The Black Monsoon

by The Pree Sphee

First published

Much time has passed since Nightmare Moon had reigned supreme over the Elements of Harmony, plunging Equus into the dystopia of her dreams. A mangy group of outcasts travels the grisly world in search of the six powers that could bring back the sun.

Sixteen years since Nightmare Moon's shocking victory over the Elements of Harmony, most of Equus is transformed into the nocturnal dystopia she's dreamed of. Mutated by the parasitic Everfree Swamp, a fanatic-ridden mudland, the merging of magic and technology, and oppressive Night Guard rule, "post-Renaissance" Equestria is unrecognizable from its former self.
However, when a reclusive and haunted assassin takes an unhinged group of pariahs under his care, he is suddenly pulled along in an arduous journey against impossible odds and worldwide travels. Fueled by an unquenchable drive and Equestria's mysterious past, they are determined to return Celestia's Sun to the dark sky.


Cover art commissioned by Verbose Mode

Rated Teen for brutal violence throughout, language, sexuality, and copious amounts of horse puns. :fluttershysad:

***Cancelled due to lack of motivation and publicity. Longer explanation and alternate continuation available.***

Prologue: "It's that simple. The villain, for once, won."

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"All forms of artistic narration feature two things: the antagonist and the protagonist. There's the pony who wants to rule and the pony who wants to fight. One always comes out on top, and only one, always - this is among the basic narrative knowledge of even the most scientific minds out there. But what if they aren't so much the Yin-Yang of the arts, instead the paradoxes of reality? Paradoxes, drifting in a society which is constantly dragging them together, preparing them for the the inevitable cataclysm, and the payment of the bystanders' lives and property. We cannot possibly pay the cost of being heroes, or villains, or anypony unlucky enough to find themselves between the two.

"This is the very reason why the paradox of the good mare and bad mare must cease to exist. It would create a world blessed with order and security, immune to the infectious exceptions of the legal system, often sugarcoated with the misleading word: 'mercy.' It would create a world immune to heroes, and their outbursts of violent kindness - villains, and their indifference to innocent lives being lost. It would create a world of justice and equity.

"Now I have found that world. Its name is Equus."

-Nightmare Moon, following her formal inauguration (1-iD).


"Ever heard of Project Greenhoof?"

The words jolted me awake from the murkiness of my abnormal sleep. For a brief and paralyzing moment I thought I had broken the moral and physical laws of nature and had awoken in my coffin to the sounds of disjointed voices. However, as my mind soon realized the darkness around me was not the product of a closed space six feet under ground, the first thing my eyes fell upon was a sky just as dark as the corners of the mind which I had previously resided in. The night stretched up as far as I could see before taking its length to even greater heights and above the average pony's comprehension of space. Gone was the cyan cap of the days before the past years, replaced with the thing it had kept us from: space; the dark abyss of black, stars, and moon just waiting patiently to suck us up into its eternal nothingness. No clouds were present in the void, perfectly giving off the night's expanse and adding no consolation to the mind numbing darkness which was the world of Equus. Even as I've woken up to this persistent sight again and again, it still shocked me to the core like a wound that blistered to life every instance you touched it.

Yet as the clouds were nonexistent, rain still fell. I felt it covering my body from head to waist, drenching my thin fur with the warm liquids of the sky. This precipitation was not natural, and fell from no clouds coaxed by no pegasi. The millions of tiny droplets glowed with a faint aura of dark purple, as if the weak reach of a unicorn’s magic was just barely taking a hold of them. Or, in this case, an alicorn. That fact gave away their alliance like a Night Guard's volatile armor gleaming through the darkness of our existence. I could tell that the rain’s inconspicuous glow could have faintly illuminated my surroundings, but I couldn't feel below my waist. If the past two years had taught me anything it was that that meant to stay as still as possible and hope so hard it would force the thought into existence. Still though, my curiosity - as historically unruly its timing was - slowly etched away at my inflicted caution. Sloth-like and plodding, but undoubtedly there.

There was the mechanical and consistent whirl of an auto-cart's engine, and I felt myself lightly joggling side to side, up and down. I physically fought my head to not lurch up out of defensive instinct, repeatedly telling myself that numbing drugs were used, and that meant that it was not even safe to act alive - experience hammered that fact again and again in my mind like a frustrated carpenter who just can't quite seem to get that nail deep enough. The carpenter must have been busy, because I felt solid wood on my back and its constant vibration told me I was mobile. Along with the sounds of metal and bars rattling against each other, the rain's efficacy at pouring onto anything solid, and the quick susurration of damp air just above me, I heard... voices?

Could it be? After all this time? This would be the first actual conversation I’ve heard in three years. Not grumbling from slaves, not sensual orders from Moon Worshipers, and not anything from my hopeful imagination, but the succulent voices of two ponies talking casually. The feeling which came over my body could only be described as a stone of hope being chucked up from my stomach into my throat, begging my body to let it fly into full-blown happiness. I did not care about the ponies' subject at hoof, I just enjoyed the sound of their voices: affable and concerned.

Almost like friends.

"...You mean that failed project about the glowing flower? Yeah, I think I heard something about it - itself and how ponies see one purple human in the room too many after a proper nose-full."

"As much as I'd just adore that, I'm sorry to disappoint. That privilege belongs to the foragers. I'm talking about our project - the Light Bringers' little input."

"In that case, never heard of it. Induuulge me.”

There was a brief pause. I stayed still, and I knew my eyes were inscrutable as they looked up into the blackness above. I wanted this so bad. Two ponies, talking with each other about something unrelated to attacking another herd or taking over another abandoned town. Their voices were feminine and saturated with personality. One of my fellow ponies, the one which brought up the so-called "Project Greenhoof,” had a blithe and optimistic skip to her voice. It was medium-pitched, and didn't hold the slur of induced drugs or alcohol. She sounded attractive (I don't know how somepony could sound attractive, but there it was) and young - I'd say she was in her mid-twenties. Her companion, meanwhile, was much older and black, and judging from her most recent verbal curiosity, sarcastic. She sounded like a solid 37, hosting an ill-willed resentment as an undercurrent. For a brief moment I compared her to the “bad bitch female antagonist” from the films pre-Renaissance. How could these two ponies know each other, and what could have brought the common theatrical foils to friendship?

But as of now it did not matter. Please, keep talking.

"...All of the anti-night organizations have their own little kinks,” the younger, attractive-sounding(?) one was reminding when I tuned back in. “Remember ours?”

The corner of my mouth twitched, almost curving into a hint of a smile. These were ponies I was with. Unaffected ones, still intact with what made themselves whole - what was so abundant pre-Renaissance, and what made the time before now such a joy to live in. It had no name, not even a word in the dictionary to describe it, but you could instantly tell when a pony had it just by talking to them (or in this case eavesdropping), and it made you… happy. You were talking with another being - another pony - who had lived a life of memories and wishes alongside you and who has had their own experiences and virtues, and who wants to spread their own happiness to you with the power of words and eyes, and who loves life just as much as you.

How meager in supply this virtue was in current times. My potential smile evaporated.

But for now? Just be calm and let this unfairly rare occasion, this unnamed adjective, gently feather into reality. Three voiceless years... coming to an end.

"Mm. Technology. Thanks, I forgot.” Sarcasm again. Snappy, underrated, essential character. How delicious it was to hear it.

"Well this'll really throw you a loop. We're taking it to a whole 'nother level... Mechanical. Limbs."

"...You mean prosthetics?"

"No, much more than that! Like an add-on to a pony's body. I'm not sure how it works exactly, but they're running tests for it right now-- maybe as we’re speaking, they just achieved a breakthrough! Cyborgs, man. They're coming, just you wait." The young mare paused, the atmosphere once again giving way to the pitter-patter of rain on the auto-cart's features, and for a split second of horror I thought she'd never speak again - that this was just the wishful product of another hallucinogenic drug forcefed to me... But, thank the Fallen Princess, it wasn't. She continued, "--Magic and technology. Workin' together. Hot damn. You know, they even have the blueprints for a new liquid magic-induced auto-cart--”

"Hey, SHIT! Watch the road!"

The moment had passed.

The auto-cart lurched to the side, leaving my body to catch up as the younger mare squeaked out of shock. Unfortunately a second was too long to spare, and I felt myself roll to the left before smacking into the wooden plank of a wall.

POP!

My vision flashed white, and suddenly I had feeling below my waist and in my right hind leg again. Immediately after I was reminded I was still alive, and I was still in this damaged body. Suddenly I wished this was a drug.

"There's not even a road!" the younger mare almost yelped as I held back one of my own. "We're in the True Darkness, dude! Free reign to drive wherever and however the hell I want! That annoying pedestrian that takes an eternity crossing the streets stands no chance now.” The raw pain flooded back into my system as nerves sprung to life in my lower body. I opened my mouth wide, breathing out a whimper before staying limp and dull. My upper hooves shakily rose into the raining and windy air and fell into my bush of a mane, as if the exercise would push out any inevitable excruciation. It was for naught, and I started to pant heavily and quietly. I had exercised this method over the past years whenever my leg would act up, among other necessary pains. For the most part these little movements had worked, but now it was only putting a thin cap over an erupting volcano.

"You... almost hit that hole," the older mare was breathing out, but I wasn't paying attention - the unnamed adjective was at the back of my mind now, and did nothing to help with the excruciating pain. “That hole, back there. There was a hole.” I was sitting up, clenching my eyes shut as I sucked in and breathed out. In and out, over and over as warm droplets of rain hooked into my mouth from the shaking lips above. My hooves caressed the bandaged appendage as I felt the old and stained cloth, which hadn't been changed for months, annexed with a brown crust I once dared to call blood. I opened my eyes to come to the familiar sight of myself writhing in pain due to my three year old injury, still unhealed. My eyes unintentionally picked up the rest of my surroundings through the gentle glints of purple light blinking in and out of existence.

I was in the True Darkness obviously, and the shaking headlights of the auto-cart, its backwards illumination bouncing up and down, caught my dark purple arms plunged into the nothingness of shadows as they held my useless leg just underneath the inadvertent light's reach. The fur on my arms were excited in the drenched wind, flailing roughly in the current of the air but taking occasional chances to momentarily flick to the opposite direction as if the individual hairs were in as much pain as I, jumping and mutely shouting in their own little language. Whenever the headlights endured a particularly rough bump and hopped up to shine a little more behind, I caught glimpses of the countless patches of scarred skin and old lacerations on my left arm, and the Spawn of Happiness on my right. It was a simple image branded into the skin, burning the fur and blood off the area around the enemy's symbol which adorned my starved forearm: a thin crescent moon running down the span of the part of my appendage with a plum-sized, six-pointed star on the left side of my upper arm just beside the moon's sharp edge. It was burned forever into my skin, injecting visions of the smiling enemy, emotions I could never recreate, and memories of the paralyzed muscles which I soon realized belonged to me. My mind did not even try to venture into the rage which was the memories of its acquirement, as I knew that inactable emotion would drown me in a sea of desperate anger and violence - then, and only then, would the enemy be comparable to myself. If their qualities were to come within a mile of my own, that would be the day I would put an end to myself for good.

Or become something I often relished in amusing the thought of back in those days: a monster.

“Liquid magic-induced wheels would've sensed the hole,” the younger mare muttered with the tone of a sneering filly. When the other mare didn't respond or laugh, she continued as I pushed the last of my initial pains out in the form of heavy breathing. "You know, I don't get you, Chill. Before our little adventure with that nest of joys and splendor--” Sarcasm. “--you were Ms. Drive-Hard, Guns-Blazing. Now you're concerned that I veer off some imaginary road? This is the True Darkness - no roads here, no Sir-ee Bob."

"I'm just tired.”

“Physically, emotionally, or are you leaving it ambiguous?”

Silence. It wasn't the awkward silence normal friends would sometimes be dragged into, or even the hurt silence when somepony hit the sweet spot of emotion. This was a different kind of absence of sound - I could almost feel the anger in the raindrops.

The younger mare tried to tune the conversation up again with a, "You know you can talk with me about anything, right?"

More silence. She wasn't the most notable example of a therapist.

"Ambiguous it is, dark and brooding protagonist. I'll leave you to it. Now back to the subject at hoof: Project Greenhoof. Awesome stuff, cyborgs exist, the future is now. But I wanted to just kinda... elaborate on a certain somepony who could use that kind of help?"

"Baryn Haze?"

"No, hell no. And that's not funny.” She said it in a way that betrayed her own words. “I, uh... I mean a certain somepony that could use a spare leg. That's in the back of our auto-cart?"

"Stop the vehicle," I hissed loudly as my throat was shocked awake by talking. The two mares went dead silent at the sound of my voice, and the auto-cart seemed to join in at the surprise as the gas was lifted, slowing the vehicle for some time of recovery. I couldn't physically stretch - it was impossible for my lower body to perform such wishful thinking. Instead, I focused on flexing my back before steadily rolling over to my stomach. When the vibration below and gas still rumbling at a steady pace showed no signs of stopping, I narrowed my eyes and growled. "Stop the bucking auto-cart."

I looked up. In front of me was what I had almost come to expect: an auto-cart constantly racing after the blackness in front of its headlights, pulling me on an addon-wagon. While the wagon was a simple wooden, table-like structure with one cubit-high walls on all sides except the front, the vehicle which pulled it was much more complicated. My focus was not on the vehicle that pulled me, however, but the ponies who drove it. Two mares were in the driver and passenger seat of the open-aired automobile, both wearing something on their faces which baffled me before flushing my system with envy: night vision goggles. Illuminated by the white haze of the headlights and the oncoming mud, rocks, and the silhouette of a forest in the distance among the stars, I could make them out through the darkness. Under the (oddly) gray-glowing visors of her night vision goggles, the driver was a roguish-looking dark blue mare. Even more odd was her clothing: what looked like a skin-tight latex suit; the shade of the article was as dark as her actual fur, with profuse gray lines running through from around her hind legs in a circle to her front legs. The lines’ shade was the same as the goggles. The suit was almost full-body, if it hadn't been for her neck, which remained free from any loose uniform. Her fiery mane was a solid shade of navy blue and whipped back freely in the oncoming wind. The night vision goggles were a pair of large, gray, glowing ovals for eyes. A complicated-looking hunk of metal surrounded it as three hard leather straps, two running horizontally, starting at her cheek area and tightly stretching around to meet at the back and one going from the top of the metal to over her mane, leaving a dividing flatness as it went over. I supposed it all met at the interconnection at the back of her head, attaching the goggles to her face. Her feminine eyes were visible through the glowing glass, wide as could be as they stared at the stallion in the back of her vehicle as if I had just popped into existence.

Meanwhile, her companion was not so relatable. Her coat was silver and sleek, although recent injuries littered her body, and had vastly different attire. Whereas her friend's suit was furtive in style, this uniform was anything but. It resembled an armored jacket - silver in color as equally saturated plates of armor covered her chest, sides, and her left shoulder. Her right one was occupied with a lone strap of hard leather, and under further inspection I saw that it attached a heavy duty bag to herself, which looked full from how much I could have seen at that angle. Her night vision goggles glowed a bright cyan, although the design of the eyes was much different than her comrade’s. Instead of the bi-circular style comparable to the driver's, her visors were made up of two layers - a horizontal strip of a glowing screen ran across her mask at eye-level on the lower layer, while a rounded triangle of curved metal was attached on its top left. Three glowing circles were placed on it, the biggest (about grapefruit sized) being in the middle, the second biggest in the bottom right corner, and the smallest on the other bottom corner. I couldn't see her eyes through the thickness of the color, and as a result she almost looked like an unfeeling robot. Curiously, the only hair on her head was the continuation of her silver fur. It took my eyes a few a moments of squinting and waiting for another bump of the headlights before I realized she was bald.

My voice was frustrated and gravelly. It had been so long since I had last spoken real words - not counting my constant yelling and grumbling and growling. That, and I was baffled by the mares' bizarre choices of attire. Were they part of an organization? I felt like they might have mentioned so. Either way, night vision goggles were unheard of during these past three years of darkness.

...Our loss. In fact, it was a big bucking loss. I was almost angry the thought had never even crossed my mind, nor the ponies I knew beforehoof whose lives could have been saved if they had such a comfort. Once again, anger blossomed in my chest.

"...Thought the drugs weren't supposed to wear off yet," the driver mumbled to her companion, glancing to said pony's way underneath her visors. “Damn medicine magicians can't do their job, hmm?” I glared at the driver expectantly just before the passenger let out an abrupt shush and the conversation was ended. A hint of dominance spiked my view.

As if I was suddenly the most interesting thing in the world, the driver stared at me with a chagrined expression on her face - the face of a filly looking at her carelessly made toy tower collapsing. The passenger merely adjusted herself in her seat, and through her endlessly shallow lenses for eyes I felt her nausea focus on my right hind leg. I was used to that reaction - sometimes I found myself indulging in it, as if the shock of losing an appendage to lameness still hadn't worn off. As an understated victory, I raised an eyebrow at her bald head.

She didn't notice, predictably.

"No," the passenger finally deadpanned as the auto-cart continued on its way. Speeding up, in fact.

My stomach heaved and the blood in my head rushed as I attempted to stand on all fours. I had only gotten my forehooves to plant firmly in the wooden ground before a shudder from the auto-cartsent me back down roughly. "Then I'm jumping out," I assured, grimacing from the pain. It wouldn't be difficult - just a jump over a one cubit-tall wooden plank, then a brief but extremely painful tumble for a few seconds before being free to either die in peace or hopelessly wander to the next group of ponies. Anything was better than the Moon Worshipers, and anything was also better than what I knew was coming. Besides that, the initial feeling I had gotten from the two mares speaking was no more than a faint memory. Our words were back to business, “not friends, just co-workers” talk and the like. I almost expected to start hearing familiar verbal scenarios of past “business,” like Moon Worshiper Merchant ranks this, this-one-is-wounded-there's-no-way-he-costs-that-much that. The usual.

"What about the mon-ayy--?" the driver started to her partner, but a more impatient hush in the form of a punch to her shoulder shut her up. The driver turned her head and focused on the nonexistent road again, deflated. Disappointing. I could've used another one of those briefly satisfying moments of he-was-famous-pre-Renaissance-raise-the-price-again reactions.

But this? This was a waste of breath. They were not going to experiment on me. The passenger started to talk, probably to continue on about how “we’re here to help,” that strong-female-antagonist sounding voice and her, but I merely tuned the pony out with a twitch of my eye and attempted to lift myself yet again. Thanks to the illumination of the headlights, I was given a great view of the hard muck, sharp rocks, and the occasional startled mud lizard hurriedly rushing away from the passing auto-cart. It was the product of the constant deluge’s toil, these conditions - the common ground which spread throughout Equestria now.

The wet soil gave myself a reflection to look at, but I promptly avoided its unfeeling glare.

I took my first step, unblinking, and I think I would have actually gone through with it, but before I could walk off into the True Darkness the auto-cart's engine let out a loud squeal as its brakes were slammed on. My vision swam as gravity shifted inside my body, and before I could possibly get my bearings I felt two bars slam into my shoulders. When my brain caught up with my body, I came to the sight of the front innards of a stopped auto-cart and a very irritated driver’s shoulder just to my left.

The passenger lifted her leg from reaching across the vehicle's innards and onto the brake lever and gave me a venomous glare. I realized I was now sandwiched between the two mares, the one on my right's armor digging into my fur like a knife as sharp as her remarks: "You're not going anywhere, you ungrateful piece of fuck." Here comes the we’re-here-to-help. "I don't know if you remember, but we lost three mares and a stallion trying to free you and whatever other mentally challenged defectives we got from Moon Worshiper hooves. Not only that, but bullets are not bucking cheap - not with the switching currency issues, and we spent our fair share putting holes in your captors’ chest cavities, so show some bucking gratitude. Now, my friend and I did not go on another three day-long, exhausting raid on some psychos' little shit nest to save a pony that won't even make saving his life easy, let alone standing up on all fours. Yeah, I saw that. Now do yourself a favor and go back into the drugged sleep which you’re supposed to be in right now."

I met her look with an evenly deathly gaze as my nares flared with breath. I knew she could have easily wiped the floor with me given my health. At this point it was just a game of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

"Do not threaten me,” I spat. The passenger's visors were unreadable at that, and I felt a sudden urge to rip her goggles from her face to reveal her eyes - the passage to all ponies' thoughts. I let that thought steam my mind before pushing out of the auto-cart and back onto the addon-wagon. We stayed stationary however, and the rain kept pouring, individual droplets steadily trailing down the passenger's stoic, cyan visors. Her mouth, which was clearly visible, was a thin line as she looked back at me.

After a glance back to me, then the passenger, then back to me, the driver spoke up. "Alright, we've all gone through shit. 'Nopony knows how you live,' I get it. But what I think my friend is trying to get across is that maybe you could show a teeny amount of gratitude? I mean, we just saved your ass from a certain rape-happy cult of criminals. A simple 'thank you' would be nice."

"I will not be experimented on," I snapped, drawing my left hind leg closer to myself - my right one was stinging too much to move, courtesy of my sudden derailment. The engine kept whirling on its own, each click earning a twitch of my eye. "Never again. Not without a fight."

A fight I knew I couldn't give.

The driver's mouth opening slightly and her head leaning back told me she was confused. The passenger, meanwhile, turned back to the road which she imagined.

"I heard you talking about Project Greenhoof," I assured. "I'm done being somepony's puppet. I'm getting out. Now stop the auto-cart.”

"It’s already stopped,” the passenger murmured.

“I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to!" the driver spoke up. "I just figured that with your knee bone literally ingrown into the meat of your leg, you'd be a willing volunteer. Because shit, that needs a doctor. You know it's dangerous to stop magical first aid midway through, right--?”

"What do you mean by bullets not being cheap?" I asked in a sudden attempt to change the subject. The crippling thought of them being correct had briefly entered my mind, but it was quickly shot down. Let's talk about bullets.

The two mares in the seats' night vision goggles both turned my way. Even if it was just a conversation shifter, it was indeed a question which was starting to nag me from the inside out. "Do you use magic vials?” I prodded further, away from the subject of my leg. “Neither of you are unicorns, so how could you use a gun? What could you do, hold the gun in your mouth and bite the trigger? Hope to the Fallen Princess that it won't break every tooth in your mouth or break your neck from recoil?"

The mare on my right stayed silent before giving a solitary, turtle-like nod to her friend, as if saying, “This one is trustworthy.”

I don't know how, but it seemed like the driver’s visors, as if in replacement of her eyes, lit up. She said excitedly, "We use OEMPs!”

I blinked.

"Over-Expendable Mouth Pieces," she explained, before reaching into the dark depths of the auto-cart's glove compartment. Meanwhile, I was thinking of how much better the acronym sounded than the actual meaning.

A smile accompanied the driver’s turned away features as she dug through a variety of clink and clank-makers like a filly searching for her favorite toy. The heavy atmosphere which I was so used to but so sick of was gradually being lifted as her skippy voice continued with, "These babies were invented in 2-iD, just under a year ago. They come in SMGs, assault rifles, and shotguns to start with - and no, not the guns you see in the movies, but actually usable ones. Pistols are an add-on in the hardware if you're rich, which nopony is, considering how bucking cheap doits are from bits. This year they just came out with some new models: grenade launchers, sniper rifles, and LMGs. More are in the works... -- Ahah! Found it!" Ending her monologue (which I suspected to have postponed her sudden ability to find one of these OEMPs), the driver pulled something out of the glove compartment and proudly held it up for inspection. My head tilted.

It looked like a mechanical mask for the lower face. A sturdy-looking loop of a leather strap was attached on the back of it, which I guessed was for keeping on the head of a pony. The mask itself was strange, though. Black was its primary color, making the details hard to make out, but I did catch the shape of two skinny, long cylinders on each side where the cheek would be underneath.

No matter how long a pony spent in the new Equestria, their eyes never adjust to the darkness. Whereas other species' irises widened and shrunk for absorbing more light, ours are more for emotional outputs and therefore were not so useful. My own were no exceptions, and when they laid upon the driver's happily gray goggles, I envied her for the second time of the night. Or day. Moon cycle.

I briefly acknowledged how the rain dribbled down her screens, unable to penetrate the eyes from just beyond, and I wondered just how much force it'd take to separate the goggles from her face.

A grunt and a nod from me. She probably thought I had as good of vision as her, being used to that constant gray glow. I would inspect it further later.

The driver gave an proud, almost pretentious smile. "Here you have a classic Light Bringer-made assault rifle OEMP. Just strap it on your mouth and bite the trigger lever inside to fire. God dayum, this thing can rip a mare apart." She shifted the mask so it stood upright on her hoof, pointing to the protruding cylinder as if I could see it as clear as day. "It shoots twin rounds from these magazines, and in the assault rifle's case, magic is used to keep aiming as accurate as possible with a crosshair which--"

"Well, don't you have the gift of gab," the passenger interrupted with a bit more gentle warmth than I was expecting, and I realized her cyan visors were aimed at me. "His ears are perfectly erect. He must like violence. And Light Bringer technology." She finished the statement with a look at the driver, and her female-bad-guy voice did what it did best and wiped any recurring thoughts of that previous warmth from the atmosphere. From the way the armored mare tilted her head forward and pursed her lips, I guessed she was glaring.

She really liked glaring. But, on the better hoof, that was the most emotion I've seen on her yet; there's still hope for that stoically depressed face of hers!

"How’d you like it if I just started interrupted you all the time?” the driver affronted. “I didn't even tell him about the projectiles!" She moved her shoulders as if about to throw her hooves up, but ultimately thought better of it with the driving wheel in front of her and all. "That's the best part!"

"...Those, then nothing else. Let's see if you blow up another webeloe nest by accident. Sit back down, you."

I sat back down, although only because I knew they had weapons ready. Meanwhile, the passenger reached over and pointed the mask's front portion away from us into the depths of the True Darkness as if it'd accidentally go off in her face. Or a webeloe nest, apparently.

The new angle gave me a bit more perspective on the OEMP. Inside the mask was an assortment of tiny wires which had flowing gray liquid magic inside, hugging the walls of the innards which came in from the outsides of the mask and connected to the cylinders and various other slits and buttons. They amalgamated at the very center of the mask like a spider web being twisted. The resulting gray light illuminated the metal bar positioned snuggly in the little space, which stuck out what looked like an inch so it'd be just in front of the potential pony’s mouth for clear talking. I guessed magic and technology workin’ together (“Hot damn.”) made the lever push forward whenever the pony wanted to bite down on it and fire.

The hard leather strap on the bar of the mare’s OEMP had bite marks on it.

"Projectiles, and the place they're launched from, depend on the model. They're activated by saying a password into the mic, which you would've been told about if my friend here hadn't so rudely interrupted. For assault rifles they have string bombs, and shoot them from the big ol' grenade-shaped hole in the front of the mask. The gearheads are trying to find ways to induce magic in them so they'd be redesigned and more deadly.”

"Grenade?" I asked seriously.

The driver, instead of giving me a correct response, substituted it with a weak smile. "You're, uh, kidding. Right?" I shook my head. The mare to my left sighed, repeating my head-shaking action before steadily speeding the auto-cart up, dragging the passenger and I with her.

There was a bit of an awkward silence, as if the driver was contemplating what she did to anger the Gods so she would become stuck with such an oblivious stallion. Either that or she was trying to think up the correct words to explain a grenade.

Speaking of which, the passenger once again reached over and tilted the OEMP away from in front of the auto-cart to the side. The driver gave a brief (and not so slightly embarrassed) “Thanks,” under her breath before speaking up again. "Little ball that… explodes, I dunno. Boom-boom? You know boom-booms, right?” The driver was drawling as if I was a school filly. I held down a snarl. "String bombs, my uncultured friend, are two of those attached to a rope--"

The passenger, who must be picking up a habit now, interrupted her friend with an unusually loud, "Oh, my dear, dead, Princess Celestia, he's not a bucking colt."

The OEMP responded to the words "Princess Celestia" with three consecutive beeps and a brief gray glow from the countless wires and screens in its innards. Instantly afterwards a dark entity was launched from the OEMP's front with a static smoke, bucking the driver's hoof to the opposite direction with a distinct Buh-DMPH! I flinched as a few memories of explosions flashed in my mind before instantly being snuffed out - not out completely, but to be added to the cemetery of horrible memories in the back of my mind

"SHET!" the driver exploded before barely regaining control of the wheel just as a magical blast of blue fire glowed in the distance with an ear-cracking BH-UMMT!

We all took a moment to collect ourselves; the driver recovered from almost squeaking out of fear while the passenger adjusted her position. The openness of her mouth suggested that she might have underestimated the consequences of triggering the OEMP. I, meanwhile, found out about my new ability to cower even tighter than already.

"You did that on purpose!" the driver snapped, glaring daggers at the passenger. The latter shrugged in an attempt to seem calm, but the shakiness of her voice betrayed her.

"Your fault for choosing the most cliché password in existence." The passenger turned away, unreadable. "Remember Baryn Haze?"

"Not my fault he's Manestralian," the driver defended herself with. She turned to me, speaking lightheartedly but fragile, as if still in shock. "You think we're in denial? Spend a weekend in the Down Under. Those guys say the Fallen Princess' name like it's a god damn spell to ward off evil. Give 'em my OEMP and they'll blow themselves up within the night.”

"What if I had said the password before now?" I asked, my eyes narrowing.

"And the most repeated question of all time is spoken," the passenger muttered to herself.

The driver held her chin high. "Aww, you guys are getting along! And also plow you for ganging up on me." "Watch the road."

"What road?"

"Watch whatever the buck is going on in front of us!"

The driver turned back to the True Darkness. I snorted before slowly uncurling from my ball of cowardice and limping to the back of the addon-wagon, rain showering every inch of the way. Used to the constantly pouring waters, I bent down and sat before resting my chin on the vibrating wooden wall. My teeth clattered softly in response.

As I looked into the solid blackness dashing beside us, yet always stationary, I felt as if I should be feeling something. Besides the initial emotions from sudden actions by the two mares behind me, I felt strangely calm, as if all of this was just in the swing of things. Any normal pony would have rejoiced at the very notion of escaping the past two years spent as something lower than dirt, but as I looked into the void of Equestria, all I felt was tired and frustrated. I had felt the same way when I was first brought into custody, saved from the first year into Darkness spent wandering the True Darkness alone only to be subjected to something even more horrifying.

I was no longer a living being, it seemed, but a leaf in a river, unable to change my inescapable fate. Was my freedom of choice just an illusion? Where had my previous spunk when I had heard I was about to be experimented on gone? I could only guess it was spite which drove my outburst, as if the mere implication of the ugly truth of confinement which I thought I had come to terms with was enough to send panic down my body.

It was ugly, this thing I called my mind.

"All right, I'm tired of this blank-face bullshit," the driver said over the growing volume of the mud spraying out from under the tires. "What's your name?"

I picked myself up to look at the driver. She caught a full whiff of my blank-face bullshit through the inner mirror.

"You got a name, don't you?”

I studied her for a minute before steadily returning to my position.

"Fallen Princess Almighty," I heard her mumble. "Ya know, we're about to spend a lot of time together, so let's tear down that 'Silent and Brooding Type' wall and get real for a second. You've got to start trusting other ponies if you want to stay alive from now on.” A pause, as if she was peering back at me. I could feel her gaze on my bare, soaked side through the rain. "Milk Dud is my name, just so ya know. Still not the best of friends yet? Alright, well hold onto your Moon Worshiper-owned butt."

"Shut the buck up," I snapped. I didn't have to put any effort in glaring at her - I knew that I had already instinctively shot my head in her direction, my eyes sharp knives. My voice penetrated through that thick skull, embedding the fact that I wouldn't mind one bit to turn that steering wheel and kill us all. She was to never mention that fact again. Milk-- no. The driver followed my order and quickly turned back to the mud in front of us, and the passenger suppressed a snicker. I must have waited a minute or two, because it felt like it, staying in that position: staring at them, paralyzing their remarks. When I realized my eyes were almost completely dry, I blinked hard and turned away, unwilling to let her last words infect my mind with memories any longer.

Even though I knew I could never forget them. The good memories, the pre-Renaissance memories, I had no trouble with unwillingly losing. But these ones were different. They were a looming, dark figure above my thoughts at all times, waiting patiently for the odd word out to trigger a brief flash of emotion. They were truly, horrifically unforgettable. I could only not think about them.

