovers in our refrigerator, that we apparently had in the tank, was the tank missing anything, I swear is more like a heavily armed RV than a tank.

I walked over to him when I was done with the dishes, for two reasons, one I needed to put them away, two I wanted to tell him about the stable I had found. As I was putting away the dishes he started staring at me, “What’s wrong?” I asked him, worried that it was about earlier.

“Nothin, I just, I just wish I knew more, like why we somehow survived when none of our loved ones did, my fillies didn’t deserve to die?” he said, it hadn’t been a question, he was just mourning the loss of his family. It had been two hundred years for everypony, except us, for us it had only been a month since it all happened.

“I wish that there was something I could do for you, I really do.” I said noticing that he was crying.

“Sniff, you don’t need to do nothin, I just want to visit my old home, if it is still there and write somewhere like a grave marking, so they know that I didn’t forget them, they had just gotten their cutiemarks, and my wife had sent me pictures of them a week before the fallout, sniff.”

He was sobbing, I did the only thing I could, I gave him a hug and tried to calm him down, “We can visit your home, and I will be honored to leave a marking. They would be happy that you are making a difference in this wasteland, chin up, you will see them when this is all over, when we have finished our mission.” I said, thinking to myself that it was easy for me, I never had children, never even married, but I did have nieces and nephews, thinking about that made me want to curl up and cry to, but that wouldn’t help anypony.

I took first and second watch, but when BrokenBlade woke up the second time for his watch and I told him to go lie down he hit me with his hoof and ordered me to sleep, I decided that just this once I would let a knight give me an order. I drifted off into sleep on the other side of the fire from Lightning, who was snoring happily, completely content.

I was in the room with Tempest again, and I could feel his power radiating from the shield, the air felt like ice had taken up permanent residence.

“AAAAARRRGGGG, Hahaha is that the best you.. AARRRGGG!” He was screaming in pain, “Hahahaha, you need to do better than that if you want to skim my mind for my secrets Trixy, You will have t… AAARRGGG!” he screamed again.

This was blood curdling, he was in pain and the only thing I could do was watch, why was he showing me this? Then the image before me changed, I was in Ponyville before the apocalypse, long before the war, the ministry mares were so young, at the age when they had first met. A blue unicorn was dueling Twilight Sparkle.

“Give it up Trixy, everypony knows that you can’t beat me.” Twilight said, Trixy just backed up and ran away.

The image faded to black and a new one replaced it, I saw large vats of chemicals, Trixy, much older than before, was standing on a catwalk next to a small cup. I could hear Twilight say something to her, then a large explosion and emergency alarms went off the safe room that Twilight was in sealed off and Trixy fell into one of the vats filled with chemicals.

New Appaloosa

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Chapter 6

New Appaloosa

The more things change, the more they stay the same.- Applebits

I woke up, they had let me sleep the rest of the night and had already packed up camp before waking me up.

“You ready to pull this thing?” Lightning asked me with a grin on his face, obviously happy that I didn’t want him to pull it by himself.

“As ready as I’ll ever be, I will just stick to the road and we will be on our way.” I said grinning, I had decided not to mention the stable, didn’t see any reason to, I knew that civilian stables were completely different than military stables. They had been designed to allow civilians to continue life, instead of putting them on cryo-genetic pause.

Lightning hooked me up to the tank and showed me how to release myself if I needed to, I was thankful for this since he had modified it by an extreme from its original design, he even included a better quick release switch. Once everypony had climbed in I started to pull, the tank had no complaints and pulled much easier than I thought that it would have, before I knew it we were at the Ponyville bridge, and wow, there were dead raiders everywhere, like somepony had taken a commando squad and wiped them all out. As we traveled through Ponyville I saw more and more bodies, even places where mines had detonated, I made a mental note to listen for mines.

I was so very happy when we exited Ponyville that I almost didn’t hear the gun fire, I broke into a gallop, taking the tank with me, it didn’t resist, and I found my target not too far away from the old town. There where about nine raiders attacking three ponies one was hurt real bad, another just had flesh wounds, and the third was a small filly. Their attackers were definitely raiders, I could tell by not only their cutimarks, but by their poorly repaired armor. The filly was crying for her papa who was badly hurt nearby. I couldn't just watch this, I needed to act.

“We got a problem, I’m going to try and stop this peacefully, but if things go side ways cover the family!” I spoke through my radio as I kicked of my harness and charged into the line of fire.

I placed myself between the family and the raiders as I threw up a shield using my horn.

“I’m a medical pony!” I reassured the family, as I looked over my shoulder.

As I did so, a rocket flew into my side, shattering my shield and knocking me to the ground. Upon landing I could feel several bones in my body break, though to be honest I just didn't care, my needs come after the civilians.

“Diplomacy isn't going to work here boys, let them have it!” I said over my radio as I got back up, I could feel a few of my ribs in all the wrong places.

To my sheer gratitude, the tanks missiles cut loose and the raiders fortifications were blown apart. I gave the order not to pursue them and focused my attention on the bleeding family.

“Stay back", the unicorn mother drew a pistol from next to her using her magic.

I had told the others to stay put so that I could handle this without frightening them more so than they already were.

“I need to treat the Stallion or he will die from blood loss.” I said not making any sudden moves, the last thing that we needed was for them to run off wounded.

Behind her mother I could see the filly shaking from fear that I would kill her family.

“Who are you, why would you want to help us, what is in it for you?” The unicorn threw questions at me that I didn’t care for at the moment.

“I’m a soldier doing her duties, protecting the citizens of Equestria from harm, what rangers are supposed to do.” I said quickly and urgently.

She lowered her pistol and I removed my helmet, letting my red mane fall out of it. When I had awoken from cryo I had it cropped so that I had little to no mane, I decided to grow it out a little to appear more friendly toward others, only later realizing that I had adopted Rainbow Dashes hair style.

“I will fix him up as fast and as well I can.” I told them to calm their nerves as I got to work. I had knelt down and began administering my healing magic when the filly approached me, she was also hurt badly, missing her left fore leg and a ear, I smiled at her in an attempt to comfort her but while casting my magic was unable to talk. I finished healing the stallion and moved next to the filly.

“Hold still young one, this may tickle a little, but you are about to re-grow your leg and ear.” I said, she cringed when my horn touched her. She was on edge, but who in their right mind wouldn't be, I had just promised to do something, most ponies would need a new artificial limb for. When I was done the fillies eyes were wide, as was her mothers.

“How did you do that?” the unicorn mare asked me.

“Its very old magic I learned it from an old friend of mine who got it from his family, now its time to remove your wounds.” I stated to her, she looked shocked that I was able to do this, like she had never seen a regeneration spell before. Though come to mind, being that we are in a desolate and hostile wasteland, that may just be the case.

A horn glow later and the family was healed.

“Are you heading to New Appaloosa too?” The father asked me.

“Never heard of the place, me and my team are just moving through the area on our way to Manehattan. Why?” I asked.

“We were wondering if you could escort us, we left Freedom City because things are going downhill, and we were scarred, New Appaloosa, seems safe enough so we figured that we would go there.” the mother said, as the filly race around our hooves.

So after a rather hushed discussion with the boys we had loaded them into the tank within no time at all. Lightning had gotten them food and water and we were on our way before latching me in and getting inside of the tank himself.

After a few hours more of traveling, we arrived at a town that looked like it was built out of multiple trains. The town wall was made of box cars, I suspected that they had armor inside them, and there was a crane, I assumed that they used that to build this place, smart ponies. Looking around further, I noticed a caboose coming down the rails, riding its brake, and a ghoul pegasus with a filly at the front gate, then I saw the sheriff. He had a very worried expression on his face, as though a whole heap of trouble was coming his way.

“Ditzy, I just need to know that you can take care of a filly!” He said with a slightly annoyed tone to the ghoul. I watched as the ghoul wrote something on a chalk board and pushed it his way, unfortunately I was at the wrong angle to read it.

Just then the sheriff turned around and a few ponies came out of the town holding rifles and pointed them at us.

“Stop right there, who are you?” the sheriff asked.

I stopped the tank a little abruptly and unlatched. Unfortunately the tank kept moving.

“HORSE APPLES” I yelled as I chased the tank, it was rolling strait for the gate.

As I was chasing the tank I think I heard the sheriff say something to the ghoul about the filly, not realizing that the pegasus had already moved the filly someplace safe. I grabbed the tank with my telekinesis, wrapping it in a white field as I skidded trying to not let it drag me with it, then I saw a orange glow envelop it over my white and the tank stopped.

Lightning came out of the rear hatch with a look of pure terror on his face.

“What just happened?” he asked, a little disoriented from the crazy stop, behind him I could see the family that was traveling with us, they to were a little dizzy.

“The tank didn’t set brake when I unlatched.” I said looking at him.

“I will have to take a look at it when possible, at least as soon as the world stops spinning.” he said as he stumbled out of the tank.

The dome opened and BrokenBlade got up and out, also dizzy, but he didn’t ask any questions.

I turned to greet the sheriff, hoping that he didn’t see us as hostiles.

“Well howdy there.” he said in a sarcastic tone.

“Hello, sorry about the tank, we are still working on it.” I said pointing a hoof at the tank.

He looked me and my team over, “You look like you want trouble.” he said.

I could see ten ponies behind him with guns, there were more on top of the wall.

“No we are just passing through, on our way to Ten Pony.” I said as I removed my helmet, realizing that my armor was probably putting them on edge and I didn’t want to give them the impression that we were here to kill them, it was bad enough that the tank had almost run down their wall.

He looked the three of us over, then saw the family that was getting out of the tank with the help of BrokenBlade.

“Who are they?” he asked.

“Civilians who were traveling from Freedom city to New Apploosa, they are looking for a new place to live.” I said, giving him as much information as I could without encroaching on their privacy.

“Freedom eh, well you don’t seem like bad folks, your welcome to stay for a while if ya want.” he said.

“Thank you very much sir, we will park the tank out here and turn it off, no pony will move it unless there are at least ten and they were all built like good old Big Mac,” I said, remembering my old army friend. The sheriff, looked at me and nodded, then moved to his posse, I think I could call them that. A few moments later we all went inside the towns walls.

The town was different, creative and well built, but very different. As I looked around I saw many homes built out of the towns apparent theme, trains, train cars, and various parts of trains. It was nothing like Nowhere, but it had its perks, while I was looking around I saw many young colts and fillies, apparently that caboose that came down the tracks when we had first gotten here had a bunch of freed slaves in it. That made me happy, somepony else was doing their part in making this crazy wasteland better.

I stopped in front of a shop that looked like it had been built out of an entire train and fused together with magic, the sign said, Absolutely Everything Ditzy Doo, I deliver. I decided to go in and take a look, but before I could enter the building Lightning came up to me.

“I want to check this place out too.” he said, he had removed his Shadowbolt armor and actually looked excited, so I nodded and we walked to the door together.

When he opened it the ghoul mare I had seen with the filly was on the other side of the room comforting the very same filly as she removed flakes of pink paint from her coat. Then she heard the shop bell, the ghoul turned her head, and to my surprise her right eye rolled up into her skull like it was still watching the filly. She charged Lightning and they hugged, wait, they were hugging each other, had my friend forgotten to tell me something.

When they had finished their very squishy sounding embrace they turned and looked at me, I had also removed my armor, to look more friendly to the towns folk, now I was wishing I still had it on. The hug she gave me was rather squishy and it hurt my broken ribs, though I didn't show any discomfort, she then backed away and wrote something on her chalkboard.

“Any friend of Lightning’s is a friend of mine!” she had wrote, I looked at my friend who was laughing at my reaction to Ditzy Doo with a face of, 'what the hay are you not telling me?'.

“We grew up together in Cloudsdale, she was always traveling with her father, helping him with his deliveries, so we didn’t see each other very often.” he said between chuckles, all I could do was look at him like he was nuts.

“So you brought me in here knowing that one of your old friends was here?” I asked after a long period of time, in which Ditzy, the wonderful pony she was, had given us, free of charge, a book called The Wasteland Survival Guide, Rad Away, and the occasional ghoul hug.

“Well I figured that it would be a descendant of hers, or maybe a fan, I in no way was expecting her to be here.” he said, still laughing.

After looking around in Absolutely Everything, I realized this place was named rather well, it had, without the larger impractical things like boats and tanks, the like, absolutely everything you could want or need, even a large collection of fine looking heavy weapons. I made a mental checklist of things that I may come back to buy if the ones I had already had broke, gatling guns, tank tracks, chains for a necklace, which I did buy a few just in case, and healing potions, we could never have too many of those, but we had a full stock so I didn’t have any room for them. As I was looking around Ditzy had taken Lightning to talk to the filly, I had come back to the front of the store and was now looking at them, the filly was still crying and hugging the ghoul, Lightning was trying to calm her down, but his voice went unheard. I approached slowly.

“Dear,” I said, as the filly looked at me, “please don’t cry, I don’t like it when I here others cry.” I said in a soothing tone with a small smile.

She had stopped crying and was staring at me and Lightning who she hadn’t noticed were trying to calm her down with the ghoul. Ditzy looked at me with one eye, her other rolling around like it couldn’t decide what to look at, then Ditzy wrote on her chalkboard and showed it to the filly.

“I will take care of you, if you will have me.” is what she had written to the filly, the filly in turn, just stared at what the ghoul mare had wrote.

“Like a mommy?” she said finally, Ditzy cleaned the chalkboard.

“Yes Silver Bell.” Ditzy wrote, the filly, Silver Bell looked at her and smiled, hugging her, and thankfully no longer crying.

By the time we left the little filly had tried to sell us half the store, I admit, the fact that she was adorable made it hard to say no, but I did drop a few bottle caps when she pulled out a cake, I hadn’t seen it when I looked around, but then again I hadn’t looked through the stock of prewar food that Ditzy had, needless to say I bought, one piece of paper, an envelope, and a box of prewar cake. I talked to Ditzy about making a delivery to Nowhere, when I told her the name of the town she pulled out a map and cocked her head, she hadn’t heard of it, must have been the first time in a long time she pulled out that map, it was prewar and was being held together with tape. I found the spot in the mountains and marked it for her, told her a few things about the town, including how she should approach it. In no time at all she had loaded up my letter which was attached to the cake box and was ready to go, Silver Bell also with her on the wagon, where I suspected that Ditzy when she was young had rode. She waved to me and I waved back, then they left, off to my would be home as soon as I finished my mission.

We found BrokenBlade and the family we had helped next to the sheriffs office, with the sheriff, the family was taking up residency, the mother was a nurse and the father was a good shot, they fit right in with the rest of the town I thought to myself.

"Its always nice to have folks with good skill sets join our community!” the sheriff said smiling, I wasn’t sure if he meant it, but I don’t think he would turn down another gun to defend the town.

I looked over at their filly, she was definitely shy, she wouldn’t even approach the other children in the town without her mother next to her. Part of me wanted to talk to her, despite the urge I held myself in check. She had been through enough today, and nothing I could say or do would help her further.

I walked up to Blade, he had is armor on still, probably didn’t want them to use his flank as a target since it was after all a target.

“What’s going on?” I asked him.

“Well these folks here just finished gaining residence here in this town.” he said not sounding very happy. I took a look around again and saw several dead bodies of train ponies, “Recently the mare who DJ PON3 called the heroine of the wasteland came here and did them a favor, then she sent them these slaves she rescued from Old Appaloosa, most of the train ponies were killed in the fight, one of them lived though, he worked the brakes coming back.” he said.

As I was listening I was watching the ponies that were former slaves, their eyes were darting around, they were clearly frightened.

“What is the sheriff going to do with them?” I asked my fellow ranger.

“I dunno, I don’t think he has figured that out himself.” he said, I could sense the worry in his voice, those train ponies had died to save those slaves and their sheriff could just kick them out without a second thought.

“Did you offer our help, Nowhere has a lot of room, and I’m sure Ditzy will help them.” I asked my partner.

“Was going to see what he was going to do first, if he wants to kick em out, then I was going to offer to help out with his so called problem.” Blade said, I felt proud the moment he explained his thoughts, it was nice to have another who valued life as much as I did.

When the sheriff finished talking to the family, and they left for what was, I was sure, their new house, we walked over to him. He didn’t recognize me without my armor , but Blade was still in his.

“What do you want?” he asked us, I didn’t even flinch but Blade cocked his head.

“Somethin wrong sheriff?” He asked.

“Nah, nothins wrong, of course there is something wrong, I just got a few dozen ponies and a lot of fouls. I don’t got nowhere to put em, and they don’t have skills I’m looking for, looks like most of them were taken from their homes as they were burnt down, and others are from stables!” the sheriff said sounding quite angry, I could sense that he wanted to help them, but there was definitely something else in play here.

“Well if you could house them until Ditzy gets back from a delivery, I could send them off to a safe place, far from danger and well protected.” I said glancing a look at my teammate hoping that he wouldn’t speak of Nowhere.

“Eyup, we can send them there and out of your mane!” he exclaimed, to my thankfulness he got my hint to keep quiet about our home town.

“Well okay, I can hold them here for a bit, then send em your way, Ditzy knows how to get there?” sheriff asked.

“I marked it on her map, she is on a delivery run there now.” I said, I knew I could trust Ditzy, but I didn’t feel the same way about this sheriff.

He nodded, “Then it’s a done deal, how long a flight is it?” the sheriff inquired.

"About one and a half days flight.” I said, this was obscure information, only Ditzy knew its exact location, the sheriff nodded and walked over to share the good new.

We spent the night in a spare box car for the trains they had, even with the bedding it was still the worst sleeping arrangements I had ever had. as a safety precaution we unanimously decided to take watches. Not a single one of us trusted anypony in this town, except for the family we helped, Ditzy Doo, Silver Bell, and the freed slaves, the latter only because they kept to each other like glue and we felt bad for them. I smiled to myself as I lay my head down. I had made a new friend, even if she was a ghoul, she was probably the nicest most trusting pony around, she was the only pony I knew who would hug first and talk later. I drifted off into sleep, not comfortable, but I had just finished my shift and was unable to do anything else.

I could hear the crack of lightning and the rolling thunder behind it, below me I saw the burning flames of the metropolises below.

“What are you showing me?” Tempest growled.

“What became of Equestria after the mega spells hit, the great death of our country, the ponies never had warning, not a single pony survived anywhere.” Trixy said.

Tempest looked around the image, I could feel his muscles tensing.

“There is nothing left of Equestria for you to protect, now all that is left are ghosts.” Trixy added after Tempest didn’t reply.

Then Tempest laughed, a cold laugh, “If there was nothing left Hades would have kept me by his side, but he released me, show me the truth!” Tempest bellowed, I could feel the fire that flew out of his nostrils as he snorted trying not go into a rage.

The scene shifted, “You want the truth! I shall give you the truth!” Trixy’s voice seem to come from everywhere at once, Tempest didn’t seem fazed.

Our surrounding changed to Luna and Celestia dying, Luna had just passed in Celestia’s hooves, and she was crying, then it showed every city that was hit burning from balefire bombs that had gone off, stables killing their inhabitants, it was in all aspects a nightmare. Tempest didn’t cry, he just watched, I knew that he had hardened himself to death so that he could fight without mercy, but when I thought about it, I had never seen him cry before.

He closed his eyes unable to continue watching this, at first I thought he had severed our link. But to my relief he opened his eyes again to reveal Trixy, well her head with many unidentifiable faces moving across it.

“The truth hurts doesn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes, but it has proven to me that I still have purpose, that there are still those outside. Ultimately that means that my duty has yet to end, that I am still bound to Equestria, and that fate isn’t denying me peace.” he said, her face looked shocked, I think she was hoping to break him by showing him the devastation, instead it just made him stronger.

A Questionable Friend

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Chapter 7

A Questionable Friend

A friend can appear at any time, the problem is figuring out if they are friend or foe.- Applebits

I woke up and I had a note In front of my nose, “Everything went well at Nowhere, the little filly loved her cake! She sent you back a letter, I’m glad I was able to deliver it, but I am keeping it in my shop, seeing as you are in a box car, come see me when you can, I will be leaving with the free ponies after I clean out my wagon and make it more comfortable for them. You groan while you sleep. Love Ditzy Doo! P.S. the transport of the free ponies is no charge, glad to help!”

I was the first up, aside from Blade who had final watch, he didn’t move. I waved a hoof in front of him, he didn’t move, then I heard him snore. I chuckled to myself, he had fallen asleep in his armor standing up, as bad as that was I didn’t really care, no harm befell us so he did his job. For good measure I left a note telling him that if I wasn’t back when he woke up that I would be at Ditzy Doo’s place.

I walked up to Ditzy, she was just finishing putting the hay in the bottom of the wagon. Silver Bell was still asleep and the sky had decided that it wanted me to rust, it wasn’t raining, it was pouring.

“Hey, good to see you Ditzy!” I said cheerfully, she looked at me and charged me, not even an eye blink passed and she was hugging me, naturally, even in my armor, I hugged back.

When she had finally let go of me she looked at me then pointed to her store, walking into her store she immediately dried off my armor realizing that I was in steel armor, and that steel rusts.

“You don’t need to... Never mind you already did.” I said, not wanting the ghoul to fret over me like my mother used to.

She had moved into her room and was digging through an old saddle bag.

She returned with a letter in her mouth and put it on the table with a smile, then wrote, “This is your package from Fire Bloom, she was very pleasant and I stayed two extra hours so that Silver Bell and her could play…” she had cleaned off the board and was writing again, “… it’s a very nice town, no worries I won’t tell anypony about it.” she finished by moving the letter closer to me.

“Thank you Ditzy, for being so nice.” I said, looking at the ghoul, now I was absolutely certain that she was the nicest pony I had ever met.

She smiled at me then wrote, “Open your package, I have supplies for you to write back, I can deliver it on my next run in one hour” it said, I nodded.

I opened the package, it was a rolled up drawing with a note attached, the drawing was of me and my comrades saving the town of Nowhere, I started crying. I opened the note, Applebits, I’m so happy to hear from you, thanks for the friend and the cake! Everything is going great Ms. Woods has a massive farm next to the town and the rangers are doing great, no pony has attacked in so long that they set up a practice range near the stable. Love you, Fire Bloom, I was crying harder now, underneath the words there was a picture, it was of Fire Bloom and Silver bell eating the cake I had sent her, there were a few ponies in the background, young ones also enjoying cake, I sobbed. I had placed the package in front of me, Ditzy had wrapped me in another hug, I was smiling and crying all at the same time.

My friends walked into the store looking for me, I had removed my helmet to read the letter better because the drawing had made me bawl and I couldn’t see through my visor. Ditzy was still hugging me and I was still crying my happy tears, now I was just slightly embarrassed.

“Something wrong?” Lightning asked.

Bull’s-Eye was in shock, he had never seen, or heard me cry before, he knew me as the fearless Star Paladin who’s actions had saved platoons of ponies from the zebras during the war.

“No just, a message from home.” I said in between breaths as I tried to regain my composer, as to not further embarrass myself.

Ditzy had put everything back in the travel container, she then started writing on her board, “Take that container, I’ve got tons more, free!”

I looked at her, sniffing, I gave her a hug and she hugged back. By the time we had stopped hugging the boys had become extremely confused.

“What do you mean home?” Lightning asked.

“Nowhere, when this is all done I plan on retiring in Nowhere.” I stated, just realizing that I had never told them my plans.

“Well then, you think far ahead.” Bull’s-Eye said with a smirk, they had both removed their helmets and were smiling, “You don’t need to hide your heart from us ya know.” Bull’s-Eye added, looking at me with a concerned face.

“Having a heart is something you shouldn’t be worried about.” Lightning added, it was then I decided that I had great friends, no, the best friends.

I wrote my letter back to Fire Bloom, complete with a picture of myself, Dark Lightning, Bull’s-Eye, Ditzy Doo, and Silver Bell. Ditzy tried to tell me free of charge for my mail to Fire Bloom, but I insisted, I didn’t want her to not have funding for the filly she needed to take care of, even though she most definitely knew how to. We left the town at the same time, I watched from the rear hatch of the Sky Tank as Ditzy Doo took off and headed in the wrong direction, then corrected course, obviously so that the sheriff didn’t know which way my town was, thank you Ditzy!

We had been flying for a few hours now, I noticed from the landscape that we were close to where Cloudsdale was when it was destroyed.

“Hey, Lightning how are you doing out there?” I asked, worried that he had noticed the same as I, where we were.

“Eyup, doing fine, got a tail wind right now, making good time.” he replied in a cheery voice, seeing his old friend had been good for him.

“How long till we get to Ten Pony?” I asked him.

“We should make the outskirts of Manehattan by nightfall, then we can rest up, hide the tank, and walk the rest of the way.” he said, a little pride in his voice for getting us this far this fast!

We had gotten to the outskirts of the Cloudsdale aftermath when lightning bolts struck the tank, my armor had no insulation, and the tank wasn’t grounded, needless to say, it hurt like bloody hell. I got to my hooves and open the rear hatch to see what hit us, I had a strong suspicion that it was an alicorn, to my utter disapproval, there were four of them, but something was off. There were three smaller alicorns, still taller than me, fighting a larger alicorn, I didn’t know what it was all about but when the large one took a hit for our tank I opened fire on the others. Soon BrokenBlade got the idea and unleashed the tanks missiles as I shredded the alicorns, between the two of us they were dead at least ten minuets before the bits and chunks that were their bodies found the ground.

I looked for the friendly who had taken a bolt of lightning, I told my friends not to shoot a lone alicorn, they argued at first but after I explained they understood my reason and complied. I finally spotted her several feet below us and climbing slowly back to our altitude. During the battle Dark Lightning had put us through a lot of crazy maneuvers that had granted us a bit of altitude as well, which made looking down absolutely terrifying. Before I knew it I was falling, only a complete idiot could fall out the back of a flying tank, yup that was me.

The tank disappeared from my view and the ground was coming up fast, then out of nowhere I was rising again. A golden levitation field had surrounded me and could I saw the alicorn in which the field originated from. She was clad in medieval silver armor, her coat was black, her mane and tail were gold, she had gold eyes, and her cutiemark was of a silver sword sheathed into a golden shield that had the Equestrian coat of arms on it.

“I’ve got you Star Paladin!” I heard her say in a reverberating voice as she lifted me into the tank.

“Who are you?” I asked somewhat awestruck, I knew that there were alicorns in Equestria before the fallout that operated in the shadows but this was ridiculous.

“I am Shining Defense, a friend of Tempest’s!” she said, her voice was regal, and she sounded much like Luna, but she was definitely a different pony.

“Beginning decent!” I heard Lightning say over the radio, our alicorn friend flew just behind and to the side of us, I kept the hatch open to watch her.

Before I knew it Lightning had found a place that he could land, him being immune to electricity sounded great, because as soon as my hooves hit ground I removed my helmet using my telekinesis and my mane made me look as though I was Pinkie Pie's descendant. Looking about I saw Lightning discharging electricity into the sky and BrokenBlade grounding himself, one disadvantage of having steel armor, we make good conductors. The alicorn landed gracefully next to me, she was smiling, something about that scared me, mainly because I have never seen Tempest smile about anything short of being triumphant, and I never saw the princesses smile when they were addressing their crowds, except for when I was much younger and there was peace across Equestria.

“You need to be more careful, and try not to fly, you don’t have wings silly unicorn!” she said laughing, now that the immediate danger was over and we were all together.

“So Shining Defense, what brings you here?” I asked, slightly confused.

“I awoke not to long ago, to this, this wasteland.” she said looking around, trying to put it all to words, “I tried to keep to myself until I figured things out but, I wasn’t going to sit by and watch those strange alicorns kill the three of you.” she added, sounding slightly unsure of herself.

I looked at her more closely now that we were both firmly on the ground, her armor had runes, similar to what the runes on Tempest’s armor were but the changes were there, I shifted my gaze about her, she was all pony, no dragon traits about her.

“How did you survive the fallout?” I asked her.

“I was part of a elite team of alicorns, we were deployed to fight the zebras behind enemy lines. When the war ended we returned to Equestria, sadly we returned to a hostile radiation filled landscape. We sought shelter in a stable that had already been activated, it was a military stable with cryo tubes, we had been using anti radiation magic so they let us in. I woke up to a careless raider opening my chamber to cut me open and cook, like he did to every other pony in the stable, I killed the raiders and left the stable. I have been traveling by the shadows since.” she said in a monotone voice as if she had no feelings, somepony took the military discipline to a new level.

I pulled my team to the side while she took back to the skies to scout about and secure the area.

“Do you boys think that we can trust her?” I asked, looking about them.

“Well Equestria did have a small alicorn fighting force, it wasn’t well known because very few have the potential to become alicorns, at least conventionally.” Lightning said.

“To add to that statement, she did come to our aid up there, without her we would be dead right now.” Bull’s-Eye added.

“So are we going to give her a chance?” I asked them.

“Don’t see why not.” they said in unison.

“Okay.” I replied as she came back.

“Nothing to report Star Paladin, the area is clear!” she stated.

I waved the others off to go prep the supplies, we still had a little daylight and had decided, before getting attacked by crazy alicorns, that we would get to Ten Pony and rent a room there.

“I want to talk to you.” I said to her.

“About what?” she asked me, the look in her eyes being that of uncertainty.

“The boys and I have talked it over and, and well, we decided that you can join us on our crusade if you would like.” I said, forming the words in my head as they were coming out my muzzle.

“Splendid, I would like very much to join the three of you, if there is anything you want to know of me just ask, I’m an open book to my allies.” she said with a smile, and at that we all moved out into the ruined remains of the city.

Ten Pony Tower

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Chapter 8

Ten Pony Tower

The only stupid question is the one not asked! -Applebits

We pulled out the camouflage netting and tarp, layering them over the tank, tarp first then netting to keep it dry and hidden. The Manehattan ruins were a maze, the worst part was that none of us could actually see, the fog was so thick that I could cut it with a knife and call it a pizza. The headlamps only helped us find each other, and that only worked for me and BrokenBlade, Dark Lightning and Shining Defense had flown ahead, I was keeping an eye on my map following them through the maze of rubble that was BrokenBlade’s home town, thinking of which I remembered my promise to him.

“Hey Bull’s-Eye, do you know where your place is from here?” I asked him, he had been quite since we entered the city, we all had.

“Its not to far from the Ministry of Arcane Science building.” he said.

“That is what turned into Ten Pony tower buddy!” Lightning had crackled through the radio at the next courtyard where he was waiting with Defense.

“Was beginning to worry that you two got lost in there.” He said with a chuckle, “Ten Pony isn’t far, but we need to be on the Celestia Line in order to get in.” he added, pointing a hoof up at the monorail system.

I looked over to Bull’s-Eye, “We get into Ten Pony first, then you and me can make the trip over to your old home, okay?” I asked him,

“If that is what you want, then its fine by me.” he replied, to which I nodded, I couldn't tell through his helmet, but I think he was crying again.

“So what are you two waiting for come get us!” I exclaimed, and our two flying friends swooped down and picked us up.

We had been traveling on the Celestia line for quite sometime, when I finally saw the tower we were going to. It was very tall and it intersected with a station, it also looked like its magic shield held during the blast, well mostly half the tower had been blasted, but it was all still intact, and I could see lights inside of the tower through its windows.

“Does anypony know what kind of security they have there?” I asked, to my surprise Lightning answered.

“Eyup, they won’t take your weapons, but they will take your ammo upon your arrival, and you have to be there for a reason or have somepony let you in to actually enter the tower.” he said.

“So has anypony thought of an idea to get us in?” I asked, thinking how stupid it would be to come here and not be allowed in.

“I was part of the Ministry, I can get us in” said Defense.

I looked at her, “Do they allow alicorns in?”

“I don’t know, probably not considering their relation to Red Eye.” Lightning said, disgust in his voice.

We were at the entrance to the station now, no guards, “So are you going to wear anything over your wings and shrink?” I asked Defense.

“First off I can’t shrink, second off I worked in this building before I joined the military and was made an alicorn by a project from this ministry, I’m certain they will let me in.” she said sounding very confident.

I was stuck on the point that she made with the ministry making her into an alicorn, and was still worried that she wasn’t a friend that I wanted. Though a part of me reminded myself that she did help us, we would be dead without her, and her story has been correct thus far.

At long last we got to the end of the line and it was time to get into the tower and talk to this DJ PON3 about what, and who we are.

“Halt, what are you four doing here?” I heard a gruff voice of a stallion say, “Identify yourself now!” he commanded.

I approached him, removing my helmet and letting out my mane, I had fixed it with the help of Defense, she adept at how to fix manes.

“I am Star Paladin SteelCrusher, of the Equestrian First Army, we have business inside with DJ PON3, It has come to my attention that we must leave our ammunition with you, when and if you let us in, and we will comply.” I stated.

“What do you want with DJ PON3?” he asked me.

“I wish to speak with him, a few days ago he broadcasted about my armies defense of a small town against Steel Rangers, I had to come here and answer a few questions for him, not to mention have him answer a few of my own questions.” I said calmly, I was hoping this would work and not lead to us finding a less civilized way in.

“I am assuming that the other guy in the armor that matches yours is with you?” he asked, eyeing the rather odd group behind me.

“Yes, BrokenBlade, Dark Lightning is the Shadowbolt next to him, and Shining Defense are all with me.” I stated with a smile, though he couldn't see that. “And we are all comfortable with your rules.” I added before he could speak.

He looked at me and then to my friends, “An alicorn, I don’t mind the three of you, but I want this alicorn to explain who she is.” he said with a hint of nervousness.

“I am from the Equestrian Shadow Forces, we were a special group of ponies chosen by the ministries to become alicorns and fight behind enemy lines, before that though, I was a unicorn, and I worked in this building on mega spells for the defense of Equestria.” she said smoothly.

“Okay, that’s good enough explanation for me” he said as he opened the gate then stopped, “Though this is going to cost you.” he added.

To be fair I floated about forty bottle caps up to him, he opened the weapon slot and got them in, then opened the gate the rest of the way.

Inside there was a Unicorn, she was red, with black mane, green eyes, her cutiemark was hidden by her dress.

“Hello and welcome to Ten Pony Tower, would you please hold still while we remove your ammunition, if you feel as though you need ammo in your guns while inside the city visit the guard captain, he sells rubber bullets at his office.” she said cheerfully as she unloaded our weapons.

Once we had been emptied of ammo, and our alicorn friend was looked at oddly because she had no gun, we headed off into the city. Before I left my ammo I asked if there was a hotel and if when we leave that we will get our ammo back, the answer for both was yes. In no time I had secured us two rooms at the hotel, one for the boys, and one for the girls.

After we all settled in and removed our armor, well Defense kept her armor on just put a large cloak on that had slots for her wings, to mask most of her armor, we went back down,. The boys decided to tag along with Defense who wanted to see the sights in the tower while I went to see if I could set up an appointment with DJ PON3. I watched them as they walked off as though the wasteland had never existed and we were all friends from the same unit, then they disappeared. It came to thought that I had never really been alone in the Wasteland before now, it seemed odd because before all this I was almost always alone unless it was the rare occasion that Tempest was with his army.

I walked over to the lobby to meet DJ PON3, he had a reception counter but no pony was there. I must have waited forever because my friends showed up later, they had saved this place for last. I was regretting not going with them when a short grey unicorn with blue hair stepped out of DJ PON3’s elevator and froze stiff. I looked at her and she looked at me, my friends had also noticed her and had stopped talking.

“Hello, are you the pony who is supposed to be at the reception for DJ PON3, or do you know where I can find the pony?” I asked, hoping the fact that my very odd group hadn’t given her a heart attack.

“Um, well, we haven’t had a receptionist in a long time, I’m Homage, DJ PON3's assistant, how may I help you?” Homage said in a curious tone.

“Well, my friends and I were hoping to speak with DJ PON3 about the battle between what he called the White Rangers and Steel Rangers that happened not to long ago in a little town called Nowhere.” I said, knowing that this at least was public knowledge.

“Oh, do you have information for him?” she asked me, my friends were all silently watching us talk, Dark Lightning was beggining ti get impatient.

“Well you see…” I said as I walked closer and hushed my voice, “I am Star Paladin SteelCrusher of the Equestrian First Army, I’m in charge of what he called, the White Rangers, and I wanted to come and tell him about us.” I said to her, she looked as though she was about to throw me a party.

“I will be right back, stay here!” she said as she bolted back through the elevator.

I waited for what felt like two hours, but without my armor it was hard to tell. In that time my friends had told me about recent events, like how the cheese pony had been executed for trying to rob somepony that had saved him out in the wastes, and a near catastrophe with zombies in the tunnels under the tower. They also told me about an impressive clinic that I should check out, and Defense made mention of taking me to the spa, wasn’t sure if I wanted to go there, I liked my body tense, it kept me on edge.

"He has agreed to see you now, but how many of you are coming?" Homage asked.

I looked at my friends, “Can we all come?” I asked, hopeful that she would say yes, to my surprise she did.

As we all crammed into the elevator that led to the lair of DJ PON3 I wondered what he looked like, my thoughts were derailed rather quickly, at the top of the tower where a group of ponies were waiting for us, no guns thankfully, but Homage looked shocked.

“Care to explain why they are here?” one of the hooded ponies asked.

“Well they wish to speak with DJ PON3, about a recent event in a remote part of the Wastes, that's all.” Homage said, I could sense the worry in her voice, we were in a large lobby at the top of the tower and I could see a few doors that led off in different directions, if this turned into a fight we would be in rather tight quartes and I don't think the tower would survive one of our skirmishes.

“After the toaster repair pony you think we are going to believe you, really?” another hooded pony said.

“Well its my job isn’t it?” Homage replied, I was starting to like her spunk, she obviously knew these ponies by name but refrained from using them, most likely because of us.

Then Defense froze, she had been looking around the room slowly taking it all in, it was probably the only room that hadn’t changed since she had been here last. She had locked her gaze on a statue of an alicorn in the middle of the room.

“I see that this place held up well after the mega spells, did Celestia Prime survive?” she asked, the hooded figures and Homage all moved away from her a little, I even gave her a what are you talking about look.

After about ten minuets passed before the hooded figure in the front stepped forward, “How do you know about that?” he snapped, shaken by the knowledge of our alicorn friend.

“I helped design it along side many others, I remember Ms, Sparkle being quite upset about its drawback.” she said, I watched her eyes they had a remembering look as though she was remembering a life that happened long ago.

The hooded ponies stumbled a little Homage looked like she was going to faint, “Who are you, and don’t give us an alicorn code name?” the lead figure ordered.

“I am..” she paused, it had apparently been a long time since she tried to remember her real name, “I am Ms. Sunshine, I worked in this ministry during the war, I attended Celestia’s gifted unicorn school. I had a PHD in arcane science.” she said, putting the words back together, “Though we were made to remove our old names and lives when we became alicorns, by order of Princess Luna, she promised to return us to our original forms after the war so that we could continue our lives.” she finished saying as everypony in the room went to a bit more ease, although Lightning seemed to be privy to this little bit of information already, knowing him he probably had a long talk with our new friend while they were scouting in the streets.

After that, our alicorn friend disappeared to talk with the hooded ponies about the ministry and all of its secrets, she told me that she would report to me if I wanted, I told her to be safe.

Homage looked at me then at my friends, “DJ PON3 is very busy and he has told me to interview you since I am his assistant.” Homage said to me before leading us into a recording room.

Once inside Homage directed us to a microphone in a room that was separated from hers by a window, there were speakers over her window, we were inside of a prewar recording facility, only I couldn't see the ponies on the other side of the window because it was a two way mirror.

“Hello wastelanders, this is DJ PON3 coming to you live, I have with me my wonderful assistant Homage who encountered the hero’s of Nowhere, the brave ponies who led it are now in my recording studio and want to tell me their part of their story.” I could hear DJ PON3 say in a charismatic voice from behind the glass, “Well then what is your part of the story White Ranger?” he asked me, making me sound as though I was out of that old television program 'Power Mares' and making my cringe at how corny it was.

I cleared my throat before speaking, “Well I am Star Paladin SteelCrusher of the Equestrian First Army, we were ordered during the fallout to stable one, five, zero to go into cryo sleep. Only myself and Knight BrokenBlade survived in the chambers to this point of time. You see the chambers had a limited time frame, after roughly one hundred and seventy years, the stable computer was designed to begin putting soldiers to sleep. The pegasi were supposed to come down and release us, but as we know now, the pegasi turned into the Enclave thus committing treason to the EUP. We lucked out and had Captain Dark Lightning, who was wing pony to Rainbow Dash the mare of the Ministry of Awesome and war hero, come and save us inadvertently when he was trying to save the good ponies of Nowhere. The raiders had stripped off his weapons and cyber wings, leaving him defenseless, he woke us up when he rewired the auto defenses in the stable. BrokenBlade escorted the civilians back to their town, and returned after doing so, cutting a swath through the Raiders. Eventually, after getting my two teammates out I blew majority of the stable to ash.” I said catching my breath.

“Well that was mighty brave of you, and I saw what you did when you got to the town and Slavers were attacking it, saving the towns people a second time, my question is where did you find two more rangers to help you?” DJ PON3 asked me but Dark Lightning replied before I had caught my breath.

“Those two rangers were the first to return to the proper meaning of their oath to Equestria and its people, they joined up with us after an unfortunate conflict with their squad which left them, the only two who didn’t try to kill us, instead wanting to join us, alive.” he said quick and clean.

“So what was up with the small ground war between the First Army, well what was left of it, and the Steel Rangers?” DJ PON3 asked us.

“Well, they were upset because they didn’t want rangers who didn’t report to their elders roaming about, and when I told them about us and that we report to General Tempest, who led us during the war and who went missing before the fallout, and that we are following his final orders, to protect the citizens of Equestria from any and all threats. Well lets just leave it at he didn’t like it.” I stopped talking, I was trying to figure out how to phrase my next words.

"Those who chose to fight for the General switched sides with us that day and fought for that town in which the rangers had threatened to wipe out, we tried our best to reason with them peacefully but they didn’t listen. We had no choice but to kill em, or allow ourselves to fail our final orders. We hold our duty above ourselves, and our only duty now is to the citizens of Equestria!” BrokenSteel finished it for me.

“Well there you go children, the full story of the events that happened in the small town of Nowhere, now where exactly is Nowhere a few have asked me and I have an answer for you, its nowhere! No pony knows lest they have been there, and I’m afraid its gonna stay that way for a long time to come children, unless the Wasteland changes for the better Nowhere will remain nowhere!” DJ PON3 stated over the speakers before I heard a loud 'click' when the recording sign shut off.

The interview was over but we were still locked in the studio, then the two way mirror became see through.

“Thank you for your time, I know that you had a few questions for DJ PON3, but he has to go talk to the Twilight Society about your friend, so may I speak with you instead?” Homage asked.

I was stumped, “What about my friend?” I asked, forgetting I had come here for information.

“Well the fact that she knows this tower as it was before the fallout, and the threat that poses, they want to asses her threat level.” Homage said with a worried look.

“We just met her, but her armor had similar markings as Tempest's ancient armor that he wore when he was off the battlefield, and his mark of creation. She is definitely one of us.” I said with a determined face.

“DJ PON3 will deal with it, he doesn’t like it when they mess with ponies!” she exclaimed.

“Good, any friend of Twilight was a friend of mine, even if I never met them, we knew each other, I even stayed at her house for a little while and learned a few dozen spells from her, per Tempest’s request.” I said, she looked floored.

“So not only are you old soldiers come back to save us, but three of you knew ministry mares and had spent time with them?” she asked.

“Yes” both me and Lightning said in unison.

“Now to get down to our original reason for coming here!” I said, interrupting her daydreams.

“Oh, Oh yes. Why was that, aside from giving me information that is?” she asked.

“Well first I was wondering how you could see us in the Wasteland if you never leave this tower?” I asked her.

“Well, are you familiar with the towers that are scattered across Equestria?” she asked me.

“Yes, the single pegasus project, Rainbow Dash said it was so that one pegasus could control all the weather in Equestria, she even said it could drop lightning on our enemies if they came into range!” Lightning said recalling a funny memory because he laughed afterwords.

“Well they also have cameras on them to observe what goes on, DJ PON3 has hacked into their network, he can see everywhere in his broadcast station.” she said, looking slightly proud.

“Okay well now that my first question is answered, is it okay if I view an area using that system?” I asked.

“Well, um, no. you can’t!” she exclaimed, she had a worried look on her face.

“Its important, and we only need to study the area a few days. We are on a mission, not only to save the Equestrian citizens, but to free our General who is being held in Fillydelphia!” I retorted, ready to use my military rank, his rank, to secure this resource, “It won’t interfere with DJ PON3, I give you my word.” I added when she looked cross.

The doors unlocked, "I believe that the society wishes to speak with you.” she stated as she looked down which worried me.

As we moved toward the door it opened, outside the hooded figures were standing with Defense, she was smiling and they were laughing. After seeing that my worries slipped away, then Homage joined us, I wondered if DJ PON3 was wearing one of those cloaks.

Homage looked at them and then turned to me with her horn glowing, “Hello knights of the old days, this is your pal, DJ PON3!” Homage said.

Homage was DJ PON3. “Well, I figured as much.” I said.

Her eyes widened, “How did you know?” she asked me.

“I wasn't absolutely sure, lets just say it was a hunch. So what is this all about?” I asked her.

“Well a good friend of mine and her friends are securing the Fillydelphia tower again, and the society was listening to our conversation in the room.” she said, “They told me I could reveal myself to you, in return they want you to tell them all you know about anything this tower may have, and who Tempest is.” she stated, now looking slightly worried.

“No worries, we can do that.” I said with a smile.

After we told them all about the single pegasus project and this towers secrets, during which they were all hanging off their seats, not only by Defenses knowledge of this place, but Lightning’s knowledge of the SPP. They turned to me and asked about Tempest, non of them had removed their cloaks, but I was at ease with this.

“Tempest was, is, well, a very different pony of a very different time.” I said, searching for words to describe him, “What do you want to know?” I asked them.

After a long period off discussion their leader turned to me, “What do you know of him?” he asked me.

“Quite a bit since I was one of his closest friends, which is how I met Twilight Sparkle, and became second in command of his army. I guess you could say that we were close, like a father and daughter.” I said, they looked at me and started talking to each other again.

After half an hour they turned back to me, “We know he was a General, you already disclosed that information. Do you know his heritage, and what he was to the princesses?” he asked me.

“His heritage is mostly a mystery aside from being part Crystal pony and Dragon, with a line of pegasi in there somewhere. As for his relation to the Princesses I know for a fact that he and Luna were close friends, but he and Celestia didn't get along when it came to most things.” I said, recalling when Celestia stepped down from her command during the war and Tempest had chewed her out.

“And what of his abilities?” the lead pony asked.

“I know that he can breath fire and is immune to lava.” I said remembering the time the stripes used flamethrowers and casually walked up to them and bucked them in their faces.

“Please go on, this is highly intriguing!” he exclaimed, leaning forward a bit.

“Well, he has this gemstone that grants him minor magical abilities that forged into his armor." I said, it was something he didn't use too often.

They were looking at me now in stupor, Homage looked at me with a quizzical look that said she didn't believe me. "Well, before you ask I don't know how it works, most of his past is a mystery to me."

"That is rather intriguing." The lead pony said giving a look towards Homage before looking back to me. "How did he survive the Fallout?"

After thinking of how to respond to this, which took some time on my part since I was still trying to figure it out I came back with a reply, “From visions that he sends me from time to time, he seems, weaker than before, like he was drained.” I said at long last.

“Yes, in the two visions that he has sent me, he was most definitely drained and in immense pain, though in each one he felt more powerful, his mind more acute.” Defense added, this made me feel much better about her being here, even if I still didn’t know if we could trust her, but I was beginning to do so.

"I don’t know what happened to him, but whatever happened, it effected him in a very bad way.” I said, not knowing what else they would want that I knew, then remembering, “He can also spit acid” I added to his list.

“Well then that’s interesting, do you know what his cutiemark is?” Homage asked, this I did know.

“He lived and worked in a remote forge, his cutiemark is that of a hammer and anvil, before the fallout he had regarded himself as an engineer!” I stated, smiling, the conversation was over.

On our way

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Chapter 9

On our way

Things never go the way they are planned, that’s why we need to be creative, that’s why I am creative!- Applebits

I was sad to learn that we didn’t have access to the Fillydelphia tower camera, but Homage did let us view our hometown, it had doubled in size, the citizens expanded it when the freed slaves came. It made me happy, and there were at least a dozen more rangers than before, I suspected that they were towns folk who were learning how to operate our armor so that we could bolster our forces. From this view I could also see warning signs telling travelers to beware of the minefield, and push to talk so we can deactivate the minefield for approach, I wondered if Ditzy had to go through this, then I saw a tower with a telescope, that meant that they could read her board. Upon further inspection I saw the farm, it was at least double the size of the town itself and it had fields of crop stretching everywhere, Woods had done rather well, outstanding even, I decided that I would hug her when I got back, just another thing to add to my mental checklist. Looking at the town itself I noticed balloons and other party decorations, a few fireworks on the roof of the barn that Woods had most likely built to house the harvest crop, the banner read Cutiemark Celebration for Fire Bloom! it was for Fire Bloom, she had gotten her cutiemark.

I asked if Homage could zoom in on the filly that I pointed out, Fire Bloom, she was in front of the barn on a stage. Homage zoomed in so that Fire Bloom took up the entire screen, she could see my joy in seeing my little friend. I could now see her cutiemark it was a phoenix, and then I saw animals behind her, cows and chickens, most likely made from the stable DNA chamber, I didn’t think it would have been intact, but when Stabletech builds something, they build it to last. My lovely little filly friend was an animal pony, she had found her talent, and it was to be good with animals. Afterwords I thanked Homage so much, and she even went a step further to allow me to tell my friend through the radio that I was very proud of her finding her cutiemark and that I would be returning soon, that my mission was nearly complete.

This made my spirits rise , I wanted to run back as fast as I could, but I could do that after we got Tempest so I said goodnight to Homage and retreated to my room with Defense. For about an hour before deciding to go to sleep she talked to me about Tempest, she had known him longer than I had and he had taught her more spells, combat spells that I had no interest in learning on top of most of the medical spells I knew. It turns out that Tempest had dived deeper into healing and shield spells with me than Defense. This made sense, he was preparing her to be an alicorn soldier, when he was preparing me for what was to come my way. Knowing that I was a medic, and that I was bad at combat spells, he had taught me extensive medical, memory, telekinetic, shield spells for all situations, and a few mega spells of his own design meant to heal large groups, or replenish energy, even create food out of thin air, those had been a stretch of my abilities but I had mastered them.

I went to sleep about thirty minuets after my alicorn friend, she had most definitely proven two things. First that she was a good friend of Tempest’s that he had managed to send our way the same way that he had sent me on my mission, and second that she was very good at getting along with others. She had told me everything that was in Ten Pony, the Twilight Society had found everything that had survived this long, but there was one thing we both agreed would be nice to still have here, the communication spell matrix. The building was equipped with a chamber that was now void, it had once held a mega spell that Twilight had designed to allow ponies to talk to each other long distance, bypassing the mail system, the project had been shut down when the advent of the telephone hit, for they did the same thing, but now it would be immensely helpful.

I drifted into sleep, thinking about the day I had just had. After meeting with DJ PON3 Defense had taken me to the spa, against my will and better judgment, it was relaxing, but I hadn’t wanted to relax, I wanted to get home, I wanted to be with all of my friends at home. The vision began with Defense rescuing me, at first I thought it was just a normal dream but I soon realized that in normal dreams I couldn’t think. Then it shifted to Tempest training a older unicorn, she looked like she was in her fifties.