My vision was naught but black as with my surroundings: the True Darkness. The huge expanse of mud and rain occupied by Moon Worshipers and the endless night sky above, our memento mori, which made up the majority of this new, horrible Equestria. Between the herds, neutral zones, and any outpost with so much as a dim lantern for a source of light, this place was the breeding ground of the recently mutated animals and criminal ponies with morals reduced to instinct: food, pillaging, worshipping, sex. To the ponies in the herds around the world - these concentration camps, these you’ll-be-safe-heres, ruled by the Night Guard not far from the destroyed ruins of the former cities - the True Darkness was a death trap. And, to an extent, they were right. The darkness was infectious to anypony who so much as looked into the brutal environment and opened their damaged mind to the swamp of broken morales and mirroring rains by the name of Equestria. Few ponies could tell themselves or (by some miracle) others who were willing to listen that they had spent more than a few seconds in the True Darkness, before continuing to go home to their magic tent and not worry about instant interrogation or “nightly correction.”

I had spent the last three years in this unspeakable place, and it had done something to me. Gone was the spirit of ponykind - “spirit” would be the closest word to this unwritable marvel - to be replaced with an ugly rendition of a pony. I had little morals. I guessed myself being willing to acknowledge that was a start, but it was an impossible race. No matter what, though, I would still stay afloat. It was like puffing your chest full of air so you'd float on the pool surface, but being unable to move anything significantly. The reason for my small victory was simple: I was no Moon Worshiper. I had done what I had to to survive - not in the “strong, brooding protagonist” way, but the real one, when it damages everything you used to hold dear until you're reduced to a skinny, broken, unstable mess of somepony who would not bat an eye against drinking mud to survive. This inflicted fragility was real, and it had and continued to torment me from the inside out, rendering me useless in times of another pony’s life or death and sucking the eventual self forgiveness out of my brain out like a hungry tube.

If it was the True Darkness or the Moon Worshipers who did this to me, I would not know.

"...I was a carpenter," I heard from the auto-cart’s driver. My eyes narrowed and I turned to shut her up again, only to come to the image of something unique. The passenger seemed to retreat back to her own seat, as if she was thinking of doing my job for herself. Yet, when my eyes fell upon what the driver's right hoof was holding up, I understood the passenger's silence. Its silhouette was given off from the headlights of the auto-cart, further designed by the gentle glow of the driver's goggles like a caring mother’s gaze on a newborn. "I was born in a little town near Horseshoe Bay - before it turned into what it is now, of course. My dad was a carpenter and my mom was a psychiatrist. Weird mix, huh?" She was trying to lighten the mood with an awkward introduction, placing the object down in the darkness of the auto-cart. I had a guess as to where this was going, which the passenger translated wholeheartedly.

"You don't have to tell your life story," the mare in the right seat said, although it came out like a question doomed to failure.

"Hang on, I'm getting somewhere." Milk Dud took a moment of silence, as if it took effort to remember her own life. "Steady Hammer and Mind Breeze. My old stallion was your exact equivalent of a big teddy bear, and was the first gleaming smile newcomers would see when they got into town - little did they know just how short his temper was with his wife! Breezy, meanwhile, was a little on the high-strung side, but would jump in front of a bullet for her husband. Can't really say the same for me. Because of something that happened in her childhood, she actually wanted a colt… A little on the ‘unrealistic expectation’ side for me, but I guess the gender ratio must’ve interested her for the challenge. It didn't work out in her favor, though - when she had me, she was physically damaged too much to have another child." I caught her gleaming smile in the clattering rear view mirror. She was shaking her head with an emotion I didn't know existed, even with my expertise. "Loved my parents to death, but boy could they fight! I'd stay up nights to the sounds of them constantly lashing out at each other, then backing down, only to hit the sweet spot again and ignite the flames. They never got divorced, though. Just fought one night, made up, and went a week or two before coming up with more reasons to passionately strangle each other. The neighbors were worried sick about it all, but it was their relationship’s character, I guess. I know I'll understand someday."

I used the rear view mirror to study the driver. I couldn't see much from under those gray night vision goggles covering her visage. Yet, her eyes still shone through, brighter than the literal gaze of the visors leading her vision. Besides that, I could see her smile, which was enough to stop me from actually asking her if she was, indeed, beautiful. It might have not been the right question to ask, anyway - my social skills haven't exactly had time to sharpen over the past years.

I nodded to myself. Milk Dud would understand a relationship’s ins and outs someday.

"I earned my cutie mark when I was eight, living in Baltimare at that time. Pretty good age, my dad says. I still remember the moment: I had just built my first life-size replica of a medieval trebuchet for a school fair. Mind Breeze told me not to get too excited, though - 'You're no prodigy' she made sure I knew. ...Well, anyway, I can't show you the image 'cuz of this Light Bringer Assassin suit--"

"Stop giving away our info!" the passenger interrupted, before I took the liberty to interrupt her with an irritated:

"Shh."

The cyan irises steadily flowed my way. I couldn't see much of her facial features because of the visor culprits themselves, but the auto-cart's headlights gave way to her mouth completely. It wasn't a dropped jaw per se, but it was still a damn satisfying shock. Milk Dud suppressed a giggle and glimpsed at me through the rear view mirror, and I felt some weird twitching at the corner of my mouth. Was that a smile?

"...Anyways, this Light Bringer Assassin suit, made with magically concentrated latex and hard cow leather, originally designed by Sacré Rouge, who is also the founder of the Light Bringers, organized in 1-iD, is blocking the view of my cutie mark. It's a 2-D wooden table with a saw through the top left side. Or is that information classified as well?”

"You're children," the passenger mumbled before burying her face in her hooves (or trying her best to, considering the hunk of metal and glass which covered more than half of her face). "The both of you. Children. You do realize we have to kill him if he doesn't apply for the Light Bringers now, right?"

If I wasn't already so used to threats of that caliber, I would have had a reaction.

I took another glimpse at the rear view mirror and spotted Milk Dud's grinning face once again. I might have imagined it, but her playful eyes flicked away from making contact with my own.

My eyes narrowed and I cowered tighter. A brief, fresher memory flicked in and out of existence:

(“One glimpse is just a natural movement. The crazies do that sometimes. When they look at you twice, though, don't sleep in the same bed that night. Hide.”)

"Well,” Milk Dud continued, her real face replacing the ghost of my past. “I joined my dad's business in carpentry after that. That did not bode well with Mom, though, and she pretty much shut me out. Moved away, back to Horseshoe Bay to start working for herself. She had a lot of success there because of all the foreign curiosity about Equestrian psychiatry. She came over to rough up Sturdy Hammer occasionally, to keep things steady between the two, but as the years passed she came less and less.

"Mind Breeze's name became literal eventually, and soon she was missing birthday parties. That's a big no-no for Dad, and he left to have a talk with her alone one day. I was seventeen, then, when the sky stayed black--..." Milk Dud's speech grew quiet. For some time the atmosphere was absent of her voice, and was instead vibrant with the engine's rumbling and wheels’ sloshing. Rain still poured from above, shining us all like metal and gravestones. Soon, though, a sigh escaped Milk Dud. "Everypony knows the story now. The Elements of Harmony try to save the day, but... Nightmare Moon won. It's that simple. The villain, for once, won.

"There were two types of ponies that day. The oblivious ones and the paranoid ones. I was oblivious. Kept on running my father's business with a black sky above, figuring Princess Celes -- urhm..-- the Fallen Princess, had made an honest mistake. Or was sleeping in, or something like that. I was building a cart at the time - one of the old carts, without engines - when my parents both arrived back home. My father gave me a hug and my mother did the most logical thing she could think of: run around the house, screaming and hollering that something was wrong. Guess she was one of the paranoid ones."

I saw Milk Dud's body grow shaky as she breathed, recounting the memories which we all shared. "Then the Speech Across the World happened. ...You all heard it, and saw it, loud and clear. Thousands and thousands of Nightmare Moon's image, running up and down the sky like a grid of sickening smiles on TVs, speaking from nonexistent speakers in all of our heads. Announcing the Fall of Canterlot." Milk Dud lowered her head and stayed silent. I readjusted myself, genuinely interested in her story. "...My mom flipped. Took a kitchen knife and came at the nearest thing to her: me. She came at me with all she had, but it was nothing compared to my father's rage. But I did get the message her eyes were sending. She wasn't a bad pony, just... mad. I guess that's what happened to Equus, too. Good ponies. Just... mad." She sniffed before wiping her nose and looking into the True Darkness. For a few precious moments, I wanted to comfort her.

That thought was quickly shot down and burned at the stake. I am not capable of that anymore.

"My dad subdued her, and then she just accepted it. He had to tie her up and went to call for Celestia’s Guard… but I guess that's when reality finally crashed down on him. I remember asking my father, 'What now?'

"'Guess we'll just make of it as we will,' he said - his exact words. We didn't know what else to do. So we continued to be oblivious. I know it was a shitty idea, but we tried to continue business as usual. What else were we supposed to do? We had no survival skills, we were just normal ponies. The most useful thing I had was a Filly Scout’s badge in camping." If that was an attempt at humor, it didn’t work. Now Milk Dud was really tearing up. She held her hoof to her snout as her voice broke more and more, oblivious to seemingly everything. Her eyes were glossy underneath her gray visors, staring into the darkness as if it’d hide her tears. "Baltimare was gonna be leveled and rebuilt into a herd - some... collection of tents, with a fire and some Dictator to order us around. My mother talked about fighting, but my dad couldn't bring himself to do it. He was scared. All of us were. Besides, what could a few ponies fighting an entire world accomplish?

"We must have stayed days, witnessing our own neighbors turn against each other, scream themselves to sleep... until the Night Guard came to our home. The moment I saw their gleaming armor, I thought it was death itself on our porch.” She shivered as if the memory was only minutes old. “Seeing those thousand-year-old faces, these ‘ponies’ who had joined Nightmare Moon over a thousand years ago during her first attempt, and who had been banished to the moon with her consequently… It's indescribable, seeing those campfire story monsters in real life, on my front porch, facing my own family... It wasn't the crazy ponies down the street they were after, it wasn't the no-lifes, they weren't targeting the drunkies in alleyways, there was no contextual victim like in the movies, it was us they sought after. It was a nightmare reincarnate.

“But these ponies, these living fossils, these… killing machines wanted something worse than our demise: our partnership. They wanted to hire my father to help build the tents. --" Milk Dude snorted, before looking to her left into the the expanse of night, once again trying to hide her features and failing. Her snout contorted and her breath hitched a few times before calming. "...F-Fallen..." She intentionally shook her head before focusing on the road again. Her sentences were short and exact, her head swaying forward with each fresh memory. "...He refused. They persisted. He refused... again. Their unicorns drew weapons, pointed at me, and... Mom stepped in front of me." Milk Dud's swaying gradually ceased.

The passenger was looking into the True Darkness sickly. She must have heard this story more than once, judging by her silent sympathy. The two mares must have gone through much together.

The driver took a minute to calm herself. No visible tears were shed, and the sniffing eventually drowned to silence of her own. "I still don't know why she did it," she said. "Maybe I'll understand someday, like her relationship with my dad. But for now I guess I can just keep on wondering, because I don't think she understood, either, until that last moment.

"When Sturdy Hammer saw that, he..." Milk Dud shrugged. Now her attempts of neutrality were gradually seeping into effect. "...Well, I'm not full of bullet holes, now, am I? He picked up the closest thing to him - a hammer on the shelf to his left - and went insane. I saw my first fill of blood that day. Or night. Moon cycle. What-bucking-ever." She seemed to focus on the blackness ahead, through those pretty gray eyes of hers. She continued thoughtfully, "It was weird. When I was younger I thought if I was ever in some situation like that, I'd stick with my father 'til the end. Help out, defend my family. But when the opportunity finally presented itself? I was just terrified. It's weird how those moments can just creep up on you and plow you up the ass, you know? Your whole life thinking you're strong enough to handle it, to stand up and fight it, to whip out that gun in that alleyway and point it at that robber and say, ‘No way, bitch.’ But when it actually does happen, and you experience... that, and that robber, that moment of fight or flight, pulls out a knife and puts it to your throat and says spread ‘em, things in your mind happen too quick. It's all just too sudden and unfair. You don't have a choice. You do whatever your body makes you do, and then you have to live with the choice you didn't really make, but you did. That's when you truly know if you're really that strong.

"Sturdy Hammer killed most of them, and I won't even try to explain what the sight of my own father killing somepony made me feel. It just can't be done. First he used a hammer, then when that broke he used his own hooves. Meanwhile, I was just trying to get over the shock of it all - how my oblivious, pre-Renaissance life ended so quickly, and how I didn't have any time to think, and how my mother… Well. Guess the Night Guard were getting their full share of that moment of strength, too, 'cuz they were practically shitting themselves before they finally put him down. Took not one, but two drop vials before he was asleep. You know what a drop vial is, right?” I nodded, catching her eye in the rear view mirror. “Then they dragged him off. And I ran." Milk Dud's jaw straightened, and her nose wrinkled. "I couldn't see much, but… he was alive. I know he's out there now. Under the Night Guard's watch or not, he's alive. Ponies like him simply don't go down without leaving their mark on history."

My ears perked at that. I knew those ponies firsthoof. "You're looking for him."

"You bet," Milk Dud piped up, a lighthearted smile planting itself on her features illuminated by her gray visors. Once again, it was as if her emotional outburst did not happen. "And I'm not gonna stop until he's safe. Then he can see how far I've come." When her persistent message was sent, the blue mare glanced up into the invisible sky. I turned my head to follow her focus, and only saw blackness with the occasional star. But when I felt the passenger's simple glare on my fur, I returned the gesture with vile.

"If you think about it, this really isn't all that bad," Milk Dud continued. "It's only been three years. Things can still change. Granted, the wildlife got bucked up after the Dark Magic Act, but at least they're not running rampant through the herds, am I right?" She chuckled nervously at that last slip of the tongue. I was almost tempted to join in. The Dark Magic Act was the ultimate failure of Nightmare Moon’s post-inauguration aggression, illegalizing all forms of magic except for the Night Guard. An unimaginable ocean of liquid magic, sucked from all the unicorns of Equestria individually, rendering their horns useless; was dumped in the Everfree Forest to be forgotten. Except it wasn't - it was absorbed by the soil, the trees, the grass, and the domino effect won over the wildlife shortly after, “bucking them up” indeed. The law was quickly revoked, only to be replaced by another equally preposterous course of action.

There was a certain madness to Nightmare Moon when she had first become ruler, as if she knew her victory would be short lived; that the heroes would surely rise again, and she needed to damage Equestria beyond repair before the Elements ultimately defeated her. Well, mission accomplished. Now we were only waiting for the Elements to follow suit in this prophecy.

Milk Dud, seemingly reading my thoughts, continued her optimism. "This isn't some dystopian future that we find in young adult novels. Those realities take time to form." Her focus shifted back down to the road ahead. "Nightmare Moon? Just another villain in desperate need of an ass-whoopin' by a strapping group of Equestrians. She might've won once, but in the end, the hero always triumphs."

"Ponyville thought that way," the passenger put in blightingly.

Milk Dud grew silent at the mention of Ponyville. I recognized her silence - it was a special kind of thought, as if her mind was suddenly oblivious to her seemingly unwavering optimism. The poison was quick to quiet, and the passenger recognized that she had hit a sweet spot. Both ponies' minds were unreadable as the road continued for some time.

I hated the silence, suddenly.

"You'll know me as Rain," I uttered. Said concept kept pattering across the auto-cart as it drove, although the driver of the vehicle's focus was slightly derived from the course ahead. Milk Dud's head was turned so she could get a good look at me through the rear-view mirror, and even the passenger's ears perked in surprise. "It's a nickname, not my real one, given to me by my sister, Goldbuck. Again, a nickname."

I also stole a view at the mirror. Milk Dud was suppressing a toothy grin by biting her lips from the inside while the passenger tilted her head my way. They were interested, and I narrowed my eyes before looking down directly at my smirched body. I was almost ashamed that this was happening. It felt as it should: I was opening up to another pony after years of telling myself to never share information about myself to anypony again. Was this all it took for my constant battering to dissipate?

I bit my lip and narrowed my eyes. Of course I had to share this with Milk Dud after all that she had just told me. Yet the passenger was just as evident as the mare I was in debt to. She was almost the elephant in the room at this point, a shadow of Milk Dud. Nameless, dark, and always there to bring her down when she deemed it appropriate to do so. She was hateful, more so than I was, and I detested her for that along with many other reasons.

Did she have a story too? Or was she just the shadow by Milk Dud's side? I knew no such type of pony existed. If I saw her in front of me, right now and alive, that confirms the fact that she has been on this world. And, judging from a few more aspects than just her voice, she has been on this world for much longer than I. But the thought pestered myself as I could sense the passenger's dark existence; it was listening and attentive. I could feel her ears perked in the wind, disrupting the flow of the air and the gusts inside my own head. I did not want to tell her anything.

Still, the better part of me felt it was time to take Milk Dud up on her advice - to trust other ponies. It was just us, on the edge of the True Darkness, after all. Adding onto that, they were indeed the ones who had saved me from the Moon Worshipers.

A heat rose in my chest as my mind, inexperienced in other ponies but all too experienced in the lingering spirits inside, felt the possibility of a friendship. I was not outwardly grateful, but I knew I owed both of these mares more than just my life. A reward insignificant as that is an insult to their efforts.

I would keep it simple - for their tolerance, and my execrable social skills.

"I was born on September 17, 21-bD, in Fillydelphia, Equestria." The passenger's shoulders rose and fell intentionally. I didn't know how to take that and continued. "And... I don't remember the entirety of my childhood, except my cutie mark appearing." I did not make a move to reveal the icon located on my haunches. My mouth feeling dry through the entirety of my awkward testimony also did not help my uncomfortable condition.

Before I was set victim to my withdrawn tone again, I was saved by Milk Dud. "Explain it," she suggested.

Her request turned out to be bemusing. It had been years since somepony asked about that story every one of us shared: our cutie marks appearing. And even when it was among the few memories I held onto throughout Tartarus and back, her request was disputatious at the least. I was almost angry she had asked; that I barely knew her (then again, I did know her now, didn't I?), and that she had deemed it worthy to share life stories so early. Yet it procured our relationship, didn't it?

I narrowed my eyes, focused on the wet air in front of my snout, and told the story.

"I was an actor," I told, a few memories briefly flicking in and out of existence from the word. At that, Milk Dud raised a hoof as if she had just discovered something unknown while the passenger took a double take at me. I avoided both of their gazes by never moving. "Well, a starting actor. I was twelve years old at that time. Older than usual for the cutie mark-getting age, but I looked young. I was in the play...--" I took a moment to think and remembered the name of the play. Still, I did not share it. "--...I can't remember. Where the Something-Something. It had an original name - something that the audiences were curious about."

Where the Angels Fall. Directed by Lyles McStage. Starring Sugar Grape, Gene Trotters, and Étoile Mending. Nominated for two Shining Light Prizes: Best Use of Choreography, and Best Supporting Child Actor.

Me.

"...And I was good. For my age. I didn't have a comedic or dramatic role, but an understatement of both. Lighthearted and intense, and still young. I don't know what the director was going for, but it worked in my favor in the end.

"My cutie mark appeared during the curtain call. I had already bowed, earning a standing ovation from the audience, when Raucous Wind, our music director, noticed the flash of white first. Soon after was the rest of the cast, then myself, then the audience, then the press. It's a pair of Thalia and Melpomene masks. Dominoes were invented, and that's how my career started."

"Wait a minute," Milk Dud interrupted suddenly. "What'd you say your name was?"

"I never told you my name," I stated firmly. "But, to you, my label is Rain."

"The hell does that mean?"

"He's deranged," the passenger huffed. But her two cents could not buy the derailment of Milk Dud's friendliness.

"Nickname it is," the driver concluded. "But... god dammit, I think I know who you are! I used to watch some of your stuff back in the b-D's! Shit, what's your name...?"

A white-hot ball formed in my chest, and I blinked simply. For some time we sat there, me unbelieving of Milk Dud's connection. I knew I was successful in the acting industry, and even mixed some modeling in as well, but to meet somepony who had seen you in something is a special feeling. Perhaps, someday, she could tell me what "stuff" I had been in? I couldn't remember much about that part of my life, just the overview of my career.

It was only Moon Worshipers and survivability techniques and the sickening nightmare of that mare’s “Rain, you coward, help me!” and more cries of betrayal. Nothing else but these three scars and my barely existent pre-Renaissance recollection to keep me from storyless faces in a crowd.

“So,” Milk Dud unintentionally interrupted. “How'd you get that nickname, Rain? Be honest, did you just say that because you’re in love with the rain?”

“Uninteresting story,” I said, recovering from the dissipating faces in my head. “I just got it one day. I'm used to rain at most. Most ponies who are ‘in love’ with the rain are just being pretentious, trying to come off as the thoughtful, misunderstood character.”

Milk Dud laughed at that like a colt who just heard “Mommy Daddy Fun Time” for the first time.

I compared her to a child a lot, I realized, and it was ever so fitting.

Changing the subject, I plunged back into my life as she calmed down, and I sensed a warmer than usual gaze from the driver. "My father is a radiologist. Mother, magical researcher. Sister, nurse. None of us know where I got the talent from, but that wonder was lost on my father." I furrowed my brow. "He wanted me to become a doctor or a scientist. I know it's stereotypical, but clichés come from some form of truth. 'Imagine a wasteland,' he would say. 'And you're wandering through it alone, starving and sick. You come across a shelter and ask to be let in, but the ponies inside are low on supplies and only welcome the ponies who would be important for others' thrive, like teachers, cooks, and doctors. They need ponies who are trained to help themselves and others, and whose expertise is valuable and useful. When you mention that you act like somepony else for a living, they'll turn you away.'”

A sting of irony shot through me like a bullet as I thought of that wasteland.

"His philosophy turned to a strong belief, and through drinking turned into stone fact. One day, that stone exploded in all of our faces, and my parents separated. He took custody of my sister, and my mother me. One of the things I remember was what she used to say, my sister: ’Tomorrow’s a new day.’ It was kinda funny; that was her way of saying ‘Everything’s going to be okay,’ but sarcastically. My mother and I moved to Canterlot after that."

If Ponyville was a trigger for hushed voices, Canterlot was a switch of dead silence. It was a worldly monument, the home of the Princess of the Sun, and a symbol of order and light to the world, protecting us from darkness and shielding us from villains. Now it was reduced to a hill of rubble at the foot of the mountain it had once ruled from. A terrorist attack that resulted in the ultimate defeat.

I nodded my head and my snout twitched. I felt the heaviness behind my eyes, the want to cry at the memories of everypony's lives being shattered, shattered, shattered. I hated Nightmare Moon. I didn't know if it was the fact that she was crazy enough to attack Canterlot, or the fact that she was a corrupted form of innocence, or the fact that Celestia did not fight when her castle tumbled, or the fact that she had captured the Elements and spread their prison locations across Equus, or the fact that she won. She bucking won.

If I was ever put in a room with her, I would kill her. I wouldn't even bat an eye. Like eating mud.

To mask my rage I spoke brusquely and shortly. "I was there when it happened. I awoke to the sound of wailing and explosions, and… I should stop trying. Nopony could recreate what happened that night with words. Not if they saw Celestia’s Castle crumble in person.” The two mares nodded, stunned. “My older sister was there. Goldbuck was there, I don't remember why or how, but she was with me that night and tried to help me get away from it all - get away from the Night Guard invading Canterlot, get away from Nightmare Moon circling above us in a carriage, get away from the… chaos of it all.

“I remember a flash of cyan and an unbearable heat, like I was in an oven. And my leg breaking." My right hind leg was slowly lifted, and for the first time I knew the ponies I was talking to wouldn't lower the price on me after seeing it. “My sister put on a magical healing pad over it, but it must have been knocked off when I fell off Canterlot Falls.” Three years it had spent only partially healed. Three years it had spent unable to be infected, but unable to complete its process of rehabilitation. Bone merging with flesh, nerves numb with pain, and clouds infecting my mind with nausea every time I merely tripped.

“That’ll do it,” I heard Milk Dud murmur.

Meanwhile, the auto-cart’s tires seemed to be not sloshing as much mud… it was slowing down. My head craned up to see that Milk Dud was enveloped in the scene before us - the passenger, her eyes on me. Both scenarios were dark and complex, for the Everfree Forest lay in front of us.

It was an expanse of green. That was the only way to describe it. Trees and ferns, mud and rocks, infected plants and infected animals. All residing in that cesspool of everything bad in Equestria, its entrance currently sitting just ten or so cubits in front of us, that haunted house your friends dared you to knock on, that ten paces to the alter. From left to right the green ran, no stop in sight, and I wondered if it had just suddenly materialized in front of us or if I had just never noticed it. The trees directly in front of us were acting as curtains, only partially hiding the algal cave just beyond - trees curving into blackness as our visions went on, muddy grounds eventually succumbing to grass and blood within the black boundaries to be sucked up like a delicious meal into the void of Hell on Equus.

Milk Dud sat still, almost methodically, and let the sounds engulf her perked ears. Rain hitting leaves. Webeloes clicking and barking. Rain hitting rocks. Giant spiders scuttling through the mud and trees above. Rain sloshing in the mud. Tree basilisks rumbling lowly. She seemed to be calculating her chances, and by the looks of her eyes through the mirror she knew we didn't stand much of one if we stopped to take in the surroundings inside.

“We're going through,” her paralyzing remark rang. I was too shocked at the thought to even begin to think of a protest. Milk Dud started to murmur to herself: “We have to. That's what she ordered, Ordermare Sugar Charm, that's what she said. ‘I’ll explain when you get back,’ that's what she said...”

After a glance to the same mirror as my own eyes, she lifted a hoof to the right side of her night vision goggles and seemed to press something. Instantly afterward, her eyes disappeared in a new layer of gray light - out of sight, joining the same invisible realm as the passenger's. She stayed in that position, her hoof not leaving the right side of her goggles, as if enveloped in a trance. The passenger, meanwhile, turned away from me and back to the subject at hoof. As if it didn't inflict her in the least, she merely shook her companion from her trance. "The sooner we get out of this, the sooner we can look back and laugh. You're the driver.”

Milk Dud nodded solemnly before her bottom hoof pressed on the gas again. The auto-cart rumbled a response, steadily rolling forward without so much as a hint of regret. Milk Dud seemed to take refuge in that fact, that something on our side wasn't afraid, her figure straightening before reaching down into one of the glove compartments of the auto-cart. Through the increased glow of her night vision goggles, I could make out one of those "OEMPs.” This one, however, held no cylinders on the sides and looked plainly dull - a solid shade of gray as its main color with a black slate on the top and glowing, green wires with some sort of liquid magic flowing through them protruding from its sides and ending in the muzzle-piece. Almost like an inverted assault rifle mask.

"Put it on, please," Milk Dud said. "It'll act as a gas mask, like ours. You won't have to worry about the Kind Dread."

I gave an understanding nod before reaching forward and taking the OEMP. Her hoof brushed my own, and it sent a warm shock through my arm. Ignoring the almost painful feeling, I took the face mask and sat up to wrap the horizontal straps around my head. I found out they were connected by a metal clip.

"I really do know you," Milk Dud murmured in the meanwhile. Her bodacious comment was a breath of fresh air in the overwhelming sense of dread which infected my system each time I peered into the abyss of the forest. I had heard stories of the Kind Dread Infection.

Surprisingly, it was not relatively contagious (if the host’s innards aren't subjected to the air around them; the pathologists found that out the hard way). But the knowledge that there was no cure for the coughing, internal bleeding, and inevitable death was enough to confuse and traumatize ponies for the remainder of their suddenly short and painful lives. Their own despair tore them apart, and the betrayal of their own thoughts was more effective than any sickness could hope to achieve. It was almost unfair, hearing stories of this slow and excruciating death, but never ones about the victims lying on their deathbed with teary-eyed family members crowding around, passing away peacefully like in the films. They were always stories of madness: a pony stealing Night Guard armor and weapons and going on a one-mare killing spree aimed at the Former-Baltimare Herd’s Dictator, only to be shot by a kill vial after her first stab. Or the other infected pony in the Crystal Empire, spreading her disease throughout the city in a suicide bombing, ultimately reducing the once flourishing empire to a quarantine. One more story popped in my head: a colt, not even with a cutie mark yet, becoming the most notorious serial killer in Equestrian history up to that point.

It was Equestria's first lethal infection, and needless to say we did not take it well. The Kind Dread only sprouted in the Everfree Forest, and no matter how long or hard doctors all over the world searched, the infection had unnaturally persisted, harnessing the low level theory that it was a curse rather than an organic disease. Some ponies think that's what happened to the Moon Worshipers. I know better, though - never were they good ponies, but they sure are mad.

I finished putting the OEMP on and my lower face was enveloped in a warm and humid environment. When the auto-cart entered the Everfree Forest, we were at the mercy of Nightmare Moon's Equestria.


The change of environment was instant. An overhang of green swallowed us whole as we entered, surrounding us with a darkness much more potent than the True Darkness' hostile companies. The rain's persistence decreased exponentially, reducing to a few drops felt on my ears and head, then disappearing altogether. My eyesight now completely failed me, unable to pick out any objects besides the sickly black sky above - when the dark green ceiling allowed it. And, besides blocking the view of my surroundings, the crooked life looming over us sent oncoming sounds bouncing back: the chirping, howling, and barking of a mutated rainforest echoed around and over us, as if the animals were just above us, just waiting to pounce down and start tearing. To me, however, these signs of life - these alarms of predators - were muted out. My ears had been covered long ago, and now they remained in their deaf state. Anything to lessen the blow of the paralyzing fear which echoed in my head.

I had been like this since I could remember entering this lush swamp of a killing chamber. Shutting myself out from the outside world, protecting myself - a method I was used to now. Before any longer, though, Milk Dud noticed, judging by her simple remark over the rumbling of the engine and crunching of leaves and mud, somehow as clear as if I was listening contently, "Oh, yeah. Almost forgot."

Something metallic nudged my forearm. I instinctively drew back until my eyes fell upon the three glowing shapes just in front of me.

A warmth stirred in my chest, and before long I was smiling. I took the night vision goggles with a simple, "Thank you," and started to examine the shapes. They were as the passenger's were, being one glowing horizontal visor covered by another stack of metal, hosting three lights in the pattern of Medium-Large-Small, matching the pony to my front right. The glowing circles of light were a dark green in color.

"You weren't supposed to get a Demomare pair," the passenger said to Milk Dud, irritated. Meanwhile, I slipped the goggles on and my world lit up luridly.

For the first time in three years, I could see clearly. It was like the darkness of the Everfree simply did not exist anymore at the switch of a button. But instead of the much needed sun above, the light which aided my sights came from a blaring, persistent green haze. Mixed with the green was the light my night vision goggles gave off. I could see, but it came at a cost. A paralyzing cost.

I could see.

Gone were the dark green masses zooming past us, replaced with ghastly overhanging trees - vines and branches just out of the auto-cart roof's range, looming above furiously as their rage was cut short by the equally lengthy chance they had to snag us from our seats. The ground was now shining more intensely, green mud and puddles and the occasional pile of bloody animal feces. With just as much quantity as their post-meal businesses, I caught glimpses of the mutated wildlife scurrying away as our auto-cart sped toward them, only to eventually be completely out of mind and out of sight yet again. It was their speed, though, not the darkness which reduced them to quick flicks dashing away from the approaching vehicle, nothing more than rustles of bushes and fallings of leaves. These were the smaller animals which were so quick - the bigger ones, I guessed, were watching from just above, perhaps pouncing seconds after we passed.

And then I looked up.

I saw, through the cracks of leaves and breaks of branches, the night sky. It was no longer black, but now a calm pool of dull green with stars and distant planets speckling its infinite deepness, perhaps just waiting to suck us up when we were in the open. And then there was the looming moon above. That simple, large body of space cut my curiosity short.

I was instantly filled with hate.

"How're ya liking them?" Milk Dud asked quizzically and genuinely. "I figured you'd like the green pair. Doesn't match your eye color exactly, but it's better than running around with red goggles. Their colors don't come in twos. Or... fades." I looked back down and saw Milk Dud turning back at me, smiling plegmatically. I could tell she was bubbling with excitement underneath her coolness, or maybe she was bubbling with excitement because of her coolness. “It must be pretty cool, huh? Looking around, seeing Equestria clearly for the first time in three years. It's changed a lot, I can tell you that much. You know, I almost expected to see the same old Equestria I was used to when I first put these on, like it was all just a bad dream. And by the way, are your eyes real or--?”

Milk Dud’s voice steadily fainted in my ears, and for the first time in three years, that was when something caught my eye. At first it started off as a pixilated brown among the green haze, but after the speed of the auto-cart caught up with me, I saw that it was something different: a tree, speeding toward the nose of the auto-cart like a freight train.

"Milk Dud watch OUT--!" the passenger yelped before the arrival of the oncoming tree snapped us all into a new world.

The last thing I saw before the sudden chaos threw me forward was Milk Dud jerking back to see the road, although it was too late. Through the swimmingly green haze of my new vision, I saw the world turning and spinning as my body suddenly felt gravity shift. For less than a fraction of a second I was in the air, surrounded by the sounds of the shredding of metal and the splintering of wood. Then I was thrown painfully into the metal bars of the auto-cart. This time, though, I was not fit between Milk Dud and her passenger; I was yelling out as I slammed into the hard cylinders and the meat of my leg started to bleed anew. I stayed stuck to the three bars which had almost put a dent in my bones, before slowly sinking into the space between the auto-cart and addon-wagon, unable to move an inch. Rain was falling on me yet again.

In those next moments, minutes could have passed. Or seconds. Or even moon cycles. My deranged mind didn't dare try to register what had just happened. It was only me, my cheek against a vibrating bar of the auto-cart, my injured right leg hanging from the open space of the auto-cart's hotshoe, and the rest of my body being supported by the still wood of the wagon I had previously resided in. But as more time passed, my mind became unaccepting to my numbness and began to pick up the many facts which I now had to face.

I was drenched again within seconds of being exposed to what I guessed to be a small hole in the arboreal ceiling. I felt a familiar, thick, warm liquid slowly trickling from the blazing inferno of pain on my right hock to the pastern, where it then split into two separate streams. The blood dripped from my hooves, making a gentle pit... pit on the wet grass below, only partially masked by the deluge around me yet again.

My muzzle twitched and my nostrils set to work. I smelt blood, wood, and burning metal. My fur prickled at the feeling of a warm body looming over me from my bare side. I heard foreboding noises. They were all around me, at all angles, and at all distances. Rain hitting leaves. Webeloes clicking and barking. Rain hitting rocks. Giant spiders scuttling through the mud and trees above. Rain sloshing in the mud. Tree basilisks rumbling lowly. The sounds of the Everfree Forest.

At that moment I realized my eyes were closed. I tried to pry them open but my brain kept them shut - to protect me, I knew. But whatever it was in front of me, I knew I had seen worse.

My eyelids twitched, closing even more. I persisted, though. My mind asked myself, "Are you sure?" and my answer was to twitch them again before the curtains withdrew.

My eyes remained foggier than the lenses which fronted them, but with that fog came knowledge - I found out my head was tilted upwards, a growing puddle on my visors blurring the green screen in little pools. Over the liquid mess, though, was an opening in the mass of trees. It gave off to the lurid moon above - a massive white sphere in the sky, replacing the natural forms of life.

I shut that moon out of my mind.

"...Oh, no," a shaky, unfamiliar voice suddenly whispered, making my ear twitch and my eye blink.

Her voice was unfamiliar, yet recognizable.

"...Oh no, oh shit, oh buck," the passenger continued, thick with horror. "No... Celestia, why.. Milk Dud.."

The name of my friend jolted me out of my developing trance. I saw my head shift to my left (the developing puddles followed suit, dripping off my visors), before giving away to the ghastly scene of Milk Dud, slouched down in her seat so her mane almost scraped her legs, unmoving. I started at her incapacity, using my skinny arms to wrap around the bars in front of me and pull myself up into the wagon, but my right leg unluckily scraped the bottom of the wagon, and my pain sent me to the same position as before. My head tilted upwards in preparation to scream, but I swallowed the pain. My words, though, were not so containable. "Is she dead?"

My question went without a direct answer. Instead of replying, I heard the passenger breath heavily, and whisper “Thank you,” - and cry. She kept asking Milk Dud's name, as if those two words would bring her back, and I could feel the absolute horror in her voice. No longer was she the stolid pony that sat beside Milk Dud, or the masculine female antagonist, but a mare who had just lost a friend. The sting of the implement that she was a pony did not go unnoticed, but I stayed silent.

I should have known better.

Before long, the passenger stopped her pitiful behavior altogether. I stayed put, my mouth clenched shut underneath my OEMP, and my eyes narrowed hatefully at the sky above. I should have known better.

Once again, it was all in the flow of things. Nopony should be let in.

"Rain," I heard the passenger mutter passively. The stoic of her demeanor in her voice was no more than a fresh memory. Instead of an unemotional statue, she was a mare - and now I recognized her quiet as pith. "We need... to get out of here.”

Rain hitting... Webeloes clicking and barking. Rain hitting... Giant spiders scuttling through the mud and trees above. Rain sloshing... Tree basilisks rumbling lowly.

The sounds of the Everfree Forest.

Realization hit like a cargo train. My blood was instantly pounding, and I looked down to shakily assess myself. My arms were useful. Skinny and disfigured, but useful. My core was also functional, as bone-like the dark purple fur was. Neck not broken, brain as concise as could be. I was ready to move, to escape this tomb of the innocent-- that was fact enough, until I looked down, and in that moment I knew I was going to be left behind.

The rushing blood now accelerated as if to run from the unamenable reality. Suddenly I could feel my life rushing back into my system - I was not a shadow of a broken slave anymore, I was a pony! That fact woke me from every conceivable exhaustion. Even if it was a bit too late in this existence.

"You're stuck," the passenger suddenly exclaimed, as if I were her only friend in the world. I looked to my side to see that she had made her way over to my right, acknowledging how my wounded leg was sandwiched between the auto-cart and the addon-wagon, swinging gently in the nonexistent wind at each twitch, bleeding for every mile we spent off that nonexistent road. I couldn't feel anything below my cannon, but the immense pain easily compensated for the lack of feeling.

And then that twitching reminded me: I was a pony now.

Without much of a choice, I suddenly bent over and wailed in agony. I could feel it now. I could feel the way the destroyed muscle in my quad convulsed into the popped kneecap - I could feel the unrelenting pressure twist my nerves in agony, each twitch sending a shock of excruciation throughout my system and through my throat. That wound..

That... bucking wound!

The Moon Worshipers left their mark. The Renaissance left its. But this mark, this burning pit of flame on my physical body, was a mark of my own stupidity. The raining, the clicking, the barking, the chirping - all that was deafened to my cries of sorrow, and the sudden bombardment of memories echoing in my mind.

(“I jumped off Canterlot Falls.”

“I left my sister to die.”

“I let myself be subjected to this world alone.”

This is my mark - my own mark, reminding me of the many mistakes I am accountable for, of the ponies I’ve failed, of the memories of my life lost. Of my own self.”)

Suddenly, a hoof ripped off the OEMP located on my mouth - fresh air drilled into, but instantly out of, the open hole; it only lasted for a second. Something warm, solid, and furry clasped around my mouth, rendering it to a pathetic, muffled cry of loss.

I was already dead.

"Rain," I heard the passenger suddenly whisper in my ear. Her word was simple but powerful, making my cries die down to sobs. The fountain of blood - the foundation of my guilt - it hurt.

But despite the pain and despite the horrifying sorrow, her voice came in. Rarely had I ever let anypony talk to me with this much sincerity - only when I knew they shared my burden.

"Rain," the passenger repeated softly, the fetlock of her arm still covering my mouth. I couldn't sob, and I couldn't cry. Now I could only whimper, my leg twitching and my chest constantly and repeatedly convulsing. Yet I let her voice in. “...Rain.”

I let her voice in.

Little by little I calmed myself, and then I slowly bowed my head. The terrible guilt which had afflicted me, which had been with me for the last three years, subsided temporarily. Soon my despondency won over the pain, and then lukewarm anger won over my despondency. But I was quiet.

And the rest of the forest was quiet, too.

"You need to listen," the passenger said softly as her hoof remained on my muzzle. I peered up at the pony I had hated, and saw nothing but a predisposed need to help. This simple urge was recognizable in her eyes.

The cyan visors had lost a layer. Now I could see her eyes through the luminous, dripping visors - a crack ran down her horizontal visor, making the screen fizzle and show static like a broken TV screen. Her eyes, the orbs I could now recognize her from, were experienced and downtrodden, infected with the memories of past adventures and guilts, of oppressed happinesses and ruling maleficence. Perhaps she was no likable protagonist, but for now she wanted to help somepony else.

"I'm going to get you out of this, okay?" the passenger spoke simply. Her voice stopped for a moment, giving away her genuine shakiness. She couldn't recover from what she had seen. "You... But you need to let me. Okay...? It's going to hurt. ...A lot.”

The sounds of the Everfree Forest were no more, leaving only the pouring rain’s voice to fill the air. An eerie silence replaced what I now missed, and the sudden transition terrified me to the core. A matter of seconds was all I had before the hosts of silence would meet us and rip us apart. Eyes all around digged into me from all angles, making my already puny significance shrivel and die. I had seen the remains of ponies who had encountered webeloes, or the shriveled and grotesque skin of the ones who had met a shadian widow spider. Seeing those empty shells of ponies, with details I try again and again to suppress at night, haunted me to this day.

So I gave a weak up and down of my head before strapping the OEMP back on.

"Okay," the passenger nodded to herself more than to me. That was the last gesture I caught before I clenched my eyes shut. I attempted to enter of unfeeling state of mind I had somehow perfected over these years, the morphine which I had used to live through what many other ponies had deteriorated from. But the numbness of mind would not come.

I was scared. The years beforehoof were spent feeling only anger and guilt, but never fright. That was enough to chase away the ability to extinguish all feeling.

"Hey," the passenger uttered suddenly, and the silence around us amplified her voice's superiority. I opened my eyes and came to the sight of the passenger, standing right in front of me, her eyes reflecting nothing. After a while of thinking, she nodded to herself again before revealing, "My name is Chillstep."

I stayed silent.

"Okay," she whispered to herself again before hurriedly walking around the addon-wagon which held me, looking for any way out. The pain was a stinging silhouette, never leaving as a shadow and never ending as a hole. To focus on something besides the inevitable cataclysm, I tried looking up, to fall up into the night sky, the feeding grounds of my enemy; but as much as I tried to lose myself in the innocence of the bright stars overhead, the moon would not let my mind be at rest. Every second I spent with my head craned, my visual field having that reminder of our defeat in it, was a second filling up with hatred and nostalgia.

The pain stayed while Chillstep's hoofsteps around the addon-wagon stopped. I had to hurry.

I tried to find something else. The addon-wagon and the auto-cart? Marvels of technology and magic - one of the first inventions post-Renaissance. It solved so many problems - it helped so many ponies. It connected the herds. It...

It aided the Night Guard.

More hate. More rage - rage at what was happening, and why it happened. Rage that something unnatural had occurred: the villain had won, and had gotten her way. The innocent pony, the pony with a mission, was killed. But I had to cool the anger down, down into the depths of my heart, sibling of despair - which I immediately felt after Chillstep slowly trotted to the addon-wagon. She had found her spot.

The Everfree Forest? A killer. The ground? Altered and littered. Chillstep herself? Nearing my pain.

Milk Dud?

...The very mention of her name was enough to turn my head. I had to briefly adjust myself, momentarily bumping my right leg into the addon-wagon again. It brought pain, but I wasn't focused on such temporary things.

Milk Dud's body was limp. She was slouched under the driver's wheel so her mane covered her OEMP and night vision goggles, which illuminated a gray light into the interior of the auto-cart's pedals like a projector's light. Although, the projector was splotched to shadow in the top right of the image, slanting downward until cracks were seen. A protruding branch from the tree had crashed through her goggles and went through her right eye, killing her instantly.

I felt the addon-wagon below shift and grind. I focused on Milk Dud, my friend. I focused on the way she was still, the way she had laughed. She had known me pre-Renaissance. I felt my teeth grind against each other. I remembered that she was beautiful, and that she had a father out there, somewhere; and that she had a story, and that this was not how stories ended, and...

Without warning I felt my body swing to my right as the addon-wagon's grip on me faltered, but it quickly regained its footing on my body as it snapped back. When my upper body hit the soaking leaves on the forest floor, I heard a distinct KNOCK! as my knee cracked and split.

I didn't know what happened to make it split. All I knew was that I couldn't breath suddenly, and my vision started to fade into black. I tried again and again to suck in precious, moist oxygen, my right cheek feeling the push of the OEMP and night vision goggles' weight onto the leaves below, but the face mask felt like it was blocking the air from reaching my mouth. I couldn't feel my leg at all. I was so paralyzed in fear, pain, and anguish that the thought of the entire appendage just falling off briefly entered my mind, amusing itself lamentably. I tried to move my arms to at least push myself up, but the simple absence of control took over.

Numbness blossomed from my throat, and I started to sweat tremendously. That numbness spread up through my neck and into the gums of my mouth, and my stomach squelched as I vomited onto the ground before me - if the OEMP hadn't stopped its journey. The mask cupped its departure, sending the orange spew spiraling back at my entire lower face. The excruciation seemed to drain out of my mouth and dribble down my chin and neck, almost sending me into a faintness I couldn't bear to describe.

But my body would know no rest. After some mildly sharp armor brushed against me, Chillstep's arms wrapped under my elbows and I felt the sickening feeling of puke ooze onto the metal of her forearm. She pulled me only a few feet before another sickening feeling in my leg caught us. It was all I could do to not faint.

"Buck," Chillstep whispered to herself, before steadily lowering me to the ground. I couldn't move, so I stayed in that position, my cheek resting on the hard metal OEMP, sandwiched between the murky liquids of my innards and the hard ground. My vision gave off nothing but the moist leaves that I laid on, and all was still silent. I couldn't feel my lower body - a condition I thought I'd be used to by this point. But having Chillstep worry this much, and being unable to see my own condition both built to the inevitable grief that came out as a simple question by the passenger.

"Do you want it to be quick?”

The Everfree Forest answered. My ears twitched as they caught the distant sound of the sporadic thumping on branches, leaves, and dirt. They acted as a mud lizard, vigorously making their way forward to their prey one second, and stopping to inspect their surroundings the next. But these were no mud lizards.

An ice-cold fear gripped my heart. The now-enticing feelings of fainting were chased away just as quickly as the next few beats of my heart. I could imagine the monsters approaching, but I couldn't even start to think up the horrific fate I was yet to meet. I would rather think that the moment these creatures showed up and saw me, the screen would turn black, cutting to the next scene.

"...Rain, answer my question," Chillstep could barely whisper, and I could feel the chill of fear in her own voice. I tried to speak once, but the vocal cords didn't respond to my pleading. They were frozen and brittle, and I feared that if I spoke now they could shatter. But the haunting chorus of approaching death meant that I had to answer, and fast.

I could feel the ground vibrating, but didn't know if I was imagining it or not. The constant scuttling merging with the quiet clicks of the creatures clung to my very being like a cold, dripping shadow.

"Rain!" Chillstep suddenly exploded, before she yelled out of frustration and started to march away. The sound of her exit fueled my determination and I slowly craned my neck, my vision swimming with the static and green I did not have the luxury of getting used to.

"Y-yes," I whispered quietly and pathetically. I could hear her hoofsteps around the auto-cart, her pattern disrupting as she suddenly stopped. I breathed out a sigh of relief as the squelches of her hoofsteps came marching back, and stopped just above me. But as soon as I had learned how to close my eyes, something splashed down just in front of me.

It was Milk Dud's assault rifle OEMP.

"Do it yourself," Chillstep murmured, her eyes unreadable. “You know the projectile password.”

The irregular pounding in the distance. The clicking of oncoming predators. The thumping of my heart. My ears ringing with a sudden rage, and my face blossoming with a hot anger. All of these helped with fueling my strength as I shook my head pitifully. "I can't," I croaked, but it was for naught. The passenger started to walk away. My heart kept pounding as adrenaline rushed into my system, powering my skinny arms as I suddenly lurched up onto the appendages and stared daggers at the departing pony. I could not see her face, only her back as she sped up to a trot. "I can't!" I repeated as the sounds of approaching monsters filled my ears, and I was almost deaf with rage. I felt my body shake, and I started to pant harder - drool started to leak from my clenched teeth, and Chillstep started to run. "I CAN'T DO IT!"

In just a few seconds the backside of Chillstep was out of sight, and my energizing rage went with her. A cold dread welled up in my eyes as I heard the traffic of carnivores, and saw the sight of Milk Dud's OEMP on the ground just in front of me. I collapsed, not caring about the searing pain which gnawed at the flesh of my right hind leg. Without so much as a grunt, I craned my neck downward to see that my wounded leg was still stuck - this time upside down between the two vehicles, the bloody leg sticking up into the air like a beacon of food.

I had wanted to die, but now I was too much of a coward to let it be like this.

It was not bravery or determination which fueled my sudden survival instincts, but fear. Fear of death, the very thing I had begged for so many times. But now that it was here, staring me in the face, opening its long arms for a wholehearted embrace, I couldn't even look it in the eyes.

My hooves started to recede to underneath the addon-wagon before pulling me under. The stretching muscle of my right hind leg hurt, but I shut that out of my mind.

"Tomorrow's a new day," is what my big sister used to say.

My night vision goggles gave off my scenario perfectly. I was just barely underneath the addon-wagon, the rain collecting and cascading down from the walls of the cart, splashing mud and wetness into the visors. My leg couldn't allow any more closure, lest I would pop it completely out of its socket. The stretching of my stifle felt as if it was about to snap, but I stayed put, channeling my pain into readiness - readiness for what, though? Sounds of the Everfree Forest seemed to gradually resume at my hiding. Now, the waterfall around me resumed its tenacious splattering of the ground, leaves, and rocks - almost masking the approaching monsters. Clicking and squeaking were their only form of words, yet they made sure I knew every syllable they meant. The only part of my body that was not soaking from the mud was my right hind leg.

Then again, I couldn't feel anything anymore.

"Tomorrow's a new day," I reminded myself briefly. The thought of Goldbuck saying that to me brought a smile to my face. It was an inside joke between her and I - we would wave a hoof in front of the other's face and susurrate it like it was a genuine comfort, imitating her own actions when she was a filly. It'd be done when the other was upset about something that was as insignificant as the villains in stories, doomed to fail like all the others.

Tomorrow seemed so far away now. Did it even exist?

BU-THUMP!

The sudden disturbance erupted from just behind me, and following it came the spread of ice throughout my system as I lay half-dead underneath the now shuddering addon-wagon. For what seemed like hours, whatever it was behind me did not move. I could sense it was there - a giant black mass in the surrounding green, looming precariously over the situation it had found itself in. It did not say anything, and it did not move. I was frozen solid. No matter how much my mind begged me to turn or to just think of what I was up against, my muscles would not obey their commander. It was as if I was under a spell; a spell which restricted my breathing to short, quiet, and wide gasps of air, to savor what little oxygen I could get in for that brief moment, and make it last for as long as I could. The monster, though, had no need to be as dead as I was.

BU-THUMP!

Before I could even begin to calm myself, I caught just a glimpse of a sharp, skinny, and hairy appendage landing just in front of me before soaking me with mud and water, rendering my visors useless for a short eternity. During that time my breathing divided itself in half, and my heart in pieces. My leg, which protruded through the air like a gravestone, suddenly felt a lot more bare, for it was as good as gone now. When my visors cleared, my brain took a minute to process just what I was looking at.

It was a skinny, muscled stick, close enough for my drenched and shivering snout to breath warm air onto - even less distance when counting for the thick OEMP which filtered my rapid breathing like an electronic pipe. Razor sharp, pitch black, and prickled with cactus-like and hideous needles every inch up the appendage. Eight of them, the others being placed in the depths of my brain which I couldn't bear to even glance at. They all shone from the pouring rain above, glistening like ready swords among the green muck of the setting. They all extended up above the addon-wagon's ceiling, and I felt myself feeling woozy just thinking about the impossible size of these spiders - spiders, which could have easily been squashed just a matter of years ago, now hunted me like an eagle hunted a mouse.

The gigantic legs seemed to be statues for some time, unmoving as their host calculated its surroundings and the two meals which lay before it. It was its lucky day. A full mare, and an extra stick of bone and meat jutting out from just behind her. The only thing blocking its passage was the other spiny arachnid just across from the dinner plate.

Spiders were territorial, right? They always ate and hunted alone. At least, that's what they were like pre-Renaissance. Just three years ago, spiders were territorial, they were small, and the sun shone down on them along with us all.

The spiders made no verbal sounds. Instead, I heard a distinct thu-thu-thu-thump... thu-thu-thu-thump... just behind me. Panic gripped my system. My mind amused the thought of just sucking it up and trying my absolute best to pull my leg under the auto-cart, but I knew that would mean immediate death. Or did it? I didn't know what senses these spiders used - was it smell, sight, or sound? All would be at least a little obscured by the pouring rain, but not by much. I didn't even know what spiders used pre-Renaissance. I hadn't spent any time of my life in a herd, letting a Night Guard Prof teach me about the new age's survival skills. No time in an anti-night organization base, where they taught about all creatures in the True Darkness. I only heard tidbits from listening in on the Moon Worshiper Merchants, Savages, and Pilfers with mischievous, late friends, but if I had heard anything about spiders, the memory had escaped me.

With the sacrifice of useful memories, however, came others: Milk Dud's OEMP.

Suddenly the auto-cart shifted, sending a mild creaaaak... The pressure on my hind leg intensified, and I had to bite my tongue from squeaking out in pain. Wood and metal grinded against bone, and more blood leaked from the upturned limb, streaming up my body before dripping onto the floor below. My blood froze at the sound until I realized there was no way the monsters could hear the gentle pats on the leaves underneath the constant downpour on top of them.

Yet the shifting and creaking of metal continued, little by little. I realized that was not the weight of the spider, but of only one of its legs. I felt dizzy at the realization, and I had to once again resist the urge to pass out.

It was nothing, though, compared to when the legs just in front of me suddenly lept up into oblivion, and I let out one breath before all of its weight smashed onto the addon-wagon.

POP!

To hold in that scream was like putting the force of an explosion in a jar and holding the cap shut with all of your might. I had to scramble my front hooves up to the OEMP which I wore, tear it off, and physically push my muzzle in to restrain the scream. The humidity and moisture of the Everfree could not even break through the clenched knot I knew as my hooves, and I did not breath through my nose, either - for dread and death were now on two battlegrounds, waiting for my lungs' exposure to the bloodletting air. I squeezed with all my might, and let the tears flow as a substitute, but nothing would satisfy the blackness edging in from the corners of my vision. So, in that very moment, I was given a choice. Both tasted horrible in my mouth, but I knew I had to choose.

Milk Dud's OEMP. Or death.

It was adrenaline which saved my life that moon cycle. Adrenaline - at first a match of hot colors acting as a wall to protect myself from the blackness, but soon transforming into a red, fluctuating outline in my vision. The green haze which infected my view turned into a wealthy ally, mixing in with the red, clearing up my sight, and giving me strength. Slowly I removed my right fetlock from my closed mouth and blocked nose. No breath was taken. The fuel of my adrenaline was exact and limited, or I would succumb to the Kind Dread. I didn't move quickly. It was physically impossible. When my right arm crossed the miniature waterfall in front of me, the overwhelming chill which engulfed my right hind leg before was quick to greet. Water bounced off my fur into my visors and my face, but I would not relent.

Left arm forward. Reach through the waterfall. Bend. Lay on the ground. Keep shaking down the contained savage that begged to be let free, to destroy itself and its host. Keep mouth shut. Clench teeth until they crack, and then keep clenching... Clench harder as right hind stifle droops to the floor with a faint splut... Pain exploding everywhere in my body...

I couldn't look back. I could only look forward.

Hold back screaming as I pull myself from underneath the addon-wagon. See Milk Dud's OEMP. One hoof in front. Pull. Other hoof in front. Pull. Ignore the pain... Ignore the sounds... Ignore death... Can't look back. Can only look forward. Milk Dud's OEMP, just ahead...

I couldn't move another inch. And yet my body did it for me, leaving my mind behind in the infected smog. One hoof in front of the other. Drag back uselessly to my chest. Repeat... One arm... drag... death...

I heard shuffling from behind me over the sounds of flesh being ripped apart. The hitting of thin appendages on metal.

The chill of the spider's eyes on my back.

The adrenaline fading, the blackness attacking preemptively... The ice cold fear of the fact that I was going to die. This was no theatrical act of courage, but a gritty and failed movement of desperation.

Princess...” I croaked weakly, and instantly the effort of speaking was felt. The OEMP in front of me started to glow at half of the light when it had first shot, as if asking me, ”Sorry, didn't catch that?”P--... Princess Celes...--”

I couldn't.

I collapsed into the mud, and the moment my visors were smudged a dark brown and I took my first few breathes, I heard something I think I had wished for so many times beforehoof. The racketing off of an assault rifle OEMP. Squealing and clicking for a brief moment, before the resounding thumps of two heavy bodies on leaves. Then, nothing but the sound of rain clouding my senses, pooling in my ear canals.

Before long realization set in, although I was too faint to share my gratitude. I did, however, hear a solitary voice before the derelict night came crashing down on my skull - the first sign of the coming new life.

Chillstep’s voice, too faint for targeting a certain emotion, stung in my ears like a bee: “Oh… Did you think this would be like one of your movies?”

83010360שЏsS2

Chapter 1: "You wear a cloak of righteousness, and anypony will blindly follow the monster inside."

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"I do not regret a thing.

"Look around you. See all the propaganda, the controversy, and the conflicts. See how far your 'pathetic, glib-spewing enemy' has risen from the deep mud of the True Darkness, colonizing the uncolonizable, and accomplishing the impossible. From our raids on Moon Worshiper camps to our first successful assassination of Former-Appleloosa Herd's Dictator, we have come further than any other anti-night organization on Equus. We have brought back the dead horizon of battle, sharpening it to the point of no return and inevitable victory.

"And yet our greatest strength, physically and mentally, will never be understood by you of the Night Guard. Not our courage, not our beliefs, not our training. But the simple, simple fact that we are ponies, and we are dying for the place we love - and in the end, morality is the ultimate tool for honorable victory.

"So take a good look down, ponies of the Night Guard, because our war is still going to wage after I die, and those glistening suits of armor you wear on your bodies now will not and can never prepare you for the ferocity of our justice, our rage, and the oncoming cataclysm. Take a good look down and realize that by the end of your obliviously comfortable apocalypse - and by the end of our nauseating, grueling adventure - your bodies will be scarred, your armor will be long destroyed, and your souls will look back and wonder how you could have ever seen the raw horror that you have done to us and think of it as a kindness. We will win because of the moral high ground which we stand upon. History, all of ponykind, and the fact that Fluttershy has escaped your clutches and is spreading her kindness across Plussia are all proof of that. Yes, Equus, it is true. We are the heroes. And you - the killers, the rapists, the oppressors - are the villains.

"Ma seule crainte c'est que quelqu'un de nous oublie ce fait." {My one fear is one of us forgetting that fact.}

-Sacré Rouge's last words, on death row in accordance to the Into Darkness Act [enacted 7-iD]. 13-iD.


PART 1: "THE RARITY OF INFLUENCE”

Rumbling.

Rumbling was the word I would use. Vibrating deeply with an inconspicuous hum to its nuances, and numbing the back of my head as it rested on the soft leather seat behind. Even as I was stuck in a sitting position between the auto-cart’s driver seat and the steering wheel, my rest was still comfortable, and well deserved for that matter. Four moon cycles without meaningful sleep had been spent on this long, psychological road, and to make matters worse this period of time had all the exciting equivalent of watching a slug drag across the muddy ground. It was naught but lazily peering out into the technologically green haze as we drove, avoiding the Everfree Swamp when we could, and making the odd pitstop in herds for gas and hotel rooms.

Before I had closed my eyes for a short recuperation before the inevitably chaotic next few minutes, I had enough time to momentarily respect my surroundings. It was magically raining again, as it did so often in Queen Lune’s Equestria, and as a result the dirt and grass of previous times were subdued to a recognized rendition of mud. This sludge stretched across the canvas of Equestria, painting the previously colorful mountains, plains, and deserts an indifferently dark brown - not that it would make any difference in the hollowing black which all ponies lived in. Now though, sixteen years into Darkness is more than enough time for the Night Guard to infect the wilderness with its increasingly complex and evolved technology and magic.

In front of us a single railroad cut through the mud some distance away, coming from the faraway Former-Vanhoover herd and running south miles and miles until finally arriving at Megaplex Herd. Even though I couldn't see it, I knew there to be the South Luna Ocean just a few miles south, which the railroad continued on its journey via viaduct, a mountainous distance above the roaring waters of the ocean. My auto-cart was on a hill overlooking the railroad, lights turned off to further conceal itself from the organic night vision of the Night Guard approaching.

There were mountains in the distance. My vision’s green haze blotted out the details, but I still recognized the silhouette of the Undiscovered West’s rolling mountains and floating cities, ruled by the recently freed Discord. I felt a safe warmth knowing that we were far from his part of Equus, although it was just a thin layer of comfort. It was akin seeing a battleground from miles away, knowing of the loud booms of cannons and quiet lisps of murders, but being unable to hear a single thing from this distance.

Well, that was exactly what it was like.

The scent of pines and White Tail sequoias steadily flowed through my OEMP’s breathing filter like a smooth current, and apart from the rain softly landing on the leaves, metal, and mud around me, I heard the occasional stressed breath from the mare sitting beside myself. Her eyes, I knew, were wide open and her ears were perked, waiting for the inevitable radio signal which would launch us into a new endeavor. I also heard the soft tapping of her hoof on the auto-cart's innards, which was a habit she had picked up years ago, like an impatient and stressed filly waiting for the dentist to call her in from the waiting room. More times than I would care to admit, I found myself repeating her actions.

After a while of our idleness, the mare to my right suddenly straightened and her tapping stopped. What steadily came through to my ears also made my breathing shorten: the distant ratta ratta ratta of an oncoming train, but from this location it sounded stationary, as if it wasn't really moving, but asking for permission to suddenly explode in volume and spring up upon us cinematically.

A soft nudging of my right arm brought me from my stupor, and my eyes consequently opened to reveal the railroad looking more like a blackish-green ruler spanning across my visors among the distant mud. Surrounding us was wet silt and trees, as the White Tail Woods provided the perfect cover for our upcoming assault.

“Rain,” my passenger spoke up as my eyes steadily dragged to her. “Vivacious just called. Let's go.”

I knew it was a bad habit of my own, much like her (and my) tapping of the hoof, but I momentarily let my mind study Fleck’s person. She was sitting just beside me, a few inches closer than the average stranger, and was slouched in her seat like a colt about to say, “Are we there yet?” Her head was tilted towards me, and through the bi-circular night vision goggles shown her eyes, and even those were waiting for me to start driving.

Flecksturz wore an Assassin suit much akin to my own, except it followed the same procedures for tailoring: main color matches the pony’s natural coat color, secondary lines matching the pony’s mane and tail dominant color. I remember asking my Ordermare years ago, “Why isn't it all only black and brown, for camouflage?” to which she enlightened me with, “Don't ask so many questions, Asi. Skd.” Her latex suit, embodying her slouched body as if it itself was the lazy pony sitting beside me, seemed the most out of place to me. The pure white attire almost glowed in the darkness like a sign which read “I am a Light Bringer Assassin, do with that information what you will,” and the carrot orange seels of hard leather traversing throughout the suit in thin lines also did not help her furtive occupation. I remember that she had tried to make a deal with our Ordermare to at least darken the suit to a gray, but our Ordermare's track record of informative explanations had yet to end. However, throughout her years of becoming an Assassin Golden Soldier alongside my own improvement and self, I had been much more prone to injury than her.

A memory sprung up to mind--

(“Every fucking time I have to bandage your next stab or gunshot wound is a heart attack for me! Please stop it! Sunpads won't fix everything…”)

--and gently faded out of existence, mirroring its many brethren. I had long gotten used to these brief attacks of the mind.

Still, I thought the attire suited her well. The snowy color blended perfectly with the bare fur on her neck, even if the orange lines didn't perfectly match her wavy mane and tail, which both had a thick black stripe coursing through their waters. Her night vision goggles glowed a light purple (Orchid, I remember her correcting years ago), and did not host the fog of solid color in neutralization. She saved that for dealing with strangers, civilians, and foragers she did not particularly care for.

As of now, Flecksturz’ eyes shone through her visors as they did whenever she was around me, and soon they shifted from calm waiting to prickly annoyance.

“Quit doing that,” she said quickly, straightening in her seat.

Meanwhile, the train in the distance let off a series of long, deep roars like an animal showing its teeth - I imagined it would have been deafening in close proximity, bless Vivacious Swan and Sunbeam Auroras’ hearts. The muffled blows were in the pattern of reinforcements needed. Normally, any nearby Night Guard patrols in the True Darkness would have rushed to aid the locomotive. That would be, if our Demomares weren't already in a skirmish with the scheduled Night Guards just a few miles off.

This was an official Light Bringer pilferage on a slave transport train, and now it was defenseless.