“You have progressed far, and your time in the Ministry has helped the war effort, I believe it is time for a decision though.” Tempest said to the mare who I knew as Defense, she nodded in agreement.

The image faded from my head as a new one depicting two large alicorns and Tempest in his ancient armor surrounding Defense, Tempest and the princesses were casting a spell, a powerful one that required all three of them to accomplish it. I watched as Defense turned into an alicorn, then the image faded away. I had thought the vision over, but it wasn't.

“She is a friend that Trixy didn’t count on, she was unable to penetrate to my memories past what I allowed, I would trust Shining Defense with my life as I do you. Rest now, for this journey is only the beginning!” Tempest said addressing me directly, though he still didn't say my name, but I knew it was meant for me.

I woke to Defense singing, and wow she could hold a note. She was in the shower that was attached to our room, so I decided that while I waited for her to get out I would clean my armor. I had just finished the inside of it when she came out of the bathroom.

“Oh, your awake.” she said, slightly startled at how quite I was, though I don’t think she realized how loud she was when she sang, though I admit it was pleasant.

“Yes woke up to your amazing singing and noted that you were using the shower, I could hear the water running, so I decided to clean my armor. So much dirt and grime, even on the inside.” I said to ease her up a little.

“You don’t mind my singing?” she asked.

“No I find it refreshing and nice to hear a prewar song that my friend sang happily.” I said in return, she had a really nice voice.

“I can finish cleaning your armor for you if you want to get a shower, then we can go to Bull’s-Eye's place.” she said, recalling that I had told her and the rest of my companions what he wanted to do last night.

“Okay” I said, levitating my armor to her, she took it and I got cleaned up.

I didn’t take long to clean, unlike Defense I wasn’t a civilian pony, I knew how to make haste without making waste. When I had gotten out of the bathroom Defense had cleaned my armor and made minor repairs that I only noticed because I knew my armor, she had made it look new!

“Wow, I haven’t seen it look that good in ages.” I said, a little dumbfounded.

“Well, I figured that a girl needs to have clean armor that is in good repair.” she said cheerfully.

“You made it look new.” I said, looking at her with wonder.

At that the conversation ended as we both strapped on our armor, I had, for the monument, bought a picture frame and duplicated a photo for Bull’s-Eye that he had produced.

We walked up to the room that the boys had gotten and knocked, no answer. After the fifth time I decided that we should come back later, Defense had other ideas, next thing I knew she had fazed through the door and I could hear Lightning screaming inside. Just as it happened I realized that the door had been unlocked and there was a note.

Come on in we are awake

Which was well great since Defense had just scared the living hell out of them. I was laughing as I opened the door, Lightning was upside down on the ceiling, Bull’s-Eye had jumped behind a bed, and Defense was standing in the middle of the room wide eyed at their reaction, I couldn’t help myself but to laugh.

“What the hell are you trying to do to us, give us both heart attacks?” Lightning asked us.

“No, we knocked five times and we thought you were asleep. Applebits wanted to go look around for a little while so you could wake up, but I came in to see.” Defense said, still in slight shock from their reaction.

It had been several minuets before they realized she wasn’t there to kill them.

“Well maybe you should learn how to read!” Bull’s-Eye stammered as he picked himself up off of the floor.

“I saw your note after she had fazed through the door.” I said, still laughing but not quite as hard as when it happened, though still uncontrolled.

We all packed up what was left and straightened the room, we wanted to be welcome back, stopping here with Tempest was a must, taking him to the spa, at least for Defense I wasn’t going there again, sounded interesting. She had put the idea across me, I initially said no, but then realized if I didn’t want to go again, it would have to be Tempest, that and he needed to let loose a little.

We left Ten Pony Tower just before dawn, the wasteland sky had just begun to light up behind the thick cloud cover that the pegasi still maintained. It took us a little while and a few dead bodies of raiders attacking Gutterville, a town not too far from Ten Pony, for those who either didn’t want to live in the tower, or those that couldn’t afford it, but we did get there. His old home was a large apartment near the center of Manehattan, the walls were mostly intact and the floor was holding up well, most of the ways up were collapsed and it took us a good bit of time, about two hours to find a way to his place. He looked around, there were no remains of anything but a couch, kitchen, and two bedrooms that had fallen through the floor and down a few levels, there was however a terminal. Bull’s-Eye accessed it, it was his after all, he read the message and smiled, we had all removed our helmets, well all but Defense who’s medieval armor showed most of her face, in respect for him and his family.

“They weren’t here, the terminals last entry was two days before the fallout, they were out in Ponyville visiting a friend when stable orders came. They would have been sent to their pip-bucks, they would have made it to stable two in time.” he said.

I could see the relief in his face, his family had survived and lived on in the stable.

Then I remembered, “Stable two?”

“Eyup!” his mood had fallen away.

“I found it when we were camping at Sweet Apple Acres, checked its log, it was opened twice in the last month or so, its still operating at full capacity!” I said smiling.

The trip hadn’t been in vain, we still laid the picture on the couch and he put a letter next to it, that he himself had chiseled in stone. I cast a spell to prevent decay and we left the blasted out building out the open wall that led to the streets. Lightning and Defense carried me and BrokenBlade all the way to the tank, so that we could prep it for travel. Defense had insisted on flying us at least part of the way to Fillydelphia, she was fast and much more steady in flight than Lightning with the tank, he chose to ride inside with me.

“So you and Defense were both pupils to Tempest?” he asked.

“Yes, I don’t think he had very many of us, though I do think that he regards us as his family, like his children.” I said, not really knowing just stating my opinion, though Lightning seemed to catch on.

“How many do you think he trained?” he asked, “Alicorns I mean.” he added with haste.

“I really don’t know, he kept to himself a lot, there were very few he spoke to, he only ever spoke to me about current events or history, which had long been forgotten. It was always interesting to talk to him.” I said.

We were all quite a bit more conversational since leaving Ten Pony, I think it had something to do with the laughing fit at the hotel. Which led to many conversions about what each of us had scene there. Lightning made it his prerogative to ask about the spa ponies, I just laughed in his face before telling him that they wouldn't be interested in him.

I heard the tank fire and lurch slightly, making me fall into Lightning.

“What is going on?” I asked as Lightning flew out the rear hatch to see for himself what Bull’s-Eye had shot.

“Alicorns, at least nine o' em, I just killed one, best if ye hang on though, me and Lightnin got this!” I heard Bull’s-Eye crackle over the radio, enjoying the challenge of hitting flying targets with the ninety millimeter cannon.

Next thing I knew I was being thrown about the living quarters of the tank willy-nilly as Defense took evasive action and Bull’s-Eye had fired another shot.

“Got er!” I could hear him through the radio.

“Got two, its like hitting targets, they don’t know how to dodge!” Lightning yelled over the radio.

My head was spinning and I felt like I was about to hurl. We leveled off and touched ground, Defense had landed, it was my turn to join the fight, I leaped out of the tanks rear hatch and found myself falling.

“AAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!” I screamed as Lightning swooped down and caught me.

“Why do you not look before you leap, you aint no pegasus!” he yelled as he threw me next to the tank.

We had landed but Defense had parked us on a piece of bridge that had become a free standing tower, it had once been part of a highway but as time and a mega spell apocalypse would have it, it had fallen to pieces. I found myself firing on these hostile alicorns next to my fellow ranger, who was operating the tank, as my two other friends fought in the sky above me. I nailed three of them, none survived the conflict and we were on our way again in no time. The hostile alicorns were no match for a real one, and I knew that they weren’t supposed to be seen, they were spies for the goddess, for Trixy. Thinking about her I realized I knew nothing of her, sadly when I asked neither did my friends.

I had asked Defense if she was still having visions from Tempest, she told me no, but she did say what her first one was about when I asked, it had been the same as mine, at the same time as mine. We came to the conclusion that Tempest had made the connection right then to any of his followers that still lived, and I realized that it was thanks to Lightning that I was here, I would have died if he hadn’t woken me up, his timing was impeccable.

“So what was your second vision?” I asked Defense as she studied the inside of the tank, she barely fit inside, but she had been wounded during battle and I was still too dizzy to use a spell, so I had to heal her the old way.

She looked around at the tank some more as she pondered how to put it to words, “The second vision came in my sleep, It showed three soldiers fighting alicorns and protecting a large group of fillies. The soldiers upon close examination were the three of you!” she added as she paused. I could see the look in her eye, she was putting the rest of the vision to words, “The image then change to that of Manehattan, then of Tempest himself, and he spoke. Heed my call, you must aid them, together you are my only hope. Then the vision ended and haven’t had one since, but I know it is your group, he showed me your faces by flashing them through my head before I woke.” she said finishing.

I looked at her, she had squeezed herself into the back near the hatch of the tank, and with my instability subsiding I could perform the necessary spell to heal her, “Interesting, hold still, I’m going to finish mending you now, then you can go back outside and fly. You look a little cramped.” I said smiling, as she nodded.

After healed her she jumped out the back of the tank and began to fly behind and above us, just below the cloud cover. I made the mistake of looking down and out of the rear hatch on the Sky Tank, fortunately I vomited out the hatch before shutting it and after drinking a little water from the tanks reservoir, this I drank little of because there was only so much to go round for four ponies. Before I knew it I was looking at the picture of the filly in the locket again, just looking straight at her picture. I twirled the locket around and began to wonder where she had gotten it. It was a silver locket with diamonds on both sides centered, the chain was also silver, other than that there was no design and I would feel wrong if I asked. With that though I scolded myself, it didn’t matter what it looked like, it was who gave it to me who mattered, that little filly had just about lost everything when I came along with my friends and we saved her and everything that she knew.

I fell asleep with these thoughts, though I don’t know when, but it happened. I found myself in the company of Tempest, he was speaking to me, I was watching what happened after he sent us off to the stable. In the vision he was radiating with power, the air was warm, the clouds that now always blocked out the sky were just beginning to form, he gave me my orders, his face as always was determined, he rarely showed emotion, so to see him scowling actually made the hairs on my neck stand on end. I left with the entire army in tow, I never realized how chatty they had been, perhaps Tempest had more acute senses than I did, he could hear them breathing in their armor as we charged away. Then he shot into the sky like a black and red bullet to come to rest well above the clouds. He was scanning for something, if I recall he said that he was going to stop the last of the missiles, that Equestria had witnessed enough death today. The missiles came and he destroyed them with ease, but there were too many, one had lodged itself into him, as he destroyed the last of the missiles he generated a high level shield and was incinerated. His spell lasted long enough to contain the blast, even after he had been incinerated by magic, it had been a mega spell type that never hit any target because of him.

“They would have destroyed the stables, that’s where they were going, I stopped them, not a single one got by me.” Tempest said his voice echoing in my ears, “I knew that I wouldn’t die, that hope was shattered upon the destruction of Cloudsdale, but now my hope has returned. I’m sorry that I cannot return with you to Nowhere, but I must find her, and it shall be a dangerous journey! You may come, but it is not something I wish to force on you, decide once I explain in person, fare thee well my little pony.” Tempest voice faded away, and I began dreaming about life in Nowhere.

Rescue Mission

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Chapter 10

Rescue Mission

Even in the end there is always a new beginning!- Applebits

I woke, my head very clear, much clearer than it had been in weeks ever since I had that first freak vision that had released my small scale mega spell. We had landed just within viewing range of Fillydelphia, I wished that I could help all the slaves there, but my mission was clear, rescue Tempest and get the hell out of there. I found that I was standing in front of a large free standing map that I had created, with the help of my visions, I had set up a plan of action to sneak in and rescue Tempest. I could cast a spell on us to turn us invisible, so could Defense, she and I were the ones going in, Dark Lightning and BrokenBlade were our cover fire for the way out if things went sour. Though if all went as planned we would never be seen heard or otherwise, Defense was my ticket in and out, she was also going to cloak Tempest in case he couldn’t do so for himself, though by the power I felt in the last vision, I had no doubt he could do it himself!

I had two contingencies, the first was if Trixy knew we were coming, We would charge in with the tank roll up, get the general, and leave, but that was risky and posed a threat to the captive slaves. The second was if we were spotted, at any point this was the more likely of the two, upon getting spotted I would radio to BrokenBlade who would be ready with his anti tank cannons, we had agreed not to use the tank since it could kill civilians with its splash, and Lightning would begin distracting them in the sky so that we could get the general as they blew up from AT cannons and were harassed from the sky by a pegasus. Overall the plan was to get Tempest outside of the city and make a run for the tank, which we had hidden not too far from the city itself, near the place Tempest had shown me for us to get in at.

When it was time to proceed with the plan, everypony got into their positions. Me and Defense snuck in through a small hole in the outer wall, we were invisible, as we were moving to the middle wall I stopped, I had cast a spell so that we could see each other so she stopped next to me.

“What is wrong, is this not right?” she whispered.

I looked up, there was a guard on top of the wall so I hit him with an antistatic spell that also froze him asleep in place.

“Pick me up, we have to go over this one.” I whispered back.

She picked me up and we flew over the middle wall and the immobile guard, upon getting to the other side I crouched through a crack that I had a hard time fitting through, though Defense just fazed through the wall behind me. The hole led us to a small room on the floor level of the Ministry of Moral hub of Fillydelphia. The walls were pink, so was the carpet, and the ceiling, it actually made me sick looking at it.

“Well it was Pinkies ministry.” I whispered to my friend.

“True enough.” she whispered back.

I got a radio call from the boys as soon as we got inside, its nice to know that they aren't just sitting out there playing cards like the guards from my old boot camp always did.

“Hey did you get in okay?” I heard Lightning say over the static.

“Yes we are inside the ministry hub.” I whispered through the radio.

“Good, I have nothing to report aside from that guard you hit is still standing there, I’ll take him out quietly if I have to but it shouldn't be necessary.” he said, I could here is rifle's action click among the static.

I knew that guy would wake up in a few hours, on top of that Defense had set up a ton of explosives on the other side of the fortress, we were not just ready for trouble, we were expecting it.

We made it out of the ministry building, I had told Defense to look for a building that used to print posters and literature before the fallout, in the basement would be a door that could only open from the inside, Defense would have to faze through it and open it for me. I was terrified by what I saw out here, knowing that neither of us should speak we didn’t, but the ponies who were working as slaves, to build what Red Eye called a better tomorrow, looked as though they might all be dead and their bodies just moving out of muscle memory, it was horrid. I hoped Tempest would bring us back here so that we could fight for their freedom, nopony should have this thrown upon them, I let my mind venture in the darkness for a moment and the thought that if I ever get the chance I will personally rip out the beating hearts of everypony who had a hoof in making this happen and had the power to stop it did cross my mind.

I was shaking with anger frozen in place when Defense tapped me, she pointed to the building we were looking for, reluctantly I moved in. We had to get inside without anypony taking note of us, it was easy for Defense, she just went through the wall like a freaking ghost, me well I found a broken window and with levitation help from my friend got inside.

“Do not worry, we will help them, Tempest spoke to me last night again, for the last time through a vision. He said that there will come a battle, that somepony named Little Pip is going to bring light and start the path to peace for the wasteland, and that we shall help her when the time comes.” she whispered to me helping me find my focus again, it was good to know that we were going to help them, my only issue was that it couldn’t be now.

We moved through the building, occasionally stopping to let ponies go by, I heard them talking about parasprites that were carnivorous and how long it took them to kill them all before they could use this facility, and the amount of work it was going to take to get the equipment running again. After a few close encounters and one necessary heart attack spell we found the door.

“Did you really need to kill him, that slave will be blamed?” Defense asked.

“I used a heart attack spell, he died of natural causes, besides, I wasn’t about to let him hurt that guy just because he stood up for that mare, they may have both been guards, but I don’t think they are all bad.” I replied as she walked up to the door. “Can you go through it?” I added.

“Yes, I can and I will, just admiring the fact that its enchanted.” she answered me with a glint in her eyes.

“Enchanted?” I said confused.

“Yes when I go through they will know that we are here.” she said as she looked at me.

“Tempest probably knew of this, which means that he can help us fight our way out.” I said with confidence we both became visible.

As soon as she put a hoof through the giant metal door alarms went off, they must have been blaring from those speakers I saw on the way in. Defense got the door open fast as three alicorns appeared behind her, though none of them saw my missiles.

WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH!!!

I gave each alicorn three missile surprise as my parting gift, Defense was covered in bits of pony, she didn’t care and if she did she didn’t show it, Tempest had trained her for war well. When we came about the corner I unleashed missiles on all eight of the shied generating alicorns keeping Tempest prisoner, with a massive boom and vibrations sent through the ruined city, I had let everyone know that we were here.

“It is good to see my last two pupils here for me.” I dry and powerful voice said as Tempest emerged from the back smoke generated by my missiles.

His black medieval armor still had its red trim on it, his midnight black coat had faded to a charcoal grey, his mane and tail had also faded but was still black with a few dark red streaks moving through them, his eyes hadn’t changed, they were a deep red that glowed softly, and he had his weapons at the ready, on his back he had two sheathed broadswords, and on his battle saddle he had four firearms of his own design. His guns were in all essentially fully automatic armor piercing grenade machine guns that when fired sounded like an entire ten tank companies firing in a cascading never ending boom of death. He was much taller than Defense, a little taller than Celestia, if you removed her horn, his dragon wings were outstretched, I could see small holes in the membranes that made up his wing span, they were at least double his body with in size.

“We have no time to waste, we must leave at once if we are to leave at all!” he said with urgency as he folded his wings up, he couldn’t press them against his sides because of his guns but he didn’t seem to mind.

He led us back the way we came, our boys had taken to the contingency plan, Lightning had distracted most of the guards, even killed at least half of the ones that we saw coming in, any of the guards he missed when he started getting chased by alicorns were quickly taken down my AT fire from afar as Bull’s-Eye did his thing. Tempest emerged from below, we were right behind him, it was dark but the sky was still red,

“Red Eye! Tell your goddess I shant be contained like a caged animal, and that she is doomed!” Tempest bellowed, his voice reverberating off of everything.

We went out the way we came in, Lightning put a well placed shot to trigger our explosives and Tempest incinerated anypony who tried to hurt a slave or got in our way, he also unleashed his guns and frothed forth a storm of death toward the griffons and alicorns that were attacking Lightning. We got to the tank and Defense strapped herself in, while Tempest looked at me quizzically.

“You have a Tortoise prototype?” he asked me.

“Can we talk later sir!” I said, as he nodded, realizing once more that we were under attack.

To my relief when Tempest incinerated a group of guards they stopped worrying about the slave as much as they began to worry about themselves, so the innocent ponies that we were unable to help were safe until we could return in that final battle Tempest had mentioned. So I got into the tank, I was familiar with the controls of the weapons on board, but I wasn’t as good a shot as BrokenBlade was, nevertheless I opened fire with the one thing he never seemed to use, the tanks missile pods. The missiles the tank could fire were twice the size of mine and made at least four times the boom, I enjoyed blowing up the alicorns and griffons.

We got in the air quiet fast, but as soon as Defense turned she was lit up. I could see anti material rifle rounds impacting both her and the tank. I unleashed a volley of missiles on the sniper positions alongside the AT guns but alas I acted too late, I witnessed Defenses head explode and braced before the tank hit the ground.

We crashed landed next to Blade as Lightning landed next to the wreck, Tempest wasn't too far away from us as he unloaded his guns to keep them off of us. I crawled out of the gun and into the broken crew compartment, I acquired my personal items before the back of the tank was cut off by two swords as the sound of gunfire filled my ears. Tempest sheathed his blades and pulled me out with a grim look upon his face, I looked down to find that I had lost my rear legs after he pulled me out of the tank and I was bleeding fast. I made a whimpering sound and passed out as I saw Tempest drag me to cover.

In my dream I saw Nowhere, the sky was clear and there were flowers in every window, beautiful daisies, Fire Bloom was bouncing about town with a phoenix flying next to her. Looking at her more closely she was much older, there were ponies that had features I recognized, dragon like, but they were very young and chasing each other around. First Army Rangers were on the walls of the town, ever vigilant for danger and ready to fight.

The Strongest Storm

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Chapter 11

The Strongest Storm

Judge, Jury, and Executioner.- Tempest Knight

The firefight raged on as I pulled my wounded friend out of the tanks wreckage, dodging a bullet by moving my head as the bullets flew by I turned and burst fired my cannons. Above me I could see Lightning strafing to and fro while trying to see what was happening down by me as I finished pulling Applebits to the safety of the front of the tank, unfortunately that meant seeing my apprentice who had been killed in her effort to rescue me as well. Grimacing at the sight of her broken body I let loose a litany of fury from my lips as I slammed my fore hooves to the ground. Instantly my two ghost warriors materialized and charged off towards the enemy, while they were immortal they would be rather ineffective since my powers were still returning to me, but with my rage so great upon seeing somepony I considered to be like a daughter to me they should have plenty of time to make the enemy crap themselves.

"General!" A gruff voice shouted as a Lunar Ranger galloped up to the ancient armored dragon pony only to stop short about twelve hoofs away when he saw Applebits badly injured and Shining Defense still attached to the tank dead.

"Soldier, take Applebits away from the battle zone, the Shadowbolt and I will hold the line here and fall back to you shortly!" I said as I closed the eyes of my dead friend.

"Yes sir!" Bulls Eye said as he let loose twin AT rounds on the approaching ground forces before wrapping one of Applebits forelegs around his neck as he began marching her out of harms ways.

Lightning landed next to me, his twenty millimeter auto cannon still offloading into the enemy as he watched Bulls Eye and Applebits leave the area, "What is the plan?" he asked looking hopefully at me.

I drew one of my blades in my maw and faced the literal army that was approaching, I suppose my motion spoke for itself as Lightning faced the enemy as he readied his massive .50 cal. Strangely though the enemy stopped about one hundred hoofs away, allowing a lone Griffon to walk in front of them towards us.

"Okay, we can do this the hard way were I kill the two of you, or we can do this the easy way where you cut your losses and surrender." The griffon said as she readied her anti material rifle.

"What is your name griffon?" I bellowed as flames trickled out of my snout and my crystal pony eyes bore into the mercenary.

"I don't see why it matters, but the name is Stern." the now named griffon replied.

"Just wanted to know so I could mention you in my memoirs as being the first heretic to try diplomacy with me, now if you'll excuse us we shall take our leave." I said sternly as I motioned for Dark Lightning to go.

"Whoa, hey I didn't say you could leave punks!" Stern said as she fired a round from her rifle right past my head.

I didn't even flinch when the round grazed my faded charcoal colored fur revealing the midnight black scales beneath them. I only nodded to Lightning who shot off into the sky and vanished as I turned slightly towards my foe.

"Where did your friend go?" Stern said with a slight chuckle.

"I do not require any help to deal with the likes of thee, at least not the help of the living." I said allowing a smile to cross my face as my eyes glowed a deep red and not two, but three Steel Ranger paladins from the war in tattered armor clawed their way out of the ground. "My name is General Tempest Knight, commander of the Equestrian First Army and the apprentice of Hades, otherwise known as the god of the dead." I said now grinning uncontrollably as the undead rangers battle saddles activated but did not fire.

Stern backed up slightly, as did all of her pitiful excuse for an army while I walked away into a cloud of dust that had kicked up from out of nowhere. When the dust cleared so did the I and my undead warriors, leaving Red Eyes forces alone in their territory.

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I appeared out of the shadows nearest to my comrades that had sacrificed so much to save me. Lightning landed near Bulls Eye who had managed to remove Applebits helmet and was watching her nervously.

"How bad?" Lightning asked coming up to my right side as we both walked towards them.

"The armor has stopped the bleeding but she no longer has hind legs, her missile pods are busted, aside from that the armor took most of the blows." I said as we approached the sleeping mare.

"What now that we have gone and nearly gotten ourselves killed?" Bulls Eye asked, looking up towards me since I was now standing directly over him, casting a shadow upon him.

"I don't know." was all I said before a lone tear rolled off my cheek and hit the ground.

"We can't just sit here and wait for somepony or something to come by and kill us." Lightning stated as he sat by the group and checked over his companion.

Bulls Eye put her down gently as he stood up, "We should move, there is no reason to stay here." he said, "I'll carry her." he added with a stern look behind his visor.

"Very well, Lightning I want you to bring up the rear, I'll take point." I said before starting to walk further towards Manehatten and away from Fillydelphia.

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Two hours past and we hadn't encountered a single soul and Applebits was still asleep. Nonetheless I peered around every corner of the ruined town we were in before allowing the team to move up, perhaps it was a sense of responsibility over the death of Defense and the maiming of Applebits, but no matter what I wasn't going to allow any more harm come to what was left of my former life. We were almost to the edge of town when I heard a scream followed by the breaking of bone on concrete, not a good sign when one is trying to stay low. I signaled for us to stop before slipping down the ally way nearest to my left to investigate.

Keeping low and staying behind whatever was large enough to hide me I found the pony who had made the noise, fortunately the ponies who I would assume attacked her were hiding behind cover on the opposite side of the street, and the Steel Rangers were now moving in to deal with them.

"Circle around right, and cut off their escape, these ponies need to learn a lesson." a gruff female voice said.

It was then I noticed that one of the rangers were approaching the young and wounded unicorn mare who was too bloody for me to see the features of, aside from her gold eyes. The ranger targeted her with one of his guns before it started sinning up, wait what? I dashed out of my cover and slammed into the ranger before drawing my left blade and cutting off his weapons startling everypony.

"Care to explain what is happening here soldier?" I casually said as I sheathed my blade and looked at the pony I assumed was in charge, behind and above her I could see that Lightning decided to check in on me and was now targeting the rangers around me with his rifles.

"We have our orders and no wasteland punk is going to keep us from them." she said looking over to a pair of rangers who aimed their weapons at me.

Stubborn as ever I stood my ground and merely raised a brow at the comment 'wasteland punk'before laughing, which made a the rest of the rangers turn my way. Taking my diversion the two ponies behind cover slipped towards my allies on the other side of the street, though the bloodied mare remained next to me since the rangers had their eyes locked on me while I laughed like a madpony.

"What's so funny?" the ranger commander asked, looking me up and down.

"Oh, its just that you insulted the highest ranking General of Equestria." I replied as my laughter died down, "Though nowadays that doesn't account for much even though you have donned our uniform, does it?" I added in a near growl as a few flames escaped my nostrils.

"General?" she said giving her own laugh, "You are a deranged stable pony, you aint no general." she kept laughing as the others joined in.

"Oh I assure you that I am, a close friend to Luna when she was still alive as well." I said making them laugh more and allowing the wounded mare to escape right past them.

"Yeah, then where is your army?" the lead mare asked as she approached me.

"Have you looked behind you Captain Moron?" I said to which all the laughing stopped and a few of the rangers noticed that the ponies they were about to kill had vanished while other rangers spun around just to meet their fate with Dark Lightning as cleanly removed their heads with silenced rounds.

"What is this?" the lead ranger cried as she spun around only to see the Shadowbolt end her life with a single shot.

"This is how the military operates dearest traitor." I said stepping over her corps and walking towards where the wounded mare dragged herself over to.

"Please don't hurt me." she said softly, though to me it sounded as though she was having a hard time breathing.

"Why would I do that ms?" I asked as I reached out and lifted her up, using my wings to stand on my hind legs and walk.

"I.. I don't know, b... but then again why would you help me either?" she managed to ask, her head falling slightly when she spoke.

"I just did what those rangers should have done." I replied as we came back out into the open and Lightning landed on her other side.

"Sir, I get that helping ponies is a priority, but we don't even know if these are the right ponies to help." he raised his point as he helped me carry her over to where Bulls Eye had placed Applebits down and was standing guard.

"Innocent until proven guilty, just because everypony else has forgotten the lessons of the past doesn't mean that I shall abandon them my friend." I replied, reminding him that I am a lot older than I look.

"Point taken." Lightning relied, though I was surprised that the mare we were carrying hadn't said anything.

"Ms, are you still with us?" I asked when I noticed her hooves dragging.

Unfortunately I got no response so we set her down next to Applebits so that Bulls Eye and I could give her a better look. She had multiple lacerations which would explain the blood, though they were not very deep what it didn't explain was why she was having a hard time breathing. This is when I was really hopeful that Applebits would be awake and able to help, though I guess I would just have to wing it with what I knew. Looking at her neck I saw the problem, three bullet wound entries in which the bullets had embedded themselves into her airways. But before I could take the bullets out and administer the healing potion her group of friends found us, they had apparently taken a wrong turn and ended up having to go back to where I had found them.

"Is my sister alright?" a light grey mare with a blue mane and tail asked she had similar lacerations on her, though they had evidently been healed.

"She has multiple wounds, the worst of which are three bullets in her neck." I said after only glancing at the older mare.

"T..Then let us say goodbye at least." she said giving up too soon.

"That won't be necessary my friend." I said as the gemstone on my chest lit up red alongside my eyes and I very quickly ripped the bullets out as Bulls Eye injected the healing potion into her flank.

The mare backpedaled into a filly that looked to be about the same age as the wounded filly. the filly caught her and they both watched as I pulled out bandages to wrap what wounds didn't heal properly.

"Sir, that was our last healing potion, what if Applebits needs one later?" Lightning asked, raising a good question.

"She won't." I clearly stated though I wasn't completely sure of it myself.

The young mares breathing steadied and her sisters calmed down rather quickly after seeing her healed and bandaged. Looking at me the older mare smiled before looking at her younger companion.

"How did you do that, you aren't a unicorn?" the young filly asked from behind her big sister.

"In due time I shall tell you of me, but first I'd like to know your names young ones." I said not wanting to scare them away with my tale as I have done for so many others.

"My name is Shadow Star, this is my sister Moonlight, and you have already met her twin Solar Flare." the older of the three mares said pointing to her sisters as she spoke.

Moonlight was a unicorn with a stark white coat and a speckled black flank and black main with a tail to match, her eyes were a beautiful teal and she had a scar on her left cheek. Her older sister was a pegasus who also had a electric blue mane and tail with eyes to match, her cutiemark was a eight pointed black star with miniatures of itself surrounding it.

"I am Tempest Knight, and I am half dragon, that is how I can use magic." I replied and to my surprise they didn't run, they only sat down and began holding a conversation with us as if we had been friends forever.

A New Foe

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Chapter 12
A New Foe

I stand as the undying guard to those who are less than I, I am Tempest Knight.

I breathed a fresh blast of fire as our new friends sat down next to me, even though I had explained my dragon heritage they still scooted back a bit. Honestly I don't blame them after the stuff they have seen, and through Trixy I have seen as well.

"So if you don't mind me asking what hit her?" Shadow Star asked much to my displeasure.

After I let out a short but audible growl accidentally scaring the two fillies at which I felt horrible for I took a sigh before nodding to Dark Lightning.

"We raided Red Eye's fortress and we came out short one friend and she was also wounded badly." Lightning said for me as I gave a worried expression towards Applebits while she slept as I hoped she would awaken soon.

"Why would you even go near there?" Shadow Star asked with a face that immediately said that she was sorry she asked as I turned back to her and stood to my full height.

"They laid siege to rescue me from the false goddess my young friend, and they paid the price." I said as I turned and flew up to a roof and observed the horizon.

I occasionally looked down to see that my group had stopped talking since I had left the circle and my attention drifted towards what looked like an old factory of sorts. Thinking nothing of it I decided to take a look around it in hopes of finding something I could use to create artificial limbs for my old friend who had paid a steep price just to get me back.

I landed in front of the double doors that marked the main entrance to the building, after fluttering my massive dragon wings a few times I folded them inward to cover my weapons sides as I walked up to the doors. I pushed on one of the doors and they both fell inward making a thunderous sound as well as generating a nicely sized dust cloud when they hit the floor inside.

"Well then, I wasn't expecting that." I muttered as I walked inside and used the gemstone in my chest plate to bring one of my swords out in its red magical field.

Inside the factory I could see ponytron parts almost everywhere, though on the conveyor lines it was easily identifiable that this was a weapons making facility. The ponytrons looked as though they had been cut down with Luna's broadsword which set me on edge since they were made of metal and even my swords as sharp as they were wouldn't be able to cut through the chest piece on them so cleanly. I also noticed that a few of the robots had plasma burns, I inspected one that had been decapitated, but it didn't have too much in the way of degeneration when it came to its legs.

I was about to pick it up in my magic when I heard a clatter from across the room, I quickly unfurled my wings and bolted my prototype auto cannons. Narrowing my eyes since I had terrible night vision, my eyes being my only Crystal Pony trait, I saw a massive dark brown dog looking thing slowly approaching me that seemingly stopped when I locked eyes with it. I tilted my head slightly in confusion as I had never seen a creature like this before it jumped towards me with amazing speed and before I knew it my old knights training kicked in. Ducking down to my right before launching into the air I counted four large claws per hand on the beast and several features to suggest that this thing was a Diamond Dog, but they were not usually hostile, well then again I suppose a lot can change in two hundred years.

Landing on a catwalk above it I watched as it looked around the ground floor thinking that I had just sidestepped, I suppose I was lucky that it hadn't noticed me flying upwards when It missed me, that luck ran out when it saw me and jumped onto the catwalk with me.

"I don't wish to fight thee Diamond Dog." I said praying that my observations of the creature were correct.

It stopped a moment and tilted its large head before I locked eyes with it again, we stood there for a time waiting for the first move and trying to discover if we could really part ways without conflict. In the end I suppose it was hungry as it charged me, I jumped off the cat walk but it did manage to slice cleanly through my flank, thankfully it wasn't too deep, before I got out of range. This shot a massive wave of pain through me as I landed heavily and collapsed to the ground. Getting up I could feel my blood gushing out of the wound so I once more seared my wound with my flames to stop the bleeding as the creature landed in front of me. I opened fire and let out a torrent of yellow from the four cannons upon my sides, the creature was quickly reduced to a splatter mark across the facility.

"I am sorry but you left me no choice, rest in peace as you are no longer my foe." I said as I limped past its remains and retrieved my sword that I hadn't realized I had dropped.

I also grabbed a few ponytrons as I limped out of the factory and flew towards camp.

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I landed at the end of the street and began to limp over to camp, my flank burning with ever step I took and occasionally I would stop and sear the open wound again with my flames when I would feel blood run down my leg. I levitated the four ponytrons I had gathered over to rest near Applebits as I realized the fire had gone out. Looking around and concentrating as I did I noticed Bulls Eye and the two fillies sleeping in another corner of the blasted out building opposite of Applebits.

"Well you stayed out late." Lightning said as he landed next to me and yawned not noticing my wound.

"I had an idea for Applebits seeing as though I am the reason she was hurt in the first place." I managed to say as I coped with the pain in my flank.

"Something wrong Tempest?" he asked me now looking at me before his mouth dropped open.

"What," I groaned, "never seen a flesh wound before?" I asked as I winced when it started to gush again.

"WHAT HIT YOU?" Lightning yelled making Bulls Eye and the fillies jump out of their restful sleep.

"No need to yell, I just had to put down a rather grumpy dog." I said as I burned the wound again before noticing that it had been cut clean through my armor.

"A Hellhound?" Lightning asked getting and odd expression from both myself and Bulls Eye.

"Large with sharp as Deaths scythe claws and dog like features?" I asked him as I gently removed my armor and set it down nearby.

"You need a healing potion now!" Lightning declared to which I was not happy.

"I'll be fine, just give me an hour to rest and the wound will seal, only reason it hasn't done so yet is because I have been flying." I sated as I walked over to the robots I had gathered.

Lightning looked at me before sighing in agreement, he had heard stories of how well I have healed before when I was cut open by a sword during a sparing match with Prince Shining Armor so he decided to drop it.

"You think you could help me with a little project?" I asked him as I used my gemstone to disassemble the broken ponytrons.

"Sure, but just what are we doing?" he asked as he sat down and began taking them apart with deploy-able tools on his hoof armor.

"Building her new legs." I said as started to sort through circuitry.

"I'll handle the arcane science portion Tempest, I remember that you never really trained in it." Lightning said as the two engineer ponies went to work.

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A few hours past and the fillies had gone back to sleep, though Bulls Eye was now wide awake and watching us work. I had made a sturdy framing for her new legs as I knew that with her armor she weighed in around a half ton, but I also knew that she needed to be able to move around without the armor so the legs couldn't be too heavy. I looked at her, she had lost half of her leg and all of her muscles on her left and there were no remnants of the right aside from a little flab of flesh that still clung onto her flank. Her armor was in decent condition aside from the leg sections completely missing and her weapons being totaled, luckily a few of the ponytrons had gatling guns so I would at least be able to give her a familiar weapon even if she no longer had missiles.

"Sir!" Bulls Eye interrupted my thoughts as I was trying to plan a way to install her new legs.

"What do you need knight Broken Blade?" I asked turning my head towards him.

"I'd like to volunteer my armor to repair hers sir." he said as he began to remove his helmet and portions of his leg armor.

"Are you positive?" I said looking once more to Applebits' crushed helmet.

"Yes sir, my weapons are meant for long range whereas hers are closer and more in your face, she needs the extra protection." he said giving a worried look to his commanding officer who was still unconscious.

"I understand." I said taking the pieces of armor he gave up, "Though I will be constructing you a brace for your hind legs using your frontal armor since you'll need them when you fire those monsters you got." I added as I walked over to Applebits.

I carefully knelt down and began attaching joints to her legs as I also breathed short bursts of flames carefully to fuse the metal and the flesh. I had finished attaching the joint to accommodate her left leg as Lighting came up behind me using claws built into his hoof armor, I swear he has too many improvements on it, and gave me the new leg. I looked at him sypathetically as I knew that this had to work for her, if it didn't then she would be crippled for the rest of her life. He quickly hooked up the arcane technology as I connected it to the dull silver mare, I waited for the click before I began sheathing checking to see how well we did.

The leg was designed to be able to take abuse, around jointed areas were rubber seals meant to keep the dirt and grim out as they were also water proof and allowed full range of motion so that she wouldn't be impeded. I did the same to her other leg, but since it was completely gone we had to connect it to her flank which I knew would probably hurt in the morning. Alas when we finished she had two identical legs aside from the one on the left having the only portion of her flesh atop it granting her cutiemark still, which I was more than happy to preserve. I used my flames to adhere the flesh to the specially designed metal to keep it there and her legs, all four, twitched which was followed by a groggy yawn as she sat up.

"Ung, what happened?" Applebits said as she began to stand, only to find that her hind legs were really stiff.

"YOUR ALIVE!" Bulls Eye yelled as he hugged her which earned a shocked expression from the silver and red mare.

"Well I'm not dead." she said before she remembered what happened upon seeing me.

"We thought we had lost you." I said as Bulls Eye let go of the mare.

"Defense is gone, isn't she?" she said as her smile turned into a frown.

I looked at her in the eye before I nodded and returned to working on her armor that we had removed for repairs. She trotted up behind me and nuzzled behind my ear, I moved away and she stopped.

"Your armor is fixed too." I said as I moved away from the refurbished armor.

"Thanks, but I don't remember having rear legs when you dragged me out." she said as she began to turn her head to see the two metal pillars that we had built for her.

"Lightning and I put our heads together and built you those, as you may notice they are both identical except for your flesh on the left." I said as she noted her cutiemark was still there before looking around her neck.

"My necklace." she said.

"I found that you were holding onto it so I placed it around your neck when you lost consciousness." I added before walking over to my ponytron pile to begin working on makeshift armor for my other ranger.

A Shadow of the Past

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Chapter 13
A Shadow of the Past

Every time I let my guard down something happens to change everything, NO MORE. - Tempest Knight

My wound had stopped bleeding and my scales had already regrown even though my fur had yet to grow. Applebits was happily eating something, I suspect prewar food that Lightning had found, since she hadn't eaten anything for almost twenty four hours. Lightning went off with Shadow Star to explore the immediate area and scavenge what they can before we begin our travels again. I took the time to plot out our course with Bulls Eye who had thankfully saved our map from the tank.

"Canterlot, why in Celestia's name would we go there?" he asked as I traced my hoof over the updated map.

"I need to get something from my chamber, I assure you that we won't need to go into the city itself." I replied still trying to find the fastest and safest rout to my ultimate destination.

"From what I've heard from our trip to Ten Pony the city and surrounding areas are filled with a pink cloud, going anywhere near it means almost certain death." the brown stallion said as he dead panned.

"I am not asking any of you to follow me inside, I just don't want to split up too far." I replied now with an edge to my voice.

"Talk to Bits, I'll go along with whatever she says." Bulls Eye finally said with a sigh as I too the map over to where Applebits sat and entertained the fillies.

"Paladin." I said lightly as I came upon her right side.

"General." she replied with a bright smile as the fillies started to tickle eachother as if they hadn't a care in the world.

"Bulls Eye wants me to get your opinion on something." I said as I pulled out the map and laid it down.

"What would that be?" she asked giving a glance towards the old stallion.

"I need to make a stop in Canterlot as I have a few things there I must acquire." I said pointing to the map.

"Do you have a rout planned?" she inquired as Bulls Eye raised a brow.

"I have charted one that should take us around most of the Hellhound territory, and I am aware of the danger the cloud surrounding the city proposes." I said before looking up to see Lightning and Shadow return but land on a street over.

"Okay, whats the problem?" she asked me.

"Contact with the mist over a prolonged amount of time and without healing potions will lead to certain death." I said with a worried frown.

"Okay?" she once again said but this time she also frowned.

"I would like it if you and the others could hold near Canterlot and allow me to retrieve my things, I shouldn't be long and you all should be safe." I said looking into her red eyes.

"Okay we can hold nearby, it would be best to avoid having to go into the city because of the mist anyways, but if you must then I understand." she said with a small smile before turning around to Bulls Eye who just gave a nod.

I finished drawing the rout and gave him back the map before taking back to the skies. I looked down the street I saw Lightning and Shadow land on to see their shadows protruding from inside a building. I landed just outside and listened, all I heard was a short laugh before a lips smacking against each other as I peered about the corner to bear witness to the two pegasi sharing a very passionate kiss. I ducked back behind the wall as they broke off and began to walk my way, ducking into the shadows I made myself nearly invisible as I had used to do when I'd sit in on royal meetings as hidden security. The two walked by me as they nuzzled each other before breaking apart and flying back to camp, I smiled as my oldest friend finally found himself a marefriend, and unlike me could easily hold onto her.

I turned the corner and walked past the towns limits as I stared off to the faint orange glow in the distance as the sun rose, my thoughts settled on Rainbow Dash. A lone tear dripped off my muzzle as I closed my eyes and pictured her face when we first met, that cheeky grin she had, her get to the point attitude. I stopped smiling when I noticed something odd, when the bombs fell I felt all that death, but if she were dead I would know. I opened my eyes to see my chest plate glowing as though I were using its magic, but instead I focused on the love that would never get off my mind. After a long time of waiting it was still glowing, if she were dead it would have brought her soul to me as it did the undead warriors, but alas it hasn't which means, oh God, she is alive. I quickly stopped my magic and stood as I looked to the sky and cried out of joy, my beloved was still alive, though I had no possible idea of how.

I must have stood there for quiet some time since my entire party had caught up with me, it did come to mind that we would be marching this way. I turned to look at them and smiled when I saw that Shadow and Lightning were standing together before I spoke.

"Okay everypony, our target is the Canterlot ruins, from there I will be able to figure out our next target after I collect a few of my necessary items." I said and Lightning frowned.

"We can't go in there." he said as I laughed.

"I'm not asking you to, I am the only pony entering the ruins, you will all remain at a safe distance until I return." I said before starting to walk our long walk.

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Most of the trip had been uneventful, Shadow and Lightning flew above and behind us while Applebits and Bulls Eye had either flank of the fillies, I of course was at the tip of the spear as we made our way towards what I had labeled as the first of many locations I wanted to search for supplies. This just happened to be an old M.o.P. hospital that was built to support the medical needs of a long turned to dust earth pony town. I drew my swords as we neared the building since my last adventure had turned into a battle and I gently pushed on the doors. The doors of course didn't move so I looked back to my group, before I could say anything Lightning flew in through a window and disappeared.

"So much for the plan." I grumbled just before the door unlocked.

"Thought I'd get the door for you before hanging out here for the rest of this excursion." he said as he walked with his head held high beck to Shadow and her two sisters earning a nod from Bulls Eye who turned around and began watching our surroundings for movement.

I looked to Applebits as we had decided to enter just the two of us before I entered the building with her in tow. Inside there were many pony skeletons that lay broken and about as though someone had been here recently and scattered their remains. I walked up to the nearest console before I began hacking it as Applebits opened a cabinet filled to the brim with guns.

"Well then, somepony was stocking up." she said as she sifted through the different firearms.

"Anything in there functional, Shadow could use a weapon and it wouldn't hurt to have something that we can find ammo for?" I asked her before I noticed that she had already set aside two weapons, a twelve gauge combat shotgun, and a .44 semi-automatic magnum.

She just looked at me and gave me a already did smile before continuing her efforts while I backed out of the terminal. Going back in I managed to unlock it just to find that all the data had been corrupted, frowning I walked away from the interface and opened the cabinet of the desk the terminal was mounted on to be greeted by a beautiful safe, leaning down to look more closely at it I could see the bar that held it shut from me clearly. Using one of my swords I carefully cut the bar and opened the door, inside was a wonderfully preserved pip buck with a beautifully engraved chrome housing. I picked it up gingerly in my magic and gave a low whistle at its armored strap with lavish padding on the inside.

"Nice find, but we all have pip bucks already." Applebits remarked before catching herself, "Well all of except you that is." she said smiling.

"Do you think it would be right?" I asked as I looked over the well cared for device.

"You see anypony else using it in the past two hundred years?" she asked sarcastically so I slipped it onto my left hoof ad turned it on.

The screen loaded up with a Stable Colt and registered me as its user before my eyes were assaulted by a heads up display I wasn't expecting since I had never had a pip buck before. On the top I could see my armor integrity and on the top left I could see my ammunition count which I hadn't noticed before but was rather low for all four of my cannons and on my top left I could see my new EFS radar with built in compass, an old soldier could definitely get used to this. I left the safe as I continued onward up the stairs and discovered the medical supplies I had hoped would still be here alongside a fresh corpse that I was not ready for. Applebits walked into the room behind me and gawked at the unfortunate pony who had been cut open just as my EFS caught a hostile target in a few rooms away.

"Paladin I want you to round up whatever you can out of this room and get back to the others, I'll be right behind you." I said as I walked out of the room and back into the hall.

"Understood." she said probably seeing the hostile as well.

I slowly walked up the hall as I drew one of my swords again before stopping just before the closed door the hostile was behind. As I knew that the EFS will tell you somepony is hostile even if they don't want to fight I knocked on the door. I got no reply and that is when I noticed that it was the mares restroom and that whoever it was, was currently indisposed though I probably scared the crap right out of them. The doors handle then glowed pink before cracking open just far enough that I could see a dirty green mane with blue strips as a bloodied up pink muzzle poked out, she had two eyes of different color, one green the other blue, and both went wise when they saw me.

"I'm not here to hurt you." I quickly said ensuring that my sword was out of sight as I noticed a second red mark on my EFS behind me and heard a scream followed by the unmistakable sound of twin twenty millimeter cannons going off. "Applebits!" I said before galloping towards the room I left her in.

Slamming through the wooden door I found her slammed up against a wall with a nasty gash across her right cheek and the hostile standing over her muttering to himself. As her turned I noticed something odd about his feature that didn't seem right, like the fact that most of his skeleton was visible and that his eyes were glazed over when it let out a terrible shriek and charged me. I quickly remembered the motion picture of Zombie Ponies that Rainbow Dash took me out to that gave me, yes me he who can summon the dead, nightmares for a month as this zombie pony had its head blown off by a shotgun blast that originated behind me.

"Are you okay?" I heard the shaky voice of a mare say as she pumped her weapon.

"Thanks to you." I said without turning to her, instead I walked over to my wounded friend and checked for any other wounds.

"I'm sorry Down Feathers, I'm so sorry I couldn't save you." I heard the mare from earlier say as she mourned over her undead friends headless body.

"Friend of yours?" I asked with a sympathetic look.

"He saved me from raiders and healed my wounds, even if you used a few of their body parts to do it." she said as she sobbed, her shotgun resting on the floor.

Upon seeing her I did notice that she had stitch marks on her body with different colored fur and a black tail.

"I figured that I would help him by being his nurse but then he went feral and I locked myself in the bathroom so he wouldn't kill me since I didn't have the heart to kill him to save myself." she was now wailing as she cried.

"Why don't we give him a burial and you come with us?" I asked feeling sorry for the mare as she kissed the corpse suggesting that she had fallen for him.

"Okay." she whispered before standing up and running to me in a great big hug nearly knocking me down.

"Easy there girl, easy." I soothingly said as I stroked this mis-matched pony's back with my right fore hoof.

"Tempest am I seeing things, or did a walking corpse just attack me?" Applebits said as she got up and blinked a few time before realizing that there was a new pony in the room and that the one who attacked her was now missing his head.

I nodded to her before the mare pushed off of me and looked at my companion apologetically.

"I am sorry about Feathers, he was a dear friend for a long time, but I suppose all ghouls go feral at some point." she said giving a frown.

"Applebits if you got the supplies we need go down and get the others, I need a grave dug for her friend." I said without any emotion as my military training took over.

"I'll come with your group until the next town or so, I just can't stay here." the mare said as more tears fell from her face.

"I understand completely, do you have a name?" I asked as I began to levitate Feathers body and caved in head out the door ahead of me.

"Cotton Candy." she said as she tilted her head as I was using magic with no horn.

"That is a nice name, mine is Tempest Knight." I said as we both departed the room.

Outside my team of friends had quickly dug a hole for the pony we were to bury so I set him down inside of it before I began the ceremony I remember when my pony grandparents died.

"May we always remember Down Feathers as he was in life, a caring pony who went out of his way to help the injured and the sick." I said I bowed my head, everypony else following my example. "We lay thou to rest as thy service is complete, may you find peace in the world beyond and in the embrace of your loved ones." I finished as I looked to Cotton Candy.

"Thank you for helping me when I needed it most, I'm sorry our time together was so short but, but..." she had started to say before breaking into tears as she fell apart.

Putting my wing around her I breathed a soft flame into the pit as his body caught fire and began to sing a song describing the beauty of heaven and how we shall all meet again upon its gates in an ancient tongue. When the flames began to die down Bulls Eye and Dark Lightning filled the hole in and Applebits placed a cross marker for his grave.

"Rest in peace." I said before turning away and continuing our course to Canterlot.

Divided we Fall

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Chapter 14
Divided we Fall

Just when I thought things wouldn't get any worse. - Applebits

Personally I didn't trust this Cotton Candy character since her ghoul friend nearly killed me and would have if I'd been on my own, though seeing as though she did end the threat I suppose that I could pass a little of my trust to her. We had acquired eighteen healing potions and two new weapons, Bulls Eye took the shotgun as soon as he saw it and with Lightnings help mounted it on the right of his battle saddle since his ninety millimeter cannon was ruptured, at least he had something close quarters now. But the pistol still had no owner and seeing as though Shadow had no weapon I decided to hang back a little to try and talk to the mare.

"Can we trust Cotton Candy?" Shadow asked Lightning as I listened in.

"I don't see why not, she killed her ghoul friend that she obviously cared for to help Temp and App." Lightning said giving a shrug as he flew.