I figured now would have been a good time to tune in to the radio. I briefly took a moment to shake the fragile shards of tiredness and moved my hind right hoof on the gas pedal. The auto-cart’s rumbling escalated into a roar as it jerked forward, dragging its two occupants from the surrounding edge of the White Tail Woods and into the open True Darkness. I knew that all I had to do was turn my head to see the expanse of the healthy forest behind us, but the moment the trees beside us vanished, we were suddenly in the middle of a forever expanding world of mud, openness, and easy targeting from any direction. I suddenly felt like a tiny dot, or an ant, in a brown universe - that this was all the world was: mud and night, Night Guard technology and Light Bringer rebellion. Moon Worshiper insanity and Everfree Swamp infection. Forager neutrality and civilian fear.

But I knew this world wasn't so simple. It was a new reality altogether from sixteen years ago, and had changed much even from thirteen years ago, when I was first brought into the Light Bringers. Countless anti-night organizations had risen, but only a few had firmly taken root around the world: the Light Bringers, NRGE, Sun-Sons, and the Pithy Fire. Each one had a specific trait which gave the ponies inside more than just willpower to rise from the mud below, and the Light Bringers’ was now the merging of magic and technology, much alike the Night Guards’ own goals. However, along with our own improvements came the enemy’s by the truck load - or train load. Herds have become an accepted form of living across Equus, replacing the former cities they're named after. They were essentially a collection of magically-induced tents ruled by a Dictator chosen by Nightmare Moon herself - or, as citizens must legally call her now, “Queen Lune.” Each one was veined with intrusive Night Guard patrols and watches, so whenever we were unlucky or needy enough to find ourselves in a herd for gas or rest, my job as a social exchanger truly came to light.

After Equestria calmed its rebellious roots (or rather, had it beaten out of it au raison the Everfree Swamp infectiously spreading to cover most of middle Equestria, Moon Worshipers growing significantly in size and organization, and the most pugnacious cities being left to the mercy of Discord; Ponyville was the first and last victim of his punishment way back in 1-iD), Nightmare Moon had also followed suit in her calmness. She was willing to compromise soon, and part of what made the universal spread of herds so beneficial to both sides was the introduction of neutral zones. These were newly built areas in Equestria, half herd and half pre-Renaissance city, willing to open its doors to anypony who was ready to pay a 70% tax rate and endure no Night Guard protection from any domestic threats.

The building of these neutral zones’ being financially beneficial required non-paid workers, though. Or slaves.

When my hoof pressed down on the button labeled “चालू” on the left cheek side of my OEMP, a small, light green box appeared on the top left corner of my vision. Technological humming steadily pervaded my ears - not too loud and not too quiet, but biologically and physically at the perfect volume for the temporal lobe of the wearer’s brain via magic. After a few seconds of speeding through the mud and green haze of my surroundings, the train slowly materializing in the far right of my vision, and Fleck holding onto a bar overhead, seemingly focusing her equilibrium on her grip; the radio slowly zeroed in on the nearest signal besides Fleck.

“...Fallen Princess dammit, this fucker is loud!” Asi. Prof. Vivacious Swan’s shriek zoned in as her name and rank materialized in the box.

Needless to say, her gentle demeanor was not in its prime.

“Vivi,” I said as I drove, eying the steadily growing train and sound which accompanied it, still speeding towards the railroad in the distance.

Before I could finish, though, Vivacious interrupted with an excited, “Rain! You’re back! We're following the train exactly as you said! And before you ask, lemme-- nnrg!” There was a metallic rattle on her side, and even though I knew the OEMP’s pinpoint-accurate microphone couldn't catch her, I internally heard Sunbeam Aurora dropping a few “fucks” of her own at the wheel. “--Lemme just repeat the mission! So we're attacking this train and freeing the slaves so the Demomares can pilfer accurately, yeah? But in order to do that accurately we need to assassinate our five targets: the conductor, assistant conductor, brakemare, flagmare, and slaver. Their names are, uh… Wait, lemme elaborate. Quiesce is the conductor, Pugnacious is the brakemare, Picaresque is the flagmare, Serene is the slaver, and Solicitous is the assistant conductor. I'm right, right?”

Flecksturz sniggered beside me and shook her head. After she reached up with a hoof and held down on the OFF button on her OEMP, she quipped, “She's excited.”

“It's her last pilferage,” I concurred after also muting my microphone. “After this she’s a Golden Soldier.”

“A grizzled, ‘dark and brooding’ character like us?” she sneered, peering at me, her partner in crime. Her smile was mischievous and unromantic, but undoubtedly her own. When the train let out another call for reinforcements, this time sending a shuddering hum through the magically stabilized auto-cart, both of our heads instantly flicked towards the direction, thoughts of our closeness dissipating so quickly it almost concerned me. Now the train was growing even more, and the train tracks also grew in size as we neared and I knew the transforming façade of our new surroundings was just a little time away. “Are you coming to her graduation?”

A few memories flicked in and out of existence from the word “graduation,”--

(“Rainy Rain Rain, congratulations my friend, you've just graduated from Moon Worshiper slave to my own personal assistant!”)

--which were quickly snuffed out of my focus. Fleck turned to me, but before she could put in her unnecessary apology I answered her question: “I'll try.”

“Rain?” I heard from Vivacious Swan, her voice high with hope.

“Yes,” I answered after my hoof lifted from the mute button, and Fleck returned to her attentive state. Her default seemed to be glaring cantankerously at nothing in particular. In an endearing matter, for me that is. “That's right, Vivi. Good job. Now board the train.”

“Yeah!” she affirmed, and I was suddenly reminded of how awkward she could be under that gentle and sophisticated shell of hers - physical, crystal shell included. “I will do that! That's what you ordered, that's what I’ll do! I'll keep you updated!”

Asi. Prof. Vivacious Swan’s text dissipated from the light box, which was quickly replaced by Asi. Gol. Flecksturz.

“Thanks for the exposition.” She smirked, a hint of mischief glinting in her night vision goggles as she peered ahead. I couldn't help but smile at her wit, and I knew that Vivacious Swan was also expressing her own recognition in the form of a blush on her crystal shell.

The train was now a considerable size in the right corner of my visors and still growing, and the roaring of its engine and chugga-chuggaing of its wheels were audible and steadily growing.

“Remember what we are doing here,” another voice susurrated in my ears, deep as always and italicized with a thin Fancy accent, and doing a fine job of painting an internalized picture of the one who was speaking. His name and rank were branded on the aforementioned square, and for a moment I pictured Asi. Gol. Remy at his precariously balanced vantage point far away, looking down at his copy of Homo Prospectus biblically. “There are ponies who would kill for a chance like this - a stab at the Night Guard and their construction. The ones we free tonight, however, might be grateful, or they might be enraged or scared, brainwashed to believe they're working for a better Equestria in the building of these neutral zones.”

As his words came through, the train in the distance grew even larger, and its last call for reinforcements roared in my ears as it charged forward on its tracks. I steadily turned the steering wheel to veer left, and once I did the wheel suddenly jostled from its first contact with the railroad, and I subsequently corrected its course so the tracks were now immediately to the right of us, dashing past as we drove - not nearly as fast as the charging locomotive behind us, though.

“Do not take this journey so lightly. We are Light Bringers, but we are also pieces on the chess board. If one of us should die tonight, think back on your life now, and cherish your moments. I can assure you it won't flash before your eyes as quick as that gunshot. Pour la lumière, mes amis.

“...You might have noticed I added a theatrical flare for our dear actor. I am quite proud of it. Rain and Vivi, you have 10 minutes until you reach the viaduct.”

I pressed the button just underneath the radio comms labeled “बंद,” and the light green box disappeared.

It only took a few seconds for the roaring engine and blur of wheels to reach a deafening level as the towering locomotive screamed past us, in no mood to stop or slow down. My auto-cart couldn't keep steady (how could it?) and jostled hard, shaking Fleck and I to the absolute core. When our auto-cart finally settled, it was impossible to miss our target standing mere cubits from our bug of a vehicle, easily trumping it in every possible way. Even as it'd only been an impossibly short amount of time since the slave train had popped into reality from behind, the front of the train was now noticeably smaller than the bulk of its body from distance. I took that as an invitation, which I obligatorily accepted, to step down harder on the gas pedal. As we sped up and eventually came to a matching speed, I studied the booming locomotive for a spot to board.

The train was shaped like its purpose: a bullet. Thick plates of armor spread across the locomotive like a quilt of monstrous protection, although it wasn't an armored train completely, as between the tight gangway bellows I knew were doors leading to one of three things: a luxurious living room for one of the Night Guard essentials, complete with magical atmos-padding from the chaotic world outside, running water, and any other living-quarters requirement or convenience; or a middle class rectangle of rows of bunk beds belonging to additional Night Guard and their slumber; or it was a leaky, humid metal tank with chained ponies lining the cold steel walls. The slaver usually remained in that space, her reasoning sugarcoated with the words “diurnal disinfectant.”

Its color was a solid black as it tore through the air and tracks, moving as dark as the night sky but not even close to as soundless. The train was easily twelve cubits tall, dwarfing my auto-cart, and was obviously big enough for two floors - I knew the top one was used for technological maintenance while the bottom was used for the two and a half types of passengers. The mighty wheels just below held the impossible weight of the train with ease even as the bottom of the locomotive was almost scraping the ground, and they were a blur of metal, steam, and liquified mud as they spun at astronomical speeds. Just as a form of personal satisfaction, I pushed down a little more on the gas pedal of my own vehicle, and then we were floating to the side of the train in the blissful chaos of mud, speed, and Fleck’s face of a mare who desperately wanted this to end.

I kept searching for my entry point, which was the second car from the gangway bellows leading to the conductor’s workplace. These bellows were different from the ones pre-Renaissance, and were more a small room between cars. While my head was craned up to catch the raw power of the train my corp was supposed to pilfer, I felt a quick tap on my arm, tough enough to hit it from its previous perch of a lone bar to my right. I turned and realized Fleck was yelling as loud as she could at me, but the blistering sounds cut her off.

I tapped my OEMP as a sign, and Fleck took it and switched to a proximity-based private channel by pressing slowly on the ON button. When I followed suit, the magical focus muted the thunder of Night Guard technology just cubits away to the volume of a background fan at night.

“Be. Careful. Rain.” Flecksturz somehow broke the laws of modern language and seemed to emphasize every syllable of every word. “I am so fucking serious right now.”

I nodded once, then continued to search.

“You know, you're not the main character,” her serious voice bounced in my head. “There's no unseen director or writer pulling the strings, saving your death for the end of the story. If you keep taking dangerous risks, you will eventually get killed. It's my job to help you or our corp with any contemporary or serious injuries, but you know from experience a gunshot is anything but contemporary. Every time you just take an MPIK pill and I put down a sunpad on your arm or leg and violà, it's healed, I get a sense of guilt knowing you're slowly getting used to it. Well, what about the time when you're shot by a Night Guard patrol and I'm not around, huh? You'd be used to it until your only remedy is alcohol and gauze.”

Tomorrow’s a new day,” I assured before my counting proved useful and my target area was specified. I sped the auto-cart up the side of my target. When I felt the boiling glare of Fleck on the side of my face, I turned to meet her with reassurance. “I will try to be careful. You know the reentry point. Remy will keep you updated.”

Flecksturz’ eyes narrowed at me in a testy glare. “You better,” her internal message shot at me, almost verbal but too important for that. I lowered my hoof from the button reading “चालू” and signaled to Fleck that I was ready to board. She nodded, although it was a numb action, before scooting closer to me.

My auto-cart was essentially a short dune buggy, saving the replacement of the metal shell of normal cars with a series of long, sturdy bars holding it all together. The convenient addition of an under hoodkept any stray mud from flying up from the bottom at the open-aired vehicle’s occupants. The auto-cart was only a few cubits tall, and the bottom of the vehicle was extremely low to the ground - the disproportionately large wheels, two on front, two on back; almost made the whole thing look hunchbackesque. As silly as it'd look to a colt imagining faces made from the bumpers of cars, the vehicle was essential to anypony who wanted to travel in short, lightning fast bursts of speed. It did not host the complexities of Night Guard tech with gears or shifting, but had four simple mechanisms for driving: the steering wheel, the ON button (labeled “चालू,” in Equestrian), the gas pedal, and the brake/reverse pedal. Inside, it wasn't comfortable in the least (a tiring four moon cycles on the road had made me rethink that opinion), but it did provide Flecksturz with enough room to slide over the armrest to my right and grab the wheel with one hoof.

She tapped my shoulder and I scooted to her original position, the train’s thunder growing noticeably louder as I did as if that extra cubit of space was enough to burst somepony’s eardrums - that an arms’ length closer was all it really took for the volume of a behemoth’s roaring wheels to reach the tipping point of one’s ears. When I had successfully switched seats with Fleck, she slowly guided the auto-cart close to the train - close enough for me to reach out and touch the wet, churning metal of the monster of a vehicle. Flecksturz, meanwhile, grabbed my supply strap to steady my balance. It was a hard leather strap looping around my body from my left shoulder to my right lower back which was home to my spare projectiles, ammo cylinders, artificial wings, a moon drainer, OKL-4D dagger, small cube of MPIK pills, and a dormant bag clip.

Before I jumped onto the roaring wave of technology, I reached behind my bowed head and equally roaring mane and gripped the instigation cable on my OEMP’s right side. When I pulled the thick collection of wires from its holster to the port on my night vision goggles, my vision lit up like a powerhouse and my normal view of the train in front of me faded into an advanced menu.

The Injury Exposer was the first sign which seeped into existence, blotting itself on the top right corner of my vision. It was a 2-D picture of a faceless pony facing left in the frozen pose of mid-trot so all limbs could be correctly displayed. The image was the same color as my green surroundings, albeit a darker shade for recognition, and through years of seeing all shades of green in that image, I knew that the more serious the injury, the darker the shade of the location on my body.

On the image, nestled between the front and hind left legs, my right hind leg was as black as the unadulterated night sky above.

The bottom right corner of my vision was magically adapted to my own eyesight and lagged just behind my eyes as they turned this way and that, as did the rest of the menu. This particular corner was occupied with a small rectangle, decorated with a lighter border of green, showing the total amount of bullets in both of the cylinders to the sides of my cheeks attached to my loaded SMG OEMP. The white numbers in the space read “39/39” and just below the numbers read “LB-6 loaded” in Equestrian, stretched to match the length of the number of rounds. Just above the ammo count was a tiny square on its right corner, shining with a bright, “7 धूप” [7 Sundial(s)]. The shape of said projectiles outlined the letters in an artistic glaze; an arrowhead with a small hole in the middle.

I knew the password, and a bizzare form of satisfaction hazed my mind in knowing that all it took was two words to end a pony’s life. I could feel the loaded flinging knives positioned in the curve of my OEMP’s mouth part - handleless arrowheads, serrated with thousands of microscopic sawtooths heated to the point of a glowing red.

The last component of my enhanced vision to come was a simple, long, and vertical rectangle running from the Injury Exposer to my ammo counter, which was a barely transparent shade of dark green. It was a DM-Radar, waiting for Dark Magic to be sensed to fill up with black - Night Guardian armor, the bat ponies themselves, weapon vials, and manipulated wildlife were all gracious farms of dark magic. Naturally, it was a pitch black in color from the magically-enhanced train just in front of us, so it served me no benefits.

Another tap of my shoulder from Fleck, this time three consecutive hits. I took the sign and reached my left hoof back, and after a few seconds of chaotic boredom I felt her wrap what I was waiting for around the hoof. Another three taps, and I reached forward and grabbed my point of balance with my left hoof and pulled back my right one.

One could have easily mistaken what was on my hoof as a simple black glove, fastened to my fetlock with a buckle. A faint, dark purple glow steadily pulsated in the cloth, and the shade matched my coat color.

Flecksturz returned my right hoof with the same pulsating cloth attached to it, took another few seconds to steady the auto-cart, and then, “You're clear. Please be careful…--

And then she said my name.

For a moment it felt as if I was standing on a tall cliff, and just in front of me was the wall I was supposed to jump to and grab the tiny handle. The ground beneath me was a mere cubit from my bottom hooves, and yet the rolling mud, railroad tracks, and cascading rain below’s raw speed could have easily compensated as a deadly height of a mile high cliff.

(“Rain… this is what happens to my toys who don't obey.”)

The memory evaporated in my head, but the view of the top of an impossible skyscraper of a Yakestinian mountain gave my heart a brief jolt, as if I was still in that situation fifteen years ago.

After the auto-cart’s magically enhanced wheels reached their most stabilizing point, I jumped. For that brief moment of being suspended in the roaring air and sloshing mud and pouring rain, I was over a thousand foot drop again, and my trajectory was the only thing which kept me going forward. But as much as I had hoped for - and half expected, I'll admit - that brief moment did not stretch out in a kind of slow motion. There was no undershooting camera angle, there was no sudden absence of sound as time seemed to slow for me, and there was certainly no perfectly timed lightning illuminating my angelic form, suspended in the air, showered by thousands of raindrops, now at a snail’s pace.

I simply jumped, kept my focus on the smooth metal above the blender-like wheels, and landed on the Night Guardian slave train.

The short sleeves of cloth instantly stuck to the vibrating metal like super glue, and all in an instant a cascade of earthquakes shook me to the bone. The vibration of the metal jarred my brain as my front hooves and right hind leg instantly set to work, climbing the train like a steep mountain.

I knew I was near my target entrance: the gateway bellows to the second car from the front one - this was where the assistant conductor was presumed to be.

Among the powerhouse of my vision appeared the small square in the top left corner, with Asi. Prof. Vivacious Swan’s ID popping into existence. The deafening chaos around me seemed to inwardly swell before diminishing again, giving off the calm sound of the mare again as she spoke. In fact, it was more than just calm, it was furtive.

“I'm in the train now,” she whispered as the rest of the world was no louder than a mouse’s squeak. It all seemed so out of place, like a muted movie, seeing myself climb up the train to the sounds of a technological monster miles and miles away. I could still feel every rain drop on my bare neck sting like a bullet, and I could smell and feel the raw power of the locomotive, but the sound was now a thing of my imagination. “Oh, Celestia… I'm in the slaver’s quarters. There are ponies chained to the walls, kneeling over… They're muzzled and blinked. I can't see their faces.”

I made my way to the top of the train's gangway bellows. It was a thick rubber, I knew, but the Light Bringers’ planning and investigation hadn't gone to waste. I mumbled the projectile password into my OEMP, which was a simple two words, two syllables each of a name, and moments later a sundial zipped out of my mask and embedded itself easily into the thick material. The rubber around the sundial started to glow a soft orange as it melted quickly. I grabbed the end of the heated arrowhead and started to draw a circle.

It was almost like a spy movie.

“They're… calm,” Vivacious Swan shakily continued as my sundial followed suit. “Do they even know what's happening?

Asi. Gol. Flecksturz joined Vivacious’ name in the box. “They're sedated,” she told her, a little uneasy herself. “Either that or they think they're doing the right thing. ...Actually, just assume they're sedated - same difference.”

“They think they're doing the right thing,” Remy cut in, and I realized his name was in the comms. “You wear a cloak of righteousness, and anypony will blindly follow the monster inside. Perturbant mais vrais.” And with that, his name once again melted into nonexistence. I guessed he was either being pithy or didn't want to argue with Fleck, just wanted to run into the conversation, hurl his two psychological cents at her, then run away.

“It's haunting,” Vivacious Swan growled. “Absolutely haunting.

“Well, that's what we're fighting,” Flecksturz’ empathy bounced in my head as the pony-wide circle was finished and the rubber seeped into the train's innards in a lava hot mesh. I tossed the sundial, and without another look around I hopped into the train. “And these are the ponies that we're freeing… Scout ahead, see where Serene is, then eliminate her. Don't forget to moon drain another one.

The box in the top left corner of my screen dissipated, and with it came my hearing. The train’s atmos-padding muted the chaotic outside world, although a barrage of rain screeched violently into the opposite wall from the hole above, already forming a chaotic puddle below. I found myself in a dark metal room, and I knew it was used as a temporary passage from car to car, as there was a door just in front of me, behind me, and an emergency exit to my left. Each one had an office door-like pane of glass on it, and through the door in front of myself was a blaring white light that blinded my night vision.

After a brief cringe and removal of the suction pads on my hooves, I reached to a button on the top right corner of my night vision goggles labeled “निर्मल.” After I pressed it, my night vision dissipated. My HUD faded to a transparent green among my surroundings as I reached forward and opened the door, slinking inside.

The first two things that assaulted my senses were: a cesspool of purple, and a high-pitched scream sending my ears straight up into the densely perfumed, orange scented air. There was a lovers’ bed in the far left corner of the magically-ballooned chambres, and a naked mare was staring at the dripping and muddy pony who had just walked in, so out of place among the decorative and seductive room.

My eyes wandered past her robotically as I searched for the assistant conductor - this was where she was supposed to be, after all. All I saw around me, though, was a heavily scented bedroom, and along with the flowing perfume through my OEMP’s breathing filter came the knowledge of Solicitous’ hobby of harlotry. A tile floor on the right side of the train car was courtesy of a kitchen, as the wall was replaced with cabinets both low and high. Besides the fact that the stove seethed heat with a dormant frying pan at its side, a few kitchen utensils littering the cabinet surfaces, it was just a normal kitchen.

Vivacious Swan’s ID flashed into existence, transparent as it lagged behind my flicking eyesight of the assistant conductor’s chambre. “Serene isn't here,” she whispered. “It's Picaresque… Why did the slaver and flagmare switch places?

For the first time of the pilferage, Asi. Prof. Sunbeam Aurora’s ID was in the conversation. “It's a trap, you're gonna die, Swan.

“Sunbeam,” Flecksturz warned, and I could see her frowning face even now. Speaking of faces, I could imagine Sunbeam’s nonverbal response aswell: a face that spelled the words, “Mm-hmm.”

It took me a few seconds to realize that there was another face in existence, and this one I could see perfectly in front of me. Conveniently, the box in my top left corner dissipated just as she opened her mouth.

“Who the FUCK are you!?” the mare in the bed finally got out, her terrified face reconstructing the question perfectly.

I took a step towards her, already forming the question in my mind. She reacted instantly, practically throwing herself to the desk beside the bed before pulling out a Dark Magic vial with her hooves. I caught a glimpse of her naked body under the covers and briefly closed my eyes; did she think the pre-Renaissance “au naturel” fashion was still appropriate? I didn't blame her for the fear, though - a stranger looking like I did suddenly dropping in was not a foreseen part of anypony’s everyday routine.

“You're not a unicorn,” I reminded the mare coolly as she fumbled with the DM-vial for a second before pointing it at me uselessly. Even though I knew it was just a vial-shaped hunk of metal and dark magic without a magical grip, I slowed to a stop. “Put it down. I’m not here to hurt you. I just want to ask you some questions, Miss...?”

“Miss-- err… I can still use it!” she threatened, but her small posture and obvious fear told me otherwise. “I can… Y-you’re intruding! You're intruding on an official Night Guard worker transport! Stop continuing now or I'll… Or I'll… God dammit, how does this go!?”

I wasn't entertained or threatened in the least. Still though, I bowed my head and arched my back - the Equestrian equivalent of holding my claws up in surrender. Out of habit I dragged my right hind leg out of view, even though it was covered by my Assassin suit. In social situations, a nonthreatening act is often received with a positive response. “It goes, ‘Cease thy continuance immediately lest I make with lethal force.’”

“Right!” the mare in the bed nodded almost gratefully, before realization killed her relief. “You’re no Night Guard or forager. How do you know that!? Answer me now, s-sir! Guy!”

“I've heard it so many times it's almost a memorized script,” I was briefly tempted to say, but held back. I kept my eyes steady on the terrified pony in front of me, and even though I knew my appearance betrayed my words, I had to venture on. “I only want to talk with the assistant conductor. Where is she?”

She seemed lost, as if the previous shock and horror of the past few seconds infected every one of her senses. “Who?”

I took a moment to remember her name, then narrowed my eyes as I knew it would only waste time if I delayed saying it any longer. “Solicitous.”

The mare’s eyes remained terrified as she stared me down, still pointing the vial's opening at me with both hooves like a gun in the b-D movies. I knew she couldn't fire it, though - not with her forehead being bare of any horn.

And yet, as if she was a newly mutated pony, the pistol vial was suddenly engulfed in a gel-like, golden aura of magic before being lifted from the mare’s hooves. My eyes widened slightly. The notion that she was some sort of sci-fi breed of mutant was instantly shut down by the way she stared at the pistol vial too, absolutely dumbfounded, obviously no closer than I was to drawing any conclusions. I was expecting the vial to steadily turn towards me in a suspenseful scene. After some time of only floating there, however, the vial vibrated momentarily before being crushed by the aura into a disjointed piece of metal. It fired off one pitiful shot as its base was squeezed, drawing a flinch from the already horrified mare, but the dying animal’s yelp was quickly drowned out.

“Guns has’t nay lodging in rightful squares,” a smoothly feminine voice stabbed from behind, raising my hackles and cooling my blood. I turned my head to find a Night Guard too close to imply her caution, studying me as if concerned. The restroom door behind her, just to the right of the door I came in, was open, and I figured that was where she came from - an oddly casual event, considering the sharp armor adorning her body like a blanket of golden spikes. Her entire physique, save for the ornamental gaps in the thorny armor, was covered with ropes of golden spikes from the varying lengths and sharpnesses of wicked sabers to serrated thorns. Her helmet took the form of a bull’s head, two keenly curved horns jutting from her forehead. As the golden aura of her unicorn horn dissipated before her equally colorful eyes peered down into my goggles, I instantly knew this was Solicitous. From both her dialect and profile during debriefing I recognized her as First Generation Night Guard, meaning she was one of the ponies who had betrayed Equus so long ago and joined Nightmare Moon’s ranks. Not only was their interpretation of honor insulting, I found their butchered Manespearian Equestrian extremely agitating. “If't be true thou art intent to end me, Light Bringer, and if’t be that I shall defend my life, ergo wouldst thou agree that we should engage fairly?”

Her words were deafened by my mind as I opened my mouth with the intent to shoot. The OEMP caught my brainwaves and I felt the leathery trigger lever smoothly slide between my teeth as I turned quickly.

Before I could fire off my version of a rightful square however, Solicitous seemed to transform into a blur as she dashed forward with inpony speed. I barely caught sight of her hoof as it grabbed my throat before I felt the air rush from my lungs, the floor suddenly ramming up into my back, and myself looking up at the ceiling of the train car and Solicitous’ proud face, dazed. The 2D image of my injury exposure’s neck flickered a darker shade of green, but soon recovered.

“Fie!” I heard her scoff, scowling as she looked down at me. Her multiple spiky visages already started to morph back into one. “To bethink a foe pony couldst have such a pithy treasure as honor--!”

If she expected that I was to stay still as she monologued, I was quick to disappoint. My system recovered quicker than anypony could have expected, and I grunted as I threw both gaskins to my chest before bucking my hind hooves straight up. Her own breath joined mine in oblivion as I caught her in the chestplate. For a brief moment I could see her pupils shrink to a pinpoint and eyes widen like saucers as the force launched her into thin air. The raw, unexpected power was enough to send a few small drops of blood on my visors, courtesy of her own wide open mouth.

Before her armor clanked on the ceiling above, I was already up and drawing back for another swift buck, this time aimed at her head, when yet another piercing scream from the mare behind me caught me off guard. Just as the distraction caused my near miss of the falling Night Guard’s head, I felt something slam into my backside and knock me to the ground. Before the mare from the bed scrambled off of me, she got in a few untrained kicks to my head - annoying, if anything.

“Help!” she was screaming as her fleeing, naked figure was brought into focus. “Help, anypony, please-- He's not pony! He's not pony!”

I didn't have time to warn her to stop. My mouth instinctively opened, and in a split second my OEMP was firing at her, a civilian who had become a liability.

TFFTFFTFFTFFTFFTFF!

Silenced bullets spewed from both sides of my peripherals as I flexed my neck and gritted my teeth into the leather trigger. As the 39 bullets in my bottom right vision quickly decreased, a flurry of white streaks bombarded the walls around my target with holes and dents. However, my eyes were still just a smidge unchoreographed, so I missed most of my shots. Still though, a scream of pain and streak of red on the wall beside the fleeing pony told me I got one shot in just before she disappeared behind the car door I came in.

“Queen Lune have mercy!” she sobbed as she fled.

Before I could even begin to think about finishing off the assistant conductor, my visors were blocked by a black, furry appendage before I felt my OEMP’s clip rip out and break. As the twisted metal adhesive clanked to the floor, the OEMP was ripped out of my mouth; the moment the instigation cable was detached from my night vision goggles, my HUD fizzled out of existence. When it was thrown into the corner of the room behind me by Solicitous, I lept up and shot out my hind legs again, nailing her in the chestplate for a second time.

K-K-KRG…

The Night Guard screamed as the cracks echoed in our ears, backing down. My left hind hoof stung from slamming into her hard armor yet again, but nevertheless I was charging at her, jumping up and bucking at her head.

This time she saw it coming - the knowing look in her eyes was only a moment long, but I still saw it one millisecond too late. She leaped to the left, and in a split second she sent a hind leg of her own to ram into my outstretched appendages. My world quickly spun like a top as I followed suit before tumbling to the floor dizzily. As the cesspool of purple around me infected my senses into blurriness, I suddenly saw a golden spike flying to my stomach, clear as day. Instinct took over, and quicker than physically possible, my right hind leg bent at an unnatural angle to catch her spike.

And just as my vision cleared enough to see Solicitous’ horrified face, yellow sparks flew from the spike in her elbow armor. The golden spike that was so tantalizingly close to its target stayed numb with fright as it jutted out the other end from my right hind leg, yet nothing bled. There was a shredded hole in the hard leather her spike entered through, which gave off the shining, metallic tendons and beridium alloy exterior as my metallic leg held firm. I could see her speechless face through the ominously glinting cave of my appendage, shock and horror mixing into one emotion.

She tried to withdraw her armor, but with a minor flex her golden spike was stuck. A mere look at the beridium which made up my leg and she knew her armor was going nowhere.

“Thou art nay pony,” she breathed simply.

I merely responded by narrowing my eyes and saying a certain name clearly: two words, two syllables each. From a predicted cubit or two away, my OEMP responded with three consecutive beeps before a sundial shot from seemingly nowhere, slicing through Solicitous’ right hind leg like a knife through butter.

She screamed and violently tried to buck away from me, and with a quick twist of my leg her trapped armor was sliced in half. When I was up on all fours with her golden barb planted in my mouth shortly after, she was staring at me with a death glare, her hind leg wounded badly but adrenaline already giving her natural pain killers. When her nares flared and she was charging at me again, horns pointed squarely at my chest, I reacted instantly.

With so much as a spit upward and a quick kick, the shard was soaring at Solicitous in a straight line - however, she headbutted the makeshift dagger away with her armor. Before I could react she already rammed into me, but I quickly grabbed the two horns on her helmet. Without much success in stopping her or at least redirecting her, I kept the sharp horns at bay as I used our momentum to skip up the wall behind me and jump, landing a few cubits away from her with a clack on the tile.

With an immediate sense of situational usage, I swiped my right hoof across the kitchen cabinet’s surface and locked onto the first thing it slid over, keeping my eye on the now enraged Night Guard turning towards me hellishly. I drew my utensil forward, and with an unbelievable amount of luck I saw a steak knife raise into view.

For a moment we stayed like that, Solicitous breathing hard through her nostrils and haunching over, eyes narrowed to show off her venomous slits of pupils perfectly as blood painted everything below her right hind cannon maroon. A twitching muscle and gorey bone were visible in the drooping slice of fur, still in shock from the blistering heat and precision of the sundial. The shining armor of her left elbow was cut short, but besides that the dangerously sharp thorns adorning her body gave her the appearance of an armored wild animal backed into a corner - which she was, quite literally. I, meanwhile, stayed low to the ground as my hackles rose from underneath my Assassin suit, mentally daring her to make a move as I held onto the steak knife firmly. My dark purple suit and brown lines of sturdy leather running vein-like through the seals of fabric gave my own body the visage of a dark predator - perhaps a shadian widow spider, with the psychological venom we were spitting at each other. As our eyes met, no respect shown in them. Her own might have been reflecting some distorted form of “honor thy enemy” nonsense, but mine were as hateful as the red blurriness infecting my peripherals.

Then, in an instant, her horn started to glow a golden light before--

Bh-ZNNG!

I heard her teleportation magic before I saw her figure implode in a swift golden spark of magic. Before I could even hope to recover from the sudden drop of combat honor, I felt the searing heat of magic behind me. Solicitous’ hoof slammed into the side of my head from behind, and I had to take a few steps forward to recover until--

Bh-ZNNG!

--another teleportation spell, and suddenly she was in front of me, bucking me in the face - more specifically, my night vision goggles. My entire world cracked as I stumbled back, and a barrage of hooves and spikes bombarded my face, chest, and neck. For a few horrifying seconds I lost all control of the situation as her attacks and the searing pain stemming from each punch and slice prevented my eyes from adjusting to this new, cracked world which I had been in multiple times before. One hit in particular sent me to my knees - it was a deep jab to my jugular, and I gargled out a pathetic response as she continued to hit me with more and more force. Finally, I blindly stabbed the next hoof that was launched at me, and the knife embedded itself between the plates of the frog and heel of her hoof. She screamed yet again and drew back before throwing an untrained, spiky elbow aimed at nothing in particular. I hurriedly deflected her attack with the bloodied steak knife, and a million fireflies flew from the contact through my broken visors. She attacked again that way, elbow first, and I deflected again, again, and again before an unforeseen curve of her spikes suddenly grabbed the knife and threw it from my unholy grip.

If it wasn’t for the cracks on my visors, I would have seen her hoof reaching for my supply strap. In an instant, she used my sudden backward momentum to rip off the night vision goggles from my face, my vision swimming from the obstruction in its current. I heard my goggles clack onto the floor as I was spun around, and after a flurry of the world around me digging into my eyes, my face was suddenly mere inches away from the still operating stove. My front hooves reacted instantly, shooting out on the surrounding cabinets to occlude my descent, and for a few moments my eyes burned from the invisible flames oozing from the red hot surface. Her hoof buried itself deeper into my head, and a misplaced metal thorn dug deep into the back of my neck. I grunted out painfully as my stronger arms steadily pushed my head back from the red hot surface, but a quick up and down of a second hoof on my head sent it to just millimeters away.

I felt sweat trickle down my forehead as I pushed back yet again, my eyes focused on nothing but the searing hot stove, burning the hairs on my face in every realm except physical. A magical glow sounded from behind me yet again, and suddenly her arms were noticeably stronger - I knew this Night Guardian move without having to see it. She was using levitation magic to push her forearms down even more, and the force was gradually building. If it wasn’t for the adrenaline pounding through my system, a red glow illuminating the walls of my vision being the irrefutable proof of that, my head would have already been mush.

Without thinking I suddenly twisted my neck, and the small thorn buried deep in it stung briefly as her grip was detached. She took half a second to instinctively draw back to get a firmer grip, but that was all the time I needed to slam my right hind hoof into her gored one.

“G-UH!” she yelped out as she momentarily backed off, and I quickly snatched the frying pan from just beside the stove before bringing it around and slamming it into wherever it landed with full force. It threw her head to the side violently as the piercing noise sent her ears to the sides of her ringing skull.

I quickly took a leap away from the stove, positioning myself between her and the door I had come into. The transparency of my night vision goggles let my eyes adjust beforehoof to the room, so the disorientation from the goggles being ripped off was minimal. Still though, when the assistant conductor steadily turned her head my way, the thin line of her mouth curved up into a wicked smile.

“Doth mine orbs deceive me?” she affronted salaciously, her golden eyes dragging themselves across my features as she tilted her grinning head. “It seemeth mine own previous subject of harlotry hasn't a garden to plant but a blot of venereal mud upon thy figure, fine colt. Oh, confound these times! Bushkeeper, if't be true conditions wast different, haply we shouldst elope.”

Each perverted word seemed to dribble down from her lips, and I took brief pleasure in knowing I had cracked her shell. Now her interior was in full light, illuminated by her physical desperation and psychological disassembly. Unfortunately I've heard my fair share of such off putting remarks from Moon Worshipers and Night Guards alike, but it had gradually become quite easy to peer through their masks of flattery to see the underlying scum. Solicitous, the pony whose name I no longer had trouble thinking of or saying, a formidable First Generation Night Guard, was no different than a starved whore. I had cracked her shell after one desperate struggle, and the mere thought of that was enough for the corner of my mouth to prick into a curve.

Now I had more than just the order to kill her.

“Currish dame, I see through your thalia,” I said lowly just before the sting in the back of my neck acted up, but my pounding adrenaline kept it ashore.

“Neigh, it beest entire,” she murmured, and my eyes instantly latched onto an ever so small step forward she must have taken. “I has't nev'r seen a sir as quite so fair as thyself, noble steed. However, thy beauty is the very thing yond pains me, for now this train hast becometh thy tomb!”

If I hadn't seen her masked step forward, I would have been a few moments late in predicting that she would charge me again, this time her horn glowing furiously as her hooves were enveloped in the same aura of strengthening magic. I barely had time to rise the pan up to my chest before she rammed into it with unnatural strength, her horns easily spearing right through the metal and letting off a twisted and garbled screech. Her horns would have even pierced through my stomach if I hadn't sucked in my gut from her dangerously close spikes.

Just as I was searching for another way to wound her, I felt a sudden force behind me, pushing me back into her horns. When we entered the gangway bellows through the door that hit me, I didn't dare look down to see how close her horns were to my body underneath the Assassin suit. The sudden change of rooms must have affected Solicitous’ expectations as her hooves momentarily slid on the now large layer of liquid on the gangway bellows’ floor, and it was enough for me to gain control. I used her disorientation and twisted the frying pan, consequently driving her horns to the same direction as I almost steered her towards the corner of the room. When I felt the miniature bullets of rain showering my suit from the hole in the ceiling, I twisted off the pan, rotated to the side to give the rain a direct path, and kneed her head up.

The speeding rain from outside my entry point pelted her eyes and she screeched out, turning away to shield them. I instantly latched onto her back and positioned myself between and around her extruding spikes before I reached down to my supply strap and unsheathed the OKL-4D dagger from my left shoulder. Her ears jumped into the air at that sound, and she panicked, instantly bucking her back into any wall she could come up against. Unfortunately for her, each time she jumped back into a wall the long shards of her armor clanked against it before I did, stopping my derailment. Before I had a chance to dig the knife into her neck, though, she quickly caught onto my grip’s cementation and her horn glowed a desperate golden.

Bh-ZNNG!

I dropped to the floor, surrounded by her leftover flurry of golden sparks and glowing fireflies. This time however, I was ready as her reappearance heat washed over my back, and before she had the chance to get her bearings I was already in the air, grabbing her around the head. In one swift movement I ripped her helmet off by her horns, flipped her over my shoulder, and slammed her face into the scorching hot mesh of rubber from my entrance.

Her muffled screams of horrified pain were drowned in the tar-like goop, but however hard she pulled back, the jello would not let its prey go. Each time her forelegs tried to instinctively shoot out and push her head from the mesh, they would graze against the hot mess and instantly retreat, until her third instinctive movement resulted in them also becoming enveloped by the lava-like trap. My eyes narrowed and my ears flattened at the sight of her pathetic demise, yet I did not look away. How could I? Her screams soon subsided to gurgling as her body barely held onto life in her boiling brain, and only then did I lean over her and dig my dagger into the base of her neck.

K-k-krg…

“Pour la lumière,” I heard myself murmuring.

Solicitous’ squirming ceased as her limp body fell sickeninglyto the side, detached from her neck inwardly. The Night Guard's macabre face was still buried in the mesh, hopelessly glued inside for all eternity. I took a moment to let the dagger settle inside my victim before steadily withdrawing it, a few more cracks rumbling from her cervical vertebrae. The OKL-4D dagger dripped with her maroon innards hungrily before I took a moment to wipe its blades clean on my Assassin suit and holstered it afterwards.

Immediately I set to postmortem procedures, reaching over to my lower back and unclipping the moon drainer from the supply strap. It was a small, cup-shaped, futuristic-looking tool with a suction pad on the bottom of it, glowing steadily with evaporated magic. I reached my hoof into the cup and the moon drainer obediently latched onto my grip before I brought it onto Solicitous’ still fur.

Whirrrrrr…

The device vibrated gently in my hoof and grew warm as the color seemed to drain from Solicitous’ corpse - not in the natural process of decomposing, but in a magical, vacuum-like manner. From the furthest points of her body, her pitch black fur desaturated into a plain gray, and the stream of discolor steadily flowed towards the moon drainer. The orange perfume I could now smell from her body alone dissipated, to be replaced by the surrounding scent of wet metal and copper blood. As the grayness washed over her flanks, I took a moment to study her cutie mark, which I had purposefully ignored when she was still alive - when she was still a villain, not a fellow pony. It was a scroll of ancient, crumbled paper with an inked feather resting to the side of it, and on it read in Olde Equestrian, “शांति~और~सहवास.”

“Peace and cohabitation.”

In her lifetime the unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies held irrefutable biases against each other in Princess Celestia's kindom, adding another facial cosmetic to Nightmare Moon's rebellion for newcomers to join, so I thought nothing of the implement today. Before my eyes, the cutie mark steadily faded from her fur before disappearing altogether. Once her figure had been completely grayed and stripped markless, the moon drainer responded.

Whirrrr-- blip!

As the moon drainer’s many wires and glass vents glowed green, I pulled it off her fur and attached it to my supply strap yet again.

And that's when the adrenaline wore off.

Among the countless bruises and cuts that were suddenly ten times more painful, the most prominent wound that infected my system came from two hornmade holes in my stomach. I gurgled out of pain before stumbling to the floor, and with a wave of realization I knew the push of the door had indeed shoved her horns into me. I took a moment to peer down to the two bleeding hollows in my body, about the size of kiwis, and with a mild sense of satisfaction I knew my natural earth pony strength, added to my adrenaline and conditioning, had kept the horns from piercing too deep. Still though, not only was it excruciating when any wisp of air stung into my innards, there was also the high risk of infection, almost certain blood loss, and a guaranteed pestering by Flecksturz - all of which equally unpleasant.

I squeezed all the pain down by grunting through my teeth before reaching to my waist. After plucking the white cube of MPIK pills from the supply strap, I numbly squeezed one of the pills through the suction-utilizing cap and swallowed it.

Moments after, the oozing blood outside the two wounds started to bubble. It wasn't painful, however. In fact, I felt almost no pain from any of my wounds. The Magical Pain-Injury Killers set to work almost instantly, reducing the excruciation to just faint aches and unsavory memories within seconds. I realized I had closed my eyes to enjoy the flooding of artificial dopamine, and opened them to find that the inner blood surrounding the kiwi-sized holes were boiling before the many bubbles soon turned to a desaturated white and solidified, cutting off any more blood from escaping my body.

I took no time to bask in the pleasure however, as I knew the temporary (and, unfortunately, ultimately painful) effects would only serve me for so long. I was back up and returning to the assistant conductor’s chambre before my body had time to resist. Still though, when I pushed open the door to the room my vision swam as the purple was all I could see, smell, and hear, and I had to correct myself from stumbling to the wall for support. An MPIK pill’s high was very short, so I didn’t bother to wait for it to pass, but it did buck the user with all it had in the short time it took over.

Fortunately, the side effects were already wearing off as I bent down to pick up my OEMP and attached the velcro under strap to my neck so it would at least hang from my lower face. The actual clip was broken, so if I had any intentions of shootings I’d have to manually hold the trigger lever in my mouth. A few more seconds of recovering from the brief trip and I had my night vision goggles also in my hooves, already strapping them back to my face. The cracks that Solicitous’ buck made disrupted my vision, but as I reattached my instigation cable from my OEMP to it, my HUD was ironically fine. The magical hallucinations were embedded in my eyesight rather than the screen, henceforth their following of my vision as I’d shift my view. After a brief acknowledgement of the dark shade of green my stomach in the injury exposer glowed, I pressed the button on the bottom left cheek of my OEMP to check in with Vivacious Swan.

"--IS THAT YOUR DEFINITION OF CAREFUL, MOTHERFUCKER!?”

That didn't sound like Vivacious Swan.

”Hello, Flecksturz,” I greeted pragmatically as I held my OEMP to my mouth with a hoof. ”I see Remy’s reconnaissance is reaching you just fine.”

”Rain,” another voice piped up, which most certainly did sound like Vivi. She spoke tiredly, although not exhausted, and the occasional pant escaped through her microphone. ”You’re alright, right?”

”Right,” I confirmed, and I could feel Fleck’s seething rage from here. ”What happened with Picaresque while I was... busy?”

”BUSY!?” Fleck’s voice scoffed in our ears as Vivacious Swan responded:

”Something weird,” she concurred after another pant. ”But she's eliminated. Can I tell you in person?”

Under normal circumstances the pilferage came first, but we had planned ahead and the viaduct was still a decent amount of time away. Plus this was Vivacious Swan, after all. “How much longer until you reach the assistant conductor’s chambre?” I asked in response.

”About as long as it takes to open a door,” she affirmed just before the opposite gangway bellows’ entrance swayed open. When I turned to the younger mare trotting inside, my mouth curved into a smile.

“Greetings,” I stated as I turned off the radio comms.

Through the thin cracks and crevices in her maroon Assassin suit shone her crystal exterior, just a few shades lighter than her attire. When the purple light of the room came in contact with the crystal pony’s shell, a steady stream of reflected magenta colored the walls and ceiling like a miniature water light. Her umber eyes were clearly shining through her equally brown night vision goggles as they peered at me happily, accented further by her snow white mane and tail. Her night vision goggles were specially equipped with optical corrective lenses to mimic her usual accessory of glasses, and her mane was done tightly in a bun resting on the top of her head like a tidy nest. I remember clearly how I was vocally confused with her fashion sense in this line of work when I first met her, to which she responded, “My hooves are the part of me that gets this job done, leave my mane out of it, sir!” Her cutie mark, hidden underneath the latex of her suit, I knew was the quaint image of a green book with a blue ribbon adorning its cover. Born in 5-bD, she didn't have any clear memories of the sun, and spent her days before joining the Light Bringers as a librarian in Former-Coltifornia Herd after the Crystal Empire became a quarantine. Her OEMP was not the sub machine gun brand like my own, but were of the shotgun variant. Thick, magically induced suppressors jutted forward from the two cylinders on the sides of her face mask almost comically, although the buck-censors on the back of the cylinders seemed to balance out the weight.

Vivacious Swan greeted me with a more than friendly hoofshake, and from the spritely raised cheekbones showing in her night vision goggles I knew she was smiling. “It's good to see you again!” she bubbled, as if our pilferage was suddenly days away from happening. Her excitement was evident in every pore of her crystal shell, only emphasized by her light panting. “I mean… wow, it's my last mission before I'm a Golden Soldier, isn't it?”

“Indeed,” I replied before my smile disappeared. “What did you want to talk about?”

Vivacious Swan, after one last pant, looked back to the door she just came through. I briefly wondered if she was mourning the three train cars of sleeping Night Guards and prisoners until she turned back towards me, her eyes lowered in confusion. “Well, it's not common for specialized Night Guards to switch places,” she acknowledged, and I felt a warm glow of pride at her seamless knowledge. “So Picaresque being there instead of Serene threw me a loop. Turns out she’s not a light sleeper, and she picked me out as I was freeing the prisoners first.”

I remembered how she would always free any prisoners before she continued the pilferage.

“We tussled a little, and… one of the prisoners I freed stepped in and killed her.”

My ears perked. “A prisoner killed the flagmare?”

“Yeah, and she was just a filly as well… She charged her from behind with her own hoofcuffs and strangled her. Now that I think of it, she was a lot more vocal about her displeasure than the rest.” Vivacious Swan peered up to me. “I was just wondering if we should put special interest in her. Maybe she would make a good Light Bringer.”

“Let the Demomares do the recruiting,” I pointed out. “If she wants to join she will. Did you moon drain the flagmare’s body?”

“Yes, I moon drained Picaresque,” Vivacious Swan answered as she stretched her supply strap out, showing off the content moon drainer. She always liked to call her victims by their name. Wasted respect is what I declaim. “Cutie mark, history, person and all. In this little prison, just waiting to be brought back to base and examined by a bunch of unpony machines.” The faintest hint of a glare infected her features. I knew how she felt about the subject and stayed silent to avoid another argument. It wasn't until she blinked that her eyes locked on the solid white bubbles on my stomach. “That… does not look good. We should hurry before it pops.”

“Flecksturz made her joy of another medic job explicitly known over the radio,” I reminded, drawing an uneasy nicker from Vivi. “And there’s something else that you might need to know before we continue.”

“Indulge me,” she cooed as we both started on our way to the gangway bellows behind myself. It connected the assistant conductor’s chambre to another Night Guard stable before the last doorway lead to the front of the train, where the conductor and brakemare were obligatorily stationed. Now it had the extra addition of the slaver, apparently, as there was nowhere else for her to go.

“A civilian was in this room when I entered,” I explained as I held the door open for Vivi, who expressed her thanks with a joking, ‘My, what a gentlecolt.’ “When I was busy with Solicitous she ran out and called for help. It's safe to assume the Night Guards in the next room won't be sleeping.”

“Well, that's what we train for,” she affirmed as she passed through the doorway. “I mean… if those are the right words.”

“Perfectly said,” I acknowledged as I followed her in.

When we both entered into the small cubical known as the gangway bellows, I peered into the window leading to the following Night Guard stable. From the high window and my shorter perspective I could only see the tops of the bunk beds lined up against each wall. From what I could spot, they were all empty. Of course.

“Fallen Princess,” Vivacious Swan swore from just to my right, and I looked over to see her staring at the corpse of Solicitous. I cringed at her reaction before she said it: “This… this is not okay, Rain. What if you died like this?”

I put a hoof on her hard shoulder and turned her face towards my own, her dark brown eyes wide with shock. “You're almost a Golden Soldier,” I reminded quietly before gently pulling her forward and pressing the place where her forehead resided under her night vision goggles to my own. She closed her eyes at the gesture, although mine stayed attentive. “The Night Guard is the enemy. I'm not going to trot over your morals. We're too different and you're too special for that. But just remember that they are the evil in this world, Vivacious Swan. They are the reason the sun no longer shines above us. They are the reason that Nightmare Moon’s reign has survived for so long. They are not ponies like us. Okay?”

“...Okay,” she whispered. I smiled at that and pulled back, her eyes opening just after. “...It just scares me. If we don't honor them with a quick death, does that mean we also have a chance of dying… like this? Does this mean ponies on our side have died like this before? Is there a chance for you, or Sunbeam Aurora, or Flecksturz, or Remy to die like this?”

“Don’t worry,” I smiled to her again. “We're too hard to get killed in the first place. I taught you better than this.” When she finally returned my gesture, I turned my attention towards the doorway leading to our final objective. “You remember what to do in these scenarios, yes?”

“The Solar Flare Maneuver?” she squeed.

“We're not calling it that, but yes.” The 27/26 in my ammo counter caught my attention before I decided to save the reload for later - every bullet was a potential killshot.

Vivacious Swan took my affirmation as a sign to make her way to the opposite side of the closed door as I joined her on the other side. After she threw a glance my way from her attention on the door, I reached over and pushed the door open, making sure that the Night Guard on the other side saw my arm before it disappeared back into cover. Immediately afterwards, a flurry of dark magic in all the darker shades of the rainbow flew through the empty doorframe in a barrage of deadly color. The atmosphere exploded with the sound of their DM-vials.

As the magical shots fizzled out of existence when they splashed into the door behind us, I counted the types of vials the Night Guard had based on sound. They were equipped with standard Night Guardian weaponry, and I could pinpoint a decent amount of pistol vials, scatter vials, and assault vials.

“God fucking dammit!” I heard from around the corner - a young Night Guard stallion, Second Generation. “Every FUCKING time!”

“Just focus!” another Night Guard spoke up in response.

Vivacious Swan’s cheekbones raised in her night vision goggles and I knew she was smiling again. When she turned her head to see my natural scowl however, she shook out of it and turned her attention back to the situation. Meanwhile, I pushed my OEMP’s trigger lever back into my mouth and gripped it. When the three second mark passed, Vivi suddenly dived into the doorway’s entrance diagonally, facing forward as she went.

PFFTM!

A feminine scream cut through the air just after the shotgun OEMP’s shot rung in our ears, and another barrage of magic vials’ ammunition sprayed the other side of the wall I was leaning on. After I specified a spot of coverage behind the bunk bed’s lower bunk across the doorway, I took the invitation and also dashed into the room. I decided to forego Vivacious Swan’s dramatic flare and kept to my furtive dash as I also fired off a few shots in the Night Guard’s direction, my ammo counter lowering down to 21/21. Before I slid to a stop in the cover across from Vivacious Swan, I noted how the white stream of bullets bolted into one of the Night Guards’ forehead, and some more cut through another one’s leg.

“SHIT!” one of them cried out as I made eye contact with Vivacious Swan. “Oh, SHIT!”

More dark magic zipped over my head, although their shots were confused and unsure. When the comets of dark light pelted the bunk bed and wall I was facing, they fizzled out without a trace. Even the ones who skidded off the fragile bed sheets and pillows above me left not even a wrinkle out of place - standard DM-vials only affected sentient sources, I knew.

I peered over to Vivacious Swan, who was looking back expectantly. I answered her gaze with a series of hoof movements: I pointed in the direction of the Night Guards, then brought my other arm forward and tapped my right fetlock twice before pointing to my eyes.

“How many do you see?”

Vivacious Swan answered back in equal fashion, tapping the bulb of her hooves together twice: “Twenty.” We didn’t have to be talking like this, but my OEMP's broken clip required my mouth to wrap around the trigger lever. Not only was it more convenient, but she could always use the extra Equestrian Sign Language practice - I was the only other one in our corp who had chosen it among our two required foreign languages.

I nodded. Two dead, one wounded, seventeen more to go. I signed my calculation with Vivi.

Vivacious Swan suddenly dashed out from her cover and fired off two more shots into the crowd before tumbling to a stop behind the bunk bed one row down from mine. The sound of thick blood spraying across the floor and walls as gore squelched to the ground replaced the screaming, although the remaining Night Guards more than made up for it with their obscenities. The moment their fire focused on her, leaving the opposite column of beds from myself open, I leaped forward and fired yet again. 15/16. I barely caught the sight of blood spurting from one of the Night Guards’ chest, and another one lying against the wall’s head - the one I had wounded before. Their end of the train car was now splattered with blood, and I'm pretty sure I saw the beginning of one of them slipping on some spilt gore.

I looked at Vivacious Swan yet again. “Sixteen,” she signed with a tap of her hoof bulbs, a 90 degree twist of her right one, and a conjoining tap of her full hooves.

”Fifteen,” I corrected. One tap of my bulbs and a 90 degree rotation.

We continued our maneuver for a third time, one leaping diagonally and shooting just before the other leapt the opposite direction, also firing off shots. After that we switched turns. When I went across another time, I kept them confused by leaping back immediately after. Then Vivacious Swan followed. We also peered up over the bottom bed bunks’ cover and fired at them from there when their dark magic amalgamated towards the center of the bed’s columns. Each and every time we changed cover and fired, another dropped, leaving the rest to only guess who was next and where their enemies were coming from.

“Remember what we're fighting for!” a Night Guard mare was screaming over the chorus of silenced OEMPs, DM-vials, and yells of pain and death. “Remember what we’re dying for! Do. Not. LET. THEM! PASS! -- GUGH!”

Another unpredictable blur of a Light Bringer Assassin. Another spurt of blood showering the Night Guards, reducing the previously empowered voice of the mare to a disgusted gargle.

“Just shoot at all of their positions!” another Night Guard screeched. It took some time for their onslaught of dark magic to coordinate, but soon a steady flurry of deadly comets were flying between, around, and over our spots of cover. There was nowhere to dive safely.

Coltifornian journey,” I heard Vivacious Swan say clearly, to which her OEMP responded to with three consecutive beeps. Just after the three beeps resonated in her ears, she quickly twisted her head just barely above cover.

Buh-TSHH!

With a launch of electrified smoke, a black blur shot from the center of her OEMP and careened straight into one of the taller Night Guards’ neck fur. The Night Guard only had enough time to briefly ponder what the sticky sphere was until the Blofignian Magic-Bomb exploded.

The Night Guard was instantly decapitated as the sphere shot out a layer of flat smoke, spreading across the area like a horizontal fan. Whatever part of the surrounding Night Guards’ bodies touched the magical gas was instantly vaporized. Because of the bladesque flatness of the smoke, it almost gave the impression of acid floating on the denser air molecules as the taller ponies’ heads and foreheads seamlessly slid off of their bodies, only to be evaporated in the layer of voracious magic. Some of the Night Guards were not so lucky as their taller sisters and screamed out of excruciating pain as the very top of their scalps and their upper heads disappeared, blood dribbling down their faces from their exposed brains.

I looked to my left to see that Vivacious Swan was staring at what she had just caused. Her mouth was unreadable through her still smoking OEMP, but her eyes shown with a paralyzing horror each time the Night Guards’ screaming pricked her ears. Her eyes were glued to the still alive Night Guards, and I instantly knew what she was thinking: regret.

That, I could not have. After the magical gas dissipated, I quickly trotted toward the wounded Night Guards.

1/1…

...0/1…

...0/0.

Just as the last Night Guard collapsed to the ground, my OEMP automatically launched the two empty ammo cylinders from its sides. The empty clinking they made as they bounced on the wet floor was the only thing audible as I narrowed my eyes, surrounded by the corpses of my enemies. I had purposefully shut out their own individual characteristics when they were alive, but now my eyes and mind were free to explore. After all, they were now only empty shells, as callous as the two ammo cylinders now rolling to a stop in the small lake of maroon blood and discolored organs. Inspecting these bodies were comparable to inspecting paintings on the wall: individual. Personal. Maybe even beautiful… but never alive.

Some had eyes that were wide open with an eternal fright. Others’ were closed peacefully, or half open as if their bodies couldn't decide between the two. A half-decapitated brain slithered across the slippery floor, oozing gray matter and sending a unique stench into the copper air.

“I know the procedure.” Vivacious Swan’s hollow tone made me turn to her, and she had made her way into the little hallway between the columns of bunk beds. “The Golden Soldier is supposed to fire the last shots... and next time that’ll be me.” Her eyes were lowered through her night vision goggles - she never neutralized her view into the murkiness of brown, even when her corp all did so in the past as we surrounded her. “The last three targets are in that room.” She pointed a shaking crystallized hoof to the door just behind me. “Remy just called in… we’re on the viaduct.”

I pulled my attention from Vivacious Swan’s unreadable face and focused on the side window, trotting to it. When I peered outside into the otherworldly rainstorm, I almost had to take a mental step back to come to terms with the raw expanse of the South Luna Ocean, fanning out like a worldly canvas as its expanse blanketed Equus for miles and miles onward. The ocean reached as far as the eye could see before blending into the black night sky, the only differentiating factor being the white froth of the many waves commingling in the natural pool hundreds of cubits below the train. True to Remy’s word, the viaduct stretched all the way from the passed cliff’s steep edge to the distant continuation of land yet to be seen in front of the train, and it was just in range for Sunbeam Aurora’s boating skills. The train’s speed was comparable to a speeding bullet, but even then I predicted it would take another five minutes on this thin viaduct before we reached the other side, where our Demomares were waiting patiently with pilfering supplies and recruitment scripts. It was our responsibility to be gone by then.

The sound of Vivacious Swan’s departing hoofsteps brought me back to reality.

“Asi. Prof Vivacious Swan,” I called without turning, and her hoofsteps stopped. “Come here.” She obeyed, although there was the faintest molecule of hesitance in her step. When I felt the aura of warmth that belonged to her, I turned to her and smiled. “Be sure to have a blast at your graduation.”

“We’re going to be separated for about as long as it takes to open that door,” she laughed, her white bun bouncing from the movement. “How ‘bout you tell me on the boat in a few minutes?”

“You're right,” I reminded myself as I shook Flecksturz’ warning from my head. “I'll see you soon. I'm proud of you.”

“Yeah, I'm pretty cool,” she agreed before turning away and starting toward the gangway bellows we entered through. She reached a hoof back on her supply strap to the two folded, peach-sized artificial wings. “All thanks to you.”

When Vivacious Swan’s maroon figure disappeared behind the corner leading to the emergency exit, I turned back to the doorway I was supposed to enter. I made my way to just inches from the door before reaching up and pressing the ON button on my OEMP’s left side before manually holding it to my mouth.

”--And you're gonna be the first one I recruit, Sunbeam!” Vivacious Swan’s excited voice beamed in my ears. ”The moment I get back and recruit my new corp, you’re the first one on my fucking list! --Rain! Sorry, save it for the private comms, I know! Switching off now!”

Isn’t she just adorbs?” Sunbeam Aurora snickered before both hers and Vivacious Swan’s names disappeared from the comms.

Remy,” I called after my smile wore off, and Asi. Gol. Remy gave a grunt of acknowledgement. “Is there any way you can help me? There are three targets in the front room, and perhaps a civilian as well.”

La pute à poil?” Remy questioned.

Yes,” I sighed as I reached on my supply strap and grabbed two full ammo cylinders from my chest. ”Try not to hit her.”

I see her in your far right corner. She is wounded. Why the change of heart? We usually do not care about civilians.”

I clicked the ammo cylinder into my left port first, and my ammo counter updated to 39/0. “Think of it as an invisible gift for Vivacious Swan. Besides, you say it like we’re not the good guys here.”

Hmmm, that is debatable.”

Can you help me or not?”

Remy’s questions did not stop, however. “Also, why is she naked? Does she still think it is pre-Renaissance?”

Shh. I’m sure she has her reasons; tomorrow’s a new day. Answer my question.”

There was a brief pause on the other end. Meanwhile, I clicked the other cylinder into place. 39/39.

I have a clear shot on the brakemare. ‘Pugnacious.’ That is her name, yes?”

For convenience let's say it is. Ready when you are.” I pressed the OFF button on my OEMP.

Immediately after I lowered my hoof back to the ground, I heard glass shattering from behind the door, followed immediately by a mare screaming. I took a few more moments longer to let the traumatizing chaos discombobulate the three remaining occupants before bucking the doorway open and aiming my OEMP at my two remaining targets…

...Who were currently fighting each other. Well, it wasn't exactly fighting, more like one of them hopelessly struggling against the other’s might. The mare whose physical file matched Serene - the mare who had switched places with Vivacious Swan’s original target - currently had Quiesce in a deadly headlock, a wicked dagger held by her hoof as it hovered over the conductor’s neck as if struggling to find its point. Pugnacious’ body was still twitching on the floor as blood pooled around her destroyed head; the glass window on the emergency exit to our left was imploded from the sniper fire, her memento mori. The naked mare I had encountered before was exactly where Remy had said she would be, cowering in the corner. She was wrapped in a blanket, although her hastily bandaged left foreleg was peeking from underneath it.

“Hey,” Serene hummed as she peered at me with confident eyes. “Thanks for the assist, Handsome.” And with that, she plunged the knife into the conductor’s neck.

Quiesce gargled blood pathetically as Serene let her go. The conductor stumbled to the floor, clawing at the pouring maroon as if she could catch it and pull it back in. I could only stare, hopelessly confused, and the mare in the corner of the room screamed yet again. I shook out of it before the average pony, but by then it was too late - Serene was now diving out of the emergency exit to my left, her wings already spreading before the rainstorm engulfed her.

I was instantly at work, reaching over my shoulders with both hooves and retrieving the artificial wings from my supply strap. When I brought forward the pair of folded black additions to my suit, I once again switched on my radio comms. Remy’s name was still there, as always.

“It seems your target is escaping,” he deadpanned before I could get anything in.

“One of them killed another,” I informed quickly as I extended the wings to full length with a flick of my wrist. At the same time, I trotted towards the red lever of the train’s brake. “Serene killed Quiesce. It was an assassination.”

“...That is unconventional.”

I planted the stems of the artificial wings on my Assassin suit’s back hurriedly but exactly before I felt their magical connection attach to my brain, and I instantly had control over them like they were organic limbs. My own limbs, meanwhile, turned my body so the brake lever was directly behind myself.

“Would you like me to kill her?” Remy asked politely, as if it was nothing more than asking a light favor. ”She is currently trying to adjust to the momentum. Like paper in the wind. An easy target.”

“No, I got her,” I concurred before spreading my own wings. Afterwards, my right hind leg raised and slammed the brake lever to the floor. If it wasn't for the atmos-padding that blanketed the train’s innards, I knew I would have been thrown forward from the sudden stopping. “Just tell the Demomares we didn't have enough time to moon drain the two corpses in the conductor’s cab. They’ll take care of it.”

“Keep your radio on anyways,” Remy suggested. “I will guide you once I tell them.” Remy’s signature dissipated into nonexistence.

As I positioned myself in front of the portal to another tumultuous world via the atmos-padding’s threshold, I felt the wide-eyed stare of the last pony in the room land on my turned figure. I turned my head to meet her gaze, which she defiantly held strong. Even as her leg shook with the poorly bandaged consequences of my actions, her unclothed body cowered underneath a small blanket, and her eyeliner drooled down her cheeks in a tear-streaked tattoo, her simple remark sent a numbing sensation throughout my head:

“You are not pony.”

I couldn’t hear her voice, obviously, but the words her mouth formed embedded themselves into audible existence. I kept my eyes stoic under my cracked lenses and mouth hidden in my OEMP as I reached up to my night vision goggles and pressed the button labeled “निर्मल.” My vision was once again engulfed in a blazing green light as I responded with a gruff, “Get that wound treated.”