I decided to wrap the .44 magnum in my magic and float it up to her to which she stopped flying for a moment and looked at me.

"What are you a pacifist?" I asked to which she laughed.

"No I just have never used one before." she said as she tried to take the pistol in her hooves.

"You hold it in your mouth, I'll see if we have any extra holsters." I said as I began to pick up the pace and catch up to our group.

I caught up to them just as we came up to a rather large settlement that looked like it had been home to raiders, then I heard a beeping sound before looking down. Before I could even speak I was blasted up into the air by a bottle cap mine that sent me flying into Dark Lightning who was in a deep conversation with Shadow Star on how to use her pistol.

"Hold up!" Tempest yelled as he spun back around on his rear legs and galloped over to me, "Are thou alright?" he asked me.

"Yeah just my pride." I said as I stood and my rear legs squeaked in protest.

"I going to need to repair those when we find the supplies to do so." he said giving a disapproving shake to the damage, "But I am glad that you are okay." he added before carefully walking forward.

"Yo Temp!" Lightning said as he landed next to the knight that was in the lead.

"What do think, go around or through?" Tempest asked looking at the small city, I checked my EFS and it was filled with contacts, probably raiders.

"Well it looks like it is owned by raiders so I don't see why we shouldn't just clean it out, but." Lightning began as he looked back to the four unarmored ponies traveling with us.

"We have civilians to be concerned with." Tempest replied catching onto what Lightning was getting at.

"App and Bull can hang with the civilians while we do a bit of house cleaning." Lightning replied as a smile broke his face.

"Sounds good to me." Tempest said as he spread his wings and took flight.

"Okay, we'll just circle around." I said as I took point and led Bulls Eye and the others around the presumed mine field that surrounded the town.

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The walk was uneventful, though I did hear several shots from Lightnings .50 cal sniper probably meaning that he is at least having a bit of fun. We had walked all the way over to the opposite side of the town and it seemed as though the mines were constant all around, with no clear path anywhere. This struck me at least as odd seeing as though the raiders would need a safe way to get in and out of camp, unless they were trying to keep something over there in, then I could see the minefield as useful. I was about to say something when I was struck in the back of the head with rather large object knocking me out. As I fell I could hear a combat shotgun go off and several cries of alarm before everything went dark.

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I woke up out of my armor and chained by my right fore hoof to a steel bar that was secured by a single wall of bricks, Bulls Eye and the others were also chained but remained unconscious. I looked around and saw a couple of griffon mercs heading our way, I quickly pretended that I was still out and listened.

"I don't know, they don't seem like they would be worth too much." A female squawked, her voice like talons on a chalkboard.

"I assure you that they are the freshest meat we have, unless you want the ghoul mare over there." A pony replied, his voice shaky as if somepony had threatened his life.

"We will take the two fillies." a gruff voice said as I chanced a peak, there were two griffons in well maintained armor who were making a deal with a pony with no tail.

I quickly shut my eyes as the group turned towards us, the slaver just laughed as I heard chains unlatch and Solar Flare along with her sister wake up and begin screaming for Shadow Star who woke up and bolted into the sky. She rather quickly hurt herself before slamming against the ground with a heavy thud right next to me as I cautiously lit my horn and picked up Bulls Eye's shotgun which was thankfully sitting across from us. I moved it slowly and pressed it against the female griffons head before I started to stand up.

"Let us go and I won't blast her head off." I said as the slaver aimed a flamethrower at me.

"Oh come now, you wouldn't risk your life just for these whelps." he said as the pilot light for his weapon lit.

"You wouldn't hurt the merchandise would you?" I asked him to which he gave me a dirty look, "At least if you let us go you have a second chance to capture us." I added trying to reason with the idiot.

"Nah." he said as I heard the roar of the flame thrower as its flames hit me, I screamed before I killed both of the griffons with two shots and slammed the shotgun into the slaver as I dropped and rolled trying to put out the flames.

Luckily I managed to dowse the flames as Bulls Eye pulled on his bar and literally ripped it out of the ruined wall causing it to cascade in a shower of bricks.

"Applebits are you okay?" he asked as he helped me up, my front right side now blackened and my eye slightly burned but I still pushed him away as I tried to stand on my own.

I almost instantly fell flat on my face, Shadow having grabbed me just before my face plant. I looked over at the fillies as Cotton Candy grabbed our gear which had been lain out for them to inspect, wait don't slavers hunt in packs? I scolded myself for asking as four more of the ponies ran out of a building not too far away and Bulls Eye grabbing the .44 magnum I had given Shadow dropped two with a single shot to each of their heads. The two fillies ran to cover as a firefight ensued between Bulls Eye and the remaining slavers and all I could do was watch since I had been dropped when the fighting had begun.

Bulls Eye tossed the pistol to Shadow as he dashed towards his shotgun and into a building, I heard a wall collapse and witnessed as Bulls Eye aiming with the shotgun in his mouth killed the closest slaver with two shots in the chest. He turned on his hind legs and fired on the other pony blowing off his head before dropping back down to all fours and standing there like a boss.

"We are all clear everypony." he said as he walked casually back over to us.

"Our medic is hit!" Shadow said in an urgent tone as she rushed up to me.

"Well then, aint this just turning out to be a good week?" The light brown stallion said as he approached me.

"Water, please." I said before I lost myself to my subconsciousness and drifted into a sleep.

The first thing I saw was fire, then burning ponies as they ran into each other and different buildings. Then I saw raiders brutally murdering the ponies in the town, I recognized the location as Nowhere. I then noticed that I was transparent as I reached out to grab Fire Bloom before her head was blown clean off her body. I turned around began sobbing as I saw my perforated body lying there on the ground, a pool of blood surrounding me as I realized that I was unable to save those I cared about. Everything then went dark, there was no sound, light, or movement, nothing.

A Foe Once Lost

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Chapter 15
A Foe Once Lost

I don't know why I am alive anymore, though perhaps it is to rid pony kind of evil... I really don't know anymore. -Tempest Knight

Lightning and I landed smack in the middle of the run down town, graffiti surrounded us along with enough blood to make my stomach churn. I looked to my right as Lightning smiled down upon a dead raider but then frowned at seeing his entire right side eaten away.

"What the hell happened here?" he asked waving a hoof in front of his nose.

I remained silent as I sniffed the air, a familiar scent filling my nostrils. I grimaced as I remembered my first quest when I became a Knight, but I suppressed the memory as that threat was dealt with long ago.

"Probably just cannibalism that's all." I replied shaking off a memory that still gives me nightmares.

Lightning shivered as he took off, "I'll keep an over watch, the raiders are probably watching us right now anyways."

"Got it." I replied as I strolled down the street, stopping at another consumed pony, her fearful eyes staring at me as her half eaten body twitched.

I eyed the dead mare before checking my new EFS, it was still full of hostiles though I could see none. The mare then jumped at me with ungodly speed, I quickly stuck a armored hoof through her head and moved as she crumpled to the ground. Turning around I could see the dead stallion getting up as well, charging him I unleashed a torrent of flames and turned him into a pile of ash where he stood. I was then rammed in the side by another half consumed pony as a .50 cal round impacted her head blowing it up and covering me in guts. Looking up I could see Lightning standing the side of a building crouched with his rifle targeting everypony but me, his rifle almost drowning out the groans of the attacking ponies.

Getting back to my hooves I bucked a bucks head clean off before unleashing more flames and taking to the skies, hovering next to Lightning.

"This a normal occurrence in the wasteland?" I asked with a hint of worry.

"Could be ghouls from after the bombs hit." he replied cutting another shot off dropping two more targets.

"I've got a bad feeling about this, don't let them bite you." I said as I tucked my wings in and plummeted down, using one of the ghouls as a landing pad.

Lightning continued to fire when he could get multiple of the meat sacks with one shot while I charged through them breathing fire and occasionally giving one a buck to the head. As we fought on I had noticed how a few of these ghouls were raiders like the ones from earlier, and how others were stable ponies, now that memory was coming back...

It was when I was twelve, I had just finished my squire training and been given my armor, my mother and adopted pony father were so happy. A few days later while I was talking to my step sister about how she should court somepony aside from the backer since I had seen him kissing another mare who was younger than her I heard several screams. Rushing to the edge of town I saw many living corpses pouncing on the ponies of my village and consuming them on the spot. If said ponies did manage to get away they quickly puked up their guts and turned into one of the attackers.

While fighting these so called ghouls I couldn't help but think something not right, then another pony in similar armor but missing the helmet and a a leg piece charged me while roaring. I noticed his eyes glowing orange as I jumped to the side barely dodging the ravenous monster.

"Lightning they aren't ghouls!" I yelled as a bullet ripped the head clean off of the knight who just kept coming towards me.

Out of the corner of my vision I could see lightning turn his head in confusion and line up another shot. Firing his plasma guns the knight turned into pink dust just before jumping towards me with no head. I nodded towards Lightning as he flew from his perch as the wall exploded with the attacking monstrosities, he came to the ground next to me.

"Okay, not ghouls." he said sounding a bit more worried now.

"Follow me and I'll explain once we are safe!" I exclaimed before doing an about and charging through a wooden door that had been barricaded shut only to receive buck shot to my chest which bounced harmlessly off.

"Get down another one of the armored freaks!" I heard a mares voice cry as I stopped running towards them and turned around.

Dark Lightning didn't even care to stop until he was well far behind me as I let lose about fifty rounds from my cannons buying us a little time to take in our surroundings as the hoard was either shredded or blasted away. I grabbed the cabinet that I rammed away and set it back in place using my hooves as I didn't want to use my gemstone since it needed time to charge its magic, only reason I haven't drawn my swords.

"Wait we aren't hostile!" the mare who screamed when I charged in yelled since Lightning poked her face with the muzzle of his gun.

"Lightning!" I said with disappointment in my voice as he moved the rifle out of her face.

"We were just trying to hide from those things, I'm sorry I shot you." She said nervously.

"No harm done, personally I don't blame you, fighting a zombie knight isn't the best way to start a ponies morning." I replied darkly as I hear the hoard outside trying to push away the barricade composed of anything that wasn't nailed down.

"Your not mad?" she asked, her deep blue eyes darting between me and the barricade.

"Only with whoever set these things free, not the ponies who are suffering from it." I said noticing that she was a raider and that I shouldn't be letting her live.

"Daisy Chain, what are gonna do?" a much younger mare around the age of fifteen asked looking to the first mare.

"I'll tell ya what we are gonna do, we are gonna rip these so..." the stallion in the far corner of the room started to say as he was grabbed through a wall by one of the undead ponies and ripped through it as more of the buggers entered the room.

"Run!" I said charging the new hostiles as I snorted flames, the said foes screeching an ungodly response and charging me in return.

"Where?" the first mare asked as the barricade failed and more rushed in to be cut down by Lightnings 20mm cannon.

"Lightning I'll grab one, you get the other!" I yelled over his weapon as I buck one in the chest and sent it into the others behind it.

"Fine but you get to carry the pregnant one." He said obviously not happy with saving raiders.

"As you wish friend." I replied as I quickly grabbed the first mare and took off through the roof with Lightning and the younger mare right behind us.

I barreled through the roof and looked down, the entire building was surrounded by zombies and as we flew off the began to follow on the ground. Checking to see if he was still behind me Lightning was struggling to hold the mare under him since they were about the same size.

"I'm going to drop Daisy here off at the edge of the minefield and come back for those zombies!" I said as I began to descend rapidly.

"Are you crazy?" Lightning replied as he dropped even faster.

"If they get out its over, Equestria barely survived before, it won't survive it again, especially in the shape its in now." I said letting him know that I knew what I was facing.

"Well you aint doing it alone pal." he replied as he dropped his passenger and landed near her.

"Yes, yes I am." I retorted gently coming to a stop and setting Daisy Chains down before landing next to her.

"What, oh no, I aint helping raiders even if one is looking to pop any day and the other is a teen!" Lightning yelled as I heard a mine go off.

"You will as I must now go!" I said and turned around to see the two mares mouth the words thank you, "And if you fail me, well lets just say you won't be a very happy pony for long." I added snorting flames as I took off towards the town to keep the hoard way from the mines.

I looked back and saw Lightning sake his head before waving a hoof to the mares as the three of them walked towards Canterlot where I had said that if we got split up we would meet up at the base of the mountain.

Betrayal

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Chapter 16
Betrayal

And then there are the posers. -Applebits

At first all I could hear was a soft yet very sweet sound coming from a distant place, like angels singing praise to a fallen hero of something, then the sound grew closer and I tried to open my eyes. A wave of pain stopped me and I let out a muffled scream as it overwhelmed me, rather quickly I remembered what had just transpired with the flamethrower and Bulls Eye's bravery leading to our freedom.

"Easy Applebits don't move." the same silky voice I now recognized as Shadow Star's said from far away, or was she closer than I thought.

I felt a gentle hoof stroke my mane which felt dry and singed and I breathed in slowly before the pegasus picked me up and laid me on a mattress that they must have pulled out of one of the buildings. I tried to open my eyes and the same pain came, but this time I pushed through it and managed to get my left eye open. Shadow Star's head was inches away from mine and yet before I could barely hear her, behind her I could see the two fillies playing with each other and Cotton Candy looting the dead bodies of the slavers.

"Try not to move too much, your entire right side is badly burned, I'm going to roll you back onto your left now okay?" she said making it sound like she was the medic.

"Do what you've got to, just make it so I can see a little please." I said my voice sounding hoarse.

"Okay Applebits, I will try." she said with uncertainty.

I remained silent since it hurt to talk and let the mare roll me back over onto my left side, luckily she rolled me over enough that I could see Bulls Eye at the end of the buildings clad in his armor and staring off towards the distance. I also noticed that the cage with the other prisoner was still hanging above us, grunting I moved my left hoof and pointed to the cage hopeful that they would understand what I was trying to say. My actions were interrupted when Shadow lifted up my head and let me drink from my canteen, coughing a little she removed it from my lips and I drifted off to sleep again.

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Waking back up to the sound of my long time partner that I started this journey with yelling at somepony I quickly widened my eye as he blew apart a building. I saw raiders run for cover as he shot another round before he jumped behind cover himself, Shadow was on the wall next to me with her pistol in her mouth and her two sisters behind her with looks of pure terror on their faces.

"I said beat it you bastards!" Bulls Eye yelled as he again dashed from his cover and blasted a raiders cover to dust, splattering him with shrapnel from both the wooden cart and the shell.

Shadow jumped from her cover and let off four shots killing a single raider with the one shot that hit before she ducked behind the wall again. Bulls Eye saw the raiders getting closer to us as he apple bucked ones head clean off their shoulders and charged at the three near us.

"Aint no pony gonna hurt my friends ya lousy varmints!" Bulls Eye cried as his combat shotgun tore the raiders apart.

"That's how we did it back in my day pal." Bulls Eye said to the dead raiders as he slowly walked back to us.

"Where did you learn to shoot?" Shadow asked him once he gave the all clear.

"Oh, well I just picked up a gun while on duty and killed a few striped sob's and got my cutiemark, so I guess I'm just a good aim." he replied with his crooked smile before a loud bang sounded off and blew off his right fore leg.

"Bulls Eye!" I screamed and then proceeded to cough up blood.

"Hooves up and wings in if you want those fillies to live." Cotton Candy said from directly behind me.

"The cage!" I said before going into another coughing fit as more blood came up.

"Shut up you!" Cotton Candy sneered before shooting me in the leg, only to receive a loud ping since the bullet pierced my mechanical leg as it began to hiss.

Shadow took this chance, as the fillies both ran behind a piece of cover, to go up to the cage and shoot the chain causing it to fall and bust open. The dust was thick around the mysterious pony that had emerged from the cage, billowing up about its body so that I could only barely see its outline. However it was standing tall, darker and ominous as its head tilted and turned back toward the cage to where Shadow likely still was. I saw a faint nod, indicating thanks of some sort before returning its attention to me. No, that couldn't be right. It was looking in this direction, but it was as though I could feel the intensity of its gaze and it clearly wasn't on me. Rather, I sensed that perhaps it was focused on Cotton Candy, who was looking into the dust with an agitated glare as she raised her weapon again and aimed it towards it.

What came out of the dust at this provocation quite honestly was a shock to me; despite all I'd seen before in the wasteland, this pony easily outdid all the ghouls I'd seen previously. He was tall, as I'd suspected; but his stature now that he was closer almost towered over both myself and Cotton Candy. His body was marred with sutured gashes, almost patchwork across his grayish pallor of fur and skin. They were a deep, somewhat colorful red, and the one on his left foreleg was still bleeding profusely. His wings were both stitched as though they'd been ripped away before; and at his throat the skin was peeled away and stitched in place to reveal the large bones of his throat. His eyes were both gashed straight down, but had been sutured in the same style and were staring back into Cotton Candy's. Those eyes, a glowering red, alike to his bloody flesh and muscle stitched back; they were almost haunting and empty, except for what I could detect as anger. His muzzle stitched closed, and his ears were both bloody stumps. Its mane was long, flowing in a perfect straight cut in the front and trimmed short down his neck. His tail was long and flowing, both the two were varying layers of deep green; yet the tail had flesh torn and bone jutting out at places.

I watched, silently, as the mysterious ghoul pony took a step forward. That was when Cotton Candy fired, her shot put off by the unexpectedness of this pony's appearance as it hit it squarely in the chest. The ghoul back stepped once, seemingly affected; yet within moments it stepped forward again and this time was far closer. The injury plain on its chest, oozing blood and yet it wasn't deterred in the slightest as it came to a stop a few hoofsteps away. It was then that the ghoul rose up, standing on its hind legs and now fully towering over us both as it assumed an odd stance. In the time it took me to blink, it was there; in front of Cotton Candy and smashing into her lower jaw with a barrage of vicious punches and sending her back. It quickly followed up with a few furious blows from the sides, and lastly ended with a surprising twist before bucking hard and shoving her away harshly.

I strained to look up and whispered; hoping it could hear me or understand. "Thanks."

Getting a nod, I was surprised that a ghoul so seemingly far gone could understand me before its attention returned just in time for Cotton Candy to smash its jaw hard. I watched as it leaned back, head tilted up to the sky and the sound of bone snapping and sutures loosening could be heard from its muzzle. When Cotton Candy drew back, she was grinning furiously as she peppered its body with punches before stepping back fully and admiring her work.

It was then that I watched as the ghoul brought its head back down, its eyes so full of undisguised hatred; but also amusement now as it took a hoof and snapped its slightly hinging jaw back in place before reaching over and re-tightening the sutures around its muzzle. I'd watched Cotton before, and I knew there was no way even a ghoul should be able to stand up after this; but here this pony stood, almost unfazed except for the slight trickle of blood from its lips and neck sutures that had opened slightly. Now, I observed as the pony surged forward and slammed into Cotton Candy with its shoulder. Quickly, with a military efficiency I saw it spin around before bringing a hoof down with a precise, harsh chop to her neck. Cotton hit the ground, and before she could move the ghoul towered over her and wrapped a hoof around her throat and placed a hind leg on her back before he hauled up sharply. The sound of flesh and metal ripping was almost instant, and it grated harshly on my ears as I painfully endured before seeing it slam her face back down on the ground. Bringing her back up again and down again and again before finally finished with a sickening snap as he tore her head clean off and tossed it away.

With deep, body-shaking breaths, it dismounted from its position on the remains of Cotton Candy. Walking still now on its hind legs, it paused beside me and looked me over with a wary gaze before its head snapped to Shadow. With a hoof, it gestured to come here before pointing at me and Bulls Eye and then walking away where it stood next to my downed friend. My last sight before finally passing back out was of it, first gazing out protectively at the horizon and then back to meeting my gaze as Shadow rushed back to my side.

To Hell and Back

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Chapter 17
To Hell and Back

Fear is but an illusion of the mind, death an illusion of the soul. - Tempest Knight

I landed on another one of the zombie knights crushing it into a bloody pulp as I charged into the first building on the right. I clobbered two zombies inside of the living room before slamming into the wall to my left and running out to an ally way. I then ran back towards the hoard in the middle of the town and unleashed a torrent of flames before jumping into the air, I looked down and saw them all burning as I began to tear up.

I could remember my battle against the monsters when I was younger. I remembered how they killed all those I ever loved. My stepfather, my mother, my stepsister, even my first marefriend Golden Rod. I could remember with a terrifying clarity their pained screams as they were each devoured, a foal crying for its mother and sharply cut off as it was devoured. The tears blurred my vision and burned my eyes, as I let out a harrowing battle-cry that would even impress my blood-father, Logantis, spitting white-hot flames down towards my foes and incinerating all below.

My fire took on a sickly shade of green as I fought on and my new pip buck began to tick rapidly as I did another run. I looked down to it to see that it's radiation detector was at full bars as I landed among the carnage. Another zombie, this one wearing a stable jumpsuit, slammed into my side and broke one of my auto cannons clean off my battle saddle while also caving his face in against me. I lost my balance as fell,spitting fire wildly at the zombies that got close. Tucking my wings in since they were my only unarmored area I got back to my hooves and darted inside the towns sheriff office and shut the door behind me. My luck starting to return I found that the door and frame was made of metal when I locked its four deadbolts and sighed in relief.

I removed one of my cannons, Fury, after scrounging its ammo for the other two and left it behind since I had lost Judgement, yes I had given them names. Turning to the jail cell I had realized that I was cornered and that my only way out was the same way I got in, that was until yet another one of those undead freaks broke through a trapdoor in the office just to receive my heavy metal hoof in its face as it crumpled to the floor.

"Well then, thanks for the way out." I said to the crushed pony as I stepped over her remains.

Looking down the hatch I could smell stale air, I now knew that it wasn't a way out, though it could be a solution so long as I played my cards right.

"Well then, perhaps I can do one better." I said as I descended into the dark below.

The ladder ended into a pipe like structure that led me to a massive steel door with the number seventy eight written upon it. Looking inside I could see that the lights were still on and that the color of blood was the new paint the stable seemed to favor. Everything was red, though honestly I could care less about the blood at my hooves as I walked through the massive doorway leading inside. My metal armor made a heavy clip clop as I walked into the hall that lead to maintenance and the atrium. Deciding that there would probably be more hostiles in the atrium I chose to go left into the halls of the Stable Tech certified ponies that kept this place running until their untimely demise.

Rounding the first corner I was met with many decapitated raiders who had obviously taken each others lives to prevent from becoming zombies themselves, I had to admit that I could respect that decision. Turning around at the sound of dragging hooves I pushed on past the bodies hoping that they would be consumed and cover my escape. I found the stairs and went down to sub level three, the bottom of this stable, and began my search for the breach in the caverns of the damned.

I came out of the stairwell to be greeted by a mob of the dead to which I unloaded the last of my ammunition into and slamming the door when I emptied everything out.

"Well then, now what do I do?" I asked myself as I tried to recall the layout of the stables, I knew that the breach tot he caverns were on this level, as were the reactors, but how the hell would I be able to get down there since I ran out of ammo.

I tried to look at my EFS but it was completely red so I checked my gemstone to see if any power had accumulated. Thankfully I could sense enough power to summon two ghosts, but thinking for the fight ahead I summoned only one. The ghost formed from shadows before me as the dust in the stable became his shining armor that matched my own. In his visor I could see two glowing blue orbs and when he spoke his voice was very Braytish.

"General Tempest thou have summoned thee in a time of great personal distress, what does thou require of thee?" his voice boomed as he straightened his spear that was glowing red.

"The next room is filled with zombies, put them down by my side so that we may end this threat for our target is the reactor." I said levitating my swords out.

"As you command my lord." he boomed turning to the door and barreling through it, smashing and skewering the zombies, though they didn't seem to care to give chase.

I charged out just behind him slicing the zombies apart as I galloped close behind my ghost ally. Turning the next corner I could see the reactor but before I could get their I saw my ghost get flattened by the corridors collapse. Fortunately since he was a ghost he just came back from the rubble and charged past me to fend off the zombies.

"We must get the reactor sire!" he said beating the hoard back.

"Any ideas soldier?" I replied happy that this ghost actually spoke to me of strategy instead of remaining as a silent grunt.

"I will hold them here so thou may make thy way to thy objective my lord." He replied.

"Unfortunately they will not detect you, therefore I would prefer that you followed me and gave me cover." I said coming to his side as we cut down the zombies together.

"As ye wish my lord." he answered charging through the hoard as I followed him.

We rounded the next corner to an auxiliary entrance to the reactor and he stopped, not saying a word he turned and stood guard as I passed him by. I approached the reactor and sheathed my swords, checking the charge of my gem I realized that my plane may yet still work. The detonation of the reactor should sufficiently eliminate not only the stable but the catacombs and the town above if all went well while I shadow traveled away. I gulped as I interfaced with the terminal that governed the reactor, after finding that it had no control over the reactor I began to pluck a grenade from my saddlebags to find that the terminal had a message.

Only a few of us managed to get back inside the stable when those crazy ponies came and started to torture us only to find that a wall had collapsed after we closed the door. Horrors from beyond the grave swarmed us and now the few of us left have managed to slip into the reactor room with the intention, probably the same one as yours, to blow the place sky high only to find out that the terminal doesn't control it. I pray to Celestia and Luna that somepony will one day end the terror that killed us down here, I just hope that no pony is stupid enough to open that door. Oh no, they are coming, well I'm am the only one of us left, and I just have one round left... See you in the afterlife.

I looked down to see that the pony who had written this message skeleton still looking at the hallway from which the horrors attacked you. Looking behind me I could see his four companions, my stomach tied itself in a knot when I saw that one had a miniature pony skeleton inside her ribs.

"Rest in peace and know that I have finished our fight." I said pulling the pin with my teeth after I raised my visor before my eyes glowed red and I walked through a shadow and blacked out.

------------------

When I woke I found that a stream of tears were flowing down my still exposed muzzle and that I was laying on my side. My ghost warrior was standing guard over me though it looked as though nothing had happened. In the distance I could see a burning pit of rubble that was the town full of zombies. I bowed my head and closed my eyes, praying that the ponies who died in that horrid place would find peace sfter death.

"Sire?" the ghost knight asked, his voice low and sincere.

"Thank you for your aid my friend." I said raising my head to meet his ghastly gaze.

"Twas no problem my lord, just doing my duty." he replied.

"I release you from thou bonds if thou wishes freedom from said duty, lest you wish to remain upon my call." I said giving a small nod.

"I... I reject thy release as I have found serving thee in this time of need most enjoyable." he said standing taller than he had before.

"Very well, then may I know your name knight?" I asked giving a nod of approval.

"Tis Sentinel my lord." the now named ghost knight said gripping his spear.

"Very well Sentinel, you may retreat for now to my gem, I shall call upon ye when needed." I said as he faded away into shadows and was absorbed into the gem gleaming red upon my chest plate.

I turned off towards Canterlots general direction and took off into the sky making a mental note to find everypony else from my team.

A Different Turn of Events

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Chapter 18
A Different Turn of Events

Will you just die already you jack wagon? - Dark Lightning

I don't understand why Tempest wants me to help raiders of all ponies, sure one is a preggo but they are still damn raiders for God's sake! I checked behind me as the two raiders followed at a distance trying not to set me on end since they were still holding onto their weapons. we had started out almost immediately since we didn't want to impede Tempest's efforts to contain the hoard of the dead that nearly killed us all back their.

"Ahhhhhhhh!" The younger raider yelled as she dropped headfirst to the ground.

"What's wrong Blood Drop?" Daisy Chains asked as she backed away rather quickly.

"Okay what the heck is goin' on back here?" I asked hovering my flank above the two raiders.

Blood Drop spat blood out along with a lot of chunky stuff before charging Daisy Chains, the latter of which too off running as fast as she could since she was the size of a tank. I braced myself on a petrified tree and went to fire only to here a click since my sniper was dry.

"Shit." I muttered as Daisy kept running, though comical to watch a raider get what was coming to her, I knew that Tempest wouldn't support me letting them die, sometime that pony scares me.

Taking off I dove down and fired my plasma guns to find that they too were dry, sheesh everything I've got is out of ammo today. I flew higher up near the clouds and discharged lightning through my wings to get a bit of high voltage from the cloud cover. Diving down inverted I looked back to see a twin lightning trail coming off of my wings.

"Hell yes raider shit!" I yelled as I unleashed the torrent of electricity onto the zombie pony below.

I landed in front of Daisy and walked passed her as I approached the smoke from my strike. Before I could react Blood Drop charged out of the smoke and tried to bite my wings, fortunately my wings are made of very sharp metal that make close quarters a piece of cake as I merely flexed them and cut her head cleanly in half, earning a yelp followed by the depositing of someponies lunch behind me.

"Well that's gonna take a while to get clean." I said inspecting my gore covered wing.

"She, she is dead." Daisy said as she shed a tear over her last friends corpse.

"Very dead if I may add." I said as I took off back into the sky hopeful to shake the ponies blood off of my wing while I flew.

I looked back to see the mare still crying and mentally screamed, so the pony died, she died back in the town, no she died when she became a raider. I flew back over and landed nearby but out of hoofs reach from the balloon as I sat down a yawned, probably not the most respectful thing I could do. Looking back on what happened back at the village these raiders were never that bad to us, I don't know raiders may not be very smart ponies, but that don't meant that they are all bad. I flicked my tail out of boredom as Daisy got back to her hooves and gave one last long look to her dead friend who had just been living a few moments ago before trying to kill us.

"Can we give her a proper send off?" she asked.

"Eh, if ya want." I replied as I stood up and looked for something flammable in my saddlebags.

"I have an improvised incendiary." she added as she pulled it out using her magic.

"That'll work, so um, would you like to say anything before you send her off?" I asked since I really had nothing to say.

"Yeah, I do." Daisy replied as she levitated the explosive to me.

"Okay when you are done just tell me, I'll give her the incendiary." I said placing it down next to me.

"Blood Drop, when I first met you, you were a nameless filly that was cornered by my raiders." she started before sniffing as more tears ran down her cheeks. "I stopped them and took you in since I never thought I'd have a foal of my own to take over my group. I watched you grow up around my raiders and never change, but you changed us in a way I didn't see coming. You made us less of raiders and more as a community of ponies that still only looked out for themselves, but at least treated others with a bit of respect. You were the reason we went to that town to get away from Red Eye when we double crossed him and set those slaves free." Daisy stopped as a fresh wave of tears broke through her brown eyes and down off of her sage green cheeks.

"Thank you for showing us a better path, even if we never became what you wanted us to be I just hope that whatever happens to you after death that you aren't punished for our sins." Daisy finished as she broke down the rest of the way and gave me a nod.

I gently took off and activated the grenade as I set it in her fore legs and darted away. After hearing her story I couldn't help but feel sorry for her and her adoptive mother since what happened to them came straight out of a horror flick I watch before the war. I took off my helmet and showed Daisy my face by the flame light while Blood Drop's solid red body burned. I hadn't shed a single tear, but I had lost my voice. Giving her a soft nod and mouthing the words 'I'm sorry" to her I turned and began to walk away from the flames.

A few hours passed and Daisy had waddled over to me now as I looked over the wasteland from the top of a ruined building trying to find Applebits and the others. They couldn't have gotten that far away, could they of? As if reading my mind Daisy broke the silence.

"Looking for somepony?" she asked.

"Me and Tempest weren't alone, we were traveling with a rather large group of ponies making our way to Canterlot." I said as I looked to her.

"Would it be possible that they got caught by the local slavers in the area?" she asked me as her eyes narrowed.

"Maybe, we are all low on ammo nowadays since the loss of our tank." I said frowning as I remembered my precious baby getting destroyed when we rescued Tempest.

"Either that or Hellhounds got em." she said raising a brow after I said we had a tank.

"Where do the slavers make camp?" I asked her as I pulled out my pre-war map of Equestria.

She took it in her magic and a piece of charred wood to mark the western side of a river next to a peninsula north of Canterlot and West of Fillydelphia. I looked at her as her eyes widened and she screamed as if she was being murdered, then I realized that she was pregnant which meant, OH HELL NO!!! She gently laid on her side as her legs kicked out and she screamed even louder than I thought was possible for a pony.

"Hang on, get on your back!" I said trying not to lose my aura of calmness as she did what I said.

She had that face of constipation but I knew that she wasn't about to take a dump, no she was ready to pop out this kid. She spread her legs a bit before the kids head popped out coated in blood, holy shit there was a lot of blood. I put my hooves below the newborn foal as she came out the rest of the way and caught her. Flying inches above the ground I delivered the child to his mother who gave him a smile before grimacing in pain.

"You are Crimson Flower, my foal." Daisy said before her eyes closed and her breath left her.

Her foal merely rested on her as she slept unaware that her mother just died holding her. I removed my helmet and gingerly picked the little girl up, she was bloody but her coat was blood red and her mane and tail a golden color matching her eyes. This little unicorn foal wouldn't last an hour in this wasteland alone, so after everything that happened I rigged a harness from a few spare leather straps from my saddlebags and strapped the foal in before flying off towards the slaver camp to see if my friends were there.

Behind me I left a mare shrouded in a blanket with a carving above her reading 'Here lies a good mother of two' embedded into the concrete wall. I may not have any flammables left but that doesn't that I won't show respect to one who earned it, since she would do the same for me.

Savior

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Chapter 19
Savior

Semper Vigilans - Applebits

I weakly opened my left eye but this time was not in pain, thankfully as I was getting tired of always being in pain. Looking around I could see Bulls Eye laying down near me with a neatly sown leg where I saw it get blown off. Shadow Star was sitting with her little sisters eating, wait food! My stomach rumbled and I groaned, which was a mistake as I cringed at the pain in my both my neck and stomach from my burn wound. To my surprise the ghoul that saved us from Cotton Candy, speaking of whom he 'cybernetic body was in pieces over by the wall, came up next to me and laid down as he stared directly into my single working eye.

Though the ghoul didn't, couldn't speak a word; I could see in his eyes what I thought to be worry. Before I could even try to speak to him, I watched as an aura flashed in his eyes and from his stitched chest wound blood floated out in a speckled, nearly dotted line. I watched it with surprise, the dribbles of blood forming slowly letters behind him that made a single word.

"Help?" That was what it asked.

This was what he was asking me. He wanted to know if he could help me somehow. Weakly, I managed to croak out to him. "I don't think you can help my injuries...But some food would be nice."

I could swear that the ghoul smiled through his stitched muzzle. It was eerie, but I also took notice of that same hint of amusement form earlier as he shook his head slightly. When he rose, I watched him walk away and disappear around a bend into an alley before laying down again with confusion as to where he was going. Within moments though, he was back; and now he had perched between his stitched wings what appeared to be a sandwich of sorts packed with flowers that I vaguely could recall. Not only that, but he had brought me a bottle of water as well that looked perfectly fresh and clear; and as he laid down again I wondered where he'd managed to get such things from.

The blood that had floated above him spelled it out as he gently coaxed small bites and sips of water into me. "My supply. From home."

I was so tempted to ask where he meant by home, but my voice I didn't exactly trust and it was actually painful to talk now that I recalled from moments earlier as my throat ached from my burns. As though he was reading my mind, he shook his head again before looking me over. I watched his eyes, they had a trained feel about them, as though he were assessing my injuries like a front line surgeon would.
"Help?" Again the word was repeated in blood, only this time it seemed to be more pointed to my injuries.

I guess I felt I should humor him, despite the fact that I knew he was no Unicorn and as such could only treat so much of my burns without magic. Nodding faintly, I watched as he rose and looked to the blood floating before him. Rather quickly, I observed as more blood left his body through his various stitched back injuries; including also now that I took notice were black holes with flaps of bloody skin and muscle stitched away where his cutie marks would have been. The blood formed in a ball over his head, and his eyes were locked so intently on my injuries before he nodded faintly and knitted his brows in concentration. Before I could object, his dark blood was covering my body where I had been burned, and though I had though the injuries were horrible feeling before; this made them burn just as intensely or more so than before as the blood thickly spread over them. The foul liquid even filled into my damaged eye, and I barely muffled a scream of agony as the pain wracked my body. However, within moments I could feel a sense of drawing out, like the pain was being sucked from my body; it was so soothing that I sighed and simply let the blood thicken over my injuries as the ghoul likely intended.

When the blood finally was withdrawing, I managed to raise my head with surprisingly no pain and look at my body. To my surprise, I no longer saw singed and burned fur and flesh; rather my body was pristine and normal again. I gasped slightly, also noticing that my other eye could see again. I turned instantly to the ghoul, who absorbed the blood back into his body and I saw his eye that would've been on the same side as my previously damaged one go completely dark. His body seemed to become more ashen, especially around areas similar to where my injuries were; it was like he was now burned the same way I'd been before. He didn't show a hint of pain, not a grunt or breath; not even a single sound. All that showed was a slight frown in his muzzle that seemed to loosen his stitches before he re-tightened them again.

With my voice returning to normal, I managed to ask. "W...What did you do?"

"Helped." He spelled out in darker blood than before, blood that seemed tainted.

"I know that...But what did you do?" I found myself asking again.

"Ancient Magic...made before Princesses." The blood spelled out.

Reading what he said, I found myself confused by what he meant. More than anything, now I also was desiring to now who this ghoul was that had healed me and saved us from Cotton Candy. "Who...Who are you?"

The question seemed to draw yet another eerie smile out of him, and as the blood formed the letters I carefully scanned it as he spelled out his name slowly. "Mortalitas Gladius."

"Mortalitas Gladius?" I said aloud, unsure if that was correct. His nod confirmed it, which made me smile a little back at him. "Thank you...For fixing me up Mortalitas Gladius."

"Welcome." He spelled out. "Gladius. Call Gladius."

I nodded faintly. "Alright...Gladius....Thank you."

He nodded slightly in response before stepping away and moving out into the street. "Rest. I watch" He spelled. "When ready, I take to home."

Finally he absorbed the blood back within himself and walked slowly around, all the while his one good eye was still watching me and keeping eye contact. Despite what little bit I knew about our savior, I was still desiring to know more as I rose and first looked to Bulls Eye and could see just how easy he was resting. Deciding that rest could wait, I began to walk towards where Gladius was watching both myself and the perimeter from down the street.

Coming to his side I looked him in his only good eye before I gave him a soft smile. I floated my power armor over to me and put it on while we stood at a silent vigil. The thought did cross my mind that he could still have a little vision left in his other eye, but if his new wounds mimic that of which mine were then the eye was likely gone completely.

"Thank you Gladius, for healing me." I said earning a nod from the ghoul next to me. "I'll take this watch, you rest." I practically ordered him since he did just do something I never had once thought possible.

His good eye was sharp with determination, but the stare he received from my visor was blunt and unwavering. A few minuets passed and he closed his eye and shook his head before walking ever so slowly back to Bulls Eye. Behind my helmet I was smiling to know that we had found a real friend in the wastes and not just a cybermare who wanted to just kill us and take our crap.

The Chamber

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Chapter 20
The Chamber

Home is where your heart is, unfortunately I have no heart. - Tempest Knight

I landed in a field that stretched all the way to the base of the Canterlot mountain. My target not inside of the city, but at the base of the mountain itself. The night air was chilling to the bone as it began to rain, did I ever mention how much I hate the rain? The dead grass below my armored hooves quickly began to sink beneath me as I stood there catching my breath. I began to walk, each step I took made a squishing sound as my hoof sunk into the ground about two lengths, and I heard a screeching sound and the beating of large wings. I looked up to see a bat like creature fly into the darkness around me.

I snorted flames in an effort to not only stay warm, but keep the mutated beasts away so I could reach the waterfall and find a way into my chamber that didn't involve me swimming. As I came to the top of the hill the sky began to grow lighter as the sun was rising, even with the cloud cover light could get down here with what little warmth it offered. I looked behind me to see the bats that had been following me retreat elsewhere much to my delight since I had a greater task ahead of me. The city that stood as the center of Equestria was not well, pink mist emanating out of its water and structures which seemed to grow worse as the sun continued to rise behind the clouds. Curious about it as I was there was no amount of bits that would encourage me to take the plunge and discover first hoof.

That aside I looked for one of my hidden passages which would allow me access without, hopefully, going through the mist. Slightly off to my right I could see an old cave that was half hidden by dirt and as I approached it I stopped cold. My EFS was picking up a single hostile inside, unfortunately for me I was both physically and mentally exhausted and unable tap into my magical gem and to top it all off I was still out of ammo for my cannons. Sighing I began to approach the cave entrance to stop a few hooves away, inside I could hear a low growl that sounded familiar.

I was then greeted by a very large and mutated Manticor as it dug it scorpion tail into my right side, luckily for me it only managed to pierce my cannon, Duty, and rip it off my harness. I spewed red flames which seemed to only tick this thing off more as it reared its ugly head and tried to bite down on my helmet. I struggled to get it off me as I flapped my wings and took off, it not wanting to lose me also began to fly, so I did the next best thing. Once we were both off the ground I did a trick I once watched alligators use which was later called a death roll, spinning in mid air I managed to pull off my helmet which exposed my head as I cut lose more flames which quickly died out causing me to heave smoke from my muzzle.

Diving down I drew Vengeance with my mouth and rolled over as I cut the Manticor's eye out. Flipping just in time to land on my hooves I jumped to the side and stabbed the beast in its tail, cutting off the deadly spike at its end. It wailed in pain before swiping at me with its lion claws, to which I dropped my sword and jumped back. Trying my fire again and only having smoke come out I frowned as I drew my last weapon, Justice, from its scabbard. Roaring a battle cry I charged the beast and stabbed it in the head, driving my blade to the guard before the Manticor swiped at me and shredded my left wing. I yelped in pain before charging once more and diving down on my blades hilt with my forehooves driving it inside the beast.

With a bone shattering crack and a thud I knew the Manticor was dead as the sun warmed the area around me further. I smiled as such sport in my days as a squire were often favored by the knights of old, and I let out a chuckle as I found that the mere thought of hunting a Manticor for any reason seemed foolhardy. My stomach growled at the sight of fresh meat and I remembered how good the Manticors tasted with my blood father's recipe. Retrieving my weapons I then dragged the carcass into the cave and down into the depths, careful to avoid booby traps as I did so.

After about an hour or so I arrived at the preamble to my chamber, my courtyard. Two hundred years of negligence really didn't do well for the place. Cracks had formed about the once grand scenery and statues of great generals, and friends, rested broken upon the ground. I left my dinner near the entrance since I considered this place as sacred. Walking down the broken stone path I recited each name of every monument, even if it had been reduced to nothing but rubble.

"Thunder Wing, Starlight, Hannibal, and Razor Claw." I said remembering all four of my friends names, the pegasus, unicorn, minotaur, and griffon that I fought alongside of for a long time and even against at times.

It would be a lie to say that I am not looking forward to my death so I may join them in the halls of Valhalla if I beith worthy, but a part of me world regret not seeing my new friends through to the end. I smiled as I turned to the wooden gates and pushed them open to lay eyes upon my home for the first time in two centuries. It was just as I left it, even the cake I had on my table was still there, though probably no good as I baked it, yes I can cook, the night I left for the final confrontation of the war. I read what was on the cake, "Marry me?" and a lone tear dropped before my stomach once more growled in a reminder that I had fresh meat that was spoiling in the other room.

I walked over to the large oven in the left corner of my chamber and fired it up using spark rocks with my hooves since I didn't want to try using my fire. I then went outside and moved the remaining statues out of the way of my path before bringing in my well earned prize and putting it on the fire. I looked at my mirror as I laid on my bed nestled in the jaws of my father Logantis, for a time it only reflected my image before flashing to life and showing me a location. I cocked my head in confusion as It showed mostly the clouds above a large city, upon a closer look I realized the city was Hoofington. The mirror then flashed again and showed a stasis pod inside of a cloud with, but that wasn't possible, a badly injured Rainbow Dash inside.

I shook my head as the mirror flashed again and returned to its normal state, really that thing sometimes made me wonder but since it was a gift from Luna I suppose that she thought of everything. Looking over to my workbench I smiled like a madpony when I saw my final prototype armor sitting in pieces. I could remember that I had finished and tested each piece and that all I needed to do was put it together for use, alas the war ended before I could. I slowly walked up to it and began putting it together, deciding to name my new weapons after my old ones just with a II behind them.

The armor was simply put based off of my dragon heritage with dragon spikes going down the center line and a cybernetic spiked dragons tail. On its battle saddle were two rail guns named Fury II and Judgement II, and below them each were the final, much more accurate, versions of my auto cannons named Duty II and Honor II. In front of them and on my shoulders were the two built in scabbards for my two broadswords, and behind the weapons were two armored compartments marked with a crescent moon below a star upon a black field, the symbol of the First Army. I stepped back and smiled at my work as I smelled my dinner from the open flame on the other side of the chamber.

I ate the entire beast and at long last my stomach felt full. Rubbing my stomach I walked over to my power armor and began transferring my supplies from my bags into its compartments before a glow caught my eye. Next to my bed sat a pedestal with a cover encasing the silver necklace endowed with a red gem that seemed to pulse with my heartbeat. Deciding that it would probably be best I gently removed it from its cover and placed it inside of a case before setting it into my compartment. I took my pip-buck off and installed it inside of the armors left fore leg with the screen exposed and went to bed after treating my wounds.

Going Shopping

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Chapter 21
Going Shopping

You cracking douche monkeys! - Dark Lightning

The newborn filly on my back was still fast asleep from when her mother died, even though she was laying on my twenty milometer cannon rendering it unusable. I flew just below the cloud cover and quiet slower than usual since I didn't know how well my makeshift harness would work. Looking down I could see a river snaking below me as well as many radagators moving from either side hunting for food. At that thought I realized that it would not be long before this foal would need nourishment, which meant milk, which also meant that I was in deep shit since I couldn't exactly walk up to a mare and ask her to lend me some. Perhaps I could with Shadow Star, oh sweet Shadow Star, but that would only work if I could find her and the others.

I spotted a group of ponies pulling a small train of other ponies who were tied together. There were eight of the slavers, mostly in the front, and at least four captured ponies approaching the river.

"Damn slavers, maybe this aint so bad though." I said as I stopped and hovered in mid air as the sky grew darker.

I checked the foals harness and made sure it was tight before I dived downward allowing the lightning to form streaks upon my wingtips that trailed behind me as I charged for an attack. Just before I zipped past them a bolt of lightning beat me to the ground and was followed by a rather sinister thunderclap. I blasted them with my lightning before performing a tight flip and landing before them in a crouched position. My visor was aglow as I circled them slowly, the ponies that they had been herding were terrified upon seeing me, as were their captures since I had evidently struck two of the bastards before landing.

Rain started to pour down on us as the slavers began to shoot, I dodged to either side making sure that they wouldn't hit the foal as I got in close. They had been firing their seven milometer pistols which wouldn't pierce my armor too badly so long as it only hit the bulky parts. Dashing between two of them I opened my wings and cut them in half before bolting up into the air to avoid a combat shotgun that did manage to dent my chest plate with a slug round. Rolling over I dived down for the mare using the lethal weapon before dipping my wings to the right and cutting her in half from head to flank. Hearing screaming about a demon, I watched as the other slavers turned and ran before I landed.

"That's right run you jack wagons!" I yelled after them as the foal on my back giggled.

I looked behind me to see that she was awake and laughing her flank off, I cracked a smile but also wondered when the little filly had woken up. Since she wasn't bawling her eyes out I figured I could tend to her after I get what I needed from the slaves and the dead.

"Hey everypony, the name is Dark Lightning and I see that y'all could use a bit O' help." I said as my helmet retracted to show my face.

"Y, you aren't h, here to k, kill us?" a mare who looked as though she had been brutally beaten asked.

"Eenope, I'ma here to help ya, and find food for my little friend here." I said moving myself around to show the foal harnessed to my back.

"I c, can help you with t, that." she stuttered as I approached, sure I'm a Shadowbolt and we do look a bit scary, but she should know that she aint got nothin to fear from me.

I slowly and very carefully cut the ropes that were tied around their necks with my wings earning many grateful looks from the four ponies. I then unstrapped little Crimson Flower and set her on the ground next to the mare who volunteered to help me with my problem.

"Take what you need from those slavers everpony, I don't see anything on em I could use." I said rather sad since I did still need ammo.

"Thanks dude." A young stallion said as he picked up the shotgun in his green magic as he smiled.

"That was about the only thing they had that actually hurt me pal." I said trying to talk to these ponies as I watched the mare feed Crimson.

"Sweet, lots of ammo on this shit bag!" He laughed.

"Always a good thing." I said walking away from the young stallion while he enjoyed shotgun paradise.

"She is really tiny, how old is she?" the mare feeding Crimson asked.

"A few hours, her mom died at birth and I wouldn't be alright with just leaving her in the middle of the wastes to die of starvation." I said as I sat down near them.

"Well you are going to need help feeding her if you aren't going somewhere with the supplies to do so, not to mention a willing mare." the yellow earth pony mare said as she stared into my orange eyes with her green ones.

"I'm heading towards where I think my marefriend is, I'll give you all escort there." I stated frowning as I did so.

"Whats wrong Mr?" A young colt with a grey coat and brown mane asked with curious blue eyes.

"Nothing, just wondering how I'm going to explain that Tempest stayed behind." I said looking back the way I came.

"Don't worry, if your friend is as capable than you then he'll be fine." and older stallion said as he sorted the pistols from the dead slavers out.

"So you all know each other I'm guessing?" I asked since I was going to spending some time with them.

"Yes, we are family." the older stallion said, "That is my wonderful wife Sunfire, our oldest Soundwave, the youngest Tracks, and I am Primal." he added as he beamed with pride.

I nodded but remained silent as Crimson burped and went back to sleep. I got up and walked over to put her back in the harness but was surprised when Sunfire continued to hold her. I sighed before pulling out my map and gazing at our location, thankfully we weren't far from where I was going.

"Where do you think they are?" Primal asked looking at my map.

"Well I believe that they are in a slaver camp right now, knowing them they have probably ripped the slavers apart and are resting or something, perhaps moved on, but nonetheless I expect them to have at least been there." I replied looking the way would need to walk.

"You want to walk into a slaver camp?" Soundwave shouted worriedly.

"As I said, they probably killed everypony there, my friends pack big guns." I said smiling at the thought of slavers trying to kill them as Bulls Eye or Applebits ripped them apart.

"Who are your friends?" Sunfire asked.

"Hehe, well they are two prewar steel rangers, that's who they are." I said grinning.

This caused them all to look at me like I had lost it, but when I stood to begin walking they followed. Engaging my helmet I checked my systems, since I did take a hit or two, just to make sure that nothing had changed since I ran out of ammo. Thankfully nothing had been damaged functionality wise but that didn't mean that the massive dent wasn't still there, I would have to press that out when I got the chance.

I looked back before I took off into the sky to see the family and Crimson in close pursuit of me, much to my gratitude, and flew slightly ahead so that I could spot hostiles. All I saw in the distance was a small single road town with a few buildings and a few familiar ponies walking around it. I circled back to the family and flew just above them as we all converged upon the town.

Kidnapped

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Chapter 22
Kidnapped

Mercy is that which is given unto they who wrong. Unfortunately, I have no Mercy left to give. - Mortalitas Gladius

Despite what the mare I had healed and taken care of had told me about resting, I knew I could not. Even now, as I was standing near the others of her group, I could not stop myself from watching to the south. My one eye that remained was still as good as new, scanning the horizon for any possible threats or approaching strangers. My injuries were of course excruciating, but I was so used to it by now they were little more than annoyances as I sighted a group of small forms off in the distance. With a trained eye, I took notice clearly of six ponies; four adults by size, a young colt and a small foal kept close by one of the adults.