Then I jumped.

The very moment I felt the first drops pelt my suddenly nonrespondent body, it abruptly felt otherworldly as the roaring of the train, and the thundering of the rain, and the humming of my plastic wings were now only a faint whisper, easily drowned out by the silence of my lone name in the radio box. My body was instantly drenched again as all sense of direction lost its meaning in the sudden shift of gravity, and for a brief moment I thought this was all the world was: rain pelting me from all directions, Night Guardian technology thundering miles away, and my cracked lenses making a mess out of it all like an ever-changing stained glass painting. My OEMP flailed about as if it was a wild animal stuck in a cage, but my arms couldn't possibly coordinate themselves for the simplest of things let alone hold it still. Every organ in my body seemed to tumble in my innards as the menu surrounding my vision was blurred to a green haze, trying desperately to keep up with my rapid eye movements.

But before I let my mind give out from the onslaught, I instead spread my artificial wings into the waters of chaos and held my bodily form. It took a while, but my velocity steadily calmed before I shot some brain power into them and beelined my body upwards. Instantly afterwards I felt my gravity shift as I was suddenly looking up into the eternal night sky. The sudden change of direction was felt throughout my entire body as my neck lurched back from the whiplash, but with some straining I was looking forward yet again. There were no clouds in the night sky, coaxed by no pegasi, but yet the rain still fell, pelting my night vision goggles like a windshield on a stormy day. My hooves were kept at my sides - a sacred pledge of honor to differentiate this flying from a pegasus’ natural abilities - and I tilted my body so I steadily arched in the aerial torrent aimed at the past spot where Serene had jumped. With a quick readjustment of my OEMP so it hung just in front of my mouth, I started to search for the Night Guard.

It is weird listening to your pornographic panting,” Remy complained.

Where is she?” I asked.

Continue on your current path. Her gold armor is a beacon in the darkness; you will find her easily. Do not let Flecksturz hear these uncompromising sounds you are making, Rain. I'm worried the sexual tension between you two will erupt.”

Duly noted.”

If my wings had feeling in them, I knew they would be in excruciating pain about now. A checking back glance to both artificial wings sent a shock through my system at the raw stretching they were enduring, however I knew their durability was not to be doubted. Liquified pegasus magic coated the innards of their flexible exterior, emitting a faint green glow underneath their wings, undebatably and obscenely visible in the complete darkness of Equestria. The metal clip they were attached to on my Assassin suit was lined with tyrophani alloy, one of the sturdiest medals ever discovered in Equestria (the only one beating it being beridium), so I knew I was in safe hooves.

It was then I caught a glimpse of gold in the swimming pool of dark greens, and my eyes instantly latched onto it. The glow of Serene's armor penetrated the surrounding darkness much like Remy had described it: a beacon, beckoning the wishful release of death. It seemed to glint aggressively as it fought against the pouring rain and buffeting velocity, steadily floating up in the thin ocean of air.

She is heading straight up,” Remy acknowledged. “I believe she is trying to lose you.”

I grunted my agreement.

I have her. Say the word and she is dead.”

Serene is mine,” I warned as I neared her, her figure most certainly heading straight up into the night sky.

So why do you suppose she did it?” Remy’s voice murmured in my ears as the rest of the chaotic world remained mute. “Killed her comrade, I mean. Accidental friendly fire is punishable by lunar exile in Night Guard standards. If she had killed Quiesce with full intent, what was her motive? She cannot return to the Night Guard - even if she hides what happened, the mere risk of the astronomical consequences surely must dissuade her. That, and I am sure the Light Bringers will be happy to send Queen Lune an anonymous letter concerning this misbehavior. Do you think she is part of Celestia’s Rebels? I do not think so. To infiltrate a Night Guardian rank… let alone infiltrate so well that her name shows up in our files is beyond anything those ponies have done. Or maybe she is actually Serene?”

It doesn't matter,” I breathed as Serene’s gold silhouette among the darkness morphed into a pony’s form. She was above me for quite a distance by now, but I wasn't supposed to catch her - only get her in range of my OEMP. I tilted my torso up to follow her ascent into the rain. “We are supposed to kill her. She's a Night Guard. No questions necessary.”

I disagree. It is insightful to ask questions, if not only to understand our enemy more. Her story did not start with her name appearing on our mission log. Her motives obviously do not align with her comrades - if they even were her comrades. And, now that I think about it, she is still flying straight up… She is not trying to lose you.”

It was true. I was now directly below the easily flying Night Guard, and she had not even turned once. I was slowly gaining on her in the pouring rain and background noise, no derailment in sight.

Once again,” Remy reminded. “My sights are trained on her.”

I didn't respond as I focused all of my energy into following the gold armor, still ambiguously unchanging in its direction. I could feel the brain power steadily draining as I continued to ascend to the night sky, the artificial wings now glowing a stronger green as the magic fought gravity more and more. It was disorienting for the unnatural usage of magic in my earth pony body. Even as I had exercised my brain for this type of strain many times before as part of training, I knew it would never be so sacredly natural for my race, whose strengths were elsewhere.

My mouth clasped around the trigger lever as I reached up with a hoof and pressed one of the four green buttons on the chin portion. It was the furthest one to the left, and after a fluctuation of my cracked night vision, two white circles appeared in the very center of my view. Every time the powerful wind or a particularly painful raindrop hindered my sights on Serene just ahead, the white donuts shrunk to microscopic circles; every time I could focus enough to adjust my view on Serene, the circles grew to match the approximate size of a bullet hole on her body. I knew that these were the projected areas of impact my OEMP would hit, but our trajectory and the natural wind were enough to think it wouldn't be completely reliable. I still trusted in its abilities however, and my mind strained even more as the wings glowed an even brighter shade of green, the very edges tinged with a hellish red. As I flew closer and closer to Serene, the only sound in existence was my heart pounding in my ears and the patient breathing of Remy--

POP!

--which were quickly joined by the MPIK pills expiring.

Excruciating pain flooded my entire being like a monsoon. I screamed out as my hooves instantly wrapped around the now bleeding holes of Solicitous’ horns, and the many internally bleeding bruises and leaking cuts which littered my body only added to my sudden hinderance. My injury exposer littered the 2D print of the pony with dark shades symbolizing the countless cuts and bruises which adorned my body, and my stomach was forebodingly close to a solid shade of black. The wind suddenly changed directions and gravity in my organs shifted, and my clenched eyes did not have to be open to know I was falling.

For some time my vision was only darkness tinged with green, my hearing only the hitched breath Remy was taking, and my feeling only the battering wind and upturned innards as the direction of down was suddenly thrown about. My hooves held on tight to the two holes in my stomach as if the lurching feelings signified that my vital organs would soon be spewing from them. I couldn't control my wings. The burning in my abdomen and the pulsating of my nerves and the internal bleeding of my veins spread a paralyzing fire all across my body, and all I could do was pant heavily to keep from fainting.

That is inconvenient,” Remy’s voice bounced in my head like a pinball. “And quite cinematic. You must be more careful next time.”

Fucking shoot her!” I yelled back in response as I pried open my eyes to see the world turning, spinning, and everything between. I risked the remaining brain power and spread open my wings, which glowed the faintest of greens in response before I was momentarily gliding upside down and peering up at the eternal night expanse, speckled with that glint of gold…

...Who was suddenly dropping. Through the green haze of my night vision goggles I could see her figure briefly spasm before going limp, and now she was no more than a hunk of flesh and armor in the wind, falling to an inevitable and gorey landing.

Affaire classée,” Remy whispered.

As quickly as my sudden upside down velocity was achieved, my body’s weight ultimately toppled on top of the spread wings and plunged me once again into a spiralling freefall. I tried to suppress my pain by holding onto the oozing, boiling blood on my stomach and breathing in and out, but there was no way to possibly stop the grid of pain in my entire body.

I…” I squeezed through gritted teeth. “...fucking hate… MPIK pills.”

Maybe you should use them correctly,” Remy suggested as I forced my wings into the direction I thought would stop the chaos of the world, but ultimately failed. “They are properly utilized for that last boost of activity until you are given proper anesthesia by a doctor. Your fall looks very bad from where I am sitting. You must be dizzy.”

Please stop talking.”

This time I tried tilting my wings in my interpretation of up. My surroundings cleared enough for me to see that I was now at the viaduct’s level, the South Luna Ocean just hundreds of cubits below. It wasn't until I realized I was upside down again before my wings folded inward again under my weight.

I grunted in frustration before twisting my body right side up, but the pain of my abdomen made my back arch yet again in a cringe and I was catapulted downwards. The black waters of the ocean below were sent careening forward, and I could pick out the faint outline of our pitch black boat in the water, the apparent size of a BB. And now the size of a pill. And now the size of a bean. It was quickly approaching.

Try to slow your descent before hitting the water,” Remy reminded me. “Do not die. I would not like my last memories of you to be sexual grunting.”

My wings artificially flexed outward and glowed with an even more powerful green and red. My identically colored eyes shrunk to the size of a pinpoint as the water grew closer and closer. I tried to aim for the waters surrounding the growing boat, but the speed of my descent gave me no time to accurately position myself.

Another lick of fire scratched against my stomach and I cringed - hard. The last thing I saw before my eyes clenched painfully shut was the top of an individual wave, now so close the two white circles in my HUD were as big as dinner plates.

Ice cold water instantly crushed my entire being as gravity suddenly lost all meaning. The luxury of unconsciousness was nowhere near my mind as my lungs were shocked back into adrenaline-spiced life. The absolution of the icy liquid flooded my OEMP through the manually held attachment to my face and the cracks in my night vision goggles. Through the rushing blood, the faint humming of the sea, and the calm breathing of Remy, I could hear my night vision goggles’ visors shattering. Water instantly flooded my eyelids like a hole through a ship, and I instinctively reached up and swiped the floating glass away from my eyes in slow motion.

Sunbeam Aurora’s voice echoed in my head through the radio: “Uh… guys, I think that was Rain.”

I kept my eyes clenched shut as I fought my way to the surface, my sense of direction astronomically better now than in the past few minutes. I decided to rely on natural hearing and slowly smacked the button on the left of my OEMP labeled “बंद.” Remy’s slow breathing steadily faded out of existence as his voice was replaced by the angelic humming of the deep ocean I was in. When I was sure no stray glass shards from my night vision goggles could cause further injury, I opened my eyes. In the quiet, looming abyss of dark blue and green around my tiny body, I could see the surface of the South Luna Ocean slowly nearing me. Through the white froth and fluctuations of reality in the waves above, I could barely make out the viaduct an eternity away. Down here in this void of murmuring water and humming pain, the viaduct seemed to go on forever - but at the very edge of my vision I could see the beginning of the back car of the slave train, stationary as Demomares boarded and started the pilferage out of sight. The moon floated conspicuously above the waving surface of water, illuminating the countless and consistent raindrops landing on the South Luna Ocean only to be swallowed up by the endless water. It was teasing me at this point, taking pleasure in the fact that I could not possibly reach up and grab it from the permanently dark sky.

It was cinematic, really.

My head emerged from the freezing sea and I instantly took my first sputter of breath. The rain instantaneously greeted me back to the world as if the sky itself was but another ocean, awaiting my abrupt arrival. Everything around me was black without my night vision goggles, but the white illumination of the moon seemed to line my surroundings with a white pen. I started to turn my body to search for the escape boat before another explosion of pain shot through my system, and I groaned as I held the bleeding holes in my stomach. The freezing temperature added an otherworldly saturation of pain, as if the exterior of my body was a shell rolling in Plussia’s rolling winters, and my innards were the equivalent of a hellish forest fire. Through the dark reflection in the water below, I could descry the slightest hint of maroon stringing around me within the dark blue.

It was then I heard the gentle rumbling of an aquatic vehicle approaching me from behind. It was slower and deeper than the boat’s original noise, so I knew it was backing up towards me. If it wasn't for the burning fire in my abdomen, I would have taken the rare opportunity to dunk my head under the water yet again and float limply to rest.

Besides, they had other plans.

Quick as a whip and twice as snappy, a pair of snow white hooves penetrated the darkness of my peripherals and wrapped themselves underneath my forelegs. With a painful heave and a wet slosh, my back was suddenly on the hard stern of the boat, vibrating gently from the engine and swaying sickly from the waves. My soaking wet arms instantly darted over the two holes in my stomach with a wet squelch to be drowned in the constant downpour of rain and the splashing of the ocean’s waves. With a brief jostle of the back of my suit, my exhausted artificial wings clattered to the ground beside me. A few more equally abrupts adjustments and my loose OEMP and broken night vision goggles joined them. I had no time to rest, however, when I saw the ocean underneath the chocolate-brown stern gently drag itself away as my captor did just that to me via my supply strap’s grip.

“You’re unbelievable,” Flecksturz snapped at me from behind. “Fucking unbelievable.”

I felt her grip on me shudder and heard a door open behind before I was dragged through it, leaving the black surroundings and pouring rain to peer at me wishfully. Without much surprise, I found myself in the innards of our escape boat. I didn't even have to crane my neck to know what the familiar setting was like.

Magical enhancement ballooned the inside of the outwardly small speed boat to match a houseboat’s level of accommodation. The rectangular room was big enough to allow for a driver’s seat and steering wheel in the right corner, a decent sized living room in the center of the space complete with two couches and a table, and a small fridge by the sliding glass door which lead to the hallucinogenic and disproportionately large stern. Sunbeam Aurora personally customized the interior to her liking, and the orange light which lit us, wide windows adorning each wall leading to the outside blackness, and the homely curtains decorating said windows all added to her content. To the side of the driver’s seat was a small corridor which lead to three doors on one side, two on the other. My nostrils were attacked by the copious amounts of orange scent for the upteenth time, and the previous deluge just outside was now nothing more than nostalgic rain bouncing off of the top of the boat and the miniature stream I was leaving.

As I was being dragged through the room, painting the wooden floor with water and the occasional string of blood, I looked to my left to see a drenched Vivacious Swan getting up from the sofa. A towel was wrapped around her ruby colored and textured body, artificial wings of her own lying at her side. The absence of her night vision goggles gave way to her horrified brown eyes latching to mine through her hastily worn glasses.

“Rain?” she asked earnestly, and in response I tilted my head upwards and tapped my chin twice with a hoof.

“I’m fine.”

“Rainnn!” another, higher pitched voice rang in my ears. I turned to find the boat owner herself, Sunbeam Aurora, leaning back in her chair casually as she eyed me. “Another cinematic injury to be healed up? How’d the assassinating go?”

“Disappointing finale,” I grunted.

Sunbeam Aurora’s dark gray fur peaked out from underneath her black Assassin suit, and no night vision goggles obscured her dark blue eyes. She often complained to our Ordermare about her consistent supporting roles throughout our pilferages when Flecksturz, a physically bright unicorn, was constantly “put in action.” In truth Sunbeam was indeed more suited for infiltration with her furtive colors and successful history as a Celestia’s Rebel spy, but her streak of “spontaneous rays of personality” had nevertheless landed her in a spiteful position. Her boisterous mane and tail were blue flames dancing down her body and around her face, only italicizing her sharp features and even sharper tongue. Her cutie mark was a cinematic camera - during her 12 years of life pre-Renaissance, she was starting off as a student filmmaker. Her scriptwriting skills were the equivalent of a young filly who thought modern art was intellectual, and her acting and directing skills were just as repugnant, but her true talent shined with a camera in hoof. Like an unseen prodigy, she was landing professional-level jobs left and right at a preposterously young age.

Not that the filmmaking industry was at an alltime high these past sixteen years. She enjoyed her paychecks for outsmarting Night Guards and infiltrating Moon Worshiper camps just as much, though.

“Get his supplies from the stern,” Fleck snapped at the two mares. “A declipped OEMP, broken pair of night vision goggles, and tired artificial wings. Fuck’s sake…”

As Flecksturz dragged my limp body past Sunbeam Aurora into the corridor, I heard the start of an exchange with Vivacious Swan:

“Remy’s teleporting in. What's our coordinates?”

Another door was pushed open, and I found myself in the ER room of the boat. It was a small and cozy room with a patient’s recliner to my left and cabinets upon cabinets of medical supplies on my right. Flecksturz knew better than to hoist me up on the recliner, so she settled on the floor right beside it. Lawful medical procedures were a thing of the past, she knew, but the proper order of things to commence in were still just as important. Her horn glowed a soothing orchid as a sanitizing bottle and floor rag were levitated over to the left corner of the room, did their job quickly, then floated away.

“Just one fucking mission,” she muttered stingingly as she dragged me to the corner and sat me up. “One fucking mission is all I ask. One round. One go. No heart attacks. No blood running cold. ‘I will try to be careful,’ you say. Fucking ‘busy.’ Pfft.”

“Fleck,” I said.

“You shut the fucking FUCK up!” she spat as she marched to the countless cabinets before throwing one of them open and pulling something out, levitating doctors’ gloves to her hooves at the same time. Her wavy orange mane, complete with a thick black stripe through its waters, seemed a bit more frazzled as it hid the back of her face. “What an action hero. Just sponges up every fucking injury in the book and is magically healed in the next scene. Well not in real life. One misplaced bullet or dark magic beam and that's it. Fucking movie star piece of face-fucking ponyfeather shitbag cunt biscuit. Not a shred of goddamn concern for the ponies who rely on you, huh? Fucking nothing. Fucking movie star assclown bitch. Fuck’s sake.”

“Flecksturz,” I tried again, but she was too busy kneeling down to me and zipping the dark purple Assassin suit off with no lack of regret that she couldn’t be rough. Her hooves were clad with the mitten-like rubber gloves of sanitation. Her face was intentionally aimed downwards and her mane obscured her features.

“I’d fucking slap the shit out of you,” she was muttering quietly. I opened my mouth yet again, but a glare that could chew through metal was my only reward. Meanwhile, she finished zipping down my Assassin suit and tossed my supply strap to the side with a heavy rustle. “God damn movie star protagonist. Think you're not pony like the rest of us? Rain, the Invincible Cyborg-Assassin? You have no fucking idea how thin-ice lucky you are, cunt. No fucking pussy-scratching clue. If I wasn't here you'd be--...” She suddenly stopped talking, and I took the opportunity to try again.

“Flecksturz, look at me.”

Her hooves stopped working. Her mane had now fallen over her downturned eyes, but her muzzle was clearly visible as vexation vibrated in its features. She hiccuped a solitary sob before snapping her head away angrily, as if she could glare the escaped emotion out of existence. “You asshole,” she whispered. “You… self indulgent actor.”

“Focus on me,” I said sternly.

In an instant reaction her face shot upwards to glare at my own. Every pore on her cheeks, chin, snout, and eyebrows screamed with burning annoyance and anger, but her eyes were lonely islands in the sea of rage. They were terrified. This was how she coped with her tender, or vulnerable, emotions: her unquenchable, absolute frustration. Frustration at the world, at herself, and most outwardly frustration at me. The purple orbs in a sea of white were narrowed, but at the same time wide as could be.

“Do you know how easily a life can end?” she murmured in a mix of chagrin and terror. “I've seen it many times before, Rain. It’s so sudden. I've turned to get the last tool that would save somepony’s life, and in the small time that took I turn back to find them… gone. No last words, no final breath, they just… stop suffering. And leave us thinking what we could've done to stop it if we had more time. It’s unfair.” She glared at the ground, her equivalent of shaking her head sadly. “Everypony thinks they’re the main character. Everypony thinks they're invincible. Everypony thinks they’ve gone through too much and traveled too far to die in such an unfair way. Even me, sometimes. Even the ones who say they know their time is up have that faint, lingering light in the back of their minds that chants: ‘Somepony will save me. They have to. Some impossible coincidence will save my life, some hero, some… fight still left in me.’ It's in marekind’s nature - it's part of what makes us pony, that light. But it's also part of what makes us so cringely fucking gullible.” Her eyes locked onto my own. “Prime example: Equestria.”

“I'm sorry,” I said softly.

I could tell that her mind accepted my gift, but her numbing aggravation stampeded it to death. “You're always sorry. You're always not responsible. You're always just trying to do the right thing.” Fleck’s eyes suddenly narrowed even more, and in the raw pain and guilt, all I could see were those eyes. Angry, terrified, and confused, but undoubtedly belonging to Flecksturz, and hence the most uplifting thing in the world. “That's who you are in front of a camera, Rain. Who you were. But now you're not. You’re in the real world, where ponies we love die, and heroes get themselves killed, and ponies you think will survive pass away that night while ponies with fucking bullet holes in their heads survive because of some unimaginable stroke of luck…” Her eyes seemed to glow as the rest of the world darkened to something as dark as Queen Lune’s Equus. “You're a Light Bringer, Rain. I’m a Light Bringer.” Her horn glowed in the literal sense as a medical needle and thread floated towards us, complete with a small syringe, a cotton ball, a razor, and a bottle of what I knew to be anesthesia. I had seen it too many times for it not to be in my vocabulary. “How--… Why does this keep happening, Rain? Why do you keep doing this? No matter how many times I've gone through this, no matter how minor or major your injury is, every time I turn around to get a syringe or a needle, I'm scared to turn back. I'm scared that you might be… gone. I’m scared that’ll happen to somepony I care about; that it’ll be just as unfair and as sudden as the other ponies I hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to. By now I expect it, and sometimes I might even wish for it - for that faint diamond of relief in the sea of devastation - but... I’m scared.”

She hiccuped another sob before cursing and scowling her sadness away. Her eyes were tear-rimmed, but the tears did not fall. They never did. Like Tartarus she would ever let them fall.

“I want it to change,” Fleck murmured. Her anger still lined her words’ edges, but it wasn't intentional. Meanwhile, she levitated the syringe and bottle up to each other before puncturing the bottle and drawing out the clear liquid. The razor also stroked my arm’s fur away, leaving a little patch of skin exposed. “I don't want it to end, I never want it to end. Not with you by my side. I just want it to change…”

“Things are going to change,” I said. Meanwhile she swabbed my skin with the cotton ball, leaving behind a thick, clear liquid and a cool sensation. “However long it takes. Things will change. I won't be a Light Bringer forever, and neither will you. We march as soldiers now, but eternally trot as ponies.”

“I wish I could be so sure,” Flecksturz whispered as she slowly slid the syringe into my arm and injected a stream of numbness into my system. “After all, you're one leg short.”

“I’ll see you soon,” I murmured as the pain slowly evaporated with my awareness. “And thank you, Flecksturz.”

“You're welcome,” she said faintly.


Horseshoe Bay was Equestria’s only civilian-open bay on the eastern side of the country, although it was heavily saturated with Night Guard propaganda and security. Cruiseships lined the half-circle arena of land around the water, and in an attempt of populist luxury, each one towered well over five stories tall and contained many apartment rooms, large pools, and boisterous buffets. Although the civilized aspect of the bay was buzzing with foragers looking for adventure, Night Guardian security at a scrutinizing level, and civilians being hustled in the middle of it all, the natural side of the bay was quite different. The water from the Celestial Sea flowing through the horseshoe-shaped entrance was calm and pleasant, and for centuries it had streamed into Equestria’s mainland in the form of a long river. The large Potomacintosh River sliced the eastern side of Equestria in half between Former-Baltimare Herd and Haysead Shamps before traveling many miles to central Equestria - just to the east of Rambling Rock Ridge, now home to Neutral Zone: Oxbow - and splitting into two other rivers, one going North while the other headed West.

Although the northern river had once flowed freely all the way to the Crystal Empire, now it was cut short and devoured by the Everfree Swamp’s greedy thirst. In an ironic twist of fate, the river flowing West cut straight through the heart of the Everfree strongly and diligently as it had pre-Renaissance, when the death trap was only a forest. After reaching the southeastern edge of the Ponyville Ruins, it spread into a large and bountiful lake, now serving as a water-based Neutral Zone floating just above its waters. The mutated sea life and cannibalistic sea ponies still infected the waters like a cancer, but the ponies’ infamous care and magical deterrents brought a surprisingly low casualty rate to Neutral Zone: Murcheron.

The lake’s shape seemed to loop around and avoid the Ponyville Ruins in an S shape before coming to the bottom of the Canterlot Mountain. A persistent stream of water, once a magnificent waterfall, fell from the city of Canterlot, which was now transformed into Nightmare Moon’s base of dictatorship. The smoke sent spiraling into the sky from her initial attack on Canterlot was still frozen in the air, sixteen years later. An independent spell had been cast to freeze the dark smoke into a mold - a reminder of our defeat and her righteous crusade on all of Equus. At the very bottom of the mountain was Location 9 - the amalgam of fallen ruins and stone as the small waterfall eroded it to a holey, maremade hill. Just a few miles north was a large Moon Worshiper residence. How or why they remained so close to the supposed keeper of justice was beyond everypony.

A few miles away from Queen Lune’s Dominion was Light Bringer Roots 4, residing quietly at the very southeastern edge of Unicorn Range. It was an averagely sized building compared to the other six Light Bringer Roots in Equestria, and its camouflaged exterior helped quite a bit in evading Night Guardian scrutiny. Like any other Light Bringer Root in Equestria, it was split into three different buildings: the high command, an armory, and living quarters. The living quarters building was comparable to a college dorm with its fitness-themed, recreational, and apartment like compartments. The armory was used for supplying our five different sects with OEMPs, other weapons, and auto-carts fit for their needs. The high command, meanwhile, was the most necessary part of Light Bringer Roots 4. Here, newcomers were selected, trained, and given the option of which sect they saw fit for themselves. Just as important was its Hollow Moon Room (where our moon drainers were analyzed and accepted), publish studio, and base of orders.

I was currently getting a great view of the base of orders. The room was made to have the aesthetics of an office, although my Ordermare’s motif reflected perfectly in the space, which most certainly was not like an office. Even as it held the standard one-desk-two-chairs format of an interview, there wasn't much else that gave off the impression of a professional office. The many accommodations belonging to my Ordermare lined the small, cube-like room like a wallpaper, surrounding and emphasizing the decorative results of her past missions: a broken pair of Demomare night vision goggles here, a Knight’s flail still crusted with ancient blood there, and too many badges of newcomers who graduated under her guidance all over the place. There was a creaked open window to my right, and if I possessed night vision goggles I would have been able to see the distant silhouette of Queen Lune’s Canterlot among the dark horizon. Rain fell soothingly on the window as its white noise filled the room, and the faint smell of wet pavement drifted from the window’s opening like a gaseous comfort.

“Rain, when were you born?”

I blinked simply as I stood in front of my Ordermare, her arms crossed irritably across her chest. She was leaning back in her chair in the slightest of degrees as a firm atmosphere of annoyance pulsated from her narrowed cyan eyes, and was currently wearing the standard gray Ordermare suit which I had never seen her out of.

“September 17th, 21-bD,” I answered obediently.

“Twenty one years before Darkness, hmm? And what is sixteen plus twenty one?”

“Thirty seven.”

“Thirty seven?” she mused, her frown deepening. “Thirty seven years, Rain. Thirty seven years of life. Would you mind explaining to me why I doubt that?”

I already knew the answer, but I stayed silent. I knew from experience she hated if I answered that question.

“Because I'm not convinced you are thirty seven years old, Rain. After this last pilferage, I would have assumed I was speaking to a fucking colt.”

“I understand,” I nodded, but she wasn't done yet.

“Your little ‘thing’ you have that makes you think you're invincible? It's reminiscent of a teenager who just picked up an OEMP for the first time. Rain, recite to me the ranks of your sect: Assassin.”

“Yes, mare,” I confirmed, my forward gaze unwavering. “Light Bringer Assassins have four ranks: Asi. Skd, Asi. Prod, Asi. Prof, and Asi. Gol. Within these four ranks are two categories of skill: ensemble and corp. Starting with the ensemble category, which are Light Bringer Assassins who perform organized and populated pilferages on Moon Worshiper camps and assassinations on renowned or wanted foragers and Moon Worshipers, an Assassin Skilled has graduated from standard Light Bringer training and has chosen the Assassins as their desired sect. They then graduate to Assassin Prodigy after completing three missions - success or failure is irrelevant as long as they are not killed.

“Moving onto the corp category, these ponies audition or are selected to participate in an individual corp of ponies which performs both freelance and scheduled pilferages on Night Guard resources and assassinations on renowned or wanted Night Guards. Assassin Professionals have succeeded in at least four missions and have stayed in service for at least five years. Ponies of the Assassin Prodigy rank are put into a corp immediately after the graduation to this rank. The most prestigious Assassin rank is Assassin Golden Soldier, which ponies of the Assassin Prodigy rank achieve after having succeeded in seven missions - at least four in succession - and having stayed in service for over six years. They can choose to either become the leader of a new corp or stay in their previous group.”

“And what rank are you, Rain?”

“I am an Assassin Golden Soldier, and in my graduation I have chosen to stay with my previous corp. It was and is currently being lead by Asi. Gol Étoile Night, commonly referred to as Remy.”

“So you’re a Golden Soldier. Not leading your own corp, but still a Golden Soldier... You broke your night vision goggles, Rain.” She leaned back in her chair a bit more, and the quiet creaking from those extra few degrees seemed to amplify her frustration even more. “Those same Demomare night vision goggles you've kept for thirteen years. That pair of night vision goggles I've fought our former Ordermare to let you keep. And your OEMP’s muzzle clip was also broken. Not to mention those two holes in your Assassin suit.”

Even as my injury resided underneath a blanket of stitches and a sunpad, it still twitched with a tinge of pain at my Ordermare’s comment. It had been two moon cycles since our most recent pilferage of the Night Guardian slave train, but a quick and bumpy boat ride through the Yakon River was enough to send its recovery back a few more days; even with the sunpad’s magical healing aid.

“This is not proper behavior of a Golden Soldier,” she said lowly. “This is not proper behavior for a Light Bringer. This is not proper behavior for a stallion.” After she finished her last accusation, her eyes steadily drifted to peer at my own. “And yet, I still have faith in you.”

My ears perked in the slightest. This was a new change in her script.

“Would you like to know why, Rain?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Out of every member of your corp, you've known Flecksturz the longest, yes?”

I answered her question before one of my own surfaced. “Yes. We were classmates pre-Renaissance.”

“Considering your differences, forgive the average pony’s confusion towards your platonism - if that's the correct word.”

“It is not.”

“I like to avoid the word ‘friendship,’ as you know.” Her chair tilted back onto all fours as she rested her arms on the table. “Granted, you’re both insufferably irritable and antisocial, but the request still stands. You were a successful film and stage actor in your youth, and meanwhile she was shoveling chips in her mouth in front of a TV in her college dorm. I understand you two have been through much. She had behavioral problems in her adolescence, correct?”

I mentally narrowed my eyes. “That was a very different time,” I would have said if I wasn't talking to my Ordermare. “She's past that,” I decided on instead. “I would have personally not liked it to progress as far as it did, but she’s past it.”

“No worries,” my Ordermare assured. “I am not concerned that her past transgressions will affect her present performance. She is, after all, a Golden Soldier. Flecksturz’ prestigious standing is quite hard to miss. There’s a reason she is sent in to fight rather than Sunbeam Aurora.”

“Indeed. She’s more competent.”

“Yes, but… I don't think I have to tell you about her coat color. A snow white. And yet she is supposed to utilize stealth for a living. Sunbeam Aurora not only has the privilege of being naturally darker, and a pegasus no less, but she also has experience as a... foreign spy.” She avoided naming the other anti-night organizations, if Celestia’s Rebels could be called an ‘organization.’ “Any sane Ordermare would have assigned Flecksturz to transportation and Sunbeam to your and Vivacious Swan’s side.”

“Sunbeam Aurora is louder. Flecksturz is naturally quiet.”

“And stubborn, and bad tempered, and unsociable. Let’s not bring in personality to the workplace. Rain, I have placed Flecksturz with you and Vivacious Swan because she listens to you.”

“It seems to me that I'm more of the listener.”

My Ordermare smiled coolly before continuing. “You are the only one who has any influence on her. And the more pilferages you two embark on, the more open she becomes to other ponies’ command. I am, of course, alluding to myself. And what about Étoile Night? You've chosen to stay with his corp rather than start your own. If I wasn't so irritated right now I would be saying something along the lines of, ‘You’re more than competent to do so.’”

“Thank you. And I've chosen to stay with Étoile Night because of our history.”

“In the past I expected that you chose to stay because it was good practice for your Fancy.”

“That is a minor reason. Remy is a good friend. He also gets along well with Fleck.”

“So he can befriend anypony. I’ll be sure to use that sometime.”

“He is also a reputable sniper and a necessary asset to the corp. Remy has saved each member of his corps’ lives many times with both his reconnaissance and aim. He is open to criticism and suggestion, and never dictates his corp like too many Golden Soldiers do now.”

“Do you know him intimately, Rain?”

“Of course. He is a good friend.”

My Ordermare simpered. “If you were anypony else, I would have read your mind and said, ‘No, that's not what I mean.’ But you're already so oblivious to any social and sexual advances of both genders that to say, ‘It went over your head,’ is an understatement.”

“Thank you.”

“That wasn’t a compliment.”

“Yes it was. It means I'm reliable as a social exchanger of my corp because I am not affected by strangers’ personal influence. So thank you.”

Her neutral smiles stayed put as she simply blinked. “Okay, you’re welcome.” Her smile disappeared, replaced with a concerned frown. “And what about Vivacious Swan, your other combat partner?”

“She is not my partner anymore.”

My Ordermare’s ears perked, and her voice was tinted with more earnesty than I could have expected. “Did something happen, Rain?”

“She is graduating to a Golden Soldier. This was her tenth pilferage, fourth in succession. She has also been in service for seven years. Her graduation is scheduled in a few days, and she plans on starting her own corp.”

“In a few days, you say?”

“I do not know the specific date. I don't plan on going. This is her moment of independence; I don't believe she would prefer her former teacher’s being there. Perhaps I would come off as keeping her down.”

“I understand.” She paused. “Well actually I don’t, but it’s your choice. You also did not attend Remy’s or Fleck’s graduation, and only showed up momentarily for your own.”

I stayed silent.

“Vivacious Swan,” my Ordermare continued. “Is quite the surprising Assassin. She is a crystal pony, so I had originally predicted an unlucky flashlight encounter would be the death of her. But so far she’s been doing just fine. Why do you suppose that is, Rain?”

“She is skilled. Her Assassin suit also suppresses the reflections on her body. By the time any light would be reflecting off her coat through the minor gaps in her suit, it would already be too late for her target - she knows how to predict and avoid lights and bat ponies’ organic night vision. There were indeed a few instances of foragers and civilians catching her shine in the darkness, but they were quickly dealt with. Her ethnicity has never dissuaded a pilferage, only inconvenienced a few.”

“I’m not concerned with that.” My Ordermare’s eyes seemed to dig into my own, and the protection of my night vision goggles was now much more absent. “And what of Sunbeam Aurora? Her name is a little ironic, wouldn't you say?”

“I agree. Her coat color would suggest otherwise.”

“Her personality would also suggest otherwise. She's almost as bad as Flecksturz, but she has a sense of humor, so that's how we got through to her.” My Ordermare snorted. “Fallen Princess does she have an annoying sense of humor.”

“She can come off as belligerent, yes. However, she is an intricate member of my corp. Her history as a Celestia’s Rebel spy--”

“Fucking terrorists,” my Ordermare glared lowly to herself. A few seconds of silenced passed before she realized I had stopped talking. “Continue.”

“Do not worry. When I turned her towards the Light Bringers, she had not gone back to her former comrades since.” The faintest glimmer of relief reflected in my Ordermare’s eyes. “Her history as a Celestia’s Rebel spy seemed to guarantee her a spot in a combat role, but when she had made that assumption explicitly clear, Remy set her straight. She left Celestia’s Rebels on a good note, so she has access to their alliance and help at any time. We make sure she doesn't make well by that, though.

“Besides transportation, she also helps me with social exchanges at Night Guardian supply stations, Neutral Zones, random forager encounters, and herds.”

“A little ironic that you would charm and wangle strangers but won't come to your friends’ graduations.”

“It’s not me who uses social interactions to psychologically corral information, but a character I choose.”

“Of course. You're the actor.”

“Sunbeam Aurora does not even try. She uses her sharp beauty and natural charm to pry.”

“Excuse me, Rain, did you just call somepony beautiful?”

“If you are implying the question if I am attracted to her, then no. I am merely stating the fact that she is pleasing to the eye. That is one of the reasons she is so successful as a social exchanger.”

“Of course. Why you’re both successful.”

“The fake personalities I puppeteer are why I am successful.”

“Sure,” my Ordermare skipped over. “Rain, tell me about the last member of your corp.”

“There is nopony else.”

“Are you sure?” She raised an eyebrow expectantly, and for the first time in this conversation my posture faltered as I tilted my head slightly.

“Are you referring to me, Ordermare?”

“Please call me by my full name.”

“...Are you referring to me, Ordermare Chillstep?”

The moment the words left my mouth, Chillstep rolled her eyes up in a thoughtful manner. It was as if she was tasting a food she didn't particularly enjoy nor dislike, rolling it in her mind until she came to a conclusion. “I don't like the way you say it. Nevermind.” She adjusted herself in her seat. “But yes, that is precisely what I'm referring to. Tell me about yourself. Why are you a necessary asset to this corp?”

“Is this a psychological test?”

“No. Now tell me about yourself.”

“There is no need to assume I am incompetent in my career.”

“That's fantastic. Now tell me about yourself, Rain.”

I could feel my pupils contract as I peered into Chillstep’s scrutinizing eyes. What was she alluding to? We've had the beginning dialogue of this exchange many times before, but she had taken a new turn this moon cycle. Why the sudden change in tone? I had devoted the last thirteen years of my life to the Light Bringers, and she had been my Ordermare for the vast majority of them. She had ordered me to infuse my skills into many pilferages and assassinations beforehoof, but had never ordered that simple command: “Tell me about yourself.” It was a bit ironic how that request seemed to be the hardest of all the ones she had previously given me to answer wholeheartedly. She obviously knew my value as a Light Bringer, and I had served in my corp very effectively in my opinion, so why the doubt?

“Answer my request, Rain.”

“I am a combat element in my corp and a social exchanger,” I finally decided on proudly.

“Good for you. Why are you necessary to your corp?”

There it is again. What did she want from me? A mist of understated frustration coated my innards. Just as I was giving in to something along the lines of, “I'm effective in this corp, but I can put my efforts elsewhere,” Chillstep spoke.

“You do not have very high self esteem, Rain.”

I blinked. “Irrelevant if it does not interfere with my performance.”

“Except it does. It interferes very much with the welfare of your corp, and serves as a blaring risk to all Light Bringers in these roots.”

“These unimportant character flaws do not reflect in my actions.”

“If you have low self esteem, Rain, then you have low self image. When you have low self image, that means you will also have a low response to danger. When that happens, you take unnecessary risks, and when that happens, you flirt with death, and we all know how deliciously easy it is to fall in love. Your advances towards getting killed will eventually yield results, and a dead Rain equals an unresponsive and destructive Flecksturz.”

“I suppose so.”

“You are a necessary component to the corp you chose to stay in because without you Flecksturz would be a liability, never truly sharing her prodigal medical talents with us. Vivacious Swan would have never progressed through the ranks to where she is now. Sunbeam Aurora’s conversion to a Light Bringer would have been a lot more dangerous, if not impossible, had you not turned her in the right direction. And Étoile Night…?”

Chillstep’s voice subsided to a faint whisper as she peered down yet again, deep in thought. A few moments passed as her cyan eyes dug into her desk before she finally looked back up to me. “You are the only one he has told his history to.”

“A mere side effect of platonism,” I concurred, earning a smirk from Chillstep. “Besides, his history is now known by you. The information has been passed on - nothing more.”

Remy had not taken that well.

“You see, Rain, that is precisely why I have faith in you.”

“I tell you personal profiles of my friends?”

“That is a minor reason. The true fact of the matter is that you show promise for improvement, even after all these years. You still have flaws. You still have lapses in judgment and character, and you rarely think of yourself. Even after all these years, Rain, you are flawed, but still a necessary asset to your corp - every member of it.”

“I will work on these inadequacies immediately.”

“Don't.” She glared through me. “You’ll become one of these Golden Soldier dictators, perfect in every way except self awareness.” She seemed to roll some saliva in her muzzle, think about spitting, but ultimately decide against it. “But I do suggest you work on this problem of indestructibility you seem to have worked up in your mind.”

“Is that an order?”

“No. Just a suggestion from an acquaintance.”

“Understood. I will take it appropriately.”

“Take it urgently, Rain.”

I nodded deeply.

“Your night vision goggles will be repaired - the same, outdated green Demomare pair, of course. Your OEMP will also be repaired, although you’ll notice a few more dents on the sides, and the velcro will be worn out, naturally. They’ll be ready by 16 hours.” Chillstep sighed, clapping her hooves together softly. “We’re done. Go and pester Fleck some more.”

“I don't think that will yield positive results.”

“It was an attempt at a casual nature. Now get out of here.”

I nodded yet again before turning about face and trotting quietly to her office’s exit. It was a plain wooden door with a stained glass window reading, “क्रमघोड़ासर्दस्टेप” [Ordermare Chillstep]. I nudged it open before walking out, and I suddenly stopped in the long hallway just outside her office. From my left to my right it ran, soothing white lights littering the ceiling as if they would make a difference in this world. Every ten cubits or so there was a painting of an important figure or propaganda piece by the publish studio on the walls. Immediately in front of me was something too realistic to be a painting but too artistic to be a picture of a intense-looking Sacré Rouge. Her coat was the richest shade of red anypony had seen, as much as what her name would have suggested, and it was devoid of the many scars and bandages most Light Bringers knew her by. In this picture she seemed to be focusing intently on something just above the framing as her head was craned slightly downwards, and her jagged mane and sharp eyes shaped her superiority like pale yellow markers. She was not frowning at something, rather focusing, and the blurry maroon background around her seemed to emphasize that point. Underneath the picture was a plaque made of red diamond. The words, “There is no better dream than the dawn,” glinted in Equestrian and, just underneath, Fancy in the shining metal. A few more cubits to my left, and on the wall closest to me there was a worn and tattered propaganda piece.

“यहद्वाराखड़ेहोजाओऔरराष्ट्रोंगिरावटकेरूपमेंदेखनेकेलिएहमारेस्वभावमेंनहींहै।.”

“It is not in our nature to stand by and watch nations fall.”

The words were sown onto a Light Bringer flag, and I was taught enough history to know that this was the very message that was flown on the Light Bringers’ first successful Dictator assassination in 7-iD.

“Rain!” a feminine voice chippered from just behind, and my mind eased with the fact that my Ordermare’s lecture was officially over. I turned to find Vivacious Swan trotting towards me, an immovable smile planted firmly on her face. A white button up shirt replaced her previous Assassin attire, and her thin glasses seemed almost glued to her perked ears. The shirt’s sleeves were rolled up as always, and she also held a portable rain-deterrent spell in the form of a small, glowing white vial hanging from her supply bag on the her strap. A pair of black jeans covered her back portion, although her white tail flourished freely and excitedly outside of its confines.

When Vivacious Swan reached me, her canter slowed to a steady trot before finally stopping just in front of me. “I just wanted to say thank you,” she squeed. “For putting up with me over the years. I…--” She let out a frustrated sigh before wording her next statement carefully. She knew me well enough to know about my tendency to miss graduations, so I knew that what was coming was to be taken as if she was speaking on a podium, myself in the crowd. “You've taught me things about myself, and given me irreplaceable experience, that have changed the way I see the world. Before I joined the Light Bringers-- well, even after I joined but before you chose me as your student, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I was just an average pony. But with your guidance and patience, I've become something I had never even thought possible. I'm a Golden Soldier now because of what you've done for me, and even though I could never repay you, I sure as Tartarus will try. If you ever need help from another corp, or even if you just need somepony on your side whenever Fleck acts up on you, I'm just an assignment on the request board away. From the bottom of my heart, Rain, thank you.”

Throughout her entire speech, I could feel my mouth raise from a thin smile to a full fledged grin. Vivi finally reached forward and pulled me into a tight hug, and even though my stomach wound burned a little brighter, I returned it with one arm. “Seeing you come this far is reward enough for me,” I said. “Take good care of your corp.”

“I will,” she replied with what I imagined a grin that gave my own a proper competition just out of sight. “So how was that little monologue? I've been thinking about it all day.”

“Nothing short of perfect,” I said before pulling back.

Vivacious Swan’s infectious grin stayed put on her face for some time afterwards, but after a while, I saw the faintest glimmer of doubt in her eyes. It was the same doubt that sparked in her system each time she would see my cold response to deceased Night Guards, so I once again stayed silent to let her lament. However, much to my surprise, her eyes suddenly scrutinized my own as she spoke earnestly.

“Rain?” she finally asked. “For your last lesson, give me an honest response. Do you believe in future-based anxiety?” Another frustrated sigh caused by lack of proper wording. “I know the wording’s a little weird, but… do you think that foreboding feeling in your gut means something?”

“I’m on and off about it,” I replied.

Vivacious Swan seemed to take the slightest hint of comfort in that and cherish it. “Alright, thanks. I just… I dunno.” An emotion I could not read shimmered in and out of existence in not only her eyes, but her entire body. “...I just have this feeling that, despite all the great stuff that's happening... something awful is coming.” m

The Rest of the Story in a Nutshell and an Explanation

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Hey, everyone. :twilightsmile:
It's obviously been a long time since the last chapter was released, and a bit shorter since I finally pulled the plug on this story and put it under the Cancelled tag. Years have passed, and it's possible no one will read this but me, but I figured I could at least bring closure for myself to something I've been so passionate about for so long.
Over these past few years, my thoughts constantly drifted back to this story and I've consequently never been fully "in the moment" again. It was always in the back of my mind, and I guess it makes sense, now that I think about it. After all, I had spent literal years planning, experimenting with, and writing the contents of what I hoped would have been the next Fallout: Equestria, only for it to fall on its face. It might have been a little vain, but I was just so passionate about the universe I had forged, the characters I had created and grown to love, and the dramatic moments I couldn't wait to share with all of you. It was an adventure just planning The Black Monsoon, and in a way this story was meant to be my gift to the Brony fandom for all the joy it had brought me and the people I had met from it.
Two years of my life were dedicated to this story, but there were a few inherit flaws that I ignorantly chose to overlook, which might have been the downfall of The Black Monsoon. One of them is that it was long. And I mean, really long. Hell, you can go back now and see that the first two chapters are both over 20k words individually. The story was going to be 50 or so chapters of that. I was under the impression that length = quality, but obviously that's not the case. I never padded for length or put unnecessary filler in; a lot of things just happened per chapter. The second flaw is that I had put too much passion into it. I know it sounds cheesy and pretentious, but it's true. In a way it consumed me and ruined my social life and everything that wasn't behind a screen. I was never fully in the moment when this story was in the works, always thinking about what the next big twist was going to be, or how to possibly make the universe deeper, or how to leave it open for fan-made spin-off stories. Anything that took me away from the real world and into this one. Although, to me, this story was real. The emotions and experiences I had just while planning The Black Monsoon were very real, and I came to relate real life-changing events to the progress I currently had on the story at the time. Still do. I could only imagine the sense of accomplishment and pure happiness I would have had the day that I had followed through to the end and finished it.
Obviously though, that day never came. The Black Monsoon was a) too long and b) consuming. And to top it off, when I finally posted the story after weeks of building up the courage and finalizing the last two chapters I had re-written multiple times, barely anyone read it. Twelve views was my absolute maximum that day, I believe. Even now it only has about 300 views, 100 of which I know is just me coming back to it before it was even published. Maybe more. The Black Monsoon, the story I had worked so hard and passionately on, the story that drove me to become an aspiring author, was at the amount of publicity where just one dislike could knock it down to the level of any poorly-written romance crossover. The standards for MLP fanfiction were so low that poorly written romance crossovers were not only getting exponentially more attention, but were being featured on the front page while something I truly loved collected dust.
I fell into a depression for a few months from the unfairness of it all, and have been gradually recovering ever since. Now of course you could look at it this way: that I was and still am being a pretentious cuck whose addiction to a fanfiction about technicolor horses cost him two years of his life and caused a fatuous depression, but it was never like that. It wasn't just a fanfiction, it was an emotional experience I wanted to share with the world. An emotional experience that was left with a painful, measly lack of closure. So I decided to post the overview of the story from my phone here to stay.
It obviously is not and could never be as impactful as if the fully-written story had been posted instead, but it is still a detailed list of how each chapter was supposed to go down. The writing and cover of events is inconsistent because I wanted to remember certain details and/or get to writing the next part, and there are a few holes here and there because this was an older draft of the story, but nothing much else changes in the final overview besides the supplies count and a few battles. Hopefully this will appease anyone who wanted to know what happens to Rain and his mangy group of pariahs.


2. Rain takes a shower and goes downstairs to eat. Pinshot has a conversation with Rain about her filly misbehaving. She beats her daughter. Rain takes Pinshot's daughter outside to talk with her. Redolent is a bat pony filly who lives next door and likes Rain, but he doesn't like her because of her race. She tells him she's working on a special gadgets for him. (Her RSB, radio signal booster) Going back to the subject at hand, Rain, out of sorrow that Pinshot's filly could be put under this much stress for a mother like this, gives her his flight suit as a present before leaving. It's raining. Rain meets Misty P and her mentally handicapped friend. He saves them from a group of Moon Worshipers off the coast of Location 9 (They're among the rubble of Canterlot. Rain isn't wearing his Light Bringer jacket. He steals vine clippers and a can of Unacting from the moon worshipers. Misty P sees that his auto-cart can only hold two. He considers leaving them behind, but feels bad for Misty's friend. Misty says that she can drive. Rain declines, and goes and gets his jacket and gives it to Misty. She gives it to her friend, and after reading the symbol on the jacket, she suggests that she rides. It ends up being: Rain drives, Misty's friend sits in the passenger seat, and Misty P hangs on the edge.) The two have a conversation about the Light Bringer ways (It is not military. No ACE [Ammo, Casualties, Equipment] reports, except for a few battles. Blue Light is a legendary cyborg soldier, but isn't part of the Light Bringers - she's part of the Sun-Sons, located in Hästverige.) and how Celestia's Rebels aren't even considered an organized threat - Misty P disagrees, saying they saved her life (mentions they're a world-wide militia). They arrive at base. His distaste for Kni. Hnr ph3, Gunner is capitalized. Gunner is a foil to Rain. Rain gets some LBars, and secretly steals twelve and puts them in his bag. It's for Pinshot's filly. Before he leaves, he goes into the Hollow Moon Room, the room where the moon drainers' targets are given a back story, and the reason they were killed. He reads them, and stops at Serene, whose space is mysteriously empty.

3. Rain is made a target after he is called into conversation with Ordermare Chillstep and Misty P. (Ordermare Chillstep orders Rain to kill Misty P and capture her friend, but he declines.) Rain's mind is racing as he drives away via auto-cart. He eventually comes to the "one thing at a time" conclusion, and stops the auto-cart, pulling an OEMP on Misty P. He tells her to explain. She procrastinates, and her friend tries to disarm him from behind, but he flails - not something that happens often, but he's so jarred it still happens - and shoots her right ear off. She screams, and Misty P tackles Rain from the auto-cart. He is about to kill her, but Misty P is desperate to protect herself, and tells Rain her friend is Equus' last chance. She's angry with herself at blurting it out, and is threatened into telling the truth. Her friend is Rainbow Dash. She doesn't look like Rainbow Dash because Zecora put a permanent potion on her some months ago to change her appearance; something different every day, which throws Rain for a loop. Misty P explains her plan to save the rest of the Elements of Harmony and bring light back to Equus. She says she knows where some of the others are, Rain asks how many, and she says two (at first, holds up two hooves. Rain says he knows she's already beaten, no need to surrender). She does not know how to use the Elements, but she hopes the others will. He is seriously unbelieving. ( "Many others have tried and failed." "Compare those times to now. Those times, the ponies were careless, and hired whoever wore a 'Say No to the Moon' sticker. Those times, the ponies came at the Night Guard in numbers, head-on, interrogating knowledge from them. Those times, they never even found close to a hint of where even one Element was." "I'm sure Nightmare Moon would notice that one of her personal enemies has escaped captivity." "There's a lot she never released to the public. In 7-iD, Fluttershy escaped by herself and roamed the Plussian snowland for eleven months before being captured again. And Rainbow Dash has been missing for more than one year now. If she was going to send a full-out search, it'd be heard of by now." "What makes you think that you, a single filly, can take down Nightmare Moon, the Night Guard, the Griffins, and the train tickets?" She goes silent for a while before saying something incredible. You'll think of something. Her emotion and heart wins Rain over.) Rainbow Dash whimpers, "I miss them." That softens his heart, and he realizes they have a common interest. Misty P says she has the general plan in her head, but she has trouble focusing on one thing at a time. His mind briefly skims over the Light Bringers before Rain is reminded of Pinshot's daughter, and he hurriedly gets in the car without Misty P or Rainbow Dash and drives back to his home. It's smoldering, ruined. Redolent is there, afraid. He asks her what happened, and she explains the Light Bringers attacked. He asks where Pinshot's daughter is, and she says she climbed to the top of the cliff and flew away. He moon drains Pinshot (it decreases her scent, so webeloes or anything else won't get a hold of her) and buries her. Redolent joins his gang.

4. He picks Misty P and Dash back up ("You waited in the exact same spot?" "You left in the first place?") He doesn't explain why he went, even after questioning. Redolent also doesn't tell. Misty asks him if he wants to join her in her mission. He thinks of his adventure, but quickly says to himself that he needs to be realistic. He blatantly says no, and tells her he's going back to the Light Bringers to explain his situation, and remove his wanted status. Misty understands, and tells him to drop her off near an auto-cart. It cuts to her driving away with Gunner's auto-cart. Redolent goes with Misty. Before, however, Misty warns Rain not to tell them of her plan, and if things don't work out, meet her at the Los Pegasus Train Station. She'll be there for two moon cycles. Rain enters the building, explains himself, and is relieved. He speaks to his team and sleeps in their Bunk Quarters, before Remy wakes him in the middle of Dormant Hours and leads him into the Hollow Moon Room. He tells Rain that he should have stayed away from the Light Bringers, and tells him to put in Pinshot's moon drainer to prove it (Rain thinks that the Light Bringers killed Pinshot, but has been suppressing those feelings out of a want for it to all be okay). He does, and is convinced. Rain steals ammo and another OEMP - this one being a shotgun. He also steals five instigator mines, and one Demomare suit. Fleck catches him and starts to talk casually. After a while it becomes apparent to her that Rain is going. Fleck says that he's on the KOSL (Kill on Sight if Left) list. Rain still persists. Fleck gives him four water bottles (he instantly drinks half of one), three pairs of muck boots, an inapercu necklace (a necklace which magically makes a wounded pony physically look completely fine, used for inconspicuously encountering civilians), and a medkit. She talks to him in monologue form, telling him that he's nearing his gray years, and that the theatrical adventure he's been wishing for all these years have already happened, but once it's clear he has his mind made up, she bids him well and hopes she's not called to kill him. She hugs him as he leaves. He is shot at as he drives away.

5. Rain goes to Los Pegasus (thinking that he'll leave the Light Bringers even if he doesn't find the Misty P and RD, but also thinking about his squad) and meets up with Misty P and Rainbow Dash and Redolent. Redolsent hugs him and cries. He eats one LBar on the ride. Rainbow Dash is having excruciating spasms. Rain shares his LBars with the two, and covers Rainbow's missing right ear with a bandage. Rain is sent to get some money from her cache. (He gives her a look. She says he doesn't have to be a pegasus. It's under the city. She points the way, and quickly tends to her friend again. He goes to the cache, which is a wooden cabin, [the cache is underneath] and is flabbergasted to see the many valuables and doits and bits she has stolen.) After he returns with lots of money in his backpack, they sleep at the cache, as Misty P knows what it's like to be ambushed by webeloes. They each eat half of their LBar, and go to sleep. Rain is still pondering what has happened.

6. Misty P buys tickets to Horseshoe Bay. It's expensive, and takes a third of the money. Rain acknowledges how she didn't steal the tickets, and how she bought one for all of them. They attach Rain's auto-cart to the side of the train, along with the others. When he steps on the train he ponders the frailty of his adventure, and what the Light Bringers could be doing to kill his late friend. Redolent sits by Rain. The train is attacked by Light Bringers, led by Vivacious Swan - she tells him this attack was led by her, and her only - the Light Bringers have nothing to do with this. Rain is skeptical. Rain's auto-cart is thrown out. He is forced to kill Vivi, and is overcome with guilt. He holds the train hostage all the way there. He acknowledges how sleepy he is. He tells Misty to turn off the lights. She does, he puts on his night vision goggles, and goes into a light sleep. The conductor tries to make a move once, but Redolent subdues him and Rain threatens him, and they continue on their way. Rain eats the other half of his LBar. (6 left in his bag. Misty has half of one. Her friend has the other half.) Rain drinks some of his water, but tries to save some. He thinks this isn't a theatrical adventure, but a real one.

7. They get off the train. (Rain is exhausted, but threatens the conductor, saying he's a Light Bringer, and has snipers all over Horseshoe Bay. He tells him to keep on going, and don't come back, or he'll get shot.) Rain steals a four-seated auto-cart from the train and parks it at the Bay, acknowledging how its gas is a fourth full. Redolent tells him he should rest, but Rain is stubborn. They board a boat, headed for Tours-des-Chevals. Rain ponders if he should throw his Light Bringer uniform away (the Night Guard might find it), but decides against it. He hides it instead. They sleep the night away on the cruise ship. They arrive in Fance. They take a taxi to Hornmandy. They discover that Rain and Misty P are wanted throughout the world, but through Light Bringer means so they're incognito to civilians. Misty P gives her half of her LBar to her friend. Rain takes one from his bag, and gives another to Misty. There's 4 left. They buy a hotel there. There's a TV in the room. Rain asks what Misty's plan is. Misty P tells Rain. Rain finally removes the sunpad and stitches on his haunch, and his wound is healed. They sleep.

(Time passes. They get to the first destination of Misty's plan: the herd where Rarity to being held. If you want to skip until the moment they're willing to attack or instead spend a few days in town building the lore and constructing a plan, please do)

8. Misty tells Rain to trust her at the herd which they are at the outskirts of. He says he doesn't. By Misty's orders, he attaches Redolent's RSB to his OEMP and announces his presence. This amplifies his signal to all OEMPs in the herd, showing his name and rank. While they wait for the NRGE to attack ("It won't be long for them to show up, and go berserk on the herd. They really seem to hate you."), Misty attempts small talk. Rain gives little information, besides his opinion on the Night Guard's rule. He calls them a museum for Sinners, not a hospital for Saints. (?) The NRGE join in the battle with the Night Guard. They slaughter each other. Rain uses one instigator mine. (Its explosion is ginormous, and he gets a burn on his right side. He figures he'll only use those for emergencies.) 4 mines left. Misty P's friend leads the way to Rarity. (Dash spasms again) They escape. Rarity recognizes RD as an old friend.

9. They go back to the hotel. Misty P tells Rain that Rainbow Dash really does know where Pinkie Pie is. She tells him where she is. Rarity interrupts them, saying that Pinkie Pie was moved from Saddle Arabia to an unknown location in Equestria, then goes on to tell them that she knows more, but is too shaken to speak. Misty attempts to ask her if she knows how to use the Elements, but she drifts off, unable to speak. She wants to watch TV and relax, collect her thoughts. Rain gives her the fourth bottle of water and orders room service to save on supplies. He puts on his inapercu necklace to meet the waiter. (There's a fun scene when Rain pays the waiter more than necessary, and says keep the change) He turns the TV on, and goes into the restroom to inspect his burn, hearing that it was a commercial break. He sees that it's a second degree burn, and that it had already started to blister. Instinct takes over and he runs cool water over it. It feels good, but he doesn't know if it's helping. After taking out the medkit Fleck gave him, he properly cleans the wound and uses an antibiotic ointment named "Ponysporin" and bandages it. Redolent calls him in the other room, and Rain dresses and comes in to see that the TV is on one of his movies, "Utopia." He sees a 16 year old him, and watches to the movie's end (it's a serene experience, Rain smiling as he remembers), Redolent and Misty P mistified, but changes the channel when the credits start rolling. He doesn't want them to know his name. Rarity explains where her friends are - she doesn't know where Twilight or the actual Element medallions are. When asked if she knows how to use the Elements, she says she doesn't. Room service comes up.

Part 2- "Fox Guarding the Henhouse" (4 LBars in bag. Rain's water is almost empty, and Misty P and her friends' are half empty, while Rarity's is full.)

10. They board a boat to Equestria. Rain has a brief encounter with a Night Guard who he swears looks familiar. His Light Bringer uniform is moved from its original spot, although he's not sure if it's just a mirage. Rarity hates how Rain kills, and talks with him about it. They are at odds. Rarity gives Rain half of her bottled water. Now everypony is at half. Griffins attack the boat. The Night Guard is killed, so ponies are forced to resort to hide and seek tactics. They don't sleep.

11. They hide in the innards of the boat, using stealth to pick the griffons off. Misty P suggests Rain uses his instigator mines, but he says they'd sink the boat. Rarity is captured by the griffins. They spend the day stealing food and defending themselves. By now, civilians are being picked off. Rain wonders why the griffins aren't flying away yet. They sleep. This is the 10th day of Rain's adventure. Afterwards, they interrogate a griffin (Rain threatens to shove the decorative cactus up his asshole, literally. Rain acts insane, but doesn't know for himself if he was acting at all.) and find that Rarity is being held in the Captain's Quarters. He starts to think that his adventure could end right there, prematurely. Safety for the Elements is all he's concerned with now, for somepony else to save if not him.

12. With the brief help of the recognized Night Guard mare he saw on the ship yesterday, they retrieve Rarity (her bottle is empty. Rain gives her his own, after a swig. He aggressively insists.) and the original captain, and continue sailing. It starts to rain. They all refill their bottles. RD recognizes Rarity due to her rant at the griffin captain resembling one of their escapeds back then. Rain and Misty P agree to keep Rarity and RD at a disclosed location after the original captain explains that they were being interrogated about where the other Elements were. The captain introduces himself as Storm Surfer, and he is grateful to them for saving him. He wants to join their gang - he has nothing else to work for here because he knows what the Night Guard does to failed captains. He says he has connections all over to all the high-class hotels, and he won't take from their supplies. They sleep.

13. When they return to Equestria, Rain steals a spare luggage cart for his auto-cart. Redolent is with him. Fleck catches him again, and gives him twenty LBars, refilling his amount, and another four water bottles. She spends all her doits. Rain gives Fleck Misty P's doits. It's revealed it has been two and a half days since they arrived in Equestria. All water bottles are half drunk, but now they have more. Rain halfmindedly implies he needs more ponies on his side as he's reminded of Storm, and Fleck explains that Celestia's Rebels have doubled in size since Rarity's liberation. Rain drives back to his comrades and takes them to Neutral Zone. RD and Redolent refuse to leave Misty or Rain. Rarity explains she doesn't know where Twilight or the actual Elements of Harmony are, but they decide on saving Applejack second in Ponny-Stad, Hästverige once Storm says he can take them, and also he can get them a good hotel. Redolent eventually is decided to stay, but she vows to help in some way in the future. She gives Storm something which he puts in his mouth. The auto-cart is out of gas. Rain suggests they steal from the Moon Worshipers.

14. That night, Rain leads them to Location 9, which is near a Moon Worshiper camp, which has Canterlot Falls at the other side of it. It's raining. Misty P remarks about how she met Rain here. Misty argues her way into helping Rain as he goes into the camp. Storm smiles at that. Rain sees a mare being tortured and almost raped by a Moon Worshiper, and strangles the Moon Worshiper before freeing the mare. The mare is silent. Rain plants an instigator mine out of hatred. Misty steals the gas. They go in and out stealthily, surprising Rain. His experience with movies made him think they would be compromised. They then refill the gas tank. As they are, the mare finds Rain alone and thanks him by hugging him tightly. She uses sign language to tell him how she was captured, and that her name is White Singer. He communicates back with her using sign language, and she decides to stay with them for the night. They spend the night near a campfire, and talk with each other. They laugh and have a happy night, and Misty gives hints to her past, and tells Rain what her cutie mark used to be: a black mask. Storm Surfer talks about somepony Misty P reminded him of, but doesn't tell them to whole story. They each drink the rest of their bottles (Rain gives his to White Singer, and is thirsty), and each take two LBars; there is 14 left. True to his word, Storm does not take any, even after Rain insists. The next day, White Singer is gone. They each have an LBar. 11 left in the bag.

15. They sail to Ponny-Stad, Hästverige, courtesy of Storm Surfer's charisma to pass inspection to take off. The herd is huge, and they get seperated. They use the radio to reunite. They buy a hotel, order room service, and sleep there. Rain explains that he's not going to attack until he finds some of Celestia's Rebels to be on their side. Storm Surfer goes out at night to gather his known Celestia's Rebel friends.

16. Celestia's Rebels attack the herd. The hotel is in flames. Rain loses all LBars and water bottles, but keeps his backpack. He uses one instigator mine. As they are running for Applejack, Blue Light intervenes. (RD spasms) Blue Light helps them save Applejack, and attacks the Celestia's Rebels and Sun-Sons. It rains. Blue Light aids them to a cruise ship, but Rain says he's not leaving without Storm Surfer. They have to, though, and leave. Blue Light is a little violent/desperate when she pushes Rain onto the boat.