With a sharp look to the mare I had healed, I took off to her and once more called upon my shunned arcane magic of the manipulation of blood to communicate to her since I wouldn't dare speak a word as she turned to me. "Six coming south. Ready up."

Without waiting for acknowledgement, I turned back to the group that was much closer now and headed off at a gallop. Arriving quickly at the edge of town, I heard the armored mare stop short behind me just as the group came into sharp focus. Seeing a Shadowbolt certainly was a bit of a surprise for me, but then again I'd also met two Lunar Rangers of the old times so it didn't bother me as much.

"Applebits!" The Shadowbolt exclaimed.

"Lightning, is that really you?" I heard the mare behind me ask.

"Yeah, Tempest sent me out here to find you guys. Wanted to make sure you all were alright." Lightning replied, his eyes finally turning towards me and his brows raised slightly in surprise at my looks. "He with you guys?"

I did my best to answer sincerely in my blood above me as I thought about the ancient General I'd only seen a few times on the battlefield. "Yes. I help these ponies from crazy cybermare."

Lighting shared a look with Applebits, wondering what I meant until she answered his silent question. "Cotton Candy, she went nuts and attacked us for no reason. She demanded all our stuff and threatened the little ones we have. Without my friend Gladius here, we would all be dead or on our way as he took her on single-hoofedly."

I nodded slightly in agreement, gesturing to the pile of scrap that had been this Cotton Candy previously. "Your friend trusts, so shall I. Come in." I waved slightly, turning only for just a moment my attention away from this group as I began to walk slowly back to where we'd been camping out.

This, was when I heard the shots. There were three in all, and they rang out sharply in the silent air. Following quickly was a cry of pain, and as I turned back with my good eye I saw Lighting falling to the ground with a large hole in his side. Fleeing from him, I caught sight of the group. It had only taken seconds, but I was already rushing to this stallion's side alongside his friend. "Can help him." I wrote in my blood to her.

She shook her head to me, denying me this time as she already was charging what I suspect was a healing spell. "No, you already helped me and you're too injured to be doing whatever you did again so soon."

Watching as the group ran off, I could hear Lightning mumbling. "The foal...They took her. Those jack wagons....took the little filly."

In that instant, I felt something within me snap. It was a deep, dark and merciless side of me; something that hardly ever made an appearance except in situations like these. Something that my family hated to see me become, something that my friends back home despised seeing me become. But now it was here, and with my eyes locked straight on the group running away. "I'll get them...Get others when can to follow me."

Without waiting for anypony to respond, I set off into the wastes straight after them. My tiredness and pain at running with my injuries replaced by a deep-seated anger that fueled me to keep galloping at full speed to catch these heathens. These foul ponies deserved no mercy for what they'd done, and I had no intention of giving any of them that privilege. Back in the distance behind me, I heard Applebits shouting for her other friend that had been injured previously; Bulls Eye, to go to my aid if he could. Even now, I could hear the tired wheezes of those who I was chasing just ahead of me; see the shapes of their bodies slowing down as fatigue overtook them.

"We got her...just like you wanted dear." I heard one, likely the oldest say.

"Yes! A little filly all my own. It's what I've always wanted and now we have her!" A mare said excitedly.

That ended abruptly when my hoof stomped into the cracked pavement, going straight through it and alerting them to my presence. I'd say the sight of me frightened them enough, and seeing the mare holding the filly only served to enrage me as I stepped closer to them. Without hesitation, as before with Lightning, they shot me. The pain was immense, the blast of rounds from the shotgun only adding to my list of horrible war and battle injuries; however my rage overrode the sensation completely and I quickly disarmed him and tossed the shotgun aside with ease. What I followed up with was a sharp uppercut that likely shattered the stallion's jaw completely and sent him flying a few feet away on his back. The mare, I merely looked to with a frightening, distorted visage in my expression that promised extreme pain as my blood spelled out sharply. "Give me the foal, now!"

And yet she clutched it, shaking her head viciously as though it would deny me. "Do you want your family to all die?"

Her answer was fearful, as I'd expected as I watched her look at her two sons and likely husband. "I...No...Please don't hurt them..I'll do anything..." She whimpered, releasing the young filly just as Bulls Eye finally managed to catch up with a slight limp.

Gesturing the filly to go to him, I kept my murderous gaze on the family. "I should kill all of you anyways...Attacking my friend for such a foolish reason...Perhaps I still might.

"Easy there pal...All we came for was the filly. Not their lives." I heard Bulls Eye say behind me.

I could feel his cannon, prepared to fire but not at them; rather it was aimed at me. In this moment, I knew that I could never forgive myself to leave my family alone back at our home; and despite my immense anger I forced it to finally settle as the blood spelled out sharply. "I ever see any of you again you are all dead. You get your lives today, but only by the graces of this stallion behind me." The two younger colts rushed to their father's side and helped him up before the mare joined them. "Scram."

With that, they rushed off again; this time much faster than before and without stopping as I turned back to Bulls Eye. "Go home now, see how friend fares.' Looking to the filly, I actually smiled despite the aching pain in my injuries that wanted to force me into unconsciousness but never would. "I carry her. protect us."

Quickly scooping her up, I balanced her between my wings and provided as much of a soft cushion and pillow for her as I could. Despite all this, she herself was fast asleep quickly as we set off at a painfully slow pace back toward the ruins of the slaver camp.

Friend or Foe?

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Chapter 23
Friend or Foe

What, am I in a video game depicting a dark and violent future now? - Tempest Knight

I yawned lazily as I sat up on my bed, smoke drifted calmly up to my ceiling from my nose, I sneezed sending even more smoke up, but also clearing my nostrils. I looked around and smiled when I saw my power armor, it’s sleek black paint scheme with white its wonderfully crafted silver guns. I got out of bed and shook myself to wake up as I unfurled my wings and gave a couple flaps. Luckily my left wing had healed overnight after I had injected myself with a healing potion, though it was a little stiff. Taking my armor off the stand I took each segment, starting with the torso, and placed them on. I equipped my leg armor after words before slipping my wing covers with the armored leading edges on, and lastly I connected the dragon tail.

Turning on my pip-buck as I set my helmet on the visor slid down to cover my eyes allowing my custom heads up display fill my vision as it communed with the hoof held computer. Instead of the normal green HUD of the EFS, I was greeted with my dark red rimmed radar and horizontal compass. On the top right I had my ammo readout, and upon my bottom right it showed a small model of my armor in grey, dictating that it was undamaged. I saw a flash on the bottom left of my HUD and noticed that it read "Objectives- Recover Rainbow Dash from Hoofington" before I lifted my right fore leg. The leg moved easily, even though my armor weighed in at three quarters of a ton, I tried my tail as well and found the robotics to move very smoothly.

I took a final look around my chamber, the many portraits of my fellow warriors and friends by my side in battle against numerous foes. I sighed thinking about how many times I have lost everypony I have ever known, then smiled when my gaze fell upon a picture of myself, Rainbow Dash, and Princess Luna. before the war, as we watched a Wonderbolts demonstration. Come to think of it Luna and Pinkie Pie were the only ones that knew of mine and Dash's relationship, the latter due to planting a bug in my chamber that I had returned by one of my ghost guards.

I sighed before leaving my home once more, but found myself smiling as I saw my objective again at the bottom of my HUD, if I do return here it will be with my beloved Rainbow Dash, and we will no longer be pestered by a war that kept us apart. I stepped outside of the hidden entrance before I was plowed into by a Steel Ranger.

"Huh, oh shit!" the buck from withing the armor said, he sounded no older than eighteen.

"Steady, I'm not going to hurt you." I said before a threat popped up on my scanner.

The buck quickly got behind me and backed into the solid rock wall behind me as I metal pony with two red orbs where its eyes should be emerged from the dead trees in front of me.

"Target aquired, new target detected, hostile?" It said in a cold metallic voice of a stallion as it pointed a ray gun of sort that was glowing red at me.

I looked back to the ranger who was scared witless before slowly walking up to the machine pony. I stopped about halfway between the two before it tried to walk around me. I ensured that I was to remain between it and the boy who was now sobbing and muttering incoherent things.

"Why are you attacking this buck?" I asked all the while getting closer to it.

"Contact was hostile, program dictates that all hostiles must be neutralized for the safety of..." It never finished as a barrage of missiles slammed into it, causing minor damage to the machine, but also sending it flying into the woods.

I jumped back using my wings to push me away from the blast itself as I watched the machine run deeper into the woods and disappear. I then looked to the origin of the attack and witness two more Steel Rangers come out of the woods, all of whom were in terrible shape. The first ranger that had hid himself behind me was still having his mental breakdown as one of his comrades walked over to try and calm him down. I was then approached by the paladin of the group who greeted me by pointing a large grenade launcher at me as her other squad mate kept his sniper zeroed on my head.

"Greetings." I said as my muzzle guard retracted and my visor lifted up, I bore a smile on my lips as I saw that none of them were hurt to badly.

"Who are you?" the paladin asked as her backup pulled his bolt back.

"I'll tell you as soon as you drop your hostilities, considering the fact that I have yet to take any towards you." I replied as my smile faded, I could tell this was going to be an annoying day.

The paladin looked to their sniper before she nodded and he put the muzzle of his rifle up, I took the time to look over at the other two. Now without their helmets I could see their features, the buck who had hidden behind me was pink with a black mane and dark brown eyes, his cohort was a mare who had a black coat, white mane, and blue eyes.

"So who are you?" the paladin asked me again.

"My name is Tempest, and I mean thou no harm." I asked not really interested in who she was.

"What are you doing here?" she asked as she too looked over at the two rangers.

"I could ask you the same thing." I said frowning at how many questions she was asking.

"Well then, I'll tell you what. You tell us which way the Ponytron went, and we'll let you go." she said sticking out her hoof.

"Over yonder." I replied pointing a wing towards the woods behind me.

"You are a pegasus?" the sniper cried before pointing his rifle at me.

I raised a brow at him as my two auto cannons loaded themselves with AP ammunition. I looked to the paladin and nodded towards her sniper before looking to my guns which now had a little red light stating that they were armed.

"Stand down, he's loaded." she said as I reactivated my visor and muzzle guard to bring up my spray pattern which covered a two pony wide circle from where he was standing.

"Fine." he replied after staring at me with his rifle for two minuets.

"I'll take my leave now." I said walking away as I heard the paladin storm off towards the ponytron with her sniper close behind.

I stopped by the bushes and got low, past my cover the two knights shared a short but passionate kiss before trudging back towards their presumed camp. I followed behind them careful not to disturb too much of the terrain and not be detected. It wasn't long before they exited the wooded area and came into a clearing with many tents and other Steel Rangers who quickly began to question them.

"What happened?"

"Where is Paladin Heavy Hoof?"

"What is the status of the Stable Tech Ponytron Sentry?"

"It got away, the paladin is in pursuit, I was sent back so that I could stabilize his mental state." the knight responded between multiple other rangers asking the same questions as they approached.

"Quiet!" A ranger in a long blue robe shouted before coming to the two I followed here. "See to it that knight buckshot is calmed down. As for you Boom Boom, you will be sent in as reinforcements with another squad to capture more of the ponytrons in the stable."

I had heard enough, these rangers were attacking a stable with possible innocents inside. I needed to find the ponytron from earlier, but how? I knew which way it ran, though why I couldn't fathom, though it may just be trying to lead them away from the stable. I quietly sank away before anypony saw me and took to the skies at treetop level as I scanned for the two rangers and the ponytron.

After about thirty minuets I found them in a firefight that they were evidently winning. They had managed to run the ponytron into an old building and now it was stuck with now way out that didn't involve certain destruction. I dived down through a hole in the roof, hopeful that they didn't see me, and looked around for the ponytron. It had crouched behind a fireplace and was trying to repair itself, it stopped when it saw me looking at it, my EFS showed it was still none hostile.

"What is the status of the Stable?" I asked hoping to receive an answer.

"Classified information for use of proper authorities only." it replied.

"General Tempest Knight, Equestrian First Army." I replied as my visor and muzzle guards slid back.

"Authorization complete, stable population unharmed aside from initial conflict with hostile forces, five ponytron stable guards still remain operational, four." it replied to me before returning to its attempt to repair itself.

"Here let me help!" I said as I crawled over to it just before it was shot in the head. "Crap, hang on."

I removed the panel that protected its main processor and fished the bullet out using the magic of my gem. I then used my fire breath through my muzzle guard so that it could concentrate the flames so that I could weld the damaged frame back together. Luckily it wasn't too bad, all the shot did was sever a wire and chip the personality component. After putting the cover back on I shuffled over to its activation panel and booted it up.

"Stay here, I'll be back." the ponytron said in a strange accent as it stood up quickly as if it had just been built.

I then head screaming coming from therangers as the ponytron grabbed the paladin and used her as a shield to block the incoming bullets of the sniper.

"Oh no, what have I done?" the sniper yelled as he backpedaled away before hitting his rump on a tree.

The ponytron merely walked up to him and had claws eject from its left hoof just before ramming it into the rangers chest. Turning its head back to gaze upon me, as I walked out of the hole in the wall created by it, it retracted it claws and nodded.

"They have been terminated." it said once more in the strange accent.

"Well then, where did that come from?" I asked it.

"When you repaired me, my personality component was damaged. It would seem reasonable that multiple variables have altered my functionality." It replied.

"So now that you have a true persona, do you have a name?" I asked it.

It stood there for a moment contemplating ideas for a name before it raised a hoof, "I am Arnold Ponegator." It said.

"Well then, lets go save a stable." I replied, grinning behind my helmet.

"Lets." Arnold replied.

Lunch Time

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Chapter 24
Lunch Time

Out of bullets, let me give you a hoof sandwich! - Applebits

I was shocked at how badly Lightning was hurt by the shotgun slugs as I did my best to heal him. My horn now had an over glow to it as his wounds glowed in synchronous. He moaned as Shadow Star pulled off his armor and smiled down at him before pulling her nose from his when she noticed I was watching. I smiled between grunts and gave a nod as the wound sealed and I collapsed.

"You okay App?" Lightning asked groggily as he stood up.

"Yeah, just a tad tired." I said panting.

"Okay." he said turning back around to Shadow.

"I'm glad you are okay Dark, but who is the foal?" she asked him.

"Crimson Flower, she was born into her dying mothers hooves under my protection." he looked down for a moment before looking back around to me, "My last orders before assuming that Tempest went KIA was to protect two reformed raiders." he added frowning.

"What happened?" I asked with a worried expression.

"The town was filled with ancient zombies, Temp stayed behind to ensure their destruction, his marker disapered from my EFS a couple days ago." he replied, unable to look me in the eye as I began to tear up.

"And the two ex raiders?" I asked.

"One turned into a zombie so I had to kill her, the other died a few minuets after giving birth, she lived just long enough to give a kiss to her foal and a name before passing." he said closing his eyes.

"Damn this wasteland, damn it all." I whispered under my breath before I got up and stormed off.

Behind me I could hoofsteps from Bulls Eye and Gladius as they returned, but I didn't turn to greet them, I just walked over into the camps bar and grabbed a bottle of red wine and tossed my helmet at the wall with such force that it embedded itself into it. I gulped down the wine and cried my eyes out, probably not the best idea I've had, but at least I won't remember anything from today later.

"First Defense, now Tempest. Who's next, Bulls Eye, Lightning?" I raged as I pulled more wine out of the wall behind the counter and began chugging it all down.

Bulls Eye walked into the bar and stood behind me, watching me become even more enraged as I got even more drunk. I moved a few bottles into a row and grabbed a pistol from the other side of the counter. Aiming it at the bottles I shot off two rounds before the mag was empty, I did manage to destroy three of the bottles though I have no idea how. I threw the pistol at the fourth and final bottle but missed terribly before I noticed Bulls Eye.

"This would explain why I never saw you drunk." he said, raising a brow at me while I swayed to and fro.

"Shut up Bulls Eye, I'm..." I hiccuped, "not in the mood."

"I can tell ma'am." he said looking at the shattered glass everywhere.

"Why you, botherin, meh?" I said as I began to lose even more speech control.

"Wanted to tell you that we move out in five." he said before looking at the door.

"Buck it." I said slamming myself into a chair and falling back instantly as it broke under my half ton armor.

"You okay ma'am?" he asked. stifling a laugh in the process.

"Shut your pie hole, my don't you look..." I once more hiccuped, "splendid."

"Ma'am, you are intoxicated." Bulls Eye said as he picked up a light brown bandanna.

"Ohohoho, am I?" I said completely drunk now.

"Very." he said placing the bandanna on his head and walking out of the bar.

"Huh, your loss handsome." I said before trying to turn, just to land smack on my horn. "Owwwwwwww!!!"

I rubbed my horn with an armored hoof as I got up and stumbled out of the bar. Everything was spinning as I was walking, and the slaves that we had killed were walking around. I greeted each one by name before walking, more like almost falling, to my friends.

"Why howdy everypony, sure is a nice day eh?" I said with a country accent I hadn't had since I was a filly growing up on the farm.

"Um, Applebits?" Lightning said, he had strapped his armor back on and was looking at me as if I had just walked out of a space ship from one of those corny holo tapes.

"What is it feathers?" I asked as I leaned off to my right side, though to me I was still standing upright.

"She is so drunk it aint funny." he whispered to Shadow Star who had been standing next to him, but all I heard was, "Hey beautiful."

"Ohohoho, so charming." I said flattered as a waved a hoof at him and sat down.

It was then that I caught sight of Gladius coming over to me from my left. What I could see was not the ghoul pony that had saved us, rather I saw him as a strapping younger stallion that seemed almost glowing in the light. Although he had some weird red liquid on his body at odd places that I couldn't quite place, and as he drew but a few paces from me I smiled at him happily. "Howdy there Gladius, yer lookin as fine as ever. Though ya got some Kool Aid or somethin all o'er ya." I said, looking into his eyes and trying to rise to walk over to him but almost falling a few times.

Before I could do anything though, he was pressing me to a wall and I couldn't help but giggle at how playful he was being. "So rowdy ya are partner." I whispered. "Ah like that."

In my eyes, Gladius was giving me a smile before he wiped his lips of some of that liquid; but to the others who had seen it normally he had slammed me hard into the wall of the building behind me and was now deeply frowning with his muzzle stitches removed. Without knowing the truth, I leaned forward and gently kissed his lips before giggling again as I thought he was blushing with his eyes slightly wide. In reality, his pupils had narrowed and a vein in his forehead was dangerously close to popping; but I was right about the blushing.

What happened to me next was actually was a smack back into reality. Quite literally, I could feel the sharp pain that made me cry out as his hoof hit me across my cheek so hard it made me see stars. With my eyes still uncertainly on him, I could see the anger now that I had mistaken and that was when for the first time he spoke. More so it was like a shout, echoing across the nearby wasteland with such intensity my ears were ringing and I felt like I was back in my first day of Basic.

"THERE AIN'T NO DRUNKS IN MY CORPS YA BUCKING FAILURE! YA THINK YOU'RE DESERVING TO BE A RANGER LIKE THIS? YOU HAD BEST RETCH THAT VILE LIQUID OF HELL UP RIGHT NOW OR AH'M PERSONALLY GOING TA BEAT IT OUT OF YA!" His voice though thunderously loud, was clear and strong; it had a slight southern accent to it that only accentuated his demand in my eyes.

For good measure, he actually bucked me once in the gut and left me laying on the ground. The wine had tasted good and smooth going down, but now it burned like fire in my throat as that single, powerful buck into my stomach forced it to make a reappearance all over the ground beneath me. As I managed to raise my head from the stinking muck, I was again staring into his eyes; his muzzle stitched shut again with his gaze holding such contempt and anger at me before he shook his head and offer me a hoof. I took it, still aching horribly from the immense headache his voice had given and the immense pain of my gut at his buck and the forced throw up that resulted.

Feeling slightly sick but now much more stable, I couldn't recall anything that I'd just done previously, and what more I might have done had he not intervened. I was blushing now, in embarrassment upon the fact that I had become drunk. Gladius looked down upon me after evidently snapping me out of it, with a look of disgust before expression turned into an emotionless mask except for the almost unnoticeable blush now. His blood once more made an appearance as he began to walk off to the east of the town. "Follow me. I take you all to home."

I took notice that he didn't even glance at the others, didn't want to hear whatever they had to say I guess at what had just transpired. Instead he just set off down a broken road. Glaring at the others, they didn't dare speak either as I placed my helmet back on and began to try and follow him rather unsteadily.

I could easily tell the others lagged behind us just to talk out of earshot about what had just happened, though I just did my best to ignore them and try to focus on wherever Gladius was taking us.

A few hours had passed and I found myself continuously glancing behind me at my friends, Shadow walked with the foal on her back and her two sisters on either side of her flank, while Dark Lightning flew above us feeling much better than when I had healed him up. Bulls Eye had caught my continuous glancing and had walked a tad faster to catch up with me.

"No more wine for you ma'am, ever." he said, before giving a smile.

"Okay, so what did I do while drunk that has everypony worked up?" I asked looking straight at him.

"Well, lets just say you don't, want to know." he snickered.

"Tell me, please, so that if I did something I shouldn't have that I can apologize to whoever I did it to." I requested giving him a stern gaze from behind my visor.

"Don't say that I didn't warn ya ma'am." he responded before coming closer to me and whispering, "You kissed the ghoul."

I instantly blushed inside my armor and looked down to the ground before looking up slightly to Gladius. I then looked back to Bulls Eye who was the last pony I remembered before getting bucked in the gut by our ghoul friend. Looking at him I noticed how gentle his eyes were, I then wondered why he had come into check on me. I gave him a nod and he walked away over to the other side of Gladius as my mind spiraled out of control. I was ripped back to reality when I saw a huge alligator like beast, its only real difference being size, take a snap at Gladius.

I cut lose a solid stream of fire from both of my mini guns as they merely deflected off the beast. Bulls Eye lined up a shot of his AT cannon and let the beast have it square in the jaw, but all it did was piss the thing off worse.

"Damn, how do ya stop that thing?" Bulls Eye yelled to nopony in particular.

"No clue, bullets maybe?" Lightning said as he streaked passed and unloaded twenty milometer rounds from the cannon on his back, "Eat shit and die!"

I fired until I ran out of ammo, but I did absolutely nothing to the beast as it lumbered towards me, charging a stunning spell I shot it with my horn, only for the damn thing to gobble me up. Out side of its jaws I could hear Lightning and Bulls Eye still shooting it, though Bulls Eye was now trying his luck with the shotgun since he was probably out of ninety milometer rounds for his cannon. I decided that I was just going to bash its tongue till it let me out, which was working until it tilted its head back and I fell into its gut. I used my suites headlamp and found myself inside of the beasts stomach, smiling I levitated my last grenade out of my saddlebags.

"You should chew your food, cause you never know when they'er packing heat!" I yelled as I pulled the pin and held it against the back of the stomach.

It exploded and I saw the gloomy wasteland sunlight as the beast roared it last. I galloped out of there and far away from it before several more of them approached me.

"Oh no you don't, I am not your lunch!" I yelled at them before running back up to Bulls Eye who was staring at me as though I was dead, "What never seen a pony covered in guts before?" I asked.

"No, just didn't expect you to come out that end." he chuckled in a reply.

"You got any grenades by chance?" I asked as the giant gators got closer.

"No." he replied looking worried.

"Horse apples." I replied looking back to the beasts approaching us.

Before I could begin to think up any sort of plan beyond the first beast I'd slain, it was Gladius I saw who leapt into them. His strange stance that he had used against Cotton Candy resuming when he landed on his hind legs in front of the first. His hoofs up, guarding his sides; I watched as the first of the gators attacked him. He deftly deflected it, knocking the beast aside like it was nothing more than a tin can. The second that came at him, as it's jaws snapped to close around him I was prepared to charge in to save him when I saw he had pressed both one of his hind legs at its bottom jaw and his left foreleg against the roof of its mouth. Watching him, he seemed to be able to keep the gator from closing its jaws almost with an ease; in fact he was spreading its jaws apart further and further now as I saw him turn his head and look to Lightning. His gaze was intense and caught my friend's attention immediately as the ghoul made a chopping motion with his free hoof and nodded to the gator.

I could tell Lightning understood, for he spread his wings out with the bladed edges prepared before diving sharply toward Gladius. The result was instant. As Lightning glided past, I saw the gator begin to split in two before I saw Gladius lift the top half off with ease and haul it back before tossing it almost like a missile into the previous gator he'd knocked away. Now two more were dead, and Gladius was looking at the remaining group of maybe six with an intense concentration. Almost an aura seemed to consume his being, barely noticeable; but it was the color of his blood and matched his eyes as he took off towards the group. As he reached the first gator, I couldn't help but blink in surprise as he slammed his hoof straight through its lower jaw before hauling back and slamming a hoof as hard as he could into the roof of its mouth. The effect was the same as when Lighting had cut through, only much more bloody as the entire upper half exploded in bone and chunks of flesh.

Even Lightning had paused, in slight awe of the sheer strength presented before he snapped out of it and made another dive and slashed two gators to bits from their insides as Gladius seemed to be just there before him to wrench their mouths open. Finally, Bulls Eye and I jumped into the fray as we too snapped out of our stupor. Helping in the same way Gladius had, though wondering how he did it so easily as we had immense trouble keeping their jaws from clamping shut. Gladius finished the last one, actually leaping into the air and using his wings to rocket him back down to the ground before bashing straight down into the last gator's skull as Lightning chopped ours to bits.

Panting underneath my armor, I withdrew back to the rest of our group with Bulls Eye just as Lightning touched down beside us. Everypony was now looking at Gladius, myself included. He was still standing amidst the remains, his eyes closed; breathing heavy. His stitched wounds glowing brighter than before and some of them bleeding and creating a pool of darker blood in the ruins of the gators' skull.

Soon, his breathing calmed; the aura around him faded as did the glow with his injuries before he opened his eyes. Stepping out of the foul pool and flesh, he walked slowly back to us just as Bulls Eye spoke up. "What was that Gladius? I've never seen a pony do what you've done nor look like that."

Gladius looked at Bulls Eye before shaking his head as his blood spelled out. "Top Secret. Cannot say. Sworn by Princesses."

"The Princesses?" I said, asking the question everypony was thinking about this ghoul.

"You mean you knew the Princesses? Like, before the war?" Lightning said.

"Don't have time. We just go before more gators come." Gladius spelled out, his eyes expressing that now wasn't the time to talk. "We must go, to home. Now."

Turning quickly, I watched as he marched off once again and was across the river before we could speak. "What the buck is going on with this ghoul?" Bulls Eye muttered before following him with Lightning setting off into the skies again.

I took to following, not saying another word as the rest of our group followed behind. All the while, I was now wondering just who and what this ghoul was and I wanted to know more about his past.

HERETICS MUST BURN

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Chapter 25
HERETICS MUST BURN

Repent, for thou art in my books a sinner! - Tempest Knight

Arnold and I approached the ranger camp slowly, his red mechanical eyes scanning everything around us before locking onto a cement structure on the other side of the camp.

"I am going to assume that, that, is the way into the stable." I said looking to him for confirmation.

He turned his head to me and projected a small hologram at our hooves, "Affirmative, scans indicate that all but two ponytrons still function and pip bucks read that stable population is beginning to drop steadily." his machine voice giving no hint of emotion but still carrying that odd accent.

"I guess you have a plan then?" I asked him.

"Yes, it is a simple one." he said before standing up and walking into the camp.

"Arnold?" I asked bewildered as he snapped a rangers neck who never saw him coming, and slipped back into our cover with the body.

"I will disguise myself as one of the hostiles and make my way down inside the stable to secure the population, you will create a diversion up here to provide us me cover. Will contact if situation changes." he stated plainly before putting the armor on and changing his voice to that of the deceased mares, since he had heard her scream seconds before he killed her.

"Olive Branch, we heard you scream.!" a ranger yelled as she and two others appeared from the tents.

"Oh, sorry, it was just a nasty looking bug." Arnold said from inside the armor before walking away with them.

"Well then, this ought to be interesting." I muttered as I crept up to another bush so I could watch him go inside.

"Knight Olive, you were supposed to report to command tent, ten minuets ago, we are to descend into the stable and kill the remaining stable dwellers upon the Elders command." the paladin of the deceased ranger shouted as she and her squad walked passed my disgiused companion.

"Apologies ma'am, I got lost." Arnold replied.

"Eh, don't you always Branchy?" a mare asked from behind her before slapping her metal flank and catching up to the squad.

I took note of where the command tent was so I could deal with the elder, as Arnold caught up with his squad to go into the stable. Once he had entered I received, on my private channel only used between myself and Luna in the old days, a voice message.

"Infiltration complete, will terminate once I find my objective, you may now begin your attack General." Arnold said in his normal voice through the broadcaster.

"Willco." was all I replied with before silently as possible moving up to the command tent.

"I don't care how many ponies down there die, I want this stable, as well as its security reprogrammed to deal with those traitors in twenty four!" the Elder shouted at a paladin who evidently did not agree with him.

"But sir, do we really have to sacrifice the lives of the innocent ponies inside?" she asked with a concerned look in her teal eyes.

"Yes, now no more questions." the grey stallion retorted before rolling his green eyes, "NOW!"

"Yes sir." the mare gave a salute to her cyan brow before calmly walking out of the tent.

I slipped back a little and stayed as low as I could, being the same size, if not larger in mass, as Celestia, wasn't helpful when it came to sneaking around, though luckily her black mane was in her eyes. She moved her mane with one of her forehooves before her eyes cam eto rest on me.

"You want to help those ponies, as do I, if you have any friends down there who share you views they need to get out now." I quickly said, checking behind me as I heard hoof steps.

"Why, what is going to happen?" she asked as she put on her helmet and walked over to where the steps were coming from.

"One of the ponytrons is a lot smarter than you all are giving it credit for, he is down there now with a fresh squad, and he intends on killing every ranger here." I replied coming into the dim light.

"So far my squad and I are the only ones who have said anything, but..." she stammered.

"Where is your squad now?" I asked as three Steel Rangers rounded the corner.

"You are looking at us." she replied before looking over at her friends.

"Get out of here, I have heretics to burn." I calmly said as the vent on my muzzle lit up red while I blew flames out of my nostrils.

"I can't let you kill anypony!" she whispered.

"I am a General and you are a soldier, now go." I said calmly before turning through the tent door.

"Didn't I tell you to go get ready for salvage!" the elder yell before turning around to see me.

I said not a word as I approached him, drawing my swords and crossing them at his neck. I looked him hard in the eyes before applying pressure slightly as he began to cry.

"Please no, I just want the best." he groveled.

"You should have thought about that before you sanctioned the death of a fragment of Old Equestria, heretic." I growled as I put more pressure on his throat.

"But, but..." he said before I opened my muzzle and raised my visor.

"Repent for the wrong you have done, and perhaps your punishment will be less severe!" I yelled as I drew my blades back.

Not giving him a chance to respond I silenced the fool by plunging my blades into his chest. He sputtered up blood as he said something I couldn't understand before he died on my blades. Ripping my ancient weapons from his body I sheathed them before walking out of the tent and shutting my helm.

"Who shall be next to taste my vengeance!" I exclaimed to the heavens above.

Three rangers instantly ran towards me guns blazing, as I jumped to the side, nearly getting impaled by the rounds. The world around me shook as grenade machine guns ripped apart the ground beneath me. I returned their fire cutting two of them down with my armor piecing rounds as I jumped up into the air to avoid the multitude of explosions beneath me.

"Take the freak down!" I heard one of them say just as the soldier next him head detonated.

"He's not alone!" A mare shouted before she was ripped in half by a stream of bullets.

I saw the four rangers from earlier gunning the others down after painting their armor black.

"I thought I told you four to get out of here?" I asked as I dropped down on another soldier and spat fire with such an intensity that it melted into his skin before I took a hoof and put it through his head.

"There is no way that you would be able to kill all of these poor excuses for ponies on your own sir." the mare from earlier yelled over the spray of bullets and volleys of grenades that surrounded us while I also dodged a few by flying above them before dropping quickly back down.

"I don't want to see you four die, go and get out of here." I said as a grenade round impacted one of the rangers who were following me.

"Sharpshot!" the mare cried before running up to him, I turned and fired rounds from my railguns with great effect as the twin shots drove themselves clean into the enemy soldiers.

"Talk to me, talk to me damn it!" she yelled as she pulled off her helmet and stared down into his visor with her eyes.

"He's dead paladin, you need to move on out, or all of you will die too!" I yelled as I cut loose more rounds from my cannons.

She cradled him in her hooves before giving him a soft kiss on his armors muzzle, "I'll never forget you my love, never." she whispered, letting him go.

"Move it and get your flanks out of here, I'll come find you when this is over." I said moving in front of the rangers as the enemy fire died down.

"Yes sir." she said with a tone of defeat as she rejoined her rangers in a retreat.

"Die you traitor scum!" I heard another mare shout as I saw a rocket fly towards the group of ponies that tried to help me.

"No more death to the just upon this day!" I growled as I shot the missile with my railguns and watched it explode in a blaze of glory.

"Ha, teach you to turn your backs on us!" the same mare shouted as she laughed.

Looking to her position I realized that there were very few Rangers in the camp to start with, about fifty, and that there were only now six left. All of them had huddled together and were looking at where the smoke was clearing to see the scattered remains of my new friends, only they never did. I walked out of the cloud with my wings extended as I blew fire from my muzzle, giving off a slight demonic look, and stopped mere hoofs away from the group who aimed their weapons at me.

"You are guilty, and I am your executor." I calmly stated before blasting two of them apart with my cannons and jumping into the air.

They tried to shoot back, but majority of their rounds missed, I drew my blades and planted them in the mare with the rocket launcher. As I did so one of the other rangers managed to damage my left railgun before I sliced off his head. The last two began to back away toward the stable as another, heavily damaged ranger, walked out of the structure that hid it.

"Prepare to be terminated." the ranger said in a calm voice as he grabbed the other two rangers and slammed their heads together making a mix of shrapnel and red dust.

"All went well I assume?" I asked him.

"Affirmative." he replied, turning back the door, "Come with me if you want to live."

To my surprise many ponies in stable barding came out from behind him. Mostly young ponies and elderly.

"What happened?" I asked as my face guards retracted.

"I managed to arrive in time to halt the execution of the last twenty ponies, I am now the only remaining of my model, and all hostiles have been terminated." he said bluntly.

"I have three rangers who helped me stand up for the ponies inside the stable, they will help you protect them for as long as you need." I responded.

He nodded before I flew off to find the three rangers.

The Hearth and Home

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Chapter 26
The Hearth and Home

This is what that Ghoul was talking about? Seems like heaven around here compared to the wasteland. -Applebits

We had been walking for hours and hours without end. The ghoul always ahead of us, leading the way eastward. Thankfully, since the gator attack we hadn't been delayed any further and I suppose that was a good thing since we were all just about out of ammunition and I don't think our guide exactly liked how much we had questioned him about what he had done against the gators. Even still, hours away, my thoughts were occupied on his answers and just what exactly we'd seen. However, I was also feeling a little worn down; I could tell the others were too, the way Lightning was slowly flying now and close to the ground. The others lagged somewhat behind me, and yet as I watched Gladius he seemed to have no trouble; was even still marching at almost double time I could tell. Not a bit of tiredness registering, nor any show of exertion.

Finally, we crested another small hill and he slowed up some before halting. Letting us catch our breath, likely. But when I was walking up to him he gestured with a hoof to just up the road and his blood formulated his words. "There is my home. Hearthfire."

What I could see surprised me. At first, I was expecting a few small cobbled-together shacks with some ponies or ghouls; but what was actually before us made me have to look twice alongside the others. For about a mile in all directions, there were well-built houses that were so uncannily alike to those before the war. Several dozen ponies and foals were walking around, chatting idly and laughing. With several groups were a few male ghouls dressed in what I thought resembled pre-war Equestrian Army uniforms. Their flanks sporting Gatling cannons or sniper rifles; even one I saw had AT cannons like Bulls Eye. Around the outskirts of these homes, I saw large irrigated fields that had been plowed and planted; most tended by younger mares and stallions that seemed to be genuinely enjoying the work. A large water tower sat amidst these fields, with pumps at the ground that filtered back into the village underground and to the surrounding fields. At the perimeter of this place, a large wire fence had been erected with guard towers spanning at equal intervals that were manned by those same ghoul soldiers with their rifles.

"This is your home?" I managed to ask at last, speaking for everypony.

"Yes." Gladius responded in blood before heading off toward a fence gate guarded by two ghoul soldiers.

Following behind him, we paused before the towering gate as Gladius stepped in front of the two ghouls. Both were wearing helmets and face-wraps with their attire, but they quickly drew them down and I noticed they were smiling as one spoke up.

"Thank the Gods you're back at last Sergeant." The right one said in a raspy voice.

"We were getting worried sir. Were about to round up as many as we could to search for you." The left said in a gruff voice.

"Indeed. Your wife and daughter were getting especially insistent and worried." The right one said again, just as the gate slid open and Gladius stepped past.

The guards didn't halt any of us as we followed him inside his home, which surprised me how they could trust us so easily. But then I figured that perhaps they simply trusted Gladius enough that he wouldn't bring anypony unsafe in, which delighted me somewhat. The gate closed behind us, and we were faced with many groups of ponies and ghoul soldiers with fillies and colts that were talking and chatting happily. They all looked to us, despite giving us a few odd glances they seemed to be more so drawn to Gladius as they were smiling. It was when I noticed a slightly larger Pegasus filly that was rushing towards him from the groups. She looked a lot like him, except for her lack of injuries and the cyan stripes in her fur and the darker blue in her bedraggled mane and short flowing tail. Her eyes matched his, although they were just a shade lighter and she had light freckles.

"Daddy!" She called. "Daddy, daddy!" When she reached a few paces away she leapt into the air and wrapped herself around him. He fell to the ground, hugging her back and smiling happily through his stitches as a single blood tear ran down his cheek. She was crying as well, but she was also smiling as she mumbled into his mane. "It's so good to have you back Daddy....We were getting so worried. Mommy was about to go out to find you herself daddy."

I saw how in response, Gladius merely nuzzled her lightly before his blood spelled out behind him as she looked up. "Daddy's here now though. Daddy wouldn't leave his little Tenebris alone."

Finally, I noticed the mare standing before him. She was a unicorn, though her horn was broken. Her cyan blue body was mostly covered by a flowing cloak, and her reddish-pink eyes were set on the two as she brushed her long, darker blue mane out of them. Behind her, a long flowing tail curled and was swishing only just as she watched the two rising. This time, the filly I now knew as Tenebris was on his back and perched between his wings as he walked over to her. Nuzzling around her neck, he gently hugged her before the two touched muzzles in what I could guess was their way of sharing a kiss.

"I'm home love. I'm home Shield." His blood spelled.

She had a single tear in her eye that he quickly wiped away and he hugged her again. The silence was palpable and there was a tension in the air that I could feel. It was only broken when they finally drew apart and were now smiling at one another as Gladius turned back to us. "Come. We shall go to my house to rest." His blood spelled.

"Yay! Daddy's having friends over tonight!" the filly Tenebris said gleefully from his back, making the others laugh or smile more so. She bounced on his back and it was then that I realized this filly reminded me so much of the one who was waiting for me back home at Nowhere.
The mare that Gladius had called Shield gestured for us to follow them. She gave us a slight smile as she turned and caught up to his side and they began to weave past the small groups and head deeper into the town.

"We might as well follow him. I've still got a few questions I want him to answer." I said, following the path Gladius and his family had woven with the others behind me.

Hunting

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Chapter 27
Hunting

Predator, no, you are my prey. -Tempest Knight

I flew for a few minuets before I saw the three rangers walking away, all of them were tattered from the battle but nonetheless looked up to me as I circled for a better landing angle. As I touched the ground, the paladin took off her helmet and set it down, I approached the mare once more.

"General, good to see that you are still alive." she stated, sniffing afterwords.

"Chin up girl, takes more than a wannabe army to kill me." I said looking to the other ponies as they too took off their helms, I recognized them instantly.

"That is twice now that you have saved my life sir." the stallion said.

I looked at him hard before looking back to the paladin.

"The other paladin commandeered my two soldiers here, when they got back they told me about you." she said trying to stop herself from tearing up again.

I walked forward and gave her a hug before retracting my face armor, "Hush, you have chosen to fight for the common pony, and for that you and all who follow you have my respect."

"Thank you." she whispered between her short breaths.

"I have a final mission for you and your squad." I calmly stated.

"And that is." she asked picking her head up as I stepped back.

"Assist Arnold Ponegator in escorting the surviving stable ponies to a town near the badlands known as Nowhere." I said as I hoofed them a map.

"Yes sir, we won't fail you." she stated before putting her helmet back on and charging away, the others not far behind her.

"Arnold, I just sent three friendly rangers your way, they are in black armor." I said over my suites broadcaster.

"Understood, Tempest, know that I'll be back once my objective is complete." the ponytron replied to me before it dropped the line.

"Thanks." I muttered shortly before I gave a sigh.

Turning I flew off towards Hoofington as the bottom of my EFS flashed 'Side Mission Complete' thus ending my reason to stay here. Taking a look back I could see Canterlot billowing with pink smoke everywhere, I looked sadly to it, knowing that everyone there had died a horrible death, and that no amount of sin would ever condone such an action.

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Hours of flight passed by and I found a small factory that was halfway collapsed on one side. Landing I read the sign, Ironshod Firearms, the main weapons manufacture during the war. I walked in just to see if I could find parts to repair my inoperable railgun and found that I was surrounded by many, many, glorious guns. I gave a whistle before I strolled down the lines picking up several weapons that were in decent condition, before I came across a line that had been exposed to rain water pouring in from above it. The weapons here were heavily damaged so I pulled them apart to salvage whatever I could.

I had in almost no time at all fixed my damaged railgun and began to make my way to the overseer's office. Opening the door I was blasted in the face by an alicorn.

"Okay, that was uncalled for!" I yelled stabilizing myself as the alicorn was joined by two more.

The first one shot upon me while the other two covered themselves, and the one shooting at me, with a magical shield.

"So you want me, then come and get me wenches!" I yelled diving and building speed before I plowed through a wall.

The three alicorns quickly gave chase and caught up with me with ease. I banked right and was surprised to see the three had been joined by six others.

"You all really want me eh?" I asked, but they didn't reply.

I shot upwards and nearly ran into a pegasus in black armor, and her squad. They looked at me for a second before magical energy blazed past the five of us. I dove down after beating my wings twice before tucking them in to my sides as I made for the surface. The alicorns were not expecting me to play chicken with them as I incinerated two of the green ones. The pegasi watched on as I got on an other alicorns tail and spread my wings to keep with her. I attempted to fire my auto cannons but nothing happened, looking around my EFS I didn't see any guns equipped, I dared a glance to my suite and saw that I had magical damage that had severed the battle saddle controls.

"Well then, this ought to be fun!" I shouted, grinning madly as I pumped my wings.

The four pegasi above me pulled up a few clouds, guess they wanted to watch the show, personally I couldn't blame them. I so close to the first purple alicorn that I grabbed her flank and opened my mouth guard before biting her ass, earning a rather painful scream from the afflicted pony. I put her out of her misery with a blast of balefire before turning sharply and shoving my hoof into the chest of another green one. I was then hit by a blast of magical energy in the side of my head that took down my EFS, though my spell matrix thankfully stayed online. I pumped my wings and spat a ball of white hot flames that incinerated the alicorns right wing before I flipped in mid air to narrowly avoid a green one trying to buck me.

"Well then this has been fun, but thou shall now die." I shouted before blasting flames, to which the blank flank deflected with her magic.

I was blind sided by the last purple alicorn who blasted my head with her magic before I dove for the ground. With my vision slipping in and out I banked out of my dive and rolled so that I could fly between two large and very dead trees, to which I was glad when an aicorn turned to mush by running into one of the said trees. Four were left and still giving chase as I pumped my wings hard, my vision was now closing in on itself when the four pegasi blasted the last of the alicorns just before I blacked out.

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I woke with my head in immense pain, what was worse was when I looked straight into the sun and I was temporarily blinded.

"Oh hey, look he's up!" I heard a female voice say from somewhere behind me as I spun around to see.

I looked at her black armor and remembered the battle I had just had with the alicorns. Her muzzle, a regal blue, was the only part of her that I could really see that stood out from the Enclave armor. I looked to the other three pegasi that had brought me up here, two of which were aiming their weapons at me, while the other had pulled out medical supplies and was treating me.

"Didn't know the Enclave had any honor after what they did to us during the end stages of the war." I stated in a half growl.

"The war, what do you mean?" the medic asked.

I puffed a plume of smoke before I looked at her, "Your Enclave abandoned us in our darkest hour, if they had stayed we could have stopped half the destruction down there." I explained with much venom in my voice as I stood, only to realize my spell matrix had shut off.

"Until we know if you were born in the wastes you aren't going anywhere." Their captain stated before walking away.

"So, you wanna tell us about yourself?" the medic asked coming up to my visual range, her muzzle was a color similar to that of butter.

I sighed before looking her in the bug eyes of her enclave armor, "I lived through it all, I must have stopped about fifty of those damn missiles before I fell." I replied, the tone of my voice becoming defeated.

"Wait, you're pre-war?" the captain turned around shocked.

I glared at her, "Yes I am, and only recently have I done anything. The question remains, why didn't the Enclave come down and help after the war?"

"Not our place." she said, giving a huff.

I started smoking from my muzzle before I forced myself to stand, spell matrix or not, "Thou ungrateful sob!" I roared.

The two soldiers aiming at me lit the tips of their guns but did not fire, I paid no mind to them.

"Excuse me?" the captain asked.

"You heard me" I shouted, forcing each of my steps towards her.

"If not for me and my team, you would be dead!" she retorted.

"I admit, I owe you four that much, but the Enclave didn't exist until the cowardly pegasi closed the sky and betrayed Equestria, even though they belong to Equestria." I growled as I snorted flames from my nostrils that curled down to the clouds and made them evaporate.

"Rip his armor off, if he doesn't have the mark of a Dashite, then we need to give him one!" the captain commanded, much to the medics surprise.

Just then my spell matrix reactivated, and I pounced on her with my muzzle bellowing idle flames, "You are lucky that I have mercy!"

"Mercy? I'm the one with more guns." she stated nervously.

I ripped off her helmet and softly breathed flames that licked the right side of her face and burned down to the bone, "May this be a reminder of the dishonor you support." I growled before jumping off of her.

"What the Hell did you do that for?" the medic shouted as she ran to her captain.

"She should be grateful that I spared her life." I said before jumping through the clouds as the other two Enclave soldiers shot and gave chase.

I tucked my wings in as I emerged from the clouds, just north of Fillydelphia, as I shot westward and vanished from their sight. I landed near a river before sitting down and letting a few tears fall as I remembered the cries of the burning citizens of Baltimare.

Restless Night's Questions

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Chapter 28
Restless Night's Questions

The past should remain buried, but I suppose I couldn't hide it forever. -Gladius

Walking through my town felt so relaxing. Being here with my family instantly melting away any shadow of the previous days, renewing my strength and banishing the pain as we weaved past small groups of my neighbors and close friends. They would all greet us with nods and smiles as we passed, some of my fellow soldiers with their families saying hello and how good it was to see me again. This in itself made me smile somewhat more through my stitches as I paused on the outside of my home. This was when my little Tenebris finally ceased her hopping on my back and jumped to the ground instead.

It was an old place, a farmhouse of which we'd found dilapidated and falling apart about fifty years ago. Since those days, we'd restored it to a near pristine state and built up much more around it thanks to our Company's Combat Engineer who had since taken his nickname of Steel Smith to heart. I couldn't help but admire the simple building that had helped me raise my new family and found our town before walking up to the door. At my side, Tenebris was almost jittery with excitement at the prospect of new ponies to play and spend the night with as I pushed the wooden door inward and stepped into our parlor. The room, once likely having been great; now was a humble space that heralded bare walls and a faded red carpet floor. A few lounge chairs that were hoof-crafted by Steel Smith sat in a semi-circle to a carved coffee table that had been here when we arrived. Around the floor, several toys we'd found up in the attic were scattered about; most notably Tenebris's little figures of Lunar Rangers and Pony Soldiers that she'd left here likely before heading out into town today.

Despite seeing these everyday, and recalling the significance they meant to me; I would allow her to play with them as she did not know herself of what they signified. However, she wasn't interested in them at the moment as she was chatting excitedly with Bulls Eye who had just entered behind Applebits. My love was setting off for the kitchen, no doubt to prepare some warm tea from the different plants we grew in the fields for our guests to enjoy as I took a seat in my chair in the corner. I saw Applebits hesitantly do the same, although it had taken some encouragement from my daughter as she chirped, "Daddy's soldier friends all sit in these chairs and they are big! I think you can too!"
Doing my best to relax, I could slowly feel the stress releasing as I sat back further into the plush seat and back of the chair. Tenebris was now settling next to Lightning, asking him all sorts of questions about the wasteland and what it had been like the past few days with me. He answered them all; though it seemed like he was intentionally trying to not scare her about our experiences and I could feel a little more respect for him as he described the tale in an almost heroic, storybook way.

Within a few minutes, my love was bringing us a tray of tea that she sat upon the coffee table before nodding to our guests as Tenebris moved to Shadow Star and her sisters and was asking them if they'd like to play hide-and-seek in a little bit. They were looking at her oddly, at least until she explained what she meant and they all took off for upstairs after Shadow Star gave her approval.

Finally, my wife settled down next to me after nuzzling one last time. It was now that we turned to the others, who most of which were actually enjoying the tea and complimenting Shield on just how good it was compared to what they were used to. She didn't take notice, only was still smiling at them when Bulls Eye spoke up while staring almost confused as to why she didn't respond. "Are you alright Miss Shield?"
My blood answered for her, since she could not. "My lovely Moonlight Shield sadly is deaf dear friend. She lost her hearing over the years due to the massive noise of the artillery she used to command for the Apploosian Artillery Batteries Mercenary Company."

After that, everypony was no longer speaking in direction to my love as I watched them sip their tea in silence. For minutes this went on, and both of us enjoyed the simple silence as we nuzzled lightly; trying to enjoy our company now since she knew I very well couldn't sleep in bed with her tonight or any night. And speaking of night, I took notice of the fact that our old grandfather clock that Smith had repaired was heading towards nighttime. This delighted me somewhat, as I took in the account that the light outside was darkening; I knew that perhaps I could enjoy my peace alone and allow my new friends to rest here in the parlor as I rose with Shield in almost perfect unison. She took the empty cups, taking them to the kitchen to be washed the following day before she departed upstairs and came back down with blankets and pillows. She set them up on the empty chairs we had after reclining them, making them into temporary beds before nodding faintly and disappearing upstairs. I knew she would handle putting our little one to bed, and my little Tenebris's new friends came back down to Shadow Star before I bid them all to rest. "Please, sleep well friends. Make yourselves at home here."