17. They sail back to Equestria. Rain gives Applejack his inaparcu necklace, and she numbly accepts it. Rain tells his team that they can't keep getting lucky like that. They need allies. Also, they need to find a way to get Storm back. Misty P finds out Rain gave away her doits. They have a huge meal, and awkward moments with Blue Light (Rain and her are both picking off bacon. She offers him a few pieces, and he uneasily accepts). She keeps glancing at his leg, and follows him. That night, after Rain tells his team to not trust her and is walking from their room to his, Blue Light corners Rain in his room and reveals that she is Goldbuck, his long lost sister. Goldbuck says she'll help Rain. They don't sleep that night, but stay in each others' arms, silent and loving. Rain calls Goldbuck by her real name, over and over, but it is never revealed what it is to the reader. The next day, Rain tells Misty P his real name after AJ says she doesn't know how to use the Elements. It is, "Summer Monsoon."

18. Rain is extremely tired. Goldbuck and him stay together, happy. Misty P tells Rain how grateful she is to see their plans coming to light, and hugs Rain, who hugs back. They arrive in Equestria, and start driving away. (Rain is in the backseat, sleeping with his head on Goldbuck's shoulder). He drifts off, and wakes up to an abandoned auto-cart, in the middle of the True Darkness. In a dream-like state, he sees the Light Bringers in auto-carts driving to his location in the distance. Shocked and alone, he dashes into the Everfree for shelter. The Light Bringers start speaking to him through comms as they enter the Everfree, trying to lead him out. Rain's fury soon shows. He uses the last three instigator mines on the auto-carts, and walks through the wreckage, killing off the struggling Light Bringers and any animals who try to aid him. His reasoning is that they hurt Goldbuck. He stops when Flecksturz is aiming her OEMP at him. He refuses to shoot, and is subdued by Remy. Remy says, "Did you cherish your moments?"

Part 3 - "Sink or Swim"

19. Rain wakes up in a cell. He has absolutely no supplies. He has no mechanical leg. He meets Nightmare Moon, after being showered and tended to. She explains why he'll lose. (She tells him this isn't a movie, that there are no bad guys, good guys, or main characters in life. There are merely ponies, who sometimes think they're more important than others because of natural selfishness. She tells him that she is a ruler, and he is a servant, both out of their places. She tells him that she is immortal, and that he is not. Soon he will die, and these stirs of rebellion will end. She says that everypony will die eventually.) Rain asks what she means by that. She tells him that the many ponies across Equestria have been rioting and instantly crushed. No other country has joined them in their pathetic war. (She then tells him all she has to do to bend the moral laws in her favor is to cut out some words from the history books. In the near future, she will be the primary source, and no others will live then. He will be another fossil. The world is a huge place, and everypony has a story just as deep and compelling as the next one. She starts naming off examples: White Singer being killed just after she left Rain's group. Pinshot's filly disappearing, never to be found again. Vivacious Swan's death. The fact that she knew these things from his comrades, and that all it took was some torture. Solid loyalty doesn't exist. Everypony suffers from their basic instincts of survival, which overrules love and logic any day. Unlike in the movies. She mentions why he was bathed and healed: "the villain reveals her evil plan to the hero only when she is at her most vulnerable. You are not at your most vulnerable. In fact, you're probably in the best shape in sixteen years.") She has his leg, and every prosthesis from Blue Light.

20. Rain spends seven days in Canterlot Prison, being relatively well looked after, but without his friends. The Night Guard finds the rest of the gang in Neutral Zone, bringing them in as Rain watches. He challenges Nightmare Moon, saying she's alone and has no friends, but when he brings up Celestia, Nightmare Moon takes him to see Misty P sleeping. Both she and Rain are infected with the Kind Dread, and Nightmare Moon ponders who will die first. Rain knows he must eventually tell her she is infected and it's his fault. That night, Storm Surfer is brought in and tells Rain somepony is coming to free him and his friends. It is now the 24th day of his adventure.

21. Rain is broken out by Redolent. He begins to like her. Storm hands her a little device on the roof of his mouth, mentioning it's her tracking device. Rain saves Goldbuck first, and plans to search for her mechanical limbs after. He frees his friends, wondering where the Night Guard is. His friends are constantly telling him they're sorry for telling the enemy information, but Rain doesn't listen - his mind is mechanical as he goes to work. They accidentally find and hurriedly rescue Twilight Sparkle in the deep confines of Canterlot Dungeon, but as they're trying to find Goldbuck's prosthesis, Sunbeam Aurora attacks Rain. She explains that Canterlot is under attack by the Light Bringers, to kill him and Misty P, and that she loved Vivacious Swan. It's revealed the Light Bringers want to be the heroes who are known in the history books who saved the Elements, and that is why they want to kill the gang. Rain is suddenly overcome with internal pain from the Kind Dread and can't fight (some of the shrapnel of her missed projectiles destroys the right side of his face, blinding and deafening him on that side) so Redolent kills Sunbeam Aurora. It rains. He steals her night vision goggles and OEMP, but her ammo is depleted. Rain wants to bury her, but there's no time. He gives the OEMP to Misty P because he's too tired to operate it. They escape with Twi and Goldbuck's limbs.

22. Rain is walking at the base of Canterlot Mountain, away from the wreckage, with his group, with no supplies. Twilight explains what the true history of the Renaissance is, Celestia's lifehood, their second battle with Nightmare Moon, and why Dash is mentally handicapped. Misty tells them she knows a safe place. She's worried that they won't be able to use the Elements of Harmony because of RD's disability. But she refuses to believe that this plan can be folly. She uses words such as "when," not "if." They trot through the Everfree Forest, and Rain wanders into a spider web from exhaustion and his destroyed senses. He hears his group's voices faint, and comes face to face with a shadian widow spider. Goldbuck and Redolent save him (the moment the spider charges, Goldbuck extends a metal limb to take the blow before killing the spider. Redolent fishes Rain's stuff out of the bag and frees him using his vine cutters, and gives him his backpack and mechanical leg.). Rain plans on going to Light Bringer Roots to tell Flecksturz it's too dangerous for her to keep seeing him. It's hinted there's something more to it, though. Blue Light and Redolent sleep next to Rain that night (he sprays them both with Unacting, and goes to sleep with Goldbuck watching over him. She and Redolent find out he has Kind Dread from his coughing fits and cold sweats. He makes Goldbuck wear his OEMP to avoid her getting it as well, and Redolent is naturally immune to it anyways.)

23. Rain wakes up. They're fine. Rain reunites with his group by using his OEMP to contact Storm Surfer. Sunbeam Aurora's name popping up gives him a minor heart attack, and he feels major guilt. Rain and Misty P's relationship grows as they meet again, Misty hugging him, but Rain feeling guilty. Rain finally goes to the safe place and drops off Twi, Rarity, AJ, and RD. Rain, Redolent, and Misty P exchange back stories while the four are talking. It is revealed that Sweetie Belle ran away to Manestralia after the Renaissance, and Applebloom is at Appleloosa. They are all hungry and thirsty.

24. The next day, Rain walks outside to a form of communication, maybe a letter or stone. It states a place to meet: Table 37, Wubberz Club, in Megaplex Herd, with one of the Elements and Sunbeam Aurora, in two days - 8:34pm. ("Be sure to bring money for the check. You're paying, Handsome"). Suddenly, Flecksturz attacks with a legion of Knights. It rains. Rain kills them with the help of Misty P (his disabled senses are a disadvantage), but one of the Knights stab Misty P with a flail and punctures her lung after she stepped in front of Redolent. They kill the Knights. Rain refuses to kill Fleck. As he is standing there, Fleck sees Misty's condition (gasping and sputtering, holding her side), and helps her medically. Rain takes her aside in the True Darkness before sending her off. She says she can help with his face, but he refuses. She also says he improved his relationship with bat ponies (referring to Redolent), and she's glad. As he is standing there watching her go, Moon Worshipers kidnap him.

25. Rain wakes up the next day confined. One of the Moon Worshipers, a young colt, tells him that the Light Bringers want him dead, the Night Guard wants an example to be made out of him, and the Moon Worshipers want him all to themselves. He doesn't explain why, but history is implied. Fleck and Goldbuck save him, earning the trust of the group. Fleck has supplies, and shares it with the group. (15 LBars and 5 bottles of water. Each takes one bottle of water, except Goldbuck, so Rain gives his to her. Redolent insists he takes hers. Each takes one LBar and eats half of it. There are now 8 LBars left in the bag.) Rain is too tired and beaten to eat, but Fleck makes him eat. Redolent pouts at their closeness. 7 LBars left. Misty P has still not recovered naturally, Fleck discovers after removing the medipad. That is not normal, and Rain feels guilty. The King Dread must be halting her healing. Twilight explains that Fluttershy is in Maratov, Plussia, and Rain tells them about the message, while Fleck is fixing Rain's face. There is romantic tension between the two. Goldbuck sees this. Storm says he can get them to Megaplex Herd, and that the pony who sent the message is trustworthy. Rain reveals to the group that he has the Kind Dread, but does not say Misty has it. Fleck says that makes all injuries stay for a lot longer of a time (with a glimpse at Misty), and gives him an eye patch. They sleep, but Goldbuck takes Fleck out and gets defensive over her brother. Rain intervenes, inducing tensions. Rain says they're gonna have a long drive tomorrow. They sleep afterwards. Storm and Redolent add some comedic relief.

Part 4- "One Pound of Flesh"

26. They travel to Megaplex Herd. Each of their bottles are a fourth drained, but Rain and Goldbucks' are half drained. Misty P's condition has not bettered. Each of them have eaten their LBar, and have another. There are 2 left in the bag. Rain enters Wubberz Club with Blue Light and Storm Surfer. Dubstep is playing. They meet Gunner (he has many new wounds), and he is pugnacious. He keeps threatening him, saying that he killed his sisters and brothers, and Rain snaps right back. Storm Surfer calms them. Rain brings up the message, and Gunner says he thought he was the one who sent it. A Night Guard joins the conversation. She trots up and asks, "Is this seat taken?" Rain recognizes her as who he thinks to be Serene, and connects her to the mare he saw on the boat. Both stallions are confused at first, but as they get their OEMPs from their suits (Gunner's is on his suit, Rain's is in his backpack), the Night Guard shuts them down, telling them that not only was she trained by Midnight Blossom herself, but she's also the one who sent the message. Gunner is furious, and tries to attack her repeatedly during her explanation, saying that she's an accomplice of the second most wanted (Rain bristles at that) pony of the Light Bringers, but Rain sits him down each time. The Night Guard explains that she got them together to tell Rain that she knows how to use the Elements of Harmony - she saw them being used when the Elements tried to battle Nightmare Moon. She also knows more information of Midnight Blossom's infamy. Rain asks why she brought Gunner. She tells him that it's so he can tell the Light Bringers that Midnight Blossom is hers, and that she's coming for Chillstep. Gunner tells her that she's going to Light Bringer jail, and the Night Guard tells him, "Oh, well. It was worth a try. If you aren't going to tell them, I might as well beat your memory of me out of your head." There is a fight scene synced with dubstep. Storm Surfer watches, charismatic as ever. The Night Guard tells Rain her name: Adamance. He says he knows she's lying, but she dismisses him. She also tells him that she will tell him why Midnight Blossom is wanted, if he helped her with one thing: assassinate Midnight Blossom. At first, he disagrees, saying that Fluttershy cannot wait, but Misty P, RD, and Twilight tell him to accept the offer. Storm Surfer also tells him that Adamance would be a great ally. Rain accepts, and asks why she's helping him. She says it's hard to find a trained assassin that won't kill her on sight, and also it's an ironic victory against the Light Bringers to have an ex-soldier kill their second most wanted pony. Adamance tells him they leave immediately ("Alright. Get in the auto-cart." "...?" "We're leaving right now!") Storm then says that Rain's gang has reservations at a five-star apartment tent in town. Rain tells them to get Misty to a hospital, and Storm muses that even though medipads always work, it wouldn't hurt to give her the extra help.

27. Rain and Adamance are in an auto-cart, driving to the location: the Badlands. Rain asks for the debrief. Adamance tells him that Midnight Blossom is the ONLY target, HER target, and that his job is to subdue the ponies that get in her way, and he cannot kill anypony until after they attack him. Rain asks why he can't kill anypony, and Adamance tells him she can't tell him; she has to trust him first. He rages, saying he was forced to trust her, but she replies with her not being forced to trust him. He sulks. She says, "Besides, you'll see when you get there." Adamance continues her debrief, saying that she'll explain why Midnight Blossom is wanted - not one second before. Rain thinks her as extremely untrustworthy. He planned to sleep with one eye open that night. He tells her he knows her name is Serene. Adamance is confused. Rain says he was assigned to kill her a month ago, along with the rest of the personnel of that train. Adamance explains she was a spy on that train - about to kill her target, too, until he interrupted her. They spend the night in Former-Appleloosa Herd at a hotel. They order room service for food, Rain having a cow steak and water and Adamance having a hamburger with fries and an orange soda. Adamance tells Rain to take a shower. The lore is increased due to pony-suited items in the restroom. When Rain is done, and after some hesitation, he looks at himself in the mirror. His face is healed, but will never look the same, and his left eye is useless. He asks himself if the past month has been worth it.

29. Rain is tired yet again, although he's used to it. They are at the Badlands, and Adamance is silent as they find a factory in the crevice. They move in, and Rain is surprised to find that the factory is full of hypnotized ponies, Night Guards, Sun-Sons, and Moon Worshipers all alike. All of them have collars with a dark blue orb in the middle of them, and a mechanical prosthetic somewhere on their body, although horribly dysfunctional and painful. Rain is tempted to kill the Moon Worshipers, but resists. Adamance heads up to Midnight Blossom's office, leaving Rain to defend. Rain is bumped into by a Light Bringer mare with a mechanical left hind leg, and he instinctively pushes her away, thinking she's trying to pickpocket. Instead though, the pony instantly breaks down and hugs him, telling him her thanks over and over again. She then tells him to escape, and quickly. He takes her aside and she tells him her story: two days ago, she was a Dmm. Rki (Demmomare, Rookie rank), out with her husband (Kni. Hnr, ph3, Gunner) around Appleloosa when some ponies attacked them. They only wanted her, and left him beaten to a pulp. She tells him that they dragged her by auto-cart to this place, then Midnight Blossom hypnotized them, and that was all she remembered. She's sorry she can't tell him what Midnight Blossom is up to, or what her plans are. It is then the collar on her neck glows blue, and her left hind leg emits a high pitched squeal, and everypony goes insane, attacking each other. She attacks Rain.

30. Rain refuses to kill her, repeatedly telling her that he knows where her husband is, and that he can reunite them. She is sobbing as she throws vicious and untrained punches at Rain, knocking him to the floor and climbing on top of him, hitting his most vulnerable left side of his face. The ponies around him are killing each other, throwing their neighbors into lava buckets and jumping in after them, cracking their own necks, and slamming others' heads into the floor. Finally, after some time of the chaos, the dark blue lights on their necks glow brightly, and their mechanical parts explode. Same happens to the mare that was attacking Rain. He takes some time to recover from the dizzying explosion, before walking to the mare's side. She is missing her entire lower body, and most of the right side of her abdomen, bleeding out. She hurriedly pulls Rain close and tells him, "Tell Gunner that Poppy forgives him. For everything. Tell him that I love him, and I trust him to do the right thing. Promise me... Please..." Rain promises. Then, she passes. Rain shakily walks up to Midnight Blossom's office, and comes to Adamance standing over Midnight Blossom's dead body. She is crying. Rain gives her time, waiting outside, and soon Adamance's grief spirals out of control and she screams as she destroys the room with her magic. After some time, she comes from the room, and her cheeks are tear-streaked and her face is harrowed. She tells Rain, "I will tell you everything. Let's burn this place down, first, though."

31. (The first segment of this chapter is dialogue-only.) As Rain and Adamance are driving away from the burning factory, she tells him what that was about: (Project Greenhoof was a project made by the Sun-Sons to help cure ponies of crippling weaknesses with the help of a new plant discovered, the White Light. She tells him that Goldbuck was the first volunteer because she was a valuable asset to the Sun-Sons, but also was almost killed from the Renaissance, missing her back left leg, front right leg, having blindness in her left eye, and having a broken left wrist. They gave her treatments for years, until 3-iD, when she was given advanced enhancement. She was given two mechanical limbs, had a healing serum injected in her left eye, and a new left hoof. With the added accessories of internal machines, mechanical organs, and magical enhancements, it virtually made her a superpony, having faster reflexes, pinpoint accuracy with any weapon, increased IQ, and superpony strength. She was renamed Blue Light, and was used for secret or difficult missions for the Sun-Sons. However, in actuality, the Sun-Sons were planning on making her an actual weapon; mind control was the next step. That is, until Midnight Blossom stole the blueprints for such an accomplishment. She was made target number 1 for all anti-night corporations, not just the Sun-Sons. Turns out, later, Midnight Blossom didn't burn the papers, she read them. And was instantly set aflame with insane power-hunger. She set out to gather hosts for her experiment - Adamance herself helped, along with a few other ponies. Adamance stole from the vaults of the Light Bringers themselves to retrieve a drill that can cut Biridium Tyropiani. Midnight Blossom hypnotized ponies by placing Adamance's own hypnotic magic into a sphere, attaching the ball to a collar, and making the victims wear it. They would torture the victims in a Saw-like fashion, cutting off limbs and making them join them so they could survive. They then put in the mechanical legs, thanks to the genius of one of the Light Bringer Ordermares: Chillstep. Over the course of three years, Midnight Blossom has been growing her new factory of slaves, and Adamance soon had enough of the bloodshed. She quit her job, and that conversation soon turned into a heated argument. She knew she needed to stop her former mentor, and who else to help her than Summer Monsoon, reclaimer of the Elements of Harmony? Rain doesn't agree with that title.) They continue the drive back to Former-Appleloosa Herd. They arrive, and Rain shares his sympathies with Adamance. She tells him it's fine, and they go to sleep.

32. They arrive at Megaplex Herd, but it is currently being attacked by Celestia's Rebels, burning. Allusion to the Renaissance is made as Rain and Adamance are running through the burning town, much like when Rain was running through the burning Canterlot as Nightmare Moon attacked from above. Rain is reunited with his gang, but is barely conscious due to the Kind Dread settling in. The left side of his face starts bleeding. He is under the thought that it's his job to protect his gang, and it's pathetic to pass out like this. Redolent coos him to sleep.

33. Rain wakes up in the safe place. Redolent, Fleck, and Misty P are in Rain's room, and Misty P looks even more distraught. Adamance comes back with some manticore meat, and she has refilled the water bottles. She tells Rain that she has to go because killing Midnight Blossom was the beginning of her adventure, saying that everypony has a story, even if some are more private than others. She says they will most definitely cross paths again, calling him by name (even though he's never told her it), and telling him that life is not one of his movies. It's implied she is a fan of his. Adamance kisses Summer Monsoon (acknowledging the fact that she begged herself to do that countless times as a young filly) before leaving. Redolent and Fleck bristle with anger at that. Flecksturz explains that they need to head down to Tall Tale Bay by train to catch a boat to Plussia. It's also too dangerous to leave the gang in Equestria, so they decide to take the Elements wherever they go, but once the fighting starts they are left in a hotel at the nearest city. When everypony but Misty P leaves, Misty P tells Rain she has the Kind Dread. Rain explains how she got it, and Misty P walks out, horrified. Their relationship from then on is cold and distant.

34. A day of traveling later, Tall Tale Bay is destroyed by Celestia's Rebels (Misty P dryly says she thought they were on their side. Rain can't help but smile at that.). Rain and his group inspect the wreckage in detail. Propaganda is suggesting Rain and Misty P are their idol. Rain hates that, Misty P adores it, and Blue Light is amused. Redolent implies her jealousy. Plussia is a mile away from Vanhoover. Fleck suggests that she steals flight suits and thermal auras. The next day, Fleck and Misty steal flight suits and thermal auras, along with ten LBars (Rain and Blue Light stay together) - at a cost. The Light Bringers know she's helping him, and they opened fire on her. A bullet grazed her neck and horn. Rain fixes it up, telling Goldbuck the Nurse off, and Goldbuck sees how attached he is to her. Rain kisses Fleck on the forehead. There are now 13 LBars in his bag, and everypony has half of one. Rain tells them they leave the next day, that now they have to sleep and get rest.

35. They leave. They are attacked by a drage (gorilla-like creatures dark purple, brown, or black in color. They're territorial) damaging their auto-cart, but fend it off after it flips the auto-cart. Fleck investigates it, calling it beautiful. Rain decides to teach Misty P how to fight. They then flip the auto-cart back over together, and continue on their way. After passing a heavily defended Vanhoover, they all fly to Plussia.

Part 5- "Diamond in the Rough"

36. Rain, Misty P, and Fleck confront the lair of a snow dragon. It is revealed that the three have asked the local herds about it, wanting a powerful ally. That lasted two days. Also, Rain has been teaching Misty P how to fight. She's no prodigy. They go into the cave and meet the dragon, D'Vorah. She is aggressive, but agrees to help in freeing Fluttershy. She makes references to eating them, especially Rain. She tells them she expects a reward after she helps. Rain figures she wants more diamonds. After all, she has a gigantic horde of them. He asks Misty P if she'll share her horde, and she says yes. D'Vorah says yes. With the aid of Misty P, they fly to the herd which holds Fluttershy.

37. They free Fluttershy. Misty P explains her disgust at the massacre, saying the fight wasn't fair. Fleck agrees. Rain and D'Vorah don't get it. D'Vorah tries to eat Rain, but he shoots his way from her throat. (She freezes him with her breath, and grabs him before telling his allies he is her reward. She flies back to her cave and talks to him, as if toying with her prey. D'Vorah takes him in her mouth and bites into the ice, breaking it and freeing him. He uses his leg to buck a tooth in when she starts to chew, so she tries to swallow him whole. He shoots his way out, almost decapitating her.) He finds that she's been keeping hostages in ice in the backroom. He frees them using her sharpest canine. Pinshot's filly is one of the captives.

38. A day passes, and now it is at night, around a camp fire. It is revealed Pinshot's filly used the flight suit Rain left behind to fly here after her mother died. Makes sense -- this is her homeland after all, and Plussia is not very far away from the northwestern-most edge of Equestria. The Plussians all talk to each other in Plussian, and Rain cannot understand it, but knows they are having a good time. Pinshot's filly and Rain talk about who survived the attack on Neutral Zone: Redolent. They go to sleep. A few hours of treking the next day, they are attacked by snow webeloes. They flee to a lone cabin in the woods. It has Rain's gang in it.

39. Fleck, after a brief tussle with Goldbuck, tends to Rain's wounds. Fluttershy explains her gratitude to him (she mentions offhandedly that she didn't approve of the methods he used, and Fleck smiles smugly). They are then confronted by the Plussians. The Plussians explain they want to join them, because Rain killed D'Vorah and freed their ponies. It is revealed one of the Plussians Rain freed gathered them - Pinshot's daughter. The Plussians say they can help them get back to Equestria, but it will take a few days to arrange the boat. Storm Surfer buys them a four-star hotel in town to rest - Pinshot's daughter stays behind. They all eat, except Rain. He's not hungry. Fleck forces him to eat. Misty P tells Rain that Fluttershy told her Pinkie Pie is in Vanhoover.

40. They spend that day at the hotel, eating three full meals. Fleck wants to get out of the cabin, but Rain isn't comfortable being social. That night, after Rain is done teaching Misty P a "Manestralian Hug," Fleck tells Rain her feelings, and the two sleep together.

41. The next day, all the ponies have a wide-spread telepathic message, saying that half the dragons have declared war on all anti-night organizations. They then say they will single Rain out and kill him at his most vulnerable. Rain and Fleck go down and explain their message with the Plussians, but everyone else heard it as well. A day passes, and now they want to wind down. They all go into one of the Neutral Zones to see the culture, and Rain falls in love with Plussia's comradery and food. Redolent and Misty P follow him and Fleck around, but are distracted, and Goldbuck watches over them as they trot off. Rain and Fleck have a relaxing day together, and it's revealed Rain prefers the snow to the rain. (Fleck talks with him about his future - a future with her is implied. Flecksturz says she doesn't want him to end up like her father. Rain is reminded of her father and asks how he's doing. Fleck says she doesn't know and sulks. Rain tries to awkwardly comfort her, but she's just as awkward receiving as he is giving.) Later, Rain teaches Misty P some defense. Fleck watches from the corner of the room, smiling. A month and two days have passed since he first met Misty P.

42. The Plussians help them back to Equestria with their own boat port. Rain teaches Misty P more, and him and Fleck sleep together again. The next day, griffins attack the boat. They help fend them off (Misty P killing her first griffin), Rain saving a Captain. It rains. They arrive in Equestria, in the destroyed Horseshoe Bay, which has been under repair. The Plussians join them.

43. Stray Celestia's Rebels join Rain as he is driving to a safe zone after a brief conflict. They explain what Nightmare Moon has made him look like. They tell him that half of the herds are in flames, the other half spewing embers. They then go to the safe zone and all eat at a neutral zone's hotel. Blue Light and Rain share their feelings after Fleck makes her and Rain's relstionship obvious.

44. The next day they plan the final attack. Twi tells them it's too heavily guarded. They instead plan to attack Canterlot, where the Elements of Harmony are. Celestia's Rebels ask for one more night in Ponyville to honor their dead families. Rain joins them, thinking he could see the place where the Age of Fire blossomed from. Fleck joins him, and Blue Light stays behind. The five of the Mane Six catch up with each other.

45. Fleck takes Rain aside in the ruins of Ponyville to talk with him. Remy snipes and kills Fleck, Chillstep at his side. Rain vengefully makes his way to them while avoiding sniper fire. On his way, Chillstep coolly and confidently tells him that she thought he'd be a Redeemer when she saw that glint of madness in his eyes, caused by a traumatic past. After a brief cat-and-mouse chase, Remy wounds Rain. Rain kills Remy and Chillstep, and buries Fleck and Remy both, spending the night beside them. He thinks about how Adamance should have killed Chillstep.

46. The next day, Rain returns to Misty P and is patched up by Blue Light. Misty P hugs him. Blue Light knows that Rain's Kind Dread is getting worse. Rain is chosen to retrieve the Elements of Harmony, and Misty P is chosen to get Pinkie Pie. The next day, they depart in auto-carts, and Misty P drives her own.

Part 6- "Tomorrow is a New Day"

47. Rain and his squad attacks Canterlot, and Goldbuck joins in. Rain is coughing out blood and sweating. Goldbuck and Rain reminisce about their childhood and young adult years growing up here, when suddenly an explosion startles them out of their stupor. It's Canterlot Castle, and the fight is nearing its climactic moment. When Rain charges in to get the Elements, Goldbuck subdues him and does it for him. (As he is blacking out, Goldbuck says repeatedly that she loves him. She tells him that tomorrow's a new day.)

48. When he wakes, the Elements are with him, but Goldbuck has died in an explosion. Rain returns to the safe house with the remains of his squad to see that Misty P hasn't returned. Days pass. Rain contemplates suicide. His infection gets worse. The whole gang knows about it now. The Plussian Captain he saved comforts him. He then states that the rest of the militia is also downtrotten. Rain realizes he's starving and parched, and eats a full lunch. Rejuvenated, Rain gives a speech to his comrades before driving to Vanhoover to help. Redolent sneaks in Rain's auto-cart and he discovers her too late to turn back. She tells him her feelings as he drives.

49. Rain battles against the fallen city. His team is eventually slaughtered by the Night Guard and griffins, and he takes refuge in an abandoned building just before hundreds of medium-to-small sized dragons join in. Moon Worshipers and the Light Bringers join in. Storm Surfer is killed.

50. The next day, the five Elements of Harmony show up with reinforcements. They rejuvenate the battle. Three giant dragons show up on Nightmare Moon's side. Two of them are killed after some hard work, wounding Rain, Rarity, and Twilight. When the last dragon is about to finish them off, a much older, grisled Spike joins in and battles the dragon. Now, dragons painted green and purple are filling up the sky, massacreing griffins, enemy dragons, and pegasi Night Guards. Rain pushes to the place where Pinkie Pie is held, before Gunner confronts him with a flail, wounding him. Rainbow Dash attacks him, but Rain stops her. Rain talks to Gunner, saying all that Poppy promised him to say, including "do the right thing." Gunner exits. Rain asks what Dash is doing here - she should be helping her friends. She replies meeky, "I am." That catches Rain off guard as he hears a new voice coming from her mouth: the Element of Loyalty. "I've known Misty P longer than anypony else. And you have risked your life for me. I am helping my friends." Rain and Dash continue into the fortress. But the place is empty. Discord levitates the city above ground.

51. Rain is alone now, and after some searching, finds Pinkie and Misty P. Nightmare Moon has them in her magical aura, and shoots a drug at him which makes it hurt to move, and deflects all teleportation magic. He can't make any sudden movements, minus his mechanical leg. After she takes all of Rain's OEMP's ammo except one bullet, she forces Rain to choose to save either Misty P or Pinkie Pie, or kill her - but if she dies, Misty P will also die with her. [Misty P has a mechanical spiked hat on, connected to NM's heartbeat via wires. A magical aura surrounds the sensor.] They are both drugged.) He chooses Misty, but uses the projectile mechanism to shoot a sundial at Nightmare Moon's chest, shattering the sensor. The password for the projectile mechanism was his sister Goldbuck's true name, Sunset Auburn. But before Misty could die, Rainbow Dash swoops in and saves Misty while Rain helps Fluttershy. Before she could be freed, though, Princess Celestia comes onto the scene. She sees her sister's state and rages at Rain, tackling him with her magic and beating him to a pulp. She tears apart his mechanical leg. Twilight comes in and defends Rain. Twilight tells Celestia that they will help Luna be freed. They decide to teleport all ponies off the rising city. Rain agrees, even though he knows he can't be saved. Rainbow Dash points this out, but Rain shuts her up. Discord, seeing this, drops the city and teleports away. The Elements and Celestia act fast. Celestia teleports away with Luna. Rainbow starts to argue with Rain, but Twilight teleports away with her friends, leaving Rain and Misty P alone. Rain, even as he is weightless, in pain, and drugged, picks up Misty P and uses his damaged mechanical leg and other leg to kick himself through the air and out the complex. His Kind Dread is nearing the fatal stages. He recognizes that he will and must die, if not only to save Misty P. He sees the ground nearing and the pegasi picking up their comrades and flying away. (Dead bodies float in an invisible water.) Before he passes out from the pain, he hears Misty P awaken.

52. He wakes up in a hospital, blue skies outside. His mechanical leg lays at his bedside, destroyed. A nurse walks in (Nurse Redheart), sees him awake, and squeals with delight and dashes away. A Royal Guard and Adamance are at his door, guarding him. When Adamance sees him awake, she simply smiles. She helped the Elements work. A few minutes later, the Royal Guard sees him, and thanks him. They reveal that a week has passed, and his Kind Dread infection is healed. Princess Celestia and Luna both arrive at his bedside and Luna cries at his side and blubbers her thanks while Celestia apologizes profusely. The Mane Six arrive next, and they all express their gratitude. Rain says repeatedly it wasn't him. Rainbow Dash is recovering from her inflicted mental disability. She tells him everything she's felt in the past. Misty P shows up, and the room is emptied. They hug. They pour out their hearts to each other. Misty P tells him his squad has been recovered and buried, along with everypony else he's lost. She tells him, "Recover soon, Rain. The movie isn't over yet."

Epilogue. Ten years later, Rain attends a play with his family. His wife is Adamance. He has a filly, six years old, named Midnight Star (remember to mention that Fleck means Star). Redolent is a close friend of his and sits by him. The Mane Six and two princesses all attend the play with him. Misty P stars in the play. Afterwards, they all visit the graves of his fallen comrades. He starts feeling his age.


If you've managed to read all the way to the end, I can't thank you enough. It feels like I can finally get the closure I needed posting this, and hopefully I'll be able to focus on my life from now on. The Black Monsoon is cancelled due to the personal effect it's had on my life and horrible discrepancy between the work put into it and reader count, but my writing career would have never been the same without it. I'm thankful I've had this experience.
But just because I'm done with The Black Monsoon, I am nowhere near done with writing. If you're interested in my work, please do visit my Wattpad. I've also taken a lot of inspiration and plot ideas from the experience of writing this story, and will definitely use them in an upcoming story titled, "The Angel's Advocate." In a way, The Black Monsoon will live through this story and might even earn a few cameos of each characters' human counterparts.
Hopefully this will let it achieve the fully written status it always deserved.