With this, I departed off to the basement; the place where I spent my many nights alone and unobserved. Hours passed in the night, peacefully and quiet as I heard the sound of deep breathing from above. I sat, as I always did, in a chair with an old radio that Steel had fixed so I could listen to my holotapes and try to forget. he melodies soft, the singer's vocals beautiful; and yet nothing could ever make me forget what I stared at now. Hung up along the wall I faced, my old uniform. Tattered, but still in decent condition; the long brown belted overcoat with matching trousers and black combat boots. A thick vest, filled with holes from the war; wide shoulder guards with my rank insignia on the right and my squad insignia on the left. To the left, pictures of all those in my squad, the Death Devils. Their tags hung on small driven nails under each picture, and to the right laying upon a desk were some documents with a few photos and my old rusted auto-cannon.

The gentle melodies grew somewhat louder as the mare hit a particular note, but even this couldn't stop the slight sound I heard come from the bottom of the stairs at the other end of the room. The only difference, was I knew who this pony was; I had been expecting her after all. As such, I had actually removed my stitches as I spoke once more in a soft voice for the second time since the war to her. "Ya know it's rude ta sneak up on somepony in their own home."

There was a sigh I heard as the one realized they'd been caught. "Perhaps...But I never got the chance to ask what I wanted to know. Nor did I get the chance to apologize." The voice belonged to Applebits, I could tell as I turned the chair some so I could see her out of my one good eye.

"And what did ya come to ask about?" I said. "And there's no need fer ya ta apologize fer earlier...Ah wasn't angry with ya fer kissing me. More so ah just can't stand it when a soldier gets drunk."

I could tell she blushed slightly at the mention of the kiss and her embarrassment at being drunk, but she nodded faintly in response. "I'm still sorry about that...But since we met...I've been wondering about you. Who you are, and what you are to be exact."

"Well, ya likely done figured out that ah'm not like no normal pony ever was." I whispered softly as she came up and examined all that was laid out. "Ah was a soldier before tha war. Gunnery Sergeant Gladius O' tha First Battalion. ah led under mah command tha Death Devils, tha roughest and toughest bunch O' brothers ah ever knew; specially since we were all in tha same boat together."

"I remember that unit, from the war." Applebits said, eyeing the patch of a pony skull that was flaming with crossed auto-cannons. "They were all almost like Rangers in their own right, wherever they were the tide of the battle turned in favor of our army."

"That's because we were all Rangers" I said, turning the documents as Applebits gave me a confused look. "Look these over, they'll explain what I mean." I hoofed the small stack over to her, letting her have a few minutes to read them before she gave me a look of shock. "Before tha war began, tha princesses decided they needed ta prepare a force that could stop tha Stripes should they desire ta fight. They needed super-soldiers, an as a result tha princesses put into action a top-secret project tha nopony was to know about save tha researchers and themselves. Tha result was the Proto-Ranger Project, an experiment that utilized genetic enhancement and physical augmentation of specially selected candidates into super soldiers. Not ta mention we were also imbued with ancient arcane magics to enhance our bodies even further. Ah was one O' tha candidates, along with two-hundred others. Tha Project was a failure, most died or were crippled...only about five O' us came out. We were now stronger, faster, and far more intelligent and durable than tha soldiers of tha standard army. We all had powers, although mine ah had since ah was little an it was only enhanced. Mah control O' blood, be it from mahself or another pony; ah could use it to also enhance my augmented strength even further now. Every one O' us was also given injections of genetics from Equestria's greatest warriors and commanders; including that of General Knight himself. Before tha Project was shut down in favor O' tha other plan from tha Ministry of Wartime Technologies of your breed O' Rangers, ah was given the title O' Chief Ranger due ta being tha most capable and enhanced; and mah future squad O' survivors delegated beneath me as standard Rangers. We were told after the cancellation O' the project by tha princesses ta never speak O' it unless absolutely necessary...and we were dispersed into tha regular army as tha first ones ta go ta battle."

Finally, I fell silent. Allowing her to absorb all that had been told as the melodies finally settled to silence with the holotape ending as my gaze remained locked on my fallen comrades photos from long ago. Surprisingly enough, Applebits didn't say a word to me about any of this. She simply remained silent herself and was still looking everything over as though taking everything in once more before she settled on the photos as well. A silent vigil, our eyes on the past; something I could actually live with and share as the holotape started over with the soft, happy vocals coming again. "Haven't spoken that much in two-hundred years to anypony...Guess my conscience is just trying to tell me it's okay to let go...Or is she just that special to me?" He pondered before shaking his head and attempting to just listen to the sweet music and vocals as the night wore on.

Moving Forward

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Chapter 29
Moving Forward

No matter how hard I try to bury the past, it always finds me in the end. -Tempest Knight

I stood at the edge of the fairly radioactive riverside for some time, all that surrounded me was rain as I continued to think back. I could still hear the screams of Baltimare, the worried looks that my rangers tried to hide, the pain from my long healed wounds that put me into my coma, I could hear and feel it all. My eyes still closed I breathed on raggedly, I was still uncertain if I had done the right thing to the Enclave pegasus back up in the clouds, they did help me after all. Sighing I at long last opened my eyes to see, what my pip-buck labeled as a radagator march towards me from the shore. The beast and I stared at each other a while before it walked back into the contaminated waters and a new sound protruded into my ears.

"I can't believe that you let those mares slip through our hooves so easily!" a voice shrieked from behind me.

"Hey, you're the one who opened the cage to snag the filly!" a mare with a sick and twisted sneer replied to her companion.

My weapons were still damaged, but I wouldn't need them to deal with common scum. I turned my head by a few inches to catch a glance upon my prey, the mare was shit brown with a piss green mane, the buck was the same as his companion. I watched as they drew nearer to me, still absorbed in their conversation, and not seeing the large dragon like pony before them.

"Shut up sis, at least I didn't leave the guns out!" the stallion yelled as he turned to her.

"How about you think with something more than you second head!" his sister yelled back, earning a chuckle from me.

They both turned in terror as I walked towards them with flames coming out of my muzzle, they both screamed at the top of their lungs before I turned them into little more than snubs of legs where ponies once stood.

"Burn heretics for the crimes you have committed." I snarled before spreading my wings to fly.

I only stopped when I heard familiar voice from my recent past cackle over my broadcaster.

"Pre war, tell us your location and we promise that your friend won't get hurt." the Enclave captain from earlier called.

"Friend, to my knowledge I am alone down here aside from the filth that seems to be everywhere I go." I replied giving a slight chuckle.

"Oh, but this ranger say that he knows you, Tempest Knight." the captain sneered.

"Where are you?" I growled as I shook my wings and began to check my weapons to see if I could repair any of them to any kind of functionality.

"Near where we found you actually, he said you sent a distress beacon to his EFS's." she replied.

"You harm him and I will make you wish you had never been born." I snarled as I took off, using my gemstones magic to fuse the necessary components within my armor back together so my weapons systems would work.

I got no reply as I flew, my gaze centered on where I had fought the alicorns. I could see the four Enclave soldiers on the ground with a ranger in black armor holding his fore hooves to his head. I landed ten paces away and looked at them, if it were not for my armor they would see my eyes narrowed to near slits.

"So you do care." the captain smirked, her face had been healed to an extent, but was still heavily scarred across her face.

"Release him, your quarrel is with me." I growled.

"No." the captain smiled, earning a shocked look from her medic.

"Excuse me?" I hissed as smoke billowed from my vents.

The Enclave captain walked up to me, her smile still present as she looked me straight in the visor, "Execute him."

"Nooooooo!" the medic yelled before she was blasted by her own squad mates.

"Heresy!" I cried as I barreled through the captain and dowsed one of the soldiers on balefire.

"Take him down!" the captain stammered as she got to her hooves and the remaining soldier opened fire on me.

He managed to inflict heavy damage to my right side thus fusing my right wing to my armor itself, as I unloaded round after explosive round towards him. I scored three direct hits before my cannons clicked dry to inform me that I needed to install a new clip, the stallion burst into chucks of flesh before me as the one I had lit on fire fell to the ground and twitched.

"You killed them, my squad." the captain faltered before she charged me with her scorpion tail at the ready.

I turned my side to her and swung my tail as her tail nailed me in my gut, mine made contact with her head, "Stubborn fool, their blood is upon thine hooves."

I shakily took a few steps before the medic stood up and looked at me, a worried expression across her now uncovered face, her forest green eyes burning into me as I passed out.

----------------

When my eyes opened again I could see the medic sitting with my ranger friend, who was still wearing his helmet. I tried to stand but I couldn't feel my hind legs, looking back I could see a nasty indent where the tail had impaled me.

"I know why you cry, but it is something I can never do." I heard Arnold say as his armored head turned to me, "He is awake Butter Flutter."

The medic, Butter Flutter, turned around and hushed me down, "Calm down, it is only temporary."

"The armor designed by the MoA was designed with a poison laced tip for the combat tail, the poison was tailored to immobilize the enemy during combat." Arnold stated with a matter of fact tone, all the while Butter just looked at him as if he was an alien.

"How did you know that?" she asked him, wide eyed.

"It was embedded into my memory core for data preservation by Stable Tech to preserve the knowledge of the past." Arnold replied earning an even more confused look from the mare.

"He is a ponytron Butter Flutter." I croaked, which was followed by plumes of smoke.

She just nodded and sat back down as Arnold took off him helmet and began to tear off the badly damaged ranger armor. He then pushed it all into a pile before salvaging parts from it.

"I will scavenge upgrades for myself and you, General." he said as he stripped the shredded armor apart.

"Thanks." I moaned as pain flared up in my flank.

"Are you okay?" our new friend asked.

"If I said I was, I would be lying." I started, "I haven't been okay in over two hundred years, and I won't be until I find her."

"Who?" she asked.

"I will tell you later when you are in a more suitable state of mind my friend." I replied as I forced myself to sleep.

I dreamed of flying in the open blue sky with Rainbow Dash as our contrails traced our paths in a black and rainbow colored streaks. I then stopped abruptly as fire overtook all that was below me and Rainbow Dash was sucked into a great tornado of doom. I tried to pursue but was halted by a solid wall of missiles that detonated in my face, sending me hurtling to the ground. Upon the ground I was then besieged by endless hoards of zombies, just to be consumed by my beloved.

I jumped and smacked my head against Butter, who had rolled me onto my back to give me an examination. I landed in the reverse of how I had awoken, now on top of her I could see her face light up bright pink as I stepped off of her slowly, careful not to step on her.

"Sorry, I had a fright." I said turning my head away and walked over to my armor that Arnold had repaired.

"Its quiet alright, you just caught me off guard." she responded as she walked back to her medical supplies.

I looked at Arnold and realized he was powered down, "How long has he been offline?"

"An hour or so." she said, to which I gave her an odd glance and realizing she was out of armor.

I didn't say anything, seeing as though I felt nothing odd, and that I had just killed three ponies she knew well. I got into my armor and sighed, Arnold had done a decent job repairing it, but he didn't know too much about my weapons. I took my armament off and began tinkering with them before she sat down next to me.

"Sorry if I am making you uncomfortable, just to ease the skies I am only interested in mares." she said with a gentle smile before she frowned, "Though you did kill my marefriend."

"I am sorry, I didn't know it was Arnold, otherwise I wouldn't have killed them. Seeing as though he could have killed them if he thought them a threat." I said, frowning as I did so.

"No, I'm grateful." she replied, looking me in the eye, "After how she treated this situation, I lost everything I ever felt for her."

"Why did Arnold allow you all to capture him?" I asked trying to change the topic, so she wouldn't dwell on the past.

"It didn't help that we dropped a EMP and immobilized him." she snickered.

"Small design flaw, I'll figure out how to correct that." I replied, now smiling madly since I had finished my repairs.

"What is the plan?" Arnold asked out of nowhere.

"I am going to Hoofington, I thought you were escorting the stable ponies to Nowhere?" I asked, giving a concerned look.

"The rangers are adequate to do so, I left the map with them." Arnold replied, before looking at one of the dead Enclave.

He walked up to the dead stallion whom I had blown apart and took his dark grey handkerchief before tying it around his neck. He then looked to our new friend and gave a solemn nod before walking away from the corpse and standing sentry at the edge of camp.

Loss of a World

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Chapter 30
Loss of a World

Now there is nothing left but the pain. -Gladius

I had been sitting in silence for hours now, staring. It was all I could desire to do during my nights, since watching the past like it was here would be a better alternative to suffering the night terrors that plagued me those first few days since the War's end. Since those nights, this was what I would do; and now I had company here as well. Applebits still hadn't spoken since our initial words, but I can tell she was very much so thinking on all I'd shared as I glanced at her out of my one eye. But it was not just her, I too was still considering our exchange deeply as I waited for the long hours to fade eventually into another peaceful day for Hearthfire.

Tonight though, I heard something unusual coming from outside. Strange voices, whispering what sounded like commands. The faint hoof-steps outside accompanying in response, I knew something was up as I turned and headed for the door to the first floor. Applebits I sensed was looking at me oddly, but I shook my head in response and gestured for her to follow. Sneaking upstairs and through my home was relatively easy, I'd been doing it for years now; and as such I didn't make a sound to wake or rouse any of the other sleeping denizens in our parlor. Moving to the door, I glanced out the window adjacent to it and first was shocked at what I saw. Standing outside was a squad of Steel Rangers, moving quietly through the street with silenced weapons toted on their flanks. Ducking down quickly and quietly, I managed to alert Applebits with a single signal and she moved as silently as she could to wake the others.

"Hm...Huh..What?" Bulls Eye grumbled after being jabbed in the side to be woken.

"Quiet...Steel Rangers outside." She hissed, instantly getting his attention as he glanced to the window.

"Ah Hell." He muttered in reply before getting up and joining me by the window.

After a few gripes and grumbles from the others, they were eventually all roused and brought up to speed as we watched the squad sweeping through the streets. "Looking things over for technology most likely." Applebits whispered.

"But how'd these jack-wagons get in?" Lightning asked.

"Tha Guards at tha gates change shifts about this hour. Tha bastards likely slipped in unnoticed while tha relieving soldiers were coming from tha barracks in town." I answered in blood, trying to resume my oath I'd taken so long ago. Even so, I still hadn't sown my mouth back yet and likely wouldn't get a chance for a bit as I slowly made my way to the door.

"Where are you going Gladius?" Applebits questioned.

"Going to try and reason with them. See if they will leave peaceably." I replied, taking my blood within myself as I opened the screen door silently and stepped outside.

The squad was further along the street, so they didn't notice as I was following behind for quite some time; tailing them down every twist and turn in the shadows and out of their sight. Eventually, they paused before our armory; the old house where we housed the many firearms and technology that we collected for we'd made it secure to the point of being nigh explosive-proof.

"Objective is located within the building Sir." A mare Ranger whispered.

"Good. Let's hope these folks don't mind us reclaiming what they cannot be trusted to wield." The stallion to whom the mare had spoken of responded as he stepped towards the armory.

Before he could take another, my single eye darkened and seemed to fill with blood as I called fully upon the extent of my powers. Within an instant, I could tell I was latching directly into the commander's mind; feeling and seeing everything he could as his blood now was becoming mine to control. Quickly, I had made him essentially a slave to his own body as I forced him to stop mid-step and turn back to his comrades. "Now, this is how I shall reason with you fools." I thought as I had him speaking quietly to his soldiers about how he realized just ow foolhardy this mission was. How they'd not come with reinforcements in case the guards would be by the gate out and that the snipers would shoot them dead should they try to leave now.

The soldiers I saw were giving dissent, but I ended it sharply when I made him slam a hoof in frustration and silence them. "We should leave, come back another night with support. Let's get out of here now before we're found."

"Yes Sir." the mare responded in a slightly annoyed tone before I ordered the leader to form them up and retreat back the way they came.

I ducked out of sight, following them to ensure my control until we reached my house once more. This was where I knew something was going wrong, for I saw our AT specialist out and about. He was never a night pony, never would be. Always went to bed early and slept in late with his wife and their filly. He was walking about, seemingly confused with his cannons armed and ready as he looked about. When I could see his eyes, I knew it all too well. He was in the earliest stages of going Feral. The radiation finally had eaten away enough of his brain to disable cognitive control over his actions to a degree, and now he was walking the streets with his weapons.

"HIS WEAPONS!" The thought hit me like a freight train as I realized just how close we were to my home and so many others. If he was going Feral, and had indeed not been to the monthly healing sessions with our town doctor he could easily take the Steel Rangers approaching him as hostile and would unleash his firepower to destroy them. I knew my blood control wouldn't work now on him, and I couldn't let my control on the leader lessen any; lest his well trained mind break my control and attempt to return to his mission.
"Sir, there's one of the ghouls ahead." The mare said.

"He's got AT cannons as well Sir." Another Steel Ranger whispered as he aimed his two rifles towards my friend. "Do we terminate Sir?"

"No." I made him answer. "No reason to make the populace angry, lest we desire to all be dead when we return."

"Sir you are acting awfully strange." The mare whispered as my friend drew closer.

Before they could move to escape, or speak further; he suddenly let out a deep, agonizing wail. I knew then that he was suffering terribly, and that he also could scent the Rangers as they watched with weapons prepared. Without the critical control normally needed to keep his weapons, I watched as my friend's cannons went off in different directions; one towards the Rangers, and the other pointed at my home. He fired before I could scream, and most of the Rangers were annihilated by the splash of the explosion; while my house's second floor was struck directly by the blast. Only the mare remained, and she was injured; laying by the crater with a piece of shrapnel dug into her side as I rushed towards my friend. He was still reloading and firing randomly, his weapons striking other houses and detonating a massive area of them.

Upon reaching him, I slammed him into the ground and smashed his cannons to bits. He was snarling now, bucking and snapping at me as his mind was consumed by the Feral desires left behind from the radiation eating away. I absorbed every hit he threw, tearing up as my thoughts even still were occupied on what was going on behind me. I could hear Applebits shouting for the others to get out, to go help those that had been hit in the other buildings. What I also could hear was somepony leaping from the second floor, where the shell had hit. I knew it was Shield and Tenebris, but I had to focus on getting my friend under control.

"Stop! Please Gods stop Corporal!" I shouted, keeping him pinned at last as I stared into his eyes. He was losing it, but I could still see a sense of his former self as I appealed to every last bit of magic within me to absorb and heal what had been done to him. My own mind never suffered the ill effects, thankfully because I believe my own magic kept refreshing my body slowly and forced out the radiation as I felt his pain running through my mind. "Corporal...You have a family that needs you...Please just stop." I whispered.

Slowly, the fight drained out of him as the pain subsided and was drawn into me through the blood trail from his ears. Eventually, he slipped into unconsciousness and I left him there in the road as I turned back and galloped for my house. All the while fighting the pains of the radiation until I was in front of the burning husk that had been my home. The others were helping other injured neighbors, while my wife was laying down next to the unconscious mare with Tenebris cradled next to her. She was injured, I could tell that she'd been pierced straight through her abdomen by a large piece of jagged planking that had been our ceiling. She was in pain, but I could see she wasn't crying because of that as I saw just what she was cradling Tenebris close to her chest.

The wail of agony that came from the Corporal couldn't even attempt to match my own as I rushed to her side. My tears nearly blinding me as I held Tenebris and looked her over. She was scorched nearly from head to hoof all across her body, and at several places shrapnel had pierced her small frame. She was bleeding terribly on both of us, and I knew after what I'd done for my friend I could not save her as well as she gazed at me with glazed eyes. "D...D..." She tried to say, "W...What happened?"

"Oh my little girl...." I whispered despairingly.

"Daddy...P...please don...don't cry." She said. "I...I'm okay....I'll be alright...Won't I Daddy?"

"Y...Yes my little one...You're going to go to a place far from here....Where everything is just perfect and nopony every has to worry about a thing." I responded softly, watching as she seemed to look past me and to my surprise she was smiling as her last breaths came rapidly.

"I lo...love you...daddy...mommy." Was the last thing she whispered to me before she gasped a final breath and her eyes closed for the final time.

The world around myself and Shield was gone now. Destroyed. Nothing remained. Our little girl now dead in our hooves as we hugged her and sobbed together. Not a thought from either of us given to the suffering of others, not even the Ranger mare that was being treated by the town doctor or my neighbors helped by Applebits and her friends. We grieved, our voices giving way to our pain unified; the sound both despairing and yet beautiful as everypony was alerted to our loss. Nopony bothered us as we sobbed and cried together with Tenebris in our hooves.

Error

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Chapter 31
Error

I need a vacation. -Arnold Ponegator

My scanners indicated ten hostiles of unknown classification closing in, but looking back to my two allies I realized that the mare was mourning silently as the General comforted her, so I decided to slip away unnoticed to confront the contacts. Ever since my personality component was heavily damaged I had begun referring to myself as if I were real, even though I knew I was nothing more than an advanced ponytron meant for military use, even if my kind was never put into action. I came to the edge of the underbrush and stayed low as I watched eight hulking masses with energy weapons aimed at two ponies, the latter being scared witless.

"Step away from the ponies or prepare to be terminated." I said calmly as I walked casually out of my hiding place.

"Wha? We aint afraid O' no pony!" one of the creatures screamed before blasting my chest.

I didn't flinch, it also helped that I could feel no pain, as my right side opened up and I began shooting away with my rail gun. Two of the beasts charged me but I moved with speed only a machine could achieve as I turned my body in ways that ponies couldn't and latched myself onto the backs of a beast.

"You were warned." I said before snapping its neck with my hind legs before jumping off of it.

"Lets git out O' here!" the leader of the beasts yelled before he and the remaining beasts dug into the ground and vanished.

"Thanks for the help sir, but we'll just be on our way." A yellow mare said as she went to walk away, but I turned to meet her face to face.

"You register as hostile, why?" I asked calmly as my gun retracted back into my body.

"What do you mean?" she asked, backing up slightly.

"Scanners indicate two hostiles at surface directly in front of this unit, you two are the only others here with me." I said again as I narrowed my optics upon the colt next to her.

"I assure you that we aren't hostile, my family was just murdered by those freaks." she said, looking worriedly at her colt after noticing my gaze.

I looked back up to her and gave a single nod before I began to walk away, I stopped when the combat shotgun peppered my flank.

"Mama why did you do that?" the colt yelled as he dashed away from his mother.

My gaze fixated on her and the colt as my core programming took effect, the colt was firing a small arms pistol on me as I approached his mother who was having difficulty loading her shotgun. I slammed my hoof into her stomach and ripped out her small intestines, and while she was still breathing I picked up her head and stared her in the eyes. "Crime, assault, punishment, death." I then smashed her skull with my forehooves before turning to the colt.

"Mommy, m, mommy." the colt stifled his cries when he saw my right side open and the ray gun deploy off of its servo.

I fired, but my shot never hit the colt as a black and silver dragon put himself between me and the young one.

"That is enough, stand down Arnold!" Tempest growled as he turned towards me, his side armor with nothing but minor damage.

"But the hostile." I stated.

"Is a child." Tempest boomed as he struck me with his forehooves and planted me in the ground.

"Mommy..." the colt said as he looked at the obliterated remains of what used to be his mom.

Tempest retracted his battle mask and gave the colt a sympathetic look before turning back to me with angry eyes. He pushed his face into mine and snorted flames as he sent a silent message, one that was clear as Celestia's sun when not blocked from view.

"I'll deal with you later, now go sit somewhere and power down for a spell." he snorted before shoving himself off of me.

I obeyed the general since he was my superior after all, sitting down just behind the brush. I watched as the old pony sat down next to the colt.

"What happened, and tell the truth?" Tempest asked softly but sternly.

"The hellhounds killed our family after we escaped from the ghoul when mama tried to take that filly from the shadowbolt." The colt started, earning a surprised look from Tempest.

"Did the shadowbolt have metal wings by chance?" he asked.

"Yeah, why?" the colt replied.

"So Dark Lightning is safe after all." Tempest muttered, before realizing that the colt was slowly backing himself away, "Don't fret, I won't hurt you."

"That robot attacked when my mom struck him." the colt said, sitting back down.

"Why did Arnold attempt to kill you?" the general asked.

"I shot at him to try and save my mommy." the colt replied.

"Do yourself a favor and don't attack the ponytron with the attitude." Tempest said before motioning Flutter over to care for the colt.

"I thought I told you to power down?" Tempest asked when he saw me watching him.

"Reprogram my directives general, as so this never happens again." I slowly ordered him, unsure if he would be offended.

"I'll see what I can do, though I must admit, the mare had it coming to her." he replied as he got behind the ponytron.

I initiated shut down and the world went black, ponytrons don't dream after all.

Mourning Light

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Chapter 32
Mourning Light

The pain is more than I can bear...I can continue no longer. -Gladius

I cannot recall just how much time had passed since the loss of our little girl. I only know that when my eyes opened it was day. The ponies around us either attempting to salvage what remained of their homes and belongings, or trying still to handle their own sorrow and pain as they formed clusters of mourning friends and relatives. We hadn't moved much, and Tenebris was still cradled between us like she always was with her mother when nightmares bothered her. she seemed at peace, her little form snuggled between myself and Shield. I could tell the latter had cried herself to sleep, but I still could not; for now the nightmares would be worse as my tears started to stain my cheeks again. I was trembling, so much that I could not stand without assistance as I heard first the sound of many hooves marching in perfect step behind us. Shield awoke, her eyes puffy from tears as she kept our little Tenebris gently laying on her back while we watched the procession of my comrades fall to a halt beside us.

They cradled within their right and left hoof on either side a small casket, hoof-crafted by Steel Smith I could tell. Simple, sturdy, and just perfect as it had inscribed her beautiful name along its side. "Tenebris Lux." It read.

All the soldiers had their heads cast down in respect as they lowered the casket to the ground and opened it slowly. I was watching with slightly blurry vision as the tears clouded my eyes as my daughter was gingerly set in the casket. She could be sleeping, her eyes closed and a small smile on her face as Shield took one last look before sobbing as she gently kissed her forehead. Her affection spoke for both of us, and she rejoined my side as we watched the silent soldiers pick up the casket and begin marching once more to the small graveyard we had on the edge of town. Depending on one another, we managed to keep ourselves upright and walking through the streets behind them. Our neighbors and friends cleared the way, not arguing at all as they all were mourning for our loss as well. At the moment, I didn't care though; I felt so empty inside now, except for the heartache which felt worse than all my injuries I'd ever sustained. I didn't ever notice that Applebits and her friends were following us, nor did I take note of anypony else that tagged along as we reached the small fence that signified the beginning of the graves.

Simple headstones were set up all around in rows and columns, telling of the dozens that had lived here before and passed away peacefully as we made our way along a small dusty path towards a freshly dug hole. Two of my comrades stood there, their spades set off to the side and sweat trickling down their foreheads as they fell to attention and saluted as the casket was set down on a small pallet covering the hole. The Paul-bearers did this as well, stepping one hoof away before turning back to face it and giving the same respect as our Chaplain bowed his head before us. The casket, he opened one last time; allowing us to see her peaceful and beautiful face. It again forced tears to come, making us lean on one another for support as we cried together again; our voices worn out but still stinging sharply with our pain as we both gave her a last kiss on her cheek.

"Mommy and Daddy love you too." I whispered despairingly before we stepped away and it was closed for the final time by the robed Chaplain ghoul.

He read from his tome after draping the casket in one of our old banners from the war, speaking of life; and how it was not measured in years. That life was measured in the years of those around you, and how Tenebris had touched so many souls in her few years to last lifetimes. He spoke of the kind, loving little filly that always had a mind to play and care for others. A filly that had helped countless others through their problems in life, and had ensured nopony felt sad or despaired no matter the challenges in life they faced. Finally, his beautiful and true words concluded with a single prayer that her soul may rest with the Gods now; that she may not worry or hunger or suffer and would always watch over us all. Making sure we'd still be trying to do all that she'd inspired for all of us to be, and yet even then I knew I could not as I heard the tome close and rifles aim to the skies from the soldiers on either side of the casket as it slowly was lowered into the ground. Twenty-one gun salute, to honor her in passing as a comrade deeply felt for and missed as the pulley finally set her to the bottom and the soldiers stepped away.

They all whispered prayers to us as the dirt was cast over her, burying her forever from us; and I broke completely as the last bit of dirt was packed in. I laid before her tombstone; reading the little letters inscribed by Steel Smith of her name, age, and a single phrase she'd always spoken to everypony.

"We can do anything if we do it together, face any challenge!"

Shield was beside me, sharing in my sorrow. We were like this for a long time, neither refusing to leave our daughter. But eventually I caught wind of one of the soldiers talking with Applebits and the others. "We don't have much left here Ma'am, except the armory and a decent bit of our stockpiled food from the fields there. We can't stay here anymore, do you know anywhere we can go?"

"Yes. It's a little town we live in called Nowhere." Applebits replied.

"Nowhere, we've heard of the place before. On the radio I mean." The soldier replied. "If you could guide the rest of us there, we'd be willing to let you take what you like from our humble armory before you head off. We need a home, and this place we can't rebuild; not enough supplies to fix all the damage."

"Sounds like a deal." Applebits said. "Bulls Eye, do you think you could guide these Hearthfire ponies back home?"
"Ah sure could Ma'am." He answered.

"Thank you. I mean really thank you." The soldier said, nodding for another to show them the way to the armory as he set off to round up the town's residents.

Finally, at last I relinquished my embrace against Shield. She was looking oddly at me before my spelled in crooked letters. "I can't leave her love...please...you should still go with them. I don't want you to suffer like this here..."

Shield at first shook her head in response, but I persuaded her with a simple, full kiss before my blood again spoke to her. "Just go ....I'll follow when I can...handle the pain."

At last, she nodded to me. She gave me a kiss back before hugging tightly for a few minutes and then leaving without a sound. Now I was left alone in the graveyard; the eerie silence resounding within my empty soul as I grieved in quiet over the grave of my little girl. All the while I did not notice the presence of that single Ranger mare as she watched me, for some reason not wanting to go with the others as she remained on the path and gave me my space in the ashy, hallowed ground.

Why Me?

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Chapter 33
Why Me

Scrap outta luck, ammo, hell I'd settle for a single friend... -Applebits

Tenebris was dead, the town was in ruins, Gladius was broken, and I was looking over their guns, some friend I am. I pulled out a small collection of bullets and started to load them into my saddle. My EFS began counting from zero, and settled at thirty thousand, fifteen thousand for both of my guns. I looked up to see twin missile pods sitting on a shelf with ammo next to them.

"I don't want to take something that is going to be used, but those missile pods work?" I asked as I levitated them out and shook off the dust.

"Yeah, they are extra." the buck behind me said without looking at them as he too ruffled through ammo and pulled out weapons for the road head.

"I'll see if Lightning can hook them up to my armor, it would be nice to have cover busters again." I said as I walked out with a couple small crates of missiles and the two pods.

"Eeyup, they are always helpful." the buck stated as I walked out of the armory, I gave him a nod before leaving.

Outside the others had assembled with their fully loaded equipment and Bulls Eye was getting ready to escort the ponies that were going to Nowhere. Luckily they had a plentiful unit of soldiers coming with them, since the ghouls were all outfitted in their armor with weapons ready to go. Lightning and I had decided to stay behind for awhile with Gladius, even if he is a ghoul, he would need somepony to stay with him. Shadow and he two sisters were practically ordered to go with the larger group to Nowhere by Lightning, he was seemingly on edge, like something was coming.

"Paladin?" a mares voice called softly as Moonlight Shield came up to me, tears still in he eyes.

I took off my helm and bowed my head in respect before I looked at her expectantly.

"Look after my husband for me please, he isn't in a good state mind." she said as she began crying softly again.

I gave a nod before she sat down to begin flooding the ground with tears. I approached he slowly before helping her up and giving her a great big hug, it was the best I could do for her since she had just lost everything. I backed off and used my hooves to tell her that we would not be far behind them, that she will see her husband again. She gave me a nod before Bulls Eye walked he over to the remnants of the townsfolk.

"Think he will remember the broadcaster?" Lightning asked me, completely un-phased by everything that just happened.

"He will, and Nowhere will help them as soon as he lets them know he is coming." I replied as I put my helmet back on, "I hope." added in a mutter.

Lightning nodded before we walked over to where Gladius was and sat down next to the Steel Ranger mare who was watching as a lone vigil.

"Bits, hold still while I put these on you." Lightning ordered quietly, knowing that Gladius was still mourning over the loss of his daughter.

I sighed before I stood up at attention to let him work, the ranger next to me fixated on Gladius, though I could hear her softly crying from behind her helmet.

"So, how's Gladius holding up?" I finally asked, drawing the Ranger's attention away from him.

She sounded like she was biting back her tears and trying to compose herself behind that cold visor before she spoke in a soft voice. "No....Not well I'd s...say. He...He's taking it harder t...than I've ever seen anypony handle a loss."

"And what about you? How are you holding up miss...?" I questioned.

`"Deathbloom...my name is Deathbloom." the mare replied, shifting slightly as to get more comfortable. "I'm...managing...They buried my squad here as well...honored them the same way...It hurts...and I wanted to grieve my friend's loss in peace just the same as your friend there."

"Applebits, and I'm sorry for your losses." I replied, as we watched Gladius remain as still as a statue.

Lightning finished his arming of my new pods as fifty cal round punched through my right rear mechanical leg. Screaming in pain I spun around to see four Steel Rangers galloping towards me, I glanced at Gladius, but he didn't move as more gun shots pierced the serenity of the graveyard. Lightning took off and vanished from sight as he blended into the clouds, Deathbloom charged along side of me to the edge of the ruined town, keeping the fight away from Gladius and the hollowed land.

"Applebits watch out!" Deathbloom said as she dodged a missile that was intended for her.

"Got it!" I yelled in response as I ran through a freestanding wall and plowed into on of the rangers, placing my hoof through his helmet and ignoring the crunch that was followed by a squishing sound as his brain was flattened.

"Two more on you!" my fellow ranger yelled just before she was blown back by a grenade.

"Deathbloom!" I yelled as I watched her fly through an undamaged building.

I spun around to have a steel hoof slam against the side of my head, knocking me unconscious.

-----------------

I opened my eyes and the first thing I noticed was that my armor was gone, along with my hind legs, and I was laying in water. Pulling myself up to my forehooves and looking around I saw a ruined city on the other side of a massive green in color lake that I happened to be sitting in. Before I could do anything else I heard voices coming towards me, naturally I laid low to avoid detection and since I already looked like a dead body with how battered I was they didn't even look at me.

"Shoot, why the hell are we goin' to Hoofington Skull?" a rough looking light blue stallion asked his friend.

"I'll tell ya why, its our contract." the mare, named Skull, replied, her grey tail hitting me in the face.

"Hey, who's that?" the stallion asked looking down at me.

Luckily I had closed my eyes when Skull's tail hit my face, "I don't know, probably some poor mare who was beaten to death." she replied in a tone too casual for me to believe.

"My goddesses, her flank is gone!" the stallion yelled in horror at the nubs where my flank had once been.

"Hmph, you know she doesn't look too dead Razor." Skull commented.

Deciding to play along I slowly opened my eyes, as if I were just waking up, and looked up in surprise to see the mare in faded woodland camouflage reach out a hoof to me.

"You look like you've seen hell!" she said as I took her hoof in my shaking right hoof.

"Ranger attack, I was knocked clean out from an armored hoof to my head." I said as she pulled me out of the water.

"At least you're still alive." Razor said coming around to my back and picking me up.

They set me down a good distance from the water and Razor began looking me over, mostly where my flank had been. Skull was more occupied with our surroundings seeing as though we were still in the wasteland.

"Rangers huh?" Skull asked, turning her golden eyes towards me.

"A large amount of them, caught us off guard during a funeral for my friends filly." I said, wincing at the pain in the side of my head.

"Putting aside tha mass amount o' bruising and tha nice sized welt on yer head, ya seem tah be in good health." Razor said as he came into my line of sight, his green eyes were slightly aglow.

"Good to know, thanks." I replied taking a look to my back to see for myself.

"Wha are we gonna do with her?" the stallion asked Skull.

"She is dead, there is no coming back after being left for dead in these parts." she replied.

"But!" Razor seemed upset, glancing back to them after looking at my ruined backside I saw him frowning heavily.

"She is dead, even if her body don't know it yet!" Skull yelled, Razor just gritted his teeth in anger.

"No she aint, we can help her!" he yelled, looking his partner straight in the eye.

"Help me or not, I'll be fine." I calmly said as I pulled my front half up with my forelegs, surprising the mare in front of me.

"Well then, you got muscles." she said impressed that I could stand up, even without my hind legs.

"I'll just drag myself towards my friends, I can't be too far away." I replied as I looked around to see if I could find a landmark.

"Yeah right, no you don't even know which way is which." Skull laughed before looking at Razor and giving him a nod.

The stallion picked me up and threw me over his back sideways as he began to walk slowly next to Skull's left side, his twenty two was rubbing against my chest with every step.

"You don't need to help me." I said, hoping that I wasn't going to impede them.

"Don't worry, we just have to deliver something that we just spent two years getting for our boss in Hoofington before our contract is over, then we can go find your friends." Skull said as she jiggled her saddlebags.

"Thanks, my name is Applebits." I replied, figuring that they should at least know the name of the mare they were helping.

"Names Skull, and this is my big bro Razor." the light blue grey mare replied as the one eye'd stallion nodded his head.

With that my body said it was time to sleep, even if I did want to stay awake, but before I closed my eyes I could see several ponies approaching us in the distance that looked like raiders.

Meeting the Ashes

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Chapter 34
Meeting in the Ashes

So...somepony else treads into the darkness to suffer with me.... -Gladius

Time is irrelevant. I have spent so long in this world that I have learned this much. Grief. The pain of loss in our hearts, it is felt by everypony anywhere at any particular part of their lives. For me, I am still suffering. Trapped. Here in this place; these ruins, this graveyard. My mind still wrecked, gripped and controlled solely by the pain; forcing me to wallow in my suffering. As still as a statue, only my tears and gasps of breath signs of life as I continue to gaze into the tombstone of which beneath holds my daughter. All senses forgotten, nothing allowed to interrupt this long moment.

Even when I'd heard Applebits and the others come under attack, I'd not cared a bit nor acted as I may have were she not gone. Despite this, I can still feel the presence of that same Ranger mare Deathbloom as she sits nearby. She's taking pained, shallow breaths. This would indicate she'd suffered injuries of some kind, but not too serious and likely more so exhaustion from the battle I could guess.

For a few minutes, it was simply this. The only noise above our breathing and my own sobs was the wind that blew through this lonely, haunting place. But, it would seem we are not to be left alone; as I could hear somepony approaching to my right. The scrabbling behind me confirmed it, as Deathbloom perhaps is attempting to be prepared for more foes should it be necessary. Especially when I'm so useless, so utterly broken.

"Halt!" Deathbloom called sharply to the approaching ponies, the wind carrying her voice and making it stronger and more commanding.

I heard her rifle, the click that sounded of a round chambered; yet I knew she wouldn't use it unless hostilities initiated as the hoofsteps paused. From the sound and feel, they were at the entrance of the graveyard. "Are you friend of foe?" She asked.

"We do not come to fight Ranger." A deep, equally commanding voice echoed back.

It sounded familiar, enough so that I actually risked a glance away from the inscription of my little girl's name to see who the voice belonged to. Though familiar, the pony who heralded it seemed completely unrecognizable. Dressed in experimental power armor of some kind, he looked rather fearsome; though I didn't much care as I very faintly regarded the others among his group. An Enclave soldier, by her looks a medic perhaps. Somepony that reminded me faintly of the ponytrons I'd seen before the war was over, and....and....

My one good eye widened as I could recognize the young colt that stood behind the two armored ponies. This, was the same colt that I had let go with his horrible family that had stolen my friend's filly and shot him. Anger. Rage. Hate. These things all swirled in my mind as I recalled my last words to his family.

"That's good to hear I guess." Deathbloom replied, not noticing me rising over the sound of the wind.

My eye locked squarely on the colt, I knew there would be no mercy this time as I let out an earthshaking howl that carried for miles in the wind and startled everypony around me. All my pain, focused now into this rage; my cries of damnation turned to fury as I surged forward. The colt reacted instantly in fear, cowering behind the larger armored pony. Deathbloom reacting, trying to stop me by leaping forward and holding tight to my waist as I was stopped just a few short steps from them. She dug in hard to the ground, going up to her knees. Even still, I was inching forward as my screams actually gave voice to comprehensive words. "LET ME KILL THAT BASTARD CHILD! RELEASE ME NOW DEATHBLOOM SO I CAN SEND HIS SOUL TO HADES! HE MUST DIE, FOR WHAT HE AND HIS FAMILY DID TO LIGHTNING!"

The ponytron stepped forward, perhaps deeming me hostile and preparing to eliminate me; but to no avail as the larger armored one place a hoof on his chest to stop him. Before I could get any further, suddenly the strength sapped out of me entirely. My whole being falling limp to the ground as another round of wracking sobs gripped me. The pain was back, as I realized just how foolish this was; to condemn him to death when my own little Tenebris had just perished. To vent my heartache on him, when in reality it would do no good as Deathbloom released me and stepped aside.

She was looking up to the ponies as she removed her helm. Underneath, revealed to be a young face that was looking worriedly between me and these strange ponies. Her coat a mint green, her magenta eyes locking to the larger one as she brushed her short purple mane out of the way. "I'm so sorry for that....He's just went through hell and back...We both have here in his town." She glanced back at the freshly dug graves of her squad mates, and then to my daughter's to prove her point before returning her attention to the group before us. "My squad died here...and he lost his daughter."

A single tear fell to the dusty ground from her, acknowledging her own grief; yet nothing compared to my own as she stood determinedly. "Again I apologize....I am Ranger Deathbloom...Former Ranger..that is. May I ask who you all are?"

The large, almost dragon like pony stepped forward after he shared an intense glance to the ponytron, "I am known as Tempest Knight, this is Arnold Ponegator, Flutter Butter, and this colts name is Tracks."

I could feel his heavy hoofsteps as he walked up to me, I opened my one eye and starred back to him as I stood. The pain of losing my daughter was still great, and I could feel another wave of tears approaching fast.

"Why do I recognize you soldier?" Tempest asked, his name felt familiar to me, but then it dawned on me, the pony whom Applebits was fighting alongside and worried for.

I held my tongue, after all I still had an oath to keep as I merely turned and walked back to Tenebris' grave. I heard him sigh before walking past me and standing before the grave. He unsheathed one of his blades and dug it into the ground before speaking with the sound of cracking bones. I watched him as he stood with the now glowing bade sunk into the ground that held my dearest daughter, covering our surroundings in a soft red glow.

"Would you like to speak with her Gladius?" he said, turning his head so that I could see his now unarmored face.

Looking between Tempest and her grave, I nodded while sniffling quietly. Still, I didn't say a word; watching silently with my tears still streaming. Before me, I watched as the ground trembled slightly around the sword; the aura glow stronger and brighter. Glancing to him, I was unsure of what was going on as Deathbloom moved beside me and cocked an eyebrow in confusion. Within a few blinks, I saw Tenebris reforming in a ghostly pale form of herself in front of the sword. Her eyes were closed as before, but she wasn't hurt anymore. Her body looked pristine, as though she were sleeping at night in her bedroom like normal. But when those eyes opened and looked around, I lost it as she turned to me and cocked her head cutely. "Daddy?" She asked softly.

Falling to my knees, I was at her level as she walked slowly over to me. "Daddy? Why are you crying?" She whispered, nuzzling into my neck; yet all I could feel was a gentle warmth instead of any physical body as her hooves wrapped around to hug me.

I hugged her back, even if all I could feel was the gentle caress of a weak aura as she looked up and began to wipe away my tears. "Daddy...you know I don't like to see anypony cry." She said.

"I......I know my little Tenebris...I know." I managed to say at last.

"You know we can do anything if we do it together Daddy...Face any challenge that comes our way." She replied, making me smile sadly at her as she used her most well known phrase which seemed to reach me when nopony else ever could.

"But how though my little one? You're....not going to be here to help me." I whispered.

She patted her chest, before reaching out to my own and gently pressing a hoof against the peeled skin and muscle flaps that used to cover it. "I'm always with you daddy...no matter where you are. I'm in your heart, and you're in mine."

Somehow, I felt a slight but significant shift; as though my heart were changing within me. It felt...strange. Like all the heartache was being pressed out of me, to be replaced by something stronger. The feeling banished the loneliness in my heart, and in its place there was the deep love and care of my daughter. She was giving me her love, to ensure I'd remember her always and that she'd always be there for me like she'd promised as she returned to hugging me tightly. "T....Thank you my li....little one....So sweet in my memory...and yet always here within me."

"I'll always be here for you daddy...to face all the challenges life can give." she whispered, squeezing me tightly before releasing and stepping away. "I have to go now daddy...but don't worry, I'll be with my other mommy and brothers...waiting." She smiled at me, making my single good eye widen as she mentioned my family before the war.

Running to her, I gently kissed her nose before whispering softly in her ear. "I love you my little Tenebris. Forever....Tell your other mommy and your brothers that I love them as well...."

"I love you too daddy...And I will tell them for you." Looking back to Tempest, she nodded her head gratefully before speaking softly. "I'm ready to go back now Mr. Tempest."

As before, she dispersed back into the air itself within a few blinks. The glow faded away until naught remained, and I watched as Tempest withdrew his sword back to his side. Now, with the pain gone and removed, I felt like new. I felt like I could again face the world and its horrors, and my one eye shone with that determination as I smiled before snorting a little balefire on the ground. "Thank you General. I owe you much for allowing me to speak to her....You've given me back my purpose. Please, follow me to my old home here General. I'd like to repay you for such a gift."

Turning sharply on my hoof, I marched away. Heading back into the ruins, I was seeking out my basement where the gift I had promised for the General awaited. Behind me, I heard the sound of Deathbloom following behind me, but not the others as I glanced back and observed them. Tempest was still standing there, staring up the road at me.

The Gift

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Chapter 35
The Gift

Guess I'm not the only one who was too damn stubborn to die. -Tempest Knight

The wind howled past me and my new team as I watched Gladius look back at me with his single eye. I stared back as I caught my breath, summoning the spirit of his daughter had taken much of my energy. Snorting flames as I slowly started towards the old soldier ghoul, my team following behind me. I stopped and motioned to them to stay put before walking past Deathbloom and up to Gladius.

He looked at me a gave a single nod before starting towards the ruins of the largest building in town. The building had a massive hole in the upper front that caused it to collapse for the most part.

"What happened here Gladius?" I asked as I turned my attention to the ghoul who was digging through the rubble.

He didn't bother responding, instead he chose to continue digging into the ruins. As I approached him he stopped for just a moment and regarded me before he stamped upon a large piece of debris, shattering it and revealing a bent inwards door. He then gripped the nob and turned it as he attempted to open the heavy metal door.

"Stand aside my friend." I calmly stated as I put a hoof to the metal door.

He looked and me and gave a single nod before stepping back to watch what I was to do. Placing my left hoof on the door I activated its magnet and locked it to the surface of the metal. Giving a mighty pull and a deep grunt I ripped the door clean off of its frame and set it down next to us. Gladius gave me a nod before taking point, and I, deciding it unsafe to wear my armor down there removed said armor and paced it to the side. Turning I could see a light emerge from the room below me, suggesting that the ghoul had found the light switch.

Walking my stark hide down the steps and listening to them moan and creak wearily under my mass worried me, since I was standing below a ruined building after all. My worries vanished when I saw Gladius standing in what appeared to be an old cellar that was filled with old photos and memorabilia.

"I see you have removed your armor General." he quietly said as he inspected my grayed out fur.

"And I see that we have much in common my friend, though why you would hold a grudge against a colt is beyond my reasoning." I replied as I ducked under a support beam and stood next to him.

"I hold a grudge against that colt General, because it is he and his family that shot my friend Dark Lightning in the back and ran off with a filly he'd brought with him." Gladius replied coldly, sifting through more of the rubble that had fallen from the ceiling until he came to a small table with a box hidden away underneath.

I watched him, shaking my head for even he should've known the colt had no choice but to go with what his family did and was innocent as he secured the box from its small hiding place. He brushed it off, sending little bits of rubble and small plumes of dust to indicate that this box had been here for a long time. Walking over to me, he paused a few steps away and held it out for me to take.

"What is this exactly Gladius?" I asked, taking the box.

"Open it General, and you will know." He answered back.

Eyeing the box carefully, I pulled the top of it off slowly. What was inside it was shocking somewhat to me, as sitting at the bottom of this box was a perfectly preserved framed photo. Unlike all the others, which were lining the walls and were of a military nature; this one showed a very much younger, less grotesquely mutilated version of Gladius. Still dressed in only his military uniform, he was caught in the camera snap rolling on the floor of a cloud house with what seemed like a filly version of my love Rainbow Dash held above him. They were smiling. Laughing. Happy.

"What does this mean?" I thought to myself.

In seconds, Gladius seemed to know my question as he answered softly from across the room; by that same old uniform to be exact. "Long before the war began, when Rainbow Dash was born. She was born to my sister and her husband, which made me an uncle at the age of sixteen. Even fresh out of Boot, I still made as much time as I could upon hearing the news of her and almost every week I visited to see my little niece." Gladius smiled somewhat as he glanced back at me. "She loved me so much, and I cared for her more than the world itself. She grew up though and the coming war split us apart. But she found somepony who I knew I could trust her to. You, General. And that's why I'm trusting this to you now, since I still remember just how special you were to my little Dashie."

A single tear fell to the floor, it was from him as he rose up on his hind legs and gently lifted the uniform off its hooks. I still remained transfixed, staring at the photo with confusion. But, regardless of my emotions, and what this meant, I spoke up as he was slipping into his trousers and putting on his undershirt. "She's not dead Gladius." Turning to me, he gave his own confused look before I explained what I meant. "She's in The Hoof. Or, at least above it. As far as I know, she's been in a cryopod for the entirety of these years. She's not gone, and I'm on a mission to get her back."

Before I could even ask, he answered sharply. "Say no more General, I'm in."

I chuckled softly in response, watching as he slid on his desert brown trench coat and his hind legs into boots that he quickly laced. However, what was surprising was he took his autocannon and instead strapped it to his left foreleg; and it was then that he slid on his bulletproof vest. Before going any further, he tore off his Sergeant's insignia on his shoulder guard and replaced it instead with another, familiar emblem as he walked over to some ammo canisters. Loading his autocannon, he test fired it to ensure the old weapon worker properly before smiling and muttering to himself, "Back in the Saddle then."

"Indeed, it seems so." I said, getting a chuckle out of him before asking a question that had been on my mind for a bit. "You mentioned Dark Lightning earlier Gladius. You said he was a friend. Do you know where he and Applebits are?"

"MIA." He replied, shaking his head sadly. "Lightning went to look for her after some Steel Rangers attacked and carried her off."

In an instant, I felt my blood beginning to boil at the thought that my friends were in danger and captured. Before I could voice my anger, there was the terrified shrieks of the colt and the sound of rifle fire as I heard Deathbloom shouting for him to get in the house and find us.

Hoofington

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Chapter 36
Hoofington

... -Applebits

My eyes shot open as I flew threw the air, the detonations below me singing my already battered form. Slamming against the ground I screamed out in agony, as I skidded against the broken stone road. My new companions were to preoccupied with the small army that was responsible for tossing me through the air.

"Die you..." Skull started to say before a wicked crack filled the air and her body dropped to the ground.

"Sis!" Razor shouted, charging out from his cover and coming to his sisters aid.

The hostiles edged forward as Razor dragged his wounded sister into better cover. Once our attackers had their backs to me I slid forward and used my magic to pick up a semiautomatic rifle. Aiming in at who I assumed was their leader I pulled the trigger three times and nailed him in the back of his head with all three shots. The other three that were before me turned and began shooting me with small arms fire, lucky for me their accuracy was poor and most of the bullets missed my vitals. I attempted to pull myself up with my forehooves only to receive a buck to my face.

"Wench." a mare growled from above me as I grimaced in pain.

"Well then, wasn't expecting that... take the others, the boss wants em alive." a stallion shouted before I felt myself getting picked up by an armored hoof.

"Yes sir!" multiple new voices spout off ans I heard more ponies approach.

Opening my eyes I caught sight of my captures, their armor looked like trimmed down ranger gear and their heads were uncovered. One noticed me looking her up and down and decided to drop me.

"What are you looking at bitch?" she asked as she put her pistol to my head.

I tried to speak but found that my voice was gone, stroking my hoof across my neck I felt a hole that seemed to go clean through it.

"Hellhound got your tongue?" she screamed.

I tried to speak again but no sound came forth, I soon found myself crying silently though my movements would suggest that I was wailing.

"Hmph, worthless to us." she put more pressure to to my head with her weapon.

"Deadbolt!" the stallion from before shouted.

"What?" she replied.

"Don't shoot her, she may be useful later." he laughed as he placed a hoof on what was left of my flank.

I stopped sobbing and glanced back at him with a frown.

"What, you don't like that?" he asked.

I huffed before I saw him smile, I turned my head just in time to get bludgeoned in the face by Deadbolt's hoof.

------------------------------------------------------

I slowly opened my eyes as I let out a breath, looking around I found that I was in a prison cell and that I was tied to a bar attached to the floor. The chain was rather rusty and the collar they had on me was choking me badly, but alas I could no longer speak so I could not complain. Their was a grimy mirror in the corner of my cell sitting next to a rather nasty pile of straw that looked as if somepony had been gutted on it. Looking into the mirror I noticed a small metal ring on my horn, I attempted to levitate it off but nothing happened.

"No use trying your magic, that ring stops it completely." Razor said from the cell next to mine.

I looked at him and tilted my head, then silently gasped when I remembered that Skull had been shot. Looking around I saw her in my cell, she too was chained to the wall.

"They didn't even patch her up, nor you for that matter Applebits." Razor said as he looked towards a door that burst open, his right eye grayed out with a bullet hole in it.

"Look who's up, and here I was worried I wouldn't have a mare to play with!" the stallion from earlier chuckled.

I just glared at him and crawled over to Skull to inspect her wound. The bullet had gone clean through her chest and out her flank on her left side.

"Aw, are you worried about..." he began to say before I heard a clean slashing sound and two thuds echoed through the halls.

"Applebits, aren't you a sight for sore eyes!" Lightnings voice said coolly.

I pulled myself over towards Skull and looked painfully at Lightning who cut the bars with ease.

"Whats wrong Applebits?" he asked, his visor splitting apart and sliding up his head to show his worried eyes.

I mouthed the words 'get this ring off my horn' but he didn't understand that I was unable to speak. I then smacked my horn and pointed a hoof to Skull as my eyes pleaded with his.

"I'll get it off ya, but you are going to need to explain what the buck is going on Bits!" he said as he rushed over and carefully took the ring off.

I gave him a smile before performing a healing spell on her to stop the bleeding and repair her organs within my abilities. I then scratched at my collar, it didn't take him long to get the hint and he cut it off before widening his eyes at my wound.

"Holy shit, can you heal yourself?" he asked.

"Whats wrong with her?" Razor asked, coming into the conversation.

"She has a hole in her neck." Lightning said as he regained his bearing.

I merely chuckled hard, though I made no sound, before shaking my head.

"Oh, before I forget, brought something for ya!" Lightning said as he dashed over to the door he came in.

I tilted my head a grinned as I saw my armor with my legs getting hoisted by a rope under him as he flew back inside. He set them down next to me before I pointed at Razor who was still locked up.

"This guy with you?" Lightning inquired.

I gave a nod and Lightning quickly freed him of his bonds, allowing him to rush to his little sisters side. Then Lightning got to work reconnecting my legs and helping me put my armor back on. I gave him a nod before he held up a hoof and began to tinker with my helmet.

"Okay that should do it, talk." he commanded.

"But I can't, wait what?" I asked in a fuzzy version of my own voice, as if I was speaking through a radio.

"Buck yeah, it works!" he grinned.

I turned around to see Skull stand up slowly, evidently still in pain, though with a look of surprise to see two armored ponies standing in front of her.

"Who are you!" she asked with fear in her voice.

"Don't worry, my friend Lightning is here to help us out Skull." I answered her in my crappy radio voice.

"Applebits, what happened to your voice?" she asked.

Before I could answer Lightning was impaled by a wicked looking sword and Razor stepped towards us.

"Now!"he yelled, and more of the ponies from before rushed into the room.

"What is this big brother?" Skull asked as she wobbled to my side.

"Heh, don't tell me you didn't see this coming sis, ever wonder what really happened to mom and dad?" he asked as the armored ponies surrounded us.

"You told me that a Manticore killed them." she shouted in response with tears in her eyes.

"Ha, that was what I said, what I didn't mention was that there was no Manicore involved, just me and my knives." he shot back with a wicked grin.

"But, mamma... papa..." she broke down next to me in tears.

"You're a monster." I said, my substitute voice cackling as my mini-guns spun up.

"Why, because I wanted to be successful in this Celestia damned wasteland?" he asked me, his mercs aiming a me with a favorable assortment of firearms.

I chose to reply in a fashion rather unlike me, and if this had happened a few month ago would have never happened, I lit his ass up. Streams of fire shot forth from my mini-guns as his mercs dove for cover fro my missiles.

"Eat shit and die bastards!" I yelled as I reared up, my battle saddle tracking my targets as I did so.

"Holy shit she's got firepower!" Razor yelled he dove away from the hail of bullets.

Lightning chose that moment to stand up and enter the fray. He removed the blade from his side and cut two of the twenty or so mercs that hadn't been eradicated by my weapons down with his wings before glancing towards our only exit, which was flooding with more mercs.

"Steelcrusher, the door!" Lightning yelled, using my code name for the first time in ages.

"On it!" I replied as I slammed my hooves down and began charging the door.

I plowed through the ponies, I crushed them with my hooves, I reveled in their pain as their guts decorated my armor, I even laughed as the lone survivor of her squad tried to crawl away. I wrapped her in my magic and stripped her armor off, then I levitated out a nice sized sword from one of her buddies and slowly rammed it up her unmentionable area. I listened to her scream in antagonizing pain before Lightning smacked me across the head.

"Luna's sweet ass, Bits what do you think you are doing?" he yelled at me.

"I... I don't know..." I looked down at her mutilated form before pulling the blade out of her, she wasn't any older than sixteen and I put her through that.

She looked at me with fear in her eyes as my horn began to glow. I put my horn between her legs it her wound glowed with it, soon enough it sealed up and she lost consciousness.

"I'm sorry kid, I lost control." I said as I broke down, Lightning checked our surroundings before putting a hoof around me.

"You killed them, my first marefriend too, all over what, caps?" Skull yelled as she stood up and backed her brother into a wall.

"Do I look like I care Skull?" Razor replied.

"You should." she replied as she slammed her hoof into his face and broke his jaw, "I will tear you apart!"

"Skull!" I screamed, though I went unheard as she drove her hoof down on his crotch and smashed it inwards.

"You will never hurt me again Razor, never again." she whispered, though we could all clearly hear her.

Horde of the Dead

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Chapter 37

Horde of the Dead

He shall not be forgotten. -Tempest Knight

"What the Hell is goin' on up there?" Gladius asked as I charged back up though the stairs and ripped one of my swords off my armor.

The colt ran clean past me and straight into Gladius, though the latter paid him no mind as he watched a literal hoard of undead monsters tear themselves out of the ground and charge our position. Arnold had deployed his weapons and had begun disintegrating them two at a time. While Flutter used her small energy pistol to vaporize those that got close to her, this didn't last long and she was pounced on by four of them. Hearing her scream I cut my way to her, only to find that Ponegator had beaten my to it and slaughtered every last zombie.

"Take him and Flutter downstairs Gladius, neither one has the equipment to fight right now!" I yelled as I be-headed two at once.

"Will do General!" Gladius shouted back to me, hefting up the near lifeless form that was Flutter over his shoulder and rushing back to the remains of his house. "Come on kid, we've not got time to waste." He said.

My concerns now were alleviated for the moment as I slashed two more to bits. However, hearing Gladius grunt in pain caught my attention as I tossed a glance back to see a zombie biting savagely into his neck. He paused, slamming his free hoof back into the zombie's head; smashing its skull and casting it off of him before he aimed his autocannon straight at it and finished it. Another came, which he also slew with a quick burst of fire before ushering the colt down into his cellar and he followed behind with Flutter still on his shoulder.

"Ponegator, Deathbloom, its just us, lets teach these things that they came to the wrong bucking neighborhood!" I yelled as I made for my armor, luckily Arnold saw me running and provided ample cover as they tried to bite him to no avail.

I got into my armor and nearly had a heart attack when a zombie got within inches of my face, I wasted no time in obliterating it with my auto cannons as I did with the four that had followed it. Swinging my spiked tail I skewered even more of them as Deathbloom bucked one over to Arnold who was more than happy to tear it apart. But the swarm was unending and my EFS was solid red with blips of blue to indicate friends that would vanish from time to time.

"Check your six General." Arnold shouted as he picked up a shotgun from the ground and began to change out its parts with multiple miniature servo arms as he ran around blasting zombies with his ray gun.

Looking behind me I saw Deathbloom begin to get overwhelmed and I rushed to her aid. Using the magical properties of the stone in my chest plate I summoned the ghost I had the last time I had to fight these things.

"Get back you, ah!" Deathbloom yelled as she was toppled over, allowing the zombies to begin to try and rip off her armor.

Sentinel rushed forward with his spear and began slaughtering the undead as I cut them down with both of my blades, my vision partly obscured by sweat falling from my brows. I fell into a combat pattern with Sentinel of duck, stab, slice, dash, shoot flames, repeat. We kept this up for sometime while the Arnold and Deathbloom fought side by side with their flanks to a wall.

While we fought doggedly on, the horde still ever increasing and seeking our deaths; Gladius emerged from the stairway. He was immediately shooting at the nearest group of them, killing about four or five with well placed shots from his autocannon. And as I dodged another's bites and slew it with a single slice I noticed something different about him. He was fighting them for sure, his hooves caving skulls and autocannon blasting those away from the entrance. But it was around his bite wound, the very arteries and veins seemed to pulsate with a venomous brown; and he was twitching slightly as though fighting something within.

Before I could say anything, make my way to him with Sentinel; he let out a ferocious roar and blew a hail of fire at a group of approaching zombies and incinerated them whole. "Nothin' is gonna control me! Not no virus or ailment! Ah'll kill all O' ya! All O' ya!"

He blew more fire, smashed into more groups and slowly was working his way towards Arnold and Deathbloom. His attacks seemed more guided by a nearly feral instinct, but there was also a ferociously intelligent mind still in control as he called out sharply to her. "Ranger! Ah need ya ta git ter behind o'er ta mah cellar an defend em down there! Ah'll help up 'ere but ah need somepony ter protect Flutter an tha colt!"

I watched as he cut a bloody swathe through them, the same way I and Sentinel were doing; and as he reached her she nodded and rushed through the gap to the house. Seeing that she made it calmed me somewhat, but it also gave me back my full attention to fighting the endless undead alongside my ghost. But even with Arnold's ray gun, Gladius' surprising furious attacks with his hooves and balefire and blasts of his autocannon; I could tell we were still going to lose this battle if we kept up as more undead poured in. "Ah hell!" I heard Gladius shout, and glancing back I saw he was getting bitten again in his neck.

The zombie in question had smashed through the wall behind him, and he raised his autocannon to it before blasting it away. He was huffing now, and the venomous brown spread further from his neck wound; up to reach his good eye before pausing, and wrapping around down to his foreleg before halting as he roared again with a more furious and feral look in his eye as he turned to face the groups of zombies pouring through the hole now. "Ah'm not sure how long we can last General!" He shouted, 'But if'n Ah'm ta die today then Ah'm gonna be takin' as many O' these bastards with me as Ah can!"

"You shan't die this day Gladius, not while I still breath!" I shouted as I drove my blades forward and cut down two more zombies.

"General Tempest!" Arnold shouted as he drove his newly repaired shotgun into a zombies mouth and fired it, a deafening roar of twelve gauge slugs tearing through flesh and bones as the terminator blasted his way towards us.

"Arnold?" I shouted as I cut loose ammunition from my cannons, thus driving the zombies back further as I edged my over to Gladius.

The ponytron walked calmly up to me as his energy pistol and shotgun were reloaded by servo arms on his back, "I'll be back!"

"What, no, you can't!" I yelled as he turned and walked away sniping zombies from long range with his pistol, and blasting those that got close with his shotgun.

"We can't jus let em go sir!" Gladius groaned before falling over from his wounds.

I stood there and watched as the silver ponytron marched up to the hole that the zombies were coming out of. His armor was stripped and quite a few panels were bent out of shape. Arnold glanced back to us, his left eye was hanging off his face, he merely gave a nod before opening his saddle bags and charging down the hole. I slammed my tail into one of the few zombies that was still running a muck and blasted another with my fire breath before the ground shook and a column of flame jetted from the ground, Arnold's eye smacking the ground next to me. Though there were no other pieces anywhere to be seen.

"He's gone, ain't he?" Gladius coughed.

"Yes, Arnold Ponegator is dead, and he shall forever be known as a hero." I said solemnly as the dust and smoke cleared and I realized that all the zombies were in fact terminated.

The Sky is Falling

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Chapter 38
The Sky is Falling

"There are days I hate my life, then I remember that I have missiles and it is right again." Applebits

"Bits." Lightning said as I stared at Skull who had just killed her brother with nothing but her bare hooves.

"Dark, see to it that the young mare is stowed someplace safe." I replied, not taking my gaze off of Skull as she cried.

"He is the reason my life has been a living Hell." Skull sniffed, not meeting my eyes.

"I can't leave you out here alone Skull." I said softly as I gave her a hug, my voice synthesizer buzzing lightly, "Will you come with us?"

"Y... yes, I will." she replied, hugging me back.

I gave a single nod as I pulled her away from her dead brother, never removing my eyes from her pained expression. I walked her up to the top of the stairs before the old wooden door slammed inwards and a Steel Ranger plowed clean into me.

"Halt!" a masculine voice shouted as two more rangers ran in behind him as I fell, ensuring that Skull would land atop me.

"By who's command?" my synthesized voice shouted back as I observed their armor, the two in back were solid grey, but the one in the front had golden trim on his shining armor.

"Paladin Steel Fire." the lead ranger replied as I got back up to my hooves.

"Look I'm having a bad enough day as is, I don't need any over confident rangers thinking that they out rank me." I calmly said as I took a momentary look for Lightning who had practically vanished into thin air.

"Heh, I don't recognize you so I don't think you are worth anything at all!" he shouted as I heard mini-guns spin up.

"Applebits... don't... fight them!" Skull coughed as she picked herself up.

Then before anyone could fire a round the lead rangers head detonated and sprayed me with gore as the two behind him were simultaneously decapitated by cackling wings.

"Sorry for the wait, my stealth buck was glitching out a bit." Lighting said without a hint of emotion as Skull and I shook off the pony remains.

Skull remained silent as we walked up the stairs, Lighting in the lead, "So where are we again?" I asked before stopping next to him in the downpour of rain.

"Welcome to Hoofington Applebits, the last damn place I want to be." He replied gesturing his wing.

I gave him a nod before checking my EFS, and seeing absolutely nothing whatsoever. I looked over to Lighting but he seemed to be actively looking elsewhere, "Why isn't my EFS showing anything?"

"We are being jammed." he replied as he took to the skies, the pure black skies.

"Well shit." I muttered, my synthetic voice crackling.

"What did you say?" Skull asked as she checked her pistol for ammo.

"Ne-zzzt-mi-tzzz-d" I replied as my voice gave out and I face hoofed.

She just frowned and began walking towards a small group of lights in the distance. I mentally sighed and pursued her, Lighting flying ahead of us as we walked along the cracked road and into ruins of a former city.

"First time here?" Skull asked, to which I shook my head, "Okay, when were you here last?"

"Zzzt" I tried to say about two hundred years ago but my synthesizer just crackled.

She raised an eyebrow and walked up to me tapping my helmet, "Can't you talk anymore?"

I shook my head as my voice cackled in electronic laughter.

"Okay then, so have you been here recently?" she asked as we continued after Lighting who was now sitting on a roof watching our surroundings.

"Its been two hundred years for her, now lock and load, we've got trouble!" he called as he took a combat stance.

Then the ground exploded and Skull ran for cover while I took an unscheduled flight, Lighting flying in the sky above, or wait that's below, me as storm clouds trailed him. Several high caliber shots rang out as I saw pegasi shoot at him, ignoring the massive armored pony just sailing through the air, and into a building, great.

"Applebits!" Skull yelled as I heard several explosions.

Getting to my hooves I gave my mini-guns a test spin before rushing over to the hole I made in the buildings wall. Below me I could see Skull dodging back and forth in the street, her eyes wide as a pegasus clad in black armor darted for her, a scorpion tail poised to strike. I cut loose a stream of fire and tore the attacker in two, unfortunately that gained the attention of his or her friends. "Zzzt!!!" I cried out in urgency, missing my EFS even more.

"Enclaves come out to play!" Lighting said calmly as he walked up behind me.

"Zzzt?" I replied, wishing I knew what he was talking about and how he got inside without me noticing.

"Don't ask me why, just shoot back." he replied calmly.

I did as he said as he shot past me into the sky and started chasing down another pegasus attacker. I focused my fire on the pegasi harassing Skull. "ZZZZTTTZT" I tried to yell retreat as a finished sky tank flew towards us, Skull noticed what was coming and ran into a collapsed section of road but Lighting hadn't noticed. I timed myself and jumped on Lightnings back causing him to drop altitude just as an energy shell hit where we had been.

"Don't know if I should be happy or mad?" he grunted as he struggled to maintain flight.

"Zzt!" I shouted pointing a hoof at the tunnel.

"Right!" he replied.

And together the three of us fled down the tunnel away from the Enclave above.

Grand Pegasus Traitors

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Chapter 39
Grand Pegasus Traitors

To what end shall the madness go before we can halt it?- Tempest Knight

A day had passed since the sacrifice of my mechanized friend, Gladius, Butter, Deathbloom, and I had been trudging towards Hoofington silently the entire time. None of us knew what to say, I don't believe any of us saw it coming.

I was interrupted from my thoughts by the soft tones of the Steel Ranger, "Are you alright, Gladius?" She drew my attention slightly to my quiet friend, "You're looking far paler than usual, and the bites..."

"I'll..be fine." He said, a somber, saddened edge to his voice echoing softly, "I've survived worse..And Like before and always..everypony...else is dying around me." His speech, I could scarcely notice, was afflicted, as the bite marks grotesque infection spread further from the numerous wounds that had refused to ever heal.

"Gladius." I said, my tone low but on edge, "You have been bitten several times, but I know not of what effect it shall have upon ye, you must expel the infection itself."

"I may be able to help him sir." Butter piped up from my left.

I gave her a small smile before speaking, "I am willing to give blood to him if you can remove the contaminated from his body."

"I can sir, but I only have supplies for one go, so we cannot be interrupted." she replied as she checked her gear.

"No!" Gladius replied, catching me and Butter off guard slightly. "Tis my curse to keep til my final breath. Something I'll bear to the doors of death." Beneath his uniform, I already knew, all the injuries he had kept from view. "Tis my curse to keep...General. Do not...make me invoke my rank, over you to quieten thee." He coughed a moment, blackened blood spit to the ground before shaking his head and continuing on past us. "And with my final breath it shall be, to save my niece, and your wife to be."

I watched as Deathbloom followed, only a slight quizzical, and still worried, look in her eyes as she now walked beside him.

"Rank? Gladius, this will kill you and us, the infection must be purged!" I shouted as flames shot forth from my armored face, "Do not make me pin you to the ground!"

"Sirs, can we not kill each other please?" Butter shyly whispered off to my left as I spun on Gladius.

"You'll not be doing a thing..." Gladius answered, pausing mid step before settling with Deathbloom beside him. He turned back to face me, and reflected in his eyes I could see only myself. Both stubborn, as immovable mountains against one another; staring each out down in silence. Without warning, he lunged for me. Something I'd have sidestepped easily, but instead allowed it to happen. I expected to easily pin him now, thinking already the infection was setting in; but when he tackled me there was a force unearthly in nature behind it.

Then the howling started. Vile, repulsive, dark screams. Tortured agonies and souls all echoing as one through his mouth as he stared me down and screamed without end. Pinning me, surprisingly I didn't expect this strength that he now possessed as his eyes darkened for a moment. Solid black, and burning holes into my soul until it all stopped. He leaned in close, a whisper unheard by all others save the two of us. "You will...be silent...I've already enough...noise within. I don't need this...Not from you...Not on top of what Death already makes me endure." He rose from me, offering a hoof, "I'll be fine enough. I've...endured infection and plague...Hell...I've survived Balefire Megaspells...I'll live through this." He paused, retracting his hoof. "At least...long enough to see my little niece...one last time."

"Your mental Gladius, but very well." I reply as I looked over to the two mares that were accompanying us, but finding their attention elsewhere.

"Sirs, not to interrupt but we have incoming!" Butter shouted prior to jumping to avoid a round from a Flying Tank bearing the insignia of the Enclave.

"Find cover and open fire!" I shout as the three move to my commands, but before Butter could move too far she was blown apart by a passing Vertibuck. "Well crud." I mutter, unleashing Hell upon the killer of my friend with my bolters.

"J..Just what I needed." I hear Gladius say, and watch him rising from his cover just as another Vertibuck turns for a second strafing run. Trying my best to cover him, I shout for him to get down. He doesn't listen to me, as though somehow entranced. His eyes are closed, and he's standing straight on his hind legs as the bullets ripple through his body. "Yes," He whispered. "Give me more you Enclave bastards. I've just been waiting for the day to repay you all in kind for what you did."

Without warning, I saw the stitches running across his wings snap; and with it, they rocketed out to either side of him. Scarred, but massive, powerful wings. The infection though, I could see, had spread further. It ran through the veins that crossed his wings, and a vile liquid dribbled from the newly opened areas once stitched closed. He took to the skies, and before the Vertibuck ever reached our position I watched as he slammed into it full force. His mini-gun in one hoof spraying into the cockpit, murdering any inside before kicking off and sending the craft spinning to the ground where it lay.

Turning a bit, and seeing Deathbloom also entranced, I watched as her eyes followed him everywhere through the skies. "Wow..." Was all I heard from her, as he landed on a sky-tank. Ripping open the hatch, I saw a few sprays of bullets before he turned on a passing bomb chariot and shot down those who were pulling it as well. Crashing to the earth just a few feet from our position, his expression was emotionless as he put another bullet through the brain of one of the drivers still alive.

"Just gonna sit there and miss out?" He questioned, turning to the gun of the tank before wrenching it from its socket and holding it in one hoof. "Get a taste of your own medicine." He muttered, lifting the cannon with a steady aim before a dark aura of his contaminated blood seemed to channel around his entire being. The cannon fired, ripping through the incoming aircraft and sky-tanks with a furious barrage I'd seen only a few times before. After a few minutes, he dropped the cannon and fell to a knee for a moment, winded. "Cleaned the skies." He huffed, forcing himself to rise again before staggering off the tank and falling behind cover, gasping almost, for breath.

I nodded, my eyes holding restrained rage as I made my way to Butter’s remains, “You will not be forgotten, friend.” I said as I plucked her tags off her body and stowed them in a small compartment in my right shoulder, yet another cutie tag to add to my list. “Deathbloom, how far till we reach Hoofington?” I asked, my tone of voice brokering not arguement.

“Less than a day sir.” She replied, her gaze drifting to the dead medic as I began my efforts to give her a proper grave.

“While I dig I want you to take her supplies, and prepare her for burial. This spot shall do… Gladius could you find us a stone? I shall carve her name into it.” I asked, the fire in my eyes remaining, though nopony could see that from behind my visor, all they could see were two glowing red orbs.

“It shall be so…” Gladius replied, before he began to cough heavily as he marched off a little ways into the wastes in search.

“He’s getting worse…” Deathbloom said, as she slowly watched the one who had spared her and befriended her find a large stone of which he lifted with that same aura of blood before returning to the road. It seemed that, unbeknownst to the others until now, as he was close enough again, he had in fact cried in the time he had been gone. Infected, horrid, orange and bloody tears that stained his grey fur as he set the stone down with only a few small words spoken quietly. “She was a good soldier and companion, remember to include that, General.”

I watched as he turned away, coughing harshly as Deathbloom nodded faintly that she had procured all of the dead medic’s supplies and had prepared what remained of her body for proper burial. She went to his side a moment, unsure of herself or what she could do. Gladius, it seemed, was hiding in the guise of his illness and infection his grief as more corrupted tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Gladius?” She finally asked, placing a hoof on his shoulder to get his attention.

“All my men around me die…and I’m still standing… It’s not fair… They don’t deserve it more than I do… She didn’t deserve death.” He finally responded, confirming the reason why he felt so strongly as I did. Everyone he knew, all his soldiers, they died, and never him. Somepony else always was the one who got hurt.

“We’re still here.” Deathbloom replied, softly, making him turn to face her. “We’re still here, and I don’t have any plans on dying. For you, because you saved me when you should’ve just let me die.” The look in Gladius’ unmatched, glowing pupils seemed surprised at her admission, as he simply stared a moment. “You’re the reason I’m still alive, look at yourself…”

He did as instructed, unsure of where she was going before she stopped him and pointed out several of his new injuries that still bled slowly. “All of these would’ve killed me, and turned me into one of those mindless flesh-eaters… You took those, for us, for me.” Deathbloom seemed nearly in tears, as she looked now into Gladius’ eyes once again and found herself stammering to silence. Staring into them, she felt herself come to calm, and very much so deepened her gaze before she found herself wiping the few tears he had left that had yet to dry away.

Unsure of where to go from here, she surprised both herself and Gladius especially when she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. Closing her eyes, she didn’t want to see his reaction, as she wrapped her hooves around his neck. When she did draw away, she gave an eep in shock of what she had just done and turned near crimson in embarrassment before seeing in his eyes a faint reflection and a hint of a smile. “I uh...um…” Words failed her, as Gladius just nodded faintly and kissed her back before having her release him from her embrace about his neck. There now, she sat, stunned, and still blushing and smiling near dreamily as she watched Gladius solemnly return to my side to honor the burial of our friend.

“Today, a soldier has died, but she was more than that.” I stated, as I removed my helm so my face could be seen, “Today a friend has perished so we could live.” I added, my eyes losing their glint completely as I procured a small knife, her’s to be precise, “She died in warning her fellows, us, of the danger from above, because of her, three ponies stand, when four would have fallen.” I closed my eyes before the knife touched the stone.

“We owe her so much more than this funeral, so with us we shall carry her memory. Honor and courage, duty and sacrifice, love and tolerance… These virtues were her own, and we can only hope to live up to them. May the angels carry her to the promise, and may Solaria welcome her into her embrace. May she find peace in this promise, and welcome us when we join her and all of our fellows in it.” I finished, the knife etching so few words into the stone before my fire consumed it.
Flutter Butter

Equestrian Skyguard

Medic

A soldier, a friend, a good heart, rest in peace within the promise.

Ye shan’t be forgotten, for thou have given the greatest sacrifice.

My fire sealed the stone, it’s magical properties ensuring that like my chamber, it would survive the harshest conditions. “Rest in peace my friend, We’ll meet you there one day.” I whispered, mostly to myself, though I imagine that the other two heard my final sentiments as well, before I sheathed the knife and floated it to my right hoof and attached it.

“Aye… She is resting now… My Squad is up there to look after her so she’ll do fine.” Gladius replied, placing a hoof on my shoulder. “Bunch O’ the toughest bastards I’ve ever known, especially my brother.” I looked to the Sergeant oddly, not recalling any kin of his ever being seen in the few times we may have met in our brief history before the war. “Besides, any friend of mine or my squad’s, is a friend of Death’s… He’ll make sure she’s alright.” Releasing his grip, he turned one last time to the stone and whispered something inaudible, a prayer of sorts, in a language long since dead and that which I barely recognized save for the word “Goodbye.”

Deathbloom had sat silent, watching. She had teared up, but refused to let them show and had wiped them away as Gladius turned to face her once more. Meeting his eyes, she was still nervous as all hell about what she had done, despite his reaction. In this, I could now see her for who she was, past the armor and training, she was almost as shy as Fluttershy herself around somepony that she cared for. “Come General, we have a mission to complete. On our honor, on her death, it shan’t be in vain that we save my niece.” He said, seriously, with only one tear of his own left that was shed and had fallen to the ground before he set his gaze forward and began walking once again.


I remained silent, my eyes giving a dull reflection as I gazed upon Gladius, though I had yet to shed a tear I did so as my voice croaked out faintly, “She would wish you to heal my friend, if not for yourself then for your niece and my wife to be.” I stated, my eyes locking with his, both of them unshakable.

Gladius returned my gaze for a time, in silence. I had brought up the very topic of which he had so vehemently denied just moments before our friend’s death. Standing here though, he seemed to have taken a change in stance, as he looked to Deathbloom a moment for confirmation. “Your family might not recognize you as you are, Gladius.” She said, “I don’t think you’d want to let your niece end up seeing you like you are… I don’t like seeing you suffering like you are.” In those words, she had played her cards well, knowing her very so recent confession of love may just be enough to sway him as much as his family might as he weighed his options a moment.

“General…” He said softly, addressing me. “I will submit to your healing… For Dash, for you Deathbloom, and for our fallen friend.”

“Don’t move.” Was all I said as I procured a small stick with a blackened tip before drawing a circle around him. This circle intersected three others, each having a rune inscribed within. I then drew yet another ring around it, this one with twin lines and two branches coming of to a circle surrounding my own hooves. “This may cause slight pain, I am not too practiced and there may be a slight… burning alive sensation… also if you see inside my head do tell, as that means I screwed something up and copied my memories to you as well.” I stated, though I gave him no room to reply as the circle turned from black to a shining red and both of our bodies were consumed in light.

--------

A forest, green as far as they eye can see. An army clad in shining silver armor with a massive range of weapons. Two Unicorns approached, both clad fully in armor so that the only identifying marks were the cutiemarks inscribed upon their shields strapped to their sides.

“General, we the southern army has sent word that it has been defeated, they will not be meeting us.” A stallion on the right said.

“... How long till the Eastern gets here?” The voice emanated from the eyes in which we were viewing, the voice was my own.

“They are hours out last report my lord.” The mare on my left said.

“I tire of waiting, if we wait too long then there will be noone left to save…” I stated as I drew my spear closer to me from where I had rammed it into the ground, “We move now.”

“But sir, Princess Celestia said-”

“I care not for that youngling’s orders, I don’t answer to her, I answer to her father.”

“But King Lunarium has been dead for two years now.”

“Changes nothing, we move now.” I stated adamantly, lifting my spear as I began to move forward.

“No sir, we cannot allow you to disob-” The stallion began but was interrupted by a spear in his chest.

“You are not in command, I am, and lives are on the line.” I stated, the mare on my left backpedaling but nodding nonetheless before rallying her troops.

-----

“Crusade forward!” I yelled as I charged at the tip of our spear and into the village we were to aid. But were met instead with a horde of very dead ponies, not a soul left alive. “Damn you Celestia, Lunarium would have never let this happen…” I muttered under my breath before letting out a roar of outrage.

“Sire!” The mare from before shouted as she approached.

“What?” I growled.

“The town’s hall, somepony still holds it! We’re not too late Sire!” she shouted, drawing my attention to the smoking building that was nearby but just out of sight. I could hear the clash of blade against flesh from even here, and knew her story to be true. Our army raced to the building at full speed, making our way around it’s burning-out husk, to find the grand staircase of the hallway littered with the corpses of its invaders. Two pegasi, clad in simple but stately armor, held together. Grey of fur and green of mane and tail, this one clove in twain a foe with a single swing of his broadsword from his hoof as he stood at full height on his hind legs. His glowering eyes like coals as he drove his weapon through the temple of another and added to the growing pile before him.

The other who stood, he looked similar of appearance, save that his mane and tail were both short and rainbow-colored, smashed foes aside with a single swing of his greatsword before planting it firmly betwixt the skull of one before him. “We must hold brother!” He shouted, “We must urg…!” He was seized by a few of the foul things, they having snuck up on him as he’d turned to counter a foe.

“Little brother!?” The green-maned pegasus shouted, receiving no response which caused him to whip around and charge around a pile of bodies. “Mortem!?” He screamed, half agony, half anger, as his blade sliced apart those besetting his fellow Knight. Kneeling beside him, he went still as several dozen of the fell creatures closed on his position; attracted by the blood pouring forth from his many wounds. When one fell upon his throat, intent to end him, he did not scream. His blade, in cold rage, impaled through his own chest and hefted the undead thing up from the ground before it’s pitiful existence were ended again in death as he wrenched his weapon free of himself. He seemed a mad stallion, freakish in that only his grief drove him to fight beyond the mortal injuries that would surely have slain anypony else ten times over. Watching this only took but a minute, two, but it was over and he was huffing as blood nearly completely enveloped his grey body and steel armor. His blood, which proved his own death would follow; but as he knelt down beside his brother, Mortem and prepared to die with him, a voice more ancient than time itself intervened.

“Death calls for thee not, young Knight Mortalitas Gladius…” It stated, “Sayeth, I beith impressed with thy skills at arms…” The voice, it boomed even though it were a whisper as it beckoned, “What if I told thee I could take it all back? Maketh it the way it were… At a price, of course.”

“N..Nameth it,” Gladius whispered, still cradling his little brother in his hooves.

“Service… thy skill is great and needed much in My Armies.” He replied.

“On one condition I shalt accept…” Gladius said, soft in reply as the blood flowed and ticked off every second left of his life. “Let this place live… Let my friends, my brother… Let them beith at my side. Nopony here deserveth death…”

“It shall be so…but also more… I shall revive thine town… But thee and thy friends may never return here… thy families will be restored, but ye may never see them again.”

Gladius fell beside his brother, slipping into unconsciousness as the blood loss finally caught up with him and his adrenaline faded. “Deal…” He whispered, as his last sight were of Mortem’s eyes looking back at his, though they were not dead and clouded.

“Get Rose and Farseer, any of the other clerics as well… You secure the borders!” I shouted, my gaze falling on the two knights as I removed the fully enclosed helm and let out a sigh accompanied by smoke, “Celestia, you are not fit to command my army with such detail… Give us missions, we shall see them through, no longer shall I answer to your court.”

“Ehm...uh…wh…” The Knight, the one whom had been called Mortem, as I had recognized his voice, had spoken. Turning to face him, I watched as he sat up straight and looked about at the carnage with only moderate surprise for a moment before going immediately to his brother’s side. “Gladius! Gladius!” He cried, “Wake up brother, wake up!”

It was well clear that, at least for now, the Knight was gone. He did not stir, nor move at the touch of Mortem, to which the despaired Knight let a single tear fall as he rose and forced himself to look about. Others, the ones we’d thought dead, I noticed, were standing up with the same confusion now. None showing any signs of injury or infection, as they looked at one another and at us before beginning to move on. One, another Knight I guessed, dressed in massive, bloodied armor, stepped from the ruins of the main doorway to the Town Hall. His black fur were marked with blood of his own, lined with injury, and his face wore a mask of nothing but anger as he whispered softly while kneeling beside the fallen Knight. “Rage...Rage…”

Two came, one, dressed in grey robes and light armor, her face hidden save her throat which was ripped out. Crossbows and blades mounted on her hooves, she too knelt beside her fellow, and it was clear who she was. Silence.

The other, he were dressed in only light armor of grey and black of robes. Spectacles over his eyes, he appeared ethereal in nature and carried only twin daggers as he whispered, “Sad...so very much Sorrow.”

The last, and arguably strangest of them all, came from a nearby Church. She was laughing insanely, with her axe in hoof as she rushed to meet her comrades with a grin so wide it may very well have been cut to resemble that way by her own hoof for the fear factor she inspired. Dressed in full armor, colored naturally crimson, with laughing green eyes, she nodded at the fallen Knight before saying “Get up lazy! This is no time for a dirt nap! Listen to your Joy, you silly!”

The Knight in question, in fact, at this command, did rise. Painfully, slowly, he stood. His injuries were reflected as well, but it appeared his mouth had in fact been sewn shut and his injuries stitched in a similar manner. The only difference, they were left gaping open for the world to see as he looked to Mortem with slightly glazed eyes.

“So it seems I am in the presence of allies twice over.” I said, a small symbol of Hades materializing before them before vanishing to thin air. “I beith Tempest Knight, who art thou?”

------

The spell broke, sending both myself and Gladius flying two different directions as the ground beneath us detonated. I skidded on my hooves across the ground, my armor too heavy to fly without its talismans activated. Gladius was not as fortunate as he tumbled and came to a halt a dozen hooves from the center point. To think of it, neither was Deathbloom, as he landed and actually was halted by crashing into her.

“You okay Gladius?” I asked as I shook myself.

“I’m fine T...General.” He replied, helping the stunned mare to her own hooves after getting up himself and shaking the dust off. “You okay though, Deathbloom?”

“Yeah...Just a little, shell-shocked, is all.” She joked, although she truly didn’t know as Gladius shook his head and chuckled. “What was that? I mean really, what was what?” She asked, looking first to Gladius and then to me.

My eyes met both of Gladius’ upon his nearly fully restored body, the stitches being the sign of his servitude. “Gladius, thought you looked familiar, tis been ages old friend, and to think, ye shall be my uncle in law.” Tempest mentally spoke as he laughed out loud, drawing only a confused stare from Deathbloom.

“And I had thought ye familiar from first meet, though only from much more recent times, when I had just finished Ranger-Training and was elected Chief Ranger.” Gladius chuckled as well, although his was silenced as Deathbloom gave him a hard, dark look. “She’s going to end up being the one to kill me old friend, tis best we speak normally from now on… although I must admit, it is interesting to find it out it was you who would be my nephew.”

“Aye, though not a word of our ancient history.” I mentally ordered, “You look well off now.” I added with a nod before placing my helm upon my head.

“I feel like I’m twenty-one again… Which, if I remember, was not a good year for me…” He shook his head, another laugh escaping him as he remembered the truth of his twenty-first year but instead lied aloud. “Getting blown up and chased down by Zebra shock squads with my fellows, that was some hell I tell you what for a birthday.”

“Just think about mine Gladius, last time I celebrated was in an ocean of blood and a broken sword, chilled to the bone and fighting amongst the dead against shadows.” I laughed, before looking at Bloom’s unamused face. “Okay, perhaps we should tell her, before she thinks I’ve gone senile.”

“Don’t think yourself older than me youngling, if anypony is due to be senile it’s me, because I’m forty years older than you.” Gladius replied mentally.

“So, how much do you want to know, I guarantee it’ll need to be explained a few times Bloom?” I asked, my visor landing on her.

I’m Not Selling Cookies

View Online

Chapter 41

I’m Not Selling Cookies

“Call me Filly Scout one more time!” Applebits

We were running for what seemed like an hour, but after checking my EFS I realized we had only been running for five minutes. My voice box was still out on the fritz, and it took me a moment to realize that I had been knocked clean on my plot and was now staring down the throat of a massive metal hound thing with glowing red eyes.

“And just who are you pony?” It spoke in a voice that sounded much like nails on a chalkboard.

I looked around for Skull or Lightning, but could see them nowhere nearby, “Bzzt iz tiz it?” I tried to speak, only proceeding to piss the thing in front of me off even more.

“You here to sell cookies filly?” It shot me the insult as I took notice of several now empty boxes on the edges of the tunnel.

“Bzzt…?” I asked tilting my head for emphasis, What kind of Steel Ranger you think I am?

“Oh well, pony tastes just as good.” It snickered and I suddenly lost my funny bone somewhere in my throat where my voice box was now emitting a high pitched wail as I shot to my hooves and darted to my left.

“Blllleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeppppppppp bleep bleep!” I sound like that chef from TV… I was more or less screaming for help and my life, as I was also now staring at the remains of what looked like a small filly and her friends in Filly Scout uniforms from before the wasteland.

“C’mere you little pony in a can!” It yelled as it once more lunged at me, though this time twin mini-guns popped out of it’s shoulders and opened fire on me.

Once again I started screaming a multitude of different toned beeps, though I did fire a few missiles, though they seemed to be ineffective at even making the metal dog thing that was trying to kill me even slow down. I began running, I just kind of picked a direction, unfortunately I happened to run deeper into it’s den and was now surrounded by a multitude of skeletal Filly Scouts and large heaps of sealed cookie boxes.

“Nowhere left to run now Filly Scout.” It laughed, though it sounded more like hammers banging on pans.

It then lunged for me before backhanding me into the wall, “Ung, hey… Wait… My voice is back! Hell yes! Oh shit!” I yelled as I both celebrated and dodged for my life. “Somepony needs to teach the doggy a little respect. SIT!” I shouted before delivering a roundhouse buck to it’s face with a resounding crack.

“Bzzt.” It replied.

“Gues it is contagious, oh well… teach you to call me a Filly Scout.” I taunted as I locked a missile onto a small hole, by small I mean hoof sized, in it’s forehead before launching it off and walking towards the cookies.

It’s head then rolled past my hooves and hit a stack, causing it to fall on top of me.

“Damn it a- zzt. Ziit, bizit tiz tiz tiz…” I shouted as I heard hooves thundering down the tunnel towards me.

Remembering that the Enclave was in fact still prowling around I shifted myself under the cookies and got ready to engage any hostile threat that made itself available. Fortunately Lightning shouted at me before trying to move the cookies so I decidedly didn’t shoot him in the face.

“Mind telling me what all this commotion was about, you know what, never mind… Skull dig your mare friend out and lets go. Wait are these mint chips?” Lightning started to order but then got sidetracked and began to ramble on about cookies.

“I don’t even want to know, but I would like you to know that these cookies will be going places that they were never meant to go.” Skull stated as she looked down at me, my eyes only got wider behind my visor as she licked her lips and flicked her tongue a few times for emphasis.

“Bzzt…” I tried to reply, in a mild protest that I would rather eat the cookies than shove them up my, private areas… but all that came out of course was static.

“Hey Lightning wanna fix her yet?” She asked, turning to him.

“Nah, this way she can’t protest.” He laughed as he flapped his wings a few times before continuing, “Found a way out over here, bring the tin can and the cookies.”

“Okay, I’ll load her up.” Skull replied with a mild chuckle before throwing a bunch of cookies into my armored saddlebags and then loading a few into her own.

I merely decided to stop even trying to make any sound and followed the two as we came out to an even large tunnel. Once I closed the steel security door behind us, the loud click seemed to have woken something in the room, or I should rather say a large group of ghouls who did not look like the friendly type either. We didn’t even have time to react to the ensuing onslaught, Lightning and I were fortunate enough because of our armor, though I did lose my rear left leg again. But Skull had now been backed into a corner with her pistol drawn, my battle saddle was unfortunately not working, and even though Lightning’s was, he was barely able to keep the rotten corpses Hell bent on devouring us off of him.

That was when I heard the sounds of rifles chambering, echoing far in the distance. As this new sound reached my ears, so did I notice ghouls begin dropping to the ground, dead. Holes the size of apples were in the back of their heads, each and every one of them precisely in the same spots for each one. In a rapid fashion, the corpses assailing us from every angle thinned dramatically until only a few remained.

The creepiest part of what was happening though, was that we had heard the sounds; but they’d sounded like they were far away. When I saw the casings of the rounds, I realized just how much closer whoever it was that was helping us. They had been but a few steps from the fight, firing away without giving away even the slightest hint of their position.

As we started to work on dispatching the last few who remained, I watched as something collectively began to form in the eyes of the ghouls who were left. Each one suddenly let out a cry, almost akin to pure terror, and I looked on as one who had been meaning to end Skull’s life was pulled into the shadows near her. Its body was tossed out seconds later, bleeding from hundreds of precise knife wounds which ran deep across its entire frame and had cut major arteries and veins.

The rest of the ghouls immediately turned and fled from us, howling like crazy and bumping into each other or tripping over their fellows who were already dead as if to escape.

“Okay, I’m officially creeped out.” Skull said as she side walked over to me, Lightning though had taken to a perch on the ceiling and made no moves to come down.

“Bzzt?” I tried to call out to anyone who might be nearby, but alas my voice as usual was 100% inoperable, go figure.

Silence was the only answer to my malfunctioning voice. Nothing made any movements, nor sound; although off in the corners of my vision I saw a flicker of something in the shadows. A pair of eyes, dark, haunting, finally opening and staring at the three of us.

“Now that is just plain creepy right there.” Lightning finally said, still refusing to come down from above us.

“Bzztizit.” I said, doing a small bow and waving a hoof while trying desperately not to figure out how to fly and strangle my friend.

“I think Applebits here is trying to say thank you, in which we are grateful for your help… had you not aided us I’d be dead right now.” Skull said as I noticed my missing leg.

Levitating my missing leg over to me and reattaching it, I looked closer at our new, hopefully, friend with my headlamp flickering yet on. At first, I was perplexed to see where my light shone, there was nothing. The eyes which we had just seen had disappeared completely, leaving nothing but a few piles of decomposing trash and rusted metal where our friend might’ve been. I felt a chill run by my shoulder suddenly, and when I turned I saw her.

She stood not like us, by any standards. She was on her hind legs, tall, slender. Her fur was black as the shadows she hid within, and her eyes were equally as disturbing as she glared down at me. Mouth sewn shut, throat ripped out with skin and muscle tissue hanging free. The glint of bone was visible up close. Her clothing was that of what I recognized as a standard Army soldier, save a distinct patch on her right shoulder, which was that of something I didn’t recognize at all, archaic, ancient. In her hooves she carried a single sniper rifle, which, to us, almost seemed designed for taking out tanks as it was nearly the size of a tank’s cannon. As she shook her short grey mane from her soulless eyes, I could tell she was waiting for a response.

“Bzzt izzit bzz?” I tried to offer her a greeting but again, can’t really talk without a voice to talk with so I just nodded and looked to Skull, well more of pulled Skull over with my right hoof so, so that she would talk for me.

“Um… hello, this is Applebits, up there is Dark Lightning, and I am Skull, do you have a name?” Skull asked after she introduced herself, though visibly you couldn’t tell, but since my hoof was in her I did notice that she seemed to be shaking in her pony shoes.

The sniper shouldered her weapon slowly, before taking one of her hooves and tapping her lips twice after directing Skull’s attention to meet her terrifying gaze.

“Wha-” Skull began before I jabbed her side and gave her a look through my visor, using my left forehoof to point to her closed mouth, then to my own mouth, then to the dead silent surroundings, “Oh, Silence?”

Silence nodded very imperceptibly, her expression surprisingly softening slightly before her eyes narrowed and she snapped her gaze up at Lightning before disappearing right before us. In the time it took to blink, she was there beside him, crouched down on her back legs and right beside his face before she gently, slightly, ruffled his ear. Never in my time knowing him, had I seen Lightning jump that fast, nor find him to be hiding behind me so scared.

“Bzzt izt bzzitiz izti bz zt?” I asked, looking to both of my companions and pointing to the pony who was now once again gone.

I then hit myself in the head and tried talking again, “Shzzt is jzzt a ghzzzt, zze Genzzt cazzt summon zzem.” I smiled, now at least having a minimal amount of speech back.

Almost in answer to what I had just said, I noticed the blood draining from the corpses left by the battle and moving in front of me. They came to spell out words, before I heard Lightning yelp again and looked back to see him shivering with her standing beside him. “I...Am...Flesh.”

“Anozzt like Gladzzt?” I asked, tilting my head at Lightning before hitting him on the head with my armored tail, earning a small, almost inaudible chuckle from Skull who shut up the moment I looked at her.

At the mentioning of that garbled response, it seemed like something clicked deep within the mind of the sniper who for a moment had been glaring at Skull; her eyes, once set almost in anger, now became deep and thoughtful, as she looked at me and tilted her own head as if curious. “You...Know...Friend?” The blood began to spell before me.

“Yzzt, he saved mizztz lizzt… Lightzzt fizzt izz voiz!” I shouted finally unable to take it anymore.

“Oh, okay Bits.” He replied as he cautiously started poking around in my neck with a small screwdriver after I removed my helmet.

Silence merely observed from this point, thoroughly engrossed in the work that Lightning was doing as if she’d never seen it before. Indeed, she may not have, but from time to time she did turn one eye and looked to Skull, still keeping watch of her as though also curious.

“There, that should do it.” Lightning spoke as he pulled away from my neck and scooted over to Skull a bit more.

“Thank you, finally I can talk again… albeit not in my original voice, but still.” I replied happy to have my voice back before I turned to Silence, “Yes I know Gladius, was actually just with him about a day or so ago.”

“How...Is...Friend?” She said in blood, an eyebrow raised and her head tilted as she returned her attention to me. “He...Okay...Without...Us?”

“He just lost his daughter, last time I checked he was sitting in a graveyard mourning while I was being thrown around like a sandbag at a graduation party… long story.” I replied, watching for what the mare would do next.

The sniper closed her eyes, her head bowing slightly for a moment as her body seemed to start fading into shadows until she was nearly gone. A single dark, bloody tear rolled down her cheek before falling to the floor before me and sizzling into the other bloods that had mixed together. For but a moment, she remained there, motionless, almost ethereal, before beginning to return to her full physical form. “She...Must...Be...In...The...Kingdom...Unlike...Us.”

Wiping away the remains of her tear, her stitched mouth began to smile a little before her ears twitched and her eyes narrowed into slits. “They...Are...Here...Come...To...Me…To...Hide.”

“Roger that, everypony to her, now.” I spoke, my voice commanding, though I found that I had to use my magic to move the two ponies still rooted to the spot behind me before I grasped my helmet and dashed over to her myself.

“Now...Under...The...Shadow...Of...Death...None...May...Find...Us.” Silence spelled one last time in blood, before she embraced the three of us almost protectively.

At first, there was nothing different. Nothing notable changed. Everything seemed the same. That was, of course, until I saw that each of us had vanished from sight. Even myself, as I looked down over my body to see nothing standing where I was. The blood which we stood in no longer produced sound wherever we stood, and we cast no shadows from the dim light which was in this small room.

“Wha!” Skull shouted as she began to have a small breakdown.

“Shut it Skull, freak out later, accept creepy shit now.” Lightning replied as I just watched down the ruined metro station, as I had come to discover it to be.

“See anything on the scope Feather?” A stallion’s voice echoed across the way as two forms appeared in the shadows, the lights on their power armor giving them off clear as day.

“Negative Lt, a load of nothing, wait, woah, that looks like somepony held a massacre party and forgot to invite the next city over.” A second voice, this one belonging to the stallion named Feather spoke.

“Plan?” I whispered to my allies.

“I could try something, I am after all a pegasus in power armor as well, they might just listen to me long enough that I can get a little intel, then we can dump their bodies down here, steal their gear, and get the Hell out of Hoofington!” Lightning excitedly exclaimed in a hushed tone.

After a few moments of listening and contemplating Lightning’s plan, I heard something that didn’t sound remotely like that of the Enclave or any of us. It didn’t sound like anything I had heard before. It was sentient, though, because I could hear it from even across the massive metro whispering a single word which only grew louder and louder. “Rage...Rage...RAGE...RAGE!”

“What the actual buck is that?” Lighting commented as he paused his train of thought.

“Like I would know, this day has officially become the most outlandish out of all my mercenary experiences.” Skull stated.

“If I were to guess, I’d say Silence didn’t come alone, after all, everypony should travel with a companion you know.” I said, thinking about what I would do on my own, and coming to the conclusion that I would have probably died too many times to count.

“Um… Lt, what is that chanting?” Featherlight asked as he landed on the ground just a few yards away.

“Probably just your imagination.” His superior replied, obviously lost in thought.

The entrance to the Metro was suddenly rocked by multiple, massive explosions, in response to the Lieutenant’s words. The chanting of that single word grew even louder, to the point that it was almost deafening, as a single figure started to become visible through the thick smoke and flames. A wall of dark crimson advanced forth, clad only in digital urban camouflage pants and a white tank top with a patrol cap matching the pants. Whatever it was, it was pure muscle, as it stood tall and looked down at the two Enclave troopers. At its waist, it carried a knife, on its shoulders, I saw two large anti-tank cannons, and strapped to its right foreleg was a minigun which it carried with ease before it jumped down and landed at the bottom of the metro platform. Right before the two soldiers.

Closer than before, I could see the blood it was stained with, and saw that its fur was not naturally crimson either. Its eyes were, however, and it was staring right at the two before it as it repeated the same phrase as it had before.

“Take the private, I’ve got a date tonight!” The lieutenant yelled as he pushed the younger pegasus forward.

The latter of which was utterly speechless, both at the hulking mass in front of him, and the fact that his superior just voluntold him to sacrifice himself. “Wait, sir, you can’t be serious! I’ve got a foal to take care of, and you… What?” Featherlight started to panic, fear running through his veins as he tried to backpedal against the officer who was trying to push him forward.

The growling roar of which this monstrous pony that stood before Featherlight quieted some, as his ears twitched as if listening to what had just been said. The minigun in his foreleg, regardless of his moment of thought, still spun up, and he aimed it first at the younger trooper before seeing the faintest glimmer of Silence’s eyes behind him. The pony growled, but did not proceed, and looked to the Lieutenant who had pushed Featherlight forward and he roared again as he began to step forward, brushing past the trooper and towards the Lt.

“Wait, what?” the officer spoke as Featherlight’s mouth merely worked itself over as he had placed both hooves together and seemingly was praying.

The monstrous pony stopped merely paces from the superior, his expression a visage of twisted rage and nothing else as he glared down at the Enclave officer. “You...Date? Your Date...is with me...Now.” The hint of a smile played on his lips, as he tapped on his minigun, still spinning, and leaned down so he was eye level and within breathing distance. “It’s about to be...A Night you’ll never forget...Even in the bowels of Hell, you will remember me.”

“Shit, fuck, damn, bitch…” The officer went into a triad of cuss words as he spread his wings and began to flap.

“You’re not going anywhere!” The raging pony leaped forward, his leg leg smashing out and kicking the Lieutenant in the face and sending him flying across the metro.

His body crashed into a column, making a large dent into it of which he remained, still very much alive and bleeding heavily. His jaw was broken, and gibberish came from his mouth now as the crimson pony advanced forward and paused before him again. His unarmed hoof punched deep into his solar plexus, making the superior cough blood into his face, which he merely laughed wicked at and licked his now wet lips before taking the officer out of his imprisonment and throwing him towards the remains of one of the metro trains. To say the least, the entire train buckled and bent inwards before tipping over, and again the soldier was there, glaring, yet smiling.

“So, how’s the...Date, going, love?” He whispered in the pony’s ear, angrily, before using his hoof to make the Lieutenant look at him.

All he got in return were the glassed over eyes of a dead pony, still holding a pained and fearful expression.

“Damn, who is that guy?” I asked Silence, though to be honest it was mostly just to remind myself that I was in fact alive and I did in fact just witness somepony get crushed into a train to death by something akin to a darker version of my fillyhood saturday morning cartoons.

The blood before me that leaked from the fresh corpse in the train flowed until it formed two simple words. “Husband...Rage.” As those words were spelled, I suddenly noticed when I looked to my side that Silence was standing there, visible once more. Her expression was strange, because she was in fact smiling, wholeheartedly, happily, as she looked at the massive, beastly pony which had just so brutally murdered the Lieutenant.

“...” I truly couldn’t think of anything to say, the Hulk was standing in front of me and I was dumbfounded.

Meanwhile my companions had taken a decided leave of absence from the immediate area and were now sitting far away from the scene, some friends they turned out to be, chickens.

“WHAT ARE YOU MAGGOTS DOING COWERING LIKE FOOLS!? THE BLOOD HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN TO RUN!” Rage screamed, as he caught both sight and smell of the two who had so fearfully fled from being near to him. His twisted expression was a smile, as he drank deeply of their fear and watched them intently as Silence slowly walked over to him.

She placed a hoof on his chest, making him notice her, and she was still smiling as he looked down at her, his own expression calming to a shocking normalcy as they looked at one another.

“The question I have been asking myself since we met your wife here… You’d think they were the ones with multiple replacement parts… well Lightning does have cyberwings, but it isn’t like he is missing his hind legs or voice!” I yelled the last bit for emphasis in his direction as static began to claim my voice again.

“Your metal is weak...My flesh is strong.” Rage said, chuckling darkly before seeing in his wife’s eyes a stern, harrowing look which made even him quiet his laughter before he again called out to my friends. “Come Here...You have no fear...Death does not come for you yet.”

Rather quietly I muttered under my breath, “I would happily have my original body parts, but the Universe had different ideas bub.”

“Uh… hi, I’m Skull.” My newest friend said as she waved a hoof timidly.

Lighting however flew right up to him and put his hoof out to shake, part of me wondered if he had finally grown a backbone, but then I noticed that Skull was watching him intently, I swear if they made a bet on this I’ll remove a few limbs, “The name is Dark Lightning, Shadowbolt Sniper of the MoA.”

“Rage…” The massive soldier replied, looking at the hoof as if it were a declaration of war. “Ranger...Rage.” As he spoke those two words, his shoulder mounted AT cannons lowered to the point that they were both facing Lightning. “Tell me...How much blood do you believe your...newly grown backbone, is worth?”

“...” Lighting slowly put his hoof down before looking at me, “The ponies you know scare me Apple…” He stated before he shot to the ceiling in a orange and black streak.

“I actually don’t… wait did you say Ranger?” I asked as something clicked in my mind, an old conversation Tempest had with Luna one night, when I had first transferred to his unit and he had me still bunking in his tent, “Buck me in the ass Skull, I just had an epiphany.”

“A what now?” She asked as she shot me a surprised look.

“I’ve heard a little about you… I only introduced myself by name before, permit me to do so by rank, Star Paladin Steel Crusher of the Lunar Rangers, General Tempest Knights army, directly under the orders of Princess Luna. I heard the general one night speaking over the camps portable terminal with Luna, I only caught one side of the conversation but I never really pried into them… even as the second most senior officer of the army.” I said as I stepped forward by one hoof.

“What...Have...You...Heard...Of...Us?” Silence said in blood, her expression showing slight surprise that anypony even remotely knew of who they were anymore.

“To be honest, not much… If I recall what Temp had said right, you were super soldiers, and he had agreed to send a supply caravan your way with ammunition during the last weeks before the Steel Rangers were introduced. I never heard about you guys again after that, we had been deployed far beyond enemy lines afterwards.” I replied, kicking the ground.

“We fought in the blood and mud of thousands upon thousands of those zebra whorses… On the frontline of combat, with no rest, no retreat, no surrender.” Rage said, his expression harkening back to the years during the war as he growled ferociously. “None survived us, and none ever will.”

“Speaking of which… HEY YOU!” Lightning yelled as he landed in front of the pegasus who hadn’t been slain, “You haven’t left yet?”

“N… no sir…” He replied, his voice cracking, “I… I…”

“STRAIGHTEN UP YOUR SHIT AND SPEAK LIKE A SOLDIER, LITTLE COLT!” Rage shouted, as he turned on a dime, facing the Enclave trooper.

“Yes sir!” He shouted as he hopped up to attention.

“How come he will do it for you, but not for me?” Lighting asked, before taking a step away from them both.

“Maybe because you are a chicken with metal wings.” I shot back at him, which made him nod his head up and down in small movements.

“You shape up fast…” Rage smiled a little, as he looked at the pegasus before his gaze turned to Lightning and he shook his head. “You on the other hand...You’re the most cowardly little bit-”

Silence tapped Rage’s shoulder, getting his attention mid-sentence and making him turn back around to her. He was met with her fist colliding with his face, which sent him back a few paces and left a little bit of blood coming from his lip. “Enough...I...Tire...Of...This...Place…” She spelled in blood, before looking to the Enclave soldier. “You...Help...Us...You...Live. We...Go...To...Surface.”

“Surface is good, surface is great, surface is this way ma’am!” He shouted as he lifted off with his wings and began to lead us out.

In the Hoof

View Online

Chapter 42
In the Hoof

I was in the neighborhood so I thought that I’d drop by. - Tempest Knight

We had traveled through the night, undeterred by the Enclave, so much so that we had enough time to tell Deathbloom about ourselves, to say she was shocked would be an understatement. For a time, she was simply stunned into silence, and her eyes had taken on a distant, almost non-existent look. You’d have thought we threw her to the moon with how vacant she was, absentmindedly walking alongside Gladius.

“You guys are… and I kis-”

“Yes.” Gladius answered, calmly, as he paused a moment and looked to her. She was looking back at him, the confusion wrought on her features plain, but also a slight fear, awe, excitement, anger, and plenty of other emotions warring for attention in the depths of her mind.

“Funny, you knew he was a ghoul when you kissed him, does this really change anything?” I asked, a small smile gracing my lips before a particularly foul smell bringing me back to those older days we had been speaking of caught my nose.

“I’ve been with ghouls before… That doesn’t bother me. The fact is, you’re ancient. I never knew who you were, until now.” Deathbloom kicked a small pebble from the road, her eyes slowly cast downward, ears drooped slightly. “There’s just so many questions I have, and not enough time in the world to answer them.”

“There’ll be a time and place, I’ll make sure.” Gladius replied, softly, placing a hoof on her shoulder. “I will explain everything, anything that you want to know.”

“Hold up.” I stated, “Gladius, smell that?”

“I’d know the scent anywhere old friend.” Gladius turned his nose to the wind, giving a few small sniffs before his eyes narrowed and he rose up to full height on his hind legs. “Your weapons ready General?”

“Stay thine blades… err, gun.” I spoke, as we came over the hill, “It seems that they have prisoners…” Smoke lazily left my muzzle as my mental train of thought steamed to a halt, “154BC, remember the uprising of the Centaurs?”

“My village was rather isolated, and there were barely enough Knights to defend it… I do not recall the uprising.” Gladius replied, his eyes scanning what was before him before he looked back to me. “Give me the rundown General, so I know what I need to do.”

“You and Deathbloom play the part of cavalry, I will leave you my armor and infiltrate their captured settlement to retrieve those who are innocent. Once they are clear, you will strike upon my signal, I think a explosive fireball will do… Green?” I explained as I began to shed the custom armor from my body, allowing it to fall to the ground.

“I’ll be waiting for the signal. Don’t take too long. Good luck General.” Gladius gave a small salute before looking to Deathbloom, who seemed to now be masking her emotions under a numb expression.

She nodded slowly when he tapped her shoulder to make sure she’d heard. “I’m ready. Need to kill something anyways, ease the stress.”

I shouldered my blades onto my leather barding and and slipped the pip-buck onto my left foreleg before dashing off into the shadow of the hill. I noticed it was getting darker, checking the pip-buck I realized that it was coming close to become 2000 hours. I moved silently up to the wall, careful to avoid the spotlight as I didn’t particularly want my scaly ass lit up by gunfire or the missile launcher I had spotted just before the light came on.

I put my hoof to the junk wall fence that separated me from the inside of their camp, quietly pondering to myself about how I was to get in without being noticed. My greatest drawback in my opinion was that I never really thought these things through, my power to shadow travel was currently out of juice, and if I flew I would run the risk of being seen and endangering the innocents within the clutches of the raiders.

“Git ur fuckin’ ass outta tha carts now ya curs!” A foul stallion wearing a ratty trench coat shouted to a group of ponies, all of whom looked malnourished and broken, all save for one. This one was different, she had fine muscle tone, but not bulging in any way, her coat was a fine shade of scarlet red, and her mane and tail had a silvery gleam on it’s natural shade of black. Her eyes though, they were what caught my attention, not that they were a crystalline teal, but that they looked determined.

For all but a moment our eyes met, and I took note of her tattered grey cloak, and the bulges on her back that it concealed. I gave her a curt nod, before unlatching a single blade and pulling it out ever so slightly. She gave me a wink and returned her attention to the Raiders so they wouldn’t suspect anything.

I crept up to the edge of the gate before peeking my head around to see her black and silver mane disappear behind the gates as they closed. Now I would have to play the waiting game, since I had a hopeful friend inside.

I had taken to staying near the shadows and listening to these Raiders talk to one another, though I was currently listening to a mare and a stallion doing a bit more than just talking as I sat in wait. Rather suddenly a small door directly next to me opened, faster than the shadows themselves I pressed myself against the wall and in the cover behind the now open and well masked hidden entrance that I was now kicking myself for not noticing before. That was when the mare from earlier poked her head out of it and my heart stopped trying to smash it’s way out of my chest.

“So what is your plan now that I have had to deal with an undesirable playing between my hind quarters?” She asked, her voice having that professor-like tone in it.

“Terribly sorry about that, I didn’t know there was a door here.” I replied, relaxing a bit and trying my best to keep my speech pattern as modern as I dared.

“It’s alright, it was blocked on this side anyways, I was just looking for a way out…” She began before catching my eye, “What?”

“Did you get a good look at the path you took out of here?” I asked her.

“It was pretty much a straight shot, lots of cover, you could easily sneak through it all… why?” She asked.

“I don’t intend upon leaving those innocent in that encampment.” I replied moving to step past her, my wings absently pushing her aside as she tried to lay her hoof on my shoulder.

“You’ll be slaughtered.” She spoke, concern gracing her features.

“I’ve faced worse odds before.” I said, not stopping as I moved inside of the compound, “You may come with me if you wish, but I shall not permit it if you wish to hinder me.” I retorted, reverting to my old equestrian roots.

“I… I do have a pistol, so if anything happens I guess I can lend a few .44 rounds to the cause.” She replied, “But I am no good at sneaking…”

“Just wait here then, I’ll send them to you.” I said in a steady tone of voice as I carefully opened the door to the maze of paths inside of the encampment.

I didn’t wait for her reply as I moved with the utmost stealth into the encampment, my will constantly on my my blade, my eyes darting from each corner to the next.

“Aw shucks, I didn’t think ya liked em like that…” I heard one Raider far too close for my comfort say, as sickly meaty squishes could be heard.

“What, when they are still alive they taste better, besides this one is so knocked up he ain’t feelin’ a thing.” A mare replied with an obvious mouthful of what I guessed was pony flesh.

“Yeah, but eating his rod while he’s still alive, don’t ya think that is a tad extreme, I mean, wouldn’t you rather do something else with it first?” The first Raider mare asked.

“Eh, I prefer mares in that sense anyways… Testical?” At that point I merely said a silent prayer to Hades that this poor stallion would have a good rest in the Underworld, somewhere peaceful and without much pain before I rounded the corner and sent both blades into their heads.

I unceremoniously let them drop to the ground before slitting the stallions throat and saying a short prayer once more over his body and returning to my prime directive. It didn’t take me very long to get to the prisoners, but my initial plan did have one major flaw, the lights, turrets, and probable landmines. Looking around I spotted the nearest light and turret emplacement, I also took note that their internal security was fully automated, in other words I had just found the laziest Raiders ever.

Using a few beats of my wings I made my way through the shadows to the top of the internal wall and inspected the turret and lights. It seemed as if they were all on the same power grid, which would enable me to cause a full blackout and allow me to fly in and liberate the prisoners without too much difficulty. So I followed the wire, which was apparently mounted so that it would be out of reach to the general populace, but easy to follow if one had working wings.

It didn’t take me long to follow it to the generator, which I confirmed powered the rest of them as many more power lines made their way to it as well. Deciding that if I were to kill the lights now that I may endanger the civilians I moved for a more subtle approach. Reaching into my saddlebags with my magic I levitated a few small whitish bricks out and used their adhesive to stick them to the generator and a few locations in the surrounding area. I then wired it all together and linked it to a kill switch on my pip-buck, I then flew back the way I had come, careful not to trigger the turrets or draw any unwanted attention to myself before landing.

“As a good friend once said, hasta la vista bitches.” I muttered as I pressed the button and the C-4 I had left detonated, leaving nothing in the area the generator was except for a few surprised Raiders who were now burning alive, and pile of debris where the generator itself had once stood.

The moment the lights went out however I was upon the massive cage pit in the center. Deciding that lockpicking wouldn’t be fast enough I drove my dragon bone blades in a downwards slice that not only cut the hinges off, but also made short work of the deadbolt lock as well, causing the entire door to fall inwards and the ponies inside to charge out to where I was.

“Make haste but not waste, the exit is directly behind me and through the personal chambers of the foul creatures who imprisoned ye, go now, a friend awaits ye at the end of this trail.” I proclaimed in a hushed tone to the first ones that made it out and had stopped to thanks me.

“What about you?” One of them asked as she toted her filly out on her back.

“I shall remain here, bring them down from within and await my cavalry.” I replied, letting it slip that I was merely one in a grand scheme.

“Mister… my sister, they took her.” A rather young and chirpy voice said with a pained tone as I felt a tug on my hind right leg.

“Which way?” I asked, looking down at this young colt who before the war would have been in primary school.

He pointed and moved his mouth to speak but a bullet made him jump and run with the rest of the herd as Raiders began pouring into the surrounding areas, except for the one route I had taken.

“Well, isn’t this just prime?” I asked nopony in particular as I drew both my blades and made ready for war with a mighty draconic cry.

A similar cry arose from the other end of the compound, one which was both matching in ferocity and zeal. However there was a difference to this, I could tell. This shout was much, much more haunting. It echoed in the air long after it should’ve dissipated, hanging with a sense of impending dread and doom which even I could feel.

Whatever was coming, whatever had responded to my warcry, it was definitely not the cavalry I was expecting. Before I, or the Raiders could make any moves, I watched as the few lights still on, one by one, began to shatter around the entire encampment. Any form of torch or candle, natural light, slowly was snuffed out by strange means. The darkness that was left behind was far more menacing than I could ever recall, a sinister nature felt from it that dared anypony to enter its depths. In the gloom, I could see the Raiders, stumbling about, trying to call to one another; yet nopony answered each other. It was almost as if their voices died in their throats.

At this moment, I heard something out of the strange, oppressive silence. Something everypony seemed to hear, as I witnessed several Raider ponies looking about them rapidly in confusion with ears perked. Whispers. Whispers slowly began to creep into the seemingly sealed space. Moans and cries of those in pain followed, although nopony seemed to have suffered any injury to warrant such horrific noises in the surrounding area. What the whispers were saying were unintelligible gibberish, as if whoever was speaking had no longer a grasp on language of any kind. But the sounds were frantic, fearful, pained, crying out for help when there was none.

This was when the screams started. I listened, as the Raiders closest to me began to howl madly. Their weapons, they at first fired around them, wildly. They were aiming at something that I couldn’t see. They weren’t shooting at any one thing; instead, each one shot at something only they could see.

When their ammunition was exhausted, they merely fell to the ground, heads clutched between hooves, and began to quietly sob. The whispers grew louder now, turning into more of a shouting that was in a chorus from every direction. They were becoming more distinct, more real, and for one voice, it was too despairing to know.

It was a young filly’s voice. One that I recognized, that I knew all too well. “H...Help me…”

The figure, an outline at first, started to form over one of the kneeling, sobbing Raiders. As she became more clear, I came to a realization. It was the very filly that I had helped talk to Gladius. It was his daughter, Tenebris.

“P...Please...T...The fire it...it hurts…” She whispered, coming to rest right at the Raider’s ears. “I...It hurts… Please…”

“Shut up...Shut up!” The raider screamed in response,”Shut the fuck up! I don’t want to hear it anymore!” The Raider broke down, after her defiant cry, and began to weep again.

“Please d...don’t hurt me…” Tenebris said softly, as she placed her hoof on the cheek of the mare. “Don...Don’t hurt me…”

“W...Won’t hurt…” The mare repeated, quietly, as she started to look up, gazing into the young filly’s eyes with glazed pupils.

Her pistol slowly rose, but wasn’t aimed at Tenebris. It was placed to her own mouth, before she gave a final cry and pulled the trigger. Blood splattered everywhere behind her, as the bullet blasted through and spread her flesh across the wall behind her. She slowly collapsed, tears still in her eyes, as her last breaths were erratic and full of pain. Her eyes were still glazed though, as she looked faintly around, even to me, before she gave a final gasp and bled out.

Several other gunshots resounded and reached my ears momentarily after I watched the final moments of the mare. When I looked around, I saw that several other Raiders had done the same as the one Tenebris had courted.

Many of the other Raiders, were still stumbling and suffering; however they didn’t seem to be affected as much, and were fighting whatever was assailing them with a determination that was a bit surprising, honestly.

By this moment, Tenebris was looking at me. Her expression was a small smile, before she started to fade. As her body disappeared from sight, she pointed a single time with her hoof behind me and giggled a quiet word. “Uncle.”

I stood there, blades still drawn out before a small smile played across my face at her ruse, “Tally ho.” I muttered before unleashing a vengeful roar and gave charge.

My blades carved through the ground, leaving twin trails of fire behind me before I came up to the first Raider and ran both of them into his chest before fully igniting them. Flames burst from his body before he turned to ash. Another Raider charged me with a electrified machete, I parried it and took a step to the side before opening my muzzle to reveal my carnivorous teeth. Her eyes turned to pin pricks as my firebreath built up in the back of my throat before I unleashed a stream of flame into her face. I showed no emotion as I listened to her screams as the fire consumed her body and left naught but a charred skeleton as her only remains.

I quickly spun around and cut another Raider down with one blade while impaling yet another upon my other. That was when I realized that I was standing amongst a circle of Raiders who all had different levels of fearful expressions upon their faces, yet none directed at me.

“Sad...Oh so very sad…” A faint, despaired voice, distinctly masculine, whispered in the eaves of my ears. A chilling wind seemed to consume the air around, a soft breath which was like ice settling on my ear. “So much death...So much needless destruction…”

The others around me, the Raiders, they seemed to be hearing the same thing, as they searched and searched about with wide eyes as to the source which assailed their hearing. After a brief time, they all gave gasps, cries, and even a few screamed, while pointing in a similar manner that Tenebris had done before vanishing.

When I turned an eye to see what was freaking them out so much, I remembered what the young filly had giggled about. Uncle, she had said.

The being that which stood, or floated, to be precise, above the ground was almost ethereal in nature like she was. However, there was a sense of tangibility, of reality, which seemed to ground this, thing, to the world around it. The fact that it possessed a shadow, or what I could call it’s shadow, was a telling point that it was real, and not merely a spirit. It was clearly alive, as it took shallow, raspy, ragged breaths, that were symbolic of somepony either in mourning or close to death. Droplets seemed to slowly trickle and fall to the ground from the obscure darkness that was its face, which was hidden by a cloak which seemed to bend to the shadows around it and thus was nearly invisible. No, not bend to the shadows, the shadows were bending towards it. A pair of eyes was all that was purely visible, and they were kept behind spectacles which were cracked. As I looked over its body, it looked to be wearing the attire of a military chaplain, although the uniform was heavily digitized for urban warfare. Black combat boots adorned its hind legs, and a tome that bore on its hidebound cover a skull with a cross in the background was chained to its waist.

With its hooves hidden from view by the cloak, I had no idea of what weapons it carried. I only had the instinctual desire which surprisingly was screaming at me to flee from this being as it meandered ever so slowly about and studied us with a tilted head. Still, it was sobbing softly, silently, as more tears fell. But these tears now were bloody, and its eyes were slowly narrowing, as it looked upon the Raiders.

“You are all sinners, in the hands of an Angry God…” It began, still speaking quietly, yet powerfully, as every word resonated in my bones and clearly the other Raiders as well. “And that God has decided your fate is at hand. Death itself comes for you, and Hell’s burning pits await your souls to fuel its ever hungering forges and flames.” The Chaplain’s gaze slowly drifted down to me, as he paused but paces away. “Even you…should you fail.” He passed by slowly, his presence bringing the frigid touch of death with him, before he paused and looked to the Raiders. “Nopony will ever cry for your damned souls...Nopony will remember you. You will rot and die here, and nopony will care. Only I will care...for it is sad...so sad...to see such waste of life.”

The Chaplain slowly unveiled one of his hooves, which was carrying upon it a singular, obsidian combat knife. With a serrated blade that oozed a befouling substance that stank of hopeless and despair, the knife was raised at the first of the Raiders before he suddenly disappeared.

Reappearing behind him, the being’s knife rose only once and pluged downward. Striking with the force of a freight train at full speed, yet drawing no noise or resonating any sound at all, that was the death of the first Raider. Right into the base of his neck from the back, he instantly collapsed, falling into a fit of agonized cries which died in his mouth, never to be heard as tears silently formed. He was suffering, a slow, painful death, with his eyes glazing in a similar manner to that of the mare Tenebris had convinced to kill herself.

When the knife was slid free of the stallion, his breathing stopped, and he bled from every visible orifice, including his eyes. He was dead. By this moment, most of the other Raiders were turning or running, with few actually choosing to hold their ground. They had borne witness to such a terrible fate, and from what they had heard, they were next. The Chaplain knelt to the side of the stallion, whispering a small prayer of sorts, before marking him in his own blood and rising to his full height again.

His eyes surveyed those left, and that was when he lowered his cloak. The horrible face which stood to greet the world would have been better served in some of the darkest of nightmares. His expression was forever set in one of mourning, but was twisted even further than just that. His face was heavily burned and what fur remained was charred black. Skin was riddled with bite marks and holes, with parts of his jaw exposed to the chilled air. The eyes which hid behind the spectacles had a sickly, puffy look, and seemed as if filled with sleepless nights as the dark bloody tears leaked from them and stained his cheeks. His mane was cut short, and was a dark greyish color, which corresponded with the fur he had left, and left only a thought of loathing and pain. A stabbing pain of Sorrow, which seemed to encompass even my own mind, as I stared at what I considered almost pitiful.

Even though these emotions ran through me, I was set into my routine, a face of steel, a will of iron. I turned my gaze from him and to a trio of Raiders, unveiling a fragment of what remained of my power I found this presence older, and far more corrupt than the other Raiders before I reeled my powers back in and closed my eyes. ‘This is the one, this is the Chief of these Raiders, she shall burn.’ I thought to myself as I opened my eyes again, my pupils slit.

“Ka drac na goa tis ein.” The Draconic words left my mouth, ‘The others may be punished by ye undead, but I shall bring the Chieftain to Hades myself.’

I didn’t wait for a reply as I sheathed one blade and crossed the other across my face, the Raider Chieftain drew her own, a jagged and razor sharp blade that then ignited. I had seen these before, our own soldiers made them during the war to counter the Zebra talisman swords, Shish Kebabs.

“One shall stand, one shall fall.” She spat in a mildly raspy voice.

“You throw your life away Chieftain, I’ve already been to Hades and back.” I retorted before sprinting forward.

She did the same and we clashed blades in the center of the field, the rest of the world fading from thought and view as we repeatedly clashed our blades together. My blade itself had ignited into flames the moment we had first met in combat, our eyes never left each other. We must have been trading blows for about ten minutes before she managed to land a hit, unfortunately it was in an old wound left by Sombra long ago. I however did not cry out as I took a few steps back and closed my eyes.

“You’re finished, I don’t really see how you were such a problem in the first place, and I am fairly certain I can finish your friend here too.” She began to gloat, “I-”

Personally I tuned her out, visions of the old world flew threw my mind as I felt my own blood leave my body, as I channeled my energies, as I call on whatever I still had left in my soul to fight. My mind then stopped on Dash, my lovely Dash, just as I thought my strength would fail me I opened my eyes to see the physical red glow emitted by my peculiar arcane energies that puzzled even Starswirl.

“No force upon this Equis will halt my progress towards my goal, not even the Angel of Death fool!” I bellowed before driving my blade into the ground and channeling my power through it.

The ground itself split and magma splurted upwards, the ground then split before and around here, “Enjoy your stay in the Fields of Punishment wench!” and then she was gone, consumed by flames and magma alike, not even a scream.

The fires then died down and the world suddenly became cold, I felt water, rain hitting my side, and a puddle of my own blood surrounding me. The world was getting darker and I could hear distant yelling, I saw a pair of red hooves arrive next to a uniformed and an armored pair, then the world went black.

For Whom God Favors

View Online

Chapter 43
For Whom God Favors…

“To what madness have I fallen that even the dead still walk among me?” -Gladius

The world itself had fallen into utter chaos and destruction. The truth of the Raider encampment having been kept for me, by forces of which I was both familiar and estranged from. What once was calm and almost peaceful, was burning and wrecked. Gunfire was going off constantly, and the shouts and screams of many echoed in my eardrums.

Before Bloom or I could react, and thus act like the position we were assigned, I saw something that did seem to be going somewhat according to our original agreement. The settler ponies that had been held captive were free, and being escorted out. What confused me was that the General was not among those guarding them; and this revelation after several moments of thought led me to a conclusion.

He’s still inside I thought. He needs assistance. Looking over faintly to Deathbloom, and seeing her so tense and prepared for battle, I bade her to follow me a moment and set off at a swift pace. My direction was to greet the settlers and whoever protected them. The one I saw who had her weapons was dressed in a thick trench coat built for travel, and was eyeing us carefully as we approached.

“I beith with General Knight, as does Deathbloom. My name is Mortalitas Gladius.” I gave a small bow before looking to the Raider encampment, my crimson eyes narrowing slightly. “What happened? Do you know what happened?”

“Why is the General not with you?” Bloom asked, voicing my concerns.

“General? You mean the dark pony with the swords and eyes like mine?” She asked before shaking her head, “He’s inside, and judging by the fact that these guys are here, that means that he was successful in freeing them, for that I’ll give him props, but… As soon as they stop coming out I’ll be going back in,” her eyes displayed concern and a little regret, “these Raiders are organized, more so than usual, almost like mercs.” The red mare with the silver mane that shone black when light reflected off of it, her teal crystalline eyes fixed on me.

“Well I never leave a fellow soldier behind,” I said, turning to move for the main gate without hesitation in the slightest.

“You sure the front’s a good idea, Gladius?” Bloom asked, a little worry showing on her features as I looked back to acknowledge her.

“For us, yes.” I replied, smiling a little. “For the Raiders, not so much.”

Deathbloom nodded, smiling back slightly before I heard a sound that I knew all too well. The scream of somepony’s damnation. My eyes became mere slits, my ears turning almost into radar, and my entire body tensing like a cobra prepared to strike at something dangerous.

“We need to move, now.” I said, in a hushed, commanding tone, before beginning to charge forward at a breakneck pace to the gates.

Leaping into the air, my stitched wings unfurled, allowing me flight for a short moment in order to make a jump to the inside of the compound. Without remorse, I aimed my minigun and blasted apart one of the two Raider guards stationed there at the entrance gate. The other, a much larger, burlier one, made to strike at me with a large blade of some type. Before he could even get mid swing, I ducked, kicked out, and planted him on his back before following up with a few dozen rounds into his cranium as I stood over him. The lock and bar holding the gate was simple enough, and I smashed it off with a few well placed strikes before kicking the doors outward and allowing Deathbloom in.

She surged forward, sweeping the area with her weapons, but found nopony else to fire upon save those I already had slain. Her face told of disappointment, before she looked back to the red mare and called out quickly for her to come and join us. By this moment, I was surveying the area around the entrance, and saw far off into the compound what confirmed my reaction and its necessity.

“Forward, protect the General.” I called, once more drawing on a burst of adrenaline and energy to carry me to the location of where my old friend was.

Even from where we had been, I could tell he wasn’t in good shape; but as I drew closer, it became clear to me that something serious was wrong. I also couldn’t help but think something was definitely wrong with my eyes, and all of my senses; because as I drew near, I saw the faint outline of somepony I recognized all too well. Kneeling astride the General, but still floating just off the ground, a face which had haunted my memories and dreams since the first megaspells started falling. He seemed to be murmuring words, with his tome in hoof, as he looked over Tempest.

For the moment, I opted to ignore this nightmare of the past, and instead chose to focus on the current situation. Moving to the other side of the General, I laid a hoof on his shoulder and began to examine him more closely. It looked grim, and as I touched him, I could feel a sensation that which was so extremely agonizing that I knew it was all beyond my knowledge of aid.

“Damn you stubborn old bastard…” I said, shaking my head slowly, looking at his eyes. “I shouldn’t have let you come in here alone…”

Deathbloom, all this time, wore an expression of worry, yet also anger, as she swept her guns over our surroundings and actually fired a few times at those not smart enough to remain hidden from sight.

“His condition...is grim, old friend.” The Chaplain whispered, before turning his eyes to slowly meet mine now that he possessed my attention. “He will not live long, without help...But I see you’ve brought one who...knows how to help.” His gaze glanced at the red mare, who was also looking over Tempest, before he nodded faintly. “You can help...You can make sure...he lives. You will help, or, I will be forced to damn you to eternity in the blackest pits of Hell.” With an expression both hard as iron, as well as extremely despaired, the Chaplain closed his tome and shed a single tear of blood that fell and landed on Tempest’s chest before he rose and floated a few paces back. “Must go...for now...rescue prisoner...Will return soon.” With that, the shadows phased around, and in moments, after an unsettling darkness, he disappeared yet again, leaving me with many questions and no answers as I turned to face the mare.

“You can help the General? What makes you special in terms of being able to aid?” I asked.

I’ve patched myself my own fair shares of times, but… if you have any medical supplies I’m going to need them! Also can you get his armor off while I figure out how to go about this?” She both ordered and asked in her thick highland accent as her hooves moved to her own bags to pull out her supplies. Unbeknownst to her a small letter fell out with a red envelope and a gold seal only to land upon the ground and become, for the moment, forgotten.

“I don’t exactly...heal...like others, so I haven’t medical supplies.” I replied, beginning to strip my unconscious friend of his armored clothing as Deathbloom removed a few odds and ends in terms of her own issued medical supplies and set them out for the mare to make use of.

With quiet respect, I set aside the General’s uniform, leaving him bare on the ground for a much more thorough examination to be possible. Even with the limited medical knowledge I possessed, the large gash reaching across much of his side was more than an alarming thing to me. Physically, it was one of the bigger issues to deal with; but spiritually, I could sense a much more frightening problem. In the terms of his essence, his spirit, his soul, I could barely feel anything there. He was alive only by a thread, and I would suspect it was pure willpower alone that kept him here with us at the moment.

“Do what you can,” I said, stepping away.

My movement a few paces from Tempest was all the time it took for the situation to turn sideways once more. Gunfire started up again in earnest, causing both Bloom and I to react at the same time and move to take cover. After a few brief moments of ducking low, the two of us realized that the weight of fire was not directed at us, nor was it coming from any conceivable area where we knew Raiders might be lurking.

First, Deathbloom peeked her head over, scanning the area, her weapons drawn and prepared to fire on the slightest movement. There was nothing. She tried to listen, to make out any discernable noise. That was when she, and I, heard it. The racking of a shotgun slide.

Off and to the right, from an old concrete building long since fallen into disrepair and decay, the massive flash of a weapon and the thunderous echo of several shots in quick succession shook the earth. The scream of multiple ponies resounded in unison, and after a few brief moments of silence, a chilling, terrible laugh began to fill the stilling air. It was a cackle out of the depths of Hell itself, one that could drive a stallion to madness just by mere listening to it for any length of time. One that could make one do nearly anything to see its cessation, even if it meant that of taking one’s own life to end the noise. It was a dark, horrific sound, almost earsplitting in the amount of relish the produce of said sound had in the slaughter they caused.

It, was a sound that was all too well known to me. One that I hadn’t heard in over two-hundred years roughly. One that, while terrible, and hurtful, in both body and soul, was utterly so familiar accepted within my own heart that it could do no true harm to me. It, was the laughter of a friend, one which, I had thought dead. One that I’d seen disintegrating before my very eyes, in the hellish fire of a megaspell during the final moments of the Great War. To me, her laugh was a haunting memory that, while welcome, brought up the previous confusion which had been stifled by the concern for the General’s health.

How? I asked myself mentally. How is this possible? The answer, of course, was not forthcoming in my own mind, and could not be answered by anypony present. Only those who had returned, come back, by some means or another, held the knowledge I was seeking so desperately. As of the current time, however, it would be bad to make an attempt to remotely ask any questions, seeing as that hysterically laughing fiend of a friend was now suddenly flying at me full force from some sort of heavy smash.

She came tumbling through a partial concrete wall, body propelled by such force that it was crumbled like it was built out of tissue paper. Her form hit me with that same force, sending me back several feet and nearly toppling me. For a few seconds, I stood there, blinking. The mare which I well knew, from my ancient days long past, seemed so different now. Her body, which was pressed to mine from the explosive force which had smashed us together, was not bearing close resemblance to a pony of any sort. She seemed much larger, her form lean and hard and well muscled, and compared to pony anatomy, she seemed off in several key locations. Namely, the fact that my face was currently nestled in her chest, which, apparently, was of quite ample size and nearly threatened to engulf me.

That face though, remained. Scarred, but still utterly recognizable as the carefree, psychotic, happy friend I used to know. Her slit mouth still grinning madly at me, those crimson eyes shining bright and dangerously, as she brushed away her pink and red mane and swished her tail back and forth.

“Well you’re still as sexy as I remember Gladius my old friend!” She said gleefully, “Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to suffocate you!” She detached herself quickly, allowing me to take in a much more full look at her as I tried very hard to control the potential blush that might occur.

She stood in black combat boots, digital urban camo pants, and a thick grey undershirt that was ripped and torn deeply. Before anypony could say anything, she ripped the shirt from her body and left nothing to be desired, to say the least.

Quickly she bent down to retrieve her shotgun, before shouting, “Is that the hardest you can hit little man!?” She chuckled darkly, “I’ve known colts who can give it to me better than you!”

“Okay I’ve patched him up as best I can with what we had, he’s going to feel this in the morning but he should be okay…” The pegasus shouted before looking at my old friend, “Damn, you’re quite the hottie ain't ya?” She replied before drawing her revolver in her mouth and shrugging off her duster to reveal pants and a harness with battered red wings, a few of her feathers being replaced by metal ones.

“I…” For once, I actually had no words, which, for anypony to know, is truly a shocking and frightening thing. Staring between both my old friend and the one who had just commented on her appearance, my brain was surprisingly in danger of shutting down for a few moments to process everything.

“You’re a good looker yourself sweetheart,” Joy replied, heartily laughing as she looked back at the concrete building with her shotgun slide racking. “Alright big guy, you want to try again? Think you’re stallion enough to handle me this time?”

“Crush you!” He roared as he once again charged, the strangest part about him was the fact that he was no pony, actually if memory served correctly he was actually a Centaur.

He slammed a super sledge down, his aim heading to do as he’d shouted, to crush her. This combat was what brought me to my senses, and allowed me to see with clarity and actually manage a smile as I already knew the outcome and fate of this battle. The fool could not see just how much he was being toyed with, nor could he realize the power he was standing against as Joy easily evaded the heavy blow. A cascade of sparks and rubble was all that was produced, as she sidestepped him before driving home a blow of her own into his stomach with her massive shotgun’s butt.

“On your knees big boy.” She said, giving him a dark, foreboding smile; one of those insane grins that spoke of horrible things to come before she drew back just enough and fired one quick blast that was aimed at one of his legs. “I’ve got something special in mind, although I don’t believe you’re done just yet, are you?”

“Nng, funny lady hurt Bossk, Bossk smash her good this time!” He swung his chain around before throwing the hooked end around her, “You gonna go splat now.”

“You so sure about that sweetheart?” Joy only smiled wider, her slit mouth growing as her grin expanded further and further until it reached the ends of her face as she felt the chain wrap around her, and the hook actually dig into her shoulder. “Because I think I’m going to make you finish first.”

As the sledge descended, the mare began to laugh maniacally, uncontrollably, before she suddenly flipped without warning so that her boots were skyward. Kicking upward with extreme force, the sledge groaned, cracked, and creaked before one saw in a rapid fashion it go flying back towards the owner. The resulting splat rewarded the nearby environ, and a very much happy Joy, with a splatter of blood that sprayed all over her face and upper body, giving her light yellow fur a shiny crimson tint. She gleefully snapped out of the chains, licking her lips with closed eyes before shuddering slightly and then chuckling.

“I never finish first… Can no stallion ever please me?” Her tone sounded exasperated, before she remembered her audience and went back to her happy self as her eyes looked to the red mare.

“Damn… the only other pony I ever knew that could do anything close to that ended up a dick cushion before she was brutally ripped apart and eaten…” The pegasus mumbled as she tried to recover her senses.

“Sounds like something I’d enjoy as a nice weekend escape from the weekly grind.” Joy said. “So what’s your name sexy? I think I’d like to get to know you.”

“Crimson Wind, yours?” Crimson asked as she also replied.

“Joy.” The mare said, her trademark slit grin still as wide as possible on her face as she crossed her arms over her chest. “So are you doing anything later? Got any plans, or do you have some free time so I can ‘get to know you’ better?”

“Well, I still have the class A letter to deliver, but once that is done I think I will lay low awhile so the Enclave doesn’t notice the Dashite running around the wastes, speaking of, where did my duster go?” She asked rhetorically as she picked it up, “How did the letter get out of my bags?” She eyed it suspiciously before picking it up in her teeth and putting it back into her bag.

"Dashite...Well, I suppose we’re not so different in that prospect...Although the bastards mutilated me for a different reason.” I finally said, lowly, as I felt the scarred holes that were still present on my flanks and the pain that still remained in my wings. “Dash is my niece, that’s why they did it to me especially, when they found me.”

“Damn, what are the odds of being related to a ministry mare and still being alive?” Crimson jested before she began to walk away, “Hey, if you want to track me down I am headed to Dise, I’ll probably stay there for a bit as well afterwards, just for a bit of an R&R.”

“You know I will Crimson,” Joy winked, “besides, it’s been a few centuries since I got off last.”

“You take care now friend,” I said, waving her goodbye, and finally turning my attention to the General, who lay patched up against a wall. A sigh slipped my lips, as I slowly made my way over, before taking a seat and beginning to wait.

Deathbloom wasn’t one to sit though, she merely took to pacing around the compound, looking about, and studying the place.

My old friend, who I now had all the time in the world to question, was rather silent, as she looked at me, knowing how I felt. She knew the emotions running through my head, knew the pain, the anguish, the anger. She knew how I felt about losing comrades, about losing anypony, because she was one of those I thought I had lost, and was one that I still grieved, until now.

“How are you still alive? You shouldn’t even exist anymore.” I finally said, breaking the silence, just as Sorrow finally came around the corner with a small foal following him. “I watched you all die that day, trying to get to the bunker. My order...my failure…”

“You didn’t fail anypony, Glad,” Joy began, somewhat dampened in her mood as she came and placed a hoof on my shoulder. “And you of all should know we wouldn’t be here if we’d died. There’s no way around that. Death’s system is strict and set in stone.”

“Then how are you alive?” I asked hoarsely.

“Because Death himself intervened, just as the megaspell was going off.” Sorrow whispered, “He spared us because he still believed we were the best hope of righting the world. And all this time, he allowed you to think us dead, so you wouldn’t act rashly, so you’d be right where he needed ye for the end times.”

“That old, backstabbing son of a bitch…” I said harshly, before smiling a little as I looked back. “Well, I suppose it’s what I’d do if I wanted something to go right.”

Joy smiled again, becoming much happier before she engulfed me again into her chest as she hugged me tightly, lifting me high into the air. “That’s the lovely Chief Ranger I know!” She put me down, no worse for wear, before looking at Tempest and seeing him starting to stir. Getting very close, she waited, eye to eye with him, and put on her best grin. “Wakey wakey old Knighty,” She giggled, as she too seemed to finally remember how bare and exposed she was, sitting just inches from his face.

Tempest didn’t open his eyes, instead he chose to moan before snorting a metric ton of soot out of his nose. Then he opened his eyes to find Joy staring into them, instantly they became draconic slits before he rounded on her. Then he seemed to catch my form sitting next to him and he instantly calmed down, “Personal space, especially around one who could send you to Hades with nothing but a mere thought.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that handsome,” Joy laughed, her tone jovial but her eyes dark. “Because if you do, one: you won’t get to be with me anymore, and two: Death will not be pleased at all, and by extension, Lord Adam will be just as, agitated, as well.”

As she took a step back, she was still grinning like a mad mare. She nodded to me to indicate I could speak. “Never again General,” I said, in a measured tone that anypony in the army would know well. It was one of those ‘Step out of line again and you’re dead’ kinds of tones. “I don’t care who you are, what you do or did. You never go in alone again. We are brothers in arms and armistice, we fight together, we die together. No other way about it. Understood?”

Joy was silent as a stone now, her smile taking on more of a sad undertone to it as she seemed to remember something in the past that we both knew of. Sorrow however, was a bit more lively than usual, as he approached and settled to a crouch on the other side of Tempest.

“You should listen to the...Chief Ranger...To my old friend. He says these things...because he cares about you.” He placed a hoof on the General’s shoulder, neither caring nor afraid of his reaction, as he looked down his spectacles at the draconic pony with a sharp gaze. “He cares about his niece...and if you care about her...you’ll do as he says.” With a small motion, he made the signage of a cross over his chest before speaking softly. “We fight, but alone we fall...United we stand, and the enemy will fall.”

“I gave my signal, tis not my fault that it never reached you Gladius.” Tempest replied before looking over to Sorrow, “Wise words, I shall be certain to remember them, though next time, you could do to drop the shadow acting.”

“I care not as to the events which transpired, General,” I answered, “What matters is that you listen carefully and never go it alone again, you might just be spared a mortal injury or two.”

“Or at the very least, we can all have scars to share together!” Joy proclaimed, wrapping a hoof around my neck as well as Sorrow’s.

“As for the...acting…” Sorrow looked scornfully at Tempest. “It wasn’t an act...The souls of the damned rose from this place...to have one final revenge upon their killers...Though shadows are my power, it wouldn’t have come to the strength it was...were it not for the dead.”

To this Tempest merely stewed silently to himself before once again looking at Sorrow, “The prisoner, did you retrieve her while I was out?” he asked, concern riddling his tone, but his momentary adrenaline fading and his fatigue also coming through his tone of voice.

“I...rescued the kid...yes.” Sorrow nodded faintly, before looking behind himself to see the foal still standing right next to his almost ethereal form, almost hugging him and peeking around to look at Tempest and the rest of us. “It’s alright little one… They are friends.”

“You shouldn’t exert yourself General. I’m no doctor, but I’ve had my fair share of injuries in my day.” I said, sternly, but smiling a little. “Reaper Squad always accomplishes its objectives, you needn’t worry about that.”

“You’re Adam-damned right about that Glad!” Joy piped up, jumping a little in the air in an excited manner before the sound of thunder stopped her short and she muttered under her breath. “Sorry…”

“Let’s get you to you back to your sister little colt.” Tempest stated in a rather low, practically fatherly tone.

“I’ll take him, you rest...General.” Sorrow said, looking down at the small colt and extending a hoof to him. “Would you like...to ride on my shoulder?”

“Always a kind, caring one, that’s why I married you Sorrow.” Joy said, and, quite possibly for the first time since she reappeared, her voice sounded utterly and completely sincere. “I’ll go with you, want to meet the ones we saved.”

“You sure you didn’t marry him for the benefits of it, Joy?” I playfully asked.

“Yes…” She grouchily said, stamping her foot before beaming at me and then the little colt.

“You two go, but report back to me as soon as possible.” I stated, but smiled a little as I observed the two nod before they went walking off, with the colt having climbed up onto Sorrow’s shoulder. He, surprisingly, was smiling; it was small, but it was there, until he was out of my sight.

“Do you feel well enough to rise, Tempest?” I finally asked, once the others were gone.

“Duty only ends in death, for those of us that are lucky at least.” He replied, a small toothy smile finding its way upon his face as he rose.

“Yeah, been down that road, but Death told me too many times to count that it ‘wasn’t my time’.” I said, trying and failing to mimic the my old Godly friend’s rough, ancient, and powerful voice. “Think he just couldn’t bear to lose an old companion and his greatest commander was why he spared me so many times.”

Some Assembly Required

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Chapter 44
Some Assembly Required

Critical system failure, warning, pony-net down… “Back bitch.” - Arnold Ponegator

It was dark, my optic sensors were malfunctioning, or in the case of the right sensor completely missing. I could tell that majority of my form was destroyed beyond repair, and yet I still functioned, Stable Tech really did make things to last. Looking through the static filled image my left sensor provided me with I took into account several things, I was underground, I was missing my right foreleg, and I was not just underground, but buried under a few boulders and an assortment of stone.

The sound of hoof steps disturbed my previously glorious silence as my combat functions returned to a modicum of use, by modicum I mean a fuzzy hud and overall below HD vision.

“Sigh, another day scaving and still nothin’ to call me own.” A scottspony above me, at least I was assuming she was above me, said, as a few of the boulders shifted slightly in position.

I waited for what seemed like an eternity while she moved rocks and dug in the debris I had been entrapped in until at last our eyes met.

“Huh, and old ponetron.” She remarked, looking down on my one functional optic.

“System damaged, requires repair.” I managed to speak, albeit with much static and in monotone, but it was better than nothing.

“Doncha worry there little buddy, yur troubles be over soon.” She pulled out a pistol from a holster on her hoof and aimed it at my head.

“Wait, I… I still function… Please, they still need me!” I tried to scream, but the unprogrammed response had the desired effect as she dropped the pistol and rose her brows in shock.

Quickly I grabbed up the dropped .50 cal and sheathed it inside of me, deciding that it could be useful later.

“O...kay.” Was all she said as she proceeded to dig me out and drag my remains out and back into the wastes.

“You have my thanks scottspony.” I cackled, my voice nearing its complete failure, as many of my systems teetered that way as well.

“Not everyday a scavver like meself finds somthin like you, now is it?” She asked, to which I gave a polite nod, albeit a tad squeaky.

“What happened to you anyway?” She then proceeded to pry into my business.

“Combat, explosion, buried.” I chose my words carefully, watching my system status falter as I spoke.

She looked at me funny before she spoke again, “Is somthin up?”

To be honest with myself, I wanted to be honest with her, but logic dictated that I withhold information as to keep myself safe. Alas when has logic ever driven my systems, though that is how I got into this situation to begin with. It was so confusing, I found myself staring at the wagon before my answer came to me.

“You need somepony to pull your wagon, I need repair. What do you say?” I asked her, internally hoping that what I was about to ask her to do wouldn’t affect me adversely, I mean, worst comes to worst I put a bullet in her brain if she tries anything… actually I might just do it anyways.

“You have three legs and one eye, not to mention a hefty amount of damage everywhere, I can pull the wagon with you on it if you would like to play guard.” She shot back with a smile, “I am an Earth Pony after all.”

“Reasonable, can we at least retrieve my missing appendage and optic, what remains of my sensors say they are nearby.” I replied, standing up with sparks and a groan.

“Alright, I suppose that would be necessary for your repairs later.” She agreed, and so for the next hour and a half we sifted through the wreckage of the battlefield that had a surprising lack of remains from my previous enemy, like they had never existed.

After we had found my leg… the pieces of my leg and my optic next to each other and a… tombstone? we loaded up the wagon and she began pulling it. I was thankful to have my shotgun back, but chose to hold a rifle she had hoofed over due to range issues. It was a simple lever action and it operated in close likeness to my shotgun, so I had no issues with it. That said I could use any weapon of any class theoretically, but I do have my preferences.

At some point in our journey my body had entered emergency power and I was awoken to my Scottspony friend screaming in agony as she jumped behind and old burned out skywagon. We had entered a city, and my presence was evidently ignored, I mentally kicked myself, as I was the one on guard, but shoved that emotion down to the pits and aimed the rifle, my exposed red optic shining in the dark.

BLAM, click, BLAM, click, BLAM.

Each shot tore through a different raider’s skull with deft precision, my remaining servo-arm reloading it while I held it in a hoof, small protrusions at the end of my hoof pulling the trigger on each of them.

Then what appeared to be the Boss stepped out of nowhere in a suit of spiked and makeshift power armor, I internally laughed at how it looked, but my scan showed that it was integral, and that in itself scared the scrap out of me. The Boss seemed to be more interested in the Earth Pony who was bandaging her barrel with a 10mm pistol lying at her side. I chose to stand on my three legs and toss the rifle down before jumping down and landing with a crash into a couching position.

“Oi, tin can, this will be your only warning.” I paused as I stood up and drew my shotgun off my back with my servos, “Fuck off.”

“Hahahahahaha, nope.” He replied, hefting up a hammer in his front hooves and standing with surprising balance on his hind legs.

“Warned you.” I admitted before sprinting forwards and skidding on my side and firing up at his poorly shielded face.

His hammer came down and lighting shot all around us, causing my HUD to worsen as I stood up again only to get bowled into by this power armored pony. Using my remaining hoof I felt around for his fusion core, locking onto it just in time to get smashed into a cinderblock wall and feel the joint strain as the leg separated from me slightly. As I looked up I took note that my servo arm was no more, not even worth scrap metal, and that the .50 cal was laying next to me.

“Hehe, nope.” He raised the hammer, I grabbed the pistol.

He dropped the hammer, so did I.

BANG

His body fell on top of mine, the hammer going off to the side as his hooves lost grip, “You have been… terminated.”

--------

When I next came online, almost none of my previous error codes greeted me, my HUD was still fuzzy, I still had that ‘Warning Coding Error’ but that was fine, and most of my external frame that gave me the look of flesh was gone, exposing the skeletal metal below. To the right of my bedside was a black trenchcoat, a pair of sunglasses, and the pistol and shotgun I had used. Next to me on the nightstand was a note.

Left you with a friend, she is good with tech and I figured if anyone could help you out it’d be her. Gonna hang my hat for a few months, got plenty of caps for a while, left some with you.

Thanks,

Caitlin

The pony who had helped me, the one I had saved, had left me a final gift, or four. I smailled with what remained of my face before setting the note back down and getting out of the bed. I donned the coat and confirmed that my servo arms were gone, but my hooves still had fingers and the rear hooves still had the deployable toes so i was not entirely useless. I holstered my weapons before turning to find a unicorn looking at me.

“Happy to see that one survived, how long the stable last?” Her raspy voice piped up.

“Creator? I asked, my voice back to normal, to which she smiled.

“Are you the last of your kind Ponegator?” She asked, walking into the light and revealing her corpse like body.

“Affirmative.” I replied in concise.

“And the ponies who were in the stable?” She asked, crossing her front hooves.

“Alive and well at the expense of the other Ponegators.” I stated, walking over to the note and pocketing it.

“Unfortunate… You developed a personality, I chose to leave it alone.” She admitted, her smile unwavering.

“Thank you Creator, my mission is incomplete, am I cleared for duty?” I inquired, turning to look at the ancient mare.

“Yes P-200, you are cleared for action.” She stepped to the side of the door.

I left without another word and entered a dust storm of immense proportions in search of the General and his companions.

What is the Calm Before the Storm?

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What is the Calm Before the Storm?

Chapter 45

“Wall, what wall?” - Applebits

Well, the Enclave soldier had led us into a very dark chamber, and then he had suddenly frothed at the mouth and died.

“Just to make certain, nopony did that to him from our group, right?” I asked, looking to our new companions.

Rage merely sniffed, in an almost animalistic way, in response. As if he was catching to a scent, just as a predator might do when tracking prey. “No…” He whispered, before growling such that the chamber echoed with the intensity of his vocalization of anger. “Cowards..Failures..Foes!”

Rage’s sudden outburst shook the chamber, and caused several large stones to fall down and collapse around the immense space. “I can see you, none can hide from Death’s Sight!”

Silence seemed to have disappeared. That was, of course, until I saw her leave a single flash of her rifle’s glint from up inside some alcove high in the rafters and structural supports.

“Come from hiding and face me like a true Warrior!” Rage snarled, as his back hooves stomped the ground and he seemed to literally be steaming out of his nostrils. His hoof-mounted minigun was spinning madly, as his crimson eyes searched the cavernous space instinctively.

“Lightning, see anything on your visor or EFS?” I asked my pegasus friend who was busy looking at our dead captive.

“Nope, nothing, nada, wait… yeah, north west, two contacts, no visual though… also I don’t know range.” He replied before turning back to the body, “Must have been a remote failsafe, saw a few back during the war when we used captured Zebras to take us to their camps… never did like em, always left a bad taste in my mouth.”

“Noted, I recommend we fan out to the north westerly and hunt them.” I stated as I began to march, my hoof-falls echoing in the dark subway.

“For this death, there will be sevenfold more…” Rage muttered, as he came to a crouch beside the fallen Enclave soldier for but a moment. He whispered but a few cryptic, ancient words, as he placed a hoof and closed the eyes. His hoof came back up with a small crimson stone, which he deposited into a pouch at his belt before getting up and screaming in primal anger.

His hooves were outstretched, and he set off like a freight train in the direction that was ordered with his howl still echoing the massive space.

Silence, I could see, had since started shifting among the rafters. Just as her name implied, she was perfectly quiet and unnoticeable save perhaps to the fact that she seemed to purposefully leave small clues that we could only see to follow her movements. Most of this involved her eyes flickering into reality from the shadows, or the glint of her scope for a fraction of a second.

“TRAITOROUS SCUM!” Fresh steam scorched the air from the nostrils of the raging train engine, as his feet cast him forward faster and faster until he was a blur. Not even a normal crimson blur, as expected; but rather, now a holy light appeared to take his form, as Rage slammed straight into a wall that was several feet thick.

His body went through like a proverbial knife through butter, and made the cavernous space shudder as if in agony as smoke wafted from the place he had smashed into.

I heard a scream, two, and then saw his massive form through the cloud. I saw him lifting somepony high into the air, before his other hoof bashed through his skull with a sickening sound of metal and bone snapping. His hoof was out the back before he withdrew it slowly; all the while he was screaming ferally. Rage’s last action brought the poor creature down upon his knee, breaking his back, before he was tossed back and into the light.

All I could see was what amounted to a bent and crushed tin can, leaking its contents to the ground as it lay there before me, features obliterated by the hole through its face.

My attentions were brought forward when I heard the echo of heavy fire; and I saw the opening of yet another act. Plasma. Hot, boiling plasma; the kind that stripped armor from bodies and flesh from bones, leaving only goop behind.

A hail of this greenish-hued shot fell upon that of Rage, and to my surprise, he actually staggered back into the light himself. Interestingly enough, it did not fell or phase him even further; moreso it seemed only to anger him even more as he stomped his hooves hard into the ground. His immense body shook the cavern again, as he came to a halt. His clothing had indeed been scorched from him, and left his overly-muscled body bare to all. The Ranger’s face was caught in a permanent snarl, and his eyes were wide and insane. His right forehoof extended out to his side, as he was peppered endlessly by hellfire.

What met next to his hoof, was a rift that tore open like a hungry maw into realspace. A dark, foreboding dread accompanied this, with the feeling that literal Death itself had clawed its way into the realm of the living.

“From the darkness, I call upon ye.” Rage frothed, as a frightening black blood leaked from his lips. “In the blackness, do I tread, never to see thy Holy Light again.” He spat, as a shape of pure shadow tore steadily from the inky murkiness. “But with my Last Ungodly Breath, Thy WILL BE DONE!”

I finally saw what the obsidian thing was; and it was ridiculously massive. Even for the might of Rage, this blade looked like it were built not for him, but a God. Twas a Greatsword, built stately and strong. Shaped though, into a resemblance of a Nightmarish chimera of its former self. Forged with palpable hatred that radiated from it, I began to sense my own blood boil as this horrific thing was cradled in his hoof and dragged across the ground.

“By His Word, THEE WILL DIE” Rage howled, as his eyes glowed hot as lava, and he uprooted himself and charged once. The plasma seemed to deflect from him, now, as a pervasive darkness bent to his body like armor weaved of shadow.

Once more, Rage led attack. This time, I could see Silence leap down from the rafters. She had been passive, not even firing a shot; but now, her blood-colored eyes were alight with bright fury. Similar to that of her husband, whom she now rushed to join. Her rifle chambered and fired, each time rewarded by a scream as she barreled forward without care for stealth now.

If anything, I think she was more frightening than that beast she had married; for her rage was without words. Yet, I heard something rip, something tear. The sound of flesh being torn asunder.

Her lips, once sewn shut, now pried open. Given way as black blood poured down her open neck, to a shrill, ear-piercing cry. One filled with agony unimaginable; rough and rattling that my very bones were chilled.

As her scream filled the chamber, even Rage fell silent to this, and halted his advance just as whatever had been encountered was obviously retreating.

“Beautiful…” He murmured, as he turned about as if entranced. He watched his wife, as well did, pursuing towards the stairwell that the opponents had fled to. Surprisingly, he reached out for her with his open hoof, and caught her about her midsection. He spun her in close, and scored a deep, blood-filled kiss before whispering. “Leave them now...my love.”

The two had come to a pause, and the entirety of battle had fallen silent. A calm seemed to seep back into the world, as the two joined together in a heartfelt embrace.

“I love you…” I could hear the ragged, yet soothingly soft voice of Silence barely whisper.

“And I love you.” Rage breathed in return.

It was only now, as we made approach, that I realized the two were standing atop a pile of Enclave corpses. The blood staining their boots and the ground in a wide pool that, weirdly enough, formed into the shape of a heart. I mean a literal heart, not the symbolic heart that most might associate with this moment.

“Well then, at least we found the way out…” Lightning stated, surprisingly carrying the dead trooper’s body.
“We should bury him.” I said, looking from the two gore entrenched soldiers and my friend who was trying not to take not of the many dead pegasi.

“I will give unto ye aid in your endeavor, young friend.” Silence whispered, as she reluctantly tore her eyes from her lover and looked to me. “The colt was a valiant soldier, and has earned his rest.”

“I will dig his grave...I owe him that much.” Rage muttered, as he nodded to Lightning while shouldering that wicked demonic-looking sword and released his wife from his hoof. As he did so, I felt that anger that caused my blood to heat up fade to a dull roar.

“I would offer my blessings to his soul as best I can…” Silence gently rubbed her torn, exposed throat muscles; as if they were extremely sore from the meagre effort to form basic speech. Likely, I could suppose it had been ages since she had spoken. “But I am not like my shield-brother, Sorrow… His word carries far in the ears of Lord Adam’s Scribes…”

“Anything would be appreciated.” I said, recalling that this pony had only wished to see his family again, “I know what I shall engrave on his stone.”

It took little time for us to finally get out of the subway and into the cloudy light of the world above. We set him down in a clear patch of dirt and I let them go to work digging the grave while I obtained a proper chunk of debris. I happened across a large piece of concrete which would serve our purpose well and began engraving it with twin angel wings by way of metal hoof. They had him buried a good hour before the stone was completed.

Here Rests Featherlight

A Family Stallion

May He Find Peace

Skull, who had been silent this long and had been the last to come into the light smiled, “That seems to fit him well.”

“It’s the best-bzzt beeeeeeeeep.” I adjusted my throat, “I can do.”

“Wish we could have given him a better spot.” Lightning spoke, his wings covered in dirt.

“To be buried in bloody battlefield dirt, where your comrades have fallen…” Rage mused, quietly, from a small pile of rubble that he had taken to sit down upon. “That is the best place to be left. With your brothers and sisters...that we will never be able to rest aside.”

Silence appeared beside the monstrous pony, and placed a hand calmingly on his shoulder before she nodded to the stone. Her voice, once ragged and horrid, now had warmed into something splendid and soft.
“You go now, to the pastures and fields. To rest your weary head, and find solace from the darkness of this bitter world. I know not the future, nor what time holds for us...but you have seen your life and lived it well. As a warrior, as a friend, as a stallion of kindred heart and soul. Though many weep for your loss, and know it true, you will find your rest young one...in the shadow of the valley that you dwell. The fields will part to you, and bring you peace. For mine word is Death’s, and he hungers not for ye this day.”

“So what now?” Skull asked, looking to Applebits.

“Now, now we go find the General.” I replied, my modulator buzzing the entire time making it sound as if I was speaking through a poorly maintained intercom.

“I’ll scout ahead, see if I can’t locate him and a safe passage for us to use.” Lightning stated as he took off, careful to avoid being spotted by any Enclave.

“Follow him.” I stated, giving chase at a walking pace with Skull by my side.

“To the shadows love,” Rage bid farewell, as he took off to match our pace and regroup with us. Silence, I saw only a glimpse of, before she was gone.

The Ranger walked astride us, his shoulder-mounted cannons raised and defensive. His massive sword was dragged behind him in one hoof, and the other that bore his minigun was absent-mindedly sweeping the area around us. His eyes were alert and intent though, as his expression became blank. It was as if he were no longer here, but yet some unearthly creature had taken his place as he breathed; or rather, he hardly breathed at all.

“So.. zzt… care to tell us more about yourselves? Zzzt have.. Beeep.. Feeling it is gonna be a long… blurp…” This modulator was beginning to cheese me off.

“Do you ask of our younger years…” Rage rumbled, though his voice sounded as if it were from a distance, a long way off. “Or do ye wish to know of our times in the Army? Perhaps I could tell the countless times your own life was saved by those nameless soldiers you never quite noticed?”

“Anything that is relevant.” I managed to get out within a field of static as I stepped over a body I barely noticed within the rubble beneath our hooves.

“In a far gone age, to a time long forgotten, there was a village that resided in the darkest depths of a woodland. Many remained clear of this place, for fear of the monstrous creatures that guarded its approach; hidden they were, within the foliage and trees. Within this village, there were six foals that were born.” Rage began, his voice emerging from afar and resonating in my bones.

“Six foals to grow to friends, to family.” Silence murmured from above, though her voice carried as loud as her husband’s. “To love and live the years, united by the purpose of the sword. To form a shield to protect hearth and home.”

“Yet to be struck down by the trial of fire and death… To die though, with honour.” Rage seemed to look skyward, his expression becoming a grimace as he stared at something perhaps only he could see. “And be Risen again, denied eternal slumber. To fight forever, as a pact made with a final breath.”

“To preserve hearth and home, and take up the sword evermore in a Crusade Eternal.” Silence whispered, her voice though resounding as if she were right by my ear. “So it is Ages passed, and the Warriors of old faded into myth and legends. So it was, the wars that came and unsettled the land time and again. But not one touched our home so Everfree.”

“With weapons of the times, clad in the garb of the soldiers of the age, the Battles were fought by the six.” Rage shook his head, as if things that surprisingly disturbed him were to be dismissed. “Until the time came for you youngers to think you could wage World War. To destroy yourselves wholesale. This could not happen. So it was that High Death-Knight Gladius bade us grow stronger in body and mind to take up the task.”

“So going into our war?” I asked, my EFS locking to a target as I fired a singular rocket into a group of Raiders who were thus vaporized.

“I believe it was a secretive project...one that failed, but didn’t. The six of us, were the only survivors and how we obtained our, ‘unique’ strengths and prowess was deemed too unstable to be used to make more like us.”

“So they sent us forth...with word not to speak to a soul of our true identities. The Ministries, as you called your Government, gave us great power to invoke only in dire circumstance. Otherwise...we were to fight like soldiers, be heroes, and win the war.” Silence sounded bitter about this part.

“Gladius led us valiantly, and we battled without rest or respite for the whole of your, insignificant squabble.” Rage chuckled now, as his anti-tank cannons targeted upward to a ruined building automatically before blasting a specific room on the third floor. Several screams echoed in response, as he continued, “I remember seeing you little one. I remember saving you and your General’s lives countless times when you were being overwhelmed.

“I remember the troops giving you and those pitiful new ‘Rangers’ all the credit for the victory. Not us, or the soldiers we led to protect you so that that Victory could come to pass.” Silence whispered.

“Then you idiot younglings launched those damnable hellish creations. Lucifer himself could craft no fire better to burn the world. I believe he was quite pleased, to see Lord Adam’s holy works torn asunder by the foolishness of his own creations...”

“I’ll be honest with you, the General and I were against the idea of the missiles, we would have preferred the more direct approach.” I stated, the very thought of the weapons of mass destruction making me sick, “To say as he did, there is no honor in killing innocents.”

“There is no honor in warfare in general, youngling,” Rage gave a faint nod, “Personally, I’d have condemned both sides in the Great War, but Gladius had, ‘personal attachment’, to your side.”

“If it were not for the young Niece and the General, he might’ve done well to annihilate both sides in the war in order to secure the peace we keep for our hearth and home.” Silence echoed, as she leapt from the windowsill of one building to another further down.

“Peace is where we find honor, among our friends and families, and our few enemies that spring up from time to time.”

“And peace has been gone for too long…” Silence concurred. “I have a scent on the far wind. It smells...Joy?”

“Closer than we know then, if you can smell her through the chems and stink of rotting fools.” Rage laughed, openly, heartily, “Follow by the steps of Silence, she knows the way.”

“Understood.” We picked up the pace and both my old friends and new ones learned that not even solid brick walls could withstand my headstrong approach.

“I can hear that laughter,” Rage said, as he increased his pace a bit. “That irritating, annoying, mind-numbing, laughter...How I’ve missed that!” I watched this beastly stallion rear up before charging forward as he did before with the Enclave Troopers.

He slammed straight through several walls head first, bearing to my own idea of how to reach our objective.

When the remainder of us followed through these holes and emerged through the other side of the ruined building, I came to see the massive crimson warrior laughing. His voice was so hearty and full of life and...I think the ground was shaking by the intensity of his sheer enjoyment as he seemed to be lifting up two shocking figures that I seemed to faintly recognize.

He spun around a bit while holding them, and when they were turned to me I managed a quick glance and saw them for who they were.

One was an ethereal creature, who scarcely bore and resemblance to a military Chaplain from the days before the Great War had ended. He wore a dark cloak over his digital camo uniform; but his horrendously mauled face was fresh to view as he was spun in the death grip of Rage. His mane was short cut and black, and his tail seemed to have been gnawed apart in places and hung limp in the manufactured wind. The spectacles on his face remained passively attached though, as milky eyes stared at Rage.

The other whom he held was a yellowish-gold mare who seemed to be laughing along with him as she had embraced him back. Her mane and tail swished happily in the wind, and her toned body...well to say it was partially on full viewing for everyone mattered little at the moment. But I suppose I appreciated the natural beauty she possessed, I guess? Otherwise, she had the similar look of a soldier.

Joy! Sorrow!” Rage shouted gleefully, “It’s been too long old friends!”

“Aye, so it has,” The Chaplain hissed, in a voice akin to Death itself.

“Oh my old buddy, been too long since I’ve had good fun with you!” The mare tossed back, “Well I can feel and see you’re happy to see me!” She squealed, before suddenly jumping up to a broken light pole after squeezing free of the bear hug. She crashed into where Silence had been. The two tumbled to the ground, where I watched an awkward moment where this strange mare forcefully pressed her lips to the sniper I knew.

A slight bit to my surprise, she fought back just as furiously, battling a duel of tongues as vigorously as one might battle a well-equipped army. Her hooves wrapped around the neck of the other mare, and she rolled her over using all her strength, but never did she break lip-lock.

“You’re not the only one who’s missed having fun,” she said, before she gave a ghastly grin and got up abruptly after minutes of this kissing. “But my fun is making you squirm with desire, just for a bit I promise.”

“You’re the most horrible lover...I like it.” She got up, a glint in her eyes as she breathed rather heavily. “My, my,” She seemed a bit surprised when she suddenly looked in our direction. “Rage honey, you didn’t tell me you had such sexy new friends?” She grinned so wide it shouldn’t be possible at us, with rows of pearly white fangs that looked like she might well rip our throats out as well as greet us.

“Now, now,” Rage placed a meaty hoof on Joy’s shoulder, as if halting her. “Fun times later. Report.”

She moaned in disappointment and stomped her boot once before smiling and sending a kiss in our direction with a wink. “We found our lost friend, turns out he’s made a good life out here in this paradise. Got himself quite a few friends and a family.”
“You found….Mortem?” Rage seemed as if he could scarcely believe what he had heard, as both his brows raised and his eyes grew large.

“Yeah, he’s headed this way last I checked. I think he had four with him. Some rust-bucket with quite a handsome face and a damn big gun, and two fine mares I wouldn’t mind to lay. I don’t even mind the mechanical doodads one’s made out of.” She paused, glancing back as if finally remembering something. “Oh yeah! And we found good ole Gladius and our old time pal from our Knightly days!” The two she was especially referring to was that of Gladius and the General, whom I saw the former supporting the latter as they came to a pause near Joy.

What looked like a Steel Ranger was also walking beside Gladius. She seemed if anything a bit embarrassed, and her face was almost completely red.

“General, are you alright?” I asked, rushing up to his side with all my static voiced glory, honestly we looked like quite the interestingly beat up duo.

“Not as spry as I used to be kid.” He replied, looking to his right as a metal dragon walked up to us and stood idle.

“And who is that?” I asked, gawking at the metal monster.

“My armor…” He replied as it opened up for him, “Should help me move a bit faster.”

“I still need my old power armor…” Gladius mused, as he looked over the dragon with a nod of approval. “Sadly it’s likely a rusted-out relic of a bygone age in the old Company bunker down south…”

“Now there’s my big brother, right there!” Rage laughed again, shaking the ground once more as he finally released the Chaplain and charge for Gladius.

The resulting event caused me to raise an eyebrow, as I saw the broken, stitched wings of the old ghoul unfurl to an immense span. The face of the stallion that just a second ago was thoughtful and calm, now seemed thunderous and dark. Those slits of crimson and midnight black glared deeply to the bloody warrior, in in a blink Rage was completely still.

“I...understand...Chief Ranger, sir.” Rage murmured, as he closed his eyes and shuddered as if in pain.

“You four,” Gladius spoke, his voice filled with such an undeniable authority. “Get suited up. It’s time the Rangers reminded these heathens of their places.”

Silence was the first to vanish, as she slipped into shadow. Sorrow followed suite almost immediately, as his ethereal form faded away into nothingness.

Rage opened his eyes and looked skyward, seemingly lost in thought for a moment. “It will be a good day to die...for the enemy.” He gave a genuine smile our direction, and waved, before he began to liquefy into what appeared to be a dark blood that pooled at his boots. “We will be back, for the end times...Keep the General and our Niece safe until our return. Or you, will, suffer.”

Joy gave a grouchy look and stomped her boot again as if frustrated before she sighed and nodded. “I’ll be back soon Chief,” she said, before looking dead at us and grinning ear to ear again. “I still need to have my fun, especially with you young one,” She winked, though it seemed meant more for Skull than me I noticed, now.

The yellow mare bounced once into the air before she unceremoniously charged smack into a building, collapsing it around her. The only trace of her left was that of a lingering laugh that haunted the air.

“So General,” Gladius’ voice seemed to marginalize that title, as he turned back to face the two of us with that same stern, unwavering expression. “Old friend,” He corrected himself. “Where do you think my Niece is?”

“North, there is a cloud fortress built within a mountain… there are also enemies attempting to breach her defenses… is that Securitron seriously painted like a turtle?... okay yeah it is…” Tempest seemed lost in his own thoughts as he slipped his new skin on and began to run diagnostics.

“So, how can we help?” I asked, looking back to see my own crew readying their gear.

“You can stand with us in the fight. There is no more to ask. I am through with subtlety and subterfuge.” Gladius said, his voice distant yet booming. “It is the way of the Knight to meet his foes on the field of battle. To face his fears with courage and determination, in spite of the odds laid before him. To protect his hearth, his home, his family, to the last breath in his broken body.” His voice was echoing now, as he seemed to brace slightly; though he did wince as if in pain as his wings stretched out even further and broke most of the stitches. “I swore this oath ages ago, and by Adam, I will be damned to Hell if I break it today.”

I’ve hardly seen a pegasus take flight as swiftly as this stallion did. Despite the oozing blood that came from his freshly opened wounds on his wings, he lifted skyward with that same determination he spoke of. Regardless of his own body’s limitations or hindrance, he went to the dark heavens in seconds and wavered far above us.

He looked proud, he appeared strong. No, he wasn’t just seeming powerful, he had become powerful. His own reminder of his past, and the knowledge that his family was in danger, forced him to be so.

“To the mountain soldiers!” He decreed, “We wage our final war today, for eternal victory tomorrow!” A flash of dark and light green mixed with grey, and Gladius was gone. Only the after-trail was left behind as he made his way north, towards the mountain.

“Well then, that explains a lot…” Tempest stated before taking a step in his armor and falling to a knee, “I am coming my love.” He spread his wings and unleashed a painful roar before he too was off into the blue yonder.

“Lightning, follow them but don’t lose us!” I shouted as we all began to sprint, thus making the ground shudder with our sheer weight.

I am War

View Online

Chapter 46

I am War

“Hell hath no fury like a pissed off flaming skeleton with a longsword!” -Tempest Knight

My armor moaned and I could feel the joints beginning to stiffen as I came to a halt on the ground behind where Gladius had landed. I immediately primed my weapons for a full on assault but we had found nothing to engage.

“We are close Gladius, I can feel her nearby.” I stated as I rose my helmed face to the sky, spotting seven dots in aerial combat. “Check high 1:30.” I added, giving my worn out wings a couple experimental flaps.

“Looks like the battle’s already begun,” Gladius gave a glance to the conflict above. “And it would seem there are already cracks among the ranks.” There was a deep disdain in what the old pegasus said, as he shook his head slightly. “There will be no honour to be gleaned from their deaths, but there is a small measure of justice to put down such cowards.”

I watched, now, as my friend gave mere dismissal to the enemies above us. Twas but a dark foreshadowing that garnered my attentions, as a deep gleam came to Gladius’ eye.

In but a blink’s time, it was gone. Replaced, utterly, by the earthshaking, ear-splitting slash that cut into the world. Were it not for my armor, I would suspect my hearing would be quite destroyed, as I looked skyward still, and saw what had produced such a noise.

A mighty Rift stole into the material realm. From a darkness unfathomable, where I could feel only malice and hateful destruction abound; this was where the sound that I could only describe as literally Death itself tore free and leapt into the world.

A single figure, bathed in shadow and mist, flew from this gaping maw in the air. Fire spewed from its back, and what looked like the souls of thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, moved with this thing through this mist of darkness.

The limbs it carried, as it immediately slammed into one of the other specks that had been fighting, wrapped tightly, it seemed, around the throat of its first victim. I heard words, that, while whispered, reached my ears as if they were a shout, as this thing crushed the neck it had grasped for like a toothpick.

“Forgive me."

In a blink, the body of the first had landed before the two of us. It was the rotting, decaying corpse of what had been an Enclave trooper. The rusting power armor was still clear enough to read in that regard, but it was so badly damaged it looked as if several tanks had struck the poor lad from all directions. His body leaked a toxic fluid that scorched the ground beneath him, and the smell…

“The stench of War...thought I’d escaped this centuries ago…” Gladius whispered, as he gave a somewhat regretful smile before looking skyward once more.

The second of the once-fighting group opened fire in retaliation. The plasma rounds that were fired seemed to dissipate before they even impacted this dark creature, as the horrific mist seemingly absorbed the blast before it struck this being. In return, the being drew from its back what my enhanced visor detected to be a highly advanced set of pistols. No...Not pistols. Revolvers. Revolvers that looked the size of hoof cannons as it took careful aim.

“I send you to peace…” The second whisper came, as this thing let loose a barrage of blooming balefire from twin barrels.

The flaming, charred remnants of what had been the second Trooper crashed down to the earth far below with the speed that could’ve marked a megaspell. The impact was similar, as the body cratered out in a ruined street and continued to burn.

Just then, the dark figure vanished without a trace. Yet, the mist continued to linger around. I heard now, the beginnings of a terrible chorus, as that ethereal haze surged forward and seized in its grip two of the other Troopers.

Their screams were something even I’d never heard, nor thought a pony could produce before. So guttural, so agonized, so frenzied; yet so short, and abruptly cut off.

I stood by and watched, as first flakes of what appeared to be metal flittered about and fell down to the earth; only momentarily uplifted by the wind and carried a short distance away before falling again. Then the sludge. A mixture of flesh and fur and blood and a hash of organs. Like a thick rain it plummeted down and struck the rooftops heavily before suddenly melting through them. At last, the acid-damaged bones of what had been the two Enclave members began to fall.

“The sins of the damned are so solemnly judged…” the third whisper echoed in my mind.

Gladius nodded at the three remaining soldiers. All three of them seemed in a panic, as the mist began to inch forward hungrily in their direction. It came so close as I’d imagine the one it paused before could taste the sickening smog. Yet it gave pause.

“You are Forgiven.” the fourth whisper decreed.

That was when I saw the dark form return. For the briefest of moments, it had come slipped back into reality. It hovered directly behind the other two Troopers, who had yet to be sentenced.

“The sin of the Father be carried by the Son.”

I saw this figure’s claw trace the spine of one of the Troopers, before it stabbed in deep and took a great hold. The cry of pain lasted for but a blink, before the very spine and skull of the stallion was ripped out of its body and through the power armor. Hauling back with immense strength, this horrid trophy was then rammed directly through the throat of the second Trooper, before the final whisper came to me.

“Go forth with the sin...and pray tell your misdeeds to those above ye.”

Surprisingly, the Trooper who had just been impaled obeyed this command. Despite bleeding from the clear gaping hole in his throat, caused by the spine of his comrade that was still lodged within, he took flight and fled the scene immediately.

There were no more words, but I did see the creature make a swift gesture as the mist returned to it before dissipating. It descended from the air swiftly, its wings of unholy fire burning brighter and deeper as it neared the ground we stood upon.

When it was but inches from the flat expanse, it gave pause yet again. It glared from its own shadowy gaze beneath a shrouded hood, giving birth to a pair of glowing eyes hidden behind bloodstained, shattered spectacles. Its form became more corporeal, as the last Enclave Trooper landed beside it, and I could finally tell who it was that had returned to us.

Dressed in armor befitting the older eras, of which I was fairly well acquainted with; inscribed heavily with runes I could scarcely decipher as being of the language of Death. Most of this was hidden beneath thick, voluminous robes that appeared as if weaved of obsidian, and were too covered in runes and inscriptions that glowed faintly like this thing’s eyes. The fire that it had borne appeared as sconces that burned from its shoulders, which were enlightening the gilded shoulder guards that bore ancient tomes. Ancient lore and knowledge I could not even begin to process was there to behold. Yet proudly displayed on its breastplate, the inscription of the 1st Equestrian Army still gleamed.

“Ranger Sorrow.” Gladius gave a small smile.

In his claws, which still dripped with fresh blood, those two massive revolvers were gripped tightly. They were beautifully crafted, engraved with what looked like millions of tiny scriptures and battle scenes. Ages of work, crafted to tell a story of a life of Death.

With a glorious flare, Sorrow spun his hand cannons between his individual talons several times before he holstered them skillfully. Dusting his claws off, and wiping away the blood, those eyes turned to the remaining Enclave Trooper and studied carefully.

“The only reason I do not sentence ye to burn for eternity for the sins of your forefathers is because you had the nerve to face those sins.” He decreed, jabbing a talon accusingly as his glowing pupils darkened somewhat. “After all, twas both their cowardice that damned this place to waste away, and twas their fear that scarred the Chief Ranger forevermore.”

Sorrow gave a nod of respect to his superior, whom he had so aptly spoken of, as he softened and stepped back.

“You are lucky to be alive, I know Ranger Rage would’ve skewered ye without a second thought…On the principle alone of your group having brought harm to me, or any of our brothers and sisters in arms.” Gladius said, giving approach to the Trooper, before pausing abruptly. “You know who I am? Who I truly am?” he asked, as he gave the Trooper a hard look.

He first looked over to me with what could be apprehension in his eyes before looking back to Gladius, “If I am not mistaken you are a part of the Iridium family, the same family as that of Ministry Mare Dash.”

“He is well informed.” I noted in a low whisper that only Gladius could make out.

“I am her uncle,” Gladius said, “You are not informed enough, certainly your forefathers weren’t. I could’ve had the lot of you flayed and executed for treason for abandoning your country in its time of need.” Gladius and I noted the slight confusion that was there, before he spoke low, yet thunderously. “I am the Chief Ranger of the First Equestrian Army, you fool. By my right of command, I should’ve condemned all of ye to death centuries ago.”

“He well should have, for you’ve done nothing of worth in Death’s eyes in your organization’s lifetimes.” Sorrow snarled, as one of his claws drifted dangerously close to a holstered revolver. “The world could’ve rebuilt, but you cowards sat in the clouds and did nothing to speed its recovery. You let it stagnate, and now the debt has come to be paid.”

“Calm yourself Sorrow, he is an ally.” I stated as my EFS picked up a new friendly dot.

“I told you that I would be back.” Ponegator stated, walking out of the surrounding dust. “It would seem that the local Steel Rangers, the nearby city, and the Enclave have engaged in combat. The only question remains, what are you doing here?”

“We are here to find my niece,” Gladius said, before he looked to me closely. “We need to find Dash. Would ye happen to know where she is?”

“Aye, do you know anything, perhaps?” Sorrow’s glaring eyes narrowed, as he stared at Ponegator with suspicion. “Where is the location of Mortem’s daughter?” This was a doubly posed question, to both Arnold, and the Enclave Trooper, who it appeared that the old Ranger was leaning more towards the latter as he fixed his deep gaze upon and glared darkly.

“I heard that she was heading into the nearby settlement.” The Enclave trooper stated as he looked to Gladius.

“From radio traffic I am able to confirm this.” Arnold piped up as he hoisted up a minigun, “I will provide cover fire… and explain how I knew where to be later.”

“Ranger Rage will already be there…” Sorrow nodded, before he started to fade into an ethereal mist once more. “You tread carefully, Enclave, or Judgement will be invoked this day.”

And thus, he was gone. “We need to get a move on then,” Gladius looked to Ponegator. “Lead the way.”

“You all are like the beginning of a terrible joke…” The Trooper muttered, before meeting Gladius’ intense gaze. “How does one dang Stallion butcher an entire squad without even trying?”

“It’s our duty to do that,” The Chief Ranger replied, as he passed by and left a chill in the air. “We’re Death’s Warriors after all.”

“Could have shaved off twenty seconds by removing the dramatic flare.” Arnold stated.

“But that would take all the fun out of it… if only I was at full power and able to show you what a Reaper of Hades is capable of.” I stated.

“Could’ve rusted you out and made sure you’d stayed buried and dead...But Death would’ve had my head.” Sorrow shot back, before nodding approvingly at me. “Met your old master a few times in my years...admittedly, kind of a dick… But he has his moments...Just like Lord Death.”

“It is just…” He paused his speech as a pair of Hellhounds rose out of the ground and attacked them, drawn in by the fighting above their homes.

Ponegator’s mini gun spun up and began to shred into one of the two hostile hounds. The other seemed to be interested in me, thus I did what would classify as the norm, and opened fire. Flame jutted out of my weapons as the armor piercing grenades slammed into the enemy life form. All that was left of either attacker were chunks of meat and bone.

“Just over the ridge, I will lead.” Arnold finished his sentence before beginning his march up the ridge, shooting anything that remotely moved with five and sometimes up to ten fifty cal rounds.

“So… you’re alive?” I asked, still perplexed over my friend's sudden return.

“Thanks to a merchant and a pony from my stable, yes, I am alive and fully functional.” He replied, turning his red gaze to meet Gladius’. “You have a question, I can tell.”

“I have no qualms of knowing your life or death...After what I’ve seen in the passing days…” Gladius gave a faint hint of a chuckle. “I just want to know how you managed to find us so easily?”

“Rage wasn’t exactly quiet…” Sorrow shook his hooded head, as if in mock disappointment. “I remember giving suggestions on how to create your kind...Ah yes, the Ponytrons. I do myself enjoy spitting just a bit in my Master’s face every so often.”

“What’s your definition of ‘not exactly quiet’?” The Trooper asked.

“When you hear the chorus of screams from hundreds of the damned, you’ll know.” The Chief Ranger answered, before he gave a deathly glare that made his fellow Ranger’s eyes flicker and dim. Sorrow immediately quietened down due to this, and he also averted his gaze to the hard ground.

“Just wait till I lose my temper.” I stated.

“Now General, you’ve never known my brother, but you knew his daughter. She had a temper that could crush mountains, level forests, and tame seas. Imagine what her father’s going to be like when he arrives?” Gladius chided, actually giving birth to a laugh that was, at the very least, agonizing to listen to.

“You do recall who my father was yes?” I replied, a short laugh followed before I added, “Though I do suppose you have a point.”

“There stands the dead…” Sorrow nodded, indicating ahead of us.

The moans of the dying far extended past the vision that we had of the subject at hand. When we reached within sight of the aforementioned dead, we were met with blood and destruction in equal measure. Craters littered the ground, still fresh from the explosion that had made them. Chunks of flesh, bone, and armor marked the edges of these holes; blood filled in the steaming trench, and made the air smell more of death.

There were spikes of stygian iron that seemed to have tore up out of the earth itself, impaling many who were not permitted the sweet release of a swift demise. Foul blood leaked down and pooled at the ground, and ever so slowly, I could see barbed wire creeping up in response and wrapping around the moaning armored forms. They were being gutted, ever so slowly being sliced to pieces.

It looked like both sides were equally punished.

“Rage is just working out his annoyance that anypony would attack his family…” Sorrow said, sighing. “This is pretty mild for him, I must admit I’m pleasantly surprised.”

“It’s about what I’d’ve wanted to happen to them for attacking my niece…” Gladius said, dismissing the horrific scene and stepping through it without a care.

“It is still a terrible way for a warrior to die.” Sorrow said, flatly.

“They are not warriors,” Gladius countered. “They are but fillies and colts playing pretend. Real warriors are baptized in blood, theirs and their enemy’s. They struggle, they fight, for their lives and that of their brothers and sisters depend on it. These cowards fought for nothing, and deserve no pity.”

“True, a warrior fights for something they believe in, these dead, they were only interested in money, or in the case of the Enclave blind obedience.” I stated, to which I earned a nod from Gladius.

“Personally it seems as if a few of these corpses were killed with too much effort.” Ponegator stated as his glowing red gaze cast about the scene.

“Or not enough,” Sorrow said, observing the pools in the craters around us all. “Their deaths were swift and simple, unlike those who are still suffering,” He emphasized those impaled and being crushed in the stygian spikes.

“Either way, Rage has blazed the path for us towards my Niece.” Gladius proceeded forward posthaste, even without Sorrow or the rest of us. “As much as I’d want to speak with her first, it is undoubtable her second uncle will do right to explain everything.”

“We’ll have our chance, but first I think they would like to talk to us.” I stated, my trusted sword shot out of my armor and into my telekinetic grasp as my wings unfurled and I took off into the air, my blade clashing against the griffon’s talons.

I tilted myself midair and ran my blade across the base of the griffon’s left wing, causing the mercenary to cry out in pain as he fell from the sky and impaled himself on a stygian iron spike. I turned just in time to be hit by a mace wielded by another griffon, this one with tears streaming down her face. My sword fell from the sky, but I no longer needed it, I dodged the strike that followed and hit her on the back of her head, causing her to fall face first into another spike near her comrade.

“Hostiles have been eliminated.” Ponegator stated as I landed, “You alright sir.”

“Fine.” I stated, looking away from the dead, “Let’s pick up the pace.”

“Hasten your march soldiers.” Gladius moved forward once again, paying only the slightest nod to the slaughter.

“I just...We have a lot to talk about when this is over…” Deathbloom finally said, surprising me slightly as I had almost forgotten her presence for a short time.

“Fair enough,” The Trooper said, following behind the Chief Ranger with a dismissive glance to the dead.

“I said stay down you poor excuse of a pegasus!” A raspy and wondrous voice shouted in the distance.

Instantly I sprinted past everyone else, my hooves moving through the battleground as if I had lived in it.

There was a scream, not my own, but one filled with undeniable anger. Pure, unadulterated Rage. by the moment I caught sight, I knew it was already too late. Even for the extremely bulky armored form of that murderous crimson creature that was howling with such intensity unholy fire burned from his helm and steam flew from his melting actuators.

His great sword was raised, poised to strike with the thunderous retribution of a thousand suns. Those quad cannons atop his shoulders burned hot as brimstone, and glowed intently to kill. But it was too little, too late. His blade sundered the body of one of those Enclave like butter, and those cannons unleashed literal Hellfire from their barrels upon the one who had committed such an atrocity. This stunned the massive creature, and sent it reeling; but still, twas too late.

I watched that hulking armored beast explode into a massive firestorm of death and destruction, as his burning lenses saw what I did as well. A massive armored dragon move out of the smoke and fire. A deep crackling chuckle reverberating off our very bones. Twin red orbs glaring down at us as it’s identity became known.

“Thanatos!” I shouted up at the skeletal drake, “What is your business here in the presence of mortals!”

“Tempestus, favored of Pluto and slave of Hades.” He grumbled.

“I am no slave, my deal with him was completed, I merely serve his alter ego Pluto.” I retorted, cutting off the imposing dragon.

“YOU DARE INTERRUPT THANATOS, I AM DEATH ITSELF!” He shouted, a massive scythe raising in his foreclaws.

“You dare, you strike out against a fellow servant of a common master! THAT IS MY WIFE YOU FOOL!” I shouted back, my scales beneath the armor catching fire as I unlatched my powered suit to allow my form free. “He is yours Mortalias, just leave enough to torture.”

“You upstart old scumbag!” A familiar, but foreign voice boomed. “If you think yourself to judge the fallen, then you stand to face one of your caliber!”

I watched as that fireball of molten metal grew slightly and came into solidified form. What had been what my companions knew of as Rage had been twisted, perverted. Altered in such a way it no longer looked anything akin to the warrior who was. For a moment, clarity reigned. There, in the body of the Ranger, stood with a burning fire in dark eyes, the monstrous avatar of my companions’ master.

Armor turned obsidian, blade morphed to two scythes of stygian iron. A cloak billowing to the wind that stank of pestilence from endless diseases.

“Death.” I nodded in recognition of the particular entity I rarely spoke with.

“Foolish lesser beings, this is your punishment!” Thanatos remarked.

“Punishment?” I asked, looking at my former friend.

“You get to live in the sun, you would not understand… the time for change has come, I shall lord over all with an iron claw!” He proclaimed, clenching his jaw shut as the rush of dragon fire congealed within him.

“I LIVE IN THE DARKNESS OF AZMORTALIA, BLIND FOOL! KNOW YE NOT TO RESPECT HE WHO SLEW A GOD!?” Death exclaimed, his own jaw creaking with a sickening pop and snap before he vanished into thin air. “COMPLIMENTS OF LORD ADAM, BLASPHEMER!” A massive punch was landed square into the jaw of our foe, which sent him immediately flying off as Death emerged from skyward darkness with such fury that shook the earth.

Immediately, as he settled to the ground, he set off. He charged to the beast with unearthly speed that my eyes could scarcely keep up. With both scythes raised, he struck out with vicious lashes. His aim to cripple the beast before he dodged out and vanished once more. Only to slam into the back of the creature and hook his weapons in deep as they both fell to the ground.

Death wrenched these free, and leaped from the back of the drake to the ground before it's broken maw. “Get up, we’re not done with you yet.” Those insane eyes reflected a hint of the old Rage still in there, as he calmly walked back to us and gave slight pause.

With a clenched fist, he looked over to Gladius, who was crouched beside Dash and cradled her close. He merely opened that fist, and held out a small, unassuming talisman, before I watched his ghastly form fade back into the monstrous Ranger I knew.

“Wha…” Rage shook his head and blinked rapidly for a moment, before he looked down to the armored claw that he cradled the talisman in. His eyes widened, and he was actually speechless, as he looked around and at himself before looking to the talisman and then to me. All of this was done in a few seconds, and the steaming hulk of a warrior was already beginning to flare up again in anger. “Take this,” He thrust the talisman to me. “You are lucky to have His Favor…”

With that, I saw Rage turn to face the foe Death had put in its place prior. His cannons aimed, and his blade was raised, as he charged forward to do battle with an earthshaking battle cry.

“Rage.” I stated, my tone calm and ever even, “This fight is mine.”

The Ranger gave immediate pause, as he glanced back at me before giving a stern, solemn nod. Something out of place for the elder stallion, as he returned his gaze but a moment to my foe.

“I will tend to my Niece then, and none shall harm her whilst I draw ungodly breath.” He said. “You are lucky to be spared my wrath, fool.”

He actually spat balefire to the ground, as he turned back and marched to where Gladius still sat. He joined himself at the shoulder by way of his hoof, and began to mutter in the ancient language I knew well. An incantation, an invocation. Not to grant demise, or undeath even, but to stay its hand entirely.

“Now, what have we learned this evening Thanatos?” I asked, priming my twin auto cannons.

“We finish this.” He replied, swinging his scythe at me and shooting a red energy blast from the movement outward.

I shot into the sky and dodged it before enchanting myself with hellfire and unleashing every case of munitions I had remaining. I then landed atop him and began using my armored might to beat his bones to pulp. I didn't stop till the glow left his empty eye sockets.

“That you are condemned would be the proper answer.” I muttered to his corpse.

I turned around and shot my gaze directly to Gladius, only one pony was on my mind, and she was in his hooves.

“Dash?” I asked, my voice low and still retaining its anger.

“I have stayed her death, but at a cost,” Rage said, finality clear in his voice as he suddenly rose to his feet. “Death warrants Death, and there can be no recourse. It is the law of the universe.” I watched this hulking warrior set a gauntlet to the shoulder of Gladius, and for a brief moment, I saw blood. Not anypony else’s blood, but his own. “How fitting to pass protecting friends and family one last time…” He turned, giving me a smile that held no malice, or darkness. “Keep The Mark of Death upon her, the half-blood of di immortales, and no harm will befall her. Tell her...it’s from Uncle Ramos Rage.”

I saw the light instantly leave the Ranger’s eyes, and he staggered back with a clutch to his heart, and cratered the ground. He did not tarry long, however, in the mortal plane, as grasping claws tore at him from the darkness, and stole him from the material world. All that was left, was the tags he’d previously carried. They jangled from a cross in the earth, and marked his demise.

“I think…” I heard Gladius say. “I think she’s starting to wake. Quickly General, bring the Talisman.” His voice was hollow, foreboding, yet utterly joyous. Despite the loss, however, I could see he was more hearty than anything else, as he looked favorably to the one he still so gingerly cradled.

I levitated the talisman out and floated it over to Gladius, “You know better than I on how to use it.” I said, clear uncertainty and worry permeating my words, but my anger still omnipresent.

I watched, as the elder stallion took the talisman from the air, his hooves closing around it for a brief time before he reached to his bloodied shoulder. From it, he took the fresh liquid and crushed it to the heart of the small symbol. The skull in the center of the small cross glowed brightly, like pure lava that raged like an inferno, and an aura permeated it that was dark crimson.

“En Mortis Est Gloriam,” Gladius whispered, before a bit of darkness slipped with those words past his lips and bound to the talisman.

Its eyes burned brighter, before he took the archaic symbol and wrapped it around my love’s neck such that it dangled just barely from the front. The ground shook a bit, and I came to understand what Death’s Favor meant now, as I saw for a brief second the outline of the one who had died to make this all possible hovering behind Dash’s form.

He was still smiling, although his stance was one ready for battle, as he raised his blade and vanished. The Immortal Rage himself had been bound to not only protect her from within the talisman; but now his soul was bound to her. Should anything, even something natural try to take her life, he would stop it without hesitation or remorse. Death wouldn’t take her, unless she welcomed it with open arms.

I heard coughing now, as Gladius set Dash down to lay and wake on her own.

“Come back to us little Cloud Chaser...wake up.” He said, using an affectionate nickname I’d heard maybe once in a very passing remark ages ago. Something she’d mentioned was from her youth.

“My love…” I muttered as she slowly opened her eyes.

“Temp?” She groaned, “What is happening?”

“Too much to explain love, I no longer know what forces are at work… these are strange times.” I looked to Gladius, “Though I did find your uncle.”

“I haven’t seen you since you were a little filly...just learning to fly with your father…” Gladius was smiling, as he nodded. A single tear was in his eye, but he wiped it away as he straightened up and got to his hooves. “I don’t know how much you remember of me, but I’m here to get you out...keep you safe...just like I promised your father.”

I observed as Gladius offered down a hoof, his intent clear as he meant to help Dash up. She took it without hesitation before she looked at me.

“I take it you have a place we can go away from all of this?” She asked.

“Aye, but it is far… perhaps it would not be a bad idea to try and help these ponies before we depart.” I replied, motioning my head to a few children and who I assumed were their parents taking shelter nearby as enclave forces flew dangerously close by.

“What do you think Uncle, think we can lend a hoof?” She asked my friend.

“We are sworn to protect the ponies of this land until death,” I heard the familiar, heart-wrenching, despairing voice whisper on the wind. So silent, yet echoing far.

The ancient shroud that was Sorrow emerged from the ethereal realm. He stood beside the stake that carried his fallen brother’s tags. With care, he claimed them, after a few utterances of prayer and the signage of Death’s cross made over his heart.

The robed Ranger floated slowly towards us, his two smoking revolvers holstering simultaneously after a couple of showy spins. His armored boots touched the earth, and he glanced between us as Gladius faced him down.

“Glad you’re here Sorrow,” He greeted, giving his comrade a smile.

“It has been too long since I have experienced true joy in anything…” Beneath the hood that enshrouded much of the stallion’s face, he gave a heartfelt smile as his spectacles settled on Dash. “But it is good to see you again little Cloud Chaser. I remember when you used to have me read you stories at night before bed.”

“Uncle Sorrow.” Dash said with a smile before she looked my way, “I see you found my family then.”

“It would appear that way my love.” I replied, feeling slight lightheadedness.

I chanced a peek to my barrel and saw the blood leaking from holes in my armor before the world faded away to black.

“I have yet to finish with you Tempustus, your rest must wait.” A familiar voice spoke, its tone heavy and dark.